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Anderson slowly opened his left eye. His head felt like it was splitting in two and his right eye didn’t want to respond. All he could see was flashing lights on the instrument panel in front of him. He waited.
“Are you awake, commander? Your bio-signs indicate you are experiencing difficulty breathing.”
Anderson realised he was holding his breath. He exhaled slowly and took a deep breath.
“I’m fine, Anna. Well, half of me seems fine. I must have blacked out. I hope this isn’t how general relativity pays humans back for breaking Einstein’s rules.”
“That doesn’t make sense, sir. Einstein clearly stated…”
“Anna! Please, never mind. I’m not quite myself, yet. Give me a minute.”
The silence was only broken by the low whir of the air conditioning.
“Okay, I assume we have arrived in one piece, Anna. How did The Hope hold up?”
“We have arrived commander, all is well with the ship. Systems optimal. I’m working at normal capacity. It seems the only problem is you, commander.”
“Are you pissed with me Anna?”
“Never mind.” Anderson managed to open his right eye and his vision swayed a little but settled down. He unbuckled from his command seat and stood, slowly. There wasn’t too much room to walk around, but enough to stretch his legs. It felt good to be stood upright. “Okay, let’s see where we are. View ahead on screen, Anna.”
The video screen was part of the graphene bubble and the bubble suddenly cleared to show the view ahead. Anderson gasped. To his left and to his right was a sheer wall of rocky bodies, as far up and down as he could see. In front was a clear highway, with nothing but the deep black of space to see. It felt like his ship was travelling down a natural corridor.
“Beautiful, isn’t it commander?”
“It is,” Anderson said, almost in a whisper. “How many orbits have we completed while I was out?”
“Barely one, Commander. As a human once said, ‘It’s a big assed sky.’”
Anderson smiled inwardly. She may only be an AI, but there were times Anna was almost human in her responses to his stupid questions.
Anderson sank back into his command chair, never taking his eyes from the view. “I assume you’ve contacted Mission Control with the good news. Are the robotic relay stations working?”
When the ability to travel at Super Luminal Velocities had been discovered, man had quickly deployed robots between Earth and Saturn when the decision had been made to send a human to Saturn. The plan was to create a system of laser comms between repeating stations. If it worked, relay stations would be deployed across the solar system.
“I have, commander, and I have received a reply.”
“Well done. Good luck. Stay in touch, mission control out.”
“Is that it? A bit dull for such an historic event. What did you send when we arrived? Something meaningful, I hope.”
“I simply said that we had arrived, and all was well. I’m not on board as a poet, I’m here to make sure all systems are working well and that you are safe and well.”
Anderson didn’t have the heart to argue with a machine. He simply continued to stare at the beauty on his screen.
“There’s an anomaly, directly ahead.”
“What sort of anomaly, Anna?”
“It’s not a rock body.”
The screen changed to show a black backdrop with a sliver of silver, growing as they approached it.”
“It’s in orbit according to my data,” Anderson said.
“It is. Geo-sync orbit. It’s somehow managing station keeping. But I see no energy signatures.”
“Scan for any activity, robotic, AI… living organism. It’s obviously not natural. I can see from the geometric shaping. It looks more like a spaceship than we do.”
“I hate to say this, but it is a manufactured artifact.”
Anderson was stunned at Anna’s admission. The artifact was clearly not of human design. “What’s it made of?”
“Unknown, commander. It isn’t anything I recognise in my data banks.
“Are you saying this is alien?”
“Well, where the hell did it come from?”
“What’s it doing here?”
Anderson watched as the view screen altered its perspective automatically to stop the image overwhelming the view.
“We are closing and slowing commander. Shall I keep station five kilometres from the object, for safety?”
“Very well, Anna.”
The was a brief pause but no discernible change in the ship’s speed.
“On station, sir.”
“Any further analysis? Anything else to offer?”
“No, commander the object is approximately the same size as us. Roughly cylindrical but it does have an array of geometric designs across its body. The material is completely white, making it look silvery as the sun shines on it. Apart from that, there is nothing…”
“Yes? Go on.”
“The object has generated a pulse of energy.”
Anderson sat forward, slightly alarmed. “Aimed at us?”
“No, commander. It isn’t a weapon. It appears to be just an omnidirectional pulse of energy.”
Anderson stood once more and stretched his tired legs. “Okay, what does your analysis tell you?”
“It tells me nothing, commander. It is simply a pulse of energy sent out from the object in all directions.”
“Okay,” Anderson said, slowly.
“And another. Exactly five minutes after the first.”
“Same thing? Same pulse?”
“Exactly and omnidirectional. Same as before.”
“Okay, send details to mission control and monitor the object. I’m going to bet it carries on sending these pulses on a regular basis. Until it receives a signal back.”
“Sir, do you think it’s signalling its home world?”
“Yes, and a few others besides.”
There was silence in the room as both Anderson and his AI took in what Anderson had just said.
“You believe it’s signalling multiple worlds, at the same time?”
“Yes. Exactly what we would do… if we were part of a larger community.”
“A larger community like, what exactly. What are you saying, commander?”
“I believe it’s signalling worlds that are part of an empire.”
“But that’s ridiculous if I may say so. The age of Empires past a long time ago.”
“Yes, on Earth. But who is to say other civilisations have followed the same course?”
“But that means…”
“Yes, exactly. When an Empire expands it does so through conquest.”
Copyright © Tom Kane 2020