“God preserve us, it’s a flying mountain! Virgo, are you getting these returns?”
“We’re receiving your telemetry, M-3. Begin recon
Hadad brought his ship in another five hundred meters, rolling the fighter to purchase a better view. “Virgo, I read no shields, but it has armor that’s scattering my interior probes. Negative on the metallurgy.”
Hadad craned his neck for another look before pulling back out to his previous distance. “Nothing to indicate torpedo doors.” He absorbed everything on his console with practiced ease. “No hot spots on my scope, reading no emitters or warheads. If they have an arsenal, it’s hidden behind that armor.” He let Virgo chew that over before continuing. “However, I can now see two engine ports that were previously hidden by the spiked extensions. They sit topside forward and forward ventral----might be something like an impulse drive.”
A younger voice of Ensign Jake Levvy came in from Musketeer Four. “Hey big dog, are you reading the same thing over there on the quantum dating
“Affirmative, Jake.” Hadad took another look at the mottled patchwork of dark hull plating and then thumbed his COM link again. “Virgo, our traveler is ancient. Most of the hull’s reading in excess of eight hundred years or more.” He paused. “We may be looking at a generational ship of some kind.”
For a while, there was just crackling over his helmet speaker. Then: “M-3, M-4, arm weapons and fire warning shots just off the intruder’s bow. Acknowledge
He acknowledged the inevitable order. His young partner followed suit a moment later, albeit with more zeal than Hadad would have liked.
They were trying to intimidate an elephant with spitballs, a gesture that would likely evoke laughter from the aliens----assuming they were even paying attention to them in the first place.
As Hadad cycled through the arming sequence on his panel, he wished again for the Peregrine
class fighter he had flown during the war. The Peregrine
’s heavier guns wouldn’t have changed the present equation, but if one was going to posture, he mused, better to use a slingshot instead of a peashooter.
To be fair, his current vehicle had its own charm. In contrast to the stocky Peregrines
, the Musketeers
were a sleek, aerodynamic triangle. Three retractable wings adorned the rear of the craft, with two smaller ones forward, the better to facilitate high-speed atmospheric maneuvers. The fighters also enjoyed longer flight duration, making them ideal for interplanetary reconnaissance and border patrol.
Now, if only we had a hundred of these babies instead of four, I would hasten to smile
, he lamented silently.
Starbase Virgo One
The tempo in OPS had increased dramatically over the last ten minutes. The horseshoe bank of consoles that dominated the room’s second half was now fully staffed with eleven crewman instead of the usual six, and second watch had been activated early to man auxiliary workstations, if for no other reason than to regulate call volume. Every officer along N’Skatia’s political hierarchy it seemed was jamming subspace with demands for information or pleas for help.
The commotion of blaring COMM speakers coupled with overlapping crew chatter was compounded by two duty shifts occupying the same room at once. The Regula class station’s command area was cramped and becoming noisier by the second, which only helped to set Commander Ferris further on edge.
A breathless Lieutenant jogged over to Ferris, electing to sidestep the commotion by delivering his message in person. The young Asian man held a PADD from which a tinny voice was issuing. “Defense Tender Robar is demanding to speak with you, Commander.” He breathed.
She blew out an irritated sigh.
With the Royal Family off world and out of real-time communication range, the Defense Tender was the acting head of state. But on a planet with no real military to speak of, Robar was little more than an obdurate clerk who spent his time protesting Starfleet policies. And judging by the litany of hoarse bellows now erupting from the lieutenant’s PADD, his meager leadership skills were already overtaxed.
Ferris decided she had no time for handholding.
“Tell him to stand by!” She waived the lieutenant away, aborting his protest before it could be voiced. She whipped her focus back to the tactical display across the room from her, where the alien’s position and speed was being tracked.
Polef had just stopped his relentless orbit of the SLIC table and grimaced. “Musketeers
have fired warning shots. No change in vessel’s course or speed.”
Her combadge chirped. “Commander, N’Skatia Ground Control is now tracking the intruder. Estimating planet fall in seven minutes.”
Ferris experienced a hellish moment in which her brain seemed to go off line. It was a mental choke, like the time she went blank during her oral test at the academy.
Pull it together!
She raged at herself. Lives are at stake
Her roaming eyes settled on the intruder’s schematic and all at once, inspiration struck.
She cleared her throat nervously. “Lieutenant Polef, have the Musketeers fire here, on the ship’s forward engine ports.” She pointed to the nose of the holographic shape that floated before her. “Maybe that will get their attention.”
Her XO gawked at her in naked disbelief. “Ma’am? We’re going to fire on them? But if they do have weapons----“
“I know the risk!” She barked. It came out louder than she intended, causing a nearby crewmember to eye her surreptitiously from his engineering post.
Polef stepped close, downshifting his volume. “Ma’am, respectfully…those forward engines are probably used for guidance and breaking control. Even if we take them out, we might end any chance of a controlled decent.”
She met his dubious stare with her own look of resolve----a feeling that only ran skin deep. “Let’s hope our visitors out there come to the same conclusion and veer off.”
“But…if we trigger some kind of chain reaction and that monster explodes----”
“A collision with N’Skatia will do the same thing! And if it’s going to explode, then better it happens outside the atmosphere!” Her smoldering glare was a clear warning to drop the subject.
Polef was all too aware that the clock was ticking, so he decided to swallow his remaining objections.
As Ferris watched him lean over and tap out her order, she struggled to exorcise a deep foreboding. She knew that if she lost this gamble, it would likely cost the lives of both pilots…with the added bonus of inciting an interstellar war.