The Ball by Konrad Laurids Pesch
When : Where
342 DE (2652 CE) : Mars / Deimos Fortress
Chernikov stepped out of the airlock warily, his every sense on heightened alert despite being isolated from the mysterious “ball” by an environmental suit. He’d volunteered to be the first one to inspect the ball without the aid of robotics and A.I.. None of the other scientists on site had volunteered, so it had been an easy choice for Deimos Fortress administration.
It was found at the Lagrange point between Callisto and Jupiter in 342. How long had it been out there hiding between the two bodies? No one knew for certain. The outer planets were visited so rarely anymore and the ball had only been found by happenstance when a mining drone had stumbled upon it during a routine survey. It was small enough to not register on normal long range surveys, often hidden behind Callisto, and emitted no active signals to give itself away. It was a quiet and seemingly benign enigma.
But the disquieting thing about the discovery was that a very terrestrial “B42” emblazoned the exterior. No living human knew of its existence, or admitted to it, nor were there any historical breadcrumbs shedding light on its origin. Equally disturbing was the fact that there might be forty-one other balls hidden somewhere in the Solar System … perhaps more assuming B42 wasn’t the last ball. Or perhaps there were no other balls at all, just some sick joke by an unseen entity. Either way it was not a comforting epiphany.
Equally disturbing was that there might be forty-one other balls hidden somewhere in the Solar System … perhaps more. It was not a comforting epiphany.
B42 had been scanned, poked, prodded, and then gingerly dragged out of the Jovian gravity well to be hauled back to Mars orbit where it was now ensconced in an air dock undergoing further research. Quantum dating estimated its age at nearly 800 years, placing its origin in the pre-Diaspora Era … even pre-human spaceflight era. Which made absolutely no logical sense. But was quantum dating even accurate on something so strange and out of place? Another riddle to unravel. Nothing about it felt right to Chernikov.
He now found himself inside the massive Deimos Fortress, standing on a gangway that creaked quietly in the thin atmosphere of the pressurized dock. He took a deep breath and started across the gangway, his boots padding faintly on the grating, ready to face the enigma and his own anxieties.
He stopped and reflected momentarily, tilting his head as he pondered. The most frightening aspect of B42 wasn’t its age, or questionable origin, or that it possessed Earthly markings. The most unnerving aspect of B42 was that its door had silently opened of it’s own accord as he walked closer.
And inside a baleful green glow stared back at him.
Words © 2020, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
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