Part 1

Captain Kane, a medium sized man with brown hair and a plain face, walked onto his bridge. Despite "normal" protocol, no one came to attention or called "captain on the bridge." He had long since decided that his ego didn't need inflating, and removed those particular traditions from his bridge. The bridge was sparse, and utilitarian, but the air was fresh, and clean despite the age of the recyclers. The deck was worn, and the seats a little threadbare. The consoles were all flat, and made out of durable old technology instead of the newer holo-imagery that a capital ship might have. He looked at the forward view screen, a large square that filled the entire forward wall, and displayed information for his perusal, either the status of his ship or anything else he wanted thrown on it. The survey of the system was nearly complete. Right now it showed the reports for each department, how far along they were in recharting the system. The sensor officer, who doubled as the science officer, was finishing the analysis of the anomaly.

His hands flew over his console as he shifted from one screen to another, pushing the sensors to their utmost in an effort to get more information. His hands didn't stop; he stayed staring intently at his console when the captain walked up and leaned over his shoulder. His voice was an odd amalgamation of excitement with his work, boredom, and disinterest in his conversation. He was not a normal man, interested mainly in the science portion of his job, making him perfect for an exploration class vessel. He began to tell Captain Kane of his findings. "It looks almost like a starlane captain, but there is something odd about it. My normal scans don't register it, only the new inter-space scanner. As far as I can tell, it only punches INTO the normal space barrier, riding along the inside of it, as opposed to being on this side or the other side," Lieutenant Goodridge said.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Ever heard of the pre-space wormhole theory sir?"

"No, I ha-wait, the one where a starlane like "tunnel" connects two points in space, even across the galaxy?"

"Precisely captain. I think that's what we're looking at here. Unlike a starlane, rather than tunneling through otherspace, it tunnels through normal space. Because of that, an otherspace scanner just can't register it. Also, a normal space scanner doesn't register it because it doesn't occur in normal space. The only place you can see it, is at its terminus, and only if you are looking at the inter-space barrier, like we are."

"Can you send a probe through?"

Commander Kirk, the first officer who doubled as the tactical officer, spoke up, "I'd recommend against doing that captain."


"For all we know, the Antarans are on the other side. We don't want to risk a war with them. I'd recommend we place some scanner buoys and get out, let high command make the decisions."

The science officer frowned. "Commander Kirk, we can send a stealth probe through, would that solve your problem? I doubt it could end up anywhere near Antaran space anyway. It's headed in the wrong direction. My scans indicate that it probably ends on the far side of the galaxy."

"I don't care if the Commander cares for your idea Lieutenant. We'll proceed with the stealth probe."

"Captain! That's-"

"I said we would proceed with the stealth probe." Kane straightened out, and turned his head to face Kirk, his expression severe. That issue is not up for discussion. Don't push it." His voice turned soft, "you were sent out here for a reason." The captain didn't complete that thought. He didn't need to. Kirk knew that if he pushed it, he might end up executed.

"Of course sir, I didn't mean to-"

"Commander, I said don't push it. Close your rotten mouth, and go back to the inventory I asked you for. Or are you incapable of that task? Or, perhaps you feel it's beneath you?"

"No sir! I'll get it to you right away!"

"I want it on my desk five minutes ago." Kane snapped, eyes angry, his voice beating the seemingly confident Kirk back, in the already familiar scene. "And when you're finished, help Ensign Kelvor with the shuttle bay maintenance. And since she needs practice commanding, why don't you let her act as your superior?" The last part wasn't a question, and the Commander knew it.

"Right away sir." Kirk replied, cowed.

"Good. Now, go."

"Lieutenant Goodridge. Is the stealth probe ready?"

"Yes sir, I can launch on-" An alarm on his console wailed, interrupting him. "Captain! I'm registering three warships, incoming through the wormhole. ETA uncertain. I'm reading a scan error captain, this can't be right."

"Just a moment Goodridge. Commander Kirk, belay my prior orders. Go help Ensign Apoc with his weapons array now. And since he needs practice as a leader, follow his orders. Should we go to general quarters, remain there and take his orders." The captain turned back to his sensor officer. "What do you read?"

"According to these scans, they're two and a half times larger than an Archer class missile boat."

"You're right. The archers are our largest super dreadnoughts; those babies can't be larger. Re-calibrate your scans."

"Already done Captain. You're not going to like this. I'd say they are larger than the Archers. Maybe four times as large. They're leviathans captain." A beeping sound distracted the Lieutenant. His voice suddenly took on a much sharper edge, but remained relatively calm. "Ah HELL! Captain, I'm reading weapons hot! Repeat, the incomings have weapons hot. Their shields are at standby. I've got the analyses of them captain."

"Put it on view screen." Captain Kane studied the forward viewscreen, and paled. The computer showed listings of each weapon and it's firing arc. The list was enormous. The incoming ships were not only come in at battle readiness, they also had the firepower to blow the crust off of a planet. The computer also gave a less detailed reading on their defenses, and some of their combat peripherals. It looked like their shields were massive, but they seemed almost crude. In a small corner the computer showed an outline of the incoming ships, and their lines were simple, flowing almost organically from one part to the next. Because of its size, individual weapons were too small to be seen, but he knew they were there. "Those three ships have more firepower than the entire home fleet! At least it's almost entirely in close range beams, and it looks like they sacrifice speed for it. I'd hate to have to engage at point blank." He addressed the con, the officer who flew the ship. "Con, back us off from the wormhole. Put us at the outer edge of our missile range. All hands, battlestations." Kane glanced at the tactical station, saw Kirk there, and glowered. "KIRK! I thought I sent you to Ensign Apoc!"

"I was finishing the Inventory-"

"I SAID go to Ensign Apoc NOW. I didn't say finish your inventory analyses! Now, get MOVING. I want our beam cluster up yesterday! And Apoc is in command down there!" Turning away from Kirk, Kane began to bark orders to everyone else. Captain to Lieutenant Armstrong! To the bridge, you're handling tactical! Sensor do you recognize the architecture? Can you get a read on their ETA?"

"I don't recognize it, but the computer might. It looks like maybe four more minutes. I'm not certain. Computer recognizes them captain! They're- " Goodridge stopped, mid-sentence.

"Goodridge?" The captain glanced over, and then stared. The normally unflappable Goodridge was staring at his console, pale, and slack-jawed. Kane asked softly, "What's wrong?"

"They seem to be..." Goodridge swallowed. "They seem to be Ithkul sir. The harvesters." Except for the alarms, all was silent. The Ithkul were creatures of legend, if they could even be considered legends. They were barely myth, just whispers and data on chips that had crossed half the galaxy. No one in the area knew of them, no one wanted to. If the rumors were true, they were implacably hostile, evil, and aggressive. To the best of his limited knowledge, no one had ever even spoken with them.

"Confirm that." Kane swiftly threw himself into his command seat with a speed which would have been called running, had there been enough room. He swiveled it to face his Con officer. "Con, get us to the starlane heading away from home, now. We have to lead them away from New Terra until defenses can be mobilized."

"Confirmed sir! Harvesters!" Lieutenant Goodridge barked out.

"Communications launch a stealth courier towards Terra. The message will read as follows. 'From Captain Kane, CO Ajax, Hull number 932041, a cruiser sized missile armed scout. To first admiral Sencho. As of this date and time-insert current d and t-I have a confirmed reading of three Ithkul warships, leviathan sized approaching the Sirius system via recently discovered wormhole. Weapons load out and analyses appended-Goodridge, transfer your readings and analyses to communications-and am attempting to lead them away from home on the outbound warp point of the Braska system. Will lead them to the Kapla system via the Woo system. That makes my course Braska-Yevon-Woo-Kapla. ETA-con, work that out-suggest having as many reinforcements as possible. Request confirmation of unofficial offer made before launch of current mission, if confirmed, I accept. Got that communications?"

"Yes sir! Drone loaded and ready for launch, all inserts inserted, appended data from sensors."

"Launch. Tactical, what are the odds of the Ithkul seeing the probe?"

"Slim sir. Assuming sensors roughly 10 times as sensitive as our own, 1% chance, assuming anything less they can't read it. It will almost be in the starlane by the time they arrive."

"Good. Con, time to starlane?"

"Two minutes sir."

"Sensors, time to Ithkul arrival?"

"Three sir."

"Cut engines two and five, make it look like an overload. I want us to enter the starlane shortly after they arrive, without hanging around here one second longer than necessary. They have to see us retreat into the starlane or they can't follow us. Since they are so beam heavy, we should be able to stay out of range of their main guns."

"Aye aye sir!"

"Alright ladies and gentlemen. Stand by for combat. I doubt they'll try to engage, but they do have three missile launchers amongst them, so they may try to catch us despite the futility of the effort. Raise shields, bring point defense on line. Configure the laser cluster for point defense mode. Sensors, countdown."

"One minute. Half a minute. 10 Seconds. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1... Emergence! All sensor reading confirmed sir! Three leviathans, and their shields are up and weapons hot, just as long range scans indicated! They've detected us sir! Reading missile fire! Transferring missile trajectories to tactical."

"Return fire! All missile batteries, open fire!"

"Time to starlane 30 seconds!"

"Point defense engaging missiles! First volley wiped out. Second volley incoming. Targeting. One missile broke through point defense screen! Some kind of new ECM! Third volley launched, bird from second inbound! I can't stop her captain! PD not able to engage!"

"Con, bring us about long enough to give us a broadside on that bird."

"Bringing broadside PD to bear... bird survived looks like it was shielded. Impact in 5, 4-"

"All hands, brace for impact!"

The Ajax shuddered under the impact, as though some god had hit her.

"Shields down! Failure on engines 1, 3, and 4! Direct hit on laser cluster 3... looks like Apoc's entire cluster was wiped out. Time to wormhole 30 seconds! Shall I bring engines 2 and 5 back online?"

"Negative! We don't want them to realize we are leading them!"

"Third flight incoming sir! Two of them are of the super bird! Impact in roughly 25 seconds!"

"Oh hell! Fire missiles between enemy birds and us, configure to blind enemy birds or interfere with their engines. Bring us about and fire when ready."

"Weapons away! Detonation... the super birds lost lock for a few seconds captain!"

"Wormhole in..."

Simultaneously "Impact in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, impact!"

The ship shook again, but his time with the effect of the starlane. Pure Hell-fire licked the rear of the ship as the incoming missiles proximity fused warheads detonated, but the wormhole sucked the ship in faster than the speed of light, whereas the missile-fire, being outside the starlane interface's power, moved at the speed of light. They had survived... for now.