What is it?
“Initiating high gravity approach sequence.” Alerts the friendly sounding female voice that Greg had heard so many times over the last few years. “Yeah, I know you annoying machine.” mutters Gregg as he is snapped out of his day dream so as to prepare for the landing recently announced by the computer. Same stuff day in and day out, when would there be something different, Gregg ponders as he starts to look over the work list he had been assigned on this desolate world in a remote system lightyears from nowhere.
How many jumps had this been now, 50, 100…. You tend to loose count after the first few dozen. After a while they all look the same. When you first start out on a long haul mission after being in dock for a while the feeling is exhilarating. Hitting the go button and waiting for your ship to punch a hole in space time and deliver you ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred light years or more into space while at the same time altering time so you are never more than a few minutes before or behind when you originally left. But after a few dozen jumps all seems the same. No matter the dozens of different star types, planet types, moon types, they all start to bleed together after a while and you start to treat it as a job.
Oh the times were so much more fun when the technology was young and we could frolic about the system in a partial warp bubble. From the Earth to Jupiter and back in less than half an hour. Oh the awesome times before the rediscovery of hyper space travel. After the discovery space travel just became another job and the fun was lost. “Prepare for impact with atmosphere in 10 seconds.” comes the next, almost too nice, update from the computer.
In most cases this warning means nothing, it is nice to know when you are getting close to the atmosphere but all ships now have cooling systems that can withstand being inside the corona of a star, so a planet atmosphere is a walk in the park; in most cases. So far, this seems it will be one of those cases.
Gregg looks up from his computer display and gazes out the canopy as the black sky of deep space starts to turn a deep ugly dirty red color as the ship penetrates the thick, nasty, ammonia atmosphere. “Well, I will need a suit here.” thinks Gregg as he feels the heart stopping thump of the underbelly of the ship hitting the thick atmosphere at more than 25 times the speed of sound.
The ship starts to stutter and shake as it plows through a dozen miles of atmosphere. The familiar female voice of the ship computer reminds Greg that he will have to take manual control of the ship for the landing process. “Commander, the automatic landing system is offline.”
As Gregg takes control of the ship to perform a manual landing, which he has done hundreds of times, his mind again ponders what could be so important way out here.
Gregg looks out onto the surface of the planet t get a visual bearing of where everything is. Yep, standard small size planet. Similar in size to what those from the Sol system call Mars. But unlike Mars which is now a very active settlement and has a very light oxygen atmosphere, this planet is barren and has an amonia atmosphere, no fun.
After getting his visual bearings, Gregg selects the navigational display so he can plot a route to the mining station. “What’s This” Gregg says with surprise as he sees that the nav computer is showing him more than 20 settlements all showing the same distance away but all in different directions. Gregg summons the computer “Computer, explain this navigational map.”, the computer brightly replies “Commander, this is the navigation map for S-D-F-R-14 A”, “I know that. But why do I see 25 settlements.” asks Greg. The computer is silent for what seems like hours, but it is only seconds and replies with “Unable to calculate.”
Gregg tells the computer reboot the navigation system. “Operation Complete” replies the computer a few seconds later. Gregg checks the navigation display and finds only one settlement listed. But, the point on the navigation computer does not match what is on the work order. Once again Gregg reboots the nav computer but the result is the same. “Well, I guess that’s where we are going.” says Gregg out loud as he locks the destination into the computer.
Greg orients the ship with the destination and turns enables surface cruise mode which will take the ship within two kilometers of the settlement. No automatic systems are allowed to approach any settlement closer than 2 kilometers. If an AI controlled ship comes closer than this, they will be destroyed with no warning, its the law. Once again Gregg’s mind wanders to this odd mission.
Routine system maintenance at a mining research facility is pretty much what the paperwork says. The problem is, that there is nothing to mine out here that would see any profit after being hauled hundreds of light years to the nearest processing facility. Then another 50 light years to the nearest outpost to sell the processed ore. This makes no sense, but…. when do any of these galaxy wide corporations make any sense. “Two kilometers from surface, disabling automatic cruise.” comes the warning from the computer.
“Why do we listen to the computers but not let them control the systems?”, thinks Gregg as he hits the button to extend the four landing gears of his ship. Looking over the display that details the current power distribution of the ship Gregg decides to disable all weapon systems and divert all power to engines and shields. He knows the answer to the question but the law is the law.
Gregg hears and feels the loud THUNK of the landing gears extending out of their holding bays and locking into place. But, the computer reminds him “Landing gear lowered. The ship can now be safely landed.” While sitting there in a landing holding pattern Gregg sees the settlement, but it looks like no research facility that he has evern seen.
“What is going on here?” things Gregg as he surveys the scene for a a place to land.