Gradually, the bridge crew became functional again, and reports started to trickle in from the ship's other departments. Tarvyn turned to check the sensoreads and blinked.
"Captain! I've got an unidentified blip." His fingers were flying over the keyboard on his console.
"Type and position?"
"Object, of no known type, is stationary just past midpoint."
"Could be, sir. No way to tell."
The Captain slapped a red switch. Lights began flashing overhead, and the General Alarm wailed through the ship's corridors. "Give me more details as you get them."
"On it, sir."
The bridge crew stared at Tarvyn as he manipulated the instruments at his disposal. "Captain, object has begun moving slowly on an intercepting course, I say again, object has set an intercepting course."
"Acknowledged." The collision alarm klaxon added to the din.
"Sir, spectrum signatures for the object deviate from all known human types by a variance that exceeds margins for error by at least two hundred percent. Working assumption must be object is of non-human origin."
"Conclusion acknowledged and logged." The Captain keyed in an entire sequence of commands, then rose. "First Officer Tarvyn, I will be leading a party to investigate this unknown ship. You will be in command of the Boomerang until my return"
Tarvyn was forced to attend to routine ship's operations, while following the situation as best he could on the comm channels. The Captain selected a young female officer from the bridge, two men from Engineering, and the Purser and Purser's Assistant. They boarded the ship's launch, opened the launch bay doors, and sped out into space. The strange ship was approaching, and a much smaller blip left that ship on a course to meet the Boomerang's launch.
Every ship's officer was prepared during training for the possibility of an encounter with an unknown species. The argument offered in support of official policy was strikingly simple. The risks of antagonising an unknown power which might turn out to be stronger were emphasised. The ideal was a peaceful contact which might lead to further peaceful exchanges.
Yet this argument had its inevitable corollary; if anything were to go wrong during such a meeting, it would be best if no representatives survived to bear word of any insult or grievance to their leaders. It would be best if no trace at all of the encounter remained. If that seemed impossible, the next best choice would be to destroy any possible clues to the location of human worlds.
Tarvyn quietly armed the ship's main battery, most usually employed against debris, and occasionally against pirates. He also activated the circuit that could send a signal to blow the Boomerang's piles and drive if things went against them. His mouth was dry again, but he kept his eyes on the screens before him. It seemed forever before the two smaller craft made contact and linked to each other by means of a simple line.
The Captain and the young officer quietly discussed the etiquette of paying the aliens a call versus waiting for them to visit, keeping their voices low even over the private command channel. They were still arguing when the aliens solved the problem by coming across. Inside the launch, they kept their helmets on long enough to test the atmosphere, then removed them.
Tarvyn bit back a gasp. On the screen, he could see the visitors clearly. They looked almost human, but a combination of eerily sharp features and excessively pale skin stirred an instinctive dread in him. How could such creatures possibly mean well? Only discipline and training kept his fingers steady. One of the Engineering stewards meeting them face to face had less control.
In the rear, no one noticed his drawn sidearm until the first alien slumped to the deck. Shock and confusion erupted into a melee; Tarvyn turned away and swiftly engaged the main battery to target the opposing ship. It must have relied on unstable propulsion, since the first hit caused it to blow wide open, scattering chunks of debris.
Since the main battery was already active, it entered auto-fire mode to vaporise as many of the objects hurtling towards the Boomerang as possible. When the screen cleared, nothing but faint wisps of glowing vapor remained. The two ship's launches had been treated as dangerous debris by the simple meteor defence routine.
Tarvyn assumed command, telling the passengers he could not release any information until a formal enquiry was complete. The enquiry Board, of course, quickly hushed up the incident and fabricated a story that would satisfy the public. Tarvyn, newly promoted to Captain of the Boomerang, sometimes thought of that encounter and wondered idly why it was humans had never successfully established contact with anyone else.