Disappearing Signatures

The Forge Region – Onirvura Constellation

15 July YC 121

On Monday we returned to Josameto, ready for new adventures. The probe scanner showed two signatures which I immediately started to analyse. To our surprise, the first signature disappeared from the radar before I could even identify it.

“Where did it go?” frowned Aura.

“Don’t know. All signatures disappear sooner or later, otherwise there would be a very long list of them in each system. I think we were just unlucky that it happened while we were scanning it. Let’s try another one.”

I focused my probes on the remaining signature and guess what… it disappeared too. Aura was furious. She said that she didn’t like that system as soon as we jumped into it yesterday, she blamed Nugoeihuvi for disappearing signatures, and she couldn’t decide what she wanted more – to warp to NOH information centre and blow it up or to leave this system immediately and never, never return to it. I carefully noted that although I totally supported her feelings toward treacherous NOH personnel, our Heron was not really equipped for structure bashing. That left only one option.

“We are leaving this system now and forever!” declared Aura.

“Not a problem, darling,” said I soothingly. “Would you be then so kind to calculate a new centre of The Forge Region? I guess, we will have to move house again.”

Aura looked bewildered, “New centre? What do you mean? The centre of The Forge is Poinen.”

I smiled apologetically, “Not if we are going to avoid Josameto.”

“Oh. I didn’t think about it. Lemme check… Yep, without Josameto the new centre will be Nomaa.”

“Good. Just a stone throw away from our current base. Let’s go and collect our possessions then.”

Aura suddenly looked alarmed, “Er… Wait a second. Are we leaving Development Studio Station?”

“We are. Remember, we decided to have a base in the centre of the region? Now that Josameto is a no-go zone we have to move to Nomaa.”

I could see Aura struggle to choose between sticking to her impulsive decision and avoiding its unexpected consequences. After several minutes of nail-biting and horse-trading we agreed that we would stay at the station graced by Vesa Yamaguchi, but every time we had to go through Josameto we would do it really, really quickly. With this out of the way, we really, really quickly jumped to Liekuri.

The new system had only one signature. I warped to a safe spot and started scanning it down. You won’t believe it but before I finished analysis, it happened again – the signature disappeared! With trepidation, keeping the whole body still to avoid attracting attention, I slowly turned my eyes to Aura. She was tense and upright; her narrowed eyes were peering into the darkness; her lips were moving as she was mouthing something. Something unpleasant. I think that at that moment only Vesa’s charm saved Liekuri system and the whole Onivura constellation from being blotted out of our star maps. It was also the first time when I truly appreciated the advantages of the neural interface with the ship. Without moving a finger or uttering a word, I willed Haikarat to recall the probes, warp to Obanen gate and jump through it. Really, really quickly.

In Obanen the probe scanner showed a few cosmic signatures but, to be honest, I was afraid to analyse them. What if they disappeared too? Not sure what to do next, I studied the system map and came across a triangular icon. That was the distraction I needed!

“Look, Aura, a Jove Observatory! Let’s take a look at it,” suggested I and without waiting for Aura’s reply activated the warp drive.

Jove Observatory
Jove Observatory

The observatory was an imposing spindle-like structure floating in a cloud of gas. Its hull was damaged either by an incident or by external attack, but as it was the case with many ruins, that did not diminish the majesty of the construction. Having appreciated the alien aesthetics of Jovian space architecture, my mind turned to more practical matters, namely, the loot that could be extracted from that abandoned place. I wasn’t sure if Data or Relic Analyser would be helpful but I was going to try anyway. At that moment my tomb-raiding train of thoughts was interrupted by Aura’s whisper.

“Vlad, look here.”

I checked the overview and froze – it showed three red symbols.

“What are these things?” I whispered back.

“They are drifters.”

“And they are hostile.”

“And there are three of them.”

“And there is only one of us.”

“And they fly battleships.”

“And we fly a freaking frigate.”

“What shall we do?”

“RUN!” we screamed together.

Agonisingly slowly, taking full 4 seconds, Haikarat aligned to a random space object and entered the warp. En route I made a bookmark for a safe spot and immediately bounced to it off the celestial.

When we finally found ourselves in relative safety, Aura shook her head and said, “You know, Vlad, we didn’t have much luck with the signatures today, but I can’t help noticing that scanning, even unsuccessful, hasn’t killed anybody, while our recent sightseeing, starting from Guristas Outpost and finishing with the Jove Observatory, turned out to be a near-death experience. With that in mind, why don’t you launch the probes and try to scan down these bloody signatures before they disappear too?”

I didn’t need to be asked twice.

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