Several minutes earlier they had found a way to activate an external viewing screen and now he was mesmerized by the almost beautiful sight of the last of their exploration ships, "Mayflower Six", breaking apart in space.
When the exploration ships were originally designed for their deep space voyage, there was never any thought given to weapons. Sure, there were basic defense systems, but they were designed mostly to ward off any space debris that might be floating out there. (Can't have a rogue asteroid taking out your life support just as you're leaving the solar system.) The idea that there was some other life form out there with better technology was unthinkable. It was commonly agreed that if the crews met any other beings out there, the lower life forms would cower at the sight of these powerful ships. Besides, there was no one out there. The mission was not to find new life, but to discover new, habitable worlds to be settled. After all, Mars was now bursting at the seams and attempts to colonize the other planets had so far proven unsuccessful.
"Santa Maria Six" had been the first to approach the planet, catalogued as BT179 by the computer. Sensors showed a high probability of a habitable planet. While relaying data to the other ships, the transmission was interrupted by an emergency message: "Unknown vessels approaching". Nothing else was heard or seen of the ship.
Tom looked down at the panel again, trying to make sense of the bizarre symbols. What kind of race was this? What capabilities did this ship have? One of those ships fired through the planet to hit "Mayflower Six". What kind of weapon fires through a planet? The viewscreen was filled with floating debris, all that remained of what had appeared to be a fertile world. A slight shimmering appeared in the far corner of the viewscreen. It grew larger. It was the other ship, the one that destroyed the planet, and it was heading towards them.
If Tom had known the control panels better, he would have realized that the flashing light in the lower left corner was telling him that another ship had just appeared within the sensor range and was coming up behind them.
"Is it within firing distance?"
"Not yet, sir, but it will be momentarily."
"The remaining ship, what are her capabilities?"
"Minimal thrust and negligible defenses."
"Too difficult to say, data is incomplete."
Captain William Brandol weighed the options. The attacking ship was grotesquely over armed, as expected from the Xanthians - so warlike and vulgar. This was just their sort of "fight".
The defending ship, however, was another story. She had little defenses and even less weapons. She appeared to be outfitted for exploration or colonization. There was no threat. Yet the Xanthians would destroy her. Time was running out. The captain knew the treaty with the Xanthians kept him from defending the damaged ship. But it was morally wrong to allow a senseless destruction! Captain Brandol felt frustration building inside of him like a pregnant volcano. He was a man of good conscience, and a man of action. 'Some orders aren't worth the paper they're printed on. Blast the treaties!!' He thought angrily.
"Lieutenant, sound general quarters. Weapons, arm forward and aft particle cannons. Helm, position us between those ships, NOW!"
The command room rang with a chorus of mingled "Aye-Aye's" as the well trained officers carried out their orders. The captain was pleased to be serving with such a fine crew. The finest in the Conglomerate's fleet.
Conglomerate Defense Vessel (CDV) 'Saber' blasted from her holding orbit following a direct trajectory to a median position between the ships. As she carried forward, her attack wings unfolded from the sleek black sides. Along the forward and aft edges of the wings, cannons sprang from their berths and locked into place. Finally, her sphere activated, giving the ship a hazy blue aura.
"Yes, Captain?" The communication officer replied evenly.
"Send a message to the defending ship. Announce our presence and tell them... the Cavalry is coming."
"Never mind. Just do it."
"Aye-Aye, sir." The comm officer went about his task.
CDV 'Saber', now in attack posture, swooped across the distressed ship's bow, close enough to exchange startled glances through viewing ports between ships. Upon reaching her destination, she came to a complete stop.
"Helm, point us directly towards the Xanthians."
"Aye, Aye, sir."
"Weapons. Target their ship, for a friendly warning shot, not too much damage, though. Officially, it will be an "accident". Too bad their ships can't arm defenses while attacking. Poor engineering, wouldn't you say?"
"Yes, sir." The weapons officer grinned. Everyone hated the Xanthians and being given the chance to cause some damage was a great boon. He just wished he could see their slimy faces as the first salvo struck their ship.
The Captain never hesitated, once he made up his mind, he always carried through. Through clenched teeth he commanded, "Weapons... Fire!"
His legs pumped hard... but fatigue welled like an inevitable sneeze, and he knew that this fight had already taken too much strength for an escape to be plausible. He fell hard again as the tentacle entangled itself in his legs. Now he was concerned. In a normal scenario, Jahaa had not only the strength, skill and desire to fight these cosmic cow equivalents off, but usually to knock them out and roast them for supper for their trouble. Today however...... well today he was stuffed. It had been one of those days.
Perspiration glistened on his brow, his breathing seemed to sense it was about to become an obsolete feature and sought to compensate by heaving for all it was worth.
Jahaa's assailant looked up. Jahaa looked up. It was the noise which caught their attention initially, but the spectacular light show was the factor which held it. Fragmented in the dusk sky, comets shot gracefully to dance with light which were only to become extinguished. It was beautiful, it was dazzling, it was mesmerising.... it was.... it was a distraction! Thought played no part in the decision-making process as Jahaa's body sprang up in one final effort for survival. He didn't really care whether that..... thing behind him was really aware it was witnessing an interstellar battle or not, the only thing he really did care about were the rocks which marked the entrance to the cave's sanctuary. They were getting bigger... good, that meant he was getting closer..... this was a good thing. Only as the now stocky human dove headlong, did he hear the distressed cry of the beast behind him as it realised it's prey had escaped.
The small ship rose in a haze of heat, screaming engines pervading the jungle in a cacophony of noise. Presently the jungle settled back into its primordial reverie, the intrusion of the ship forgotten.
Itus settled back as much as the cabin would allow and watched as the planet receded in his viewing screen. He set his course for home and waited for the engines to fling him to the far reaches of the galaxy. He ate a frugal meal while he waited and thought about the prize he would get at home for the tiny creature.
Suddenly a warning klaxon shrieked shrilly in his ears and the ship
began to rock and pitch, its great speed diminishing quickly. Itus frantically
checked all his instrumentation until he discovered the problem. An alien
ship was using primitive fusion power in this sector and it was playing
havoc with his drive computers. Angrily, Itus twitched the sub-space controls
in the direction of the ship. They would have to be destroyed if he was
to get home.
Tom sat in his useless cocoon of metal, cursing the powers that be for his wholly inadequate ship. All around him people waited expectantly for orders, but he hadn't a clue what to do. And now this macho Captain William had shown up. Tom felt a searing anger deep in his gut. He wanted to fight his way out of this, he alone. But how could he.
Out of the corner of his eye Tom saw the proximity light flicker again. Just great! Another damn ship. This one was small, but moving at a colossal rate. It was bearing down on them. Tom tore at his hair as he wondered what the hell he could do.
The 'Saber' wheeled around to face the new threat, its previous target momentarily forgotten. "What's in that ship?" Brandol demanded. "Some bipedal life-form we've never encountered before," came the terse reply. "Aim and fire cannons on my mark....mark!" Brandol screamed. Deadly bolts of death zoomed forward from the 'Saber' and were simply absorbed by the incoming craft. It returned fire, but at the exploration ship. The behemoth began to founder and turn, pinpricks of light denoting explosions.
Tom sat in a daze. All around him alarms and people screamed. This was
not why he signed up for the navy....
"Chief," the Captain began, "what was the power rating on that last blast?"
The Chief quickly scanned the WCP, "Thirty-four percent sir."
"Was there any measurable change in approach or velocity?"
"None sir. Seems a bit of a Maverick."
"Yes, indeed. What of the damaged ship?"
"She was in bad shape before, but now, the Event Proc estimates imminent hull breach on four decks. See here..." The Chief led the Captain to the Holo-Display and expertly ran his hands over the sense controls, operating them much as a sculptor would handle a project near completion. Moments later a perfectly detailed hologram of the wounded ship floated smartly of the display.
"These three decks are the most heavily damaged and show fail first, and this one should shortly follow." The Chief pointed them out.
"Are there still life forms aboard?"
"Well, sir, she isn't flying Conglomerate colors..."
"Meaning this isn't our fight?"
The Chief didn't respond.
Captain Brandol considered the latest developments. Then, "Chief, could the ship handle a jump?"
"Hmm," the Chief's eyes glazed over in deep thought while running his fingers through the ever present black beard. "Yes, I do believe she could. But what if she isn't equipped?"
"Does it matter?" Brandol asked evenly.
It took a moment for the Captain's idea to fit into Chief's mind. Then he began smiling broadly. "No, sir. It doesn't matter at all. But you do realize that if the 'Saber' generates a jump rift large enough to accommodate both vehicles, this entire sector of space will be impassable."
"Naturally." Brandol grinned, "Do it."
"Aye-aye sir!" The chief went about the preparations.
Twenty seconds later, the 'Saber' and the wounded ship took on the pre-jump blue aura associated with dim-space. Around both ships, space was changing...opening as a path was created.
"Make the jump, Chief."
"Aye sir. Jump engaged."
With a sharp burst of brilliant aqua light, both ships vanished into
the darkness of space.
Itus wondered at the sudden disappearance of the ships. He knew he had not destroyed either, but where had they gone? Where he came from, ships did not just vanish. But that was a matter for someone who cared. All that mattered to him was that the space poisoning fusion ship was gone. There was no need to waste further energy. He leaned back to take a momentary rest.
Suddenly the klaxton wailed into life. Irritated, he scanned for the
trouble. Probably another pesky ship. But he quickly discovered that was
not the trouble. Something was wrong...seriously wrong. Ahead, where the
two ships had been, space was different. Though visual failed, his scanning
systems told him that there was something ahead and closing rapidly. It
was as if space had compressed itself to a semi-solid state. He needed
to change course but there was no time, not at this distance,
the strange spacial abnormality was huge and his velocity too extreme. Maneuvering was out of the question. Maybe he could blast his way through? It was worth a shot. He let go a full power salvo at the approaching abnormality. They struck the area and died. His weapons had not effect. Maneuvering was no good...weapons were no good...and ten seconds to impact.
Itus began to worry......