Heading Home

I wrote this story as a response to a Reddit writing prompt: “The first spacecraft to leave the solar system discovers another, slower, 2,000 year old vessel travelling to Alpha Centauri.”

The serene cabin is suddenly filled with proximity alarms from the navigation console, but there is no one present to act on them. The autopilot plots a new course to keep distance and avoid collision. After a few more seconds of the alarms going off, a process is put in motion to waken the captain. Under normal circumstances the cabin would by bustling with activity by the time they would reach any objects large enough to cause an alarm like this, but these were not normal circumstances.

Captain’s pod opened a few minutes after it lit up with activity. The normal wake up procedure would have taken several hours, causing less stress on the body, but in this case, the emergency wake procedure was triggered taking only minutes. As she slowly came to be, her brain started picking up all the alarm noises coming from the ship’s intercom. As the captain made her way to the navigation console, she heard a cheerful “Good morning, Caterina” from the ship’s computer RedNine. “Is it, Red?”, she uttered, as she sat down at the console and took a quick glance into the cold darkness of space through the ship’s window. “Where are we?” RedNine started to chatter an overview of the situation, as Caterina examined the console and started to push buttons.

Soon after, she was joined by Mike, the ship’s pilot, and flight engineer Jackie. “Hello Cate, what’s going on”. “Jackie, Mike…” she started, and then paused. “I’m not sure, actually. We’re still about 42 years from Alpha Centauri, but we’ve run into, well, what looks like another spaceship.” “Have a look here”, Caterine said as she stood up to make space for Mike at the console. “Do we have any contact with the ship?”, Jackie inquired while analyzing all available data on her console. The trio discussed their observations, possible approaches, and next steps. For now, they’ll only maintain the skeleton crew, and wake other crew as needed. Based on the small amount of information available, they agreed the other ship had roughly the same destination — Alpha Centauri. “We need to get closer to do better analysis”, said Jackie, “we’re too far to do anything meaningful from here”. “Cate?”, prompted Mike after a moment of silence. “Let’s approach, but keep a safe distance, Mike”, Caterine responded.

As they approached, the captain decided to wake the linguist. If they needed him, he would be spared the taxing emergency wake procedure. Meanwhile, they were all busy with making observations and analyzing data. Once they were close enough for radio communication, Mike slowed down to match the foreign ship’s speed. Jackie tried to scan all frequencies for any communication originating from the other ship, but it was completely quiet. There was nothing. “This is odd, it seems like the ship is out of power, or they have no communications whatsoever”, speculated Jackie. “Let’s try sending a message, Jackie”, said Caterine. “Foreign ship, this is Earth ship Helium 3, please identify yourself”. She didn’t expect the other ship to understand the message, but a direct communication may have prompted them to open communications and perhaps invoke some kind of response. But there was no response, just silence. “Cate, should we send a probe for a closer look?”, asked Mike.

They all stared at the video monitors intently, as the probe approached the strange craft. “Check it out, this vessel is absolutely beaten up…”, said Mike as he looked at various scratches and puncture marks on the ship’s hull. “You’re right, Mike”, confirmed Jackie, “All the scan data from the probe indicates it has been around for millennia. I can’t quite identify all the technology on the ship, but it’s old, and very different from ours”. “Hey, did you see that? What’s the shiny patch there on the hull”, inquired Cate. “It’s some sort of writing!” exclaimed Ivan, as Mike navigated the probe closer to where Cath pointed. “What have we here?”, he continued, “Hi guys, captain”. Ivan was the mission’s linguist, and he walked in just at the right moment. They all filled him in on what was going on, as he examined the video feeds of the writing on the hull. The plaque the was made of a different material and sustained almost no damage, unlike the hull.

As Ivan began working on deciphering the script, Mike ran into a section of the plaque that contained completely different symbols. Further analysis by Ivan shown this section worked like a rosetta stone. After some time, Ivan arrived at a rough translation of the script: “Here lie the founding members of colony Earth. May you rest in peace on your voyage home”.