SECTOR APPROACH CONTROL
Established in the early days of the Federation, Approach Control for Sector 001 was created to manage the increasing traffic into the Solar System from deep space. Built on the surface of Pluto, along with several large sensor arrays, the minor planet's unique orbit offered the station a view of space that started at a sphere a light-year wide and had steadily increased as sensing and processing technology had advanced. Now the station could track objects almost as far away as the outer edge of Alpha Centauri.
That was where the latest incoming problem was detected. A ship with a Federation-style warp signature had been detected inbound at over warp 7.5 and showing no sign of slowing down. Controllers in Approach Control's dark, functional watch facility had been trying to contact the vessel since its detection, with no response. There were no long-range vessels available in-system to intercept it, so the controllers watched and continued to hail until it was practically knocking on Pluto's door.
Then someone got lucky. Starfleet Ensign Theo McGarry had taken over observation of the inbound with his supervisor, A Bolian commander named Krill, looking over his shoulder. "Unidentified vessel," McGarry hailed, "This is Sector Approach Control. How do you read?"
After so long a silence, the scratchy, staticky response was most welcome. "Approach Control, this is the Federation Starship Barb
," A woman's voice said. "We read you broken and faintly, over."
McGarry wondered aloud as he boosted his comm system's power. "Barb
? That's a border cutter, isn't it?"
"It's also one of the ships reported missing last week," Krill said.
McGarry got back on comms. "Barb
, Control. Now how do you read?"
"Still faint, but readable," Barb
replied. "Starship Barb
is declaring an emergency. We are experiencing multi-system malfunctions and cannot maneuver."
"Acknowledged," McGarry said. "Declaring an emergency. Can you slow down?"
"Negative. Our propulsion and navigation systems are inoperable. We're locked on course and speed."
Behind him, Commander Krill was issuing orders to clear the space ahead of the cutter and setting other procedures in motion as McGarry asked, "What is your destination?"
"Earth," came the frightening reply.
"Acknowledged," McGarry managed to say calmly. "Stand by." He turned to Krill. "If they can't slow down..."
"They'll hit the wall before they reach Earth," Krill said. So close to a gravitational body as massive as the sun, there was a limit to the size of the warp field a ship could maintain. A field big enough to drive a ship past warp seven wouldn't survive long in the inner system. "They'll get slowed to warp one, but it'll be hard on 'em."
"That's only marginally good news," McGarry said.
Krill grunted in agreement, then someone else reported, "Valkyries are on the way!"
Krill went to talk to the Starfleet patrol craft while McGarry went back to his comms. "Barb
, we expect you to lose your warp field when you reach the inner system. Are you ready for that, over?"
"We're ready, Control," the voice said.
"When that happens, a pair of Valkyries will meet you and provide escort. They'll look out for you in case anything happens."
"That's good to hear, control."
Now McGarry thought. There were a few ways to deal with this problem, but while they would protect Earth, they weren't all that good for the crew of the Barb
. The simplest solution would be a force field, which would protect Earth by destroying the cutter. Tractor beams might do less damage, but with no other big ships around there weren't any available. No one wanted to have the ship destroyed outright with weapons, but if it came to that...well, that was another reason for the Valkyries.
hit the wall minutes later as it crossed the orbit of Mars and entered the plane. The Valkyries caught up then and fell into formation with the ship. The lead pilot made contact immediately, while the other pilot initiated a scan.
"What the hell?" He muttered, then called the other pilot. "There's no one aboard!"
's computer - meticulously programmed by April's engineers before being sent to the system - had been monitoring all communications pertaining to its ship ever since contact had been established. Now that it knew its cover had been blown, it began evasive maneuvers for the last leg of its journey.
"She's maneuvering!" McGarry exclaimed. "Did they get their controls back?"
"There's no one aboard!" Krill said. "It's being controlled by the computer! The thing's trying to evade the Valkyries!" He returned to talk to the fighters. "Shoot it down!"
Now the Valkyries were attacking. Barb
raised its shields and executed its terminal maneuver. Now its destination was clear.
"Thank goodness," McGarry said. "It's going for the dark side of the moon."
Krill looked at him like he was crazy, then looked at the track of the Barb
in horror. "What the hell do you mean, 'thank goodness'?!"