Untitled Captain Koell Adventure - Day 11

The thought disquieted him and he searched inside a moment to figure out why.

An imposing barrier, a door shut against them. A dome, long shattered, protecting nothing. “It’s my life ever since I signed on with the agency,” he muttered. “I have got to get this debt sorted out, Aru. I have got to find a way to make some progress.”

Aru bleeped in response, and there was an inquisitive tone to it that suggested to Corwin the bot was confused.

“Never mind. For now, let’s make some progress on getting inside here. I want to know what it is we’re supposed to be picking up.”

Untitled Captain Koell Adventure - Day 10

A detail caught his eye that gave him pause then; the surface of the ship was covered with tiny pits. “Aru,” he said. “Scan this ship. The hull looks pitted to me.”

Aru chirped; he crouched down to examine the response. “Confirmed. The ship has taken damage consistent with micrometeorite impacts over an extended period of time, unshielded by an atmosphere.”

“So it’s been here for decades, maybe centuries,” Corwin mused.

“Unknown. The damage could have occurred elsewhere.”

Corwin chuckled, feeling a faint relief. “Maybe, but it seems most likely it was left over from a previous occupation, don’t you think?”

They pressed on, leaving the ship behind. The colony ring dominated the short horizon more and more with each step.

The heavy door was sealed and still, and for all Corwin could tell to look at it, may as well have remained undisturbed since the time the colonists called it home.

“So what do you think it is we’re after, Aru?” Corwin asked. It was rhetorical, of course; he knew perfectly well the little bot had no better idea than he did. He found himself hoping for some sort of physical artifact; ancient weaponry, tools or even written records. Such things turned up now and then; many of his tasks centered around authenticating finds like that.

Aru tweeted a reply; a quick glance confirmed the bot didn’t know either.

“Only one way to find out I guess.” He examined the exterior controls next to the door with a critical eye. Like the ship, they were pitted by centuries of micrometeorite impacts, rough under his gloved hands. “The pitting is a lot worse here. The ship was more recent. If it was damaged here,” he admitted, shooting a wry glance at the little bot.

Buttons depressed easily enough, but nothing responded. “Whatever powered this place gave up the ghost a long time ago, Aru.”

Untitled Captain Koell Adventure - Day 9

They started out towards the colony entrance. Corwin found himself casting glances at the other ship as they passed. It was smaller than his freighter, which he’d renamed the Wallowing Wail after wallowing in self pity for a few weeks after he started realizing what his life had turned into. It was his reminder to himself that it’d been his choice, even if it’d been forced on him.

The smaller craft wasn’t any fighter design he’d ever seen, and wasn’t any sort of freighter either. “What do you make of it, Aru? A shuttle or small transit ship?”

He slowed to check Aru’s display. “It appears to be a customized shuttle craft of a type not in my database.”

The Wail wasn’t quite big enough to take the whole shuttle into its cargo bay, but it was close. He estimated it would probably serve four people comfortably, or six uncomfortably. If they’re unfriendly, I hope they like traveling comfortably, he thought. He found himself adjusting the weight of the guns at his hips and tried not to think about facing six unfriendlies.

They passed the shuttle without incident; either nobody was home, or they weren’t concerned by the new arrivals. It was difficult to tell how long ago the shuttle’s owners had passed this way. Without an atmosphere to speak of, there was no dust to speak of to mark a trail, and no other sign Aru’s sensors could detect. It did indicate they’d passed long enough ago to have allowed the conducted heat of their boots to have dissipated, but Aru assured him that only meant they had been gone more than roughly fifteen minutes.

Untitled Captain Koell Adventure - Day 8

Corwin handled most of the landing, only calling upon Aru’s automation to ensure he didn’t wreck the ship. He had little experience landing it on planets compared to docking with other vessels, so even though docking was by far the more delicate task, he was better at it than he was at landings.

He’d set them down a few hundred meters from the other craft, behind a line of small heaps of broken rock that passed for hills. The plan was to get to the other ship undetected. Even though they were close to it, the lack of atmosphere meant their approach and landing should have been silent.

Right after setting down, Corwin pulled on a lightweight but strong EV suit and did a quick check of the seals and breather mask. A small treaded robot joined him; Aru had disengaged from the ship. “You coming along with me? You’d better maintain connection with the ship remotely, just in case.”

Aru tootled an affirmative; Corwin checked the two weapons at his belt with a bit of trepidation, then depressurized the embarkation passage so he could lower the ramp to the outside. When the hissing and whooshing and movement of air ceased, the indicator changed and he slapped the ramp control. Within moments they were outside. He toggled on his suit comm.

“Gravity’s a good match for the ship. You reading me, Aru?”

He glanced down at the little robot; a display on its upper surface showed the text of his reply, “Yes, I read you.”

“Now I really wish I could afford to get you a new vocalization module. Or that the agency would spring for it.” On the airless world, he’d be totally dependent on reading Aru’s responses. The beeps and tones Aru produced were no substitute for language capability, but he’d become adept at understanding some of the bot’s more basic meanings. “Come on, Aru. Let’s move out.”

Their travel was slow, owing to the ground being rougher and more dangerous than it had appeared at first. Some of the jagged rock edges looked glassy and sharp as a knife, but Corwin didn’t feel like testing that observation. His suit was great against vacuum, not blades.

Before too long the other ship came into view around the rock heaps. The wall of the colony ring was visible beyond the craft, and showed what promised to be an entrance.

Corwin kept his distance from the other ship so as not to trigger any alarms. It was a tiny craft, dwarfed by his own freighter. “You know anything about what kind of ship this is, Aru?”

The display updated; “No. Make, model and class unknown. It’s a small craft, likely a one- or two-man vessel, possibly a strike ship or fighter.”

Corwin chewed his lip in thought behind the mask. “I don’t see anything that looks like armament, and whoever flew it here probably didn’t stick around to admire the sights. I’m betting we’ll find the pilot out there,” he said, indicating the colony ruins.

Untitled Captain Koell Adventure - Day 7

When the response came, it was negative, as he’d expected. He was just about to start digging into the files again when a section of one of the scanner’s displays caught his eye. “Aru, what’s this?” After a mere 2 years, he still had plenty left to learn about the subtleties of shipboard operations.

“Scanners have picked up an object anomalous to the surrounding terrain. Current scanning resolution is insufficient for a more detailed analysis.”

That he could fix. He adjusted the scan parameters and the image on the display resolved into more detail; Corwin sucked in a surprised gasp. “A ship! And it doesn’t look like an old wreck, either.” There’d been traces of other ships; the place had seen enough battle after all. This one looked small but intact.

“It’s warm, too. Definitely not old then.” He stopped poking around at the controls. “Well Aru, so much for hanging around up here for another day. I’ve gotta get down there right now.”

In response, Aru sent several small portage chassis bearing cases to him. Opening the first, he found a military grade pistol with several reloadable capacitance charges on a belt clip.

Corwin frowned. “Thanks Aru. I’ve never actually trained with anything like this though, you know. I’d better not shoot my foot off.”

“There’s no time to learn like the present.”

“Thanks,” he groused. He was tempted to ask where the weapons—and it was weapons, the other cases revealed other small arms, including several slug-throwers—had come from, but he didn’t have to. “You expected something like this, didn’t you, Sobol …” There was no other reason for her to have sent weapons along.

Checking the last case revealed something other than weaponry. Instead, he found several data chips. “Any idea what these are?”

Aru was non-responsive for several moments. Corwin assumed he was assessing the chips in some way.

“They are adjustment programs for each of the weapons.”

Corwin whistled. Those were rare indeed. Madeline had been concerned. “We’ve had these on board all this time and you don’t give them to me until now?” he exclaimed, aggrieved. They would have been incredibly helpful in learning to use the weapons. They adjusted the mind, not the weapons themselves; it was a form of rapid learning technology. “We’ll have landed within an hour. There’s no time to use these now, I’ll have to do my best with them untrained. Remind me to slot these into my bed for the trip back.”

Adjustment programs only aided the acquisition of skills, they didn’t impart skill outright. They were used in conjunction with practice, reinforcing and helping to correct learned patterns while the subject slept.

He selected the first pistol he’d found, and one of the slug throwers, on the theory that if he ran into something one of them couldn’t handle, the other might do the trick.

He strapped the weapons to his waist, wishing he felt as natural wearing them as his childhood heroes had always looked. Instead, they felt heavy, awkward and cumbersome.

The ship was descending rapidly. He eased off on the descent a bit, fine-tuning their course to arrive some small distance from the other craft, leaving it between them and the ruins of the old colony dome. “Ready or not, here we come,” he said. He wasn’t sure if the warning was for the owners of the other ship, or for himself.

Untitled Captain Koell Adventure - Day 6

They exited transit and within a few hours had burned across the system to settle into orbit around the planet.

It was a small world, but with a large, dense core that provided gravity that was just about standard for humans. That was about the best you could say about it though. It was far from the system’s star, and featured a broken, jagged, rocky surface with no atmosphere to speak of. Worst of all, it was dry, though the system contained plenty of ice asteroids. Several of them had been brought to the surface by various of the world’s inhabitants over the millennia.

A small, perfect ring shape stood out against the craggy terrain. “That must be the site of the original colony.” He hunted and pecked among the controls for a moment before a screen leaped in, focusing on the ring, showing a bulky foundation that still bore shattered traces of the dome that had once kept the inhabitants breathing.

“So now we know it wasn’t popular for the scenery and ease of life,” he remarked as he adjusted the final orbit. The files had already said as much, but the reality was far more eloquent.

He sat in the cockpit, a cramped space that surrounded him with instrumentation and controls that all vied for his attention. He ignored all of them, staring at the stark, almost majestically hostile environment below.

“Who’d have thought it’d be such a mystery that people would stop trying to live HERE of all places,” he finally commented again. He paused and sat up straighter a moment. “Aru, maybe that’s it. Why is this place so popular? Is there anything in the records about why it was settled?”