Chapter One








Rutania VI, the Rutanian Homeworld wasn’t exactly what Matthew Harrison would describe as an idyllic world, though the potential was definitely there.  Because of the planet’s slow rotation, the most of the planet was bathed in the pale moonlight for over half the year.  The stars were a constant in the sky, and the wispy gray clouds slowly passed in front of the full moon. 


All around, the constant drone of Rutanian crickets sounded, along with a plethora of other bugs and insects.  The night was still young, and the air crisp.  Within a few hours, the moon would be at its zenith, and a few hours later, traveling back beneath the horizon, leaving the population in total darkness.


Elsewhere, odd palm trees with dark blue leaves and iridescent veins swayed in the cool breeze, surrounded in a sea of deep maroon grass.  Running throughout the grass were a series of interconnected golden pathways, made entirely of brick.  They served as highways between the numerous buildings adorning the hillside.


The buildings themselves were rather uninteresting.  They were all constructed of a similar dark-purple brick material, with countless arched windows and doors.  The roofs were shingled, and plated with numerous skylights to allow the moonlight to pour inside their homes.


Harrison stood alongside Captain Christopher and Lieutenant Meyer before such a structure, patiently awaiting the Rutanian spokesperson designated to speak with them, a fellow by the name of Soris.  They exchanged very little in the way of words, and when they did, Harrison felt compelled to speak softly, a habit he had grown accustomed to when speaking in the dark.  He quickly realized he would have to break it…


“Enter!” It was the voice of Soris, loudly emanating from the inside of the structure.  As he called out, the doors slid open, revealing the inside of the structure.


It was a simple room, with a table and six chairs, well light by the numerous lights lining the ceiling.  Standing at the head of the table was Soris.


He was of medium height and build, with markings that set Rutanians apart from every other race Harrison had encountered.  He had bright orange skin, with darker splotches peppered throughout his complexion.  Traveling from the bridge of his nose, over the top of his head, and presumably dwindling away down his back was a vaguely pronounced ridge.  His ears were similar to those of a nymph, and his eyes an eerie shade of blazing red.


“Please, sit,” he beckoned.


“Thank you,” Christopher said, leading the way to the table.  He sat down in the spot to the left of Soris, who was situated at the head of the table.  Harrison chose to sit opposite the captain, allowing Meyer the coveted seat at Christopher’s side.


“Would you care for any refreshments?” Soris inquired as he still hovered over the seat of his chair.


“No, thank you,” said Christopher cordially.


Soris nodded.  “Very well,” he said indifferently.  “But should you desire something in the future, do not hesitate to ask.  It’s peak turango season… in the areas gifted with sunlight, of course.”


“I may have to take you up on that, later,” said Christopher.  “I’ve always wanted to try a glass of turango juice.”


“Good,” Soris beamed.  “We’ve got an excellent harvest this year!”  His smile quickly dissipated, and he drew himself closer to the table.  “But I am told you have not come all this way to sample turangoes,” he said slowly.


Christopher took in a deep sigh.  “Unfortunately, no.  Turangoes might be all that’s left of Rutania if the Elorg have their way…”


“And that would be a shame,” said Soris.


“Indeed,” agreed Christopher.  “Which is why we need to see the Elorg don’t have a chance to attack Rutania.  According to our data, Elorg space extends not only in the direction of the Federation, but in your direction as well.  More to the point, the territory they most seek is beyond Rutanian Space.”


“Unfortunately,” Harrison interjected, “the Elorg have claimed this entire region as theirs—including your territory.  Should they invade, you would almost certainly be attacked.”


Soris readily agreed.  “We have been closely monitoring the situation in the Kilka Sector, and agree Rutanian Space is in grave danger.  And considering our tactical inferiority to the Federation, we would not withstand an Elorg assault.”


“Which is why we need an alliance,” said Christopher.  “According to our intelligence, in roughly two weeks, Elorg ships are going to start strolling out of that rift.  And when they do, we’re going to be hard pressed to stop them.”


Soris nodded, and slowly produced a small trapezoidal padd before the group on the table.  “This is the mandate from the Assembly authorizing such an alliance.  I am fully authorized to negotiate a treaty as long as it falls within these terms,” he explained, passing the padd to Christopher.


Harrison watched the exchange take place, but before the Captain could get the padd within his grasps, a sudden jolt forced to padd to skitter across the table and onto the floor.  Moments later, another more powerful explosion rocked the small structure.


Debris rained down from the ceiling, and a tiny fire erupted near the door, prompting a shroud of smoke to fill the air.


Harrison moved to take cover, but as he did so, several bright orange vortices erupted throughout the room.  As they expanded outward, Harrison realized it was the Rutanian equivalent of a transporter—and they were being attacked.


Moments later, the faint outline of several armed Rutanians filled the room.  They pointed their bulky weapons at Soris and the others as they approached.


Harrison discretely reached for his communicator to contact the ship, but to his consternation, nothing happened.  They must have erected some sort of dampening field.


As the lead attacker approached, Harrison instantly noticed Soris became enraged.  Nikus!” he called out.


The leader, Nikus, came about with his cumbersome weapon and directed it at Soris.  “Do not move,” he instructed them.




Erin Keller was in command.


She liked the sound of the statement.  It had a ring to it that ‘Erin Keller is at ops’ did not have.  However, she made sure it didn’t get to her head, as many of the crew believed it was already big enough.


Besides, they were on a peaceful mission to a friendly planet.  Keller didn’t believe there would actually be a chance for her to perform any amazing feats of heroism.  Little did she know the sensor alert emanating from Bator’s console would prove that theory wrong.


“What is it?” Keller demanded.


Bator looked down at the sensors with a quizzical look on his face.  “There are six Rutanian fighters on an intercept course,” he announced.  “Their weapons are armed.”


Keller suddenly found herself sharing Bator’s look.  “Maybe the Captain’s meeting didn’t go over too well,” she suggested.  “Can you get a lock on the away team?”


She waited for several moments as Bator worked at the sensors, but being an operations officer, she knew by the sound of the controls what he was going to say…


“No.  A forcefield has been erected around their position, and it is blocking both transporter and communication signals.”


She felt her stomach start to flutter.  Slowly, Keller folded her arms and took in a deep breath.  “Raise shields,” she ordered, desperately trying to recall what the Captain might do.   Despite her training, she found herself unable to think straight, and the proper course of action eluded her.  To her relief, the Rutanians made the next move.


“We are being hailed,” said Bator.


That was an easy one.  “On screen,” Keller ordered.


Moments later, a gruff-looking, orange-skinned Rutanian appeared on the screen.  “This is Deemus of the Rutanian Order of Nar.  Surrender your vessel to us at once, or face destruction!” he said tersely.


Keller tried to hide her disbelief, but couldn’t help but to elicit an innocent, “What?”  She instantly composed herself and put on a diplomatic face.  “Can’t we discuss—?”


Deemus wasn’t impressed.  “No discussion!” he shouted.  “There are no terms!”


And he cut transmission.


Again, Keller nodded.  She hadn’t even answered his question.  For all he knew, she might have been willing to surrender.  She wasn’t… but Keller found it quite stupid of him to end the transmission so prematurely.  Even so, she suspected it would have ended in such a fashion no matter what.


Replacing Deemus was the external view of his six fighter craft rapidly approaching the Starlight.  Keller turned to Bator for suggestions.


“Six Rutanian fighters pose no threat,” Bator assured her.


His statement was proven correct moments later when the fleet opened fire.  Keller had to hold back her laughter at the sight.  Of the six ships, all but one missed.  The effects of the single beam that made impact were so minimal, Keller wouldn’t have known they were under attack had she not seen them fire.


Even so, Keller felt it a prudent course of action to warn off the harmless fighters.  “Fire a few warning shots,” she suggested.


Moments later, several orange phaser beams lashed out near the Rutanian crafts, nearly missing each one of the tiny ships.  The blast prompted them to scattered like a flock of frightened birds, and Deemus to send another transmission.


“Is that your best shot?” he taunted.


Keller was glad he terminated the communication immediately after his threat, as she found she couldn’t withhold her laughter this time.  Did he actually think they posed a threat?


“They are coming around for another pass,” Drayge announced.


Keller sighed.  “Am I correct in thinking these things are not top of the line?”


Kendall Johnson, who was filling in at ops promptly responded, “They’re class-D fighters, circa 2320.”  


“Ouch,” Keller whispered.  “We could take their entire fleet out with one quantum torpedo,” she speculated.  “But we won’t… Do you think they’d be susceptible to some sort of ionic pulse?”


Johnson quickly accessed his own data.  “Yeah,” he said.


“Do it,” Keller said with a nod of approval.


The wait was a short one, during which Keller contemplated the reason behind this ‘attack.’  She was sure the reason would present itself soon enough, but until then, it would gnaw at her…


The pulse fired.  At first, there were no visible clues, but after a moment, every Rutanian ship fell out of formation and set adrift, just hanging in space without any course or heading.  Their fight was effectively over.


“The forcefield has been lowered,” Bator announced moments later.  His voice was filled with surprise.  “The Rutanians who erected it are contacting the ‘attacking’ ships…”


Keller raised an eyebrow.  “As in… you have a lock on our people?”


“Yes,” Bator confirmed.  “Apparently the forcefield blocked their communication as well.”


Keller didn’t know exactly what to say.  The situation was so unbelievable that she almost felt sorry for the Rutanians.  “Is it just me, or are these people stupid?”


No one responded, but she was certain their stupidity was screaming to the others as loudly as it was to her.  They obviously went through the trouble to sabotage the meetings to take hostages—only to use a forcefield that blocks their own transmissions… Then they attack a heavily armed Federation starship with 75-year-old fighters. 


“Like someone once said, ‘Stupid is as stupid does,’” she muttered.  “Beam up them up, Kendall.”




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