“Anders? Report.” It was Macbeth. A nearby screen lit up with the old man’s face. He was frowning.
“Tully’s working on life signs. I’m attempting to create a virtual uplink and hopefully extract some data.”
“Where is it from?”
Anders paused a moment, intent on his screen. “Not sure just yet.”
“Like hell you aren’t,” Macbeth said. His signature popped up on Ander’s terminal screen.
“This data could be invaluable. We haven’t dared to examine Earth in millennia.”
“When you get it, I want it put into physical isolation, not just virtual isolation. Don’t attempt to run any software you extract outside of a totally secure and isolated environment.”
“Understood, sir. I wouldn’t risk it.” Anders smiled. “I think I found a terminal.” He powered up his array and energized the rear of the ship. The hull on Tully’s screen flashed yellow and green as the ice on the outside of the ship vaporized with ionization. Anders’s screen flashed with a flurry of binary.
“Hey!” Tully said. “I was practically seeing inside.”
“Sorry kiddo,” Anders said. “Damn it!” The stream of data stopped.
“You burned out the terminal,” Macbeth said.
“No!” Anders said. “No, that’s not it. Something else happened. Some sort of manual security device. The terminal is still functioning. It’s just not responding anymore.”
“Other systems on the ship might be leaching the power,” Tully said. “I see a few places heating up. Electrical and thermal activity, too.”
“It might be time to cut our losses and destroy it,” the clan chief said.
“It’s definitely disabled,” Randall said. “I can make double sure though. A couple of quick graviton waves will crush her engines and keep her afloat permanently.”
“What about weapon systems?” Macbeth said.
“No trace,” Tully said. “Whatever she was built for, the makers didn’t consider combat at all. That hull is nearly seamless besides a few doors. No weapons ports to be found.”
“We could go in,” Anders said. “Take a look. Maybe extract the databanks manually.”
“Out of the question,” Macbeth said. “If you can’t access its drives remotely, destroy the craft and move to rejoin the ship.”
“Good.” Macbeth turned and looked to another screen for a moment. “I’m going to re-accelerate Icarus back to within a few micro deviations of maximum. I’m transmitting the trajectory and acceleration information to your computer. When you finish tidying up, rejoin. Communications will be severely offset, so you’ll be on your own. I don’t want to lose another year out here poking at dead spacecraft. Macbeth out.”
The com screen went dark. Anders looked over to Tully, who was seemed oblivious to the exchange.
“I guess that sinks that idea,” Randall said. “Too bad. This ice cube has me curious.”
“Me too,” Anders said. “Let me try a little higher burst. Can you get us in a bit closer? Maybe within normal visual range?”
“Visual range? Like out the window visual range?” Randall said.
“Well, a few k is probably close enough.”
“Dangerous with an Earth ship. Besides, the old man said-”
“He said not to board it,” Anders said. “But I want a look at this thing.”
Randall shrugged and pushed Goldwing into motion again. Tully spilled coffee on her hand and cursed.
“She’s jumpy,” Anders said.
“I am not,” Tully said.
“I meant the ship.”
“It’s the new thruster mods,” Randall said. “Better than what we had, but now the inertial systems can’t quite keep up.”
“And so the cycle continues. Aha!” Anders brought up on the main viewer an image of an elongated double-engine ship. He toyed with a few settings and the image got brighter, revealing a long, metallic fuselage painted with a series of letters that glowed dimly in the amplified light of the nearest red dwarf. They formed incomprehensible words.
“What’s is say?” Randall said.
“It’s just a serial identifier, I think,” Anders said. “But those are definitely Latin letters.”
“So it really is from Earth.”
“It’s definitely human. Could be from one of the dead worlds, but yes, I do think it is from Earth.” Anders punched up his terminal. “I’m going to try again to access the computer remotely.” Another screen full of data bits flashed by, then stopped.
“Hold up!” Tully said. “You’ve flashed a power plant back to life, or something. I’m detecting a lot of electrical systems, and the ship’s heating up.”
“What kind of systems?” Anders said.
“How would I know? I don’t know anything about Earth ships.”
“Quick,” Anders said, “Let’s disable it.” He shuffled over to another station while Randall began to pivot Goldwing slightly.
“We’re in mass altering range.”
Anders nodded. “I at least know what engines look like. Let’s crush ‘em.”
A loud hum filled the cabin as the ship began to vibrate. The conical engine outlets on each side of the ship crumpled. Sparks flashed white-hot on the main viewer.
“She’s dead,” Randall said.
“Systems are cutting out,” Tully said. “Looks like you killed the main power plant.”
“Shit,” Anders said. “So much for the drives.”
“Too bad about what grandpa said,” Tully added. “Wait.” She leaned forward and pulled her hands apart, magnifying the infrared image of the dead ship. “There’s some afterglow. Here.” She pointed at a few splotches standing out through the metal hull of the ship.
Randall leaned over and squinted. “What do you think those are?”
“Maybe the computers are still radiating heat,” Tully said.
“Check for life signs,” Anders said. “Full scan. We’re in range for the works.”
“Aye aye,” Tully said. She looked at Randall and said, “So much for an ice cube, eh?”
“We don’t know that yet,” Randall said. “It’ll take you a few minutes. I’m going to hit the head.” The helmsman stood up and exited the small bridge.
Anders stood over Tully’s shoulder and watched a stream of data build up in several windows. “What about CO2?” he said.
“No windows to do a spectral analysis.”
“What about trying to measure internal cabin pressure?”
Tully nodded. “It’s definitely pressurized.”
“What about changes?”
“You going to do this job, or am I?” Tully said.
“Sorry,” Anders said. “I just had a thought. The ship was very cold. Cold enough to cause carbon dioxide to solidify.”
“Ah, and the dry ice should be evaporating.” Tully pulled up a new window on her display. “Looks like there’s some increasing stress on the hull. Very subtle. Whatever is in there, it once was breathing, and the CO2 traps have failed. Definitely not a probe. Hmn…” Tully trailed off and pulled a thermal image of the cabin back up.
“What is it?”
“Heat is dissipating in several parts of the ship, sinking out with some venting from the engine, but not here. See?” She pointed to two faint splotches midway through the other ship.
“Body heat,” Anders said. “Has to be.” He turned to his own displays. “Power plants are offline.”
“What do we do?” Tully said. “They’ll either asphyxiate or freeze without the power to run whatever stasis machinery they are using, or to run the gas traps.”
Anders rested his chin on his fist, and shifted on his feet. He sighed.
“We better prep a transport, and fix up some EV suits.”
Tully stopped and looked at him. “You heard the old man.”
“I did. But those are people in there. Human beings.”
“Hardly,” Tully said. “They’re drones of the Earth singularity. You know they don’t even have thought, right?”
“We don’t know that,” Anders said. “None of the clans have actually captured an Earth human… ever that I know of.”
“You mean none of them have been stupid enough to,” Tully said. “They’re like walking hack boxes.”
“That’s beyond exaggeration. Separated from the network they’re probably helpless. And this computer is dead.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Suit up, Tully.”
She turned and frowned at him as Randall came back in, buttoning his jacket. “What did I miss?”
Tully smirked and nodded toward Randall. “Is he on the boarding party?”
“No, I need someone at the helm here. Anyone else you could wake up?”
“Have him meet us in the transport bay.”
“I’ll have him head up here,” Randall said. “I’m not going to let some planetsider take my chance to see inside an earth ship.”
Tully chuckled. “Ten minutes ago you were calling it a boring hunk of ice.”
“Ten minutes ago it was.” Randall the punched the com and yelled into it, “Willem! Drag your ass out of bed; I need you to watch the com.”
“I’m supposed to sleep for another three hours.”
“Sorry, but I need you up here.”
“I’ll tell mom.”
“No you won’t.”
There was a pause, then Willem said, “You owe me.”
“Noted.” Randall released the com and turned to Anders. “I’ll get to work on prepping the transport. Willem will be here in a minute or two. There’s EV suits a few doors down, on the left.”