‘So let’s be clear: you have no memory of what happened?’
Rigel stands across from the rescued man – now known as Walcot thanks to the onboard data files – who sits on a stripped down bed. The medbay glows with cleanliness. Walcot’s eyes focus on the floor, his hands mashing together. He doesn’t answer. Rigel’s teeth grind.
It’s been hours since they rescued this extra body from the hulk, which is still attached precariously. The engineers are going back and forth, checking the systems and data. It’s all proceeding as it should.
‘Let me explain this to you, again. We – and I mean humanity – lost contact with you, the Indomitable, not long after your first arrival in the system. It’s been… a long time. This is meant to be a one way trip, though…’ He stops himself, his mouth still moving but the words cut off. Realigning, he continues, ‘I would appreciate if you told me what you can remember.’
Walcot looks up, straight into Rigel’s eyes.
‘Nothing. Absolutely nothing, except who I am, and even that’s vague… barest memories of before I even signed up. I…’ He chokes. Emotions or getting used to speaking again, one or the other.
Rigel grunts. He was a kid when this corpse went quiet. The last outpost. Snuffed out after such a long wait, literally centuries and generations went by waiting for them to reach the Vega system. Joan’s in the Bulb getting all data on every other rescue mission, which all should, theoretically, be arriving in their designated systems about the same time.
The door slides open with a hiss. Lin walks in, her eyes tracing charts as the patient’s results roll past her retinas.
‘He appears healthy, though over-exposed to the cryosleep, obviously. No long term effects. But the memory loss… It can happen, quite often. Especially in the case of trauma.’
Rigel nods, fingers squeezing his lips.
‘Trauma… Bring up his ship records.’
Lin’s eyes twitch.
‘Ari Walcot. Brought along to… document the settlement of the Vega system. You’re a journalist?’
Walcot smiles. ‘If you say so.’
‘Great, so now not only do I have an extra corpse on my hands, but he’s useless too.’ Rigel throws his hands up in the air, kicks a bed.
A voice in his ear.
Captain. You’re needed in the Bulb. Now.
‘What is it Joan?’ Lin snaps a look at Rigel. Joan’s talking directly to him.
I think I know what happened here.
Vega, the star, bulges at its equator. Parallel to the equator the light is a duller blue-white than at the poles. Junko’s ‘eyes’ are all focused on this point. An object has appeared in Vega’s orbit.
Joan stares down the barrel of an optic station. She flips between spectra, observing the object in each. It appears to her as a small black smudge. A freckle against the mighty sun.
‘It’s a ship?’
‘It’s something technological. It’s far too small for a planet, and the orbit is wrong anyway.’ Joan pulls away from the optics and looks straight at Rigel.
‘So you’re saying, potentially, that the Indomitable ran into… aliens, maybe, and we’ve come 25 light years to meet the same fate?’
‘Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t get any energy readings from it. It appears dormant.’
‘Probes, now. Keep quiet, no radio, reduce our radiation, and don’t tell any -’
Captain. I assume you’ve spotted the anomaly.
The Major. Her voice crackles through the all-purpose frequency, the robotic shifts of her mechanised voice box magnified through the vox.
‘Major. Indeed we have. We’re coming up with a plan of action now. It appears quiet for now.’
‘I’m already putting together a drone team for reconnaissance. I suggest you work through the data banks of the Indomitable more efficiently.’
With a click the Major was gone. Rigel’s jaw clenched.
‘At least we’ve got a clue as to why she’s here. Pilot, I want you to keep working on data from the Indomitable and to keep scanning the system for clues. Get those probes out quickly. I’m going back to talk to our guest.’
One, two, three. Probes shoot from Junko, pacifist torpedoes hunting for knowledge. They cross the gap between sentient ship and anomaly quickly, dodging debris yet keeping formation. They begin to relay imagery back to Junko, who feeds it on to the crew.
As they already know, it is massive. A large sphere, a small moon even. Its skin is layered with crevices and mountains. Spires shoot up, ugly spikes into space. Valleys and bunkers. The drones split up.
They shoot across the horizons, scanners slowly bringing the anomaly into a 3D rendition in Junko’s database. In the background Vega burns, flames lapping at edges of the system, the haziness of which diffuses the light to a romantic glow. But there is no light from the anomaly. It orbits in silence.
Rigel stares at the stump where Walcot’s left leg should be.
‘Your injury. No recollection of what happened?’
‘Did your team board the anomaly?’
‘I don’t know, sir.’
‘Right. What I think we are going to have to do is jolt your memory. Lin, you can hook him up to memory retrieval right?’
Lin nods, eyes averted.
‘It induces a dream state, and then we look for memories,’ Lin says to Walcot. ‘We can read the feedback your brain provides. In the lucid state we can sort out dreams from reality.’
‘I… I don’t think I particularly want to dream.’
‘You don’t really have a choice, I’m afraid.’ Rigel stares down the man with that comment, daring him to challenge. Walcot just looks at his leg.
His mouth moves, barely a whisper.
‘What did you say?’ says Rigel.
‘I said, “What happened to the rest of them?”’
‘All of them.’
‘We’re getting feedback from the other missions. It appears there are no survivors, and so the secondary teams are all in the process of picking up where the first teams left off. As for your team specifically, we have no idea. From what we are gathering in each of the other systems, the bodies are mostly accounted for, suicides in the majority. The only exception is Vega. No bodies. One soul back from the dead. And one alien structure. We’ve already relayed this back to Earth. Can you imagine, this is the first sign of alien intelligence we’ve yet to discover? You’ve slept for centuries and managed to keep it quiet.’
Walcot twitches, a full-body jerk. Rigel takes a step back, Lin goes to help the man. He manages to right himself, hands gripping the bed hard. Visible sweat rivulets sweep across his skin.
‘It can’t be good if we never told you about it.’
‘That’s what I’m afraid of.’