The *Ronin's* shuttlebay lay in semi-darkness. Spotlights illuminated the eerie, sinister tangle of twisted limbs and trunks that was the salvaged Kelvan data core. Faint shimmers, looking almost like an aurora borealis, cascaded up and down its otherwise inert length, and the pointed tips of individual branches sparked with pinpoints of brilliance.
The crewman assigned to watch the device was nodding at his post -- a man could only stare at an unmoving object in a darkened room for so long before becoming drowsy. That was why he didn't notice the sudden change that overcame the alien artifact.
The cascading light show started cascading faster across the data core, and the pinpoints of brilliance shone more brilliantly and began pulsing on and off rhythmically. Had the crewman been paying the slightest attention, he would have heard the growing subsonic rumble from the device and sounded the alarm. As it was, no alarm was sounded.
Down on the floor of the shuttlebay, the Kelvan data core came to life. Its entwined limbs began uncoiling themselves from each other's hideous embrace like a nest of gargantuan anacondas just waking up in the morning. Silently, they stretched out from the central knot until the entire lower half of the shuttle bay was in their grip. The narrow tips of the limbs worked their way into the cracks at the edges of access panels, wedging them open, then connected to the exposed ODN lines.
At this point, the *Ronin's* automatic internal sensors detected something was amiss, and sounded the alert klaxon on their own. The slumberous crewman was startled awake and almost fell out his chair. In a state of near-panic, inspired in equal parts by the ship's red alert status and the fact that he realized he'd been sleeping while on duty, he ran to the window looking out into the shuttlebay. Hands pressed against the transparent aluminum, he gazed out in horror at the tentacled Kelvan horror that had taken over the bay, thinking furiously what he could do.
But it was too late....
Deep under the northern pole of the lead Kelvan Battle Planet in the cavernous command complex, Fleet Admiral Dernom of the Second Kelvan Empire lay sprawled in his command pit. His baleful yellow eye glared angrily at the primary display grid suspended before him. He wasn't angry at anything in particular, that's just the way he normally was. As a matter of fact, his general anger level was slightly lower today -- things were going his way.
On the holographic display field, the surrounding Galactic sectors were being displayed. Fully one half of the view was obscured by a vast, treacherous nebula, the Briar Patch. Impassable to the majority of his armada, it had been had decided to bypass it for now in favor of dealing with this pathetic Federation's homeworlds first. There would always be time afterward to return with a few heavily armed Battle Planets and eradicate or enslave the foolish resistors who vainly hid within its borders.
But that plan had now changed. Some new information had arrived in his command cavern from a data core aboard a ship in orbit around a planet that was deep within the nebula. The core had tapped into the ship's own computer systems and transmitted everything it found to its masters. It turned out that this ship was the very one that had destroyed several of his Battle Planets, and its crew was even now working out a plan to stop the Kelvan invasion.
Dernom flashed some of his tentacles across the control surfaces, and several of the armada's Battle Planets altered course towards the Briar Patch, the ship *"Ronin"*, and the planet "Aooga". Not because he thought for instant the humans could succeed, but because he recognized the architecture of the structure down on the planet.
He'd seen it before.