- ISBN: 9780743411189 | 0743411188
- Copyright: 6/26/2000
Captain Kirk was in his quarters when the Kauld ship attacked. It was late in the evening -- past eleven -- and he had been trying for the last hour to put down the twenty-first-century potboiler he had picked up for a little mindless entertainment before bedtime, but Ryan Hughes's tale of piracy and romance in the early Lunar colonies had proven more engaging than he'd expected. He was three-quarters of the way into it when the intercom whistled for his attention.
He pressed the reply button on the wall panel beside his bed. "Kirk here."
"Captain," Spock said. "Sensors have picked up a Kauld warship approaching the planet. It is a single vessel traveling through normal space under half-impulse power. It does not respond to our hails."
For a moment Kirk couldn't make sense of it. Kauld ships on Luna? In the twenty-first century? But then his own reality reasserted itself and he remembered where he was. This was the Belle Terre system, and the Kauld had been harassing the Federation colonists ever since they had arrived here, nearly a year ago.
"Go to yellow alert," Kirk said. "Move to intercept. I'll be right there."
Kirk looked for a bookmark, but there was nothing within reach that would work. He fingered the pages -- real paper, printed especially for the colony library -- then dog-eared page 248 and set the book on his bed. He would probably hear no end of grief about that from the librarian, but it was either that or lay the book facedown and risk breaking the spine. That would probably lose him his library card, one of the few pleasures this colony world, far beyond the edge of civilization, had to offer.
He was alone in the turbolift on the way to the bridge. This time of night, most of the crew were in their quarters or at their graveyard-shift duty stations. He wondered if the Kauld knew that, and if they expected it to affect the Enterprise's ability to respond. If so, they would get a rude surprise. The same people who worked the day shift rotated through night duty as well; there wasn't an inexperienced crew member on board.
And few of them would regret kicking some Kauld butt in the name of defense. It wasn't professional, it wasn't Starfleet, but there it was. These sapphire-skinned, bad-tempered, antagonistic aliens had been a thorn in the Enterprise's side ever since the colony convoy had entered the Sagittarian sector. What had originally been intended as a simple escort mission while on her way into deeper space had instead become an extended peacekeeping job -- in part because of these alien troublemakers.
The turbolift doors opened and Kirk stepped onto the bridge. Normally at this hour, the lights would have been at half-intensity to simulate a diurnal schedule, but during a yellow alert everything went back to full operational status. He noted that Sulu was at the helm and Thomsen was at the navigation console. Thomsen was less experienced than Sulu, but she was a good navigator, and she had been gaining much more experience since Chekov had left to join the Reliant.
Spock was seated in the captain's chair, but he vacated it as Kirk stepped forward.
"Report," Kirk said.
Spock stepped through the gap in the railing around the captain's chair and stood by his science station. "No change. The Kauld ship is continuing on course toward the planet and refuses to respond to our warnings." He studied one of his displays for a moment, then added, "Deep-space scans do not reveal any other supporting ships. It appears that they are acting alone."
Kirk looked past the helmsman and navigator to the main viewscreen, which showed the boxy, utilitarian Kauld fighter as it sped toward its goal: the Federation colony planet Belle Terre. Was this some kind of renegade attack? Surely the Kauld crew knew they were outgunned. Besides the Enterprise, there were a couple of dozen other starships orbiting the planet; mostly colony freighters, but the Kauld had learned before that those ships were far from helpless.
"They usually gang up five to one," Kirk said. "This doesn't feel right."
"It is most illogical, even for Kauld," Spock agreed.
"Helm, fire a warning shot across their bow," Kirk ordered. "Let's see if that gets their attention."
"Aye, sir," said Sulu. His fingers danced on the control console, and a bright red phaser beam lanced out just kilometers ahead of the warship.
Kirk didn't have to ask his crew for the information he needed. They reported without prompting.
"No change in velocity or trajectory, Captain," said Thomsen.
"The Kauld have activated their weapons," Spock said.
"No response to our hails, sir," said Jolley, the relief communications officer.
"They can hear us. Open a channel," Kirk ordered.
"This is Captain Kirk of the
Starship Enterprise. You are intruding in Federation space. Turn back now, or we'll be forced to interpret your actions as aggressive and act accordingly."
Cold silence answered back.
"The Kauld ship is 28,500 kilometers from the planet's atmosphere and closing rapidly," Spock said. "And there is a further anomaly in their attack strategy: I read only a skeleton crew on board."
"You think it's a kamikaze ship?" Kirk asked.
"That seems likely."
If that was the aliens' game, Kirk felt sorry for them. He didn't like the idea of firing on a poorly defended ship, but he would do it if he had to. There were sixty thousand colonists on Belle Terre who depended on him for their safety; he wouldn't risk their lives to spare a hostile intruder just because it wasn't sporting.
There was also the quasar olivium mine to consider. That, not the planet, was what the Kauld wanted so badly, and it was a prize worth fighting for. There was enough quasimatter in the core of Belle Terre's largest moon to power the entire Federation for decades. It could also power the Kauld, their rivals the Blood, the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Empire, and half a dozen other enemies as well. Kirk wasn't going to risk that out of misguided sympathy for a suicide crew. Several shipments of olivium had been intercepted by pirates on the long trip back to Federation space; if the Kauld had been behind the pirates -- as Kirk suspected they were -- then they already had enough to put a doomsday-type bomb on board that ship.
But since it was just one ship, there might be a chance to stop them without bloodshed. "Get a tractor beam on them," he said.
Sulu complied, but the moment the Kauld felt the effect, they fired on the Enterprise. Shields flared as the disruptor beam struck, and the bridge shook as the inertial dampers fought to counteract the impact.
Another disruptor shot pounded the same spot.
"Tractor beam is off-line," Sulu called out.
"Shields down to sixty percent," Thomsen said.
The Kauld had signed their own death warrant. "Lock phasers on target," Kirk said.
"Locked and ready," Sulu replied.
The bright red beam lanced out again, this time striking the warship directly in the port flank. Its shields flared bright as they radiated the energy, but Sulu kept the beam centered until it burned through and sliced deep into the ship's interior. Bright flame shot out of the gash, dissipating immediately in the vacuum of space...then an explosion ripped the ship in half and sent the two pieces tumbling in opposite directions, spewing debris from their interiors as they spun.
"Survivors?" Kirk asked.
"No life-forms register," said Spock.
"What about anomalous energy signatures? Is there a bomb on board?"
"None in evidence, but at this distance they could shield it from our sensors."
"That's what I thought. Sulu, Thomsen, target both halves. Carve them into pieces."
The bridge crew watched as the helmsman and navigator each took a target and proceeded to reduce them to debris. They only had a few seconds before the pieces hit atmosphere, but they crisscrossed the halves of the hull with phaser fire until they fell open like blossoming flowers, then played the phasers over the exposed interiors. Power sources erupted in bright red explosions, contributing yet more destruction, but they triggered nothing resembling a true bomb.
"Cease fire," Kirk said when the first of the pieces began to strike atmosphere. They hit near the twilight band and left bright streaks of ionized air in their wakes. That would be a great light show from the ground. Some of the pieces skipped off the atmosphere and burned again farther into the daylight side of the planet.
He sat in his chair, still staring at the screen long after the last of the pieces had burned out. This had been too easy.
"Any life pods launched?" he asked.
"Negative," said Spock.
"Signals? Did they send any messages or beam anything out before we hit them?"
"No, sir," said Jolley.
"Then what exactly were they trying to accomplish here?"
Kirk looked at the screen again, which still showed the planet turning serenely below as the Enterprise slid from the night side into day. "They didn't just throw a warship away for nothing. What did they get out of it? They already know our weapons capabilities. They knew we would fire on them. What did they gain just now?"
"Allies?" suggested Thomsen.
"Maybe they wanted to show someone how ruthless we are."
Kirk rubbed his chin, thinking. The scratchy day's growth of whiskers felt good on his hand, which he only now realized he'd been holding clenched since he entered the bridge.
"Are there any Kauld observers in evidence? Or Blood?" he asked.
"Nothing within the planetary system," Spock said. "I detect faint energy signatures in deep space nearly five light-days out, but even they are not conclusively Kauld or Blood."
"They wouldn't want to wait five days to find out how things came down here," said Kirk. "Keep a continual scan going for warp signatures along the wave front as the light from this heads through the solar system. And listen for subspace signals from spies on the ground -- or on the moons or the outer planets. They might already have put observers in place."
He leaned back in his command chair and looked out at the planet again. White clouds over blue ocean and green-brown land; it was an oasis in a vast desert of empty space far, far away from the rest of the Federation. It had taken the colonists over nine months at warp speed just to get here. They hadn't come for the olivium, but once it was discovered they had had no choice but to protect it from the aliens who wanted it for themselves. It was too powerful to allow it to fall into the wrong hands. So now the colonists were caught in a struggle for survival in a star system so far away they couldn't even see Earth's sun with a telescope. They had enough raw power to destroy every planet between here and there -- but without the technical infrastructure to harness it, it was useless to them.
Still, they had become custodians of the most sought-after element in the Alpha Quadrant. Belle Terre was already becoming a crossroads, and by the time the olivium was mined out it would be a commercial hub for light-years around.
Provided it didn't fall to the Kauld first. And the only thing preventing that was the Enterprise.
What if Thomsen was right? If the Kauld had finally admitted that they couldn't win this battle by themselves, then they might be trying to win allies. That might be harder to do than it sounded, though. Before the human colonists had entered their midst, they had been busy trying to conquer every other race in their sector. Kirk doubted if anyone would join them without major concessions ahead of time, and after decades of war the Kauld had nothing to give.
Their only bargaining chip would be the promise of a share in the olivium if they won, but Kirk couldn't imagine anyone stupid enough to believe that the Kauld would actually keep that promise.
No, gaining allies wasn't their way. They were up to something else. But what was it?
Copyright © 2000 by Paramount Pictures
Excerpted from The Flaming Arrow: St: New Earth #4 by Kathy Oltion, Jerry Oltion
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.