Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

David Erwin, the lone human inhabitant at the Eunomia mining station in the asteroid belt, was just suiting up to make his rounds when his door chime sounded. Erwin shook his head in mild frustration. Robots never seem to get it. He had instructed them hundreds of times to just enter his quarters without waiting for authorization, but they never do. He hypothesized that some early programmer must have gotten into trouble when a robot interrupted someone important at an inopportune moment, so he wrote “etiquette” code that couldn’t be overridden, except in emergencies. Well, at least in this case, hearing the chime was a good sign. It meant the robot at the door didn’t consider this visit an emergency. “Come in,” he instructed.

The door slid open, but the robot didn’t enter. It was Rector, the leadbot of the Delta team. “Excuse the interruption, sir” it said in a polite simulated male voice, “but we encountered an artificial object in tunnel K-13.” Rector paused, waiting to be prompted. Erwin said nothing. He continued to suit up as though he were alone. Rector decided to continue, “I believe, sir, that it is an ancient extraterrestrial spacecraft.”

“Fine,” replied Erwin as he sealed and secured his helmet. He gently pushed off the far wall and drifted toward the door. He grabbed Rector’s arm, and scrambled onto its back. He attached his retaining clips to Rector’s shoulders. “Okay,” he said, “take me there.” Walking or driving was not an option in the microgravity of Eunomia. You had to fly. And robots were much better at it than humans. So it was best to leave the transportation to them.

They passed through the airlock, and navigated through a myriad of tunnels and shafts. There was never a question of Rector getting lost. It had the network of tunnels programmed into its memory, which were updated every hour, so it knew every inch of this asteroid. But it made Erwin wonder. What would happen if Rector chose to abandon him here in this tunnel? Could he find his way back to his quarters before his oxygen ran out? Probably not, he concluded. Fortunately, Asimov’s three laws of robotics made that scenario impossible. Rector’s forward thrusters fired, bringing them to a full stop 50 feet in front of the artificial object Rector had mentioned.

Rector’s robotic mining crew had continued to excavate around the object. Approximately twenty feet of it was exposed. Rector’s assessment had been correct, it was a spaceship. Erwin could identify the bow, and the forward viewport. Since Eunomia was at least 4.45 billion years old, these travelers were ancient visitors indeed. He unclipped himself, and flew toward the ship’s viewport. He used his light beam to illuminate the inside of the ship. There were four beings inside; all dead of course, and fully desiccated. Apparently, he thought, the cold vacuum of space can prevent decomposition indefinitely. Erwin wondered how space faring beings like these could end up entombed miles below the surface of a nondescript asteroid, orbiting a run-of-the-mill star. Oh well, he decided, that’s for the scientists back on Earth to figure out.

Erwin pushed himself back from the ship. “Okay Rector, I’ll notify headquarters. Instruct your crew to finish digging it out. Then put it in the yard with the rest of alien ships. These things are starting to become a nuisance.”

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