A spaceship Captain makes a unique find. SF contest entry, Word Count: 1993
year wasted. Man, I hope the Captain gives up soon," Ensign Yui whispered to his mess mate.
"It's better than being on the front, much better," Ensign Hyo whispered back.
"Granted, but this is so boring. We even stopped looking at the other worlds," Ensign Yui said with a sigh.
Ensign Hyo just nodded and worked on his meal. The autochef was struggling with limited supplies so all the food was tough and dry. Hyo was used to jerky so it wasn't bad just this was supposed to be a tanberry pudding. She finally gave up and pushed the bowl away.
"At the very least we need a resupply," She said with a sigh, leaning back and stretching.
Ensign Yui looked at his wrist when they heard a low volume buzzing sound. He tapped a datapad strapped to his forearm and rose.
"Duty calls. See you later," Ensign Yui said as he left the mess hall.
year of surveillance all for nothing," First Officer Jok repeated to the Captain in the Ready Room.
"We were working on a plan to get down to the surface of the planet and now a recall," Captain Blainst whined.
"Really? We've tried 147 plans to get down there, none of them even came close. This has been a complete waste of time. It's some Forerunner bullshit planet," First Officer Jok said with some emotion.
"And yet there might be technology down there that might change the war effort. It is our duty to get to it ..."
"Oh yeah. Change the war? Are you completely naive? No one wants to 'change the war'. We and the Hadanes have been trading the same damn systems for the last 45 T-years. That is not a war. That is a plan to keep the populate placated in both empires. People love war. Gives them something to root for and protest against. Since both empires have populations that are very fecund we need a place to bleed off the excess," Jok said as he paced back and forth in the long narrow room.
Captain Blainst just stared at the screen in front of him. On it was a view of the planet below. It is completely covering in water ice and absolutely smooth, down to plus or minus a couple centimeters. There are no craters from impacts and no features except one. A single tower 21 kilometers high that extended above the ice. It appears to be made of iridium and is featureless save for a 3 meter circular opening at the base. The planet is 34AU from the primary and has no moons or rings.
"I am sure that Hadane scout ship is still down there," Captain Blainst said, still staring at the screen.
Jok stopped pacing, turned and stared at his Captain, his mouth hanging open. He shook his head, closed his mouth and started to speak then stopped. Various emotions played across his face while he stared.
"All the probes we've sent have been unmanned and large," The Captain said, still not looking up.
Jok's mouth opened and closed several times and then a look of cunning came across his face. He seemed to mull an idea around for a few minutes then said, "Our smallest reentry vehicle is 10 meters long by 2 meters in diameter. It holds one man and enough supplies for a month."
"Very good, Jok. Very good. Let's get one ready."
"Who are we going to send down? We were short 10 crew when we arrived and 2 are in sickbay and 4 are in the brig. We are really shorthanded."
"Oh, this requires a senior officer. I will go myself," Blainst said manner-of-factually.
"That's ... I don't think that is a good idea, sir," Jok said with a voice that indicated the complete opposite.
"Nonsense. You handle the day-to-day operations, you can handle me being gone for a few days. I've studied the approaches we have used so far and I think that if we put a probe straight down on the tower and I follow it that the weapon will not have recovered in time to attack me."
"Really?" Jok said then followed up in a very low, almost inaudible, voice. "but shouldn't we test that first?"
Blainst looked up at Jok, then looked around the room, shrugged and ordered,"Set up a probe and the reentry craft. I want to go as soon as possible."
"Aye, aye sir." Jok said and left the Ready Room.
he bridge crew watched the view screens from the satellites as the probe approached the tower from directly above. It reached 2500 meters from it when a bright beam of energy shot out of the top of the tower and intersected the probe, vaporizing it. The Captain's much smaller vehicle followed the same trajectory and continued past 2500 meters. Then 1500 meters passed with no response from the tower. The Captain made it all the way to the frozen surface, landed and settled with no response from the tower. It was 100 meters from the tower.
Telemetry from the vehicle began coming in. Besides the 3 meter opening, which had a recessed cover, there were markings all around the tower. The distance was too great to see any but the largest. They appeared to be Forerunner markings.
"I am releasing the drones and exiting the vehicle and approaching the tower," Captain Blainst said as a hatch on the side of the vehicle opened and ladder rungs popped out of the side. Three small objects flew out of the hatch followed by a bulky figure climbing carefully down.
The drones came on-line and began transmitting data. One flew over the path that the Captain would take, getting density readings. One flew up to 15 meters and stayed behind the Captain as he reached the surface and began trudging toward the tower. The third flew to the tower and began making up close, visual recordings of the exterior, spiraling around the base from the door.
"Gravity is 0.85 T-normal. Makes this a lot easier. The ground is very smooth, cleats are helping with traction," Blainst monologued as he made is way to the tower.
75 meters from the tower the Captain said, "Icy area ahead. Have drone 2 drop to 1 meter and get some high resolution vids of what is below the ice."
Ensign Yui responded with an, "Aye, aye, Captain" and tapped on his console. The drone dropped towards the surface and images began appearing on a vid screen in the bridge.
The ice was very clear and laser depth readings indicated a depth of 5 km to the rocky surface. The surface was distorted by the frozen water but objects could be made out. A 6 lane highway appeared and aimed right at the tower.
"Lieutenant-Commander Jok, Ensign Hyo is a specialist in optical distortion, can we get her to work on these images?" Ensign Yui asked.
Jok nodded his head and looked at another officer. That officer spoke quietly into her collar mic and nodded back at Jok.
A few minutes later Ensign Hyo appeared on the bridge and started working at a spare console.
The Captain was now 25 meters from the opening in the tower; he remarked, "Clear ice right up to the opening. The opening appears to not be a doorway. Some kind of portal; perhaps a port for a weapon."
The images from through the ice, after work from Ensign Hyo, are clearer and it can be seen that the highway ran through a forest. The trees were still green and there are vehicles on the highway.
"My god! They moved this world while people were on it!" Security Officer Trantor said with horror in his voice.
5 meters from the opening the Captain stopped. The drone images showed that the tower had been thrust into this world without any regard for what was on the ground. The highway was cut in two and a group of buildings was partially crushed. A body could be seen, it was humanoid with orange skin.
"Captain, it looks like the Forerunners just jammed this tower thing into this world and dragged it out here, freezing the people on it as they were," Jok said.
"I expected as much. It is typical of them; they tended to regard anyone not them as we regard bacteria. Looks like there might be a door inside the portal on the left side. Send drone 2 in. What is drone 3 bringing back?"
That drone had gone about halfway around the 1 km diameter tower and returned graphics and symbols by the thousands. The computer made matches to known, defined Forerunner symbols and added a lot more to the undefined database. The graphics and symbols appear to extended from the base to the top.
"Nothing useful to you; more symbols that are new and images that are partially buried in the ice."
"I expected as much. What's drone 2 found?"
That drone made a multi-frequency scan of the left side inside of the portal. It reported an oval opening 2 m high and 1 m wide with a set of recessed buttons on the right side but otherwise impenetrable. Jok reported that to Blainst.
"The opening is 4 or so meters above me. I am going to use the boost and with the lesser gravity I should be able to get up there."
They watched as the bulky figure took three steps and jumped with the jets firing on his back. He sailed into the portal, landing easily just inside the entrance.
"Captain, I don't think going any farther is a good idea. You should return to the reentry vehicle and the ship," Jok said, worry creeping into his voice.
Drone 1 maneuvered to bring the Captain back into the center. The crew watched as he studied the door for a few moments. He reached out with a finger and pressed one of the recessed buttons. The doorway receded, revealing an opening that lit up with a bright blue light.
"Jok, all that would accomplish is getting me killed. We are out of probes, so there is nothing to trigger the particle beam before I would pass," The Captain said.
He stood paused in front that doorway, then said, "Let drone 3 continue to scan and send it to one of the satellites. Give me control of #2 and #1. Report this place to the Ministry of Forerunner Archeology. I am going to investigate this place; this is pretty much my only chance of exploring a Forerunner facility. They would never let any of us in here if we waited for a full investigation team. Jok, you will find the remains of that Haldane scout ship on Tarctas 22. Looks like there was some sort of malfunction, no survivors. Put me on General."
Ensign Yui did as asked.
"Crew, this is Captain Blainst. I am going to be staying on Tarctas 48 to investigate the Forerunner facility. You have been an exemplary crew and I could not have asked for better. I realize this year has been trying on your patience but there is a positive side to this. We received a recall notice this morning and it alsl had an announcement that there is a cease-fire. You will be returning to the fleet and will, most likely, be redeployed to other ships, as our ship, the Threed, is obsolete. If your luck holds many of you will be discharged before hostilities heat up again. Good luck and may you find peace."
The bulky figure waved at the first drone and stepped inside the Forerunner facility. Drones 1 and 2 followed him in.
Acting Captain Jok stood silent for several minutes then said, in a quiet voice, "Captain, I hope you find what you are looking for."; louder, he said. "Lay in a course for the fleet, engage when ready. I will be in my Ready Room."