Part 2

“Well, the star definitely didn’t go nova. The atmosphere is mostly intact, and a nova would’ve stripped that away.” Adaina said briskly, typing at her console. “Not that there’s much of anything alive down there, as far as I can tell. Some moss, lichen, and insects, but not much more than that. The planet may as well be a lifeless rock after what it was put through.”

“The rest of the star system is similar.” Cortin agreed, the lizzan’s voice gravelly. “It’s been a long time, but plotting out some of the asteroids, it looks like something detonated near the asteroid belt about five centuries ago. That’s about when the event is suspected to have happened, right?”

“That’s correct.” Evelyn agreed, looking at the scans of the planet’s moon more closely. She reached up to brush a hair behind her ear and frowned. “Hey, do these craters look like they were the result of an orbital bombardment to anyone else? I’ve been detecting fragments of high-purity metals ever since we entered the system, and with what we’re seeing…”

“Don’t jump to conclusions.” Adaina interrupted, and the human hit the keys to bring up Evelyn’s scans. “I have some suspicions of my own, but we don’t want to force our analysis into a conclusion, we need to figure out what actually created the burst.”

“True enough.” Evelyn admitted, noticing that Cortin had pulled up the scans as well. No matter what the woman might say, Adaina likely thought she was right.

The trip out to the system had been long and boring. While time dilation helped reduce the relative speed of travel, it still didn’t help much when the trip would take nearly a decade each way. Most of the crew had spent much of that time in cryogenic stasis, but they had to keep a skeleton crew awake in case of emergencies. As elves and dwarves lived longer than many of the other members of the coalition, Evelyn had spent far longer awake than either of her companions, and that had given her a great deal more time to pore over the data they had.

Before they’d set out, a dozen near-nova level explosions had been detected from different star systems out this direction, all estimated to have occurred within a year of each other. The chances of that happening naturally beggared belief, so it was no wonder the Coalition had finally decided to mount an expedition, no matter the cost. Of the dozen events they’d recorded, this system was the closest and had been selected for an investigation. After looking at the pattern of explosions, none of which indicated that the star they were around had gone nova, despite being nova-level events, Evelyn had long since decided that they were probably looking at a stellar conflict on a scale she could barely conceive of. The others… well, many of them hadn’t had about four years puttering around on a near-deserted starship to mull it over.

Evelyn suppressed a sigh, instead flicking her sensor view over to the planet as the Lightseeker slowly made its way through the star system. The star was a good spectrum, Evelyn noticed wistfully, and the planet was about in the ideal spot to be inhabitable. That’s what made the lack of anything more advanced than lichen, moss, and insects so disappointing, really, and if it were closer to Coalition territory, she imagined that there’d be serious consideration of trying to terraform the planet. Sadly, most ships could only manage about two light years per month, so something this far away was effectively out of reach.

The sensors were picking up ruins dotting the planet, though, and Evelyn shook her head. There had been cities on the planet, which made Adaina’s protests seem even sillier to Evelyn, but it didn’t really matter. She was sure the lead xenologist would come to the right conclusion in the end.

A sudden chirp from her console caused Evelyn’s eyes to snap upward, and she frowned as she saw a dead spot on the planet’s surface. Not a spot where the ground was almost completely dead, since that was everywhere, but a spot where the sensors didn’t detect anything. The system was asking her to recalibrate it, but since it had readings of everything around the two-hundred-meter-wide circle, Evelyn didn’t think that was right. Instead she took the coordinates and patched them through to the sensor team, activating the intercom at the same time.

“Hey Mark? Could I get a visual on the second planet, on these coordinates?” Evelyn asked.

“Huh? Well, sure, I suppose so. It’s a pretty tiny area, and the spot just came into daylight. What’s wrong?” Mark asked, the human’s voice brisk but friendly.

“The sensors aren’t detecting anything in a bubble that’s damned near exactly two hundred meters across. That seems a bit suspicious to me.” Evelyn explained, and she saw the other two’s heads rise sharply as they heard her.

“Huh, that does sound odd. Give me just a minute.” Mark replied, sounding puzzled. “Let’s see what we have… holy shit!”

“Mark?” Evelyn asked, looking down at the speaker in surprise.

“Patching it through to you now, and… going offline, I need to let Dekan know.” Mark replied quickly, then the speaker went dead.

“What in the…” Evelyn began, but her voice died as the screen flickered, then an orbital image snapped into existence.

She was looking down on the planet from above, the dirt she was seeing largely reddish, along with stone mountains that looked worn down by time. The startling thing was the… bubble, for lack of a better term. Inside the bubble the air was different, and Evelyn could see grass, flowers, and a structure. Smoke obscured most of what was within, but there was a hexagonal structure that filled most of the bubble, one that was ivory-white with six towers and a golden dome. More surprising was the glowing white energy that surrounded the towers, along with what looked like energy beams lancing out from the towers.

There were also scorch marks in the ground, she realized, along with dozens of dark metallic forms around the structure. There were purplish beams lancing out from some of the figures, and it looked like some were up against the structure’s walls. But the strangest thing was that despite the beams being visible, they weren’t moving. It was like…

“Oh. That… time has stopped there, hasn’t it?” Evelyn breathed, her eyes wide.

“You’ve got to be joking me!” Adaina said, her voice filled with disbelief. “The magic it’d take to stop time in an area that large is off the scale, and maintaining spells like that is a nightmare.”

Cortin chuckled with amusement, though, and he spoke a moment later. “It appears your suspicion is likely true, Evelyn. Though evidence such as this was unanticipated.”

“Whether it is or not remains to be seen, but—” Evelyn began, only to be cut off as the intercom sounded.

“This is Captain Kalper. All senior officers and department heads to Conference Room One in ten minutes.” The growl of the felix captain echoed through the ship, and Evelyn turned to look at Adaina, smiling slightly.

“Good luck up there,” she said pleasantly.

“Thanks, I guess. Damn it, I wanted more time to gather data before a meeting!” Adaina said, getting up quickly. She quickly uploaded some data to a chip, then ran for the door.

After watching her go, Cortin chuckled, then looked at Evelyn. “You could have gotten her position, couldn’t you have? I know you’re more decorated in the field of xenoarcheology, and she’s just a xenobiologist.”

“Sure, I could’ve.” Evelyn agreed, then smiled. “On the other hand, I also realized that the department heads wouldn’t get to have the first look on any artifacts, so I deliberately declined the opportunity and applied for a lower-ranking position.”

“Ahh, I see. Then we’re both of the same mind.” Cortin agreed, grinning and showing a mouthful of fangs. “Did you expect something like this?”

“No, of course not.” Evelyn said, looking down and smiling. “I’m looking forward to getting a closer look, though.”

“Agreed.” Cortin said, leaning forward.

As she adjusted the zoom, Evelyn wished the image was clearer. It was hard to tell, but to her it looked a lot like some of the renditions of several ancient temples that had been destroyed. She really looked forward to getting a closer look.

Part 3