Albedo One

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Kwarat/Takan twisted the horizontal control dial on the control panel. Before his eyes the image from the survey probe sent to Mapetus II, the largest of the gas giant’s many moons, flickered to the left. He had been at this particular task for nearly half his waking day and had yet to see anything more exciting than unending expanses of snow and rock.

Fifth expedition to Mapetus. First expedition to bring with it a contingent of graduate students and professors, real scientists instead of glory-seeking astronauts. Or so he had thought when he had first volunteered. He had come to know some of those astronauts and now had a much greater respect for the knowledge, wisdom, and caution they brought with them to their craft. He now knew that each of them cared more for science than some pairs of professors he had left back home. They felt as much excitement as he in joining this trip.

He didn’t feel those thrills now. He felt bored. His eyes hurt intensely. He reached for the bottle of eyedrops in his pocket. He kept them there rather than in his small carry tote because it would stay warm against his skin and he preferred to avoid the sensation of cold drops in his eyes. As he leaned back, he twisted the dial a little further.

The terrain slid by as the drops fell into his left eye. Takan blinked, wiped the drops from the barbules of his cheek with his fingertips and looked at the screen. Satisfied he hadn’t missed anything he leaned back to put drops into the other eye. The bottle, small and made of a smooth plastic, slipped out of his wet fingers. “Starve,” he swore as he leaned over to pick it up. As he bent down, a bright shape just edging its way off the screen caught his attention. “Eh?”

He hit pause on the computer, turned the knob back the other way until the bright spot on the screen lay dead center. He retrieved his bottle of eyedrops, put several into his right eye, and then turned his attention back to the bright spot.

It reflected light more brightly than anything in its immediate surroundings. The albedo registered far higher than the ice at which he had spent most of his day staring, and it lay alone in one corner of an isolated, rocky plateau far from any of the large ice fields. With a lightpen he marked off two corners around the object and defined a rectangle. A few commands through the keyboard and the object filled the screen. He fiddled with the controls for slightly more resolution, but nothing that cause anyone to question the accuracy of his image. “Par, could you come here a moment?”

“Whatcha got, Tak?” Nannar/Parin asked, leaning over his shoulder.

“What do you make of that?”

Parin looked over Takan’s shoulder at the screen. “Not sure. Albedo of one, so it’s better than the grey ice which covers ninety percent of this rock. Six and a half oma long, or thereabouts. Slightly more than two oma wide at the widest point, with some kind of hump right above that wide point, tapering down to about one oma at the other end.”

“Par, that’s a Sayrin form.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions, Tak.”

Takan jumped to a standing position instead. “Look at it, Par! Tell me that’s not sayrinoid. It’s got a head, those are shoulders, those are its legs.”

Parin looked again. It did have that compelling shape. “Why are the legs so narrow?”

“Maybe it’s got them crossed over, you know, the way some people sit with their legs up.” Takan sat down again. “It’s just a theory,”

“Tak, next thing you’ll be telling me that there really is a face in the stone under the clouds of Regor and that the SFA is covering it up.” Parin took a breath. If nothing else, this object held a little mystery. And to a couple of graduate students who had started to feel like nothing more than wageless slaves to professorial masters, a mystery was easily welcomed. “You’re right. It’s a theory. And it’s an interesting-looking object. I’ll point it out to Maykir/Cot and see if she’ll approve an extra fly-by of the Mapetus II probe.”


Brynda looked down through her enhanced eyes at the world below. As uninviting as Dante’s Hell and twice as cold, it looked just right to her. She selected a flat space on an elevated plain for her project, and then began casting about for a place where she could quarry the necessary materials. She found it, about sixteen kilometers from the display site down a steep slope. Perfect.


Maykir/Cot adjusted the glasses over her eyes and peered at the display. “You haven’t mentioned this to anyone else, have you?” she asked Takan and Parin as they examined the logs of the second, “sledded” flyby of the site now labeled Albedo One.

“No, Professor,” Takan said. Parin shook his head as well in the negative.

“You’re right, Parin. It’s… interesting.” She said the word slowly, not sure what to make of the image on the screen. Closer up and deliberately examined from no more than a siloma it looked even more like a sayrinoid form than it had in the original pictures.

“Look at it,” Takan said. “It’s like someone just lying there on the beach. You can see everything. The top of his head, his feet–“

“How do you know it’s a ‘he’?” Maykir/Cot asked testily. “We don’t even know if it’s an ‘it’ yet, young mel. Parin is more correct this time– we don’t know what it is. We will not know until we go down there.” She smiled patiently. “However, we will be going down there. You are invited first, of course.”

Takan’s eyes widened with the offer. “Of course!”

“Parin, you as well.”

“Thank you, Maykir/Cot. I accept gratefully.”

“And not a word of this until dinnertime. I shall be making the announcement. We’ll need two more students, two pilots, and another professor. I shall ask Fedden/Cot first, privately. You do not have that luxury. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Professor,” Parin agreed. Takan shook his head in agreement.


Brynda panted inside her powered armor. The work was harder than she had first anticipated. But then, when was such work ever easy? There was precious little silver on this ball of rock, although she had almost collected enough for the task at hand. She snarled a little at the small tunnel before her, then caught a glint of light down and to her left. Sensors lit up and told her she had struck a vein of bright, clean silver. More than enough for the project she had in mind.


At dinner that evening, they sat at a table with several of their classmates, wondering exactly how Maykir/Cot was going to deliver the announcement. Parin was right and both of them knew it– it was probably a coincidence, late volcanic ejecta smoothed to a polish by some unexplained phenomena. But if Takan was correct then both of them knew that his name would go into history books. Parin wanted to go along to be at least a footnote in that same history.

About halfway through dinner the monitors mounted in the four corners of the messroom came to life. Normally during meals they simply displayed the time and a scrolling list of news reports back home, but for assemblies and important announcements they were the easiest way of gaining the attention of people raised to watch such boxes.

“Ladies and gentlemels,” Maykir/Cot opened up, “An opportunity has arisen for some of you to visit Mapetus II. I require two of you to volunteer to go to the surface of Mapetus II to investigate an unusual geological structure. I have attained the permission of Tikiniri/Fen for a shuttlecraft to visit the site. For those of you who would like to know what we’re interested in, this is one of the clearer images we have of the site.” The image flickered as the signal switched to a new feed, and now the picture they had been looking at only a short while ago came back to Takan and Parin. With the monitor some distance away, it looked even more like just some mel, lying on the beach, watching the girls go by. The whole pose seemed uncanny.

The room erupted in people running for the terminals. Takan and Parin got out of their way. Parin gave Takan a two-fingers- vertical salute, an acknowledgment that, whether it was real or not, it was causing a stir. Actual knowledge would have to wait.


She took the silver, the steel, the miscellaneous metals, and her little bag of tricks and settled down by the quarry. She had been careful not to disturb the final site for her catstone (she hesitated to call it a ‘monument,’ and ‘monolith’ was completely out of the question), and so would do the final construction here. It would take her several days at least.

Lasers and fusion power made smelting and blending the silver and steel into an alloy as casual an act as mixing flour and water. That was not the hard part. Directed with gravitics fields and containment zones, it became a four-meter long block of stainless steel roughly the shape of a Uncia. Making it look like a Uncia, one made of silver so polished it shone with the full rage of the sun– that would take much longer.


The other two students had introduced themselves as Leksan and Helia. Fedden/Cot and Maykir/Cot sat in the front of the shuttle’s personnel hold, talking animatedly, exchanging precious hardcopy photographs of Albedo One. That the supply officer had let them have the dense, glossy paper necessary for such printing indicated that even he had been convinced of the serious nature of this investigation. On such a long trip– five months, each way– blank paper was a rare and precious thing. Parin, who doodled almost habitually, had once confided in Takan that if he didn’t have something to draw on he would go mad. Computer memory, fortunately, was not so rare and precious these days, and Parin’s quota had quietly been filled and emptied six times since the beginning of the voyage. Each time a little less was freed as Parin saw something he couldn’t bear to part with.

Fasst/Fen, their pilot, announced that they were coming close to the landing site. Maykir/Cot had decided that they should land no closer than a siloma from the anomaly and approach on foot. The idea of walking that far in their space suits failed to appeal to Takan.

“What do you think it is?” Leksan asked Takan as the latter stared out the window.

Takan shrugged. “We’ll find out.”

“I think it’s a message left by aliens,” Helia said, her eyes wide and ingenuous.

“But why would they make it look like it was resting? I mean, can you picture it?” Parin asked. “It’s like this.” He leaned his seat back, laced his fingers behind his head, and put his feet up on the seat across the aisle. “What kind of message is this?”

“‘Relax’?” Takan asked. “‘Lay down, cool off, the universe isn’t as wild as you think it is’?”

“If that is true,” Fedden/Cot said from his seat up front, “Then their gesture is a complete failure. Any species with enough time and power to send such a frivolous message indicates to me that the universe, if anything, is more wild than I have imagined it to be.” Fedden/Tarim/Cot had published a number of books on the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Although his books were considered to be ‘imaginative’ in the way they presented such possibilities, they were not best-sellers due to the technical layers he heaped onto his presentations. A colorful genius with a flare for the startling (he had once postulated that the aliens could already be here, as robots too small for the eye to see), the students had welcomed him on board as a counterpoint to the dry and seemingly humorless, but no less brilliant, Maykir/Cot. “In the meantime, Parin, I suggest you put your seat up and prepare for touchdown.”


It had taken her nearly two weeks just to get the general shape right, and the polishing had gone on for another week. Even with power tools and nanotech at her disposal, some thing had to be finished by her hands, her eyes. But when she was finally done, he looked perfect. “I dub thee Uncia Apollo,” she said, touching the shining head of her Greek God. The face was the best part, she thought. It was a delightful expression; she had managed to get it just precise. Although she had to admit to herself that the face might not have been quite so wonderful without the rest of the package; the muscled chest, the casually crossed legs, and, of course, his penis. Standing large and erect, it made it clear quite why he looked the way he did. “Maybe I should call this work, ‘I am for you.’” She hadn’t made up her mind yet.

On the bare wasteland of this rock world whose name she barely knew, she reached up for the seals on her armor. With a casual flick, she let air out into the jealous vacuum, each atom of which was sucked out into an infinity of space it desperately tried to fill. She felt the curious tingle of final life-support kicking in, the micropressors scattered about her body providing her with life-sustaining warmth and pressure for four hours– or for several days when she was within reach of a SDisk network. Her ship qualified. The only thing she had to fear was micrometeorite impact– and without an atmosphere to destroy them, that might present a very real risk. Even in orbits like this world’s, which had been swept almost clean by eons of gravitic tides, the possibility was remote. For safety’s sake she tossed a pair of CKK drones into the air, then shucked the rest of her armor, even her boots– to finally stand naked on the surface of this tiny moon.

Overhead, the great gas-giant gleamed down at her like some majestic deity. She understood how people could get religion over things like that. Swirls of orange, yellow, and red coruscated back and forth on its surface. Unlike Jupiter, which she had first visited many centuries ago, the planet Mapetus had a very slow rotation, and so its storms mixed and merged like differently- weighted fluids in a tumbler, rather than in bands. “Shaken, not stirred,” the line from the astronomers went.

Snapping a small pack on a belt around her waist, she directed two cargo drones to pick up the statue she had crafted and walked with them towards the selected site. It would be a long walk. She relished it.


“Oh my goddess,” Takan said, pointing off slightly to his left as they approached the anomaly. “Look!”

They all did, of course. It’s nearly impossible to resist the impulse to follow another’s excitement. Maykir/Cot saw it next, and when she did, she took in a sharp breath of disbelief as well. “That’s impossible.”

“Impossible or not, we must get photographs,” Fedden/Cot was saying even as he hauled his camera up and began recording the images for history.

“He was barefoot?” Helia asked, as surprised as the others. “How… how is that possible?”

“We do not know he was barefoot,” Maykir/Cot said, recovering her demeanor as quickly as she could. “For all we know, this is a hoax.”

“By whom?” Fedden/Cot asked testily.

Maykir/Cot looked flustered. “I… I don’t know. This is unbelievable.”

“Yes, but let us not say it is impossible,” Fedden/Cot argued. “We know nothing about who made these prints. All we know is that they are here, on land no sayrin has ever stepped on. We see prints that are of feet, yet look at them. They are much larger than our feet. That could be a bootprint.”

“With toes?” Takan asked.

“How much do we know about the maker of footprints?” Fedden/Cot replied. “We see footprints. They head in the direction of the anomaly. Another set seems to head away from it, see there? They are not bootprints that we make, but that does not mean they were not made by alien boots, rather than alien bare feet. Let us progress, being careful not to disturb the footprints of the other.”

They walked on. It took only a few more minutes to approach the anomaly, which seemed to rest against a small outcropping of rock. The footprints approached on its left side, so they walked around the rock to the right. Helia giggled. “Oh, dear.”


The climb up the side of the precipice had been painful. But she had managed to make it all in one piece and without drawing blood anywhere. It didn’t hurt that the moon had but a shadow of gravity, barely one-tenth of what she had grown up under. The two drones carrying her artwork followed her dutifully as she walked the last three kilometers across the plain to the small crop of rock where she had chosen to leave Uncia Apollo. She liked that name because it was a name, rather than the title of just another piece of art. The site lay on the far side of the plateau from where she had climbed, and from the edge of the almost vertical cliff it wasn’t even visible to the unmodified eye.

She walked for nearly an hour. The lower gravity necessitated moving more slowly. When it finally did come into sight, she realized that she had chosen well. A small cropping of rock, barely more than a meter tall, it sloped gently downwards into the ground, the final ejection of some cataclysmic world-making event many billions of years ago. She directed the drones around the rock to the side furthest away from her approach– and, she hoped, furthest away from the approach of others. She wanted them to have to walk up close to see it. Yet even she realized that by the time the species on the second planet had enough technology to get here they would probably have cameras good enough to get a clear picture long before they set foot on this little world.


“I don’t get it,” Parin said as he walked around the statue with a camera in hand. “It’s… it’s weird, that’s what it is.”

“He is a handsome creature,” Maykir/Cot admitted as she admired the form. “The artist who created him clearly knew what she was doing.”

“‘She?’” Fedden/Cot inquired. “Are we talking about female intuition here?”

Maykir/Cot felt relieved that the blush would not be visible through the tinted visor of her helmet. “Yes. I can feel it, Fedden. A fem made this. The lines are right for a feminine touch. And the smile… look at how he smiles. He is thinking mischief, but a happy, satisfied kind of mischief. He’s relaxed. And then there’s his erection. It’s magnificent but if you measure it in comparison to the body it is easily within the average ratios we find among our own mels. It is thick but not long, not for a body of this size. A fem would make that.”

“Or a homosexual,” Leksan offered as he rolled up the plastic tape measure he had used to take measurements. “We notice these things, too.”

Maykir/Cot nodded. “That hadn’t occurred to me. You’re right that many homosexual artists have sensitivities we do not see in many heterosexual male artists. But I still go with my first impression. A fem made him.”


Brynda carefully guided the statute, which massed over two metric tons, to its final resting place. It nestled up against the stone as if it had been made to fit just in that place, which in a way it had. Lying there, her polished, smiling, stainless steel god looked… divine. He would lie here, patient and waiting, for the day when he would shock the natives. To her thinking he would not wait long; she would still be alive when the Sayrin, as they called themselves, arrived here in orbit about their fourth world, their gas giant.

Looking again at the lovely work she had managed, she felt tempted. “No, you don’t, Brynda,” she said to herself. But why not? a voice asked her. True, nobody was around to watch her. And it would be such a shame to let such a magnificent phallus go to waste. She had to admit to herself what she had really known, underneath, since the beginning of this project. “I can’t leave you here all by yourself without at least giving you a moment’s pleasure,” she said to the statue. He smiled back at her.


“I must agree with you,” Fedden/Cot said as he examined the statue closer. “The artist is definitely a fem.”

“Why do you think so?” Maykir/Cot asked.

“Because the penis is neither excessively large nor vanishingly small.”

“Didn’t Maykir/Cot already say that?” Helia asked.

“No, she did not. She observed that the penis is average and for that reason concluded that a fem made. A fem would seek a comfortable medium. I conclude that a mel did not make this for the opposite reason and for different reasons. Mels are often embarrassed by their penises– and artists may seek to minimize what is rightly a strange projection on an otherwise well- constructed body. The penis has no muscles and no control you see, and men are loathe to admit that any part of them is beyond their control.

“Opposing that, some artists would seek to emphasize the penis, to make a spectacle of the enormous focus of power and masculinity that they see in it. Such a penis would be excessively large and there would never be any hint that it was beyond the mel’s control. This statue shows neither. The expression on the face, if I read it well, is one of anticipation but not dominance. He is neither worshipful nor embarrassed by his erection. Therefore, a mel did not make this.”

“Sounds like the same reasoning to me,” Helia said.

“That is why my name ends in ‘cot’, and you are still a student.”


Brynda knelt before Apollo, looking at him. The smile hadn’t moved. Of course it wouldn’t. But she still admired it all the same. I made that, she thought to herself. Damn, it’s a fine piece of work. She crawled up along his legs until she knelt directly before the gorgeous dick she had crafted for her Greek godling. It gleamed, the surface reflecting the light from the gas giant overhead in bright, swirling colors. “What a handsome tool you have there,” she giggled. She had checked the heaters she carried with her in her small pouch and they all acknowledged that the statue should be warm to the touch. She finally did touch him along his metallic thigh and as her sensors had shown he was comfortable to the touch.

She found herself taking Apollo very seriously. Her mind conjured up fantasies of what this mel would look like if he should rise from his eternal lounging and put his hands upon her.

She reached out with her tongue to touch the solid steel head of his cock. It, too, felt warm, and the silver reacted with her saliva to give her the strange taste of flowing electrons. A small voice asked her if it wasn’t too strange that she could the taste exciting. She bent her head down and took the head of his cock into her mouth, wrapping her tongue around it, feeling it. Although warm, it was completely steel solid and no amount of coercing would make it soft enough for her to actually show it the kind of attention her lovers had relished in the past. But then, Apollo wouldn’t mind. He was her little godling. He was here to do her bidding.


“Um, Maykir/Cot?” Takan asked as he walked around it. He found it hard not to look at the shaft of steel pointing up at Mapetus overhead. It was an impressive looking object. Leskan’s mentioning quite so casually his own homosexuality made Takan even more uncomfortable than the statue alone had managed to achieve. His scientific training told he was supposed to be curious about this object, and that the object had an enormous hard-on jarred slightly in his head.

“Yes, Takan?” She looked up in his direction.

“I, um, I brought one of the 16Khz sensor lasers with me. There appears to be organic material deposited on the, um, penis.”

“You do not think…” Fedden/Cot let his words fade.

“I do think,” Maykir/Cot. “If he is a handsome creature to his maker, and this is not atrophied muscle, these are not deformed limbs, then why not?”


With one hand she caressed the hard shaft again. She knew its every curve, every raised vein, every little crease. She had worked for two days on just his cock to get it perfect. It had to look perfect for the aliens when they arrived. With the other hand she caressed her own cunt, two fingers massaging around her clitoris in delicate whorls, closing in slowly. She could hear herself giving off small whimpers every time she got too close to her sensitive spot, pushing her own pleasure up one more notch.

She reached into the belt pouch she had tossed on the ground nearby and pulled out the small bottle of aloe she kept there for times as these she had with toys on her ship. She applied nearly a quarter of the bottle to the groove formed by her two furred fingers held together and then slid those fingers into her body. “Oh…” she said to her Apollo, her stainless steel godling lover. “Yes, that’s it, Apollo. Yes. I am ready. I know you are too.”


They walked back to the shuttlecraft. “I’m still shocked,” Parin said. “What does she think she was trying to say?”

“We shall be arguing about that until she comes back and tells us herself, if she still exists,” Fedden/Cot replied.

“But, I mean, she had… relations with her statue before she chose to leave it here?” His tone said he believed that the artist had but he had not come to any reasons as to why. “I mean, did she mean to leave her… fluids… on the statue for us to find or was she overcome with some strange urge while installing it or… or what?” Parin spoke slowly, having trouble finding the polite words he needed to talk about this subject with his professors in earshot.

Helia giggled. “I think she was afraid he’d be lonely. I mean, just think, she’d be leaving him out where all alone with that erection and he’d still be a virgin.”

“We’re talking about a statue,” Parin said.

“Not necessarily, not in the mind of the artist,” Maykir/Cot pointed out. “She was clearly quite creative– he is beautiful, even if it is an alien beauty. She had a sense of mischief, for she left him here for us to find. And she was clearly a sexual being, given to lust and desire– not the kind of hyperlogical creatures you find in poor vidscreen science fiction. Who knows what kind of fantasies she had to dream just to craft him? Surely those fantasies were intact when she brought him here.”


Brynda positioned herself above the rampant phallus of her polished lover, then lowered herself on it. She felt the warmed head of it nuzzle against her cunt, tilted her hips enough to make it go in at just the right angle, and penetrated herself with it. The head slid in a cent or two. She pumped her hips in gentle cycles, each cycle making both the cock and her own cunt wetter, until she had the entire length of it embedded inside her body. “Oh, Apollo…”

It felt better than she had dreamed. His cock was lodged inside her body. Under her left hand his warm and unrelentingly hard body felt… like that of a Greek god. She looked up and the smile was still there.

Her other hand continued to play with her clit, those two fingers sliding around it as quickly as she could manage as she pumped herself up and down on the eternal, steel shaft. His body gleamed, as mirrors will, with the light from overhead, the coruscating light changing as she rose and fell, fucked herself on his magnificent cock. The light shifted over his face, neck, shoulders, the ridges of muscle on chest and belly. As her pleasure rose, she dreamed that his gleaming fingers were on her thighs, holding her, caressing her. She was bathing in light and rejoicing in pleasure. She thought she could hear his delighted laughter filling her ears as she came.


“We are obsessing on the penis precisely because it is a penis and we don’t see penises, especially not erect ones, in art very often. But look at this statue. Remember what we were looking for when we got here. The artist is a fem– it all makes sense only if the artist is a fem. We came up on it and we saw its feet and that confirmed for us that we were about to have a unique experience, the first people in all the solar system to actually have evidence of life other than our own. And then we walk further, and we see the penis, and we’re frozen in place for a moment by the sight of it. And I agree with Leksan, it’s a magnificent piece of art. But aside from Fedden/Cot’s analysis of it, when you finally see the rest of the statue, you see how magnificent this entire creature is. And that is not a grimace of pain– that is pleasure, amusement, something elated just to be here. And if he’s smiling at the artist or at us doesn’t matter.”

Maykir/Cot took a breath. “Whatever she meant to say, she has said it well. She started out by shocking us, and… I was shocked. A grinning, erect alien is shocking. But in such a gesture she’s managed to tell us so much more– about ourselves, and about herself.”

“The universe has truly become more wild than I imagined,” Fedden/Cot said with a grin.

“You mean the artist really did mean to say ‘Sit down, lean back, there’s time to relax?” Takan asked, puzzled.

“Better than that, young mel. She is telling us to be prepared. For in her universe, there is time enough for the laughter of a good joke, and the pleasure of intimate contact. In a universe where people cross the stars there is still time for Sayrinity.” Fedden/Cot rubbed his eyes. “Well, we are docking at the ship. What shall we tell them?”

Maykir/Cot grinned at her comrade. “The truth, of course.”


Spent, exhausted, Brynda pushed herself upwards, feeling the now-warmed steel prick sliding out of her happy cunt. With the fur on the back of her hand, she tried to wipe the penis as clean of her juices as possible. Although in theory the surgical-grade stainless steel wouldn’t degrade from contact with bodily fluids, she wasn’t aware of what they would do after more than a century, especially not in hard, radiation-filled vacuum.

She stood up and looked down at her Apollo. “There, feel better now?” He just smiled at her, and the smile looked satisfied now, rather than the mischief she had intended. She knew that was a trick of her own imagination. She stretched her back and looked across the vast expanses of space for the very brightest star, the sun around with this world visited. “I hope the Sayrin don’t take too long in getting to you. You’re too nice a guy to be here all alone.” She leaned over and gave him one more soft kiss on the forehead. “Good-bye, Apollo. Thank you.” She walked back the way she came, back to the small lift platform that would take her to her starship.


Tired and achy, Maykir/Cot collapsed onto her bunk with a satisfied sigh. Her porthole, covered now with a curtain, would have only shown stars slowly spinning by. A low growl reverberated through the ship, the sound of the fusion drives at the far end pushing the vessel ever faster away from Mapetus. She wanted a shower.

The news had made the whole world crazy. Most people thought it was a practical joke– and almost half of those people thought the joke had been perpetrated by someone from the expedition. The religious sorts had gone berserk. Most still reeled from the knowledge that there intelligent life did exist outside Sayrin; a few had recovered enough to actually say something, and many of them denounced the statue as evidence that the intelligence out there was decadent and corrupt. Some even proposed that space travel itself “corrupted.”

Maykir/Cot thought of it all as complete nonsense. She had seen the Hard One up close, even touched him. After much debate, the decision had been made to bring it onto the ship and it still lay in the cargo hold, no longer in a vacuum after the biology people had decided they’d collected enough samples. Fingerprints, not like any a sayrin ever made, were all over the chest, right arm and right leg of the statue. Although nobody yet knew why the fingerprints were only on that one side Maykir/Cot thought the easiest explanation was that those places were where she had held onto it as it had been lowered into place.

They had found the hole where the artist had dug out her collection of silver, iron, and other metals for her work, had found evidence of bootprints (apparently she took off her shoes to make a point– ‘See, I can go barefoot on this cold, airless world.’). They had taken thousands of photographs, collected hundreds of samples, and already students were writing dozens of papers.

She hoped someday to meet the artist.

If only to thank her for making life even more interesting today than it had been yesterday.