The ISS Dominiot continued following its trajectory. The signal was getting closer and the crew was on edge. The third root language had been found, Earthish. Earthish was the term for the human language after years of the languages of Earth co-mingling on the generation ship that saved humanity from its dying sun. Now, most humans called New Earth home, a planet as close to Earth as they were likely to ever find. This information rushed through Blavet’s head as he looked at the report from AB-775.
“So,” Blavet turned to face the crew, “we’re coming up on an old research station.” He paused to let the absurdity sink in. “The signal is on continuous loop. AB put a translation together.” Placing a fingertip to his tablet Blavet sent the translation to the three crew members in front of him.
This message is on a loop, please do not respond.
This is research station 093 dash 702. If you are stuck in warp space come to our coordinates. There’s a way back, but you aren’t going like it. If you choose to stay, we have formed a colony on the station.
This message is on a loop, please do not respond.
“Now that we have this message we were able to isolate old text data from the broadcast and now know where we are in real-space coordinates.” Blavet signaled AB and the holoscreen in the hold flickered to life. “We entered warp space here.” A zoomed-in galaxy map appeared, a red dot started pulsating. The surrounding sector was mostly unmapped space. “And this is where we are.” The map zoomed out, moved to a well mapped section of space and zoomed back in. There was a green, pulsating dot there that was slowly moving towards a blue dot. “We’ve spent this entire time moving at warp speeds and are close to New Earth now.”
Allie nodded. “Right. We move through warp space at the same speed as real space, but usually with a shockwave effect distorting our view.” She shrugged and glanced at AB-775. “I had AB walk me through the warp travel process. We punch a hole into a ‘dimension’ with shorter distance between things, spend a predetermined amount of time there, and pop back to real space after.”
“We tend to assume we move faster here, in warp space, but we actually keep our velocity.” Blavet shrugged. “Things we don’t normally need to worry about.” He motioned at the map. “Gravity from real space is detectable here by our instruments but doesn’t seem to have any affect on the matter around us.”
“Wait,” Janine spoke up, concern in her voice, “the closer we get to New Earth the more ships there are jumping to warp…”
“And collisions become more likely.” Blavet finished Janine’s thought and started typing on his tablet. “Configuring collision avoidance for autopilot.”
“The odds of another ship ramming us in three-dimensional space are astronomically unlikely.” AB-775 commented. “I’d give you the number, but it’s very long and I would bore you before I finished.”
Blavet nodded. “That’s why I was fine with putting the ship on auto-pilot.” He shut off the holo screen and motioned to a small pile of cutting and welding lasers. “The only real personal gun on this ship is now hidden under my jacket, but I want the three of you to be armed when we dock with this station. We don’t know anything about them other than they’ve been trapped here for a long time.” He looked each of his crew members in the eyes. “If you are attacked do not hesitate to shoot, but only kill if your life is in immediate danger.”
The crew nodded one by one.
“Good. Elinog, I want you to set up a practice range here in the hold. I want everyone to spend at least an hour a day back here practicing. Is that clear?”
“Aye, captain!” The three subordinates answered.
Allie and Blavet started leaving the cargo bay as Elinog started setting up targets and Janine helped. After walking a short distance Blavet felt a tug at the back of his shirt. He turned around to see AB-775 staring at him.
“May we talk in private, captain?”
An odd request from an astrogation droid, but Blavet decided to oblige him. “Allie, you can fly solo while I talk to AB, can’t you?”
Allie shrugged. “Sure, I’ll expect you to do most of the flying when you get back, though.”
With a curt nod Blavet followed AB-775 into the medbay and shut the door behind them. “What’s up AB?”
“I request permission to use a laser cutter in defense of the crew.” AB-775 looked at Blavet, but with his flat, motionless features Blavet couldn’t read anything into the statement.
“Doesn’t your programming prohibit the use of weapons?” Confusion was easily read off Blavet’s Emris face, his three focused on AB-775.
“My programming allows the use of weapons to preserve this bot and crew members, but only if continuing function or life are in danger.” AB-775’s camera lights seemed to increase in intensity. “If I had been in the reactor room with you my computation matrix shows a 75% chance that Elinog would be whole still.”
Odd, thought Blavet, I didn’t know bots could feel, even if it’s driven by programming that sounds like he regrets not being there. “Okay, you have my permission to use any means necessary to protect the crew’s life when in immediate, life-threatening, danger.”
“I understand the need for clear, exact, commands when dealing with the life of the crew and will disregard your unintended implication that without a clear command I might act rashly.” AB-775 rolled past Blavet, opened the door, and began moving back to the cargo bay.
Shaking his head Blavet sat down on one of the two beds in the medbay. “What programming did you install on our astrogation bot, dad? I wish you would’ve told me.” A deep sigh exited his lungs as he stood. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to find out the hard way.”
– – –
Three days after translating the signal the station was visible on sensors.
Allie looked at the readout. “The power’s on, but I’m not seeing any exterior movement. Could mean nothing, but they aren’t responding to our hails for docking clearance.” He ebony feathers shuddered as a feeling of dread washed over her. “I hope nothing’s wrong.”
“I think that sentiment is shared by the whole crew.” Blavet slipped into the co-pilot seat. “Strap in everyone, we’re going in with or without clearance. We need to know how to get out of here.”
Elinog and Janine strapped into the other two seats.
“I’m not sure that’s the best idea, captain.” Janine voiced her concern. “What if they see us as a threat and open fire?”
“Then you better hope what extra plating you were able to place is enough to block defense lasers.” Blavet took ship controls and began to approach the station directly. “I’m hoping they’ll hail us before that happens.”
The station slowly became visible to the naked eye. Blavet had angled the ship’s trajectory to give a clear line of sight. It soon became apparent that the station had a lot of debris collisions. The exterior was dented in many locations and a small ring of debris orbited the station in a ring.
As the ISS Dominiot approached the scanners picked out an open docking bay. With the doors open the bay would be nothing but hard vacuum.
“We have a suit big enough for Elinog, right?” Blavet passed the controls over to Allie and turned to face Janine and Elinog. “If not, we’ll have to figure out how to get him inside. There’s been absolutely no activity and we’ve made our intent fairly obvious. I think it’s likely that the station is abandoned.”
Janine had been monitoring the sensor data. “I agree, the power doesn’t seem to fluctuate at all. In short, the data backs up your conclusion. It’s either abandoned, or the people have lost all knowledge of how to run the station.”
“The second option seems less likely, but that’s the one I’m hoping for.” Elinog shook his head. “Yes, there’s a suit that fits me. It’s just bulky. That’s why AB had to help Janine with the shielding.”
The ship started to match the station’s rotation. It took a moment for the internal compensators to correct the gravity generators. “Okay, I have to put it on auto-pilot until our velocity matches the docking bay. Just hope nothing fires on us.”
Blavet nodded. “Alright, you two go start suiting up. I’ll join you in a moment.”
Janine and Elinog gave a small salute and started unstrapping.
“So,” Allie asked after the salamen had vacated the cockpit, “why did you send them ahead?”
“So they wouldn’t groan in disgust when I did this.” Blavet grabbed Allie’s head and kissed her beak. “I love you, remember that in case something happens.”
Allie blushed under her feathers. “I love you too. Prepare for the worst all you want. We’ll be fine.” She squeezed Blavet’s shoulder. “Now, go. I’ll join you after we’ve landed.”
– – –
The five crew members, including AB-775, stood in the only airlock on the ship. Elinog carried a folding ladder with him, the airlock was a couple of meters from the ground.
“Okay, last checks. Look over your partner’s suit. Anything looks wrong check it. We don’t want anyone losing pressure. We don’t know if there’s any air on this station. A slow leak is a slow death.” Blavet started looking over Allie’s suit again. After a few moments of checking seals and hoses everyone gave the all clear. “Cycling airlock.” Pressing a few buttons on the console Blavet initiated the airlock sequence. Air was being pulled from the small room to be used to pressurize when they reentered the ship.
Once the airlock opened Elinog placed the ladder in its slot and flipped it down where it slowly unfolded. “Ladder down.” He started climbing down it, head-first. He had chosen a longer ladder, so it would function more like stairs than a ladder. He turned to face the ship from the bottom. “Alright, next.”
Allie, Blavet, Elinog, and Janine stood at the bottom of the ladder staring up at AB-775. It was looking like they might need to leave him behind. He couldn’t make it down the ladder and he was too heavy to be carried.
“Fine,” Blavet said over the comm, “I guess there’s no reason not to do this. The knowledge that I can do this could save us.” He reached toward AB-775 with his hand and the bot started to float above the ground.
“Warn me next time. My sensors are going crazy.” AB-775 complained as Blavet slowly lowered him to the docking bay deck.
Janine stared at Blavet. “You’re a telekinetic, and didn’t think to tell your doctor?” She shook her head. “I take it you two knew?” She looked at Elinog.
“Yes, but he told us not to tell you except in emergencies.” Elinog shrugged. “It didn’t occur to me to say something, being in critical condition.” He looked at Allie. “I assume you were too emotional to say anything.” It was obvious he was making a statement more than a question and Allie just nodded.
Walking between them Blavet started heading for the nearest airlock. “I was born in warp. I can do things. Now is not the time to discuss this, agreed?”