“No questions, Captain,” Rue replied.
There wasn’t really anything to question other than her own fears. Her stomach was in knots. Rue really didn’t like the idea of being a part of a 3 person team on a new ship, but doubling her take was too good to pass up. It was nice of the Captain to do that. She after all, could have just ordered them to do so. Checking her bag, she gave a nod and looked at the others.
She waited to speak until the Captain answered any questions. Once the Captain left them alone, she gave a little smile. It was just going to be the three of them going into complete unknown.
“I guess we’ll be the first women to go where no man has gone before. About time,” she said with a shrug. “Let’s get suited up.”
Kala Sui raged and fumed that she was not to be one of the first aboard the ship she had found. She wept and she pleaded, but Anora stood firm.
“I can clearly see weapons installed on that ship,” the captain said over the tight beam laser comm. “You ever see any weapons on our ships, honey? No. Just not done. We don’t fight in space. But whoever these guys were, they did. They’re armed, and they may or may not still be dangerous.
“I won’t risk two modules on our initial approach, and Dobbs has real combat experience, honey. She’s armed for frickin’ bear. She goes in first with the engineer and the medic on her team. End of story.
Dobbs arrived on the bridge a few seconds later wearing a small armory of highly illegal weapons strapped to her suit. Rue identified a taser, an antique automatic pistol, a riot gun and what could only be a cluster of grenades strapped in a bandolier across her torso. The big blonde was grinning from ear to ear as she dogged her helmet in place and swung up through the hatch into her survey module.
“Gonna have some fun, now, Doc,” she winked at Rue.
It was 45 minutes later, and they were prepared to head out. Rue had as many antidotes that she could make of just about anything the ship could throw at them. Horrible alien diseases was just not the way she wanted to die. Her bag was held tightly in the gloved hand. Dobbs would pilot then go in first, she would go next, and then Cat. The engineer was very good with all equipment. Which Rue found useful when the food processor decided to spit out multi covered protein. It usually meant that the spinach flavored protein was being mixed with the blueberry or something even more awful.
Rue and Cat put their own helmets on and slid through the hatch into the survey module, strapping themselves into secondary couches. The main hatch clanged shut and a lurch ran through the tiny ship as it separated from the mother vessel. Pressure pushed them back in their couches as Dobbs accelerated easily away from the Nomad Prime, squirting streams of pulverized stone behind them for reaction mass.
As they got on the ship, Rue was pretty happy for the filtering system in the suit. It was able to filter out 99.9% of the particles in the air, and the place still smelled bad. She didn’t want to think about how it might smell had they got in right away.
Rue waited on board, mostly trying not to look out the window. That only reminded her that space was very high up. Very, very high up. It was a fall that would never stop.
“So, what’s everyone’s plan to do with their cut?” she asked trying to pass the time as they rode to the ship.
Anora has stopped 5,000 meters away from the drifting alien ship. Under Bex’s expert controls, the survey module covered the distance in less than ten minutes, starting to slow down as they passed the half way mark. In total silence, they slid across the black face of the void and came to a halt approximately fifteen meters from the drifting hulk.
Close up it looked ancient and dead. Dobbs threw her lights on and started a slow spiral traversal the length of the alien ship. The three women inspected the hull closely. At this range they could see many dents and dings in the surface from impacts with other objects in the asteroid belt. In two locations they could see real craters where something large had plowed into the deserted vessel hard enough to punch a hole in the outer hull.
“Been here a long time,” said Cat at last. “Thousands of years? Millions? Takes a while to get banged up like that. And no sign of repairs. I think this thing is long dead.”
“Pick the biggest hole and use that to get inside,” Anora’s voice echoed from the comm on the tight beam laser. She and the rest of the crew were watching as closely as those actually on the module.
Dobbs eased her ship to within five meters of the rim of the largest impact site. The hole looked to be about two meters in diameter, like a great round mouth with jagged teeth of metallic shards. Bex shone a powerful searchlight directly into the gaping opening but it remained black as if nothing but an open space existed inside.
“Better watch out for those sharp edges,” warned Cat, quite unnecessarily. “Not a problem getting in, but they’ll act like a fly trap coming out. Especially if you’re in a hurry.”
Dobbs parked the module and opened the ceiling hatch. In the weightless environment of deep space, she eeled gracefully up through the opening and out onto the hull of the survey vessel. Pausing for only a second she pushed off very gently and drifted across the short distance between the two ships, flipping in mid flight to land with her boots against the outer skin of the other vessel. Looking around she found a protruding piece of mechanism and tied off the tether she had dragged behind her. The two ships were now anchored together.
“There’s steel in the hull,” she spoke through the local channel with a rasp of fast breathing. Even the daredevil was on edge. “My boots stick enough to walk. I’m going inside.”
The pilot played a powerful flashlight over the out hull of the alien and walked slowly and awkwardly down the slope to the gaping dark hole. She shone the light inside.
“Looks like an engineering compartment,” she said. And then she pushed herself head forward into the hole, swimming into the other ship like a fish entering a nest.
“Holy shit! What the . . .” A bright flash of light outlined her legs still sticking out of the hole, and then her body slid all of the way in.
“Bex! Bex!” called Anora over the comm from the mother ship. “Quit fucking around you stupid slut. Bex?”
Nothing but silence returned.
Rue scrambled across the alien vessel’s outer hull and shone her own portable lamp inside the gaping black tear. The space inside defied her understanding for a moment until she realized that she was looking into a single large compartment that filled the entire ship and that the compartment was more than 80 percent full of something huge and mirrored. Her lamp flashed back light in her face from the surface, so perfect were the reflections that it was almost invisible. As she looked around, she could see Dobbs, floating a meter or two inside the open space, between the object and the inner skin of the hull.
Dobbs’ tether was still connected to her suit and pulling on the line gently, Rue managed to drag the big pilot within her grip. The Amazon sized woman was hard for the tiny medic to move around and her suit kept on bumping into objects on the interior, but by being patient, Rue managed to get her through the ragged tear in the hull without piercing her suit. From there it took only another few minutes to get her back into the survey module.
The pilot’s life signs read steady through the medcom inputs on her suit and she seemed to be asleep rather than injured. After a few moments under Rue’s attention, her eyes fluttered open. She looked around the tiny cabin of her own module and realized where she was.
“Dumb!” she said. “Dumb! Dumb! Dumb! I saw something coming at me out of the ship and I fired my stun gun. Must have knocked myself out.”
Piecing it together with what Rue had seen, it quickly became apparent that Dobbs had seen herself reflected in the mirrored surface and fired at herself.
Rue had never been more relieved when Dobbs was ok. At least she used a stun gun instead of something more lethal. The woman did have far worse weapons.
“Well, at least I hit what I was aiming at,” she laughed sheepishly. “let’s get back over there, doc. You’d better come too, Cat, see what you can make of it.”
Once she was sure she was alive, Rue did her best to patch up the suit, and they started back. Never once did she drop her guard, spending all her time looking around though the darkness kept her from seeing very much.
After all, it was more Dobbs job than her own to look out for problems. Instead, she was watching out for any signs of life. Thankfully, there didn’t seem to be. Even as the forcefield was being lowered, she was determined to believe everything was very dead. All they needed was a few trinkets, then they could come back later to get the rest.
“How are things going?” she asked Cat, as she watched.
The three women dogged down their helmets and followed the tether across to the other ship. It was perhaps fifty meters in diameter, swelling to twenty meters thick in the middle. As Rue had observed, the entire interior of the ship seemed to contain a single object that only just fit inside. By moving carefully, they managed to squeeze into the space between the hull and the object and slither around the outer edges, exploring.
Cat pointed out that along a wide point of contact, the silvery object was attached to the hull, and there seemed to be a control panel at one point, with a set of controls designed for something much larger than any human being.
By this time the risk to the main ship looked to be minimal and Captain Anora had brought the vessel in close.
Anora summoned the away team back to the Nomad Prime and asked for opinions.
“Whoever they are, they’re big,” said Cat, throwing holograms of the control panel and other interfaces up on the main view screen. “I think that the entire ship is built for only a handful of them. I think it might be a life raft of some kind. And that mirrored thing taking up most of the interior space — I think that may be a protective force field of some kind –like an air bag but wrapped around the passengers to protect them inside until they get rescued.
“There’s no power in the circuits that I can tell. I think it’s been floating out here for tens of thousands of years. So I don’t think anyone is on their way to rescue them.
“We could try hooking up power from one of the modules to the control panel, see if we can lower the force field. But I have no idea what’s inside.”
As the crew of the survey module searched the alien vessel, Rue di Pasqua made some observations and applied a bit of logic. She couldn’t be certain, but the vessel did not seem quite as simple as Cat’s engineering analysis would have suggested. The craft was certainly probably built for something quite large in its primary functions, but there were hints that some of the on-board systems were designed for smaller creatures. Much smaller. Perhaps the size of dogs or monkeys.
Her suspicions were confirmed when she found a husk — the dried out remains of a creature, hidden in crevice. It was ancient and dessicated, even to touch it, she was certain, would destroy it, so she photographed it in situ as best she could. It seemed to be six legged with small versatile limbs and an insectile head bearing faceted eyes and mandibles. Perhaps one meter in length, she judged the original creature might have weighed 20 – 30 kilos, though by now it was almost entirely wasted away. It was too large to be vermin, and the presence of a tool harness of some kind indicated that it had been sentient in some way. An engineering sub class of the primary passengers? There was not nearly enough evidence to extrapolate any meaningful interpretations.
“How are things going?” she asked Cat, as she watched the engineer examining the console she though might control the force field. Cat shrugged at her question. “Seems pretty dead to me,” she said.
During their investigations, Anora had maneuvered the main ship closer to the alien vessel until it was less than 1000 meters away, an easy transit. As the evidence mounted that the dead ship posed little threat to the Nomad Prime, the rest of the crew clamored to be allowed to put on their own suits and explore.
“What do you say, Doc?” asked Anora through the com. “Is it safe for the rest of us to come on over?”
“I want to do a bit more research, Captain,” she said looking at the shell still wrapped in the special casing. “Honestly, I think that hauling it back would be more practical than trying to start it up here. We do that, and we might attract far more than we bargain for.”
Rue examined and photographed the body of the long dead alien from every angle she could without actually touching it, afraid that it would shatter or crumble on contact. Six limbed and distinctly insectile in form, the remains of a tool harness and what might be clothing or perhaps a layer of molting outer skin covered the desiccated husk.
Eventually, with infinite care, she used a large pair of forceps to pry the carcass free from the crevice into which it was wedged. The body was more solid than it had looked and held up in one piece to the extraction process. She could not tell if had crept in the tiny space to die, or had been forced in their post-mortem.
As the body came free, floating in the vacuum of space inside the ancient ship, she wrapped it in a sterile sealant sheet, basically a medical form of kitchen cling wrap, and then secured the specimen in a biohazard chest roughly the size of a large cooler.
Finished with her immediate task she focused again on what the others were saying. Cat and Bex wanted to run power cables from the Nomad Prime and try bringing the alien control panels online, perhaps even wake up the entire ship. Kal Sui and Navar Havas were dead set against it, pointing out that they had no idea about the technologies involved. As the argument moved around the group, Rue was amazed to realize that Robles was offering to cast his vote with whichever side offered him the most sexual favors. Captain Anora shook her head in disbelief.
“What do you think, doc?” she turned to Rue, looking at the young medic through the clear faceplate of her space suit. “Should we give the old bucket of bolts a goose – see if we can jump start the bitch? Or should we just put a line on her and tow her back to HoJo Ring just the way she is?”
She wanted to get this thing in a sterilized room and run more tests. If they could figure out what kind of organism it was, it was more likely that they would be able to figure out if the ship would harm them or not. They might breathe poison after all.
“If you are willing Captain, I’d like to bring this specimen aboard the Nomad Prime, and do a full autopsy. It will help me know more about the ship before we start her up.”
She waited for the Captain’s response ignoring Robles, though she did roll her eyes. It was very tempting to mess with his head a little, but then it couldn’t be easy being the only guy among so many girls. Of course, he probably got enough sexual favors without having to barter for them. Though no one would actually admit to anything.
“If you’d rather not, I can set up a make shift autopsy room here.”
Anora glanced over at the specimen crate Rue had prepared.
“No way, doc. Not on my ship. I’ve seen way too many ick movies where the long dead thing comes back to life when it gets warm, or the foolish researcher drips a bit of human blood on it by mistake. You can slice it up here if you want. Or you can store it in an ore chamber on one of the scout modules. But it does not come aboard the Nomad Prime. Direct orders.”
In general the argument about trying to power up the alien ship was dying down. Only the truly foolish saw it as an option, and Anora made a command decision to switch their attention from exploration to recovery.
“Let’s get a strong tether on this thing and get it started towards HoJo Ring,” she said. “We’ll use Module One to get it moving while Prime and the other two modules stand off a few klicks. Dobbs, Cat, rig the line and then get ready to tow this sucker home.
“Doc, you can stay on board and cut up your creep crawly or come back to the Prime with us. Your choice.”