The culmination of 18 years of work, the catalyst or destroyer of her hopes and dreams, the great and sole decider in Div’s fate… was sitting in a small white envelope on her desk. Small and unassuming- one could have mistaken it for junk mail had it not been for the holographic stamp on the back of the letter. The United Space Exploration and Research Station seal sparkled proudly on the white background, filling Div with both excitement and dread. 

Div’s lifelong goal was to serve as a captain in the USERS control team. When she was little, she’d watch the Station’s live stream with her parents, witnessing the discovery of planets and alien life as it happened, following the expeditions of the human explorers, and listening to the commands of the Teraphol commanders. While her classmates idolized the explorers, the ones doing the legwork, and praised their bravery and sacrifice, Div had always favored the commanders. The commanders were the ones orchestrating the entirety of the explorations; it was their quick thinking that determined the success of the mission. They developed all of the techniques and technologies the explorers used, and Div wanted to be just like them. 

With bated breath and unsteady hands, Div ripped open the envelope and pulled out the letter. Scanning over its contents, she felt her heart plummet. The first paper displayed her scores on the written and multiple-choice aptitude tests. While her score was the highest for human applicants, it fell below average compared to Teraphol scores. While it was to be expected, it was nonetheless disheartening. Div had studied relentlessly for this test, loading herself down with college classes and researching study guides. However, the resources available to her were designed for humans trying to pass the exploration division requirements- some sections of the test were wholly left out, such as subjects only present in Teraphol curriculums. Ever since the USERS was established, Teraphols had been the sole species in command, and humans had been the sole species in exploration. It made sense; Teraphol society was structured solely for the pursuit of knowledge. Every single Teraphol had made a significant contribution to their favorite field of study; a low-performing Teraphol would be a prodigy in human society. They were the best choice for command. Humans were more durable, especially after the development of nano-enhancements. They were able to explore foreign worlds, adapt to extreme temperatures, and overcome foreign diseases. The nano-bots in their systems took care of any damage or ailment their natural processes couldn’t. They were the best choice for command. Still, Div had been holding out hope that she would be the one to break the trend, the first human commander in all of history.

Flipping to the next page, Div read her official results.

Application to Command team: Denied

Application to Exploration team: Accepted.

Report to the United Space Exploration Research Station in three days for your fitness and practical test.

At least she made it to the Exploration Team. Although not her first choice, it was a foot in the door. Maybe she could transfer over to the Command team later, but now she had to focus on the next section of her evaluation. As Div read and reread the letter, her disappointment morphed into excitement. In three days, she will be at the research station, the place she had dreamed of visiting for so long.

Ten excited phone calls and three jittery nights later, Div stood in the lobby of the station, bags in hand. It was stunning, with sleek white floors and holograms decorating the foyer, displaying announcements or promoting new human and Teraphol prosthetics. It had an air of sophistication about it, all the technology was cutting edge, some of which Div didn’t even recognize. Everyone walked with a purpose, zooming to and fro with samples or papers in hand. 

“Excuse me.”

Div turned around, startled. A small, spherical robot was floating behind her, seemingly suspended by magnetic forces. Realizing that it had spoken to her, Div gathered her courage and responded.

“Um, yes?”

“Could I please scan your identification chip?” the robot responded without missing a beat.


Holding her wrist out, the robot floated closer to her for a moment, then backed away again.

“Div MacWraith. You are qualified to participate in the physical evaluation for exploration team recruitment. Please proceed to training room 243; you have arrived early, so you will be evaluated with the first wave. Additional information has been sent to your device.”

The robot zoomed away, likely to find other applicants, leaving Div feeling queasy with nerves. Tapping her temple, her nano-enhancements pulled up the information on her optical display. Directions had been uploaded to her system, so she activated them, drumming her fingers frantically while they loaded. With a little ding, an arrow appeared in her vision, directing her through the maze of laboratories and rooms in the station. Her feet seemed to move on their own as she followed the directions numbly. She was confident in her physical abilities, but academics were her strong suit. What other people would be trying out? Would they have to work together? Would she even see any other applicants?

Suddenly, she stopped. She had arrived at room 243. Pushing open the door, Div was greeted by a Teraphol secretary. The Teraphol’s body had hundreds of arms of various sizes, some that appeared to be specialized tools and others that resembled human hands. Their bottom half resembled a tank’s tracks, and their headpiece had several built-in screens and augmenters. It seemed that this Teraphol had constructed their body for observation and lab work and had been modifying it for a long time. The detail and intricate structure of their body astounded Div. She had seen very few Teraphols in her lifetime, as most Teraphols and humans stayed on their respective planets. Even so, this Teraphol had the most advanced body she had ever seen, it seemed impossible that one creature could construct something so complex by themselves. 

“Hello, you are Div MacWraith, correct?” the Teraphol asked. 

“Yes, it is a pleasure to meet you. I am here for the physical examination.” Div replied.

“Perfect. I am going to be your examiner; you may call me Cala. Please take a seat; we will begin once a few more join us.”

“Thank you, Cala.”

Moving to an available seat, a notification appeared on Div’s phone, informing her that her heart rate was higher than usual. Opening up her health app, she was immediately greeted by breathing and meditation exercises. Swiping past them, she pulled up her nutritional and medical reports, which were synced with her nano-enhancements, giving her accurate information in real-time. Her breakfast, which had been suggested by the health app, was almost completely digested, the proteins being used to repair and replenish her muscles. It seemed that she would be in good shape for the physical exam. 

Glancing back up, Div realized that the room had begun to fill up, ten more people had arrived, and they all seemed to be sizing each other up. All appeared to be in good shape, but what surprised Div was the few applicants with high-grade prosthetics. They seemed to be heavily modded, and she caught a glimpse of a blade in one woman’s arm. Before Div could worry too much about how heated the physical test would be, Cala made her appearance.

“Congratulations to all those that have made it this far. Your physical test will take place in our training room, where alien environments and hostiles are simulated. You will be tested on your teamwork abilities, as well as your adaptability. You will likely be injured during this test, but your life will not be in danger. We have trained personnel to extract you from the simulation should you face mortal danger from this test, although extraction will leave you disqualified. Any questions?” 

The room remained silent, the applicants occasionally glancing at each other.

“Good. Please proceed through the door to your right; the test will commence.”

Div glanced across the room at the door, which just opened as Cala finished explaining the test. Following the others through, Div was greeted by what appeared to be a room covered in a thick layer of black sand. Her confusion turned into amazement as she realized that this room was filled with nanobots, which would likely move and assemble alien environments for her and the rest of the applicants to survive. With a blinding flash of light, the room transformed into a jungle. With a small ding, text appeared in Div’s vision.

Mission: Deliver supplies to established camp

Another notification alerted Div that a map had been sent to her device. Looking behind her, Div saw eleven duffel bags, one for each applicant. A weight seemed to settle on her; did the gravity just increase? As she was about to ask the other applicants how they should proceed, one of the female cyborgs grabbed three bags, chucked two into the fog, and then sprinted through the treeline with hers. This sparked a frenzy, with everyone seeming to accept the ‘every man for themselves’ mindset. Only one other applicant hung back, seemingly shocked by the sudden change in atmosphere. Running over to them, Div grabbed their arm.

“Hey, let’s grab the two bags that were chucked earlier. I have a feeling that we aren’t getting any from here,” she said to them, gesturing to the fistfight that had broken out. 

“Yeah, good idea. Mind if we stick together? We are being tested on teamwork after all.” the stranger replied, seemingly relieved that they wouldn’t be completely on their own.

“Of course! I’m Div.”


The two applicants ran into the fog, finding the bags with relative ease, and then activated their map. 

“Looks like the quickest way to the camp would be through the bog; if I remember correctly, the cyborg went west- she was likely trying to avoid that terrain,” Illo remarked.

“She has a significant lead on us; I think we should cut through and take our chances. There is no guarantee that the area surrounding the bog will be any easier to navigate.” Div replied, modifying the directions to guide them in a straight path.

Illo gave a nod of confirmation, adjusting their directions as well, and tossed Div her duffel bag. It only made it halfway to her before crashing to the ground with a dull thump, confirming Div’s suspicions that the gravity had been altered. 

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