"Planet coming within visual range now sir," said McMillan from the helm.
"On screen," ordered Pike. The bridge's main viewer swam into focus, showing a dull gray rock of a planet. Evans' hopes vanished when he saw it. He knew what the sensor report would be. Sure enough, Lieutenant Benton didn't disappoint.
"Planetoid is class-D, nickel-iron core. No atmosphere. No energy readings. No lifesigns," he intoned with as little enthusiasm as he thought he could get away with, not even bothering to look up from the science station.
"How many is that?" moaned Tyran from Tactical.
"Eleven in the last four days," grumbled Talsmin in reply from his post at Ops.
Pike wished Ming were still aboard to man the science station, but he was still on the mission with the officers from Starbase 901 and the *Hornet*. Lieutenant Benton's surly attitude was beginning to affect the other officers. "Belay the grumbling everybody, unless you think you'd *prefer* living in a galaxy overrun by giant tentacled monsters," snapped Pike sternly. Chastised, the bridge officers turned sullenly back to their own tasks.
Inwardly, Pike didn't really blame them for their dissatisfaction though. Four days of barking up wrong trees was bound to be a little aggravating. Still, they were narrowing their search field; it was only a matter of time before they uncovered the location of the dread pirate Kelly's secret hideout and its cache of Iconian technology.
Just as these thoughts were running around Pike's head, Nige called out excitedly from the back of the bridge. "Admiral!"
Pike turned around in his seat. "What is it, mister Tyran?"
"I have a very faint energy trail, port side," said Tyran. He squinted at his console displays and made a few delicate adjustments, interpreting the readouts as they came in. "It looks like a warp trail, sir. And the records we got from Starbase 901 definitely show that there was no authorized travel in this sector for the last two weeks, so--"
"So whoever left this warp trail was unauthorized, and that means pirates," finished Pike. He smiled at Tyran and said, "Looks like we have our first actual lead to follow."
Pike turned back around to face front and addressed McMillan. "Lieutenant, get a fix on that warp trail and plot a course to follow it."
"Activate the cloaking device. Now that we're on their tail, we don't want to spook them."
Pike smiled fiercely in anticipation of the hunt, now that the hunt had actually finally begun, and judging from their enthusiastic responses to his orders, the crew felt the same.
The *Ronin* rose higher and higher above the cold surface of the class-D planetoid in a wide hyperbolic arc, and once free of the last tenuous wisps of its gravity, flashed away in a burst of warp energy.
Unseen by the *Ronin's* sensors, a small vessel, also cloaked, emerged from where it had lain hidden in a nearby nebula streamer and aligned itself on an intercept vector. It's warp coils flared green, and then it too disappeared in a flash of warp particles.
*Three hours later....*
Pike looked up from the PADD he was reading and said, "Report."
Tyran continued, "We're approaching an uncharted star system, sir."
"Uncharted?" said Pike. He got up from the command chair and walked around the railing and up the steps to the Tactical station. "It's not in Starbase 901's database?"
Tyran double-checked, but his findings were the same. "No sir," he reported confidently.
"Hmm," he said, absentmindedly rubbing his chin. "Just the place for a group of pirates and smugglers to set up shop...." He crossed the rear of the bridge over to the science station. "Sensors?"
Benton was already at work. After a few moments, he stated, "The warp trail leads to the second planet in the system. Class-M. There are several other warp signatures around the planet, both inbound and outbound."
"Anything else?" asked Pike impatiently.
"Not at this range."
"Very well." Pike turned away from Benton and completed his circuit of the bridge, finally sitting down in the command chair again. "Helm, enter an extended orbit around the second planet."
"Aye-aye, Admiral," said McMillan.
"Mister Benton, conduct your scans as soon as we're in orbit and bring your findings to the briefing room in half an hour."