The two scientists took photos and made scans of the three planets with the instruments they had, but both acknowledged that they were truly inadequate compared to what they had seen on the great ship.
After a few hours they had determined that all three could likely support them with air, food, and water. There was no signs in the spectrographs of anything in the air that would indicate any industrialization and while still too distant for exact detail the photograph plates using the big telescope showed nothing which resembled roads or cities.
The two scientists concurred that all three planets were likely to meet their needs and with the instrumentation and time restraints they possessed they could make no further differentiation. All three were perfect for what they would need to do.
Mr Todd commented that they were too perfect. “What are the chances that the closest star system to our home would have not one but three habitable worlds and no Life” he said.
“Oh no there is life,” Rachel corrected the civilian engineer, “at least vegetation that much we can determine and probably animal as well.”
Ayato looked at the photo plates of the three planets “I'm starting to think Yesault may be right, that this is some kind of test.” He reached down and hovered his hand over the plates then picked one up and held it out to Rachel. “Set a course for this one and log names for all three. As soon as we have a course, we will make a fast drive and land on our new world. Arjun take care of that please. I’m going to get a message in the pipe back to earth using the Laser, Chief you can help me with that.
Yesault get with Mr. Todd and figure out what we need and how to build it. Lets get to it people.”
The crew of the Polaris got to it.
Twenty two hours later the tiny ship, no longer lost in space made the first landfall of a human being on an alien world.
Even as the Chief made her inquiry, sensor beams reached out from both the three suits cutting the harness on the giant ships side and Karen’s own. She could interpret most of what was scrolling from the read out, but she gleaned enough to see that no bio functions or life support systems were operating on the three across the void from her.
The four armored suits made quick work and in a matter of minutes the Polaris was cut free from the larger vessel and those three giants retreated back whence they had come, while the Chief continued cutting the remnants away from the Polaris.
Back inside Polaris….
“Everyone to your stations and strap in. I don’t know what that thing is going to do next, but we may have to do some evasive maneuvers,” said the captain over the internship. “Chief I want you back inside asap.”
“Aye, Aye captain.”
Arjun flick some switches and read his panel, “Yseult, I’m only showing sixty percent on the reactor. See if you can get it up to eighty please.”
“It’s moving,” Rachel’s voice cut in, “directly away from us at…Jesus it’s accelerating …at… I can’t even get a fix.”
They all stared out the port at the giant ringed sphere already it was just a speck and shrinking then it was no longer visible at all. A moment later the Polaris gravity sensors detected a large localized gravity wave. The ship had activated its drive and was no longer in their space.
The Polaris was alone in an unknown star system.
A few hours later.
It had been decided to set course for the nearest of the three planets which had an atmosphere and from what they could tell was breathable. Telescopes revealed a medium size Terrestrial planet, with standing water and clouds and what might be vegetation.
“Got good new and maybe not so good new,” announced Rachel, the flight navigator and general science officer. “Spectro analysis shows that the atmosphere is breathable and that the liquid is water. Or as Mr. Spock would say ‘It’s a class M planet, Jim.”
Some of the crew chuckled at the pop culture reference while others seemed puzzled. Arjun was one of the puzzled ones but he ignored it, “And the not so good news?”
“I know where we are.” Rachel didn't immediately continue but she did have a smug look on her face.
“Sorry. We are at Alpha Centauri. Just a hop, skip, and a jump from home.”
"There is an Emergency"
June 3rd 2093, Vesta Drill Zone #4
The massive laser drills blasted into the rock with no sound since the whole area was in vacuum, but still the violent process vibrated the surfaces that were affected sending ripples of shock waves as ton after ton of rock was superheated and pulverized by the energy transfer. Smaller lasers would have melted the rock but would have taken three to four times to remove only a quarter of the material and so these behemoth lasers powered by the latest in fusion generators had been built to simply pulverize the stone into fine debris which could be hauled out of the tunnels and refined into a usable component at low cost and convenience.
Several kilometers away behind the laser drills a tracked crawler sat with the drill crew monitoring the massive machines ahead. The vehicle, Crawler Six, was parked and braced, held stationary by four extended arms which kept it stable. Still the vibrations of the distant drilling could be felt through the floor of the vehicle transmitted by the treads and the supports. At 0507 GMT, which was the universal clock used by all off world persons regardless of local rotation or lack thereof, Christina Gold, one of the drilling roughnecks, felt an unusual uptick in the vibrations which all of the crew had grown accustomed too, and basically ignored. But to Christina this felt odd, in fact something had been bothering her all day, something had set her teeth on edge and this just didn’t feel right.
Chris looked at her panels and could see no tell tales or alarms but then she felt the vibrations shift again. “Hey Don, did you fell that?”
Don Patterson, Crawler Sixes crew chief, didn’t even look up from the video letter from home he was watching, no alarms or signals had sounded on his boards, so he felt no need to look away from his six year old twin daughters playing with the puppy their grandparents had gifted them on their 8th birthday. The second birthday in a row he had missed because of this long-distance job. “Feel what Chris?”
The crawlers third crewman, the driver, Joss Hardin was standing in the galley alcove pouring a coffee into an LG bulb, looked back at Chris with a leering grin, “I’ll give it a feel if ya want, Gold.”
Chris gave the want to be cowboy a sharp look and felt the vibrations through her feet grow into tremors. Before she could say anything, multiple alarms sounded, and the Crawler lurched sideways and then back throwing Hardin against the bulkhead where he hit his head hard and fell to the floor which was now shaking violently. Outside the front window Don Patterson could see rocks falling from the tunnel roof and as he watched, a fissure opened in the rock ceiling stretching back in the direction of the drilling. His eye followed that fissure his mind reeling. Vesta was no longer volcanic, if it ever had been it was geologically dead now and had been for eons, the asteroid was solid rock, as solid as anything in the universe could be, this wasn’t possible!
His had reached out instinctively and smashed the kill switch which would shut down all of the drills being controlled by their crawler. At least that’s what was supposed to happen, and maybe it did.
Christina Gold screamed as she saw the wall of blue flame boiling through the tunnel from the direction of the drill. A scream which was cut off as it swallowed the crawler…
11:38CST (0538 GMT) Houston Texas, United States, Earth
The apartment AI had woken Ayato less than ten minutes ago and before he had even put on his robe the holographic figure of his boss, Madeline Freeling, a statuesque blond made even more so by the towering hairdo currently in style, appeared and with zero pleasantries had launched into why she was waking him up in the middle of the night.
“There has been an accident on Vesta, one fatality and two critically injured. TerraCor is in panic mode. They want those two injured back asap for treatment and they want to get some expert out there to see what went wrong. We have the contract and Polaris is the on-call ship.
We have already alerted your flight crew. Your ship is being prepped and loaded, the passenger should be on his way to the port and I want you to be lifting no later than 4 AM. It should take you a little more than three and a half days at cruising speed there and back plus however long it takes to load the injured parties. So we told TerraCor it would take eight days round trip.” She paused but before Ayato could say a word spoke again. “Oh and Joe Frank’s has had a medical emergency and can’t make the flight so your third seat is being filled by a new hire. Rachel Eisley, she’s new with us, but she has a very good record. We have used her a couple of times for orbital and lunar flights. Highly recommended.