"Captain to the bridge, repeating, Captain to the bridge." Captain Hendrik van Loon put on his uniform jacket, stepped into his personal turbolift and in seconds was on the bridge of the Peace Patrol battle cruiser PPC Spirit of Diemos. Lieutenant Cezanne saluted and said "There's an unidentified object traveling in our direction sir. It doesn't respond on any of the hailing frequencies." "Object visible on forward view screen, Lieutenant," said an Ensign on the helm console. A gray irregularly spherical shape appeared, pockmarked with craters and fissures.
"It appears to be an asteroid, Captain, possibly flung out of orbit," said the Lieutenant. "It would take a tremendous force to jar an object of that size loose from a planets gravitational pull." "Warp three, Ensign, let's investigate." "Warp Three, Aye Aye sir." As the Diemos approached, the asteroid slowed it's advance, finally coming to a stop.
"Weapons Officer." "Lieutenant Parker here, sir." "Ready forward disruptors and fusion missile launchers; target on object in forward view screen." "Weapons ready and targeted, sir." "Object moving again, sir, in our direction and accelerating." "Battle stations, fire forward disruptors." "Disruptors firing, no effect." "Launch missiles." "Missiles fired ... impact in seven seconds." Two massive plumes of dust and debris sprouted from the asteroids surface, but it came on.
"Collision imminent, sir." "Emergency acceleration, now!" "Prepare for collision." The battle cruiser shuddered as the asteroid struck it a glancing blow and moved off, gaining velocity as it went.
The Diemos had avoided destruction by a hairsbreadth, but it's drive tubes were smashed and she tumbled end over end until her steering jets were able to stabilize her. The incident was reported to Peace Patrol headquarters and space tugs were dispatched to tow the battle cruiser in for repairs.
The asteroid had vanished into the depths of space.
Rae, Jan, Sith and Pallas were at the kitchen table having breakfast. Pallas, of course, neither eating or sitting, but floating and enjoying the company.
"What do you call these things again?" Sith inquired, lifting a forkful of food into his fanged mouth.
"They're called Belgian Waffles," Jan answered, "With Maple Syrup." "These are quite good," Sith said, "I would like some more." "Coming right up," Jan replied, pressing the replicator's keypad.
The chime of an incoming holo call sent Pallas diving under the table just as the smiling, mustachioed face of Cedric Hyde-Mathis appeared.
"Good fortune all." "Good fortune, Cedric," the women chorused, Sith bared his fangs in greeting.
"What do you have for us today, Cedric?" Rae asked.
"A series of puzzling thefts have been occurring over the last four Universal months," Hyde-Mathis began. "To date, four Class IX Mining Barges and six fusion drive motors have been stolen from used spaceship dealers and Peace Patrol surplus yards on eight different planets in the Alpha Tauri B system.
"Between the dealers reward of 16 million Cr's and the standard Peace Patrol bounty of 20 million Cr's it amounts to a tidy sum. Would you be interested?" All three nodded and Pallas nudged Sith's leg in assent. "Forty percent of the total would be sufficient," Rae said.
"Done, all information available on the thefts and the stolen property are being tight beamed to you. Good fortune, all." "Good fortune, Cedric." The holo winked out.
"Sounds interesting," Jan said, "I'll run a system check on the 'Sunflower' and we can leave immediately.
Under the watchful eye of planetary defense units, the 'Sunflowe'r settled on the plastisteel landing stage of Peace Patrol Base 370 on Alpha Cen B III. Rae, Jan and Sith had many old friendships in both the Peace Patrol and the Galactic Consortium, so getting cooperation from them while on an assignment was never difficult.
Soon the three were seated in the office of the base commander, Pallas, as usual, remained behind. Rae had served under Commander McWilliams as a Lieutenant in the Peace Patrol and he greeted them warmly.
"It's been a while, Rae. You and your team have quite a reputation in the galaxy." "Commander, this is my cousin Jan and our partner, Sith. It has been, hasn't it?
"Drop the Commander, Rae, call me Mac. Jan, Sith, a pleasure to meet you." Jan smiled and Sith bared his fangs in greeting.
"I have the latest information on the thefts ready", he pressed a button on his chair arm, "I need that report chief." "Aye Aye, sir." The door opened and a feline humanoid strode into the room, his armband bore the rank of Chief Warrant Officer Four. His fur was brindle with a standard Peace Patrol carrybelt and sidearm around his waist.
Sith sprang to his feet and the CWO-4 stopped in his tracks. Both began a low moaning growl and approached each other, fur bristling. When they were face to face both intoned "Battle unto death", bared their fangs and then relaxed.
The humans were transfixed by this display, and then the CWO said, "I apologize for the interruption. Our clans have been enemies for hundreds of years since the Meadow Wars. We are bound by tradition to confront one another on sight, but we no longer engage in combat.
"I am Raglan of the Bloody Claw," he said to Sith.
"I am Sith of the Swift Leap," was the reply. They cuffed each other lightly and showed their fangs again.
"Here is the report, Commander," Raglan said calmly.
"Uh, thank you, Chief," the startled man replied, "Dismissed." "Aye Aye, sir," the being turned on his paw and left.
"I would like a word with Raglan when the briefing is over," Sith said to the Commander, "We are from neighboring dens." "Of course, now back to the subject at hand. The MO on all the thefts is similar, a late night break in, alarms deactivated, guard stunned unconscious, drive motor or barge gone and nothing else taken. It's quite odd." "This is obviously an organized operation," Rae said. "Any idea who might be behind it?" "We know it's not the Red Moon Brotherhood," Mac replied. "They're still disorganized thanks to you and your associates. There has been some unusual activity on Alpha Cen A VI, but nothing to warrant a visit." "Alpha Cen A VI?" Jan said, "I'm not familiar with that planet." "It was one of thousands colonized during the First Interregnum after the Flettner ion drive was developed. As you recall from your Galactic History chips; the angry, the disaffected, the adventurous, the crackpots, the cranks and their followers chartered or bought ships and set off from Old Earth and the Sol system to find habitable planets and create their own version of paradise.
"Cen IV was settled by the Anarcho-Revisionists. They have no central government as we know it, but a loosely connected ring of settlements around the planets equator where the weather's relatively benign. Ten Universal months ago rumor had it there was a move afoot to organize the settlements, and as usual they discussed it with bombs and bullets.
"Since they are not members of the Galactic Consortium, we were bound by law not to interfere. Things have settled down lately, so I presume they've settled their differences. Being reflexively xenophobic, they have minimal contact with outsiders except to import items they cannot manufacture and export Century Berries used to produce longevity serums. Traders and the inhabitants communicate by view screen and robots handle the loading and offloading." "And you suspect they are behind the thefts?" Sith asked.
"Yes. Trading activity has quadrupled as of late, much of it being arms dealers, explosive manufacturers, armorers, surplus warships and the like. On the surface, it would seem to indicate a war to the death between cities, but I'm not so sure." "Have you been able to locate the asteroid that attempted to ram the patrol cruiser?" Rae asked.
"Not a trace of it. It's a big galaxy out there." "Being able to control the direction of an asteroid that size would give anyone an unstoppable weapon," Jan mused. "It would be virtually impossible to destroy." "That's why we have to find it," Rae said emphatically. "Thanks for all your help, Comm ... Mac. We'll keep you posted on what we turn up."
"Welcome, my friends," Pallas said as the three entered the 'Sunflower's' hatch, "How went the meeting?" "Renewed an old friendship, Sith met a fellow from his home planet, a few leads and some possible suspects." "I took the liberty of accessing the Base computers," Pallas continued, "A report just came in that multiple ion trails were detected in the Rigel binary system. The area's off the route of most space liners and freighters. I wonder if that could be the asteroid under power." "It's worth a shot," Rae replied. "How long to the Rigel system Jan?" "Full warp, about two Universal Days." "Let's hit it."
Rigel's twin suns swam into view on the forward visiscreen as the 'Sunflower' dropped out of warp drive and reverted to magnetic propulsion, the drive tubes squeaking as they cooled in the absolute cold of space.
"I'm not detecting any ion drive trails," Jan said, "Maybe that report was in error." "They could have shut the engines down and are using the magno drive on the mining barges to maintain velocity," Sith replied, looking up from the communications console, "Now this is interesting. The Peace Patrol base we left is sending a tight beam report to the Patrol Headquarters satellite circling Rigel B. An insurrection has broken out on Cen IV and there's a planet wide battle going on." "Anarchy among the Anarchists," Rae said with a grin, "How can you restore order when there wasn't any to begin with?" "All they can do is watch for attacks on Consortium planets nearby," Sith said. "Now Patrol HQ is reporting to Consortium Central's satellite circling Rigel A. They must be concerned about planetary governmental instability in the Cen systems." "Or they might be looking for an excuse to interfere with the battle and gain some control of Cen IV," Jan added.
"I've detected traces of ion trails in the vicinity of Rigel B," Pallas announced. "The asteroid must be on the move." "What are they up to anyway?" Rae said angrily. "Five Universal minutes at full warp, Jan, let's catch this thing."