November 2008

By Stephen V. Cole


Juggernaut Beta, 0729 hrs, 17 Jan Y169
The massive starship continued to travel through the area it had selected at a leisurely Warp Five pace, looking for the tell-tale traces of habitation. It had "rung the bell" several times over the previous days, destroying two mining stations and three freighters in an attempt to draw an opponent.

Checking the electro-magnetic spectrum, it had spotted a confluence of communications signals, which led it to the relay station a few hours earlier. He thought that this would have drawn an immediate reaction, and perhaps it still would, but the electronic brain that controlled the ship was anxious for battle.

Since receiving the transmissions from Juggernaut Alpha a few months earlier, Beta had been preparing for the upcoming fight. He had refined his tactics to meet the known enemies, and had even had time to build something new.

Only two hours ago, Beta had chanced upon a freighter and had destroyed it without even stopping. But the freighter had not transmitted any signals before the attack.

The electronic brain of the Juggernaut snapped out of its reverie when it picked up a signal. A freighter, by the look of the motion track, but it was very near to a small fixed installation that had transmitted infrequently. The Juggernaut turned in that direction and increased speed to maximum, arriving at the site within an hour. The freighter was similar to ones Beta had seen earlier, and was quickly dispatched with a salvo from the starboard batteries. The forward batteries zeroed in on the asteroid which had been the source of earlier transmissions and reduced it to dust.

Juggernaut Beta turned in a randomly-selected direction and moved away at Warp 5.

Briefing Room, USS Eagle, 1000 hrs, 17 Jan Y169
"Everybody sit down, I have important information," Captain Williams said. "I brought you here to the briefing room so we wouldn't be distracted by flying the ship; the crew in Auxiliary Control can do that for us." There were a few good-natured chuckles. Everyone's assistant was in either auxiliary control or the emergency bridge.

"We will reach the site of Subspace Relay Station 2715FR in a little over two hours. Commendation to the engineers for getting us a little more speed than the design specs call for. Kearsarge won't reach mining station 2715XNG for nearly two hours after that.

"A few minutes ago, the police ship Babek reported reaching the site of mining station 2715PEN. The asteroid on which the station was based has been totally destroyed. The Babek found a prospecting shuttlecraft which had not been at the station during the attack and rescued the crew. They reported seeing a huge explosion but had no other information. Babek reports finding a strong ion trail leaving the scene and headed in the general direction of the communications relay station. Analysis of the mining station wreckage indicates that the asteroid was destroyed by weapons fire from outside the station, not by an internal explosion.

"The Babek is trying to contact every freighter known to be in the region, and is getting a lot of non-replies. Babek is moving on to the estimated location of a freighter that isn't answering subspace calls.

"Starbase Eight is sending the frigate Auchinlek to rendezvous with us, and two other police ships are also en route. So is a salvage tug and a fleet transport with medical teams.

"Just as I came in here," Captain Williams said, "I was handed a new communication from Base Station K2. They report picking up a subspace distress call that said simply 'enemy attack' from mining station 2715RUQ. That mining station no longer replies to subspace messages.

"That's what we know," Captain Williams finished. "Obviously, remote facilities in this area are under attack. Anybody got an idea who or what is causing this?"

"Logically," the Vulcan Chief Engineer said, "there are four options: pirates, an invasion, a creature - perhaps a space dragon or moray eel - or a natural phenomenon. None of these can be entirely eliminated. Pirates would hardly have the firepower or any reason to destroy an entire asteroid or any reason to destroy a communications relay station, but that only reduces the probability, not eliminates it. The Orion province is a thousand parsecs away, and there could be some connection, or they could be acting as agents for someone else. A natural phenomenon would be unlikely to attack some facilities and ships in an area while missing others, but that is only unlikely, not impossible. An invasion by the Tholians, Klingons, or Romulans is not all that probable and if it were, would probably not look like this, but we could be facing an extra-galactic invasion - the Federation has seen such things before. A creature of some type is entirely plausible, as there are several who have the necessary firepower and creatures often tend to act in what appear to be random patterns. The odds of the fifth possibility - a series of random and unrelated equipment failures or disasters - are so unlikely that it could almost be discarded."

"Some unit or creature single must be it," the Navigator said, the timbre of his voice making it sound like the only logical explanation. "Larger attacks of number we would otherwise seeing be. Could have done this ship everything has done the threat, whatever be it."

"I'm betting on a space dragon," the Weapons Officer said. "There was one spotted only 300 parsecs from here two years ago, and there are five more sightings within a thousand parsecs over the last five years."

"There are a lot of space dragons in the galaxy," the Executive Officer said in his usual antagonistic Andorian way. "It would be hard to find any area two thousand parsecs across that has not had an average of a sighting per year. I suspect an extra-galactic invader, something like a death probe, a juggernaut, a planet killer, or an Andromedan.

"I suspect a creature," the Communications Officer said. "There are a dozen different kinds out there, all showing up at random intervals, sometimes attacking stations and sometimes ignoring them, and we find a new kind every decade or so. Amoebas, eels, clouds, and all the rest are out there, and most of them could do this. Given the destruction of the asteroid, I would rule out a mind blanker or energy drainer, and nobody has seen a boar in thirty years."

"Thank you, gentlemen," Captain Williams said. "You have come to the same conclusion I have ... it could be anything. We'll go in with our shields up and our scanners at full power.

Bridge, USS Eagle, 1210 hrs, 17 Jan Y169
"We're here, where's the station?" the Weapons Officer asked.

"To be nowhere," the Navigator said. "Debris field I am seeing. Reading of energy weapons it is from."

"Helm, get us close enough to the debris to beam a sample on board for study," Captain Williams said. "Ping the marker buoy and see if it survived." Relay stations had a continually updated buoy just for cases like this. Unlike ships, which carried their buoys on board and ejected them when they expected combat, unmanned remote stations data-linked to a buoy located a hundred kilometers away. Since the buoy was small and didn't transmit until it received a coded request, it was unlikely to be spotted.

"Got it," said the Communications Officer. "Feeding location to the scanners. Do you want to beam it aboard or just download the records."

"Try downloading first," the Captain said.

"Sending request," the communications officer said. "Ok, got all of the data it has, but the buoy was pretty badly damaged and I only got one of the eight cells. Transferring the file to Navigation for analysis."

"Analyzing I am," said the Navigator. "Showing on record is a massive proportion of energy discharge. A phaser it is like, but precisely it is not. Attacked it was, the station. Unknown it is what the attack was caused by."

"Any sign of an ion trail?" the Captain asked.

"Is yes, trail there is," the Navigator answered.

"Set a course to follow parallel to the trail," Captain Williams answered. "There's nothing else for us to do here.

"Communications, compose a report to 7th Fleet. I'll look at it when you have it ready. Copy the report to the Kearsarge, Babek, and Auchinlek."

Bridge, SFAS Cedar Falls, 1227 hrs, 17 Jan Y169
"Captain, are you down there," the first mate asked from the bridge. Star Fleet Auxiliary Ship Cedar Falls operated with a relaxed atmosphere, despite being a Naval vessel.

"What is it?" Captain Crawford asked over the intercom. "I'm having lunch."

"We've got something on scanners, closing on us very fast. Range two million kilometers, bearing 133 relative. Estimated speed Warp 7."

"Two million? We can't see anything that far away."

"It's a big spike on the passive scanner," the bridge reported. "Bigger than anything I have ever seen."

"Get a report out now. I'm on my way," Captain Crawford said. "Turn left to put the threat on our tail and go to maximum emergency speed."

"Doing that already," the first mate said, "I can buy us three or four minutes, no more."

"Keep sending the report, and use both of the military channels and a couple of commercial ones. Copy the logs into the buoy and the shuttle and launch them both. Tell the shuttle pilot to turn ninety degrees and run for it as fast as he can. Get me real time subspace with the nearest Star Fleet ship."

"Working on all of that."

Moments later, Crawford burst through the hatch onto his own bridge.


"The threat is closing steadily," the first mate said, getting out of the command chair. "I have the frigate Auchinlek on real-time sub-space now."

"Auchinlek, this is Star Fleet Auxiliary Ship Cedar Falls," Crawford said. "I have a huge starship of an unknown type on my tail, closing steadily. He'll have me in weapons range in two minutes. How close are you?"

"At least thirty minutes," Commander Sheffield replied. "I'm already at maximum speed." "I'm sending you my logs and reports," the Captain said, "and some personal mail from the crew. I have launched a shuttle with two crewmen on board, heading ... 243 Mark 6. Pick them up if you can." "Dammit, man," Sheffield said, "is there anything you can do? Anywhere you can transport your crew?" "Not really," the Captain said. "Wait ... Yes, we are dropping some cargo canisters overboard now. There are crewmen in them in pressure suits. Four containers, each three meters square by two meters. Pick them up if you can, if that thing doesn't blast them or pick them up. That should be the whole crew except for two of us on the bridge and a couple in engineering."

"Do you have any data on what's attacking you?"

"It's all in the transmission," Captain Crawford said. "Technically speaking, he hasn't done anything hostile yet, but I don't like anything that big chasing me. The thing is over a million tons." "I understand," Sheffield said. "Do you have a family?"

"Wife and two kids back on Mars," Crawford replied. "Send them this tape, when security clears it. Tell them I love them."

"I will do it," Sheffield promised, "if it's necessary. We don't know what that thing wants. I have signaled the Eagle and the Kearsarge. Whatever that is behind you, whatever happens, that thing will answer for it."

"Threat is continuing to close," Captain Crawford said, "range is now thirty ..."

Bridge, USS Auchinlek, 1232 hrs, 17 Jan Y169

"Comms, what happened?"

"Transmission terminated abruptly," the communications officer responded.

"I know that," Commander Sheffield snapped, "I want to know what happened to the Cedar Falls."

"Then you're asking the wrong guy!" replied the communications officer.

"I'm too far out to get a track on anything," the weapons officer said, "but I think I got a flash, some kind of explosion, in the general direction of Cedar Falls."

"Message from Kearsarge, they are diverting to link up with us. Also a message from the police cutter Babek, they're inbound from the other direction ... and Eagle just hailed us, they're on the way here and request that we try to establish tracking on the threat."

"Tracking, yes, engage, no," Sheffield said. "Helm, head for the last known location of the Cedar Falls. Weapons, close down the active scans and go passive. Let me know when you have an engine flare. Comms, let everybody know what we're doing."

Bridge, USS Eagle, 1239 hrs, 17 Jan Y169
"This is the Captain. Combat is imminent. We will be going to Red Alert in about half an hour, and I want you to listen carefully. A large unknown ship is apparently the cause of the destruction we have been finding. That ship has just destroyed an armed priority transport, the USS Cedar Falls, which gave us a good location fix. The frigate Auchinlek is half an hour from the target, the Kearsarge and Babek are not much farther away, and we'll be at the scene in 45 minutes. Get to your battle station, check your systems, check your equipment. Everybody has five minutes to write a note for the log buoy and the pre-combat transmission to Starbase Eight. Get that done before we go to Red Alert. That is all."

"Captain, if I may ask," Kezlok said. "May I observe the battle from the Emergency Bridge? I will not be in your way there, but I will be able to see everything."

"Granted," Williams said.

Kezlok turned and left the bridge.

"Good riddance," the weapons officer said.