Although a great many things in this universe were utterly foreign to him, there were some aspects he recognized from his own reality. Even if it had been many years since he had stepped onto the bridge of a Star Alliance Navy cruiser, Lif immediately noticed that the design was very much comparable to the ones he had seen as a child when his father had occasionally brought him aboard the ships he had sailed on.
Differently to Eagle, with its centrally situated seating arrangement for the captain and his officers and forward-facing control stations located between the command area and the large main viewer, on a Star Alliance ship, the commander sat at the very front of the triangle-shaped control center, facing a curved screen that allowed for a nearly one-hundred eighty degree view of the surrounding space.
All supporting stations, including the helm, tactical, sensors, and engineering were arranged behind the command chair along three banks of computer stations which ran vertically within the control room, each aisle with its own transparent computer display situated at eye-level to allow the bridge officers to see what the captain was looking at or any other relevant data depending on their configuration.
What was still entirely peculiar to Lif was the fact that those computer stations behind the command chair were manned by several different races. Just like he had seen on the rest of the ship, the bridge crew seemed to be made up of an equal number of Krellonians and Outlanders.
After Chief Justicar Tenn had escorted him and Garla onto the command deck, they both paused for a moment to take in this unusual sight. Once he had gotten over the initial surprise, Lif couldn’t help but smile. This cruiser reminded him more of a Federation starship than what he would have expected from a Star Navy vessel, in fact, the Yellow Rose may have been even more diverse.
He briefly glanced over at Garla but his aunt seemed more perplexed than amused, considering that she had spent years trying to figure out how to save the Star Alliance from issues stemming from Outlander and Krellonian tensions.
Tenn led them across the command center and towards the front of the room where his counterpart sat alone in his control chair which swiveled around automatically to face them once he had sensed their approach.
“Good, you are here,” he said with a pleased smile on his features which to Lif felt somewhat disturbing, making him wonder if he ever made people feel that way when he attempted to smile. “I thought you might be interested in observing our mission.”
“What’s your mission?” Garla asked.
“Believe it or not,” he said, still smiling. “But the Eye of Krellon didn’t send me out here to try and find travelers from other universes.” He interlaced his fingers as he considered his two visitors. “Tell me, what do you know about the Nyberrite Alliance?”
It was not a name Lif had heard very often and in truth he was only vaguely familiar with them. He knew that they were a loose confederation of various star systems that operated at the far-end of the Federation.
Garla, the intelligence operative, unsurprisingly was much better informed. “In our universe, they are a minor galactic power operating at the outer fringes of the Alpha Quadrant beyond Federation territory. They have a medium-sized fleet mostly dedicated to exploration and defense. They have a decentralized form of government and a low population that forces them to rely on foreign personnel to man their ships. They have never been considered a significant threat to the Star Alliance.”
“That used to be true here as well once,” he said with a nod, clearly impressed by her knowledge and perhaps the similarities between their universes. “That’s until the Borg devastated most of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. After that, it was open season for anyone who was spared by the destruction the Borg left in their wake and the will to exploit the weakness of those less fortunate. The Nyberrites quickly filled the vacuum left by the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans by entering into key alliances and expanding their influence.”
Lif needed a moment to digest all that.
“So far they have mostly stayed clear of our borders but I have been watching them for a few years now and I am convinced that they have a plan to extend their sphere of influence well beyond what was once Federation territory. There have been minor skirmishes between our forces in the past and our diplomatic status can best be described as heated.”
“You think they are planning on making a move on the Star Alliance?” Garla asked.
Sentinel Culsten nodded from his elevated chair. “Yes. Reliable intelligence has placed one of their listening posts designed to spy on our fleet movements in the system we have just entered. It is unlikely to be heavily defended. I plan to wipe it out and make it clear to the Nyberrites that we will not be as easy a target as the Federation or the Klingons have been.”
“Sentinel, we have detected anomalous readings originating from the third planet,” Chief Justicar Tenn reported after he had returned to oversee the officers working at the computer stations. “The readings are consistent with a high-powered observational array.”
The smile returned to Culsten’s face. “Just as I predicted,” he said and then glanced at his visitors. “You are welcome to stay and watch while we send the Nyberrites a message they won’t soon forget.”
Garla nodded, clearly interested in witnessing this mission in person, and Sentinel Culsten’s chair began to swivel back towards the front.
“Prepare the fleet for battle, Tenn. Raise shields and bring weapons online. We will form the tip of the spear, advise Spirit of Fire and Razor’s Edge to follow us in. Flank ahead,” he ordered as he settled back into his standard posture, his hands working on computer panels located at the tips of his armrests even as he spoke.
Lif could see his diverse crew jumping into action, acknowledging his orders, and confirming their execution as they walked up and down those long aisles to work on various computer stations alongside them. The brighter illumination in the meantime was dimmed and replaced by darker, amber light.
“Fleet reports ready for battle,” Tenn announced after less than a minute had passed.
“What kind of resistance do you expect?” Garla asked.
Culsten just turned his head slightly to answer her. “A few support craft at best. We will be catching them just a few weeks from setting up their operation here. They will not yet be fully entrenched. After we’re done, they will know that we will not tolerate any future efforts to attempt and threaten our borders.”
“Sensors are detecting a wing of defensive vehicles on approach from the third planet,” said a female lupine from her station. “Appear to be automated craft.”
Culsten nodded. “Targeting solution, stand by to fire high capacity missiles.”
“High-caps armed and ready,” said a Krellonian officer from the weapons station.
“Firing solutions for all six vessels confirmed,” the lupine responded not a moment later.
Glancing over his counterpart’s shoulder, Lif could see the projectiles racing across the screen and towards the incoming vessels. All six missiles made contact, turning each ship into a fireball.
“Six kills confirmed,” Tenn called out although there seemed little need for it.
“Come on, at least try and give me a challenge,” Sentinel Culsten said. “Continue to head for the planet. Start working on a firing solution for the array.”
Once again his officers quickly went to work. But Lif noticed that a younger Krellonian crewmember appeared to have some problems with carrying out the order, frustration clearly evident on his features. “I’m registering increasing electromagnetic interference in the planet’s ionosphere which is interfering with our targeting sensors.”
The lupine officer left her station to assist the younger Krellonian. “Attempt to compensate with the lateral transpectral imager to boosts the targeting resolution,” she said as she pointed out the controls.
The younger officer quickly nodded. “Yes, that has helped,” he said and offered the lupine a thankful nod before being distracted by a loud siren blaring from his station. “The boosted sensors have revealed another vessel in orbit.”
Lif could see it as well. A large, imposing Romulan warbird had suddenly appeared on the viewscreen. The green-tinted vessel was easily the size of the Yellow Rose, probably a bit larger, and was now heading directly for them.
Tenn confirmed a moment later. “Warbird on an intercept course.”
He couldn’t see it, but it sounded as if the Sentinel was smiling. “Well now, that’s more like it.”
“You knew the Romulans were involved here as well?” Garla said with a calm he envied. Fighting a few automated ships was one thing, facing a Romulan warship that was easily powerful enough to give Eagle a run for her money was an altogether different story.
He shook his head slightly. “These aren’t Romulans. At least not the way you might think of them. That ship is part of the Nyberrite Alliance. The Romulans have become their puppets. And to answer your question. Yes, I expected at least one major starship to patrol the area.” He turned his head again to face her, his lips smirking. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing we cannot handle.”
“Warbird will reach weapons range in twenty seconds,” Tenn said.
“Engage attack pattern Sentinel-Four.”
What followed was indeed an impressive tactical feat as the three ships that made up the assault force managed to partially surround the advancing Romulan starship, blasting it from various angles, forcing it to go on the defensive before it could bring its most powerful weapon to bear.
It landed a few shots on the Yellow Rose, causing the deck under Lif’s feet to heave enough to force him to steady himself, but the shields held and the damage remained minor.
The battle reminded Lif a little bit of a dance, a back and forth in which the four ships exchanged phaser and plasma fire as they careened in every direction and jockeying for the best possible position to ensure maximum efficiency of their weapons. He had been in enough space battles to realize that the warbird was at a clear disadvantage, however, outnumbered as it was, and that it would not be able to sustain the fight.
The Sentinel knew it too. “Time to finish this, don’t you think, Tenn?”
The Chief Justicar nodded. “Indeed,” he said and cast a glance towards the weapons officers. “Target their engine core and fire a full salvo of high-caps.”
The Romulan ship was too slow to evade the incoming barrage and most of the missiles remained true to their aim, causing several explosions to ripple across the vessel’s green hull.
“The warbird is breaking off and heading for a course out of the system,” the lupine officer said with a grin wide enough to show off her razor-sharp teeth.
“Let them run and report back to their masters that the Star Alliance does not take kindly to bullies,” Culsten said. “In the meantime, we have a sensor array to dismantle.”
Another alert siren captured most of the crew’s attention. The junior sensor officer quickly saw to it. “Now reading a massive energy build-up coming from the third planet.”
This apparently caught Culsten by surprise as he quickly manipulated his controls to get his screens to show him a view of the ocher-colored planet. “By the Infallible, what are they up to?”
The answer arrived promptly. A massive blue energy beam shot out from the planet and within seconds had ripped right into the side of one of Yellow Rose’s escort cruisers.
Culsten nearly jumped out of his seat. “Full evasive. Now.”
Lif felt the ship lurch to its side so fast, the inertia dampeners weren’t quick enough to compensate and he had to hold on to a nearby bulkhead to keep his balance.
And yet it was still not fast enough to get out of the way of a second blast, this one squarely aimed at the Yellow Rose.
The impact felt as if they had been struck by the planet itself. Lif was ripped off his feet and collided painfully against the bulkhead only to immediately fall the other way and smash into the floor. He felt weightless for a moment, possibly because the artificial gravity net had failed to compensate for the cruiser suddenly rolling onto its side. It lasted just a few seconds before he smashed into the unforgiving floor yet again.
Darkness claimed him.