Chapter Twenty-One

The next days passed quickly and they leaped again, entering the system where the ship had disappeared. It was one of those lonely suns that had a little dust floating around it, but no planets, not even ice fields or pebbles; just lonely, empty space. They were rare, and every one of them gave space travelers shivers. It wasn't natural for a sun to be so empty, so lifeless.
2 Their instruments reached out both for the communications relay and the missing ship. The relay was right where it was supposed to be in its stationary orbit. But it was not even broadcasting its navigational beacons! The ship took some time to find. It was on an extended orbit just within the sun's gravitational range, and on the far side from them.
3 "Set an intercept course," ordered North, "we'll stay far out and go around on star drive to meet it."
4 Helm and Navigation went to work. Hours later, they neared the vessel, but were completely bewildered. As far as their instruments could tell, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the ship. Its engines were functioning perfectly. All of its life support systems were functioning, but the only response they got from their signals was from the ship's computer which informed them that its crew was not responding from their stations.
5 When they got in range for their transport beam tubes, North led a party over to investigate. They spread out from the tube station. North and his party headed for the command deck, the others for engineering. They found an empty ship! On the command deck the seats were empty.
6 North walked over to the command chair and pulled the Ship Commander's battle com from its socket. "Wherever they went," remarked North, "they didn't go willingly. These wouldn't be here if they had."
7 He activated the ship's intercom. "All search parties report!" he ordered.

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