Captain Kirk stared at the viewscreen and rubbed at his mouth with his hand. The sudden shuttle traffic between Artemis and Taini concerned him greatly. If the Wramuth took notice he might have to reveal the existence of the Enterprise, and that could escalate into a serious confrontation.
He turned to sciences, wishing Spock were manning that station, and addressed the man there.
“Mr. Chekov,” he said, “anything?”
The younger human shook his head. “No other wessels detected in the systems, Keptin,” he said
Kirk stared at the screen another moment. “What are they doing?” he said to himself. He turned to the communications station. “Can you scramble a message to them that might go undetected by possible cloaked ships?”
Uhura nodded. “I can bounce a signal off a Derilian satellite. It should appear as normal planetary communications,” she said.
“Do it,” the captain commanded.
As she turned to her station to complete the task, Kirk studied the images on the screen again. With a start he realized the shuttles were organizing into some type of flotilla and had adjusted their heading straight for Elaanus.
“Get Saavik up here now,” Kirk ordered as he turned to Uhura again. “Any answer to our hail?”
“Negative,” Uhura answered as she simultaneously summoned Saavik to the bridge.
Kirk leaned forward in his chair and rubbed at his chin. Elaanus rotated on the other side of Derilia, no small distance from Taini and Artemis. He doubted the shuttles had sufficient range to reach the moon. So what were they intending?
His thoughts were interrupted by the doors of the turbolift opening.
“Reporting as ordered,” Saavik said as she stepped on to the bridge. Kirk gestured for her to take sciences while Chekov returned to navigation..
“Conjecture, Lieutenant,” Kirk said, turning his chair toward the science station, “why would the colonists suddenly wish to go to Elaanus?”
A shadow of surprise showed on Saavik’s face as she studied her instruments.
“Their ships will be unable to complete that journey,” she said. “They will be stranded in space.”
“Hail them again,” the captain ordered as he rose to approach the science station. “Why would they suddenly want to go there, and why now?” He asked himself as much as Saavik.
Saavik raised an eyebrow and considered the question. “The moon is a storehouse of scientific curiosities,” she said, “but I found nothing in the way of military or cultural significance.”
Kirk studied the screen again. The dozens of small shuttles had neither weapons nor engine range to venture this far into space. The beings he had met did not strike him as suicidal, so why this dangerous mass migration?
With sudden determination, Kirk returned to sit in the center seat and addressed the navigator.
“Put us between them and their destination,” he said.
“Aye, Keptin,” Chekov replied in acknowledgment as the ship left orbit to pursue the small shuttles. In only a moment the view on the screen changed as the starship overtook them and dropped in front to block their way. The shuttles stopped their forward momentum and faced the larger ship in a three dimensional formation. Kirk waited as time paused with an expectant silence.
“No answers to any hails,” Uhura informed him.
Kirk watched the small ships hanging silently in space as he addressed Saavik again. “Was there any indication that the colonists were ever on Elaanus?”
“No, Captain,” she answered. “There were no artifacts of any kind to indicate a short or long term settlement. However, one cannot rule out a brief visit such as our own.”
Kirk slowly rubbed a hand across his face as he studied the still images on the screen. This mission was too full of mysteries for his taste.
“Take us closer, Mr. Chekov,” he said, “half impulse.”
As the Enterprise slowly closed the gap, the bridge crew waited expectantly for the shuttles’ response. At first they seemed content to await the larger ship or even be rammed by it, but as the Enterprise drew closer, the shuttle formation began to dissolve. With the greater maneuverability of their smaller mass, they darted over and around the starship, encircling it.
“Full stop!” Kirk ordered. “Hail them again!”
He waited for a response but Uhura shook her head. Slowly he stood and approached the science station.
“Anything on scans?” he asked Saavik.
Saavik shook her head. “The shuttles have no weapons that I can detect and are equipped with only basic deflectors for safe navigation,” she said. “They have neither the speed to outrun us, nor even sufficient energy to damage us by ramming. They possess no transportation technology although they certainly have the means to enter through a docking port by force.” She studied her instruments a moment before continuing. “They have scanned us, Captain and are aware of our superior capabilities.”
Kirk glanced at the viewscreen again where the shuttles slowly rotated around the great ship as if on an inspection flight. “Do they have the means to get home under their own power?” he asked.
“Negative,” Saavik answered. “Their fuel will be depleted shortly.” She sat back with a quizzical expression. “Captain, logically they should be at full stop to conserve what energy they have left. Yet they continue to move. Why?”
Kirk looked at the screen again. “Do they want to be stranded out here?” he wondered aloud. “For what purpose?”
He watched as one by one, the shuttles lost forward momentum and hung motionless against the blackness of space. Long silent minutes marked the strange stand-off.
“Captain,” Uhura suddenly said from communications, “we are receiving a message now.”
Kirk motioned to the screen with his hand and waited as the image changed to a middle aged colonist from Artemis. He had some of the genetic changes but not all, and was probably a second or third generation native of that moon. To a human, his face would have looked stressed and tired, but Kirk had long ago learned not to apply human characteristics to alien faces. He returned to the center of the bridge and faced the viewscreen. The being spoke to someone off screen in a volume that could not be picked up by the transmission, then turned to face the viewer.
“Captain Kirk,” he began without preamble, “we must talk.”