2946-10-30 - Tales from the Inbox: Jewel from a Junker

Earlier this year, one of the most important xenoarchaeological finds of our lifetime was made under an exceedingly odd set of circumstances. Many of those of you among our audience have already heard part of the story of the discovery of the first site on Vinteri, as protecting the remote world's undisturbed treasures has been an effort largely policed by a number of mercenary companies hired by the Sagan Institute of Centauri.

While the spacer community based at Centauri has largely familiarized itself with parts of this story, when Jacob Borisov asked if we would like to run the story here, I was only too happy to arrange it. Captain Borisov was at first intending to write his account into a holofilm script, but he decided that the effort would be far more dull and far less lucrative than continuing his primary means of employment - that is, as a mercenary commander. He provided his notes, as well as shipboard surveillance recordings and comm logs which catalog the events leading to the Vinteri discovery. I have assembled them into a text account in four parts, which will be published sequentially.

The story begins in an unlikely way, as most great tales do - with Mr. Borisov and his client, Kenneth Lorenz, inspecting a recently captured pirate's vessel.

“She’s beautiful.”

The old military scout ship was anything but. Significant areas of its original yellow and grey-green paint had long ago surrendered their hold on the hull, leaving uneven patches of dull alloy exposed. Its sleek, raked prow and narrow forward viewpanels were marred by the ill effects of generations of microscopic impacts, and battered by the scars of a few larger ones. A pair of magnetic funnels flared on either side of the hull, outward hints that the small vessel was powered by a type of reactor that had gone out of favor almost two centuries before. Dented weapon sponsons scavenged from a wholly different sort of vessel had been mounted outboard of the scoops in order to attach a pair of heavy autocannon to what had even in its long-ago military service been an unarmed craft. Even these relatively recent additions were pitted and scarred with age and hard use.

Jacob waved to the guards, and they stood aside to let Lorenz approach the battered ship. He didn’t understand why the old man had wanted it so badly, but the sizable up-front retainer that had secured his services had been sufficient to prevent any speculation. For the cost of outfitting two top-of-the-line assault gunships, the eccentric businessman had contracted Jacob’s crew to obtain the ship of a particular outlaw, intact.

Jacob had expected to find the target flying a Kosseler Gryphon or some other high-end, performance vessel, and discovering him at the controls of a hundred-thirty year old U6R Hawkbat had been somewhat anticlimactic. It had been child’s play for Jacob’s veteran combat pilots to disable the antiquated ship in open space and tow it back to the waiting hangar of Taavi Bancroft for delivery. The sullen pirate was still sitting in the ship’s brig, as yet unwilling to discuss the reason his decrepit ship was worth almost a million credits to a Core Worlds banker. Jacob doubted the pirate even knew what had brought ruin down upon him.

Even as he made delivery, Jacob still didn’t know why the Hawkbat was worth what he was being paid for it. His crew had gone over every inch of the corroded junker on their return trip, and found nothing that might explain Kenneth Lorenz’s keen interest. A copy of the ancient computer system’s data core had been dissected by the crew’s best computer tech, and still nothing had been found. The wealthy man had not once asked about the fate of the ship’s former owner, and hadn’t even batted an eye when Jacob had hinted that his crew had inspected the vessel. The mercenary commander was almost ready to conclude that the battered old scout was some sort of obscure collector’s item.

As if telepathic, Jacob’s middle-aged client turned around, a sly grin on his usually-humorless face. “Captain Borisov, I’ll bet you are curious what this vessel is to me.”

Jacob shrugged, a gesture meant to acknowledge the question but not answer it. “Your money is good, Mr. Lorenz.”

“Indeed it is.” Lorenz beckoned to Jacob. “Come, Captain. Let’s have a look inside.”

“Of course.” Jacob had worked with far more paranoid clients than Lorenz, so stepping up to the ancient scout-ship’s unlocked hatch and leading the way was no trouble. The inside, only minimally cleaned after its owner had been removed, was as safe as a ship that had been flying for more than a century could be, but Jacob preferred to take every opportunity to keep a good customer from suspecting foul play.

The lights flickered on as the pair climbed inside. The crew space of the scout ship was divided into three small compartments, and the pirate’s heavy alterations to his craft had filled the largest of these almost completely with added equipment. Jacob led the way through the narrow passage between banks of machinery and up the ladder to the ship’s formerly two-seat cockpit, where now only a single acceleration chair and a U-shaped ring of slightly less antiquated machinery had replaced the side by side configuration.

Lorenz leaned over the controls, shaking his head. “I was afraid of this.” He muttered. “Replacement ferrosillicate displays fetch a high price on the market.”

“You mean to strip it?” Jacob hazarded, trying to keep his tone neutral. Seeing the old scout as a source of valuable, scarce parts would perhaps explain Lorenz’s interest.

“No.” The businessman straightened and looked out the viewpanels at the inside of Bancroft’s hangar. “I’ll be restoring it as something of a… family heirloom.”

“I see.” Jacob nodded cautiously, though he didn’t. Even wealthiest and most spendthrift dilettantes he had met wouldn’t spend nearly a million credits to acquire a family heirloom, only to spend yet more reconstructing it to some original state.

Lorenz turned and headed back toward the ladder. “Everything seems in order here.” Jacob detected no trace of sentimentality in his client’s voice or bearing. A family heirloom the Hawkbat might be, but something told him Lorenz expected to recoup every credit he sunk into the battered old relic.

Lorenz squeezed past the machinery once more and keyed open the bunk compartment situated in the hull between the two external ramscoop funnels, and Jacob followed silently. The walls of the small room bowed inward to make room for the vast magnetic coils within the scoops; the mercenary suspected that the bunkroom was deafeningly loud when they were active, dragging charged particles out of local stellar wind and sequestering them in a pair of high-pressure fuel tanks. A far more elegant solution for the collection and storage of reactor fuel had been available even when the scout-ship had been built, but Hawkbats had been built to be cheap, plentiful, repairable, and expendable, not elegant.

Lorenz spent only an instant taking in the cramped compartment before turning back and busying himself with a panel on the bulkhead next to the doorway. “Now, Captain, let’s see if it’s still here.”

“What is?”

“The auxiliary data core, of course.” Lorenz grunted with exertion, and a half-meter-wide plate of bulkhead paneling popped free. He set the thin sheet of metal on the floor, then peered inside.

Jacob, having never heard of such a small ship having an auxiliary computer data core, approached and looked over the businessman’s shoulder. Sure enough, behind a tangle of unsecured cabling, he spotted the familiar flattened-cylinder outline of an old-model data core, mounted in a trio of brackets against the opposite panel. Based on the extensive corrosion on the brackets, the device was probably undisturbed since the vessel was surplussed. Someone had, at some point, scratched a curious symbol on its stamped metal case – it appeared to be two triangles, one set into the other, with the edges of the inner shape not quire in line with the edges of the outer.

“Just as I hoped.” Lorenz announced, after examining the scratched symbol. “You’ve earned every credit of your fee, Captain Borisov.”

“What do you think is on that core, that’s so valuable?” Jacob didn’t bother trying to disguise his interest now.

“Family secrets, Captain.” Lorenz smiled. It was the winning smile of a man who had a business proposition to offer, Jacob recognized. Reaching into the collar of his brilliantly white shirt, Lorenz withdrew an odd pendant bearing a symbol like the one scratched on the data core, and compared them side by side for Jacob to see. “Are you and your crew free to take on another contract?”

Remembering the lucrative fee Lorenz had already paid for a relatively easy job, Jacob knew he’d never justify a negative answer to his officers and crew. “I think we can work something out.”

2946-10-23 - Tales from the Inbox: Brand's Badlands

Nojus would have paused at the ridgeline to catch his breath and admire the view, but under the watchful eyes of his camera-drones, he thought better of it. Beneath his feet, the dark basalt hills sloped down to meet the golden sands of the desert beyond. The unnamed world was arid to the extreme, but not quite as hot as he had been hoping when he had seen pictures of the place; in fact, the temperature since he’d landed had never exceeded thirty Celsius. Not even a reasonable amount of exaggerated exertion had drawn enough sweat from his brow to compensate for the unexpectedly mild temperature; there was no concealing from the watchful eyes of the drones that his hike from the landing site had been only slightly more strenuous than a tourist’s hike through the Bradagan Foothills on Planet at Centauri.

The view that Nojus wasn’t able to stop to appreciate was spectacular from horizon to horizon, but not because of the brilliant golden luster of the local desert sand, or the stark contrast it made with the deep, chocolate-brown volcanic rock that made up most of the hills. It wasn’t worth admiring because of the brilliant scarlet pinpricks of bulbous local flora which populated the margins where the hills vanished into the sand, or the pair of moons visible in the hazy slate sky. The detail that tempted the veteran explorer to stop and stare was the very detail that, when he’d seen it in still images, had convinced him to come to an unnamed, unknown world, where no dangerous life had ever been encountered.

The titanic skull half-submerged in the brilliant sand was easily ninety meters long and thirty high. Where the dry air and unobstructed daylight would have bleached Earthly bones white, the skeletal deposits of local fauna oxidized in air, forming a deep blue patina. It was, Nojus thought, a most perfect emblem for the desolate world: a darkly lustrous sapphire set on the edge of a vast golden wasteland.

Without delay, Nojus configured his Reed-Soares Portable Survival Utility into a hiking pole and started the descent toward the long-dead titan’s remains. The Naval Survey Auxiliary pilot who’d given him coordinates and still images of the world had been disappointingly certain that the towering remains dotting the desert were those of an extinct species, perhaps the giant cousins of a scaled, amphibious apex predator living in the world’s few scattered oases and wetlands, itself already a beast of unusual size and ferocity. While he intended to take his camera-drones into the marshy habitats of such monsters before he left the planet, Nojus had decided to follow up on a very different detail of the Survey pilot’s account first.

Picking his way down the rocky hillside, surrounded by his modest flotilla of automatons, Nojus saw little wildlife. A sort of scuttling, chitinous creature lived in abundance among the rocks, but their skittish nature defied his best attempts to sneak up on them with his drones. A fast-moving flier, the same slate color as the sky, darted down in pursuit of the skittering things, but its speed was such that Nojus doubted that his drones were getting a good recording of its hunt. He fervently hoped that the pilot’s story was true; otherwise, one of his three days on the wild planet’s surface would be wasted.

As the rock below his feet gave way to the bright sand, Nojus began to see more wildlife. A small herd of bumbling, portly grazers meandered among the scarlet succulents at the desert’s edge, carefully nibbling the soft, blood-red flesh between scabrous upwellings of acrid-smelling, toxic sap. Both the herbivores and the slinking, feline shape which shadowed them paid the explorer and his drones no mind, but they did provide Nojus with some footage and an excuse to emphasize how a human would be killed by the toxins the desert herbivores ingested in a single bite. Most of the plant life on such an arid world was forced to guard its hard-earned biomass carefully, just as Earthly cacti shielded their soft flesh with a hedge of spines.

Passing beyond the stand of crimson growths and into the open sand, Nojus headed directly for the huge skull. The darkness inside its cavernous eye sockets loomed menacingly, and though he had no feeling of apprehension, Nojus knew that his audience, seeing his destination, would be more invested if he did. As he approached, he wove a few subtle hints of unease into his demeanor, for their benefit.

When at last he stood in the long shadow of the great fossilized skull, Nojus sent his drones up for wide-angle shots while he reconfigured his survival multitool into a spearlike weapon. Having no means to direct their movements personally, he had to trust in algorithmic photography to adequately capture the scene, as usual. For once, he doubted that even the best automation software would be up to the task.

When the drones returned, Nojus counted them, and noticed that one was missing. For the first time since he had set off from his landing site, he smiled. It was evidence that the Survey pilot had been telling the truth. The leviathans of the planet’s ancient past were dead, but their weathered bones had come to shelter those horrors that yet lived.

“I wonder who lives here.” Nojus muttered for the benefit of the cameras, feigning ignorance. What he’d been told about the creeping ambushers who hid from daylight was precious little, but if even half of it was accurate, his audience was in for a treat.

For those of you who follow both this text feed and Mr. Brand's vidcast episodes, you will probably recognize today's account as being the prelude to his most recent installation. You will probably also know that Mr. Brand barely survived his first day on this recently-surveyed Frontier world; he fared badly in an encounter with with some sort of furred, serpent-like predator, and nearly became extinct along with the titanic creatures that once roamed that world.

Obviously, Mr. Brand survived, or we wouldn't have his account or the video episode he published. Badly injured, it took him almost two whole days to drag himself back to his landing craft, and though he is recovering well from his injuries, it is my understanding that this is the closest that he has come to losing his life since his infamous 2939 run-in with a hive of blade scarabs on Barsamia.

Mr. Brand tried to persuade me to also run a Tales from the Inbox episode describing his agonizing return trip, but I will spare this audience the excruciatingly detailed account of how Nojus covered twenty-four kilometers of alien badlands after being partially disemboweled by a predator that fortunately disliked the taste of his foreign biology. It is sufficient to say that he is in good spirits about the incident, and plans to return to work as soon as his medical team allows.

2946-10-16 - Tales from the Inbox: Libbie's Gallery

Not every member of this audience is an interstellar professional.

This seemingly obvious fact often slips my mind, as the goal of Cosmic Background from the beginning has always been to provide variety entertainment for spacers, largely about spacers. However, it is quite true that there are a number of faithful viewers and readers of our content for whom the events described are impossibly distant from their everyday life, farther from their world than even fiction could be.

It is from this side of the audience that Libbie A. brings the story which encouraged her to sell her storefront art gallery in the growing market of Maribel and move back to the Core Worlds. Evidently, after encountering an eccentric denizen of that world and a macabre painting, she decided the Frontier was not sufficiently tamed for her liking.

I find it likely that this story is the result of a psychological warfare campaign by one of Libbie's business competitors, but she is convinced that the man she met was being honest with her. I have seen stills of the painting in question, and can find no records of creatures such as the one depicted on the canvas - I have placed the image Libbie provided on our datasphere hub, and have done my best to do it justice in simple text here, knowing that many of our readers can't access the Centauri datasphere or any of our major mirror hubs.


The word, spoken quietly, caused Libbie to jump in surprise. She had been reading an explorer’s unexpectedly gripping account of his escape from a burrowing predator on one of the many worlds of the Frontier, and hadn’t seen the customer enter her shabby little store-front.

Hurriedly stowing her slate reader, Libbie sat up and spied the old man standing in front of one of the larger pieces in the dusty old gallery. Like most of her other wares, the painting was done in the old style, with oil paints not too different from those used to paint the long-crumbled masterpieces of the Earthbound Age of Lights. The only thing different about the modern compositions was the pigments fixed to the canvas – the synthetic colors would not fade with age, not even after the canvas itself crumbled to dust.

As if noticing Libbie for the first time, the old man waved her closer. She marked him as unlikely to buy the piece; his clothing was even shabbier than the little store-front she passed off as a local artists’ gallery, and his white hair was wildly unkempt, sticking out from under the brim of a quaint sun-hat. He was, she suspected, one of Maribel’s old hands; a man who’d seen the colony in its hardscrabble youth as a young man. Most of the old hands, holding agricultural lands around the world’s original colonial settlement, had been hit hard by the relocation of the main spaceport halfway around the world to a more favorable location. Their holdings were still vast by most standards, but they were, other than the value gained from working the land, all but worthless.

“Can I help you, sir?” Libbie asked, sidling around the counter to approach the customer. She realized as she did that the man was examining her least favorite piece in the gallery, and suppressed a shudder. Penniless old hand or not, she hoped he would buy the painting, if only to ensure she never had to look at it again.

“Possibly not.” He looked up for the first time, his piercing crystal-blue eyes seeming at odds with his threadbare appearance. “What can you tell me about this painting?”

The gallery attendant shrugged. “Not much beyond what the placard says, I’m afraid. I’ve sold a few other paintings by the same artist, but this is probably his most… striking.” Libbie doubted her half-hearted sales pitch was having any effect; the old man could almost certainly tell she didn’t like the painting. It wasn’t that it was of poor quality – it was truthfully among the best paintings she’d ever hung in her gallery – it was that the horror depicted emerging from the rust-hued fog in the middle of the piece. Its slavering, toothy maw, three dead, hollow eye sockets set in a skull-like head, and bestial claws seemed all the more chilling on a very human-like frame, restrained by great chains. Libbie had dealt in macabre and even sadistic paintings before without letting any of them get to her, but this one piece had managed to break her usually professional treatment of the art she sold. 

“I would have liked to see the others by this artist.” The old man muttered. “They sold, you say?”

“Yes.” Libbie rallied. “There are images on our datasphere hub, if you are curious.”

“No, that’s all right.” The old man shrugged. “What can you tell me about where he lives?”

“The artist?” Libbie shook her head. “Not much, sorry.” The signature on the paintings was for one “Ciril O”, but the reclusive Ciril never came to Libbie’s gallery directly. He shipped the pieces directly, and received his sale proceeds by the quaint method of sending credit chits to an anonymous mail stop in one of Maribel’s more inhospitable regions. “He likes his anonymity; if I had to guess, he’s only a part-time artistic genius.” Genius he was, Libbie knew; but she also suspected he was a sinister one.

“Of course.” The old man agreed distantly. “But I didn’t mean the painter.” 

“Who then, sir?”

“The subject, who else?” The old man replied, as if this was obvious. "If he's back, it would do to steer clear of the place."

Libbie was silent for several seconds, processing this. The old man, seeming to understand her shock, offered a faint smile. “Nothing? Perhaps that’s for the best, miss.” He sighed, then turned and headed for the door. “Good day.”


2946-10-09 - Tales from the Inbox: Mandy's Bangle

Mandy stared uncomprehending at the display for several seconds. The sleek, flattened-teardrop outline of the tiny derelict she had stumbled on had been naggingly familiar from the moment it had appeared on the readout, but now that her suspicion had been confirmed by the Survey Auxiliary’s high-quality recognition algorithm, she found it oddly impossible to process the fact that she was a few dozen kilometers away from Survey’s holy grail: an abandoned Angel starship.

The Angel ship was no bigger than her own Sirius M67 survey ship, and as cold and dead as the interplanetary void in which she had found it drifting, but Mandy still felt terribly alone and unprepared. She’d graduated from the Academy fifth from the bottom of her class, and as a result had been put on the roster of the Naval Survey Auxiliary’s valuable but unglamorous internal survey arm, which sent its pilots into uninhabited systems within the traditional boundaries of Confederated Worlds territory rather than sending out crews to push out the farthest extent of the Frontier.

Until the smooth, metallic object had shown up on her Sirius’s sensor plot, the system Mandy had been surveying had been only an unremarkable binary with no name and only a chart index number, first explored sometime in the twenty-fifth century. Her week-long drift through the system had been only another step in a dull routine of filling in the gaps in four hundred year old data, each flight a means of working her way up to the Survey Auxiliary’s frontier exploration effort. The moment the text “ORIGIN: ANGELS” had appeared on the display, all of that had changed. The unremarkable binary’s chart number, she knew, might be memorized by students of future generations as the place humanity’s steady technological progress took a sudden leap not seen since first contact with the nomadic Reachers kicked off the Second Space Age. In the derelict, she saw her own rather unremarkable surname being spoken in the same category as Columbus, Armstrong, Edwards, Blazek, or Himura.

The ship’s autopilot, ever cautious when dealing with unknown derelicts, crept closer far too slowly for Mandy’s liking, but she didn’t trust her own manual control with a discovery of such enormity. The derelict was in unknown condition, and might in theory crumble if subjected to even the faintest gust of thruster propellant. Somehow she doubted it would; if stories from the War were to be believed, Angel ships of war no bigger than the one she was now approaching were fairly evenly matched in one-on-one combat with the six-hundred-meter-long Rattanai star cruisers of the Earth occupation fleet.

With visions of immortality dancing in her head, Mandy double checked the status indicators of the ship’s recording devices. She didn’t want to miss anything; the techs back at Saunders’ Hoard could wring all the useful data out of everything she brought back. Every detail of the slow, gradual tumbling motion with which the Angel derelict slowly orbited the distant binary stars was of potential value in learning how it had come to be where it was, and when. Mandy wondered idly if it had been there all along, a lost member of the silent swarm which had saved humanity in its interstellar infancy, or if it had arrived since the star system had been first explored. Perhaps it was merely a hollowed-out shell left as a marker by the inscrutiable, secretive Angels, or perhaps it was proof of the old legend that the Angels buried their dead the old Norse way, by packing them into the ships of war that had served them so well in life, and setting them adrift on the currents of the stellar sea.

Mandy was still imagining the sorts of stories her find might reveal when an alarm squealed somewhere inside her cockpit. Startled, she hunted for its origin, and a dagger of icy dread pierced her guts when she found warning lights on the powerplant status board. Before she could do anything to divine the meaning of the half-dozen warning lights, a jolt rippled through the tiny ship. The cockpit lights dimmed, and the familiar vibration of the gravitic drive faded into eerie silence as most of the cockpit sensor readouts shut down. All the warning indicators winked out save one – the ship’s reactor had, in her moment of supreme triumph, shut itself down to prevent a somewhat more inconvenient explosion.

Mandy cursed her luck, manually issuing a gentle burst of thruster power to push her ship’s now unpowered trajectory safely away from the valuable derelict. Though very new and modern, the M67 was still not reliable enough for Frontier service. Reactor panics like the one Mandy had just experienced, along with a host of other teething problems, were why the model was being issued only for internal survey flights, though it was a decade newer than anything else the Auxiliary had in its inventory. If she couldn’t get the reactor back online herself, another Survey ship would come along to investigate her failure to return. While there was more than enough reserve power and provisions for her to survive until rescued by another Auxiliary pilot, her dreams of becoming a legend were already being torn away from her. Another flight would mean someone else to share the glory with – someone just as likely to want to claim all the credit.

Just as Mandy turned her attention to attempting to coax her ship’s temperamental reactor back to life, another alarm sounded – this time, she recognized the insistent shriek of the collision alarm. The autopilot didn’t wait for instructions, quickly shoving the ship sideways violently enough that its pilot felt the maneuver even through the compensators. Though the readout had gone dark moments before, Mandy remembered from the plot that there was nothing out there to collide with – nothing, that is, except for the derelict. Chill dread returned as Mandy, all but blind with the active sensors too energy-intensive to operate on auxiliary power, brought one of the ship’s visual-light telescopes to bear on the orbital track of the Angel relic. It was just as she feared – the enigmatic vessel was not where it had been when her systems had gone dark. Without active sensors, she had no way of knowing if she had simply miscalculated its relative position, or if the dead ship had suddenly come to life.

Though she had no way of knowing what was happening outside her hull, Mandy wheeled the telescope around on its bearings, looking for any sign of the derelict’s sleek profile against the distant stars. All at once, it seemed that the stern, alien eyes of a lone Angel, its mysterious vigil disturbed, were upon her, piercing the hull of the Sirius as if they were a thin shell of brittle glass rather than sturdy titanium alloy. The odd, reclusive sapients had, for their own reasons, interceded to save humanity from extinction twice in its history as a spacefaring species, but she knew that was no guarantee of safety in such an encounter. The Angels were suspicious creatures, their impossible technologies always kept out of human hands, by lethal force if necessary.

Though she saw nothing against the starfield, Mandy found the controls for the broadcast radio and turned its power up as far as the auxiliaries could support. “Is someone out there? This is Naval Survey Auxiliary Flight 406-T-77. I’ve encountered a minor reactor malfunction, and any assistance would be appreciated.” The words seemed lost in the void, even within the confines of the cockpit.

There was, of course, no reply but the gentle background hiss of the binary system’s tangled magnetic field. Mandy shook her head, trying not to focus on visions of silent Angelic wrath fixed on her intrusion, and set about issuing reactor restart instructions.

To her relief, the temperamental Sirius power plant staggered to life on the second attempt. Immediately, Mandy swept local space for any sign of the derelict Angel ship, and was less than surprised when she failed to find it, either at its predicted location, or anywhere else. What did surprise her was that there was something out there – a highly reflective object no more than ten centimeters across. The ship’s computer helpfully modeled its trajectory and demonstrated that this small anomaly, not the missing derelict, had caused the collision alarm and emergency maneuver.

Gingerly, Mandy brought the ship around to scoop up the tiny object which had caused her so much terror. Once it was safely aboard and hoisted into the analysis tank, Mandy put the ship back on its original course and went down to have a look at it. She found herself looking at a polished plate of bronze-colored metal, triangular with two of its corners curled inwards. On the outer surface, a handsome pattern of etching crisscrossed the smooth finish. It looked, she decided, like a piece of simple jewelery; holes on the two curved corners might once have been the places where a clasp fitted to attach the item to a human-sized wrist or forearm.

Using the grippers in the analysis tank, Mandy turned the object over to examine the inside surface, and found a different pattern of etching there. Small blocks of complex etching marched in ordered rows, almost like letters, though she saw no place the pattern used a repeated shape. Mandy found it hard to focus on the etching; the nearly writing-like quality made her imagine letters and words appearing out of the background, but each time, they vanished as soon as she thought they appeared. It was, she decided, nothing that would be drifting in space by accident. The object was undoubtedly related to the Angel derelict; perhaps a piece that had fallen off and been forgotten when it had departed.

As she considered the possible meaning of the object, Mandy’s eyes drifted across the writing-like pattern once more, and she recoiled from the analysis tank in alarm, falling heavily against the opposite bulkhead. For a moment, another odd set of letters had seemed to rise from the complex pattern, bolder and clearer than all the suggestions her imagination had already supplied.

“Mandy, you’re losing it.” She muttered, standing once more and returning to the tank, sure that what she had seen would be only a figment of her overly active imagination. Picking up the metal object with the tank’s grippers once more, Mandy turned it over and once again looked upon the etching on the inside surface.

Despite all her expectations, the words that had so unnerved her were still there. Mandy stared uncomprehending at the thing in the analysis tank, torn between wonder and sheer panic. Etched into the ordered patterns on its inside face, very near the center and impossible to mistake, was her own name.

I'm genuinely shocked this story cleared Naval Intelligence, but it did.

Mandy G. sends us the account of the most eventful flight of her brief career in the Naval Survey Auxiliary. In her account, she claims to have stumbled on an apparently derelict Angel starship. The Auxiliary has never confirmed this incident, but their representative here on Planet refused to categorically deny her account. The usually very open service denied having any data recordings to back up the story, so I can't say I believe it all happened exactly as Mandy claims, but the physical proof of the story - the "bangle" she returned with - is a well documented fact.

According to Mandy, the physical proof she brought back was subjected to a number of analyses at the research station on Saunders’ Hoard, and the technicians there determined the item to have been manufactured by a human mass fabricator of a type mainly used in the early 2700s. How such an item came to have Mandy's name etched on it, none of them could understand, but they let her keep it all the same, finding no evidence it was of Angel origin. Mandy transferred from the Auxiliary to the true Navy shortly after this allegedly happened in early 2944; evidently she has been serving as a launch pilot on a Navy tender for almost a year, and she claims that she keeps the "bangle" on her person every time she straps into a cockpit.

I am interested in the teething problems Mandy reports with the Sirius M67 type - this ship class is sometimes considered the closest competitor to several of our loyal sponsor's offerings, since it is purportedly going to be available to the general public sometime early next year, at a similar price point to analogous Kosseler products. The Sirius model was built to the Survey Auxiliary's specifications, and supposedly in second-line Survey service they've worked most of the kinks out of the type, but I can't find any proof they've been cleared for Frontier service yet, even eighteen months after Mandy's reported bad experience. Is Sirius going to start selling these ships to the public before they're even ready for the purpose for which they were originally designed?