They started with the ships that were easiest to enter. The badly damaged.
And finally found differences of importance. The circle-and-design ships had low ceilings to their broad corridors. Raised platforms with radially symmetrical restraints. Gradual curves and ramps.
Lettering and squares had tall thin corridors, tall thin chairs, fat, padded restraints at what for humans would have been chest, waist and thighs. Sharp, usually square corners, and ladders with close set rungs. Both had shafts that had probably once been elevators.
Opened to vacuum for so long, there was nothing but the ubiquitous space dust. No remains.
But they studied the doors and airlocks from the inside and when they turned to the less damaged ships they managed entry.
What had probably been some sort of rubbery seal around the edge was gone. The manual entry levers were right where they should be. The hinges yielded to sufficient application of force.
Jamie chewed his fingernails, watching it all from the Bellefleur. Clint, Mathew, Luke, and Zack had won the draw for first entry into a (mostly) intact ship.
They'd chosen a jump frame for their first exploration, one of the 'Basketball Player' ships. With no sort of gravity, it made little difference whether one was upright or sideways in the corridors, but this ship had an intact forward area, and they hoped for information.
Kenya had suggested that any star charts the aliens might have had would have been electronic, which they had all reluctantly agreed was likely. Which left the machines themselves. After so long, could anything possibly work?
"You look like you wish you were over there." Don said.
"Don't we all? Although in the long run I'll bet it comes down to tracing wiring and x-raying machinery."
"Us? Don't you think we'll be turning it over to the government weenies before we get to that point?"
"Oh, well, yes." Jamie blinked. "Umm, isn't there an old law about alien artifacts?"
"Bunches of them." Melinda said. "All about who does and who doesn't own them. The last test case was at least fifty years ago and established both the ownership of the finders and the government's right of eminent domain over all alien artifacts."
"In other words, the government gets them, but they have to pay the finder?" Don looked out the nearest view port.
"Exactly. When I think about the value of these thousands of ships it makes my toenails curl." Melinda sighed. "All we have to do is find our way home."
Jamie nodded. "We'd make a hell of an impression if we could get one of these jump frames working."
He looked back to the screen where the explorers were applying force to the inner airlock door. Something snapped and it flew open.
"No pressure." Clint sounded regretful.
They did find remains, though, fragile bones that crumpled to dust at the faintest disturbance. "This ship must have held air and heat for a long time, for this much decomposition to take place." Luke whispered.
"It was sort of bird-like, though. Beaky." Mathew said. "If we find a ship that decompressed quickly, we'll probably find something less perishable."
The screen view showed Clint collecting dust samples, then they moved on, trying to map the interior of the ship.
Points to consider.
(1) What happened on the planet? [burned in interplanetary war]
(2) Are the "Bad Guys" still around? [not in system]
(3) Who built the towns? Are they around, devolved? Still hiding? [yes, and they're hungry and nocturnal?]
(4) Can they trust each other? [Yes, if they're all willing to be tolerant]
(5) Can they leave? [Yes, there are four wormholes]
(6) Do they want to leave? [Yes, the native flora and fauna taste disgusting]
(7) If they take one of the other wormholes, are they endangering Earth by calling attention to it? [only one way to find out]
(8) A system with four wormholes is incredibly valuable. Is the money worth the risk? [Vote runs about half and half.]
(9) [Update with what's been written] 489 Crux alpha sing returns to Alpha Crusis Supernova aftermath. 489 Crux beta sing goes to a singleton F8 with four gas giants and two extensive inner asteroid belts, that on inspection are composed of destroyed planets and space fleets of two distinct styles. 489 Crux gamma sing goes to a triple M and single white dwarf star system. 489 Crux delta sing is a very weak wormhole going to a widely spaced K0 and M2 pair with a gas giant with a habitable moon (and dozens of others) around the K0.
(10) They decide to first explore "Armageddon Reef". The bits and pieces add up to lots of cool weaponry, some clues about their power sources, a star chart that with considerable study they locate themselves down in an insignificant corner. The ship with the chart is sufficiently compartmentalized that they salvage the core electro-magnet, replace the piloting area, mating it to the main "crew compartment" from another ship. Weld on anchor points for their ships, access tubes, pebble bed powerplant and thrust plant w/nozzle, lots of misc. large tanks for storing water = large working spaceship.
"I think we should christen her _Ugly Duckling_." Odessa shook her head at the mismatched parts and asymmetrical montage of metal.
"Thank you," Jamie sounded relieved, "I was fighting this horrible tendency to think of her as _Bride of Frankenstein_."
"Oh. Dear." Roslyn shook her head. "That would never do." It was, however, the name that stuck.
Armed with the star chart and computers, they figure the charts are about 1500 years out of date, according to relative stellar motions. Checking, they find that the wormholes have persisted.
(11) Should they head home (strong possibility the charts overlap human surveyed systems)? Should they first try and find out if the warring polities are still in existence? Once Jamie confesses, they know that they can explore
How many problems can they run into?
How do they get home?
(A) The brutally burned and abandoned colony world
(B) Armageddon Reef—find schematic map. Possibly "art." They are at one end, and a recognizable system is at the other. Build Bride.
(C) End Game on a planet—Crabs vs Birds ala Mad Max. Load up on biologicals and fail entirely to stop the gang warfare.
(D) Wormhole skirmishes—guards on both sides. Can they sneak through? Should they talk to one side or the other? How many aliens? Do they sort of cooperate? Can the humans start some sort of relations? Turns out this is a "Wild West" sort of place crossed with minor warlord who sell permits to pass through their wormhole. They fit in reasonably well, bartering small photovoltaic panels that can sub for batteries or recharge batteries (which they also make.)
(E) Marooned worlds with the war a myth—single species or peaceful coexistence? One of each?
(F) Home world of the Crabs