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Title: Alien Enigma
Author: Darrell Bain; Tony Teora
"No change from Liberty’s record, sir. Not that they came close enough for any fine detail," Serena Shaft, the ship’s executive officer said as soon as the clangor of battle stations had died down. The Captain wanted to make peaceful contact but he knew the Jeane Baptiste’s Captain was no fool-she and her ship went missing at this exact location five years before. Using extra caution Captain Wilson ordered the Athena to full alert as they passed the hundred thousand kilometer distance from the planet Xanadu. This alien city given the same name had been discovered on the first voyage of Wannstead Industries first interstellar space ship, a survey vessel named the Liberty. The second, the Jeane Baptiste, was sent to investigate the planet but never returned. Now it was the Athena’s role to get some answers.
"Can’t say I blame them, not on a first voyage," Captain Wilson replied from his central position in the control room. "We’re here to find out what kind of critter inhabits the place, though. Bring us in closer, about a thousand kilometers. Com, initiate contact protocols." His voice was calm, not displaying the tension he felt, the responsibility for his crew. Nor did it display the sense of aloneness he felt this far from Earth.
The world below grew in size as the ship made its slow approach, showing typical blue and brown and green of an earthlike planet. On a separate screen, the alien city was displayed. The image was slightly fuzzy because of the distance and magnification but it became clearer as they neared.
"No response to protocols, Captain," the com officer said.
"Noted. Keep broadcasting."
"Approaching a thousand kilometers, Captain," the XO announced.
"Noted. Let’s get in a little closer. David, bring us down to five hundred kilometers and offset to keep the city in sight."
"Yes, sir. Five hundred kilometers."
Four minutes passed in tense silence as the ship slowly approached the alien planet.
A flashing light obscured every screen in the control room. The ship shuttered once, hard. Rumbling noises momentarily overrode excited voices.
"Captain, we’re taking fire!"
"Get us out of here, David! Maximum thrust! Weapons free, return fire!" The captain’s voice was louder but still perfectly calm.
Another bruising crash of noise hit the ship. The screens, which had been coming back on line again blinked out in a haze of static. This time smoke rose from beneath the control room console.
"Captain, we’re losing power!"
"Keep trying. Guns, what are they throwing at us?"
"A plasma charge, I think. It’s chewing us up." The weapons officer’s last statement was superfluous. Red lights were dancing along those parts of the console still functioning, indicating heavy damage.
"Captain, we’ve got thrust but the ship’s not responding! I think they’ve caught us in a... a goddamned tractor beam of some kind!"
"Our lasers aren’t working and readings show the missile tube is blocked, Captain. I can no longer return fire. Not that it was very effective, damn it to hell," the weapons officer exclaimed. His voice had a tremor of fear in it.
The ship began a continuous, ominous vibration, interspersed with sounds of tearing metal.
"XO, shut down the thrusters!" Captain Wilson yelled. "We’ll tear the ship apart if we keep bucking whatever it is that’s grabbed us!"
The sound of the straining thrusters died. Shortly thereafter, the city’s assault on Athena ceased, but the tractor beam holding it in thrall drew it down toward the planet, toward the alien city of Xanadu and whatever fate awaited the ship and its crew there.