Associate Professor Chang is ferried down to the planet via the shuttle. Dr. Everett does what analysis he can on the biological samples taken from the scorched rock; he concludes that 95% of the material recovered is human, with a small chance that there is nonhuman material alongside.
A day’s march away from the Bellerophon crash site, Johnny Five’s scanners pick up a camouflaged contact shadowing them. He dispatches a squad of royal guardsman to wait for the contact in ambush while Johnny flushes him out. The creature emerges from the brush; it most resembles an oversized snapping turtle without its shell, roughly bear-sized and capable of standing on two or four legs. When Johnny takes a shot at it with his blaster rifle, its surface ripples and shimmers while it charges at the closest guardsman in the picket line.
A guardsman takes a shot at him and there is an immense burst of light in response – when everyone regains their vision again the creature is gone. Searching the area, Johnny Five uncovers splatters of blood and bone, which Doctor Everett identifies as a New Axom-originating genetic patterns. When the guardsman fails to return back to the main group, the team starts operating under the assumption that they’re dealing with a Denebian infiltrator – which also makes the reports of witches “who are in two places at once” seem much more credible.
When breaking the news to Commander Tubal that he has lost a member of a team to a witch, he remarks that this is not his first time tangling with witches. Early on in his career, Jubal went on an expedition to the Ghost City which is a known gathering place of witches – during which expedition he came back with an artifact. Rhone pulls from Jubal’s memory an image of Jubal putting on the artifact, a jewel-studded chaplet, which is oddly discontinuous with the rest of Jubal’s mental stream.
Arriving at the outskirts of the crash site, Johnny Five is contacted by the Bellerophon’s IFF system – it flags him as an amber (intentions unclear, not immediately hostile) contact and opens up a communications channel to an AI which is acting as the ship’s custodian. Rhone tries to talk the AI, named Dakini, and persuade it to let them approach. Dakini will only allow Doctor Everett and a support robot (Estray Cold Ocean) to render aid.
In the medical bay, Sgt. Jiang McMahon of the 2nd Detachment is the only person to survive Dakini’s attempt at preservation. Readouts indicate that there is another pod containing someone who is physically alive, albeit with no brain function. Dr. Everett revives the sergeant, who handles his current state with the calm professionalism expected of a seasoned space marine. Sergeant McMahon takes command of Dakini and authorizes the AI to treat Dr. Everett and Cold Ocean as allies. From there it is determined that the best course of action is to take Sgt. McMahon and the other functioning life-support unit (holding a Naval junior officer) back to the base camp where Dr. Everett can hopefully get the space marine on his feet. Estray Cold Ocean gets to work and manages to improvise a gravsled out of intact antigrav deck plating, and two days later the team is back at base camp none the worse for wear.