March 15, 3240, 1454 hours
They were standing just over a star. An actual star, splayed out beneath them blasting energy, light, and radiation into the heavens far above. The sight was mesmerizing and nearly impossible to put into words. They all stared; it was impossible not to. Seven men and women simply watched the boiling seas of plasma erupt into space, throwing arcs of solar energy up over the surface. Everywhere they looked, the process continued far into eternity where it all seemed to blur together, the haze of photons eventually obscuring the activity in the distance.
Sally asked NICOLE, "I know that this is going to be a tough one, but can you confirm that this is Kepler-20?"
"Not a clue. Even if I did have access to a terminal, I doubt I could get through the solar interference. Sally, I think we're completely cut off. I think we're deep in the corona. Before you ask, it's actually cooler here than higher up."
Possibilities wheeled through Sally's mind. How could this place she was standing in even be possible? How could someone build this here? How could this have been placed in this location without being completely torn apart? Physical laws had to have been shunted aside for this construction, and the longer she thought about it, the more it hurt.
"I don't see a trace of anyone in here." Cawl said, scenting the air. "Smells sterile. Like nobody's been here in a long time."
"Except for the scientists of course." Roberts added.
"Yeah, but that's a small smell. Not a big one." he said, trailing off as he scanned the ceiling.
Sally followed his gaze, noting for the first time that something that appeared to be banners were hung from the ceiling, though on closer inspection, it was actually hard light. There was a slight haziness to it that the surrounding material did not have. On it, she saw a symbol that she was quite familiar with.
"The Eld." she said.
"What?" Kanow asked.
"I know that symbol." she said, pointing up to it. "That's the seal of the Mantle."
"You want to tell me what that is?" The ODST asked.
"Long story short, the ideology that all Forerunners followed. They thought that it was their mandate to rule the galaxy. They kind of had an iron fist."
"And used it to keep a young upstart race called Humanity down." NICOLE added.
"Ancient history then." Kanow said, showing remarkable lack of interest towards his race's past. Maybe he just thought that since he was on the job he could turn his curiosity off. Maybe Kanow really was that one-track minded.
Sally made her way back to where they came from. She expected the terminus portal to construct itself in the air once more. She waited ten seconds, then tried looking for a holopanel.
"Anybody see a control surface anywhere?" she asked the others. "Computer or something just lying around?"
The group took a quick look, glancing on every wall, but failing to turn up with anything similar to what the princes had found on the now-transparent wall. However the effort was fruitless. There was no panel, and as far as they could tell, no way to call one forward.
Sally, at a loss, made her way to one of the benches and sat down on it. Before her back had gone too far, a rest had formed from thin air, giving her comfort, though this was minimal as she had a backpack full of supplies acting as a buffer. Even then, the bench accommodated her. She leaned forward, resting her knuckle under her chin. She thought hard, and was frankly confused as to what just happened. They had come through the terminus well enough. Perhaps this was the one-way portal that she had postulated on while coming down the elevator? She discounted that theory as well as this was clearly a waiting area or at the very least a something akin to a departure lounge for this portal system. There had to be people coming in and out.
"Think, Sal, think." she said to herself, massaging the bridge of her nose. She resigned herself to knowing that as long as they were in this room, they wouldn't figure out anything further. Despite the complexity of her environment, she couldn't think of anything further to do here.
"NICOLE, can you make a running map of the area?"
"Can only do it on a room-by-room basis. Get me in a new location, I can procedurally build a floor plan. Or better still, if you can find me an interface I can actually get into, I can probably download a whole map of the area." she said over the squad radio.
"OK, I suppose that's our next objective." the princess said. "Taylor, Roberts; I want you here in this room for right now. Watch that terminus. If it re-activates, I want you to let us know, OK?"
"You've got it." the other Mobian chipmunk said, turning and taking up position on the other side of the pedestal that they were no doubt spat out upon. Roberts pursed his lips, as if he was uncomfortable with the order.
"What's wrong, STAR?" Sally asked. "You're just watching this point. There's nothing hard about that.
"Yeah, but... can't I go with you?"
"Oh God in Heaven..." Taylor said, turning away. "Look, I'm fine being here alone. Nobody's going to bug me here."
"No." Sally said promptly, giving a quick slice with her free hand. "Standard procedure is always two men on an entryway. Nobody gets blindsided, and in the event that someone takes a hit, one of you guys can pull the other to safety."
Taylor licked his lips, eyes darting to the left. "Are we, uh, planning on getting hit?"
"Just babysit Roberts, Taylor." she said, before turning her attention to the red panda. "You want some responsibility? This is how you get better. Follow orders and maintain your bearing. You're guarding our exit point; that makes you one of the most important people right here. I wouldn't have asked you to do this if I didn't have some faith in you." she risked a half-smile.
This seemed to reassure Roberts, whose ears ducked back in response, and his demeanor softened at first, then hardened.
"Guard the door." Sally said softly, but it was clearly delivered as an order.
"Aye-aye, Sergeant Major." he responded. Not the correct response as Roberts was Royal Army, but she appreciated it all the same. Though he glanced back a few times, he stood guard opposite to Taylor. She shook her head, but could see that this was indeed a good time for him to learn how to improve. It was funny how he was able to rise above PFC, but his actions in New York were indeed honorable enough to encourage that promotion to Corporal.
She turned and led her group out of the room.
"Captain, take point." she ordered.
"Consider it done." Kanow responded, placing himself at Sally's twelve o'clock, weapon shouldered. She heard a slight clicking noise before a very soft popping of air made itself audible. Kanow had activated a small shielding device.
Some, but not all, ODSTs carried a shield generator that didn't make them all that much dissimilar to a Spartan. Though Kanow's unit wasn't nearly as strong as the nuclear fusion reactor that the supersoldiers wore in their backpacks, he could still ward enemy fire if need be, and the shield was recharging as well. He cleared the hallway ahead with a quick sweep of his rifle, and waved them ahead.
Sally dropped back and kept an eye on Karr. Though she had thoroughly removed him from the murder equation, there was no way to drop him from this little adventure. He was now in it for the long haul, and if that meant keeping him under control, then so be it. She dropped into step beside him.
"I need you operating at one-hundred percent, soldier." she said, acting as if he was still in the army. "This isn't a place where you want to lose your cool."
Karr had a look on his face as if the closest wall had sprouted a face and began talking to him. Though his eyes were shielded by sunglasses, he was clearly uncomfortable that Sally was speaking so directly to him and in close proximity. She recalled of course that he had very rarely, or perhaps never saw Mobians, and almost certainly never up close. She wondered for a split second if there were even any chipmunks on Xi Bootes Ac.
"Why did you bring me?" He said, in that odd otherworldly twang of his. "Why am I here?"
"You're responsible for keeping the scientists safe, Captain Karr."
"Bullshit." he said quietly. "You've been watching me the whole time. You think I did them in or something."
So he was smarter than he looked too; a fact she hadn't seen expanded upon in his personnel file. Good, that could actually help them out here. He was additionally observant. The sunglasses probably helped with that.
"Maybe I was." Sally said, not quite confirming the theory. "Regardless, things have changed. When you're here, I want you acting like a soldier again. The Forerunners didn't mess around with their security systems. One false move and you're glittering dust in the wind."
Karr set his jaw. He understood well enough.
Sally trudged back up to the center of the group, taking second position behind the ODST.
The hallway was still relatively narrow, but was tall, twenty feet high at the most. The sound though seemed remarkably muffled, and the group couldn't hear much beyond their position. Suddenly, without any warning, the walls around them began to shift into near transparency, and the star below them became fully visible. A roiling sea of plasma moved with an unworldly fluidity, the burning energy and photons streaming up and around them. Light millions years in the making exploding out in impossible shapes and geysers of solar matter, and it was all happening right beneath their feet.
Sally tried to suppress a squeak of fear and failed, backing away instinctively. The Marines all had similar reactions, and backed against the walls, still somewhat visible to make them out, but not so much as to obstruct the view.
"Son of a bitch!" Cawl called out. "That shit isn't cool man!"
The demeanor died down. Karr got the worst of it and cringed, ducking, and resting his finger uncomfortably close to his weapon's trigger. It was still a small space, and a negligent discharge could cause ricochet. However, they were fine. Sally herself placed her hand over her rapidly beating heart and willed it to slow down.
"NICOLE, did you do that?"
"Don't look at me." the AI responded. "I'm just as surprised as you are."
"You... you, ah, think that was part of the welcoming party?" The Corpsman, Vicci asked. "Welcome them and then 'bam'?"
"Who knows." Sally shrugged, playing it cool, but only playing herself. Her voice was still audibly trembling and in the small space, she had no doubt everyone could hear it. "Just keep walking. Don't look down."
But she found it hard to take her own advice. Several times she looked down and a nervous laugh escaped her as she saw a stellar furnace right below her boot soles. She could swear she could even feel its heat. For the first time she decided to look up. As her neck angled back, her eyes tried to make some sense of what was above her. She saw nothing but a bright white-grey sky. She scrutinized it, but realized it was nothing but light. No stars were visible, there was no void. Her mind clicked that this entire area was deep inside of this star's atmosphere. Once again, the scale of impossibility impressed itself upon here.
"Look at the size of this place..." she heard Kanow breathe. She saw. It was so obvious, but she saw later than she wanted. The transparent tunnel revealed that this hallway connected to a massive structure of interlocking struts, buttresses, and compartments that must have stretched miles wide and deep. She couldn't see it well from here, but she saw what looked like a hint of rock. Rock? This close?
She didn't understand. She couldn't begin to understand what this place was and what its function was. More importantly, she couldn't understand why it was here. Why didn't their scans find something like this?
The hallway opened up into another yet more massive room. At once, before the features were even clear, the team split into two units, moving left and right respectively, watching to see what would come out. Their footsteps were the loudest thing in the area. The Forerunner architecture made no noise. Some of it wasn't even disturbed by the air they cut through, simply floating in place, much like it had been for a hundred millennia. The unit made a complete semi-circle of the room, sweeping their guns around each nook and cranny, and finally pasting their eyes at what they believed was a central support pillar, studded with design accents and glowing lights. When the teams met on the far end, they Sally nodded to Kanow and they stood down.
It was a good room clearing. Silent, observant, and above all, professional. She was proud of herself that she could still clear a room with the rest of them. She glanced up, rifle still somewhat at the ready in case something appeared above her. The room seemed to extend for three stories upwards and ended in a vaulted ceiling, powerful artificial lights raining down on them. The same hard-light banners hung from the ceiling, pushed no doubt, around by ventilation systems that still ceaselessly worked around the clock without any oversight. Still, there was a distinct lack of noise in this cavernous space. It felt like a tomb. Sally didn't like that.
"NICOLE, are you reading any sort of energy signature? Any pulse? Electrical currents?"
"Yes! Yes, there's power running through corridors here. I can't pin them exactly but I can tell you there is a panel in this room! This has to be some sort of routing center. Kind of like a hub. Let me see... think of it like an atrium or administration desk."
"Makes sense." Cawl said. "If that room back there was the garage, this is the lobby."
It was only an approximation at best, but it seemed as if it was the best way to describe it. The Forerunners she knew were much more than their simple guesses, but the attempt a familiarity made this space a lot less frightening.
"Why... why do you suppose this room's so big?" Karr asked, his voice wavering slightly as he struggled to take in the scene. "D'you think these guys were huge or something like that?"
"Something like that." Sally called out. She let her gun fall to the sling's resting position. "Captain, cover me."
"Aye-aye." the Helljumper responded, gently tapping his fingers against his rifle grip.
Though Sally couldn't see his face, she had no doubt that the VISR in the man's concealing helmet was constantly scanning the room for bad guys.
"Now why would this place be empty, you know?" Karr asked, his voice carrying through the silence, easily audible all around. "Why would it all be runnin' still and there wouldn't be anybody to you know, use it."
NICOLE crackled over the radio, "Captain Karr, in the distant past, the Forerunners wiped themselves out as an option of last resort. The weapon they chose to do that with is far more powerful than anything anybody has right now. Parking over a star wouldn't do much to stop that."
"Why the hell would they do that?"
"It was a hell of a fight." was all the AI said.
Sally heard a new sound. Her ears tried to turn to face it in her helmet, though she could clearly make it out as running water. In a moment, she saw that she was coming to a small flat bridge, wide enough for two people to pass abreast, though without guardrails. Beneath her was a gently flowing stream of crystal clear water that cascaded down a decorative waterfall. The stream flowed into several floating discs that themselves fell into a lower level, appearing for all the world as a house of flying saucers. In the middle of it all was what Sally could only assume was a stable Slipspace portal, silently ejecting water in a gentle arc into the middle of the pool. She froze, head cocking to the side, suddenly enamored by this little piece of soul.
"Oh that's really cool." She found herself saying. She took in this site, how oddly peaceful it was at this very moment despite the uncertainty of their situation. She closed her eyes and breathed in the air, and let her ears dance around on the inside of her helmet. The spell was broken quickly though and she realized she wouldn't get anything done just standing around. She checked to make sure her weapon was on safe and crossed the bridge. Once on the other side, she climbed up a small staircase designed to have each step as a semi-circle gently floating above one another. However, each step she took was solid and supported despite none of the stairs being connected to anything. At the very top, she reached out and ran her hand across the holopanel projected three inches off of the surface of the pillar. The action awoke something within the structure. A humming noise like a gigantic computer powering on filled the room, and soon, screens filled the air around her, scrolling and sorting themselves in space. She was overwhelmed by this at first, unable to tell what to look at first. Her eyes darted from screen to screen, struggling to find meaning in the symbols and patterns. Despite having an intuitive notion on how to activate these panels, the language of the Forerunners was a mystery to her.
She saw red pulsing on the screens in several locations.
"What do you think that means?" she asked NICOLE.
"I think it's an error of some sort." she said after a minute of deliberation. "Like some of these systems are inactive."
"Can you read any of this?" she asked her AI.
"Only maybe one in twenty words. This is a dialect that I'm not familiar with. This may as well be a different language entirely. Also, given the fact that Forerunner language is highly context-sensitive..."
"Yeah, no good." Sally groaned.
"Not unless I have something to compare it to, like a Rosetta stone."
"Which we don't have." she heard Kanow say. The ODST approached over the bridge and fell in behind her. "We don't have access to anything here. Highness, we should be looking for signs that the dig team passed through here. We shouldn't be fooling around with systems we know nothing about."
"Captain, with respect, we need to get some basis on where we are. At least let us try to download a map or something of that nature."
"You could vent the whole room for all you know."
"No, I wouldn't do something like that." the princess responded. "If I clear my mind, I can think of what I want. What I want..." she trailed off, blowing air out her mouth in small chattering motions, "... is an interface. NICOLE, are you up for a bit of data spelunking?"
"I could stretch my legs." the computer responded.
Sally once again let her hand touch the central panel, and with a moment of consideration, performed a series of movements that simply felt right. A glowing light appeared two screens away from her. She walked over and touched the glyph. She pulled it out beyond the screen, altered her hand position, and lifted it up.
As she did so, a pedestal raised from a spot beneath her hand. It rose to half her height and began to crackle with energy; the top of it warmed to deep blue and then to bright white. She passed her hand over it, but felt no heat at all.
"I think that's our interface." she said, glancing to the Human. "Relax, Captain. I won't send her in entirely. Think of it like dipping a toe into a river."
"Yeah except that river may have gators or piranhas or shit like that.
Sally made a sound between an annoyed sigh and a laugh. She pulled NICOLE from her hip holster and placed the unit on the white-topped pedestal. She let it sit there. The handheld unit rose into the air and was cushioned on an invisible pillow, gently bobbing and twisting with the air currents.
"Got a way in, hon?" Sally asked. "Any back doors?"
"Actually the system here is open."
"Open?" Kanow asked, letting his weapon hang on its sling. He crossed his armored arms and leaned in. His helmet visor depolarized and the Mobian could see the concentration in his brow. "Why would the system be open?"
"Captain, this is something like a reception area. This is just a guess, but if this is something like a reception desk, then this would be a place where Forerunners could synch up or let their ancillae talk to the system."
"What's the system saying?" Kanow asked.
"Nothing." NICOLE responded. "Nothing. I'm not getting anything from the system at all. There's no ancilla in here answering my calls."
"Ancilla?" Kanow asked. "Forerunner AI?"
"Yes. Usually at an administration station like this, there would be some sort of presence. Ancillae communicate with each other regularly."
"Well, if it's abandoned... maybe it turned itself off?" Cawl asked from across the room. "Like, committed suicide?"
"That's a scary thought." Sally said, shuddering. A hundred thousand years, and finally decided you've had enough?"
"Don't make me think of it." NICOLE added. "AIs think on a longer scale than you do, Sal. A second feels like a hour to me."
There was silence again as the device on Sally's hip whirred and alternated in temperature. Sally tapped her radio once more and tried to hail the Frontier Corps AI.
"Aida. This is Rescue Element. UNSC AI, please respond."
Silence. Dead air filtered through the speaker, layered with a crackle that could be solar radiation playing with the sound.
"I say again, UNSC AI, please respond!"
Still nothing. She bit her lip in frustration and paced on the platform, hoping to get some sort of response from the team. Something wasn't right here. Aida had contacted them from the other side of the terminus before they had even stepped foot on this station. They had a conversation. Why now weren't they getting any response. She expressed her concerns to Kanow.
"Beats me." The ODST said. "I'm paid to shoot things."
She expected that response. Nobody here was a technical expert. Sally was the closest to that, barring NICOLE, but it seemed that nobody, not even her own AI could get in contact.
"I'll try again once I get a moment. Trying to sift through this system, at least what I can do wirelessly, is taking up nearly all of my runtime. This is not like other systems I've slipped into."
"Why, what's wrong?" Sally asked, taking a step down from the platform and sitting down, relishing the feeling of being off her feet. She sighed in appreciation and contemplated the metal fixtures on the walls. Glancing up again, she once more looked at the hard light banners that swung from rafters.
"Well, like I said this station uses an entirely different dialect of Forerunner language. I know elements of Lifeworker Eigon from Installation 05, but this is something different."
"Maybe a different dialect of Eigon?" Sally suggested, shrugging.
"Yeah, maybe. These partial translations are really getting to me. I can't do more unless I know what this language is based off of. This should be interesting. Sal, touch the fourth screen, third button from the top left. It looks like two lines encircling each other, like a broken bulls-eye."
The princess followed the instructions, standing up to walk back to the array of panels, reasoning that the third screen was from the top left of what was in front of her. She had to stand on her toes to hit the button. At once, the screen blew up in size so quickly it startled her. Kanow jumped forward, arresting her backwards motion. She gasped and realized she almost fell backwards down the stairs.
"Thanks, Shane." she said.
The Helljumper only nodded.
Sally caught her breath and saw what had appeared. Around four dozen lines of text scrolled across the screen, each changing depending on the angle it was viewed at. Layers of letters also floated in the background, barely visible. How could anybody read this?
But what stood out were the red lines of text. About ten of them clustered together in the dead center of the screen. When she tried to tap one, the section flashed with a circular symbol that blared a warning at her, a loud and deep pulsing noise came from thin air.
"What was that?" She asked, once again taken by surprise by the volume.
"I think I know that word." NICOLE said. "It's in the same dialect as the rest of the text, but I'm translating that as 'compromised' or 'broken'. I guess life support was shut down in that area."
"Well it has been a long time. Who was in charge of the system?"
"You mean who was in charge of this facility?"
Silence again for ten seconds.
"You're not going to like this."
Sally cocked her head, confused. "Why, who was in charge?"
"The facility's administrator's credentials were easy to find. Practically right on the main page. Sally, in the last years of this facility's active operation, the administrator was a Lifeworker named First-Light-Weaves-Living-Song." NICOLE audibly hesitated. "That's the Librarian."
It was as if a switch had been flipped. Sally's jaw tightened and her nostrils flared. Anger beyond anger welled up in her breast and she found herself breathing hard, hands clenching around her rifle so hard it threatened to break the grips.
Kanow noticed this movement. He leaned in and softly asked, "What the hell's wrong?"
Sally walked away at once, the fury rising up, threatening to make her lose control. The Librarian.
She hadn't expected this. True, she knew that the ruins on Egarda were of the Lifeworkers, but to know that she was the one in charge was not something she had wanted to contemplate. The Librarian, the woman who claimed to love Humanity beyond anything else. The woman who destroyed her life, one hundred thousand years beyond the grave. She watched a beautiful man waste away because of her, serving a dead race's interests.
She felt tears come into her eyes and she touched the ring on her finger.
"Are you squared away, Sergeant Major?" she heard Kanow call from the platform. "Do I need to take control of this operation?"
"Sally, I need you to focus. Listen, the Librarian was only an administrator. She may not have even stepped foot on this station; she ran thousands of facilities all over the galaxy."
"I won't dedicate more seconds of my life thinking about that alien if I can avoid it." Sally said in a low, warning, and menacing tone. She reached up, stymied the flow, and turned back to the platform, making sure to polarize her goggles a bit more before doing so. "Captain we're going to need to split up to cover more of this facility's area. We're not going to get anything done around here. We need a rally point too."
She reached into her belt and pulled out a small and fat cylinder, bulging slightly around the middle. The beacon was designed to be a powerful and persistent NAV point that would constantly be visible in their HUDs and was more powerful than what her VISR could put down. It would be visible just about anywhere on this station. It was a good move too. Anyone that became lost could come back here, since evidently regular radio transmissions were not functioning well here.
"Form up on me." she called out over the SQUADCOM, before looking around for a nice big area to claim. She circled the central pillar, sidestepping the hard light panels. When she reached the opposite side, just as she was about ready to throw the beacon into an area they had not covered before, she saw something in the large neatly leveled seating area.
She blinked, and then as quickly as she could, dropped down the shifting geometric shapes to the ground level. Around her were similar trees to what they saw in the previous room, only they surrounded what was undoubtedly Human electrical equipment.
She was confused as to how they missed this on the sweep. There was a lot of equipment here, mainly lamps, dollies, and in the center of it all, what she was sure was a portable holotank hooked up to a generator.
"Karr, does this mean anything to you?" She called out.
"Yeah! That looks like equipment from the base!" he said, suddenly energized. It was the most interested she had heard his voice. He ran over, weapon swaying as he moved. "That's from Building 4. Look, the number's printed on it."
He casually muzzle-swept Sally, who cringed instinctively.
"Yeah, I can see that." she said. "Why would it be here?"
Karr shrugged. "Some of the science-types like to record their sessions. Maybe they left something here."
"Amazing!" Sally said. Evidence. The first real sign of what had happened here. She came forward and held NICOLE in front of the IR connector. A few seconds later, the generator hummed, and the holotank glowed. The hologram emitter fired up, and NICOLE projected herself into the air.
"Something I can work with." she smiled.
"Ooh, a lynx." Cawl said. "Haven't seen one of those in a while."
NICOLE didn't comment, but said, "I have some good news. There are in fact some records on this thing that relate to Dr. Lindenberg's team."
"And the bad news?" Vicci asked.
"Well, there's only one entry." the AI admitted.
Sally shrugged. "Hey, better than nothing. Can you play it?"
"Sure. Even better: this holotank has a 360 degree emitter."
the AI vanished, and in her place, the holotank's central pillar rose. A strip of material lit up and at once, holographic representations of Humans appeared around them in various states of activity. They were frozen at that exact second, but the Marines could see that they appeared to be unpacking objects or taking notes. Standing four feet from Sally was a tall, slender woman who was perhaps around fifty, with short hair, packed into a bun. She wore loose-fitting clothing that suggested that they were expecting to work in a desert, though she had sense enough to wear a heavy-duty backpack. This was, it appeared was the doctor they were looking for.
The scene shuddered, and began to play.
"Entry for March 2nd, 3240. Time is approximately 9:17 AM, Universal Standard Time. The initial shock of our appearance here hasn't affected us in the slightest." the woman smiled widely. "A space station orbiting a star! This close! This is the last thing I think my team expected to find! We weren't surprised though to see that the entire facility was deserted though. I think we expected to find Sentinels or even a monitor here, but we haven't had any contact with any construct, save for perhaps a few Constructors when we descended the lift. Virtually all of my team recovered from their first terminus trip, though we're looking for a way to re-activate the portal. I've seen three -"
"Pause it." Sally commanded. At once, the scene froze. "So, they couldn't get the portal to open up either?"
"That's what I'm gathering."
"How the hell is that possible?" She asked, more to herself than anyone else. Her eyes darted, taking in this new information. "So they couldn't do anything from here?"
"No." NICOLE said. "Like I said, this is just an administration desk. There'd be no control over a terminus here."
"Play it." Sally nodded.
"-of my best computer technicians to look at the panels on the far side of this pillar, but none of them could make it past the first few screens. This facility, uh, looks like it uses a language that we're not familiar with. My resident, my resident Forerunner xenolingust, Doctor Monica Tito, wasn't able to translate the text. So that system is a bit beyond us. Even Aida seems stumped. So, the plan is we're going to set up a forward base here, maybe set up a radio beacon to try and contact Site 417, and then we're going to head down that hallway straight ahead." Lindenberg's hologram pointed in the direction of a tall roughly triangular-shaped doorway to Sally's left. "And from there we're going to get the lay of the land. According to that magic trick we saw coming in, there's larger spaces up ahead. If we're right, that's probably a storage area of some sort, maybe even a habitable area. Forerunners were known to make comfy places that are otherwise... less suited for biological life. Anybody, uh, anyone want to add anything?"
A man rose from the back. He was taller than Lindenberg, had dark skin, and close wiry hair. His eyes were alert though and Sally could see he easily had three scientists combined beat in muscle mass.
"I'm Research Assistant Roy Kostinger, Basherton University graduate student. This is procedure so I need to report this for legal record, this team is entering the facility with firearms. We have inventoried approximately ten Misriah MK6 model handguns, forty caliber. The purposes for these are for protection in the event of localized armature attack. Only certified members of the team, namely myself and Research Assistants Booker and Drakov shall be carrying. These weapons will be with the team at all times. Under no circumstances will weapons be left unattended."
Sally looked around and noticed that one strongbox was missing from the detritus. Kostinger was correct. The container, doubtless containing the handguns, was not there.
"OK. That's that then." Lindenberg said. "Thank you, Research Assistant Kostinger. We will be moving on in approximately forty-five minutes. Future logs will be conducted on site and will be transferred to this station. Concluding Record."
The scientists vanished, leaving only what they had left behind.
The silence descended once more. Sally stepped forward, held NICOLE's device in front of the holotank, and a small chirp indicated her program had transferred successfully.
"Orders?" Kanow asked.
Sally looked at the door that Lindenberg's hologram indicated. Their path was clear, and she had to thank the doctor for making things simple for them.
"That hatch." she said, pointing with her left hand. "Two man groups. Watch your corners and take your weapons off safe."