Derelict

by Albert Berg

Copyright 2009

Smashwords Edition

The moment he stepped out of the air lock into the dark hallway beyond, Warrick felt something. It was difficult to define. Foreboding would have been too strong a word, but it pointed in the right direction. If nothing else it was a faint kind of deja vu, a subtle suggestion that he had been here before. He waited a moment for the feeling to pass then radioed back to the ship.

"So far as I can see it's empty," he announced, his voice sounding loud and plastic inside the helmet.

"You sure?" Jones's voice came through the radio.

Warrick looked at the dark corridor ahead of him, at the hanging cobwebs, and the dimmed lights from the consoles. "Pretty sure," he said. "There's no one here."

"Well where are they?"

Warrick had no answer for that. To tell the truth, the whole business creeped him out. Seven days ago, martian orbital traffic control had registered a ship docking in orbit without the usual communication of intention. Usually such behavior indicated smuggling or some other kind of illegal operation, but in this case it hadn't seemed likely.

Superficial scans had rated the ship at an upper level E-class, and Warrick had never heard of smugglers using ships of that size. They were too large, too hard to hide.

A routine check with earth had unearthed slightly more information. The strangely silent ship was the Persephone, a combination freighter/passenger vessel on a routine run to Mars with a full load of passengers and mining equipment. At least that's what the report they had sent to Warrick's orbital customs enforcement outpost had said.

At first the customs authority had ignored the anomalous ship, but after it had been almost a week without a word of explanation or intent, they had sent Warrick and his crew to check it out.

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