Scans of the surface show evidence of intense geological activity in the recent past. This is the kind of world where mountains rise up overnight, you realize. The kind of world where earthquakes are an hourly occurrence and the weather is so unpredictable that you can get echoes of all four seasons in a single day.
Curious, you send a mote-probe to skim a sample of the atmosphere. Nitrogen-oxygen– almost earth-like. The balance is skewed more in favor of oxygen, but not enough to make the air anything more than heady, refreshing.
Gentle winds cradle and caress the mote-probe as you descend toward the surface, sweep scanners over sharp peaks of basalt and shale. No animal life that you can see, no traces of anything but simple flora– some kind of scraggly green scrub-weed that seems to cling to life wherever rock yields to even the barest amount of dirt or sand. Bacteria in the air is minimal but present, mingles with traces of bacteria from a dozen other worlds– Earth among them.
That's enough to make you hesitate, to pique your curiosity further. Instructing your mote-probe to make a series of flybys, you pour over the data coming in from the surface. No other traces of anything human, anything from earth. Just the bacteria, just that one anomaly among all the ragged mountain chains, the sandy meadows sprawling with low scrub.
You're watching the water cascade down a majestic waterfall that opens to air at a high, jagged break between faultlines when the mote-probe picks up something different, something that doesn't belong. Immediately, you switch your full attention to the anomaly, find yourself staring at a low valley sprawling with clear lakes and green that comes right up to the base of a pair of steep mountain peaks. A highlight streamed to your brain picks out a detail, the gray-silver shade of a little weather-beaten ship crouched in amongst the scrub.
Quick thoughts zoom in and focus the feed as the mote-probe turns, closes in on the ship. It isn't big, a one or two person escape vehicle. The stats coming in from the database peg it as Baeotus class, almost two hundred years old and sitting on the planet for over a hundred of those years. White lines near the nose pick out the letters of a name: Goddard.
As you edge the mote-probe closer, you sift through details in the steady stream of data coming through the feed. Serial numbers, registration codes– none of it means as much to you as the rust around the rivets on the hull, the way the local scrub has grown up the entry-steps to the open airlock door.
And then you see the shoe. That single shoe, a simple velcro sneaker with a red line across the front and sides, barely visible after a hundred years of rotting into the dirt and scrub.
You spend a few minutes scanning the site, the ship, making notes in the database. There's no indication of what happened to the pilot, no logs in the silent and empty database. There's only the ship itself, the shoe, and the bacteria breathed into the atmosphere by someone who landed here over a century ago.
Eventually, you take your leave of the planet, of the site, rise back into the atmosphere on the wings of the mote-probe. Your ship's integrated intelligence spins up the phasedrive even before your consciousness is fully nestled back in your body, and as you stare out at the pale green world, you make one last notation, upload it to the network. When you jump back to between-space, your thoughts linger on the missing pilot, on that lost shoe, on the ship rusting steadily into the soil and stone of an empty alien world.
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