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of weapons fire on the outside of this... whatever it is. Suggest you proceed with caution. Place could be rigged with booby traps, bombs, auto-defense systems... anything." After a moment's thought more, he added, "Until we know what this is and where it came from, we have to consider it a definite potential threat to security." He was stating the obvious, but it bore repeating, nonetheless.

One of the pilots replied, "Team One to Security, we'll be careful." Then he paused a moment, as if trying to give voice to sentiments he was having trouble articulating. Clearly feeling that he wasn't expressing more than a fraction of what he was feeling, he added, "It's beautiful, though."

That was exactly what Zack didn't need to hear. He could discern what seemed to be a sense of wonderment in the tone of the pilot. That did not sit well with Zack at all. He knew how easy it was to be seduced by the alienness of the artifact, but they couldn't take any chances of letting themselves be carried away. Zack said, "Yeah, it is that... but so's a cobra. So be damned careful. I don't want anyone to get bit."

It was as if Zack had tossed a healthy dose of cold water on the pilot... or at least, that's what Zack very much wanted to believe as he heard the pilot speak again, as if shaking off something that was going through his mind. "Understood," said the pilot. "Okay, everybody stand by. Move to prescribed safe distance. Sending in a maintbot to take a surface sample."

Zack monitored his instrumentation carefully, and also- bottom line-kept a very close eye on the maintenance 'bot as it angled toward the surface of the artifact. The 'bot, for its part, didn't have to deal with such trivialities as conflicted feelings, uncertainty, or an awe-filled sense of wonder as it drew
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