It turned out that there was no need to blast a hole in one of the containers, as Caleb had thought there might be. When they approached a lone unit tumbling peacefully in its orbit of the torus and examined it with their whole sensor suite, they found numerous access points. They ranged in size from immense — one whole end would open on command — to the nigh insignificant. It was one of these latter that Chief Jaskarr determined would be their entrance.
The trick of opening the access was simple: blast an electromagnetic signal at it ranging from the low end of the wavelengths to the high. Eventually they landed on the correct wavelength and focused on it for a short time and the orifice opened like an uncurling snake.
“Let’s hope it works the same way coming out,” said Caleb as they passed through the opening.
As they passed through the ship shuttered and jolted before the inertial dampeners took control and accommodated the weird gravity inside the object. Each interior face of the cuboid was its own “down” they discovered. While they might have navigated in the exact intersection of the gravitational fields, they could not because that is where the “sun” was: a long tube of power emitting light and heat on each of the faces.
There was a purple cast to the atmosphere inside the container and clouds boiled close to the surfaces of the faces. Gravity registered as three times that of Earth. Each of the faces was homogeneous in terrain, but different from one another: there was a face of low jagged hills, a face that seemed a sea, a face of wide open plains dotted with gnarly copses of what Caleb’s mind read as trees, and a face afire with volcanic activity. The “end faces” as Caleb thought of them were clear and appeared to hold the mechanism that emitted the sun tube.
Caleb walked over to where Legiat-Gumor was focusing sensors. “Are those animals?” he asked.
“I believe they are,” said the alien with a head shake that Caleb guessed approximated a nod. “It appears they are some sort of herd animal. They may be sentient. See, they are moving in an organized manner and appear to be clustering and communicating.”
Caleb frowned. “That’s weird. Why haven’t they exhausted the resources of the container? Evolved into a space faring civilization, or destroyed themselves. It’s been a half billion years.”
Chief Jaskarr approached him. “Perhaps they are merely slowly evolving beings–”
“Of, shit,” said Caleb. “Get the fuck out.”
“Why?” asked Jaskarr.
“Spacetime. Get out.”
The aliens looked at Caleb and then looked at Jaskarr. The Chief seemed to consider his options then told the ship the exit the container as quickly and safely as possible.
Once they were safely outside, Caleb said, “When is it?”
Chief Jaskarr said, “We were only inside for a few hours.”
Max spoke up then. “It appears at least point seven six nine of an earth year has passed.”
“Space and time are the same thing,” said Caleb. “Whoever built this thing obviously has complete control over gravity and spacetime. It’s a zoo, meant to preserve things. They slowed down time inside, and so we just jumped forward.”