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
- Star Trek: Shadow Prime Book I – Chapter 12
A cavalcade of bright white plumes fired in sequence across the bow of Enterprise’s primary hull, each burst lasting 2.3 seconds—a calculation rendered automatically by computer, then executed with such precision as to create an ephemeral show of beauty against the frozen darkness of space. At first the ship responded exactly as she had been commanded, beginning the slight climb that would maintain her orbit around the Bezzeret Home World; but then something changed—a subtle deviation at first, manifesting as a tremor that quickly traversed the length of her frame. A crewman stationed near the interior hull might have felt it as a deep, permeating surge, passing from stem to stern like a tsunami out at sea, the full power of that wave concealed deep beneath the surface.
Then Enterprise fell quiet, deathly still.
She held that way for a few more moments, adrift in her own momentum. A thruster quad popped off, seemingly by mistake, near the end of her port-side nacelle. The nudge started her on a slow, flat spin—easily corrected by a push in the opposite direction, which the ship’s computer executed in short order.
Except that it didn’t stop there.
One at a time, one after the other, more quads started firing. Streams of hot gas erupted forward and aft, seemingly at random, dotting the contours of the ship in a dazzling, schizophrenic display. The initial bursts were short, buffeting Enterprise back and forth, as if some prankster had taken the helm—but soon they came on harder and faster, sending the ship into a fit of convulsions.
She began to tumble.
Then she began to fall.
Picard shot to his feet when the lights went out. All around him, station consoles flared in and out of life, illuminating the bridge with dizzying effect, while the bright planetside on the main viewscreen dumped into sporadic flurries of static. Overhead, the alert siren cut in and out, as if it couldn’t decide what to do before silencing itself completely: one failure after another, cascading through system after system.
“Emergency power!” the captain ordered—
—before an invisible hand yanked him back into his chair.
Picard’s stomach dropped under the crushing weight of multiple g’s, his body now several times its own weight. Gasping for air, he tried to push himself back up, but his limbs felt heavier than lead. Making things even worse, a nauseating surge of vertigo turned him inside out as the entire bridge seemed to invert itself. In the graying tunnel of his vision, Picard didn’t even know which way was up.
“Data!” he forced out in between breaths. “What’s happening?”
The android didn’t respond. With one hand he held fast to the ops console, while the other tapped furiously at the interface in a vain attempt to get it working. Worf, meanwhile, stepped into another gravitational pocket and suddenly found himself catapulted into the ceiling. Blood exploded from his head as he cracked it against a support strut, right before a complete reversal sent him crashing to the floor again.
“Lieutenant!” Picard called out, reaching for him.
A human being would have been killed, but the Klingon somehow managed to get up. Dragging himself back over to tactical, he gritted his teeth and wiped away the streams of dark purple that gushed from the wound over his eyes.
“Captain—” he grunted, reading from the bits of information that made it through to his panel. “Reading a subspace surge. . .off the scale. . .engineering—”
“Isolate engineering!” Picard yelled as loud as he could, but even in his own head he sounded distant and slurred. “Shut it down if you have to!”
“OMS thrusters on continuous fire,” Data reported. In front of him, the view screen showed the planet surface in fits and bursts, now spinning into an array of colors and motion. “Forty degrees down angle pitch. Ninety degrees roll to starboard. Thirty degrees yaw to port. Accelerating rapidly.”
“Thrusters off line!” Picard ordered. “One quarter impulse out of orbit!”
“Negative answer on ops,” Data shouted back.
“Navigational controls off line, Captain!” the conn officer added. “I can’t get an answer from impulse or warp power!”
That was when the deck shuddered, releasing a long, terrible groan like some leviathan rising up from the depths. The sound shocked everyone into a resonant silence, their faces already ashen with fear—and Picard was no different. He knew that sound, as much as he knew the steadily building tremors that now buffeted his ship. No form of energy making contact with Enterprise’s shields—assuming they still worked—produced that kind of effect.
It was hard atmosphere, pounding against the outside of the hull.
“We are losing altitude, Captain,” Data confirmed. “Orbital decay is imminent.”
Picard barely heard. The strain of mounting g-forces dragged his mind down with his body, while his lungs fought to force oxygen into his brain. “Transfer operations to auxiliary control,” he ordered, pulling the last of his remaining options from the playbook. “Find us enough power to blast out of orbit.”
Worf, lurching over to the engineering console, tried to initiate the transfer. The panel crashed on him as soon as he touched it, the display returning a stream of incoherent data. He smashed both fists against it, swearing in his native language.
“The computer will not accept commands,” Worf said. “All three cores have been neutralized.”
Picard’s jaw dropped. One word surged through his mind, unshakable in its denial: impossible. One word he had always believed, because that’s what he had been told: impossible. One word made true only by arrogance: impossible. And yet it was happening, spinning out of control like the planet surface on the viewscreen, while unconsciousness hung over him like the specter of death in waiting.
Picard struggled to lift his right hand, its weight like an anchor, and hit the emergency comm on his chair. He desperately hoped that it still worked, that the crew might somehow hear him, but doubt had already arrested that notion. They were beyond help. The ship had been mortally wounded.
But he wanted it said before the end.
“All hands. . .initiate evacuation.”
His hand then slipped off the armrest, falling into his lap. Picard struggled to stay awake, to stay in command, but his vision had already compressed into a gray tunnel—and in those last few seconds, he watched as the rest of the bridge crew succumbed one by one. In the midst of that shadowplay, while the deafening roar in his ears faded into echo, Picard thought he saw Data trying to revive them; but then sweet blackness enveloped him, like dark waters slipping over his head, and when the drowning began he almost welcomed it.
Until he hear Geordi La Forge, his words broken and distant, like something out of a dream.
“…warp core. . .containment. . .spike. . .failure…”
“Do you copy, bridge?” La Forge yelled, tapping his comm badge. All he got in return was a crackling burst of feedback, punctuated by a voice that could have been Data. The channel went dead before he could make any sense of it—not that it mattered. Engineering had descended into total chaos, his crew vaulting between stations in a mad attempt to keep everything together. “Stabilize those gravitational systems!” he told them. “And for God’s sake, somebody get me a picture of what’s happening out there!”
“Internal comms are down,” somebody reported back. “We’re totally blind down here, Commander.”
“I’m blind too, but I can see a hell of a lot better than most. Find me something!” La Forge had hoped with doomed desperation that there was some way—any way—that one of the computer cores had managed to survive; but he had seen the subspace pulse as it was unleashed, and how that power had decapitated Enterprise in an instant. A myriad of subsystems kept on firing off, however, playing havoc with life support and gravity. Every time he managed to lock one of them down, another one failed. It was like playing whack a mole while everything fell apart around him.
Another explosion ripped through engineering. La Forge threw himself against the nearest console and held on, while one of his crew bounced off the thing and hit the deck next to him. He looked up just in time to see the reactor core sway on its bearings, wobbling back and forth as the ship rocked around it. For a moment La Forge thought it would split wide open, a piercing shriek of metal against metal sounding the call of their doom. Then the core racked itself back into place, horribly askew but still in one piece.
The bearings held—at least for now.
“Jesus,” he muttered, running toward an adjoining station. Lieutenant Barclay was already there, making use of one of the few consoles that hadn’t been completely fried during the power spike. He bled profusely from a deep gash over his left temple, his uniform torn and covered in soot. From the looks of things, he was damned lucky to still be alive.
“What’s our status, Reg?” La Forge asked him.
“Not good, Commander,” Barclay replied, unable to take his eyes off the screen. “We lost structural integrity for half a second after the initial spike, before the residual capacitors had a chance to kick in. I’m reading moderate to severe core deformation in over a dozen places.”
“What about containment?”
“We’ve got enough in reserves to keep it going, but that isn’t the problem.” Barclay pointed to a red warning that flashed over a graphic of the core, right at the juncture where the upper half joined the lower. “That’s a cracked injector casing. Right now the containment field is preventing leakage, but it’s only a matter of time before the EM wears thin enough for a stray molecule of antideuterium get loose. Once that happens—”
“I get the picture,” La Forge said grimly. It meant swift annihilation of the ship—but even that wasn’t the worst of their problems. This close to the Bezzeret Home World, the resulting explosion would vaporize half the planet’s atmosphere. “We need to get clear and dump the core before it fails. Can you rig that from here?”
The overheads flickered and then went dark. Barclay’s console went down at the same time, not coming back up when the emergency lights clicked on. Drawn in shadows, he turned his face to La Forge and shook his head. “That’s the last one we had, Commander.”
La Forge looked at the core, which still pulsated with energy, its blue glow spilling into a hideous red as it crept toward them. “There’s a hotwire system in drydock access,” he decided, “insulated from outside systems. We can reroute thruster control and eject the core manually from there—if we have enough time.”
“That’s a full three decks down through the hell hole,” Barclay pointed out. “You don’t want to be anywhere near there when the core goes overboard.”
“If you have a better idea, now’s the time,” La Forge said—but they both knew there wasn’t any other choice. “Get everyone out and seal the hatch behind me. See the crew to their lifeboat stations.” He then turned away with every intention of going it alone, before he felt Barclay’s hand on his arm pulling him back.
“You’re going to need help, Commander.”
La Forge smiled at him and nodded. “Let’s go.”
The two of them grabbed emergency oxygen packs off the wall and slung them over their shoulders, like mountain climbers preparing to scale a summit. As far as La Forge knew, he was the last ranking officer left on board—so as he and Barclay made their way to their destiny, he gave the final order any captain would give before he went down with his vessel.
“All hands abandon ship!” he called out. “We’re going to blow the warp core! Everyone to the lifeboats, now!”
A steady human tide surged toward the exit. La Forge didn’t look at any of them, not wanting to see their eyes. Instead he focused on the core, its glow even more sinister now, rending their shadows into a grotesque pastiche of movement. Stopping at the rail, he held it with both hands and stared down the length of the shaft—the hell hole, as the crew so aptly named it—and wondered for a moment what it felt like to die in a vacuum.
He descended the ladder.
At 0930 hours, FTB standard time, the Starship USS Enterprise, registry NCC-1701D, United Federation of Planets, officially died.
To look at her from a distance was to not know the circumstances of her death, except for a bright stream of drive plasma that vented from the fractured base of her port side nacelle. For all the evil that had ravaged her on the inside, her exterior remained largely beautiful: all graceful lines and curves, pirouetting through space like a skater spinning faster and faster on the ice, until her OMS jets finally spent themselves and friction took her in its hold.
Enterprise dove straight down.
It seemed strange to watch her form merging with the gases of the Bezzeret atmosphere, ionizing them until they glowed dull red, then bright red, then blue and then finally white. They billowed around her in great clouds—intricate, irregular patterns that caressed the surface of her hull and making her take on a glow all of her own. She had become a meteorite, a falling star with a glory and a radiance like none she had ever known before. And her death, while tragic, left a mark across the cosmos befitting her legend.
Quintax watched, transfixed.
Zeus, thy will be done.
The insistent howl of a standing red alert gradually penetrated that fugue, forcing Quintax into a bleak reckoning. His XO had ordered it after the captain had ignored his repeated warnings that Enterprise was in danger. One corner of Quintax’s mind—the part that remained sane—admired the man’s initiative, taking command in a crisis situation and all that. As for the rest of the bridge crew, they had become little more than annoying harlequins
with their pallid faces and limited vision and jokes and laughter at the captain’s expense, vampires that attached themselves to him, drew the energy and drive from him, sucked the very blood out of him, and yes, oh yes, didn’t he realize exactly what they were now! The metamorphosis came so suddenly and was so complete that Quintax amazed himself for not seeing it before, and when his hand reached into his pocket and found the phaser there it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
“Enterprise won’t acknowledge our signal!”
Quintax ignored this.
“Sensors showing a massive influx of subspace energy!”
Quintax ignored this.
“Close to tractor beam range!” the XO ordered. “Prepare to lock on!”
Quintax did not ignore this. Mechanically, he jammed his phaser into the XO’s ear and whispered things he would not understand, could not understand, would never understand in a million years.
But most of all: “Thy will be done.”
Quintax pulled the trigger. The XO fell down on the deck, twitching.
“Captain!” someone screamed, but Quintax was far beyond reach. He took aim at the first crewman in his field of vision, with the automated accuracy of a smart weapon—no hesitation, no sympathy, all prejudice.
He fired, and ops slumped in her seat.
Again, and the left side of tactical’s face melted.
Then again. And again. And again and again and again—
And all the time: “Thy will be done! Thy will be done! Thy will be done!”
Jerarche (The Bezzeret Capital City)
Bezzeret Home World
Will Riker thought it was a thunderstorm at first. The rumblings reminded him of a week he had spent on a Nebraska farm as a kid, one of those throwback spreads that did things the old-fashioned way—his father’s idea of character building. Riker didn’t remember much about the place, but what he did recall with vivid clarity were the summer storms: fronts that rolled through from the northeast, black as night in the late afternoon, unleashing a fury that reminded him just how insignificant a single human life was in comparison to the forces of nature.
But most of all, it was the thunder. Low rumble. Underneath his feet, over his head, everywhere at once. Thunder he could feel.
It felt the same way now—except that it didn’t come in random bursts, or echo the eruption of lightning. This was continuous, starting out softly but then quickly growing into a deafening assault. Long before it had grabbed his attention, everyone else in the compound had heard it too.
Across the compound, both the Federation personnel and their Bezzeret antagonists stopped what they were doing—loading, unloading, bickering, taunting—to look up into the sky and find the source of this unnatural disturbance. Riker did the same, while Beverly stepped in beside him, neither one of them seeing the expected approach of an encroaching storm. But there was something else—something that grew in size as the rumbling grew louder.
It started as a red pin prick, barely visible in the orange of the early morning light. As the seconds passed, however, its dimensions became clearer—more solid, with a hard object at its center, trailing a wispy orange line of fire.
“What is that?” Beverly asked.
“I don’t know,” Riker muttered, suddenly dealing with a sick feeling that had settled into his gut. Reaching for his comm badge, he tapped it to open a channel.
“Riker to Enterprise.”
No response. The object, meanwhile, grew larger as it headed straight toward them.
Riker turned to Beverly, whose face set into a mask of worry. She tried her comm badge as well, but had no more luck than Riker did. By then, the crowd of Bezzeret had become restless again. Pointing fingers into the sky, they joined the rising chorus of human voices puzzling out the cause of this phenomenon.
“She was in geosynchronous orbit above the capital city,” Beverly suggested darkly. “If something went wrong—”
Morton joined them before she could finish. The object was huge now, bigger than the sun, and bombarded them with a light and heat all its own.
“What in God’s name?” he began.
The thing exploded in an almost divine bloom of energy.
Plumes of orange turned to blue and then turned to white, shooting off in every direction. At first it seemed unreal, happening in a detached silence that froze everyone in shock and wonder. Then gradually, inexorably, a hot wind began to ride in on the crest of that explosion, raising dust as it blew across their faces. Riker expected to see chunks of debris falling from the cloud, the pulverized remains of a starship raining down on them.
Instead, he watched the fireball emerge intact. He heard the thunder again, the same as before—but louder, closer, a storm moving in fast.
And then heard a voice—an alien voice, rising in a battle cry.
“It’s an attack!” one of the Bezzeret shouted. “Kill the humans! Kill them all!”
Running berserk, they closed in to make good on their threat.
Barclay screamed as the explosion ripped up from the depths, both for the pain shredded his senses and for the concussion that knocked him off the ladder. He plummeted for over three rungs before his hand managed to grab hold, more dumb luck than anything else. Knuckles popping, his fingers felt as if they would tear from their sockets, sweat oiling skin and causing him to slip.
“Commander!” he shouted, his voice echoing through the core chamber. Barclay’s eyes looked down, ignoring his mind’s pleas, vertigo stretching the perceived distance into an impossible length. Even if by some miracle he survived the fall, he knew all the radiation running loose down there would kill him.
Got to. . .hang on…
But that was a losing battle. The drag on his body felt so powerful, it was as if some ravenous force had drawn him in and meant to have him. Reaching, grasping blindly, Barclay contorted himself in a desperate attempt to gain some kind of purchase—until all at once, the world inverted and he found himself somersaulting through the air. He crashed against the outer wall of the warp core enclosure, his oxygen pack clanging hard against its rippled surface and slowing him down, although he could no longer tell which way was up. All he knew was that the pocket of zero-g he had found wouldn’t last long—and when it collapsed, he would be splashed all over the bottom of the chamber.
Barclay kicked himself away from the core.
He sailed straight back into the access ladder, arms and legs flailing like a man in free fall. Striking his head against one of the rungs, his vision blossomed into stars, the impact knocking him back toward the core and certain oblivion. That was when Barclay felt something clamp down on his shoulder—fingers digging into his flesh so hard they felt like hooks, but he didn’t care. They meant salvation. Barclay would have paid the devil for that.
Another hand grabbed him by the arm and hauled him into an adjacent tunnel. Barclay landed on the deck hard, the fullness of his weight realized as gravity kicked back in. Looking up, he found Geordi La Forge slumped against the bulkhead across from him. The labored breaths of both men filled the narrow space.
“Thanks, Commander,” Barclay said.
La Forge nodded.
“Don’t know how many more of those we can take,” the lieutenant continued. “We must be venting drive plasma into the atmosphere.”
“Which means we’re burning up,” La Forge finished. “We need to hurry.”
Motioning for Barclay to follow, the chief engineer crawled deeper into the tunnel. The way was short, but choked with debris, most of it piled up against what looked like a dead end. La Forge tore into the pieces, tossing them back to Barclay, quickly uncovering the hatch that led to drydock access. It was sealed tight, as per regulation—but as La Forge reached for the control for the magnetic lock, he found it smashed beyond repair.
“Dammit,” he whispered.
Barclay swallowed hard. “Can we rig a bypass?”
“No time,” La Forge muttered, and pulled out his phaser.
“You sure about that, Commander?” Barclay asked. “Without that hatch, there won’t be anything between us and open space after we dump the core.”
“There’s another access tube, just past this one, that leads to the deflector array. With any luck, our oxygen packs will last long enough for us to make it through and seal the hatch on the other side.”
“Still sounds like a rough ride.”
“That’s why they pay us the big bucks.” La Forge nodded at him, and leveled his phaser at the door. “You ready?”
The deck shuddered again. Barclay nodded.
La Forge fired. A bright orange beam lit up the tunnel, the close walls amplifying its light and heat, a shower of hit cinders erupting from the lock as it disintegrated. The hatch then fell open, its hinges shrieking, revealing a small control room inside. The space was jammed with a single chair flanked by several consoles and screens, undamaged by all the havoc unleashed up above. Lights blinked back at them like the spires from a desert oasis.
“Go,” La Forge ordered.
Barclay climbed into the chair, while La Forge did his best to close the hatch behind them. Engaging the console in front of him, the lieutenant quickly flashed through a series of screens, bringing what rudimentary systems they had available to them online. It wasn’t much—just enough to guide ship’s operations while the vessel was in drydock—but at least it was something.
La Forge fumbled with the latch until he finally got it closed.
“That gonna hold?” Barclay asked.
“Not a chance,” he replied. “What have we got?”
“More master alarms than I’ve ever seen,” Barclay said, punching up a diagnostic display through one of the monitors. “That injector casing is deteriorating a lot faster than I thought. We got maybe three minutes before it goes—assuming we don’t burn up first.”
“I can’t even get an accurate fix on our position,” La Forge said grimly, working the other console. “What’s our attitude?”
Barclay tapped into a local data feed, taking information from a bank of gyroscopes and translating it into a graphic that showed Enterprise in three dimensions. She spun on all axes simultaneously, a slow death roll through the Bezzeret atmosphere.
“We need thrusters,” La Forge said. “Feed in reserve fuel if the hydro tanks are empty.”
“What about the core?”
“If we don’t get this beast level, that won’t matter.” He tapped his comm badge. “La Forge to bridge or auxiliary control. Can anyone hear me?”
More crackle. More static.
“Come on, people,” he muttered. “You can’t all be dead.”
Barclay’s panel beeped.
“I have thruster control,” he said.
La Forge took an even breath.
“Level two hundred and seventy degrees relative pitch.”
Slowly, painfully, Enterprise stopped pitching until her ventral surface pointed away from the planet and into open space. Barclay gave her a few more bursts until she leveled off, her broader profile making the ship buffet even harder.
“Two hundred and seventy degrees,” he affirmed.
“Level zero degrees relative roll.”
Barclay poured on with full thrusters, quickly depleting the supply of reserve fuel. His eyes darted back and forth between Enterprise’s attitude and the plummeting hydrogen levels, praying that the former would reach zero before the latter.
God listened. Enterprise stopped rolling.
“Zero degrees,” Barclay said.
“No more than a minute. What’s our altitude?”
“No way to tell,” La Forge said. “Can you get impulse back on line?”
“Not with these controls. It’s taking all we got just to work the thrusters.”
“No choice, then. We’re gonna have to risk it.”
“This deep in the atmosphere,” Barclay told him, “the shock wave from an antimatter explosion will rip us apart.”
“I’m aware of that, Reg,” La Forge said, looking him straight in the eyes. Barclay saw no hesitation there—just cold, determined resolution. That was when he fully understood: this wasn’t about saving the ship anymore. This was about saving the world beneath them. “Initiate the ejection sequence.”
Barclay nodded, and did as ordered.
“At your command, sir.”
La Forge patted him on the shoulder.
“Nice working with you, Reg.”
He managed a smile. “The honor is all mine, sir.”
La Forge took a moment to steel himself, then took his hands off the console. It was all up to Barclay now.
“Now—” he began.
“Bridge to engineering.”
Data’s voice cut through the noise like a bullet shattering bone.
“Belay that order!” La Forge shouted, tapping his comm badge. “Data, it’s Geordi. Engineering is down. We’re running ops through drydock access, but can’t get impulse power routed through here. Can you get the helm to answer?”
“Affirmative,” Data replied. “I have rerouted the conn through my own neural network and have limited control over navigation. Impulse power is now responding.”
“Hot damn,” La Forge intoned. “Plot us a course out of orbit and get us clear of the atmosphere—and make it quick, Data. We need to dump the core or we’re all dead.”
For Data, it only took a few seconds. They felt Enterprise responding to his commands, her entire frame creaking under the strain of an impulse burst. Barclay watched his clock the whole time, ticking inexorably down to zero, a galaxy of alert lights consuming the monitor.
“This is gonna be close,” he said.
Finally, Data relayed the news.
“We have cleared the Bezzeret atmosphere. Estimate fifteen seconds until we are free of orbit.”
La Forge turned to Barclay. He shook his head.
“Go,” the chief engineer said.
Barclay’s hands moved across his panel like lightning. Only one more button awaited him to execute the final sequence. He and La Forge pulled their oxygen masks over their faces, the outer hatch rattling loosely against its latch. No protection at all from the wolf soon to be howling at their door.
Barclay took a deep breath and held it.
He pressed the button.
Jerarche (The Bezzeret Capital City)
Bezzeret Home World
Riker opened fire with his phaser. He tried to keep the bursts short and controlled, but with all hell breaking loose it was damned near impossible. The entire compound had turned into a battlefield, with hundreds of Bezzeret still swarming in through the gate while the ones already inside fashioned weapons out of anything they could find—rocks, bricks, shards of broken glass. One of them picked up a steel rod and clubbed a member of the away team before Riker could drop him. After that, he just kept firing until the phaser overheated and quit.
Up ahead, he spotted a few overturned tables—makeshift barricades thrown up by the Skid Row crew. Riker dove over one of them, hitting the ground like a bag of wet cement, before scrambling back against the barrier. Beverly was already there, cradling Morton’s head in her lap, running a med scanner over him. The scientist moaned weakly in between shallow breaths, a crude shank protruding from his chest. From the amount of bleeding, Riker knew it was bad.
“We can’t stay here, Doctor,” he said, drawing his phaser. “The Bezzeret will overrun this position any second.”
“I’m not moving him, Will,” she snapped, jamming a hypospray into a patch of skin just below the wound. “He’s already got a punctured lung. If we try to drag him out of here, it’ll kill him for sure.”
Dammit, Riker thought, and tapped his comm badge.
“Enterprise!” he signaled. “We are pinned down and under heavy attack! Request emergency beam out!”
Riker heard shouts from the other side of the barricade, but no answer from the ship.
“Dauntless, can you read me? We need immediate assistance!”
Again, nothing. Up in the sky, the fireball that had ignited all the violence still loomed—but instead of tumbling out of control, it now seemed to be moving in a straight line away from them. Riker willed it to keep climbing, even if it meant stranding them here.
Because he knew the alternative was much worse.
“We’re on our own,” he told Beverly. “How’s your phaser?”
“Three-quarter charge,” she said. “You?”
“Half.” The weapon had cooled off, but the Bezzeret didn’t stun easily. Even after blasting everything in sight, Riker hadn’t even begun to put enough of them down to quell the riot. “We need to regroup our people and find some place to hole up until this blows over.”
“Sounds good. Any idea how to pull it off?”
Riker tightened the grip on his weapon.
“No way we’re gonna make it playing nice,” he said, and switched the setting from STUN to KILL. “With any luck, they’ll back off when they see we mean business—but if not, you keep firing until we clear a way out of here. Understood?”
Morton shivered. Beverly gently lowered his head to the ground and drew her own phaser. Her eyes were taciturn, but her jaw set in determination.
“Understood,” she said.
Riker nodded. “On three—”
But then something in Beverly’s expression stopped him before he could finish. He followed her stare back toward the heavens, where the blazing trail stretched even longer—except that now, it diverged along two distinct paths. The second one popped off from the first like a flare, rocketing away at a high rate of speed, following a perpendicular course that put distance between the two in a hurry. It didn’t strike Riker as a random event, like some large piece of the ship breaking away. No, this seemed more deliberate. More controlled. It was almost as if—
The warp core.
The thought bolted through his nervous system like lightning.
“GET DOWN!” Riker shouted.
He threw himself on top of Beverly, just as the air caught fire. Out of the corner of one eye, it came on like a supernova: brightness augmented to infinity, everywhere in an instant but eerily silent. Riker squeezed his eyes shut, shielding himself and Beverly with his arms, before the light could burn out the back of his retinas. A low growl then followed, like some snarling animal bearing down on them from above, the sound echoing through the narrow streets of the surrounding city and gathering strength. By the time it reached them in full, it had risen to an unearthly howl—and pushed a hot wind that blew with all the force of a hurricane.
Riker listened as one gust after another ripped through the compound. Metal screeched as it twisted and broke, followed by loud crashes as buildings collapsed around them. In the thick of that melee, he thought he heard muffled screams: some in pain, even more in terror, swallowed up by a beast intent on devouring human and Bezzeret alike. In those moments, Riker believed it would never stop—that it would just keep on spreading, across the entire face of the planet, until it had carried everything and everyone away with it; but then the winds gradually abated, their howl fading to a dull roar, a mere echo of their former fury. It hardly seemed possible that anybody survived—and yet the dust that Riker coughed out of his lungs assured him that it was true.
Picking himself up, he blinked a few times and found Beverly safe—still breathing, still conscious, looking even more dazed than he felt. Morton, however, wasn’t so lucky. His eyes stared straight up, wide open but unresponsive, his face drained of all color. Beneath him was a thickening pool of red from where he had bled out.
Nor was he the only one. Riker saw more bodies scattered about, dropped in their places after having been tossed like matchsticks. A few of them moved, but most lay still—some with limbs that stuck out at odd angles, one that smoldered after having been roasted alive. Shuffling to his feet, Riker turned his head skyward and saw the reason for it.
From horizon to horizon, the entire sky burned bright orange, fading at the edges into a purple twilight. The blast from the antimatter explosion lingered on at the center, almost directly above them, parting clouds along the crest of its wave and opening a hole that appeared like a gateway to heaven. Contrasting that vision was a hell on the ground. Much of the Federation compound had been leveled, its temporary structures reduced to heaps of slag and rubble—but even that destruction paled in comparison to the the rest of the city. Off in the distance, towers continued to sway back and forth from the almost inconceivable force that had bombarded them, their windows blown out and their graceful lines buckled. A few had caught fire as well, their billowing smoke riding the wind into a coarse anvil that blackened the air.
“My God,” Riker said, mesmerized.
So much that he never saw the attack coming.
Beverly screamed to warn him. Riker turned to see a lone Bezzeret leaping over the barricade, arms and legs spread wide like some gigantic insect, so fast that every motion seemed a blur. The alien went after the doctor first, clocking her across the head and knocking her unconscious. Riker reacted almost instantly, bringing his weapon to bear, but even that wasn’t quick enough. The Bezzeret hit him with a full body tackle before he could take proper aim, smacking the phaser out of his hand before taking him down completely.
The Bezzeret’s body smothered him, an agonizing claustrophobia of sweat and darkness, the muscles beneath its skin rippling like a bag full of snakes. Pummeling him with punches, as vicious as they were clumsy, the alien inflicted harsh pain but missed the killing blow—a mistake that gave Riker just enough time to recover his senses. Striking back, he kicked the Bezzeret mercilessly, eliciting a cry of agony and rage before it rolled off him. Flat on his back, Riker found himself staring straight into the sun, the hot light searing his vision before he could blot it out with his hand—until a shadow passed back over him, a hulking presence that seemed a dozen meters tall.
Riker squinted, and saw a Bezzeret with no face.
What was left hung off its skull in fleshy knots: pink and orange in some places, black from where it had been burned beyond recognition. One of its eyes was missing, leaving only a hollow orbit with gristle and blood dripping; the other radiated insanity, and looked down at Riker with feral intent.
The Bezzeret reached for Morton’s body and yanked the knife out of his chest, raising the blade over its head.
And fell on Riker, making animal sounds.
At over one hundred thousand kilometers distance, even with shields raised at full, the antimatter blast hit Dauntless like a tidal surge. Quintax, near catatonic from his murder spree, barely registered the danger until the deck heaved up in front of him, catapulting him over the center seat and straight toward the science station at the rear of the bridge.
He crashed into a chair, still occupied by the dead science officer. The body rolled away, flopping on its back and staring with wide, bloodshot eyes up at the ceiling—though in Quintax’s mind, the explosion was the cause of death. He denied the smell of charred flesh and the gaping hole in the man’s chest, made from where the phaser had struck him down. That wouldn’t have happened—couldn’t have happened—not while the captain was in command.
“Turn the ship into the wave!” he ordered.
No one acknowledged.
Whirling around, Quintax took in the entire bridge at once. An almost heavenly light flooded the view screen, matting in silhouette the navigation console and the two officers that still manned it. Their hands held fast to their stations, fingers curled into a rigorous grip, though their heads lolled back and forth with each lurch. Quintax knew at once that they were dead too, as was the weapons officer, his XO—even that asshole counselor who kept hounding him that it was well past time the two of them had a session.
They were all gone. Just like that.
Only he survived.
“Zeus,” he whispered, “thy will is done.”
The dead, however, refused to be quiet. Quintax heard their voices, chattering through a tinny speaker at the comm station, calling to him from all over the ship: God, how they sounded lost and desperate, as if shuffling off their mortal coil had been too great a shock to bear.
“Bridge, engineering. Can you hear me?”
The terror. The confusion.
“Bridge, respond please!”
Quintax closed his eyes and imagined their faces. All looking to him for leadership. To take them. To guide them.
“Transferring operations to auxiliary control. Sickbay dispatching EMTs.”
And Quintax vowed it: he would see them to the other side.
Walking past the comm station, he brushed a hand against the master switch and silenced it once and for all. He then paid a visit to the engineering console and activated the intruder countermeasures, which sealed off the turbolift doors and locked out auxiliary control. Quintax smiled, wondering if they had ever been meant to defend against ghosts. He supposed not—but then they wouldn’t have to last for long, would they?
With his work done, only one more duty remained. Quintax returned to the center seat, prepared to execute it, but took a moment to stare at the viewscreen—through it, beyond it, into the reaches of space where glowing clouds of energy spent themselves and dissipated. They reached so far and wide as to obscure the entirety of the planet below, while light from the Bezzeret sun stabbed through the gaps between. Stray atoms of hydrogen ignited sporadically, tiny but brilliant, like the souls of those consumed by that holy fire taking flight—and Quintax understood, he had to send his own people to be with them.
“Computer,” he said. “This is Captain Steven Quintax. Destruct sequence—”
Out of one ear, he heard a beeping sound.
From tactical. Beneath what used to be the weapons officer.
Quintax frowned. He went over to the station, careful not to look at the man whose face had melted under phaser fire. Quintax moved him aside, wiping off bits of skin and coagulated blood to get a look at the panel. There, on the monitor, a proximity alert flashed. The readings appeared scattershot from all the ionized gas and radiation in the area—but he saw at least one thing for certain.
Something had emerged from the cloud.
He ran back over to ops, fumbling with the panel until he found the control for the viewscreen. Pumping up the magnification, he searched through flotsam for any signs of movement within. Out there, near the epicenter of the explosion, streams of gas wrapped themselves around a solid object, the eddies and whorls assuming its curves and lines. Quintax at first denied that he had seen it, unable to believe he could have so utterly failed; but as the clouds fell away, and the object ascended from its hiding place, the shape of a Federation starship revealed itself.
She was battered—almost a total wreck, perhaps beyond repair. The disc of her primary hull bent down at a lopsided angle, nearly separated from the pylon that supported it. Her port side nacelle had suffered even heavier damage, with its pylon cracked wide open and spewing an intermittent trail of high-energy plasma. By some miracle, however, she still made way under her own power, her main impulse engine flickering as it nudged her through space.
Flying inverted relative to Dauntless’ position, the Galaxy-class presented the ventral side of her secondary hull as she limped away. There, Quintax spotted a gaping hole where the reactor plating used to be—and suddenly, with a frightening clarity that pierced the fog that enshrouded his mind, it became clear to him what had happened.
And what he had to do before joining his crew.
Quintax dropped into the seat behind the conn, routing fire control from the weapons console. He then had sensors measure Enterprise’s exact position, heading and and speed, and used that to plot a course of his own. With navigation and tactical now both at his fingertips, he had everything he needed to complete his mission.
Zeus, after all, would settle for nothing less.
Quintax fired the impulse engines. Dauntless moved to intercept.