Soft orange light bathed the Trailblazer III as it tumbled out of bulkspace, and the captain of the expedition, Paz van Dijk, finally set eyes on the citrine sphere that was UDF 2457. The red dwarf didn’t even have a proper name, but to Paz it was hope incarnate.
“Nice and easy,” she said. “Maintain course. I want you sweeping every band as soon as possible. Start at the SLF low end.”
Wesson, the comms officer, double pumped his bushy red-brown eyebrows and smiled with closed lips. He was a man of few words but a consummate professional, despite the fact he always appeared as if he just rolled out of his bunk. He was the first person Paz signed on after she’d convinced the Unification to charter the Open Skies Exploration Company. It had taken a lot of convincing and an occasional recalibration of her moral compass, but it was the only way to get the funding she needed.
For her entire career, she’d found nothing but dead worlds in every direction. The xenoarcheological finds were driving a new Renaissance, but she was growing increasingly frightened they were hurtling down the throat of the Great Filter. But here, at UDF 2457, one of her SCATTER probes detected spectrum noise indicative of intelligent communication, and from just outside 200 lightyears. That was just the blink of an eye in terms of time; this world was watching television while we were settling the Jovians! But it was more than halfway across the galaxy, and getting there—even through bulkspace—would be difficult and expensive.
But all that was behind her now. Finally, she was here. “How much longer before you can start sweeping?” she asked.
Wesson didn’t respond. Didn’t even move.
“Wesson, how long—”
“It’s done,” he said. He’d never interrupted her before, or anyone else for that matter. “We’re up past five terahertz.”
Paz felt like she’d been punched in the gut and she steadied herself against a console. Wesson didn’t have to explain; she understood. Another civilization had thrived here just a few short years ago. But no longer. Another dead world.