“What’s our distance from the alien spacecraft, Clark?” Spear barked to his co-pilot.
“Five hundred kilometers and holding steady,” Nelson replied.
Leaning toward his engineer, Spear asked, “Riley, how’s our fuel consumption?”
O’Hanlon checked his gauges and said, “358 grams SFC.”
Spear remained silent, but all three men knew what this grim statistic meant. At the current rate of consumption, they would not have enough fuel to reach Earth. Transtar 12 hurtled through space at top speed. While it felt to Spear as if he had cut and run, there seemed little alternative once he laid eyes on the massive alien ship that emerged from the rubble of the exploded asteroid. Any ship the size of a major city had to possess unimaginable firepower. Transtar 12 was no match. The only hope was to return to Earth and warn the United Nations.
“How can that ship move so quickly?” Nelson pondered out loud. “When it was hidden inside the asteroid, it was moving at only a fraction of its current speed.”
“It was a Trojan Horse,” Spear sighed. “It was moving at a speed we would expect such a heavenly body to move at. Now that it’s exposed, it’s showing its true power.” The experienced space jockey rubbed his chin thoughtfully. After a few moments, he said, “Clark, cut speed by half and open a channel to the alien ship.”
“You heard me. We can’t outrun this thing and make it back to Earth. Time for us to face the music.”
Nelson studied the control panel. With some hesitation, he slid down the thrust lever and the vibration in the floor plates eased. Spear looked at his navigator for a reaction. Nelson smiled in disbelief. “I’ll be darned. The alien ship is slowing down to match our speed.”
Spear smiled and nodded. Then the main monitor came to life. Through the snow of interspace static emerged what vaguely resembled a face. More insect that human, it nonetheless appeared intelligent.
“This is Colonel Lance Spear of the spaceship Transtar 12. May I ask to whom I am speaking?”
The insect-like head bobbled. “I am Klanec, leader of the Plunfar Rebellion Force. We have traveled many light years from our home world in the Alpha Centauri system.”
“You understand English,” Spear noted.
“Our translator device allows you to understand our language. Why have you contacted us?”
“We want to know your intentions in our solar system.”
“For years, we fought the Plunfar government and its tyrannical ways. However, their army is strong and their resources greater than our own. Instead of accepting defeat, we concocted a plan to steal one of their great warships and escape into space to find a new homeland. Along the way, we used the ship’s technology to draw in debris around the outer hull, forming a rocky crust which disguises our ship as an asteroid.”
“Very clever,” Spear responded, “but you still haven’t answered my question.”
“When we detected your planet and deemed it appropriate to serve our needs, we plotted a slow course toward Earth. We assumed you had interstellar capabilities like our race and, upon seeing the asteroid on a collision course with your planet, you would evacuate, leaving the planet for us to inhabit. We did not expect that you would take a more aggressive approach. Now we have no choice but to take your planet by force.”
The three men aboard Transtar 12 exchanged somber glances before Spear spoke again, “Now wait a minute, Klanec. The planet Earth is a large place. I’m sure we could welcome your people as cohabitants on our world. Let us go to Earth together and we can explain your situation to the United Nations. I’m sure we can work out a peaceful resolution.”
Klanec’s movements indicated a state of irritation. “We have no interest in quibbling and bickering with the puny minds of your world governments. We have experienced enough lies and deceit on our home planet. No, we will make ourselves the new indigenous species of planet Earth.”
The monitor screen went black. A heavy silence hung in the air. O’Hanlon and Nelson looked to their skipper for word. Spear turned to them, his face filled with resolve. “Top speed, Clark. Don’t spare the horses.”
The floor plates hummed again. Spear leaned back in his chair and fixed his gaze on the telemetry information darting across his screen. With some careful maneuvering, he thought, we might just be able to get in radio range of Earth while they still have time to launch a missile attack on the golden warship looming behind them. Fuel consumption be damned. There was little hope for them now, but maybe Earth could still be saved.
“Where’s that blasted ship, Clark?”
“Five hundred kilometers as usual.”
“They’re toying with us. Squeeze everything you can out this bucket.”
“We can’t risk breaking apart,” O’Hanlon cried.
“We can risk not informing Earth in time! Now push ‘er as hard as she’ll go!”
Not since his test pilot days had Spear felt a ship rumble under the strain of such thrust. At least when he was testing shuttles and fighter planes, the flights were relatively short. By Spear’s calculations, they were still at least 36 hours away from the moon. Could the ship hold together that long? Could his crew hold together that long? He had no choice but to sit still and find out.
The fog along the Seine was thick and the pale light of the half-moon did little to illuminate the promenade. “Lance, are you there?” The words were murky, as if floating up from under the river, but Spear would recognize the voice anywhere.
“Betty, it’s me. I’m here, darling.”
A vague silhouette cut through the fog. A flowing negligee flustered in the mist and a face began to emerge. “Betty, I’m right here. Come to me, dear.” The figure moved closer, but the countenance did not have Betty’s soft features. The skin looked hard. The eyes were huge glistening orbs. Spear’s knees gave out and he tumbled to the wet concrete.
A red orb hovered over him. Not perfectly round, but sort of spikey.
“Colonel, can you hear me?”
The voice was clearer this time. And the orb came into view. It was a face, but not quite. The eyes were too large and the mouth…were they pincers?
“Klanec!” Spear exclaimed.
“Calm yourself, Colonel. It’s me, O’Hanlon.” The red-headed engineer beamed at the Colonel. Spear relaxed and leaned back into his seat. “You must’ve fallen asleep, Skipper.”
“Where are we?”
“We’re approaching Earth,” O’Hanlon replied, returning to his post.
“Limping more like it,” Nelson corrected, “we barely have any fuel left. I’ve cut our speed to orbital norm.”
“Orbital norm,” Spear cried. “What about the alien ship?”
“That’s the good news,” O’Hanlon said. “The ship turned off and landed on the far side of the moon. It’s just sitting there.”
Spear sighed. “Okay, maybe we’ve bought a little time, but they’re still up to something. We can’t afford to go into Earth orbit.”
“That’s our only option, Lance,” Nelson said sternly. “We go into orbit and radio for a shuttle to rendezvous with us.”
“That’ll take too long,” Spear barked. “We have to land now. Gentlemen, prepared for a crash dive!”