Science Fiction story set in the distant future.
"Captain on Deck!" shouted the Executive Officer as Captain Hiram Novak entered the Command Operations Hub of the Interstellar Commonwealth Naval Exploratory Vessel Yanlai. The Yanlai had been underway for three years. It had traveled nearly 500 light years in that time using the advanced slipstream technology that had allowed humanity to expand out of the Sol system into the Orion Arm.
"As you were." responded the Captain. "Alright Chief, what did you get me out of bed for?"
Chief Technologist and Executive Officer, Alfonso Williams walked over to his workstation in the COH. Several holo-displays presented huge amounts of data being processed and spit out by the ships state-of-the-art central computer.
Standard holo-displays on ICN ships were low, crescent moon shaped, and rose straight out of the deck as if someone had placed a short wall. Approximately six inches in width and roughly knee-high, the top of the display held what looked like a screen that ran the entire length. When the holo-display was, on it glowed a dull red and suspended above, in 3D, any information requested. Users interfaced with the shipboard computer using the standard ICN neural link - controlling the display with their thoughts.
At the center of this particular display rotated a large orb. This orb, the planet designated KP-186.01, was the Yanlai's destination. KP-186.01 had been creatively named for its home system Kepler 186. It was one of several planets set to be surveyed and explored when the Commonwealth began the Goldilocks Project. The Project's name refers to the Circumstellar Habitabal Zone. That is, the area around a star that is not too close, but not too far, for an orbiting planetary surface to be able to support liquid water. The Yanlai was the 17th Exploratory Vessel to undertake a Goldilocks mission, however, its destination being over 500 light years from the Sun, it was one of the furthest sent.
"Captain, I've been analyzing energy readings and geography of the planet and...well...to be honest Captain I can't figure out what I'm looking at."
"That's reassuring. What's she think?" the Captain inquired pointing upward indicating he was talking about the ship's central computer.
"She can't figure it out either. I've had her run simulations and she keeps submitting out the same conclusion - and it doesn't make any sense."
"Well what's she keep tellin' ya it is?"
"Captain..." Williams hesitated and then gathered himself "...after over 1000 simulations the computer has concluded the data points to a human civilization beneath the surface of the planet. These energy readings seem far too high to simply be tectonic in nature."
Captain Novak furrowed his brow and cocked his head looking at the holo-display, then back at his XO. The Captain drug his fingers across the bridge of his nose and squeezed. "That is a surprise, seeing as how we're the first humans here. Any chance someone got out here before us, Chief?" The Captain asked.
"Slim to none, sir." Williams replied.
"Well, it wouldn't be a scientific mission if we didn't find more questions than answers, would it? Record everything. Mission priority remains unchanged: Observe. Record. Go home."
"Aye, Captain. May I suggest we remove ourselves from orbit? This will cause some decrease in our sensors effectiveness, but it shouldn't slow down data collection any extended amount of time."
Novak chuckled "Scared of the 'slim-to-none', eh Chief?"
The Chief Technologist looked somewhat put out at the Captains jest. "No, sir. Simply being cautious."
The Captain smiled and waved his hand, waving away the lack of humor from his XO. "Alright, alright. Let's take her up a bit." He turned to the helmswoman "Helm, increase orbit to .80 standard."
"Increase orbit - .80 standard, aye!" the helsmwoman parroted the order in acknowledgment.
"Feel better, Chief?" The Captain chided his XO.
"Yes, Captain." Williams responded, no humor in his voice.
The Captain turned and began to walk toward his ready room, the small office just off the COH. He stopped, turned back to his XO and said "You know Chief, we've got a long trip home after this - might want to lighten up a little."
"Lighten up, aye." responded the XO.
Novak chuckled, "See that wasn't so hard, was it?" then turned and sauntered into his ready room. He plopped down into the chair behind his desk, leaned his head back and let out a heavy sigh. Three long years the journey here had taken. Of course, traveling at maximum speed would have taken just over a year and a half, but being an exploratory vessel the ship traversed the distance slowly, gathering data all along the way, as no humans had ventured this far into this particular area of space.
"At least the trip back will be faster..." thought the Captain.
Klaxons suddenly rang out. The Captain jumped up from his chair and dashed into the COH."XO! Report!" He shouted.
"Captain - energy signatures just spiked. I'm reading a large energy wave headed straight for us." The holo-display showed what looked like a bright blue comet with its long tail ending at the planet's surface.
"What's the source?" asked the Captain.
"The planet, sir." responded Williams.
"Mother of...if that hits us...Chief, give me a damage estimate!"
"Damage estimate, aye. One moment, sir." The Chief turned to his holo-display and closed his eyes, focusing his neural link. "Captain if the wave hits us at our present orbit, we will..." he paused "Captain, we will cease to exist."
The Captain's eyes grew wide. "I may get home a lot faster..." he thought morbidly. He turned to the helmswoman "Helm! Get us out of here. I want exit velocity yesterday!"
The helmswoman did not respond immediately. The Captain looked over, seeing her eyes wide looking down at the deck. He walked over to her, placed his hand on her shoulder and said "Sailor. I need you to focus. Point me away from this planet and step on the gas."
The helmswoman shut her eyes hard as the Captain grasped her shoulder. When he finished talking, she snapped them open and began to work.
"Exit velocity, aye!" She closed her eyes and began to interface with the computer, commanding the ship is maneuvering thrusters to point the ship's bow away from the planet.
The ship begin to turn away from the planet pointing its nose towards the star at the center of the system."
"Thrusters to maximum, Captain. Engines responding...will achieve max thrust in thirty four seconds, sir!" The ship begin to shudder as the sudden thrust pushed the inertial dampening field to strain.
"Damn gravity wells..." mumbled the Captain. "Chief - how are we looking?"
"Captain, the increased thrust will not be enough to outrun the energy wave. Damage estimates show reactor detonation post-impact."
The Captain shook his head, realizing the fate of the Yanlai had already been decided. "Cheif" he said somberly "Mission priority has changed. You will oversee crew evacuation. I will stay on the Yanlai and to transfer all data on this planet to one of our Deep Space Probes and send it off towards home. The Commonwealth needs to know what's here."
"Captain, even at top speed that probe won't come within range of the Relay Network for at least 5 years."
"I am aware of the speed limit of our probes, Chief. If you have a better idea I am all ears." Williams shook his head.
"Alright then, you have your orders."
"Evacuation...aye, Captain." the XO responded. He closed his eyes again, networking with the shipboard computer. Moments later his voice carried throughout the ship "All hands - this is the XO abandon ship. Repeat: all hands abandon ship."
The Captain looked around at his crew in the COH. "It's been a pleasure serving with you all. Get to your escape pods."
The crew saluted and then quickly shuffled out of the COH to their assigned evacuation points.
Williams turned to the Captain. "Sir...I..." he straightened up, made a fist and raised it up to his chest, over his heart in a salute "Captain, it has been an honor sailing with you. Tech willing, your sacrifice will not be in vain.
The Captain returned the salute. "Get to your pod. Get that crew home. Somehow, get them home."
With that, the Chief Technologist turned on his heel and walked out of the COH leaving the Captain alone with the Yanlai. He began to jog down the narrow corridors of the ship to his evacuation point. As he reached it, he helped several crewmembers into their pods and sent them off into space. As the last of the crew at his evacuation point boarded their pods, he shut his eyes and interfaced for the last time with the Yanlai's computer. He queried the computer to find if any crew were left on board. As it was only himself and the Captain, he boarded his pod, put on the mask, strapped himself in and closed his eyes waiting for the jolt that would signal his departure from the Yanlai.
The jolt came moments later. Williams opened his eyes and saw the Yanlai from below, his pod "falling" away from the exploratory vessel. As the distance grew, he saw the large plume of the thrusters at max capacity, futilely attempting to outrun the large energy wave behind it. Without a holo-display to show what the naked eye could not see, he could only imagine the large wave hurtling towards the ship. His eyes did however glimpse a small sphere eject from the front of the ship. The Deep Space Probe. He sighed in relief, knowing that there was some chance the Commonwealth would know what happened to the crew of the ICN-EV Yanlai.
As he considered the time it might take the probe to reach the Network Relay, a bright, blinding light forced him to close his eyes. The energy wave had struck the Yanlai from behind, immediately destroying the thrust ports. The reactor, built close to the back of the ship detonated. The force of the wave impact coupled with the reactor detonation shattered the rear half of the Yanlai. The ship snapped in two like a twig. The bow began to slowly ark downward, pulled into the gravity well.
Williams looked through the small porthole in the escape pod. He saw several others hurtling in the same direction as his - towards the mysterious planet. As they reached the upper atmosphere, he hoped two things: that the shock wave had not damaged any of the escape pods heat shields, and second that whatever was on this planet that destroyed the Yanlai couldn't get off, because if the Commonwealth would receive any warning at all, it likely wouldn't be until too late.