Casual Play Astrogation

Chi Wararu Rutan 21(311)-8a (Concolir)

Stars and void open before you as you slide out of between-space, drop into orbit around a massive gas giant roiling with iridescent clouds of orange and yellow. Data on moons caught in the gravity of the huge world starts to come in. They're rocks, all of them. Two or three look promising for mining, seem to be polyps of liquid lead and nickle heated to boiling by their speed, their proximity to the giant, the radiation pouring out of it. Moons further out are tiny, icy, snow-white or tectonically active with rolling oceans of liquid hydrogen or methane on their surfaces. Forty-nine worldlets in all, they move together like a tiny solar system, circle the giant endlessly.

A flicker of something sends up a flag in your mind. Immediately, you switch the focus of the feed, use sensors to chase the phantom that was there only a moment ago, but find nothing. Reviewing the readings, you see exactly what you saw before– a blip, a moment of something metallic, power signatures, all evidence of a ship, now gone.

Your curiosity piqued, you send out a trio of mote-probes to run flybys of the moons, of the planet. Sensors gather mountains upon mountains of data, and as it pours into the network, you skim it, look for evidence of the ship, of whatever it was you saw with your vessel's eyes.

Nothing comes. Nothing. In the silence, you wait, wait even after all of the probes are back aboard, their data uploaded to the network, but the blip never reappears. The silence continues. No sign of anything in the system but the planet, the moons.

Eventually, you spin up the phasedrive, prepare to leave the system, but the ping comes back again, rises in your mind. The signatures are the same, are there just for a moment before they're gone, lost in the background noise and the radiation washing out from the gas giant. It's eerie, strange. Drifting forward, you wait, comb the area where the readings were, find nothing.

Just like before.

An hour passes. The data crossing your feed becomes repetitive. More hours, and a comet burns through the orbit of the gas giant, curves through the gravity pull, then shoots off in another direction, bound for other stars. Still no sign of the ship. No sign of anything out of the ordinary.

When you finally fire up your phasedrive again, you wait to make the jump into between-space, keep all sensors active, searching. Even still nothing comes. No sign of the ship. No sign of what it was, what it might be.

It's only when you leave, only for the barest instant before you slide through the fabric of reality that you see it again, catch the signatures of a ship, clear as day. There isn't time to learn anything more– normal space-time yields to between-space quickly, and then you're gone, left only to wonder what might have been in the system with you, why it chose to stay hidden. Was it afraid of you? Was it stalking you?

You move on to the next world never really knowing the answer for certain.


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