Stupid might be more appropriate as it looked
like a warship even at a glance. Military mentality, maybe it was stealth,
until they opened a gun bay, but that was half the point, legitimate subspace
travellers shouldn't need to hide.
Eighteen hours out they picked up an object on the scanners, twenty one
hours and they had found their first planet.
At low altitude they circumnavigated the globe, visually inspecting the
surface before climbing and settling into orbit.
"Not a lot going on down there." The officer was dressed casually,
perhaps it was the light tropical uniform issued to Navy personnel. No
jacket, no cap.
"No Captain, I'd suggest log it as minor interest and resume course."
"Were the cameras working?" With what they had spent they should
"Yes sir, we have video footage lasting four hours, they might pick
something useful out of that when we get home. I didn't bother recording
over the oceans." When, if individual frames were examined they would
find detail difficult to resolve as they had been a little too high to
get good copy. In conventional space it would have been ideal, they were
not however in that safe medium. The trouble was that they were looking
at the world through a viewscreen, as the bridge deck was in the traditional
place, on top. Perhaps if they had thought about it they would have installed
an alternate bridge, or viewing deck beneath the vessel, like an airship.
Still, that may have been obvious only with hindsight. Anyway, the computers
enhanced the image, as they would for the video, only individual frames
were indistinct because the low light levels introduced a motion blur.
"Any sign of other vessels?"
"Not so much as a rowing boat, on or off the planet." Shoulders
moved a little as though the man was confident that they could get away
with murder out there.
"OK, let's get back into deep space. How many planets in this system?"
"Three sir, the other two appear little more than rock." Curious
how he worked that out from subspace with the limited technology at his
disposal. Maybe it was the hardness of the image on the sonar.
"I wouldn't know sir, not without taking samples. We have two geologists
but I don't know whether we should risk a transition on the odd chance
we find a pretty rock."
Then how were they going to find vital minerals or potential power sources
less dangerous than Uranium? Maybe they would look harder on the next...
"My sentiment exactly, resume course."
Well a pretty uneventful first landfall really. Still perhaps they should
have been collecting samples, it would have given credence to legitimate
exploration. Only their actions were more likely to determine that, and
it was still a stealth warship.
The second offering was two things, uninhabitable and inhospitable, it
would have been insane even to attempt entering the atmosphere. Probably
a bit like Venus then.
"Third time lucky maybe."
Yes, maybe, but lucky for whom exactly?
The Universe was constructed by unimaginable elemental forces, atoms were
created from gases, and it was likely that many of the materials on any
planet had their counterparts on Earth. Carbon, Lead, Water. The more
atoms in a molecule, the more chance of variation or additional compounds.
Even a change in the number of neutrons would affect a molecule's properties.
It was the life forms that were likely to shock, as Daak was able to demonstrate.
Tao Theta Four was a blue green world inhabited but bipedal life forms
that resembled upright horses with fingers. At observational height the
Abraham Lincoln didn't so much as raise dust. Well it wouldn't in subspace.
"Primitive society, but if I can play the fool, life Jim, but
not as we know it.'"
"As Captain it wouldn't have been appropriate for me, but have you
noticed something about their buildings?" It was a casual comment
born out of observation.
"They're using bricks in a similar way to traditional Earth methods?"
"They aren't using lead flashing," he said quietly.
"No?" The bridge officer looked at the flat screen monitor.
"No they appear to be using gold!"
"Similar properties, obviously it's so abundant in has little monetary
"Then they shouldn't miss the old pound or two," the man laughed.
"Are you suggesting we stoop to the level of common criminal?"
"I'm suggesting we look for a builder's merchant and offer to swap
a Colt .45 for as much as we can carry."
"We don't exactly blend in."
"So, maybe they will treat us like gods. Leave subspace close to
the town so they are impressed and send in twenty men to barter."
It could have been a possibility, but wasn't Captain Cook just a different
colour and the local natives killed him. It would depend on whether unusual
form gave rise to respect, or fear. Also if that large a group would constitute
"I don't know, it's within our remit, I'm just not sure about initiating
a first encounter without adequate planning."
"So, we land, work out a strategy, and say hello in the morning."
It sounded as though the second officer was eager to increase his personal
"Maybe, I think we should film the planet, see if we can locate a
source without the same level of occupation."
"Sounds good, sir. Once around the block it is."
The gold decked houses were restricted to a small region, an island community
about the size of London. Elsewhere there was little of note, the population
over the rest of the planet seemed slightly different, run of the mill
horseflesh as opposed to quality thoroughbred. The Lincoln settled on
the edge of a stockade which appeared to be the source of the yellow building
material. In the morning ten beings opened the gates and went in to work.
An hour later twenty Earthlings strolled in to be greeted by shocked faces
and confusion. As expected, verbal communication was beyond them, but
when the team leader picked up a roll of flashing one of the locals took
offence and produced what could be classed as a weapon, or a building
implement. Whether he ever intended to throw it was a mute point, a .45
calibre bullet between the eyes lead to an escalation of the encounter,
as ten additional figures armed with primitive wooden spears came out
of a side building.
"Sir?" questioned the seal team leader.
"Toast the bastards, who the hell gives a damn. It isn't as though
they are human."
No, but they are the predominant sentient life form, it's their gold they
were protecting. Attempting to protect.
All visible material of value was removed, the Abraham Lincoln re-entered
subspace as the first of a horde of local villagers poured into the clearing
surrounding the stockade.
"Was it actually necessary to kill them all?" questioned the
Captain, as they left the planet surface.
"Hostile intent sir, they instantly assumed we were going to steal
the gold and reacted adversely."
"From what I could gather they had rather primitive weapons."
"Yes sir, but potentially lethal all the same, we judged it appropriate
to facilitate recovery and departure."
"You aren't trained Navy are you?"
"You don't act like it."
"I was seconded into special forces sir."
"As in you're a ruthless bastard prepared to kill civilians without
"It's a job, sir. I still respect the chain of command. It's just
I wear a different hat."
"Let's get the hell out of here," demanded the Captain.
"Sir, this obviously isn't a space capable civilization, we are unlike
to encounter a patrol."
"Space aware seems more appropriate, pre-industrial definitely."
Subspace rule one, you are not allowed to land on a planet unless they
are capable of travelling in subspace. Not only was there the risk of
expanding their understanding of the universe, it would often be the case
that they would not be able to comprehend alien life, which would then
leave them open to exploitation. Or simply murder.
"Sir, if I may make a suggestion."
"Judging from what just happened I believe we are likely to encounter
difficulties whatever we do. I suppose it is only natural, these things
we meet will expect us to sit down and have a glass of wine and chat before
even considering doing business with us. Our primary goal is to improve
our capability, perhaps we should find a subspace capable planet and wait
for another vessel to appear. We can assess potential as we approach and
if possible capture it for the technology."
"OK, that sounds more sensible than landing and attempting to barter.
If we do try that again I'll appoint a different team leader. I'm sorry
if you feel offended, only I still believe that you could have avoided
bloodshed back there."
They had been in subspace six days before they picked up a moving target.
Like Krell had said, light rural traffic rather than motorway.
"It appears to be the size of a lorry, moving at a leisurely pace."
"Obviously not in a hurry, it shouldn't be able to detect us and
we seem to be catching it relatively easily. OK, second, I know what you'd
do, what other options are open to us?"
You could go home before you really pissed of the space police. Maybe
the planet they had just left was not space aware, it did not mean that
news of the incident could not seep into a wider environment. Television
signals can easily travel into space, Man is constantly looking, listening
for material transmitted from other worlds. Only unfortunately he is listening
in the wrong way, he should be using an SS antenna.
If they had recalled the information the President no doubt circulated
regarding law in the wider environment, they might have remembered apart
from the fact that nobody is supposed to visit non SS worlds, vessels
were not allowed weapons or armed personnel, so if news did get out there
would be hell to pay anyway. The phrase General Shadow had used, regarding
self defence was a non starter as the subspace community was a peaceful
environment, and would remain that way unless people like them were allowed
"Well, we could disable it easily, only they would almost certainly
send out a distress call, even if they didn't understand what actually
happened. We know the speed of the patrol craft is phenomenal in the atmosphere,
in space it is most likely greater, less drag, nothing to bump into."
Less drag? Clearly he had not fully embraced the medium, or wrapped his
mind around the ramifications. "What was it, ten minutes from Venus?
Out here heaven knows, no asteroids to avoid. I think we should strafe
the cockpit with armour piercing .50 calibre and get it straight into
the cargo bay."
"We can do that without leaving subspace so much as I hate to agree,
it is the logical way forward."
As they came close it was clear that the vessel was unaware of any hostile
intent. The Lincoln drew alongside, popped open a gun hatch and visually
eliminated all the crew.
"It's unlikely a vessel of this size will have crew quarters so we
should have no problem with resistance."
"It's all going rather too smoothly," decided the Captain.
"The Commander was right, out here in the middle of nowhere we have
free rein, just so long as we don't linger."
They pulled in front of the ship, opened the loading bay and let it drift
right in. Using breathing apparatus they boarded the craft and stopped
the engines. Then they had a chance to examine their prize. Before long
the second officer was back on the bridge.
"Bloody cotton trader!" The lieutenant was somewhat irate. The
thought had never occurred to him that the majority of traffic would be
simple commercial travellers. That the only people guaranteed to have
better technology were going to be the police.
"Sodding merchant, camel jockey, less equipment than we have and
a hold full of fabric."
"So we endangered the vessel for nothing?"
"Pretty well, just as well there nobody within a billion miles."
"Sir. I have another vessel on screen, approaching at high speed,"
declared a navigational officer.
"Typical! So much for your notion of obvious isolation."
"Alien vessel, identify yourself, state the purpose of your voyage
and prepare to be boarded."
"So, second, now what do we do, he's speaking bloody English, like
he already knows who we are?" An experienced captain, he was not
flummoxed by the information, that didn't mean that he wasn't stressed,
somewhat worried over life expectancy.
"Well, he's coming in fast, but he'll slow as he approaches, we blow
the bastard to hell, there are two Vulcan anti missile guns facing forward,
even his dust won't reach us, they are computer controlled, can't miss,
automatic as soon as the target is in range."
A fan of Star Trek he might have been, so perhaps he should have been
thinking about another important concept. Shields.
"Do it, and pray he's alone." Funny how the simple act of exhalation
can have meaning. The captain did not seem confident.
They didn't get a visual, the patrol vessel almost vaporised just outside
Well, the apparently patrol sized object, the one metre spherical probe
emitting a false signature.
"Piece of cake," laughed the special forces officer.
Confidence however was short lived, twenty seconds later they saw another
craft, they couldn't fail to miss it, green, two hundred metres long,
maybe thirty tall, most of the hull illuminated by powerful lights on
the leading edges.
"That's not possible!"
"That's a Romulan Warbird."
"Nuke the son of a bitch you can guarantee he's not going to be in
a good mood. This close he must have been tracking us, waiting for an
So much for General Shadow's belief that visual cloaking was not possible.
"Suck on these," squealed the marine at the weapons station,
leaning across a console and launching two nuclear torpedos.