Ghosts of the Night

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Ghosts of the Night

Postby LilJennie » Mon Sep 18, 2023 8:52 pm

Ghosts of the Night

By Miki Yamuri and Jennie Flynt

Cindy Dane and her friend, Sandra Shepard couldn't believe they had actually been picked to become the very first Female Engineers to go on the Asteroid Belt Mining expedition. Their young age of 19 had been one thing that detracted from their immediate standing, however, all their wins and Gold Cup trophies in the Consortium Solar Cup races were sure to have been among the key factors that had the 2 of them selected. Of course, the fact the both of them were tops in the grade points in school, and the fact they graduated many years early and received their advanced degrees in Nano and Subatomic Computer Engineering aided tremendously too.

Cindy shivered within her thin environment suit as she looked out the port and watched the large LaGrange Shipyard slip quickly away behind them. To the fore ... The darkness of space hung dauntingly, sprinkled with little points of light she knew were stars.

Sandra noticed her friend's shiver and dismissed the nearly automatic thought that it might be a glitch in the environmental subsystem. She felt it too -- the thrill. This was an adventure like none that had come before. Taking a trophy in solar sailing, especially in a ship of their own design, had been quite an accomplishment, but this ... this was the dream of a lifetime.

They were famous -- the number of hits their interviews garnered led to more and more requests for interviews, until they'd had to just make their own FAQ video and be done with it. They were among the first women in this new asteroid mining program, and they were by far the youngest. They carried the dreams of their generation on their shoulders.

Cindy opened the top to her industrial touch-top computer and switched it on. She plugged it into the ship network and began to type furiously.

Sandra said over the private comm, "Cindy, whacha doin? Tryin to hack into navigation?"

Cindy giggled, "No, silly, I'm hacking into the main memory core. I want to see the specs on which hunk of rock we might have been assigned to."

Sandra huddled close as the data came up on the touch-top computer's small screen. To their surprise, they had been assigned to a detailed mapping of a very minor planet. It was 30 miles long, 8 miles wide, and apparently hollow or something. Many of the readings of the original mapping team came back totally screwed and were worthless.

Cindy remarked, "Funny ... why is it you and me have been assigned to this hunk? It doesn't appear to have any kind of interesting minerals. Just your normal iron, nickel, and silver.

"Well, those are useful resources," Sandra mused. "If you need them in space, it's a lot easier to mine them in space than to mine them on Earth and then use up fuel shooting them into space. And hey, look, the probe's radar determined that it had hollow spaces inside. Cool. Good shelter from radiation in case there's a solar flare. The other teams will just have to hide behind their rocks."

The mining teams had each been assigned an asteroid. Theirs, 1371 Silvretta, had been discovered in 1935, but only probes had visited it so far, including the ones that had scouted all the asteroids targeted for mining.

About that time, an announcement came across the ship wide comm, "Attention, this is your pilot. Please put away all loose objects and fasten your seat harnesses. I am about to kick in the impulse drive. There will be a lot of acceleration until we reach 1/30th the speed of light. It might be just a bit bumpy. The rest of our flight time should be approximately 6 hours and 32 minutes. Please have a safe and wonderful trip."

Cindy looked at Sandra as she packed her loose items in the compartment above her and then fastened herself into her seat harnesses, "This is going to be so exciting."

As soon as the girls had fastened the buckles and adjusted them, they felt a serious pressure they couldn't resist pushing them back into the seat. The stars out the port didn't seem to move, but they knew their ship was accelerating rapidly towards the asteroid belt ... and their mission.

After the all clear had sounded, the girls once again took out their touch-top computers and began doing research.

"Hey Cindy, did you ever hear of this?" said Sandra, holding up a tablet with a picture. "This guy, Drake, thinks he found a fragment of alien technology in a meteorite."

The girls looked at the object on the Pad’s small screen. The meteorite looked as if it contained a cylindrical object with another object through its center.

"Not sure, it could still be natural ... but what do you think?" Sandra asked. "Could there be remnants of ancient lost alien civilizations out there?"

A dark-skinned man with very short-cropped hair who had just entered the cabin took the tablet out of Sandra's hand, looked at it, and gave it back to her. "Looks like a fake to me," he said brusquely. "We're here to look for minerals, not aliens."

"Yes, Commander Walker," said Sandra, "it's just an interesting thought."

Cindy leaned over and watched as the Commander walked down the aisle. She comments, "I would love to know more about that thing. It looks ... more man made than nature."

Sandra replied, "I think it's just a fancy way to make money for him."

Cindy said, "We have nothing else to do for hours, so ... "

Sandra began typing data into her touch-top computer. To pass the time, the girls looked into all the data they could find on the artifact. The after cleaning pictures of the thing ... looked like some kind of wheel on an axle arrangement after some weird cataclysmic event and many millions of years in the hazardous regions of outer space.

Finally Cindy comments, "It might possibly be a really damaged roller wheel of some kind on an axle ... but it suffered tremendous damage and heat along with contamination."

"But it could also be a natural formation that just looks like it was made by intelligent life," Sandra said. "Tests showed the regular shapes and the more irregular concretions they seem encased in are almost the same in composition. What if it's just a carbon-iron asteroid fragment that was subjected to intense heat long ago -- perhaps in a collision, or perhaps in a supernova? Or ... what if it's a fake, and he fabricated it to get attention?"

Cindy scratched her chin as she thinks it over. She replied, "It could be, but whatever ... the item is too badly damaged and contorted to tell one way or the other. If it was made out of some strange material ... or had weird markings on it ... that would be different."

About that time, another voice came over the ship wide comm, "Attention all Consortium miners, we will be docking at the transfer station within 45 minutes. Please read all the safety precautions and remember: If you get punctured ... the only safe haven is a pressurized one."

The girls put their touch-top computers into their packs and put their helmets on. By the time they had finished, the large ship had pulled into its berthing slip and stopped. The girls stood and walked down the aisle with all their much older and all male contemporaries to the exit. The girls could feel the large gruff men staring at them as they disembarked the large ship to the station proper.

Commander Walker was waiting for them as they entered the airlock. He said authoritatively, "Follow me, if you would be so kind."

The girls replied in unison, "Yes, Sir!", and followed him like a pair of puppy dogs to another airlock.

The commander swirled around and said, "This is the Prospector ship that will take you both to 1371 Silvretta. You will be left there on your own due to the strike we had on Solaris 132. They hit a central core of pure diamond and all the experienced miners are being sent there. We will be leaving you on Silvretta with enough supplies to last for a month along with the transfer cycles. You should be able to do a large portion of the new survey by the time we come to get you. Understood?"

"Yes, Sir," they both said.

This had all been covered in their training, though they had thought that they'd be accompanied by experienced miners during their inaugural stint. There would be a month's worth of supplies, just in case, but they'd likely be picked up within two weeks.

"Now," said Commander Walker, "at ease." The two young women relaxed. "I just want to say that you two are extremely impressive in space, and you were the same in training. You applied yourselves with an intensity and dedication that I wish I could see in every recruit to the program. I have no doubts that you can handle yourselves out there. Although I may come across as gruff and direct most of the time, right now, I want to drop all that and say ... I'm proud of you. You're going to make me even prouder. I know it." He shook their hands. "Well, this is it. Time to board. Good luck!"

Both young women stood with their mouths open in surprise. Neither one could believe that Hard Assed Walker ... actually did that. They stood there in shock until the Prospector Pilot said over their comms, "Well, Ladies ... do we have to give you special invites to get you on board?"

Both girls giggled as they grabbed their gear and boarded. After stowing it away and fastening themselves into the gravity seats, they were off to their new assignments ... 1371 Silvretta.

It was several hours before the large rock came into visuals. The girls watched out the side ports as the pilot expertly landed on the barren and pot marked surface.

As the girls gear and supplies were offloaded he said, "Remember ... gravity here is as good as non existent. If you make a mistake ... you will probably launch into orbit. Stay on your cycles and don't be an idiot." he saluted them both.

The hatch closed ... They were all alone on this barren rock. More alone than they had ever been in their lives … as they watched the shuttle take off and leave. They had nothing but the habitation enclosure, barely the size of a two-person dome tent, their suits, their tool kits, a large quantity of food, water, O2, and their transfer cycles -- one-person propulsion devices with communications gear, radar and spectrometer for scanning rock, and other tools to make a detailed survey possible. This against the vacuum, radiation, and other dangers of space.

"Well," said Sandra, "let's set up shop."

"Roger that," said Cindy.

They fired stakes into the surface to fasten their safety lines and habitation enclosure to, unpacked the enclosure, letting the CO2 and oxygen canisters inflate it, then clicked the airlock into place. After the girls completed that task, they started taking readings with the transfer cycles' scanners.

Cindy and Sandra had packed their cycles with enough supplies and equipment to last for most of the current chronal morning, barring any solar accidents. If such an alert came, they would have to stop and bundle up under the portable radiation blankets made just for that sort of emergency.

Cindy said softly over the comm, "You know? Sort of makes me feel left out in a way."

Sandra raises an eyebrow and replied, "How so? Anything we find or map here belongs exclusively to us. We get all the royalties and bonuses, not to mention ownership of this stupid rock once we have surveyed half of it. Which we should do easily by the time the rest of the team returns."

Cindy said, "That's true ... but think of it. All those other miners are getting royalties on silver, gold, and diamond ... and I heard they found a huge reservoir of water ice on the dark side."

Without warning, Both young woman’s scanner screens lit up and began to blink interrupting their conversation.

Sandra said excitedly, "Look, seems we might have found something of interest. Seems to be a huge ... layer of some kind of metal. The detectors can't ID it though."

Cindy turned her cycle towards the largest reading and proceeded forward. The 2 girls came to a rather large circular mound that had the odd appearance of being chopped off on one side. Many millennia of space had left debris and many marks hiding all but one sparkly place that caught the sunlight brightly.

Firing more spikes into the rock and anchoring their safety cables to them, Sandra worked her way hand over hand, grasping the irregular surface of the asteroid, toward the smooth, reflective area for a better look.

"Looks like this was formed recently," Sandra said, "with its sharp edges and this smooth patch here. Maybe it recently collided with another asteroid and it knocked this part open?"

Cindy stabilized herself close to the brightly shining patch and focused her scanner towards it. As she did so, a particular place off to the right caught her eye. It looked sort of like some kind of rectangular plate set into the rock and covered over with melted debris and many layers of dirt.

Cindy took her chipping hammer from her utility belt and tapped the area lightly. A large chunk of melt and dirt came away, leaving what appeared for the world to be a handprint drawn on some kind of metallic plate.

Cindy said excitedly, "Sandra ... come look at this. I think ... we found proof we aren't alone."

"That's ... amazing," said Sandra, who had moved to better see the object Cindy was looking at. "A regular rectangular shape is just barely possible by chance, but ... that shape looks so much like some kind of handprint that I don't know what else it could be."

The shape was an outline of lighter metal in the darker metal surrounding it that seemed to describe the shape of a near-circular hand surrounded by three fingers and a thumb -- the thumb, if thumb it was, was nearly 180 degrees around the circle from the fingers, though.

"If it is a handprint, it's not a human one.", commented Cindy

Sandra looked at her readings. "This is some dense metal," she said. "This isn't ore. This is refined, shaped metal. The radar reflects right off it. And the same stuff is all around, under the rocky surface, except for the part over there and the part you've exposed here."

Cindy took her gloved hand and touched the exposed hand print. It began to glow dimly at first, then pulsed to life. Where the shiny place was, suddenly slid open in 4 different directions, scattering debris and dust in thick copious clouds in low gravity. A wispy white cloud of escaping gas came from around the indentation as it opened, revealing a darkened air lock no different than any of the others the girls had seen.

Cindy turned on her suit light and shone it into the interior of the lock. A small light flickered on, providing enough illumination to see the manual door equipment, and another hand print on a rectangle across the room.

Cindy said with a tremble of fear in her voice, "I ... guess we go in and check it out. Who knows ... we might find our long lost ancestors in there."

Both girls laugh nervously as Cindy entered the lock.

"Well even if all it is is a fancy cave, it'll be super safe from solar flares," said Sandra, following along into the blackness.

Space had two levels of brightness: blindingly bright if the Sun was in your field of vision, and black as night, if it wasn't. Still, the inside of an asteroid was as dark as you can get. The two advanced slowly, suit lights providing the only illumination, because neither knew when they would suddenly encounter a stalagmite or other obstacle.

Cindy slowly examined the bulkhead. She put her hand in the other print. Nothing seemed to happen. Sandra bent over and removed her autodrill from her utility belt. She found the proper tool, it actually fit the lock mechanism. She slowly undogged the mechanism with her drill. In the soundlessness of the vacuum of space, their entrance door closed behind them, as the other one opened.

Cindy said, "According to my instruments, there's an atmosphere here. It has a bit of hydrogen sulfide in it ... it's gonna smell ... but otherwise it's safe."

The girls took one more slow step into the open hatch, then entered full gravity. Cindy grabs for the rail next to the door as the full weight of her suit catches up to her. Both Women stumble as it caught them completely by surprise.

"How is that ... possible?" said Sandra. "This asteroid doesn't have enough mass to generate this much acceleration. Unless it suddenly started rotating ... and rotated this chamber so that our feet are pointed toward space ... no, that's not what happened. This is science fiction stuff. Artificial gravity? Seriously? We're talking advanced alien civilization. I don't know any other way this could happen." She lifted her feet one at a time. "Gravity seems a little bit lower than Earth-normal."

Sandra shone her suit light around. They were in some kind of corridor. Not far ahead of them it ended in a T-shaped intersection, leading off to the left and right.

"Well, there must be some kind of energy source," she said. "The door opened, and whatever's making this gravitational field can't take zero energy to operate. I wonder if there are lights."

Sandra looked around for things that looked like control panels. There was one just like the one they'd found outside, only much better preserved. "That one looks like how we get back out."

Then she noticed, just at the threshold of perception, a very low hum, a barely perceivable vibration, that may have been growing in intensity without their noticing.

A panel in the wall suddenly lit up with controls whose markings were unreadable, but a very dim light began emanating from the ceiling -- not at particular points, either, but from the entire ceiling as if trying to eliminate shadows.

As the light grew gradually brighter, Sandra said, "Looks like someone, Or something, knows we're here."

Cindy looked around as she ran the portable analyzer. She said quietly, "According to these readings, this is a huge establishment. Correct me if I'm wrong ... but doesn't it say in our contract that by Right of Discovery ... this particular place belongs to us ... right?"

Sandra gets big eyed as she realized.

Cindy continued, "What if ... we could find some kinda technology ... or even a ship ... or at least records we could download and translate?" Cindy points off down the hall to the T and says, "According to this, if we follow that corridor ... and turn right ... it should lead to a ... control center of sorts ... I think."

Sandra looked at the device's glowing screen for a few seconds as both young women began to walk that direction.

Cindy said, "We could take off our helmets if you want. It'll smell a bit ... but besides that it has nothing wrong with it."

The girls nod to each other and break the seals on their suit's helmet ring. There is a slight hiss of escaping gas ... then a foul ... but tolerable stink filled their noses.

Cindy complained, "Peee youuuuuu!! Man! It smells like someone torpedoed the out house." She wrinkled up her nose.

Both women laugh as they turn down the right hallway. The lights seemed to flicker for an instant, then a perfect path was lit to a room at the end of the corridor. Light could be seen spilling from the open hatch.

"I'm programming this thing to monitor the air," Sandra said, pressing controls on her suit's atmosphere scanner. "If we get to a place where the hydrogen sulfide levels get too high, we might not notice if it's too gradual. That stuff can be like cyanide at high concentration. And we don't want the oxygen levels to drop below safe levels either."

The two of them made their way carefully down the hallway toward the opening.

"It's not really all that bright, but it's brighter than the total darkness we had earlier," said Sandra, looking carefully through the hatch.

She gasped at what she saw. The control room, if that was what it was, had a ceiling about eight feet high, but it was circular in shape. Although the interior looked to be somewhat in ruin, with parts of the ceiling having fallen in and what may have been chairs and control panels smashed and fallen over, there was movement.

"I think ... I think it's repairing itself," said Sandra. "The lights so dim, but I think ... well ... look for yourself."

Bits of broken metal, glass, stone, or whatever the material was were moving along the floor by themselves, scurrying up the walls or control panels, shattering into tiny shards, and filling in holes and cracks. Already it was looking more intact, and the light was continuing to brighten.

In a very few minutes, the lights came fully on in the room. A panel that sparkled like tiny jewels in their different colors twinkled against one of the walls. Cindy and Sandra walked carefully up, both using their scanners to record and analyze everything they could.

Sandra walked up to what appeared to be an oblique arc around one wall. Without warning, the whole panel lights up. There were many screens and buttons that appeared to hover in thin air in many places.

A large screen lights in the very center. The face of a very pretty young woman appears in it.

She smiles and says, "Hello ... this is station Hydra Gamma Epillarius. Front line defensive station. Who might you 2 be? Our new honored guests ... or the enemy?"

Sandra quickly clasped her hand across Cindy's mouth and hissed softly, "Shhhh. This might be one of those ... idiotic answer traps."

Cindy struggles loose and says softly, "Not answering is usually viewed as hostile."

While the 2 girls whispered softly to themselves, the face on the screen took on several board expressions before it said, "Look, I let you in. It has been about 190 million of your years since anyone has been on board. I doubt seriously you are an enemy ... so until further notice ... you are honored guests."

Cindy and Sandra say at the same time, "That's nice to know."

"I have ... so many questions," Sandra said. "Who are you? What is this place? Who built it? Where is it from? I suppose that a lot of your answers won't mean anything to us. I mean, 190 million years ago, the continents o
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