Beyond the Eye of Chaos: Part 2
Captain Ayar of the starship Valhalla awakens from something resembling a stasis pod. On his uniform is a seven pointed star composed of overlapping curved chevrons somewhat resembling a flower, the emblem of the organization he works for, the Foundation. He addresses the ship's AI, Amitabha, confirming that she is to awaken the rest of his crew, the Valkyries. The first of them is his chief science officer and second in command, Katia. Lastly to be awakened is the youngest of them, Dominic, with the others standing by to restrain him if necessary. Upon awakening Dominic immediately begins arguing, as though continuing an ongoing argument, that they should have let him continue to interrogate someone he calls "the Queen", insisting that there is something the leader of the Foundation, Xio, is not telling them. He says that the Queen implied the Foundation is orders of magnitude older than they even think it is, and he thinks their entire mission here is suspect. But Ayar puts a quick end to that by pointing out that as the first Valkyrie he was personally there when the Foundation began mere centuries ago. Furthermore, he reminds Dominic that they are now in an alien solar system a century's travel time from Earth, and that if they want the Foundation to unseal the "Eye of Chaos", the artificial wormhole with which they're now docked, and let them take the quick way home, they will have to complete their mission and confirm that there are no threats on this side of it. Dominic concedes that point at least, and the crew set to preparing for their mission. While Amitabha and the main ship remain docked with the Eye in the outer reaches of the solar system, in superluminal communication with Sol through the ansible link at its core, the crew take a landing ship deeper into the inner solar system. They find one habitable world, and observe it cautiously from a distance, finding that it appears to have been extensively geo-engineered, but shows no signs of current technological civilization. They approach closer, but their landing ship is shot at by an advanced weapon from the planet's surface. Critically damaged beyond safe landability and continuing to take damage too quickly to reach the surface anyway, the Valkyries are forced to abandon the ship in escape pods and descend quickly to the surface while its wreck continues to draw the alien weapon's fire. (More details).
As the Valkyries search for each other on the surface of the alien planet, they are pursued by a non-humanoid aquatic species with advanced mobility technology that allows them to venture onto land, who seem likely to be the ones operating the weapon that shot down their ship from a platform in the planet's southern ocean. The Valkyries' own sidearms are able to defeat those enemies with relative ease, but the nuisance drives them all further inland into the planet's jungles, where they also meet several different, primitive but sapient, non-humanoid, local species. Meanwhile, per her standing orders, Amitabha informs the Foundation at Sol that there is an apparent threat on this end of the wormhole, then goes to attempt a rescue of the crew in the Valhalla proper. That ship is also quickly shot down by the alien weapon, and Amitabha is likewise forced to escape to the surface in an android body. After the Valkyries and Amitabha eventually regroup, Amitabha is able to decipher one of the friendlier aliens' languages, and learns that not only do humans at least vaguely resemble the absent creators of these primitive local species, and of the advanced technology that shot down the ship (which has merely been usurped by the younger aquatic race), but that the logo of the Foundation, worn on the crew's uniforms, is of religious significance to those locals as well. (More details).
Conflicts ensue between the different local species over the crew's potential religious significance. One species wants to worship them as their gods. Another insists that there are important details wrong about them, such as that their legs are backward and they don't have enough eyes. A third species has doubts and reservations and wishes only to learn more. Preexisting tensions between the different local species factor in to this new conflict. In the midst of that, a secondary conflict arises between the crew members themselves over whether or not to exploit their possible religious significance to win the aid of the locals, which may be much needed for their survival on this alien world. Dominic argues that they should, and in time, frustrated with how this mission has turned out to be as disastrous as he feared despite his warnings, he attempts to exploit the religious angle with the locals against Ayar's orders, forcing the rest of the Valkyries to stop him. After that matter is resolved, the Valkyries eventually make their way, with alien guides, to a supposed holy place where both answers and salvation may await, far away across the planet to the north. The intimidating journey on foot is eventually shortened when Amitabha is able to access and reactivate a long-disused high-speed transport system unknown to the local primitives. They all arrive at last at what appears to be an enormous, underground, technologically-advanced, but abandoned, alien city, into which their guides will not venture. (More details).