"Okay then," Derek said. "Maria, remove the barrier. Let's see Earth."
There was no movement on her part. No gesture, no wave of the hand, the Earth simply changed in front of them. The once empty planet now revealed hundreds of Pri'Tan warships in orbit, along with the wreckage of numerous Earth vessels. Most land areas were smoldering, and a scan of the cities showed chaos and panic. What remaining population had not managed to escape into hiding underground was being rounded up and corralled into detention areas. Those who refused were tortured and killed.
There was a dead silence as the crew took this in.
Sandor was finally able to speak. "If we can see the Pri'Tan, they can probably see us."
"They have always known we were here," Maria said. "We were no threat to them as long as they remained hidden. Now, however..."
Two of the Pri'Tan ships broke off from the rest and began heading towards the Yamato.
"They'll be in range in 4 minutes," Eager announced.
"Which means we are already in their range," Derek said. "If they were going to attack, they would have done so."
"Incoming message, Wildstar." Homer flipped a switch and the image came onto the main screen.
Derek stood and saluted. "Good to see you, Commander."
Commander Singleton looked down on the bridge crew. "Commodore Wildstar, you have no idea how relieved we all are to see you. I am sure I don't need to tell you what has happened here since you left Earth."
"We are looking at it now, Commander. It's not a pretty sight."
"How is Yamato and her crew?"
"We still live on, Commander. We still fight on."
"Good to hear, Wildstar. I hope you have a -" The image was cut off, then replaced by the face of a Pri'Tan.
"Yesssss, good to hear, Wildstar. I would rather my prey be strong enough to fight. There is no pleasure in a mercy killing."
Derek was nonplussed by the posturing. "To whom do I owe the honor?"
Derek looked down to Homer. "Was that his name, or did he just sneeze?"
Vrlikk didn't find it as funny as Homer did. "Consider yourselves lucky I have orders not to fire, human."
"Really? Who is pulling your strings this time?"
"My orders come directly from King Lan-Sha'Nath himself."
"I see. That is indeed an honor! We've apparently made quite a name if the King himself is giving the orders. Or perhaps his generals are just too stupid to think on their own?" Derek sat down, making sure to show his amusement.
"You dare..." The screen went blank.
Derek looked to Sandor. "Now."
Sandor flipped a switch, and the ship was covered in a white reflective coating. The incoming blasts from the two Pri'Tan ships were reflected back, vaporizing them.
"Nice," Derek said.
"Too bad we don't have the power to maintain that shield indefinitely," Sandor said as he shut the coating off.
"It does come in handy in a pinch though," Derek mused.
"Incoming transmission, Wildstar. This one's from the King himself."
"Saw that coming. Put it on, Homer."
King Lan-Sha'Nath appeared. He was seated on a decorated throne, flanked by guards.
"Hello again, Lanis," Derek said as he stood up. "Sorry about the mess we left in your throne room, but we had other places to be."
A snicker, followed by, "You shall address me as King Lan-Sha'Nath, human."
"Fine, fine, have it your way King. So where are you hiding? I have to say I am surprised to find the Earth is still here. All this talk and yet here we still sit on opposite sides of a viewscreen. Perhaps you're not as mighty as you would like us to believe?"
"Fool. I merely wanted you present when I destroy your world. First, I must ensure you can no longer interfere! Behold, the swarm!" He turned to face something off the viewer, and shouted, "Polistes, attack!"
"Wildstar!" Eager shouted. "Hundreds – no, thousands of ships coming out of warp! Looks like someone kicked over a beehive!"
The main viewer changed to a tactical display, showing their position quickly being surrounded by an enemy fleet.
Derek slammed his communications panel. "Everyone, brace for attack! All gun stations, go! Black Tigers, take-off!"
A response from one of the gunnery units came almost immediately: "They're way too fast for us to hit them!"
Sandor was studying data coming in from the radar. "They're unmanned craft, very fast. The weapons on each one aren't that powerful, but if they attack in a large group they could pick us off a section at a time and there's nothing we can do about it. Our planes won't be able to keep up with them."
"Wow! Something big's comin' out of warp!" Eager hit a switch and the viewscreen changed.
"What … IS that?" Derek's jaw dropped.
A large cylindrical object appeared through a warp-gate and floated towards the Earth.
"Whatever it is, it's the size of the moon!" Eager was trying to make sense of his screen. "I can't get any data on it, but if it hits the Earth..."
"Wildstar, look!" Sandor was pointing at the object, which was changing shape. The sides were opening up to reveal large claws and legs, and the back curled over on itself to form a tail.
Derek was almost at a loss for words. "A giant scorpion? That's what they throw at us?" He looked to Eager. "How about now? Anything?"
"Nothin'. I can't tell what's a weapon and what's an engine on that thing."
"Okay then. Until we know what we're up against, I say we avoid it."
"Might be too late for that!" Kitano shouted. A large energy beam, emanating from the stinger on the tail, was heading right for them. Sandor hit the reflector shield just as the beam hit, but the force of the blast sent the Yamato spinning out of control.
"Get control back!" Derek shouted, picking himself up from the floor.
"The shield was able to protect us from most of it, but it won't work a second time!" Sandor yelled. "The relays are completely burnt out!"
Homer dragged himself back to his chair and began reading his screens. "Engine room reports main engine is out!"
"Any more good news?"
"Side turrets are being knocked out by the swarm!"
Two thoughts were running through Derek's mind – they would either be blasted to dust by the scorpion or picked off a piece at a time by the smaller ships. "Maria, get us away from that scorpion. If it opens up again -"
Eager interrupted. "Something else is coming out of warp, heading right for us!"
There was a thud as the ship shook, then everything outside went dark. Derek suddenly had the uneasy feeling of going to warp. He looked down at Nova, who was smacking her radar globes in an attempt to clear the static. He then looked over the rest of the bridge.
"Looks like we're inside a Gatlantean dreadnaught," Sandor said. "They must have scooped us up without even stopping."
"Nice precision flying there," Derek said. "Remind me to give the pilot a medal of some sort. Homer, see who's in charge of the ship, I want to speak to him."
"Right away, Wildstar."
The viewscreen lit up, and the face of Emperor Dorzal appeared. "Greetings, Commodore Wildstar. You are inside my royal flagship, Arishna's Hand."
"Thank you for the rescue, Emperor," Derek said, wiping his brow. "I wasn't expecting you to get involved."
"You have friends in high places it seems," the Emperor said with a smile. "She was quite convincing. I will meet you outside your ship shortly." The screen went dark.
"Okay then," Derek said, stepping towards the elevator. "Repairs, casualties, you guys know the drill. I've got a meeting with royalty."
"So what did Trelaina say?" Derek asked. Emperor Dorzal led Derek down a hallway, followed by an entourage of guards and technicians.
"Many things, but the most important was that I had a chance to end this war once and for all. The only condition was that I had to ally with the Earth to do it. I will succeed where my mother and... brother... failed."
"What's your plan?"
"Originally, we only had one option - to open up with everything we have. According to Trelaina, your ship plays an important role. You have to be the one to make the final blow. She could not get into specifics about why, just that it was crucial. Does this make sense to you?"
"I can't recall the last time anything made sense, Emperor, but that hasn't stopped me."
"Spoken like a true leader," Dorzal laughed. "I am going to turn this over to Uoris, our head engineer. He has an idea that may work, crazy as it sounds. I have to order some fleet movements to prepare for our final encounter." He bowed his head and left with his body guards.
"Good to meet you, Commodore Wildstar," Uoris extended his hand. "If this is to work we must get started now, as your ship will require some extensive modifications."
"Wait, modifications? What kind of modifications?"
"When you were on board the Brachtu, your ship was scanned for its technological capabilities. Threat assessment, you understand."
"We have some intel on those tiny ships that attacked you. They are much too fast for conventional weapons. By the time you could move into range, they could change direction, be behind you, and destroy you before you could get off a shot."
"Exactly what I was thinking. Do you have any ideas how we can defend against that?"
"Perhaps an indirect attack would be better. You have a shielding system that can be adapted to various situations."
"Well, yes, but it's still largely experimental, and thanks to whatever it is that hit us, non-functional."
"I believe we can use that to generate a plasma field around your ship that will make you impervious to the swarm's attack. You're familiar with the shield on Zordar's Battle Comet?"
"VERY familiar. We lost a lot of ships to that damn thing," Derek said.
"Imagine a smaller version installed on your ship. You could ram your way through an entire fleet without taking any damage at all. The gravitational vortex field would pull in the swarmer ships like a black hole."
One of the other techs broke in. "There is a risk though! Such a shield would require an enormous amount of power! Probably more than your ship's engines are capable of generating."
Derek felt that familiar, almost annoying, prodding in the back of his mind. He smiled. "Gentlemen, power should not be a problem. I'll introduce you to Sandor; you can work out the specifics with him."Captain's Quarters, 0230 Hours
"The modifications are going smoothly, Wildstar," Sandor reported. "We'll be able to return to Earth within six hours."
"Good to hear, Sandor, thank you." Derek flipped off the communicator and walked back to his bed.
"What guarantee do we have that they aren't already tearing the Earth to pieces?" Nova asked.
"The King is proud and arrogant. He wants us to see him do it, or else it holds no meaning. It's the only reason he hasn't already killed us all. He has the means and the firepower to do it ten times over, yet here we are."
"Yes. Here we are." Out of habit, Nova turned to stare out the large domed window on their quarters, but all she could see was the inside of the Arishna's Hand. "I can't wait to go home."
"If this works, we'll be home soon."
"I can have our baby on Earth." Nova was smiling as she nodded off.
"And we can rebuild everything all over again," Derek mumbled.