Disclaimer: This story has nothing to do with the disappointing movie of the same name.
The Captain considered himself to be a very fortunate man indeed. He had known how dogged the competition for this posting would be. After all, his ship was one of a kind, the first with the ability for faster than light travel, and it's mission was a historic one: be the first to travel extra-system and be the firsts to explore a new solar system. It was such a momentous event that thousands had applied for jobs onboard when there were less than fifty posts actually available. Politicians wheeled and dealed to get their blood or supporters into the mission. Even now, the Captain knew that many onboard wouldn't have gotten on without the support of some wealthy patron.
The Captain was proud that he had no such supporters, that everything he had accomplished was his own. He had gotten the posting out of all the other qualified Captains because he was the best, the fastest, the smartest available. He also knew that even though political connections had gotten more than one person onboard, they had all had to pass rigorous and unflinching standards. This crew was the best the species had to offer.
And so was the ship. The Captain ran his hands along the smooth, polished railings of his chair. Top of the line for everything. All the latest technology, all the latest software, all the latest equipment. The ship itself was made from the finest of materials, refined over and over again. The Captain's chair and the viewscreen had even been inlaid with precious gems, kindly donated by corporations wishing to be a part of the historic venture.
But most important of all was the engine. That massive, bulky, bizarre-looking thing humming (purring, some said) down in the bowels of the ship, with allowed for the first time ever travel beyond the solar system. It operation was quite complex, but the Captain had had it explained to him in layman's terms. Basically, the engine worked like a gigantic superconductor, harnessing magnetic energies. The engine would lock onto the closest system as well as their own solar system. Using the magnetic attraction between the two, the engine would cause the ship to "slide" along the "rod" created by the magnetic attraction at tremendous speeds.
For the last two hours, the ship had been preparing to do just that. All around him, people had been coming and going, bustling like a beehive, coming to him to make an official report once in a while. Now it seemed, all systems checked out, all lights were green and everything was go.
"Alright people, final countdown, strap yourselves in. I'm initiating two-minute operation warning… now."
Klaxons went off around the ship, and anybody who still up and about quickly went to sit at their stations. They strapped themselves in, belts buckled. There was nothing to do now but wait as the countdown neared its inevitable conclusion. When it was finished, there was a surge of power lancing through the ship. It felt as if they were on some kind of beast about to break into a run. Then they accelerated. One of the main points about the ship was withstanding G-forces. Those the crew were now being subjected to were enormous, like no one else had ever gone through. Quadruple-redundant artificial gravity systems ensured that they did not end up as a splatter against the viewscreen (which was turned off, the sight of supra-luminal velocity being known to cause the mind to shut down).
The entire process barely took a minute, and then the engine shut down and they returned to normal space. The Captain let out a long sight. It had worked. At least, he thought it had worked.
"Report!" he barked.
"The engine has shut down and is in the cooling process, Engineering reports no problems at all."
"All hands reporting in… all hands unharmed and accounted for."
"Navigation, tell me what you see out there," asked the Captain.
"Computer is checking known reference points… constellations…" Navigation turned around and smiled. "Navigation reports that we have been successful. We are now in another solar system!"
Cheers went up all over the bridge, and the Captain got onto the P.A. and repeated the good news to the rest of the crew.
"Sensors, run a scan of the area. Let's see what we can find."
"Sensors reporting… several celestial bodies within range… in fact, there seems to be a planet barely a few thousand kilometers off our starboard bow."
"Can you put it onscreen, Sensors?"
"Yes, just one moment… there!"
The previously black viewscreen flickered to life, and on it appeared the image of the planet. It was white with a tinge of blue, and had a sizable satellite orbiting it.
"Yes, sir… no atmosphere… mostly ice… temperatures below freezing. It's an barren iceball, sir."
"Yes, but it's a barren iceball in another solar system! Keep scanning, see if we can detect any sign of life there."
"Captain, really," Science spoke up, "there is now way for life as we know it to exit in such an inhospitable environment."
"Besides," Tactical said, "there is no life other than us. To say otherwise is heresy."
"We're not here to engage in theological debates, Tactical, we're just here to look and maybe find."
Recently, an ultra-religious political faction had risen up back home, and had managed to gather a rather strong following. They were literalists, and the Captain knew that the leaders of the faction had gotten several followers onto the ship. To them, it was a chance to prove that they had been right all along. The Captain personally chose to neither get involved in the struggles of religion or politics.
"Captain?" said Sensors. "I'm picking up something weird from the planet. It bounces off radar. Could be an sensor anomaly, but…"
"By all means, focus on it."
"Right… hmm… appears to be metallic… nickle, iron, some other stuff… most be a segment of the planet's core protruding from the crust. A metallic mountain of sorts. And… hang on… it's moving!"
"The mountain is moving?" asked the Captain.
"No, wait… there's another signal emerging from the mountain… I'm getting two pings. The second is moving away from the first, and it's smaller too. And, according to this, the second ping is leaving the planet… and heading towards us!"
"All hands, stations. We have incoming signal."
"Recommend we engage defense perimeter," said Tactical.
"Yes, do it," the Captain answered.
"Hang on," Sensors said. "I'm going to try and get a better read on it. It seems to be made of the same stuff as the earlier source… but I'm reading power… electricity… nuclear fusion. This thing is built."
"Can we get a picture of it on the screen?"
"Yes, at maximum magnification, it looks like… this."
The view of the planet changed into a view of the surrounding starscape. In the middle of the screen was an object hovering in space. It was smooth, tear-drop shape except for two wings folding backwards from the sides. But most importantly, it was obviously artificial. Finally, Navigation said what all of them were thinking:
"It's an alien ship."
"No," said Tactical.
"Yes," said Sensors. "It seems runs on electricity, and has a nuclear-powered sublight engine."
"No, it's a trick!"
"Calm down, Tactical," the Captain said.
"Unbelievers! Sensors set this up! He set this up to discredit us. He's an agent of evil!"
"Stand down, Tactical!"
"I will not!"
"Then you are relieved and confined to quarters."
"You're all in on it, aren't you. Well, I'll show you what I do to heretics!"
Tactical hit an emergency panel with his elbow, popping it open, and with the speed and dexterity that earned him his position, swept out a rifle. In one fluid gesture, he dropped to the floor of the bridge and fired. The projectile hit Sensors, who had been getting to his feet, square in the throat. He flew backwards into his panels, unable to make more than a gurgle. Within moments, the rest of the efficient crew was either ducking for cover or scrambling for their own weapons. But Tactical was well trained, and as soon as he saw the odds stacking against him he dived for the door, doing a roll as he went down, then springing to his feet again to bounce down a corridor and out of the bridge crew's sights.
The threat immediately over, the Captain scrambled back into his chair and activated the intercom system:
"This is the Captain speaking; all hands are to be on the lookout for Tactical who has committed mutiny and murder. He is to be considered armed and dangerous." Damn religious fanatics. Clicking off the system, he turned to his crew and said: "I've got to go after him. Science, you have the bridge, Navigation grab a pair of rifles and come with me."
"Captain, what about them?" Science asked, cocking her head towards the screen and the alien ship on it.
"Don't make any moves for now. And if they try to contact you… well, you're the science officer. You probably know more about that than I do."
The Captain turned smartly on his heels, and, followed by Navigation, left the bridge in search of the mutineer.
The search was not going well. Tactical had made sure to stay out of sight, and not a single crewman the Captain had interrogated had seen him or any other trace of the renegade officer. He was still searching when he heard Science's voice:
"The Captain's presence is requested at a P.A. system."
The Captain jogged over to the nearest intercom, and flicked it onto the bridge's channel.
"Captain here. Is it… them?"
"No, Captain. By all accounts, their ship is slow, and it's taking them a while to get there. However, they do have a problem, and it's from us."
"Yes, Captain. According to the readouts up here, the starboard missile launcher has been activated."
"I assume that's Tactical's doing, right?"
"Organize and dispatch a security team, tell them to meet us there."
The Captain turned to Navigation, who had overhead the entire conversation and motioned him to follow. Starboard missile chambers weren't that far away.
They were running towards the entryway to the chambers, boots pounding against the resonating metallic deck, when the first shots came towards them. Instinctively, both the Captain and Navigation ducked at the first sound, throwing themselves towards a cross-corridor to their left. As the projectiles smashed harmlessly into a bulkhead, both officers flattened themselves up against the wall.
"This is the Captain speaking! I order you to cease and desist right now!"
"I can't," came the reply. "I have to stop you before you destroy everything we believe in!"
"The Captain's presence is requested at a P.A. system."
"Argh, not now. Stay here. If they move, shot." The Captain gingerly hobbled to the nearest intercom, flipped the switch and irritatingly asked: "What?"
"Captain, I believe I have a new location for Tactical. Environmental controls report they were just attacked. No casualties."
"But I've got Tactical trapped in the missile chambers… damn! There most be more of them" Instantly, the Captain realized what had happened. During his flight Tactical must have contacted the other literalist-sponsored crewmembers and recruited them. His crew, turning against him. It enraged the Captain to think that perhaps some of those he interrogated in the corridors were now attempting to take Environmental. Who the hell brought these damnable religious nutcases onboard anyway?
"Divert the team you were going to send down here to Environmental." The Captain knew that if the mutineers could take that section, they could shut down the whole ship. Or even worse, kill them all. He went back besides Navigation and said:
"The reinforcements aren't coming. We're going to have to take it ourselves, and quickly, too. That missile is going to launch soon, and I don't want to start a war with an alien species."
The Captain moved across Navigation and into the corridor, hoping to make out their numbers and positions by making a false attempt at reconciliation. He stepped out from their hiding place and said:
"Look, guys, I'm sure that you have perfectly understandable grievances. If we could just sit down and discuss this instead of–"
He ducked back as soon as he saw the muzzles flash in the doorway. Behind him the air sizzle as projectiles ripped through the corridor. But The Captain had managed to get a look at their emplacements.
"There are two of them," he said to Navigation. "One on both sides of the door. Here's what were going to do. We're going to pretend to come in, rushing them, then drop and roll past the doorway. With luck they'll have to adjust their position to fire, and before that we take them out. Understood?"
Navigation nodded his agreement. The Captain made a five-second countdown with his fingers, and they both came charging out of their hiding space, roaring. The Captain, having taken the right, glanced against the bulkhead as he ran, caught the sight of a muzzle being raised, and dived. Bending with his hands and neck, he turned his fall into a roll. He heard a shot go off, but knew he didn't have the luxury to check who (if anyone) was hit. Judging that he had passed the entryway, he halted his roll by putting down his knee, and fired his rifle as he brought it to bear, knowing he didn't have the time to aim (or even look up) before Tactical and his goons got their bearings back. There was a groan and the Captain caught sight of Tactical going down with a hole in his chest. He turned around rapidly, surveying the area. Navigation had also gotten his man, but there was a third mutineer in the back of the room. This one had an automatic-firing weapon, a burst of projectiles lanced out towards the pair. Navigation spun around and hit the deck when a projectile lodged itself in his upper left calf. The Captain was able to avoid the spray of projectiles by throwing himself behind a console that took the brunt of the assault. He then raised his own weapon and fired several shots in the vicinity of his assailant. He heard and meaty thudding, and then a second noise which sounded like a body hitting the floor.
The Captain risked a glance over the console and saw that he had hit his target. Tactical's crony lied on the floor, vital fluids leaking out. The Captain spared a second to check Navigation's condition, patting his shoulder after his officer gave him a grim smile of acknowledgement. He then proceeded to check the consoles arrayed before the glass separating this chamber from the actual missile a few meters away. He was horrified to find that there only were twenty seconds left. Quickly he rushed over to the launch console, intending to abort the firing sequence. He jabbed the red button over and over, but it wasn't responding. He glanced over and saw why: the projectiles that had previously missed him had bitten deep into the console, breaking the systems and shorting out circuits. He plunged his hand into the mass of sparking wiring, hoping for some effect, but even ripping out the wires didn't stop the countdown. The Captain saw the locking clamps that held the missile in place release, and missile stay in the air under its own power now.
Quickly, he considered the situation. If that missile launched, it would probably destroy the other ship. And even if it didn't, firing a weapon at someone was an act of war. He was seconds away from triggering an interstellar war with an alien species which had shown no hostile intentions. What if the aliens were technologically superior? What if they had some kind of star-spanning civilization? The Captain inwardly shuddered at the thought of an alien war fleet descending upon home. He realized he had to stop that missile from launching no matter what happened.
He moved over to an undamaged section of the console and, with barely a couple of seconds left, pressed a button now flashing green. It turned red under his touch, and he saw through the window the locking clamps reaffirm their hold on the infracting missile. He had time to glance over at Navigation once more, saw the young officer had passed out, and gave him a silent apology. Then the missile fired, its propulsion system sending out a massive burst over energy, shearing itself apart as it struggle in the steel grip of the locking clamps. The missile's engine detonated…
…and the Captain knew no more as onrushing fire blasted the bulkheads around him outwards into space.
The vessel listed starboard in space under the force of the explosive decompression, giving it the look of a ship that was sinking. Then the missile's deadly cargo detonated, and the entire craft was enveloped in a raging blue ball of energy, tearing into the unshielded hull with impunity. Within seconds, nothing but wreckage remained.
"Report!" yelled Captain Tobias Andrews. "What just happened out there?"
"I'm not sure," said the lieutenant at sensors. "The alien vessel was simply sitting out in space, seeming as if it was waiting for us and then… bang! A detonation on their starboard nacelle, and then it was as if the whole ship just blew up."
"Oh, come on. I need something more than that. What the hell am I going to tell Earth Command? 'Yeah, we encountered an alien vessel, but it just blew up'?"
The lieutenant shrugged, and with no further answers forthcoming, Andrews slumped back in his chair, shaking his head from side to side, unable to believe his bad luck. First human contact with an alien civilization. And the ship… just blew up.