The alarm sounded frantic. Delfino, having punched in what felt like (and quite possibly was) the thousandth set of coordinates, was abruptly shaken from her mental glaze. It took a few seconds for her to interpret the readings, and another few to verbalise what she saw in front of her.
“Captain,” her bob of black hair whipped out as she spun around, “sensors show a massive subspace resonance buildup… It’s coming from the planet’s surface.”
Sreyler shot bolt upright, “Subspace resonance? There’s nothing on a pre-warp planet that could generate anything close to that.”
Lupulo strode around the railing from tactical, “Is it possible the ionising radiation is causing some kind of sensor error?”
“No sir,” Delfino replied quickly, “I’ve done my best to isolate from the interference. It’s unmistakable. That’s subspace distortion. Hold on, the resonance wave amplitude just spiked. It’s massive.”
Sreyler leapt up, joining Lupulo at the conn. Seeing the readings for herself, her heart skipped a beat, “That’s the largest subspace distortion I’ve ever seen.” She leaned in, bringing up the waveform on the control readout, “I’ve read about this before…”
“Read about what?” Lupulo’s usual deadpan delivery cracked at the edges.
Sreyler turned, looking back towards the master systems display, then to the deck. She folded her arms, taking a few steps towards the centre chair.
Another series of angry chitters sounded from the conn. Delfino silenced it, “Subspace in the vicinity is completely destabilising. If these waveforms get any bigger, the spacetime continuum is going to rip itself apart. Captain, I don’t think the warp engines can generate a stable field in these conditions. We’re stuck here.”
“There’s gonna be a shockwave,” Lupulo realised out loud, “Delfino can you get us out of range at impulse?”
“There’s no moving out of range of an omega shockwave,” Sreyler said. Now calm, she turned to face them again, “When that goes, half the sector goes with it. And all life on Gorman III.”
“Omega?” Lupulo looked at her as if she was speaking Klingon.
“Always thought it was just a rumour,” she laughed to herself, “I’ll tell ya later.”
“Sreyler what the hell-”
“No. Sit down, Lup,” she gripped the arms of the command chair after following her own instructions, “All hands, this is Captain Theb.”
The black clouds continued to converge, writhing and twisting around a focal point above the mammal army. The sky had darkened further into a foreboding dusk, illuminated by lightning flashes that grew more frequent. Felrak and Freyyn rode side by side. The hooves of their burden beasts beat down hard against dry earth pocked and trampled under a thousand war riders hurtling towards the enemy. The mammals had sighted them, hastily moving to reposition their troops and protect their flank.
A fierce wind whipped out as the reptiles gained ground. The burden beasts’ long nape hair flattened as they charged forward, and the riders instinctively lowered their heads to maintain speed.
“We’ve got the element of surprise, Wide-eyes!” Freyyn bellowed across to Felrak over the sound of thundering hooves, “We’ll take their flank!”
Felrak grunted, knuckles white from his grip on the reins. From an inner pocket of his cloak, the tricorder emitted a loud bleeping. He reached for it, sliding sideways as the burden beast broke its stride over a furrow in the ground.
“Steady, Wide-eyes!” Felrak heard from his left.
He flipped the tricorder open. Sure enough, the omega particle’s signature appeared dead ahead and closing. The subspace distortion readings were beyond the handheld device’s ability to measure. Instead of attempting, it flashed a deep crimson rectangle with a single word: Warning. A yellow dot began to move in on their position. Pocketing the tricorder, he craned his head to look behind. A solitary rider steadily approached. Like theirs, his head bowed against the wind, but this figure was nothing like those who rode ahead of him. His teeth were gritted, the curls in his beard flattened against his collar, and his hair blew out wildly behind him.
“Tursk!” Felrak roared despite being too far for the Tellarite to hear. A roll of thunder boomed over him as if to confirm this. Tursk raised a hand in response, driving the burden beast forward at a furious pace.
Freyyn turned too, “Your soldier should move quickly, lest one of mine thinks he’s a mammal.”
“Hah, he is a mammal,” Felrak yelled, “one of the good ones!”
“I’ll trust your judgement then, Wide-eyes.”
“A wise choice!” Tursk’s gruff bark came within earshot, “It’s good to see you, Captain.” He drew alongside Freyyn and Felrak, “They have the omega molecule.”
“They have it? How?” Was all Felrak could splutter.
“Don’t know. The signature’s moving with them. Shadowed them for two days,” Tursk’s voice came and went with the wind, “guess I got luckier with the transporter. Was going to check out their camp tonight, then you guys showed up.”
“Good thing we did,” called Freyyn, “those creatures would have devoured you on sight!”
“Oh, I wasn’t too worried,” Tursk shot back, pulling closer to Felrak. His brown coat billowed as he reached inside, presenting a type-2 phaser. He reached across, handing it to the Captain.
“Never have I been as glad to see one of these,” Felrak set the weapon to maximum stun.
Freyyn laughed, “He’s more prepared than you, Wide-eyes! I hope your weapons from the stars will be enough. Look.” He extended a claw ahead to where, in the centre of the massed mammal ranks, a wooden platform had been erected. It looked to be about the height of four people, allowing Felrak to glimpse it through the forest of lizard spears ahead. A lone soldier had climbed to the top, and he held above him a long staff. A halberd-like blade adorned its tip from which there emanated an intense glow. So bright was the light that Felrak was forced to look away as it bored into his retinas. The mammal grasped the lower end of the staff with both hands, raising it high above his head. Swirling clouds increased in speed and a lightning bolt sliced down through the air, connecting with the nascent orb. A colossal thunderclap followed, deafening them all.
“That staff!” Felrak cried, ears ringing, “I’ve seen another!”
Salatryx’s heart raced. On the second row of the column, he was close enough to feel his scales tingle with the static buildup before the lightning strike. His breath was loud in his ears, echoing against the metal helmet through which he peered. The light from the centre of the mammal army was only getting brighter. His burden beast whinnied.
“They harnessed the lightning?” An awed voice rose from the formation.
“Doesn’t matter!” The commander snapped, “We’re still going to smash them. GET READY!”
Salatryx gripped the staff tighter. They were almost upon the enemy. He flipped down the helmet visor and waited for the command.
“HUA-UH, HUA-UH, HUA-UH,” There came a steady, rhythmic chanting from the mammal lines. Positions fixed, the foot soldiers crouched behind body-length shields, their pikes raised and ready.
“Prepare for contact!” at last, the order came.
The front row of war riders lowered their lances, aiming them squarely towards the mammal front line some three hundred metres distant. The second row followed, then the third, then, “SOLDIER! LOWER YOUR LANCE!”
Salatryx looked up, eyes fixated on the metallic point of his weapon. It had seen countless battles. Passed down from generation to generation, it seemed only right to bring it with him rather than leave it mounted above the fireplace at home. There was a poetry to it. A weapon of old, dealing a crushing blow to the Gürm’s mortal foe. Now, he couldn’t look away. From the sharpened spike there came sparks, small at first. They were an electric blue, falling back harmlessly on the wind. They fell in groups, four, sixteen, then more than he could count. That was when the orb appeared. It was the size of an egg, hovering there above the point. Flares of light reached out from it like grasping fingers, as if it were absorbing its surroundings in order to grow. And grow it did. Before long it was the size of Salatryx’s head, then his torso, and then there was another almighty crack as if the planet itself had snapped in two. A stream of pure brilliance shot from the orb, arcing up over everything. It lit up the faces of the two armies from overhead. A second shot up simultaneously from the mammal on the platform, prompting cries of confusion and alarm. Salatryx finally tore his focus away from the orb. A giant, pulsating archway filled his entire field of vision. It towered over the battlefield; him at one end, the mammal at the other.
A pulse rippled out from where the two energy streams met. Salatryx followed it across the sky with his eyes. Nine balls of flame exploded in the distance. The airships; incinerated in an instant. He tried to move. He needed to move, but his burden beast had come to a halt and was now fixed to the ground. His own body, too, felt frozen in place
It was at that moment the war riders crashed into the mammals’ flank.
Freyyn’s large, dark eyes reflected the light that shone down from the arc above. It was as bright as the dawn and for a moment he was transfixed, “The Nurnalest…” he whispered.
“It’s a Tkon artefact,” Felrak yelled across to Tursk.
“HUA-UH, HUA-UH, HUA-UH.”
“Controlling omega? Didn’t think it was possible,” Tursk bellowed back.
“We’ve got to get to it!” Felrak’s eyes darted between the arc above and the war rider column, “They’ve engaged. Here’s our chance. Go!”
An orange beam shot from Tursk’s phaser, downing a mammal on the front line. Felrak followed suit, immediately opening up a break in the ranks as soldiers scattered. Though incapacitated, they fared much better than those facing down the war riders. Felrak heard the sickening crunch of hooves against shield and bone. He grimaced at the savagery of primitive warfare. Screams and guttural cries came from every direction as he and Tursk were enveloped in the fray. The mammals’ sweat was ascetic, mingling with the trampled ground. Tight-packed rows of soldiers were bowled over by charging burden beasts, though several well aimed pike thrusts toppled three lizard riders from their mounts. They were promptly set upon by the mammals who swung with clubs and hatchets. Reptillian blood spilled out across the cracked soil. Felrak looked down at the melee, at the crimson-soaked earth, and he felt a sudden dragging on his chest. Exhaustion washed over him, loosening his grip on the reins. He pitched forward as if caught in a breaking wave.
A cry from Tursk broke through the cacophony, “CAPTAIN!”
Felrak landed flat on his back. The lichens on his hand were drained of all colour, and he longed for the symbiotic embrace of the orbosh vines. A flash of fiery orange streaked past him, then another. A grunting face with a turned-up nose filled his vision, fangs bared, it snarled. With both hands, the porcine figure raised a spear high. The tip hung poised above Felrak’s torso. The Argosian’s eyes rolled back in their sockets.
Then, a thwack, a squeal and a thud. Felrak pulled his head up.
“I fear the worst is inevitable Wide-Eyes,” Freyyn sheathed a silver sabre, crouching down beside the fallen alien. He heaved Felrak up, pulling on a moss-covered arm now exposed by a torn cloak, “Our Nurnalest… Your omega… Our destruction is near.”
Lightning poured down from the sky. The solid mass of cloud was charred and dense, like a vast serpent it coiled ready to strike down at them. Thunderbolts intersected with the great arc, feeding it, surging a renewed intensity through the stark confluence of light. Tursk had continued on. There was a clear path towards the mammal on the raised platform. The mission was his now, and he could only hope that Freyyn had gotten Captain out of danger. Tursk kicked the burden beast, willing it to run. It whined in protest.
Just then, a blinding stroboscopic burst erupted from the platform. Tursk raised an arm to shield his eyes, and the rumbling started. He was too late. The ground shook beneath him. All around, the fires of battle were snuffed out by a gale of such immensity that metal shields were ripped from the arms of their bearers. Still, the mammal on the platform stood rooted in place. Yet larger tremors drilled through the earth. Tursk’s burden beast reared, and he held on without reason. His eyes watered and coarse particles of dust lashed his skin. Soon, he knew, the omega molecule would rend all of this apart at the subatomic level. There would be nothing left but dark matter scattered in the cosmic wind.
The armies began to flee in every direction. Knuckles white, it was all Tursk could to stay mounted, and his eyes were locked on the platform still. From his peripheral vision, however, something strange tore his attention away. Mammals and reptiles alike looked up into the maelstrom. Some tumbled over themselves as they ran, eyes cast skywards in confused panic. Tursk threw his own head back, and what he saw made the thumping of his Tellarite heart grow louder than the incredible roaring blare now permeating the battlefield.
Through the black clouds it came. A leviathan of grey metal, it peeked from the tempest from which it descended. A red glow followed, thrusting away the malevolent smoking vapours. Four blue threads cut through, their glow casting rolling shadows up against the boiling pitch above. Its belly plunged towards the ground, sparking thrusters flared left and right and blasting hot air below. The furious, resounding howl of propulsion systems shook the bones of any who remained. Barely concerned by the buffeting crosswinds, the vast hull hovered. Its ethereal form overshadowed all. Emblazoned boldly, the words bore down on them: U.S.S. Ahwahnee. NCC 71620.
A rush of calm overcame Tursk. The arcing omega energy continued to streak white hot between him and the ship above. Amongst the carnage of strewn weapons and scattered remnants of battle, he laughed.
Sparking ODN conduits, loose from their housings, came tumbling from between bulkheads. Inertial dampeners pushed their operating parameters, failing to prevent the jolting gravitational shear that made Sreyler feel like she’d left her stomach in orbit. Burning circuit residue had left a sooty streak across her cheek. She looked across to Lupulo who held on tight to the First Officer’s chair. His right cuff and uniform chest were singed from an overheated plasma manifold, and his eyes looked dead on at the viewer as the planet’s surface approached.
“Could have at least separated the saucer!” He yelled, voice reverberated along with the deck plating. Another EPS overload flared behind him.
“You know damn well there’s no time!” She shot back over the sound of several rapid fire extinguisher bursts, “Delfino, KEEP HER STEADY. Can you get a lock?”
The bridge rocked sideways, “This as steady as she’s gonna get,” Delfino’s tweaks to the thruster control computer had been slapdash to say the least. Compensating for erratic weather effects on a large disc-shaped starship was not something even bio-neural computers could do easily. Stuck with older isolinear systems, the Ahwahnee was doing all she could to fight the 100kph gusts, “three seconds until clear lock… Two…” a rising air current smashed into the dorsal saucer like an uppercut. Delfino gripped the conn to avoid flying out of her chair, “ONE!”
“Bridge to transporter room one,” Sreyler heaved herself off the deck and back into the centre seat, “do you have them?!”
“Affirmative, ma’am. The Captain and Commander Tursk are here. Receiving medical attention now.”
“Safely aboard, in the containment unit.”
Sreyler’s eyes closed for a split second. She closed the channel, “OK now CLIMB!”
Like an Ahwanheechee gelding of old, the Cheyenne-class bucked its nose up to the heavens. The exit trajectory was set, and the thrusters engaged. Remnants of those malicious clouds, already beginning to disperse, were forced apart in the light cruiser’s wake as it built up the speed it needed to clear the atmosphere.
Duranium glowed orange, then white, until cooling finally in the welcome void of space.
From the ground, Freyyn covered his ears as the sonic boom ricocheted off the mountains over which he’d travelled. It would be a long journey home, he thought to himself. The Nurnalest, along with the mammals who’d channeled it, were gone. The latter were driven away with ease, unable to hide behind the shock and awe of a weapon they did not understand. Alas, gone too were Wide-eyes and his hairy friend. He’d had much to discuss with that strange being. Freyyn marveled at how the fellow had dematerialised before his very eyes. Such unfathomable power.
Perhaps, though, it was not beyond reach. He wondered if the Gürm too might one day reach out from their world. They would be free of these conflicts; these meagre squabbles. They might join this galactic Federation of planets on their road to the stars.
He turned to Salatryx, who still held the lance in his hand. Perhaps, he pondered, the road was shorter than he thought.