They dubbed the mystery ship "Evil Twin"; not that it showed evil intent, but for being a half-scale copy of Orchidia. It didn't even survive its journey from the Aldebaran system. Other ships within Pluto Station backed away, weapons aimed, as the visitor began to wilt and come apart.
Portly Admiral Jacobs gaped out the panoramic window of Central Ops. "A plant? That thing is a plant?"
A junior officer hunched over his terminal, rapidly pulling up scans. "Mostly, sir, with enough metals for a drive unit. No one thought biologicals could bond with metal at the molecular level. It's almost like. . . ."
"Go on, Lieutenant."
"Like it was wished into existence."
Jacobs paced, watching enviro units clean up the mess. "Call up the file on Commander Moast's mission to Aldebaran."
Seconds later, the young man had the highlights. "Two crewmen died on the surface. When their duplicates tried to fly their shuttle back to Orchidia, Moast shot it down. He was about to launch a planet buster when the surface displayed colors the AI interpreted as contrition. He listed the system as of no interest, and recommended quarantine."
"Ah yes. The sentient world." Jacobs watched Orchidia already sailing toward the cleared portal hatch, one of thousands in the moon-sized sphere. The Builder artifact still wasn't completely explored.
"Wait one," the lieutenant said to an incoming message. "Admiral, Commander Moast requests clearance for departure to the Aldebaran star group."
"By all means," Jacobs said. "I can't wait to hear his explanation for this."