The huge lump of rock wasnâ€™t an asteroid, it was a ship. Marsh marvelled at the sheer absurdity of that fact. Perhaps at some stage in the past there had been a rock this size in the system. There could have been surveys that recorded any object this large, but how detailed, or accurate, they would be was not something he knew. Maybe Drick knew, would they have checked that, were they as surprised.
Perhaps some original asteroid had been destroyed to make up the camouflage. But it was no longer a rock, or an asteroid, it was a ship. It was a massive vessel that had been encrusted with particles of rock to make it look like a natural object. There was little chance that this was accidental. Someone had deliberately cloaked a ship by encasing it in the material of the Kuiper belt of this system.
As the stealthed shipâ€™s lights lit up the surface the higher detail showed the lines and structures of a shipâ€™s docking ring. It was enormous, as large as one would expect from a vessel this size. It was clear that the stealth ship wasnâ€™t going to attach to the surface, the ring was opening. The ship would easily fit inside. As they watched, hidden by the sensor blackout and camouflage of their own vessel, the ship they were following changed its direction slightly so that it would enter the docking area sideways. The ring would accommodate a ship three times its length with ease.
They would not be able to sneak their own vessel onto the hidden ship that way, there would be sensors and cameras and possibly even organics. They couldnâ€™t just park up next to the stealth ship with a cheery wave and ask the directions to the nearest habitation.
Marsh noticed that their course had altered. It was slight, but their ship had rotated as well. They were now, similar to the stealth vessel, approaching the vessel sideways, mimicking its final approach. Marsh felt his eyebrows lift and his stomach churn, was Drick just going to land them right next to the other vessel?
There was a gentle nudge of acceleration and they started to move away from the other ship and the docking ring. Marsh hadnâ€™t realised that he had been holding his breath until he allowed it to release in a long slow exhale.
Looking out of the forward view screens it felt like they were moving upwards simply because of the orientation of the floor and ceiling inside their own vessel. What they were actually doing was going into a slow orbit around the hidden vessel inside its rock camouflage.
â€œLetâ€™s take a look around this thing.â€ The message from Drick flashed across his screens. Text only and on the touch based communication channel. Drick had pressed her suit onto his slightly. This was a signal channel for suit to suit communication. It was fitted into the hard suits and prevented anyone noticing a communication, or scanning activity on the electromagnetic spectrum.
Drick was taking no chances with even internal communications. There was a strict rule while in stealth pursuit. Signals blackout except for essential communication, that to be delivered by text using the short data link.
Marsh sat patiently as Drick instructed the vessel to make the orbit of the rock. Drick pointed out features on the visual scanners. All the instruments were still set to passive mode. Reception only. They didnâ€™t want to give any indication of their presence.
The rock surface was clearly fake. The closer they flew the more detail the ship was able to scan and then composite into a diagram. It was amazingly detailed as, even passively, at this range the ship could determine the small regular features that hid under the surface. The sensors also detected that the rock surface was not actually rock below a depth of several metres. Other materials were present. It wasnâ€™t uniform across the whole surface. Underneath the rocky coating there were structural supports and what was clearly a complex framework.
Drick was taking careful readings using a magnetic field analysis. This was another passive system. It could be coupled with a mass spectrometer, but that would require a sample which would be a more active approach. The analysis was enough to identify the different materials as they acted within the localised magnetic fields. There was also a detector for gravitonic distribution, but it was slowly gathering data as it needed thousands of points of reference to build a clearer picture.
â€œLooks like the ship is about forty metres down for the most part. Below the superstructure supporting the camouflageâ€ Drick patched into Marshâ€™s internal screens.
â€œHow are we going to get in?â€ asked Marsh.
â€œLet’s get a few more readings and see if we can find an entrance, or make one.â€ said Drick. They turned back to the instrument panels and slowly watched as the computer built a better picture.