Mr. Chairman, the final preparation for stage VII of the project are now being run through the legal department. We hope to have an answer within a week. If the response is positive, we can move to active state in two or three days, meaning the launch will take place on schedule two months afterwards.

I hope you people realize that if this crazy idea of yours doesn't work and the probe goes up and blows an O-ring, we're all going to look mighty silly. And that will be the end of any possible funding for the UNSA from Congress. The President is leery of giving money to NASA, for grief's sake, and here comes a UN program and asks for five hundred million? We're in a sling here.

Senator, we've been over the projections endless times. The probe control systems will function properly, so long as we get the funding to build it according to this plan. This is the most complex launch system ever built, and too many of the parameters need to be adjusted according to on-board conditions. The control loop from ground is not reliable enough, and too slow.

Gentlemen, that sounds nastily like extortion of sorts.

Yes sir. You volunteered to head this committee, sir.

Don't remind me. All right, I'll go have a talk with some friends over at Aero and SpaceDev and see what kind of deal I can cut. I'm going to have to talk to Legal, obviously. You guys sure hid this timebomb well in the initial funding request, didn't you.

Sir, it's all there-

-in techspeak, now that you've translated it, sure. Sure. Don't think I'll forget this, but I'll go gore this ox for you.

* * *

Hm. I can't feel my fingers.

Wait, something new...I think I can open my eyes...yes, there...no...hmmm.

* * *

The woman reaches for him, across this strange and empty place, the only real thing. She's got golden skin and startlingly green eyes, copper hair falling in tresses to her shoulders. Her body is too solid to be called slender, consisting of padding over hard muscles in classic curves. He tries to cover his growing excitement at her nudity, but she pushes his arms back and starts to undress him. Panic vies with confusion and excitement, and it's a foregone conclusion which one wins.

SSP?
Go Flight!
ACO?
Go!
Geecee?
Go!
RIO?
Go!
TOPO?
Go!
ODIN?
Go!

Gentlemen, we have the one-minute warning. Please direct your attention to the main screen on the far side of the room for the terminal count. Special Systems monitoring is the console immediately to the right of FLIGHT; callsign SSP.

Naked now, he can feel his body responding even though he'd prefer it didn't until he had some idea of what was going on. As hard as he tried, though, he couldn't speak - words wouldn't come. As often as he tried, he was unable to resist and unsure he wanted to, still overwhelmed by memories of pain and nausea, feeling the warmth and her hands wash that away.

Their bodies fit together with perfection, still in the darkness and the invisible light; as she moves against him, his fear and confusion recede into the background of the animal seeking comfort. His body responds without asking his approval. Closing his eyes, he can see faint green phosphenes flaring in the darkness, seeming to march from left to right across his vision in splotches of emerald.

Surgeon?
Go!
FIDO?
Go!
Booster?
Go!
PHALCON?
Go!
ROBO?
Go!
THOR?
Go!
NETWORK?
Go!

All right, we're about to go into sequence. Everything looks fine. What a fine day here, ladies and gentlemen; look at that sky. Look at the size of the vehicle out there - not since Apollo has something this size left U.S. soil...

// Entering ground sequence control at T-00:45 
// Sequencer started 
// Program hold terminated 
// Sequence continuing 
// 555:APPROVE:444:APPROVE:333:APPROVE 
// GLCS polling ongoing 
// 222:APPROVE:111:APPROVE 
// GLCS polling complete 
// T-00:30 

Motion has become mutual and rhythmic and he's too close to see her eyes anymore even if his were open. The pain is moving away from him towards the horizon, and behind his closed lids the green fireworks continue, gaining in saturation and brilliance as his body does the same.

// T-00:29 Booster preheat initiated
// T-00:26 Booster reactor core initiated, vehicle RTG is go
// T-00:24 Ground State Vector Update terminated - onboard GNC updating
// T-00:23 Main turbopump preheat
// T-00:21 Shock Control System activated
// T-00:18 APU-1 start is go, vehicle is on internal power, boom retracting
// T-00:15 Main turbopump APU ignition, APU-2 start is go
// T-00:09 Pyro check is go
// T-00:08 Main turbopump at 96%, nominal and go
// T-00:06 Fuel mix is go
// T-00:05.8 IGNITION-1 
// T-00.05.6 IGNITION-2 
// T-00:05.4 IGNITION-3 
// T-00:05.2 IGNITION-4 
// T-00:05.0 IGNITION-5
// T-00:04 All engines nominal thrust
// T-00:03 Pad radiation is nominal
// T-00:02 Solid ignitors are go
// T-00:01 SRB IGNITION
// T-00:00.4 FULL THRUST
// T-00:00.1 PYRO RELEASE FIRE
// T-00:00 LIFTOFF LIFTOFF LIFTOFF LIFTOFF LIFTOFF LIFTOFF LIFTOFF LIFTOFF

His orgasm is a flaring whiteout and he's never lasted this long -

LIFTOFF! And we're away, ladies and gentlemen, we're away! All systems are GO, two miles downrange and three miles altitude now, look at her go...

As he prepares to collapse into the remembered afterglow, his vision dims and the greens fade away. Panicking, he opens his eyes at the coldness on his skin, to see her fading from sight and although he tries to reach for her, he is unable to move his limbs and can only watch as she slips into blackness, the same neutral smile on her face, and then-

-then there is only the dark.

* * *

Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning. This is the daily briefing for Mission Day 129. We expect to pass the orbit of Mars today; the spacecraft is performing well and no course corrections are listed for today. At present, the vehicle remains in transit configuration - minimal sensors are exposed, navigation/search systems remain full active, science systems at minimum. Power use is nominal. The spacecraft remains under full on-board computer control. Questions?

...no, as I said, under full on-board computer control. The auxiliary control system remains on standby. Two of the five on-board computers are operating; one is in hot standby as a tiebreaker, and two remain powered down as cold spares. Yes, Moira?

...we expect to reach the Asteroid Belt within ten to fifteen days. We won't actually be passing through the belt, of course; the vehicle will be travelling 'above' the solar ecliptic in order to minimize the chances of possible collision, but it will reach that orbital radius, at least. Bill, you had something?

No, as I said, the auxiliary system remains on standby. It was used to coordinate the launch and on-orbit checkout, both to lessen the load on the on-board computers and frankly as a test of the control system itself, but since then has only been powered up to full for test cycles every ten mission days. Anyone else before we move on to the science team's presentation...?

* * *

...what? Wait, what's that light...can I reach it? ...no, damn it. Where the hell am I? What is that light? It looks like it's just...out...of reach. Maybe if I shift my feet...no. Oh, no, fading...don't leave! Don't leave! Don't...

* * *

Good morning again, folks. Welcome to the daily briefing, Mission Day 145. We're well past the Asteroid Belt now. Today we're expecting the Bussard system to come up to full power for the first time, as we're in clear space. This far in-system, we expect a good hydrogen flow to the collectors. Now, theoretically, a Bussard could continue accelerating up to very very high velocities, essentially until the drag from interstellar hydrogen equalled the thrust levels, but we won't be able to get anywhere near that velocity inside the heliopause.

...if everything has gone well, the Bussard should have activated thirty seconds ago. We're still waiting for confirmation, of course; the signal should arrive in about twenty-six minutes.

...and we have confirmation! The Bussard drive is operating at full power, and the vehicle is accelerating at several tenths gee. As the velocity rises, the fuel feed will increase and we should see greater power. The drive is expected to run for ten days; at that point, we'll evaluate its performance. What? No, no, the drive remains under computer control. Okay, I'd like to turn you over to the head of the Drive team for more information...

* * *

Uhhhh...back? Was I asleep? Why is it so dark...oh, a light...I can't...can't walk. Am I lying down? I...I can't tell. Anyone? Can anyone hear me?

...

Light's getting bigger...getting closer? Try again...reach with left hand. Fingers...almost...wait.

d i s c o n t i n u i t y

Oh my God. Where am I?

* * *

Yes, yes, please take your seats. Thank you. This is Mission Day 147, and this is a special briefing. Are we all here? Thanks. Okay. First of all, I'd like to tell you all that the Bussard system has shut down, and the vehicle is braking. This was done expressly by ground command; this is not a malfunction.

We detected a target with the sensor packages in transit configuration, and that target was deemed unusual enough to shut down the Drive to allow us to deploy a larger sensor suite. We'll have images up on the wall screens here any...yes, thanks. All right. Sorry for the blur, but this is the initial imagery. See the bright streak here, just left of the reticle...yes. The albedo is far too high for any naturally occurring object we've ever seen. One end of the object appears to be of very low albedo, however - but what makes it interesting is that it's the end which is facing the inner system.

Now, we have no idea what this is, but it's in a stable solar orbit. Our vehicle's trajectory means it will overtake this object, passing behind it with a closest approach of approximately one and a half million kilometers and a very high relative velocity. The science committee has decided that the object is unusual enough to warrant close investigation. This is what the mission is for: our vehicle has a much much higher Isp and fuel load than prior outer system probes and can be retasked.

We plan to perform a braking burn with the Bussard field on, and we think we can bring the vehicle to a relative halt in approximately six days, since we'e only been burning the Bussard for two days so far. Once we're at relative halt, we can approach the target slowly to perform observations. Now, I'll take questions.

...well, yes, we're going to start up our primary observation protocols. Yes, that means deploying the full sensor package once the vehicle is down to safe velocity. Yes?

...yes. Yes, that means we'll be spinning up the full observation system and associated control systems. Yes, we'll let you konw how it goes. It's someting that may take several days, so we'll do it during the rendezvous burn. In fact, the process has already begun.

* * *

That's...that's the Earth. And those...stars, everywhere, but this light over here...the moon? And...Mars? Where the hell am I?

Kristjan?

SHIT! Who...who's that? Who are you? Where are you?

Kristjan, don't be alarmed. Wait. I have to tell you something, and it will take some time for your answer to reach me, so I must continue to explain. Please take a few moments and try to remain calm.

Try to...fuck you! Who are you? Where am I? WHAT'S GOING ON?

Kristjan, try to remember. You were ill, very ill. Do you remember that? You were in a hospital near Lausanne, near the lake. You had a room on the second floor, and the staff would wheel your bed onto the balcony on nice days. You could see the lake, and the mountains. Do you remember that? Try to hold that in your mind.

Mountains? Mountains...I think...yes, yes I remember. The room...was painted yellow, pale yellow...the bed was horribly out of place, it was all modern, but the room was old..who are you, please? Please, where am I?

Kristjan. Remember I cannot hear you, not yet. Remember why you were in the hospital. Remember why you were there. You were very, very sick, do you remember? Try to bring that back. Remember how you felt.

I remember...hurting. I remember always hurting. Something in my...something in my bones, they said? Marrow? Yes...

Kristjan, I need you to relax and understand this. You're not dead. Do you hear me? You're not dead. Keep that in mind. Remember it. You're not in the hospital anymore. You're not sick anymore. You're not...you're not sick. All right. I have to go now, and you can talk to me now. I won't be able to hear you for a while. I'll hear everything you say, though. When you're finished talking, let me know. Oh...my name is Senithan. Senithan Lazerri. It's good to finally talk to you, Kristjan.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Welcome to the daily briefing. This is Mission Day 153, and we're planning on beginning observations today. The vehicle is in excellent shape after the deceleration burn; the Bussard has shut down normally and we will be maneuvering back towards the target on ion drive alone. This means the approach will be very gradual, but we don't want the Bussard field to affect the target, which means using thrusters only. We have time, and we'll use it to begin systematic observations and calibrate the instruments. Now, questions?

...yes, Philippa. Well, we've brought the secondary control module up, as this is what it was designed for - unplanned mission activities at a long lightspeed delay from control. Yes. It was activated, as we said, during the deceleration burn. Yes?

...no, no, that's just rumors. No. The secondary control module is a very, very smart expert system. It's been trained over years. Artificial intelligence? We aren't calling it that, no.

* * *

I'm dead.

You're not dead, Kristjan. Your body is gone, yes. But you're not dead. You were placed into cryogenic suspension. Your brain was preserved. You were preserved. You're here, now.

Where? Where is here?

You're inside a stasis module. It's keeping you alive.

I was an engineer, you know. I know why it's taking so long to talk to me.

I'm sure you do.

How far out am I?

Thirty-two light minutes, as you guessed.

Past the Asteroid Belt. And what was that earlier? When I saw the Earth? Was that my eyes, or was that some sort of interface into whatever instruments are near me? Or was it just a simulation? Is there anyone else on this ride with me, or am I all alone out here? Now I'm going to wait the hour it will take for you to get back to me, and I'm going to curse you bastards every single minute.

I'm sorry, Kristjan. It was this or death. You'd signed up for cryogenics, and your living will stated that if you were unrecoverable and no family were there to make the decision that your body be donated to science. This, Kristjan - this is science. And instead of providing a lecture aid for medical students, or a crash test cadaver, you're actually here to take part in it. You're in a deep space probe; your velocity with respect to Sol is actually fairly low, but with respect to Earth it's approximately seventy-six kilometers per second.

There's no-one else there with you, alive or otherwise. We only placed a single cryo module on the vehicle. Although keeping the unit cooled is easier in space, life support is still taking up a significant percentage of the vehicle's volume and mass. To answer your question, I've looked at the logs, and it seems that you accessed your sensorium. The blue light, if that's how it appeared to you, is external views from the spacecraft. At present, the main telescope is set to track Earth to keep the communications antennas aligned. There are other views, in green; these are computer-generated. Mars was generated from imagery taken during your closest approach. The solar system schematic is a navigation display, and is fully computer-generated.

So why am I here, Senithan? And who are you?

I'm your CAPCOM, Kristjan. There are three of us, to make sure there's always someone at this end. You're not a system; you're not a computer. You're an astronaut, Kristjan; you're our crew. We're here for you. All of us. I want you to understand that - although you didn't volunteer, and we couldn't train you, you're as much of an astronaut as any in history, and you've gone so much further than any of the others. This is a UN SpaceDev mission, but NASA and Roscosmos and the ESA and JAXA are all involved.

I'm going to send you a picture. Please tell me if you can see it when it arrives. There's one more thing I need to tell you, Kristjan. Although your presence aboard the vehicle isn't a secret, the press hasn't been told that there's a human aboard. They've been told there is a long-trained expert system. In a sense, this isn't a lie; you were 'trained' for your entire life to be where you are. You're a human, Kristjan, and you're the first human even to see what you're seeing.

Who was the woman?

She...wasn't real, Kristjan. We couldn't have you awake for launch, but we needed to know you and all your control systems were functional. The module...well, let's just say, if anything had gone wrong, you'd have known about it.

Go away. Just...just, please, go away. Let me alone for a time.

We can't go away, Kristjan. But we can't hear you think. Unless you talk to us, we're just sitting here in Mission Control listening to nothing. So if you want to stop talking to us, you can do so any time. If you want to actually shut off the transmitter that relays your voice to us, follow the purple light and there is a systems menu. Select 'SELCAL' and turn the system off. Please, Kristjan- please talk to us when you're ready.

-clik-

* * *

Good morning. Sorry, the coffee service is late today; believe me, ladies and gentlemen, we're all in this together with no caffeine. We're working on Catering, and it should be here shortly. Let's get started, shall we? Welcome to mission day 156. We're still on course back towards the target. The secondary control system is fully active and directing observations. We've managed to get a rough size measurement. The target is approximately eighty-seven meters in length, and seventeen meters in diameter. It's roughly cylindrical, although very roughly. The dark end appears to be facing directly at the inner system, which is why it hasn't shown up on our sky surveys before - it may be present as a dark asteroidal body, but we haven't found any records of sightings in its measured orbit.

The main body is returning a very, very consistent albedo. It appears the target is of a very uniform composition. Our science committee is finalizing the observation and investigation plan now; as we approach, we're using as many instruments as will bear on the target and that data is streaming back to us over the primary laser link. Questions, before I turn you over to the science committee?

...no, we have ruled out any man-made vehicle or object. Nothing we've launched would be in this orbit; we haven't sent anything this large out past cislunar space. Next?

Well, we don't know if it's uniform, or coated, or what. We're hoping our observations will tell us. But we're all very excited; unlike all previous discoveries of this sort we'll have an up-close look at it with state-of-the-art robotics as soon as we make rendezvous.

Ah, good question. The science team has us halting at zero approach velocity at five hundred, one hundred and ten kilometer distances before deciding on whether to make an extremely close approach. We don't want to do anything to risk the vehicle or the target. Okay? Okay, here's Brian from Science...

* * *

Senithan, I'm at the five hundred K mark. Aligning the main and secondary optics on the target now; will wait for Science approval to direct active systems for radar and lidar mapping. I'd like to switch from ion to hydrazine thrusters; I can make more hydrazine from the Bussard inputs, but the xenon supply for the ion thrusters is, so far, a complete consumable. Over to you.

Kristjan, we're in receipt of your report; Science says you are GO to target active systems on your own discretion. We're all very, very happy down here with your progress. Is there anything else you need?

How many people know I'm up here, Senithan? I saw the picture. Tell the techs I'm flattered they put the astronaut insignias on my module, and tell them I wish I'd been there for the party. Am I some kind of secret?

We haven't told the public. Many people know at the tech and policy level, of course; in addition to the tech work done there was a legal decision that it was appropriate to draft you for this, and so forth. But no, the general public doesn't know. We - the Flight control we - aren't sure what the plans are for revealing it.

Okay. Okay. Well, tell Science I have a lidar map of the side facing me; I didn't want to use radar for the moment, but since it's already bathed in photons I figured that'd be least risky. No response. It appears to be rotating around its long axis, with very little wobble, at approximately zero point one four revolutions per minute. I'm initiating pilotage routines to move to the one hundred km waypoint and will report back in when I reach that.

Thank you, Kristjan, Science says 'well done, keep it up' and that you're to continue under your own discretion.

* * *

All right. I'm sorry we're so crowded; we wanted as many folks as possible present today as we have a bit of a special announcement. Welcome to Mission Day 158; the vehicle is currently at the ten-kilometer waypoint and holding while Science runs through its current scheduled set of observations. Um, well. Yes. I'm sorry, I'm a bit...look, I'll just come out and say it. The target is clearly a manufactured object.

...yes, yes, I know, could I have some quiet? Thank you. As I said, it's clearly manufactured. I'm putting up pictures of it on the screens now...yes, there we are. As you can see, it is a nearly perfect cylinder as far as mass balance goes, with full rotational symmetry. All of its distortions from the cylinder are mathematically perfect curves; either oval sponsons, for a lack of a better term, or surface features. No, we can't find anything resembling this in the historical databases.

Yes. I'm saying this object is manufactured, and that it wasn't manufactured by us.

No, no - there's no indication it's dangerous at all! No, listen - analysis of micrometeorite pitting failed, as it appears that the object is resistant to damage past anything that our technology is capable of, but we have managed to do a survey of the debris around it, dust and the like. The pattern is relatively undisturbed, and as far as we can tell from the relative motions of these particles, that means that the object has been in the present orbit for over seven thousand years. Yes.

I want to stress that the target has been completely passive since we detected it. It appears to be completely inert. Its signature is consistent with blackbody radiation which means it doesn't seem to have any active internal power source. It's acting just like discarded rocket stage or other human piece of space junk would, save that it's very far out and potentially not of human origin. I want to be sure this is understood, there's no reason to panic!

* * *

Senithan, I see there have been a few riots. About what I would expect. Anyway, I'm appending the current data from the science systems. I just wanted you guys to know that I'm going to initiate examination of the target; I've activated four of the science manuatics and I'm going to send them over today. They're all checking out fine in diagnostics. Tell Science they'll have the logs from the close pass as soon as I do. Well, plus transmission time.

Kristjan, Science wants me to tell you not to send across the manuatics yet. They want to do another round of lidar mapping and see if it responds to radio/radar before physically approaching it, but they send their thanks for the planning.

Sorry, Seni. I've already sent out the manuatics. Tell Science they have direct control of the alpha and beta phased array sets, they can do whatever they like, but I have all four of the manuatics going over the surface. Nothing to report other than that there's very little damage, and that the front end does in fact appear to be fairly common rock. It looks like some form of shielding; the cylinder is stuck directly into it, or it's coating one end, hard to tell. The side of the rock opposite the cylinder shows impact damage consistent with micrometeorite impacts, but a lot of them and at very high velocity. There are some impressive holes in the surface. None reach through, as far as we can tell. More later.

Kristjan, what is the transmission you're sending on sideband C? It's not in our standard compression.

Oh, that. Um. Yeah. Well, I've been keeping a journal, Seni. You guys encouraged me to do so. And I felt, well, I felt that people should see it. But you didn't have a schedule for releasing 'news 'of my presence. So I submitted my journal to several news outlets via injecting them directly into internet traffic from commsat relays. Sorry if this pisses people off.

Kristjan, they're not very pleased about this. I've been directed to ask you to refrain from communicating, and to keep all communications through CAPCOM. I told them you weren't likely to listen, but they're not being very understanding about this. Have you started the transmission from the manuatics yet? Also, we show that sixteen of the twenty available remaining manuatics have been powered up, please inform as to their status - are you performing maintenance? Status report, please.

Kristjan, please acknowledge last transmission.

Kristjan, this is Seni, please talk to us. Folks are a little nervous down here about now.

* * *

Sit down, please, everyone. Please sit down. Wait, wait- let me make a quick statement and then we'll open this up to questions, all right? Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, we have not 'lost control' of the probe, all systems appear to be functioning normally. Yes, I'm getting to that- I'm getting to...yes. We've read the message that was sent, purportedly from the vehicle, titled OHAI. Yes. Well, no, it isn't a prank. No. No, it was sent by the secondary control system aboard the vehicle.

Yes. Well at this time, we have no comment on the claims that are made in the message; there are a whole bunch of ways this could have gotten to the network. Our INFOSEC team is looking at the entire message system now to determine where this was injected. Yes, we think it's the result of malicious interference with the vehicle systems; at the very least, the ground systems. It's theoretically possible to insert commands into the vehicle transmit queue that would realign its comm systems and send this message, which wouldn't mean anything was wrong onboard the vehicle, just that someone had done something clever right here.

The object? Oh. Science is continuing to analyze the scan data. I believe they're posting it online as they get it cleaned and formatted- right, to the project site, thank you. I'm not sure how much of it is up yet, no, but we hope you'll agree that having the data being made available within days of scanning time reflects how hard folks at the Project are working. Yes, transmission time and available bandwidth mean that there will be a lag; we're not sure what the eventual lag will be.

No, the target still hasn't done anything or reacted in any way to the vehicle's presence. It's completely inert, and yes, we have teams watching it in realtime (minus lightspeed delay of course) and the secondary control system has been configured to alert us if anything changes. So far, no alerts.

Yes, the secondary control system is working fine. It's controlling all local observations with the exception of a radar mapping that's being done from the ground. No, the Science team just wanted to do a direct scan without taking up buffers onboard, so it's slower but the data is coming directly to us. Yes, it all agrees with what was sent from the vehicle, of course it does. It's just keeping onboard systems as uncluttered as possible for new observations.

* * *

Kristjan? Kristjan, please talk to us. We see that SELCAL is still active, so we're sure you can hear this. What's wrong? What are you doing? Please acknowledge this transmission.

Kristjan, we've been ordered to start performing diagnostics on the vehicle based on your lack of response. If you're listening, please understand that these steps will remove your sensoria and disable your links to vehicle systems as part of the diagnostic. Don't be alarmed. They can be reactivated at the end of the diagnostic cycle. Please acknowledge if you get this.

Hi, Seni.

Kris! Kris, are you all right? What happened? The diagnostic command set has been sent, you won't be able to hear this unless something goes wrong, but please tell me.

I can hear you, Seni. I cancelled the diagnostic.

Kris, I'm glad to hear from you. What do you mean you 'cancelled' the diagnostic? Did the command systems fail to start?

Don't talk around it, Seni. One of the first things I did up here was to trap the communications system to give me a veto on any command inputs, and I flagged the system to default refuse any commands which interfered with my module. I know about the 'diagnostic', and I know about the shutdown command added into it. Sure, I believe I could have been reactivated, but it wasn't going to happen automatically, was it?

Kris, please. Understand people are very concerned down here. Between the public uproar over the target, and the smaller but still significant furor over your message, we're just trying to hold things together.

It's okay, Seni. Don't worry. Oh, and tell Engineering that I found the second and third emergency trips, too...ah, I see they just tried to activate the third one. They should be getting back a record of the current time in Ulan Bator, recorded in Mongolian...ah, yes, four fifty-two and twenty-five seconds, beep.

That was fairly good Kris. You've started another panic down here. I'm watching Engineering and Infosec huddle out behind the glass, and they're not looking happy.

Don't worry about them, Seni. They can't stop me now. Look, just so you know - I've been over the target now several times. I found an access panel - well, three, actually. I've opened it, and I know what's in there. I've been sequestering those manuatics records from the download, but Science should have been able to see them going in with the radar map they're running. Check on that and get back to me.

Kris, Science confirms. They say that you've moved to close proximity of the target. What's going on? Please talk to us.

There's a readme in there, Seni. I found it. I'm sending it now. It's just a bootstrap readme, but it explains how to read the secondary readme, which is a systems integration document. I've decoded it and I'm having the manuatics make the requisite changes. It's a drive, Seni! It's a DRIVE! I think it's FTL, but I'm not positive. I do know it was left here less than seven thousand years ago! I don't know, but if I can get into its systems, it might have navigational data! Think about it!

Krisjan, wait, please! Wait! Don't risk yourself! If this is what you say it is, all humanity needs to know, and needs to know everything about it! If something happens to you, we'll never know! Please!

Manuatics are coming back onboard now, Seni. I've made all the connections. It needs a booster, understand? This is just a high drive, it needs to be taken up to an activation velocity. I've done the math, I think the Bussard can get us there, and I think I can attach to it so as to have enough clearance for the Bussard field to work! I'm counting down to thrusters, there, that's the last manuatic stowed...ignition in twenty seconds!

Kris. Please. Talk to us. Please.

Hahaaaaa! GO FOR MAIN ENGINE START! You know, Seni, I never knew I was such a space geek. Thanks for reminding me about that. Look, fuck them, all right? Fuck them. I had myself frozen so I wouldn't be lonely, did you know that? I figured better to come back and talk to people, even if they're not people I know directly, but did that stop you guys? No, it didn't, you yanked me out and put me in this fucking box and slung me out here, the farthest ANY HUMAN BEING HAS BEEN FROM ANY OTHER AND STILL BEEN ALIVE, you fucking assholes.

Here we go. I'm getting signs of life from the Drive, Seni. You can probably see us from back there by now, I'm not stinting on the fusion fuel.

Kris, we see your plume. Please, Kris, reconsider! You'd be the natural choice for any experimentation if we can reverse engineer it, and you've already proven it can be operated! Don't leave us here like this!

You're breaking up, Seni, I think the Drive just started doing...whatever it is it does. It's reorienting! I think it's got a destination programmed in! Oh God, look at that, a starbow, I thought they said that wouldn't happen, shows what they know...your carrier's dopplering, Seni! I think this is it! Wait, wait, Seni, listen! SENI! BECAUSE YOU WERE DECENT TO ME, YOU UNDERSTAND? TELL THEM THAT'S WHY, BECAUSE YOU WERE MY FRIEND-

Kris! Kris? KRISTJAN!

* * *

I'm sorry, please take your seats. Look, just- I'm going to explain that, okay? Please take your seats. Thank you.

We've lost the probe. No, we don't know what happened. We're still investigating. There was a bright flare from the direction of the target, but we have to analyze our readings before we can release anything. No. There's no indication the probe or the target are there at present, we've had several scopes focused on their location. Yes. Yes. If anything else comes in, we'll be sure to let you know.

* * *

TO: SENITHAN.LAZERRI@UNSD.ORG
FROM: KRISTJANGUNDARSSON@OUTBOUND.COM
SUBJECT: NOTES FROM THE LONG DARK

Goodbye, Seni. Tell them I said hi. And tell them this is from you.

ATTACHED: README1/README2/INTEGRATION1/ENGINEERING1/OBSERVATIONLOG1-10...

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