Two hundred years after a colony vanishes, they return with a warning.
Captain Scott startled awake by the sound of the alert klaxon blaring. The lights snapped on forcing him to squint in pain. Lieutenant Wilkes’s voice blared over the general all-ship intercom. “General quarters, general quarters. All hands, man your battle stations. This is not a drill. Captain Scott, please come to the bridge.”
Scott’s stomach clenched as he touched his face activating his implant com. He pulled on the last of his duty uniform forcing his feet into his shoes. “Commander Shay,” he subvocalized. “I’m on my way to the bridge. Report!”
“An unknown ship, sir. They are not responding to our hails, and they have taken a hostile stance,” Shay answered.
“Hostile in what way?” Scott asked, as he strode to the lift midst the running crew members. As they hurried by, he noticed their expressions varied from concern to panic. Scott felt anxious also as the Space Fleet had seen no real action for two centuries.
Commander Shay, his XO, answered through his implant. “They have activated electromagnetic defenses and opened missile ports, Captain. The ship came from behind the fourth planet on an intercept vector. We have also detected their point defenses coming online.”
“Can you identify them?” Scott asked.
“No, sir. External markings and ship configuration does not match any known vessel.” Captain Scott heard no anxiety in Commander Shay’s voice. For three years she had served aboard the McHenry as his Executive Officer; he had come to admire her unending calm. She was an excellent First Officer, and Scott did not look forward to losing her at the end of their deployment.
“Keep trying to reach them. Queue high explosive armor piercing missiles in tubes one through nine,” Scott ordered.
“Captain, they have reversed their engines and are no longer moving towards us.”
“Bring the ship to a full stop, Commander.” The lift doors opened. Scott stepped onto the horseshoe shaped bridge keying off his implant.
“Aye, sir,” he heard Shay say. “Helm is answering to full stop. Missiles loaded and all point defenses are online.”
Two Marine Guards snapped to attention. “Captain on the bridge!” one barked. Scott glanced at the Marines who looked so similar. He could smell the tension on the bridge though nothing showed on their faces.
“Still no reply, Chief?”
“No, sir,” the Communications Officer responded. “I’ve tried all standard frequencies and languages—no response.”
“Lieutenant Drew, distance to target?”
“Holding steady at two hundred thousand Kilometers, sir.” The ship’s Tactical Action Officer answered.
Scott turned to his XO. “Opinion, Commander?”
“There is no colony or life in this star system. I can’t see why they are here. If they don’t know who we are either, they may not know we are combat ready.”
“There must be something here they are protecting,” Scott mused. “I want a full sweep of the system, both active and passive scans. There has to be something here.”
“Aye, sir,” Shay said, giving the necessary orders: turning back to the Captain. “At least no one is shooting, thank God.”
“You got that right, Commander. Any electromagnetic leakage we can learn from?”
Chief Petty Officer Gavin, the Communications Officer, answered, “Some leakage but weak, just above ambient. It’s indecipherable. I can’t even determine their method of modulation, let alone understand the signals.”
“Could that be why they don’t respond to our hails; no compatible signal decoding?” the Captain asked.
“Possibly, sir. They may be trying to figure out how to decipher our message from the transmission. If they are that different, they might not be familiar with any of our languages.”
“Captain,” said Shay, “that ship is of unknown configuration, but it still looks something like a vessel that would come from Earth. It doesn’t strike me as particularly alien.”
Scott agreed. In the three hundred years that humanity had been in space, no evidence of living aliens existed anywhere, only ancient ruins.
Scott stared at the magnified ship. It looked like a throwback to the first space faring warships modeled after ancient sea going vessels. On top of a large ungainly main hull sat a superstructure that likely held the combat center and bridge. “I concur, Commander.”
“Captain!” Gavin said, “I have something. Commander Shay gave me an idea. Maybe they use methods similar but obsolete. I found a communications laser signal.”
“Can you decipher it?”
“I think so, sir. The computer identifies the language as a dialect of Russian, so I’ll have to run it through a translation matrix.”
“Very well, Chief. Please do so quickly.”
After a few seconds, Gavin said, “I have it, sir. Putting it on the screen.”
They watched the text flow.
Earth ship. Please do not engage.
We are on a peaceful mission.
Please confirm receipt of this message.
Chief Gavin turned and spoke, “The message repeats.”
Someone muttered, “Peaceful my eye.” Scott ignored the comment.
“Can you send a response? Something like, ‘Message received. Your stance is provocative. Please stand down.” Scott asked.
“It will take me a few minutes, sir. I was able to pick up their laser with standard equipment. The lasers on board are for reading identification codes and welding and we can’t modulate the point defense lasers. There isn’t anything set up to send a laser com signal. I’ll have to put something together.” Guessing the Captain’s next question, he added. “Twenty minutes, sir.”
“Carry on Chief.” Scott said.
“Aye, sir.” As the Chief Petty Officer left. Commander Shay called the backup Com officer to the bridge. She then moved over to cover for the Chief until his replacement arrived.
“Does anyone know how they got so close before they were detected?” Scott asked the bridge crew.
“Their emissions are near zero, barely above ambient, and we didn’t expect any ships in the area. They were hiding behind the planet, sir.” the XO explained.
“Well, keep looking. That ship isn’t here for a party.”
As the minutes passed, Scott noticed his XO making the rounds. Tension diminished as she moved by each station speaking a few words.
The crew thought they would never have to fight, Scott thought,
“Aspect change—the ship is turning away from us,” the sensor officer reported. “They have closed their weapon ports.”
The Chief’s voice came over the intercom. “Bridge, this is Chief Gavin.”
The XO responded, “Go ahead Chief.”
“Message beamed directly to the ship’s array, Commander.”
“Thank you, Chief,” Scott said. “Commander Shay, stand down from general quarters, but have the crew remain at their posts.”
“Aye, aye Captain. Mr. Wilkes, secure from general quarters,” she ordered the Con Officer.
“Get Chief Gavin up here. We need to talk to these people.” Scott said.
Shay nodded. “He’s on his way, Captain.”
Scott smiled. The perfect XO, she knows my orders before I give them.
Scott’s gaze focused on his XO, “Commander, we need to figure out with whom we almost started a war.”
Link to next chapter: "Chapter 2"