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
- Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I – Chapter 5
Fax chaNan (The Nameless Place)
Bezzeret Home World
Maurian had long since passed the outer border of the capital city, beyond the legal range of civilian transporter access. Getting there without attracting the attention of the security services was, as always, his greatest concern, and for that reason he had avoided the underground relay networks, choosing instead to use a more conventional method—in this case, a fifty-year old air car that he had modified for his personal use. Flying below the sensor grids and using the topography for cover, he had managed to go as far as the hill country before he was forced to set down. After that, he had no other choice but to walk. It was without a doubt the longest—and most dangerous—part of the journey, fraught with natural perils that only grew more perilous with the fall of night. But for Maurian it was also his favorite, a chance to see his world as it really was—not the carefully constructed version that his government decreed for public consumption.
Maurian stopped for a moment, perched on the edge of a sheer precipice that looked down across a vast plain. Nestled there, stretching out for hundreds of square kilometers, the lights of the capital city blazed like a second sunset, fending off the encroaching twilight. From here, far away from the politics and the prime minister, everything looked peaceful. That this, like so much of the rest of his life, was mere illusion didn’t matter in the context of the moment. For now, it was just enough to be.
He stayed as long as he dared, until the last of the sun had slipped below the western mountains. Climbing down from his pedestal, Maurian chided himself, as he always did, for exposing himself to detection. The defense ministry made almost constant sweeps of the restricted zones, and even with the stealth suit he wore it didn’t help to be standing out in the open. Hidden among the rocks, at least, there was a measure of protection—though Maurian doubted it would do him much good if a Ponsak had tracked him here.
That thought made him quicken his pace, through a narrow passage between the boulders and onto a trail Maurian had carved out during his previous visits. Isolation descended on him like shadows from the rising moon, the sound of his steps carried away on a steady wind that twisted it way through a desolate landscape. For reasons unknown, this remained one of the few undeveloped regions of the planet—a mystery that the government had always been loathe to explain. The official story held that the area was a source of emissions that interfered with isolinear electronics, and that long exposure could also result in health problems. A few investigations had been performed, a theory or two advanced, but beyond that there had been few attempts to quantify the strange phenomenon. In time, it came to be regarded as little more than a nuisance—a curious mystery, yes, but only affecting lands of no value. And given the Bezzeret incuriousness about its own past, what was the point of knowing?
So why are you out here?
The question occurred to Maurian as he shuffled down a steep grade, risking his life just so that he could accomplish something that had long since been declared illegal. History, according to law and custom, began with the Advent of the Modern Dogma. Before that, there was only savagery—of a kind so heinous that it had been all but scrubbed from collective memory and declared forbidden to research. The fragments that surfaced time and again were summarily destroyed, lest they provide clues for renegade scholars to follow, and posession of them deemed a capital crime—something that had never settled well with Maurian. Like most Bezzeret, he respected his culture along with its myriad taboos; but he was also curious, the son of academics, and wondered how any law could justify the punishment of those only seeking knowledge. Until he saw the prime minister’s treatment of the Federation prisoner, though, he had never appreciated the brutality demanded by that law. It was wrong, plain and simple—and though he was no warrior, Maurian had found himself unable to stand by and do nothing.
For which Darelian would probably have you executed.
His left foot slipped, kicking loose gravel over the side of the ledge. Maurian threw himself against the rock face, fingers digging into a tight seam as he fought off a wave of vertigo. Darkness concealed the full length of the drop behind him—though he knew from memory that it was better than three hundred meters, into a crevasse so deep that his body would never be found. He waited for a moment, then craned his head to get a look at the way ahead of him. The opening he sought was close, though not close enough to suit him: a craggy maw lined with formations that looked like teeth, about as uninviting a place as any out here. Anybody else foolish enough to happen upon it would surely turn away, believing it to be the cavern home of some ferocious animal. Maurian, however, knew that this was merely an effective ruse, and headed straight toward it.
The hole swallowed him up as if he had never existed.
He appeared as if out of nowhere, on a flat oasis among a scattering of stalagmites. They were black, jutting forms sharp enough to impale someone, their proportions exaggerated even more by the flickering light of a torch that burned on one of the smooth stone walls. The sight always brought to mind the Earther’s vision of hell, familiar to Maurian from his readings of their literature—and one not so different from the Bezzeret incarnation.
Better move on. The devil is waiting.
He picked up the torch, drawing reassurance from the heat on his face and the smell of kerosene as he proceeded deeper into the cave. His footsteps echoed behind, coming back at him with a resonance that sounded like someone in pursuit. Along the way he took stock of his shadow, which seemed an entity all itself, its movements distorted and almost independent of his own. He continued on for what seemed like hours, constantly glancing over his shoulder and practically heedless of what lay ahead—until he turned a corner and found himself confronted by the business end of a phaser rifle, leveled evenly at his chest.
Maurian froze, listening to the sound of his own breathing. Then slowly, he raised the torch to illuminate his features, as well as those of the person who held the rifle on him. A pair of iridescent eyes regarded him from the other side of the weapon’s barrel, the face to which they belonged taut and determined. A lock of dark hair fell over the forehead, the rest swept back in a way that highlighted an already striking face.
“Hello, Rylian,” Maurian said.
She lowered the rifle, annoyed at being deprived of her excuse to shoot.
“What are you doing here?”
“Just out for a little walk,” he replied, dusting himself off. “Perhaps you were expecting someone else?”
“We weren’t expecting anyone at all.” Rylian’s voice was very commanding, as was her temperament, which more than made up for her size. Diminutive even by human standards, she stood barely over a meter and a half—unusual for a Bezzeret female, like everything else about her. “You might want to consider that before strolling in unannounced. The next time I might not be so friendly.”
“I had no idea you cared.”
“I don’t,” Rylian told him, “but if you disappeared, the prime minister might come looking for you.”
Maurian smiled, which irritated her all the more.
“Must you always be so difficult?”
“Only when I’m around you,” he said before turning serious again. “Where’s your father? I have some news for him.”
“Why don’t I like the sound of that?”
“It’s important, Rylian. It could change things for us.”
She regarded him dubiously, but soon relented.
“We uncovered a second gallery,” she said. “He’s working there.”
Motioning for Maurian to follow, Rylian led him into a stony abyss. Starting off, he remembered many of the paths on the way down—a turn here, a drop there, passages he had learned during his previous visits; but as they kept going, Maurian soon found himself utterly lost, chasing Rylian through some new labyrinth that could have gone on forever. She seemed to be doing her best to lose him, especially as they crossed through a low seam that was easy for her but torture for someone of his height. Maurian couldn’t imagine how anyone could see such a claustrophobic space for the first time and want to explore any further—and yet Rylian had, right on the heels of her father. Maurian thought it a wonder that both of them were still alive.
“Where are we?”
“Two hundred meters deeper than we’ve ever been,” Rylian said. She was barely visible, a mere suggestion of a shape floating in murkiness and dust, her voice bottled between the walls. “The new tunnels didn’t even turn up on our initial soundings—but father had a feeling they were there.”
“He always had good instincts.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” she told him, as a stab of white light appeared out in front of her. Maurian found himself lurching toward it, desperate for anything that might quell the darkness, until Rylian shoved him back with a reproachful look. “If you’re lucky, blundering about will only get you killed. Go only where I go, and no place else. Understood?”
“Good,” Rylian said. “Let’s get this done.”
The end of the seam quickly opened up into a wider chamber. It was by no means spectacular, but after a slog through these catacombs Maurian felt as if he had burst through all the way to the surface. Rylian went in first, slinging the rifle over her shoulder and then proceeding across a metal ladder that bridged an ominous crevasse. After she got across, she turned around and waved Maurian over. Sidling up to the edge, he glanced straight down. The bottom of the pit was nowhere in sight.
“How deep does that go?”
“We don’t know,” Rylian answered, “but if you don’t get moving you’ll find out the hard way.”
Maurian did as ordered, trying not to think about it as he went. By the time he reached the other side, he was feeling quite courageous—though Rylian showed little patience with his bravado, escorting him the rest of the way while doing her best to ignore him. The path led them over a rocky deadfall, a technical climb in spite of the ropes that had been fixed there, but Maurian did his best to keep up—an effort that rewarded him with several scrapes and bruises before he finally made it to the top.
And there, he caught his first glimpse of the gallery Rylian had described.
The ceiling was up high, probably a good fifteen meters from the floor, hewn from solid rock like the rest of the space. The walls, meanwhile, were smooth and featureless—almost perfectly so, with only a few scattered cracks and gouges to mark the passage of a thousand years. Portable klieg lights cast a sterile glow throughout the gallery, over a makeshift camp that consisted of a dozen or so tents and several more tables set up as lab stations. Maurian counted only a handful of people, some of them hauling equipment around while others analyzed whatever finds they made. All of them, however, looked dirty and exhausted—much like Maurian himself, after less than an hour down here.
“Did you find any glyphs?” he asked.
“No,” Rylian said. “There were a few raised areas that looked like they might have had some markings at one time, but they were blasted clean.”
“You mean erased.”
“Right about the time of the Advent, well over a century ago.” She looked back at him. “Whoever got here first wanted to make sure nobody else could follow.”
Rylian then latched herself to another rope and rappelled down into the camp. She waited on Maurian while he did the same, though with considerably less agility. He had barely touched the ground when he heard an unmistakable voice booming across the chamber.
He turned his head to see a large Bezzeret approaching, waving at him with one hand while holding a chunk of rock in the other. The man bounded toward him and Rylian as quickly as his girth would allow, with a smile to match the enthusiasm of his greeting.
“How kind of you to drop in!” he continued, clapping Maurian on the shoulder. “It’s been so long since we’ve seen anyone from the outside, I’d almost forgotten there’s another world up there. I trust that my daughter has been an able guide.”
“He’s here, isn’t he?” Rylian said, dropping her gear.
“You must forgive her manners,” the man prodded, but in a paternal way. “The tunnel rats have started to rub off on my dear Rylian. I’m quite certain her mother would have heartily disapproved.”
“I doubt that very much,” Maurian said, giving Rylian half a smile. “You’re looking well, Griff. The thrill of discovery, no doubt.”
“Astounding, isn’t it?” Griff held his arms out, presenting the entire gallery for Maurian’s approval. “After months of false leads and dead ends, I was almost ready to give up and go home—and then this opens up like the gates of heaven.”
“What do you think it is?”
“Merely an antechamber for something far greater,” Griff explained, holding up the rock he carried. “We’re still performing the geologic analysis, but the alignment of magnetic particles in these stones suggest a nearby energy source—something buried even deeper.”
“Then you should be able to pick it up with sensors.”
“That’s just it,” Rylian interjected. “Sensors don’t register anything.”
Maurian frowned. “Could be just a residual signature.”
“Or something we’ve never seen before,” Griff countered. “But that’s not what brings you out here, is it my friend?”
Maurian lowered his voice, making sure no one else could hear. “There have been developments—something that might help our cause. Is there some place we can speak privately?”
“There is very little room for secrets here, Maurian.”
“I know that, Griff—but I risked much to be here with you tonight. You should probably hear what I have to say before deciding how much to reveal to your people.”
Griff considered his request, pondering the weight of Maurian’s expression.
“My tent,” he decided. “We can go there.”
Maurian waited for a time in silence after telling Griff his story.
“What do you think?” he finally asked.
“The Federation flagship,” the older man mused, stroking the first of his double chins. “This is an extraordinary development. And you have reason to believe that her captain might be sympathetic to our goals?”
“From what I observed, he’s no friend of the prime minister.”
“Darelian has no friends,” Rylian cautioned. “Only people she finds useful, for as long as that lasts.” Turning to Griff, she added, “The arrival of a starship can only mean one thing, father—they intend to implement Federation policy. And if what Maurian says is true, that policy is giving the prime minister whatever she wants.”
Griff looked at Maurian. “Is that about the size of it?”
“Maybe,” Maurian sighed. “Captain Picard obviously wanted to avoid an incident—but he didn’t let the prime miniser push him around, either. I wouldn’t put it past him to have his own agenda.”
“So you believe he would be willing to talk?”
“Or at least hear what we have to say.”
“I still don’t buy it,” Rylian scoffed. “We’re a terrorist organization in Darelian’s view. Approaching us, even through back channels, could potentially destablize the regime. The Federation wouldn’t risk that.”
“They may not have much to lose,” Maurian said. “The prime minister has already ejected their personnel from the home world—and she’s made it clear that she will not negotiate.”
“So Picard comes to us instead,” Griff finished. “That’s rather bold.”
“Not if we approach him the right way. He needs an honest partner—and opening a dialogue with the opposition would only turn up the pressure on Darelian. She’s already on edge, Griff. It wouldn’t take much more to push her over.”
Griff chuckled. “If only it were that easy, my boy,” he said, rising from his chair and walking slowly across the tent, turning down a lantern that hung at the entrance. “Darelian may be a hag, but she’s a damned shrewd one. The two of us came up together, you know—worked side by side for many years, her the ambitious politician and me the daft scientist. This, of course, was back in the days when archaeology was only considered to be in bad taste and not a crime. We even made love once, outside under the stars on a summer night much like this one. It’s how I keep Rylian in line, you see? When she drives me mad, I joke that Darelian is really her mother.”
Rylian lowered her head.
“But in all that time,” Griff continued, “I never saw her lose control. Even when I told her that I thought the Dogma was piffle, that history should be embraced instead of scorned, she didn’t even bat an eye. The woman is a rock.”
“I would agree with you,” Maurian said, “but you didn’t see her with Picard.”
Griff frowned. “Was she angry?”
Griff nodded, and smiled knowingly.
“That means she’s scared.”
“Of what?” Rylian asked impatiently.
“Something she doesn’t want the Earthers to find out,” Griff explained. “I always had a feeling that Darelian knew a lot more about our planet’s past than she was letting on. Now she has this Dalton on her hands, arrested for the same crime we’re committing down here in these godforsaken caves. It all makes for a rather explosive situation, don’t you think?”
“It’s no wonder she wants them to leave,” Maurian said.
“Indeed,” Griff replied, rubbing his hands together in delight. “Things are about to get very interesting. Now, about this captain of yours—he is a cool one, you say?”
“Cool as I’ve ever seen. The prime minister tried to intimidate him, but he would have none of it. He reminded me a lot of you—minus the bulk, of course.”
Griff smiled. “How about the rest of his party?”
“The android was difficult to read. The doctor, however, was quite stubborn—insisted on treating the prisoner herself, even after being threatened by Ponsak. Without a doubt, both of them are absolutely loyal to Picard.”
“More than they are to the Federation?”
Maurian thought about it. “Yes.”
“Would you bet your life on that?”
The question hung heavy between them. Maurian exchanged a worried glance with Rylian, but neither of them had an easy answer.
“We need to be sure,” Griff warned them. “Whatever your opinion of this captain, he is still first and foremost a Starfleet officer—whereas we are fugitives from Bezzeret justice. He may consider it his duty to report us to Darelian.”
Maurian shook his head. “He won’t do that.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Rylian watched him closely for a response. Maurian tried to come up with a logical reason, something he could offer as definitive proof—but all he had was a feeling, and a vague one at that, about some Earther he barely knew.
“Picard knows what awaits Dalton as punishment,” he finally said. “He’s already had his fill of Bezzeret justice.”
Griff studied him for a few moments, gauging the strength of his conviction. Maurian, for his part, didn’t show much of any and instead cast his eyes to the ground. This part of it had exhausted him even more than the climb down, and was fraught with far more danger—but as the seconds passed, and the doubts grew, he became more and more certain that Griff would make the sensible decision and refuse him.
“You realize,” he said, “that there will be no turning back.”
Maurian lifted his head, meeting the old man’s gaze with his own.
“That’s the idea.”
Griff nodded. He had never appeared more sure of anything.
“Make contact with them.”
Picard sat alone in his ready room, his face aglow in the light from a computer screen. Staring at it did nothing to change what hovered there, any more than the previous hours he had spent poring over the materials the Bezzeret had provided. Sinking back in his chair, he closed his eyes and rubbed them tiredly—a brief enough solace, which ended abruptly at the sound of the door chime.
“Come,” he said, turning off the computer.
Deanna Troi walked in with Data. The two of them hesitated upon seeing Picard, which only made him acutely aware of his present condition.
“It’s been a long day,” he told them.
“More like two,” Troi replied, rounding Picard’s desk and taking a seat on the other side. Data remained standing behind her, observing the subleties of their interactions as he usually did. “How long has it been since you had some sleep?”
“That information is need-to-know, counselor.”
She gave him a knowing smile.
“As for what I can tell you,” Picard continued, “I’m afraid the news isn’t much better. According these records, the Bezzeret have had Dalton under surveillance for months. They have a detailed account of his contacts, travel dates, financial transactions—everything that points to him using his position as an archeaologist to carry out espionage. According to our JAG liaison, Darelian could take this evidence to any Federation court and obtain a conviction.”
“I concur,” Data added. “It appears as though the prime minister has addressed every possible contingency.”
“Which is precisely what I don’t like about it,” Picard said. “I’m no lawyer—but when was the last time you came across such an airtight case?”
Troi frowned. “Are you suggesting that Darelian has manufactured evidence?”
“Her presentation is just a little too perfect. And the manner in which they arrested him—rather sloppy, after such a precise investigation. No,” the captain finished, folding his arms. “This is all wrong, I’m certain of it.”
“Do you have any proof?”
“Therein lies the problem.” Picard rose from his chair and walked over to a nearby viewport. Outside, the arc of the Bezzeret homeworld cut across the edge of the window, the first of its three moons appearing just over the horizon. “That the evidence is so unassailable itself makes it suspect—but I can’t prove that it’s suspect because it’s so unassailable.”
“Catch-22,” Data observed.
Troi looked at the andoid curiously.
“A term coined from the title of a 20th Century Earth novel,” he explained. “It denotes a logical conundrum in which the attainment of an outcome is obviated by the need for it.”
“Which for Fleet Command is just another day at the office,” Picard added. “Out here in the real world, however, it means we have a problem.”
“Have we been able to speak with Dalton?” Troi asked.
“Doctor Crusher was granted visitation,” Data said, “but she was only allowed to conduct her examination using remote means. At no time did she have actual contact with him.”
“And we need to find some legal way to meet with Dalton face to face,” Picard said, returning to his desk. “It would seem that you, counslelor, are the logical choice to do just that. The question is, how do we get around Darelian?”
“The prime minister has already made it expressly clear that she wants me nowhere near her planet,” Troi pointed out. “So long as that’s the case, our chances aren’t promising—unless you’re willing to engage in some sort of subterfuge.”
“If you are suggesting a covert approach,” Data said, “the chances of success are minimal. With the level of security surrounding Dr. Dalton, it would be nearly impossible to make such an attempt without being detected.”
“And it would only confirm their suspicions that we can’t be trusted,” the counselor agreed. “Given their current state of mind, they’re probably expecting us to try something. Darelian might even be provoking such a move.”
“I will not violate law,” Picard resolved, “Bezzeret or otherwise.”
“Then we need to work within the system.”
“That does not leave us with many options,” Data said. “I have made a thorough study of all Bezzeret statutes as they pertain to espionage. There is no legal precedent compelling the government to even grant a defendant so accused any visitors.”
“What about legal counsel?” the captain asked.
“The grand prosecutor acts on the people’s behalf. The defendant is assigned representation from a body of high court barristers that the government employs as public defenders. The defendant may also select his or her own counsel if desired.”
Picard homed in on that. “Does the law stipulate that defendant’s counsel has to be a native Bezzeret?”
“Yes. However, the statute in question was written long before the Bezzeret made contact with offworld species. Applying the strictist interpretation to its language, which is customary in their courts, it could be argued that the statute does not apply to Dalton because he is an alien.”
“And Dalton is a Federation citizen,” the captain mused. “It only stands to reason that he would prefer a Federation national to represent him.”
“That is a logical assumption,” Data agreed. “Under those circumstances, the prime minister would be compelled to grant the defendant’s request.”
Picard smiled slighty, turning to Troi. “Any legal ambitions on your part?”
“I dated a lawyer back in college,” she replied. “That’s as close as I ever got.”
“Then you better ring him up. You’ve just been promoted to Dalton’s lead counsel.”
“Captain,” Troi cautioned, “this won’t exactly distinguish us in the annals of diplomacy. The prime minister will see this for exactly what it is—and she’ll be even less thrilled about seeing me.”
“It doesn’t matter. Darelian already upped the ante when she ordered our people off her planet. Besides, you’re the only one on this ship who can go down there and determine once and for all if Dalton is guilty. Talk to him. If he’s lying, you’ll know it. If he’s telling the truth,” Picard finished, leading into a tense pause, “then at least we’ll know what we’re dealing with.”
For better or for worse.
With that, Picard dismissed them. They left without saying a word, though lingering doubts remained in their wake—merely an echo of his own, the captain observed drily. It was probably the most difficult affect of command to master: the ability to project control even when he had no bloody idea what he was doing. Things had gone so far so quickly, the notion of an actual plan seemed like folly. The best Picard could do was react, and hope like hell he got lucky.
And that Morrow can back you up.
Picard had no doubt that Fleet Command would hang him out to dry if any part of this went wrong, and that was fine with him. He’d had a good, long run in a job that had cost the lives of many friends—Walker Keel, Jack Crusher, a dozen others whose faces and names faded with time no matter how hard he tried to remember—so going out this way, doing the right thing, was by far a better fate.
And if Darelian wanted to play this game, Picard was more than willing.
“Mister Worf,” he said, activating the intercom on his desk. “Open a secure channel to the prime minister’s office. Patch it into my ready room.”
“Aye, sir,” the Klingon said.
“It’s time the two of us had a real talk.”