Chapter 10: Wreckage

Daria sat in the library watching the feeds from the two rescuers sent out to what she though of as 'the mysterious craft from outer space.' They were documenting the crash site, as well as then moving pieces to see what was in the wreckage. So far there was no evidence of a human or alien crew. That was just fine with her.

Tom had departed at first light with the four rover group. It had taken much of the night for maintenance to refit one rover as essentially a flatbed truck with a crane. They needed something to haul the wreckage. They estimated it would take the convoy of rovers about 10-12 hours to reach the crash site. On top of all of that 3 of them had to tow trailers that carried a fuel cell and fuel to recharge the others during stops along the way. The fuel would also be used to directly refuel the copters. It was a good thing that they had exacting maps down to the size of each pebble along the way from the World Walker. That way the rovers could average 50 kph (31 mph) while driving on the route.

While having the wrecked spacecraft was something exciting, watching the feeds from the rescue team was actually quite boring. Until they could start moving large pieces everything was just staying where it was and they were talking. Having found no crew in the debris field, they were now trying to look under things for a way to access what was under the main part of the craft. So far, no luck and no visible writing.

"I think I have something here," one of the men said. "Bring the high powered light!"

Daria could see the camera image from the other man as he went and retrieved the light from his copter.

The two positioned the light to shine on the area. "That may be a hatch there, but is is so distorted from the heat of entering the atmosphere that I can't precisely tell."

"Bang on it a few times and see if anyone answers," the other rescuer replied.

They both took tools and started banging on the hull. They kept at it for about a minute and then placed microphones to try and pick up a response. After a few minutes with no response they removed the microphones. They repeated the process several times.

Daria pulled up feeds from the microphones. She muted the sound, but looked at the graph to see if she spotted any transient signals. After the fifth attempt she called the rescue team.

Daria called, "Library to Rescue 1. Do you copy?"

"Roger Library. What's up Daria? This is Ed."

"Ed, on attempts number 4 and 5 I am seeing a feint transient signal pop up about 30 seconds after you stop banging on that thing. Seems a little long for an echo. It might just be something you started vibrating. But, it is definitely a signal."

"Roger that Daria." Turning to his partner Ed ordered, "Go get me the drill and atmosphere tester. We need to find out if there is any air behind this."

Moments later Ed was drilling through the hull of the craft. The drill created a seal as it moved through the material so that there would not be decompression if indeed there was an atmosphere with substantial pressure on the other side. Soon the drill was through and Ed was watching the display as the unit tested whatever was back there.

"Hmm," he said. "It looks like what is back there is a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide with some other trace gases. The carbon dioxide is right on the line of being lethal to human life. Total pressure is awfully low as well."

"This is Daria," Daria stated. "Could it be that Martian atmosphere has been getting in somehow? Maybe the ship is no longer sealed?"

"That is always a possibility," Ed responded. "I think there is enough to make it worthwhile to set up the soft airlock and cut away this hatch. Then we can get inside and see what is in there. How far out is the rover convoy?"

"They left the 400 km station about an hour ago. They have had some slow going, so I am guessing they are still about two hours or so away from you."

"Roger," Ed responded and then the two men went back to work. Daria continued to monitor on her screens.

…...

It took about 30 minutes to setup and test the soft airlock. Once Ed was satisfied he turned and said, "OK Karl, now see if you can cut that hatch open. If it is conductive, then we can use the arc welder to cut through. If not, then we will have to try an acetylene torch." The material turned out to be metal and conductive. An hour later later there was a hole cut in the side of the craft.

"Karl, where is that spider thing!"

Karl walked over to his copter and fished out a box about the size of a a case of beer. He brought it over and opened it. Inside in tight packing was a device about one-third the size of the outside packaging.

"Here it is, Ed," Karl responded. "I'll take it out and we can get it through that hole to take a look around inside." Reaching back into the box he pulled out a controller. "Here, plug this into your helmet display and I'll plug it into mine. We can both see what is happening with the spider. You can control it, though."

Ed and Karl plugged in and Karl turned the device on. He then stuck it on the side of the craft next to the hole.

Their helmet displays showed the message 'Mars Exploration Support System - Ready. Voice control active. Realtime video feed active.'

Ed started out, "MESS go to your left. Enter the hole and scan interior. If you lose contact return to origin and extend antenna line." The artificial intelligence built into the deice understood his instructions and the spider disappeared into the hole. A window opened in each of their helmets and started displaying the interior of the craft. The spider had a super bright light and effectively illuminated the interior.

Daria watched as the two men discussed what they were seeing. She was sitting in the library wearing VR glasses. She could see everything the spiders were transmitting. Even though they were in tight spaces the bright lights they used made everything visible. She was also able to switch to an infrared view if she wanted it. Most of what she was seeing was either structure of the craft or wiring. A couple of things in her view looked like pipes or tubing.

"Shine the light left 20 degrees," Daria told the spider. The light shifted immediately and illuminated a dark corner of the crashed craft.

Daria remarked, "We have our first data. This thing is clearly terrestrial in origin. Those are standard electronic parts and circuit board markings." She grabbed the image and fed it into her computer with instructions to identify the components. In less than a second she had her answer. "The computer tells me that these are components produced in Asia. Everyone uses the same components, so that does not yet tell us the country of origin for the craft. However, it clearly eliminates this thing being an alien craft of some sort. Kind of disappointing."

The commander came on and said, "Good work, Daria. That answers one question. Let's keep digging and see what more we can get. I really want to know what we are looking at before I contact Houston about this."

Over the next hour the spiders crawled over various components. Still there was no direct evidence of who had built this craft. After considerable time the spiders reached what might be the payload compartment or maybe even a crew area. It took a while to find a place where the compartment had been torn open by the impact. The spiders went in and Daria steeled herself in case there were deceased and possibly mutilated astronauts in the compartment.

The lights from the spiders shined brightly around the compartment. There was no evidence of humans in the space. Most of the space was clearly taken up by various types of machinery, wiring, tubing, and piping. As they looked around, certain shapes seemed to emerge. And then there was a symbol.

Daria grabbed the frame with the symbol and copied it to her library computer. It didn't take long for the software to tell her what she had found. It was in fact 2 Chinese characters. The translation was: soldier.

As the spiders continued to crawl through the space more shapes were revealed. There were what appeared to be arms and torsos. While nothing was exactly a head in the human sense, there were disk shaped areas atop the torsos. Farther up there were things which appeared to be containers. They were also marked with characters. Daria grabbed the image and once again fed it into her library computer. The translation returned: ammunition. Now Daria was concerned.

"Commander," Daria called.

"Yes Daria," the commander replied.

For once in her life Daria had to really control her emotions and her voice. She did her best to respond in total deadpan. "I think we have a situation here. I have grabbed images of the Chinese characters spotted so far. They translate as 'soldier' and 'ammunition.' I do not think this bodes well for the purpose of this craft."

The commander said, "OK. Are there any other images you can use to help identify what is going on?"

Daria responded, "I think so. But, I have to extract them and get the computer to put together a composite image. From that hopefully we can identify what we have here."

"Do it and get back to me when you know more."

"Yes commander," Daria said. Then she started work on putting together the images.

Daria, the Commander, Tom and his group, and Ed and Karl were all on the video conference call together. The commander had also pulled in the other military people in the colony.

The Commander started, "Daria, please start and tell us what we are looking at."

Daria cleared her throat and started the series of slides she was discussing. "What we have here is a Mark 16 Groundfighter autonomous robotic soldier. On Earth they were capable of operating in all weather conditions down to -40 C (-40 F) and up to 50 C (122 F). They can operate underwater to a depth of 20 m (66 ft). They could be parachuted from high altitude into an area as well. Their purpose was to secure streets and buildings so that human forces could move in. They can walk, run, climb, and are good jumpers. Any resistance fire was snuffed out quickly and mercilessly. Being robots, they had no problem blowing up a building with people inside just to take it."

Several of the military people chimed in with ideas about how to completely destroy the craft by detonating the onboard ammunition. One said, "We could try to set that off. It would probably take out the entire craft."

Tom was listening to the back and forth and then chimed in with, "If we do any of those things you are suggesting, then we hope we have successfully destroyed the craft and we will have destroyed the ammunition as well. However, I am deeply concerned that this might not be a one-time incident. What if more of these things show up? If someone has the idea that they are going to take this colony by force, then would they leave the entire job to just a few of these robots? I put forward the idea that we need to think about how we may have to defend ourselves against attack. This may not be over."

There were comments of agreement all around.

Daria popped up, "What about welding torches used for cutting? We could send in welding drones with cutting torches and cut the legs off of the robots. Then they are at least immobile. We can also cut off arms so that they cannot shoot. We could harvest the parts and really see what we have. We might even be able to salvage their weaponry and make it usable by humans. Then we have a means of defense if more of these things show up. We can also try to see if we can interfere with their electronics."

"I like that idea," The Commander responded. "How long will it take to get the equipment we need out there?"

"Approximately 12 hours," One of the military people responded. He was a logistics person who worked with Tom on managing colony resources. "We can get the shops started on the alterations now. It shouldn't take more than 5 or 6 hours. We can then put them on drones and get them out there."

The Commander stated, "I think we have the start of a plan. Get that going and get the cutting torch carrying drones out there ASAP. Cut off the robots legs first and then the arms. Transport the pieces back here to the shops. Meanwhile, I will work on a defense plan and we can revise that once we have these things out of the craft and know the threat better. I am going to brief Houston on the situation as it is now and we will see what happens on their end. I need to do that before Earth is fully in conjunction behind the sun. No matter what they say, we are on our own and we will take whatever action is necessary. I will brief the whole colony at dinner this evening."

Tom stood on the small ridge which overlooked the crash site. He could see the two copters sitting there that had brought Ed and Karl along with search and rescue gear. Nearby were the two drones that had brought in two welding robots. Ed and Karl were standing away from both the copters and the crashed ship. Tom's rover was parked well away from both. In fact, he positioned it so that if a rapid escape were needed he could get the whole crew behind the ridge very quickly.

The smallness of the crashed ship was rather surprising to Tom. While space was always at a premium on any type of spacecraft, it was still dwarfed by its own debris field. The thing looked black, burnt, and most of all inert. Still, looks could be deceiving.

Tom walked down and went over to Ed and Karl. He asked, "So what is going on now?" The three members from his team and two from the other rovers were standing well away behind the vehicles. Still, Tom was on the community broadcast channel and they could hear him.

"Well, we are working with your wife to cut up these robots. Our working theory is that they are intended to be armed and used against us. We have one more arm to cut off and we are done. Then we can cut open the spacecraft, unload the robot pieces, and unload the ammunition as well."

"OK," Tom said. "Once you are done it looks like we have plenty of room on the flatbed for this thing."

Karl shouted, "Ed, I am starting to get power readings on this thing! I think the robots are trying to power up."

"Let me look at that display," Ed replied. "Yeah, the spiders have detected an electrical spike. There is definitely power flowing to some of the robot parts. Let's see how close we are to being done cutting." Ed switched images to the last welding robot doing the cutting. "Just finished."

Tom turned toward the rovers and said over the radio, "One of you get inside and check for any attempts to broadcast. We really don't want whoever sent this thing getting any messages from it. Jam any signal emanating from it."

"Yes sir," One of the men replied. He went over and cycled through the airlock on the second rover.

Karl commented, "I don't think they will be able to get off much of a broadcast. The antenna is upside down in the dirt over there. It doesn't look like there are any wires attached to it."

Tom jumped in saying, "Still, we need to make sure. Jamming is one of the few mechanisms we can use defensively right now."

Ed commented, "Well, with Earth just about to go behind the sun I am betting that these were sent to accomplish something autonomously."

Karl retorted, "I don't like the implications of anything autonomous coming here and running amok. It escapes me why someone would want to mount an invasion of an otherwise peaceful international colony. Everyone is welcome to send at least one pair of astronauts."

Looking at the two men Tom simply said, "An invasion is something we need to stop. What we do here is for all countries and not just one. If someone walks in and takes over, then not only will we suffer personally under their yoke but all mankind will suffer. If someone takes over, then all the resources will belong to them and they will dictate how those resources are used – including personnel, i.e., us."

Karl said quietly, "Didn't Edgar Rice Burroughs write stories about human slaves on Mars?"

Ed popped up with, "I thought he wrote Tarzan."

Tom replied to Karl, "That is correct! He wrote Tarzan, too, Ed. The point is we don't want our lives to turn into an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel."

Still listening to the conversation Daria made a note to look up some material from Edgar Rice Burroughs series on Mars. The Commander might need it for a speech or message to Earth. She would also have to refresh Tom about the story lines of Burroughs series.

The men's attention was suddenly drawn toward the mysterious craft. They heard an explosion and felt the concussion from it. They turned and looked just as the top of the spacecraft was landing about a hundred meters from the spaceship. Two robot arms came crawling out.

"Get the welding robots over there and cut those hands off!" Tom yelled into his microphone. A moment later two of the spidery welding robots came running out where the top of the ship had been. They chased down the two arms and applied their cutting torches to the metal. In a few moments there was no more movement.

Tom gave orders to the men who had come with him in the rover, "Get this junk onto the flatbed and let's get it back to the lab. We need to find out what we are dealing with here. The thing that concerns me most is that there may be more of these ships that landed successfully and have viable robots aboard! When you get that done do the same with the ammunition."

Tom wasn't done. "Everybody who came out here to do the initial survey head back to the colony. We will do the cleanup and be back soon. Meantime those of you who flew in be sure to pay attention and do reconnaissance on your way back. I have a bad feeling these things were not alone. We need to find any others and deal with them. If you see some, then report back at Aries. Does everybody understand?" Over his helmet speakers Tom heard everyone respond with "yes."