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
- Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I – Chapter 9
- Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I – Chapter 10
- Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I – Chapter 11
“A phaser shot?” Quintax demanded, swinging his chair around.
“That’s what it looks like, sir,” the tactical officer replied from her station at the rear of the bridge, her eyes riveted to her display as she called up more information. “Originating from Enterprise’s battle hull, amidships. I’d guess deck twenty nine or thirty.”
“Get me confirmation,” the captain snapped. He could already feel the blood accelerating in his veins as a cold stab of panic ran straight through him. “I need to know what’s happening on that ship!”
“Aye, sir,” tactical affirmed, while the rest of the bridge crew took stark measure of the captain’s tone. She pored over the readings one more time, shaking her head as she looked up at Quintax. “Definitely not a malfunction or ambient noise—it’s the real deal.” The panel beeped at her again. “Detecting two more discharges. Signal is moving aft.”
Dammit, Quintax thought. This was supposed to be quick and simple. No complications! That’s what it said—no complications!
But had he ever really believed that the Ponsak could deliver on that promise? At the time it had seemed so easy, so reasonable—but that had been with a monster staring him down, weaving whatever spell those damned things used to coax their victims. Now it was all starting to fall apart, and Quintax had to consider the unthinkable.
What if the Ponsak fails?
Our latest episode of the NOQ Report Podcast...
He simply couldn’t lose the initiative. Terrence Blake wouldn’t stand for it.
“Increase distance to Enterprise to twenty thousand kilometers,” Quintax ordered. “Sound general quarters.”
“General quarters, aye.”
Alarms went off as the overhead lights dimmed, with power being diverted to the ship’s defensive systems. Quintax listened to the steady stream of chatter that flooded the bridge, stations reporting in one after the other until the last of them indicated its readiness. With that, a charged silence descended over everyone—not least the man in the center seat. The deck thrumming beneath his feet, Quintax could only watch as Enterprise peeled away on the viewscreen, farther and farther until Dauntless settled into her new orbit.
“Twenty thousand kilometers,” the officer manning the conn reported.
A safe enough distance, Quintax thought, assuming the Ponsak succeeded in its mission of blasting the Galaxy-class vessel to dust. If not, his own phasers were already charged and on standby.
“Hold position,” he said.
The Ponsak retreated.
Survival did not dictate its actions, not in the long term. Its own death was irrelevant—and in the context of the mission, inevitable. But it did need to buy time, to make certain that its sabotage would remain undiscovered. Drawing its adversaries away from the computer core would facilitate that, if only long enough to allow the Black Box to do its work. Then the mission would be complete, and the Ponsak’s existence justified.
It would allow nothing to prevent that.
And so it killed. And killed. And killed again.
Geordi La Forge heard himself shout the warning, almost out of reflex. Three bodies already lay on the floor, cut down by bright green salvos that seemed to come out of nowhere and struck with uncanny accuracy. Chief Costa had been first, taking one in the chest as he put himself between La Forge and the intruder. The others had gone down less than two seconds later: one shot for each man, each one deadly. From there the intruder had fled into the corridor, leading a blistering torrent of return fire.
Like a fool, La Forge charged after the intruder without thinking. Blinded now by fury, he picked up the chief’s rifle and hurled himself into the corridor, laying down a field of fire in his advance. The intruder dodged his attack with ease, responding with a single tight burst. Had La Forge been looking with human eyes, he would have never seen the shot coming; his VISOR, though, detected its energy signature in just enough time for him to hit the deck, the beam blasting a hole in the wall instead of his head.
A shower of hot cinders rained down on him, pocking his already ruined uniform with burn holes. La Forge cursed out of pain and rage, trying to keep his head clear enough to squeeze off another shot. The security team, meanwhile, rolled out of the core in a cover formation, the ones in front opening up with a steady stream of phaser fire—for all the good it did. The intruder picked off two more of them in quick succession, pummeling a third as they attempted to fall back.
Half the team down, La Forge grimaced. What the hell are we up against?
The answer came in what seemed like a dozen more blasts—not the precise, targeted rounds that had done so much damage, but a random barrage that slammed bulkheads and melted them into coppery-black lava flows. One of Costa’s people dove out of that maelstrom, landing next to La Forge with a hard, painful thud. He threw himself on top of her, just as another hot shower of debris covered them, then pulled her off into the relative shelter of a nearby alcove.
“God damn it!” the woman seethed, coughing up smoke. Her face was covered in grime and soot, blood trickling down her forehead. “If I could get just one clear shot at this son of a bitch—”
“Just be glad you’re alive,” La Forge snapped, making her focus on the immediate problem. “What’s your name, petty officer?”
“Grail,” she said. “Amanda—sir.”
“Congratulations, Grail. You’re now in charge of the security team.”
“What’s left of it.” She peered down the corridor grimly. “We got no comms, no approach and no clear way to gank this thing. Not what you’d call a tactically viable scenario.”
“You try sensors?”
“Tricorders don’t work for shit. How about your VISOR?”
“Only when I get a direct line of sight—but I think our friend has figured that out already.”
“Well, he ain’t going anywhere,” Grail observed. “Even if he gets past us, the only thing past this section is engineering access—and that’s all sealed off with emergency doors and force fields. We just need to hold him off long enough for backup to get here.”
“How long is that?”
“Four minutes, give or take.”
“Sounds like three minutes too long,” La Forge said. “Not that it matters. I don’t think escape is what he’s got in mind. He’s playing with us.”
Another blast caused them both to duck.
“You sure about that?” Grail asked.
“Oh, yeah,” La Forge affirmed. “He’s got some kind of cloak—but he sticks his head out every few seconds, just to keep us thinking we can get him.” He winced at the bodies piled up in the corridor. “You can see where that’s gotten us.”
“So what do we do?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” the chief engineer said, though he found his mind drifting in another direction entirely. It was no accident that they had found the intruder here—in fact, it was no accident that they had found him at all. With his ability to almost disappear at will, he could have easily stayed hidden. No, the only reason the intruder had stepped out of the shadows was because he wanted to be seen. The bloody chase he now led was only another part of that plan.
So what was he doing in the computer core?
La Forge didn’t have time to finish the thought before his VISOR went crazy again, and saw what looked like a streak of light with arms and legs crawling up the bulkhead five meters in front of them. Startled into action, he shouted for Grail to get down and opened up with his rifle again, this time firing at wide dispersal and not even bothering to take aim. The surviving members of the security team, holed up in scattered locations, followed his lead and peppered the same area with their own weapons. For several seconds, the entire section filled with the heat and high-pitched scream of phaser fire, sparks and smoke metastasizing into dazzling and lethal blooms. In those moments, it seemed as if the fury they unleashed might blow the entire ship apart—but they kept pouring it on, stopping only when their weapons became too hot to touch.
Utterly spent, the bestial roar receded into a leaden silence. Into that void, a gaseous hiss insinuated itself as fire suppression mist descended from the ceiling.
La Forge scanned the horizon again. All was still.
“Did we get him?” Grail asked.
“I don’t know,” he told her, “but I wouldn’t bet on it.”
Grail craned her neck to get a look through all the damage.
“Skipper’s gonna be pissed when he sees the mess we made.”
“You let me worry about that,” La Forge said, leaning in close to her. “Listen, Grail—I need you to get back to SFSA and contact the bridge. Tell them to take the core number three offline immediately. Then have the transporter room prepare a site to site transport. And this part is vital: persistent state, this section to main engineering. Say it back to me.”
“Persistent state, this section to main engineering,” Grail repeated, committing it to memory. “Got it. But how are you going to get a beam in here? This place is a dead zone.”
“Shielding tapers off around the next juncture. It’s not much of an opening, but it ought to be wide enough for one to get through.”
Grail looked at him like he was crazy.
“That’s a long way, commander.”
“Don’t I know it,” La Forge said, staring down as far of that distance as he could. Even with his VISOR sweeping the way, he would practically be going blind—and in the crosshairs of a sniper that hardly ever missed. “But I need to know what that bastard did to my ship, and I’m not going to find out sitting here.”
Grail saw the cold logic of it, and pointed down the corridor.
“Figure about five seconds to reach the target,” she said. “Another second or two for the transporter to get a lock, then another two seconds for beam out. My guys will give you as much protection as they can.”
“Great. How much time you need to do your thing?”
“No more than sixty seconds—then you haul ass.”
“Duly noted.” La Forge raised his rife. “You ready?”
“I’ll cover your retreat. On the count of three.”
She took a long, deep breath, as if it might be her last.
“One. . .two. . .three.”
Lieutenant Commander Data’s positronic brain was multitasking, processing the teraflops of calculations that made his synthetic brand of sentience possible. In the here and now, that translated into the incredibly complex neural patterns that manifested themselves in myriad ways, most of them a mimicry of human thought but far too fast for human contemplation. Many cycles oriented toward Data’s concern for Geordi La Forge, whom he considered his closest friend, though the emotion itself remained alien to him, more of a concept than an actual experience. It also factored into Data’s analysis of the current alert status, and the unconfirmed reports of heavy fighting down near the engineering computer core. At the moment, most of those efforts were geared toward determining the identity of the hostile force engaging the security teams—though it seemed unlikely that an intruder could have beamed aboard undetected, at least not through conventional means.
While Data contemplated all of this, along with the millions of other details that defined his moment-to-moment existence, he also executed the more rudimentary aspects of his duty as master of ship’s operations. Part of that included making the various course adjustments necessary for Enterprise to maintain a standard orbit. Performed as a matter of routine, these adjustments required no supervision from the captain or the officer of the watch—only the pushing of a button or two, most of the time without a second thought. And so it was that Data, who did not realize the significance of what he was about to do, counted down the time until the next inclination change. In exactly one minute and thirteen seconds, he would then fire the ship’s Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) to nudge Enterprise back into a proper attitude.
And, in doing so, would start a chain reaction designed to kill them all.
Trailing a plasma inferno, Grail stumbled into SFSA.
She fell over the body of Specialist Divers, whose hollow skull turned and regarded her in a grisly imitation of life. Grail shoved him away, more angry than repulsed, dragging herself back up to her feet and shuffling toward the dead man’s station. With her run of luck, she half expected to find the power out or the console smashed, something else to seal her doom inside of this godforsaken part of the ship. Miraculously, though, the panel responded to her touch, the screen coming alive and ticking off list of available subsystems.
Hurriedly, she punched up communications and initiated an emergency call.
“Core to bridge,” she said.
“You can’t be serious!” Miles O’Brien spat. In his time aboard ship, he’d been asked to do some crazy things, but never a stunt like this. Never even in simulation. Never even in his worst dreams.
But the captain insisted.
“Commander La Forge believes the core may be in danger,” Picard barked over the intercom. “He needs to get back to engineering, but all his routes are cut off. In his estimation, this is the only way.”
“By running head-on into a persistent transporter beam? Before I even get a lock on him?” He shook his head. “Even if I could maintain beam integrity that long, chances are it’ll never hold. He’ll end up smeared all over engineering by the time he gets there.”
“Just tell me if it’s possible, chief.”
“It’s insane, captain.”
“But is it possible?”
O’Brien clenched his teeth. He hated this. He’d been pushing his luck for a long time, and knew one day it would catch up with him. That was the day he promised to retire and ditch the Starfleet once and for all.
Looks like that day has arrived.
“It’s possible,” he said.
“Make it so,” Picard ordered.
O’Brien swore under his breath, putting his hands on the transporter console. For the second time in twenty-four hours, he was about to push the thing in ways it was never meant to be pushed. Punching up a deck plan, he zeroed in on a sweet spot about eight meters past the entrance to the computer core—right in the middle of no man’s land, if what he heard was correct.
“I’ve isolated coordinates, captain. It’s borderline, though.”
“Energize, Chief O’Brien.”
His hand slid across the controls. There came the usual hum as the pads energized, which quickly built into a high-pitched wail as the transporter couldn’t find a lock. “It’s working, sir,” O’Brien reported, but with a grave expression. “Commander La Forge better make it fast.”
But the captain didn’t answer. He had already signed off.
And O’Brien had to wonder if La Forge was already dead.
La Forge counted off the seconds in his head, the last ten inexorably leading down to zero. He didn’t need a watch for accuracy. As these were probably the last few seconds of his life, he knew on an instinctive level. The wild card, though, was Grail. If she hadn’t been able to reach the bridge…
Then this is gonna be a really short run.
Closing his eyes behind his VISOR, he felt the adrenaline building in his system. The urge to move was epic, primal, impossible to resist—and yet he resisted, his body coiled like a spring, limbs trembling as they seemed to draw energy from his surroundings. The rhythms of the ship became his own, his muscles an extension of her limitless power.
Until the seconds ran out, and it was time.
Go, La Forge commanded.
He sprang off of the bulkhead, using that momentum to give himself an extra burst of speed. He didn’t think. He was only dimly aware of his own existence. There was only the feel of his feet connecting with the deck, and the way ahead, opening before him like a gateway to perdition.
He immediately broke the line held by the last few members of the security team. In the slow-motion spectacle inside his mind, La Forge caught a glimpse of their reactions: shock piled on panic followed by realization as they saw what he was doing, then a mad scramble to assume new positions on his flank. Almost in unison, they started to lay down a field of fire, hot beams enveloping La Forge like a halo before they careened past and carved out a path for him. Down the middle of that same line, La Forge fired his own rifle in short, controlled bursts, making damned sure that nothing stood in his way.
Then he saw it, rounding a turn just a few meters out in front: a shimmering blue curtain, pouring out of thin air, infusing the atmosphere with a telltale thrum he had heard a thousand times before.
The transporter beam.
Stray beams of phaser fire struck at its periphery, some bouncing harmlessly off to the side while others got absorbed like light falling into a black hole. La Forge didn’t need to see the full spectrum through his VISOR to know that the curtain was unstable. The ebb and flow of its fading pattern was visible even to the naked eye.
Just hold for a few more seconds…
But the green harbinger of death would not allow it.
La Forge saw it coalesce in front of the curtain: a vaguely humanoid shape that appeared and disappeared in the space of a millisecond, leaving a high-energy burst in its wake. He ducked and rolled, the intruder’s shot missing him by millimeters before it buried itself in the deck behind him. The force of the resulting explosion actually picked La Forge up and deposited him back on his feet—an amazing stroke of luck that he didn’t question. He just kept his focus, a razor slicing through the chaos: fire, take a step, fire, take a step.
His VISOR put him at less than four meters away. To his skin, it felt even closer. Electricity washed over him in a flood, a kind of half-life that seemed to advance and retreat with the beat of his own heart—a cycle on a downward curve, spiraling. La Forge knew the curtain was dying, even faster than he had anticipated.
Equations penetrated his mind: quantum physics, spin states, matter and energy inserting themselves like unwelcome distractions in a fight for survival. But no matter how much he tried to deny them, those basic laws held firm. The curtain was weak. Each burst of weapons fire only made it weaker. And as close as he was, the curtain would collapse before he could reach it.
Then he would be left in the open, alone.
And the intruder would have him.
“NO!” La Forge thundered, and leaped.
“Picard to engineering!” the captain shouted. The fingers of his left hand gripped the armrest of his command chair tightly, those of his right tapped anxiously. “Report status!”
The comm channel was wide open. He could hear the voices of the engineering staff buzzing like distant static, speaking in snippets he caught here and there—but nothing he could use to form a clear picture of what happened.
“Lieutenant,” Picard said to Worf, unable to wait any longer, “get me a location on Commander La Forge.”
Worf brought the information up on his panel. The Klingon watched as the computer tried to get a lock on La Forge’s comm badge, his expression a mixture of impatience and frustration. “Unable to get a precise lock,” he said, trying several times to get an exact reading. “The signal appears to be originating in several places simultaneously.” Finally, after the passage of interminable seconds, the panel beeped at him affirmatively. “Got him. Commander La Forge is now in main engineering, captain.”
“Then what the bloody hell is going on?” Picard seethed. “Engineering! Someone—anyone—acknowledge this call!”
There came the sound of shuffling, and a haggard voice answered. Picard’s heart rose into his throat and seemed to stop when he heard the tone—one that told the captain that he, like Chief O’Brien, had finally pushed his luck past the breaking point.
Everyone around Picard stared at him, wanting—needing—an answer to a question that none of them dared to ask. But Picard already knew. In between the silences, in the place where unspeakable torment lives, he already knew.
Still, he spoke the words: “Did Commander La Forge arrive safely?”
A long pause. It only hardened the blow.
“No, sir,” the voice replied. “His communicator got through, but. . .the rest of him isn’t here.”
All sensation drained from Picard’s body.
“He didn’t make it, captain.”
La Forge felt the hand of God pluck him out of midair.
That grip caught him full in the chest, with enough force to crack ribs and squeeze air out of his lungs, right before it twirled and dangled his body as if it weighed nothing—a mere toy in the hands of some gargantuan child. La Forge’s first thought was that he had reached the curtain just as it collapsed, and that all the sickness and the vertigo and the abject fear were just side effects of a botched transport. So this is what it’s like to be turned inside out, he pondered, hoping that the end would come swiftly and that what emerged on the other side would at least resemble a human being. The last thing he wanted was to end up as a puddle some poor bastard would have to clean up with a moth and bucket Anything but that.
Then he hit the floor with a sudden, flaring pain that was absolutely real—and his mind instantly recalibrated to the world at hand, which found him sprawled on the deck and staring dumfounded at the ceiling. Pushing himself up, he felt the hand of God on his chest again—only this time it ripped the comm badge from his uniform and flung it away. La Forge made no attempt to stop it. He just watched the device as it skipped like a stone across still waters, then sparkled into nothingness as it passed through the shimmering curtain.
A final act. With that, the curtain fell.
“You would not have made it.”
La Forge heard the voice coming from everywhere at once. Had he been limited by human sight, he wouldn’t have even known where to look—but his VISOR guided him, directly to a looming figure came out from the deep and towered over him.
Except that this time, it didn’t look like the devil at all. It still radiated fear like a pestilence, infecting all that came in contact with it—but all the things it had been and all the things it had done, under the cover of darkness and La Forge’s own blindness, were out in the light now. And in that light, La Forge beheld the full countenance of his own terror.
Its body constantly shifted colors, almost transparent in the places where it had mimicked its surroundings. La Forge’s VISOR picked out the polychromatic elements imbedded within the surface of what was ordinary, stun resistant body armor—not so much ghost, but the product of an incredibly clever mind.
It pointed a phaser at La Forge’s head.
“Drop it!” he heard Grail yell, her voice cracking. In the corner of his vision, he could see the ragtag remains of the security team. All of them stood with their phasers leveled at the intruder, with Grail herself out in front.
“I said DROP it!”
The intruder paid her no attention. La Forge, well within point blank range, knew the thing had him dead to rights. Figuring he had nothing to lose, he slowly rose so that he could face the intruder on his feet.
What are you?
The engineer cocked his head, studying his own reflection in the opaque glass of the intruder’s helmet. For one horrible moment, it seemed as if he were staring back at himself—not as a reflection, but from somewhere deep within. All that separated La Forge from that abyss was the unnatural stillness of the creature. He couldn’t possibly believe that whatever existed under that body armor was in any way alive.
“You wouldn’t have made it,” the intruder said again. It spoke with a thousand voices, and no voice at all. Not individual, not collective, just—nothing.
La Forge’s lips curled back. “Get off my ship.”
“Time enough,” the intruder replied. “It is finished.”
It lowered its weapon, so swiftly La Forge didn’t even see—
—and Grail fired.
She was only the first. The rest of them followed suit with deadly purpose, which screamed for vengeance as it passed over the bodies of their fallen comrades. Some of the beams struck the creature squarely in the chest, some in the head. None of it mattered. The resulting whiplash threw the intruder against the bulkhead, against the dead end where it had led them, body armor ringing with the loud clang of metal against metal.
The intruder fell apart.
It didn’t disintegrate. What happened was more like throwing a glass against the wall and watching it shatter. Pieces of armor flew apart at the seams, arms and legs separating from the torso and falling into a tangled pile. The helmet popped free last, and rolled evenly across the deck—almost peacefully—before coming to a rest at La Forge’s feet. Stunned, he knelt down to pick the thing up, turning it over in his hands.
It was empty.
The security team moved in. Grail attended to La Forge, while the rest of them prodded the pieces of body armor, keeping their weapons trained and taking no chances. La Forge gave her the helmet, not sure what else to do with it.
“What the hell was that?” she asked.
“I don’t care,” La Forge answered, standing back up. “As long as it’s dead.”
He then snatched Grail’s comm badge, pinning the device to his own uniform. Running to the spot where the transport curtain dissolved only moments before, he turned around to give her one last order. “Take your team and search the core for foreign objects,” he said. “Large, small—anything that looks out of place. If you find something, report it to me immediately.”
Grail’s face went ashen. “You think he planted a bomb?”
“Or something worse.” He tapped the comm badge. “Transporter room, emergency site to site transport to engineering—now!”
La Forge disappeared in a blue haze.
In main engineering, they might as well have seen a ghost. Geordi La Forge dismissed the notion quickly enough, abandoning his easygoing command style by pushing through the crowd that swarmed him and shouting four simple words.
“OUT OF THE WAY!”
The crew parted immediately, making a hole for him as he ran to the master systems console. La Forge bypassed the vocal interface and let his fingers do the work, his gestures a blur of kinetic frenzy, his VISOR absorbing information almost as fast as the display could provide it. He narrowed his efforts to core three, which the bridge had already taken offline. Even so, a Level 1 diagnostic was out of the question. It would take too long. Settling for a Level 4, he cracked his knuckles and waited for the display to announce its finding.
LEVEL 4 DIAGNOSTIC NEGATIVE. CORE CONDITION NOMINAL.
“Damn,” he cursed.
La Forge didn’t know what kind of a clock he was fighting, but he already knew it was a fight he would lose. There were simply too many subsystems for him to go checking one at a time, especially if he wanted to keep core three isolated. At best he might scratch the surface after a couple of hours, but that was only if he had a place to start looking—
Then, out of the dark, like a whisper: Logic bomb.
It made sense. Even a Level 4 diagnostic would have detected a foreign entry into the network—but only if the computer recognized the threat it for what it was. If, on the other hand, the intruder had planted a passive virus, it would be a hell of a lot harder to root out its signature. Those kind of bugs just sat around and waited to be activated, typically through some innocuous user interaction. It also meant that the bug could be anywhere by now, even with core number three down.
Time enough. It is finished.
“My God,” La Forge said. “We’re going to do it to ourselves.”
The details rocketed through La Forge’s mind in less than a second. Dumping the diagnostics, he instead started checking for irregularities in all the non-critical systems aboard. That’s where the intruder would spring his trap: not in life support or gravity or any of the hundred other systems under constant scrutiny, but in something routine—something nobody even thought about.
A pushed button, a flipped switch—any manual intervention that took place on a regular, scheduled basis. There were even more of those, an impossible task to sift through them all—but something guided La Forge toward Enterprise’s orbital maneuvering system. He didn’t precisely know what drew him in that direction. Maybe it was a subliminal connection with the intruder, who had spared him—twice—for some reason. Or maybe it was just because he knew his ship like no one else—her rhythms, her vulnerabilities, her hiding places. Whatever the cause, La Forge slowed down when he came across a subroutine for the thruster controls.
And there it was.
The code sequence was tiny, no more than a snippet—but the design was pure genius. La Forge couldn’t even begin to fathom its intricacies. He only knew the raw fear at the pit of his belly, diving to even greater depths within.
It is finished.
La Forge slammed his fist against the comm.
“Bridge engineering!” he shouted. “Belay OMS burn! I repeat, belay OMS—”
But the message never got through. The high-pitched scream of the alarm cut him off.
Then the lights went out.