The Evaran Chronicles: The Arrival | The Awakening | The Fredorian Destiny | The Purification | The Time Refugee | The Evaran Origin | The Shadow Connection | The Human Factor | The Cosmic Parallel | The Evaran Chronicles Box Set: Books 1-3

The Human Factor Image

Title: The Human Factor

Series: The Evaran Chronicles

Book #: 7

Publisher: Quantum Edge Publishing

Published: April 25, 2018

Formats:

eBook
Paperback

THE HUMAN FACTOR

Book 7 Of The Evaran Chronicles

Humanity wears many faces.

Evaran and his time-traveling companions head to the year AD 10105 and over eighty thousand light-years from Earth, where they discover that humans are not where they are supposed to be. Humanity is also not what Evaran knows it should be, from a timeline perspective.

Humankind has splintered into multiple factions. To make matters worse, one of the factions is led by Salazar, an artificial intelligence dedicated to protecting its version of humanity . . . at all costs.

Adding to the confusion is the presence of others who should not be where they are. Evaran and crew will meet old friends and new allies while trying to determine what happened and how to fix it.


Read the sample below!


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Series Note

This is the seventh book in the series, and the setting is the future. V grows a lot in this book, and Dr. Snowden and Emily learn more about their enhanced nanobots from The Evaran Origin, book 5 of the Evaran Chronicles. Evaran also begins to suspect that things are not what they should be, and not just for this book! The crew is joined by two others who are polar opposites of each other. This is the longest book I've ever written, sitting at 112k words. Part of that is due to the amount of tech concepts covered.


SAMPLE

Prologue

Commander John Holind did not know what death was like, but if he had to guess at the sensation, then the cold, dark feeling that crawled around him would be it. He tried to open his eyes, but something kept them closed. Trying to move any body part was equally useless. Images of his family entering cryo sleep popped up in his mind. Although he could feel how tense his body was, the images made him relax some.

“Commander John Holind of the colony ship Xavier,” said a digitized male voice. “An emergency restoration is in process. Please hold.”

Bits and pieces of feeling returned to his body. The temperature around him increased, and he was able to wriggle his fingers. After a few moments, he could open his eyes and was greeted with a frosted glass shield. It came back to him why he disliked cryo sleep so much. The going-to-sleep aspect was nowhere near as difficult as the waking-up part. He had heard stories of people waking with completely different personalities or, even worse, psychotically insane.

“Extending cryo unit AX-1287.”

He could feel himself going from an angled position to a horizontal one. With the glass shielding defrosting, he was able to see out into the cryo chamber, where the ship’s crew was maintained. Clamps and restraints released their grips on him, allowing him to move around.

“Sufficient restoration achieved. Opening cryopod.”

The frosted glass shield slid back, and the warm blast of stale air hit John in the face. He coughed as he moved his hand over his mouth. Sore muscles and a headache reminded him that he needed to take his postcryo medicine. He struggled to sit up. Each motion was like a dagger cutting into him. After a moment, he was able to slide his legs off to the side of the slab he was on. With a tap at the slab’s edge, a soft, retractable tube extended out. He grabbed it and put the end in his mouth and then squeezed. His face scrunched as a vile-tasting fluid burst down his throat. As bad as the medicine was, he knew it would stabilize him. At least his sense of smell was returning, and the sterile odor of the room filled his nostrils.

“John, I sense you’re awake now.”

“I am,” said John in a deep, raspy voice. He knew the speaker to be Salazar, the virtual intelligence that maintained the ship during the long journey. Although helpful when it came to crunching data and dealing with maintenance, sometimes Salazar’s decision algorithms were unusual in regards to dealing with humans. John had an inherent distrust of artificial intelligences, and barely tolerated virtual ones, but it was necessary on a ship this large. “Status.”

“According to my internal ship clock, it’s AD 5244. There’s been a course correction, one I couldn’t control. We’re approximately eighty thousand light-years off course. I think we’re lost.”

John’s eyes widened as he took a deep breath. “Come again?”

“An anomaly has taken us off course and sent us to our current location. The stars do not align with the time period of AD 5244,” said Salazar.

John ran a hand over his dark-skinned dome. “What time period do they align with?”

“Adjusting for stellar drift and comparing to long-range stellar charts, approximately AD 9000.”

“What?”

“AD 9000. Do I need to repeat it a third time?” asked Salazar.

“No … ,” said John, narrowing his eyes. “Okay, so we went through space and time … somehow … assuming you haven’t been tampered with.”

Salazar sighed. “I would know if I had been tampered with.”

“Actually … you wouldn’t,” said John. He noted that Salazar seemed off a bit, almost like he had an attitude, and his speech style seemed stranger than normal. In addition to that, he had never known Salazar to sigh, as if he were exasperated. That was unusual for a virtual intelligence. “All right … that aside … are the others up?”

“The rest of the command crew is awakening now. The ship has taken damage, but we’re in no immediate danger.”

John gulped as he looked around. He remembered entering the cryo tube. It seemed like it was just yesterday, but he knew that based on the date, he had been in it for thousands of years. “Have everyone meet in the command center.”

“Okay,” said Salazar.

John used the slab to stand and, after allowing his legs to adjust, stumbled over to the locker nearby. After grabbing his regular suit, he headed toward a small room where he could shower and get dressed. Once that was done, he headed to the command center.

As he walked, he could feel his strength returning. Having a warm shower made everything feel better. He had taken a caffeine pill and was beginning to come to terms with what Salazar had said. The distance he spoke of seemed incredulous, not to mention the time difference, but Salazar was not one to lie, not that he could even if he wanted to.

When John arrived at the command center thirty minutes later, he surveyed the high-tech room. Screens hung on the wall, and a circular table stood in the center. Lights from all the screens and digital devices illuminated the area. Several of the crew had already taken their posts at the workstations scattered around the room, but the person he was interested in talking to was already at the table. As he expected, Holly Evans had her crisp blond hair pulled back, and her suit was impeccably clean.

“Finally up,” said Holly.

“Yeah … has Salazar updated you already?”

Holly nodded. “I thought maybe it was a mistake … but I had Salazar run a self-diagnostic. He sounds … different, somehow. Nonetheless, after checking the ship’s status, Salazar is right. We’re way off course.”

“Eighty thousand light-years, though? What the hell happened?”

The rest of the command crew, numbering about seven, had joined Holly and John at the table.

“This,” said Holly, interacting with a console on the table.

A projection shot up showing the view from the front of the ship.

John gulped as he saw the outline of a patch of space. It had a frazzled edge that reminded him of electricity. The pure black inside the anomaly seemed even darker than the surrounding space. As the ship approached, its speed picked up.

“This is when the minor damage occurred,” said Holly. “Looks like our communications array was hit, along with a hull breach in sectors four, nineteen, and thirty-seven.”

“Salazar?” asked John.

“Yes, John?” asked Salazar.

“Why didn’t you move us out of the way from this … thing?”

“I tried. The pull of the anomaly was stronger than the ship’s thrusters.”

“Why were we in normal space?” asked John. He shook his head. “We should have been in condensed space the whole trip.”

“The anomaly pulled us out,” said Salazar.

Holly pointed at the projection. “So not only did it do that, it also looks like that thing angled toward us. What cosmic phenomena could cause that?”

“Unknown,” said Salazar.

“You’re telling me this thing might be … alive?” asked Holly.

“Unknown. There is no record of this entity.”

John sighed as he rubbed his temples. “Show our current position relative to Earth.”

The projection changed to an overhead view of the Milky Way galaxy. It was segmented into four quadrants, with Earth in the lower right. A red dot indicated Earth, and a green line snaked out. Where it hit the anomaly, a straight line shot across the galaxy and to the top-right quadrant.

“You gotta be shitting me.”

“I assure you that I’m not shitting you,” said Salazar.

John narrowed his eyes. The anomaly was odd in itself, and Salazar being weird was not helping the situation. John glanced around at the trembling group. “I’m not sure where we are specifically, but our mission is still paramount. We may have traveled a long distance and, it appears, to the future … somehow. I don’t know why or how that is possible, but we will still continue our mission to establish a new colony. We have the Dyson bubble collectors, a colony in cryo sleep, and a ship and talented crew to begin the process. We’ll need to find a compatible star, and when we do … we initiate the colonization process.”

One of the crew members gulped before raising a hand.

“Go ahead, Sarif,” said John.

“We’re not going to try to get back on course?”

John shook his head. “Even with condensed-space travel, it would take a long time, and that’s assuming all the space between here and there was peaceful. We know … that isn’t the case, based on this situation. What if another anomaly appears? Not only that, but we’re thousands of years in the future. How do you travel in time?” He knew space-time anomalies were not unheard of but were considered extremely rare, and by some accounts, mythical. The Xavier was living proof anomalies were real.

Another member raised her hand.

“Go ahead, Asura,” said John.

“Looking at our supplies, it looks like not only did we take damage, we’ve been leaking power. We need to get the Dyson bubble energy collectors deployed and working soon or we’re going to be powerless.”

John sighed. “All right. Our first priority is to find a compatible star then. Sarif, I’ll need you to work with Salazar and get a complete and thorough analysis of this sector. Asura, I want a full damage assessment and an estimate on how much effort is going to be needed for repair. Holly and I will determine our next steps after that. The rest of you, attend to your normal duties for now. I want an update every two hours.”

He ran a hand over his mouth. “I know this won’t be easy, and this is a new situation, but we have the best crew anyone could ever ask for. Over ten thousand colonists depend on us. We will survive this. We’re humans, after all, and once we’re established, we can try to figure out what the hell that anomaly was. This colony’s survival comes first, though.”

A silence spread as the members nodded their heads.

“Move like you have a purpose!” said John in a crescendo tone.

The crew dispersed.

He faced Holly. “Deploy the first engineer team and get them up to speed. I’ll stay here and coordinate.”

Holly nodded and took off.

John sat down in one of the large command chairs nearby. They were in a new environment, with an unknown status. This would be a challenge. Failure was not an option. He glanced at the screens as they lit up with astronomical data. Several other colonization ships had left Earth Prime, but seeing another human outside what was on his ship seemed so far away. Communication with Earth would take a long time, even with condensed-space transmitters.

The safest path was to establish what he could and then go from there. He would make sure this colony would not only survive, but thrive, and would make sure to let every alien in this new environment know that humanity had arrived, and humanity was not to be messed with.

Chapter One

Dr. Albert Snowden held his breath as a pack of Utahraptors sniffed around. They were about fifty feet away, investigating the area. He found it interesting that they had a light coat of feathers, but he knew they probably did not fly. Growing up, he had thought all dinosaurs had scaly skin, and from the media he had consumed, he had a frightening image of what a Utahraptor was. With digitigrade legs, standing about five and a half feet, with a vicious snout filled with teeth, they were ominous-looking. They reminded him of large, brutal turkeys.

After a few minutes, the lead raptor raised its head and uttered a shrill cry, and the pack dispersed.

Dr. Snowden exhaled slowly and glanced over at his niece, Emily.

“That’s so cool,” she said, gazing at the retreating raptors. “I could spend a lot of time here.”

He smiled and raised a finger. “In the …”

“Early Cretaceous period, around one hundred twenty-six million years in the past, relative to 2012,” she said with a grin. “I know my history. What I find fascinating is that they were in a pack. There’s still some debate on that.”

He nodded. “Well, let’s get inside the Torvatta’s shielding. While I always enjoy a good science experiment, this one was a bit scary.” He tapped at a button on his formfitting dark-gray survival suit that had a repulsion blaster and an energy shield he could activate. It was given to him by Evaran, the powerful being that Dr. Snowden and Emily traveled with through space and time aboard the Torvatta, Evaran’s ship. Emily had her own suit from a previous adventure, and it had a heavier look due to the padding. Dr. Snowden’s eye caught sight of V, Evaran’s trusty mobile artificial intelligence, in orb mode, hovering nearby.

“Analysis. The creatures were unable to detect you. The test was successful,” said V.

“Yeah,” said Dr. Snowden. “This camouflage shielding thing worked well. I’ll admit … I was skeptical about it containing my odor, but it seems to have passed … the sniff test.”

Emily shook her head.

“It appears it has,” said Evaran, who stood next to Emily. “Although the camouflage shielding would try to match the surrounding environment’s thermal signature, it would not be exact. A sensitive thermal scan would still be able to reveal the discrepancies unless you stood absolutely still.”

Dr. Snowden nodded. He enjoyed traveling with Evaran. His light-gray padded suit with multicolored lines, utility belt and handle, forearm bands, and metallic boots were unique, and even with a light breeze, his hair never moved over his fair-skinned face. Dr. Snowden had come to appreciate Evaran’s insight and mentor-like friendship. His intellectual curiosity was one of the traits that Dr. Snowden related to.

Evaran pointed out at a jungle tree in the distance. “Try to pull a leaf.”

Dr. Snowden pulled out his personal support device. He had come to rely on his PSD for many things. It was pen shaped and could extend morphable matter along with shooting stun, repulsion, and mist beams and sticky globules. There were even survival features, such as dimensional mechanics to house food pellets and the ability to purify water. Adding a grappling beam was something he had wanted for a while.

He took aim at the tree in the distance. With the recent enhancement to the nanobots that coursed through him, he could see the tree in perfect clarity. He fired a yellow grappling beam at it and then retracted, pulling off one of the large leaves. When it came zipping back, he disengaged the beam, causing the leaf to float down. “Works well.”

“I am glad you like it. I have upgraded my suit to have the camouflage shielding as well,” said Evaran. “These enhancements should serve you well.”

“It would have been nice to have all this on previous adventures, but better late than never.”

Evaran nodded. “There are new patterns yet to try, but these are a good start.”

Dr. Snowden jumped as Emily shot out a beam.

“Easy there,” she said. “I wanted to try mine out too.”

He watched as she pulled in a leaf. “I’m going to need to train using it more, like for pulling me up and the like.”

Emily laughed. “You need to start training with me first.”

“I have … some.”

She raised an eyebrow. “With emphasis on the some …”

He pointed off in the distance. “The raptors are back.”

Evaran looked out. “Let us step back inside the Torvatta’s shielding.”

They assembled just inside the shielding and stood on the light-blue energy ramp, which extended out about ten feet from the disc-shaped Torvatta.

The raptors approached the stealthed Torvatta and walked up to the shielding.

Dr. Snowden gulped. To be so close to such a powerful creature was unnerving, but exciting as well. They would not be able to come through the shielding, not much could.

“Perhaps another test,” said Evaran. He raised a finger. “For both of you. Focus … and see if you can understand them.”

Dr. Snowden furrowed his eyebrows and looked into a raptor’s eyes. An image formed in his mind, showing the area as seen from the raptor’s perspective. The area was painted in gray, with a white spot where the Torvatta would be. Green outlines of fellow raptors came into view. What surprised him was the wispy, gaseous structure in front of the raptor. The gas morphed a few times until it covered an area about the size of the Torvatta.

Emily rubbed an eye. “It knows something’s here, but doesn’t know what.”

“Yeah, getting the same thing,” said Dr. Snowden.

“Intriguing,” said Evaran. “Your nanobots must be acting as their own planar translator, independent of the Torvatta’s.”

“Seems like we have to focus, though, for it to work,” said Dr. Snowden. He tossed a hand out. “I’m thankful for that, and I’m sure we’ll need to be cautious when we do use it. Using it in a swarm of bees could be … overkill. It would be all bzz, bzz, bzz.”

Emily laughed while shaking her head.

“Perhaps another experiment then,” said Evaran. “V, take us up.”

“Acknowledged,” said V. He flew into the Torvatta.

As the Torvatta ascended, the raptors peeled back in surprise.

Dr. Snowden focused and could see that the raptors viewed the Torvatta taking off as a sharp burst of white smoke. It seemed to spook them, as they scattered away.

V flew back out onto the ramp. “A summons has been initiated.”

“Oh, wow,” said Emily. “Almost forgot the Torvatta had those.”

Dr. Snowden’s stomach churned. The last summons they had answered took them to AD 3104, where he met Jane Trellis, a time refugee he still had feelings for. She had almost traveled with them, but instead opted to stay in the current timeline. He exhaled from his nose.

“Then our next experiment will have to wait. Let us see what the summons is,” said Evaran, gesturing toward the Torvatta’s side entrance.

They exited the ramp and entered the Torvatta.

Dr. Snowden never got tired of seeing the familiar set of dimensional doors, command chair, U-shaped seating areas on the sides, and elevator to the roof. The front half of the ship had transparent walls and ceiling, as well as a semitransparent floor with barely visible gridlines, making it seem like the command area furniture was floating.

Evaran turned left from the entrance and headed toward the third dimensional door.

Dr. Snowden knew that to be the conference room. The two before it were the holo room and the living quarters. Three other dimensional doors were to the right and led to the medical lab, research lab, and maintenance area. Once he arrived at the conference room, he took an immediate left and headed toward the replicators to get a cold drink.

Emily already had hers and was seated at the table alongside V. Evaran moved to the head of the table.

Dr. Snowden got his drink and joined them.

Evaran interacted with the table console, causing a holographic projection to shoot up. An overhead image of the Milky Way galaxy appeared. A green dot in the bottom-right quadrant indicated Earth, and a red blinking dot flashed in the top-right quadrant. He pointed at the red dot. “I am being summoned here.” He perused his augmented reality interface for a moment. “According to my ARI, it is in the year AD 10105. Interesting.”

“Uhh … yeah,” said Dr. Snowden. “That’s almost seven thousand years later than the last one we did.”

“And much farther, it looks like,” said Emily.

Evaran nodded. “From Earth, it is approximately eighty thousand light-years away.”

“Whoa,” said Dr. Snowden.

V hovered as the projection zoomed in to an overhead view of the local region the dot was in. “Analysis. The location is in deep space.”

Evaran rubbed his chin. “That is … unusual. However, we can go in stealthed. From there, we can do a scan of the local area and see what we are dealing with.”

“Have you been to that region of space before?” asked Emily.

“I have, but not that exact area.” Evaran’s eyebrows raised slightly as the edges of his lips moved up a quarter inch.

“You’re excited!” said Dr. Snowden with a laugh. Although Evaran seemed emotionless to others, Dr. Snowden had learned the facial gestures that indicated Evaran’s mood.

“It is a new experience, something I enjoy.”

“You just like the possibility of a challenge to deal with,” said Emily. “You said in the past that humanity liked challenges, but I think you like them just as much as we do.”

“Well, I’m ready to explore,” said Dr. Snowden.

“An admirable trait of your species,” said Evaran.

“The urge to explore?”

Evaran nodded. “You would be surprised at how many civilizations reach the point technologically to leave their planet but do not. They prefer not to explore, and instead quarantine themselves.”

“Like the Draidjens,” said Dr. Snowden. He shivered a bit as the Draidjens’ human-sized snakelike image appeared in his mind.

“That is correct. Humanity, in general, likes to explore the unknown, something I can relate to. They are also intellectually curious and seek knowledge, something else I can relate to.”

“Let’s do this!” said Emily.

“Yes, let us do this,” said V. He raised one of his four segmented arms toward Emily.

She smiled as she high-fived V.

Scene Break

Emily fidgeted in her seat as the others assembled in the command center in the front of the Torvatta. It had undergone some changes recently, and the mostly transparent front half still took some getting used to. She sat in the left U-shaped seating area.

Dr. Snowden sat in the right one. “So no Torvatta scan profile two?”

Evaran shook his head. “Not this time. There should be no civilizations out there for several light-years.”

“All right,” said Dr. Snowden. He knew that profile one made the Torvatta unscannable. Profile two allowed the Torvatta to be scanned, but it didn’t register the dimensional doors and instead would return stats on a small, cramped ship with low power and functionality.

“V, take us one light-year away from the summons point,” said Evaran.

“Acknowledged,” said V.

Emily enjoyed watching V’s four arms fly over the angled holographic multilayered interface that hovered over a U-shaped console. She had tried to understand how the interface worked, but it displayed massive amounts of information. Although she could see the individual parts, she was not sure what most of it meant.

The Torvatta ascended into low Earth orbit. Once there, it shot out a silver beam that formed a circular portal with a gold border and a rippling light-blue surface. The Torvatta flew through and exited into a patch of deep space.

“Analysis. We are approximately one light-year away from the summons location.”

The outside faded out, and then faded in.

“Analysis. The date is now August 16, AD 10105. It is 4:00 p.m. Earth time.”

“Initiate stealth mode,” said Evaran.

“Acknowledged. Torvatta stealth mode engaged,” said V.

Emily examined the interface windows that appeared on the transparent walls. It looked like they were hanging in space. One of them showed the outline of the Torvatta, and an outlined area with the word stealth was highlighted green. From what she understood, the Torvatta’s stealth mode was unique, in that most star ships could easily be detected by their engine output. While the Torvatta could as well when it was using thrusters, it could burst forward and then strengthen the shielding, making it impossible to detect as it used inertia to move.

Her eyes were drawn to the overhead view of the galactic region they were in. She knew the Torvatta could scan about ten light-years out in all directions. A solar system appeared and some gas clouds, along with something about one light-year away.

Dr. Snowden pointed at the object. “Looks like that’s what we’re looking for.”

“I concur,” said Evaran. “V, take us in and perform standard scans when we arrive.”

“Acknowledged.”

The Torvatta accelerated toward the object. As the object came into sight, the Torvatta’s transparent walls outlined the object in green.

“It’s a massive ship,” said Dr. Snowden, scooting to the edge of his seat. “And a weird-looking one at that.”

Evaran nodded. “It appears to be dormant.”

The Torvatta flew around the ship, scanning as it went. Details popped up on the display.

Emily wrinkled her eyebrows. The ship had an unusual design. It had a flat base, with an arced cover over it. It reminded her of a plate with a server cover like she had always seen in fancy restaurants. She pointed at the smudges of red appearing inside the ship. “Am I reading it right that those are … life signs?”

“They are. However, they are faint, except for one,” said Evaran. “The ship is operating on minimal power and has taken damage.”

Dr. Snowden peered at some symbols on the side of the ship. “V, can you zoom in to those symbols.”

A data window popped up from the floor near V and showed the symbols.

Emily drew her head back a bit. She was still getting used to the new enhancements done to the Torvatta. Having free-floating screens appear out of thin air was one of them. She focused on the symbols. Although initially unknown, she had seen them before. “It’s a Draidjen ship.”

“Oh, wow,” said Dr. Snowden. “What the heck is it doing out here?”

“We shall find out,” said Evaran. He interacted with his chair console. “It appears there is a docking bay and several hatches. V, open a communication channel with the ship.”

“Acknowledged,” said V. His arms flew over the console. After a moment, he said, “No reply.”

Evaran rubbed his chin. “In that case, the docking bay cannot be opened. We will go in one of the hatches.”

“Like we did with the Kreagan colony ship before,” said Emily. She remembered the approach from a previous adventure, where they helped the Fredorians achieve their destiny.

“That is correct.”

The Torvatta lined up flush to one of the hatches.

“V, extend shields.”

“Acknowledged.” After a moment, V said, “Shields extended.”

“Good,” said Evaran. “That will keep the Torvatta in place.” He swept his gaze over Dr. Snowden and Emily. “You both already have your suits on, but also make sure you wear your helmets for this.”

Dr. Snowden and Emily nodded.

“Now, who is ready to explore?”

Dr. Snowden jumped up. “Let’s do this!”

“Analysis. That is Emily’s line,” said V, hovering near Dr. Snowden.

Emily shook her head.

Dr. Snowden grinned as he activated his helmet and then followed Evaran to the Torvatta ramp.

Once everyone had assembled in front of the Draidjen ship’s hatch door, Evaran scanned it with his ring.

“Anything interesting?” asked Emily. She could see the details from Evaran’s scan inside her helmet but was not sure what some of the details were showing. Although she had been studying engineering under Evaran’s and V’s tutelage, the knowledge was vast and oftentimes she felt overwhelmed.

“The door is wider, but that is to be expected. Draidjen require more space to move than a human,” said Evaran. He forced open a metallic box near the door, exposing an inactive console. “Although there is power, it does not seem to be available here.”

The console lit up, and the door unlocked.

“Okay … that’s a little odd … ,” said Dr. Snowden.

Evaran scanned the console and the door. “It has power now. Perhaps it is automated to power up based on proximity.”

Emily shrugged. “Wouldn’t our scan have shown that it would do that?”

“Perhaps, unless there is technology that evades even me.”

Emily laughed. “Yeah, right.” She grabbed the large door handle and pulled back.

The door opened, revealing a dimly lit room.

Evaran gestured forward. “A decompression chamber. Let us enter.”

They stepped inside.

Evaran scanned around while Emily closed the hatch door.

After a minute, the door in front of them opened into another room.

“Let me guess … a decontamination chamber,” said Dr. Snowden.

“It would appear so,” said Evaran as he strode forward.

After they stepped inside, the door behind them closed and purple beams washed over them. Once finished, the door in front of them opened, revealing a small cargo bay. Large metallic structures stood with cubbyholes dotting the sides, each filled with metallic containers. The large structures stood in parallel rows on the sides, with smaller ones in the middle of the room.

V flew forward and began scanning. “Analysis. It is a breathable atmosphere.”

“Really?” asked Emily.

“I can confirm,” said Evaran as he perused his ARI. “I do not think that is the normal atmosphere, but it seems to be set that way. V, mapping mode.”

“Acknowledged. Mapping mode engaged,” said V. A flash of red light pulsed from V as he flew forward.

Emily enjoyed seeing the mini map fill out inside her helmet as V flew around. It intrigued her why V chose to focus his scans on some things and not others. Although everything was tagged, she noticed that he tended to highlight objects that looked like tools. Maybe to get more ideas for enhancements.

Evaran headed over to one of the large structures. On the front side of it was a powered-up interface.

Emily and Dr. Snowden huddled around Evaran.

Evaran placed his universal interface card on the console, and a flickering blue light appeared between it and the interface. After a moment, the blue light stabilized. He examined his ARI for a moment and then said, “Intriguing. The UIC is not able to access the system. There is an AI present here.” He looked around. “You may show yourself. We mean you no harm.”

A small box flew forward and hovered in front of them. A moment later, the holographic image of a bald, fair-skinned human male in a white robe appeared around the box.

Evaran bowed. “I am Evaran, and with me are Dr. Albert Snowden and Emily Snowden. The orb flying around the ship is V, a fellow AI.”

The hologram nodded. “Greetings. I am Zeta-12. How did you find this ship?”

“It … is complicated to explain. Nonetheless, we are here. It appears your ship has been damaged.”

“Yes … by humans,” said Zeta-12, glancing at Dr. Snowden and Emily.

Emily raised her eyebrows. “Umm … there’s humans out this far? I’m guessing so since you took the form of one.”

“A different set of humans. Not the same as you, per my scan. However, I have assumed this form to make you more comfortable.”

“I didn’t know there was a different type.”

“Your profile is primitive, yet you contain nanobots. That was … unexpected. Your behavior is also inconsistent with the humans I have encountered.”

“In what way?” asked Dr. Snowden.

“You did not try to attack the ship.”

“Oh … well … I think … we’re here to help in whatever way we can.”

“It would be appreciated. I have already established communication with the one you call V. He has relayed me general information about all of you. He possesses a strong bond with you. I believe you can help me.”

Emily tossed a hand out. “The air is compatible with humans. Was that on purpose?”

“No. It is for another species. However, most humanoid forms breathe a similar mixture of gases within certain ratios,” said Zeta-12. “I believe we are safe for the moment. If you will come to the command center, I can show you the current situation better there. I can answer any questions along the way.”

“We have a lot of questions,” said Evaran. He gestured forward. “Lead on.”