Prelude - Rogue Scientist

The Kryannian scientist placed four clawed hands in readout pockets in the overhead control panel. Tiny pins in the tactile interface tapped against the soft shell between the scientist’s claws, conveying the scope of the ship and the shape of its five rings. Computers in the scientist’s spherical control room followed the readings with analyses of the ship’s design.

Rotating rings for gravity simulation. Design suggests long-term life-support capability for large number of beings. Engine emissions suggest Helium-3 fusion reactors providing thrust and electricity. Spectral and thermal signatures suggest pressurized nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere. Hull and interior comprise metallic alloys and graphene

The scientist directed the readings to Third Mind, allowing the more analytical part to catalog the data. First and Second Mind looked at the more immediate problem – determining how this ship had appeared instead of the target, and what to do with it. It is clearly not the weapons carrier. Somehow, the capture process brought this ship here instead – which means the weapons carrier has reached its destination. We must devise new objectives – this mission is forfeit. The mission; the scientist’s final song. Would that opus end here, so twisted in its final verse?

Perhaps not. There is yet time before Transition.

Indeed, technology could extend life and perhaps still protect the Alliance’s enemies. Yet if the scientist did not act quickly, the Alliance patrols would intercept this lost alien ship and interrogate its occupants. Their culture, language, identity – none of it would matter if the Alliance found them first. The risk was great, but perhaps their songs wouldn’t end here.

First Mind quickly sorted the data readouts, delegating tasks to the other Minds. As Third Mind continued analyzing the composition and nature of the ship, Fourth concentrated on the mission failure. What happened with the capture attempt? Was the capture redirected by an external event? The line of inquiry might not assist the residents of Base 472, but it was worth the attempt.

That thought led to another – what of the refugee base? Alliance patrol ships were active around the sector and it wouldn’t be long before they found the hidden base. Fifth Mind set about contacting the overseer of Base 472. The inhabitants must be informed of the failure to capture the weapons. All defense platforms must prepare for an Alliance attack.

While the other three Minds handled the mission’s failure and its consequences, First and Second were free to focus on the strange vessel. A ship full of innocent beings, torn from their intended destination, their ship stripped of power by a capture procedure gone awry. The ship was clearly not of the Controllers or any Alliance species – the scientist could scarcely imagine the Controllers flying such a craft in the last two hundred cycles. It is too simple, like they’ve recently discovered jump technology and installed it in a sublight ship design.

Could that explain why they are here? Their drive is new and untested? But that didn’t fit with the known data on jump drives. No ship had jumped anywhere other than its intended destination, not in millions of simulations and trials – not until the invention of the capture device. But for the device to work, the operator must know the target’s exact departure location, its intended destination, and the exact instant at which it will jump. The scientist had entered the coordinates of an Alliance weapons carrier based on intelligence from various spies. Even if the information was inaccurate, how could this entirely different vessel appear? The device, the calculations, the coordinate data – something about the capture attempt was at fault. A design flaw, perhaps, or interference of some kind?

Perhaps this problem is best put aside. It is more important now to ask what can be learned about these beings. Is there any way to assist them?

The alien ship would have no power for many long moments. If any on board relied on cybernetics, they would be incapacitated – or dead. The survivors would be lost in the dark, like hatchlings stumbling through the caves on their way to sunlight. The scientist’s beak clicked at the old memory – a return to birth, so close to death.

Was there time left to help? There was only one way to find out. The first duty was always to protect the Alliance’s enemies. If the Alliance detected the unregistered jump drive on this ship, the aliens aboard could be branded as outlaws. They were like any other species residing in refugee bases hidden at the fringes of Alliance space. They would need a safe haven, outside of the Alliance’s reach.

The computers in the scientist’s vessel could draw on the results of 500 cycles of contact with alien species. The most effective method was also the crudest – analyze the alien ship’s computer systems, hack in, and decipher the aliens’ language. The Alliance favored such methods, and it was hard to deny the results of their hacking technologies. This capture vessel, hastily constructed from stolen Alliance blueprints and parts, had the equipment needed for the brute force methods, but the scientist would need to get closer. The scientist ordered the capture vessel to approach the alien ship, focusing its scanners on the ship’s computer and communications systems. At the same time, long-range sensors searched for signs of Alliance patrols – if they approached now, everything the scientist worked to protect would be lost.

Next Chapter: Chapter 1 - Outset