At the hatch outside the conference room, Coollege leaned close and said, "You don't suppose the Colonel knows do you?"
"We'll find out in a minute. Depends on what happened inside."
The hatch irised open and Price stepped through. The Colonel, looking as if he'd just come from the parade ground sat at the head of the long, highly polished table. Several staff officers were scattered around in various uniforms and in various states of consciousness. One man had laid his head on the table and was snoring.
"Come in," said the Colonel. "Grab a seat. Do you know Randly Clark? Scout pilot?"
Price nodded. "Sure. We've worked together on a number of projects. Clark?" Price held a hand out across the table.
Clark, his blood shot eyes were ringed in black making it look as if he hadn't sleep in a week, half stood. Despite all the sleep he'd just had, he looked tired. He touched Price's hand and dropped back into his seat. "Captain."
The Colonel turned his attention to another on the staff and asked, "Has the computer data been downloaded?"
"Yes, sir. Use Scout One as the access code."
The Colonel pulled his keyboard around, typed quickly and then sat back. The area above the center of the table began to cloud up, the colors swirling about a foot above the surface. It shimmered and seemed to solidify, finally becoming a picture of a planetary system as seen from deep space. Tiny points of light marked the location of other ships.
Clark said, "I ran into what I would call picket ships outside their system. They attacked me, firing first. I fought back, destroying a couple of them."
"They fired first," said the Colonel.
"Yes, sir. Computer logs will confirm."
The computer expert interjected, "Computer confirms. There was no evidence of tampering."
"Thank you," said the Colonel.
Clark stood up and pointed into the holographic projection. It seems that they came from this system. They were scattered around the perimeter of it. I engaged those in my path, those that attacked me, and then entered the system. One planet appeared to be inhabited. Or rather, showed signs of industrial development."
The scene changed showing them the entire planet with all its oceans, continents, mountain ranges, rivers and lakes marked. There seemed to be no cities, other than a single megastructure sitting on the north pole. The empty land, that which might have been forested or used in agricultural production, gradually gave way to that which looked like desert sprinkled with lava beds that finally became the outskirts of the city.
"Computer, sensors, radars, found no evidence of life on that planet," said Clark. "But then, something was there because I was fired on by missiles."
The holographic model continued to rotate slowly so that each of the people around the table got a good look at everything. Clark narrated his adventure, explaining everything that had happened to him, what his impressions were, where the enemy had been concentrated and what tactics he had been employed.
When that ended and the planet was again hovering above the table, the Colonel asked, "Are there any questions?"
Price said, "I take it that you were unable to detect signs of life."
"That was the one thing that bothered me," said Clark. "It seems to me that we have a new city... that it has been repaired and kept up. I mean, it didn't give the appearance of being abandoned. But there were none of the telltale signs of life. I couldn't tell enough about the landscape to determine if there were cultivated areas. Maybe that can be determined."
The computer expert said, "We are looking into it but at the moment I don't have an answer."
Now the Colonel looked directly at Price. "Can we make the assumption that the planet Clark found is the one that built the asteroid?"
"Not at this moment," said Price. "We just don't have enough to go on. If we... if Clark could have gotten us a prisoner or some close up pictures..." He held up a hand to stop Clark from protesting. "I know the problems and I don't mean this as a criticism. I'm merely saying that without more data we can't form an opinion. I don't know."
"I think that is something we need to determine," said the Colonel.
"If I might, Colonel," said Clark. "We do have some data. These people in their pickets didn't even try to make contact. They attacked. Period. We have a hostile race that can put ships into space and I think that is something that needs to be explored."
"But you saw nothing there, the sensors picked up nothing that indicated there was anything living on the planet?" asked the Colonel.
Price said, "We didn't have any indication that there was anything living on the asteroid."
"That was because the single individual had been in a state of hibernation. That could explain why we didn't detect the fact."
"You can't be suggesting that the entire population of the planet is hibernating."
"We don't have the data to know anything," said Coolledge. "We have more to learn."
The Colonel turned to his chief of staff. "Davis, we have anything from the other scouts?"
"No, Colonel. Latest reports are negative. They have found nothing."
"Okay, then what I want us to do is plan for a mission into that planetary system. Fleet course will be alter so that we are heading in that direction. We will, of course, require more intelligence. Price, you can have what you need. Any questions?"
"Colonel, you can't be saying that we're going to invade this planet based on an assumption of hostility from a single scout."
"I'm saying that we will prepare if the facts warrant it. At the moment it does no harm to begin the preparations. If the intelligence suggests something else, then we can cancel the plan."
Price said, "I'd like access to all data about the being from the asteroid. I've been blocked from some of it."
"There are good reason for wanting it?"
"If this is the enemy, I'm going to have to know as much about it as I can," said Price. "Otherwise my briefings will be incomplete."
"Get with me in the morning." The Colonel touched his keypad and the planet vanished. "I know that I don't have to warn any of you to keep this quiet for a moment. Let's get to work." With that he headed to the door.
As the Colonel left, Coollege leaned close to Price. "There a real reason you want access to the autopsy material?"
"Yeah," said Price. "There is something going on here that I don't like and I want to make sure that I have the answers before we get to the enemy's planetary system."
"You think that Clark found the wrong place?"
"I don't think anything at the moment. I just have some questions that haven't been answered."
"So what are you going to do?" asked Coollege.
"At the moment, I think that I'll go back to bed. Let the computers have some time with the data and then take a look at it in the morning."
"And what do you think I should do?"
Price couldn't help himself. He laughed and said, "Why, I think you should go to bed too."
"I was hoping you'd say that."