Parker smiled, looking around at the clearing. He bounced back and forth on his heels his smile growing into a toothy grin. If he'd been ordered by a commanding officer from the SAS, or given the choice to go up he might not have objected, but the ship had felt confining to him. The four who'd joined him in returning had their reasons too, he was sure, but they were their own.

His group of five were well prepared, their story had been practiced and collaborated on. They made sure to add the variations that would be expected from differing accounts should there be any questions.

Their gear, while not the latest and best available, done purposely to avoid questions, it was still adequate and showed the classic signs of long use. There was enough food and water for the five of them for a few days, and civilization was only a short walk through the forest to the nearest town.

It'd taken some talking and a lot of questions on exactly what the little tracking device would be allowed to do before he'd agreed to it, and then only because it had been offered. It was a backup plan, if he ever needed help it would be a simple matter to activate the emergency locator implant.

Now, he just had to get himself and the rest of them back into town, where hopefully they hadn't been declared dead yet.


Back on the ship Grace cleared the display where she'd been watching the returning group's progress through the forest.

The medical support chair encased most of her body while the nutrient rich burn gel and dermal regenerators built into the chair worked to regrow burned muscle tissue and skin. She grimaced as she looked down at her left arm encased in green gel.

She had no illusions about her prognosis, under normal circumstances she would have been horribly disfigured. She didn't quite understand the technology supporting her, the burn gel and support chair which had her cocooned in a reduced gravity field and pain suppression, but she was grateful for it. Doctor McCoy had told her that she should expect another month in the chair as they cleared away the damage to her body.

Grace sighed and used her good arm to pick the padd back up and continued reading the medical text where she'd left off.

Doctor McCoy turned away from the open door where he'd been watching his patient and back into his office. The most vital part of any recovery is keeping spirits high, it's part of his core knowledge, a patient that has nothing left to live for will allow themselves to waste away.

Bones tapped a few keys on his computer and sent a message off to Diana, the new ship's counsellor for her review. Diana was another curiosity to him, she'd been found in some sort of metabolic stasis in antarctica, infected by what had to be a weaponized virus. Surprisingly it had only taken Diana a day to learn english even if it was with the help of the universal translator.

He set aside his thoughts on that for now and went back to the open file in front of him. Grace was working against the medical training and knowledge she studied all her life. While they couldn't instantly restore her, what he was able to do was as close to magic to her, as well, actual magic.

He cleared the screen and pulled up the other problem file, the subject was a child, showing signs of being overweight for most of his life before a series of changes in lifestyle, diet, and living arrangements had seen him begin a rapid loss of weight over a few short months.

Why the boy wanted biomechanical replacements instead of a simpler regrowth treatment, Bones shook his head as he examined the file. The boy's name had been redacted from the file, off to the side a nurse had made note of his chosen name. David had been trapped in his room when the fire started, most of his injuries were due to falling debris as the fire ate away at the wood holding the building up.

McCoy reviewed the enhancement options again and sent the captain the details on the procedure he was willing to perform at the patient's request. He wouldn't be removing any limbs since it didn't make sense to him medically, but it wouldn't be that difficult to introduce a similar nanite treatment to the captain's.

One of the kid's eyes was damaged, which would normally be replaced with a replicated clone, so he might be able to give him optical sensors like Admiral LaForge had, hopefully the kid was still young enough for those to take.

McCoy saved the updated notes on the file and leaned back in the chair, thinking about the past week.


I've finished my analysis of the idea James had," Sky said into the quiet hum of the bridge. Sky was sitting at ops tapping away at the computer, not that he needed to use the manual input to get his work done, but it gave the captain something to focus on while both of them worked.

Harry looked up from a holographic game of mahjong, "Oh?"

"To resource intensive at the moment," Sky said. "A permanent base usually makes use of the natural magnetic field and gravity well of a planet. If we wanted to put a stationary base above the solar plane we'd need better engines to maintain position and stronger shields to protect from the solar radiation. It's still an interesting idea for stealth bases as long as we can mask the power signature though."

Harry nodded and tapped another pair of tiles on his game board. "Let's keep it in mind then and work on the design when we can."

"How much time until we reach Io?" Harry asked.

"We should be in orbit in another two hours, also the Potters have volunteered to place a few charms on the lander to help hide it." Sky replied.


The ship slowed from in-system cruising speed, maneuvering into a standard orbit of the moon designated Jupiter I. From the underside of the ship a large door slid away revealing the interior of a lower shuttlebay. A few minutes later the mining lander smoothly slid through the forcefield and out into open space.

The lander itself was shaped like a large rock that had been cut in half, on the smooth, flat side was the opening for the engine and mechanics that would allow the lander mobility on the surface. On the upper hull of the lander it had been covered with an adequate facsimile of the rocky surface it would soon be landing on. Augmenting this low tech natural camouflage, the Potters had added their own magic in the forms of notice-me-not and disillusionment charms.

Within the lander's main compartment, surrounded by the best inertial dampeners and cushioning charms, lay the thirty-two silicone spheres. Within each sphere nanomachines worked to turn the raw materials into the body that would one day serve the Horta consciousness slowly growing within a small computer at the center of the sphere.

Space on the lander was at a premium having been kept as small as possible to avoid using too much of their stockpile. So, the lander would be paired with a second cloaked satellite holding the dedicated communication array designed to keep the Horta colony connected with the Caelis Ignis Fornax.

On the ship all eyes, well most of them minus a few of the younger children possibly, were glued to the view screens as they watched the lander descend towards Io, the engine underneath firing every now and then as it lowered itself into the hostile atmosphere. When the ship finally touched down and the check came back green, Harry breathed a sigh of relief. They would only need another twenty hours until the eggs would hatch unleashing the Horta on the slightly volcanic moon below them.


Three hours later the Harry watched the reports from the as yet unhatched but still growing Horta, the young minds were quickly absorbing the ship's library databases communicated over their short range wireless network.

Later he would look back and realize this had been the birth of one of his greatest assets. In more ways than one they would surpass their origin, as the Horta would prove their worth in hours of research, analysis, and simulation work.