To Boldly Go

The Artifact, Part II

While the others wait for the ensigns return with the child, Max Petrobras maps out the patterns across the surface of the artifact. He finds columns of writing, perhaps a symbolic language, as well as three doorways or docking ports.

Rochelle “Rho” Total decides to meet the returning ensigns. The child wrapped in a plastic tarp seems frightened and confused. She immediately latches onto Rho, refusing to let go. Dr. Babbage scans the child from nearby, reporting that she has a mixture of human and alien DNA. Steve and Rho try to talk to the child but she seems to have no knowledge of language. It is like she was just born or created. As expected there are nanites throughout her blood stream.

Babbage asks to get a direct blood sample. Rho sensing the child sees her as a protector fakes being overpowered by the doctor. It works but the child is ready for him and bites him. He collects the saliva sample and Rho comforts the little girl.

Steve and Max take the accumulated knowledge of the alien language and attempt to translate the inscriptions. The symbols on the Artifact seem to be some sort of name and either warning or dedication. Steve tries to use what they learned to create a symbol for “hello” hoping for a response from the child.

She doesn’t react but the mist does.

The nanites thin out, exposing a cloud above which flashes with lights before displaying a serene blue sky with normal white clouds. Alien symbols flow across the “sky” in lines. The team records everything. The symbols glow in multiple colors and emit sound, indicating the aliens uses a combination of senses to communicate.

After an hour Saori Lu and her team arrives. They too are intrigued by the symbols and question the team about the cause. Steve again chooses to hide their involvement in triggering it. Instead he shares their findings about the symbols and the child. Saori takes careful notes while Steve pumps her for information. He learns she is an academic, more involved for the desire to reveal the secrets of this world than to profit from it.

The team begins to wonder where the child came from. Max sends out a probe to trace her path. It leads to the wreckage of the tower collapse that killed Ensign Maroon. The smaller debris has vanished and there are no signs of Maroon’s body among the rocks. However the probe does pick up Maroon’s transponder signal. The probe tracks it a few blocks to where she is huddled by a wall rocking back and forth.

The team moves to intercept her. Saori joins them, sending most of her team back to the dig. Both teams leave scanners to observe the Artifact. The sky dims and returns to normal.

Along the way there, Rho names the child Fiona. The others engage in some rapid texting. Babbage informs Steve that the time to save Roux is running out. He needs a pure sample of the nanovirus. Steve then asks Max to get a sample from one of the spheres. Max is understandably reluctant but agrees to the plan. Rho, once informed, advises more caution.

Steve tells Babbage and Max aloud to retrieve some fictional sensors. The rest of the team heads for Maroon with Saori.

They find her, helmet off, rocking back and forth. Dr. Twitter Morgan examines her. Maroon is suffering PTSD but physically she’s unharmed. Its the strain of dying that has affected her mind. As with the child she has nanites in blood. Twitter also informs them that the child shares her DNA and Maroon almost certainly was “restored” at the same time that the child was “born”. They decide to head back to their camps.

Elsewhere, Max and Babbage examine one of the spheres. Two meters across and floating a meter above the ground, it seems metallic with an eerie sheen. From the records of the FSV Google, Max knows that the earlier exploration touched the sphere and then attempted to take a core sample. He rigs a series of probes to replicate the experience safely.

Along the way he determines that the spheres are drawing power from the nanomachine fog and seems to be in direct communication with them. It also is relaying messages to the Artifact via gravity waves.

The setup ready, he sends in the probes, warning Steve just prior to pressing the execute button. One probe touches the sphere with a human tissue sample and then shoots it with a laser. A black cloud pours off the sphere and the second one captures some before shooting up into the air. The one left behind disintegrates upon contact with the cloud.

Max checks the sample remotely. It seems to be undifferentiated nanites. Babbage says this is exactly what he needs. Max also registers a change in the signals from the Artifact. The two head back to camp to work on their findings and samples.

Meanwhile Maroon is examined at Saori’s camp as the team discusses what has happened. Maroon and the child have their blood drawn. The wounds disappear almost instantly as the nanites fix them. After discussing all of their findings, Steve seduces Eman Chang and takes her back to his tent.

That evening Rho takes the child Fiona to her tent and unsuccessfully attempts to decontaminate her. Max meanwhile decodes the signals being emitted by the Artifact. They seems to be build orders of some sort. Three different objects are specified. Then he detect the proximity alarm being hacked.

Switching to video feed he sees Mercury Lu sneak into camp. He alerts Rho to the intruder, who looks out, sees who it is, and then decides to leave it to the ensigns. Mercury meanwhile tries to her bluff way into Steve’s tent.

Eventually the ensign rings Steve’s tent, explaining Mercury is here to see him. Steve tells him, “Tell her I’m not here.” He hears an argument break out as the ensign repeats his words verbatim.

Steve emerges from the tent to find Mercury wrenching the arm of one of the ensigns behind their back. She lets him go and addresses Steve. It seems Mecury wanted to make up. She hints she is reconsidering it.

Then the proximity alarm goes off again. Max detects a four legged predator with chameleon skin and some sort of sonic senses lurking at the edge of camp. Rho exits her tent upon hearing of it, gun drawn. Ignoring Mercury and Steve’s antics she finds the creature and subdues it with a stunner. During this Eman pokes her head out, causing Mercury to leave in a huff. Steve manages placate Eman and stay the night while Rho leaves the beast outside of Babbage’s tent.

That night Max picks up new signals, some sort of request for information. In the morning it is answered and a new set of signals go out. The timing coincides with the Columbia’s return from its survey of the asteroid field. Captain G. W. Teregan reports that no nanites were detected in the belt. Max also determines the build code for the hunting beast.

Eman Chang leaves in the morning with a guard of ensigns. Rho finds Fi playing with blocks but neglects to question where they came from. Babbage takes his samples and the alien beast back to the Columbia. A new shuttle is sent down.

Back at Saori’s camp, the team discuss their findings with her. Ever cautious Saori moves her own ship further away. She also relays that her team found two alien life forms: a large slug and a forest of strange trees. She supposes the Artifact is recreating native life that went extinct millions of years ago. Rho meanwhile talks to Tom Warner about the current events. He comments that things have been changing rapidly since the Federation arrived.

Steve and Max head into the city. As they travel a new signal is detected. A charge builds up in the atmosphere. Max shields them as everything in the city and its surroundings is scanned down to the molecular level. No one is harmed by the Artifact can now replicate everything except Max, Steve and a few ensigns.

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