The sirens blare. The air hisses. Captain Tarasco can barely see through a head wound from the first barrage. "Missiles!" he yells to his tac officer. But Womack lies slumped in her seat, either unconscious or dead. Tarasco has no time to check, and pushes the heavyset woman aside, as he takes up her station and boots up the tactical nukes. The cats attempting to dock with his ship will never see another sunrise. Three years earlier, Carlos Tarasco had been in Chicago, working with the New United Nations to re-establish contact with the various shantytowns that made up most of the Western hemisphere in the wake of nuclear armageddon and the subsequent economic collapse to end all economic collapses, when he first heard about aliens making contact. The stories were incredible. Some said they were robots, some said they were hobgoblins, but Tarasco was on the first convoy to Montana, representing the so-called "world government" to meet these creatures. Instead, he spent most of the summit meeting with the sad drunk that created the machine that drew these "Vulcans" to Earth in the first place: Zefram Cochrane. Cochrane was a tall man, towering over the Tarasco's short stature. And he seemed older, but was much younger than he appeared when Tarasco learned his age. He was a genius, an eccentric one, who could tinker with a tin can and make it into a 3D printer over the course of an afternoon. While the Secretary-General and US President spent their time talking with Solkar of Vulcan in his alien ship, Tarasco was in the Bozeman shanty going over details from Cochrane. He was not an engineer, just a junior diplomat and former Army Captain who tried to escape the horrors of the World War and subsequent Civil War that broke out just ten years earlier. With Cochrane's ship, and the Vulcan assistance, Tarasco thought that the Earth would never see such adversity again. How naive he had been, he thinks, as the weapons station before him shorts out. Humanity had barely escaped the Oort Cloud when these pirates, representing "the Patriarchy", began attacking their ships. Converted DY's mostly, and the pride of Cochrane's fleet: the Bonaventure, had all been destroyed, cannibalized, or outright lost due to the actions of one or two enemy ships. Worse yet, they weren't the only thing cannibalized, Tarasco ponders as he recalls reports of vicious slaughterings by seven-foot tall tiger-like aliens, tearing people apart limb-by-limb. Tarasco was on his feet now, abandoning the command center and heading to the docking bay. He had brought a plasma rifle, said to burn these creatures from the inside out. He grimly remembers what plasma can do in the wrong hands, but he has no other choice. The first ships didn't have weapons. They were the first to go. The Vulcans had insisted that humanity was safe, but they were wrong. The trip to Alpha Centauri had brought unwanted attention, and attempts to contact the Vulcan homeworld, and scouts sent to 40 Eridani, had not been returned. Subspace radio was a theoretical idea that humanity could not yet reproduce. Tarasco's mind clears as he spots his first cat. It snarls before doubling over in pain, green smoke rising from its back. "Carlos," says Security Chief Dan Pelletier. "Duck!" Tarasco drops down as Pelletier sends more green plasma into the unlucky feline that had almost skewered him from behind. Somewhere along the way, he seems to bump his head, and is out cold. "Ain't she a beaut'?" said Cochrane reaching down and slapping Tarasco on the back. "She looks like a boxcar," Tarasco replied with a frown. "In fact, I think she was a boxcar," Cochrane gave a hearty chuckle at his own comment. "My Bonnie will transport the colonists, and you're Valiant will guard us from the bad guys. You know, robots and the like." Tarasco rolled his eyes as Cochrane went into his drunken story about evil cyborgs once more. But Solkar had insisted that a thriving Alpha Centauri Colony would be the first step in entering the intergalactic community. A large African-American man approached in the hilly sunshine of the Riverside Fleetyard, bristling with activity. "Dan!", Tarasco shouted in surprise. "What the hell are you doing here?" They shook hands. Pelletier had been a Sergeant in Tarasco's company and they both fought in the Battle of New York before losing contact eight years prior. "I heard you were in town, so I hitchhiked a few thousand miles to see what's up," he joked. "You and everyone else, it seems," stated Cochrane, jovially putting himself into the conversation. Pelletier and Cochrane got along famously, and Tarasco was glad for the old company. Pelletier found work on Cochrane's security detail, but as the months went on, Tarasco was unsure of having such a big reminder of such a dark part of his life here. He couldn't shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen. But now, all these years later, he can't shake the feeling of a pulsing migraine. Pelletier is shouting, in his thick Louisiana accent. "What?" Tarasco says, hearing only ocean water. "I said we have to move!" Tarasco stumbles to his feet as three more cats appear by the docking bay. "One of them shot you!" says Pelletier, to Tarasco's surprise. They are running at full pace while he looks for any new wounds. "Must've been some sort of stun weapon." Pelletier doesn't miss a beat, "Well this will stun them. Permanently." Tarasco winces as his friend places an EM grenade on the bulkhead. They run around the bend and look on as the cats approach. Tarasco closes his eyes as Pelletier hits the switch. "Let's just stay here forever," Chantal Coquillette smiled widely, her arms wrapped around Tarasco's shirtless frame. She was young, French, and had seen little of the wars that ravaged Tarasco's memory. She had travelled, somehow, across continents to be with the "aliens," but now was counselling to remain on Earth. Here, in a reconstructed hotel overlooking San Francisco Bay. Tarasco knew that wouldn't fly. He had seen the reports. Humanity's second contact with an alien race was horrifying, and the Valiant would be the only hope to save the few slow-moving reconverted sleeper ships in harm's way. At near-Warp 2 speed, it could overshoot the defenceless crews and defeat the pirates. Or die trying. Humanity was bringing war to the stars. 'Better there than here,' Tarasco thought, grimly, before kicking himself for such idlings. He turned and looked at Chantal's full form on the bed and knew that he couldn't leave her behind. 'This was a mistake,' Tarasco thinks as he and Pelletier make their way to the warp chamber. Their plasma low, they duck down to remain from being spotted by the cats. A large brute passes by the medical bay, carrying a comically large bag of supplies. A smaller runt, but still over six feet tall, guards the looter. Their pink uniforms easily stick out in the gray smoke. Tarasco and Pelletier sneak up on the smaller of the two creatures and 'disarm' him or her with a sickening snap. A stun from the cat's once-holstered weapon takes out his large friend. "There's more than one way to skin a cat," says Pelletier in a groan-inducing moment. The pink uniforms, tight space suits really, aren't an easy fit for either of them, but they provide protection from the elements. Traces of warp plasma had mixed in the air at some point and is subtly burning their exposed skin. Who knows the effect on the lungs. The uniforms provide the even more vital protection of camouflage, as three more stunned cats soon learn. The warp chamber is eerily abandoned. As is the medical bay, and the corridors encircling the command center. The reason is soon made apparent. A lone cat, this one shaggier than the rest, is spotted by Pelletier as they creep back to the docking bay. In his arms is Tarasco's unconscious paramour, Chantal. "Maybe we can ambush him before he reaches the dock and-" Pelletier is interrupted by several loud stun blasts as Tarasco rushes the creature. The stun isn't enough, as Tarasco unclips one of the serrated blades these cats carry and aims to drive it into this monster's heart. His arm is stopped by Pelletier, who gives him a silent 'No.' With his friend's aid, they check on Chantal, er, rather, Junior Medic Coquillette. She is breathing, and Tarasco wants to remove his suit and embrace her. But he can't. Not yet. He and Pelletier look to the docking bay, and know what they must do. Three months later, the Valiant will return to Earth. They will bring with them six Kzinti prisoners who will be used to negotiate a settlement for what will be known as the First Kzinti War. The Valiant will have suffered no loss of life, and will soon find itself sent out as mankind's first exploratory starship.