Grace stared at the blinking light on the console. The little bar at the bottom of the screen that proved the connection was still open. On and off. Once every second.Taunting her.”Twenty-two minutes of transmission lag, no amount of staring is going to make it go faster.” Manuel sat beside her, his pen scratching along the paper as he made more tracings of the tablets. He had a stack beside him of dozens.And those didn’t count the ones cast in plastic they’d sent up to the orbital. Or the digital scans. Or the photographs they took. Or the copies they sent off to Earth…Like hell they were losing anything if the lander decided to explode.”Sorry for being obsessive with the biggest even of my life. OUR lives!” She would glare at him, but that would require taking her eyes off the screen. They’d promised they were close with the translation, any message could be THE message.”And the three people sitting above our heads will know everything a good two minutes before you,” he said with the air of a particularly smug parent. “You missing the transmission by a few seconds isn’t the end of the world. Sit back. Relax. Fix your hair.””I will relax when I know what the hell is going on.” Still, her eyes were beginning to sting. And her head was pounding. And she’d been in this chair for hours reading notes sent back and forth between IMM Pater and the Earth.”I guess you have a point,” she mumbled, laying back until she could look at the ceiling. Nice, clean plastic covering all the steel and circuitry keeping her from suffocating on the cold Martian surface.Third to set foot on another planet. It would have been so worth it.And yet, no one would ever talk about that part. Not in the way they talked about Armstrong or Aldin or Collins. No, everyone would talk about what they found.The only part they’d recovered was sitting in a glass case in the corner. Gleaming white. Perfectly preserved. Staring out at them from time immemorial.The skull wasn’t exactly human. They’d spent four days figuring it out. It was close, very close. As it was with several other historical hominids. If it had been found anywhere else, it might have been held up as a new missing link.But they’d dug it out of a sealed bunker buried on Mars.If only they’d brought something to date it with. The implications…The hiss of a cycling airlock tore her eyes away from the skull. She turned on the camera and was greeted to two figures. Heavy suits and shiny face-plates, standing around as the air pressure normalized.She all but squealed when she saw they had boxes at their feet.”Looks like they were thorough,” Manuel said, moving to greet them at the door. Grace turned off the camera as the two started to change. Not that the under-suits weren’t flattering, but damn did all the steps get tedious.”You know they’ll need a second mission just to catalog everything.” Already plans were being drawn up. An additional orbiter, one with an added unmanned lander just for cargo. Dig tools, survey equipment, a miniature lab. Everything they might need for a full excavation.Ludicrously expensive, but for the first time in decades, space exploration didn’t lack for budget.Agonizing minutes passed as the suits were stored and the cargo was sanitized and placed into a makeshift clean-room. No one was expecting alien bacteria at this point, but it didn’t hurt to be careful. It’d be another day of tests before she could get hands on them directly.Not the first time she wished her life was just a little more pulp.”Did the good word come through?” Reo asked as he strutted through the door, a grin as wide as his head. Ode followed soon after, looking tired. If Grace didn’t know any better, she’d be seeing bags under her eyes.”No, and it’s agonizing,” Manuel replied, peering into the little space they’d set up for new items. “So is it just more tablets? Did you find anything else? Something that might explain why a presumably spacefaring civilization was leaving notes on metal tablets?””Nothing so lucky, though we did see another skeleton in a sealed off room.” Ode immediately went to food storage. “Going to have to be more careful getting this one. I think they want the whole thing.””That’s going to be difficult, they didn’t supply us with any coffins,” Grace joked. Perhaps a bit too darkly. “Maybe-“”Typing!” Reo shouted and her head whipped around so fast she almost pulled her neck. But she caught the bar just as letters began flashing across the screen.Word just came in from Earth. The first line made her heart jump into her throat. Manuel, Reo, and Ode pressed in around her shoulders and for once she didn’t mind. Came in five minutes ago, we’ve just been…pondering the implications.”Demi’s such a tease.””Shut it!””It’s text, you don’t have hear anything…”Full transmission from Earth forthcoming.The icon for downloads popped up and they stared at the small bar filling without one breath between them.IMM Command –> IMM Orbital Pater Subj: Native(!!!) ArtifactsTranslation efforts slow. Pictographs mimic earliest recorded languages. Resources scarce.Request on-sight aid.Transmitting suspected meanings.”They’re expecting us to do linguistic work now?” Ode said, leaning on Grace’s shoulder as alien symbols scrolled up the screen. Despite her tone, her eyes were alight. “I hope they’ll understand that I didn’t necessarily train for that.””It sounds like they’re annoyed at working long distance. I’d personally be happy for anything to do that’s not hauling the damn things.” Reo was bouncing in place as he picked out new phrases, already moving back towards the bin they’d brought in.”Beats waiting on light-lag!” Grace said, grinning ear to ear. She already knew which ones she wanted to pick at first. Odd chains and pictures that curled down the surface. Knowing her luck, they’d turn out to be some sort of shopping list, but the chance to figure that out for herself…. “And Manuel here originally wanted a degree in the arts. Isn’t that right?”Manuel wasn’t listening. His jaw was slack. His hand trembling as raised it to the screen. Brought his finger to the last one in the list.A sphere with another symbol inside it, surrounded by arcs that traced across its surface.Earth = Settlement Nine.