+ Βαβυλὼν ἡ μεγάλη, ἡ μήτηρ τῶν πορνῶν καὶ τῶν βδελυγμάτων τῆς
+Piro stared at the pink planet and then stared at the neon green words
+inscribed upon its surface.
+"The fuck?" he asked, to no one.
+The RAGNAROK set down near the southwestern corner of the Β. Visible
+from space, each character turned out to have been a computer
+projection -- that is to say, metadata -- and not, he now concluded, a
+typographical feature of the planet's surface. Piro wiped the
+annoyance from his short-term memory and proceeded to investigate his
+"Sand," he remarked into his commlink.
+Piro erected a small shelter and inserted his probes into the cool,
+The RAGNAROK returned to orbit.
+Not much had changed. The red sand continued to look and feel very
+Piro was nonplussed. She just sort of laid there.
+Nevermind, execute the mission.
+After several hours walking he happened upon a couch, aligned against
+the remains of a partially collapsed wall. The structure, what was
+left of it, appeared to have been furnished in a cheap, spruce wood
+paneling. The whole mess stood isolated in the middle of a dry salt
+lake. Pages from an old magazine were stuffed into crevices in the
+Piro looked behind the couch.
+The panther stared back at him, eyes piercing his face. The cat stood
+poised upon a pile of rubbish. Silent communication seemed telepathic
+in nature. In any case, he could understand what the cat was trying
+These questions were... above his pay grade.
+Piro logged into his weapon.
+His chronometer seemed to have repaired itself.
+Making his way across the desert, Piro retrieved various artifacts.
+Shards of quartz, loose wreckage from old aircraft, some miscellaneous
+The airfield was in poor repair.
+Piro filed his report and then turned in for the evening, setting up
+camp on the far side of the dry salt lake. From his backpack he
+produced several small containers: tinned meats and cheese, a beer,
+Disposing of the consumables, he thought of his father.
+That night, as always, he suffered no dreams.
+The RAGNAROK settled into a silent landing on the dry lake bed. Cargo
+doors unfurled, her invisible crew dispersed one-by-one into the
+desert sunlight. Peering through the morning air, each crew member
+spied the Martian vista, paused briefly to reflect, and then got back
+to work. The concern for efficiency was evidenced by the smooth
+transit from observation to action. Loading proceeded more quickly
+than was necessary for government work.
+Piro was careful moving up the boarding ramp. Uncharacteristically
+groggy, he felt uncertain of his precise location. This would prove
+troublesome if he drifted off course. But, as he ventured further
+into the craft his confidence seemed to return. This was, after all,
+Safely in orbit, Piro input a request for his usual hot tea. This,
+finally, brought him fully awake. He perused crew reports and then
+drummed his fingers on the arm-rest of his captain's chair. Slowly,
+his thoughts returned to his mission.
+A Martian base might prove suitable, given the proper funding.
+Piro submitted random queries to the RAGNAROK, hoping for some
+interesting juxtaposition amongst the syntax errors. When this
+approach failed he decided to resume the surface of the planet.
+Further study would confirm his intuition. Or, failing that, he could
+"Isn't she smothering you?" asked the panther.
+"She's always like this. You wouldn't understand." Piro considered
+what he wanted to say next. Then he added: "It's her way. My mother
+is from a different time."
+He punched in a quick status report, fired it off to the RAGNAROK.
+Approval received, he felt free to resume the conversation.
+"I admit, sometimes I don't know what she wants from me."
+"Breaks you down, but neglects to build you back up," continued the
+cat. "How does that prepare you for the future?"
+He conceded it was a fair question.
+Piro observed as the panther settled back on its haunches and then
+flattened out on the rubbish pile, resting its face on its paws.
+Suddenly, he realized that its markings had changed. He looked again
+and now there seemed to be two cats crouching behind the couch, both
+occupying the same space on top of the stack of debris. With the
+interference pattern it was difficult to tell where one panther began
+and the other ended. Their tails seemed to be intertwined. On second
+thought, perhaps both panthers shared the same tail. He shook his
+head and squinted his eyes just as the fluctuations finally settled
+This seemed to conclude the discussion.
+Once again aboard the RAGNAROK, Piro reviewed recent events. One cat
+that had become two. One set of markings that had translated
+themselves into another. The persistent question of the obscure
+architecture and furnishings that were situated amongst unusual
+geography. Finally, the collapse of the waveform.
+Wary of misunderstandings, Piro decided to undocument the mission.
+Unanswered questions might sour the acquisition program. Budgets were
+tight, while imaginations still yearned for controversy. The process
+would be difficult enough without accusations of poor planning or
+The RAGNAROK informed that orbit had been obtained. The invisible
+crew, as always, awaited instructions. Piro continued to pace the
+bridge, thoughts detached from his present surroundings. At length,