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J/Lai culture two days ago when she'd realized that there was one pallet of artifacts she'd failed to examine. In the computer, the pallet was designated "Miscellaneous," which to archaeologists meant items too small to be identified or those deemed of no significance. These were usually natural, unmodified objects that happened to be located at an archaeological site. In a dig on Earth, for example, rocks or acorns that had not been used by humans and had not been modified by them would be included in "miscellaneous."

But she was a perfectionist-didn't like to leave any stone unturned as Chang liked to joke-archaeologists' humor-and so went down to the warehouse to examine the pallet. Most of the items did look like "miscellaneous," though after scrutinizing each piece she found ten she wanted to pull for further study. Three, in particular, intrigued her.

Back in her lab, she studied the three. They looked almost like dried-out corn husks, two quite shriveled, the third one less so. They at first appeared similar to a plant on Theta Omega 2, which was probably how they had gotten into "miscellaneous," though on further examination the error of that identification became clear. The more she studied them, the more animallike they seemed. The outer layer was thin and fragile, almost like a butterfly's cocoon, with a slightly iridescent quality. She decided to run a few more tests before handing the objects over to Churlstein, the physical anthropologist from the expedition.

Her first scan came back with incongruous results: the objects inside the husks appeared to have simultaneously biological and mechanical characteristics. She repeated the scan and got the same results. Anna studied the nonsensical readouts for a long time, her mind racing through possibilities.
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