Bridge, U.S.S. Colin Powell

         Folomar could feel the tension in the air. He had ordered a turn back into the creature and the distance was closing rapidly. The nebula, now a few hundred thousand kilometers away, provided a backdrop for the monster's approach. As soon as he had ordered the turn, he had begun launching the rest of his manned platforms. Now a small cloud of intelligence assets consisting of the two intelligence-gathering fighters, three administrative shuttles, and the new technology multi-role shuttle, surrounded the Powell. Four probe drones he had launched just prior to beginning the turn were leading them in, but they were getting farther ahead all the time. He had slowed slightly to ensure that the slower, booster-packed administrative shuttles could keep up with them. He did not want to leave any more space between his pilots and the safety of his ship than he had to.
         "Lieutenant Garner, launch four more probe drones," he ordered his helmsman. He glanced over at the communications officer. "Ensign Ross, have the fighters and the MRS launch their probe drones as fast as possible." Dutifully, the communications officer relayed his command. An array of small blips began filling the scope of the lab station as his pilots complied with the order.
         "Range to entity, Garner?"
         "Sir, range is nearing 150,000 kilometers."
         Folomar took a deep breath. The closer they got to the creature, the more likely the chance that he would have to fire his heavy weapons in defense. If he did that, his special scout sensors would be blinded by the discharge of the weapons, and they would lose any information that they had accrued so far on the run in. He could not allow that to happen.
         "Ross, download the information from the scout sensors into the lab computers. Then notify Jones, Prouter, and Joprin that the data is ready for them to begin their analysis."
         "Are you going to want to use probes, Captain?" Garner asked, not taking his eyes from the target.
         "Negative," Folomar replied, "let's see if the probe drones get us what we need."
         Folomar tilted his head back into the science-station library computer. It was a bit difficult concentrating on the information flowing across the screen while simultaneously commanding the ship, but this encounter would be settled based on information gleaned from the computer screen and deciphered by some of the best minds in the Federation, the minds of his crew.

Snake One One

         Hildebrandt concentrated on his instruments as the Spark Vark bored in. He flipped his facemask up so he could read them just a little bit better. In a few more moments, Folomar would give them the order to retreat for rearming and to regroup. This would allow the Science Department on board the Powell time to analyze the data that had been gathered by the various intelligence assets that were in flight.
The heavy fighter rocked hard. Something from the creature exploded nearby. We're still 60,000 kilometers away from that thing. The range is too great for it to be part of the defensive systems we've noted on other deep-space creatures. Briefly, he wondered how an organic creature could fire explosive segments of itself in an instinctive response to danger or the presence of prey and be so darn accurate. That's one for the scientists to figure out. I have more important things to worry about, like staying alive.
         Another explosion burst near them, and the fighter shuddered violently. He felt the universe tilt as the computer threw it into a roll to escape the next set of organic slugs that it had detected inbound. His gee-suit tightened up as his vision began to gray out from the centrifugal force that even the inertial dampeners couldn't compensate for. An acrid smell assaulted his nostrils as the cockpit began filling with smoke. He reached up and slammed his visor shut. The sweet smell of the oxygen mix replaced the acrid tang of the smoke.
         Hildebrandt pulled back on the throttle slightly and punched the button that governed the cockpit fire containment system. He glanced down at his instruments and realized in dismay that more than a quarter of them were dead. Beside him, Rogers was still glued to her EWO panels. If she felt the slightest bit of concern for their safety it did not show.
         Of even more concern, he saw that the MRS and the three administrative shuttles were gone. This thing is damn deadly. Another wave of projectiles blasted out from the creature. Again his vision blurred and the gee-suit squeezed like a vice as his fighter automatically weaved to the side.
         Beside him, he heard Rogers grunt as her helmet slammed against the side of the cockpit.
         "Snake one one, this is Snake one two. We've taken heavy damage and my fighter is crippled. Range is 40,000 kilometers. We've transmitted all the information we can at this time. Turning to withdr . . ." A bright flash of light outside the cockpit caught his attention. Intuitively, he knew it was the death flare of Snake one two.
         Enough of this.
Time to get out of here, Joan."
         "Muzik to my ears, Eric. I'm uploading to the Powell now. Go go go!"
         Hildebrandt grimaced reflexively as he hauled back on the control stick. The Spark Vark leapt in a direction that would have been up if it had been in atmosphere, then half-rolled and finished the maneuver that had been first perfected in war by a German named Max Immelmann in the earliest days of powered flight on Earth.
         As he finished the turn, the Powell came into view, a scant 5,000 kilometers away. The front shield was coruscating through the whole spectrum of visible light as the monster pounded it. The shield visibly strengthened as reserve power buttressed it. More projectiles pounded it mercilessly. Then, with a final flare of violet so deep that his facemask reflexively dimmed, the Powell's shield failed entirely. More weapon hits bloomed against the tough skin of the ship. A great gaping hole was torn into the upper starboard side of the primary hull. The Powell staggered into a turn as it fought to present a fresh shield to the monster. After what seemed like an excruciatingly long period of time, the ship managed to do so.
The Spark Vark shuddered yet again. A piercing alarm sounded. Catastrophic Damage Alert! As trained, he straightened his back and locked his head back against the headrest. He heard Rogers do the same beside him. He reached for the ejection handle between his legs, but the computer beat him to it. Crushing acceleration gripped him as the cockpit ejection rockets began to fire in response to catastrophic-damage protocols.
         The F-111 blew up.