Two corrupt. Two getting into it, determined to make their names, to be the first to study the alien ship.
And one starting to realize this isn’t an incredible adventure like in the movies . . . and he just might be on the wrong side.
Little Tony opened the door and waved the quartet of guards in. “Toss him in the jail. We may need him, once we get more ice moved.”
They untied him from the chair, and hauled him off.
His first visitor was the youngster.
“Tell me about the ship! Describe the interior!” Pale skin that hadn’t seen sunlight for years. Intense dark brown eyes fixed on him, peering out from under the hood of a parka. Gloved hands clutching the cold bars of the cell.
Can’t possibly be over twenty.
What the hell is he doing out here?
Spence considered getting up. He’d piled the insulations mats, leaned some against the wall next to the power plug.
At least they realized that their prisoners had to charge their suits or freeze in minutes.
He eyed the young man. Yep. Handy. Probably ought to rescue him while I’m rescuing myself. But definitely just what I need, right now.
“It was a passenger craft, maybe a shuttle, maybe a lifeboat. Eight rows of seats, running front to back, one up each side with single seats, three in the middle with double seats. Every seat had barriers all around, sliding doors to close them. Even in the front, what we thought was the cockpit, there were barriers between the stations. The seats were narrow and deep, the ergomatics of the controls were tall double rows. Lots of controls.
“We called then the Antisocial Centipedes.” Spence shrugged. “No evidence for that, there were no remains.”
“But the engines, the power source!”
“Ah. Okay, the ship’s a long flat oval, twenty meters long, ten wide, eight high. Two decks. Top of hull to the decking of the passenger cabin, two meters. Below that five meters with what we think were parts of their engines. A tiny lower deck with what we called landing skids.”
“But, but . . .”
“Yeah. A hole punch right through the whole ship. Dead center. A kinetic impact that hit whatever was in the engine room and punched it right out the lower deck.
“No explosion, we think. Just pure . . . velocity. Possibly C-fractional.”
Spence unplugged, and stood up carefully, even so he had to reach up to avoid hitting bare head on the ice above. Shove himself gently downward.
“C fractional! Are you crazy?”
“Could well be. My theory was that this was a life boat, ejected from a larger ship traveling very fast. Possibly C-fractional. Right into a small iron asteroid.”
“Oh, so it could have been the ship’s velocity that was the cause . . . I don’t know that that makes any sense at all.”
“I don’t know either. Until we figure out how their mag drive works, it’s all just speculation.” Spence decided to dig himself in deeper. “See, the damage was so extensive . . . there were these boxes,” He shaped a thirty centimeters wide, double that wide and tall with his hands. “Multiple—hundreds—of small electro magnets in them, connected to other . . . stuff . . . The boxes were in a double ring—we think—around whatever was in the middle. Of course the damage was extensive, there wasn’t a single one intact, and even copying ever piece as exactly as possible and reconstructing one from that many samples, we aren’t certain we have it all.”
Intent stare, nearly quivering.
“Nor do we have a clue about, oh, programming and so forth. I got one to mag lev, and could sort of steer it around. Weak, energy hog. Well, you should have the data in a few days. If Tony lets you see it all.”
The boy straightened. “Dr. Henderson is a brilliant man, he brought us out here specifically because we’re the best mix of specialties needed for this job.”
Job. Oh, don’t tell me this twerp think this is an ordinary job. That he hasn’t a clue . . .”
“We have full access and permission to publish everything we discover. It’s in our contracts.”
Spence pinched the bridge of his nose. Flinched back from his cold gloves. “And it never occurred to you that there’s no authority out here to enforce that? No transport off this rock to get anywhere where you can even complain, let alone sue? No one to enforce a judicial decree out here?”
“How can you say that!”
“Because I’ve worked with Little Tony. I was on the USSS Deep Explorer mission that discovered the ship literally days before our departure window. I was part of Project Asteroid and spent eight years working with the scientists and engineers.”
“In between zipping about making pithy videos about this and that, Jack?” Tony’s dry voice from down the tunnel.
The boy started, look Tony-ward, then back to Spence. “How was it discovered? Tell me.”
A nasty chuckle. “Do tell the boy genius, Jack.”
“Dr. Henderson found it. An odd bump in the regolith. He went—against regs, without a partner—to check if it was another minor ice flow and found a several thousand year old wrecked alien ship.”
“It was my find. And they took it over. Clamped down on communications, wouldn’t let me claim the discovery. They stole the most important discovery of my life!” He barred his teeth at Spence. “And you left! Not even enough time to analyze it properly. Barely a glimpse! You drugged me, and just headed back to Earth!”
“If you hadn’t tried to sabotage the controls we wouldn’t have needed to tranquillize you. In those days, we had little leeway for departure, very little extra food. We had to leave.”
A snarl from Tony. “And when the Big Project was formed, I was lucky to be included. Only the fact that I had explored the whole thing got me aboard.”
Spence sighed. “Actually Dr. Konig got you on because he suspected you’d tell all if you were left behind. The government people agreed.”
Snarl. “And you agreed!”
“Actually I was overruled. On that, and on announcing the find. If they hadn’t cut the project short, I think we’d have had at least a new space drive by now. I don’t much like you, but this time everyone should be told. A complete public disclosure.”
Little Tony showed his teeth. “And they will. And they will know that I discovered it, and I’m going to learn all it’s secrets.”
“Yes!” The little punk broke the stare down. “A new space drive, maybe FTL. But the science! The theory behind it all, so we can do it even better.”
His eyes were focused on the glorious future, and he was oblivious to the narrow-eyed study from his employer.
Down boy! That’s a dangerous man to cross.