Marsh stood on the surface of the asteroid and patiently waited as Drick slowly assembled a large tripod. The surface of the asteroid was made up from a thick layer of rock dust. No doubt remains from numerous impacts on its surface and the attraction of dust particles from surrounding space. Well the asteroid shell he corrected himself. As this was a shell and the likelihood was that the surface was as fake as the rest of the object.
The ship’s sensors had drawn a simple, but detailed picture of the rock, the internal composition from magnetic imaging, they revealed it was a shell that was attached to an internal structure. That structure was more dense than the asteroid, and in parts more dense than organic rock. It was in all probability a massive construction.
The shell of the asteroid was a composite of different materials. This much was shown by resonance sensors. The outside facing components were primarily silicon-based rock. Crushed and compacted, it appeared by multiple impacts, but in truth it was likely to have been done by machinery. The rock shell was a thirty metre thick shell of silicate, with some traces of iron ores. It looked perfectly natural until you studied it closely.
The scans had revealed that the outer shell had thinner sections, most noticeably where the docking bay had opened. The silicon and iron ore covering of the doors was less than a centimetre in thickness and merely coated the surface.
Underneath the outer shell was a complex series of girders that held the surface in place and attached to the much larger internal structure. They had surmised that it was some form of scaffolding. Hold the shell in place, helping to support it against minor impacts and preventing it from breaking apart with the forces of rotation. This internal web gave rigidity to the whole structure.
Inside the scaffolding, wrapped in a complex series of interlocking rings was a massive vessel. The instruments predicted that the vessel was principally ferrous metals and crystal. There were no accurate readings without risking detection. But it was likely to be a ship of glass and steel.
Drick had remarked that the rings were very similar to the layout of a starbase dry dock. It had to be a cradle for the ship to rest within, while it hid on the edge of the system. Whoever had decided to hide the ship here had obviously planned for it to be for a considerabl;e length of time. This level of construction, and secrecy, was well planned. Maybe it was as old as the colony itself, maybe even older. Had this rock been constructed here, or brought here?
The tripod assembly that Drick put together held a small cutting torch. They couldn’t risk being discovered by blasting a way through the shell. Nor could they directly breach the docking bay doors without drawing immediate attention to themselves. There were too many unknowns as to what level of security might be housed beneath the rock camouflage or in the entrance to the ship. There was no way of checking what resistance they would meet once discovered. Drick wanted to attempt a more stealthy incursion. For now it would be wiser to use stealthy and learn more.
Drick had chosen a section of shell that was a good distance from the docking bay. It wasn’t the furthest point, but it was close. It was also sixty degrees round the curvature of the rock keeping it out of a visual line of sight. It wasn’t the thickest, or thinnest, part of the external shell, but it was a suitable distance from anything that appeared important on the interior from what they could determine from the readings gained from the scanner. The rock here was fourteen metres thick. The tripod held a plasma cutter that they had set to a broad beam, rotating in a circular motion, which would cut a hole slowly through the surface.
Marsh assembled a small matter displacement field. This would charge the particles of the loosened rock that were being broken by the plasma beam and collect them. After letting them settle they could be deposited back onto the surface of the asteroid. They could also be used to make a plug for the hole they were cutting to hide its existence. This would allow them to enter and prevent easy exposure from casual observers.
Their small ship would take off on automatic pilot once they went inside and stay at a safe distance following the asteroid until they called it.
Drick finished erecting the tripod and moved slowly over to Marsh, their speed determined by the zero pressure and low gravity. Drick checked the work Marsh had done with the matter collector and the small robot assemblers who would make the rock plug. Drick helped him to finalise the construction and type in the settings for the machines.
After an hour of silent work Drick messaged Marsh using the local text directly to his internal screens. “Once we power these machines they will take over ten hours to complete.” Drick took a large roll from the backpack they wore. “Take this. It is an emergency pressured environment dome. It will auto inflate and attach to the surface by its own auto-firing pylons. It has a stealth blanket with it to cover it. You can get some rest. I will swap places with you in two hours. I will assemble a tent over the work area to mask it as much as I can. I will send the ship to a safe distance very soon.”
Marsh nodded his assent and moved away to a safe distance of thirty metres from the drilling site. He cleared a space, then inflated the survival pod and threw over the camouflage screen.