Welcome to the next exciting installment of Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I. If you’ve ever wondered what Star Trek would be like as a modern, Tom Clancy-esque techno-thriller, you’ve come to the right place. Just in case you’ve missed the previous installments, you can find them here:
Fleet Command Headquarters
San Francisco, Planet Earth
When the original designers of Station April put their concept on paper ninety years earlier, they had envisioned a superstructure which went along with the then current tide of natural architecture: instead of just another complex, the buildings themselves would be a living, breathing part of the environment of San Francisco Bay. The admiralty didn’t want to buy into the project at first, mainly because Commander Starfleet kept asking, “What the hell does it say about us if the whole damned place looks like a pile of rocks?” The Federation Council, on the other hand, was crazy about the idea, and in the end the admiralty was forced to see it their way. There were a few ruffled feathers, though; ComStar resigned his post in a righteous furor, and thanks to one clever young ensign the complex was forever after known as the Quarry—though the brass explicitly banned the name from official correspondence.
Station April was originally the planned house for Starfleet Operations, but soon after the original three buildings had been completed it was decided for security reasons to move that section over to the Combined Golden Gate complex. But the Quarry’s legend lived on, and the three buildings remained as they were, overhanging the cliffs and looking down into the bay, appearing very much like alabaster outcroppings of the very foundations upon which they stood. The only clues to their artificial origins were the sweeping, transparent aluminum windows carved into the façades of the buildings, each affording the office levels within a fantastic view of the entire area. The Council had been so impressed, they had turned it into a museum of architectural styles from across the quadrant. The museum had stayed there for almost eighty years, outliving many of the mortals who had designed it, while the buildings themselves grew bigger by the year. By the time the real sweeping changes came, several thousand square meters had already been added, opening into several new rooms just waiting to be filled.
Those changes were implemented because of a covert Romulan infiltration into Operations, one which had penetrated into the highest levels of Fleet Command. The damage had been so severe that it forced a complete reorganization of the Starfleet—including a rework of all codes, ship deployment, and anything else that might have been compromised. Regarded as the greatest intelligence setback of the century, it was immediately classified and put under such tight wraps that fewer than a dozen people ever found out the full extent of the story. Even the Federation president was kept in the dark—no small feat, considering that the office at the time was held by a Betazoid telepath.
The incident also left wide open the question of what to do with Operations. It was obvious to everyone involved that a more secure location was needed—and so the bureaucratic mind reasoned that going back to the Quarry made the most sense, as that was its intended purpose from the beginning. The museum was promptly closed and construction of the new headquarters began immediately. A scant six years later, Fleet Command transferred their flag and their offices over to the old/new complex. They have conducted there business there ever since.
To the uninitiated, it might seem unlikely that an organization so complex as the Starfleet could be run out of a cluster of rock-like structures perched atop the cliffs of San Francisco Bay. Of course, this was exactly the impression Security Division wanted to make: the more innocuous, the better. But there was far more to the Quarry than met the eye—for beneath the cliffs and strata of stone, beneath the sensor screens and subspace jamming fields, beneath the transport scramblers that prevented anything from beaming in and out, an even greater secret lay. Forty levels down, below the waters of the bay, the installation did not even officially exist—even though the people who worked there controlled the information that guided the course of the entire Federation.
Terrence Blake thought of the place as a proud father might think of his son.
He stood at the upper office level, his hands clasped behind his back, standing before a window where anyone could have seen him—even the boaters who sailed across the bay. Up here, it didn’t matter. The purpose was to be seen, not to hide. But a few steps off awaited a turbolift with a conspicuously armed guard that stood watch at all times, one that would whisk him—or any of the precious few who had clearance—into the netherworld of Starfleet Operations.
For now, however, Blake waited. He was a patient man—indeed, he owed much of his career to that trait, and an unearthly ability to size up people for strength and weakness. Conversely, Blake himself was inscrutable and revealed nothing that he didn’t want others to see. That, along with his shrewd political instincts, had given him a reputation for being aloof—one which had earned him the nickname Zeus, the god who views everyone else from on high. It originally began as a joke among the junior officers of USS Amster, where he had served as executive officer a lifetime ago, but the name stuck and followed him here to Fleet Command. Blake knew all about it, of course—he was not a man to miss much of anything; and although he loathed the term, he never once outwardly showed it. Instead he used it like he did all things, to instill a climate of fear among those who served under him.
But there were other reasons that Zeus kept his distance. As a flasg officer, Blake had learned the ways of the politician and knew how to travel in their circles. His smile, for instance, concealed an utter contempt for anyone he didn’t trust—which included just about everyone he had ever met, particularly those on the Federation Council. That club, after all, was teeming with bastards who could not abide each other because they were all exactly alike. Yet at the same time, Blake had developed a definite taste for the life, and could not imagine himself ever leaving it. Despite the constant vigilance required when dealing with snakes, the power that came with it had its own compensations.
But, as he had recently discovered, that power also came with a price.
Blake turned around to find Morrow’s assistant there to greet him. She was young, a newly-minted lieutenant, and the sight of the Chief of Naval Staff immediately put her on edge.
“Commander Starfleet will see you now.”
Blake nodded, which was the full extent of his pleasantries. The lieutenant walked with him as he headed toward the turbolift, careful not to get too close. “I assume that we’re still operating under nominal threat conditions?”
“Yes, sir,” the lieutenant replied, hesitant to give him any answer at all. “Admiral Morrow decided that increased onsite security is not warranted at this time.”
“No surprise there,” Blake remarked as he stepped into the lift. He had proposed raising the threat level at the last emergency session called over the Bezzeret incident—but as usual, the Old Man had wanted to go his own way. “Have the rest of the Staff assemble in the main conference room and inform me when they’re ready. I’ll escort Admiral Morrow there myself.”
“This isn’t a joint briefing, sir.”
Blake stopped, caught completely off guard. He leveled a cold stare at the lieutenant, who remained evasive as she lingered outside the lift.
“Then what’s this about?” he asked pointedly.
“You’ll have to take that up with the admiral, sir.”
Sizing her up, Blake decided that the lieutenant wouldn’t be bullied. The order for this one came straight from the top—and Morrow picked his people well.
“You can be sure I will,” he said, as the doors slid shut.
A markedly artificial voice requested a voice print identification, after which Blake provided a retinal scan to confirm. The lift then started its long descent, the computer not bothering to ask him for a destination. Since all activity within the complex was cleared and programmed in advance, the master security module knew exactly who was supposed to be here, why, and where they were headed. Any deviation from that plan tripped an alert to the station watch officer, who had the authority to take whatever action he deemed necessary to contain the threat. Blake knew that most people didn’t like the idea of a computer looking over their shoulders, but he didn’t much care. As far as he was concerned, nobody could be trusted—including him—and his only regret was that the system wasn’t nearly invasive enough.
It was a lesson the Federation Council had a tough time learning. As much as the civilian government preached preparedness, it had taken the almost unimaginable losses at Wolf 359 to convince them of the need for some real changes—and even then, several members had balked at giving Blake the free rein that he demanded. A well-timed leak of footage from the Borg attack took care of that problem. Faced with a hostile public stoked on fears of the next invasion, the Council had no choice but to see things Blake’s way.
But not before he made them beg for his help first.
The lift stopped at Division C, the lowest level, doors opening on another pair of armed guards. Blake presented his credentials, then passed between them into a tempest of sound and activity. The feel of the air was electric, infused with a persistent tension carried on a hundred different voices ricocheting back and forth. Everywhere Blake looked, throngs of people swelled: civilian specialists, uniformed personnel, legal counselors from every corner of the quadrant—all of them networking as if rank made little difference, which was common here. And even though Blake could only pick out bits and pieces of their conversations, one word stood out clearly in almost all of them.
Blake cast himself into that tide, a flow both human and alien. His senses picked up the thunderous heartbeat of a Zaranite, the potent musky odor of a Rigellian, the arousing brush of a Deltan woman—though few of the faces took notice of him, and no one saluted. In the intelligence game, authority was more a matter of what you knew rather than the braid on your sleeve, so it was very possible for captains to carry out orders given by an ensign, and for a senior chief to run his own section. To outsiders, it seemed just plain crazy—a fact not lost on all the cryptographers, analysts and system engineers based out of Division C. They were, in fact, quite proud of their reputation—so much that they had immortalized it on a large plaque that hung over the central hub, a display so brazen that no one—not even the regulation hounds—had dared to take it down:
You Don’t Have To Be Mad To Work Here
But It Helps
Blake passed under the sign, then down the main corridor to the executive area. There, he checked in with Morrow’s personal security detail. Since ComStar’s office was a vaulted area, the agents scanned Blake for electronic devices before clearing him. With that finished, they unlocked the reinforced door and allowed him to enter.
Halfway through, a derisive voice caught his attention.
“Oh, Zeus,” it mocked. “How the mighty have fallen.”
Blake turned around to see who insulted him, but the culprit stayed hidden in the crowd. Not that it mattered in any case, because Blake knew what it meant: there was blood in the water, and he was the one bleeding. What the lieutenant upstairs had refused to tell him, everyone else already knew.
He’s making his move against me.
Blake had seen this coming. Morrow had been positioning allies for some time—though Blake still didn’t believe that the Old man had gathered near enough political cover to take him on directly. That he had chosen now to pick a fight intrigued Blake almost as much as it infuriated him. The only question was what kind of leverage Morrow thought he had.
And how far he was willing to go.
Preparing himself for battle, Blake went in.
Carlton Morrow’s office was a studied mess, a throwback to the days when flag officers measured their workload by the amount of paper stacked on their desks. Computers had long since displaced the need for hard copies, but that didn’t stop Morrow from requesting them anyway—a practice that drove his yeoman crazy, what with a perfectly functional V-terminal gathering dust in the back corner. The yeoman had once left it on for him, as a gentle way of prodding the boss into checking his own e-mail and detail summaries; upon making this discovery, however, Morrow instead removed the unit’s power module and started using the component as a coffee cup warmer. Short of coming equipped with warp drive and a phaser bank, technology—in his view, at least—didn’t get much more useful than that.
People, on the other hand, were far less predictable. Although Morrow had known Terrence Blake was trouble even before Fleet Command fast-tracked his rise to the admiralty, even he had been utterly shocked at how quickly the man powered his way through the bureaucracy. Within the space of a year, Blake had already collected his second star and become Chief of Naval Staff—a promotion that Morrow had lobbied hard against, only to be overruled by a Secretary of the Starfleet anxious to have a genuine war hero to put front and center with the Federation Council. It didn’t matter that Blake had survived Wolf 359 by what was, in Morrow’s judgment, the wildest stroke of luck. Paradoxically, his lack of experience actually seemed to work in his favor—especially with a weary Council looking for change, even if they weren’t quite sure of what that change really meant.
Blake, however, had wasted no time in seizing the initiative.
First among his accomplishments had been jump-starting reconstruction of the fleet, a process that was moving along faster than anyone had dreamed possible. That was enough to arouse Morrow’s suspicions, which he followed through a labyrinth of shady deals and quid pro quos—though nothing he found directly tied Blake to anything illegal. At the same time, however, Blake was also perusing his own brand of diplomacy, working behind the scenes to draw up accords with strategic partners—particularly those with the military capability to shore up Starfleet’s demised assets. Ostensibly, these efforts went through Federation channels like they were supposed to; but in reality, Blake engineered everything—a fact not lost on members of the Council, who quickly realized that a rear admiral had accumulated more influence over policy than his civilian masters. In the most literal sense, the new defense treaties were an extension of Blake’s personal relationships with the member states that signed them. Without Blake to hold them all together, the Federation faced far more than ordinary trouble.
It faced an existential threat.
Which made calling this meeting the biggest risk that Morrow had ever taken. While Blake had made his share of enemies on the way up, very few had expressed an interest in sticking out their necks to confront him; and with courage in even shorter supply on the Council, Morrow found himself practically alone in the biggest political fight of his career. Even so, plenty of players were watching eagerly from the sidelines, waiting to see who came out on top before throwing their support behind the winner. Morrow guessed that they didn’t much like his odds. Neither did he, but Blake didn’t run Starfleet—at least not yet. And until that happened, Morrow would be damned if he let the man act like he did.
A chime announced the visitor’s arrival. Morrow deliberately waited a few moments before answering, and even then kept his back turned to the door when he spoke. “Come.”
Blake strolled in, saying nothing.
“Won’t you have a seat, admiral?”
Blake did as instructed, taking the chair in front of Morrow’s desk. Morrow finally swiveled around, keeping his expression neutral—a trick he had mastered during his gambling days. Never before, though, had he faced somebody so hard to read as Blake. The man would have made a hell of a card player.
“Good of you to join me,” Morrow said, testing.
Blake shrugged. “Hard to say no when ComStar calls on you.”
“Sorry if I threw off your schedule,” Morrow replied, turning up the heat a notch. “I was just curious about recent developments. Things are moving so fast, I thought you might have something new to share.”
“Everything is in my reports,” Blake said. “My staff updates them hourly, in case you were wondering.”
Morrow smiled coldly. He’s baiting me.
“I appreciate your diligence.”
“All part of the job,” Blake said. “Is that all?”
“Not quite,” Morrow said, digging a folder out and tossing it across his desk. It slid to a stop in front of Blake, EYES ONLY emblazoned on the cover. “I was hoping you might be able to shed some light on this.”
Blake opened the folder. He examined the single page inside with a dethatched interest.
“Directive 117-A, dated yesterday,” Morrow said, reciting from memory. “To Quintax, Steven F., Captain USS Dauntless. ‘You are to proceed with all due haste to the Bezzeret home world, where you will assess situation regarding alleged espionage incident. Take any steps you deem necessary to contain said situation until a formal diplomatic party can arrive to implement Council policy. Report directly back to me. Signed: Blake, Terrence T., Chief of Naval Staff.’”
Morrow glared at him now, barely masking his contempt.
“Explain yourself, mister.”
Blake closed the folder and pushed it back toward Morrow. “Ship deployments are within my purview as CNS,” he said, as if the answer was self-evident. “I wasn’t aware that ComStar had to sign off on every decision.”
“This isn’t just any decision. We’re talking about allegations that could do irreparable damage to the Federation.”
“All the more reason to act swiftly,” Blake countered. “Every moment that passes only spins this crisis further out of our reach. The Bezzeret need to know that we take their concerns seriously—but more than that, they need someone who knows how to handle them.”
“And you’re the final authority on that, right?”
“Need I remind you,” Morrow continued, “the Council hasn’t even decided on policy yet? The last thing they want is some itinerant captain out there messing around before they’ve even had a chance to figure out the bigger picture!”
“Quintax is a reliable man.”
“You mean he’s one of your men,” Morrow snapped. “I’ve seen his record, Blake. Two years as your administrative officer on board USS Amster before replacing you as XO, then a captain’s billet a scant four months later—based on your personal recommendation.”
“We saw combat together,” Blake retorted. “I put in a good word for him.”
“As you did with most of your senior staff from those days. In fact, three of your former department heads now have their own commands. A suspicious person might think that you were trying to stack the deck in your own favor, admiral.”
“I promote people I trust. Is that really so unusual?”
“It all depends on where their loyalties are.”
The accusation slipped out before Morrow could stop himself. He immediately regretted saying it—not because he didn’t mean it, but because he was afraid of revealing too much. Political posturing was one thing. Implying treason was quite another. Suddenly, backing off was no longer an option.
Because from here on in, Morrow knew that Blake would be out to destroy him.
“Tread carefully, admiral,” Blake warned him. “Even ComStar has to answer to a higher authority.”
Morrow held his ground. If this was war, then so be it.
“That’s not the way you operate,” he fired back. “Don’t think the Council hasn’t noticed, either. One false move and a man could find his friends running out on him.”
Blake smiled, a cold twist in one corner of his mouth.
“They’ll see things my way,” he said. “Eventually.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Because this is a messy business,” Blake explained, “and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. Do you honestly think that the Council wants anything to do with this decision? They’re all so afraid that things will blow up in their faces, they’ll do anything to avoid the fallout. If that means letting me take point, they’re more than happy to do it.”
“The president won’t see it that way.”
“The president?” Blake scoffed. “He’s a stage prop—a tool passed off between squabbling governments who settle for the least offensive puppet they can find.” He leaned back, folding his arms in front of his chest, and laughed as if Morrow had told him a moderately amusing joke. “I sure hope you didn’t pick him to back your play. You’re likely to find him a big disappointment.”
Blake’s eyes narrowed. He waited for a few moments, long enough to see if Morrow had any real ammunition to use against him; but as the seconds dragged on, it became painfully obvious that Morrow was mostly talk—and just like that, the balance of power switched sides. Neither man spoke of it, but the change was palpable. Morrow felt like a man defeated.
So much for war.
“My father was an attorney,” Blake said offhandedly, brushing off his cuff as if to underscore how unimportant Morrow now was. “He once told me that you never take out your big gun unless you’re prepared to use it. Of course, that’s assuming you even have a gun.”
“Spoken like a man who shoots first and asks questions never,” Morrow said, keeping up the façade as best he could. “This isn’t your own private fleet, Blake.”
“Somebody had to act.”
“That isn’t your decision to make.”
“I’m the only one who can,” Blake snapped, laying down the challenge. “I know the Bezzeret, Admiral—better than you, better than anybody. It was my ship that made first contact with them. It was my team that opened negotiations with their government before the FCO arrived. And it was my influence that secured a joint defense treaty with their military, just when this Federation needed it the most.” His voice descended to a low growl. “Or did the admiral overlook these facts before rendering an opinion?”
Morrow’s jaw set like stone. He swallowed hard, maintaining a semblance of control—but in truth, he had never wanted to strike a man so much in his life. Blake’s arrogance, his condescension, everything about him symbolized the worst excesses of Fleet Command. Not so long ago, Morrow would have run an officer like that out of the service before he advanced far enough to do any serious damage—but that was before Wolf, before the Borg cast their long shadow over all the affairs of state. Blake, meanwhile, offered assurances that no one else could. It was his time now.
And, to his own shame, Morrow thought: Maybe that’s as it should be.
“You’re right,” he finally spoke, drained of anger but not resolve. “You’ve got the experience, and you’ve got the votes on the Council. Nothing I can say will change their minds about that. But I’m still Commander Starfleet—and until that changes, you will defer to my authority on these matters.” Morrow leaned forward, making his point absolutely clear. “If you ever mobilize a vessel without notifying me first, I’ll bust you so hard you’ll think you were a plebe again. Do we understand each other?”
Blake returned his stare without flinching. “Perfectly—sir.”
“Good.” Morrow stood up from his chair, taking a moment to smooth his uniform jacket, then slowly walked over to the other side of his office. With his back turned to Blake, he inspected paintings of the two ships he had mastered: Saratoga and Prince of Wales. Those had been some hellish times—but at least in those days, everyone under his command had been on the same side. “You may not believe this, Blake, but in some ways I envy you—your strength, your clarity of purpose. What I wouldn’t give for some of that right now.”
“Perhaps the admiral could use some rest.”
“In due time,” Morrow drew out. “I know you think I’m a relic. And who knows, maybe I am. Maybe the future belongs to people like you, people who know how to survive. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Survival?”
Blake frowned. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”
“The thing that worries me most about you, Blake.” Morrow turned around to get a measure of him, hoping to provoke an honest reaction. “You’ll do anything to achieve your objective—but you’ve never had to pay a price, have you? There’s always someone else to take the blame, give up a career, sacrifice a life. But sooner or later, your luck is going to run out—and when that happens, you’ll have to make a decision.”
Blake stared back at him, waiting—wanting—to hear the rest.
“Are you willing to spill your own blood for the sake of the mission?”
A crack appeared in Blake’s icy demeanor. Underneath, a spark of bravado drowned in a current of doubt: the mark of a politician, not a warrior. Blake quickly regained himself, but by then both of them knew the game was up. Morrow had found the man’s weakness. Whether he could exploit it, however, remained to be seen.
Blake, unable to remain seated, rose to his feet.
“Will that be all, sir?”
Morrow said nothing, instead returning his attention to the paintings. Saratoga, all sharp lines and hard angles, cut a battle-worn figure through space.
Blake, already impatient, didn’t wait for his dismissal. Gathering his briefing materials together, he headed straight for the door.
“I’ve recalled Dauntless, admiral.”
Blake stopped dead.
“You did what?”
“You heard me the first time,” Morrow said, and walked over to Blake: right up in his grill, as the cadets used to say. “I can’t have people thinking that my subordinates run the show. It’s bad for morale.”
“You’re turning this into a pissing contest?” Blake asked incredulously. “That’s a very short view, sir—even for you.”
“I don’t like command cliques, Blake. Whatever you’ve got cooked up with Quintax, I won’t allow it on my watch.”
“The Bezzeret are expecting him,” Blake said, almost pleading. “Their prime minister won’t deal with anyone else.”
“I’m sending a more than capable replacement.”
Blake’s jaw set. “Who?”
“Enterprise. She’s already underway.”
“Jean-Luc Picard?” Blake spat. “The man has never even had contact with the Bezzeret! We’ll be lucky if Darelian doesn’t send an armada to blow him out of the sky!”
“Then you better get on the horn and convince her not to.”
Blake shook his head in denial. “Don’t do this, Morrow.”
“It’s already done.”
Tense and rigid, Blake squeezed his hands into fists. For a moment, the balance of power shifted again—until a preternatural calm fell over him, and he stepped back. Morrow didn’t know what worried him more: Terrence Blake in a righteous fury, or like this—working things out, planning ten moves ahead, thoughts inscrutable behind those cold hazel eyes.
Then Blake turned on a heel and left, the door hissing shut behind him.
Morrow returned to his desk, looking around the small office with his fingertips resting on the tabletop, wondering what he had just done. He had already written off his own career, or what was left of it; Blake would see to that, there was no question. But getting Enterprise involved, that was another matter entirely. Morrow had known all along that her captain would not refuse his call for help, because he was that kind of man—and if there was one person in the entire Starfleet who was considered untouchable, it was Jean-Luc Picard.
This, however, had the potential to ruin him.
Morrow had warned Picard of that possibility. Even worse, there wasn’t a damned thing Morrow could do to protect him. What happened here would only slow Blake down, and even then not for long. Morrow could only pray that he had bought Picard enough time.
And that Enterprise’s captain could make another miracle.
Safely out of Morrow’s realm, Blake dropped his shields and put his anger on display for everyone to see.
The people out in the corridor were wise enough to give him a wide berth, making a hole for him to pass without interference. Had anyone gotten in his way, Blake might have pushed them down or perhaps even worse—but that would only have proven Morrow’s point. The old man meant to hold him up to ridicule, to undermine his legend in front of those who feared him. The last thing Blake wanted was to give him that satisfaction.
But this—this was a disaster.
He kept it inside, exchanging not so much as a word with anyone on the way back up to the Quarry’s office level. In the space of those minutes, Blake recalled everything he had endured for the sake of his vision—all the compromises and coalition building, the hundreds of pieces he had put together with almost inhuman patience, never once taking his eyes off the prize. The Borg incursion had only accelerated Blake’s timetable, putting command of the entire Starfleet within his grasp—and assuring a future that few had ever dreamed possible. Now, what should have been a forgotten incident on some distant moon had poised all of that on the brink of destruction—while Morrow’s profoundly ignorant actions threatened to push it over the edge completely.
You stupid, stupid bastard. You’ve no idea what you started.
Blake went back to his office, canceling all of his appointments for the rest of the day—even a meeting of the Naval Staff that was pivotal to assessing the Bezzeret crisis. More than one junior attaché wondered what had gripped the CNA, though none of them dared to ask. Blake, for his part, ignored them all and proceeded to the Quarry’s auxiliary transporter complex, an area he had chosen for its isolation. There, he opened the door with a ghost code that automatically deleted itself from the station logs. Blake had dozens of stealth entry points like this one, programmed by his people during the design phase of the system. With them, he could operate anywhere within the security sphere without being detected—a vital precaution, given what he was about to do.
The transporter room was dark, but sensed his presence and lit the room. It was completely devoid of personnel, the low hum of the unit itself the only sound to accompany his entry. The auxiliary transporter was not generally used, unless there were large shipments of classified cargo that couldn’t be routed through the citywide transporter grid. It suited Blake’s purposes perfectly.
He went to the main console, addressing the computer in a deliberate voice. “Computer, security protocol. Classification: DOUBLET REGAL. Override computer record.”
“Processing,” the computer responded. “DOUBLET REGAL confirmed. Please enter destination coordinates.”
Blake input the numbers with the deft skill of a man intimately familiar with them. Soon after, the transporter hum increased to ready power.
“Destination locked in,” the computer said. “Proceed to transport.”
Blake stepped onto the pad, and the world dissolved into a nether swirl of blue and white energy. In a time-space that could have been squeezed into seconds or stretched across infinity, that world then coalesced again into four solid walls—a stark room bare of features, except a portable halo display and an inactive computer console.
Blake placed a hand on the console, which lit up to show the buttons of a comm panel. He punched in another code sequence, which unlocked a grid-mapped sector overlay showing a region within the Alpha Quadrant. On it, several dots flashed as they slowly moved across space: ships, with text to show their names, call signs and exact coordinates.
Blake focused on two of them. One was called Enterprise. The other was the one that interested him the most.
He went to work.
At exactly 1240 hours GMT, a message of unknown origin passed like a virus into the Starfleet subspace network. From there, among millions of other messages, it was relayed to an orbital transmitter that converted the text into quantum packets of energy, the form in which it would travel faster than light on its journey across the galaxy. It left no trace of itself, no record of its contents or the identity of its sender—exactly as designed. For all practical purposes, the message did not exist.
The orbital relay turned one of its transmitters toward a region of uninhabited space that was barren, save for two features: a single rogue planet and an asteroid belt. There, a receiving dish dumped the contents into a simple radio buffer, where it resided until a secure feedback loop could verify that no third party had intercepted the message. Even if someone did, it was unlikely they could decipher the encryption algorithms that protected the signal—but Terrence Blake was nothing if not cautious, and waited for the all-clear before allowing the transmission to proceed to its final destination.
For this message was his gambit, and this game the most dangerous of all:
PROCEED TO TARGET. SERPENT WILL BE IN PARADISE WHEN YOU ARRIVE.
SHADOW PRIME IS NOW IN EFFECT.
END OF MESSAGE
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