Inside, four biologics began to grow within molecular initiators, attaining physical patterns the ship's sentience had designed, based on the information it had acquired during the long voyage.
They were human in size and shape; skeletons and organs carried the mimicry down to a biochemical level. Their DNA was equally authentic. You would have to go a lot deeper into the cells to find any abnormality; only a detailed audit of the organelles would reveal alien molecular structures.
It was the minds of the biologics that gave the insertion ship the greatest difficulty. Human mental processes were complex verging on paradoxical. Worse, it suspected the performances in all the fictional dramas it received were overemphasizing emotional responses. So it constructed a stable primary architecture of thought routines, while including a fast learning and adaptive integration procedure.
As it closed to within a million kilometers of Earth, the insertion ship discarded the last of its reaction mass as it performed a final deceleration maneuver. Now it was basically just falling toward the southernmost tip of South America. Tiny course correction ejecta refined the descent vector, steering it at Tierra del Fuego, which was still thirty minutes from greeting the dawn. Even if it was detected now, it would simply appear to be a small chunk of natural space debris.
It hit the upper atmosphere and began to peel apart into four pear-shaped segments. The remaining matter broke away in fizzing sparks that produced a short-lived but beautiful starburst display streaking through the mesosphere. Below it, sheltered under their blanket of thick winter cloud, the residents of Ushuaia, the southernmost city on Earth, remained oblivious of their interstellar visitor.
Each segment carried on down, aerobraking with increasing severity as the atmosphere thickened around them. They slowed to subsonic velocity three kilometers above the surface, plunging through the clouds, still unobserved by anyone on the planet.
The segments were aimed at a small inlet a few kilometers west of the city, where, even in AD 2162, the rugged land lay unclaimed by developers. Two hundred meters from the shore, four tall splash plumes shot up into the air like thick geysers, crowning and splattering down on the slushy ice that bobbed along the waters of the Beagle Channel.
The Neána metahumans floated to the surface. All that now remained of the insertion ship landing segments was a thick layer of active molecule blocks covering their skin like a pelt of translucent gel, insulating them from the dangerously cold water. They began to swim ashore.
The beach was a narrow strip of gray stones cluttered with dead branches. A dense woodland occupied the slope above it. The aliens scrambled a short way up the incline as the pale dawn light began to seep through the murky clouds. Their protective layer liquidized, draining down into the stones where it would be flushed away by the next high tide. For the first time, they drew air down into their lungs.
"Oh, that is cold!" one exclaimed.
"Good classification," another agreed through chattering teeth. "I'll go with it."
They looked at one another in the gray light. Two were crying from the emotional impact of arrival, one was smiling in wonder, while the fourth appeared singularly unimpressed by the bleak landscape. Each carried a small pack of outdoor clothing copied from a winter wear ad broadcast eighteen months earlier. They hurried to put it on.
When they were fully dressed, they set off along an ancient track up through the trees until they came to the remnants of National Route Three, which led to Ushuaia.