"I got a lock on the beacon," Wojtek announced from the pilot's chair on the Muramasa. The crew were all on deck. Lujain, Zahra, Razz, and Anwar were ready at their stations. The primary viewscreen showed the steadily approaching star system. They were still a fair distance away.
Anwar looked at the data streaming in from the ship's scanners. The display indicated the location of their client's emergency beacon. The signal emanated from the surface of a planet. Anwar squinted his eyes. "She landed?"
"Looks like." Wojtek kept his eyes forward. "I'm taking us closer."
"Why would she land?" Anwar looked to Zahra, by his side. She shrugged.
Wojtek looked back over his shoulder towards Anwar. "I'd guess so the apes couldn't chase her down when she lit up the beacon. Those Swarmer ships can't operate in atmosphere."
"So you think there's prob'ly apes around?"
"I'd bet on it."
The display lit up as other ships came into scanning range. The sound of warning beeps filled the deck.
"Holy Smokes," Anwar blurted. "So many of them."
"Yeah." Wojtek kept his head forward. "Looks like a base set up on the moon there. Don't worry, we're out of their scanner range." He looked over to Zahra. "Clean up that sensor data. Let's get a good look."
"No problem." Zahra's fingers tapped at the console. "There we go. Fleet looks like about two hundred Swarmers, eight mother-ships, and they've got landers in production. As for structures, bunch of buildings set up: barracks, mining operation, production facility, fusion plant. They got about two dozen plasma artillery cannons and SAMs."
"They're not messing around," Wojtek said.
"This might be a stupid question -" Anwar looked over to Wojtek "- but why'd they set up there?"
"Easy jumping off point for their Swarmers," Wojtek answered. "But it's not really about the moon. They're after the planet. Check the scans -it's habitable, full of water, air. Stable eco-system. These guys struck it big, between that planet, the rest of this system, the wormhole, and that belt on the other side. Anyway, that lunar base is a stepping stone. They set up a defensive base there and use it for production. When those landers are ready they'll move forces onto the planet, start colonizing there. Lucky for our client it looks like they're still a few months off."
"Approaching enemy sensor range," Lujain reported.
"Going dark," Wojtek announced. The background humming sounds on the ship descended to silence as various subsystems went offline. Weapon systems and shields were now inoperable, batteries purged. The ship was defenseless, but virtually undetectable. It was oddly quiet on deck. "Couple minutes to arrival."
The front viewscreen displayed the approaching planet. The lone moon was in orbit, and on its surface, a cloud of red blips showed the activity on the Mangeroma base. Fighter ships drifted near the base, some of them circling the moon; dozens orbitted the planet itself, forming a spherical perimeter.
"You really think we can get past all that?" Anwar raised an eyebrow and looked intently to Wojtek for an answer.
"Getting past 'em is the easy part. We can stay dark until we hit the atmosphere, slip right by and land before they can react."
"But then they'll know we're down there. So how do we get out?"
"Well -" Wojtek looked back at Anwar "- that's the fun part."
They sped towards the alien planet. It expanded in size on the viewscreen, along with the orbital defenses set up by the Mangeroma tribe.
"Those two ships are gonna spot us," Wojtek said. "Our approach is gonna take us inside their high-res."
"I will blast them," Razz growled.
"No." Wojtek looked back to Razz. "If we power up weapon systems they'll detect us."
"But without shields they will destroy us!"
"Don't worry." Wojtek's head turned to Zahra. "Reconfigure the anti-missile array. Feed the reactor straight through, and map the detection profile to the Swarmer thrust signature."
Zahra nodded. "On it."
"Will that work?" Anwar asked.
Wojtek laughed. "You know Swarmers are made of plastic, right? The lasers'll melt right through 'em, even without a charge."
"Done." Zahra hit a final command, updating the laser array configuration.
"Okay," Wojtek acknowledged. "Thirty seconds to exosphere. There's those ships." The display showed a pair of Mangeroma fighters, orbitting the planet and heading in their direction. "Three. Two. One."