"Mere curiosity perhaps, Captain. Perhaps it is intelligent enough to communicate and just needs to get closer to do so. Or, as we've seen in the past, it may think we qualify as sustenance or a threat to its territory. Again, I need more information."
         "Then you'll have to get it on the Emergency Bridge. Report there immediately. I'll take your place here." He needed Jones in the most protected place on the ship, just in case this contact went badly. He himself was no slouch as a science officer, having come up through the ranks as a science officer on galactic survey ships.
         "Aye, Captain, I'm on the way." Jones saluted smartly, and then headed for the turbolift. Folomar returned the salute, but his mind was already racing ahead. Until he had more information, he dared not attack the creature, even if it proved dangerous. The universe was full of infinite possibilities. For example, phaser energy or the energy release from a photon torpedo impact could just as easily make the creature stronger or be a catalyst for instant reproduction. Who knows, the tickle of a phaser might be misconstrued as a mating call by this thing.
Additionally, he had no indication other than the interception course the creature had embarked on that might indicate hostile intent. He needed more information. Until then, I'm just operating in a vacuum. He smiled inwardly at the thought. The smile faded quickly as he brought his mind back to the business at hand and considered his options. Luckily, as the captain of a GVX, he had many means to gather intelligence.
         "Lieutenant Garner, verify all the drone racks are loaded with probe drones. If not, make it so."
         "Aye, Captain," his weapons officer acknowledged. The Powell, as one of the new-technology class ships, had a large number of special drones on board that had been loaded specifically for this survey mission. Some of them were already conveniently loaded in the drone racks. They would come in handy in their observation of the entity. He flicked his intercom switch.
         "Launch control, ready the electronic warfare fighter for immediate launch, with a full load of probe drones. Also, load a sensor pod onto another F-111, with a full load of probe drones. After you get those two launched, launch the multi-role shuttle with probe drones, and then launch all three administrative shuttles. Then start loading probe drones onto the fighter reload racks."
         "Yes, Captain." The strong voice of the launch control officer came back immediately. He flicked the intercom switch again.
         "Doctor Prouter?"
         "Yes, Captain?" came her disembodied reply. He could hear a slight note of irritation in her voice. He had probably interrupted her in the middle of a story.
         "The nebula is giving up one of its secrets." He quickly filled her in on the few specifics they had discovered so far.
         "Well, gemminy. All right, Captain, we'll tie in the scout sensors to the lab computers here, with your permission." Prouter was all business now.
         "Go ahead, Doctor. I sent Jones to the Emergency Bridge. Coordinate your research with him please." He switched off the intercom button before she could remonstrate. While Jones and Prouter were officers of the first caliber, occasionally their personalities just . . . clashed. He didn't have time to soothe any ruffled egos right now. He grimaced slightly, flicking the intercom switch again. Speaking of egos . . .
         "Lieutenant Commander Joprin?"
         "Yes, Sir?" The voice of the leader of his Prime Team came back instantly. The human must have been monitoring ship communications and had probably anticipated his call.
         "Get your team to one of the labs and get to work. It's time for you to earn your pay again."
         "Roger, Captain. That's why they pay us the big credits." The human's voice was full of supreme confidence in his abilities and that of his Prime Team.
         Folomar cut the intercom channel, a wistful feeling abruptly coming over him. I remember those days of utmost confidence. Another thought interrupted that one. That confidence others probably saw as bordering on arrogance, as I now see Joprin's. But that was long before the sacrifices of the General War took all the arrogance away from me.
         "Helm, keep us ahead of the contact until we get all the probe drones loaded and our intelligence assets launched. No need to get close until we are ready." The helmsman acknowledged the order and immediately he felt the ship begin to turn away from the creature.
         He stood up from the command chair and headed for the science station. He was prepared to give the creature the benefit of a doubt. It would indeed be a wondrous thing if this entity displayed a benevolent intelligence. But a dark foreboding gripped him. The twisting knot dead-centered between his shoulder blades told him that this would not be a peaceful encounter.

Space Manta

         Irritated, the Manta watched as its prey danced away just ahead of it. It had hoped that the food beast would not realize its danger before it was too late. Such an early discovery of its approach usually corresponded to a high probability of escape by its prey. The creature accelerated slightly, but already it could feel the first feather-light touches of fatigue. It would not be able to keep up this pace for long, but the food beast was tantalizingly close. The Manta judged that the richness of the meal more than justified the effort. It would eat well if it managed to snare its prey. If not, it would return to the nebula. The energy it had expended in this chase might take a decade or more to regain through its normal absorption processes, but prey had occasionally escaped before, and doubtless would again. The hunter was not always successful. The universe did not care.