Jown lifted off and moved away from the asteroid. Then he ordered the spare probe ejected
Finally he activated it and ordered it onto the other hard point. Then he spent a while putting in parameters for the probes combined tracking. Their software was fortunately built for this, but they needed to be told how far back to stay, how far apart to say, how often to talk to each other, and many other things. At last he was ready and flew to the jump gate.
Shortly after exiting the gate, Gater picked up the comet again, passively of course. Jown was on pins and needles until the passive sensors said there was no one else detectable in the system. Then he relaxed a little and sent the probes on their way, and waited. Hours went by with the occasional reports. After a while he started getting some very good long-range pictures and began diagramming the craft. But there really wasn't much to diagram. After about 8 hours, 4 hours in relatively close trail, there was nothing else to do but try his trick. It was very simple really. He would go active with Gater and maybe, just maybe it wouldn't go so far or so fast with just a distant contact.
Gater switched to active, turned toward the "comet" and it disappeared. Now all he could do is wait. 10 minutes later a report came in, they were still in trail. It hadn't moved so fast and hadn't made a course change after the initial acceleration. Pretty smart, didn't need the added course change for a distant contact. 10 minutes later and the report said they still had a faint signal, but obviously weren't able to keep up. 10 minutes later and it was gone.
Jown was trying to decide how long to leave the probes on their last track, hoping to catch a whiff of it again, when noticed it. The probes were headed straight for an asteroid. That meant the "comet" had been heading there too. Why? Two possible reasons he could think of (1) to hide there or (2) that was it’s "home" for it. Either way it was worth letting the probes go and see what they could see. Another half hour and they would be there anyway. A minute later the regular probe report indicated they had both detected a short lived gravity anomaly near the asteroid and localized it. The time passed very slowly with no further contact, but as with everything in life the time did come at last, the probes were there. Jown didn't want to risk spooking anyone or anything by sending a command to the probes. In that direction it would probably be picked up. He would have to let the probes decide what to do. As it turned out it was a very good move because he would never have had nerve to do what they did.
The probes next report said they had taken up low orbits that both passed at different times over the last location. Nothing detected, but some pretty scenery. The next probe report said still no contact, but a large cave entrance noted below the last location, probe #2 going in! Jown was about to send an abort command when he realized it would be too late. Accounting for the transmission delay time, the probe was probably already in. He searched the images sent back and saw the opening. Pretty large. Big enough for a good size fighter, no even a corvette could fly into there. Totally black.
10 minutes and the report came from probe #1 that probe #2 was inside and communication with it was not possible. The next 10 minutes was an eternity. The probes plan was a quick entrance, look all around very quickly and fly out fast. It should be out on the next report. And it was. The report was stunning. The cave was not natural, there were closure doors a short way below the surface, and landing pads inside an enormous cavern. The "comet" was on one of the pads. There was no sign of power except for a signal being sent from the "comet", but it wasn’t getting a return signal. It was hard for Jown to orient his mind to the scene, but at last he got his bearings and zoomed in on what looked like some kind of a door. There seemed to be some kind of writing next to it, the language should tell him who built this. The pictures were very good quality so he zoomed in very close so the doorway filled his screen. The inscription was very legible ... and totally strange. Jown didn't speak are read all of the languages, but on his travels he had seen them all and could clearly recognize them, both spoken and written. This was like nothing he had ever seen before.
Two exhausting days later the probes finished detail scans of every space accessible in the caves. Besides the main landing bay there was an open door to what appeared to be a standard supply room containing many rows of racks with packaged items on the shelves and on the floor lining the walls. A second door led to a repair bay, complete with handling equipment, tools and what seemed to be some kind of computers. A third door led into a labyrinth of small passageways. These led to a large variety of rooms; living quarters, kitchen, working spaces that might have been control rooms, communication rooms and other rooms Jown could only guess at. As you have guessed it was totally deserted. But it didn’t appear that any disaster had taken place, only that the inhabitants had left. There were no ships other than the probe. Everything was clean, there was no food in the kitchen and there didn’t appear to be any personal effects like pictures. Perhaps they had intended on returning because they had left a lot of parts on the shelves and an active probe behind. But how long ago had they left? How long could the probe operate without refueling? Or did it somehow get refueled on its pad? So many questions. What did they look like? Who were they? Where had they gone? How long ago? Were they coming back? So many questions, but he was way too tired to work on them. Jown needed to sleep and briefly toyed with the idea of landing in the bay first, but that idea gave him the creeps. Safest to sleep right where he was with everything except passives shut down.
Next morning with a clear head Jown finally admitted to himself the inescapable. He had stumbled on alien technology. It was the only explanation. It explained the unknown technology, the missing human activity, the unknown writing on the door, and the totally unrecognizable parts in the store room. That made this the discovery of the century, or more. Ever since the sudden destruction of Earth mankind had known we weren’t alone, but there had never been any contact and there had never been any alien stuff found on any of the many worlds that and systems that had been settled. Oh yeah there had been rumors and improvable little bits and pieces, but nothing concrete. But he, Jown, was sitting not only on verifiable alien artifacts! And not in some state of terminal decay, operational stuff!
Posted by strailon Tuesday, December 04, 2012 @ 00:00:00 UTC