Salvage by T. D. Fuhringer The starship Alexandra stopped dead in the middle of nowhere. “What happened?” asked Anderson. “Not sure, Cap,” said Rawls. “Computer dropped us out of hyperspace.” Anderson frowned and sat down at the navigation console. He brushed aside empty food packets, looked at the screen and checked the co-ordinates. “This doesn’t make any sense. There shouldn’t be anything out here, so why’d we stop?” Rawls shrugged. “I think the computer’s bugging out again.” Kepler entered and pointed out a blinking red light on the overhead panel. “You know we have a collision alarm, right?” Anderson glared at her. “You know the collision detection system isn’t working properly, right?” Kepler sighed. “Is anything working properly?” Rawls laughed and opened another energy drink. “Call the Union. I feel unsafe.” “Screw the Union,” said Anderson quietly. He looked out the viewport. “Computer says there’s a metallic mass directly in our path but I can’t see anything.” Anderson hated this. The Alexandra made him crazy, all her systems breaking down with age but he knew he couldn’t afford to fix her. It was just a matter of time before she became completely useless. “Should we move in closer?” asked Rawls. “Maybe we could go around it,” said Kepler. Anderson said. “What we need is light.” He turned to Rawls. “If we fired a torpedo near the... whatever, can you guarantee a miss?” Rawls shrugged. “I can try disabling the torpedo’s A.I. Turn it into a dumb fire missile.” Anderson nodded. “Have the torpedo detonate above it.” “We’re wasting a torpedo on this?” asked Kepler. “Why don’t we just go around?” “I have a hunch this might be worth it.” Rawls clapped his hands together. “Torpedo ready!” Anderson chewed his lip. He sat up straighter. “Do it.” The ship rocked as the torpedo blasted away and ignited into a massive ball of yellow light. It streaked towards the target. An older man burst onto the bridge. “We’re firing torpedoes now?” he asked. Anderson reassured him. “Relax Doc, we’re just trying to shed some light.” Doc squinted. “Something out there?” “Yes. There,” he said, pointing. “See it?” They watched as the torpedo slowly revealed the object, edges and surfaces glowing faintly. “It’s a ship!” said Kepler. Anderson’s breathing got shallower. “We don’t know that.” “Look at it! That’s a comm relay.” Doc stood up straighter. “That’s a military comm relay.” They fell silent. The torpedo passed over the object and for an instant, its outline was unmistakable. “Oh.” said Kepler. “Oh yes.” Rawls whooped, “It’s a ship alright, and it’s huge!” They laughed and pressed together against the viewport. Finally, the torpedo burned out. Anderson breathed deeply. Shaking, he sat down. “Rawls,” he said quietly. “Prepare a salvage beacon.” The crew cheered. Rawls pumped a fist in the air. Doc smiled like a little kid on his birthday. Even Kepler looked pleased. Anderson relaxed. Finally, he thought. I might actually be able get my ship fixed. Install some upgrades. Maybe even pay off my debts. “What about our mission?” asked Kepler. “Our cargo?” Anderson raised an eyebrow at her. “Seriously?” He leaned forward. “Rawls, take us in closer.” “Wait,” said Kepler. “Whats the plan?” “Well, it looks like the ship is badly damaged so we’ll need to find a safe entry point. And since we’re going to need suits, you should go get us set up.” “We can’t go in there,” said Kepler firmly. “Why not?” asked Rawls. “We aren’t outfitted for salvage. We have no scanning equipment, no lights... We don’t even have tow cables.” Anderson felt his smile fade. “We have to at least investigate.” “Sure,” said Kepler. “We tag it with the salvage beacon then we finish our run. Drop off our cargo and use the credits to buy as much salvage equipment as we can.” “Don’t you think we should at least I.D. the ship first?” Kepler frowned. “Well ok. But it’s going to be hard without searchlights.” Anderson took that as a yes. “Rawls, take us in.” Rawls smiled. “No mistakes. nice and slow.” “Got it.” The massive derelict dwarfed the tiny scout ship Alexandra. They were barely able to make out details with the weak lights. What they could see was badly scorched and in some places the hull was open to space. Rawls circled the ship slowly but they didn’t find any visible markings. “Hey Cap,” he said. “Over there. “Emergency airlock right above the engines.” “I see it.” Kepler glared at Anderson. “We are not going in there.” Anderson held back his temper. He knew if they left to get supplies, there was a chance they might not make it back. The people he owed money to might even be waiting for him. If they took his payment for the mission, or worse simply stole his cargo, he’d lose the Alexandra and never be able to return for the salvage. He spoke calmly, “We need to I.D. that ship. Without a positive I.D. our salvage registration could be questioned.” This was a lie, but he was sure Kepler didn’t know the law as well as he did. “We have to go in. It’s the only way to be sure.” Doc looked at him skeptically, but remained silent. He turned from her and pretended to study the entry site. “Looks good. No debris.” Rawls parked the Alexandra as close to the the derelict as he could, positioning their airlock mere meters away from its airlock. “Nice job,” said Anderson. Rawls activated hover mode then turned the controls over to the computer. Kepler didn’t say a word as they suited up. Doc used a scanner to collect DNA samples from each of them and gave it to Rawls, who loaded their signatures into the beacon. It recorded their identities and registered their lawful right to salvage the derelict. He switched it on and it began transmitting. They were ready. The group passed through the airlock into open space. As they passed outside the Alexandra’s artificial gravity field, they became weightless. They used their suit thrusters to position themselves above the giant ship’s airlock. Rawls attached the beacon firmly to a clear spot on the derelict’s hull. “All set,” he said. Anderson smiled, unable to hide his excitement. “Talk to me Doc,” he said. “What are we looking at?” Doc examined the airlock controls. “It’s old. Definitely pre-war.” He pointed out the markings surrounding the panel. “No words, just symbols. The kind used by the military.” “Which side?” asked Rawls. “No clue,” he replied, opening the manual release. “Both sides used identical technology at first.” He began pumping the handle. “Keep your eyes open for a registration number.” The seal on the door broke but no gas escaped. Anderson sighed. “No atmosphere.” Doc snorted. “With this much damage? After a century and a half?” The door slowly opened. It was pitch black inside. Kepler turned on her suit lights. “Inner door is wide open,” she said. “Corridor looks badly burned.” “Let’s get in there,” said Anderson. They moved inside. The hallway was wide, but debris floated everywhere. “Kepler, Doc, head forward. Rawls and I will head aft. Focus on anything that will help I.D. the ship.” “On it,” said Kepler as she and Doc went down the hallway. Working their way through the debris, Anderson and Rawls found a stairwell and moved down a level. “There,” said Rawls. “Engineering section.” Anderson moved faster. He laid a gloved hand against the giant door. “Must have been bad if they sealed this bulkhead.” “Yep,” said Rawls, reaching deep inside the smashed control panel. “Lucky for us, they didn’t have time to weld it.” He found the manual release and pulled it. They slowly forced the giant door to one side, leaving just enough space for them to squeeze through. The engineering compartment was in better shape than anything they’d seen so far. Many of the control consoles looked intact. Anderson moved faster. This was a huge break. He and Rawls began exploring the compartment with determination. Kepler and Doc made it all the way to the officer’s quarters before they saw the first body. The corpse was dessicated and frozen, still wearing an intact uniform. The body looked like any corpse you’d find in a space wreck except for one odd detail. Only the top half of the body was visible. The bottom half was embedded in the wall. Kepler’s guts churned. She stared at the body, afraid to move. “What the hell is this, Doc?” she asked. Doc examined the body closely. “I have no idea.” Kepler turned away from the ghastly corpse. She looked inside the next room. “I’ve got another two bodies in here,” she said, trembling. “Different uniforms though. Wait. This can’t be right.” “What?” asked Doc. Kepler backed away from the bodies. She pointed at the corpse in the wall. “That’s a Colonial uniform. But these guys in here? Doc, they’re Empire.” “That’s impossible,” said Doc, racing over to see for himself. Kepler wrung her hands to keep them from shaking. “No no no. This is very bad.” Anderson had been listening. “Are you absolutely certain?” he asked. “I’m looking right at them,” said Doc. “She’s absolutely right.” “Whoa,” said Rawls. “Why would Colonials and Empire be together on the same...” His voice trailed off. Anderson’s heart was pounding. Was it possible? It couldn’t be. He tried to calm himself. “Do any of the bodies have name tags?” he asked. “This one says Lieutenant Friis,” replied Kepler, spelling it out. Anderson activated the comm pad on the left arm of his suit and frantically started typing. “The Alexandra’s database might have something on him in the historical record.” “Ho,” cried Rawls.. He had forced open one of the consoles. “I’ve got serial numbers here.” Anderson’s comm pad displayed the search results. “Aravind Friis,” he said, his voice sounding very small, “ served aboard the Concordia.” It was a minuted before anyone spoke. “The Concordia was vaporised,” said Doc. “I saw the vids myself.” “We’ve all seen the vids,” said Kepler. Doc continued, “The explosion was so big it was visible from the ground. No one could have survived.” Rawls interrupted, “I’ve got something here. These are Empire codes!” “Then this is definitely not the Concordia,” said Kepler. Anderson swallowed. “Where the hell are we?” “It’s impossible, but I think I know,” said Doc. “Tremaine was onboard the Empire Flagship, that’s why Captain Stewart of the Concordia sacrificed his ship to ram her. He knew without Tremaine the Empire would collapse.” “The Empire Flagship,” said Rawls quietly. “He was right. The two ships collided just as they were entering hyperspace. Tremaine died, the war ended. But everyone assume the flagship was destroyed.” Anderson looked around with awe. He was too stunned to speak. He spotted a data pad floating in the debris. He grabbed it, turned it over and wiped it clean. On the back of the pad was an emblem of a golden bird. Under the bird was a single word. Anderson screamed. His scream turned into a laugh. “What is it?” asked Rawls. Anderson thrust the pad at him. Rawls read it. “Oh my God.” Anderson shouted, “It’s the Goddamn Prometheus!” He closed his eyes and smiled while the others cheered. He reached out and laid a gloved hand on the control panel. I’m touching the most notorious vessel in all of human history, he thought. It was a find beyond his wildest dreams. The ship that started the war, he thought, and ended it. Kepler asked, “I wonder if Tremaine’s body is still on board somewhere?” “Who cares?” yelled Rawls. “Either way, we’re all rich!” Doc and Kepler hugged awkwardly and laughed. Doc shone his suit light down the corridor. “So do we keep exploring?” he asked. Kepler said, “We’re going to need serious equipment to tow a ship this size, and better suits if we’re going to explore every inch of it.” Rawls chimed in, “Cap. The mains are still intact.” “What are you thinking?” asked Doc. Anderson couldn’t concentrate. “Wait. Everybody slow down.” Rawls opened the bank of manual priming switches. “Seriously, I bet I could get us some power in here.” “Wait a minute,” said Doc. “This ship is badly damaged with several compartments open to space. There’s no way she’s structurally sound.” Rawls closed the first primer. “I’m not starting the engines, Doc. I’m just going to try to get some lights on.” “Lights would make things easier,” admitted Kepler. Rawls closed the second primer. “Everybody stop,” ordered Anderson. “Right now. Nobody moves. Nobody touches anything.” He thought for a minute. “Is it safe to restart the power systems of a ship that’s been dead for centuries?” “Well,” said Doc. “It’s space. There’s no decay, just cold and vacuum. The systems are probably well preserved.” Rawls said, “Besides, with all the damage, the best we could hope for is to get limited power in this compartment only. The conduits to other parts of the ship will be severed.” “Then why turn on the power at all?” asked Kepler. “It would help to know what’s working and what isn’t. Look Cap, let me finish priming the system and see if there’s even any juice at all in the cells. If not, then there’s no point discussing it.” Anderson was torn. If the power systems worked, it would make salvaging the ship much easier and less expensive. On the other hand, turning on the power was risky. Predicting which ship systems would come up safely was impossible. He sighed. “Go ahead.” Rawls closed the third primer. Nothing happened at first. He touched the panel. It was vibrating. He backed away. “Come on baby,” said Rawls, grinning. A single red light came on. Then several at once. Suddenly the entire wall lit up like a Christmas tree. “Hell yeah!” Anderson swallowed. “Everything is coming up red.” “Not everything,” said Rawls. “Look, power generation is yellow and the hyperdrive is..” He frowned. “Must be a glitch. The board is showing the hyperdrive green and charged.” “That’s not possible,” said Anderson. “Not after all this time.” “Actually it is,” interjected Doc. “The hyperdrive acts like a giant capacitor. If it was running when the power systems went down, it would still be charged.” “It’s showing an overcharge though,” said Rawls. Anderson kicked off and floated over to the hyperdrive control panel. “Give me a second.” He turned the console on. Incredibly it started up. “Damn. It’s showing a critical overcharge here too.” “That’s not good,” said Doc. “An overcharged hyperdrive can go off by itself.” “Go off?” asked Kepler. “You mean engage?” “I know that Doc,” said Anderson. “But there’s no way. It’s got to be a mistake,” Rawls was already on his way over to the hyperdrive access doors. “There’s one way to find out for sure.” He palmed the switch and the safety doors opened. “Oh shit,” said Anderson. “What’s going on down there?” asked Kepler. “Get away from there!” he shouted. The hyperdrive chamber was filled with static electricity. Bolts of white lightning exploded from the core like fireworks. The core shook so violently its mounts looked like they were about to shear off. Rawls, unheeding, launched himself towards the blazing core. “What are you doing?” screamed Anderson. Then he realized. “Rawls stop!” “It’s ok,” said Rawls breathlessly. “I’m just going to discharge it.” “NO!” He punched his suit thruster and sailed into the chamber at full speed. He aimed for Rawls but he was too slow. Rawls reached the discharge ring first. “Stop!” he cried and smashed into Rawls just as he pulled the ring. The static stopped instantly. The core went still. Anderson grabbed him by the shoulders. “You idiot! Do you realize what you’ve done?” Rawls frowned, “I just saved our lives?” Anderson snarled and released him. He looked at the comm pad on the arm of his suit. “No no no!” He turned away and made a beeline for the airlock. Rawls followed. He looked at his own comm pad. No signal. He felt sick. “Oh God.” Anderson got to the airlock first. He stopped dead. “FUCK!” he screamed. The Alexandra was gone.