The Gathering Storm
Table of Contents
Part I"Final scan complete, captain!" the science officer exclaimed. "The computer should have the results compiled in a few minutes, but my preliminary assessment is that Androv IV is ripe for colonization."
Captain Schwartz smiled, shaking his head. Despite over three months in deep space, followed by another month poking around this blasted system, Omsby still managed to have a positive attitude. The captain appreciated it, although it got on the nerves of most of the bridge crew. "Very well, Omsby," he answered. "At least this damned mission isn't for naught. Navigator, take us out of orbit."
The navigator pressed a few buttons, and Androv IV dropped off of the viewscreen. Captain Schwartz relaxed back in his chair, frowning as he did so. He did not particularly like being so far from home without a military escort. But, he supposed, times were changing. It had been over twenty cycles since the last war, and almost fifteen since a science vessel had come under attack. Still, something was making him uneasy about this mission. Something that he could not put his finger on.
"Breaking orbit," informed the navigator. "What course shall I set, captain?"
"Set a course for the asteroid belt. Colonization Command wants us to scan them for neutronium and anything else that could... What the hell is wrong, Barrrl?"
The ship's first officer, Barrrl, had suddenly gotten up, his hair standing on end. He turned toward the weapons officer and barked "Raise the shields!"
The weapons officer hesitated. "Do it!" the captain ordered. He didn't know what was going on, but he knew better than to think that Barrrl was acting capriciously. Mrrshan instinct had saved him more times than he could count.
The weapons officer reached for the shielding controls, but too late. Three quick impacts shook their ship.
"Shields are up, captain, but they hit us before I could raise them," apologized the weapons officer. "Minor damage only."
"Omsby, get whatever attacked us on-screen. Barrrl, take over weapons control and bring the mass drivers on-line," Schwartz ordered.
His first officer leaped over the weapons control panel, barely avoiding the now-displaced weapons officer. His hands flew over the controls. Meanwhile, the viewscreen changed angles, and they could see their attacker. At first, the captian didn't recognize it. Then, his breath caught in his throat and he wished that he could have remained ignorant.
It was a fighter, blue, and similar in shape to a terran manta ray. No one, not even the trilarians made ships of that design. "Ithkul," whispered the captain.
"The harvesters? I thought they were a rumor," cried Omsby.
"So did I, Omsby. So did I," answered the captain. "Barrrl, destroy that fighter!"
The ship shook once, twice, three times, and three projectiles reached out for the fighter, exploding it in a blaze of light.
"That won't be all of them," predicted the captain. "Navigator! Hard about - set a course for the star lane - maximum speed! Omsby, open a channel to Military Command and inform them of our situation. And scan the area - there has to be more of them out there!"
The viewscreen began changing angles again, and the swirling gasses of the star lane entrance became visible. The captain was not optimistic, however. It would take over an hour to reach them.
Omsby looked up, panic rising from his voice, "Captain, I can't reach Command! All our transmissions are being jammed!"
"Lock on to the jamming source, and put it on screen!" the captain yelled.
The viewsceen shifted angles once again, and a stunned silence fell over the bridge. Seven SuperDestroyer-sized craft were visible, along with an armada of smaller support vessels. This was an invasion force.
A purple beam shot out the center SuperDestroyer, and the ship suddenly lurched hard to port. Everyone was thrown out of their seats. "Gyro Destabilizer!" someone yelled. Schwartz could hear his ship straining against the intense forces pulling her apart. Panels exploded, and lights went out.
After a few seconds, inertial stability was restored. The captain staggered back to his chair. "Damage report!" he yelled out.
"Structural integrity holding, sir, but I don't think we can survive another shot." reported Omsby, his annoyingly cheerful voice gone.
The intercom suddenly sputtered on: "Captain, this is engineering. Our reactor is going critical, there's nothing I can do!" cried out the disembodied voice of the chief engineer.
"Very well, engineering, bridge out," the captain answered. There was nothing more he could do here. He was not afraid of death, but to die like this? "Omsby, launch the signal buoy, set it to transmit our logs and sensor information after the jamming subsides."
"Aye, captain," answered the science officer, who then turned toward his controls. "Signal buoy launched."
The ithkul were powering up their gyro destabilizer for a second shot when the tiny science vessel exploded. The armada paused for a second, and then lumbered on, toward the star lane. The only evidence that there had ever been a ship there was an occasional blue flash as a piece of debris impacted a shield...
...And a signal buoy, which began transmitting when the last cutter had entered the star lane.
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