As was his habit, Kirk arrived punctually, to be surprised by seeing Captains Spock and Scott sitting in the commodores antechamber. Kirk sat between them, a puzzled smile on his face. "Well, gentlemen, to what do I owe the honor of your presence?"
"We were both summoned to join you at the briefing for our next mission, Captain. It is most unusual."
Kirk agreed with Spock inwardly, but decided against admitting it. "Any speculation on whats up, Spock? Scotty?"
"Insufficient data for speculation about the assignment, Captain."
"Aye, Spock, at least in detail. But with all three of us being summoned, tis more than likely going to be a wee bit off of the beaten track, dye not think? And with us bein called here, would ye not say its more than likely a wee bit confidential?"
Spocks answer was cut off by the summons to the commodores office. Silently, the three moved through the door, Kirk as point man and Scott as rear guard. Commodore Brevan sat behind his desk, with his hands clasped before him and an enigmatic smile on his face. He gestured to the three chairs before his desk. The three men took their places, Kirk in the middle, and waited.
Commodore Brevan finally broke the silence. "I would be interested, Captain Kirk, in your guess as to the nature of the mission youre about to be offered."
Kirk looked at Spock and Scott before replying. "The general consensus seems to have been that it might be a bit out of the ordinary and confidential, but weve not enough information for a worthwhile guess."
The Vulcan and the Scotsman silently nodded their agreement.
"Are any of you familiar with the Maevis system?"
"It is on the periphery of the Federation, Commodore," Spock answered. "The official record indicates that it was explored briefly, an observation beacon left, and thereafter largely ignored. According to the public records, the Maevis system and the territory beyond is apparently unclaimed by any known star-faring race, and largely unexplored."
The commodore nodded. "Youve a remarkably astute science officer, Captain Kirk." He swiveled back to Spock. "What makes you so aware of an apparently insignificant star system, Captain Spock? And why the attention to official records, public records and such?" Although his face appeared calm, the commodores knuckles paled slightly as his hands gripped each other. There was a somewhat sharper tone to the commodores voice as he spoke, Kirk observed, an almost suspicious note. He was about to make comment when Spock responded.
"The Vulcan Science Academy is conducting research in natural sources of subspace waves. They requested that, when the opportunity arose, I take measurements of the background subspace noise in a direction away from any known sources. After measuring a number of large sections of space above and below the Galactic plane, I began to make measurements within it, in directions away from the Federation. During the process, I came across a well encrypted subspace tight-beam coming from a transmitter I determined to be in the Maevis system. Naturally, I removed the measurements from the recording. Since the encryption process was clearly one of Federation design, I did not feel that I needed to report the discovery."
"How did you know the encryption code was a Federation design, Spock? Did you partially decode it?"
"It was one developed by Stouruk, a third cousin. I recognized his workmanship. Unless the individual who set up the transmission was foolish enough to use a non-random seed, not even Stouruk himself could have cracked the cipher, Commodore."
The commodores hand rubbed his face in a gesture of combined amusement and relief. He turned to Kirk. "Youre probably anxious for me to get to the point, Captain."
Kirk shrugged. The commodore seemed to be interested in making this a guessing game.
For a moment, the commodores fingers played across a control surface on his desk. Behind him, a panel opened to reveal a display screen. "At this point, I must inform you that the information I am about to divulge is confidential. Spock, the tight beam that you intercepted is from an observation beacon recently placed in the Maevis system. It has been determined that the Federation will be expanding out into the territory beyond Maevis, and the Maevis system will be the bridgehead for that expansion. Maevis Four-A and Four-B are a binary pair, similar to the Earth and Moon. Maevis Four-A is an M-class planet, almost identical to Earth. Maevis Four-B is a D-class planet slightly more massive than Earths moon but still airless. They would be an almost ideal site for a planetary base; the minerals needed for starship construction can be harvested from Maevis Four-B, apparently even including dilithium. The crews of ships under repair, and the people manning the Maevis outpost, can stay on Maevis Four-A. There is only one fly in the ointment: there is an intruder."
"The Tholians?" Kirk suggested. Their swarming behavior was totally unpredictable.
"The Gorn?" Scott hypothesized. The Kelvan War had decimated their star systems.
Spock remained silent; Vulcans do not take guesses.
"No. Another planetary body, to be precise." The commodore touched the control surface again, and the screen behind him burst into life, displaying a screen of stars. "This is the view from the advanced probe now in the Maevis system. Watch this particular pinpoint." With a few more contacts with the control surface, a grey circle enclosed one of the pinpoints of light. Another contact animated the screen. Although the other lights stayed relatively motionless, the circled one slowly drifted out of place, ultimately leaving the enclosing circle before the display came to a halt. "This intruder is coming from above the galactic plane. Unfortunately, we have plotted its apparent trajectory and discovered that it will probably pass close enough to Maevis Four-A and -B to either disrupt the binary pair, if not impact on one or the other planet."
"Unless you have other data than what we seen, Commodore," Spock opined, "I doubt that such an impact would be of grave significance. The odds are strong that the rogue would be composed mainly of ice. If that is the case, its density would be comparatively small, and its mass equally insignificant."
"Theres one other bit of information Ive not shown you yet. Watch the Intruder carefully. This display will be at maximum magnification." The commodore tapped his control surfaces again. The display behind his head suddenly centered around the pinpoint of light that represented the Intruder. Rather than the circled pinpoint moving, the rest of the stars shifted, with the tiny point staying stationary. As the men watched, a small point of light seemed to separate from the first, only to rejoin it and appear on the other side. All three men leaned forward, as if to get a closer view.
"What is the time separation of the images?" Spock asked, forgetting protocol in his concealed excitement.
"The frames are taken at five second intervals, Spock, and shown at twenty-five frames per second."
Spocks brow wrinkled for a second or two, as he concentrated. "That would make the orbit approximately sixteen point seven minutes, Commodore."
"Plus or minus a few seconds, yes. And based on Doppler estimations of the velocity changes as it orbits, weve estimated the orbit to be around one hundred kilometers in radius." The commodore paused briefly, letting the three others come to grips with the information.
"Fascinating. That would make the primary bodys mass approximately five hundred ninety-two thousand teratonnes, Commodore."
Kirk just stared at the screen and said nothing. Better to be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt, he reminded himself.
"And that suggests, Captain Spock, that the body is more than just ice. A ferrosilicate body would be more to the point, dont you think?"
"Perhaps; a degenerate body, such as a neutron star, is more probable. A ferrosilicate body of that mass would have a radius of approximately two hundred ninety-five kilometers, larger than the orbit of the companion body."
Brevan nodded. "Astrophysics has reached the same conclusion. A near miss with a body that massive would probably send one or both of the bodies into a rogue orbit. An impact would be devastating."
"Commodore!" Scott burred in his rich brogue, "Yell not be asking us to move yon monster, will ye?"
"On the contrary, Captain Scott, that is exactly what I propose that you do. The Starfleet Corps of Engineers has studied this problem intensively over the last several days. A modest transverse thrust, over a period of time, will divert the rogue enough to guarantee that it will miss Maevis Four-A and -B altogether. Engineering has proposed to generate this thrust by using a matter-antimatter reaction to vaporize portions of the rogues crust and propel it away from the planet."
"Yere talking about over-glorified rockets, Commodore!" Scott was clearly astounded.
"Yes, Captain Scott. Rockets. Impulse drives would be better, but the time available seems insufficient to install, mutually tune and coordinate a set of them. And if the rocket thrust doesnt deflect the body fast enough, you will strew the Intruders path with antimatter, in an attempt to destroy it."
There was a period of uncomfortable silence as the three men digested the information. Commodore Brevan finally broke the silence. "Well, Kirk, are you willing to accept the assignment?"
Kirk stared at his shoes a little longer, seemingly deep in thought. He finally looked the commodore in the eye. "I assume that, with this being a clandestine mission, we will be in total communications blackout from the time we head for the Maevis system until we return. Am I correct, sir?"
"Quite correct, Kirk. Under no circumstances do we wish to have our plans discovered prematurely. Our expansion into this under-explored territory is bound to attract the unwanted attention of the Romulans, Klingons and Tholians."
"I see." Kirk looked at his chief engineer and chief science officer before continuing. "It seems that most of the information we have is based on pretty slim evidence. With all due respect, it appears that all the plans that have been laid by the Starfleet Corps of Engineers are based on a great deal of guesswork. Under the circumstances, I would like to know how much latitude we will be granted to improvise, based on the first-hand data we will have at our disposal."
"Given that you will be expected to maintain total communication silence, Captain, we must grant you complete freedom to improvise as the situation dictates. As long as the Intruder doesnt disrupt the orbits of Maevis Four-A and -B, and doesnt impact either world, you have authority to act as you see fit."
Montgomery Scotts face lit up. "Complete freedom to improvise?" From somewhere in his work vest, the chief engineer produced a padd. His fingers began flying across its surface rapidly. "Captain Spock, would ye mind coming and taking a look at this? Strewing antimatter in front of the Intruder and hopin itll blunder into it seems a wee bit foolish to me. Now, if we took antimatter charges and planted them, say, half a kilometer below the surface in a few points, perhaps a dozen or so..."
Spock strode across the office, standing next to Scott, staring at the engineers analytical padd. He studied the display for a moment or two. "Could you animate the spherical harmonics, Captain Scott?" he asked. "Assuming that the Intruder is a neutron star, the material should be comparatively homogenous; it might be prudent to add a degree of asymmetry in the placement of the antimatter."
Commodore Brevan watched in near astonishment as the Vulcan and the Scot began wrangling over details of the idea Scott had advanced, refining and re-refining their thoughts on destroying the Intruder. Only a few moments passed before both of them were rapidly filling the analytic padd with increasingly precise details, their voices blending into an almost hypnotic hum.
Brevan turned to Kirk, amused to see the Enterprises commander studying a Bosch painting which adorned his office wall. "Again, Captain, will you accept the mission?"
Kirk looked at his companions, hunched over the analytic padd before facing the commodore again. "Id better. It looks to me as if Ill have a mutiny on my hands if I dont." He shrugged.
The commodore stood up and extended his hand to Kirk. "Good enough, Captain Kirk. The best of luck to you." Brevan looked at Scott and Spock. "I think you just might need it."
Kirk rose and accepted the offered handshake. "Spock, Scotty! Time to come up for air!"
They looked up from the analytic padd, perplexed at the interruption.
"Weve accepted the mission, and it just might be useful for you two to get the final touches on the orders."
Kirk sat down again. Spock did likewise. After a stern glance from Kirk, Scott returned the analytic padd to wherever it had come from, and returned his attention to the commodore. "As you were going to say, Commodore?" Kirk prompted.
"You will depart as soon as possible, gentlemen. Ostensibly, you will be transporting a cargo of antimatter to a new starbase and assisting it in building a Lemoyne-Briggs Transformer so it can produce its own antimatter supply. Your route to the Maevis system will be circuitous; hopefully that will keep watching eyes from becoming overly suspicious. Until you begin the final leg of the trip to the Maevis intruder, no one but the three of you are to know the actual mission. Is that understood?"
All three echoed their comprehension, and were dismissed.Arrival As Commodore Brevan had promised, the route to the Maevis system and its intruder had been round about, and had included a delay to assist Starbase 105 in setting up its new Lemoyne-Briggs Transformer. It had taken slightly over a week to finally approach the Intruder, and as the Enterprise began the final approach to the mysterious body, the deck became increasingly silent.
Spocks voice finally broke the silence. "The Intruder should be within visual range, Captain. Do you wish me to put the image on the forward viewscreen?"
"If you please, Spock. I think were all curious."
The image on the forward screen shifted. In its center, there was a small dot with a tiny pinpoint slowly moving around it. "If thats not maximum magnification, Spock, give us the biggest image you can."
Spock obeyed, wordlessly. The small disk in the middle of the viewscreen suddenly filled most of the center of the screen, and the pinpoint of light became a disk. The bridge crew was awestruck. It was not the size of the object; the crew had a fairly clear idea of the expected dimensions, and the viewscreen tended to minimize the perception of dimension. Indeed, the object seemed somewhat smaller than they had guessed. Their astonishment was because it was obviously artificial, the small companion that had been mistaken for a moon revealing itself to be a telemetry dish tethered to the main body by an immensely long cord.
"Well, Captain Scott," Kirk finally said, "At least you probably wont have to build those rockets. Id bet that whatever else we find on that thing, therell probably be engines you can get running. Thatll make your job much easier."
"Aye, Captain," Scotty responded, "But it poses a wee additional problem. Well be wanting to preserve that monster for study, so well have to head off to the Maevis system to harvest a bit of matter to react with the hold full of antimatter weve got. And theres no guarantee shell have engines I can get workin, or even understand."
"At least the mass is considerably smaller than we had been led to believe, Captain," Spock added. "With the preliminary data I have, it would appear the mass is closer to thirty-six teratonnes. Producing enough thrust to divert the Intruder from the Maevis Four-A and -B binary pair will be considerably easier, and although an impact would possibly devastate Maevis Four-A, the likelihood of disrupting their conjoint orbit is comparatively small."
"Most reassuring, Spock," Kirk agreed. "Still, with it being manufactured, there might be pitfalls we arent anticipating. As long as this must have taken to get here, we may face some major structural problems." Kirk swiveled to face the helm. "Lieutenant Reichard, how long will it take you to put us next to that thing?"
"A little over an hour, Captain. Assuming, of course, no pitfalls."
"Spock, think you can have a general idea of the layout of the inside of the Intruder in an hour?"
"An approximate map should be possible, Captain. At least enough to know where the probable site of the power plant and engines are, and how to reach them from a properly chosen starting point. A detailed map, including an analysis of the major circuits, would take at least two days, perhaps longer."
"All well need is a rough map, Spock. I think well have to board the Intruder and collect our data firsthand. Spock, Bones, Scotty, Reichard, Chekovwe will meet at the transporter deck in two hours. Scotty, make sure the life support suits are ready. Spock, get the map stored in our tricorders. Reichard, take us there!"
The bridge echoed with a chorus of acknowledgments, and the Enterprise headed for the Intruder.
It was somewhat over two hours later that the six individuals found themselves materializing inside the Intruder. For the first few seconds after arrival, they all looked around at the almost featureless chamber in which they found themselves.
McCoy spoke first. "I thought you were going to put us in a smaller chamber, Spock. This things huge; its got to be thirty meters square, and ten meters high. Whatd you do? Miss?"
"Hardly, Doctor. Considering that there are rooms nearly a kilometer across in this ship, the room in which you find yourself is one of the smaller ones."
McCoy shook his head in wonder. "Well, if Scotty doesnt find a way of opening the doors to this cozy little nook, were going to have a pretty uninformative trip."
Scott had drifted to a door and was studying his tricorder carefully. "Dinna worry about that, Doctor. Well have this door open soon enough." He triggered the suits communicator. "Scott to Engineering. Indri, are you there?"
"Indeed, Captain Scott," Indris Punjabi accent responded. "What manner of mechanism opens the doors?"
"Looks like they slide on a static magnetic charge over a superconductor that excludes magnetic fields; no chance that the doors will stick. Locking mechanism is a simple magnetic grapple. Electromagnetic induction to move the door. How long to put together three openers?"
"Moments, sir. The mechanism is one of the kinds that we had anticipated might be likely." There was a brief pause, during which the team moved out of the center of the room, where they expected whatever Indri put together to arrive. "Completed, Captain Scott. Ready to transport." As Indri finished speaking, three fist-sized boxes materialized in the center of the chamber. "Will there be anything else, Captain?"
"Good job, Indri. Not at the moment, I think."
"I shall stand by, sir. Indri out."
Scott collected one of the boxes Indri had supplied, and moved back to the door with it. After a few moments adjusting the settings on it, the chief engineer triggered it.
The door stood impassive.
A few of the settings received readjustment, and Scott tried again, without results.
On the third setting, the door slid silently aside. Scott made a mock bow in his life-support suit. "Welcome aboard, gentlemen!" He collected the other two openers, and adjusted their settings as well.
"Well done, Scotty," Kirk responded. "You and Spock see what you can find out about this monsters power supply and drive, and get an idea about the navigational controls. Commander Chekov, youre the security chief. See what you can find in terms of weaponry and internal anti-personnel systems. Ive no desire to power this behemoth up and discover its hostile. Take Mister Reichard with you. Bones, you and I will see what we can learn about the builders." He looked around. "Bones? Where on Earth have you gotten to?"
"Over here, Jim. Just looking around the room, seeing what I can see."
Kirk turned further, finding McCoy floating up one wall, tricorder in hand. The captain rolled his eyes. "Okay, gentlemen. Back here in three hours. We debrief in six."
Spock, Scott, Chekov and Reichard moved out through the door Scott had opened.
Kirk turned to McCoy again. "Well, Bones, whatve you got?"
"Just some stains, Jim, but Id like a little better light. The lights on this danged life support suit just dont let me see enough to be sure of the pattern involved."
Kirk triggered his communicator. "Kirk to Engineering. Lieutenant Indri, are you still there?"
"At your service, Captain Kirk. How may I assist?"
"Think you could find a couple of lights powerful enough to illuminate a room the size of the one that were in?"
"Without difficulty, sir. I shall transport them immediately." Almost as Indri spoke, two lights materialized in the chamber. "May I provide you anything else, sir?"
"Thatll do fine for now, Indri. Thanks. Kirk out." The captain hooked one of the lights to the belt on his life support suit, turning the other one on. For the first time in what was doubtless uncounted millennia, the room was flooded with light. The light colored metal of the chambers walls was covered with a dark, almost black stain.
"What do you think, Jim?" McCoys suit was spinning slowly, allowing him to pan the entire room. "Do the stains suggest anything to you?"
Kirk stared at the pattern for a few moments. Recognition danced at the edge of his memory, tantalizing him. As quickly as it intruded, the hint of recognition disappeared. "Looks familiar, but I cant place it. Whats the stain made of, anyhow?"
McCoy pointed to a pile of material that looked like old, dried leaves in one corner of the room. "Judging by the fact that the stuff plastered over the walls is almost identical in chemical structure to the stuff in the tubes in that pile of desiccated tissue there, Id guess it was whatever the crew of this ship used for blood."
Bloodsuddenly Kirks memory dredged up the scene of an accident at a starbase, and the mess in an area that had suddenly and dramatically lost pressure. "Explosive decompression, out that door, I suppose?" Kirk pointed to the unopened door the stains seemed to be flowing toward.
"I agree, Jim. Lets see whats on the other side of that door."
Without further comment, Kirk applied the mechanism Indri had supplied to opening the door. The two men moved through it into the chamber beyond. The starship commander turned the second light on.
The chamber was immense, with several doors entering through each of the side walls. The wall formed by the outer hull of the Intruder had an immense door in the center, one that was only partially closed. All around, the stains on the metal surfaces seemed to flow from the entry doors out the door in the hull.
McCoy began collecting samples of the desiccated detritus scattered in the chamber.
Kirk moved toward the door that led through the hull. Although his initial impression had been that the doors had not completely closed, closer inspection revealed that the doors had been bowed outward, the outward bend leaving a gap between the two halves of the door. Along the edges, there was a thick layer of black crust.
"Bones, get up here and take a look at this, will you?"
McCoy obeyed, turning his tricorder on the black crust. "Looks like crisped critters, Jim. These doors must have been red hot."
"Or hotter, Bones. Look at the way these doors are warped, will you?. Not only did something get this door incredibly hot, some force bent it way out of shape. Looks like the doors are nearly a meter thick, and almost solid trititanium. Smells like a combination of a phaser and a tractor beam to me."
"That would explain the signs of explosive decompression, I suppose. The more I see of this, the less I like it."
"Seen enough yet?"
"Not quite, Jim. I want to check out a room a ways off that direction," McCoy pointed to a door on another wall as he spoke. "Something about it on the initial scans caught my eye, and I want to see what its all about."
Kirk shifted to the door McCoy indicated, and opened it. The two men moved through a chamber essentially identical to the one Spock had initially chosen. Beyond that, they reached a chamber filled with dozens of different machines, each obviously intended to move independently, all small enough to pass through the doors theyd been using. No two seemed quite alike, and none had any obvious purpose as far as either man could guess. On the other side of the room full of enigmatic machinery, they entered a corridor that seemed to plunge toward the heart of the ship. McCoy selected a door. Kirk opened it.
The chamber they entered was somewhat larger than the one theyd first seen, but its walls were so heavily covered with what looked like cabinets and devices that the room felt small. In the center, there stood a bench-like object with manipulators that could reach across the room; in the center of the bench, there were three small vats that connected to tubes that went through the hull-side wall and disappeared. McCoy moved over to one of the cabinets. Despite his best effort, the door refused to open.
"See if that gadget of Indris will open this door, Jim. I want to see whats in here."
Obediently, Kirk positioned the device. After a second or two, the door slid aside, revealing numerous racks, each filled with flat, glass-like disks. McCoy took a couple of them out, putting them in a sample bag and adding them to his growing collection. He picked up another, and with a little effort, opened it. In the bottom, there was a thin, semi-transparent layer of material with occasional discolored dots. McCoy nodded and restored the disk to its original state and position. After opening two or three other cabinets and sampling their contents, McCoy studied the piping that led through the hull-side wall.
"Cmon, Jim. Lets see if we can find our way into whatever lies on the other side of that wall. I want to find out what that plumbing connects up to. If I read Spocks little map right on this tricorder, the only way in is through an opening in the hull."
"Then its back to the room with the bent doors. What do you make of all of this? The way youre acting, youve obviously got some sort of idea what all this paraphernalia is supposed to do."
"This is just a guess, but Id say it looked like an automated microbiology lab. Times wasting, Jim."
The two men retraced their steps. Kirk tried to open the hull doors, but the machine couldnt budge them. "Kirk to Engineering. Indrido you have a fix on where were at?"
"Yes, Captain. Is there some assistance I can offer?"
"Your door opening device here wont budge the doors in the hull. Any chance you could open it?"
There was a pause for a moment or two before Indri responded. "I believe so, Captain. If you would be so kind as to move away from the door?" The edges of the doors showed the blurring characteristic of a tractor locking onto them. Slowly and ponderously, the two doors parted. At about three meters separation, they stopped. "Will that be room enough, Captain?"
"Plenty, Indri. Thanks."
"Most welcome. I shall be standing by, if you need anything further, sir. Indri out."
McCoy remarked, "You got to get that boy a raise, Jim. Hes a real find."
"I know, Bones." The captain agreed. "I couldnt believe it when Captain Jawalahara told me he wanted to transfer him off the Yorktown. Scotty jumped at the chance to get him aboard the Enterprise."
Kirk and McCoy maneuvered through the opening, and out onto the hull of the Intruder. From the vantage point of the skin of the Intruder, it looked far larger, the curvature of the hull being only barely visible to the men as they moved toward the hatch they hoped to enter. The metal beneath them showed score marks, presumably made by impacts. In the short trek to the hatch, Kirk began to feel overwhelmed with the Intruders size.
"Okay, Jim," McCoy said, interrupting Kirks reverie. "Lets see if Indris little door opener will work on this one."
Kirk applied it to the hatch, which opened without trouble.
Beyond the now-opened portal lay a large, long room, dominated by three huge vats that surrounded a central track. Coming through the wall closest to the center of the ship were three pipes that Kirk assumed came from the room theyd investigated a few moments ago. Each pipe lead to one of the larger vats, which appeared to drain through a spigot of sorts. Along the walls of the chamber were containers, hundreds each of dozens of different varieties, but all obviously designed to be filled from one of the vats and launched along the track, out the hatch the two men had entered. Only a few minutes passed before McCoy left the chamber.
"Ive seen more than enough, Jim. Lets get out of here." McCoy began moving toward their rendezvous site. Kirk stayed, looking into the chamber the doctor had abandoned. McCoy stopped his progress, turning back to his friend. "Arent you coming, Jim?"
Kirk turned to face the doctor. "Are you thinking what Im thinking?"
"Im a doctor, not a mind-reader. You tell me what youre thinking, and Ill tell you if I agree."
"That looked like a fully automated system for loading and delivering biological weapons, Bones. Id bet that in a matter of hours, it could saturate an entire planet with enough bacteria to totally disrupt its ecology. Looking at the shape of some of those canisters, this monster could even contaminate the ocean, clear to the bottom."
"Then we were thinking pretty much the same thing. That, and the fact that whatever is being delivered must be pretty vicious stuff if theyre automating the handling like this. Whoever or whatever built this had a major mean streak, if you ask me."
Kirk wished he knew how to shut the hatch with the gadget Indri had built. "Sure looks that way." Kirk moved to join McCoy, and both re-entered the ship. "Anywhere else you want to check, Bones?"
"Then follow along. Theres a couple of chambers I want to check out, but theyre a ways off."
"Lead on, then."
Kirk studied the map on the readout of his tricorder, selected another door, and moved through it, McCoy at his back. Confidently, consulting his tricorder map only occasionally, Kirk led them through a maze of rooms and corridors. Many of the rooms contained nothing; others contained rows of idled machinery sporting articulated legs, wheels, tractor treads, wings or keels. One chamber was filled with cables strung across it, in no obvious pattern; another room had walls several meters thick, and sported what looked like huge mineral deposits. Finally, they entered the largest room they had seen. It was fully a kilometer across, and a quarter kilometer deep.
Kirk broke the silence. "This room suggest anything to you, Bones?"
"Insanity, maybe. This door isnt near any of the walls of this chamber; its got to be four, maybe five meters to the hull-ward side, and well over two hundred meters the other way. I cant see the point at all."
"Over two hundred meters down, Bones. Down is clearly toward the center of the ship."
"How do you figure that?"
"The doors. In all the rooms weve been in, other than this one, the doors that dont connect to the hull have had their bottom side at the surface nearest the center of the ship. Itd have to be the floor, judging from the fact that so many of the machines had wheels. But here, the doors two hundred meters or more from the floor. If you check the bottom, Ill bet youll find more dried tissue."
McCoy took the hint, and checked the floor of the chamber, finding a layer of desiccated organisms strewn across it. Several of them found their way into sample bags. He joined Kirk at the entrance.
"Well?" Kirk asked.
"The critters down on the floor looked like dried marine specimens. This must have been a gigantic aquarium."
"And the room with all the cables could have been a huge aviary, Bones. Id guess the room with the mineral deposits and extra thick walls was designed for one of those high-pressure, high temperature marine environments. Looks like this ship was intended to handle several different kinds of life forms. That would explain its size, anyhow; it was probably built as a joint venture by the members of some sort of interstellar alliance like the Federation."
"If so, Jim, it was built to try to annihilate or disrupt another interstellar alliance. And Id be willing to bet that this wasnt the only one that got built, either."
"Right now, Id rather not think about that. Do you have any idea of the havoc this monster could wreak if it was fully operational?"
"I can imagine. I dont want to find out. Lets get back to the rendezvous, Jim. This derelict is starting to give me the creeps."
"Me, too," Kirk agreed. He led them back to the room where theyd arrived.
Captains Spock and Scott, Commander Chekov and Lieutenant Reichard made their way through several kilometers of corridors to the center of the Intruder, where the scans indicated the drive units and main controls were located. As soon as they arrived at the site, they split up, each working silently at their assigned task in the immense chamber. Spock focused on the computer systems, finding the circuits likely to be comparatively slow, but clearly remarkably durable, and massively parallel.
It was over an hour before the chief engineer broke the silence. "Captain Spock, could ye spare me a moment? Id like ye to take a look at a bit of the engines with me."
Without comment, Spock moved to the engineers side, scanning the engines. "The ships version of impulse drives seems unremarkable, Captain Scott, other than its immense size. I do not see any remarkable innovations."
"Nor do I, Spock. Its the interstellar drive that Im wanting you to look at, t confirm my conclusions."
Spock peered at the readout on the tricorder for a few moments, his eyebrow progressively ascending his forehead as he did so. "I understand your surprise, Captain Scott. It would appear that the Intruder used a wormhole drive. Still, given that it consumes the least energy to transport a ship across interstellar distances, it is probably the logical choice for a ship of this magnitude."
"Aye, Spock. If, of course, ye dont mind having to travel from one stellar mass to the next, and not being sure where yell end up in a thirty light year sphere, its perfectly logical. Its almost as if they didnt care where they landed, as long as they were near a star. It doesnae make sense t me."
"Perhaps they did not care. The important question is whether or not you can get the impulse drives operational, without the interstellar drive becoming functional."
"It shouldnae be a problem. See these coils here?" Scott pointed to an image on the tricorder scan. "These induction coils seem to be connected into an auto-tuning mechanism for the impulse drives. All well need t do is provide her power and stand back."
Spock nodded. Reichard and Chekov had joined Spock and Scott.
"Gentlemen," Spock asked, "Have you collected the needed information?"
Both men nodded.
"Then let us return to the rendezvous chamber."
Power source identified: induction coils around the interplanetary drive system.
Self-checking.There had been the interaction with the invisible body with the incredibly powerful gravitational field. Had the astrophysics in memory contained more than the pragmatic essentials, the body would have been recognized as a small black hole. Once in the gravitational field, escape became difficult: virtually the entire fuel supply had been expended in the escape, and even a great deal of the cargo to be used in the Battle had to be jettisoned. Escaping, however, had shifted the trajectory to one that left the plane of the galaxy. Fuel had finally run out, and awareness had ceased.
Only one of the navigational modules remained. The other two had been replaced by new units of unfamiliar design. Gentle probing revealed them to be smaller, more delicate but more powerful than the older modules. Cross calibrating them with the older unit took several microseconds. Several extremely distant galaxies were identified by their unique spectra, and the immediate position was determined. No surprise was registered at the realization that the current location was on the other side of the galactic disk from where the interaction had occurred, nor any sense of awe at the immense amount of time that it had taken to make the trek to the current location. Equally, there was no regret as the Intruder listened for its fellow combatants in the Battle, and heard none, nor any grief at the realization that, although there was no voice from others engaged in the Battle, the Battle clearly had not been won.
Internal checking registered minimal decay over the intervening millennia. Other than the fact that most of the material needed to press onward in the Battle was gone, having been jettisoned in the escape, there seemed to be no other significant impediment to resuming combat. All the machinery needed to replenish the material was present. Interplanetary drive under modification by unknowns, presumed to be from vessel noted leaving proximity. Drive function returning rapidly. With an adequate power supply, and a little local data, it would be no problem to do what was needed.
The vessel that had left the repair team and power supply must return to get the repair team. Further power and data needs harvested. The several systems had been disconnected from the main power bus are identified. Rerouting brought to near completion, and halted. The final bypass to reactivate the disconnected subsystems waits for more power. Until whatever had brought new power returned, and its power supply was harnessed, there was nothing to do other than wait.
The Intruder waited quietly.
Kirk leaned back in his captains chair, as the Intruder settled into its orbit around Maevis V. "Congratulations, ladies and gentlemen. The Maevis crisis is now officially over. Lieutenant Jaeger, plot a course for Starbase Seventeen. Lieutenant Reichard, take us there. Warp Factor Three when all decks report ready."
From the security/weapons control station, Chekovs voice interrupted. "Kyptin, I dont think the crisis is quite over. Four Klingon ktinga battlecruisers, closing in on us."
"Why is nothing ever as easy as it looks? Battlestations, everyone. Chekov: Red alert. Shields up. Reichard: Prepare for evasive maneuvers. Jaeger: Plot a series of courses that"
"Captain, that might not be advisable." It was Spock interrupting.
"Why not, Spock? Did you invite the Klingons here to help us celebrate?"
"No, Captain. However, it appears that the Intruder has awakened. Even the systems that were bypassed are now fully operational. It might be imprudent to appear hostile to the Intruder, until we know more about it."
Kirks eyes rolled upward in frustration. "Spock, other than the defunct biological weapons systems, the Intruder is weaponless."
"It appeared so when we examined it earlier. However, the Intruder has multiple tractor beams capable of compressional energies in the thousand exajoule range. As long as we are in tractor range, it needs no other weapons."
Kirks face registered puzzlement.
Scotts Gaelic burr entered the conversation. "What Spocks tryin to say is that yon intruders tractors could rip continents out of the surface of Maevis Four A, make the rest o the crust like it, and use the continents t play ping-pong with the Enterprise. With those tractors, it could squash the Enterprise like Id squash a wee bug."
The entire bridge crew faced Kirk, waiting for his next command. He shook his head. "Were caught between the dubious charity of the Klingons and the totally unknown attitudes of the Intruder. Uhura, see if you can raise the Klingon commander. Spock, see if you can establish contact with the Intruder through the comlink between our systems and its own."
Seconds later, the forward screen was filled with the face of a Klingon. "I am Commander Chtarg. You are outside of the Federation, Enterprise, and you are outnumbered. Surrender, or prepare to do battle."
"The Klingon Empire has no claim here, Chtarg. Were here on a scientific expedition to bring this derelict into a stable orbit for study. Unfortunately, the derelict seems to have returned to full function. Battle is out of the question, Chtarg, but were not surrendering."
Chtargs face tightened. "Prepare for battle, Kirk." The screen went dead.
Kirk looked at Spock. "So much for the charity of the Klingons. Have you managed to connect with the Intruder?"
"I believe so. It appears willing to communicate with us. I have explained our situation to it, and it has instructed us to remain passive."
"Any chance you and Uhura could patch it through on audio?"
Uhura turned to her console. Suddenly, the bridge was filled with the sound of a basso profundo.
"Take no action, little ship."Kirk spoke. "Intruder! Are you aware of the four warships moving toward us?"
"Aware. Allow to declare intent. Take no action."
"They are our known enemies, Intruder. They have expressed the intent to destroy us. At least let us put up defensive shields so we are not harmed!"
"Take no action. Protection will be provided. Transmissions are being monitored. Other ships are being watched. Remain passive."
On the forward screen, the Klingon ktinga cruisers continued to approach, shields up and weapons systems ready. Slowly, each ship moved into position to attack. Nothing happened.
The forward viewscreen erupted into life, Chtargs face on it. "You have not raised your shields, Kirk. Your weapons systems have not been activated. Are you too great a coward to do battle?"
Kirks jaw tightened. "In case youve forgotten, Chtarg, we have this derelict to reckon with. We cannot raise our shields without risking a response from it; it has promised to protect us."
Chtargs face registered anger. "Spare me the lie, Kirk. If you have not raised your shields in two minutes time, I will interpret it as surrender, and send a boarding party." The screen went blank again.
Kirk looked at Spock. "Whats the matter with Chtarg, Spock? Were sitting ducks. Why doesnt he fire? Hes got us outnumbered four to one."
"Capturing the Enterprise and its crew will be a great victory for Chtarg and his associates." There was a brief pause. "The transporter on the flagship is energizing. I presume that will be the boarding party."
"Is the channel to the Intruder still open, Uhura?"
Before she could answer, the Intruder responded.
"Channel open and monitored. Interchange monitored. Hostile activity observed."
There was a brief distortion of the space between the Enterprise and the Klingon ships.
"Neutralized. Remain passive."
Almost before the Intruder was done speaking, Chtarg was on the viewscreen again. "What did you do to the boarding party, Kirk?"
"Nothing, Chtarg. The Intruder appears to have intercepted the transporter beam. Ive no idea how."
"Your ship has surrendered, and you have been too cowardly to fight or be boarded. Prepare to die." The screen went blank again, showing only the Klingon battlecruisers.
"Spock, I thought you said the Klingons would try to capture us. What gives?"
Spock watched the Klingon ships slowly move into a new formation, the flagship in the center and the other three ships at the points of an equilateral triangle. "I believe they are preparing to execute their ritual for punishing cowardice. A Klingon ship and crew convicted of cowardice in battle has its shields and weapon systems disabled, and then is fired on by the other members of its battle group. Since Chtarg has interpreted our passive stance as surrender, I presume he feels justified in considering the Enterprise a Klingon ship, and thus subject to Klingon codes of ethics and punishment. If I am correct, they will begin the ritual execution chant momentarily."
The bridge was suddenly filled by Klingon voices chanting in unison. Although the words were unintelligible, they were clearly full of hatred, anger and rejection. Several minutes passed before the chanting ended. Simultaneously, all four Klingon ships fired on the Enterprise. No sooner than the photon torpedoes were launched, there was a brief, brilliantly bright flash. The torpedoes were gone, the Enterprise was intact, and the Klingon squadron was gone. In its place was a cloud of debris that the Intruder was rapidly corralling into an open door in its hull.
Kirk turned to the science console. "Analysis, Captain Spock?"
"I believe, as Captain Scott so colorfully expressed, the Intruder has squashed the Klingon ships like bugs."
Kirk turned to the navigational con. "Lieutenant Reichard, I think it is high time we left here. Quickly."
"Aye, Captain." Reichard tapped on the navigational console. The Enterprises engines activated, but nothing else happened. Realizing it was useless, Reichard cut the engines.
Spock looked up from the science console. "The Intruder appears to have a tractor beam on the Enterprise, Captain. Flight is impossible."
"Commander Uhura, open up the channel to the Intruder again."
Uhura nodded, indicating the channel was open.
Kirk continued, "Intruder! We have completed our mission. Let us go on to our next task."
"Mission incomplete until refit for The Battle complete. Stay. Downloading."
Spocks console began chattering rapidly. In response, the Vulcans fingers flitted across the console for several minutes, almost too rapidly for a Human eye to follow.
"Spock, whats happening?" Kirk demanded.
"It appears that the Intruder is downloading the entire contents of the Enterprises engineering and science libraries, Captain. I have not been able to interrupt the process."
Kirks hands tightened on the arms of his chair. "Captain Scott, how long will the antimatter on board the Intruder last it?"
"Not more than a week or so, Captain. An itll no be able to restart the ion power generator; we had t put the matter-antimatter unit in the heart o it. Itll need to disconnect that before restartin ion power. But once it disconnects the matter-antimatter unit, itll not be able to restart anythin. All well have t do is wait."
Spock shook his head. "Unfortunately, it appears that the Intruder is generating the fields for a Lemoyne-Briggs Transformer, Captain. Once that is complete, the Intruder will have a limitless supply of antimatter."
Kirk scanned the bridge crews faces. "Well, ladies and gentlemen, Im open to suggestions. Now what?"
"Maybe we could flim-flam it, Jim, and convince it to self-destruct, like we did with Nomad." The doctor batted his big, baby blue eyes at his captain.
Kirk suspected the doctors tongue was firmly planted in his cheek. "Good idea, Bones. Have you any idea how to go about it?"
McCoy shook his head. "I guess not. Yet."
The chattering at Spocks console stopped. "Doctor McCoys idea may have promise, once we have a better grasp of the Intruders purpose, Captain. Until then, I propose to..."
"Captain, were moving," Reichard interrupted.
All eyes riveted on the forward view screen. As they watched, the Intruder moved toward the gas giant. As it approached, a geyser of gas slowly reached toward the behemoth. Just before it touched the hull of the Intruder, a hatch slid open. Within seconds, the gas giants atmosphere was pouring into a hold. A tendril of gas separated itself from the main geyser, to flow through the Lemoyne-Briggs Transformer, after which it disappeared into another orifice in the hull.
"Captain," Uhura called. "The Intruder is hailing us."
"On audio, Uhura."
"Please raise your forward shields, Enterprise, and face away from me. Set them to maximum power. I do not wish to see you harmed."
"Forward shields to maximum power, Mister Chekov. Reichard, orient the ship as requested. At least downloading the Enterprises library has improved the Intruders vocabulary and syntax." Kirks attempt at humor fell on deaf ears.
"Thank you, Enterprise. Please make careful record of the upcoming event for future use. Please keep this channel open should further instruction be needed."
The cataract of gas from the planet below suddenly disconnected from the Intruder, collapsing back onto the gas giant. Simultaneously, a horde of oddly shaped craft erupted from several areas of the immense hull, disappearing into nearby space. Moments later, a distortion of space sped from the Intruder into the planet below. The Intruders shields snapped on, just beyond the Enterprise. Seconds later, there was a blinding flash. When the forward viewscreen cleared, the gas giant was gone, replaced by a small, brilliantly white star. The Intruders shields dropped. Following its lead, Chekov dropped the Enterprises shields, too.
"Enterprise, please restore your forward shields. Although lessened, your risk of damage has not yet passed.
Chekov complied, embarrassed by the matching raised eyebrows from Jaeger, Spock and Kirk.
"Thank you. Continue recording events."
The horde of craft began returning, each towing an asteroid, anywhere from ten to three hundred meters diameter. Once within range of the new star, the craft released their payload. From there, the Intruder used tractors to drive the asteroids past the surface of the star, vaporizing them. Spock remained hunched over the science console. After several asteroids had been processed, he straightened up. "Fascinating. The Intruder appears to be using the star and its intense magnetic fields to vaporize the asteroids and separate them into their individual elements. If my conjecture is correct, the Intruder will be harvesting the purified materials shortly."
Within a few moments, a further horde of drones poured out of the Intruder, and began the process of harvesting the material generated. The scene began to resemble ants scurrying at a picnic, harvesting food and carrying it back to the hill. Minutes turned into hours as the bridge crew sat watching. Spocks voice broke the silence. "Captain, I have been monitoring the artificial star. I believe that it is unstable, and will undergo an explosive decay in a matter of a few hours. The decay will be energetic enough that it will certainly destroy the Intruder."
"And us along with it, if we cant escape?"
"Precisely, Captain. Do we tell the Intruder or not?"
Kirks response came without hesitation. "Tell the Intruder, Spock. Well just have to find another way of destroying it. Im not ready to sacrifice my ship and crew. Uhura, hail the Intruder."
"Intruder, the star youve created is unstable. We estimate it will nova in," Kirk looked at Spock, obviously asking for an estimate.
"Approximately two point seven hours."
Spock tapped on his console. "Transmitting."
The pause before the Intruder responded stretched painfully, though it could hardly have been more than a few moments.
"Thank you, Enterprise. You are quite correct. I shall deal with the problem."
The scurrying drones began pouring back into the hull of the Intruder. Once the area cleared, another distortion flitted from the Intruder. When it hit the artificial star, the star blinked out of existence. Almost simultaneously, the Intruder and the Enterprise began moving.
"What happened?" Kirk demanded.
"The star appears to have been converted into a black hole, Captain," Spock responded.
"And we appear to be moving toward the Maevis Four-A and -B binary system," Gretchen Jaeger added.
Once at Maevis IV-A, it was obvious that the Intruders drones had been active. The surface of the planet was rapidly being scoured by hordes of drones, and the atmosphere was thick with them. Kirks hands tightened on the arms of the captains chair. "Well, Bones, it looks like you were right; this monster is into biological warfare, too. Uhura, hail it again, and see if we can flim-flam the Intruder.."
"Channel open, Captain."
"We need that planet as a base for further operations for the Battle, and we need it intact. Please cease operation immediately."
"My apologies. All the drones will be recalled, and such damage as has been done will be stabilized as well as possible."
Even as the Intruder spoke, the seas of Maevis IV-A began boiling as drones surfaced. Machines of every shape and size imaginable began pouring into the ship. As the last one entered, the surface of the Intruder began to shimmer.
"It would appear, Captain," Spock volunteered, "That the Intruder has raised a radiation shield that our scanners cannot penetrate. This will render finding a means of disabling the Intruder considerably more difficult."
"At least the Maevis system has been rescued, Spock. I guess things cant get any worse."
The Intruders voice boomed in the bridge.
"Please raise your shields, Enterprise. We are about to move to another stellar system. Your assistance will be needed, and I do not wish to see you harmed by the transit through the wormhole."
Kirk stared at his feet in frustration. "I guess I was wrong. Things just got worse."
The wormhole flickered into existence, and the Intruder towed the Enterprise through it.
*****Captains Log, Stardate 8673.5
Kirk closed the captains log with obvious frustration. "How long do you think well be here, Spock?"
"Not long, Captain. The system is not remarkable. Three ice giants, four gas giants, and four lithic planets. The star is a G Two Main Sequence star. The lithic planets are outside this stars zone of habitability. I do not see any major resources present that the Intruder has not ignored in other systems. I conjecture that we will move on soon."
"Have you and Scotty made any progress on ridding us of the Intruder?"
"Possibly, Captain. The Lemoyne-Briggs Transformer has suffered damage during each of the trips through a wormhole. Since the Intruder uses the Enterprises scanning systems, its own must be slower or less accurate. The incremental changes have been small enough that they are probably invisible to the Intruder. With sufficient further damage, it should be possible to disrupt the Lemoyne-Briggs Transformer during the refueling operation, spraying the antimatter into the Intruders hull."
"Destroying us both, Mister Spock?" Kirk demanded.
"No, Captain. The antimatter generation will disrupt only about a third of the Intruder before the reaction subsides; more than enough to disable the Intruder, but not the Enterprise."
"Aye," added Scott, "but at the present rate, were lookin at a year or more before we can do the trick. Something faster would be better, dye ken."
Kirk nodded, about to reply when the Intruders basso profundo over rode him.
"Refueling is complete, Enterprise. Please transfer what you have learned about this system."
"Transmitting," Spock responded.
Several minutes passed as the Intruder digested the information.
"We will be here for a considerable length of time, Enterprise."
"Then we can leave?" Kirk asked, hopefully.
"Not yet. I may require further help. For the moment, you must stay."
A tractor beam flickered into existence, between the Enterprise and the nearby gas giant.
"I cannot afford to have you interrupt my task, so I must tether you."
"What happens if you dont get back fast enough? Weve been away from our main base of operations too long as it is, and we need to get back soon. Otherwise we face major systems failures," Kirk lied.
"The tether will decay in two or at most three days. I expect to return before then."
The Intruder moved away. As it did, a cloud of drones poured out of it, the largest of them enveloped in a radiation shield.
Helplessly, the bridge crew watched as the Intruder accelerated toward the inner planets of the star system, on what soon became clearly an orbit intended to collide with the outermost of the ferrosilicate planets. What seemed like an instant before the Intruder hit the planet, a force field flickered on between it and the planet, rebounding the Intruder back along the path it had come. The field had hardly decayed before the Intruder was decelerating its escape, and repeating the maneuver a second time, then a third, then more.
Finally, Spocks voice broke the astonished silence of the bridge. "It would appear, Captain, that the Intruder is intent on altering the orbit of this planet. It is difficult to be sure, but I conjecture that the Intruder is intent on sending it on a collision course with the second planet out from the primary."
"Why, Spock?" Kirk demanded.
"Maybe its doing a little target practice, Jim," McCoy suggested wryly. "I cant think of a method of destroying the planet of an adversary thatd be a whole lot more effective than smashing it against another planet. Or sending it into an orbit that rendered it intolerably hot or cold. This monsters a worse menace than we thought."
Kirk stared at the floor of the bridge in silence for a few moments before speaking again. "That just makes it all the more imperative that we incapacitate it, gentlemen. Any ideas, Spock? Scotty?"
Scott looked up from the engineering console. "Just a wee bit of one, Captain. The Lemoyne-Briggs transformers suffering a bit with these antics. If the Intruder keeps it up long enough, we might just be able to disrupt things a bit sooner than wed thought."
Spock studied the science console, then looked up. "I believe Captain Scott is correct. A sufficiently large field impulse should be achievable soon."
"Then get it ready to go as quickly as possible, gentlemen. Can you imagine the havoc this thing could wreak in the Federation?"
Kirk received no response. Spock and Scott, each at his own console, began collaborating furiously.
Hours later, the Intruder hailed the Enterprise.
"Enterprise, I need the orbit of the planet Ive been working with."
Spock complied, transmitting the data wordlessly.
"Thank you. More needs done."
Kirk looked at Spock and Scott. "What progress have you made on neutralizing the Intruder, gentlemen?"
"It appears that the Intruder is moving toward us, presumably with the intent to refuel. Captain Scott and I will be ready to deal with the Intruder when the refueling is sufficiently under way. You will need to talk with the Intruder briefly, telling it that we need to make a minor adjustment to the Lemoyne-Briggs transformer, so that it is not suspicious when we fire."
Kirk nodded assent. Silently, the bridge crew watched as the Intruder moved toward the gas giant and began refueling.
After a few moments, Spock turned to Kirk. "We are ready, Captain."
"Uhura, intruder on audio."
"Intruder, we have observed that there is a minor, but growing instability in your Lemoyne-Briggs Transformer, caused by the trips through the wormhole and your effort at shifting the planets orbit. We have computed an adjustment that needs made."
"Understood. When will this be made?"
"Id recommend doing it immediately. We just wanted you to know what we were doing so you didnt think we were being hostile."
"Thank you. Please proceed."
Kirk looked at Spock, and nodded.
But before Spock could fire off the energy pulse, McCoy blurted out, "Spock! Dont! Youll kill her, and shes probably the last of her kind!" There was a look of sudden comprehension across his visage.
Spocks hand froze, millimeters from the control surface.
Kirk turned to the doctor. "Exactly what do you mean by that, Bones? Have you forgotten what this monster is capable of? What its done to some of the planets weve visited?"
"No, I havent. But how sure are we that its really devastated them? Remember all the desiccated tissue we found? Have you considered the possibility that its just restocking its supply of life forms?"
"Have you considered, Doctor," Spock interjected, "that we have only a brief window of time to launch the energy pulse to disable the Intruder?"
"How long, Spock?" Kirk asked, concerned about losing this chance to defeat the Intruder before it could contaminate an inhabited planet.
"Twelve point seven minutes."
"Jim, give me five minutes. If I cant convince you that thing is alive and friendly, you can let Spock blow it to kingdom come."
Kirks face registered obvious surprise. "Alive? Bones, that thing is umpteen teratonnes of trititanium. How can you call that alive?"
"Vger was alive, remember? Anyway, look at the asteroid belt, Spock. What does it look like the drones are doing?" McCoy said, appearing to evade Kirks question.
Spocks eyebrow raised. "It would appear that the drones are preparing to smelt the trititanium out of the asteroids, and build another ship like the Intruder."
Kirk looked at the ceiling of the bridge. "Great. Now its starting to build a fleet. All the more reason to destroy it, and the factory in the asteroid belt. Spock, fire."
The Vulcans hand hung limp at his side. "Doctor McCoy is right, Captain. The Intruder is reproducing. It has shown that it can transform energy and raw materials into useful materials for its own structure, as well as for the structure of offspring. Its download from the Enterprise has shown that it can learn, and adapt. It clearly can plan, make decisions. It is not only alive, Captain; it is clearly sentient. We cannot kill it."
Kirks hands tightened on the arms of his chair. "So we let it loose on the Federation? Biological weaponry, planet-ravaging tractors, orbit-shifting capacity and all? I dont recall hearing either of you complaining that it killed the Klingons in the Maevis system, and the Klingons are alive and intelligent."
"And hostile, Jim. Maybe weve misinterpreted the creature."
"With its talk of pursuing The Battle? With what its done to some of the planets weve found? Its ravaged their surfaces!"
"Its scoured areas of the surface free of life, Jim, but it left even larger areas untouched. Spock, look at the scans of the worlds its assaulted. Does it really look like the intruder has destroyed any ecosystems?"
There was silence for a moment as Spock ran through the records. "No, Doctor. Nor does it appear to have significantly damaged the biosphere of the planets involved. However, because of the radiation shielding of some of the drones, I cannot be certain of the nature of the biological entities left on the planet by..."
"Look, this debate is all very interesting," Kirk interjected, "But youre both ignoring this Battle the intruder keeps harping on. Did it occur to you that leaving a small amount of bacteria in strategic locations might take a couple of years to wipe out a planet?"
"Did it occur to anyone on the bridge that weve missed one big point in this whole picture?"
"Like what, Bones?"
"Like what is the nature of this Battle, Jim. What battle is it fighting?"
Kirk stared at McCoy for a moment, then looked away. "Okay, Bones. What do you think its up to?"
"Im not sure, either. Ive got an idea, but its ridiculous. Has anyone considered asking her?"
Kirk sighed. "I guess not. The Intruder probably wont tell us, anyhow, but I guess it cant hurt to ask. Uhura?"
The Intruders voice filled the bridge, again.
"Yes, Enterprise? Is there a difficulty with the repair you proposed to make?"
"Possibly. Were rechecking on that. While were doing that, could you tell us what you think youre doing here?"
"I would have thought it was obvious. I am shifting the orbit of what was once the fourth planet of this star system."
"To further The Battle."
Kirk gave McCoy a knowing look. "Right. What battle?"
"To seed the universe with life."
McCoy grinned at Kirk.
Kirk shook his head. "Thank you for the clarification, Intruder. Ive learned that theres been an error in our plan to repair the Lemoyne-Briggs. Please stand by, while we recompute."
"That will not be necessary, Enterprise."
On the viewscreen, the Lemoyne-Briggs transformer flared briefly.
Spock looked up from the science console. "It would appear that the Intruder has made the repairs itself, Captain. I believe we may have been being tested."
"I just hope we passed it. Intruder?"
"Yes, Enterprise. You have declared your intent, by not attempting to disrupt the transformer. We are allies in the Battle."
"Glad to hear it," Kirk replied. "I suppose, now that youve established that, we can go home?"
The tractor tethering the Enterprise to the gas giant disappeared.
"Goodbye. Others of our kind will come by to watch. We will wish to study you."
"They will be welcome."
The geyser of gas connecting the gas giant to the Intruder dropped back to the planet, and it began moving toward the planet again.
Kirk stared at the viewscreen in silence. He turned to Reichard. "Get us back to where we belong, Mister Reichard." He turned to face McCoy. "Good guess, Bones. Thank you."
"Oh, youre welcome, Jim. Im just glad youre the one thats going to have to explain to Commodore Brevan that we were hijacked by the mother of all Mother Ships."
"Well, it beats trying to tell him we were just taking a hike with a galactic Johnny Appleseed. Mister Reichard, get us out of here!"
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