Year: 1,992,209 A.D. (Gregorian), P.W. 11,632 (Shango), N.A. 1168 (Qareen)
Location: Intersection Zone
The M.E.A.C. starship SFS Supression Fire had sped three thousand parsecs through the Intersection Zone, heading across and down it towards Darkworld Komodo. It was still some two thousand from its destination when the incident occurred.
On the bridge, the only area of the ship to have any real sense of space and layout, the incident marked a moment of unease. In the middle of the bridge, a round table projected a holographic image of the surrounding space in all directions for some two hundred parsecs; a thin grey line indicated the ship’s intended path through it. Another line, which moved down in another downward arc, came close to intersecting the ship. This in itself was not a problem; the course could always be altered. What was the issue was the nature of the object.
“We suspect it to be a Dharan vessel,” the navigator told the captain.
“The Dharans? Any indication of what they want? Anything out of them at all?”
“None, sir. But then again, we have only sent one message. They might simply be slow in responding.”
The captain moved over to the table from his seat at a raised platform on the left hand side of the bridge, and examined the dot that indicated the Dharan vessel.
“There is only one?”
“There is only one,” another crew member indicated.
“Drop speed,” he ordered no-one in particular, although it was the job of First Pivot to do so, “maintain path. Don’t activate any weapons. We don’t want to seem evasive or hostile. I suspect they are not either of those things, too. Also scan for further Dharan presence at longer range, use network monitoring if you have to.”
The Suppression Fire promptly slowed, and the two dots on the screen continued to merge, albeit more slowly.
“They’re slowing to meet us,” the First Pivot said, eyeing the display over the table, even as he slowed the ship with the console, “I think they are looking to actually meet us.”
The captain gripped the table and squeezed, as if attempting to crush it. As the equivalent of five Earth minutes passed, he split his gaze between the table and the clock screen, which, by the end, informed him that it was 79/87 in Federal Time. Darkworld Komodo was still a week away, and even if a distress call was sent out, the nearest Darkworld – probably, if he remembered rightly, Darkworld Behemoth – would still probably take at least a day to send a ship. He was truly alone with this Dharan vessel, and would have to do the best he could.
“Sir, we’re entering contact range with the vessel.” The captain nodded in acknowledgement. Of course, contact range differed for Shango and Dharan ships, in any case; Dharan weapons had longer effective ranges, and their ansibles were far less prone to inteference from outside forces. That said, how much so was uncertain, across the whole Federation. The same was probably true of anything Dharan, although it was known that they were a far more advanced civilisation, the kind that could wander into the Intersection Zone and either deal with or outrun any ship with ease. The Federation, the captain knew, could do astonishing things with such technology.
“Display it,” he ordered, and the table shifted to reveal a three-dimensional hologram of ship revealed the scene. The Dharan vessel was a military one, he could tell; the shape of it suggested a sword blade with a mass of bayonets attached, branching out in aggressive fractal patterns. The ship had a very dark green exterior, and was, the captain guessed, about twice as long, wide and high as his own vessel.
“It’s gettting very close,” the First Pivot continued, “they’ll pass within mere kilometres.”
“I’ve sent another message,” the navigator added.
The two vessels continued through space, moving ever closer. The Dharan vessel continued across their path, ever so slowly, slower, in fact, than the rate at which they were travelling, which was already sublight. What were these people doing, he thought, what motive do they have? As far as he was aware, this was the first time in at least a year that the Dharans had shown any kind of presence in the Intersection Zone or the galaxy, although he admitted to himself the possibility of being wrong.
“Still no response.”
The ship was, if anything, slowing, right down, onto the path the Suppression Fire was on.
“I’m slowing it down, captain,” the First Pivot said, “I think these guys are actually stopping.”
“What are they planning?”
“Fuck knows,” the captain said, still gazing at the projection. He paused for a while, then had a thought. “What information do we have about the Dharans?”
A crewman near the front of the bridge brought up the database entry and read it out.
“Dharans. Form of government ultimately unknown, but socially they are relatively unified, suggesting some form of central executive control. Suspected origin in a galaxy around thirteen point eight million parsecs from here. Believed to have some form of inhabitation across the whole supercluster, possibly in every galaxy. Despite a simplistic language compared to us, or even the Qareen, they seem to have faster ships and more advanced technology. Last major involvement known to us in these galaxies was around four hundred years previously, when fifty full-sized Dharan vessels, twenty of them warships, passed directly through Shango space and one landed on Darkworld Franklin, the inhabitants claiming their visit to be diplomatic.”
“Any acts of aggression?”
“There was a misunderstanding during the Intersection Wars, which resulted in damage to a Dharan warship, destruction to thirty-three Shango ships and seventeen Qareen.”
The captain paused to think of another question. As he did so, he noticed that both the Suppression Fire and the Dharan vessel had stopped. A screen wrapping around the bridge showed a heavily zoomed image of it, As he continued to examine it, he spotted a message flashing up on the table console, even though this was not supposed to receive outside communications.
And with no other explanation, the vessel blasted away at top speed.
Within one Earth hour, it was out of the galaxy.