The Gathering Storm
"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
"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
"Omsby, get whatever attacked us on-screen. Barrrl,
take over weapons control and bring the mass drivers on-line,"
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,"
"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
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
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
"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
...And a signal buoy, which began transmitting when the last
cutter had entered the star lane.