The main viewer was awash in the swirling infinity-point perspective of transwarp as Europa
tunneled through the void between dimensions at nearly a dozen times her rated maximum speed.
“Two minutes until deceleration marker,” Lightner advised from the Helm.
“Acknowledged,” Lar’ragos replied evenly, sparing an approving glance toward Ashok at the Engineering board. “As good as your word, Lieutenant.”
The Bolian looked up from his panel to receive the praise with his typical reticence. “You may want to wait until we’ve successfully translated back to normal space, Captain.”
“I’d call shortening an eleven day trip at warp nine-point-nine to a little over eight hours a success, Mister Ashok. You’ll have to forgive my enthusiasm.”
Ashok turned back to his readouts. “So noted, sir.”
“Shields on hot standby, precautionary,” Wu alerted from her seat to Lar’ragos’ right. Cool and efficient, Wu remained the crew’s stolid anchor, balancing Pava’s impetuousness.
“Mister Shanthi, status of our sensor grid?” Lar’ragos queried.
“Standing by to scan known Amon subspace frequencies for any signs of their energy collection satellites, sir,” came the young scientist’s prompt reply.
Unlike typical warp propulsion, travel through transwarp space left a vessel immune to the potentially devastating shear of planetary and stellar gravity wells. Thus, a ship could drop out of transwarp in orbit of a planet instead of limping into a system at impulse speeds or risking a potentially lethal warp-engine imbalance.
had successfully tested the drive on two shorter jumps in preparation for this, the final leg of their outbound journey to the system containing the Class-M world of Alanthal.
“Here we go,” Lightner urged. “Hang on to your hats.”
The viewer blinked from the shifting kaleidoscope of a transwarp corridor to the orbital view of a mottled, blue-green sphere. A collision alarm wailed unexpectedly, Europa’s
automated systems throwing the ship hard over into a half-impulse turn far faster than humanoid reaction time would have allowed.
“Report!” Lar’ragos called out.
“Debris,” Kirk advised from Ops. “Duranium and tritanium elements… “
“It’s a wing,” Shanthi finished. “Contemporary Klingon design, from a Bird-of-Prey, B'rel
Kirk’s sudden intake of breath drew Lar’ragos’ attention. “Multiple sensor contacts, sir. Klingon warships, numerous classes and configurations.” Her hands flitted across her control board. “Picking up additional debris in significant quantities.”
Lar’ragos appeared at a loss for words, but finally managed to blurt, “What in the hell
is going on here?”
Shanthi turned towards the captain from his place at the Science station. “I’m seeing signs of intensive space combat in the vicinity of the planet, sir. The flotsam is consistent with the constituent elements of vessels from both intruder formations as well as Klingon technology.”
Lar’ragos turned to Wu, his expression one of uncharacteristic confusion. “I don’t understand,” he hissed in a low tone. “How did the Klingons get here before us?”
“Immaterial,” she countered in an equally subdued voice. “We must respond to the fact that they are here, and have apparently initiated hostilities with the intruder groups.”
“There’s an audio message in linga-code broadcasting in the open from the planet, Captain,” Kirk noted.
“I thought they were pre-warp,” Pell Ojana offered from the seat to Pava’s left. “Now they’ve suddenly got subspace radio technology?”
Lar’ragos waved a hand dismissively, becoming overwhelmed at the influx of conflicting information. “Let’s hear the message.”
“Be it known to all who approach this world, Alanthal is now under the protection of the Klingon Expeditionary Force. Its people and resources are guarded by the full faith and arms of our empire. If you wish to die with glory, we await you. Otherwise, seek your resources elsewhere.”
Lar’ragos winced, holding a hand to his head as if suffering the onset of a sudden headache. “This doesn’t make any damn sense,” he murmured. Then, louder, he ordered, “Get me some answers, people.”
“That’s quite a bit more articulate than I’d expected,” Counselor Liu remarked from where he sat at an auxiliary console. In response to Lar’ragos’ baleful glare, he added, “The Klingon transmission, I mean, sir. Typically they don’t say more than ‘stay out or die.’”
Wu turned a concerned expression on Lar’ragos, who seemed increasingly addled. “Sir, are you…”
Lar’ragos extended an unsteady hand to clasp Wu’s upper arm gently. “I—I’ll be fine. Something’s… wrong, though.”
“Incoming transmissions on multiple Starfleet emergency frequencies.” Kirk glanced over her shoulder to where Lar’ragos struggled to get his bearings. “Inquiries, status requests, and even an emergency beacon remote activation code.” She frowned in confusion. “Some of these were sent weeks ago.”
Lightner glanced over at the Ops station from his position at the Helm. “What’s the time stamp on those—oh.”
“Shit,” Kirk breathed, finishing the sentiment for him.
“Report,” Wu ordered as Lar’ragos fought to find his voice.
“According to the time-beacon imprint on these transmissions, it appears we’ve arrived in the system approximately thirty-seven days later than we projected, Commander.”
Lightner looked back from the Helm. “We’ve lost… more than a month?” His voice was incredulous.
“That would explain my temporal hangover,” Lar’ragos muttered. He forced himself to his feet, walking unsteadily to brace his hands on the backs of the Helm and Ops seats. He called back to Ashok without looking in the Bolian's direction. "Lieutenant, it appears either your calculations were off or my praise was premature. Either way, I’ll expect a full report in no less than six hours.”
Lar'ragos turned his attention to the Ops officer. “Identify the flagship,” he ordered, sounding as though he already knew the answer.
Kirk sorted through the active transponders of dozens of Klingon vessels sharing Alanthal’s orbit. “The She’v-Ja
,” Lar’ragos translated, his expression growing taut. “Gan’Louk’s ship.” He looked back to Shanthi at the Science station. “Kuenre, where’s their command-and-control located?”
A moment passed as Shanthi swept the planet and inner system with Europa’s
potent sensor array. “I’ve detected Klingon C-&-C communications and data traffic coming from what appears to be a nation-state capital on the surface. I’m also reading several hundred Klingon life-signs in the vicinity of the control center.”
Lar’ragos began making his way shakily towards the turbolift.
Wu stood, clearly uncomfortable with Lar’ragos’ intended departure. “Captain? Your orders, sir?”
Lar’ragos braced himself against a support column just shy of the turbolift doors. “Bring us within transporter range. I’m going down there to have a private conversation with the brigadier.”
The XO moved close to Lar’ragos, whispering, “With all due respect, Captain, I think our priority should be making contact with Galaxy Station and checking in.”
Lar’ragos snapped his fingers in Kirk’s direction. “Ops, what’s our subspace time-debt to Galaxy Station?”
The woman’s reply was swift and succinct. “Comms time delay is two hours, twenty-seven minutes, sir.”
Lar’ragos gestured in Kirk’s direction. “See, you can call HQ and let them know we’re back in play while I’m attending to business planet-side. It’ll be five hours before we receive a reply and new orders, anyway.”
Lar’ragos turned to step into the lift, and was momentarily startled to see Counselor Liu standing in the car awaiting his arrival. He was not an easy man to sneak up on, and Liu knew Lar’ragos must be very out-of-sorts for him to have been caught so unawares.
The doors slid shut and Liu took the opportunity to speak before Lar’ragos could silence him. “You’re being somewhat rash, sir. Perhaps unnecessarily so.”
“Captain’s prerogative,” was Pava’s only reply before ordering the ‘lift to Deck 5.
“It’s clear you’re feeling the effects of something, sir,” Liu observed. “Is now really the best time to be making impulsive decisions regarding the Klingons? I’d remind you that you recently sullied the personal honor of three of them, as well as publicly embarrassed the very general you’re so set on confronting at the moment.”
“The Klingons have made a hash of this whole First Contact,” Lar’ragos practically snarled. “They’ve violated the Prime Directive by revealing themselves to a pre-warp civilization, and they’ve completely undercut any opportunity of our making diplomatic overtures to either of the encroaching alien fleets.”
Liu nodded reasonably, as if giving Lar’ragos’ words due consideration. Then he parried, “Respectfully, sir, the Klingons aren’t bound by the Prime Directive and you know that. Additionally, the inbound alien groups were due to make planetfall on Alanthal prior to our arrival, meaning that the natives would have already been made painfully aware of other spacefaring civilizations.”
Lar’ragos opened his mouth to make counterpoints, but Liu beat him to the draw.
“And we’re sitting on an arsenal of conventional and Alpha weapons that we were prepared to use against the intruder species when we left Galaxy Station, so your complaint that the Klingons ruined our chances at peaceful contact is more than a bit disingenuous.” Liu followed this up with a pleasant smile that only grated on Pava’s raw nerves all the more. “In fact, the resulting bloodbath here may make this system even more enticing to the Amon.”
Lar’ragos broke eye contact with Liu as the turbolift doors opened. “You’re not privy to the full picture here, Counselor.”
Liu followed Lar’ragos out into the corridor, falling into step beside the smaller man as the El Aurian made his way towards the nearest transporter room. “Please enlighten me, sir.”
“This is a personal matter between Gan’Louk and I. An old disagreement that he’s using as fuel to drive this little public relations stunt of his.”
Liu appeared openly skeptical. “Captain, what kind of personal feud would incite a noted Klingon hero to conquer a Level-4 pre-warp culture while simultaneously starting a war with two previously unknown intruder species?”
Lar’ragos drew up just short of the doors to the transporter room, turning a severe expression on Liu. It was evident he did not intend for the counselor to follow him inside. “Only the worst kind of vendetta for a Klingon...” Lar’ragos stepped across the threshold and as the doors began to close he added, “A family one.”
* * *