The red-eyed double suns glared down on the scrap planet Lunhili. An acidic rain drizzled down from diffuse clouds, turning to steam upon the scorched bodies of dead starships and reenacting memories of their glory days when they’d navigated the likes of the Omega Nebula in the name of humanity. But those days were over. The hulking masses of retired ships deorbited daily so that the scrappers may do their work like woodlice among the fallen logs of a planet-spanning rainforest.
Donnell was one of those scrappers.
He waded through ankle-deep water and thick whorls of rainbowed oil and globs of ferrofluid doped with God-knows-what bobbing in the discharge. The ship before him was the Vespertilio. Some type of warship, like the rest. Everything belonged to the Service now. When everyone’s taxes all flowed the same direction there was no need for war anymore.
Donnell wasn’t an engineer, and certainly no veteran—even they’d had certain minimum cognitive requirements—but this ship looked different than the rest to him. Hard to tell between the mist and the damage, but the shape was somehow off. Fewer things sticking off it. More windows. And it had a tower bridge; warships always kept their brains in their bellies. He went exploring and found something even he understood.
Donnell entered the foreman’s trailer. The walls sweated as much as any daytime scrapper.
“The hell’s that?” asked the foreman, Taggart.
Donnell held up his find. “Teddy bear.” It was rancid, rain soaked, and missing an eye.
Taggart squinted. Her eyes were permanently burned from a solar storm in her youth. “Is it made out of isotopic osmium?”
Donnell paused. He hadn’t actually checked, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t. “No.”
“Then why the fuck did you grab it?”
He looked to his feet and pointed his toes together. “It’s from the Vespertilio.”
“Warships don’t have teddy bears.”
Taggart squinted again, but not to see. “What exactly are you suggesting?”
“I don’t know. I think maybe something bad happened, and they want to hide it. It looks like a passenger ship, and they sent it here so we’d destroy it.”
Taggart didn’t move for a long moment. “Give it here,” she finally said. “I’ll handle it. Go do your job.”
Donnell was afraid of that answer. He relinquished the teddy bear, returned to the Vespertilio, and retrieved a tiny pair of shoes that had been near the toy. He didn’t know who needed to see what he’d found, but he was certain someone should, and he was going to try to find them.