Precious Cargo

The old tanker shuddered violently as it dropped out of warp speed, causing him to stumble and grab a nearby pipe for support. He was never particularly fond of space travel, especially in a ship so aged it could fall apart at any second, but this time it was necessary.

The sound of the automatic door sliding open caught his attention. In the doorway stood a grizzled, older man in an outdated service jacket with his trusty holopad in hand. He was the captain of the tanker, and was visibly annoyed.

"You're putting me through a lot of trouble, Dr. Klein," said the captain, eyeing the good doctor. With the scientist's fancy coat and neatly trimmed hair, he seemed very out of place in that rusted space bucket of a ship.

"I know, Jeffrey," Klein admitted. "I am sorry to make you do this, but it is quite urgent."

The captain was not a fan of the situation, but refrained from showing as much. "Don't pay it any mind now. Besides, you're paying me more than enough to make it worth my time."

The scientist nodded. "Are we almost there?"

"Yeah," said the captain, pointing towards the window on the other side of the quarters. "Once we maneuver over the asteroid belt, we should be home free."

Klein breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Jeffrey. I knew you were the right man for the job."

The captain rolled his eyes. "Come on, doc. You and I both know that isn't true. You just chose me because I'm the least likely to double cross you."

The scientist shrugged. "It's hard to find a good smuggler these days."

The captain raised an eyebrow. "True, but I usually like to know what I'm hauling. You know, to evaluate the risk."

Klein shook his head in annoyance, then eyed the briefcase that was handcuffed to his wrist. "Like I told you before, Jeffrey, you can't know what I'm transporting. No one can. By order of the Grand Master."

The captain waved his hand dismissively. "I get the deal. Top secret science stuff. Why you would need to run something all the way out to the other side of the galaxy is beyond me, but I guess that's your business."

The weathered man put his hands in his pockets and turned to walk out. "Let me know if you need anything, doc. I'll be up on the bridge."

"Will do, Jeffrey," Klein replied, and watched the captain depart for the bridge. Once he had gone, the doctor turned his attention to his secured briefcase. He wanted to see the object again. Carefully, he set the case on a tiny twin bed fit into the corner of the quarters, and turned the lock towards him. Quickly, he scanned his thumb on a finger pad and bent down to initiate a retinal scan.

Three small green lights and a faint click indicated that the case was unlocked. Slowly, Dr. Klein lifted the top to reveal a simple jet-black rock nestled in high quality felt. The scientist dared not move it. Looking at it was more than enough. The rock seemed normal from a distance, but up close… it was so black that it seemed to begin absorbing everything around it like a miniature black hole.

The scientist shook his head rapidly, freeing himself from the powerful illusion, and quickly slammed the case shut. A red light and short tone announced that the case had been locked again. Klein took a deep breath. The anomaly was extraordinary.

He pondered its purpose until a strange cracking sound could be heard in the distance. Curious, he double checked to make sure the case was secure and then went to the window for a look, only to be met with a bright orange flash.

BOOM! The entire ship was thrust aside from the force of the nearby explosion. Alarmed, Klein sprinted out into the corridor, case in hand, in search o the captain. He didn't have to travel far before he was grabbed from the side and thrust against the wall.

The impact dazed the scientist as someone grabbed him by the collar. "What the hell is going on Dr. Klein?!" the captain asked angrily.

"Jeffrey? What's going on?"

The captain clenched his teeth and shoved the scientist again. "It's Captain Lockner to you! I want to know what you have in that case, doc!"

Klein wrapped both his arms protectively around the case. "I can't tell you!"

"The hell you can't!" exclaimed the captain, grabbing the scientist again. He dragged him over to a large nearby window and pointed out. "See that?!"

Dr. Klein looked out and was shocked to see an enormous battle cruiser hot on their tail.

"That," growled the captain, "is a Republic Cruiser! Explain to me why Republic forces are all the way out here trying to tear us to pieces!"

The good doctor had no response. He couldn't disclose any information or else he risked a fate worse than death. His mission was above top secret. Only the Grand master and the tanker upon which they were traveling knew of the plan. How did the Republic find out so quickly?

Before Klein could say a word, the ship's intercom buzzed to life with the voice of another crew member. "Captain! We are detecting another object dropping out of warp speed!"

The captain grimaced and lifted a finger to activate his ear com. "Another Republic Cruiser? That's overkill!"

"No sir! This one is massive! At least twenty times larger than a cruiser!"

The captain emitted an expression of disbelief and looked frantically back out of the window with Dr. Klein in anticipation of the new arrival. Sure enough, an even louder crack shook the tanker's very frame as a space craft of unimaginable size dropped out of warp speed.

"Christ almighty…" the captain whispered.

Klein stared in awe as the stars vanished behind what could only be described as a gargantuan arrowhead of doom, so black in color that it appeared to suck in everything around it… just like the anomaly in the briefcase.

"Oh my god," the scientist gasped. "It's… a Spire! I never thought I would see one with my own eyes!"

They observed in amazement as the massive ship suddenly began to glow a nasty green color through horizontal emission vents scattered across its entire body. It seemed to unfold itself as it built up energy in a now visible internal superweapon.

The captain and scientist could only watch with terror as the Spire suddenly unleashed an etheric green laser, completely obliterating the Republic Cruiser in a matter of seconds.

Captain Lockner's fists trembled with fear as the Spire slowly turned towards their measly tanker. "Why… Why are they after us?!"

Dr. Klein glanced down at the briefcase, and his eyes widened when he saw the same etheric green light shining out from the seal around the edges.

The scientist turned to the captain with complete disbelief on his face. "Looks like the Ancients want their rock back."