The United Space Ship Yorktown
orbited high above a barren, rocky planetoid that itself orbited a small yellow star far from Earth.
The planet had been codenamed MIDWAY by the admiralty of Star Fleet, Earth's interstellar navy, owing to its position equidistant between Earth and her enemy of five years, Romulus.
On the space ship's bridge, Captain Charles Lockhart stood beside his command chair, unable to bring himself to sit down.
The tension on the Yorktown's
bridge was palpable, and Captain Lockhart caught himself subconsciously tapping his foot on the deck. He immediately stopped the action, unwilling to let his own anxiety add to that already felt by his crew.
"This is our third orbit," Commander James Bennett, second-in-command of the Yorktown, said. "Are we certain we've come to the right place?"
Captain Lockhart looked at the younger man, an Australian, somewhat wearily. "Perhaps the Romulans have changed their mind?" he said, only half jokingly.
But then of course, perhaps they had?
In many ways, Lockhart struggled to imagine a time before war had broken out.
The conflict between the two neighboring empires had raged across that part of the Milky Way galaxy for half a decade, and had only reached its current impasse when Earth's Star Fleet had dropped an unthinkable weapon on an outlying Romulan world.
Originally conceived before the war as a game-changing terraforming project that would revolutionize Earth's outward expansion into the universe by transforming inhospitable planets into Earthlike spheres, Star Fleet had, through necessity, perverted the Genesis Project to a far more sinister purpose into the most horrific weapon the galaxy had ever seen.
The Earth stealth ship that had deployed the first and only Genesis bomb had voyaged through space for three months to reach her target, a planet codenamed DANTE, hamstrung by her kind's inability to achieve anything other than a relative crawl while remaining unseen.
But from the moment the bomb had been dropped from DANTE's orbit by its invisible mothership, the war had been over.
Faced with the certainty that more of their planets would be left airless rocks in space, their surfaces burned away by Genesis bombs and billions of Romulans killed, the Romulan Empire had sued for peace.
The result of the hurried negotiations conducted in the aftermath of the Genesis bomb's horrific unveiling was the Yorktown's
current mission, whereby an armistice agreement would be signed above the MIDWAY planetoid by two space ships - one from Earth, the other from Romulus.
"The bastards aren't that stupid," Bruce Tallow, chief weapons officer said, his voice full of distain. "They know we'll wipe them clean off the face of the galaxy if they don't sign the armistice."
"I don't think anyone wants it to come to that," John Morrell, the Yorktown's
chief scientist said quietly.
"I won't lose any sleep over it if it does," Tallow retorted. "I've heard Star Fleet has stealth ships in orbit over a dozen Romulan planets just waiting for the order to drop more Genesis bombs."
"Scuttlebutt," Morrell said dismissively. "Star Fleet doesn't have a dozen stealth ships, let alone a dozen of those bombs."
"That's quite enough of that," Captain Lockhart warned. "We'll have no more talk like that on the bridge."
Though he wouldn't admit it publically, Lockhart himself had heard similar rumors, not just from the crew of the Yorktown
but from higher-ups in Star Fleet. He knew that despite some exaggeration, Tallow was closer to the truth than Morrell.
But he was almost certain those ships would never be ordered to press the button.
The Romulan Empire knew that it was beaten. The firestorm that had consumed the surface of DANTE, hotter than the core of the Sun, had robbed them of their appetite for war.
Once the armistice was signed, humans could get back to living the lives they were forced to leave behind when war broke out.
Lockhart himself could be reunited with his wife and infant son, with whom he had only spent a few short days during shore leave the previous year. Elaine and Miles had been transported to the neutral planet of Coridan as part of the immense evacuation of Earth that had taken place over the preceding years, scattering humanity so that it might survive should the Romulan Empire triumph.
Earth itself had become a fortress, the most heavily-fortified planet in the galaxy protected by fleets of space ships, smaller remote-drones and innumerable mines. All shrouded within a vast detection net made up of thousands of satellites, in place to prevent a Romulan stealth ship striking a crushing blow to the world that had borne mankind.
But when the Yorktown's
mission was over, Earth would be made whole again, even if it took a decade.
"Captain!" Morrell announced suddenly, flicking a series of switches on his computer station. "Forward scanners are picking up an object directly ahead!"
Lockhart regarded the large monitor screen that dominated the front of the bridge, showing a view of the Yorktown's
flight path. He saw nothing but the grey curve of the MIDWAY planetoid, and behind it empty space.
That could only mean one thing.
"A stealth ship is appearing!" Morrell called urgently.
"Battle stations!" Lockhart commanded. "Stand ready on weapons and defenses!"
The murky green pressure-hull of a Romulan vessel flared into being ahead of the Yorktown
. It was an ungainly-looking creature, cocooned in a conductive mesh that when energized rendered it invisible to either scanners or the naked eye.
Because of the immense power-requirements that invisibility demanded, stealth ships consumed many times the power of a normal vessel in order to remain unseen, and were close to blind while doing so. This meant that even on spying missions for reconnaissance their abilities were severely limited, but they could be used effectively for dropping bombs such as the Genesis bomb.
They were also horrendously costly to build in terms of time, manpower and resources.
The Romulan Empire had significantly more of the ships than Earth, having built much of their stealth fleet before the war. No one below the upper-levels of Star Fleet Command knew how many such spaceships Earth had, but Lockhart was sure it was no more than five. He had only seen one stealth ship from either power in his lifetime.
"Would you look at that?" Lockhart said quietly, his eyes, like everyone else's, locked on the enemy ship.
"Why the hell did they send one of those things to meet us?" Tallow said through gritted teeth.
Since the opening shots of the war had been fired, thousands of human lives had been lost to Romulan stealth ships like the one that now revealed itself to the Yorktown. They were sent out into the galaxy to stalk Earth ships, sometimes in packs or more often hunting as lone-wolves. An alert human crew might have a few seconds' notice an incoming torpedo appearing from nowhere on their scanner screens, but most received no warning of their impending doom.
Either way, the result was always the same.
Unable to cross the vast distances between Earthlike planets without stopping and allowing their space-warp engines to cool-down and regenerate, virtually all interstellar ships needed to come to a stop in the void for a few hours. This was when the Romulan stealth ships struck, firing their torpedoes at point-blank range before retreating, never once being seen by their prey.
A successful Romulan stealth commander could expect to destroy a dozen Earth vessels, military and civilian alike, on a three-month deployment, during which his invisible ship would prowl the well-trodden space lanes between Earthlike planets.
To the men and women of Star Fleet, this type of warfare was sickening. Sliding unseen up to an enemy ship at rest and destroying it before slipping away into the night was cowardice in the extreme. Although through necessity Star Fleet Command quickly put aside such scruples and instituted its own stealth shipbuilding program, space ship crews like the Yorktown's
who lived in constant fear of being torpedoed by one of these silent killers felt differently.
To see one of these hideous vessels hanging motionless in space, its cloak of invisibility cast off, was an aboration. To the crew of the Yorktown
, the stealth ship had no place amongst the civilized, honorable realm of the seen.
"They've probably been watching us for hours," Bennett said.
"I suppose we can't blame them for being cautious," Lockhart said evenly, endeavoring to appear neutral despite his own misgivings. "And we should all remember that they could have easily destroyed us if they had the mind to. Since they haven't done so, we must assume they are indeed on a mission of peace."
"More like a mission to save their own skins," Tallow muttered, loudly enough that everyone heard.
Lockhart decided to let the comment pass. Perhaps 'mission of peace' had been a tad indelicate.
Tallow's comment may have been unnecessary and unprofessional, but it was also damned accurate.
This rendezvous above MIDWAY had been brought about by Earth's use of the GENESIS bomb and nothing else, certainly not a Romulan desire for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Romulus had wanted the human civilization brought to its knees.
Thankfully for humanity, the opposite had occurred.
"They're signaling us captain," communications officer Julie Hallam said. "Lingua-code transmission. They're requesting permission to come aboard."
Lockhart drew in a long breath as he watched the Romulan stealth ship. There was indeed something immensely unsettling about seeing such a vessel just floating there in full view, as if it shouldn't have the audacity to do so.
The thought of members of a Romulan stealth crew coming aboard the Yorktown
was even more unpleasant.
But whatever his own feelings, he knew that he had an important mission to complete, likely the most important one he would ever undertake. Billions of lives in that part of the galaxy, both human, Romulan and the dozen other known races depended on what he and his opposite number on the Romulan vessel did next.
The Milky Way was holding its breath.
"Signal them affirmative," Lockhart said finally. "But keep our phaser batteries locked on that ship. At the first hint of deception blow them to hell."