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
- Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I – Chapter 6
- Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I – Chapter 7
- Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I – Chapter 8
“God damn it!” Miles O’Brien shouted, slamming his hands down on the control console.
Will Riker stood next to the chief, watching with horror the scene unfolding before them. In the materialization chamber, transporter pads sparked like fireworks, casting the entire room in a dissonance of light and shadow. A surreal cacophony accompanied that chaotic show, alternating between a high-pitched shriek and an ominous moan as the beam tried to establish a stable pattern.
“You’re losing her,” Riker warned.
O’Brien worked the controls, eyes darting between his panel and the chamber. Matter and energy intertwined, gathering substance only for the space of a few seconds, but then dispersed into flotsam again.
“The signal’s bouncing all over the place,” the chief replied. “There’s too much disruption to get an accurate lock. What the bloody hell is going on down there?”
Riker jumped in next to him, flooding the transport path with sensor pings. The returns came back scattered, overwhelming the small display as they spread out far and wide.
“I’ve got heat blooms and seismic hooks jumping off the scale,” he reported. “Looks like multiple explosions on the planet surface.”
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Another alarm grabbed O’Brien’s attention. “Also detecting a weapons discharge in the matter stream,” he said grimly. “Whatever happened, at least she got off a shot.”
Riker’s jaw clenched. Stifling panic, he tried to will Troi back into reality, fixing on the vaguely human shapes that formed and collapsed one after the other. “Try punching through with an active locator beacon,” he ordered. “I’ll modulate to get past the interference.”
“That would be a wild stroke of luck, Commander.”
“I’ll take what I can get,” Riker snapped, switching his display to a signal spectrum. Echoes and ghosts of echoes flooded his view, casting off of one another like waves in a pool—utterly incomprehensible to human eyes, except for the burst frequency that O’Brien fired off. The signal instantly ricocheted off the others, like a bullet striking a brick wall, going scattershot before Riker altered the wavelength and brought it back. “Got it! Don’t know for how long, though—you better make this fast, chief.”
“Pattern’s playing hard to get like a son of a bitch,” O’Brien said, working the panel. “Getting a sporadic lock, but it’s mixed up all to hell. I don’t even know if the buffer will know what to do with it.”
“She’s already been in stasis too long. Any more and there won’t be anything left to put back together.”
Riker nodded, understanding.
Taking a measured breath, O’Brien engaged the release to commence the final materialization sequence. It immediately set off a loud alarm, with a message flashing in red across the console screen:
WARNING – TRANSPORT BUFFER OVERLOAD IS IMMINENT.
“No kidding,” the chief muttered, bypassing the safety settings. All that was left now were the two energizing columns. He turned one last time toward Riker. “Ready, Commander.”
“Bring her home, Chief.”
“Aye,” he answered—and with a silent prayer, energized.
The chamber darkened, pulses of light slowing to a throb. It attained a disquieting regularity, like the beating of a gargantuan heart, while an amorphous form began to coalesce on one of the pads. As the atoms gathered substance, Riker thought he could see Troi’s face behind that shimmering curtain: eyes pleading, flesh transient, phasing in and out of reality as the computer tried to parse living tissue from the ether. And for the first time, Riker truly realized how insane a method of travel this really was.
“Come on, Dee,” he whispered.
Then the curtain dropped, depositing a woman out of thin air.
Troi remained absolutely still, in a crouched position. In her hand she held a phaser at the ready, her thumb mashed hard on the trigger, firing on a target no longer in her sights. Riker started toward her but then froze in mid-stride, unsure at first if she was even living. Then her rigor softened, color flooding back into her cheeks, and she turned to look at the two men staring at her.
She collapsed to the floor.
“Sickbay!” O’Brien barked, tapping his comm badge. “Send EMTs to transporter room three immediately.”
Riker, meanwhile, jumped up and took Troi into his arms, cradling her head softly. “It’s okay,” he assured her, gently wiping the grime from her face. “You’re safe now.”
Troi managed a weak smile.
“What happened down there?”
“Ambush,” Troi rasped, coughing several times before she could continue. “They must’ve known we were coming. There were Ponsak everywhere. Maurian drew their fire—bought me time to get clear.”
“Did he make it out?”
Troi shook her head, defeated and exhausted.
“I lost him Will.”
Riker held her close, stroking her hair. He stayed with her like that until the EMTs arrived, then stood aside as they tended her wounds and prepared to move her. Riker walked with them as they carried her out, holding Troi’s hand all the way to the door, saying nothing but sharing her pain nonetheless. Letting her go was harder still—but for now, there were things that needed to be done.
“I’ll come check on you soon,” he promised, and she was gone again.
Wandering back over to the transport console, Riker found O’Brien picking up the pieces. The chief gave him a wry look—the sort of thing that passed between men who are about to talk about something they shouldn’t be talking about.
“So much for the stealth approach,” O’Brien commented.
“Why change our luck now?” the XO replied bitterly. “We must have rattled Darelian’s cage something fierce for her to pull a stunt like this. It’s safe to say the gloves are off now.”
“Maybe we should return the favor.”
“That depends on the captain. Has he beamed over yet?”
“Ten minutes ago. Said he wanted to get there early. They sounded pissed.”
“I think that was the general idea,” Riker said, and headed through the door. “Let me know when he’s back on board—and keep this under wraps, Chief. At least until we figure out which lie we have to tell.”
“Of course, sir. And where will you be?”
“Assembling my evac team,” Riker said over his shoulder. “The sooner we get the hell out of here, the better.”
Chimes rang, telling Picard that 2230 had arrived. In spite of that, Quintax kept him waiting inside of Dauntless’ observation lounge for another ten minutes before showing up. Seeing the man face to face for the first time, Picard had no doubt that it was a deliberate slight. Being Terrence Blake’s errand boy had obviously done little to enhance Quintax’s self esteem, so he had to make it up somehow. Picard had to resist smiling at such a cheap tactic.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Quintax lied as the door closed behind him. “You know how it is—one damn thing after another.”
“No need to explain,” Picard replied casually. “One can’t expect every vessel to run on Enterprise standards.”
Quintax bristled at the thinly veiled insult, but didn’t respond. “Won’t you have a seat?” he asked instead, offering Picard a nearby chair as he himself sat down.
“Thank you, captain,” Picard said, accepting his invitation. “It’s not every day I get to see firsthand the operations of such a vintage ship. You’ve managed quite well from what little I’ve seen.”
“Well, she’s not the Federation flagship,” Quintax retorted. “But then signals intelligence isn’t like the glamor jobs you guys get.”
“Don’t be so modest. It’s vital work.”
“So I keep telling my crew.”
“Indeed. Then they must be curious about why you abandoned your assignment to come all the way out here.”
Quintax blinked. Picard marveled at how easily he had been led.
“For the same reason you did,” Quintax said. “Orders.”
“Yes,” Picard drew out. “Tell me about that.”
“There’s nothing much to tell. During my time here, I developed a friendly relationship with the prime minister. Fleet Command is hoping to use that to help smooth things over.”
Picard had a hard time believing that Quintax had a friendly relationship with anybody. “It’s a little late for that,” he said. “The Bezzeret have already declared their intentions. They want us to evacuate their planet.”
“A complex process fraught with many dangers,” Quintax interjected. “A little reassurance will go a long ways toward making sure that nothing else goes wrong.”
“And your presence here will do that?”
“Fleet Command thinks so.”
“You mean Terrence Blake thinks so.”
Quintax blinked again. Picard noticed how he gripped the sides of his chair for a split second, containing whatever outburst simmered beneath. For a man who didn’t like to be pushed around, Quintax wasn’t a very hard target.
“Admiral Blake is the chief of staff,” he said evenly. “He was instrumental in setting up diplomatic relations with the Bezzeret. I defer to his judgment on these matters.”
“And what might that judgment be?”
“He’s concerned about your priorities.”
“A Federation citizen is in the dock on the flimsiest of evidence,” Picard reminded him. “It’s my priority to find out what really happened.”
“Is that what Morrow told you?”
This time, Picard was the one taken aback.
“You should be careful,” Quintax warned him. “Morrow has his own agenda.”
“And Blake doesn’t?”
“They’re flag officers,” Quintax said, too familiar for Picard’s taste. “They all have their agendas. Sometimes, as a line officer, it’s tough to sort them all out.”
“I take it that you’re here to help me with that.”
Quintax gestured with his hands wide open. “We can help each other.”
Picard folded his arms, frowning. “What exactly are you getting at, Quintax?”
Quintax smiled, ever so slightly. He then got up out of his chair and strolled over to the large bank of windows. A short distance away, bringing up Dauntless’s flank, Enterprise gleamed against the starry pitch of open space. Quintax looked out at the larger vessel, which dwarfed his own, his back turned to Picard as he spoke.
“Tell me about your visit to the planet surface.”
Picard hesitated. Only then did he realize that for all his bluster, Quintax had spent the entire time sizing him up—revealing just enough truth to draw him out.
“What do you want to know?”
“The prisoner, Dalton,” Quintax pressed. “Did you see him personally?”
“No. I made a request, but Darelian refused.”
Quintax turned around and studied Picard closely.
“You don’t strike me as the type of man who takes no for an answer.”
Picard held steady.
“The prime minister was adamant,” he said. “As was her contingent of Ponsak.”
“Scary, aren’t they?” Quintax asked, taking a somewhat perverse delight. “Most offworlders never even get to see one—and those that have usually don’t live to tell about it.”
“Dalton did, apparently.”
Quintax seemed eager. “Is that what he told you?”
“He didn’t have to.”
“Dammit, Picard!” Quintax seethed. “Just give me a straight answer!”
“Try asking a straight question.”
Quintax took a breath, using the moment to calm himself.
“Given the situation,” he began impatiently, “it’s very important for Fleet Command to have a complete and accurate assessment of conditions on the ground. For that to happen, I need to know the sum total of your contacts with everyone involved. Did you meet directly with anyone besides the prime minister?”
“What about your people?”
“I assigned Lieutenant Commander Troi as Jeffrey Dalton’s legal counsel. She met with him briefly to discuss his rights under Bezzeret law.”
“What did he say to her?”
“That he wasn’t a spy,” Picard said. “It’s all in my report. I believe you’ll find his story quite convincing.”
Quintax brushed off the remark.
“Did Commander Troi meet with anyone else?”
The abruptness of the question caught Picard off guard. He had expected Quintax to grill him about the substance of Troi’s conversations with Dalton, but not this. He immediately thought of Maurian, and of his own decision to send Troi to the planet surface—a decision that violated so many regulations, Picard couldn’t even begin to count them. Worse still, he didn’t even know the outcome of their meeting. For Quintax to ask him such a thing only raised Picard’s sense of danger, leaving him to contemplate: What are you really after?
How much do you really know?
Picard, with no way of telling, did the only thing he could.
“No,” he lied. “Just Dalton.”
Quintax didn’t believe him. Picard knew that much, from the man’s wary reaction—but with both of them at a standoff, neither had any choice but to maintain the façade. It was a useful fiction, at least for now, and confirmed that Quintax had just as much to hide.
If not more.
“Very good,” Quintax finally spoke, nodding his head in feigned relief. “From this point on, though, it would be best if we coordinated all of our communications with the Bezzeret. With your permission, I’ll take point with the prime minister’s office. You can continue your efforts with their justice ministry.”
“Of course,” Picard said amicably. “Is there anything else?”
“Not at this time.”
“Then if you’ll excuse me,” Picard said, standing up, “I’ll be getting back to my ship. My crew is on standby to start receiving evacuees in less than twenty-four hours, and we still have a lot of work to do.”
Quintax summoned a crewman from security, who came in and stood at attention. Picard noticed the man’s sidearm on conspicuous display, along with the intimidating expression on his face. “The chief here will show you to the transporter room,” Quintax said. “Be sure to let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
“You’ve already done more than enough,” Picard replied, heading for the door. Along the way, he stopped and added, “Do give my regards to Admiral Blake.”
“The same to Admiral Morrow.”
“Indeed,” Picard said, leaving with the guard in tow. Even with the doors closed behind him, he felt the heat of Quintax’s stare in his back.
Long enough for Picard to go, long enough for the man to beam the hell off of his ship—and even then he remained too close, hovering off the starboard in his Galaxy class, insufferable in all his superiority. Of all the things, Quintax hated Picard the most for that. Almost as much as he hated himself for his own jealousy.
But there would be a reckoning. Terrence Blake had promised him that.
Gathering himself together, Quintax put on his captain’s face and exited the lounge. He moved purposefully, as he always did, projecting the image of command for every crewman he passed, relishing the fear he inspired in the younger ones. Blake had taught him that—most important lesson among many, learned in the heat of battle. People had to know that the captain would do anything to complete the mission. And Quintax knew exactly what his mission was.
He proceeded to the turbolift, taking it all the way down to main engineering. There, Quintax briefly met with the section chief under the ruse of a spot inspection, the better to explain his presence at such a late hour. With the formalities dispensed, he then pretended to leave—but instead of heading back to the upper decks, he slipped onto an access ladder and climbed all the way down. Since the area was completely automated, there wasn’t another living soul to be found: a perfect place to conduct the kind of dealings best kept in the dark.
The deep, penetrating hum of magnetic fields absorbed the clank of his boots as Quintax swung himself off the ladder. He stepped onto a grated scaffold that stretched between the ship’s antideuterium tanks, the massive cylindrical pods seeming to go endlessly both fore and aft. Nervously, he glanced around—at first to make sure that he hadn’t been followed, then in response to a tingle of dread that brushed past him like a static charge. Quintax wondered how long it had been down here, prowling the shadows like some reaper in waiting. Just the mere thought of it chilled him to the bone, making him want to turn and run.
But Quintax remained. Death had another purpose for him today.
“I know you’re here,” he said. “Show yourself.”
The creature shimmered in the periphery of his vision, always at the edges wherever Quintax turned. To see any more would have paralyzed him with fear, of which the creature was ardently aware. To accommodate his frailty, it hovered at a distance—a mere suggestion of movement, barely contained between the racks of computer equipment in front of him.
“What have you learned?” the Ponsak spoke.
Quintax winced. The voice echoed inside his head, an unnatural sound that ricocheted off the walls of his skull. He took a step back before daring to answer.
“The Betazoid counselor met with Dalton,” he said. “She used her empathic abilities to confirm his story. Picard didn’t even try to deny it.”
“He would not deny that which we already know,” the Ponsak replied. “Picard operates tactically. We have confirmed this from his profile. It is logical that he would seek to confuse you by mixing lies with the truth.”
“He also told me that none of his people had unauthorized contact with any Bezzeret national.”
“That is the lie. One of our squads detected a surface to space transport during the apprehension of a suspected traitor. Enterprise was in orbit directly overhead at the time. Picard must have been aware of this.”
Anger displaced fear, the familiar sting of being played for a fool.
“Son of a bitch,” Quintax seethed.
“This situation cannot be allowed to continue,” the Ponsak continued, unabated. “Steps must be taken to contain the damage.”
Quintax froze, his mouth going dry.
“What is that supposed to mean?” he asked.
“Dalton must be eliminated.”
“No,” Quintax said tentatively, as if trying to convince himself. “You people had your chance and failed. Killing him now would leave too many questions.”
“Allowing him to live poses an even greater risk.”
“You’re not hearing me!” Quintax snapped. “I can’t authorize that kind of action—and even if I could, you’d be insane to try it. This isn’t a military action. You need deniability to pull off an assassination. That isn’t going to happen, especially with Picard watching.”
“Picard can be contained as well.”
This time, Quintax felt his heart stop. Everything—his orders, his arrival here, the entire situation—seemed to be spinning out of control, far beyond his ability to stop. Events had overtaken him now, and all he could think was: What would Blake do? More than anything, Quintax wanted to get on the horn and beg for his guidance, to relieve himself of the burden of making the decision for himself.
But then he felt that sting again—except that now, it was the sting of his own failure. Even after all this time, he could never move out of the old man’s shadow. And Quintax knew, as he always did, that Blake would never let him forget it.
Summoning the last embers of his courage, he stepped forward.
“Don’t even think about it,” he said. “You tell Darelian that nobody makes a move on Enterprise until I say it’s necessary. The same goes for Dalton. We’ll find another way to handle this.”
The Ponsak hesitated, if such a thing was possible. Quintax entertained a fleeting notion that the creature would simply kill him and be done with it, then move ahead with its plan anyway; but it held back, hiding in the corner of his eye, until it finally spoke again.
“I will convey your directive to the prime minister.”
Quintax released the breath he had been holding.
“Thank you,” he said. “The admiral appreciates her patience.”
“Do you have any more information to report?”
“Not for now,” Quintax began, glancing at his watch for a split second, “but I can arrange for transport—”
The Ponsak, however, was gone.
Quintax blinked in amazement, the trace of an afterimage quickly dissipating in the creature’s wake. A residue of evil remained, though: a dry husk of itself, like the skin shed off a serpent, a reminder of its presence here and a threat of its eventual return. That, more than anything, gave Quintax reason to be afraid. He knew damned well that the Ponsak had only obeyed him because it had been instructed to—which left open the question of what anyone could do about it if Darelian decided otherwise.
Picard can be contained as well.
And if that were true of Picard, it was also true of himself.
Not to mention the rest of the Starfleet.
Shuddering, Quintax left those fears behind to find purchase in the dark.
Ursad Hatched ren (Office of the Security Minister)
Bezzeret Home World
Alone, Darelian stared down the length of the corridor that ended at the prisoner’s cell. She stood there, unblinking, for a period of time that even she did not know, conflicting emotions surging through her veins like injected poison: feelings, not quite her own, utterly alien and yet eerily familiar. Maurian’s betrayal overshadowed the rest—that much she understood, with all its commensurate rage and impotent frustration; but there was also the sense of what she would find just outside the prisoner’s door, and the growing connection she felt with what waited for her there. Darelian saw it in her mind even before she rounded that final corner, with a certainty that shook the rapidly collapsing depths of her soul.
And when the Ponsak greeted her, turning his vacant face toward hers, the real terror presented itself in stark relief. Already, it had started.
Already, she was becoming like him.
“It is as we feared,” the Ponsak told her. “Griff’s people reached out to Picard, using Maurian as a contact.”
Darelian processed the news, showing no outward reaction. Underneath, the revelation consumed her like some virulent strain of dread. Maurian had no idea the game he had been playing. She only wished it was in her power to resurrect him, so that she might have the satisfaction of killing him all over again.
“Were you able to track the subversives?”
“No,” the Ponsak replied. “They remain elusive.”
No surprise, Darelian thought, considering how well Griff knew her methods.
“What about Quintax?” she asked.
“He has instructed us to wait.”
“The man is a coward.”
“Agreed,” the Ponsak said, “but he is correct in one regard. There is no clean way to do this thing. If we move ahead as you propose, you may find yourself without an ally in the Federation.”
“And if I allow this to continue, we will lose everything,” Darelian fired back, her panic rising like bile in the back of her throat before she could force it back down again. “Admiral Blake will agree with my decision. I am only doing what is necessary.”
“What if he doesn’t see it that way?”
For a long, disconcerting moment, Darelian considered it.
“He will,” she decided, “when fully realizes our true nature.”
At that, the Ponsak nodded and stepped aside. He then unlocked the door, which opened into the stark confines of the prisoner’s cell. Only then did it occur to Darelian that she had never actually met the man she locked up in there—the very same man she had given an entire world to hate, for a crime that neither he nor her people truly understood.
Dalton, however, knew all too well why she had come.
He slipped off his bunk, into the sterile overhead light, a defiant resignation etched into the lines of his face. It was clear from his expression that he had been expecting this, having long since surrendered his fear. He approached the force field that separated them, turning a hard stare on her that never wavered.
“I am Prime Minister—”
“Darelian, I know,” Jeffrey Dalton finished. He glanced over her shoulder at the Ponsak hovering behind. “I take it this means there isn’t going to be a trial.”
Darelian didn’t quite know what to say. As many executions as she had ordered, this was the first time she had deigned to visit to the condemned. His utter calm in the face of his own death unsettled her, even for an alien.
“This incident continues to destabilize our security,” she finally explained. “It cannot be allowed to continue any longer.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” Dalton remarked. “Color me surprised though—taking time out of your busy schedule to deliver the news personally.”
“I owed you that much, after everything you’ve been through.”
“You mean the murder of my friends.”
Darelian shifted uncomfortably.
“That’s what it is,” Dalton continued. “However you justify it—politics, security, the needs of the many—in the end, it’s just killing. From what I’ve seen around here, you people are pretty good at it.”
“We are not murderers,” the prime minister snarled, belying her words with the anger behind them. “To stand there and speak of us as if we were no better than Klingons—you make me sick with your moral vanity! Your research threatened to reveal secrets that would destroy our civilization. Millions upon millions of people would be killed!” Pausing for a moment, she caught her breath and stayed her anger, though the embers of it still burned hot just beneath the surface. “What would you have me do? Just stand by and let it happen, all for the sake of a few lives?”
Dalton scoffed, leveling an icy smile.
“Truth be told,” he said, “I really don’t give a damn.”
Trembling, Darelian clenched her hands into fists. She wanted to take the force field down, bury her fingernails into his flesh, hear his bones snap as she tore him to pieces. Seeing his smile widen, and the way he nodded, she knew at once that he was goading her—showing her for the animal she was, fueled by hatred and driven by bloodlust, every bit the evil that he envisioned.
And in that moment, she wanted it too. More than anything she wanted before.
Until she felt the Ponsak at her back like some omniscient force, keeping his distance but inside her head all at the same time. This is the way of it, he told her. Once started, you cannot go back.
But she wasn’t there. At least not yet.
Hands relaxing, she opened one of them and held it up for Dalton to see. Nestled in her palm was a small pill, which he regarded with detached interest.
“It’s fast and potent,” Darelian explained. “Totally painless.”
Dalton folded his arms.
“Just like that,” he said. “Clean and neat.”
“It’s the best I can do.”
“What if I don’t take it?”
The Ponsak stepped forward.
“Then he will take care of it,” Darelian said, “and it will go much harder.”
Dalton’s eyes narrowed to slits.
“Go to hell,” he said.
Darelian held back again, a rush of rage so powerful that it seemed to burn her skin from the inside. Seeing her weakness for what it was, Dalton shook his head in obvious contempt. Unable to bear it any longer, she spun on her heel and stormed out, fully intending to let the Ponsak make good on her threat—until Dalton stopped her with a single word, heaping scorn on top of ridicule.
She froze, steadying herself against the doorway.
“You think you’re different but you’re not,” he went on, his hatred feeding into her own. “You’re just like any other tyrant. Always sending someone else to do your dirty work.”
Darelian turned around, slowly, deliberately.
“At least those bastards you sent to Castis had balls enough to finish the job. How about you, prime minister?”
Barriers fell. The flood came pouring in. Darelian felt the Ponsak’s power as if it were her own, zeroing in on Dalton—targeting him like prey.
“Can you take a life?”
She moved toward him, back up to the force field, with no memory of crossing the space between.
“Can you get your hands bloody?”
Passing through, she took him by the shoulders. And even though this was what he wanted, she saw the horror and amazement in his face as she arched her head above him.
“Yes,” she spoke, in the Ponsak’s voice.
But the murderous fury was all her own.