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:
Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I – Prologue
Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I – Chapter 1
Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I – Chapter 2
Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I – Chapter 3
Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I – Chapter 4
As I mentioned before, if you like this book and want to see it in print, ping Simon & Schuster and Pocket Books on social media and let them know!
Qio’praxa ren Tar’quon (Secure Holding Facility)
Bezzeret Home World
Maurian scanned his display with bright green eyes, so piercing that they gave the illusion of depth. It was a common feature of the Bezzeret, whose visual range allowed them to perceive far more color gradations than other species—so much that the very image on his screen, with all its minute detail, would appear as gibberish to an Earther. Maurian, however, immediately zeroed in on his intended target, watching the rendered object as it dropped out of warp and assumed orbit around the planet.
“Detecting a Federation vessel,” he said, turning to his prime minster. She stood a short distance away, beyond Maurian’s console, maintaining that aloof detatchment of hers. “Establishing a geosynchronous position above the capital city.”
Maurian punched the ship’s profile. “Starship, Galaxy-class.”
“So they have arrived,” the prime minister mused. “What is their defensive condition?”
“Running with shields down,” Maurian said, but a moment later his panel beeped an alert. “Weapons, however, are on stand by—phasers charged, torpedo bays loaded. Two battlehips are poised to intercept. Shall I deploy them?”
Darelian remained impassive—through in the dim light of the reception room, Maurian could see the hint of a smile touching her lips. She was tall, as most Bezzeret females were, with the golden complexion of the leader caste. Dark hair fell long past her shoulders, accentuating her slim frame and making her appear even more dominant. Used to playing this game, Darelian took her time before she replied.
“No,” she said. “Have them shadow our guests, but nothing more.”
Maurian followed her directive without question. Signaling the two Bezzeret ships, he had them maintain a discreet distance from the Federation starship—but kept them close enough for the Earthers to know they were there. Shortly after, his panel beeped again: an audio message coming in over an unsecured channel.
“The Federation vessel is requesting permission to commence transport.”
Again, Darelian waited. Making the Earthers anxious, no doubt.
“Permission granted,” she finally said. “Open shield grid.”
Maurian signaled the command floor and had them open a narrow corridor in the planet’s defensive screen. Seconds later, the small room filled with the high-pitched whine of a transporter bloom. Bright energy patterns lay seige to the dark, complex patterns weaving matter from nothingness until three humanoid forms emerged. Their features assembled in the bright blue glow, acquiring more substance as the light faded. Maurian stiffened reflexively at the sight of them, though he knew the Earthers posed no meaningful threat; but word of the crisis, and all it entailed, would only be harder to contain while they were here.
Which made his position all the more dangerous.
Hiding his concern, Maurian stood passively while the Earthers materialized. Darelian approached them diplomatically, and with a single nod gave them consent to step down from the transporter pad. Conspicuously, the prime minister refused to extend a hand to her visitors—another one of her assertive touches—instead observing them with a slight tilt of her head, as if they were something of a curiosity.
“Captain Picard,” she said formally. “How good of you to come.”
Jean-Luc Picard took a single step toward the prime minister. Instantly, five impossibly quick figures appeared as if cut from the darkness, forming a protective circle around her. They moved so quickly that they only seemed to register at the periphery of Picard’s vision, darting in and out of the shadows like phantoms hiding from the light. Gradually, he managed to assemble a complete picture of them: clad from head to toe in flexible armor plating, their faces concealed under helmets that had the smooth consistency of opaque glass. At first glance, they didn’t even seem to be living—though Picard reasoned that they were quite well versed in the taking of life. They carried no weapons that he could see, but with their speed and obvious agility, Picard doubted that they needed any.
Instinctively, he put himself between Darelian’s guards and Beverly Crusher, who stood immediately behind him. The medical officer froze, whispering over her shoulder.
The android slipped past Beverly and assumed a defensive position next to Picard. He studied every detail of the situation in front of them with calculated interest.
“I believe,” he remarked, “that we have reached an impasse.”
Picard, however, did not retreat. Instead, he locked eyes with Darelian and hardened his stare—even as he modulated his tone to sound calm and reasonable. “Prime Minister Darelian,” he greeted her. “Thank you for receiving us on such short notice.”
“With all due respect, captain, I would have preferred otherwise,” she replied curtly. “In my view, any negotiations between us amount to little more than pretense.”
“Quite understandable,” Picard told her. “The Federation, however, wished to impress upon you their utmost desire to resolve the current situation amicably. They thought that dispatching the flagship of our fleet would be a demonstration of that good will.”
“Is that what you call it?” Darelian asked. “Entering our star system with weapons on prominent display?”
“I respect the Bezzeret military tradition. I would not insult you by showing weakness.”
The prime minister smirked, ever so slightly—a very human affectation.
“Nor would I with you,” she said, then with a turn of her head dismissed the guards. They withdrew as they had arrived, back into the bleak spaces where they seemed to disappear entirely—though their presence lingered on, like a dry static charge. “A rather vulgar display, I will admit. But things being what they are, it’s becoming difficult to distinguish one’s friends from one’s enemies.”
“Remarkable,” Data observed. “They are Ponsak, are they not?”
“Part of my personal security detatchment,” Darelian answered, regarding the andoid suspiciously. “Most of my people won’t speak their name, out of respect or out of fear—but then I suspect you don’t feel much of anything, do you?”
“Lieutenant Commander Data is an artificial life form,” Picard explained, “as well as my second officer.”
“An interesting recruit, I must say.” Darelian then turned a probing stare on Beverly. “And you are the chief medical officer?”
“Beverly Crusher,” she said, nodding courteously. “I’m here to examine Doctor Dalton. With your permission, I’d like to attend to him as soon as possible.”
“Understandable, but not necessary. The prisoner has already received all the medical attention he requires.”
“Doctor Dalton is a Federation citizen,” Beverly pressed, “and as such is entitled to humanitarian visits.”
“I’m aware of his rights, doctor,” the prime minister interjected. “I’m also conscious of the measures I must take to ensure his protection. Given the nature of the charges against the prisoner, it’s all I can do to keep my citizens from exercising their own form of justice.”
Beverly looked at Picard, her blue eyes already flashing with anger. A slight shake of his head told her to back down—though Picard doubted that even this strained brand of civility would last for long. The way Darelian refused to speak Dalton’s name, referring to him only as the prisoner, revealed in ugly detail what was happening here. She already had Dalton tried and convicted. The rest was just a formality.
“We appreciate the difficulty of your position,” Picard said, lowering his voice. “Rest assured, we will do whatever we can to ease that burden. But there are protocols that must be followed—if only for the sake of appearances.”
Darelian considered it. At the same time, Picard could feel Beverly glaring at him from behind, no doubt shocked that he would even suggest such a thing. As much as he hated this game, though, he knew the only way to get past Darelian was to play. If that meant making her think he was a political animal, then so be it.
Whatever it takes, as Carlton Morrow had told him.
“The captain is correct, Prime Minister,” another voice said, quite bluntly. It came from the other Bezzeret in the room, the one standing by the computer console in the back. Up until now, he had been quietly observing—but now he spoke up, addressing Darelian in a confident, familiar tone. “At the very least, it would be a show of good faith.”
Picard expected Darelian to have none of it. So far, she had acted true to Deanna Troi’s profile: superior, condescending and utterly intractable. Her demeanor softened, however, if ever so slightly—hardly a retreat, but enough to give Picard hope for an opening.
“My first secretary, Maurian,” Darelian said, introducing him. “Often my conscience in matters of state—and, on occasion, the voice of reason.”
“Then we have something in common,” Picard replied. “I also depend upon the counsel of my people. Does this mean we’ve reached an accomodation?”
“That would require something in return, Captain.”
Picard hesitated, very much aware that he had fallen into a trap.
“I am authorized to make concessions,” he said. “What can we do?”
“You may begin by evacuating all Federation offworlders from this planet.”
Stunned into silence, Picard exchanged a look with Beverly and Data. The doctor still smoldered with anger from before, only some of it directed at Darelian, while the android—ever logical—processed everything without passion or prejudice.
The captain turned back toward Darelian.
“Toward what end?” he asked.
“Tensions are already high amongst the populace,” the prime minister said. “Espionage is considered a heinous crime, even when practiced by an enemy—but to have an ally betray us in such a way is almost unspeakable. There have already been clashes between protestors and the security personnel at your embassy. The violence will only spread as the details of this incident become more widely known.”
“We have not yet established the facts of this case,” Data said. “Until Doctor Dalton’s guilt has been determined beyond a reasonable doubt, and a broader connection with the Federation proved, an evacuation would be premature.”
“Not to mention a tantamount admission of guilt,” Beverly added. “This isn’t right, Jean-Luc.”
“Right or wrong has nothing to do with it,” Darelian countered. “I’m only concerned about everyone’s safety.”
“You’ll never guarantee that by giving into thugs.”
“That’s quite enough, doctor,” Picard snapped—cutting her off more abruptly than he wanted, but again he had no choice. Beverly still didn’t know everything that Morrow had told him, about how far the Federation would go to protect the alliance with the Bezzeret. All the things he couldn’t explain—the very things written on Beverly’s face, thrown back at him on a wounded stare—would have to wait until later. “Picard to Enterprise,” he said, tapping his comm badge.
“Riker here. Go ahead, captain.”
“Commander,” he announced, taking a breath, “alert Fleet Command that under my authority, I am ordering the evacuation of all Federation personnel from the Bezzeret home world. Operations to commence immediately.”
“Did I read you right, sir? All personnel?”
Darelian looked directly at Picard, ready to pounce on any hesitation.
“As a precautionary measure,” he affirmed. “Coordinate with the embassy to assign priority to workers and material. Prepare to receive them in order according to the ambassador’s recommendations.”
“Any idea for how long?”
“As long as it takes, commander. Picard out.”
“A sensible decision, Captain,” Darelian said. “Perhaps you are not so stubborn as I’ve been led to believe.”
“That depends on you, prime minister.”
“Indeed,” she granted, though her manner suggested that she had something else in mind. “Very well, then. I will consider your request to see the prisoner—but only after I have presented the evidence we have compiled against him. Once you are aware of his lies, you won’t be so quick to believe him.”
Beverly made her displeasure abundantly clear. Picard didn’t like it much either, but at this point things were in motion—and he had to find out where this would lead. Grudgingly, he agreed to Darelian’s terms.
With a single nod, she signaled Maurian. He punched a code into his console, which unlocked a large, vaulted hatch on the other side of the room. It popped open with a loud hiss, followed by a dull, mechanical rumble as it opened into a narrow corridor beyond. Harsh, sterile and barren, the alloy walls conveyed the unforgiving ardor of a prison: clean to the point of bleak, masking secrets—and horrors—within.
Darelian stepped aside and summoned their entry.
“This way,” she said.
Heels clicked against a hard floor as they walked, echoing off its polished surface and bounding down the corridor ahead of them. The sound only amplified Beverly’s sense of being watched, and not just by the cameras positioned every few meters along the ceiling. Casting a glance over her shoulder, she of course saw nothing—but that meant little, considering the nature of that which stalked them. Beverly was all but certain they were there, no more than a breath away, invisible yet ever present like ghosts doomed to roam this haunted palace. It made her shudder to feel their eyes upon her back, and wonder what they might do if unleashed.
“Those guards,” she whispered to Data. “What did you call them?”
“Ponsak,” Data replied as he walked beside her. “From what I understand, it is a ceremonial term designated for the ‘keepers of stability.’ Little is known about them, even among the Bezzeret. According to lore, however, they are trained for their positions almost from birth, and only a select few are even aware of their own identities.”
“Sounds more like a secret police force,” Beverly said, not hiding her scorn. “I wonder if the Federation knew who they were getting in bed with before they signed on with these people.”
“You’re making value judgements, doctor,” Picard warned her. He had positioned himself between Beverly and Darelian, forcing a discreet distance, while the prime minister and her first secretary led the way. “Tempting as that may be, theirs is a different culture—and we are bound by law not to interfere.”
“So goes the official line,” Beverly scoffed. “Tell me something, Jean-Luc—did you mean what you said back there? Are we just clearing a path so they can march Dalton to the gallows?”
Data watched the exchange curiously.
“You know damn well that isn’t my choice,” Picard replied. “Right now, I’m playing the only card we have. If that means telling Darelian what she wants to hear, then that’s what I’ll do—but I will not provoke an incident.”
“That might not be your call.”
“Doctor Crusher may be correct,” Data added. “The prime minister made a point of being aggressive in our first meeting. Perhaps it is her intention to heighten an already tense state of affairs.”
“I knew that before we arrived,” Picard said tiredly. “This will not end well.”
“Then why pursue this course of action?”
“Because even a lie can reveal a glimmer of truth, Mister Data. In leading us on, perhaps the prime minister will reveal more than she realizes.”
Picard then moved away from them, falling into line with their Bezzeret hosts. Beverly felt a momentary twinge of guilt for her doubts, but that kind of guile was something she rarely saw in him. Even so, Picard had yet to divulge the full details of his briefing with Carlton Morrow, even to her—which made Beverly wonder about the true nature of his orders, not to mention how far he would go to carry them out.
You can’t think like that, she chided herself. Morrow is a decent man. He wouldn’t march Jean-Luc over to the dark side.
But if it was all an act, it was a damned good one.
They journeyed for a while longer, down several levels and through turns that made the complex seem like one gigantic maze. Eventually they ended up at one of a thousand identical doors, set apart from the others only by the markings on its brushed metal face. Darelian proceeded forward, the locks disengaging automatically as a sensor field verified her biometric signature. She then stepped aside, and had Maurian lead their guests into the small room on the other side.
Beverly felt her skin tingle as she crossed the threshold—no doubt a security sphere reacting to their entrance, scanning them for weapons and electronic devices. She also noted a particle beam microturret in the middle of the ceiling that tracked their every move, its gears whining quietly as it swept from side to side. That such a thing could slice them all up inside of a second didn’t strike Beverly as unusual. Apparently, the Bezzeret never missed an opportunity to intimidate.
“This is a holding facility,” Darelian explained as she led everyone in, the door swinging shut behind them. “Sensitive materials are temporarily placed here during analysis, then returned to our primary facility for storage.”
“I had imagined that all pertinent information would be computer encoded,” Data said, observing the simple detail of the room: a single desk, five oversized chairs, and a row of storage lockers on the far wall.
“For the most part it is. Anything that has to do with branched networks, like those we have with Starfleet Command, is computer based. Ongoing research, however, is exclusively limited to localized access. Which brings me to my point.” She went to one of the lockers and retreived a stack of materials, which she dropped on the desk for her guests to examine. “It seems your agent has been busy with research of his own. Even with the censored items, you can see that the damage has been severe—and these are just the activities we know about. We can only guess at how long he’s been plying his trade.”
Don’t you have ways of finding out? Beverly thought, but didn’t say.
“He’s not our agent,” Picard replied stiffly as he leafed through the evidence. Most of it was hard copy—heavily redacted, as the mass of black marks on the pages confirmed—along with a sheathed isolinear chip. “And I’ve yet to see anything here that supports your accusations.”
“Everything we need is stored on the chip,” Darelian said. “We took it off the prisoner immediately after his capture.”
Picard passed the supposed evidence over to Data. The android opened up a compartment in his right forearm and inserted the chip into an empty slot, his expression neutral as he catalogued its contents. Seconds later, the task finished, he removed it and turned back toward the captain.
“The chip appears to have suffered moderate to severe damage,” he said. “Many of the sectors are unreadable. Those that remain have been edited for security purposes—but from what I can discern of the materials, they are highly classified.”
“Of course they are,” Beverly said, in spite of another warning glance from Picard. “But without a chain of custody, we have no idea where that chip has been—or if they even found it on Dalton in the first place.”
“That is a consideration, doctor,” Data agreed. “There is, however, the matter of physical evidence on the chip itself. The Bezzeret report contains the results of their forensic analysis, including a backtrace of data to its original source. Assuming we can establish Doctor Dalton’s movements over the previous weeks, we should be able to verify at least some of those findings in short order.”
Picard looked at Darelian, who exchanged a telling glance with Maurian.
“We’ll need to examine the chip for ourselves,” the captain said bluntly, “along with all of the primary evidence you’ve collected.”
“As I understand,” Darelian countered, “much of it was destroyed when your people mishandled the salvage of the prisoner’s shuttle.”
“Then we’ll make do with what you have.”
Darelian, finally at a disadvantage, hesitated for a moment. That’s when Beverly saw it, the very thing Picard had schemed to coax out of her: She’s lying about something. If Dalton really were as guilty as the prime minister said, a closer look at his travels could only bolster the case against him. As it stood, she seemed downright frightened at the prospect—but having opened the door, she couldn’t very well stop them from going through.
“Very well,” Darelian said. “My first secretary will handle your requests—subject to my approval on each item.”
“Of course,” Picard replied.
“And nothing is to be removed from this facility. We will provide whatever equipment you require to conduct your investigation, but should you need your own you must clear it with our security directorate first.”
“Commander Data will coordinate with your people,” Picard told her, “as soon as we’ve had a chance to examine Doctor Dalton.”
“Yes,” the prime minister drew out, fixing Beverly with yet another harsh turn. “Your doctor has her permission to coddle the prisoner—but only under strict supervision. If that is acceptable, I will arrange to have her taken to him.”
“My counselor will also need to conduct a psychological evaluation.”
Darelian halted at the mere mention of such a thing.
“The Federation already stands accused of espionage against the Bezzeret people,” she intoned, a fire raging just beneath the surface. “Now you propose to bring a telepath here to pry our minds open?”
“Counselor Troi is half Betazoid,” Data explained. “She is only capable of sensing emotions. Telepathy is beyond her abilities.”
“And why,” Darelian asked defensively, “should I believe that?”
Data was deadpan. “I am an android. I cannot lie.”
Beverly stifled an urge to laugh.
“Your request,” Darelian stated flatly, “is out of the question.”
“It was not a request,” Picard retorted. “That is the price of our cooperation. If we truly are to get to the bottom of this matter, there can be no room left for doubt. And right now, prime minister, my questions are far from answered.”
Darelian seethed quietly. Maurian started toward her, as if to offer counsel of his own, but she waved him off before he could speak. Beverly thought she saw a spark of sympathy there, or at least common cause, but in the next moment it was gone. Clearly, the first secretary knew the value of discretion.
“I will take this up with Starfleet,” she finally said. “In the meanwhile, you will forgive me if your continued presence here presents a strain. The doctor may remain behind for only as long as it takes to complete her exam—but you, Captain, will depart immediately, along with your second officer. I will contact you with my finding shortly.”
Picard shot Beverly a worried glance. She didn’t much relish the idea of staying here by herself either—but she also had a job to do, and wasn’t about to be scared off by the likes of the prime minister. Reassuring the captain with a simple nod, Beverly took a step away from him and Data.
With more than a little unease, Picard tapped his communicator.
“This is the captain,” he said. “Two to beam up.”
Within seconds, they dissolved back into the nothingness from which they came. Darelian then exited the room, blowing past Beverly without speaking another word. Alone with Maurian, she watched him as his features softened—a latent expectancy in his eyes, as if he wanted to say something to her. Beverly gave him every chance, but in the end he reverted to stoic form. Under the conspicuous gaze of the cameras, to do anything more would be far too dangerous—for both of them.
“Follow me,” Maurian ordered.
“Captain’s on deck.”
Light seeped in from the corridor behind him as Steven Quintax walked in, disturbing the pall that ordinarily hung over this crowded space. Ensconsed deep within the ship’s secondary hull, the control center for LRTR—Long Range Detection and Relay—was jammed with several rows of monitoring stations and laden with chatter, both over the comms and person to person. Most of the illumination came from the pale glow of virtual displays and backlit interface panels: a kind of permanent third watch shrouded in near darkness, the faces of a dozen crewmen cast in long shadows as they stiffened to attention. Quintax put them at ease, allowing them to return to their duties as he took in his surroundings, while the command duty officer came over to greet him.
“Morning, skipper,” she said, handing over a padd so he could sign off on her status reports. Lieutenant Commander Emerson was efficient that way—a reflection of Quintax’s own command style, which he rigorously enforced throughout all of his departments. “We’ve just completed our sweep of sector seven-twelve. Got a couple of amorphous returns during our pass by the Panovis Cluster, but that’s about it.”
“What does SPARCS make of them?”
“Radioactive elements in a transition phase,” Emerson said. SPARCS—the signals processing and returns calibration software—was a bloodhound when it came to sniffing out that sort of thing. “Probably ejected from one of the asteroids. They’re known to be geologically active around here.”
“How about pirate traffic?”
“Nothing lately—but after all this time banging away on active sensors, the privateers probably know our routes better than we do.”
Which is a shame, really, Quintax added silently. A little target practice might be fun.
Starfleet, however, didn’t have anything quite like that in mind. After the debacle at Wolf 359, their idea of strategy was to shift more resources toward detection—as if a few additional hours of warning would be enough to mount an effective defense. Dauntless had been part of that effort for the last eighteen months, rotating out of a deployment near the Neutral Zone so that the Excelsior-class vessel could be fitted with heavy sensor arrays and assigned a patrol route out on the frontier. Since then, Quintax had spent his time criscrossing the Panovis system—and countless others like it—keeping an eye out for potentially hostile activity. Given their position, everybody knew that hostile really meant Borg, which put Dauntless on the front line in the event of an actual attack. If that happened, their job was twofold: sound the alarm, hopefully before the enemy found them, and then run like hell to link up with the nearest reinforcements. Of course, the likelihood of them surviving long enough to accomplish job number two was remote. In Starfleet’s view, Dauntless was an acceptable loss.
That’s what you get for helming an obsolete class, Quintax thought, handing the padd back to Emerson. Irony of ironies, though, he wouldn’t have had it any other way. There were plenty of personal reasons, to be sure, not the least of which were all of the friends he lost at Wolf. The image of that vast graveyard of starships and the thousands of dead aboard them had haunted his dreams ever since, and would without a doubt for the rest of his life. If the Borg ever did return, Quintax wanted to be at the tip of the spear that beat them back. But even more than that, it was loyalty to a former commanding officer that made Quintax happily accept an assignment that most captains considered a dead-end. Indeed, Terrence Blake had known exactly what he was doing when he sent Quintax out to the frontier. Fleet Command barely gave a thought to these patrols as long as everything stayed quiet—which made it easy for Dauntless to remain on standby in case Blake needed her.
Quintax wandered through the control center, checking over the shoulders of his crew and looking at their screens. It was amazing the amount of data that flashed by, with endless columns of figures that poured out of imaging mist and bright dots superimposed over star maps of nearby sectors. In the immediate vicinity, Dauntless was all alone, her mere presence scaring off the smugglers that typically used the nearby asteroid field for cover. Father off, Quintax traced the telltale hooks of civilian traffic operating on the commercial routes. In all, everything seemed routine as usual—until an alert chime broke at one of the stations, and the overhead lights clicked red.
Crewmen jumped into action at the sound, the jabber between them quickening to an intense pitch. Quintax pushed his way toward the alert station, telling everyone to make a hole as Emerson closed in on his six. Once there, the two of them hovered over the operator, who was shifting through a series of grids so rapidly that the captain could barely keep up.
“Talk to me,” he said.
“I’m not sure,” the operator replied, the edge clearly in his voice. “I just ran a clearing routine through SPARCS when it decided to scream holy hell.”
Emerson drilled in on him. “What are your safeguard settings?”
“Fully enabled. I washed out all the background noise and accounted for all known signals, so we’re not talking about dummy traffic. It’s the real deal, squawking loud and clear.”
“Which grid is that on?” Quintax asked.
“ALPHA-KILO-NINER,” the operator said. “We got a remote sensor array targeting that area. I would’ve missed it, except that I had sensors on a broad sweep in that direction to calibrate the software.”
“Isolate the signal and identify.”
The operator zoomed in on the active grid. “Defintely a stealth band,” he muttered, dropping a series of filters over the image. The frequency showed up as a bright line cutting through space, snaking its way through the asteroid field. “Boosted subspace from what I can tell—but it’s using a level of encryption I haven’t seen before.”
“Think it could be a dice?” Emerson asked.
“Negative,” the operator said. Dice was a term used by junior officers to denote a Borg cube. “Definitely not the same signature. Aside from the encoding, this looks like a standard interplanetary message format.”
To illustrate, he moved a numerical representation of the code into a box next to the graphic, where line after line of jumbled characters scrolled past. Emerson frowned as she studied it, trying to make sense of the seemingly random pattern. Quintax, however, backed away from the station and rose to his full height, folding his arms in front of his chest.
“Stand down from alert,” he said.
Emerson looked up at the captain, her expression a mask of shock.
“Reel in the remote array,” he continued. “I want any and all data related to this signal downloaded into my personal computer and then stricken from the log.”
The operator turned to Emerson, unsure of what to do.
“That’s an order,” Quintax snapped.
“Aye, sir,” the operator stammered. Quintax remained over his shoulder long enough to make sure that his instructions were followed, watching as the display emptied itself one component at a time. “Purge complete. The records are all yours, skipper.”
“Very well,” Quintax told him. “As you were.”
He then turned on his heel, making a line for the door with no further explanation. Emerson, hesitating for a second, decided to pursue and caught up to him just before he could leave.
“Captain—” she began.
Quintax turned back around, his eyes narrowing at her.
“I don’t mean to speak out of turn,” Emerson said, treading carefully, “but we are under orders to catalog and investigate any signal of unknown origin.”
“I’m aware of that, commander,” the captain said. “As far as you and this crew are concerned, we never receieved such a signal.”
She retreated a little, but still couldn’t let it go.
“This is highly irregular, sir. If you could explain—”
“You already know everything you need to know,” Quintax growled, and took an intimidating step toward her to drive the point home. Emerson got the message and quickly nodded in agreement before slipping away.
The door into LRTR slid shut in her wake, leaving the captain alone in the corridor. Quintax waited there a moment longer, closing his eyes and releasing the tension that had spiked when he first saw the signal. Unlike everyone else, he recognized the code—because Terrence Blake had provided him with the decryption key before Dauntless shipped out. That the admiral had transmitted the message meant that things had been set in motion. It also meant that Carlton Morrow knew nothing about it—and that Quintax, for all of their sakes, had to keep his crew in the dark.
That had always been the plan.
Walking to the turbolift, heading for his quarters, he would soon learn the rest.
Twenty minutes later, Quintax went up to the bridge. He took one step off the turbolift before barking orders at the conn.
“Alter course to 158 mark 15. Engage warp engines, factor six.”
“Warp six, aye,” conn answered.
“From this point forward, this ship is rigged for silent running. We will avoid the regular transit routes and absolutely no messages will be sent or acknowledged. In short, ladies and gentlemen, we are to make like a hole in space until we arrive at our destination. This by order of Starfleet Command as of this stardate.”
“Change noted in the log,” the ship’s executive officer announced, clearing the center seat for the captain. “What’s our objective, skipper?”
“The Bezzeret home world,” Quintax said, and left.
Confused, the XO could only stare as the captain disappeared into the turbolift again. The rest of the bridge crew then turned their stares on him, each asking questions that he couldn’t begin to answer. With a single nod, he told them to return their attention to their stations, while he sat back down in the big chair and did his best to hide his own concern.
“Course confirmed,” conn said. “Ready for warp.”
And, as always, the XO carried out his orders.
“Engage,” he said.
Out among the stars, Dauntless turned almost ninety degrees about, her graceful curves cutting a swath through the void. In the silence of vacuum, conventional reality began to distort around the vessel as her subspace field generators opened a hole in real space, finally drawing her like lightning into warp. Less than a second later she was gone, hurtling across the cosmic distance on a relativistic arc, the asteroids of the Panovis Cluster tumbling in her wake.
Along with a tiny object, deposited there in Repulse’s place.
It was an ordinary Class III probe, equipped with a special long-range transmitter. Quintax had told Commander Emerson to configure it as a placeguard, a static platform that would take over monitoring until such time as another vessel could be dispatched to cover the area. What Emerson didn’t know was that the probe had been reprogrammed—and that instead of scanning the heavens for radio signatures, it had actually been set to transmit Dauntless’s call sign back to Starfleet. Anybody listening back at Operations would hear that call sign and simply assume that she was still on her assigned route.
It would be days before they realized she was missing.
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