0136: House Call

Ziggurat #44

Ed Spratt raised his hands. “Look, relationships between mass can be hard to predict in space. We don’t know everything. Hell, Westward weighs a couple tons more than it’s supposed to, and I’ve never figured out why.”

“Here’s what we know,” Amila Santana said as she unrolled a printed chart onto the dimly backlit surface of the situation table. The table was built into the control console at the center of the command deck, directly behind where Lazarus and Abigail sat at their stations. The whole senior staff was clustered around the table: Chief Santana, Captain Carter, Chief Spratt, Chief Wellington, Doctor Faust and Phobos. Lamont hovered nearby, gripping his recorder.

“The tower—that seems to be the best descriptor for this structure—is definitely artificial. It extends about 300 miles from the surface of the moon, and appears to be about 500 feet wide all the way down, although it may taper slightly from bottom to top. In any case, it’s colossal. Its origin, age, and material are all complete unknowns. We have no idea how it’s standing—we just know that it is. The moon to which it is anchored appears to be essentially a ball of ice—water ice—probably encasing heavy metals. The moon is a very good source of raw materials. In addition, its unusual orbit means that the gas giant blocks the radiation of the system’s star, allowing for better transmission of its many signals into space. The signals are very powerful; so much so that our reconnaissance satellites are effectively useless, as we would be unable to maintain radio control over them. The only option for a closer look, then, is to pay a personal call.”

“That’s where the asteroid pod comes in,” Interjected Ed Spratt, tugging his pipe from between his teeth. “Manually controlled, with a variety of manipulation arms, grapples, and of course sensory instruments. Aside from the purpose for which it was obviously designed, it’s hard to imagine a job better suited to her. If her deposit bay is kept empty, she can be set up to transport a full expedition team of 12 people with spacesuits.”

“Are you expecting that we’ll be able to go inside the tower?” Lamont asked.

Spratt shrugged, popping the pipe back into his mouth. “No way to say right now. But my money says that this thing could be a lot less elaborate if it were just a radio tower.”

“I want to go this time,” Said Arthur Wellington, squinting up at the observation window. “With Mr. Estevez, and sidearms.”

“The structure has given no indication of hostile intentions,” Phobos reminded the security chief. “Rather the opposite, in fact.”

“I can speak to that,” Chipped in Lazarus, who swiveled his stool around to face the senior staff. “We’ve settled into this position relative to the tower because we basically fell into it. The nature of gravity in this area of space is—well—let’s just say it’s not what we’d expect it to be.”

Doctor Faust raised his impressive eyebrows. “Do you mean that gravity has been manipulated somehow, young man?”

Ed Spratt raised his hands. “Look, relationships between mass can be hard to predict in space. We don’t know everything. Hell, Westward weighs a couple tons more than it’s supposed to, and I’ve never figured out why.”

“But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that whoever built the tower could somehow manipulate gravity in open space,” Posed Santana. “What are the implications?”

“A level of technology at least comparable to that achieved by Mars,” Phobos suggested.

Ed whistled.

“In any case, where we are right now seems to be some kind of…” Lazarus thought for a moment. “...Parking spot.”

“Which could mean ‘Come on in,’” Spratt said.

“Or it could mean, ‘Don’t come any closer,’” Lamont pointed out.

The captain nodded. “Agreed. There’s no way to be sure until we try. But Arthur is right that all reasonable precautions should be taken—without appearing threatening, if possible.”

“That shouldn’t be hard,” Ed noted, “Since the asteroid pod doesn’t have any weapons.”