Bits of technology, weather-manipulating nanite clouds and automated atmospheric drones hanging in the sky for centuries respond to your scans, ping you back with serial numbers and maintenance reminders. It's a Terran world, that much becomes clear immediately, but the deeper you dig, the more data your scans collect, the more the silence, the lack of response from anything but automates starts to make you uneasy. There's no comms chatter. There are no other ships in orbit, no calls from tower control to direct you to a flight vector or an orbital pattern. It's like the world is dead, abandoned by everything but the machinery of man.
A mote-probe dips into the atmosphere, takes readings. Immediately you notice the high particulate content– carbon, lots of carbon and elements you recognize as native soil. The planet itself is nothing special, brown and gray, ragged hills and snaking, volcanic canyons. There's no evidence of a colony, no steady ping of any kind of guidance beacon. The world is silent, dead, as if it's been scoured down to the stone.
And that's when you realize it. That's when you realize what's happened.
The world– it has been scoured. The traces are all there– the traces of orbital bombardment, of a steady pummeling that stripped the surface of life, of water, vegetation, the first few meters of soil– everything. The whole world is like that, beaten and broken, the oceans boiled away, the landmasses left as blasted landscapes totally devoid of life. Even the bacteria that should be in the air, in the wind, in the dirt– they're all gone, gone as if they had never even existed. A hundred years or so hasn't given the world time to do much more than round off the edges of the craters with the steady weathering of wind and rain, but there's evidence that the planet was in worse shape not all that long ago. Huge basalt flats cut across the dirt like rot, like bruises or necrotic tissue, the traces of lava lakes that must have sprawled across the surface in the recent past.
And there's no record as to why the world was so thoroughly sterilized. It looks like the result of some kind of military operation, like an attempt to contain something vicious, virulent, some threat to the universe as a whole, perhaps, but there's nothing in the network about it. Whatever it was, whatever threat might have been loose on the surface or in the air of Zeta Nero Duran 12t all those decades ago, the military must have wiped it out. There's no evidence of what it might have been, how dangerous it might have been except what you can see, the scorched soil and stone of the world below you.
As you turn to leave, you entertain ideas about what it might have been, what might have scared the military enough for them to char a world like that. Not much seems dangerous enough to fit the bill, and the silence, the lack of records– it's disturbing. It worries you even as you make the jump back to between-space, leave Zeta Nero Duran 12t far behind.
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