The crew of the metal reclamation vessel “Scrapper Queen” never knew where the little probe came from. It was late on third watch when they found it, floating in a lonely outer orbit. Perhaps it had come from a world from this star system, though that was unlikely, all the inner worlds were cinders. They’d actually come to look through the various asteroids for useful metal that had been left behind by earlier mining expeditions. Times were lean, and they were becoming creative in the places they looked for raw materials. There wasn’t much to be found in systems like this, but the Captain appreciated the lack of interference from the powerful Corporate Worlds.
They’d been scanning for traces of anything ferrous when Sensors caught the ping. A return, loud and clear. Ferrous metal, at least a few hundred grams of it, maybe more. The Captain ordered maneuvers sufficient to close the distance. The telescopes scanned, and after a time the Visual Scanning Officer reported a metallic object. Excited, the Captain ordered the tractor/pressor beams deployed, so that the object could be pulled in.
Damp from brief showers and still rubbing sleep from their eyes, Retrieval Team 1 stood on the observation deck above the bay. They watched as the odd, somewhat crumpled metal object was brought aboard. Long ago it had solar panels, they could see that, but micrometeorites over who knew how many centuries had taken their toll. They waited impatiently as the doors closed, the bay was re-pressurized. Zola started taking bets on the total mass of the object until her leader quieted him. Not that Tamar really minded, but she liked to run a tight shift, and Zola’s chatter could get old after a while.
Finally they were free to enter the bay. The four members of the team stood around the object, just looking at it at first before they began the usual scans with radiation sensors, EM fields, and portable gas spectrometers.
“I think it kind of looks like a space probe,” said Zola, scratching her fingers through his flame red hair.
“That seems fairly obvious,” said Tamar. “My greatest question is, what kind of probe?”
“What kind?” asked Kella. She was quite intelligent but usually took time to catch on. Young Rik said nothing, he was still settling in and preferred to watch.
“There is more than what kind of space probe,” explained Tamar patiently. “Usually they are used for exploration. They take photographs or readings. Some can be loaded with a distress call, or messages to other worlds, or even quarantine warnings. This could be a message buoy, and filled with fascinating information.”
“Why can’t we just scrap it? This system isn’t even owned by anyone anymore and there’s a lot of valuable metal in here,” said Zola. “Pre-refined, too.”
“Your objection is noted,” said Tamar. “This probe isn’t really ours.”
“How about if we figure out what the probe is for, and then use the metal if we can figure out that it’s not needed anymore?” That came from Rik, and the others looked at him with surprise.
“Not a bad idea,” said Tamar. “Let’s start by determining exactly what’s inside. Get your data analysis equipment, everyone, and we can see first what kind of information this stores.”
Hours later, it was ship’s morning but the four were so absorbed that they barely felt time pass. Discarted beverage containers and snack wrappers lay forgotten beside them. Most of the data storage had been damaged, but there were still scraps left.
“I’ve got something!” called Kella, excitedly. “A whole file!” She paused a moment, retrieved the information, archived it safely. “That’s about all I could find, though. The storage might as well be scrap. WHole sectors wiped. There’s not much more than this, just a few characters here, a few bits there.”
“Good work,” said Tamar, stretching her protesting back muscles. “I think we can safely consider this fair salvage, and send the metal into the processers. What does the file seem to contain?”
“Sound, I think,” said Kella. “Let me write up a quick conversion.”
When Kella was done, she plugged the data chip into a sound player. A Human male began singing, backed up by electronicized music. The song was surprisingly high fidelity and the sound filled the cargo bay. Tamar noticed herself tapping her fingers on her leg, willed herself to stop. “I wonder if it’s a message of some kind,” she said, when the somg was over.
“Well, if it’s a message,” said Zola, “maybe we should rebroadcast it. At least once. It’s not hard to tap into GalaxyNet.”
Tamar shrugged. “You think you can do it without getting caught? Be my guest. It would be sad if this little probe never got a chance to spread its message.”
The next day, everyone on band 3 of GalaxyNet heard the most unusual song. Oddly catchy, it had toes tapping and fingers rapping on stations starships, planetary bases, corporate communications hubs, and littoral skiffs all across the Milky Way Galaxy.
No one knew the true significance of that moment. No one, that was, except Zola. She’d heard that song once before, in a deep dive in the net archives, last time she’d been planetside. Long, long ago, it had been called “Never Gonna Give You UP,” by Rick Astley. Zola smiled and sipped her hot mug of coffee. She knew that she had just managed to Rickroll the entire Galaxy.