“Anything exciting?” the Officer of the Deck asked, handing a cup of coffee to the duty sensor operator.
Kelly Andersson smiled and took a sip. Yum, he always brought her coffee from the Chief Warrant Officer’s Mess and they had the best on the station.
“Is there ever anything exciting?” she asked. “Thanks, Chief Moore. I was getting sleepy.”
“Sure,” he said, leaning on the edge of the hatch. He had a ton of other things to check but he thought Kelly was adorable. He was just trying to figure out the best way to ask her out. “Got any plans when we rotate ground-side?”
Kelly smiled at him again. She’d been wondering when this cutie was going to make his move but had just heard how shy he was from her bunkie. She’d just have to make the first move.
“I was going to head to the nude beaches at Equatorial. Want to come along? I was thinking…” There was a chime and she glanced at the screen. “Chief, what the hell is that?”
He leaned over to look and the hair on his arms stood up. “That’s what we call a bogey. Strap in.”
She pulled the belts over her head and buckled in and he keyed his headset. “General Quarters, General Quarters, General Quarters. Unknown ship inbound from Slingshot Gate Whiskey Three. All hands, action stations, General Quarters.”
The AI running the station dimmed the regular lights and red lights throughout the station pulsed three times and then stayed on. A siren whooped three times as well and then it stopped, they could hear the pounding of feet as the off-duty crew on the compartment inward jumped out of their bunks and ran for their battle stations.
A weapons technician, Scott May, swung through the hatch and dropped into the vacant seat beside Kelly. Chief Moore grabbed a belt from the bulkhead and strapped in.
“Point defense turrets spinning up, green lights across the board,” Scott reported after a check of his console.
“Railgun Four is offline,” the AI announced. “Gunner’s Mate reports they will be in action in one-five minutes.”
“Probably ten minutes too late,” Moore said. It was impressive though, they’d had it torn down to the frame last watch.
“I recommend rotating the station on two axes to unmask battery Three and Four,” the AI said. “Captain?”
“Do it,” the captain’s voice said from the speaker. “I’ll be in CIC in two minutes.”
“Mayday beacon armed,” another voice said. “Ready to fire on short count.”
“The intrusion alert has been relayed around the orbital array,” the AI said. “All stations are coming online now.”
All three of them felt the deck underneath them slide and twist as the AI turned the orbital platform.
“Senors, anything on the contact?”
“Radar says it’s big, looks to be at least cruiser sized. Contact is slowing, I’ve got a vector change. Contact entering…they’re entering LaGrange Five, Chief,” she said, surprised.
“Transmission received, decoding,” the AI said.
“Is that one of ours?” Scott asked.
“Doesn’t match any known configuration,” Kelly said. “Contact is continuing to decelerate, it looks like they’re entering orbit. They’ll be in lidar range in forty-five seconds, I’ll know more then.”
“They could be dropping ground forces,” Scott said. “Both railguns have firing solutions on the target.”
“The Captain has entered the Combat Information Center,” the AI said.
“Chief Moore has tactical command,” the Captain said from inside his armored command post. “Run it, Johnny.”
“Aye aye, sir,” the Chief said.
“Recommend stand down, this is a Terran registered vessel,” the AI said.
“Recheck,” Chief Moore and Captain Haskins said in unison. AI’s thought much faster than a human but were nowhere near as good at flexible thinking. They also weren’t infallible.
“Transmission decoded, code is not secure. Code is out of date,” AI said.
“Send a recognition challenge,” the Captain said and there was a pause.
“Improper response received. Captain, I do not believe this ship is hostile. The recognition and transmission codes are one hundred and forty-seven years out of date. The time stamp sent by the ship’s AI is incorrect by one hundred and fifty-three years. Be advised, the AI identity stamp is for a Polaris class exploration ship. Be advised, ship registry matches the Aurora, hull number 8086.”
“The Aurora is one of the Lost,” Kelly said, as she adjusted her resolution. “Chief, I concur with AI, that’s one of ours. Detailed lidar scan is coming in. Look at the size of that comms dish, definitely an old Pathfinder class.”
“Hull number 8086 was declared overdue, presumed lost one hundred and thirty-seven years ago,” the AI added.
“Captain, I’d like to put weapons in standby,” Chief Moore said. “I think we’ve got a Methuselah on our hands.”
“Do it, Chief.”
Chief Moore looked at the weapons console, the Gunner’s Mate had already disarmed the dead-man’s switch.
“Distance to contact?”
“Just under fifty thousand kilometers, Chief,” Kelly said. “Contact is continuing to decelerate.”
“AI, give me voice transmission,” the Captain said.
“Where the hell are we?” Eli Harris said. “Rory, check your star charts.”
“I am receiving coded transmissions from the objects in orbit,” the Aurora’s AI said. “Star charts…pilot, I have a matching error for observed pulsar beacons. Attention, we are receiving radar and laser based scans.”
“Good morning,” Zeph Mamadou said as she dropped through the hatch onto the bridge. “Did we make a wrong turn, Rory?”
“No ma’am. The Slingshot gate arrival code is correct. I am recalculating my star charts now. Attention. Voice transmission is being transmitted by the closest orbital object.”
“Speakers,” the captain said. She got into the chair beside the pilot. “Eli, get us ready to emergency jump.”
There was a click and a voice said something they didn’t understand.
“Human at least,” Zeph said. “It sounds a lot like GalCom.”
The voice on the radio repeated whatever it was saying.
“Shit, that is GalCom,” Eli said. “Way too fast, and with a weird accent. Maybe an Other talking?”
“Captain, I have plotted our present location.”
“Just a second Rory. Open voice frequency.”
“Transmitting station, please speak slower, we’re having difficulty making out what you’re saying,” Zeph said, slowly and deliberately.
There was a long pause. “What…ship…are…you?” the voice finally said.
“This is the Aurora. Terran survey ship eight-zero-eight-six. What ship are you?”
“Aurora, this is the Control Intelligence aboard orbital defense platform Juliet-Six. I will serve as translator.”
“Hello Juliet Six. We’re inbound from Slingshot Two and seem to have some navigational problems. We were bound for Hub.”
“Aurora, you’ve arrived at Hub. Please continue to decelerate and maintain current vector. A patrol has been summoned and will guide you to berthing.”
“Will comply, Juliet. Aurora standing by,” Zeph said and nodded at Eli.
“Captain, this is an urgent report,” Rory said.
“Go ahead, Rory.”
“Ma’am, we’ve arrived at Hub, pulsar beacons match the location but are skewed temporally.”
“Just put the data on my screen,” Zeph said. She’d never gotten used to the AI voice commands. Her display filled with data and she put on an old pair of glasses and began to read. “Oh shit. Rory, are you sure about this?”
“Yes, Captain. We are one hundred and fifty-three years overdue.”