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Ferrum II

Outer length of the Perseus Arm, Lor Republic Space

Lor time mark 2104.8

 

As a binary star system, the Ferrum was generally awash with solar energy. This was particularly true of one of the planetary bodies within the system, Ferrum II. Located in what was typically considered the prime habitable zone for most standard star systems, the intense solar radiation and winds made the planet a barren wasteland of wide-open spaces intermixed with large rocky mountain ranges and no apparent source of water. However, this hostile environment did not prevent the enterprising engineers of the Republic and Coalition worlds from finding a productive use for the world.

 

Scattered across the vast open spaces between the baren mountain ranges, were extensive arrays of solar collectors held aloft by anti-gravity generators. During the intense days of a standard rotation, the arrays exposed to the binary stars would fully charge massive power cells stored within collectors. Meanwhile, on the far side of the planet, shielded from the intense solar radiation and heat in the planet’s night, several atmospheric orbiting cities would slowly circle over the fields of arrays, collecting the charged power cells and replacing them with new cells to be charged when the arrays greeted the next day.

 

It was an extensive and precisely timed operation, with entire cargo vessels filled with freshly charged power cells for use throughout the Republic and Coalition worlds every cycle. Unless something were to disrupt those operations.

 

Recently, a large number of Sarcota, massive space faring creatures that generally resemble Terran eels, some reaching the size of military frigates, had for some reason chosen to nest within the deep crevices of one of the rugged mountain ranges. The behavior was rather unusual, as the gigantic creatures tended to be solitary nature. While generally docile, if provoked, Sarcota could get quite agitated, and given their massive size, could easily cause significant damage to (if not outright destroy) some of the solar collection arrays and could even pose a significant risk to the orbital cities.

 

Given this potential danger, the various corporations overseeing the operations on Ferrum II had enlisted the services of two rather unique individuals to attempt to determine what had attracted the Sarcota to the planet and to find a way to encourage them to move on from their current location and hopefully relocate to one of the more distant worlds in the system, or outside the system all together.

 

Starshot was waiting on a landing platform of one of the orbital cities where his ship, the Xeno, was currently docked, waiting for the arrival of another individual from Earth, Doctor Viktor Archeville, so the pair could begin their investigation into the unusual behavior of the Sarcota….

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Starshot

 

Starshot waited patiently. Patience was a virtue, they said. It certainly was when you were hunting, waiting for the first sighting of the quarry, or the ideal shot. 

 

He had no problem waiting. 

 

He just wished he wasnt waiting on the platform. He preferred green and purple flora, the sound of twittering avians and grunts of scuttling scavangers. not the sight of steel and the humming of machines. At least the Xeno had a more organic flavour to its interior, complete with stuffed animal heads. 

 

At least it was safe. He had left his belt, jacket, gun and helmet in the Xeno. He was dressed in relaxed camo-gear, his scarred face on full display. The left side was not his best side. But he didn't care which side people saw him from. 

 

He had read up on Doctor A. A dangerous man, but all intelligent men could be dangerous. Intelligence was dangerous, if directed to malign intent. This doctor didn't have a great history, but neither did Starshot. The man seemed redeemed now. Starshot just hoped he could handle alien environments and the great outdoors. 

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Doktor Archeville

 

A Lor shuttle soon docked nearby, and out of it stepped a figure still mid-cnoversation with the pilot.  His appearance -- long hair, unblemsihed skin, a long white labcoat over civilian clothes -- matched that of the Terran he was supposed to meet, and the way he was looking around certainly marked him as someone from such a backwater planet.

 

Oh, yes, this is delightful!  This is what I've been wanitng -- getting out and helping others, not just on Earth but throughout the galaxy!

 

Soon he'd locked eyes on Starshot, and approached with an extended hand.  "Ah, hello!," he greeted in GalStandard, though with an oddly failiar accent.  "You must be the local wildlife expert I was told would be meeting me here.  I am Herr Doktor Viktor Archeville, of Terra."

 

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Starshot

 

Starshot met the hand with his own. He was always somewhat thankful that his right hand was still - mainly - flesh and blood. Handshakes seemed more humane. His left hand was pure chrome and steel, capable of crushing bones. 

 

"Starshot," he started, pausing a moment. "In another life I was Oskar Otto. Earthman, like you. Lots happened since that life," he explained. 

 

"As for local wildlife, the Galaxy's a big place and I've been from one end to the other, hunted them big, hunted them small. But I've never hunted these Sarcota. Massive. What gets me is why a group of them set up a nest on Ferrum? They aren't pack animals. Why?"

 

He stroked the stubble on the chin. "But I guess that's your bag? Geology, biochemistry, astrophysics? Maybe you can work that out?"

 

He gestured towards the Xeno. "Was going to take my yacht here, the Xeno. Its fast, and comfortable, and it's got everything a good hunting ship needs."

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Doktor Archeville

 

His handshake certainly felt like that of a lab-bound scientist, accustomed to delicate and precise work.

 

"Oskar Otto," he repeated, eyes narrowing then widening slightly, "that sounds like a name from my region of Earth!  Swedish?  Norwegian?  Danish?"  He chuckled, "what are the odds?!"

 

He looked to the edge of the platform, perhaps trying to get a look at the planet below.  "Solitary animals will gather in groups during mating season, but from what I've read of the Sarcota, their mating grounds probably are not anywhere near here.  My hypothesis is that there is something on this planet that is drawing them, something not present before now, or possibly something present but which they could not detect until now."  He turned back to Oskar, "perhaps they've developed a taste for somethng in those mountains ranges?  Some industrial by-product which had been dumped there?," he said, shrugging.

 

His gaze passed from Oskar to the Xeno, and he let out a low, appreciative whistle.  "Ah, a magnificent vessel!  I presume it has a full suite of life form scanners, yes?  What about atmospheric and geological?"

 

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Starshot

 

Starshot nodded. "Yes. Its not armed-all that space is devoted to full spectrum scanners. EM, Atmospherics, life patterns. Thats the ticket when you are hunting."

 

He gave a side glance at Dr A - how would the scientist respond to the lack of armament? Presumably well, he would prefer to apply his mind to the sensors. But it was a tell. Some of his more nervous, or violent customers didn't appreciate lack of weaponry. What about Pirates? The Xeno could outrun nine ships out of ten, and keep pace with all. Starshot wasn't interested in hunting Pirates, his game was on the ground, against claw and fang and tentacle. 

 

Although he had taken down a few Pirates in his time. 

 

"I'll give you the tour if you wish. I guess we can set off as soon as you are ready?"

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GM

 

"We certainly hope you are able to answer those questions." Came a voice from the far end of the platform, where a door which led to the interior of the floating city was located. Exiting the doorway where two figures, a Lor, and an insectoid, both dressed in coverall style jumpsuits. "And if we simply expected the Sarcota to be driven off with munitions, we likely would have just requested assistance from the Star Navy." The Lor added as they walked over toward towards the two Earth natives.

 

"We *tik* are hopeful that *tik* you are able to find a solution *tik( which will not result in any *tik* harm to the Sarcota." The insectoid figure added.

 

As they drew close to Starshot and Doktor Archeville, the Lor spoke up again. "I am Administrator R'arth, and this is one of our chief scientists, K'tr'kt," he indicated the insectoid who gave a nod in greeting. "Thus far, the disruption caused by the presence of the Sarcota has been limited to the upper tiers of one section of the collection array closest to the area they have been gathering in. However, that still is well over one hundred collection points that are offline. The uncollected power cells have been remotely disengaged from the solar panels, to avoid catastrophic overload. They have been offline for nearly ten rotations, and every rotation further impacts our productivity. So the sooner you can provide answers would be appreciated."

 

Scientist K'tr'kt held out a data pad to Doktor Archeville. "This contains *tik* data recorded by our remote *tik* harvesters that have been near the Sacota. Their *tik* sensors are not designed with *tik* analyzing fauna in mind, but might have some *tik* general data that may prove useful. There are also *tik* the sensor logs from the orbital cities which *tik* recorded the arrival and some *tik* of the atmospheric movements of the Sarcota."

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Doktor Archeville

 

"Ah," he replied to Oskar, smiling, "so the Xeno here is just to get you to the hunting grounds, and to locate your prey, but for the hunt itself, you use more... personal weaponry, yes?"  He nodded approvingly, "this is god, ja.  Sporting."

 

Archeville had never been on a hunt (not quite), but he could appreciate some of the cultural aspects of such activities.  And while he would always champion the use of technology to make one's life easier and more efficient, in some cases, it was the struggle that made an activity matter.

 

He was about to ask more questions about Oskar's ship, when R'arth and K'tr'kt made their introductions.  "I'm sure we can accomplish this with less collateral damage than the Star Navy might bring," he replied, grinning as he took the offered data pad.  "Of course, the problem is that there are so many unknowns about these creatures, whose very existence was a matter of conjecture until just half a century ago.  I was just telling my companion here," he nodded to the fellow Terran, "that Ferrum probably isn't near any Sarcotan mating grounds, but almost nothing is known of Sarcotan reproduction.  Or of their diet, or their senses.  How often do the reproduce: once a year?  A decade?  A century?  They appear to derive sustenance from stellar and other cosmic rays, but is that all they require, or do they also need some other substance in their diet, some supplement, which they have found here?  There is some evidence that they can detect wormholes and other spacetime anomalies, navigating them like oceanic currents -- is there something in the array of solar collectors, some flux of lines of force, that they are mistaking for such an anomaly?"  He shook his head while scrolling through the data, "there is so much we do not know about these fantastic creatures, and this could be a golden opportunity to learn, with an entire star system's worth of them right in your back yard!"

 

Administrator R'arth was probably not too keen on the giddiness creeping into Archeville's voice.

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Starshot

 

"No point in hunting from orbit," said Starshot, with a slight nod. "Although with these eels... well I guess it may just come to that."

 

"But we don't know nearly enough about them. For starters, wether we have any right to hunt them at all. How intelligent are they? I guess that's where you come in."

 

"We'll get the job done," he said to the insect, R'arth. "And try to get it done fast. But we need to know what we are dealing with. Answers may not come as fast as you would like. Don't rush a hunt, I always say."

 

He nodded back at Doctor A. "If you want a tour of the Xeno first, that may be wise. Show you the sensors, the quarters, the ATV. Even had some lab equipment set up in the cargo hold for this expedition. Never needed that before - I respect science, but I know I am no scientist."

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GM

 

Administrator R'arth did seem somewhat unhappy by both Archeville's clear scientific interest in the Sarcota and Starshot's somewhat laid-back approach to the job. But the Lor mostly kept that to himself as he responded, "yes, the Star Navy would not be ideal, both in terms of the collateral damage, but also not wanting to unnecessarily harm the Sarcota." He replied. "Currently the losses we are experiencing are substantially lower than such a scenario. But they are increasing each rotation, so we would appreciate as much haste as possible."

 

Scientist K'tr'kt  did not seem quite as bothered by the possible timeline. The insectoid was focused on Archeville. "Interesting Doktor." Xe replied. "I do not *tik* believe there should be anything *tik* associated with the solar collector arrays that *tik* could be mistaken for a special anomaly. But *tik* who can truly say how creatures such *tik* as the Sarcota may gather sensory information. I can *tik* look through more of our sensor logs and *tik* diagnostics to see if there is anything *tik* that may be along the lines of what you suggest and *tik* provide you anything I *tik* find."

 

"Well," interjected the administrator, "I imagine you two have enough to start with. We of course will provide any additional information that we can, so please reach out to us. You are about halfway through the current night cycle on this side of Ferrum, so expect you may not want to waste it."

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Starshot

 

Starshot gave a subtle nod of approval. He was a hunter, but there were parameters. Animal intelligence, tooth and claw. It would not do to be killing Sarcota until they knew exactly what they were, and R'arth had the same philosophy-it seemed. 

 

"Solar anomalies? Sounds like a job for a scientist..." he said, patting Doc A on the shoulder. 

 

Over the years, Starshot had developed a basic understanding of biological sciences and medicine, but astrophysics was not even basic. Stars were hot balls of fusion energy best avoided. That was about as far as it went. 

 

"Let me know when you want the tour, Doc," he said. "Best you know you way around the ship. I like danger, but I also liked to be prepared. And besides," he said with a stony face marred by the slightest smile. "Always good to know where the hot tub is."

 

More importantly, good to know the infirmary. He suspected the Doc was, well, a doc. And someone who could patch up an eviscerated bowel was good to know. 

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Doktor Archeville

 

Archeville's eyes widened at Oskar's words, and he slapped his forehead with the data pad, "oh, of course!  On Terra, the level of consciousness and awareness, of sapience, of cetaceans and other non-human animals is a matter of no small debate, so why would that not also be the case with the Sarcota?  Even if some skewed instinct brought them here, instinct may not be all that guides them!  If we can find a way to communicate with them, and simply ask them to move..." 

 

His mind raced through possibilities, articles he'd read on animal intelligence and nonhuman communication, until he forced himself to stop and return to the more immediate tasks at hand. 

 

"Yes," he nodded to the Lor representatives, handing the data pad back to K'tr'kt, then back to Oskar, "I think it would be best if you gave me that tour now, and I shall see what I can do with the contents of your cargo bay as you fly us to the mountain."  He thought briefly of his own ship, the Synthia Bower, but quickly pushed the thoughts aside.  Best to focus on what is here, now.

 

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Starshot

 

"Step on board, Doc. We got all the toys..."

 

Inside the Xeno, the repair bots were waiting. Alpha was holding a tray, complete with glass of Charix Champagne for Doc. 

 

"Service bots," explained Starshot. "And do a fair job with acting as ships steward, too. Let em know if you need anything. Although they cant cook.."

 

"Doc here is a guest on my ship," he said adressing the five floating orbs. "Activate guest protocol."

 

Beep beep, beepity-beep beep. The bots went, before adding "Guest protocol activated. Welcome, Doc. We hope you have a pleasant stay. We are here to make your journey as comfortable as possible. Just let us know if we can help!"

 

Starshot nodded. "They can keep the ship running. Serve you champagne and ships rations. And even patch you up in the infirmary if you spill some blood. I got a few scars to show from it."

Edited by Supercape
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Doktor Archeville

 

Archeville smiled at Alpha as he took the offered champagne.  "Ah, I've had similar in some of my homes, and on my ship" he replied to his host, "though most of mine had chassis based on insects.  Beetles, mostly."  He looked the robot over, "I may be able to help with the cooking thing, if you're interested.  All the necessary hardware seems to be present, it would be more a matter of software."

 

To Alpha, he sent a silent cyberkinetic message of thanks for the drink, a more formal introduction, and a request for the bot's designation.

 

"Before we see to the galley, though, I think I should have a look at what sort of laboratory and workshop facilities you can provide.  I may need to make some adjustments to your ship's sensors, or fabricate something from scratch."  At the mention of the infirmary, he glanced back at Alpha, then back to Starshot, "ah, do they help there, too?  That could make the culinary programming go quicker, if they already have files on anatomy and organic chemistry."

 

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Starshot

 

"Certainly," replied Starshot. 

 

The sensor array was linked to the bridge, and impressive - state of the art sensors that could detect life readings and energy readings from hundreds of miles in orbit. It had additional regular radar and atospheric analysis, and was linked to the tchayon communicator system. 

 

Starshot showed Doctor A the equipment from inside and outside. "About as good as I can get. Customers on Safari excursions don't like to wait around finding the precise nesting ground of their poisonous snake. Or eel."

 

He gestured to the cargo hold. "I had to pull in some favours from our freinds. The Xeno is a hunting ship, not a science one. But I managed to get enough state of the art laboratory equipment in the hold. Its a bit of a jumble, but its the best they had."

 

Starshot made sure to familiarise Doc with the basic ship layout - the space suits, the infirmary, the quarters. It seemed that Doc A could pick up the precise layout and the feature after the briefest glance. Starshot felt that within a few seconds, the Doctor knew more about the workings of the Xeno than he did!

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Doktor Archeville

 

"A fine ship indeed, sir!," Archeville exclaimed at the end of his tour, "all elegantly tied together.  I was especially impressed by your communications suite," he nodded.  "And I was not expecting such luxurious living quarters!  Though I'm sure the clients who hire you to take them on safari expect the best.  That's why some aspects of the ship's functions are so intuitive, while others are more concealed, away from client's prying fingers, yes?"

 

Archeville's senses, and his own knowledge of spaceship design, revealed more than Starshot was showing, and he sincerely was impressed by the vessel.  It had even given him a few ideas for improvements to his own.

 

"But this is no pleasure cruise, we are here to work, with much at stake!"  He started off towards the cargo hold, calling behind him as he went, "we should get underway, before the suns rise and the surface becomes unbearably hot."

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Starshot

 

"Right," said Starshot with his characteric slight, lopsided grin and fire in his eyes. The scarred skin on his left might be the cause of the lopsided grin. But it was the lust for adrenaline that lit his eyes. 

 

He took Doctor A to the bridge, which had the same sleek look. The Xeno was a yacht; Starshot was a man who prioritised functionality, who would happily sleep under the stars and travel in worn boots. But he never objected to a certain flavour of luxury if such presented itself. The Bridge had a stuffed Gorikk Bison head just above the window, its black eyes peering down, its horns magnificently curved. 

 

The right flavour of luxury. 

 

"Lets be off. I have the course plotted in."

 

The Xeno lifted off, speeding through the atmosphere in a sleek, arrow like dash. In a minute, they had the stars in front of them. 

 

"Hold on to your hat, Doc.." grunted Starshot, as the Xeno put forward its full thrust and skirted around the upper layers of the planets atmosphere. 

Edited by Supercape
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GM

 

Lifting off from the landing pad, the Xeno gracefully took to the dark skies above Ferrum II and reaching higher elevations as Starshot put the vessel into cruising speed. Far below them, the two occupants of the yacht's cockpit could just make out the dark outlines of the vast fields of solar collectors, which would soon be visited by the collection drones that were starting the nightly collection around where they had just departed.

 

In short time, the two could see the dark outline of a mountain range ahead, jutting up from the field of solar collectors. Based on the sensor readings, the range stretched for well over a thousand kilometers, roughly north to south across the barren landscape of the world. When they reached a few hundred kilometers away, the advanced sensors of the Xeno detected several large shapes moving about a section of the range. There appeared to be about half a dozen Sarcota active and moving about the area.

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Starshot

 

"That must be them...." said Starshot, before he curtailed his excitement. Must was a strong word. 

 

"Sorry Doc. Getting ahead of myself. Sure looks like them."

 

He steered the Xeno at a more leisurely pace, heading to ground level, still keeping good distance away. 

 

"Help yourself to the scanners. I know a bit of zoology, but this is way beyond me. I'll help if I can, but you look like you got this..."

 

"Lets try to Confirm those are Sarcota? And if they are in good help. Infected, maybe? Some pathogens can drive animals mad. If the Sarcota are even animals. And those mountain ranges? Anything unusual about them?"

 

Something was tingling in the back of his neck. Perhaps his cybernetic implants. Perhaps some sixth sense...

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Doktor Archeville

 

"Well, what are the odds there'd be two different spaceborne megafauna coming to this mountain range?," he called back from the observation station he'd set up, with an uneasy chuckle.  I hope I didn't just jinx us...

 

He hadn't made any real alterations to the Xeno's sensors, since he wasn't sure what to alter the sensors to look for, but he had, with Oskar's permission, set up a tap to stream all the sensor feeds directly to his Electromagnetic Screwdriver, displayed on a series of holographic screens, which would make it easier for him to collate and examine the readings.  Well, it was actually streaming directly to his technorganic brain, but he was still going with the "I'm just a human scientist with some fancy gear" image.  It was a fascinating sensation, one he imagined as similar to when a telepath accessed another person's mind to see or hear through their senses.  He could easily get lost in such datastreams, but the relatively narrow focus of this data-dive carried little risk of such distraction.

 

Having someone nearby to talk with helped, too.

 

"I'd considered the infection angle," he said after doing some quick scan of the mountains, "but the problem with that is, we don't really know what a baseline, healthy Sarcota looks like, so we'd have nothing to compare these scans to.  If we don't know what a standard Sarcotan body temperature is, how can we tell if one has a fever from fighting off an infection?  If one has flaking, scaly patches all over their skin, but the other is smooth and slimy, which is the sign of illness?  Are the flaking scales a sign of healthy molting, or of dehydration?  Is the slime an overproduction of mucus, blocking pathogens from entering the skin, or is it a part of their photosynthesizing process?  No," he shook his head, "I'm afriad we are going to have to settle in for a bit and observe."

 

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Starshot

 

"Roger," replied Starshot. "But I think we may end up with the thumbscrews on us."

 

He winced. Flashbacks of Nazi Germany. 

 

"I mean..." he said, voice cracked for a moment. "The planet spins fast. And people want answers, fast. So time may not be on our side."

 

He shuffled the Xeno ahead, cautiously. He was a reaonable pilot, but getting the Xeno through those mountains could get tight."

 

"Ill get us in closer," he called to Doctor Archeville. "But things may get dicey near the mountains. And the Xeno is big - don't want to scare our friends off. Might be better off on foot, or in the ATV. It's your call, doc..."

 

Too many variables to take a good decision, but a decision needed to be made. And this felt like a call best made by the scientist. 

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Doktor Archeville

 

Viktor sucked his teeth, "you're not wrong on that, unfortunately.  So the question is, do we got for speed, or stealth?  Your ATV would get us across the terrain quicker than we could manage on foot -- and would be more fun!," he grinned, "but its stealth capabilities are nonexistent.  I'm sure you can sneak and stalk with the best of them, and I have a few tricks of my own... oh!"

 

The doktor had a wild gleam in his eyes, "if we assume that Sarcota spend a majority of their life in the vacuum of space, then they likely never developed auditory senses in the process of their evolution.  Or if their ancestors did have it, the sense atropied, like with blind cave fish.  Which means we wouldn't need to worry as much about muffling our sounds, but would need to focus on masking our visual and other energetic signals," he held up his (fake) Electromagnetic Screwdriver, "which this little wissenstab can do!"  To illustrate, he entered a few command on the devie, and slowly faded from view.  A few moments later, he faded back into view, "I should be able to adjust the field to cover your entire ATV, and the two of us, as long as we don't get too far apart."

 

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Starshot

 

Starshot gave a tight smile. It was a good compromise. Best they could get. 

 

"Sounds the best plan. Ill put the Xeno as near as I can reasonably get her, then we can do the last leg in the ATV. Its pretty hardy but doesnt have the sensor capabilities of the Xeno. So best get your last readings in before we go on wheels."

 

 

the Xeno quickly covered the ground, setting down a few clicks away from the mountain range. 

 

"OK time for that last sweep. I'm going to prep the ATV. See you in the hanger."

 

Starshot pulled himself out of the pilot seat and shuffled down to the ATV, bringing Echo, one of the service bots, with him. It would be good to have someone at the wheel if Doctor Archeville and he needed to go on foot. He frowned at the thought. Doctor Archeville had a brain the size of a planet, but didn't look like he had roughed it under the stars much. 

 

"Power 100%. All systems operational..." beeped Echo. 

 

Starshot checked his plasma gun, loaded up the web catridges. He put on his utility belt, a few smoke grenades. The lockers of the ATV - Space suits, emergency rations, synthetic rope. He eyes his chipped machete; it was paltry compared to the rifle in his hand, and there were no jungles to cut through. 

 

But he slung it by his side. Just in case. 

 

"Ready when you are..." he called to Doctor Archeville. 

 

 

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GM

 

The Xeno's path down to the surface of the world was a bit precarious, taking the ship between two rows of the solar collectors and the support structure for the arrays, the massive energy cells charged, and the anti-grav systems that held the entire structures up above the world’s surface. Down below the arrays, the surface was baren and empty, a thin layer of mist seeming to stretch over most of it. A short distance ahead, the massive mountain range where the Sarcota were gathered rose high into the air, steep inclines and cliffs.

 

But just as Starshot had finished prepping the ATV for departure, several alarms sounded inside the Xeno, as its long-range sensors detected activity back up in the upper atmosphere towards the top layer of the array structure. Something small, about the size of a person, had entered the atmosphere, and was flying down towards the arrays and the area where there were Sacrota active….

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Doktor Archeville

 

Viktor winced as the alarms blared directly through his head, I really should've anticipated that, and shut down the cyberpathic link between the Xeno and himself.

 

"I'm not expecting a third to come aid us," he said as he began scanning the skies, "are you?  Or could this be someone taking advantage of the unusually high concentration of Sarcota to snag a trophy for themselves?  I suppose it's too much to hope," he passed one hand over his (fake) gravimetric belt, and a bubble of softly glowing blue light sprang up around him, "that it's another astrobiologist, come to independently study this unprecendent phenomenon?"

 

He continued scanning the skies where the Xeno's sensors had indicated the bogey was, and cyberpathically sent out a broad spectrum radio greeting, in GalStandard.  "Unknown flier, please beware, this is a hazardous area.  We are here on a mission of astrobiological conservation and infrastructure maintenance.  Please identify yourself."

 

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