Perimeter Recon Frigate Nautilus

August 17, 2619

It was all too clear, Captain Salsman realized, that his ship had seen better days. He remembered entering her bridge for the first time; his first impression had been a luxurious, warm and welcoming space, a delicate blend of aesthetic and function. Now, twenty-five years later, compared to the newer starships' bridges, it was cold and unreceptive, a perfect mirror for the empty space on the other side of the bulkhead. His impression of his ship had certainly diminished, as had his pride as he commanded what was once a frontline combatant, providing cover for the one of the most powerful warships the Navy had ever built. Now that ship was scrapped, and the Nautilus was stuck, with her jaded captain, at the edge of the Sol system, watching and waiting for an enemy that could, by the Navy's own admission, as easily slip in at an angle to the orbital plane.

So the ring of recon ships circling the system seemed trivial. But they were too old for battle, and too small to provide significant amounts of scrap metal, which the Navy had aplenty.

There was a war going on, and Captain Salsman had seen precious little of it. The Nautilus had been involved in three major engagements before the Navy deemed it unfit to oppose the superior warships of the modern Sirian Navy. Given his performance in those engagements, Salsman had assumed he would be reposted to a newer starship; instead he remained with his ship as it was reassigned to Passive Defense, Passive Defense Support, and finally Perimeter Reconnaissance. His ship had certainly seen better days, and so, he thought dejectedly, had he.

Unknown to the captain or crew of the Nautilus, the Intrasolar Asteroid and Debris Location and Tracking Center had detected a new object two weeks before; it was certainly of note, being the second-largest asteroid in the entire system – once it finally entered the system. It had no orbit, which meant it was by definition not an asteroid, but it retained all other necessary properties, with one exception: it was emitting heat.

It was an intriguing mystery, but the IADLTC had no other information to go on until the object passed the orbit of Pluto and into the range of one of various research outposts set up on the solar frontier. Meanwhile, their only concern was its proximity to starships in the region. As it happened, there was only one.

So on August 17, 2619 the Nautilus received a message by FTL, in plain text and as concise as possible for minimal transmit time. Be advised, natural object passing into hazardous range; exact trajectory unknown. From that moment on, the Nautilus kept a wary, albeit apathetic eye on the asteroid. When it passed within two thousand kilometers of the Nautilus, however, it exhibited yet another characteristically un-asteroid-like behavior.

It fired upon the Nautilus.

Captain Erik Salsman stepped off of the bridge and into the lift. His shift was over, and he was glad. Life aboard the Nautilus had been dull for many years now, but he preferred spending time in his quarters over the monotonous bridge watch by a long shot. This was soon to end, however, as the first shot from the asteroid reached the Nautilus, vaporizing the bridge and killing the captain and the crew around him.

The explosion awoke Lieutenant Commander Marcel Eaton, who, arriving at the combat direction center, found himself to be the new acting captain. The crew was panicking, rushing to emergency stations while bulkheads slammed shut to seal the vacuum which had once been the bridge. Eaton himself had been with the Nautilus in all three of her major engagements, and was more than capable of remaining cool under fire. But just as he passed through the doorway of the CDC, a second explosion tore the warship's main cannon to shreds; the force of the impact killed two crewmen in the CDC and bestowed upon Eaton a severely broken leg. The former second officer sat up and hobbled into a seat, feeling only marginal relief as he removed the force of his weight from the leg.

"Who is it firing?" he rasped.

"No ships in the area, sir," Crewman Lummis replied, his voice shaking. "Only an asteroid."

"Well put it on visual!" At his command, the large screen above the crew workstations switched to a video image of a large yet unassuming asteroid. "Could the other ship be behind the asteroid?"

"It's possible. There's a lot of metal in the asteroid; we can't see beyond it." Too much metal, Lummis almost wanted to say. Being no expert in the composition of space debris, however, he remained silent. Abruptly, a mind-piercing buzzer sounded. "Third missile incoming!"

"Launch countermeasures."

"Too late!"

The missile appeared as a tiny speck, rounding over the asteroid and growing rapidly larger as it approached its target. As he watched in silence, Eaton began to notice an unusual feature on the surface of the asteroid. "Magnify the view of the asteroid," he said. Despite the impending warhead impact, his curiosity was piqued. The image of the asteroid leapt forward, filling the screen. It was unmistakable – manmade structures protruding from its surface. The asteroid was the enemy ship.

This epiphany had no time to sink in, however, as the world around Eaton was consumed by fire.