Prompt Used – “Talking to the Dead”
(Approx. 2150 words)
In 2014, NASA began working earnestly on developing a “Warp” drive. It took seventy-five years to accomplish but in 2090 man had finally become a star-faring species. Alpha Centauri was selected as the target for the first extra-solar visit. Two weeks and 4.3 light-years after “sparking the rings” NASA’s IXS Enterprise was exploring our Sun’s closest neighbor.
As if the fact that humans had finally reached the stars wasn’t enough of an accomplishment, another discovery was made at Alpha Centauri; a discovery that dwarfed even man’s new ability to visit the far reaches of space.
To the joy of some and the horror of others, NASA’s Enterprise discovered without a doubt that Man was not alone in the universe.
While no actual alien life was encountered at Alpha Centauri, indications of their previous visit littered the system. Based on NASA’s latest count at least three thousand alien ships of various sizes and configurations are located there. Most of these alien wrecks were in an area that was dubbed “The Cemetery,” because if the high concentration of derelict ships that had clustered there.
The Enterprise returned to earth and its crew given a hero’s welcome. It would be another twenty-five years before NASA returned to the cemetery of Alpha Centauri – this time to talk to the dead.
It would not be an easy task considering these derelicts alien origins but NASA came prepared; building a command ship to oversee the task. The ship was four times as large as the original enterprise and carried a small manufacturing facility in order to design and fabricate any device or item that may be needed to interface with whatever computer systems the survey crews might find.
Small runabouts, called necro-coms, were brought in by the command ship tasked to explore each wreck, their job to search for a way to connect or otherwise retrieve the data.
Major Tom Denali and his civilian co-pilot Paul Grant completed their visit of one of the alien ships at the edge of the cemetery. With their gear already stowed aboard their runabout they waited for their latest data to upload to Undertaker, the command and control ship.
After about fifteen minutes a sultry female voice spoke calmly from the ships audio channel.
“Necro-Two, this is Undertaker. Data upload complete, you are free to disengage.”
“Necro-Two is free to disengage, roger,” Major Denali replied to the message. “Backing out and moving to next target”
Turning a key, Denali disengaged the safety on the mag-locks holding his Necro-com to the hull of the alien ship they had just explored. He cut power to the locks and the ship disengaged.
Looking over at Paul he smiled as the runabout slowly drifted away, “Someday she is going to tell me yes you know. ”
“Not a chance Tom, she the type to be attracted to us younger guys. There is a little too much snow on your roof to warm a number like Megan.” Paul tapped a finger on his head to highlight his point.
Denali feigned a hurt expression, and then both men laughed.
“All right, give us the next target Paul.”
Paul brought up a list on the center of three computer consoles in front of him. “It looks like we get to move further in now. Our next target is delta-twenty-three-alpha; it’s one of the first we’ll hit as we move towards the center of the cemetery.”
Denali skillfully maneuvered the runabout away from the ship they just surveyed and aligned towards wreck delta-twenty-three-alpha. Engaging the thrusters, Necro-Two accelerated towards the distant target. The path was mostly clear and Denali only had to deviate from his course a couple of times to avoid debris as the traveled. When they reached the dead ship a couple of hours later they circled the wreck looking for a safe place to attach to.
“It’s another species four,” Paul reminded his partner as they circled.
“Then that would put the airlock …. Right there,” Denali said pointing to what looked like a circle engraved into the metal plates that made up the ship’s outer hull. Denali picked a clear spot and maneuvered close.
Looking past the group of dead ships nearby, Denali noticed something at the very center of the cemetery cluster unlike anything the pair had encountered so far.
“Hey Paul, look at that structure in the center, it’s spherical.” Denali said pointing. It was about as large as their runabout, its hull covered in shiny gold copper plates, a single groove encircled it at its equator.
“Yeah I see it too, Strange.” Paul said searching a list he brought up on his computer console. “Let’s see if it’s in the catalog … Nope, nothing in the catalog describing a sphere. It seems to be something that was missed on the initial survey pass.”
“Good catch,” Denali said, and he opened a channel to Undertaker.
“Undertaker, this is Necro-Two. We are uploading the co-ordinates and visuals for a new wreck.”
“Roger Necro- two,” Megan replied, “Receiving data now”
After a few moments Megan radioed back that the data had been received.
“Congratulation boys, the think-tank acknowledges that this is a new species discovery. Looks like you found species seven. We are designating the sphere as echo-one-alpha and adding it to the survey catalog.”
Denali stopped the forward motion of the runabout and moved the ship slowly closer to the hull of delta-twenty-three-alpha. Paul extended the magnetic locks that would hold their ship to the alien hull, and a few moments later their ship shuddered slightly as it touched. Paul used this as a signal and engaged the locks, keeping their ship safely in place.
“Hardly a bump as always,” Paul said with a grin.
“My goal is to touch without you realizing it.” Denali said. He set the mag-lock safety and radioed in their status.
“Undertaker, this is Necro-Two. We have reached delta-twenty-three-alpha and are prepping for entry.”
“Acknowledged Necro-Two,” Megan replied, “Time allowed for survey two hours, then return and report. Major, you will be happy to know the think-tank guys might have found another pattern out of all that junk you necros transmit to us.”
“That’s encouraging Undertaker – hopefully it’s not just another alien maintenance schedule.” Denali said and closed the channel.
The pair released their safety harnesses and drifted to the rear of the runabout to suit up for their visit to the alien ship. They tested their helmet cameras and microphones, and performed self-tests on the survey equipment they were bringing with them.
“Have you ever given a thought to what happened here?” Denali asked, “I mean why such a large concentration of ships collecting in this spot, and why are we finding only dust in any of the suits we find, no bodies.”
“I used to, not so much anymore,” Paul said. “I suspect time, even if the dust is more char than decay. The ships have been here a while so who knows what a body would look like after a couple of thousand years, alien or not.
Entering the runabout’s air lock, they vented to equalize the pressure and a short time later they stood at the entrance to the derelict ship.
“Personally I suspect a battle of some sort.” Denali continued, “I mean we’ve found about six different species, based on ship construction and configuration. Seven when you count the sphere.”
“Perhaps, but almost none of the ships so far have any kind of external damage, and those that do seem to be from collisions not combat. Doesn’t sound like much a fight to me.” Paul said.
They had little trouble gaining access to the airlock, having already surveyed a number of similar ships. After only a few moments they entered the cramped space and closed the hatch.
There was no way to equalize pressure here; even if they knew how, there was the problem of power, so like the rest of the ships they crawled into it was necessary to use a hand powered jack on the airtight door seal. With only a few pumps the door flew open with a violent thud.
With helmet lights and cameras on they entered the wreck to begin their work, the space beyond the airlock hidden in darkness.
“Necro-Two, this is Undertaker, “Megan’s voice crackled on the helmet com channel.
“Go ahead Undertaker.” Denali said.
“Tom, Paul – the think-tank guys found an unusual pattern across all the ships we have surveyed so far, it has something to do with each ships chronometers.”
Denali looked at Paul who only shrugged.
“What kind of pattern”?”
“Something is happening every five years Tom, the chronometers have stopped on all of the derelicts we have scanned so far, not at some random time as you might expect once a ship’s power depleted, but at some increment of five years to each other.”
Denali and Paul had just reached the bridge of the ship and were able to look out upon the rest of the hulks drifting in the cemetery.
“There is always a five-year difference between the clocks, or an increment of five years such as ten or fifteen. This is the same across each species, at least those we have been able to interpret so far. There is some event that is happening every five years that is causing all the clocks to stop.”
“Any idea what?” Denali asked.
“None; but if the team is correct the next event should happen in about three hours. We are recalling all of the necro-coms and will be moving to a safe distance away from the cemetery in two hours”
“Megan, it took us two hours just to get to delta-twenty-three-alpha.”
“We know, so you better move quickly, Undertaker out.”
“Did you catch that Paul?” Denali asked turning back the way they had come in.
“Yeah, so let’s get moving.”
Denali and Paul burned up fifteen minutes getting back into to the necro-com runabout and another ten disengaging from hull delta-twenty-three-alpha. They pushed their runabout as fast as it would go, with Denali skillfully dodging dead ships and debris. Once clear of the cemetery they aligned to Undertaker again, burned hard for more speed then drifted towards the command ship.
“Undertaker, this is Necro-Two, Megan we are on our way but still thirty minutes short of rendezvous.” Denali radioed.
“Understood, the captain has allowed you another thirty minutes but that is all you will get. The rest of the necro-coms are on board, and we are just waiting on you.”
“Thank You Undertaker,” Denali said, and closed the channel
“If all the chronometers stopped, it’s likely some kind of E.M. Pulse, but that doesn’t explain the dust.” Paul said.
“I was thinking the same thing, and where is this originating from? Looking at how the ships are clustered – I’m betting on that Sphere.” Denali said.
“Necro-Two, this is Undertaker. We have you on grid.”
“Roger Undertaker, are we clear to dock?”
“Negative – the captain has ordered a warp start, there is no time. You will have to hitch a ride.
“Acknowledged Undertaker.” Denali said
Firing the reverse thrusters Denali slowed Necro-Two as it approached the command ship. The warp rings on Undertaker were already glowing blue, indicating the captain had initiated the warp start and there would only be another ten minutes before the ships capacitors were charged enough to “spark the rings.” It was tight, but still time enough for Denali to maneuver through the aft ring set and take station on Undertakers starboard side.
Suddenly in the center of the cemetery there was a sun-bright flash of yellow-green light originating from the area of the strange gold ship. The flash was followed by a growing sphere of scintillating green energy that moved out at incredible speed, engulfing the cemetery as it expanded.
As suddenly as the sphere manifested, the space around Undertaker blurred into a blue mist as the warp drive engaged. In just thirty seconds it was over and the ship dropped out of warp again, Alpha Centari now a small twinkling light in the distance.
“Undertaker, did you get a scan of that energy?” Denali asked.
“Really major, you’re as bad as those think tank guys.” Megan radioed back with a sigh. “No, we did not get a scan – because we were not about to hang around waiting for it whatever that was to get close enough to get a reading.
“To bad,” Denali said, “Is the dock available for us?
“Necro Two – you are clear to dock in bay two. Report to conference room three for debrief after decontamination.”
Denali looked at Paul with a grin. “She seemed concerned for us; I’m telling you she is going to say yes…”
Paul smiled and tapped a finger on his head.