The League jet had cameras all around the body, allowing me to check out almost the entire hull without leaving the cockpit. I’d always thought that was cool, but as of that moment I could guess at the practical reason why Grandpa had installed them.
A long, black shell clung three quarters of the way down the hull. The fact that it had attached itself said a lot about it.
A depressingly large amount.
For example, it said it could match our speed. We’d hit a small but significant fraction of the speed of light. If something less than six feet long could catch us, they probably had better technology.
A reactionless drive would theoretically let it move without carrying a lot of mass. And while it was violating physics anyway, who knew what else it had aboard? At that tech level, the thing wouldn’t have to be a flying missile. It might actually be a sentient machine.
Beyond the question of how cool that was, it opened up a lot of possibilities. It might be a relatively recently constructed AI, or citizen of one of the machine civilizations I’d heard were somewhere out there.
Either way, we might be able to persuade a sentient machine to go find something better to do.
Of course, if it was a combat drone, we might as well start writing our obituaries.
Still, the fact that it hadn’t yet blown itself up argued against that possibility.
Given our heading, it might be trying to reach the gate, but not be massive enough to use it alone.
The question was, where did it plan to go after that, and was it our problem?
I considered possibilities, but Haley pulled me out of my thoughts by reaching out with her hand, and muting the comm.
“Nick, I’m going out there. We can’t leave that thing on the ship.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It might be an option.”
I began to tell her my thoughts when Raptor’s voice came from the communicator.
“Don’t let the drone near the gate. It’s probably been spying out here for months, and plans to use you to get close enough to get away. Let it go, and half the spiral arm will know our defenses.”
I clicked the comm off mute. “What do you want me to do, change course?”
“That would be a good start.”
It might be. If it realized we weren’t going to the gate, it might let go, slide slowly through our shield like it must have on the way in, and find another victim–or if not a victim, another taxi.
That assumed, of course, that we didn’t blast it out of existence as soon as it was off our hull.
I looked at Haley. “What do you think? I think we could still try to talk to it.”
“If all we need to do to get it to leave us alone is turn, let’s turn.”
I activated the directional jets, pointing the ship into the beginning of a long arc that would eventually take us home.
It didn’t let go.
Haley watched its image on the monitor. “What do you think it wants?”
“I don’t know. I wonder if it would survive reentry?”
She frowned. “What do you think it would do on Earth if it did?”
Over the comm, Raptor said, “Is it off?”
“No,” I said.
“Then you’d better clear it off. No… Ignore that. Don’t do it. I’ll send you our position, and we’ll get rid of it.”
“Could I talk to it? Then it might let go by itself.”
“Don’t be naive.”
The ship’s computer beeped. We’d received Raptor’s position. It would take at least half an hour to get there.
Time enough for a conversation.