The launch was uneventful, the Lincoln slipped away past Pluto without let or hindrance and was soon deep in subspace. To give them credit they had done well, semi airframe, four high energy electric motors capable of moving in any direction with a voyage duration of up to twelve months. Top speed, well they had yet to discover what that meant, but they got to Pluto in five hours. Armaments, so maybe it wasn't the Millennium Falcon or even the star ship Enterprise, the original fictitious one obviously, but it had fore and aft torpedo tubes, four conventional and two nuclear in each direction, heat seeking air to air missiles as solid fuel burnt even in subspace, and numerous guns of various calibres, from .50 inch machine cannons to four inch deck guns. Bristling would be an apt description.

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 have been.
"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 value."
"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 a threat.
"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 wealth.
"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?"
"Yes sir."
"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 remorse."
"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."
"Go ahead."
"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 to join.
"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 optical range.
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 aggressive action."
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.