January 24th 2013
Launched in 2232, it was a generational ship of five thousand souls in cryostasis pushing toward GJ 667Cc with Janus, an AI Core, at the helm. It was humanity’s first expedition to the stars. Shortly after passing from our solar system into unknown space, we lost contact.
So much had changed since that day; jump points, First Contacts, towering achievements and tragedy in almost equal measure. Despite the hundreds of expeditions, studies and simulations conducted over the centuries, no one ever found anything. Many came to assume that it crashed, flew into a star or dropped into a jump-point. The Artemis slipped into legend.
Until now …
* * * *
Tonya stared at a piece of history. Here, surrounded by lava, was the holy grail of explorers across the galaxy. A piece of it, anyway. Her mind was barely able to keep up with the torrent of thoughts, hopes and ideas that assaulted her the second she saw it. She glanced around.
Everyone else was just as stunned as she was. Senzen’s face twitched like he was resetting himself to comprehend what he was looking at. The sight of the Artemis even seeped through Squig’s alcohol-soaked brain.
“No way,” was all he could muster.
Gavin Arlington gave everyone a few moments to let it sink in. Finally, he cleared his throat. The CEO obviously had places to be.
“Now you know why I called you all here.” An assistant handed him a MiniGlas which he read while he spoke. “What we have here is a delicate situation –“
“What’s delicate? You have to tell people,” Deke Johnson interrupted. All of Arlington’s assistants’ eyes widened, incensed at the notion that this dreg would dare interrupt their boss.
“No, Mr. Johnson, that is precisely what I’m not going to do,” Arlington replied, hardly missing a step. “Should any of you disagree with that sentiment, allow me to remind you that based on the agreements you all signed, if you breathe a word of this to anyone without my express authorization, you, your family and your friends will be eviscerated legally, professionally, financially, socially” – he glanced at his lawyer – “physically?”
The lawyer nodded.
“Physically,” Arlington continued.
“Telling the UEE would shut this world down, and … eviscerate … your mining operation,” Tonya chimed in.
Arlington glanced over and smiled. The utter lack of emotion behind the simple human gesture chilled her. “There’s no sense in notifying the authorities or the scientific community until we know what we’ve found. That’s why you’re here. I want the crash site of the Artemis found. My facility’s mining scanners and personnel will be at your disposal. Whoever finds the rest will share in the credit for the discovery as well as a handsome compensation package.”
Everyone looked at each other, sizing up their competition. Arlington waited expectantly.
“You can start now,” he finally said.
* * * *
Tonya scrambled onto the Beacon II. She raced around the hold of the Freelancer, grabbing excavation tools, scanners, VidCaptures, her MiniGlas of books … she stopped for a second to catch her breath. Every fiber of her being was on fire, charged with the possibility of being the one to unlock the fate of the Artemis. It was all so unbelievable. She gave herself a moment to bask in the thrill of it.
She ran back to the dig-site. When she got there, Tonya realized that she was not the only one energized by the prospective discovery.
Senzen had already deputized the mining crews into excavating the Artemis fragment. They gently chipped away the black lava rock, trying to see how much more of the ancient metal lay buried.
Deke Johnson’s Cutlass swooped overhead, kicking up a storm of loose rock. The bottom was lit up from its scanners surveying the surrounding landscape.
On a nearby hillside, Squig drank from his flask while swinging a homemade scanner.
Arthur Morrow walked past carrying surveying gear and deep-rock scanners. He barely acknowledged them or the artifact.
“Not interested in analyzing this, Art?” Tonya unpacked her camera and tools. Arthur looked at her and snorted.
“The money ain’t in that. The money’s out there somewhere.” He motioned to the sea of solidified lava that surrounded them and moved on.
“Some people lack vision,” Senzen said to her with a smirk.
Tonya snapped a series of pictures of the Artemis fragment and stitched them together into a composite. Once the image was reconciled, she applied it to a database of Artemis imagery, trying to isolate which part of the ship it could have come from.
Tonya realized Senzen was standing behind her.
“That’s a good idea,” he grinned mischievously and went back to directing workers.
“Someone needs to tell Deke to stop scanning so close. The gravel could damage the metal.” Her MiniGlas hummed. Based on the stenciling and faded markings, there was a good chance that what they were looking at was part of the starboard thruster paneling.
It was helpful but not conclusive. The panel could have come off during a crash or in space.
Over the course of the next few hours, Tonya, Senzen and the workers successfully extracted the piece and placed it carefully on the ground. Tonya slowly circled the metal and captured it from every angle.
In its entirety, the piece was roughly two meters by four. The edges had been melted away by the lava bath. Fortunately, its thermal shielding managed to protect this part of it long enough for the lava to cool.
When she was done, she sat down and looked at it.
“Pretty unbelievable, right?” Senzen slumped down in the gravel beside her. He sipped from some water.
“I can’t stop looking at it,” she replied. “After all this time, we might actually know …”
“Yeah,” he nodded and held the water out to her. Tonya eyed the bottle hesitantly.
“Calm down, Tonya. We’re competing but that doesn’t mean we can’t be civil.”
Tonya took the water and drank. She hadn’t realized how thirsty she’d been and ended up finishing the bottle.
“You’re welcome,” Senzen said with a chuckle.
“Don’t worry. I got some more coming through.” Senzen glanced around. One of Arlington’s assistants hurried out of the corporate headquarters with more bottles.
“You already have his assistants fetching you stuff?”
“I work fast,” Senzen replied with a shrug. He took the bottles. “Cheers. Thanks.” The assistant hustled off. Senzen turned to Tonya. “Shall we?”
They pored over every inch of the Artemis metal, front and back. Tonya cleaned it the best she could, then searched for any kind of clue to indicate what happened. There was nothing. The edges were melted to the point where it was impossible to determine whether the panel was ripped off or not. She ran tests on micro-samples of the metal. Another dead end.
She sat back and tried to disconnect from the puzzle. Hoping a few moments away would give her some perspective, she looked at Deke still scanning the landscape from his ship.
Squig was slumped on the hillside trying to fix his scanner. He pulled an entire scanning module off and tossed it down the slope.
Then inspiration hit her. Quelling her impulse to run, she attempted a casual stroll back to the artifact. She rescanned the edges of the panel. Senzen approached.
“I don’t know. Maybe.” Tonya ran her fingers along the edge of the metal. “But it’s not like I’ll tell you if I do.”
“Fair enough,” he stood over her and watched.
Tonya grabbed the metal and tested the weight. She could flip it on her own but not with control or without damaging it.
“Give me a hand,” she said to the workers. They didn’t move, only looked at each other then Senzen.
“Yeah, I’ve already made arrangements with them so they’re only really helping me out.” Senzen shrugged innocently.
Tonya glared at him then flipped it herself. The metal face slammed down on its other side. It hurt her spiritually to do it, but she wasn’t going to give Senzen an inch.
The interior side of the plate was much like the exterior. Metal. Melted. There was a patch less warped than the rest. Tonya examined every millimeter with her zoom optics. Finally, she found an edge. A clean edge.
That was it. She had to suppress the swell of elation inside her to not tip her hand. She looked around but Senzen had disappeared.
* * * *
Five minutes later, Tonya was outside Arlington’s temporary office. The assistant ushered her inside. Tonya again resisted the urge to sprint those final steps. Arlington was at his desk, sifting through datafeeds of company assets.
“You’ve found something?” he asked without looking up.
“I don’t think this is a crash site, Mr. Arlington.”
Arlington finally gave her his attention. Tonya brought up photos and zoomed in on the patch until she focused on the clean edge.
“See that? That edge wasn’t ripped or bent. It was cut.” Tonya brought up additional datascreens of her findings. “My analysis says it was made with a precision laser that, while clumsy compared to today’s standards, is period-accurate to the type of tech included on the Artemis.”
“I think it set down here to make repairs,” Tonya said, that thrill bubbling up again. “It’s still out there.”
“Quiet a discovery indeed, Mr. Turov,” Arlington said to a side door. Tonya looked around, confused. Senzen stepped out.
“I told you we found something big.” Senzen stepped up beside Tonya.
“We?” She stammered. Her confusion quickly turned to fiery indignation. “Mr. Arlington, I don’t know what he told -”
“Miss Oriel, please.” Arlington waved his hand. “You’ve sold me.”
Tonya glared at Senzen, suddenly wishing for pyrokinetic powers.
“The offers still stands,” Arlington said as he turned back to his feeds. “Now, you two go find it.”