Reign of Terror
EARTH, THREE YEARS AFTER THE END OF THE DOMINION WAR
Space is silent. Space is a mostly dark, empty place. But for the sensors of Earth Spacedock, space is a noisy environment, full of information. And occasionally, one of those small pieces of information would herald a most important event. This was one of those times.
Without looking up, the operator sounded the alarm. "Sir, we have a small object closing fast. Came out of nowhere-" His words were cut off by a muffled thump as the object crashed into the hull.
Admiral Kinney was still trying to overcome his surprise. The object had appeared so close to the station that it had impacted before he could even give the order to raise shields. Damage control officers immediately located the impact site, and dispatched security details to investigate.
Ensign Peters was already running in the direction of the noise. He stopped with his squad outside one of the large equipment bays, and used his security override to open the sealed doors. He moved inside to take stock of the situation. The outer wall had been smashed by the impact, and he could see through the breach into space. At the far wall on the opposite side of the bay, there was a cloud of smoke and debris, and an obvious hole. He sprinted to the hole, with his men following suit. They could see into the next bay.
"Peters here." he said quietly into his comm-badge. "Looks like the object broke through the hull and through one interior wall. Emergency forcefields closed off the breach on the outer hull. There's something in the smoke ... wait, it looks like some kind of robotic jellyfish."
"Say again. Jellyfish?" came the reply.
"Jellyfish, sir. It's about two metres high, floating on some kind of antigrav. It's black, metallic, and has a large round body with several long spindly legs hanging down."
A muffled expletive could be faintly heard over the commbadge, followed by a clear order. "This is Admiral Kinney. Destroy the intruder immediately. Say again, destroy the intruder immediately. Use any means necessary."
Peters motioned to his men to move out and approach the intruder from several angles. They moved swiftly, and he raised his heavy phaser rifle. "Open fire!" he ordered. Six phaser beams struck the intruder, doing only minor damage to its armoured body. Peters was about to take a second shot, when the intruder abruptly exploded, scattering debris over the entire bay.
"Intruder neutralized, sir. We didn't do that much damage ... I think it might have self-destructed."
In the station bridge, Admiral Kinney turned to his communications officer. "Rodriguez, report!"
"It got off a transmission before it hit, sir. We were too late."
Kinney felt as if he has just been punched in the stomach. His chest felt constricted. He sat down with a heavy sigh. "Get me the President."
Rodriguez punched in the commands. The Starfleet logo filled the viewscreen, followed by the face of President Markham.
Kinney wasted no time. "Mister President, the marauder ship is headed this way."
President Markham looked drawn and haggard; the events of the past few weeks had clearly taken their toll. It was as if he had aged ten years during those few weeks. It seemed as if he had to summon a great effort to speak.
"Admiral, you know what this means. I trust you will do your best."
"Yes, sir. We knew this day would come. The fleet stands ready. We'll stop the marauder ship this time sir, or ..." the two men looked at each other through the viewscreen, both knowing what was at stake. "Or we'll die trying."
FIVE YEARS EARLIER, IN THE CARDASSIAN/FEDERATION DMZ
The Maquis raider deftly slipped through a dense asteroid field, scouting for possible places to set up a hidden shelter. Its two pilots' easy banter belied the gravity of the situation.
"How about that one?" Nitram asked, pointing at a large craggy asteroid straight ahead. He was a tall, pale-skinned smuggler pilot from the Orion Syndicate. Nobody knew his first name. To everyone at home, he was simply "Nitram".
"Nope." answered his copilot. His name was William Ando, but most people simply called him Ando. "Not dense enough. I can scan through the whole damned thing on low power from here. A Cardie ship could probably see through it from a million klicks out. Try again."
"God damn it." Nitram muttered. "You find something wrong with every damned good-looking rock I find."
"You find rocks attractive?" Ando snickered.
"Smart-ass." Nitram grumbled. "If you weren't packing, I'd come over there and beat your-" he stopped in mid sentence.
"What? Beat my what?" Ando asked, still snickering.
"Hey, check this one out." Nitram swung the ship hard right and toward an unusual looking asteroid far in the distance. "This one's only one or two klicks wide, but it's reading pretty massive."
Ando let out a long, slow whistle. "I take it back, my friend. We hit the jackpot. I don't know what the hell that asteroid is made of, but I can't scan through it for shit. Maybe it's uranium ore, eh? Let's get closer. See if we can get a clear visual."
The raider moved in closer to the asteroid, which was beginning to look disturbingly regular in shape. Nitram brought up a visual, and both men caught their breath. It was quite obviously a starship. Nitram almost fell over himself in his haste to reach the sensor station.
"That's no asteroid." he said softly.
"No shit, Sherlock. Did you figure that out all by yourself?" Ando retorted.
"Will you just shut the hell up and scan it?"
"I'm trying." Ando replied. "Its hull must be made of pure duranium or something. I can't scan through it. No power emanations, no warp signature, no impulse trail, no life signs, no weapons of any known design. Looks like some kind of derelict to me. Roughly sixteen hundred metres long. I don't see any signs of damage. I wonder what happened to it."
"I'd rather know where it came from. I've never even heard of anything that looks remotely like this beast. I wonder how long it's been here."
Ando had no answer this time. Both men simply sat in their seats and stared silently at the mile-long, dagger-shaped vessel growing in the viewscreen.
The Maquis raider flew in circles around the darkened ship, so its pilots could inspect it from every angle.
"She's a monster, all right. And she looks downright mean. Scanning any weapons yet?" Nitram asked.
"Nope. No weapons of any known design. No sensor signals, no tracking systems, nothing." Ando replied coolly.
"Oh yeah? Well then what are those?" Nitram asked, jabbing his finger toward the great ship's topside heavy turrets.
Ando looked up at the heavy guns. "Well, they do look like weapons, don't they?"
Nitram rolled his eyes. "You have a stunning grasp of the obvious, Ando."
"Wise ass." Ando growled. "If you keep that up-"
"All right, all right!" Nitram put up his hands, grinning. "So what do you think? Should we try to board it?"
"Are you nuts? Just the two of us? We don't know what's in there, remember?"
"What's there to worry about? It's obviously a derelict. Have you got something better to do?"
"And what if it's booby-trapped?" Ando retorted.
"Yeah sure. You think somebody built a mile-long ship with a hull that blocks sensors and then leaves it all the way out here where no one will find it, as an overpriced booby trap? What's the motive? Besides, where's your sense of adventure?"
"Where's your brain? I don't want to die for science, Nitram. For all you know, its crew was killed by a super-virus."
"We'll wear environmental suits and use full decon on the transporter." Nitram answered.
"We should call a survey team."
"A Federation survey team? You're a Maquis living in the demilitarized zone, remember? We are the survey team! If you let anybody know about this, the Cardies'll be the first to swoop in and take it. Is that what you want?"
"Well ..." Ando hedged.
"Listen," Nitram said, a hint of excitement creeping into his voice. "This might be the best thing that ever happened to the Maquis. This ship is completely alien. Doesn't match anything in the records. Who knows what technology is in there? Technology we could steal, sell to the highest bidder, get a better life for ourselves and our families, maybe make the Cardies think twice about hitting us ..."
"Okay, okay, I'm sold. But you can go in first. Assuming you can find a way in, that is. I don't see a welcome mat, and I can't scan through that hull."
"No problem. I'll bring us around to the topside superstructure and then we'll beam in through the windows. I'll set the computer to beam us back if we send a panic signal."
"Sounds like a plan." Ando said nervously. There was something about derelict ships that made his hair stand on end. A sense of death and forboding, as if something monstrous was waiting behind every dark portal.
The tiny ship pulled up to the larger vessel, so close that they could see through its bridge windows. Both men began putting on their environmental suits, running through the checklist, and each man picked up the largest phaser rifle he could find.
"Ready?" Nitram asked.
The familiar transport tingle began, and they soon found themselves on the other ship's cavernous, empty bridge. Their helmet lights shone through the darkness. Nitram pulled out his tricorder and began taking readings.
Meanwhile, Ando walked gingerly toward the nearest instrumentation pit, half-expecting to find himself staring into the hollowed-out eye sockets of long-dead corpses. He took a deep breath, stepped to the brink, shone his light down into the pit, and ...
The floors were spotless, the chairs were empty, and the instrument panels were clean. No bones, no clothes, no indication that anyone, human or otherwise, had ever occupied this bridge. His heart racing, he moved to the next pit. Also empty.
"Hey Nitram!" he called out, his voice sounding tinny through the transceiver. "They were roughly human-sized, judging from the chairs. But the whole bridge is empty. Are we moving in deeper, or are we going to waste time playing with the bridge computers?"
"I say we try to get the bridge computers working for an hour or so, and then if we can't, then we move in." Nitram was already down in one of the pits, poring over the controls.
"Good luck." Ando snorted. "A totally alien computer with no language records in our database, from a species we've never met before, from places unknown, and you figure it'll take an hour to reverse-engineer their computers? Call me when you give up. I'm gonna sit down and try to relax." he marched toward what appeared to be the captain's chair, hoping it was a recliner. He plopped himself down in the seat, swivelled it around, and ... something happened.
A red light began to flash, a siren sounded, and a loud rumbling sound could be heard from deep within the bowels of the ship. Startled, he bolted up out of the chair as if he'd sat on a hotplate. He turned to see Nitram scrambling out of the pit, with a haste borne of fear.
"Ando, what the hell did you you do?"
"I didn't do anything!" Ando protested. "I just sat down in the big chair, and-" The two men both stopped, and looked at the captain's chair. ".. and I think I must have set something off."