"Woah!" exclaimed Lloyd "That thing's been to another galaxy. And now it's here. So cool"
"Woah!" exclaimed Lloyd "That thing's been to another galaxy. And now it's here. So cool"
"Nah, I don't believe it for a second" argued Guss, scratching his chin "It's probably just been orbiting Neptune for a bit. No way the boffins got it out and back. Fucking con"
Kel was excitedly hopping from foot to foot, while Chen just stood, transfixed. The four of them were in one of the small bio domes, the only place of the loop with any glass to look out of. They were all starring out towards the central hub of the loop where the Alcubierre probe was docked. The advantage to looking at it from the bio dome, rather than a camera feed, was that as the loop slowly orbited around the stationary hub the small audience got an almost cinematic revolving view of the probe. It felt more real than a camera feed too, although none of them had acknowledged this, unsure how to put it into words.
"It is amazing that it has come back" mused Chen.
"You see, said it was a con" Guss proclaimed.
"It's not a con, right Chen?" Kel was almost pleading, eyes wide.
"The con of the millennium if so. I watched the readouts live as these things left the solar-system. The amount of energy these probes consume is phenomenal" said Chen "That was the main cost of the project once the drive itself was shown to be viable. These things effectively compact space in front of them, while and expanding it behind"
"Woah" said Lloyd, not for the first or even second time that day. Meanwhile Guss just muttered something about boffins, again not for the first time.
"But here it is, now. Here." Kel pushed his face up against the side of the bio-dome. "It's kind of beautiful".
"Looks more like a deformed penis to me" said Tenyon, entering the bio-dome behind them.
"Everything looks like a deformed penis to you girl" responded Guss with a chuckle.
"What are you doing here?" asked Chen, looking at Tenyon doubtfully. Was she trying to duck her responsibilities back on the ship again?
"Nita sent me, says to say that communications are playing up. Thinks it might be down to the residual radiation the penis-probe is still chucking out" a nod to the window "Says that she's looking in to it. Though why the lazy cow couldn't come tell you herself is beyond me. Getting too big for her boots, that one, if you ask me"
"I didn't" responded Chen coolly. Although Tenyon was right about communications being down, he couldn't get a link back to the ship at all. "Any of you guys able to call out?" he asked the others gathered at the window.
"Now you mention it, nah" Guss scratched his head.
"Wondered why I'd managed to get 10 minutes without Delilah hassling me" added Kel.
"Probably the aliens" stated Lloyd, dreamily.
"What?" said Kel, with a hint of alarm.
"The aliens. They've blatantly taken over the probe and are getting ready to invade. Stands to reason"
"You gotta stop smoking that shit, boy" interrupted Tenyon, although not with 100% conviction "That, er, right, er captain?"
"Well if they're capable of squeezing onto that thing for a return journey of six years with no life support, then I don't fancy our chances against the invasion force when it gets here" Chen said, slight hint of a smile in his eyes.
"Er..." Tenyon looked unsure, backing away from the window slightly.
"Only one way to find out of course" continued Chen.
"What?" questioned Tenyon uncertainly.
"We go take a look"
"I thought we were already taking a look, the penis, er, the probe is right there" Tenyon motioned out of the window.
"We go take a look on board"
"What?! No offence, but you are nuts, er captain"
"I'm coming" declared Kel.
"And me" said Lloyd.
"Well I think you're all fucking nuts" Guss shared Tenyon's viewpoint.
"Our one chance to see evidence from another world. How can that be nuts? Closest any of us will get to deep space exploration" Kel's shoulders slumped as he finished the sentence.
"It's probably just full of space dust or somet', like those other failed drones" Guss was adamant.
"Then why come back?" Kel replied "Why not just send a data packet and continue exploring like the other probes? These things were only ever supposed to come back if they found something of extreme value to mankind" he didn't add 'and to the congloms' that the small cynical part of his mind suggested.
"Probably a malfunction or somet" Guss wasn't one for backing down.
"Don't forget the aliens" added Lloyd.
Within an hour stood three vac-suited figures at the airlock to one of the loop’s transport spurs. A small crowd had gathered to watch them depart; curiosity was high even if that curiosity didn't quite extend to anyone else expressing a desire to get on board the probe.
As the crowd argued about the liklihood of aliens bursting forth from the probe, Chen stood to one side, helmet held by his side, with Nita.
"I've told Tenyon to keep the ship engine cycled in case we need a rescue party, but I want you to have this" Chen pinged Nita a small data packet.
"What, wait, you bio-link certificate. Shit, you don't think there are aliens on board do you?!"
Chen smirked "No, but even with Lloyd putting his skills to use, our opening of the probe may not go unnoticed"
"You think the congloms will be pissed?"
"Uh-huh. From what I gather from Lloyd, the probe wasn't scheduled to stop here at all. Direct route to a lunar ship yard. It was running silent - first Lloyd knew of it was the docking request to loop AI."
"So what happened?"
"Some sort of malfunction. Lloyd doesn't fully get it, but it looks like part of the probe's AI seemed to go on the fritz as it came in past Jupiter."
"So this thing travels a hundred light years fine, then conks out here? Sounds odd" Nita was sceptical.
"Indeed, hence me giving you a bio-link with the ship"
"You don't think that maybe abandoning the whole trespassing-on-a-massively-valuable-piece-of-conglom-property idea might be the more sensible plan?"
"More sensible, yes. But we'll never get an opportunity like this again" a fire had emerged in Chen's eyes that Nita had never seen before. A fire she figured had been extinguished by the abortive end to his scientific studies on Europa. How could she begrudge him this?
"Ok" she said "But please be careful"
"First sign of an alien hell beast and I'm out of there" Chen replied with a smile, before pulling his helmet on. Nita sighed, that familiar knotting in her stomach.
The direct communication facility of the vac-suits just about worked if they remained within a metre or two of one another; the interference from the probe continuing to cause problems. But even with the ability to communicate to pass the time, the transit to the dock at the hub of the loop was agonisingly slow.
Chen, Kel and Lloyd were clipped on to the central sled that run up and down the transit spoke. The loop was big, 5km in diameter, and the sled slow. The idea was to give time for the occupants to adjust to the changing gravity as they left the rim of the loop. Too quick and the Coriolis effect would make them feel sick.
Even more sick in Kel's case, that was. The companion sat nervously jiggling his leg up and down, breathes coming short and fast.
"You cool dude?" transmitted Lloyd over their link "Told ya to take some of my special pills. Help a man relax"
"Na, I don't want to dilute this experience" Kel spoke quickly in excitement. "You know how long I've dreamt about visiting alien worlds? Since before, well, forever"
"Woah, metaphysical man, I like that" Lloyd exhaled slowly, his 'special' pills leaving him in a near catatonic state.
Chen worried that the system analyst would be too blasted to hack the probe's access hatch, when they eventually made it there. He shook his head, the vac-suit camouflaging the movement. His stomach gurgled a little and he felt dizzy. Chen wanted to blame Coriolis, but deep down knew that he was just as excited as Kel. Not that he would allow himself to showing that externally, however. No dancing from him.
The sled ground to a halt as it reached the top of the transit spoke. Unclipping from it the three drifted towards the access hatch to the hub. Once inside gravity completely disappeared, a sensation that had never quite sat right in Kel's stomach. A little ironic for a man so obsessed with space.
A ladder led to the outer surface of the hub on which the probe had docked. Chen led the way, gliding up it with a single push off the bottom rung, a man well used to life at zero g. Lloyd's progress was less convincing, bumping into, then nearly losing grip of the ladder. Kel climbed with a mechanical action, unwilling to let go to drift at any point.
As a result, Chen reached the surface hub a good thirty seconds before either of the other two. Thirty seconds spent stood in awe. The probe was much larger than the perspective from the bio-dome had led him to believe. He frowned. It did sort of look a bit like a penis. Kind of apt for the conglom execs he figured, compensating for something.The Alcubierre drive itself dominated nine tenths of the probe. Running from the slightly bulbous front end, the drive array continued in a series of pulse chambers, pipes and energy condensers. The relatively small area given over to the scientific apparatus was located about two thirds of the way down, surrounded by pipework that then reconnected to the very rear section of the drive and thrust system.
Chen headed towards it.