Dann and Lydia sat, stunned. Rose just nodded. “I agree,” she said. “I think we will have to assume that that’s true.”
“But how can … we …” Dann closed his eyes and shook his head. “That’s crazy! I know we talked about this, but I just don’t see how that can be possible.”
“There are several possibilities,” Rose said. “One, someone from Earth left long before we did and arrived first. Space flight had been a possibility for decades, even if cryogenic suspension wasn’t. A generation ship could have been launched decades before we left. Two, a faster ship could have been developed and launched after us and yet arrived first. And three, the originator of this technology may not be human.”
“No,” Jenny said. “It’s definitely human. It uses all the same protocols our computer is using, and that tells me it wasn’t a generation ship launched decades before us, either. There were too many changes in computer tech, it would have been completely out of date compared to our state of the art. If those are the three possibilities, I say it has to be the second. Somebody left Earth after us with a more advanced ship, and they beat us here.” She got a thoughtful look on her face then and pursed her lips. “That would explain why this thing is so good at defeating Eden Rose’s security protocols. We might be too out of date to compete against this thing, at least in that respect. It could have complete documentation on exactly how this whole ship works.”
Dann felt himself going pale. “Okay. I vote we get rid of this thing, and we do it right now.”
“And just how do we do that?” Lydia asked testily. “If this thing is so advanced, is it going to just let us walk up to it and take it off?”
“I think we’ve got to risk it,” Dann said. “You said it’s really primitive in some ways, didn’t you, Jenny?”
“Yeah, but I’ve got nothing on what it’s like physically,” she said, cautiously. “I don’t even know exactly where it is, though if we get back to the main lab, I can probably pinpoint it. Worst case, I know I can narrow it down.”
They dragged their boat back out to the water and set out, Lydia and Jenny scanning the horizon as Dann and Rose rowed, but no other boats showed themselves. When they reached the dock, they found the other boats were missing. They moored theirs and headed straight for the door back to the tram.
It was waiting for them, just as they’d left it. They turned the cars around and drove it back up to the center of the ship as fast as they could go. They passed several maintenance bots along the way, all of which turned and started for them, but they were going too fast and the bots were too slow; they left them in their dust. “None of them seem to be much of a threat,” Dann said.
“Don’t underestimate them,” Rose said. “Many of them are designed to work on extremely heavy-duty equipment and have more than enough strength to crush any of you to pulp. Some of them could crush me to pulp. And some of them have other, more exotic weapons. Veterinarian bots for instance; they’re equipped with tranquilizers that can put down the largest animals kept here, and dosages that high would easily kill any of you, too.”
Dann nodded, grim-faced. Right, he thought. Try not to underestimate the stupid, lumbering death machines. The thought didn’t exactly make him happy.
The coast was clear when they reached their original spot outside the complex of offices that housed the main lab. Lydia closed and secured the hatch that led to the offices and then the one to the lab for good measure.
“Dann,” Rose said, “How would you like to learn how to spacewalk?”
Dann’s eyes narrowed. “Why do you ask? What do you have in mind?”