Start of story: A sliver of red
A sliver of red | There it is | The barrier | More than a job | Inside | tba
Todd scratched at the stubble that had formed on his chin. He had lost track of the days since they had arrived and took a few seconds to call up a display of elapsed time. Two days.
A small one-person transport had arrived in the vicinity of the asteroid half a day after they had. Rather than holding station it had cruised straight towards one of the main access points on the asteroid. The ordnance that had obliterated it had been impressive. Todd had watched the video of the attack over and over. It had only lasted a few seconds, but from what he could discern at least three of the orbiting craft had unloaded on the transport. It didn't stand a chance. The sinusoidal blue beam that had flicked on then off from the Tmolos cruiser looked sufficient to destroy the craft on its own. Half a minute later debris from its shattered remains added to the pock-marking that decorated the asteroid.
"Why are they so protective?" Shuang asked, watching the video loop again on the main screen.
"Squatters rights." Todd said. "They got here first, and no-one with bigger guns has arrived to shift them."
"For a chunk of rock?" Shuang asked.
Todd paused the video and increased magnification on the point on the asteroid the one-person transport had aimed for. An access point. Sharp metallic reflections distinguished a perfect circular section of the asteroid from the rock strewn surface. Around the perimeter of the metallic disk a circle of markings stood out, as though raised from the surface. It was unmistakably writing in an unknown language.
"See those?" Todd asked. "They've been seen before."
He threw a series of still images on to one half of the screen. Each contained an image of an asteroid, differing in shape and composition, but each had a section picked out and enlarged. The enlarged image contained an access point similar to the one on the asteroid nearby. Each contained the same markings.
"We got these images as part of a trade exchange with the Athis." Todd said. "I don't think they meant to include them. These asteroids have been appearing intermittently over the last four thousand years. It seems like when they detect sufficient divergent species orbiting them - then the access points come to life. You can get in. That's why they haven't smeared us across the void - we're another tick in the box."
"And the transport?" Shuang asked.
"They pushed their luck." Todd said. "Anyway, the records that went along with these images suggest that there is something inside. If you can get to it first." He paused. "Well, it's unclear. But each civilisation that reaches it first - they tend to leap forward in their development."
"So you plan to get inside?" Shuang asked.
"Or be smeared across the void."
Todd laughed. "There is that chance." He said. "But there's a gap in the orbital coverage. If I can time it right - with a small enough payload - I think I can get to one of those access points."
"And then what?" Shuang asked.
Todd shrugged. He didn't have a plan for when he got inside. Getting inside would be hard enough. The information trade with the Athis hadn't given any hints as to what the interior of these mysterious asteroids contained.