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Reality Fault

The Crossroads Gate, and a Bit Beyond

    Gatespace
    Dark, cold, and empty, Gatespace is punctuated only by the small beacons, like a hopeful string of lights through eternal night -- a night in which it would be frighteningly easy to be forever lost...

The Indigo continues on through Gate-space, all systems performing normally now. The only proof this is happening is the moving on the scanner of the beacons, but they seem to be tracking well. Vash yawns widely, drowsing in his seat and staring out at the void with half-open eyes. Sakura keeps her attention on the scanners and displays in front of her. She's focused on tracking those beacons to make sure that any changes in course at all are noted immediately. Douglas is performing routine checks of the engines, slowly becoming used to the ship travelling through Gate-space. Training hadn't prepared him for this, but he's adapting. Kerry flits nervously around the bridge, trying to watch all the stations at once, though most of the time he stays by the pilot's board. "This is just too weird."

Vash says, "Kerry... you're making me nervous."

The trip is slightly odd, in that it's difficult to tell there is any progress being made. However, exactly on time the computer chimes quietly, warning that the ship has just passed the final beacon and is approaching the exit Gate. Vash sits up a little, rubbing his eyes. "Ah, excellent."

Sakura says, "Scanner confirmed that beacon, sir."

Douglas takes in a breath. Here goes. Now we find out what drove the other crews mad... "Engineering is green, you'll have gravity drive as soon as we emerge," he says perfunctorily.

Kerry grumbles "About time..." then settles back into the pilot's couch and buckles in. "I don't know if we'll jolt when we pass back into normal space, but just in case..." Sakura buckles herself back in to her seat. Kerry skrees, "Make sure the Gatespace drive is shut down first... we don't want to blow the breakers again." Douglas nods, programming the automatic shutdowns to close down power to the Gatedrive as soon as they emerge fully from the Gate, setting the gravity drives to cut in immediately after.

The computer triggers the Gate, and Kerry pilots the ship unerringly through it, even though it's impossible to detect from Gate-space, other than its signal on the scanner with the beacons. When the ship emerges, it is sudden and without fanfare, the blankness of Gate-space replaced through the viewers with the distant sparkling of stars. The Gate is immediately aft of the ship, which drifts very slowly away from it, the inertia that pushed it in to the Gate field suddenly returning to continue the slow drift. The computer re-routes power according to Douglas' commands, and it is mere moments before the main drives change from "stand-by" to "ready."

Sakura breathes a little sigh of relief when the ship finally emerges in real space. Vash says, "So... here we are." Douglas lets out the breath he was holding, and only until he confirms that everything is green on his board does he look out the forward viewpoints.

Kerry nudges the ship to rest relative to the Gate with a few seconds of drive. "Now. Where are we, how many Gates can we see, and how do we tell which one takes us home again?"

Vash says, "Maybe we can have the computer keep track for us... are the markings different on each?"

Kerry skrees, "That's what I want to find out. If not, we need to leave a transponder beacon by this one. Possibly with a backup..."

Sakura says, "Shall I begin a thorough scan, sir?"

Vash nods, "Please do, Sakura."

Sakura hunches down over her computers and starts scanning the area... "Sir, the comm system is recording nothing but background noise. Local space has picked up eleven other pieces of metal which appear, from these readings, to be the Gates. The telescope can clearly make out nine of them, confirming those... I'll bring that up on the screens... the others appear to be edgewise to us or they're behind the Gate we emerged from. All of the Gates have different markings."

Douglas says, "Well, there's that, at least..."

Vash says, "Then have the computer record the one we just passed through. There's our way home."

Kerry skrees, "And print out a copy, too. Just in case..."

Sakura says, "The markings on the Gate that we just arrived from are a match for the markings on the Gate that we entered. The total area that these Gates are scattered across is approximately the size of Jupiter in volume and there doesn't appear to be any pattern, though they don't seem to be drifting either." Sakura smiles, "That's all I was able to pick up, sir."

Vash says, "Excellent job. If you can, Sakura, please have the computer map out the general area so we can track each Gate. We're going to have to come up with at least a general map."

Sakura nods, "Yes, sir." She puts the information for creating the map into the computer... then frowns. "Sir... we can't print it."

Vash says, "We can't? What's wrong?"

Sakura says, "We... don't have a printer, sir."

Vash blinks. "I... find that hard to believe."

Kerry skrees, "We'd better have some notebooks. I specifically requested a method of making hardcopies..."

Douglas blinks, looking slowly over to Sakura. "No printer...?" He turns back to his console, with a look of stark incredulity. "Well... now we know where they shaved off a few dollars."

Sakura nods at Douglas. "We'll just have to make do with the computer model for now..."

Kerry skrees, "Great. And if the systems go down? Someone was a complete idiot."

Vash sighs. "It is a digital age we live in. I guess keeping our file system intact just became a very high priority."

Douglas says, "Let's stay away from the upper magnetosphere of planets if someone lobs nukes at us, mmkay?"

Kerry grumbles. "Hang on to that thought. If I have to, I'll sketch the map out in my flight logbook. Back in a second."

Vash says, "Actually, Kerry, the most important thing we need right now is the markings on our Gate home. We can keep several copies... not all the systems are interlinked. We'll survive."

Kerry flits off the bridge and returns a few minutes later with a rather dog-eared looking journal and a pen. "Now. Just in case..." He spends a few minutes jotting down the markings and a sketch map of the other Gates, with coordinates written in beside the marks. "Just in case the computers get indigestion. Call me paranoid if you want... but what I am is a pilot."

Sakura says, "If all else fails, we could use grease pens and gauze. I'm sure that the medbay must have both."

Vash says, "Suit yourself. For right now we need to decide on where to go from here."

Kerry skrees, "Ayah. Where'd the cowboys find the diamond mine?"

Douglas says, "Is there any mandate in our mission profile to investigate any specific Gate?"

Vash says, "Right now, Sakura, our priority is to locate the Gate the Texans used, because there may be live crew left behind. Let's get the cursory scan out of the way... satisfy our superiors, and then we can start searching."

Kerry skrees, "I'd say not to bother finding Texan humans... but the second ship probably went there, too. And they've got Zil with them. Any idea which one it is?"

Sakura says, "Sir, there doesn't seem to be anything to indicate when a Gate has been used recently..."

Vash says, "There must be something... would they have left a marker beacon?"

Douglas says, "Are there perhaps any beacons out there using the Texans' frequencies?"

Sakura shakes her head, "I'm still not reading anything on that frequency, sir."

Kerry skrees, "Hmm. Might be a coded transponder, too. That's what I was going to suggest if we couldn't easily ID our Gate. Well, there's not THAT many of them. Eeny-meeny-miney-moe..."

Douglas frowns slightly, looking over at his board. "Maybe they left a... what do you military types call it... a passive marker. Something that's not broadcasting... hell, a splash of paint. They could have painted the Lone Star on the Gate they tried.

Vash says, "How very Texan."

Kerry skrees, "Heh. Not if they had a supply department like ours..." Sakura laughs softly.

Vash sighs. "It's an idea. Sakura, can you eyeball some of these Gates for us?"

Kerry mutters. "Paperless office indeed. Idiots. Someone is getting a whole ream of copier paper shoved somewhere uncomfortable when we get back..."

Douglas turns back to his console, running a proper drive check. "Or, heaven help us," he murmurs, "-tied a pair of steer horns to one..."

Vash says, "No point in being upset about it now, Kerry. We're going to have to make do with what we have."

Sakura says, "Yes, sir... I'll begin immediately."

Vash nods, "Thank you, Doctora."

Kerry nods. "Well, let's look for clues.

Vash says, "On the main screen please, Doctora?"

Sakura brings the view of the first Gate up on the screen, getting in as close as she can to it. The view will slowly circle the visible part of the Gate so that the crew can look carefully for any markings or beacons. In turn, each of the ten visible Gates -- nine others, and the one that the Indigo just emerged from -- are brought up on the viewer. Each does have different markings, which Sakura records. The other two Gates are not visible; one is edgewise to the ship, and shows only an uninteresting sickle of metal, and the other is apparently behind the Gate the ship just emerged from. The Gates all look unmarred and unmarked and unescorted, so far.

Vash says, "Alright. Helm, can you reorient us so that we can view the last two Gates?"

Kerry skrees, "No problem. 1/10 gee coming up..." The ship gently accelerates away from their arrival point and arcs up 'above' it until they have a clear view of the concealed Gate.

Vash says, "Thank you. Doctora?" Sakura reinitiates the telescope and brings it onscreen so that they can view the markings on this Gate. The Gates come into visibility, revealing two more sets of unusual markings, and little else immediately. Vash says, "Sakura, could you bring up the magnification when you complete that scan?"

Sakura hunches down over the keyboard, scanning intensely in one small area... "I think I may see something, sir..."

Vash says, "On screen, please?" Sakura increases the magnification on the area as much as possible...

The image on screen is near the formerly concealed Gate. For a moment, nothing is visible. Sakura then increases the magnification as far as it will go, and the Gate leaps closer, becoming a tiny bit jittery because of vibrations from the ship at high magnifications. The computer attempts to compensate, and the image blurs for a moment and then sharpens as the science officer tunes it on something a little away from the Gate. It is only barely visible from this distance even at magnification, a tiny glint of distant starlight. Sakura also scans the comm channels, especially the frequency the Texans were using.

Kerry finishes jotting down the marking patterns of the last two Gates in his notebook and nods. "Ah-hah..."

Vash says, "What... is that, then? Helm, can you ease us a little closer?"

Sakura says, "I'm not reading anything on the comm... but there is no heat signature from it, either.'"

Kerry skrees, "Not a problem. How close do you want?" He orients the ship toward the Gate and applies the 1/10 gee thrust again. "We'll be there in 2 and a half hours at this rate if you want."

Vash says, "I just want a better look."

Kerry skrees, "Say when..." Vash nods, and watches the image resolve itself onscreen.

The time passes slowly. The image of the object becomes clearer as the ship approaches, and after a couple of hours is quite clear. The object is drifting very slowly indeed, about two cubic meters, and generally cubical. It looks vaguely familiar. Douglas frowns slightly, leaning a little closer to the screen. "What..."

Kerry skrees, "Hmm... mind if I give it a radar pulse?"

Vash hrmns, and folds his arms. "Be my guest... I've no idea what it is. The scan says nothing, Sakura?"

Kerry skrees, "Passive won't if I'm right...just a sec..."

Sakura says, "Would you like me to scan actively?"

Kerry nods. "Just a single active radar pulse. If I'm right, it'll be stealthy."

Vash says, "Yes, please, once Kerry's done."

Sakura sets the computer to send a single radar pulse at the object, with passive scans running in the background... The object returns very little in the way of a radar reflection, and in fact would probably have been lost in the background if Sakura and Kerry hadn't been looking for it. Sakura says, "Odd. sir, that block is inert. In fact, it doesn't even seem to be metal, or rock."

Vash says, "Absorptive material, then? Some kind of polymer? Go ahead to active scan, Sakura."

Douglas blinks, looking to Sakura. "Then what does it seem to be made of?"

Sakura says, "I'm not sure yet. Switching to an active scan..."

Kerry skrees, "Heh. Thought so. It's our friends, all right. They've got a bad habit of using space as a garbage dump. Remember one time there was an international incident when one of their little trash compactions rammed an EA station from a polar orbit." Douglas blinks, looking back at the screen again, then scowls slightly.

Sakura says, "The active scan isn't telling me much more. Its density is slightly above polyurethane and I've got very precise details on size now. Shall I continue?"

Vash says, "Go ahead... I'm inclined to agree with Kerry, but let's not take chances." He sinks back into his seat, slightly disgusted.

Sakura says, "Yes, sir..." She runs the scans over the object one more time, "Nothing new to report, sir. That's all we can determine."

Vash says, "I suppose we should be grateful for the clue... tasteless as it is. Let's send back the drone with our current findings, and proceed through this Gate. We've got to map them all... this is as good a place to start as any."

The science station bleeps for attention. Sakura says, "Sir. The computer is reporting a nearby solar mass..."

Douglas says, "We've recorded the markings on the Gates already... merp?" He blinks, sitting up. "Solar mass...? Barring an actual sun... oh, sweet Jesus, a collapsar..."

Vash says, "A solar mass? Dios mio."

Kerry flits over to look over the vixen's shoulder. "Or something. A black hole, maybe? Where away?"

Sakura says, "I'm starting scans now, sir..." She begins aggressive scanning of the area to try to figure out where that mass is coming from and what it is. Douglas gives his engines a quick look-over, preparing to dump any emergency power he has into the gravity drives, just in case. Sakura finally says, "Nothing to panic about. It's a way off, long range sensors just took a while to detect it. Looks like a sun about 8 billion kilometers away from us."

Kerry skrees, "Ah... just like home, then. This place is anchored to a star, but not too close."

Vash smiles a little. "We seem to be jumping at shadows lately. Or... pulsars, as the case may be."

Kerry skrees, "Well, something ate three Texans and left their uplift a gibbering wreck. D'ya blame us?"

Vash says, "The Texans got at least this far. Once we pass through this second Gate... then we can start to worry."

Douglas lets out a bit of a breath... then blinks. "Can we identify the sun? For that matter, can we identify the star-patterns? I read somewhere that we should be able to do that.

Kerry skrees, "With enough time, we could. If we're in our own galaxy."

Douglas says, "Well, there is that, I imagine. Sorry, I'm not an astronomer..."

Kerry shrugs. "Still, we might be close. Let me have the computer do a pattern analysis on the bright ones and compare it to home."

Sakura says, "Sensors seem to believe that there is a reasonable chance of other planets in this system, with the gas giant and a sun of this type and size..."

Douglas says, "At least we're not in deep space. Whomever built the Gates might have chosen this system for a reason."

Vash says, "Just like you build the airport at the city limits?"

The computer responds to Kerry's request for a scan with a confirmation, and then a dialog comes up, saying, "Scanning..." It has a percentage bar, which is sitting at 0%, and a cancel button. Kerry lets the program run. It's not going to be too quick, he suspects, and they've got hours before they reach the Gate that the Texans used. Sakura is just letting her passive scans run in the background and is going to continue cataloguing the information on the Gates that they already have. The computer, still scanning the drifting block of garbage, has seen it move long enough that it can attach a speed (slow) and a vector to its movement. The vector, oddly, is parallel to the Gate, and pointing fairly accurately at the sun in this system.

Vash squints. "Is this vector right? Did they swing toward the sun?"

Kerry skrees, "They may have tossed it out while at rest and it's just falling. Although... that would imply that the Gates are stationary rather than orbiting. Weird..."

Douglas frowns slightly. "Very weird, if I recall my orbital mechanics right."

Vash scratches the back of his head. "Sakura? What do you think?"

Sakura frowns a little. "I would have to agree with Kerry-san."

Douglas says, "Well, so much for Newton's laws..."

Vash says, "So we can either dive this Gate, or head sunside. Your opinions?"

Kerry skrees, "I think we did some major damage to them going through Gate-space. Hmm... It'll be weeks to go to the inner system from this far out. Do you think it'll be worth it? This system seems to be a Gate transfer point, rather than a system of interest. I'd say to try another Gate first and see if it's another multi or if we land closer to the star."

Douglas says, "I'd like to find out more about where we are, actually." He shrugs a little. "That's just my opinion."

Vash says, "At this point I'm inclined to agree with Kerry. Doctora?"

Sakura says, "I agree. Let's try a Gate first."

Vash nods. "Settled then, unless you have objections, Douglas?"

Kerry skrees, "It'd take three weeks at 1 gee to get to the inner system, and no guarantee anything is there. That's six weeks' round trip."

Douglas shakes his head, turning to his console to do the Gate drive pre-check. "None of any significance. Besides, our mandate is to explore the Gates, after all..."

Vash says, "Alright then. Sakura, when you've finished collating all your data, please prepare a drone for return to our system."

Sakura nods and gets the information that she needs ready for return to the home system. Kerry's monitor changes to 1% complete. He blinks as the comparison program chirps out its first one percent. "Shall we wait for the results on the location program?"

Douglas says, "Shouldn't we wait until the computer finishes trying to figure out where we are? That might be useful information to send back, and we only have limited drones..."

Vash says, "What's the ETA for the comparison?"

Kerry skrees, "At this rate, something like 25 hours."

Vash says, "I've got no objections with waiting an extra day. It might be useful information. And it would mean a short period of downtime."

Douglas nods, "I could use the time to see if the Gate transit... did anything to our drives."

Kerry skrees, "We don't need to stay here, unless we decide it should go back. The result, that is. Wouldn't hurt to do a complete overhaul and maintenance, though."

Vash nods. "Let's let the comparison complete then. We have nothing to lose for waiting." Douglas nods.

The intervening twenty-seven and a half hours -- for that's how long it finally takes the computer to announce that it has no known matches -- pass uneventfully. Kerry skrees, "No surprise, really. It's a BIG universe, and I didn't think we'd be right next door."

Douglas goes over the engines, and all seems well and normal. Vash spends most of the downtime on the rec deck, practicing either a combat routine or trying out the shooting simulator. For some reason he thinks it's a good idea to be prepared, when they find this diamond mine. The message drone is stuffed full of the data gathered over the last day, and fired off, its idiot little guidance computer sending it off homewards. It's not smart, and it's slow, but it will get there. The crew buckles down, and Kerry maneuvers the ship through the chosen Gate, carefully not running both drives at once. The Gate opens, and the ship transitions in smoothly. The scanners lock on to the first beacon, giving some path through the otherwise untraceable space, and another trip through Gate-space begins. Vash says, "Say goodbye to the Junction, everyone..."

The trip through Gate space, closer to eight hours long this time, is uneventful. The ship transitions smoothly through the far Gate, Kerry once again avoiding both drives at once, and emerges again into normal, star-filled space. Space here appears empty, just the one Gate leading away, and nothing immediately visible. Kerry keeps his hands near the controls, ready to dodge back into the Gate if necessary. "And... we are here." He starts the computer working on the pattern comparison again, just in case. The computer once again begins the slow task. Sakura immediately begins scanning for beacons...

Vash says, "Sakura, start scanning, please. And keep an eye out for another craft."

Sakura says, "Hai, sir."

The scan almost immediately picks up weak radio signals. Nothing instantly recognizable, and nothing with any power. The short-range scan shows nothing of interest in the immediate area. Kerry skrees, "Interesting... Can we get a direction on that?" The bat is looking for the brightest star in the sky, since that will likely be the local sun. He intends to get a spectrum of it. "Someone's home, I think..."

Sakura says, "I'll begin scans for you, Kerry-san..."

There is one star, much brighter than the rest, which is likely a local star. The long-range scan takes a moment to come in, and confirms it -- a little less than 8 billion kilometers away: an ordinary yellow sun. Douglas blinks, perking his ears. "What kind of signal is it? Could we listen to it for a bit?"

Sakura turns the speakers on and sets them to play back the tone that's present. Vash hmms, folding his arms. "Sounds like carrier. Can the computer decipher that?"

Kerry skrees, "It's not carrier. It's modulated. Sounds like telemetry of some sort."

Sakura sets the computer to capture and record some of this sound while it is playing... Douglas closes his eyes, tapping his chin as he listens to it, but not able to glean anything from just listening to it. The computer produces a vector for the signal, and measures the strength. The strength is "weak" and the vector leads towards the local sun. It hasn't moved significantly in the few minutes the ship has been tracking it. Douglas says, "Well, Captain, Pilot... it looks like we know were to head towards first. Might I recommend caution?"

Kerry nods. "That matches the sun's bearing. Probably inner system unless it's dead stationary. Shall we go and have a look?"

Vash says, "I'm demanding it, Douglas. Let's go, Helm."

Sakura continues to record all of the scanners' readings into ship logs. Kerry finishes checking the spectrum of the system sun. "Looks almost identical to Sol. G2V class, maybe a smidge brighter, but that small a difference is within the normal variability."

Douglas says, "I'm more surprised that it's so similar to our Sun. What was the class of the sun at the Gate switchyard?"

Kerry skrees, "The interGate system was also a G2V. I'm beginning to think that either the Gate builders need that kind of star for the mechanics of the thing, or they needed it for other reasons."

Kerry skrees, "Heh. Maybe they're plants and they like that flavor of light..."

Vash says, "It's possible. It does at least explain what one is doing in our system."

Douglas nods to Kerry. "Or G-type stars tend to have something of interest to them, like planets they can inhabit."

Kerry shrugs. "Lots of types of stars have planets. I think it's somehow more critical than that."

Vash says, "Even stars don't last forever, though... I wonder if there aren't some Gates that are useless now. Or only open on one side."

Kerry finishes rotating the ship and flips the switch on the acceleration alarm. "All set for our in-system trip. Give the word, Your Nebulosity." Douglas does another check of the gravity drives prior to Kerry engaging them. The science station chirps for attention. Kerry skrees, "Now what?"

Vash sighs. "Always some damned thing..."

Sakura says, "Long range scanners have detected a gas giant in the system. There was a gas giant in the last one, too."

Kerry skrees, "Oh, okay. Is it on our projected course?"

Sakura says, "And they're predicting a reasonable chance at other planets as well... they did the same in the last system. Checking, Kerry-san..."

Vash hmms. "If it was a way to travel between colonized systems... I wonder how the Gates were emplaced at each side?"

Sakura says, "Hai, Kerry-san, it is on our course."

Kerry grumbles. "Well, we've got quite a while before it's important. Probably have to alter course as we detect inner system planets anyway. Shall we start?"

Vash nods, "Yes, let's get going."

Douglas says, "Gas giants... I wonder if they have anything to do with the Gates as well... Oh, sorry... engines are green, Pilot."

Kerry slowly pushes the throttles up to 1 gee. "Keep a sharp eye on things this time. Systems are really quite empty places, but we don't know where things are at all." Sakura is keeping her eyes and attention firmly on the science station. The ship responds smoothly and accelerates. Vash settles back in the con, looking out at the forward screen.

It's a little less than three days later when Sakura gets another planet in on scan, that the ship is rapidly approaching. It's small, about 2300km in diameter, and orbits quite far out from the sun, something approaching 7.4 billion kilometers. It looks very cold, lacks an atmosphere, and seems to emit no radio or heat signals. Vash says, "Nasty little globe. Our phantom signal's not coming from there?"

Kerry skrees, "Pluto II."

The computer again reported no matching star patterns. A little less than ten days into the trip, Kerry turns the ship around and begins decelerating again. The projected stopping point is roughly where the asteroid belt would be in Sol system, about 3 AU out from the star. The crew of the Indigo is in no hurry to show up on anyone's doorstep unannounced, especially if it turns out to be runaway von Neumann machines or nanites. And since the radio noise has so far been entirely machine-talk....

Sakura perks up and looks at Vash about a day after turnover, "Sir. I've got another planet showing on scanners here. It's about 120,000 KM in diameter, orbits 1.5 billion KM from the sun... I'm working on getting you some better pictures of it."

Vash nods. "And the signal?"

Douglas says, "Looks like a fairly full planetary system."

Kerry skrees, "Jovian class again. Where's that first gas giant you noticed?"

Sakura says, "The signal is not coming from this planet... the planet has several moons, though and there is a weak signal coming from one of them. Bringing an image up now..." She brings up an image of a gassy world with bands of colors repeating in the gas and a large set of rings on a flat plane. The pictures are incredibly like Saturn. Sakura says, "First gas giant is 775 million km from the sun, Kerry-san."

Vash hrmns. Douglas frowns slightly. "Can... could someone compare this to our own Solar System?

Kerry skrees, "So far, identical. Pluto II, Saturn II with the same elaborate ring system, Jupiter II. What's that one look like?"

Douglas says, "If there's a large red tropical storm on it..."

Vash says, "It's a disturbing idea, isn't it..."

Douglas shakes his head slowly, looking over the engineering board. "I signed on to the space program... not the interdimensional pole-vaulting program." But he says it mildly, not as a complaint.

Kerry grins. "If you can't take a joke, you shouldn't have signed up..." He acts like it's a quote.

Douglas says, "'Signed up'? Oh, what a story I have about that."

Kerry skrees, "The stars are much different. Could be that those dozen Gates go to the only Sol-identical systems in the universe. Or we could be dimension hopping. Or... the systems themselves could be engineered."

Another day and a half or so passes before Sakura is able to get pictures of the other gas giant. It appears to be 775 million kilometers from the sun, and 142,000 km in diameter. Pictures are slow coming, and grainy with distance, resolving as the now-slowing Indigo passes as close as it will get. The gasses on the planet do form colored bands around it, and there is a glimpse of a familiar red cyclone on the surface. Vash says, "Oye... dios mio."

Kerry skrees, "Now that is just too weird. It's either dimension-hopping or engineered systems."

Douglas looks at the images that come back for long moments, outwardly calm. "Well... this brings up some interesting conundrums," he says finally. "I'd say the odds of systems developing so similarly as to be nearly identical to our own are... well, a bit beyond astronomical. But if the computers can't identify the star configuration..."

Vash says, "Time travel?" Douglas gives a slight shrug, not trusting himself to make the suggestion.

Kerry skrees, "Thought of that. But Saturn's rings aren't that stable a feature. Any serious kind of time shift would make 'em disappear. And a short jump would leave the sky recognizable."

Vash says, "Strange... Doctora, where's the signal now?"

Kerry skrees, "Hmm... Sakura, could you do a comparison check? What are the planetary positions here versus the ones at home?"

Sakura nods, "Hai, Kerry-san." She sets the computer to run a comparison check on the data from home and that from here. She also finds that the orbital positions of the planets here and the planets at home match closely, within 95% of being the same. She works out a rough triangulation, based on the increase of signal strength and angle of reception here and from when it was first detected aboard the ship, discovering it is on an orbital path about 150 million kilometers from the sun.

Kerry mutters a few of the choicer words he's learned from Kiska. "I'm almost afraid to aim a scope at that planet..."

Vash says, "Not much choice now..." Sakura begins the process of setting the telescope up to get pictures of the planet that the signal is coming from as soon as possible.

The pictures, when they finally do come in, are somewhat oppressive. The surface of the planet is wracked by great storms, which batter at the ground constantly. Between the storms, the land appears black and barren, with no lights showing at night, and only the one signal coming from anywhere nearby. The planet has one moon. It looks disarmingly familiar, except for a couple of new shiny craters. At this distance, it is impossible to track the signal source exactly, or to get better pictures of the ground. Kerry skrees, "Well. At least Terra II looks different."

Vash says, "She doesn't look so good."

Kerry skrees, "No... and I will strongly resist any suggestion to take Alshain down into that mess. Not without a really compelling reason."

Sakura says, "Do you suppose that this would have been enough to cause the reaction that was seen in the uplift that came back?"

Kerry skrees, "I would doubt it. And what happened to the humans?"

Vash says, "And where did the diamonds come from..."




Last modified: 2000-Oct-24 18:42:42

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