The ship was a standard Daedalus Class research vessel, if a few years outdated. The design was practical and efficient—two long cylinders joined together in the center, with a sphere at either end. The vessel had no windows, and a massive array of sensor dishes and deflectors. The rear sphere of the craft was dominated by a massive thruster, firing a pulse of energy out into the vacuum of space. They had definitely cranked up their acceleration to maximum in order to get here.
All this and more flashed through Winterborn’s awareness, a flicker of thought amongst an ocean of consciousness. Together, Winterborn and her officers performed evasive maneuvers—firing the rear thruster of the Athena at full power, pushing the antimatter drives to their maximum thrust. The enemy had far more time to accelerate, but the tactical A.I. on board the Athena estimated that they would be able to avoid impact, and with 1.2 seconds to spare.
The ship lurched forward abruptly, the inertial dampers absorbing the worst of the acceleration—though most of the crew were secured in battle positions.
Winterborn watched through the view screen, her heart stilled as the Icarus barely missed the Athena and cursed when she noticed missiles being fired from the rear launch bays. Two Ares Class II torpedoes burst from the ship, igniting their fuel in a rapid burn. She felt Fallborn react, firing a combination of flares and flak. Their countermeasures succeeded in destroying the first missile, but the second managed to navigate through the debris and flares.
Ava acted quickly, firing a missile of their own, with commands to intercept the incoming torpedo. Meanwhile, the Icarus was rapidly turning to face the Athena, its Vernier thrusters firing at full power to curve back around.
Winterborn ordered three missiles to be fired—two directly into the projected flight path of the rogue ship, and one targeted at their estimated escape path, should they somehow evade the first two missiles. The Icarus fired two volleys of flak at the incoming missiles. One exploded as the missile smashed into the column of shredded metal. The other avoided the flak, dodging around the explosion of the lead missile. The torpedo successfully impacted the shields of the Icarus, a bright dome of light flashed, crackled, and fell. Their shields were down.
Winterborn directed the third missile to disable the power generation systems of the Icarus. If the ship's power was disabled, they may be able to recapture the vessel and find out who was responsible for the assault.
The Captain watched as the missile landed home. An immensely bright explosion—which would have blinded her if not for the visuals being transmitted directly into her brain—erupted from the old ship. Metal blew out in a sphere of debris, propelled by the venting gas from the explosion.
A cheer broke out over the link, crew members laughing and even crying in exultation. Winterborn settled the cacophony of voices and emotions with a grim reminder, "Hold your celebrations; the Icarus may be disabled, but she's still hurtling towards Tre'brus. We have to secure the vessel and slow it down."
Just as she gave the order to come abreast of the derelict ship, she saw what looked like thousands of small ball bearings collide across the bow of the Icarus. Hundreds of substantial explosions rocked the ship, shattering it into a fast moving spray of wreckage.
Winterborn cursed as the A.I. identified the source of the attack—the Quin'tel ship which had delivered Ren'brus and the others.
The mood in the link instantly turned sour, Winterborn's anger chilling the triumphant mood to a standstill.
In a cold fury, she disconnected from the link and exited the bio-chamber. She stalked out of the room and marched towards the Quin'tel chambers. She found the door locked, and nobody answering her request to enter. She cursed again, and placed her hand on the pad, opening the door with her override.
She found the Quin'tel, their bodies lay twisted on the floor; thick green blood seeping from a dozen wounds across their bodies.
Winterborn's fury quashed, she rushed to the side of Ren'brus. As she knelt, she sent a message to Med-bay, calling for an emergency medical team to be dispatched to the room.
Ren'brus coughed weakly, reaching out his fifth arm.
Winterborn grabbed the scaled claw, pleading, "Who did this to you? Who did this?" Her voice was heavy with forced calm.
The Quin'tel opened his claw, and out dropped a piece of fabric.
A strip of Terran Military uniform.
Winterborn grabbed the tattered piece of cloth from Ren'brus' clawed hand; green blood stained the dark grey fabric. Winterborn looked at the cloth and smiled grimly—chances were that whoever had owned the garment had left a DNA trace. She'd have her traitor before the day was up.
Winterborn looked up to see Doctor Julia Springborn stepping through the open door—behind her trailed three other medical personnel; they carried emergency field kits, and walked with grim determination.
"Move aside, Captain," said Julia, her voice a rush, "What happened to these three?"
Winterborn briskly shuffled to the side of the room, "I have no idea...when I came in, they were in this state."
Julia flicked a quick glance towards Winterborn, a flicker of doubt was clear in her eyes. She knew that the Captain wasn't telling the entire story.
Winterborn stood straight, rebuking the doctor with a steely look, "Stabilizing the Quin'tel is of utmost importance. The information they carry is paramount. Ensure their survival, Commander."
Julia broke eye contact, "Sir, I'll do my best to stabilize the Quin'tel, but we really just don't know hardly anything about their physiology. I suggest contacting the Quin'tel ship for medical assistance."
Winterborn nodded, her face a mask of anger, "I suppose that is for the best, both for them and for us. I have a few things I need to discuss with the Quin'tel." Winterborn stalked out of the ransacked quarters, walking hurriedly towards her conference chamber. As she walked, she called up her visual interface. She quickly sent a message to Ava, ordering her to make contact with the Quin'tel ship double quick. She wove her way through bustling crew members, each working through the list of post-battle maintenance checks and procedures.
Stepping through the sliding doors, she sat down at the head of her conference chamber, waiting somewhat impatiently for the screen to light up.
Her impatience wasn't tested for long, as a voice chimed in her ear, "Captain, the Quin'tel captain is ready to speak with you."
Winter born cleared her face of irritation and affected one of calm. "Put them through, Ava."
The wall was suddenly lit with the image of a red-scaled Quin'tel, its face crisscrossed with old knotted scars. The Quin'tel bowed its head and said, "Greetings, Prime. This one thanks you for deigning to speak with one so lowly as I."
Winterborn waved a hand, "Think nothing of it. This is not a time for pleasantries or ceremony. I need a Quin'tel medical team sent over immediately. Ren'brus and the others were injured during the attack."
The scarred Quin'tel's eyes widened almost imperceptibly. "The Prefect and his ministers have been injured? Thank you for bringing this to my attention," the Quin'tel proceeded to press several buttons in rapid sequence on a console in front of him. Winterborn was surprised to see analog instrumentation on a ship so advanced. "I have ordered a shuttle sent over carrying a medical team. We will restore them to health aboard our vessel. Thank you again for the assistance," the Quin'tel bowed more deeply, "We do not deserve such a thoughtful Prime."
Winterborn sat straighter in her chair, "Don't go praising me yet...What's your name exactly?"
"I am Gul'bres, Captain of the Vol'en'brus, Prime."
"Gul'bres, why did your ship fire on and destroy the Icarus? We had already disabled their vessel."
Gul'bres looked surprised, at least as far as Winterborn could tell. "We fired on them to ensure the safety of the Prime, of course. We were reading abnormal fluctuations in their antimatter engines. Our engineers calculated the odds of the ship exploding at 99.9%. Further, the explosion would have been timed to detonate as you came abreast of the vessel," bowing his head, he continued solemnly, "We did not wish to act without orders, but the risk to your vessel was simply too great."
Winterborn leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers. She obviously couldn't discount the possibility that the Quin'tel had acted with her safety in mind, after all, they seemed to nearly worship her. "Fine, fine. But I'd like your people to send over the readings which spurred your actions. I don't mistrust you, but I'd like to confirm things on our end."
Gul'bres inclined his head, "If it is your will, Prime. If I may be dismissed? I need to file a report on this incident with the Regional Authority Office as soon as possible," he smiled, or rather attempted to imitate one, showing rows of razor sharp teeth, "I also need to check on the Prefect and his ministers."
The Captain nodded, "You're dismissed, ensure the Prefect and his ministers survive. I need them alive."
The Quin'tel nodded, and the wall went black. Winterborn leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes, and rubbed her temples. She finally had the time to review the events of the last hour. They had found the Icarus, and in one piece—at least for several moments it was. It didn't make sense to her—the fleet had found debris which stretched on nearly half an AU, all belonging without a doubt to the Icarus. She had the distinct feeling that one of the two was faked.
Her introspection was interrupted by an insistent chiming at the conference room door. She groaned and sat back up in her chair before saying, "Enter."
The door slid open to find Julia dominating the doorway. "Sir, I've taken the liberty of examining blood samples found in the Quin'tel quarters. I have...odd results."
Winterborn perked up, "What have you found, Doctor?"
Julia looked grim, "Sir, there appears to be another alien on board. There is a blood sample which doesn't match either human or Quin'tel DNA."