"Intergalactic anomaly detected; velocity near Warp Factor Seven. Cluster of similarly shaped asteroids in close proximity to each other; does not conform to existing laws of physics. Do you wish to investigate, Rae?"
"What's the projected course, Daisy?"
"A moment ... currently entering Galactic Quadrant 415-Bravo-12-N ... will intersect Star System Kilo Lima 789-32G ... Red Dwarf, seven planets, all uninhabited due to intense radiation bands ... in eighteen Universal Minutes."
Rae Arizona was alone on the bridge of the 'Sunflower', talking with it's guidance/defense computer while the other members of her fugitive capture team were otherwise occupied in their various compartments.
Sith, the feline humanoid was sleeping, her cousin Jan was playing a game of Escher Chess with Pallas the cybernetic brain and Tassa and Malla, they of the molecular vibration abilities, were absorbing solar radiation in their specially designed compartment. Being photosynthetic, they required neither air nor food, only sunlight to function; when in darkness for extended periods, they estivated.
They were returning to their home planet of Arcturus II after successfully capturing a pair of octopod fugitives from Fomalhaut IX accused of trafficking in genetically inferior egg sacs; a capital offense on their home planet.
Pejoratively referred to as 'bounty hunters', they accepted assignments that suited them from Cedric Hyde-Mathis, Director of Cosmic Retrievers LTD, the most respected and feared fugitive pursuit organization in the Galaxy (Motto: 'We capture your fugitive or double your credits back'; they seldom failed).
"Match it's velocity, Daisy. I've never seen an asteroid swarm that tightly grouped. I'm curious as to what their effect will be on that star system."
"Fifteen UM's to intersection, velocity increasing ... Warp Factor Nine ... our engines are nearing warp limit ... three minutes to intersection..."
"Jan, you may want to see this," Rae said into her communicator implant.
A moment later she appeared "What's up, Rae?"
"An unusual asteroid swarm is approaching an uninhabited planetary system, I'm curious to see what effect it will have on it. I thought you'd be interested."
"I certainly am. Can you put it up on the main viewscreen in full magnification, Daisy?"
"Done, one UM to intersection ... thirty seconds ... swarm reaching Warp 10 ... intersecting ... now."
The women watched as the swarm merged with the solar system, passed through and continued on, seemingly having no effect.
"Well, that was a non-event," Rae began, "Anubis' Fangs! Look at that! What's happening?"
One by one the planets were winking out like snuffed candle flames until they were gone. The red dwarf flared, and then receded.
"It would appear to be a form of molecular disruption, the same principle as your sidearm, Jan, only on a yet unobserved scale." Pallas said, his spherical shell floating beside them.
"Daisy," Rae barked, "Tight beam those images to Galactic Consortium HQ pronto and copy the Peace Patrol."
"I've never seen anything like that before," Jan said with awe in her voice. "Those planets were swept away like so much dust."
"Swarm is reducing velocity to Warp Five," Daisy announced. "Shall we pursue, Rae?"
"Definitely, we need to see where that mess of rocks is going. If that swarm impacts an inhabited system, millions of lives would be lost in a second. Keep a safe distance; we don't want to be vaporized too."
Staying at the outer limit of the asteroid swarm, the 'Sunflower' kept pace as Rae and the others attempted to determine how the asteroids were guided and propelled. There was no doubt the swarm wasn't a naturally occurring phenomena, but where had it come from, what was it's purpose and where was it going?
Pallas decided to take a closer look, exited through his specially designed hatch and hurtled away encased in his round shell of annealed Impervium. "These are not asteroids," it's toneless voice said from the visiscreen's speaker system, "They are comparatively uniform in shape and are constructed of some metallic alloy I cannot identify. I detect bands of magnetic force emanating from them that keeps them in formation. They are using a form of plasma drive that resembles the early Johannes Thrust Motors that drove the first interstellar exploration craft."
"Any signs of beings aboard, Pallas," Rae said.
"Not as such, however I am detecting flickers of consciousness. There is sentient life aboard in a quiescent state. Possibly some calamity has befallen them. Shall I attempt entry?"
"Hold on until we get there, Daisy, set us down on that lead ship."
"CV 'Sunflower', this is PPBV 'Spirit of Scorpio' calling CV 'Sunflower', over."
"PPVB 'Scorpio'", Jan replied, "We read you loud and clear, over."
"This is Vice Admiral Warbringer speaking," his image flashed on the viewscreen, "Much obliged for your warning us of this menace. We're here to deal with it."
"Isn't that 'Hot Jets' Warbringer?" Sith asked who, roused from his slumber by the commotion, had padded out to join them.
"The same," Rae said with a sigh, "Of all the people to send on this mission HQ chose him. He's a typical Centaurian; tough, fearless and tenacious, but he has a head like tube lining and is stubborn as an Urze-Beast. We could have used someone with a lot more negotiating skills seeing that we may have encountered a new life form."
"You are advised to stand clear of the target, 'Sunflower', we are prepared to deal with it."
"In what way?" Jan replied.
"We intend to destroy it, of course. Heave to and you won't be caught in the blast wave."
"Admiral, this is Rae Arizona, could you hold off for a while until we board the lead ship. We've detected a possible life form aboard. We may be able to communicate with it and divert the swarm before it does any damage to inhabited worlds."
"My orders are to deal with this menace as I see fit, Ms. Arizona. I intend to destroy it not make friends with it."
"If you could just give us an hour or so..."
The Admiral frowned, his scaly face crinkling "I thought I recognized your name. You were a Commander in the Patrol were you not?"
"That's right, I was. Now if you..."
"Did you not resign your commission after an inquiry regarding insubordination to a superior officer?"
"That thickheaded fool Barnes would have led the entire squadron down the barrels of those heat cannons on Betelgeuse IV if I hadn't..."
"Enough, I will not take the advice of a disgraced ex-Patrol officer. Now heave to or suffer the consequences."
"The swarm is armed with a disintegration weapon of undetermined power and range, Admiral," Jan broke in. "An attack may activate it."
"More advice," the Admiral sneered. "Nothing can stand before a Nebula Class Space Dreadnought. Now heave to and get out of the way, Warbringer out."
"Ol' 'Hot Jets' at his finest," Rae groaned. "If he's not careful, he and seven hundred crewmen are gonna be space dust."
"He's maneuvering for a head on attack," Sith said as they watched the viewscreen. The Nucleonic Projector ports are open as well as the Anti-Matter torpedo tubes. He's giving the swarm a full broadside."
A flash filled the viewscreen as the dreadnought fired all weapons, then nothing. The swarm was unaffected. The 'Scorpio' fired a second volley, again with no effect.
A purplish ray sprang from the swarm's lead ship slicing the 'Scorpio's' bow drive tubes off as a hot knife through butter. Another removed her bank of stern drive tubes, sending the huge craft tumbling lazily as her steering jets flared trying to regain control.
"It shot to protect itself, not to kill," Jan said, "It could have carved that beauty up like a haunch of Nauropd, but it didn't. Who or what's in that ship anyway?"
"Now that 'Hot Jets' has other things on his mind, let's go see," Rae replied. "Set 'er down, Daisy."
"I didn't want to use the Atomic Burner, but I could find no entry hatch," Sith said lowering the weapon and looking at a neat hole large enough to walk through in the hull of the alien ship.
"I guess we should have knocked first," Rae drawled, adjusting her gun belt that carried her replica Colt .44 Positron pistols. "Let's see who's at home. Watch the place, Daisy, we're all going in."
"Do you wish us to go on ahead?" Malla twittered, her 91cm body a barely visible blur. She and Tassa were fully charged and ready for action.
"Go ahead, but be careful," Jan said. "We don't know what we're up against here."
"We will," Tassa replied as they sped off in opposite directions in the dimly lit corridor.
"Did you hear that?" Sith said, pointed ears twitching, "It sounded like metal scraping against metal."
"Maybe it's the reception committee," Rae said, drawing her pistols.
A section of the corridor wall slid open and a metallic monstrosity emerged, riding on linked treads, segmented arms flailing. Rae and Jan were knocked sprawling as Sith blazed away at it with his machine pistol, the depleted Plutonium shells exploding inside the machine as Pallas smashed through it and it crumbled to the floor, hissing and smoking.
"Nice pets these people have," Rae quipped, as Sith helped she and Jan to their feet. "I wonder if there are more of those horrors around."
"We've found the control room," Tassa's voice said in her ear. "Wait until you see this."
Seven beings were seated in contoured chairs facing consoles covered with buttons, toggles and a display panel, each of them encased in a protective bubble that shimmered and flowed as water in a stream. The consoles were arrayed in a 'V' shape like an arrow pointing at a darkened bank of display screens set in the cabin wall.
Their bodies resembled a baby elephant, barrel shaped with stumpy legs, but there were clusters of tentacles where the forelegs would be. Their heads were spherical with faces reminiscent of a manatee or dugong. Their small black eyes shone with the glow of intelligence which, by the sophistication of their space craft, was of a high order.
"They appear to be in a trance," Sith said. "Yet I thought I saw their eyes moving. How do we awaken them?"
"There is no need," a voice burbled, "I shall awaken momentarily."
The bubble encasing the being at a console located at the tip of the 'arrow' burst into sparkling fragments. The being arose, stretching its legs and tentacles, and then turned to face Rae and the others.