The passenger craft appeared on the viewfinder. Light from hundreds of windows made it look like a bizarre ornament. The ship had been due back months before, but had gone radio silent. Captain Helmuth’s science vessel was near the last known location, en route to investigate a new pulsar, and had agreed to assist.
It hadn’t taken long to find the ship. Outwardly everything appeared fine, though the engines were cold.
“Any response?” Helmuth asked.
“It’s strange, sir. There is, but it doesn’t make any sense.”
“It’s the default hail reply. The one that’s baked into firmware before a ship is configured.”
“Bailey, Stephenson, with me. Stewart, you have the conn.”
“Yes, sir,” they replied in unison.
“None of the codes are working,” Stephenson said.
Bailey reached over and punched in a short code. Stephenson watched in astonishment as the docking sequence initiated.
“What was that?”
“That’s the default code. I did firmware development at the academy. That shouldn’t work though, since ship onboarding overwrites all configuration.”
Once inside, Bailey stepped to a console.
“All the settings seem to have been reset to defaults,” she muttered.
“Call up the passenger manifest.”
Bailey entered commands. For every query a single word flashed on the screen, “unknown”.
With a crackle of static, Stewart’s voice broke in, “Captain, something strange is happening out here. There’s a powerful energy surge coming from the pulsar, and we’re in it’s …”
The console in front of Bailey flickered, and waves of code scrolled.
“Oh no!” she gasped, “That’s the initialization test sequence!”
“Since the computer thinks it’s the first boot up in the hanger, it’s going to cycle all the …”
Her words were cut off as the bay doors of the ship slid open to the hungry vacuum of space.