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From The Belly Of The Beast: Chapter One
Space battles never took this long.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard shook his head in amazement as he stared at the main screen of the Enterprise bridge. He couldn't remember how many times he had been in engagements with enemy ships, with the fight usually only taking a few minutes. But not this time. The monster ship floating in front of them had kept them busy for almost two hours, its dark shape and strange configuration seemingly able to take all the Enterprise could throw at it, and then some.
And, so far, the Enterprise had withstood the enemy's weapons as well.
Punch, counterpunch. Each ship had held its ground, wearing the other down one degree at a time. And wearing Picard and his crew down as well. Dr. Crusher had just reported that sickbay was full with the casualties. Luckily, no one had been killed.
Without standing, he glanced around the bridge. Commander Riker paced in front of his chair, sweat staining his shirt. Lieutenant Christine Vale at security just looked angry, and Troi fidgeted in her chair, the strain of the last few hours showing clearly on her face. Only Data, his emotion chip turned off, seemed as unruffled as ever. Picard envied that android calmness at times.
"They're powering weapons again, Captain," Data said.
"Target those weapons and fire before they do!" Picard ordered.
Picard could feel the Enterprise bump slightly as the phasers fired.
A small section of the alien ship's shields flared bright red.
The alien weapons cut through the redness, pounding the Enterprise hard. The inertial dampers fought to stop the rocking and shaking the impact had caused. As he had been doing for hours, Picard held onto his chair with both hands, keeping himself seated.
"Forward shields at thirty-two percent," Lieutenant Vale said. "Holding."
"Slight damage on three decks," Deanna said, glancing at the monitor on her chair. "No injuries."
That fire-return-fire scene had repeated itself at least fifty times over the last two hours.
"We have got to find a way to end this," Picard said, standing and taking a step toward the main screen, staring at the black alien ship facing him.
It was a monster, more than fifty times bigger than the Enterprise, and at least as deadly. It was round, like a small moon, and its surface was covered with what looked to be some type of control housing. Two smooth rings circled the outer hull of the ship, each attached to the surface at only four places. The rings were as thick as the Enterprise saucer section and twice as wide, with one ring circling around the alien ship's equator, while the other ring went around the ship's poles. Picard had no idea what the rings were for.
Or who had built this strange ship.
Or what powered it.
Or even, for that matter, what was the front, back, top, or bottom of it. The sensors could tell when the alien ship was powering weapons, but little else. The alien shields had blocked every attempt they had made to find out more.
He stared at it, studying the black, equipment-covered surface of the alien ball, trying to come up with any way at all to put that ship out of commission. They had been able to punch through its shields in small areas, but the damage they had done to the surface of the ship seemed to make no difference at all.
And the shields reacted like no shields he had seen before. It was almost as if they were alive, healing damaged areas like water flowing back into a depression. Picard would give anything to learn how they worked.
An hour ago, he had even attacked one of the intersections where the two rings met, hoping that would cause the alien ship problems. They had managed to punch through the alien shields twice, hitting the surface of the ship's rings and blowing hunks out of one area of one ring. The alien shields quickly healed. Nothing changed.
The alien ship attacked, they attacked back.
Over two long hours of the same thing.
However, for the residents of Blossom IV, the fourth planet of this system, the Enterprise had to win. The Enterprise had been nearby when the distress call had come in from the agricultural colony. The message said they were under attack from a massive black ball, and taking heavy damage. It had only taken the Enterprise fifteen minutes to be on the scene, but Picard didn't want to think about the damage the alien ship had caused to those farmers in those minutes.
The Enterprise had come in firing, and the alien ship had turned its attention away from the planet. But if the Enterprise was forced to retreat, or was defeated, there was no other help for those colonists. No other Federation ship that could stand up to this monster was nearby.
Picard also couldn't figure out why it had attacked this planet. Blossom IV had no resources, nothing worth taking from the two hundred thousand people farming the rich soil. Yet this unknown ship had suddenly appeared and started to fire on the colony. It made no sense at all.
Nothing about any of this made any sense.
Picard glanced at Data, then turned around to look at Number One. "I'm open to suggestions here, people."
No one said a word.
Picard nodded. None of them had any more idea what to do with this ship than he did. They just didn't have enough information about the alien ship to even try to come up with a plan, and the alien ship's shields were blocking all but the most basic surface scans.
"They are powering weapons again, Captain," Data said.
"Return fire!" Riker ordered.
The blast shook the Enterprise again, sending Picard staggering to grab the armrest of his chair.
"Shields at twenty-six percent," Data said.
"We punched a hole in their shields again," Lieutenant Vale said. "It has now closed."
Picard nodded, looking back at the lieutenant's fresh, sweating face. Vale had blue eyes, blond hair, and a button nose that made her look much younger than her actual age. But she was a good tactical officer. Smart and very quick. And, from what he understood, deadly in a fight.
Suddenly, Lieutenant Vale's statement sunk in.
"Data," Picard said, "how long did that hole in their shields remain open?"
"One-point-three-three seconds," Data said.
"Is that enough time to get a probe through and the information back?"
Data glanced up at Picard, his yellow eyes showing just a touch of interest. "It could be done, sir," Data said. "But we would have to be closer."
"Let's do it," Picard said, dropping down into his chair. "Data, you take the helm and get us in close."
Data's fingers were flying over the panel as Picard turned to Commander Riker. "Will, ready the probe and fire the instant you have a hole in those shields."
Picard punched the comm link for engineering. "Geordi, I need the front shields reinforced."
"Yes, Captain," La Forge's voice came back.
"Lieutenant Vale," Picard said, glancing back at the young officer. "I want you firing constantly until I give you the word to stop. Punch as big a hole in those shields as you can. Give Commander Riker a large target. He might need it."
Riker frowned. "I could fly a probe down a gopher hole."
"Make it a big hole, Lieutenant," Picard said.
She laughed. "Yes, sir."
Riker only frowned and shook his head.
Picard sat back in his chair, studying the alien ship, letting his people have a few seconds to get ready. A large empty area of the alien ship's surface seemed to suddenly pop out at him. It was above the equator ring, about halfway to one of the poles of the ship, and was just about the only area of the actual surface of the alien ship not covered with equipment. He hadn't noticed it before because it was painted exactly the same color as everything else.
"Data," Picard said, "take us right at that equipment-free area on the alien ship."
Data glanced up at the screen, then nodded. "Ready, sir."
"Make it so," Picard said.
The Enterprise surged directly at the alien ship on what seemed like a ramming course, firing phaser after phaser.
The alien ship returned fire, rocking the Enterprise like a child smashing a toy into the ground.
Picard hung onto his seat as the lights flickered and the ship shook.
"Shields at sixteen percent," Deanna said, her voice much calmer than Picard knew she was feeling.
Another blast rocked the Enterprise.
"Ten percent. Bulkhead failures on three decks."
"Keep pounding those shields, Lieutenant!" Picard ordered.
The alien shields flared bright red from the Enterprise phaser fire and then failed, right over the empty spot. The next phaser blast smashed into the alien ship, ripping open the black skin square in the middle of the smooth surface area.
"Probe away!" Riker shouted.
"Stop firing!" Picard ordered.
The probe slid through the opening, heading for the damage in the alien ship's surface.
"Bull's-eye!" Riker said.
"Nice shot," Picard said, nodding at his first officer's beaming face.
"Information coming in," Data said.
Another blast rocked them, but Picard didn't take his gaze from the probe and the area of the ship's surface they had hit.
"Forward shields failing!" Lieutenant Vale shouted.
"Data, put the aft shields between us and that ship!" Picard ordered. "Take us out of firing range."
The Enterprise turned and started to move away as one more blast rocked them, sending Riker tumbling from his chair. Picard managed to hold on, but just barely. That was one of the worst hits they had taken so far.
"Damage on all decks," Deanna said as she held on with both hands, her knuckles white.
"Aft shields holding!" Vale shouted, clearly excited.
If this didn't work, Picard had no idea what they would do next. They had been lucky to get away from this attempt. He just hoped the information they were getting was going to be worth it.
He watched the alien ship, expecting the hole in the alien shields to close back up. Instead, for the first time in hours, something on that massive ship changed. The hole in the shields remained.
"Photon torpedoes! Target that opening!"
Suddenly the shields around the rest of the alien sphere flickered, flashed through blue and green colors, and then drained backward into a dozen holes in the ship, like water flowing down a massive drain.
The alien ship was completely exposed.
Picard could see that a series of explosions was occurring just under the surface of the alien ship, where the last phaser blast had gotten through. They had hit something, and for the moment the ship was vulnerable. But the question was, how long?
"Full scan of that ship!" he ordered. "Give me targets. I don't want those shields coming back up."
"They are not going to, Captain," Data said.
Picard pulled his attention away from the area of the alien ship that was exploding and stared at Data. "Explain?"
"We have destroyed the ship's control room," Data said, studying the data coming in. Then he glanced back at Picard, his yellow eyes intense and level. "All twelve of the alien ship's crew are dead."
"Yes, sir," Data said. "From the readings I am getting, there are no life signs on that ship."
Picard stared at the now-helpless black sphere floating in space. The longest fight he'd ever been in. And now it was over, that quickly.
It almost seemed wrong.
Copyright © 2000 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.