It is a Significant Assignment
Even the most jaded of star travelers marvel at one thing beyond anything else: Space is big. Really. Big.
Only after being out in space can a being really grasp just how large a galaxy is, even a small one where the United Federation of Planets existed. The great miracle of modern day computing is not that large ships can be run with powerful energy. The great miracle is that these ships can actually go into space and get somewhere.
Computer wizards have tried to replace living beings in space travel for a long time. With new materials, new manufacturing, and new technology, the ancient Moore’s Law still applies. And the new computers make so much of life better for so many. Unlike the original Luddites who feared computers, and thought they were becoming agents of tyranny, computers were tools of human and other beings’ liberty, when they were not abused by evil.
But the longer the distance traveled, the more important the Navigator of a ship becomes. As the technical people realized this fact, the Philosophers started dreaming and writing and fighting again over the ancient subjects. Is there a Navigator of the universe? How can so many beings travel such distances at such speeds, and know they get to the right place, in the right time? Will not the senses of the finite be overwhelmed by Space, with no reference to know what is or is not true?
One side said, “of course there is a Navigator, for without one there is no order in the universe, or foundation for the development of an existence for beings to try to transcend the vastness of space, or the power of evil, therefore it must exist, and beings must try to find out about it.”
The other side snorted in derision, laughing at the falsehood of a Navigator, arguing that “the naiveté of the other side flies in the face of what we know. What we know is random chance is a constant, plus the fact there are other constants in the universe. We know no evidence of a Navigator; therefore he does not exist, or is replaced by chance itself. There is no universal law in space; only those laws which we know, or have not discovered yet.”
If there were philosophers looking on a massive corner of an even more massive space, one of them may well ask: “Then why is it that 3 vessels come from 3 different places meet in one small place, not knowing the others are coming?”
On the Auxiliary Bridge of the USS Enterprise
, Lt. Mack King scanned his tactical board with renewed intensity, after responding to the USS Valiant’s
hail he felt like a one legged man in a butt kicking contest. He did what he felt like he had to do, but it wasn’t real good doing it. And all he could do was wait and see what happened, along with his crew of two Chief Herman Mauer, and Lieutenant John Kyle.
“Sir, sensors are still showing no contacts. We may be in the clear.”
“I hope so Chief. John, how are things in Engineering?”
“As long as we don’t move, everything is nominal, Mack. Nobody is stirring yet, and the computer estimate said the gas effects ought to wear off soon. You are good company, but I could use some food and drink.”
“So can I, John”, replied Mack King softly, “so can I.”
“Mack, did I ever tell you about the about the Vulcan, the Klingon, and the Romulan who walked into a bar….”
Not far away, the USS Valiant
was streaking to a meeting at Warp 5, as fast its half-baked
systems would let it fly. And for once, it was Valiant,
her crew,and her captain Alain Louis, looking to get something done right on this mission.
“Stand down From Action Stations, Ensign, but keep up condition yellow.” Nodding his head at his comm officer, he turned first to his first officer. “Good work that time Katsuo, no problems getting to stations. Then his eyes turned to his chief science officer, Lt. Commander Ron-all Elion. The Captain piped up: “What have you got for us, Red?
The Ronellian Science Officer turned a deeper shade of red as he stood and responded. “Not much, sir. It looks like the system where we think the Enterprise
is located is a dead system in the middle of nowhere. It is two light years from the Klingon border, with a Class B star in it. No habitable worlds, mostly just junk, rocks, and a scrubber planet according to records. Here’s what we have on it.”
“On screen, Lieutenant,” Alain called to his helmsman.
Manning the tactical station, Cmdr. Katsuo Mamoru looked over and threw an opinion in: “When you look at it Captain, it is an isolated system, but it has a great location.” Throwing a set of navigation coordinates on the screen, he said, “Notice here, it is placed where you can look over our border patrol routes, and the main rim routes to our outer colonies in this sector. It also is one Earth day of travel at Warp 2 from the new Klingon base located here, on what we think are his main travel routes back into the Empire. And if you overlay our border posts here, that looks like a perfect gap between where we can cover their movements and we can’t.”
“That makes sense Commander, but it is close to no active system, and if we thought it was a problem, we could just route traffic differently,” piped up the Navigator, Lt. Ellis Mowat.
“True, Ellis,” replied Alain, “but you are assuming this is a one-off station. What if it is part of a network? We can’t cover everywhere, and all they need are a few sites to check Federation traffic, and when they want to raise hell in our yard they can do it at their leisure. I’ll be willing to bet the Enterprise
caught a listening post of some kind there. But why all the secrecy?”
“Like Ensign Molica said, they are in trouble sir. Maybe they are trying to hide?” piped up Lt. Rookhem at Navigation.
“No, Boorter, something else is going on. Even at this point, as close to the border as they are, their sensors should show them when it is clear to call for help. It’s too clever by half, thinking you can hide your damage after running over an enemy position, and also thinking your enemy is so knowledgeable they can monitor everything. The Enterprise
is not well, but what the illness is we don’t know.”
Ensign Molica threw in to the conversation: “Captain, Engineering reports all is well. Should I try to contact the Enterprise
“No, Ensign. There is a reason they don’t want to talk. We will honor their request. Katsuo, just in case, get with your team and Cmdr. Elion, and find us a way there where it will be hard to see us after we go in-system. Until we want seen, that is.”
“Let’s get at it people. We have 20 minutes to get ready.”
“…. and the Klingon said, ‘I told you not to drink the water’”.
Laughter filled the com channel, even if the joke was awful. It was Kyle’s third joke in a row, and they were getting progressively worse. Mack, as he looked at Chief Mauer, saw the laughter bubble up and over. It was a good sign, even the chief needed to laugh. The weight of waiting was almost as bad as the fear of dying, except waiting means it is all you think about. Waiting is the hardest thing to do before a conflict, even more if you have hope the conflict gets cancelled. Just a few more minutes, or a couple of more bad jokes, and this nightmare would be over.
Then Mack’s tactical plot opened up.
“See it chief?”
“Aye sir. No distinct reading yet, but it is obviously a ship at the outer limit of the system. Coming from the direction of the border, sir.”
“Not very aggressive is he? He’s coming in system at what, half impulse, and no sensors we can pick up. Am I right Chief?”
“On the money, sir. Why would a ship do that?”
“That is a good question. The obvious answer is that he is expecting a welcome of some kind, or he has some kind of protocol in place to contact his friends in system. But to know for sure we would have to fire up our sensors, and it’s not worth the risk. Let’s see what he does.”
“Confirm, it is a Klingon ship, class unknown. He’s at the 4th planet, Lieutenant. Range from us is about 1Billion klicks. He’s powering up his sensor output. Sensors are looking for us, sir”
“John, once I give the word, how long before the ship powers up to its maximum speed?”
“Mac, I’d guess 20 seconds.”
“Okay, that gives us about 3 minutes warning once he finds us to get ready, if he goes all out at us.” Now Mack’s voice got an edge. There was no more lighthearted banter. “Here are your orders. On my mark, hit the power button and go John. Chief, set your sensors for a full sensor sweep, then you go too. You will have 30 seconds to get out, and then I will be moving at them like a comet, so your pods will be hidden in the interference. I’ll send out the distress call; make yourself small until the system is clear. I would think it won’t be more than a day or two until you get picked up. And I hope I can pick up the tab for you at Harry’s on Rigel. Clear?”
“Mack, you’re cheap, that is a dumpy bar.”
30 seconds later: “Sir, he’s moving to us!”
“I see it.”
“Range 800 million clicks, and closing. Looks like he got us, he’s adjusting course.”
“Range 600, Range 500.”
“NOW!” shouted Mack. “Red Alert, hit the button John! Full power to shields, sensors and weapons. John, Go!”
“Sensors on full, sir. He’s not got his shields up, we caught him by surprise sir!
“Aye. Sir.” But he never moved.
Mack never noticed. He talked to himself as if he had a room full of crew.
“Range 250, course 130 mark 2. Full impulse.
“Locking on target, range 300 million klicks…
“Sir, he’s firing.”
got to the edge of the system just as the Klingon did, but at the other “end” of the rock pile .
“Slow to full impulse, helm.”
“Full impulse, aye.”
“Captain, I’m picking up two ships, I think. One looks like a Klingon D7 model sir. He is inbound shaping for the 4th planet. I think the other one is hiding in the rings of the 7th planet, it’s the one above the plane of the system, sir. I can barely see it. Not much power, maybe just passive systems in place.”
“Thank you Red. All hands to Action Stations, all weapons stand by.”
“Shields at full, sir. Weapons green across the board”
“All decks report ready, sir.”
“Ellis, Boorter, I want a course through to the 7th planet. Come up to the planet from below the plane of the system. I want to go in full speed, and I want it now. Set and go as soon as you got it.”
“Captain, there is a lot of trash to go through, I am not sure we can get through clean at full impulse.”
Then you better find a hole fast. The trash will give us a chance to hide. ETA to the planet?”
Ellis jumped in: “2 minutes in a straight line, but not without an asteroid decoration, sir.”
“Then you got one minute to find a hole.”
“Got, it!” Lt. Rookhem yelped. “Course set and running, there will be damage sir.”
“Don’t care helm. Moilica, alert Damage Control and Engineering. Katsuo, lock in after we get above the system plane. Maybe he won’t see us until we target him. You are on free fire at your discretion.”
“Sir, Klingon vessel is moving to the 7th planet. He’s looking for something.” A moment later: Sir! It’s a Federation starship sir, he’s making a run on the D7, range 800 million klicks.”
“Helm, get us there, be sharp people.”
“That guy has a lot of guts captain”, said his first officer.
“I hope I can shake his hand,” thought Alain……
BOOM! , The Enterprise
groaned as it took a full disruptor hit on the port quarter.
Chief Mauer held on, and Mack never felt a thing.
“Firing all Phasers!” Then, “Torpedoes away!”
took a second hit on the port side, and her shields all but collapsed. A fire started in the forward phaser room, so Mack was out of shots, and Lt. Kyle was trying to find his senses after he flew across his little central engineering control master control section. Even the chief couldn’t stay in his chair as he rolled across the Auxiliary Bridge from the concussion.
“Captain, direct hit on the D7 by the Enterprise
Mack King still had his chair, and his wits about him. “Course to 118 mark 331, half impulse”, since that’s all the faster he could go. Looking at his board, he saw the truth.
Then there was one more explosion he felt.