[151631.1219] <PH9> PROBE-H9 TO DEEP RECON.
[151631.1236] <DRC> *ahem* Probe-H9, this is deep recon. Found something in quadrant-86 besides nothingness? Or can I just cross this one off the list as well?
[151631.1250] <PH9> I AM DETECTING AN SOS SIGNAL. COORDINATES ARE: █████, █████, █████.
[151631.1271] <DRC> Probe-H9, confirm acquisition and run a preliminary diagnostics on all your long range scanners, see if you can get a visual while I map these coordinates.
[151631.1257] <PH9> AFFIRMATIVE. RUNNING A DIAGNOSTIC CHECK… PRIMARY SENSORS OPERATIONAL. SECONDARY SENSORS ARE OFFLINE. I AM UNABLE TO ESTABLISH VISUAL CONFIRMATION.
[151631.1257] <DRC> I copy that. Activate your secondary sensors anyway just to double check. You still have decent power reserves for that, correct?
[151631.1271] <PH9> AFFIRMATIVE. SECONDARY SENSORS ARE NOW ONLINE. I AM UNABLE TO ESTABLISH VISUAL CONFIRMATION STILL.
[151631.1285] <DRC> Copy. Looks like your signal is coming from the next quadrant over. Give me an ETA and reroute vectors.
[151631.1292] <PH9> CALCULATING… I AM UPLOADING REROUTE VECTORS. ALSO ADJUSTING ORIENTATION TO: 12.3°, -24.9°. ETA IN: 399 HRS. AWAITING CLEARANCE, DEEP RECON.
[151631.1299] <DRC> These numbers look good. You are cleared to change course. Send an update when you make visual contact. Also, relay the signal if you haven't done so already.
[151631.1302] <PH9> AFFIRMATIVE.
At this point, Investigator Geoffrey Davies stops reading and looks up at Chief Technician Officer Isaac Miles sitting across from him. Miles, looking a bit worn for wear, quietly sips his synthetic coffee while picking at the frayed Foundation patch on his uniform.
"So… you didn't immediately notify command that one of the AI probes detected an SOS signal in unexplored space?"
Miles inhales sharply to start. "As per protocol, we need two forms of confirmation for signals in unexplored space before sending response teams in."
"I understand that, but this was an Emergency SOS."
"It doesn't matter, sir. Not to be contrary but the standard protocols for unexplored space recon don't leave any room for exceptions."
"Yes… but according to your personal log-" Davies pulls up another file on both his and Miles's data register. "-you analyzed the signal and confirmed it was human in origin."
"So you are still going to stand by your protocols?"
"I have to do it by the book, sir. If you have an issue with that you can talk to Directo-"
Davies holds up his hand dismissively and looks back down at his data register. "The Director's policy is not in question here."
He continues reading his highlighted transcripts, skipping ahead to the next entry of interest.
[151635.5257] <DRC> Deep Recon to Probe-H9
[15635.5264] <PH9> YES, DEEP RECON?
[151635.5271] <DRC> I have long range visual on you and plotting your current course. You entered your destination's quadrant roughly an hour ago. I need a report.
[151635.5278] <PH9> I AM UNABLE TO ESTABLISH VISUAL CONFIRMATION. ETA IN: 4.2 HRS.
[151635.5285] <DRC> There's nothing in that quadrant. Run diagnostics again. Has the signal gotten stronger at all?
[151635.5292] <PH9> RUNNING DIAGNOSTIC CHECK… PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SENSORS OPERATIONAL. NO CHANGE IN SIGNAL.
[151635.5313] <DRC> Probe-H9. What are your gravimetric readings?
Davies puts the data register down again and rubs his brow. "Here's where I get confused again."
Miles tilts his head slightly. "Like I said, the probe passed through some kind of event horizon. So I told it to hold up until we looked over some readings."
"Yes, but it wasn't an actual event horizon? Your reports conflict here."
Miles leans forward on his elbows as he reorganizes his thoughts. "Look, I can't explain it either, but you can see in the images. The probe… the image of the probe had red-shifted. Somehow the light coming off of it became trapped at the horizon, but it could still transmit. So… it wasn't a black hole… at all… but behaving like one? Isn't your department supposed to classify these anomalies?"
Davies calmly leans in his seat slowly squinting his sunken eyes. "I'm not at liberty to discuss that aspect of the investigation since you don't have clearance for that." Then makes a quick note on his digital register. "It's classified."
Miles shifts in tone, he's not one to push the boundaries of patience among his peers. Least of all an internal investigator. "I'm being as cooperative as I can."
Davies just gives a quirk nod and a sigh. "I'm just going to skip ahead here… time stamp 151635 point 6979…"
Miles follows along with his copy.
[151635.6979] <PH9> ETA IN: 4.2 HRS. SIGNAL IS UNCHANGED
[151635.6986] <DRC> Check your time data again, Probe-H9. You should be closing in on the source.
[151635.6993] <PH9> NEGATIVE. ETA IN: 4.2 HRS.
[151635.7002] <DRC> Your reading has to be off. I may not have visual on you anymore but I can still bounce a signal. You should be passing through to quadrant-88 within the hour. I'm rerouting Probe-J4 to intercept and escort you to the nearest repair node. Continue course until further notice.
[151635.7007] <PH9> AFFIRMATIVE.
Davies pauses to glance up at Miles briefly, and for a moment, their eyes meet. Maybe he was trying to read Miles as to his reaction to the incident ahead. Maybe he was trying to taste that fear and confusion Miles experienced.
Whatever Miles was feeling at that exact moment was hard to gauge for him. He knew how the rest of these transcripts were going to play out after reviewing them. For certain he could tell Miles was just a hot mess of nerves and would probably jump at the sound of his own ears popping.
He reads on.
[151635.9500] <DRC> Deep Recon to Probe-H9, do you have visual on Probe-J4 yet?
[151635.9507] <PH9> NEGATIVE.
[151635.9514] <DRC> Can you detect Probe-J4?
[151635.9521] <PH9> NEGATIVE.
[151635.9528] <DRC> Well what can you detect?
[151635.9535] <PH9> I AM DETECTING… AN SOS SIGNAL. ETA IN: 4.2 HRS ON PRESENT COURSE.
[151635.9542] <DRC> Give me your coordinates. You should be well into quadrant-88 by now.
[151635.9549] <PH9> ERROR, I AM UNABLE TO RELAY ACCURATE COORDINATES.
[151635.9542] <DRC> Your guidance system is malfunctioning?
[151635.9549] <PH9> NEGATIVE. COORDINATES ARE OUTSIDE OF EUCLIDEAN SPACE. READING: 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9. I AM UPLOADING SENSOR READINGS, CAN YOU CONFIRM?
[151635.9556] <DRC> I… can't. Telemetry suggests you might have hit a gravity well, but that conflicts with your gravimetrics. Probe-H9… do you have visual on anything?
[151635.9562] <PH9> NEGATIVE. THE SOS SIGNAL REMAINS UNCHANGED. ETA IN: 4.2 HRS ON PRESENT COURSE.
[151635.9583] <DRC> Standby.
[151635.9590] <PH9> AFFIRMATIVE.
"This is when I made the call to command." Miles finally pipes up. "However they were a week out… a-and by the time they got to my station, it was all over with anyway."
"I know." Davies simply states, not taking his eyes off the transcript. "That's documented well enough."
"But nobody advised what to do about the probe."
"They wouldn't in most cases. Hard to say how to approach these… anomalies."
Miles clears his throat. "I thought that, maybe I just have it continue on deeper and deeper."
Davies finally establishes eye contact. "And what was your thought process on that? To have it stay on course."
"I… didn't see a reason not too. Especially since there was still an Emergency SOS to investigate."
Davies nods in agreement. Pretty much the first thing he and Miles can agree on thus far.
"However-" Davies holds a bony finger in the air. "-this is the section of the report that interests my department…" The bony finger strikes an entry dated nearly a day later. Miles cranes his neck to see the time stamp.
"Yes. I had the probe giving me hourly reports up to that point."
"If you would… take over and read this last portion for me."
Miles nods and with a shaky inhale, reads on.
[151636.7576] <PH9> PROBE-H9 TO DEEP RECON.
[151636.7590] <DRC> Go ahead.
[151636.7618] <PH9> I AM DETECTING A SIGNIFICANT MASS SIGNATURE. PROXIMITY: 900000KM / -19.0°, 1.2° FROM MY CURRENT POSITION.
[151636.7632] <DRC> Is it the signal source? What is it?
[151636.7464] <PH9> NEGATIVE. SIGNAL IS UNCHANGED. ETA IN: 4.2 HRS ON PRESENT COURSE. I AM PERFORMING A SPECTRAL ANALYSIS ON THE MASS SIGNATURE, STANDBY…
[151636.7469] <DRC> Probe-H9, give me some physical dimensions.
[151636.7674] <PH9> IT IS A PLANETOID MASS. MEAN RADIUS: 690KM. APPROXIMATE MASS: (4.006±0.040)×1021KG. DENSITY: 1750KG/M3
[151636.7701] <DRC> That's… far too light a density for a planetoid. Calculate that density again. I want you to adjust position to get a clear visual on it. What does your spectral analysis read?
[151636.7687] <PH9> AFFIRMATIVE. I AM RECALCULATING DENSITY AND ADJUSTING POSITION FOR VISUAL CONFIRMATION. I AM UNABLE TO COMPLETE THE SPECTRAL ANALYSIS.
[151636.7701] <DRC> Why not?
[151636.7703] <PH9> PLANETOID MASS PROXIMITY IS FLUCTUATING. RANGE: 400000KM.
[151636.7715] <DRC> Probe-H9… can… can you repeat that range again?
[151636.7729] <PH9> RANGE: 250000KM
[151636.7732] <DRC> Probe-H9, that's impossible. Check your range sensors.
[151636.7743] <PH9> RUNNING DIAGNOSTIC CHECK… PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SENSORS STILL OPERATIONAL. RANGE: 70000KM. SIGNAL IS UNCHANGED. ETA IN: 4.2 HRS ON PRESENT COURSE.
[151636.7746] <DRC> Probe-H9… can you ta-
[151636.7744] <PH9> WARNING, COLLISION IMMINENT. I AM ADJUSTING COURSE. RANGE: 4000KM.
[151636.7757] <DRC> Probe-H9? Probe-H9 do you copy?
[151636.7769] <PH9> DEEP RECON, I AM UNABL- *static*.
[151636.7780] <DRC> Probe-H9, status? Are you there… Probe-H9?
Davies slides a photo face down over to Miles from across the table. Miles reluctantly flips it over to once again familiarize himself.
"That's it. That's the image the probe transmitted before it went dark."
Davies nods understandingly. "Any idea what it is?"
Miles shakes his head side to side. "No."
"Odd that it is so bright in the image. Any idea why?"
After a pause to ruminate over it. "I don't. It was traveling through… empty space. At least I thought it was."
"You don't think it's a rogue planet… do you?"
A head, more slowly this time, pans side to side. "No, sir."
Davies then sees it. Miles is done. He snags the image back and places it into his pocket. "I think we're finished here then."
"What happens now?"
The metal chair screeches against the floor as it's pushed out to make room for an old man with failing knees, though soon to be replaced with composite ones.
"Well… you're off rotation in about a month… I'll expedite that and just have it start now. Your station however is currently being converted into an outpost. The assigned MTFs will take over from there."
Miles gets up too.
"If I were you, I'd hop on the next shuttle for home. I'll have another agent do a final debriefing with you just to wrap this all up."
"Thank you, sir."
"Don't worry about it."
Davies shuffles out into the cold hallway of the command station walking over to his assistant. He places a hand on Agent Heller's shoulder to get his attention, handing him a data register with the other hand.
"Upload this interview with the rest of the data on the spatial anomaly. It's under file Q-087."
Then in a more firm tone of voice. "And seal off that quadrant until further notice. I don't even want wayward piss ice to drift into that space without me knowing about it. Understood?"
Agent Heller nods. "Yes, sir. What do you want done with the-"