Crossed Swords

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"We've got incoming." Communications Specialist Catrina Rennard spun to face Captain Rolland Barron. "There's a ship on a close approach."

"I guess it was just a matter of time before they spotted us." For the past two days, Rolland's crew had worked to establish communication with the Alliance. They had determined that this location, the outskirts of the former Clarion colony, was their best hope for establishing a link. Rolland had given the order despitee the proximity to the Catechumen fleet. He had hoped they would avoid detection while they worked.

"I don't think it's a Catechumen vessel," Catrina said. "The profiles don't match up, and it's coming from the other direction."

"So who is it, then?"

"I don't know." She shook her head. "Does't match any standard profiles."

"Now who the hell would be heading out here?" Rolland wondered aloud, his eyes locked on the red blip that slid across the console. It was headed straight for Clarion and would pass the Excalibur en route. "Are they gonna spot us?"

Catrina shrugged. "Depends on what sensors they're running."

"Sergeant Namarra -get me a full tactical," Rolland ordered.

"They'll be sure to spot us then," Head Technician Joshua Marshall interjected.

"I'm aware of that," Rolland kept his eyes forward.

"Sir -" Erin Locke stepped forward "- we should consider the possibility that this vessel is here as part of a contingency plan."

"A contingency plan?" Rolland raised an eyebrow.

"By whoever is behind the plot with the Dragoon," Erin clarified. "They could've sent a ship as backup in case he failed. They could be here to finish his job."

"All the more reason to find out who we're dealing with," Rolland said. "Let's see that scan."

"Working on it," Namarra's fingers tapped at her console. The Excalibur's tactical scanners bombarded the unknown vessel with an assault of radiation and the front viewscreen switched over to a view of the vessel. Text and measurements overlaid the image, an analysis of the ship's physical characteristics. Highlighted portions of the vessel indicated weapons systems and defensive capabilities.

"They're on to us," Riona Namarra reported. "They're jamming the scan."

"What did we get?" Rolland peered towards the display.

"Looks like a light sabre-class," Katherine Fisher answered. "Sixty meters length. Probably a crew of a dozen or so. And based on the residuals, they're not messing around."

"What are they packing?" Rolland stood and squared himself to the front viewscreen.

"Multiple fusion reactors." Fisher's eyes tracked the data. "Four laser arrays. A couple dozen fusion mines. Shield and phase field generators. Full jamming suite. Missile arrays. Flak cannon. Dual rail guns."

"Is that all?" Rolland asked, and laughed.

"At least." Fisher nodded.

"Could be pirates," Brandon Hamilton said, "or mercenaries."

"But why would they be out here?" Fisher wondered.

Hamilton shrugged.

"They're pinging us," Catrina turned from her console to face Rolland.

"Maybe we should ask 'em," Rolland smiled. He stood tall with hands clasped behind his back. "Open the channel."

The viewscreen blinked, switching to a view of approaching vessel's interior. Rolland found himself now face to face with a muscular, tattooed man. The rugged captain across the viewscreen was outfitted with cybernetic enhancements and a trail of cables leading from his bald head to his chair: a neural pilotting interface. The ship's crew was visible around the deck behind him. There was a monstrous reddish-orange alien seated in a gigantic chair: a gargantuan, rocky skinned humanoid unlike Rolland had ever seen. A scaled reptilian alien stood nearby the captain. It looked like a giant bipedal lizard, complete with a long, gently waving tail. Four other humans were positioned around the room, two male and two female, one with obvious cybernetic enhancements, only partly hidden by her long, jet black hair. A tall and thin blue skinned alien stood just behind the captain's chair, roughly human-sized, completely hairless, with a bulbous head and purple eyes. Standing at a terminal off to the side was a solid metal crew member with a vaguely feminine mechanical body: either a robot or a heavily modified cyborg.

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