After and uneventful trip back to Melbourne Park, Baiju and I parked up the Carl Sagan and made ready Texas. After about 17 hours the engineers had replaced the old A4 shield generator with a much beefier A7 unit, added 4 hull reinforcement units, several A class shield boosters and made some other tweaks and modifications. She was not a full on war ship – only carrying 2 class 3 beam lasers – but she was now about as well protected as it was possible for a ship of this class to be. Most of the ship’s power supply now being routed directly to the shields and shields boosters with just enough left over to allow continuous fire of the twin class 3 beam lasers for a good 20 seconds burst. Enough to bring down the most stubborn shields.
By 20:00 we were ready to depart. But for where? We had nothing to go on. I was sat on the bridge contemplating this point when Baiju came in through the bridge entry door and announced “Sir, all supplies restocked. Here ready for departure sir” standing bolt upright and to attention.
“Thank you Baiju. We just need to figure out where we’re heading.” I replied, gesturing to my first officer to take his seat at the navigation station immediately to the left of my command chair.
I stared out of the forward observation window mulling things over. What were these things? Why has Pepper sent us looking for them? Were they really Thargoid in origin? None of it made sense. And the bits that did, were extremely troubling.
“Sir, our mission?” asked Baiju after what seemed like hours but was in reality probably more like 30 seconds or so.
I got up from the command chair, went over to the science station and brought up the files that Mal had given me. “Baiju, come take a look at this. Tell me what you think.”
The grainy image of the artifact filled the screen. “Sir…” he paused, rubbing his forehead. “Sir.. this. Big problem sir. Where finding?”. He had a look not too dissimilar to the one Mal was wearing. Worried, with an unhealthy undertone of out right fear.
“Do you recognize this Baiju?”
“Sir, this unknown artifact. Very dangerous sir.” He was now quite visibly disturbed. The only time I have ever seen him look so worried was the time we jumped into a binary black hole system, with a close orbiting O type star that started to fry us the minute we dropped out of hyperspace.
“What do you know about these things Baiju?” It appears that every man and his dog in the Milky Way has been clued in on unknown artifacts. Every man excluding me that is!
“Sir, 3 days ago, Lakon Type 9. Military I think. Here carrying unknown artifact sir. Big cargo damage sir. Very bad. Artifacts here like looking. ” He pointed to the image on the screen.
“How do you know all this Baiju?”.
“Sir? Galnet news in He Bo system.” He looked genuinely amazed that I did not know this. I really must keep abreast of current news in future.
“OK, fair enough. Do you happen to know which system that Type 9 was in?”
“Oh yes sir. 109 Virginis sir.” he said beaming like a Cheshire cat.
I bounded over to the command chair and started up the big Anaconda’s main engines. “Well then Baiju, let’s not stand on ceremony. Plot a course for 109 Virginis. And see if you can get hold of commander Plate. Then I have a task for you.”
“Sir, here 109 Virginis going sir?” The beaming grin had been replaced with the look you would give someone if they had just shat in your cornflakes while pointing a gun at you. Somewhat worried and utterly shocked at the same time.
Texas’s huge bulk strained as she lifted off the pad, groaning and hissing as her landing gear retracted. “That’s right Baiju. But don’t worry. If we manage to track one of these things down, we are not picking it up. And we’re also not going to be doing this alone. Send this to Commander Plate:
Reconnaissance mission to find highly illegal and extremely dangerous artifact from heavily guarded military convoy. Up for it? If so, meet us at 109 Virginis. Torkalar out.
Also, in the science database, you’ll find a file called HSX28359-4. It’s an audio file commander Washburne retrieved from one of these things. I want you to analyze it and see if you can find some sort of pattern.”
The gorgeous silhouette of CMDR PLate’s Asp, the ‘Rosilina’
The 109 Virginis system is a reasonably short 120 light year hop from Alioth, and other than that, is completely unremarkable in most respects. It didn’t take us long to reach. Once we dropped out of hyperspace, we moved away from the main star and out to around 150 LS before dropping into normal space.
“Sir, commander Plate here coming. ETA 20 minutes.” Baiju announced while staring intently out the port observation window.
“Wow, that was fast. OK, cool. Then let’s start scanning for signal sources. How’s the analysis of that audio coming?”
“Computer here working sir. Estimate finish analysis in 5 minutes.” his eyes not diverting from there current direction out the window.
“Excellent. Thank you Baiju. You couldn’t get me a cuppa tea could you?”
Baiju pushed off from his seat at the navigation station and drifted silently over to the rear of the bridge were the amenities bench was. “No pwoblem sir, here coming.”
A short time later Baiju come floating back through the bridge with a nice hot bag of tea. Cups were pretty useless in deep space for obvious reasons. Yet despite this, I never really got used to drinking tea from a plastic bag. It just didn’t seem right some how. Still, if it was a tea I wanted, then it was going to have to be through a straw, from a bag.
“Sir, analysis complete. Here sending results.” Baiju swiped his hand over his navigation display, sending the results over to my console which flickered for a moment, before displaying the following message:
Audio Analysis Complete:
Spectral Type: 10 15 KHz.
Pattern Match: Negative.
Below the message, the original source file was listed, along with the filtered files created by the computer while trying to find a pattern match. I played them.
Compression and Expansion:
Interesting stuff but no more revealing than the original source file. Maybe there was a message here, but the computer wasn’t picking it up because it wasn’t in any known language or technology? “Baiju, I know we’ve just done an analysis of that file, but could you keep looking at it for me. Maybe clean up the filters and have the computer scan for any kind of pattern match, not just known languages and technologies?”
“Ok sir, no pwoblem.” And with that the elegant lines of Rosilini, Commander Plate’s Asp Explorer roared over the bow of the Texas. “Sir, commander Plate standing by sir.”
“Yep, I see him Baiju. Thanks. Ok… let’s see what we can find out here. Baiju, I want you to do a full spectrum scan out as far as you can, for any signal sources. Weak, strong, unidentified… I don’t care. We’re gonna check them all and relay anything you find with the Rosilini ok?”
Baiju frantically typed commands onto his navigation display console “Ok, sir. Ok. Here syncing with Rosilina. Here ready to jump to super cruise.”
“Ok Baiju… punch it!”