“Sensors are aligned for a sweep,” Vanessa said. “I can drop our own sensor burst probe now. We should be able to map the dorsal side of the probe, and then pick up our readings a few million miles on the other side of it.”
Anders scratched his chin. “That doesn’t give us the options the old man wanted.”
“Of destroying it?” Vanessa said. “I can drop an armed probe capable of that, if you wish.”
“He’s looking for an excuse to drop speed and sweep in real time,” Tully said.
“Maybe,” Anders said. “If we speed on past it we can choose to destroy it or not, but we cannot choose to recover it.”
“You heard what the old man said,” Tully said. “It’s from Earth, yeah? We should count on needing to destroy it.”
“We only suspect at the moment,” Anders said. “There are always other possibilities. Run our time loss, if you will. Jon, prep our reverse engines.”
“Yes sir,” Jon said.
Tully sighed and then proceeded to get to work. Anders stood at the front of the bridge, looking out at the stars, and narrowed his eyes. He felt the decelerators kick it, pushing against the ship’s near light-speed inertial velocity. The gravitational fields that held that inertial play at bay swirled around them, and cups shook on the surfaces of the tables.
“It’s close,” Vanessa said. “About 500k kilometers.”
“Hit it with a frequency burst.”
“Aye.” A few seconds went by. “Returned. It’s larger than we thought. About a kilometer long.”
“Hell of a probe,” Jon said.
“Looks like we wouldn’t have been able to destroy it with an armed sensor probe anyway,” Anders said.
Vanessa went on as Anders took in the data on his own screen at the front of the railed walk that hemmed in the bridge section. “The hull is a titanium-steel alloy. There is significant oxidation, and integrity is weak. The interior appears to be pressurized.”
“So clearly not a probe,” Tully said.
“Energy signatures are fluctuating. Engines appear to be non-functional, or at least totally powered down. They’re running on inertia alone. I’ll try to penetrate the interior on higher-energy bands.”
“No,” Anders said. “Wait. I don’t want to ionize the interior if there is life inside.”
“We’re not close enough to use infrared.”
Anders looked at Tully and Jon. “You heard her. Bring us in.”
“Aye. I’m powering up defense systems as well.”
“Sir? Maybe we should bring in one wing instead of the whole fleet-ship,” Vanessa said.
Anders nodded and thought to himself. “Goldwing, then. Randall is usually up about now.”
“I’ll wake the old man,” Tully said.
Anders stared at her for a few seconds then said, “He’ll be awake by the time we get there for sure.”
Randall pushed the engines hard, and Anders had to grip a handrail to stay upright before Goldwing’s systems could compensate for the sudden change of acceleration. Andres looked out a nearby window to the rest of the fleet-ship, a mass of angled metal that contained the whole of the spacefaring clan amid its dozen sections. He took a deep breath as Icarus shrank to insignificance and disappeared.
“That looks like her,” Tully said. She pulled up magnified image of a ship, cast in a hue of colors accelerate from infrared to the visible spectrum. It was an elongated tube flattened on one side, with two engine arrays at either end that were as dark as the rest of the ship.
“Definitely a ship,” Randall said. He scratched his beard and made a slight course correction. “It’s cold.”
“Somewhere around 100 degrees Kelvin,” Tully said.
“Has to be warmer than that,” Randall said. “Its systems were active and sending out data.”
Anders leaned over and looked closer at the projection. “Whatever part of that ship that was running communications may only be powering up for the data transmission, then going back into a low-power mode.”
Randall pursed his lips. “Doesn’t look like there are any windows.”
Anders nodded. “That would be consistent with what we know if this ship were sent from Earth post-collectivization. There are no reasons to have a human drone appreciate the view when external sensors and the internal computer can make all the navigation decisions.”
“Maybe that’s why we’re not seeing the com array,” Randall said.
“We’d see some lingering heat, I imagine,” Tully said.
“Even after all this time?”
“No medium for the kinetic energy to radiate,” Tully said. “That and there has to be a power source in there somewhere.”
“What about life signs?” Anders said.
“On an ice cube?” Randall said.
“Stasis,” Anders said. “And this is definitely a ship.”
“Let me see if I can find any heat signatures below the hull,” Tully said. The spectrum of the image shifted and displayed an almost black shape, outlined in hues of midnight blue. A pale blue dominated one spot of the ship. Tully pointed at it. “I think that’s the power plant. Still pretty cold. Maybe they’re running on battery.”
“Like I said, an ice cube,” Randall said.
“Let me play with it a bit,” Tully said. “If there’s something to be found in there I will find it.”
“Let’s see about data extraction,” Anders said.” I presume there is no access point that is broadcasting.” He lit up a nearby terminal and started working through a few routines. “I’ll see if I can energize a physical terminal, pop it to life.”
“Janet’s pretty good at that,” Randall said. “I could wake her.”
“I think I have it,” Anders said. “Communications is my specialty.”
“Not for long, I hear,” Randall said. “Word is the big guy is pushing you up to executive officer.”
Anders smiled. “Just rumors.”