More and more exposition. This should answer some questions, and of course, raise some more.
The rock looked small from a distance, but then, in space, you can never tell how large something is by looking. Nevertheless, it was the largest object in view, and crew members would often be seen staring out the forward shield at it when not occupied with running the ship. One advantage of combining three crews with one ship was that there was far less work for each person to do, but that also meant lots of time spent with nothing at all to do, and most of the crew soon wished they had more to occupy their time.
Rhasind was tired of looking at R183AB. He sat in the common room, a bleak, poorly-lit chamber near the center of the ship, playing Stones with Cooper, Ferret, and Dan, the captain of R-33 team. Stones was a popular game Starside, though most boards, like this one, actually used plastic disks instead of the traditional stones, with fastener on one side to prevent the pieces floating about in low gravity.
As usual, Ferret was winning. Rhasind was getting tired of watching Ferret win, too. He would have been glad to leave after this game, but he was afraid Gaujhidre would find him, and here he had an excuse for not talking to the neurotic scientist. As a Dirtsider, Gaujhidre- Hamal, as he prefered to be called, though no one called him that- found the Starsiders intimidating, which Rhasind could understand. In addition to being generally much larger than Dirtsiders, Starsiders were also possessed of a grace that no planet-dweller could learn. While Rhasind comiserated with Gaujhidre's discomfort among such a foreign group of people, he was bothered by the way that the scientist had latched on to him as the only other Dirtsider on board. The man was truly annoying, and Rhasind was definitely tired of his antics.
Ferret smiled up at him. "Game." There were groans all around.
Dan, an especially large man with a slow but deep-reaching mind, frowned down at him. "We need a new game. You always win at this one."
Ferret laughed. "Well, if you can find something in this dinky boat, we can play that."
Dan twisted his face in concentration. "How about rock-paper-scissors?"
Ferret laughed again.
The foreward bulkhead hissed open and Gil, an average-sized, glasses-wearing member of B-66, grabbed the frame and pulled himself through, his legs trailing behind. "Hey Rhas, you're up on the helm."
Rhasind threw his arms up. "Finally. Something to do in this tub." He left the table, to be replaced by Gil, who held up a rather shabby package triumphantly. "Hey, look what I found. Cards."
"Dammit," Rhasind muttered as the bulkhead closed behind him.
The control room, somewhat alarmingly, was filled with an acrid, bluish steam.
"What is that?" Rhasind demanded as he tried to wave some of it out of his face.
"Well, it was coolant." A voice penetrated the fog, to be followed by the face of R-33's navigator, Flint. He wore a damp cloth over his mouth. "We had a small fire in the drive computer. Nothing big, so we didn't feel the need to alert anyone else. We've got it mostly patched now. Um, I wouldn't breathe that in if I were you." Rhasind swore and covered his own mouth with a sleeve.
An hour later, he was really wishing he was back in the common room with his team. The coolant steam, which never quite dissipated, stung his eyes, Flint and the B-66 captain, Ant, kept cracking bad jokes to each other, and he had the constant feeling that Gaujhidre would come poking into the room at any moment. To top it off, some indicator light kept blinking on the upper console, and he couldn't for the life of him figure out what it meant. Finally, he lost his patience. "Hey, Flint, how do you turn this damn light off?"
Flint, who had been in the computer room checking the headings, poked his head through the open bulkhead. "What light?"
"This little yellow one on the dash here. It's not labelled."
Frowning, Flint yanked himself into the room and investigated the tiny, blinking light. "What the hell is that?"
"Hell if I know. The only lights I usually pay attention to are red ones."
Flint's frown deepened. "I can't recall seeing a light like this on a panel. Tell the truth, I'm not sure what this panel is for." He reached into a drawer, pulled out the manual, and flipped through it for a few minutes. Then, with a shrug, he released it into the air and dove back out the bulkhead. "Hey Ant, get in here!"
"What?" The captain's voice echoed vaguely through the ship.
"Come here and take a look at this!"
Ant floated casually in, squeezing the last dregs out of a tube of tang.
"What the hell are you getting excited about in here? Did we land while I wasn't looking? Heheheh."
"Do you know that this panel is for?"
Ant squinted up at the disused panel. "Oh, that's the side radar."
Rhasind eyed the controls. "We have side radar?"
"Yeah. Kind of pointless, isn't it? I guess it's from when they used this thing in heavy fields. All those peripheral rocks, y'know? Anyway, that light means there's something out there within the nearest thousand miles or so that the support system's picking up." He reached forward and flicked some switches. "Here, tell me what's on that screen."
After a moment, an image began to appear on the image monitor below the radar panel. Rhasind stared at it in consternation. And stared. "Is that..."
Flint peered in. "...A ship?"
Surprised, Ant glanced over. "The hell?"
"That's a ship alright." Flint said. "Heading into our solar system from an uninhabited area. Ant, get us some kind of readings on this thing. I want to know exactly where it is."
"Hokay." Some more switches were flipped, and various lights came on.
"Hmm. This can't be right."
"What is it?" Rhasind asked.
"According to this, we've got a ship here twice as big as the R18'. And it seems to be going at roughly our speed. Toward the Starside colonies, is my best guess."
"There is no ship twice as big as this one. And there's definitely nothing with that design."
"Not in this solar system, anyway." Flint piped in.
Rhasind stared at him. "You're not saying..."
"Why not? It looks kinda like those things the First Generation came out of. I mean, they had to have come from somewhere, right?"
A strange, cold sensation began to creep over Rhasind. "Are you telling me this thing is coming from... the homeworld?!"
"That's the only thing that makes sense to me."
The three of them stood stock-still for a minute, dumbfounded.
Rhasind felt a chill as his brain kicked back into operation. "Hell. Do we have a radio transmitter on this ship?"
"Damned if I know. I think there's a radio room somewhere, but who knows if it's even stocked?"
But Rhasind was already heading out of the aft bulkhead. "Gaujhidre! Gaujhidre! Dammit," he muttered to himself. "Hamal? Where the hell are you?"
Finally, he bolted into the engine room, where Gaujhidre was calmly inspecting the engine.
The scientist looked up, and his face brightened. "My good friend! What brings you here?"
Rhasind paused for a minute as he regained his breath. "Is there a... radio room on this ship?"
"Of course. All ships have two-way radio equipment."
"I want you to contact Starside. Tell them a ship is heading toward them from outside the solar system."
Gaujhidre stared at him for a moment, trying to discern whether he was somehow joking."Is this true?"
"Very true. I want them to have a head's up. It's all we can do from here."
Gaujhidre thought for a moment. "We should contact Dirtside instead. The Science Corporation will need to know about this."
"No. Dirtside won't take this well, I know it. Just tell the Starsiders, they'll be able to figure out what to do about this, and if they think Dirtside needs to know, they can pass the message on."
The scientist mulled this over for a while. "Very well. I will send them a warning. Send me some schematics and I will try to get them as much information as I can. But Rhasind... do you realize what this portends?"
"I have no idea, Hamal. Considering we don't know anything about where the First Generation came from or what it was like, one guess is as good as another right now."
"But surely.... why now? After 100 years, why would another ship come now?"
"I don't know. I just don't know."
Last edited by The General on Mon Jul 18, 2005 2:00 am, edited 1 time in total.