there is nothing here for us, just dim empty corridors leading nowhere, dim empty rooms without even memories. the traces of old technology are minimal, and most of what there is must be built right into the structure - if so surely it stopped working eons ago.
we can't detect it at first, then begin to notice a thin tracery of other elements right inside the walls, visible only by the buildup of many separate scans. what does it do? can we take it apart and find out? maybe just a panel or two?
but it isn't happy with that (as alex says) - either it's all interconnected and can't afford to lose any section, or unique and protecting its uniquity. we feel a kind of shock, not quite electrical (nor registering as such), but unpleasant, when we try to open a panel or take one down. "how did they ever repair it?" emma asks, but then she's a junior and not much is expected of her.
many idle speculations ensue as to what it all does, or did, aside from supporting itelf and any inhabitants. did people live here, long ago, and take their furnishings with them when they departed? and if so, why, and what were they doing here? we think it was probably a science station of some sort, despite the lack of instruments, if only because of the location, or the minimal living quarters. or then again perhaps it was just some kind of semi-automated waystation, for refueling maybe, or temporary cargo storage, though in that case we'd expect bigger cargo bays. but who knows?
later alex speculates that it might have been a transit site, a direct portal for ships, using some form of wormhole energy to send them far across space. we can see how that would have been useful! the energy involved would have been immense, far beyond that needed for our ships, so large and awkward and dependent on time-dilation. could we possibly figure it out, even re-power it? how immensely that would help in our expansion, our willful "conquest" of the galaxy.
we're there for months, only slowly realizing that the life-support is fading. the secret continues to elude us, though at times we're almost sure what it is! and if we're right, how useful it might be! but our resources are low and we're ordered to move on while we still have sufficient energy to get back to base. perhaps some day we can try again, though what good further study would do is dubious, and most of us think we'll just have to write it off as another alien mystery.
so within days we've pulled out, completed our notes and hurried back to the ship, a hasty process made hastier by further signs of shutdown. only much later will anyone realize that i've been left behind, and by then it'll be far too late.
i know what it is, only i, and knowing i cannot tell, and must do it this way, letting them believe i have died a natural death, if another crew were to return years later. it will be my own fault, well-documented, and well understood that they couldn't jeopardize the entire crew and the ship itself to go back and look for me!
in any case i have time, months if i needed it, but i don't, i'm ready to go. i know already, i'm no longer frightened.
i knew when i went down that corridor the very first time, i almost knew - alex and emma and the rest chattering away and feeling nothing, and i could see it, or "see" it, and obviously no one else noticing a thing! the light out there, suddenly, dazzling - and yet everyone else just peering around as if at one more dim alcove or empty doorway.
at first i ran away from it, fearing what i didn't know, blinded by the intensity. it seemed dangerous, some alien energy, power to move or shatter worlds - and why would only i see it? it frightened me; it sought me out.
but soon i knew it wouldn't take me unwilling. and also that it wouldn't damage me - or no, it would destroy me, utterly, but only the me that needed destruction. i had been wearing out for years, getting cynical, losing interest. the ship was my life, but i no longer cared much where we went or what we found. the excitement was gone for me, and the sense of companionship - they were all so young, so eager and ambitious. i had nothing to say any more.
and though there could have been many more years for me, it wasn't necessary, and what a relief that was. i wasn't needed. they could get along fine without me, the young ones, my expertise nothing irreplaceable, my company clearly a bore. i used to care about that. i was fond of them, in a way, but they won't miss me.
not much left to do, no goodbyes, and then at last i'm walking down the corridor, alone this time, and see it open out before me, bright and brighter, longing for me.
and stepping out, one last moment fearful, letting go, falling into it, filling me - i can't explain, i'm gone; i'm always here. i live.