“Is it possible we’re not the first to awaken?” Dann said, thinking aloud.
Rose started to speak and then stopped herself. “I … can’t be sure. It’s hard to imagine anyone else woke up successfully and accomplished something like this without being detected.”
“I’m sure that’s not it,” Pixton said in the distracted voice of someone deeply focused on something else entirely. “They’d have left some trace in the system, and there’s nothing like that here. This is definitely from an external source. And … if what I’m seeing is right … I really do mean external.”
“What do you mean?” Cobb snapped. “There’s nothing out there.”
“I mean there has to be something out there, whatever’s causing this didn’t appear out of thin air!”
“There’s nothing out there!” Cobb shouted. “We’ve come billions of kilometers for nothing! We haven’t even arrived yet and everybody’s dead! There’s no life for us out there! There’s no hope for us out there! There’s no colony out there! There’s nothing!”
Pixton just stared at him, mouth agape, face pale. He was trembling with anger, staring hard at her, then whirled and stalked to the far side of the room. He stood there, back to the rest of them, visibly trying to calm himself. The rest of them stood mutely, staring.
“Well. Pixton, why don’t you find out everything you can there,” Dann said, glancing at Cobb. He was shaken; the other man had looked like he was close to coming to blows, and over what? Dann had no idea. He’s taking it all pretty hard. And honestly, I can’t blame him, he thought.
Pixton nodded shakily and turned back to her pad. Jackson appeared beside him. “What was that?” she asked.
Dann resisted the urge to glance over at Cobb. “Nerves, I guess? I doubt any of us are in our best state of mind.”
“Yeah well, flying off the handle like that isn’t going to help anyone.” She threw Cobb a glare across the room; his back was still turned. “I don’t like where Pixton’s investigation is going any more than he does, but if she’s right, we have enough problems without him going crazy on us.”
Dann grimaced. She was right, but what could he do about it? Cobb was the senior officer in charge.
“Lt. Cobb has seemed a bit unstable for the last few hours,” Rose said quietly. “At least if I’m in any position to judge anything.”
“No, I think you’re right on the money Rose,” Dann said. “Is there anything we can do about it?”
“Try not to antagonize him,” the android replied.
Dann was about to open his mouth to retort when—
“Huh,” Pixton said, staring at her screen.
“Huh?” Dann replied, his train of thought derailed. “What is it?”
“Um … I just got into the navigational data. It looks like we’re very close to the colony site.” Cobb, his attention drawn, rejoined them.
Dann narrowed his eyes. “That’s not a surprise. We were supposed to be awakened at that point. But, I could’ve sworn I heard a ‘but’ at the end of that sentence.”
“Um … yeah. The planet looks … inhabited.”
“That’s completely ridiculous.” Cobb growled. “We’re the first ship out here. It must be rock formations.”
“N-no, sir,” she said. “R-rock formations don’t have l-lights, sir.”
“This is nonsense,” he said, and stalked out. “We lost our crew and you’re chasing phantom colonies!” he yelled, slamming the hatch behind him.
“It really is true!” she said to the others, calming considerably once Cobb was gone. “Check this out.”
She moved her fingers over the tab, adjusting the data flowing to the screens around the room. The floating image of the ship flickered and reformed into an image of the half of the planet visible to the ship’s on-board optics. The optics were the best that could be packed onto a ship the size of the Rose Dawn, which made for some pretty impressive imaging.
They were in the outer reaches of the solar system, a few months away from the planet, but they were able to get astoundingly clear views of the surface. Clear enough to accurately map the very visible roads and buildings and walls and domes that clustered in several town- or city-like groupings on one of the visible continents. They could even make out what looked to be vehicles moving along them.
Dann felt his stomach dropping within him. “What…? How is that possible?” he asked, as Jackson gasped. “That’s not … it couldn’t be alien, could it?”
“I don’t think so, not if it’s the source of whatever hakware’s attacking Rose Dawn,” Pixton replied. “It’s using known protocols to get into our systems, and no alien civilization would have those.”
“But then where the hell did they come from?” Jackson demanded. The three of them stared wordlessly at the display, watching the dots of vehicles sliding over the complex of roads on the world that should have been theirs.