Author : Kevin Ware

It was only because of the eighty years that the first probe had been studied that the true meaning of the next was clear. The teams of muttering specialists who had travelled to Alberta to examine the wreckage in exhaustive detail had wrung every last shred of information from the charred and flattened hulk.

It was a simple probe. It was not the last of its kind. It had travelled a long way, but only by our standards. It was from outside the solar system, but only a bit. The best expert thought was that some kind of ship had lobbed this one (and presumably others) into the inner solar system to see if any of the planets there had something of interest to take. Technology, life, artifacts?

Listening post after listening post confirmed the path of the compact and unnaturally reflective object doing a gravity-assisted momentum dump around Jupiter. A few million calculations carefully run by a small woman hunched over a cup of cooling coffee quickly determined what several telescope jockeys had already guessed weeks before. This was another probe, seemingly identical to the first, heading inbound for the center of the largest landmass of Earth. It would land just to the east of Lake Baikal, in the Russian Federation, in seven hundred and fourteen days.

After months of intense hotheaded political debate and scattered but intense societal unrest, it was decided by the powerful but ultimately cowardly leaders of this small insignificant marble of a planet that we did not want to be known. The risk was far too great. It would be better to remain small and insignificant and lonely than to have to face the other.

As the probe was still out of visual observation range and passing behind Saturn for a last slingshot braking, hundreds of carefully arrayed nuclear warheads rained down on the shores of Lake Baikal and the diverse wildlife until recently protected there.

Fifty billion miles away on a small Spartan school ship, a young student frowned at her wrap-around panel of telemetry displays as the probe’s cameras focused on a desolate lifeless wasteland, crushing any hopes she had at further funding.


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