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The silence building around Rylan and Annabelle, shattered when a voice cut through the cockpit. "Rylan, how soon will your team return?"

Rylan's fingers activated his headset. "Captain, we're clearing the sun." He swiveled to another display and studied it for a moment. "Has Cederic's crew arrived back yet?"

"They docked a few minutes ago," the captain said.

Annabelle spun around in her chair, activating her comm. "Did you tell them what we found on the surface?"

The captain choked off a curse. "Have I told you what they learned?"

"No, sir," Rylan replied while he glared at his copilot. With another few adjustments, the shuttle's engines hummed louder, and the ship lurched forward. "I assume they had no more trouble with the planet's atmosphere."

"No," the captain stated. "Now hurry back."

"Cheery," Annabelle muttered after the captain closed the channel.

"We know what we dropped into his lap," Rylan replied. He hopped to a different console behind him and tweaked another set of controls, coaxing more efficiency from the engines. "Who knows what the other team gave him." Rylan returned to his main console and added, "And based on what we saw when we entered this system, this will be a strange debriefing."

"Why do you think that? Is it because the mysterious planet is teeming with life?"

Rylan dove into the controls and forced the engines past their safety limits. "It's more than that," Rylan sighed. "The combination of life on that unknown world, its mirrored orbit of Laria, and the death of the Larian Federation are why this debriefing will be strange."

Annabelle's fingers clutched her console as the shuttle began to rattle. "Getting back to the cruiser seconds earlier will not benefit us or the captain if the craft flies apart before we land in the bay!"

"It won't fall apart," Rylan retorted. He jumped to another console and coaxed even more speed out of the engines. And as the ship's velocity rose, so did the rattling. "I'm still an engineer, I know exactly how far to safely push a system."

As the rattle increased, the cries of the rest of the team blared over the internal comms.

Rylan silenced the system before returning to his course of action.

"If this stunt is your way of getting back at us, you can stop now."

"I just need a few more seconds."

A bolt rattled free from the shelf over Annabelle's head and struck the desk next to her hand. She lifted it and eyed Rylan as she thrust her other hand against the shaking metal. "Rylan! We're coming apart! Ease up on the engines!"

"Almost there," Rylan muttered.

Annabelle bit her lip, whimpering as the rattling continued to intensify. "Please slow us down."

Rylan's fingers flew across his console as the shuttle neared the cruiser. When the docking bay came into focus, the ship's momentum slammed to a stop, flinging Annabelle into her console. When the motion eased to a smooth glide, Rylan stood up and stretched his arms. "I told you that this craft could handle the abbreviated jaunt."

"So you said," Annabelle muttered, rubbing her chest. "Though I would've appreciated the trip taking a little longer."

"But the captain commanded us to return rapidly," Rylan retorted. With a few strides, he opened the cockpit door, adding, "And he's the one I try to please." On the far side of the doorway, he tapped the wall with his fist and paused. Without glancing at his copilot, he rattled off a few orders. "Make sure everyone gets off the shuttle. And ensure that data assembly is plugged into the system. I'm certain the captain will want to peruse it at some point."

"I'll take care of it once my organs catch up with us."

"You'll be fine," Rylan answered as the door closed. Rylan hurried through the shuttle, ignoring the complaints of his team. He stopped at the ramp's controls just as the shuttle settled down, and he jabbed the button to lower the ramp. As soon as he could, Rylan jumped out of the shuttle and rushed past the flight crew and towards the captain's ready room.

As he raced, the halls blurred until he reached the captain's door. He leaned against the wall to catch his breath, and it slid open. With a smile, Cederic beckoned Rylan inside.

"What did your team see?"

"Nothing that makes sense."

"Both of you sit down," the captain declared. "And before we get to the specifics from your jaunts, we need to contact the home world."

Cederic collapsed into a chair while Rylan closed the cabin's door. With a grunt, Rylan dropped into the other as the captain opened a channel.

"It's about time," a voice greeted them.

"Drake, we have the results from both surveys," the captain stated.

"Go on," Drake replied.

"The strange planet possesses plenty of mystery," Cederic stated as his fingers drummed on the captain's desk.

"Each has their mystery, I'm sure," Drake answered.

"Not equal mysteries," the captain said. "Rylan's group discovered that the Larian Federation was devastated by an experiment. And I believe he collected records that should have more information on that devastation."

"Yes, sir," Rylan confirmed.

"In the meantime, Cederic's team found a world teeming with life and two ancient Larian ships."

Rylan shot to his feet and stared at Cederic. "How old are we talking about?"

With short breaths, Cederic rubbed his chin. "I couldn't identify them using the database. But they are definitely Larian design, and from their condition, they've been there for a while."

"How long?" Drake asked.

"We don't have the exact timeframe," Cederic hedged, "but based on the surroundings, I'm leaning closer to millennia."

"Rylan, as a Larian citizen, you knew nothing about this planet?" Drake inquired.

"No," Rylan answered.

The captain stood up and walked to his window and stared at the Larian star. "You should get comfortable Drake, this debriefing will drag on."

"While we talk, order the ship to return," Drake said.

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