"Be sure you're right, and then go ahead." Davy Crockett, commenting on how he kept from getting lost in the wilderness.
By the position of the planet, it was apparent that the northern hemisphere was in its summer cycle. The planet itself was about 25% smaller than Earth, so the gravity would be less, and it would thus give them an edge should they face danger. The planet was seismically active in normal ways, seeing a volcano erupting here, an earthquake there, and other such activity. There were three continents on the planet's surface, and there was a massive lake in the middle of one of them. It was big enough to be a sea, yet it was completely fresh water-very odd for a body of water that size. Mercury theorized that it was because the body of water was so far inland that the mountain ranges around it kept it supplied with fresh water. She then said she would have a team on that right away to see if this was so, and how it could be so large by such sources. It was thus decided that the ship would settle in near the shores of that lake and the exploration would start from there.
The ship entered the atmosphere and the impulse thrusters about the ship kept her stable on descent, considering that the foils underneath were great for getting the ship into orbit, but were not so great for gliding. She skimmed into the water, cutting an impressive wake in the water before settling in and acting like an ocean going vessel. Immediately, Mercury and the science team were analyzing the water, and it was discovered that the water was at aconstant 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The different members of the team buzzed back and forth about this, and Mercury called for a probe to descend into the water. The lake itself sat about 700 feet above sea level, and thus there were no paths to the ocean. Had there been, then the lake would have drained to sea level. A thorough scan of the lake before touchdown demonstrated that the lake itself was about 200 feet deep at its deepest point. However, as the probe descended, it discovered that the water got warmer as it went deeper, and became about 100 degrees at its warmest on average. It then discovered that, the deeper it went, the areas of warm seemed to funnel together into streams. It finally discovered something unique. Yes, the lake was supplied by streams up top, but the lake was also supplied by underground sources that were deep enough for the water to be heated. At the vents themselves, the water was about 150 degrees, but immediately cooled when it hit the cold water. As it rose, it met with the other warm sources, reheated, and then was re-cooled by the surface sources.
In addition to that, there was life in the water, and it was fishlike in nature. However, there were large creatures, cetaceous in nature, about the size of the orca on Earth. However, it was colored in a combination of blue, gray, and white, with the white patches on the belly. It was quickly assessed that it was an intelligent creature, as one of them approached the probe as it was surfacing, started to look it over with a seemingly intelligent gaze, and then grabbed it with its mouth, (filled with 88 conically shaped and interlocking teeth.) The view made everyone jump as the sight was put on the big screens throughout the ship for all the crew to see, seeing the probe now had a straight-on view of the inside of its mouth! It let it go, and the probe continued to surface. The creature then followed it up as Mercury commented,"This is amazing to see such a creature in fresh water. That is so rare on Earth. Perhaps this creature developed this way being so isolated from the rest of the water. It almost seems to water what Australia was to the Earth. I must get a chance to study the ocean life later on."
Serenity then said, in a very Usagi-like fashion, "Aw, it's so cute! I wonder if it's just as friendly as what we have on Earth. I would love to play with one!"
"Did you ever consider that this creature might like to eat queens for breakfast," said Luna, "This isn't Earth, you know."
"Luna, you always know how to spoil a girl's fun!" Serenity answered, all pouty.
"That's why you love me so!" Luna said proudly.
However, just before the probe surfaced, the creature surfaced, and it seemed to catch it's breath by blowing through two blowholes set halfway between where Earth whales and land creatures would normally keep their nostrils. This indeed marked them as air breathers, and it was the second significant discovery since they had landed. It spotted the large vessel, watched the probe surface, looked at it, and then the ship, grabbed it with its mouth again, and then swam towards the ship. In about seven minutes, it sat aside the ship after releasing the probe, and was making a series of loud clicks and whistles. Mercury then called for a hovercraft to be readied to go down to this creature. However, Jupiter was quick to remind her of her position, both as a princess and as an admiral, and would not let her go out there unless she had a team of four armed Greenbacks go out with her. Mercury apologized for her zeal, forgetting about such things when it came to her scientific mind, and zeal for discovery, and submitted to the guard.
Once this was done, the five exited the ship and breathed in the beautiful and unspoiled fresh air. However, they all felt exhilaration, feeling a touch dizzy at first, with a slight headache, but then a heightened alertness and energy. Mercury assessed that this had to be due to the richer oxygen atmosphere on this world than what they were used to breathing. There seemed to be the normal plant to animal exchange of gasses, and she was curious to discover why there was such a richer oxygen atmosphere on this world versus Earth. She climbed on board the craft, and it gently descended to the water so as not to startle the creature. The creature swam back a bit, being clearly cautious of the strange visitors to its world, but then approached when it saw that neither the craft, nor the creatures inside it, were acting aggressive. It again assessed the probe and the small craft, then grabbed the probe and popped it over the edge of the craft. It then lingered to examine the new creatures in the craft, trying to make out what they were all about. Mercury remembered her work with Earth animals, removed a glove, and moved away a touch as she reached out to the animal. The guards instantly tensed, but tried to stay calm, knowing what she was trying. They were not going to interfere, but, at the same time, they were ready to blast this thing to kingdom come if it tried to snatch her. The creature pulled away a touch, and Mercury stopped, and the creature displayed more of its intelligence as it began to realize the stranger was not being hostile. Soon, Mercury was stroking the nose of the animal very gently, being careful of its blowholes, and stroking under its chin. It then began to make contented clicking sounds, not unlike the purring of a cat, but much louder. She then started to speak to it in calming tones, and it seemed to be even more content. Then, something interesting happened.
As she was contacting the animal, she slowly began to go into a trance. The Greenbacks began not to like what they saw, but she said, "No, its okay," as she closed her eyes, and a smile overcame her face. She began to feel aeuphoric state, as her pleasure receptors were being contacted, and she then heard a childlike voice saying, "Nice...so nice."
She moaned in pleasure as she was hugging herself with her other arm. She then heard, "Nice Mercury...different...new...never had..."
Now she was rubbing the arm of the hand which touched the creature, moaning even more. She then heard, "Good feelings...so tasty!"
Apparently, the creature fed off emotions, and it had never experienced sentient life before. She had to assume that it only had the emotions of its kind, and any others like it, and this was an experience beyond what it had ever had. For certain, it was that for Mercury. Soon, the creature slipped downward, submerged, and then came back up, looking at her. It then began to move backwards, and then began to do bows and breaches. It looked at her again, and then went its way. The hovercraft then returned to the ship, and Mercury returned to the bridge, but almost danced her way there. "It was so wonderful!" she told the others, "It must feed on emotions as well as food, and it gives as it receives!"
She was still hugging and stroking her arms and hips as she said, "Oh, I am so excited to explore this world. There is enough here to keep us busy for decades! I think I shall call the creature 'the Mind Whale,' because of how it links with you!"
Serenity was watching this, and she said, "Ooh, I want to try now!"
"Knowing you, you would probably give it an aneurism," teased Mars, to which Serenity just pouted, knowing she could say something, but she just let it go. Mercury then said, "Well, if you shall excuse me I have to...uh...change...well...take care of some lady things...yeah."
She left with no one knowing what that was all about. She was embarrassed to tell them that she had to make some garment changes.
Later on, the inner scouts met, and Mercury asked for everyone's assistance. She wanted to send each one of them out with two of her scientists, and four Greenbacks. Ceres then said that he would bring four of his best marines with him in his case. Everyone agreed, and hovercrafts were readied for all of them. Soon the hovercrafts were skimming on the water's surface, and they soon found themselves being escorted by a pod of the mind whales. It amazed them that the creatures had the ability to keep up. Serenity, upset that she missed her chance at this, took off a glove and reached out to touch one when no one was looking. One of the creatures saw this and came up to her. She touched its back, and the link was made. Within about five seconds, she heard achildlike voice say, "Energy...happy...play!"
Mercury, in the next craft over, saw this and said, "No! You're not ready for it!"
The whale began to make the happy sounds they heard earlier, so there was no fear, but they were surprised when the creature moved forward quickly and bumped her hand with its dorsal fin. Because she was still in contact with the creature, she instinctively grabbed it, and over she went. She came to, and then quickly grabbed a tight hold of the dorsal fin. "YOUR MAJESTY!" called out the Greenbacks, but the creatures pulled away from the crafts and into the middle of the pod. They all began to click gleefully as they all rubbed up against her legs. They were not crushing them, but they were gentle. They started to do bows and spinning jumps in the water. Serenity was screaming the whole way. At some point, she lost her grip, but one of the whales was quick to get underneath her when she entered the water, and she was being passed from whale to whale. After about five minutes of this, she was deposited back on the craft amidst the gleeful chirps of the whales as they swam beside them. She panted heavily and had a look on her face not unlike that of a cat that had just escaped the water-filled bathtub into which it had fallen. At first, there was an urge to ask if she was okay, but then all the inner scouts could contain no more and burst out in hilarious laughter. Obviously, her majesty was not amused!
The whales followed them up to the beach as the crafts made for solid land, posed in the surf, and then flopped back into the water. When the craft settled on the beach, Mercury made sure to make a thorough examination of her majesty. Everyone was still trying to stifle snickers as she pouted and said,"That was not funny!"
Mercury, in her gentle and consoling way, gently rebuked Serenity, and said,"You should have let me know that was what you wanted. We could have prepared you for that. You should have known better."
"But, they were so pretty, and nothing happen to you," returned Serenity.
"Well, that's not entirely true," admitted Mercury, and then she whispered into her ear what she had to do after. Serenity looked at her amazed, and then turned red as she giggled. Mercury then said, "Can you keep it a secret?"
"As long as you can keep this a secret," answered Mercury. However, Mars then said, "She may, but unfortunately, the recorders that were set up for the exploration caught the whole thing!"
"NO!" exclaimed Serenity and she gave a royal command to have all such actions eradicated. However, Mercury said, "Unfortunately, your husband said that everything we do must be kept for the value of the exploration we do now. I'm afraid that it is not going to happen."
Serenity looked shocked, and then said, "I'll...uh...I override it!"
Venus then looked at her and said, "You really want to make this an act of congress, your majesty?"
Knowing how the kingdom constitution was set up, she knew that, if she disputed it, it could become something far more than needed, and so she was stuck. Jupiter then said, "Besides, isn't it you that always says that she want to remain true to the people, and to be herself? Now, would it be right for her majesty to be two faced like that?"
She never liked when they pulled this royal talk on her, especially when they were playing her conscience. "No," Serenity finally conceded with a sigh, "I suppose you're right. I kind of deserved that."
Venus came up and gave her a little hug, and said, "It's okay. At least they meant you no harm. Besides, you can now say that you were the first to swim with these creatures. If they end up that friendly, you and Mercury may have discovered creatures with which possible colonists can have a symbiosis if they keep their emotions in check."
Serenity smiled and said, "Thank you, Venus; you have always been like a big sister to me!"
"I always consider that a great compliment," Venus answered.
Ceres then looked around and said, "Well, are we ready to go? We didn't come over eight light years just to look at the place!"
They all laughed and prepared to head out to their various adventures.
While all this was going on, another Gnarl vessel approached the solar system, hoping to do some more thorough exploration. However, this time, they were not unseen. The ship was not cautious, and approached too near Pluto, or near enough to where certain alarms were sounded within the military instillation on the planetoid. That was immediately transferred to the two CT cruisers on picket duty at that time. They cloaked and went to where the data told them to go. While all this was going on, Princess Pluto was making her way to the ready room where she would be briefed on what was going on. She then contacted the other outer scouts and King Endymion. Once they were conference called in, they transmitted in encoded transmissions to the two cruisers tracking the situation. The king then said, "What's going on?"
"We may have an unexpected intruder, your majesty," explained Pluto.
With that, images were coming in from the cruisers. What they saw what they had to assume was a craft of some sort, because it indeed had a look of something that had been built by an intelligent species of creature. It was silver in color, about the size of a heavy cruiser, in the shape of a long tube with a slight waviness to it. As soon as that was seen, a command was sent for some fighters to come out and make a pass. They wanted to assess if this was friend or foe, and did not want to give an indication of hostility by sending something that could not threaten a vessel of such a size, and also knowing that the cruisers sat at the ready if it got ugly. It so happened that the Princess Usagi and the Amazoness Quartet were the only ones available and near enough to react, so they went out. Princess Pluto then said to them as they passed by that location, "Use all peaceful hailing frequencies with all known forms of communication and speech. The computer will put together many different combinations until we can find one that links with them. Remember: we have not established their intent, or whether or not they are friend or foe, so be casual and maintain formation."
Usagi acknowledged and they headed off towards that ship.
The five fighters approached the vessel, and they indeed were the pride of stealth squadron. They were the newest of the F-54 stealth space fighters. They had a sleek arrowhead design, and had a twin tail and wing configuration that allowed for atmospheric flight if needed. They also had a single warp engine underneath and an impulse engine aft. When in an atmosphere, the warp engine allowed for full VSTOL capabilities. Their design was to ensure no detection when approaching a fight, and to deflect any craft's ability to lock onto them. They approached in a "V" formation, and sent out the frequencies before they approached, knowing that they would not be detected before they were seen. Sailor Pallus then said, "PallaPalla doesn't like this. PallaPalla has a bad feeling."
"Will you relax!" said Sailor Juno, "Everything gives you a bad feeling."
"Still, her instincts are good about things, so don't discount them," said Sailor Ceres.
"CreCre's right," said Sailor Vesta, "We don't know what they intend."
"Then we all need to cut the chatter and stay sharp," said Usagi.
"Sorry, your highness," said CreCre, "brother would never tolerate it."
"Speaking of which, how is he?" asked JunJun, "It such an amazing thing how he turned out to be our brother, and we all really sisters."
"Yeah," said Usagi, "You never really have shared that story with me."
"Maybe on the way back," said VesVes, "Right now, let's tend to business."
They soon had the unknown vessel in sight, and they were now silent and on their toes.
Meanwhile, on the Gnarl Craft, the communications officer said, "Sir, we have five small craft approaching us. It seems they are trying to hail us."
The captain was immediately alert, and a visual was brought up on his main viewing screen. He started to look around, all nervous, not sure how to react. His first officer said, "Sir, we've been detected. Should we answer hail? They seem to have found a way to communicate."
"We were not supposed to be detected at all!" he snapped in panic, "We cannot act like we have a peaceful intent, because that would spoil everything."
"Would it not be better subterfuge?" asked the first officer, "I mean, they could think us friends, and then, once they lower their guard, her majesty can call for us to strike."
"No, that's not what she ordered," he said, glaring at his first officer, "I do not want to face her if we botch this! Scramble some fighters!"
General quarters were sounded, the vessel was brought to yellow alert, (where weapons would be readied, but not in a full combat mode, without deflectors raised.) However, that was not unnoticed.
Right away, the sensors on both the cruisers and the fighters began to sound the alarm of weapons arming. "This isn't good!" said PallaPalla, "They want to fight."
"Maybe not," said Usagi, "It may just be an act of caution. We would have done the same."
Yet, as an answer to this, ten sphere shaped craft came out of the alien vessel and approached them rapidly, and their sensors were showing growing balls of energy growing on each side of the spheres. "Now we know they want to fight!" shouted Usagi, "Raise shields! Counterattack pattern echo...GO!"
The fighters scattered and shaped into the ordered pattern to intercept the fighters. Endymion, knowing that his daughter was out there, also understood that, though all this may have been a misunderstanding, he could not take that chance. "Blow that thing out of the sky!" he shouted, and the two cruisers came out of cloak, at full red alert, shields up and weapons armed. On the Gnarl ship, warning sirens were sounding, they being completely caught off guard by the appearance of the cruisers. Shields went up, but they were not to get the first volley as they were readying their weapons into a full combat configuration. In a flash, photon torpedoes were flying at the vessel and giving it a good shaking. Even though it had full deflector shields, this did not mean that the vessel was not subject to being shaken about by the impact. The Gnarl on board were being knocked off their feet if they were not secured in their seats as the first officer said, "They pack quite a punch."
"SHUT UP AND RETURN FIRE, YOU FOOL!" screamed the captain in reply, "FIRE EVERYTHING!"
The Gnarl vessel came alive with light as its weapons opened up. White glowing balls with red tails looking like little comets were coming from the Gnarl batteries, and they were giving the CT cruisers a rattling. "How are you holding?"
"She's shaking us, but all is well for now!" they said, "Interesting weapons they have."
"Analyzing that now," said Princess Neptune as she tracked the battle.
Meanwhile, the five were facing the ten in a hard dogfight. PallaPalla screamed, "PallaPalla have two on her tail! PallaPalla can't shake them!"
She swayed back and forth as they fired similar weapons that the mother craft used. JunJun said, "I'm with you! Do the pick and roll!"
PallaPalla headed right for JunJun, and suddenly shot up. Before one of the fighters could react, JunJun's twin rail guns opened up. They hit so close, and hit so rapidly that it ripped through the shields, and then through the enemy fighter. It exploded in a fireball and then faded just as quickly as debris went everywhere. The other fighter dodged this, trying to regain its faculties, when the other half of the pick and roll hit, and PallaPalla dropped behind him. "Now PallaPalla has a turn!" she said angrily as she opened up and blew him to bits. "Whee!" she said, "PallaPalla make pretty fireball!"
JunJun just shook her head as she went to join the others.
The other three were now interweaving with one another, making themselves ahard target, and interweaving with the enemy as they exchanged fire. Because they had been together for so long, they all knew well how each other thought, and they were prepared for a moment like this. As the enemy fighters readied for another pass, Pallus and Juno hit from the flank, each one popping three more between them. The remaining five scattered, but now the princess and her escorts now reformed as Usagi said, "Attack pattern zulu...GO!"
The five then bunched up and headed for the approaching squadron. As they neared, the bunch suddenly spread in a line, and then a crescent, the points facing forward. The enemy, who had prepared to meet the tight pack, was now in disarray as they tried to adjust to the new formation. This caused two of them to collide. Because of their shields, they did not explode, but they began to spiral out of their group. As the crescent approached, they got around the enemy and opened up and closed the horns, the two out of control fighters being the first to be targeted. Within moments, there was nothing left. The five then slowed and reformed, with Usagi saying, "Prepare for strafing runs once they have the enemy ship's shields down."
The two CT cruisers were hitting them with the torpedoes, hitting them with the particle accelerators on broadsides when they turned. The weapons on the enemy ship, however, were hitting hard, and one of the vessels said, "Shields down to 55%. I don't know how much more we can take."
"Just keep fighting," said Endymion, "How are they doing?"
The other cruiser said, "We detect their shields weakening. Another torpedo pass and we may be able to get them down."
The two cruisers reformed and set up to hit them with enfilading fire. As they did, they were being hit hard. Cruiser one said, "Shields now 30%," and cruiser two said, "Shields at 64%."
However, the chance came when the Gnarl ship suddenly had a torpedo rip all the way through the hull. On that ship, the call was made, "Shields breached! We're nothing more than a practice target!"
"Keep fighting, but we cannot afford capture!" said the captain, with the rest of the bridge crew knowing what that meant. The captain then said, "If it gets bad enough, I press the button."
Once the shields came down, the fighters were on them like a swarm of hornets. The CT cruisers now started to hammer the alien vessel, and suddenly, that ship's batteries stopped. Once this was detected, the fighters pulled back and a command was given to demand surrender and to take on boarders. As this was happening, all ships' sensors detected a swift increase in energy from the rear of the ship. "EMERGENCY WARP!" was shouted, and all the ships warped to the orbit of Saturn before they stopped. The enemy ship then exploded and faded out as the debris field scattered. "What happened?" shouted the king, to which one of the captains said, "We detected the power surge in their engine room area, or what had to be, which only could have been one of two things: either they had a core breach, or they self destructed. If it's the latter, then they wanted to avoid capture."
"We have plenty of data here," said Uranus, "That's for intel to deal with: that's our department."
"Get me a report as soon as you can," stated Endymion, and Saturn stated, "Fear not, your majesty, they may have said more about themselves than for which they cared."
"Shall we tell the queen?" asked Pluto.
After a moment's silence, the king said, "Not yet: this was just one incident, and we have enough here to handle things if it gets bad. If it does, we shall recall them. I don't want to worry her, and besides, you know what happens when she panics."
They all rolled their eyes, knowing what that meant. She normally had a level head, but if it went bad enough, either she was focused like a laser and knew just what to do, or she was like the man who jumped on his horse and rode off madly in all directions. "We'll have that data to you soon, for now, it is our top priority," responded Pluto, "Saturn, we'll meet on Titan and go over this. We may have to put in some spy work on this one."
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