Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Sifting the Dead

Once the Russians were installed on Placidus, coordinates for the next location were decoded: a location on the map marked, simply, "Ship Graveyard." The journey was speedy enough, and upon arriving, they found the description was apt. The system consisted of a single white neutron star, burning hotly in a system free of planets. No planets, but a huge crowd of ships, derelicts new and old, many of which were completely alien. Millions of ships slowly spun around the star, a macabre dance of death. Only a handful of the ships had any readable energy signal; most were little more than floating scrap, with no way to even dock.

The ships spanned ages of space exploration, from early pre-Jumpdrive ships to modern wrecks. There are a number of ships built in styles unknown to Earth, or even the known galaxy. Russian, Chinese, American, Japanese, South African, French, EU, UEA, and... well, some slightly more fantastic ships as well.

As the crew stared at the strange readouts, NOA announced that another message was available. Once again, the woman's voice echoed over the voice system:

Here you will find something very important. There is a single piece of lost technology that will turn this universe around, and it waits in the darkness around this star. Track the only energy source, and you will find an older Earth ship with an early J0 drive. You must salvage that drive, intact. There is no greater weapon against the enemy. Wait here for the next message. I hope it will come.

Eliza out.

There were four ships that they were able to find could be docked with; knowing they were looking for a J0 ship, they tried the old Russian ship first. After docking, the human and two droids carefully entered the ship. It's design was a very old one, with little in the way of thrusters, relying mostly on the J0 drive to get it anywhere. The first room was empty, and exposed to space; the next room, the engine room, showed just why: the main engine was missing, with an engine-sized hole in the side of the ship. Peering outside, Rodney noted the shadow of a man on the side of the ship - the nuclear-powered engine must have gone critical, and the engineer pulling it out didn't survive the experience.

The next few rooms were empty, pocked with micro-meteor holes. The last room was closed off, the door somewhat stuck, but Rodney pried it open. As they floated inside, casting their flashlights about the room, everything seemed still... until a hand landed on Rodney's shoulder. He turned to stare into the dead, frozen eyes of a corpse. Flinging the body away, it bounced into the netting on the walls, which tore, releasing dozens more bodies! Rodney kicked his way out of the room, opting to stay safely on the other side until the two droids finished exploring. He picked up a bit of a phobia of the long-dead...

The next room was an airlock - functioning, in fact, with air on the other side! Rodney zipped through the room into the airlock. The hallway beyond opened into a living area, crusted with dirt and grime. Four bodies hung motionless in the air. The first was dead of a broken neck, judging by the grotesque angle the head was hanging at; the second seemed less... damaged, but a closer inspection revealed some sort of poison crusted around his mouth. The third had hung himself by tying a rope around his neck and a spring around his leg. The fourth died of a self-inflicted headwound from a makeshift crossbow. All four were obviously malnourished. Rodney bravely waited until the droids had dumped the corpses into the airlock.

The other rooms were largely uninteresting - the greenhouse had dirt but few plants remaining, obviously eaten by the starving crew; the water purification room was left unmolested; the storage room was mostly empty, except for the Captain's log. It seems the crew had abandoned a number of settlers on a rocky planet, and left - but it wasn't long before the engine blew, stranding them with the little power they could eke out of the solar panels... for generations. Food gave out, and the few remaining turned to cannibalism. Luckily, the Jump drive was unharmed; Nix ran some tests on it, and verified it was in working order.

One door was locked; there were obvious markings on it from people trying to get in. Rodney, desperately hoping there were no more dead bodies inside, smashed the door open with his power hammer. Inside was - well, a dead body. But next to it was a tiny medical cryopod - his daughter.

Back aboard the Dark Horizon, the Russian crew were overjoyed to hear about the little girl. The ship was the one that dropped them off on Pyl'nyy, and the little girl was likely a relative. She was immediately adopted by one of the couples, and named "чудо", pronounced "Choodoh", and meaning "Miracle." Meanwhile, the Russian engineers were sent over to begin carefully moving the J0 Jump drive over to the Dark Horizon.

While they were working on that (and reclaiming any water they could), the trio explored the other ships. The next ship on the list was the lumpy ship with no windows. Inside, the corridors were laid out in a strange, meandering path. Going room to room, the crew found no signs of life; Rodney, however, was able to use a map-like object he found in the Russian ship to locate a hidden library, filled with books with crystal pages, and etched in an alien language.

The various personal objects they found were alien - belongings of a race of reptiles or turtle-men, perhaps? There were no pictures, nor even mirrors; colors of walls and objects were a mish-mash of gray, with no paint or other colors, though textures lined the walls, and the books were filled with etched words.

NOA scanned the books, and was able to translate them. As it turns out, the creatures had no sense of hearing, smell, or sight; through vibration alone, they communicated, engineered, and eventually reached space. Whatever killed them, they literally didn't see coming... but they felt the doom. The race was, as a whole, a very emotional and colorful bunch; they ached for greatness, and spread to the stars to find it. Even though it got them killed, they will be remembered.

Next, the crew walked the halls of a strange, holographic ship. The entire ship was nearly weightless; though its databanks were locked, the little read-only access they gained revealed that it had been populated by a crew of holograms, hard-light replicas of... well, unknown race. It may have been human, but then again, maybe not.

The last accessible ship was one that was strangely familiar - the last battle before the crew was mysteriously lost was against ships just like this one. This is a fairly large version of the organic, alien ships, and inside, it's obvious that it is dying. The hallways are filled with sludge, and the glowing light-panels are barely lit. Tee was a bit distracted, and missed what the other two saw - an alien, lurking in a side corridor! It sprang out, and Nix and Rodney engaged. After a brief battle, the three overpowered the creature. There were no other aliens aboard the ship, and little that could be salvaged; even the power system was nearly dead.

It took a few days, but the crew of the Dark Horizons were able to strip the J0 drive and other parts, as well as downloading the various databases. Just as the work was finished, a JPod popped into the system, blasted a short message to the ship, and steered itself into the sun. The secure tight-beam visible-light transmission was an audio message, with attached coordinates - another message from Eliza!

You must have noticed that everything you once did was never done. Pyl'nyy. The neutron star. The Biothanata. The work of the Shifting Horizon saved the galaxy, but now... [sigh]. All is not lost. You have seen places and peoples not recorded in any log. Use your resources. Infiltrate. The overthrow has not yet begun. History may yet repeat itself. Allies are coming. Meet me at the location I have sent - but first, you must rescue a friend. The signal is weak, but the need is strong. Go to the nearest set of coordinates; once you have finished, you must find me.

Eliza out.

The coordinates lead to a yellow star, deep in space; the map marks the location as that of the Littlefinger!

No comments:

Post a Comment