Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
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