“There!”, shouted Astro. “Look at the missing red paint on the nose.”
Alfie didn’t notice anything unusual. “So? What’s the big deal, Astro?”
“Don’t you see? There’s no debris from the crash. The nose looks like it came into contact with a sheet of beryllium steel, not a bunch of rocks.”
Tom agreed inwardly, but made no comment. The cadets continued looking carefully at each image. On image number three Tom stood up like he had just been hit with a bolt of electricity.
“Stop!”, he shouted. “Look there!”
The image was a general view of the crash area and contained little more than skid marks, nearby hills and a field of stars beyond the flash range.
Astro responded. “What is it that you’re seeing, Tom?”
Tom grabbed a pen from a pad and pointed to a star on the background of the image. “Look at this star!”. Moving the pen slightly lower, he pointed again. “Now look at this star.”
Astro carefully scanned the picture looking for a clue to Tom’s concern. “Sorry, buddy, but I think you’re space spooked. I just don’t see anything unusual.”
“They are the same star, Astro!”
Tom quickly pointed to eight other pairs of stars that were identical in horizontal position, but duplicated in a slightly shifted vertical position.
“There is something there, fellas. I don’t know what or how, but there is something there.”
Steve turned the communicator switch on and called the Einstein. In conference with Captain Takao and Mr. Taylor, Steve briefed them on Tom’s discovery. Hiroshi was amazed at the content of the report, but Mr. Taylor did not seem surprised at all. Mr. Taylor approached the camera and told Steve that he would take the discovery under advisement and make a recommendation after conferring with Dr. Dale and Professor Grayson.
As Mr. Taylor started to sign off, Tom asked, “Mr. Taylor, I have some ideas that I would like to pass along. May I do so and, if so, may I hear your evaluation of my ideas?”
Mr. Taylor nodded and told Tom, “Very well, cadet. I will examine your hypotheses and inform you upon the accuracy of your conclusions.”
“Yes, Sir! I will send them to you on the link in a few minutes.”
The ship’s captains continued their discussion as Tom climbed to the radar deck to use the automatic dictation transcriber to produce a written copy of Tom’s ideas. After a hurried dictation, Tom transmitted the material to Mr. Taylor in a private data package.
About an hour later, Alfie called through the intercom. “Captain, I have an incoming message for you from the Einstein.
“Very well, Alfie. Pipe it to me.”
Mr. Taylor, Professor Grayson and Doctor Dale appeared on the teleceiver screen. Joan spoke first.
“Captain Strong, it appears that we have company. Mr. Taylor does not believe that we will encounter any problems until we attempt to break orbit or try to leave the system.”
Professor Grayson joined in. “Captain, we have little choice in the matter. We all agree that we should leave the system as soon as possible. We have found large deposits of Compound X and one of the ships found a fully intact crystal that is over three feet long. Believe me that this discovery is very significant. There is such a high concentration of Compound X on One that we believe that we will be able to explore the other planets in this system at our leisure in the near future.”
“Captain Takao and I are preparing for a quick departure.”, said Mr. Taylor. “Should we be interrupted by the intruder, do not hesitate to give non tactical information on the radio communicator. I do not believe that secure communications are of value any more. We are being observed. Be prepared to take evasive actions but do not open fire unless fired upon or give the order by Captain Takao or myself.”
Steve was confused. How could he take evasive action or fire upon an enemy that he couldn’t even see? And what kind of enemy were they talking about? So far there had not been any overt action against either Solar Alliance ship.
He looked into the camera and asked, “Doctor Dale, do you agree with this plan?”
Joan responded quickly, “Captain, the danger is real and we must act fast. Do not worry about keeping your communication link. Just break orbit as fast as you can and rendezvous with us at the hyperdrive injection point. Dale out and clear.”
Steve was totally unprepared for such a shift in plans for the mission. As soon as the gravity of Joan’s statement was realized, he pressed the intercom switch. “All decks, now hear this! Prepare for emergency atomic rocket activation. We’re breaking orbit NOW!”
Astro had been reading some notes that Alfie had given him on quantum engineering, but as soon as he heard Steve’s orders, he reacted without hesitation. The huge cooling pumps began whining at a steadily increasing pitch and within seconds, he called, “Control deck, power deck ready for blast off. All tubes primed.”
Tom shouted from across the control deck, “Steve, the course is in the computer. We’re set here!”
“Sir, everything is clear on radar except for the Einstein. She’s starting to move now.”, reported Alfie.
“Okay men, stand by for rockets. Astro, give me full space speed for as long as we can stand it.”
Astro opened the reactant controls and the mighty engines of the Polaris roared inside the hull of the sleek ship. The acceleration forces continued to build and all four crewmen were pushed harder and harder into their chairs. Alfie had the least amount of space time of the three cadets and his small frame was not accustomed to such a long period of high g forces. He kept his head and adhered to everything he had learned in training. Despite suffering a severe nosebleed caused by the crushing forces on his nasal membranes, Alfie continued watching his scanner monitors. He could see the Einstein ahead of them by over five hundred miles and noted that the Polaris was not gaining on them. Takao’s ship was at full space speed and still accelerating. )
“How are you doing, Alfie?”, came Tom’s voice over the intercom.
“I’ve felt better, Tom. But let’s keep going. Einstein is still making rocket wash! Hold on....!”
Alfie watched as a new blip appeared on the long range scanner screen. It appeared just ahead of the Einstein and matched the large ship’s course and speed exactly.
“Captain Strong! The Einstein has been intercepted by another ship!”, shouted Alfie, excitedly. “She’s slowing down quickly!”
Steve looked at Tom as if he were asking for an opinion. Tom just shook his head and stared at the feed from Alfie’s monitor.
“All decks, prepare to decelerate.”, ordered Steve. “Tom, bring us up with the Einstein. If we need to change plans... be prepared.”
The distance between the Polaris and Einstein shrank quickly. Alfie continued to update the rest of the crew with relative position reports and recommendations for position. Tom thought that trying to come up on the intruder’s flank would give them an advantage and he began pulsing the steering rockets to bring the Polaris around to the port side of the Einstein.
As the cruiser approached within fifty miles, everyone on board was suddenly overcome by the sight that was before them. The intruder ship was immense. Fully four times as large as the Einstein, the ship had an odd appearance to it. It certainly did not look functional as a spacecraft. In fact, it was roughly shaped like an alien bird. Huge wing like structures extended out from the fuselage and were terminated with what appeared to be power units. The front of the power units were tipped with what could only be described as very lethal looking weaponry of an unknown type. The ship was painted in a light gray green color and had additional decorative, or perhaps unit markings in several areas. Though, not in position for a good view, it appeared that the undersurface of the ship was decorated as well.
As the Polaris assumed a position about five miles from the port side of the Einstein, Steve decided that this would be the time to break radio silence. “Polaris to Einstein, Captain Takao, do you need assistance?”
Takao’s voice came back quickly. “Please, not now, Captain. Stand by.”
Alfie’s voice came over the intercom, “Captain, there are radio transmissions coming from the intruder on space band channel eight forty five.” “See if you can lock us in, Alfie!”
“Sorry, Sir. All I’m getting is what seems like radio hash with what appears to be occasional garbled speech. No recognizable video signals on the radiospectrograph. Wait... standard communications signal coming from the Einstein, Sir. Patching it through now.”
The image of Mr. Taylor was being transmitted to the alien ship in standard Solar Alliance radio video format. Taylor was holding a small device in his hand as well as a small microphone attached to his lapel. He began addressing the intruder.
“To the Captain of the ship barring our passage, please state your intent.” There was no response.
“Captain, I know that you have had time to analyze our transmission format and that you can answer my inquiry. I repeat, what are your intentions?”
A few seconds passed and Alfie called, “Captain! New signal on standard duplex frequency. It’s coming from the intruder!”
An image slowly assembled itself from the noisy patchwork of signals. All four men on the Polaris watched in awe as a humanoid form took shape on the teleceiver. The being was obviously of the same race as the body that was found after the sabotage attempt on the Einstein, but he was wearing clothing that must have been a uniform because the other beings in the background were similarly dressed. Tom took note of the strange, metallic looking overlapping plates of about one inch in diameter that covered most of the alien’s clothing. He figured that it must be a form of ceremonial armor, similar to the chain mail used by knights and soldiers of the middle ages.
The figure held a small device in his hand that was exactly like the one found with the alien body in lunar orbit. He spoke into the plastic case.
“I am Commander Metak, Captain of the warship Chisau and representative of the Mother Race.
End Chapter - 17
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