The communications adepts arrayed along banks of screens and cogitator consoles worked furiously, some typing rapidly with cybernetic fingers, others jacked directly into the Vengeful Spirit
by neuro-link. All of them worked to spread the Warmaster's message in as many dialects and frequencies as they knew. They left their secure frequencies dead, not wishing the Replicator threat to intercept their secure channels so soon. Horus could not be sure what level of electronic warfare the machine-race was capable of while they were still planetside, but an unknown threat demanded caution.
A master of signal near the dais of Horus' throne approached the Warmaster, and saluted him in greeting. "My Lord-Primarch,
" said the Astartes soldier, arrayed in naval fatigues rather than ceramite plate, "We are being hailed. I am patching you through.
Horus resumed his place on his command throne to receive the message. An admiral, Killian, had answered their hail with suspicion. Another holographic display flicked to life, showing his ship and its escorts closing on the Vengeful Spirit
's position. Horus began to bark orders to nearby attendants, who scurried off to carry out his orders. He was preparing to open a communications link with the Exodus
, complete with video feed.
The feed went live, and Horus prepared his greeting. He sat attentively at his throne, grasping the armrests carved into the shapes of snarling wolves. In the backdrop behind him, the Eye of Horus loomed, burning orange-red. With no baseline humans anywhere visible for a point of comparison, Horus' tremendous bulk was belied, and across the video feed he seemed like nothing more than a muscular, bull-necked man.
"I am named Horus Lupercal. I am Warmaster of the Imperium of Man, and Primarch of the Sixteenth Astartes Legion. I am in this system to clean up your mess. Replicators are eating this world alive from the inside out, you will need all of the help you can get.
" The master of signal barked, and immediately patched it through to Horus.
This was a much different figure, General O'Neil, of the Prometheus
, which the holo-display identified and showed sailing toward them. The Vengeful Spirit
was beginning to collect hangers-on like an orbit of planets about a star. Horus commanded for another broadcast to be prepared, this time directed at these newcomers.
"General, I am Warmaster Horus Lupercal, I command the Vengeful Spirit. I am most interested in any intelligence you have on the Replicator threat. Please allow me to extend an invitation to come aboard and join my war council.
"Bring us in at one-quarter impulse.
" Captain Picard commanded the helm, and the Enterprise
-D sailed smoothly toward the mustering fleet.
The Captain watched the bridge view-screen warily, his brow furrowed, gripping the arms of his captain's chair. He saw the planet below them, a veritable ecumenopolis, and the hundreds, maybe thousands of ships circling around it like buzzing flies. He wondered if the planet they had been transported across universes and dimensions to save was already dead and did not know it. Unseen, thousands of miles below them, Replicators ate away at the world, consuming and growing like a cancer. This was a worst-case scenario in his mind, like the most fevered nightmares he had suffered after his capture by the Borg. Even if this world could not be saved, he would have to try.
"Mister Data, are our sensors capable of identifying Replicator activity from orbit?
" The easiest way to cure a cancer? Cut it out.
" Data replied succinctly, and turned around from the ops console to speak to the Captain directly, "The electronic interference radiating from this planet is too dense to identify individual signatures. If we could isolate the Replicators' energy signal, or identify a material present in their construction that is not present terrestrially, it may be possible.
"Thank you, Mister Data.
" Picard mulled over this information. It was not outside the range of possibility, but they were lacking vital intelligence. What they needed was a subject to study, dead or alive. The idea of bringing technology-assimilating machines aboard the Enterprise was daunting, but they had managed to keep Borg subject captive before.
The tactical console chirped, and Lieutenant Worf said, "Captain, we are being hailed. Multiple ships, each has a different energy signature and identity protocols.
Picard shared a look with Commander Riker. Both men seemed exasperated by the chaos of their current situation. Picard answered, "Put the hails onscreen, Mister Worf. We'll answer them as they come in.
The first hails were audio only. Foremost was from the Vengeful Spirit
, which Worf identified as the staggeringly-massive ship looming in high orbit about the planet. It was larger even than a Borg vessel, and looked like a skyscraper set adrift in the heavens. They didn't have the linkup that their leader, the "Warmaster," was requesting, and answered them with a standardized greeting. Picard did not like the sound of that title, Warmaster, it spoke of a culture very much at odds with the Federation's own.
The next one was from a USAF General. "U-S-A-F?
" Worf voiced his confusion.
"United States Air Force, a 20th century Earth military organization.
" Data answered, in his usual helpful, informative tone. "Historical data suggests that the organization was destroyed at some point during World War III. Though I do not have any record of interstellar spacecraft being constructed under that identifier.
"Different universes, Data.
" Picard said. "A different Earth, with a history totally different to ours.
" He looked to Worf, "Hail them.
" Picard straightened his uniform blouse, preparing for video communication, and once the frequency was open he said, "General O'Neil, this is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship Enterprise. We read you and are ready to engage. Any information you would care to share with us regarding our mutual problem would be greatly appreciated.