"Any details?" somebody asked, when the chorus of groans over the ship's intercom had died away.
"Not many, but I gather it's another Millennium Committee project they've forgotten to cancel."
More groans: everyone had become heartily sick of all the events planned to celebrate the end of the 2000's. There had been a general sigh of relief when 1 January 3001 had passed uneventually, and the human race could resume its normal activities.
"Anyway, it will probably be another false alarm, like the last one. We'll get back to work just as quickly as we can. Skipper out."
This was the third wild-goose-chase, Chandler thought morosely, he'd been involved with during his career. Despite centuries of exploration, the Solar System could still produce surprises, and presumably Spaceguard had a good reason for its request. He only hoped that some imaginative idiot hadn't once again sighted the fabled Golden Asteroid. If it did exist-- which Chandler did not for a moment believe--it would be no more than a mineralogical curiosity: it would be of far less real value than the ice he was nudging Sunward, to bring life to barren worlds.
There was one possibility, however, which he did take quite seriously. Already, the human race had scattered its robot probes through a volume of space a hundred light-years across--and the Tycho Monolith was sufficient reminder that much older civilizations had engaged in similar activities. There might well be other alien artifacts in the Solar System, or in transit through it. Captain Chandler suspected that Spaceguard had something like this in mind: otherwise it would hardly have diverted a Class I space-tug to go chasing after an unidentified radar blip.
Five hours later, the questing Goliath detected the echo at extreme range; even allowing for the distance, it seemed disappointingly small. However, as it grew clearer and stronger, it began to give the signature of a metallic object, perhaps a couple of meters long. It was traveling on an orbit heading out of the Solar System, so was almost certainly, Chandler decided, one of the myriad pieces of space-junk that Mankind had tossed towards the stars during the last millennium--and which might one day provide the only evidence that the human race had ever existed.
Then it came close enough for visual inspection, and Captain Chandler realized, with awed astonishment, that some patient historian was still checking the earliest records of the Space Age. What a pity that the computers had given him the answer, just a few years too late for the Millennium celebrations!
"Goliath here," Chandler radioed Earthwards, his voice tinged with pride as well as solemnity. "We're bringing aboard a thousand-year-old astronaut. And I can guess who it is."
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