Sleeper Ship

By Robert Lynch

The ship coaxed through interstellar space for who knows how many years before it was caught in Sol’s gravity. It was headed for Jupiter when Space Comm found it, as you’d expect, the gas giant about to eat it for dinner.

After upsetting a lot of scheduled flights, the Moonraker was acquired for the mission, and the astronauts were chosen from Mars operations to travel beyond the asteroid belt for the first time. Most of the mission would be the same as the Mars flight we had been training for, except for the lower power operations past Mars. At Jupiter the solar panels only absorbed 6.25% of the energy they did at Earth, so creature comforts had to be turned off.

If we could, we were to try and capture the ship, or at least put it in an orbit of Jupiter so someone else could get it later; if not we were to salvage anything we could get our hands on. An alien ship that had crossed interstellar distances had to have some awesome technologies on it. Hell, a torch that still worked after that kind of time would probably lead to massive increases in productivity on power systems; even the smallest thing should be studied.

Seven of us were chosen for the mission. As Mission Commander, the others were subordinate to me, not that it means much on a seven-month journey in space with nothing to do. Time went by, and we looked out the window as Jupiter became the brightest object in the sky.

We got to Jupiter four months before the alien ship. This was by design. We positioned the Moonraker in an eccentric orbit that dipped the top of Jupiter’s clouds and sucked in as much atmosphere as we could, then separated the gas into constituent parts, keeping only the methane and oxygen we needed to refuel. The excess gasses, mostly hydrogen and helium, were used as cold gas thrusters to keep our orbit from degrading. With Jupiter’s clouds only 0.01% methane and 0.0004% water, which could then be separated into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis, it would take a long time to refuel.

The alien ship was moving fast and straight for Jupiter. When the time came we set a highly eccentric orbit that would cross the ship’s path. When the ship got close we accelerated to match and docked with the ship. Our docking system wasn’t compatible, as we’d expected, so we used an inflatable net custom-made for the capture.

Now that we had the ship in our control we knew the exact mass. Calculations said we couldn’t get the ship into a Jovian orbit. If we burnt perpendicular we had an 80% chance of skimming the atmosphere and breezing past Jupiter. It could put the ship into a solar orbit that wouldn’t encounter Jupiter again for 200 years, but it could also burn up the ship; we might then not have enough fuel ourselves to get back to Earth or more fuel.

Four of us EVA’d over to the craft and jury-rigged a hatch to open. We knew the ship was alien, but the architecture of the ship was so different it was confusing. We had only hours before we would have to leave the ship to its fate, but we also didn’t want to make any hasty mistakes. It took longer than I would have liked to find the bridge. It wasn’t at the top or the bottom of the ship; it was near a large storage cabin near the centre of the ship.

McClusky was able to access the terminals and began to document everything he could.

Sarin was obsessed with the storage cabin. “It must be important if it’s this close to the command centre.” She argued.

“Maybe,” I replied, “But we have plenty of things to catalogue that we have access to, we should focus on them.”

“I know,” she said, “But it would be a shame to miss out on what they thought was the most important thing.”

“Fine, fine” I said, “Take a half-hour on the door, if you can’t get it by then you have to move on.”

At minute 28 she opened the door and walked into the large room. “Boss,” She called on the radio, “You need to see this.”

It was cryogenic pods. More than 200 of them, packed in close.

“McClusky,” I said into the radio, “Any chance you might be able to access their engines yet?”

“Nah Boss,” he replied, “Not if I had 200 years.”

“There’s aliens in pods down here,” I told him. “I need you to find a way to make enough delta V to get this ship into orbit. I’m not having them come all this way just to burn up in Jupiter’s atmosphere.”

“I’ll try, but I don’t see any way I’m going to access those systems in time. Can we maybe transfer them to the Moonraker?” he said.

“There’s 200 of them,” I said, “And I think disconnecting them could be an even greater risk than the engines. I’m not entertaining the idea we take some and leave the rest either; it’s all or nothing. No way are we waking up someone and telling them that everyone they know is dead.”

END

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