The Wondering Warren.
It wasn’t much to look at.
A Terran Arkwright-class freighter, it was old and worn down. Its captain and crew were mostly old spacers, looking to keep their space legs going past their retirement. It was a jaunt for the most part, despite the hard work everybody had to put into keeping it afloat.
The boxy rust-coloured ship was on its way from Titan Colony, having helped delivered supplies to the abundant bio-domes. Terra was in its sights for a rest and recuperation.
“I’m picking up something, Captain,” the Helmsman reported.
The gruff captain, as white-haired and bearded as the rest of his crew, struggled off his command chair, and then thought better of it.
“Looks like a signal, Captain. Automated, Navy.”
“Can we still not contact Terra?”
“No. Something is jamming us.”
“What about those readings from the asteroid field? Has the computer analysed it yet?”
“This is an old freighter,” growled the plait-haired Helmsman. With the Warren the size it was, and a limited crew, the helmsman served several other roles as well. “We are not a damned Navy explorer. It’s still ticking over.”
The Captain muttered to himself.
“The signal then?” he said out loud.
“It’s repeating over and over.”
“Dead ahead, Captain. It’s a beacon I think.”
Now the Captain stepped off his chair, aches and groans forgotten.
“Emergency beacon?” He couldn’t hide the worry. His five-man bridge crew were too experienced and too seasoned to think otherwise anyway.
The Helmsman nodded.
“Looks like it. We didn’t pick it up until now because of the jamming. Wait, I’m getting the message now.”
“Put it on speakers.”
A mess of static and white noise filled the air, which was quickly replaced by a panicked male voice. It chilled the Captain to the bone.
“This is Engineering Officer Carruthet of the HMS Belfast. We have been attacked and boarded by an unknown warship. They disabled our engines, weapons and shields in minutes after we investigated a rogue asteroid from the Mars-Jupiter Field. We didn’t stand a chance; they then boarded and slaughtered the crew. I don’t think there are many left. I’m holed up in the secondary engineering control room with seven others, but they’re already trying to burn through the doors. Help us, please. Warn the Navy that an unknown alien warship coloured red is prowling the system undetected.
This is Engineering Officer Carruthet of the HMS Belfast. We have been attacked-”
“Enough,” ordered the Captain. Horror was all over his face. “Helm, spool up the FTL and set a course for Terra right now. Don’t wait for the order to go.”
“What? Why? We have to find the Belfast, help them if we can.”
The Captain looked at the Helmsman as if for the last time.
“What colour was that ship that nearly rammed us last week when we passed through here last time?”
The Helmsman swallowed, knowing the answer before the Captain had finished asking.
“Red.” His fingers flew, as if he were a young man again, fear and adrenaline pushing him faster than his old tired body could normally achieve. The weapons officer was already bringing the shields online and arming what limited weaponry they had.
The Helmsman’s console bleeped.
“Sensors are picking up a ship in close proximity to us, hiding in our wake.”
“Get that FTL going RIGHT NOW!”
“THEY’RE OPENING FIRE!” shouted the weapons officer.
The bridge suddenly up-ended, and the old men were thrown about like toys, unable to hold on, or stop their fall.
* * *
Yh’reth’van couldn’t help but smile.
It was easy sport, but it was necessary all the same.
His plan was coming together nicely. The Terrans were unaware of his cruiser’s presence in their home system thanks to the jammers the ship was employing wherever they went. The asteroid was on target, and still unnoticed, still nothing done about it.
“[The freighter tried to run at the last minute, Master,]” one of his underlings told him. “[Their engines overloaded.]”
“[Did they get a message out?]” Although he knew the answer, the Terrans were still resourceful as a species, or so the stories went.
“[No, my lord. The jammers are still fully active.]”
“[Excellent. Take us back into the asteroid’s wake. I want to see Earth’s destruction with my own eyes.]”
“[Yes, my lord.]”
This was his plan, and his alone. Nobody would stop him. His brothers knew nothing of this, his father probably knew some, but had not deemed to stop him, nor encourage him. It would be his glory, and his alone.
“[For the Patriarch.]”