Miss last week’s startling revelation? Just feeling like reviewing the events that brought our heroes here? Click Here to review past installments! Everyone stared at Gadwall in stunned silence. For once Radley’s expression matched Hicklepeck’s.
Miss last week’s startling revelation? Just feeling like reviewing the events that brought our heroes here? Click Here to review past installments!
Everyone stared at Gadwall in stunned silence.
For once Radley’s expression matched Hicklepeck’s. “You’re joking, right? That planet out there is Voyager Prime, not Human Prime. Not Earth.”
“I think it’s both.”
Hicklepeck paced between Radley and Gadwall, pausing to examine each briefly before going back to the other. “This would explain why the humans have no records of a Voyager encounter. I had assumed that the records were merely lost when their homeworld was destroyed, and I suppose in a sense they were, just not the kind of records I expected—”
Pellina twitched her antennae. “Hold on, how is it your people forgot that they were the first spacefarers?”
Radley shrugged. “Don’t look at me. I’m still not convinced that’s Human Prime.”
Gadwall shook his head. “You don’t know what it was like. The records that came with our ancestors to Klime Two talk about a world on the brink of being consumed by fire. Only a few hundred people escaped the system.”
Hicklepeck’s scales turned purple, then blue, then green in quick succession. “But…but you were the Voyagers. You mastered interstellar travel while the rest of the galaxy was just beginning to look out into the cosmos. We’ve seen first-hand the miraculous things your people were capable of.”
The captain threw up his arms. “It’s not like I was there. This world, this culture, died a thousand cycles ago. Our history begins with crashing on Klime Two.”
Crowe looked up from her display. “Captain—”
Pellina fluttered over to Gadwall. “You expect us to believe that the most advanced species in the galaxy faded out of existence because of a little crash?”
“That and the hundreds that died before we adapted to our new world.” Gadwall said. “Two thirds of our population was lost in the first five cycles. The electronic records went down with the ship and most of the personal knowledge was buried beside it. Trust me, I have spent most of my life trying to piece together enough data to find Earth. The humans that escaped this disaster weren’t the Voyagers. At least not anymore.”
“A tragic tale to say the least.” Hicklepeck stood far too close to Radley, squinting up at his face.
He pushed the Filtonian away. “Will you lay off, Hicklepeck? I haven’t changed in the last ten minutes.”
“But you have. Before you were merely Human. A race with a terrible history, but otherwise unremarkable.”
“Now, however, you are the long lost descendant of the Voyagers. So much could be learned by studying you.”
“Captain—” Crowe tried again.
Radley raised his fist. “Keep it up and I’ll give you something to study.”
Pellina used her wings to stay eye level with the captain. “How did your ancestor’s ship crash? Surely a race as advanced as that had suitable landing craft.”
“The ship we found on Chryl Seven didn’t have a planet-hopper.” Hicklepeck backed away from Radley. “You said yourself that it landed on a small planetoid.”
“And its engines handled atmosphere just fine. Another development the Voyagers had over us.” Radley said. “Modern us. You know what I mean.”
Gadwall sighed. “Like I said, I wasn’t there. Maybe there was a malfunction, maybe the pilot was inexperienced, maybe it was deliberate, I couldn’t tell you. All I know is our history began with that crash.”
“But you suspected something, didn’t you?” Radley asked. “You were as ready to turn Hicklepeck away as I was until I mentioned his theory about the Voyagers.”
“Really?” The Filtonian turned purple as he faced Gadwall.
The captain sighed. “Yes, I thought that if his theory proved true, we might be able to use his methods to track down our homeworld too.”
Something about that didn’t strike Radley right, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
“I’d say you were correct.” Pellina said.
Hicklepeck resumed his pacing. “I still can’t believe I’ve been traveling with the Voyagers all this time. I’d never imagined such fortune would bless this venture. You’ll be able to offer a truly unique insight into anything we can find.”
Gadwall shook his head. “Like I said before, our ancestors were refugees, not Voyagers. Why can’t you—”
“Captain!” Crowe stamped her feet to get his attention.
“What?” He turned to her.
“I’m picking up a signal.” She grinned, revealing all four rows of teeth. “From the planet.”
“Can you pinpoint the source?” Pellina and Hicklepeck crowded around the navigational ring.
“I believe so, but it won’t do us much good at this distance.” Crowe said.
“I can help with that.” Sweqs called from the far side of the bridge. “While you were having your…discussion, I have been studying the gravity-well beyond the planet. It appears to be stable. If the planet has settled into an orbit, it should be safe to approach.”
“After a thousand cycles, if it wasn’t in an orbit it wouldn’t still be here.” Pellina offered.
“Then what are we waiting for?” Hicklepeck’s scales shifted to a bright blue.
“Take us in, Crowe.” Gadwall said.
“Captain, aren’t you forgetting something? I left the planet-hopper back in Chryl space.” Radley stepped forward as the ship’s gravity adjusted for flight.
Gadwall smiled. “We salvaged Pellina’s from the wreck of the Voyagers’ ship. It’s banged up, but it should make this trip. And before you ask, I’ve got a spare pressure suit you can borrow.”
Somehow that didn’t ease Radley’s apprehension.
Crowe brought the Broc Mor into orbit around Earth above the site of the signal.
Gadwall barked orders like he was back in the military. “Pellina, get your ship ready for launch. Radley, Hicklepeck, suit up. You too Sweqs, we may need your expertise sorting through technical data. Crowe—”
“I know, I know. ’Stay with the ship.’ It’s all I ever get to do.” She slumped in the navigational ring. “Enjoy your frozen deathtrap.”
The captain’s tone softened. “I need you to keep an eye on things up here. Let us know if anything changes with that gravity-well or if any ships enter the system.”
“Expecting company, Captain?” Radley asked.
“Just being cautious.” Gadwall ushered them off the bridge.
Radley made a quick stop at his quarters to retrieve the pulse-pistol he’d acquired when he left the military. It didn’t pack the same punch as other service weapons, but it still had enough punch that on most worlds civilian possession carried a life-sentence.
He hoped it was just his professional paranoia acting up, but better safe than sorry.
The others had already boarded Pellina’s ship by the time Radley arrived.
Gadwall handed him a spare suit. “What took you so long?”
“Just being cautious.” Radley responded.
“We’re ready for launch.” Pellina was already in her boxy suit. “The auto-navigation is set with the coordinates.”
“Let’s get going then.” Gadwall joined her in the cockpit.
Hicklepeck sat by the scanner array, studying the data as it came in.
Pellina guided the landing craft through its launch procedures.
The signal led them to the ruins of an ancient city. Skeletal, gray towers passed occasionally through the thin beams of the ship’s lights, reaching vainly toward what was left of the sky. The scanners indicated the atmosphere had thinned beyond breathability. As they approached the signal, the towers gave way to a wide plain marred only by a massive, ice-coated sphere, nestled in the center of the space. Another Voyager ship.
Radley whistled. “It’s bigger than the Broc Mor.”
“Find us a place to land.” Gadwall said.
Pellina set the ship down on the plain a few hundred meters from the Voyagers’ vessel. The landing craft settled awkwardly as the ground shifted under its weight.
Once she was certain the ship was stable, Pellina turned to Gadwall. “Welcome home, Captain.”
“Let’s see if it was worth the journey.” Gadwall led them out into the frozen ruins.
Outside was pitch black, except for the ground within the splash of their lights. It crunched and cracked beneath their feet.
“What is that?” Hicklepeck spun in circles, as if trying to take in every sight at once.
Radley bent down brushed away the top layer of frost. The landing field was littered with thousands of bones, brittle from age and bitter cold.
He handed a bone to Gadwall. “That is what’s left of the Voyagers.”
Hicklepeck sobered. “S-shouldn’t the cold have kept them more…preserved?”
The captain tossed the bone aside. “Yes, it should have. Let’s get moving, we didn’t come all this way for a cemetery.”
The five of them hurried to the mound of the half-buried ship as quickly as the treacherous ground would allow.
Pellina and Gadwall worked to manually open a lower airlock. The ship’s design strongly resembled the one they’d encountered at Chryl Seven, minus the exterior tubes. Despite the signal, none of the external systems appeared to be powered, and a thin layer of ice covered everything.
“I think the bridge will be toward the center of the ship.” Pellina offered.
“Good.” Gadwall said. “You, Hicklepeck, and I will start there. Sweqs, I want you to find the propulsion level. See what it would take to get this thing powered up.”
“I’m going to look for any…surprises.” Radley headed down the corridor in the opposite direction of the others. “Keep in contact.”
He knew it was the right choice, but Hicklepeck’s constant commentary on every little thing he saw tested Radley’s ability to follow his own orders.
It was slow going through the icy ship. He checked for traps, messages, and weapons in every chamber he came to. He also found the vents for service-bots. The compartments were less bare than the Chryl Seven craft, but none of the furnishings held any interest.
Hicklepeck would’ve spent hours with each item.
Gadwall reported that they’d arrived on the bridge and that the signal was generated by a self-contained system.
Hicklepeck identified it as a distress call.
“Probably meant for our ancestors.” Gadwall added. “But they never came.”
Radley happened into a cabin that was nearly waist deep with clothes, pillows, blankets, and other linens. The topmost layer, stiffened with ice, was difficult to shift, but beneath he made quicker progress digging through the pile.
Sweqs came on the comm. “Based on these readings, I think the ship was intentionally powered down. If its systems are intact, it should be a relatively simple matter to power it back up.”
“Why would they power down?” Pellina asked.
Radley stared down at the frozen human figure he’d uncovered, a half gnawed human leg clutched in its hands. “Because at these temperatures, freezing is faster than starvation.”
To Be Continued…