FLOATER

by Lee Clark

There was a thunderous roar, as the Asteroid Hopper set down on the mini-planet rolling through the zone of space between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus.

"Cut the power to the rockets," mumbled Dwight as he ran down a checklist of landing procedures. "Send a message to the Golden Hind, let 'em know we made it to the rock and we'll meet up with them in seventeen hours."

Morgan, the co-pilot and computer cartographer, complied. He next busied himself at the keyboard, loading and activating the Map-Maker program. The disk in the D drive spun, the external sensors perked up, and data poured onto the screen.

***


Chiron was a speck: Several hundred miles in diameter, lost in the vast stretch of nothingness between two gas giants. It was a wad of cosmic debris.

Chiron was also very much alone. Unlike the millions of other asteroids in the solar system which orbited the sun in the field between Mars and Jupiter, this straggler roamed the dead zone between the seventh and eight planets.

Dwight and Morgan were the first in a series of twelve survey teams to visit Chiron. The Alpha Centauri Group was interested in building a fusion-powered accelerator deep in the asteroid to generate a particle beam upon which an interstellar spacecraft could ride to another galaxy.

***


"Well," said Dwight, studying a composition report fed from the ship's computer. "Here's another one."

"Another what?"

"Remember how one out of five robot probes turned up evidence of organic matter in this rock? Stuff like leukocytes, epithelial cells, nitrogenous protein products and fossilized bacteria?"

"Yeah, I read the report...nobody could figure it out so they shrugged it off as a critical error."

"Well...I've got readings here showing the same findings. According to this, the core of this asteroid is comprised of organic material."

"Must be a mistake."

"Maybe." Dwight paused, trying to imagine the amount of paperwork he would have to file if word of this reached the Alpha Centauri Group. "I guess you're right." He deleted the data. "I mean, what would a chunk of fossilized organic material be doing out here in the middle of nowhere?"

"Exactly."

"I think I'll get some shut-eye after I use the little boy's room -- oh, that reminds me." Dwight stood, shuffled back toward the ship's single toilet. "The holding tank is reading full. Better flush it before we take off."

Shortly before the Asteroid Hopper bid farewell to Chiron, a hatch slid open and a tiny glob of fecal matter floated out into space, adrift in the nothingness between two gas giants.
  €

Story copyright ©1996 by Lee Clark <TheZump@aol.com>

Artwork copyright ©1996 by Romeo Esparrago. <public@romedome.com>


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