Space is a quiet place. Peaceful, but anything but still. Space is full of motion and wonder. Events just aren’t accompanied by a fanfare in the same way as terrestrial things are, so things often go unnoticed.
So it was that the Pegasus crested through the C-ring of Saturn, just ringward of the Colombo gap. Dust and ice streamed from every surface, flowing off its plating like sand, all of it caught in the wake of its momentum. The twin arms that held the ship’s solar panels twitched slightly as they sought a better angle on the far distant majesty of Sol.
It was quiet on board Pegasus. Not quite the dead quiet of space, it was more of the comforting mechanical quietude that humanity is wont to cloak itself in. A hum that borders on the edge of hearing; the sound of generators, or recirculating air and clicking valves.
It was a good sound. Mused Farideh as she floated languidly in the instrument lab. It means everything’s still working.
She liked this time of day, all alone on the night watch (even though the concept of ‘night’ was fairly meaningless out here in space.) The rest of the crew slumbered in the stern. All of the buckled down and zipped up inside plastic sleeping sleeves that she though looked a little too similar to body-bags for comfort. The solitude helped to distract her from the mind-numbing tedium and enormity of their ‘mission.’
Farideh floated across to a console and sent out another LIDAR ping. Her hands were driven by habit, a detached auto-pilot as she swept the nose of the specrograph across the larger returns. It was a thankless task. They were yet to find anything worthy of note. All the “major” mineral deposits they’d scouted out so far were too small, too remote and too isolated to really be worth exploiting. But they’d tagged the rocky bastards all the same.
The screens told Farideh the same story they’d been telling for weeks.
“Is it so much to ask for at least something out here?” She sighed to herself.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the targets weren’t so ludicrously optimistic. It was an opinion she still couldn’t bring herself to vocalise, even in private. The targets gnawed at you, they robbed you of the joy of simply being out in space. They loomed over you. They hunted you. They were the undercurrent to every action, every course change, every meeting. Bit by little bit, they ate you up.
10 kilotonnes of iridium, 1 megatonne of palladium, 3 megatonnes of gold. It’s a lot of metal. She rubbed at her chin and yawned.
And let’s not forget the 5 kilotonnes of monazite analogues. Where the hell were they going to find 5 kilotonnes of that for crying out loud? We’ve probably found barely enough of it to fill a bucket. Instrument error willing that is…
Suffice to say this is not what Farideh had expected when she signed on for a 5 year haul as an astrocartographer. Stellar mineral prospecting was turning out to be not be a spectacular adventure after all.
“Well at least there’s the Trojans to look forward to”
Farideh lived for the Trojans. It was the one chance left to prove that agreeing to performance related pay hadn’t been a terrible idea. Once they’d mapped out Saturn and all its friends it was a straight cruise to Jupiter’s L5 and that promising cloud of rock. It was so promising it was almost sexy.
A series of beeps and boops told her that the bank of computers had started to chew through the spectral data. Now there was nothing to do except wait for the inevitable disappointment. She set the LIDAR to autoscan and set off for the galley. She floated along the companionways like a leaf on the breeze, borne forth without effort. She sailed down the main barrel of the ship’s corridor, pirouetted through the bulk head slowly sprang up the perpendicular shaft to the pod that housed the galley. Farideh pulled out one of the drawers and a scattering of vacuum sealed silver packets began to float upwards. She grabbed the first one.
BEANS. The label read. Beans will do. She thought and slapped it into the warming oven and waited for it to heat.
For all her self-contained moaning Farideh realised that things could be much, much worse. Pegasus was one of a litter of three ships. Bellerophon was out near Uranus scoping out light gas wells. Running the same boring scans over and over, painstakingly mapping out a planet 63 times larger than earth. The Pegasus at least offered a change of scenery to go with its mind numbing tedium. But the Bellerophon would have at least offered something steady and predictable. Still, at least she hadn’t found herself of the Chimera, which even now was thundering out on the long haul towards the Kuiper belt. Their stated mission? “To see what’s there.” The entire endeavour was slated to last for maybe fifteen years. Fifteen years! And there was no guarantee they’d find anything that anyone would actually be able to exploit. Now that, would have really sent her mad.
A shrill beep filled the air, quiet and slightly muted. Farideh instinctively reached for the door of the warming oven. Her eyes glanced towards the timer. There was still over three minutes left on the dial.
Then what was making the noise? She thought.
Another beep echoed down the ship’s corridors. The noise stretching out, coming in broken fits and starts and building with intensity.
The LIDAR? But why would it be making a noise like that?
If there were any further beeps they were drowned out by the noise that followed. Great ear-splitting klaxons filled the air with a weight of noise so intense that it felt like it was crushing your ribs. Farideh had just enough time to realise that it was the proximity alarm. The thought that the autopilot would surely be about to kick in was yet to fully form. Such a thought however proved to be largely unnecessary. The Pegasus banked wildly, veering away from whatever was in its path, sending the free-floating Farideh slamming into the wall.
Still smarting from the impact Farideh left the galley with all the haste she could muster.
Sod the beans. Beans are not important right now.
She shot herself down the main corridor with the full force of her legs, twisting in mid-air. Her legs absorbed most of the impact as she reached the end of the shaft. Farideh grasped the ladder to the instrument room with both hands and hauled and scrabbled her way towards the monitors she had so recently left.
The LIDAR’s read-out flashed with an intensity that bordered on panicked, most of the screen swamped with one fat white dot.
“That should be there.” said Farideh aloud. “That’s a solid return.” She paused “Very solid… Too solid… What the hell is that?”
Floating across the room she peered out of the observation cupola, scanning across the ink-black void. Until she found it. It didn’t take long. It was hard to miss. It seared the eyes. A great white-hot globe. The glint of fire and metal. A devouring light. Tacking across the rings and heading straight for the Pegasus.
“Well bugger me…”