It was a constructed thing. Shr'dlu could see that much, even with a fine coating of space dust and a scattering of micrometeor damage. And it had come the long way to this particular patch of debris, floating in the eternal night.
The fact that it was large enough to be a survival pod had made Shr'dlu take it in for examination in the first place. The radioactive power cell was still live, and had to be removed before ze could examine the vessel - or whatever it was - in person. Shr'dlu hoped that the absence of life signs meant that whoever it protected had perished peacefully.
What sort of maniac species would power a survival pod with anti-life materials?
The second clue that this might not be a survival pod was the absence of doors. Scans revealed nothing but circuitry inside. Primitive stuff. Wires and resistors and the most rudimentary of computing chips. Centuries out of date. And its data storage was magnetic tape.
Close to, it was still enormous, but it somehow conspired to also look... frail. Shr'dlu recorded everything. Especially the mysterious sigils on its exterior.
Symbols on one side said PIONEER, but since they didn't say it in GalStand, Shr'dlu couldn't read it. And someone had thought of this, with another panel which spoke in pictures and puzzles.
Two figures stood next to a vague outline of the vessel, as if to give a sense of scale. And... there was a representation of a hydrogen molecule.
The starburst and the schematic at the bottom were a little beyond Shr'dlu. But ze could guess at some of it. The crude drawing of the vessel was this is me. The beings depicted for scale were this is who made me.
Perhaps the circles at the bottom were some form of crude map. This is where I started. And the starburst with the lines and coded dashes... might be some attempt at a better map. This is how you can find home.
A message in a bottle, of sorts. Sent out from an isolated world, with the best technology that they could make. And all it could say is, Hello. We exist.
Shr'dlu kept the creation in hir cargo bay. Historians, scientists, and xenoanalysts would go further into its construction and the message it bore. They might even be able to decode what PIONEER meant. Or the significance of the faded colours in a rectangular emblem on one pock-marked side.
Shr'dlu had paying salvage to find.