Four days had passed since they had lifted off of the planetoid with repaired engines. They had jumped into a system that they had designated Madore. It was a relatively boring system, with only one star and four planets, but they had detected three other potential jump points. Few explored systems had this many, making it a crossroads of sorts.
"Sir, we are picking up signals from the second planet. Initial scans indicate a class three civilization, several artificial satellites but no indication of ships in system."
"Compare it to the database, see if anything matches." Prallan said. This was an opportunity, potentially a first contact situation.
"Scan complete, sir....languages do not match anything on record."
"Take us in closer." The Hermus glided closer to the planet. Scanners quickly picked up a debris field around the planet. "Those artificial satellites....are they active?"
"No, sir. Looks like they are junk." The crewman pulled more data onto her screen. "I'm not reading anything that detects as intelligent life on the surface. There are buildings and other constructions, but no intelligent life."
"Pull as much data in as possible. Don't get too close to the planet, I don't want to risk any of that debris field. I wonder what happened here."
"It looks like most of this debris was from an orbital station. There are markings consistent with plasma weapons like those the aliens had at Lo-Lorane." Crewman Tipin, an energy matter specialist reported, pointing out the distinctive scorch marks on an image of the debris. "The rate of orbital decay and halflife of the radiation indicates that a battle happened here about seven days ago. Initial scans of the surface indicate some orbital bombardment with similar weapons, and smaller ground fire."
"Enough to wipe out the entire population of this planet?" Rickler asked.
"Inconclusive, sir, but unlikely. The population was densely populated in city centers, numbering only a billion or so. A few cities were badly damaged, but there's not nearly enough devastation to indicate the whole population was killed. Rough simulations put it between twenty and forty percent casualties among the population, maybe ten to twenty percent fatalities, mostly in response teams and armed forces. We were able to identify a central computer node that we may be able to access if we go down onto the surface."
"No." Rickler said curtly. "Without shuttles we would have to land the ship. We just got the engines working again, I don't want to scoop part of a space station into the exhaust vents and blow one or both of them out. I also don't want these things to figure out we are investigating a world they destroyed. They likely think of this as their territory, and I don't want to piss them off."
"Sir, its an opportunity to collect very useful data." Itran said. "We could uncover something useful about the enemy's tactics."
"Not worth it if the ship can't take off again. We are going to finish our survey and proceed to the next jump. You have ten hours to collect any data you can by scans. Bring some wreckage into the hold if you want, but we are not setting down on the planet."
"Aye, sir." Itran said, nodding to the crewman to be dismissed. Once he had left, Rickler spoke up again.
"I also want us plotting a course away from systems we believe the enemy to have come from. Itran, get with navigation and figure out our best course. Lieutenant Tigrole, you are to assist the survey crew in collecting data. You have experience with these beings, so you will have a good idea as to what is useful."
"Aye, sir." Prallan said, before leaving with Itran. Once they were away from the briefing room, Itran whispered to Prallan.
"I think we could safely land. There's nothing in that debris field that would damage our engines."
"The Captain is playing it safe. I agree with him. The data might be useful but if we can't get it back to the Empire, then it is worthless. Better to make the enemy think we were never here."
"Aye, sir." Itran said, and headed through the door to one of the other conference rooms where he would be reviewing sensor data. Prallan continued on to his quarters to begin looking over navigation information. Itran was correct that this was a good opportunity, but there was a lot to lose.
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