Rex Caelestis: The Sleepers, Part 2
Captain’s log, 30th June, 2217:
Lomonosov trials suspended to investigate United Earth vessel. Communication with Earth remains off-line. Last contact at 0620H. Communication problem began when Admiral Kolchak closed within 500m of United Earth ship — science officer convinced no connection but Captain doubts. Executive Officer Ermolov leading boarding party to United Earth vessel …
A bridge between the two ships had been made with a length of sturdy cable. Along this, Dmitri led his crew across the fifty metre gap, pulling himself hand-over-hand. The United Earth ship was a dark blue apparition against the starry backdrop.
Dmitri looked about as much as his E.V.A. suit’s helmet would allow — very aware of how literally they were “in the middle of nowhere.” The nearest stars, Sol and Sirius were only slightly brighter dots on the black canvass. He touched the gator clip linking him to the cable to reassure himself.
“It would seem they suffered some sort of engine failure,” Fournier’s voice crackled in Dmitri’s earphone.
“What makes you think that?” Dmitri asked. “Everything from visual scanning indicated no damage.”
“The radiation scan is one of the only filters working,” Dąbrowski grumbled. “The radiation levels show no lack of containment or leaks from those big jajka it’s carrying.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Fournier said. “But it would seem to me that she should be much further from Earth. That’s a fusion rocket, which should be capable of .1 lightspeed, after a three-year acceleration …”
“They may not have been able to collect enough fuel,” Dmitri said. “The United Earth regime was already collapsing when they were launching their interstellar explorations.”
“And the frozen pierogi aboard don’t care how long it takes,” Dąbrowski said.
“If it is a sleeper ship,” Dmitri said. He’d reached the U.E. ship and let out a line from his belt attached to the gator, pawing along the hull.
The landing party positioned themselves around the main airlock. Dąbrowski touched his faceplate to the small circular viewport.
“Astonishingly, all is dark. I see nothing.” He moved to the keypad next to the door and punched the buttons with his thick gloved fingers. “Panel dead.”
“Admiral Kolchak, this is Erlomov,” Dmitri radioed back to the ship. “We’ve reached the airlock and are preparing to breach same.”
“Acknowledged,” Captain Kirilov said. “Proceed.”
Dąbrowski had already opened up the airlock control panel, with Fournier providing light via hand lamp. After a few moments, the engineering tech gave a grunt of satisfaction and the hatch slowly swung outward. All three Astrogators' Guildsmen were able to fit inside the airlock, wherein Dąbrowski attached to the control panel the battery and tablet he'd used to open the outer door. In another moment they were inside.
The United Earth ship had pressure and atmosphere, but the temperature was near zero Kelvin, requiring that they keep their suits on. Until confirming there were no hazards other than the cold, Dmitri would have required they keep them on in any event. The vessel was smaller than the Kolchak, and certainly not designed with fully-suited astronauts in mind. Taking care not to bump into one another, they made a quick circuit of the forward half of the ship, which consisted of three claustrophobic modules littered with papers, tubes, wires, and other equipment. It reminded Dmitri of pictures of the ancient space vessels of the earliest astronauts centuries ago.
"How could anyone live here?" Fournier said.
"That's why they go frozen," Dąbrowski said.
The control cabin was at the very front of the vessel. It, too, was empty and the computer banks all black and silent.
"The crew compartment must be aft," Dmitri said. "Still nothing on the scanners?"
Fournier shook his head. "Negative, they're not even registering us."
There was a loud "clunk" from back near the airlock. Dmitri jumped. "What was that?"