Lieutenant Commander Talana Zha’Thara stepped onto the bridge and headed straight for her science station only to find it occupied not by the science duty officer but by Doctor Bendes Ketteract who was so engrossed with the readings he was studying, he didn’t notice the blue-clad Andorian step up to him.
“Doctor,” she said respectfully. For somebody paying attention it would not have been difficult to read the science officer's tone, subtly asking for the civilian to vacate her seat.
The molecular physicist was not paying any attention at all.
Kuznetsov however noticed and with an annoyed grunt began to make his way over to the science console, undoubtedly already thinking of a few choice words for the troublesome scientist.
But the Andorian raised a hand in his direction, telling him to stay put and let her deal with this. Reluctantly the first officer stopped.
She placed one hand on the back of the chair and then leaned forward until her head was just inches from his. “What have you found?”
“It’s amazing, it truly is. There is no doubt that we are heading into the right direction, I’m picking up more data by the minute. But most of it doesn’t make much sense to our sensors. Whatever powers we are looking at here, we haven’t even invented a scale to measure it yet. The implications are simply stunning.”
Talana nodded along but she doubted that he had noticed, in fact he may not even have realized who had posed the question, considering how much he was focused on the screens. She of course couldn’t deny her own scientific curiosity. She understood perfectly well that this wasn’t mere hyperbole, whatever they had stumbled upon here was extremely significant, perhaps even the most significant discovery she had ever been party to.
“Would you mind letting me have a look?” she said, allowing just a tiny hint of steel in her voice.
He ignored her completely. “I have to see this – whatever this is – up close. God, this is so much more than I ever could have expected.”
She rolled her eyes. He was beginning to push it.
“Doctor,” she said, this time forcefully enough to tear him from his reverie and turn to see her for the first time. “When I was a child,” she said much more softly now, “I had to share all my toys with my brothers and sisters.”
He looked at her entirely dumbfounded, the relevance of this apparent non sequitur not registering with him at all. “Beg your pardon?”
She flashed him a smile. “I am not a child anymore, Doctor, and I don’t share my toys.”
It took another few seconds for the other shoe to drop. “Right,” he said. “Well, I’m almost finished besides I’m not certain that you would fully appreciate what I have discovered here.”
The insult appeared to have been unintended and more a result of his professional arrogance instead of outright malice or spite and she didn’t let it bother her. “I think I will be the judge of that, Doctor. Now, pretty please, get out of my chair.”
This time there had been enough unveiled menace in her tone to remind Ketteract that for all her beauty and elegance, this woman came from a race reputed to produce the greatest warriors in the Federation. And judging by the contrite expression on his face, he probably didn’t want to find out just how well deserved that reputation really was.
“Of course,” he said and stood but stopping short from offering an actual apology. Instead he remained glued to the spot to be able to look over the Andorian’s shoulders after she had reclaimed her station.
The first officer couldn’t help but utter an amused laugh which it turned out didn’t sound much different to his earlier grunt.
“Sir, we are approaching the Iota Crucis system,” said Lawford from navigation.
Bob Wesley leaned forward a little further almost as if he could already see their destination in the distance. “Aliz, slow to impulse power.”
The Hungarian-born helmswoman acknowledged. “Slowing to impulse, aye sir,” she said and found the bright red button which would shut down their faster-than-light engines.
Wesley swiveled towards Talana. “Commander, what do we know about Iota Crucis.”
The science officer had that information already up on the screen. “Eight planets and twelve dwarf planets orbiting a class-three orange giant. Only one planet, Iota Crucis IV, can support live. But barely, it’s borderline class-L. However of its six moons at least three have habitable biospheres. Last Federation survey dated 2263 had this system uninhabited except for indigenous flora and fauna on Iota Crucis IV and its moons.”
The last statement caught the first officer interest. “Uninhabited? So are we looking for a natural phenomenon?”
Ketteract was quick to shake his head. “I severely doubt that what we have experienced was natural in origin.”
“Uh, Commodore, I hate to contradict Commander Zha’Thara’s report but I’m definitely picking up signs of intelligent life within the system, judging by the radio signals I’m picking up,” said Cilla Oudekirk from communications, holding her silver ear piece in an attempt to identify what she was hearing.
“Could be Romulans,” warned Kuznetsov and glanced at the captain who judging by his serious expression agreed with him. He gave him a nod.
The Russian knew what to do. “Oudekirk, sound Red Alert and General Quarters. All hands to battle stations. Lawrence, shields to full power. Have phaser control ready and on stand-by.
And immediately the bridge erupted into a well-practiced flurry of activity. Various officers jumping from their chairs and relaying orders to other parts of the ship, while the slightly accented voice of Cilla Oudekirk was channeled through every speaker on Lexington
, prompting the crew to man their stations, batten down the hatches and prepare for battle.
Within a few seconds the bridge settled down again, the crew now in position and anxiously awaiting a potential confrontation with an enemy. The red alert klaxons silently flashed like an excited heartbeat as silence reigned on the bridge once more.
It was Lawrence who broke it first. “Reading starship activity close to the fourth planet, sir.”
The Bear moved to the Englishman’s left. His sensor hood had popped up from his console and he was peering into it. “Give me a reading, Mister. Romulans?”
“I’m … not certain,” he said with equal part frustration and annoyance, knowing full well that his arduous first officer wouldn’t be satisfied with such a report. “But there are a lot of them. If I’m reading this right, well over a hundred ships.”
Oudekirk actually gasped at that revelation. Her first thought that they had wandered right into a Romulan trap.
“Could this be the an invasion?” asked Bathory, unable to keep the fear out of her own voice and then turned to look at the commodore behind her.
His unfazed demeanor gave her and the rest of the crew comfort. But clearly he needed answers himself as he once more turned his captain’s seat to look towards his science officer. “Commander, what do you make of those ships?”
Talana was enough of a veteran to not appear fazed by potentially finding herself facing a Romulan armada. Instead she meticulously studied her sensor readings. “If those are Romulan ships, they are of a design we’ve never encountered before. And they’re small. Very small. Maybe ten meters long each.”
“Some sort of missiles then?” the first officer said.
The Andorian shook her head. “I’m reading unknown life signs. Unless they are on a suicide mission I don’t think we are looking at projectiles here.”
“Put them onscreen,” Wesley said and turned back to face the viewer. “Maximum magnification.”
At first it looked like a cloud of densely packed space debris, swirling in an entirely random pattern. But after his eyes had adjusted, it became more and more obvious that there was clear logic to the movements of the flat, small crafts. And soon enough their dance around each other became almost hypnotic.
“Reminds me of a swarm of bees,” said Bathory.
It wasn’t a bad analogy as the tiny ships actually looked black and bright yellow under the bright sunlight from the Iota Crucis star.
And they all suddenly stopped in their tracks. It startled Lexington
’s bridge crew so much that it took them a second to register that they had in fact turned towards them and set out on an intercept course, quickly beginning to swarm again but without changing their general direction.
“They’ve seen us,” said Lawrence.
“Da,” the Russian said. “Stand by weapons.”
But Wesley wasn’t quite ready for the sword yet. “Lieutenant, open hailing frequencies.”
“Frequencies open, sir.”
“Attention unknown crafts. This is Commodore Robert Wesley of the United Federation of Planets on board the starship Lexington
. We have come for the purpose of scientific study and exploration and we have no hostile intentions towards you. Please respond if you are able,” he said then waited a moment before looking at his communications officer.
She shook her head. There was no response.
“Any chance they didn’t get that?” asked the first officer.
“It went out on all frequencies and they appear to have means to pick-up subspace radio. They got the message but they’re either unable or unwilling to respond,” she said.
“Here they come,” said Aliz Bathory.
The ship shuddered as it was struck by weapon’s fire. But instead of being fired upon from a distance, the tiny crafts practically engulfed the entire ship, turning the view screen into a swirling mass of movement.
“Shields are holding,” said Kuznetsov who had moved to the damage control station. “They are hitting us with a low-yield mass driver. It’s not causing any significant damage to our shields.”
Bathory shuddered. “Makes me feel like bugs crawling all over my skin,” she said as she kept her eyes on the screen.
Wesley got out of his chair and stepped up to the railing opposite to Talana’s station. “Any theories on these ships, Commander.”
“They appear to be simple, one-man crafts equipped with impulse engines and mass driver coils. No warp engines. The life signs are more difficult to identify but I doubt there is more than one person per ship.”
“Where do they come from?”
She turned to look at him. “Best estimate, Iota Crucis IV.”
“Same place were the energy readings originate,” said Ketteract who hadn’t strayed more than two steps from the science console. “These ships are trying to keep us away from it.”
“Commander, you said that this system is uninhabited. If these ships don’t have warp drive, how did they get here?”
“I’ve been asking myself the same question, sir,” she said, clearly at a loss herself. “The only possible explanation I can think of is that they have been brought here by other means.”
Wesley looked back at the screen as if it could provide answers. “Brought here by whom?”
Bathory shrieked as her console exploded in sparks. The commodore was next to her in an instant, pulling her away from the burning station. A crewman with a fire extinguisher arrived a few seconds later to put out the flames.
The young woman looked thankfully at Wesley.
“Shield generator two-four overloaded, causing an energy surge,” explained Kuznetsov from damage control.
“We’re being picked to pieces here,” said the commodore.
“Shoot them out of the damn sky then,” said Ketteract but then quickly held his tongue when he noticed Kuznetsov’s scowl meant for him.
“Even if we tried,” said Lawrence, “there are far too many of them and they are too fast for our phasers. We may take a few down with a couple of lucky shots but that’s the best we can hope for."
Wesley helped the helmswoman back into her chair before taking his own seat. He seemed to consider his options for a moment. “Back us off, ensign, engines full reverse.”
“What?” Ketteract, couldn’t believe it. “We’re retreating?”
“You said it yourself, Doctor,” said Bob Wesley. “They are trying to keep us from their planet. Let’s put that theory to the test.”
“Engines at full reverse.”
True enough after a few more minutes of constant bombardment, their ride smoothed out considerably and the swarm seemed to disengage, heading back towards the fourth planet.
“You were right,” said Lawford. “They are defending Iota Crucis IV.”
“Aliz, take us within maximum sensor range and then hold our position,” said Wesley and then began to thoughtfully massage his chin.
After a couple more minutes Bathory confirmed their position and brought the ship to a full stop.
Ketteract didn’t seem to appreciate the quietness that had once again befallen the bridge. “Now what? We can’t just sit here and do nothing. Those energy readings are coming from that planet.”
“But it looks as if the natives don’t want us playing in their backyard,” said Lawford.
“What natives?” the scientist shot back. “You heard the report. This system is supposed to be uninhabited. These … things don’t even belong here. Let’s find a way to neutralize them and get to that planet. We don’t have the time to just sit here and do nothing.”
But if Wesley shared the same urgency as Ketteract he did a masterful job at hiding it. Instead he turned his chair very slowly until he came face to face with the exasperated scientist. And even then he didn’t speak straight away, only infuriating the man further.
Then he stood and headed for the red-painted turbolift doors. “Senior staff to the briefing room in ten minutes. Mister Lawford, you have the conn.”