Contest entry about an unexpected discovery in space
It was so small, really an accident we discovered it at all. And from where, we didn’t have a clue.
We knew, from its composition, it didn’t really match anything natural in our system. High in copper and iron, its density was way off, hardly any mass for its size. When images from Mars telescopes leaked to the news, some random academic named it Eleutheria. Terrible, I know, but the name stuck. Immediately, the UFO nuts claimed aliens had sent it (it’s always aliens). Whatever it was, matched a synchronous Earth orbit, exactly opposite the sun from Earth. An anomaly by all accounts, we finally intercepted the thing about two weeks after a steady burn.
“Coming about, 45 degrees to the horizontal.” Commander Kenzie eased the controls to port. “Matching vector and speed.” Stars spun while the object slowed. “Orienting perpendicular to the long axis. What are you seeing, Alvarez?”
Floodlights scanned small sections at a time. “A big rock, far as I can tell,” I replied, peering through the transom. “Scans show mostly iron and about 20% copper. Weird, a lot of carbon too – hydrocarbons, calcium carbonate.” That was unexpected. “Anyways, it’s about 100 meters in length, about 10 meters in diameter.”
“Trace gamma, below our shielding tolerances.”
“Think it’s a power source?”
“A nuclear reaction? That would mean a containment leak. It’s almost like the residual radiation you’d see from a nuclear fall-out. Hmm…no tech or weapons, basically a dead chunk of metal.
“You sound disappointed.”
“A bit,” I admitted. “I was with the crowd hoping for an alien probe.” Then, the lights scanned across a smooth section, reflecting back an emerald hue. “What is that?”
“Well, it does have copper,” the commander smirked.
“Yes, but the green discoloration of copper is due to oxidation. You need an atmosphere for that.” And it can’t be a lifeform. How would it survive in a vacuum? Time for a walk.”
“Well, the scans have gotta be off. Outwardly, they’re detecting a metal shell only a few millimeters thick. Looks like it’s hollow. Besides, our mission is to check this thing out.”
“Okay. Your call. Initiating soft contact. Beginning descent.”
“McGinnis,” I announced over the comms, “meet me at the airlock.”
The surface of the Eleutheria had a buoyant give. Crusted with heaps of black particulate, it was like walking through cold ashes. We kicked up a trail and inversion thrusters compensated well for our weightlessness, a cautious stroll over a taught trampoline. Then, a scuff of a boot revealed a green tarnish, just beneath the charred exterior. “This is definitely artificial,” I realized as McGinnis brushed the debris away. “Metal plating. It looks burned.”
“Roger that,” Kenzie said. “Proceed with caution.”
“Understood. Continuing along the length of the artifact.”
We discovered other exposed areas, pockets of green cladding hidden between dusty knolls and coated with fine ash.
“You seeing any hatches or vents,” Kenzie wondered.
“Nothing.” Then, I stumbled over a broken seam hidden below a film of dust. “Hold on,” I corrected. We trailed it back to a blackened maw of ripped and twisted copper which dropped away. “We’re heading in.”
Tucked inside, my lights scanned the interior. Fingers running along the metal released a cloud of ice crystals. The compartment was lengthy enough, so we could just make out the periphery in the icy haze, but not quite the long end. Then, I discovered a sight I didn’t expect, a simple Victorian staircase within our hollowed out compartment, turned on its side and extending into the darkness. “Where do you go?” I wondered.
A shimmer in the void unexpectedly caught my light and, to my disbelief, I found words, written in English on a bronze plaque. It read, but in reverse:
‘Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses…’
“Holy shit. You seeing this?” A crunch beneath my boot and I glanced down at a decayed corpse, mummified by the vacuum. It looked human. Clutch in a bony fist was a note on NADA letterhead. “National Aeronautics and Dimensional Administration?” Again, the note was in reverse:
‘They’ve killed us all. But if by some miracle my son survives, tell him I loved him. He was going to be a pilot. I was hoping someday to see him fly.’
The comms were silent.
“You still there, commander?”
“I’m here,” Kenzie paused, stunned. “And it’s clearer now. A fractured crown, a destroyed face. Dented robes. But, isn’t Lady Liberty right handed?”