Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Sir, it’s either artificial, or a new form of celestial object,” reported the Essex’s science officer.

“Explain,” probed the captain.

“It has about one quarter of Earth’s mass, squeezed into one-sixteenth of its volume. Its average density is 23.5 grams per cubic centimeter. That’s higher than the densest natural element in the universe, osmium.”

“Interesting. Can we send down a landing party?”

“Affirmative, but it won’t be a cake walk. The surface gravity is one and a half times Earth’s.”

“We’ll keep it brief. Have geology send a team to shuttle bay number two. Put us in low orbit, Mr. Donner.”

However, as the ship neared the planetoid, a large iris in the base of a crater opened up, revealing a subterranean cavern. “Tractor beams locking onto us, sir,” reported the helmsman. “We’re being pulled in.”

“Full astern,” ordered the captain. But it was to no avail. The ship was dragged beneath the surface, and the iris closed.

“We’re being scanned, sir. They’ve accessed our main computer.”

“Lock down tactical. Secure all primary command functions.”

“This is odd, sir,” reported the science officer. “They are only accessing our personnel files. Should I attempt to terminate their link?”

“No, that seems harmless enough. Maybe they are just trying to find out who we are. But see if you can gain access to their computer. Let’s see if we can learn something about them too. Security, assemble an away team.”

“Eye, sir. But we’ll need full environmental suits. The atmosphere outside the ship is 25% hydrogen-cyanide, 10% methane, and 65% nitrogen.”

“Understood. Lead the team, Commander. No visible weapons. Let’s try to look friendly.”

Two hours later, the bridge crew watched the main viewscreen as the away team lumbered across the alien deck, clearly suffering from the burden of the environmental suits and the excessive gravity. As the men approached the far wall of the subterranean bay, a door opened. Seconds after they bravely walked through, the door closed, severing the comm link with the away team.

Days passed without progress. All efforts to communicate with the missing men had failed, as did their feeble attempts to break free of their captives. Their one ray of hope was the link to the alien computer. Apparently, the aliens didn’t consider the earthmen a threat, as they allowed them unfettered read access to their computer. However, making sense of the alien technology was nearly impossible. A team of linguistic and programming experts worked tirelessly trying to decipher the alien language. To make matters worse, the high gravitational field produced an unrelenting drag on the crew’s physiology, as well as their spirits.

“Sir,” reported the acting security chief at the beginning of day seven, “roll call revealed that another six crewmembers are unaccounted for. We still can’t figure out how the aliens are doing it. I’ve required all off duty personnel to hunker down in the assembly area, and posted a 24 hour guard.”

“Good thinking, Lieutenant,” replied the captain. “Mr. Carib, any progress with the alien computer?”

“A little, sir. We’ve stumbled onto the copy they made of our personnel files. They’ve compiled a table listing all 354 crew members. We appear to be categorized by gender and race. Linguistics thinks that they can decipher the table headings soon.”

“Excellent. Keep me posted.”

Several hours later, Carib‘s face turned ashen-gray after reading the translation. Spotting his ensign’s reaction, the captain asked, “Let’s have it, Ensign.”

“My God, sir,” replied Carib’s trembling voice. “The alien table, sir. It’s a dessert menu.”


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