“The swarm ships have detected us and are altering course. Two minutes to intercept,” said Terrence Lawford while peering through the sensor hood on the navigation console.
“Steady as she goes, Ensign,” said Wesley, once more starring intently towards the screen were a small cluster of flickering space indicated the presence of hundreds of tiny ships heading straight for Lexington
. The commodore toggled his comm unit. “G’arv, are the shield modifications ready?”
“Ready as they’ll ever be,” he responded sharply. “They should hold for about five minutes. After that all bets are off.”
“Bring the shield online and siphon every last bit of energy you can spare into the grid.”
Not a moment later the lights on the bridge noticeably dimmed and Wesley could hear the telltale sounds of power being rerouted from all non-essential systems around him.
“Shields are up,” Lawford said.
“How long until we reach the planet?” Wesley wanted to know.
“Four minutes and thirty-two second until standard orbit if we maintain full impulse,” said Zha’Thara.
This prompted the first officer to step next to his captain and slightly lean into him. “No guarantee they will let up once we get there,” he said in a whispered tone of voice which for the man known as the Bear turned out to be not much of a whisper at all.
Wesley simply nodded, already fully cognizant of the risks inherent of this plan.
“Here come the bugs,” said Aliz Bathory and instinctively held on to her console.
She didn’t need to have bothered. The shield modifications held and while Lexington
began to shake and tremble once more, it was much gentler this time around.
“They’re on top of us and opening fire. Shields are holding but not for their lack of trying,” said the Andorian who monitored the swarm ship’s effort through her sensor viewer.
Wesley turned in his chair until he faced his communications chief, sitting behind him and next to the turbolift entrance. “Lieutenant, any sign of communication from the planet?”
Oudekirk held her earpiece a little tighter and manipulated a few buttons on her console as she looked over her shoulder. “I’m picking up a lot of chatter between the swarm ships and Iota Curcis IV. I cannot make out what they’re saying yet but the UT is starting to catch on. Whatever they are saying to each other, it has become a lot more urgent in the last few minutes.”
“They’re getting nervous,” said Kuznetsov.
“Can you blame them?” asked the science officer, turning from her own station. “They have an unknown, well-armed and seemingly unstoppable ship on direct course to their world. I’d be nervous, too.”
Wesley considered that for a moment and then nodded. “They see us as a threat,” he said and then to Oudekirk. “Open another channel, Lieutenant, this time directed towards the planet.”
She gave him a quick nod to know he could speak.
“Attention, this is Commodore Robert Wesley from the Federation starship Lexington
. We come in peace and only wish to talk to you. We do not have hostile intentions. I say again, we come in peace.”
He waited a moment and then looked back at the Dutch comm officer. But she shook her head. There had been no apparent reply.
“If we can’t understand them yet, perhaps they can’t understand us,” the first officer suggested.
“Keep sending that message in a continuous loop. Perhaps their translators are more efficient than ours.”
Oudekirk nodded and went to work.
Just then the bridge trembled sharply almost causing Ketteract to be thrown to the deck before he could grab hold of the railing. “God, I thought those shields were going to hold,” he said.
“This is what you asked us to do, Doctor,” Kuznetsov shot back, showing zero sympathy for the man. “Get to this planet, no matter what.”
“The swarm ships have picked up the pace, sir,” said the Andorian after checking her readings. “I don’t think we have as much time as we thought.”
Moments later Commander G’arv from engineering put a much finer point to it. “Bridge, whatever we’re doing, we’re making them angry. We don’t have enough juice in our circuits to keep those shield modifications up for more than a minute or so. Commodore, I strongly suggest a new course of action or you won’t have a ship left to worry about.”
Bob Wesley left his chair and stepped up right behind Cilla Oudekirk as if his physical proximity to the communications console could will the other end to respond to their hails. “Anything on the UT yet?”
She shook her head. “Sorry, sir. It’s having a tough time with the alien syntax.”
’s captain looked back at the screen were he could see nothing but a moving mass of black and brown which had completely enveloped his ship. He had to steady himself by holding on to the back of Oudekirk’s chair as the deck plates under his feet trembled with increasing severity. He thought he could see specks of the sepia-colored planet not far beyond the bug ships.
“We’re beginning to lose main power,” said Zha’Thara and as if to stress her point, the bridge lights began to dim further. A few non-essential console went completely dark, startling the officers manning them.
The first officer found Wesley’s eyes. “Fight of flight time?”
Wesley nodded and then looked back towards Oudekirk. “Open the channel again.”
“Attention, this is to whoever can hear me on Iota Crucis IV. We will not be deterred to reach your planet even if you are successful in destroying us in the process.”
This caused a few bridge officers to shoot their captain, the man they trusted with their very lives, surprised glances. Some even gasped openly, not having expected this to become a suicide run.
Most telling of all perhaps was Bendes Ketteract, who judging by his confused facial expression wasn’t quite sure how he should feel about being killed in pursuit of a scientific excursion he himself had practically demanded.
“But note this: If you are successful in destroying this vessel, many more will come to investigate and you will be unable to defend yourself against a dozen ships similar to this one. Your desperate attempts to remain isolated will fail.”
The bridge fell silent except for the increasing sounds of the battered shields and a ship sailing through rough and worsening waters. Most eyes remained on Oudekirk who frantically tried to send and resend the commodore’s last message through whatever channels she could open quickly enough.
G’arv’s angry voice pierce the silence. “Bridge, you’ve had better made peace with your creator. Shields are failing.”
One bridge console after the next began to explode in a spark of flames and a number of officers were thrown from their seats. But as quickly as the chain reaction had begun did it cease again.
And then, as if having cleared a storm, the deck plates stopped rattling and their ride smoothed out. Like dissipating clouds, the swarm ships disengaged to allow a clear view on Iota Crucis IV now just a few hundred kilometers away.
Alexei Kuznetsov couldn’t help himself and an uncharacteristically large grin spread over his face. “Remind me never to play poker with you, Commodore.”
Wesley gave him a blank look in response. “Who said I was bluffing?” he said and headed back to his chair.
Ketteract couldn’t stop his jaw from hanging wide open, not able to quite process how close he had come to being killed before ever getting a chance to get a good look at his wonder particles.
Zha’Thara however seemed to know better and her little smile seemed to give away that she had never once doubted Wesley and his ability to get them through that rough patch in one piece.
“Commodore, we are being hailed,” a clearly relieved Oudekirk announced.
“Put it on screen, Lieutenant,” Wesley said after he had settled in his chair again, looking as stone-faced and professional as ever.
The main viewer shifted for a moment and then displayed an entirely alien face. The person on the screen, and no one on Lexington
’s bridge could tell for certain if it was a person at all, male or female for that matter, possessed a body which appeared to have more in common with a large insect than a human. Its toughened skin appeared more like an exoskeleton in some places. Its oblong head had two huge and pitch black eyes which were positioned at its sides. Two v-shaped feelers protruded from its frontal lobes and not too far below sat two large mandibles which looked razor-sharp. Most of the rest of the creature’s body was hidden but it did appear to have at least four arms.
The bridge crew stared at the screen with poorly hidden surprise and disgust.
“It’s hideous,” said Aliz Bathory under her breath before she could even think about her words.
“Ensign, belay that,” Wesley said sharply.
“Sorry,” she mumbled and then forced herself to look down at her station instead.
The creature didn’t appear to have noticed the outburst but instead began to talk in an urgent series of clicks and tones which were incomprehensible to Wesley and his crew. From the way its mandibles and antennae twitched, the insect-like creature was furious.
“Lieutenant, the universal translator,” said he commodore without ever taking his eyes off the creature.
“Coming online now,” she reported. “I think it made a breakthrough.”
No sooner had she spoken, the previously strange voice began to make sense. “… sovereign territory of the Xenarth Colony. You are to turn around immediately and leave this system or face destruction,”
said the creature with what the universal translator had clearly interpreted as a female sounding voice.
“I apologize for the intrusion and I assure you we have no hostile intentions against you and your people. My name is Robert Wesley and I represent the United Federation of Planets. To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”
The creature on the screen seemed to ponder those words for a moment, as if considering if they were even worth her response. “You are addressing Warrior Queen Quelphi, representative of the Xenarth Aggregate. You have five
lirkiks to turn your vessel around and leave our space before I will order your destruction.”
If Wesley was intimidated by the threat he did an impressive job of hiding it. Instead he only looked more resolute as he leaned forward in his chair, displaying a much more relaxed and comfortable image of himself compared to his agitated counterpart. “Queen Quelphi, I am not certain if you appreciate our situation. According to our records, the planet which you are currently occupying is uninhabited and within the borders of our Federation. So you see, it is in fact you who has intruded into our space and I am duty bound to investigate this matter fully.”
This seemed to irritate Quelphi further. “This is not our concern. This planet and this system have now been rightfully claimed by the Xenarth Colony,”
she stopped herself and looked off-screen as if somebody there had caught her attention. Then with something akin to a frown she turned back to face Wesley. “You will hold your position until I contact you again. Failure to follow these instructions will lead to your annihilation.”
The channel was closed with no further notice.
The commodore turned his chair to face his senior officers. “Thoughts?”
“She’s aggressive,” said the first officer immediately. “As you would expect from somebody with the title of Warrior Queen. But unsure of herself, that much seemed obvious. Like she knows she doesn’t belong here.”
Wesley nodded. “The question is then, where did they come from and why did they choose to come here. If there had a choice in the matter that is,” he said and then looked at his science officer next.
“Fascinating, as my Vulcan colleagues would say. They are a species of highly-evolved insectoids with a social structure not unlike more primitive anthropoid life-forms. The fact that she referred to herself as a warrior queen seems to imply that she is merely one of many other similar queens to make up their ruling establishment. Judging by the way she seemed to defer to somebody else, I’d say she isn’t the leader or at least not in a position to make final decisions by herself.”
“Commodore, may I remind you that this isn’t an anthropological survey. We’re here to investigate the energy radiation that may very well be prepared for a weapon of imaginable power even as we speak,” said Ketteract, once more injecting himself into the conversation without a second thought.
“I haven’t forgotten, Doctor. But in order to learn more about these energy readings, first we have to gain these people’s trust and that means learning more about them.”
“Sir, they are hailing us again,” Oudekirk reported.
“Put her on, Lieutenant,” he said and swiveled his chair around again to face the main viewer.
Quelphi reappeared. “Robert Wesley, do you intend to challenge our claim to this world?”
she asked bluntly.
“On the contrary,” he responded without missing a beat. “I’m perfectly willing to open negotiations between your people and mine so that we can come to a mutually beneficial agreement.”
That seemed to have thrown off the warrior queen who had apparently not expected this response. Wesley quickly understood that Quelphi was exactly who she claimed to be. She was a warrior and certainly not a diplomat.
“We are mostly curious about the events which have brought you to this place. We have detected strange and unknown energy readings emanating from your world and would like to learn more about yourself and this energy you employ.” No sooner had he said this, Robert Wesley came to regret his words. He knew almost immediately that he had pushed too far, too quickly.
The warrior queens renewed signs of alarm were obvious. “None of this is your concern and we are not interested in sharing any knowledge with you. I repeat my previous ultimatum. You now have –“
Wesley decided to become more bullish himself, interrupting this latest threat before it could be fully formed. “This is not getting us anywhere. As I have pointed out, you are technically our
guests. I have shown my willingness to open friendly negotiations with you but if you are unwilling to do so you will leave me no choice but to summon my fleet which will treat you as the intruder that you are.”
This prompted another look to somewhere off screen and whatever was transpiring between Quelphi and persons unknown seemed to disturb the warrior queen even more. Finally she turned back towards Wesley. “What is it you propose?”
The captain of the Lexington
fought the urge to reveal a triumphant smile. “I propose a face-to-face meeting to discuss this situation further. Myself and a small number of my crew could meet your official representatives on the surface –“
Now it was her turn to interrupt. “Unacceptable.”
Wesley nodded slowly almost as if he had expected this response. “Very well. In that case perhaps you would like to join us on board of my ship to open our negotiations.”
The fact that she didn’t dismiss this out of hand gave Wesley hope.
“Agreed. Expect our representative to join your vessels shortly. You will maintain your position and make no further attempts to approach this planet or you will be –“
“Annihilated. Yes, I get the drift.”
Queen Quelphi feelers twitched angrily one more time and then she disappeared from the view screen again.
“Is this a bad time to point out that I used to burn ants with a magnifying glass when I was a kid?” said Lawrence with a smirk.
Wesley stood from his chair. “Listen up folks,” he began, his voice carrying his usually firm and authoritarian tone across the bridge. “I appreciate that these Xenarth look strange and alien to us and that they have an undeniable resemblance to certain insects we may not be particularly fond of. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that these are sentient and clearly highly-intelligent beings. As Starfleet officers it is our mission to respect all life, no matter what form it takes. I expect you all to live up to those ideals while we negotiate with these people.”
Lawrence and Bathory looked sufficiently chastised and apologetic for their remarks even if the commodore had not singled them out as he spoke to the bridge. Instead it had been the Bear who had shot them both warning glances, making it perfectly clear that he would hold them accountable for whatever inappropriate remarks came over their lips. It was a warning not to be taken lightly.
But Wesley was happy to leave it at that. He had made his views clear and expected no further problems. “Commander Zha’Thara, I want you and Doctor Ketteract to start scanning the planet and the surrounding space for any signs of this mysterious energy. Inch-by inch if necessary. Learn whatever you can from your sensors.”
The Andorian nodded and went straight to work. Ketteract on the other hand did not appear to be satisfied and shook his head. “That’s not going to be enough. We need to get down there and analyze the source of these readings up close.”
“One step at a time, Doctor. For now, find out what you can from here and I’ll see what I can do to make sure you get your name written into the history books,” he said with a dry sarcasm which apparently was lost on the scientist but not on his first officer who couldn’t keep that smirk off his face.