by Edd Vick
"Message coming in." The communications officer looked toward Captain Nels Okkerstrom. "They're transmitting the images now."
Not for the first time, Nels wished he were down on the planet instead of heading Earth's first interstellar skipship. "Transfer them to the AI," he said.
Nels had been twelve when scientists at CERN had sent their first experimental tachyon message. A millisecond later they had been inundated with responses nobody had been able to translate. Now, thirty years later, here was The Prometheus and her crew orbiting one of the sources of those messages.
Everyone on the bridge watched as images from below flitted across the computer's screen. Everyone on earth who was tuned in could see them, too, via quantum ansible. Cylindrical alien buildings, signs, scrolls, all the extant imagery of a dead civilization still transmitting to the stars.
Nels tore his gaze away from the screen. "Katya? How is the translation going?"
The computer expert glanced up from her own screen monitoring the AI's progress and spread her hands. With visual as well as digital information, the computer stood a good chance of being able to decode the signals. If not, computers all over Earth were viewing the same data. With luck, they'd soon know why this culture was extinct.
Nels ordered the ground team to return to the ship. He didn't want them spending the night just yet. There was no reason yet to brave whatever might lurk below. He paced the bridge.
Two hours later Katya Malinov leaned toward her monitor. "Got it, sir," she murmured.
"Put it up," he said, gesturing to the public address speakers. "We've all waited long enough." The communications officer flipped a switch.
"Extend the life of your sun."
Nels cocked his head. So this was the alien message, a warning. Was there some previously unknown danger to their solar system?
"You have won the extrasolar lottery!"
Captain and computer officer exchanged glances. Nels said, "Is that--?" and she said, "Um."
"Big sale on black holes!"
"Good god," said Nels. "It's spam." He drew his hand across his throat. "Cut it off."
"Sir," said an officer at the helm. "The Bohr is requesting permission to dock."
"Granted," said Nels. "Tell them we're--" The huge ship shuddered. The lights dimmed. "What the hell?"
"We lost power," said one officer and, "No, it was diverted," said another. The artificial gravity switched off. "It's still being diverted," said the computer officer. "To our communications array."
"Cut off the AI," yelled Nels, floating impotently in midair.
The gravity switched on, then off, then on. Air whistled out the vents.
"Satisfy your loved one," bellowed The Prometheus to the galaxy. "Debt consolidation is easy!"