Terrance waited at the communication console at Central Command in lunar orbit. The survey teams were operating just within the orbit of Uranus and the signal delay was over two and a half hours. Whatever was going to happen had happened already.
The first ship had been closer, nearly within Jupiter’s sweep, albeit on the other side of the sun. It shot through the solar system obliquely and too quickly for capture. We hadn’t been expecting it, of course, and only managed a cursory scan. No thrust. No EM. Nothing on radiological. Artificial—an interstellar ship of non-human origin to be sure—but nothing alive on board. That was eight years ago.
Unsurprisingly, we grew more serious about our long-range detection after that. When the second ship came, just skimming the Oort cloud, we were better prepared. We sent a team to rendezvous, but due to a programming error we were unable to physically reach the ship. We managed to follow it for half a million kilometers and gathered what data we could. Same as before. Another dead ship.
This third ship came from yet a third direction, leaving us baffled as to the point of origin. The survey teams were split onto four ships for redundancy this time. We were damn well getting on board.
The video feeds began to arrive before Terrance. All four teams successfully reached the alien craft and found a point of entry. They entered. Smooth dark tunnels. No light. No atmosphere. No one home.
They split up into teams and then pairs, fanning out. Within minutes, they all found the same thing. Chambers and chambers and chambers haphazardly filled with human corpses.