Star Trek: Vanguard #3: Reap the Whirlwind [NOOK Book]

Overview

The mystery of the Taurus Reach is about to be revealed.

Ancient secrets lie on the fourth planet of the Jinoteur system, and three great rivals are fighting to control it. The Federation and the Klingon Empire want to wield its power; the Tholian Assembly wants to bury it.

But the threat stirring on ...
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Star Trek: Vanguard #3: Reap the Whirlwind

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Overview

The mystery of the Taurus Reach is about to be revealed.

Ancient secrets lie on the fourth planet of the Jinoteur system, and three great rivals are fighting to control it. The Federation and the Klingon Empire want to wield its power; the Tholian Assembly wants to bury it.

But the threat stirring on that distant world is more dangerous than they realize. The Shedai, who ruled the Taurus Reach aeons ago, have risen from their ages of deathlike slumber -- to gather, marshal their strength, and take their revenge.

To keep Jinoteur from falling into enemy hands, the crews of Starbase Vanguard and the U.S.S. Sagittarius must risk everything: friends...loved ones...their own lives. But the sacrifices they make may prove too terrible for them to bear.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416560753
  • Publisher: Pocket Books/Star Trek
  • Publication date: 5/22/2007
  • Series: Star Trek: Vanguard
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 174,506
  • File size: 517 KB

Meet the Author

David Mack is the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty-five novels, including the Star Trek Destiny and Cold Equations trilogies. He co-developed the acclaimed Star Trek Vanguard series and its sequel, Star Trek: Seekers. His writing credits span several media, including television (for episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), film, short fiction, magazines, comic books, computer games, and live theater. He currently resides in New York City.
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Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

Dr. Ezekiel Fisher reclined in the chair at the desk inside his quarters aboard Starbase 47. It was late for him to be awake, a few hours into the third duty shift. His coffee had become tepid during the hour he had spent composing his latest letter to his daughter, Jane, the youngest of his three children. The missive was almost finished, and he paused to read it over.

"Dear Jane," it began, prosaically enough. "I hope this letter finds you well, and that Neil and your boys are on the mend from that bout of Argelian flu you told me about. I've been keeping my vaccinations up to date, so here's hoping I don't meet any viruses more clever than myself.

"Life and work here on Vanguard remain busy; I know it must seem funny to hear me say that, since there's rarely any mention of us in the news -- nothing, in fact, since the loss of the Bombay. As much as I wish I could tell you everything that I've seen out here, it'd be a waste of effort: all our outgoing mail is censored....Such measures must seem draconian on a world like Mars, but the truth is that it's for the best. At least, I hope it is.

"What can I tell you? For starters, my retirement plan has been nixed. Jabilo M'Benga, my handpicked replacement, put in for starship duty. His reasons make sense, I suppose. As it turns out, I've had a couple of months to get used to the idea, which is pretty much what I'd expected. We're pretty far from home, and even in the core systems it would take time to get this kind of thing approved. First, he has to tell Starfleet he wants a transfer. Then Starfleet has to see what billets it has open and whether anybody else put in for them first. Then some joker with a lot of braid on his cuff has to give his okay and cut new orders, which might take a few days to reach us."

Fisher picked up the data slate on which he had composed the letter. He carried the slate in one hand and continued to read while he took his coffee into his kitchenette to dispose of it. "And just to convince you that I've started losing my marbles," the letter continued, "I'm actually reconsidering retirement altogether. I admit, I'd have thought that after more than fifty years in a Starfleet uniform, I'd have had my fill by now. Before I came out here with Diego last year, I was starting to think I'd seen everything, that the galaxy was out of surprises. But, as you never tire of reminding me, I was wrong."

He dumped his leftover coffee into the sink and ran the water for a moment, then resumed reading as he ambled to his sofa. "It's hard to say if I'll ever be allowed to write or talk about the things I've seen here. My guess is, probably not. It's not like I have a shortage of stories at this point, but this assignment would make for some you'd never forget. That's not why I'm thinking of staying on, though. Truth is, I'm beginning to see that this is one of the most important assignments I've ever been given. We're on to something out here, something big. Even if M'Benga wasn't planning on warping away to the great unknown, I'd probably want to stay on to see this through. At this point, any lingering regrets I have over his transfer are grounded in simply being sorry to lose such a fine physician from my staff and feeling pity for him -- because he'll probably never know what he's missed."

A yawn stretched Fisher's brown, weathered face. He gently rubbed the fatigue from his eyes and stared back down at the data slate. The letter wasn't long; it had taken an hour to write, because every time he'd thought of something to say, he'd realized that it would never make it past the Starfleet censors. He couldn't tell Jane about his role in the analysis of an alien corpse with meta-genome-laced liquid crystal for blood or the bizarre effects that had been inflicted upon a Starfleet officer attacked by the creature. All the tense rumors of a brewing political eruption among the Klingons, the Tholians, and the Federation would be excised as a matter of diplomatic policy, no doubt on Jetanien's orders. Scratching absentmindedly at the gray tuft of beard on his chin, he pondered how to end the letter. After staring at an empty line along the bottom of the slate for a few minutes, he realized that an obvious and simple valediction would be just fine, so long as it was sincere.

"That's all for now. Tell Neil and the boys I miss you all, and I hope to visit you again on Mars very soon. Take care, and write back when time allows and the mood strikes. Love, Dad."

He tapped a few keys on the data slate and transmitted the letter into the station's queue for outgoing comm traffic. In a few hours it would likely meet with the approval of the censors and be on its way to Mars, one of thousands of messages bundled in a massive burst of unclassified data traffic leaving Vanguard. In a matter of hours, Jane would get the message, maybe at home or in her office between patients. Unlike his sons, Ely and Noah, Jane had followed him into medicine, though she had pointedly declined a career in Starfleet in order to open her own private practice in the rapidly growing Martian city of Cydonia. It was there she had met her husband, Neil, and where they were raising their sons, James and Seth.

As always, thinking of his children and grandchildren made him smile. That's a good way to end the day, he decided. He got up from the couch and shambled stiffly off to bed. Tomorrow would be busy; he needed all the rest he could get.

The Starship Sagittarius was coming home.

Anna Sandesjo lay in her bed. A tangle of scarlet sheets covered her lap. Her hands were folded on the pillow behind her head, beneath her splayed mane of cinnamon-hued hair. The scratches on her back were deep and fresh.

It was still early, before 0600 station time. At the foot of the bed, Lieutenant Commander T'Prynn was getting dressed. The lithe Vulcan woman donned her red minidress in movements slow and graceful, a stark contrast to the frenzy of attention she'd shown Sandesjo the evening before. T'Prynn's every motion captivated Sandesjo's attention.

"Did you sleep well, my love?" Sandesjo asked, even knowing that T'Prynn -- who had tossed and turned for the past several hours in the throes of night terrors -- would lie to her.

Pulling back her long sable hair and tying it into a ponytail, T'Prynn replied flatly, "My rest was adequate." She sat down on the edge of the bed and began putting on her boots.

Sandesjo sat up and let the sheets bundle in her lap. Watching T'Prynn prepare to leave was always difficult for her; it was a reminder of loneliness. "Do you have to go so soon?"

With one boot on, T'Prynn reached for the other as she replied over her shoulder, "Yes."

"Because of the Sagittarius."

"Yes," T'Prynn said.

News of the scout vessel's return to Starbase 47 had been buzzing for a couple of weeks. The ship's recall from a remote area of the Taurus Reach had been ordered not long after the destruction of Palgrenax. Though ship movements continued to be classified for members of the general public and personnel with no need to know, Sandesjo's assignment as a senior diplomatic attaché to Vanguard's ranking diplomat, Ambassador Jetanien, afforded her access to a variety of otherwise off-limits items of interest.

Standing up, T'Prynn smoothed the front of her minidress and turned to face Sandesjo, all dignity and poise: cold, composed, and aloof. At times like this, Sandesjo felt less like the Vulcan woman's lover and more like a stranger. "Thank you for allowing me to spend the night," T'Prynn said.

"Perhaps you'd let me spend a night in your quarters sometime," Sandesjo said, her tone blatantly suggestive. "Unless you're ashamed to be seen with me."

Subtly lifting her left eyebrow, T'Prynn said, "Shame is not a factor. The heat and gravity in my quarters are configured for Vulcan comfort. I think you would find them...unpleasant."

"Don't be fooled, my love," Sandesjo said with a flirtatious leer. "Just because I look human doesn't mean I'm as fragile as one. Qo'noS has its share of heat."

T'Prynn stepped over to the dresser and collected her communicator, which she tucked onto her belt. "I'm sure your Klingon physiology would bear the temperatures admirably," she said. "The aridity, however, might prove rather uncomfortable."

"I think I can handle it," Sandesjo said. To her dismay, rather than continue their repartee, T'Prynn started to move toward the door. "Don't go," Sandesjo blurted out. As soon as she said it, she regretted having done so; it was a grossly unprofessional expression of desire and weakness.

Slowly, T'Prynn turned and regarded Sandesjo with a stare of clinical detachment. "Why do you wish me to remain?"

"I always want you to stay," Sandesjo said. "You never do."

Raising her steeply arched eyebrows, T'Prynn replied, "An extremely illogical statement, Miss Sandesjo. You -- "

"Anna," she interrupted. "Why don't you ever call me Anna? I think we deserve to be on a first-name basis, don't you?"

In a surprisingly sharp tone, T'Prynn shot back, "If we do, then perhaps you would prefer I called you by your real name, Lurqal."

Hearing T'Prynn speak her Klingon name left Sandesjo momentarily shocked silent. Though Sandesjo's true identity had been known to T'Prynn for nearly a year, until now the Vulcan had never uttered it aloud. Suppressed by years of living under her cover identity, that name sounded foreign to Sandesjo. She had submerged so deeply into her cover that she had come to think of herself as Anna Sandesjo rather than as Lurqal.

Finally recovering her voice, she said, "If, when we are...alone together, you wish to call me Lurqal, I would not object."

After considering that for a moment, T'Prynn said, "Is our relationship the cause of your current distress?"

"Yes, it is," Sandesjo said, relieved to be able to speak plainly and without the qualifying preambles of diplomatic discourse. "Though I'd really like to know what our relationship is, exactly."

Cocking her head slightly, T'Prynn asked, "What aspect of its nature eludes you?"

"I don't know," Sandesjo said. "All of it? You've been sharing my bed for months, but I still don't know what to call you. My girlfriend? My lover? What am I to you? Just another intelligence asset? Something else? Or am I just your whore?"

The conversation seemed to make T'Prynn uncomfortable. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and lowered her head. "You are not my 'whore,'" she said, then looked up. "But defining our relationship is complicated. There are...professional issues to consider."

"Such a nice way of putting it," Sandesjo said bitterly. "Did you start sleeping with me to turn me into a double agent? Or was that just an added perk?"

Unfazed, T'Prynn answered, "Did you become a double agent out of principle or because I had exposed you as a spy? Were you motivated by love, lust, or self-preservation? I am not the only one whose motives in this matter are suspect."

Stung, Sandesjo looked away for a moment. Turning back to face T'Prynn, she said, "I just want to know how you feel about me." As T'Prynn began to answer, Sandesjo recognized the telltale signs of a verbal evasion taking shape. She threw aside the sheets, got out of bed, and moved quickly toward the Vulcan woman. "And don't you dare tell me you don't have emotions, or that they don't matter to you." Standing naked in front of T'Prynn, Sandesjo leaned close to her and dropped her voice to a husky whisper. "I see the hunger in your eyes when you come to me at night. I feel the fire in your kisses, the wild part of you that takes me by force...dominates me...possesses me. You burn for me just as I burn for you."

With a haughty and dismissive mien, T'Prynn said, "If you are so attuned to my inner life, why ask for my declaration?"

Sandesjo turned her head slightly, so that her lips barely brushed T'Prynn's as she said, "Because I love you."

She leaned forward to kiss T'Prynn, who pulled back and then stepped away, haltingly at first, then quickly, until she was out of the bedroom, out of the apartment suite, and gone beyond Sandesjo's reach.

Sandesjo's reflection gazed back at her from the mirror. She looked pale, timid, defenseless -- human. Rage, sorrow, and humiliation swelled inside her. Of all the traits that Klingons despised, none was so reviled as weakness. In a single rash statement, she'd rendered her deepest feelings as bare as her body; it was the most vulnerable she had ever felt and the closest she had ever really come to knowing the taste of fear.

Turning away from herself, she lamented ever having met T'Prynn -- and surrendering to love's bitter sting.

The passageway that circled Vanguard's hub and looked out on its enclosed docking bay bustled with activity. Two huge Federation colony transports, the Terra Courser and the Centauri Star, had made port in bays one and two only a few hours before the starbase's newest arrival, the Starship Sagittarius, had docked in bay four. Weaving adroitly and with long strides through the crowd of teeming two-way pedestrian traffic, Commodore Diego Reyes stole a glance out an observation window into the main docking bay.

Attending the Sagittarius was a swarm of small maintenance craft and several personnel in light-duty pressure suits, all of them scrambling into action, making minor repairs and erecting a cocoon of scaffolding and netting around the ship, in preparation for more extensive work. Alongside such massive vessels as the two transports, or its own larger cousins, such as the Constitution-class U.S.S. Endeavour or the refit Daedalus-class U.S.S. Lovell, the Archer-class scout ship looked almost like a toy. Another thing that made it stand out was how new it looked; its hull was pristine, its Zodiac-inspired ship's insignia still gleaming, every letter and digit in its registry as crisp as they'd been the day it had left spacedock. Its docking hatch, located at the outermost curve of its port primary hull, was attached to an extended gangway that led to a series of narrow passages. Those fed onto the main thoroughfare, where Reyes now moved at a quickstep.

Reyes arrived at the entrance to the bay four gangway just as a chief petty officer unlocked and opened the pressure hatch. As the portal slid aside, he saw the senior members of the Sagittarius's crew on the other side, moving just as quickly as he had been. They all wore nondescript, olive-hued utility jumpsuits devoid of rank insignia.

In the lead was Captain Adelard Nassir, a Deltan man in his mid-fifties. Slight of build and bald of pate, Nassir projected calm and dignity in his every action, no matter how great or small. Beside him was his first officer, a taller and much brawnier brown-skinned human named Clark Terrell. The man was built like a boxer but talked like a scholar.

Close behind the two men were two women. Trailing the captain was a statuesque blonde, who Reyes remembered was the ship's chief medical officer, Dr. Lisa Babitz. He had met her only once, months ago, but she had made a lasting impression by taking the opportunity to disinfect the desk in his office.

Walking behind Terrell was a petite young redhead. Her name was Vanessa Theriault; she was the ship's science officer. As with Babitz, Reyes had met her only once, several months ago, after the ship had first been assigned to Starbase 47 as its outrider scout. Something that Theriault had in common with Babitz was a gift for making a strong first impression: at the end of her first mission briefing, she had presented Reyes with a gift -- a knitted scarf that she had made herself, in her "spare time." He had yet to wear it and suspected he never would, but he still liked it.

Bringing up the back of the small formation was a lissome and pale-complexioned human woman with raven hair and a male Saurian who moved with fluid grace on bare webbed feet. These two Reyes had never met, but he recognized them from a past review of their service records. The woman was the ship's second officer, Lieutenant Commander Bridget McLellan, and the Saurian was the ship's newest field scout, a senior chief petty officer named Razka.

Theriault, Nassir, and Terrell were the only members of the ship's complement who were privy to the real objectives of Operation Vanguard. But because of the new orders Reyes had come to deliver, that was about to change. Soon the entire crew of the Sagittarius, all fourteen of them, would need to be briefed. Knowing this bunch, he speculated, they'll be too excited to know they ought to be scared out of their minds.

Captain Nassir nodded to Reyes as he crossed the last few meters of the gangway to join him. "Commodore," he said with a friendly smile. "Sorry we kept you waiting."

"Actually," Reyes said, "I just got here myself."

As he shook Reyes's hand, Nassir replied, "I was talking about the six weeks it took us to get back from Typerias."

"Oh, that," Reyes said, returning Nassir's grin. "If you ask me, I'd say you made pretty good time." Looking around, Reyes noticed that the other officers from the Sagittarius were beginning to crowd around himself and Nassir. To the group he said, "Welcome back, everyone. I've opened a tab for all of you up at Manón's. Head up and get something to eat. Your captain and I will be there shortly." To their credit, Reyes thought, they took his suggestion in stride and moved off toward a nearby bank of turbolifts. Reyes made a sideways nod of his head to Nassir. "Walk with me, Captain."

Nassir followed Reyes as he started a slow circuit of the deck. The lanky commodore walked more slowly than he normally did to make it easier for the shorter captain to keep pace with him.

In a confidential tone, Nassir said, "I presume you didn't bring us back from a deep-space recon because you missed us."

"Actually, I did miss you," Reyes joked. "But you're right, that's not the reason. The Klingons have been listening in on our comm traffic, so I had to play my cards close on this one." He let a group of enlisted men and women pass by in the opposite direction before he continued. "Did you read Xiong's report about Jinoteur?"

Concentration creased Nassir's brow for a moment. "The star system that was generating a subspace signal," he said, swiftly recalling details. "It made your station go haywire, yes?"

"Crazy as a junkyard dog," Reyes said. "We looked at Jinoteur to see if we could find the cause, but we didn't see anything...until six weeks ago."

A smirk tugged at the corner of Nassir's thin mouth. "And now you want someone to take a closer look."

"Much closer," Reyes confirmed.

Nassir half-chuckled. "I have to say, sir, I'm flattered and a bit surprised you'd assign this to my crew. Typically, a plum like this would go to a big ship like the Endeavour -- "

"Busy showing the flag out by Forcas," Reyes cut in.

The captain continued, "Of course, knowing the role the Lovell and her crew played in fixing your Jinoteur problem -- "

"They're on extended colony support to Gamma Tauri IV."

Humility replaced pride in Nassir's expression. "I see," he said. "We're going because we're available."

"I'm just yanking your chain, Captain. I wouldn't have pulled you back across two sectors unless I had a damn good reason," Reyes said. "Truth is, the Endeavour and the Lovell are the wrong ships for this mission. The first one draws too much attention, and the other one, I swear to God, seems to invent disasters. I need you, your crew, and your ship to do what you do best: explore the unknown."

"Without getting noticed," Nassir added. "Or turning it into a problem."

Reyes glanced in the captain's direction. "Precisely."

Ahead of them, the observation lounge for bay one was coming into view around the curving bend of the corridor. Nassir asked, "Are we still handling this as need-to-know?"

"Not anymore," Reyes said. "Your whole crew has to be briefed before you ship out. You're also getting a sensor-grid upgrade and some new gear for your scouts."

"Not just a sneak-and-peek, then," Nassir said.

Shaking his head, Reyes replied, "Not this time. We want a full survey. But after Erilon, we're taking precautions."

Nassir nodded once. "Understandable," he said. "Terrible, what happened to Zhao. He was a great officer." With an almost paternal concern, he asked, "How's Khatami handling command?"

"Like she was born to it," Reyes said. "It's not the way anyone likes to get promoted, but she's making it work."

"Good," Nassir said. "I'm glad." He sighed, then changed topics. "When's our mission briefing?"

"Tomorrow at 0900," Reyes said. "I'll have Xiong meet with your people on the Sagittarius." Eyeing Nassir for his reaction, he added, "Incidentally, Xiong'll be going with you."

To Reyes's surprise, the news seemed to please the captain. "Excellent," Nassir said. "I rather enjoyed his last visit."

Amazing, Reyes mused. An authority figure Xiong hasn't pissed off yet. Maybe there's hope for that kid, after all. "Glad to hear it," Reyes said, as they started sidestepping through wave after wave of civilians, colonists from the Terra Courser who were pouring onto the docking bay thoroughfare. Eager to escape the press of bodies, Reyes said, "I've kept you from breakfast long enough, Captain. Ready to head up to Manón's?"

"Absolutely," Nassir said.

They cut left toward a nearby turbolift and were almost free of the crowd when a woman's voice called out sharply from several meters away. "Diego!"

Jeanne. Dread, like a sudden splash of cold water in his face, shocked Reyes to a halt. He tried not to clench his jaw but failed. Nassir, standing at his side, turned and looked behind them. Reyes asked, "She's coming this way, isn't she?"

"With a vengeance," Nassir said.

Reyes closed his eyes. He took a deep breath that did absolutely nothing to enhance his calm. Opening his eyes to confront the inevitable, he said to Nassir, "Go on ahead,

Captain."

"Yes, sir," said Nassir, who advanced quickly toward the turbolift. The Deltan captain had always demonstrated a keen sense of when to make an exit -- an option that Reyes was, at that moment, dismayed to find himself without. As Nassir entered the turbolift, Reyes turned and faced his ex-wife.

Like many natives of Luna, including Reyes himself, Jeanne Vinueza was tall and long-limbed -- the result of spending part of her formative years in a low-gravity environment. Her chestnut hair was curly and spilled over her shoulders and upper back, longer than it had been when he'd last seen her more than six years earlier. As always, she was stylishly dressed and carried a metallic briefcase. She fixed him with her brown-eyed stare as she strode toward him. Other civilians scrambled to make a path for her, some stumbling almost comically out of her way.

Expecting a verbal onslaught, Reyes lowered his chin and chose to lean into the harangue. She stopped in front of him, eyes blazing, and planted her free hand on her hip. She remained as youthful-looking as ever; if Reyes hadn't known that she was nearly forty-five years old, he might have guessed her age to be thirty-five instead.

Neither of them said a word for several seconds. Then the gleam in her eyes changed from furious to mischievous, and her lips trembled before opening into a lopsided smile. "Hola, Diego," she said.

He was both relieved and annoyed. "Hi, Jeanne."

An awkward moment lingered as they wondered how to greet each other. Several clumsy attempts at a platonic embrace and kisses on both cheeks left Reyes feeling self-conscious. He pulled back from Jeanne and looked around to see if any members of Vanguard's crew were observing this embarrassing reunion. Hundreds of hastily averted glances made him conclude that everyone on the station was probably watching them.

"So," she began, clearly searching for words. "You're a commodore now. Impressive."

Holding up his wrist, he said, "Don't let a little extra braid fool you. I'm still a jerk."

"Sí," she replied, "but an impressive jerk."

He marshaled a pained grin. "Please tell me you didn't spend eight weeks on a transport just to come out here and flatter me."

Turning businesslike, she said, "I'm just passing through, on my way out to Gamma Tauri IV."

That didn't sound right to Reyes. "Now, that's a surprise," he said. "Thought you always said you wouldn't be caught dead on a colony planet."

"True," she admitted. "I used to say that. But that was before I was offered the chance to be the leader of one."

"You're the president of the New Boulder colony?"

"Don't make it sound so glamorous," she said. "It's an appointed position with a contract, like a company executive. And my first item of business is a meeting with Ambassador Jetanien, Captain Desai, and your colonial administrator, Aole Miller." She looked over his shoulder at a chronometer on the wall. "Speaking of which, I'm running late." For a moment, she seemed on the verge of saying something else but then thought better of it. "Maybe I'll see you before I ship out," she said, inching away toward the turbolift.

"Maybe," he said. "You know where to find me."

A turbolift car arrived. Jeanne stepped in and squeezed into place among the other passengers. The doors closed, and Reyes was left brooding in the middle of the passageway.

Serves you right for not reading the damn colony briefings, Reyes berated himself. The Lovell and its team from the Corps of Engineers were currently deployed to Gamma Tauri IV -- principally for colonial support but also to find another alien artifact like the ones that had been found on Ravanar and Erilon. If another such artifact was on the planet, as Xiong's research suggested, and it proved to be as much trouble as those previous discoveries, then everyone on Gamma Tauri IV was in danger.

Reyes had never been comfortable with Starfleet Command's decision to let civilian colonization efforts provide unwitting cover for its search for new samples of the Taurus meta-genome -- an exceptionally complex string of alien DNA, whose discovery a few years earlier had sparked Starfleet's mad rush into this remote sector of local space, including the construction of Starbase 47 itself. The presence of a legitimate colony, however, was the best camouflage his people could ask for; it gave them countless valid reasons for being on Gamma Tauri IV. Defense, construction, various surveys, mapping, irrigation efforts, sewage treatment -- any number of civil-engineering efforts would conceal the Lovell team's hunt for the meta-genome and another artifact. The risk, of course, was that one wrong move could put the entire colony in peril.

And now Jeanne would be in the middle of it.

He remained bitter toward her for the way she had ended their marriage seven years earlier; she had terminated it like a canceled contract, as if it had been nothing more than a simple partnership that had outlived its usefulness. Despite that, part of him still harbored affection for her. Even as he had cursed her name during the divorce, deep fires had smoldered in his heart for her, and he had tried more than once to fan them back to life; but where he had seen the possibility of rekindling their romance, Jeanne had seen only ashes.

I should tell her not to go, he insisted to himself. Then duty reminded him, You can't tell her why. And unless she knows why, she won't listen to you. Maybe not even then.

It had been a serious breach of orders for him to bring his two closest friends -- Dr. Ezekiel Fisher and Captain Rana Desai, the station's presiding Judge Advocate General Corps officer -- into the loop several weeks ago, but at least they were Starfleet officers, and he could make a case to Starfleet Command that they needed to know the truth in order to perform their duties.

Telling a civilian would be another matter. Revealing the truth about Operation Vanguard and its current mission on Gamma Tauri IV to Jeanne, no matter how noble his motives for doing so might be, would mean the end of his career once word got out. About that, he had no illusions. If he warned her, the truth eventually would come out, and when it did, he would spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement on the coldest landmass on the remotest planet within reach of the Federation.

It was nearly 0800; he had yet to get a cup of coffee, and the senior staff meeting was about to start. Normally, Reyes waited until after lunch to decide whether a day was a good one or not, but as he trudged toward a turbolift for the ride up to ops, he decided that any day that began with him being ambushed by his ex-wife couldn't possibly end well.

Jeanne Vinueza's esper skills were nowhere near as powerful or focused as those of Vulcans, but she had enough experience gauging emotions and picking up surface thoughts to know when she was being lied to. Looking across the wide gray table at the Chelon ambassador and two Starfleet officers, she was certain that at least one of them was hiding something.

It wasn't Aole Miller. Starbase 47's colonial administrator was an open book, all bonhomie, warmth, and untainted goodwill. Men like him were a rarity, in Vinueza's experience: good souls unblemished by pessimism or cynicism. Short and ebony-skinned, with a smooth-shaved head and a bright white smile, he was without a doubt the most truthful and forthcoming person in the chilly, utilitarian-looking conference room.

Ambassador Jetanien and Starfleet JAG officer Captain Rana Desai were another matter.

Jetanien held up a data slate in one scaly, clawed manus. "I've read your petition three times, Ms. Vinueza," he said. "And I still don't understand."

"You don't understand our petition?" Vinueza asked.

"I understand its contents perfectly," he said, setting down the slate. "What I fail to understand is why I'm reading it at all. Frankly, I find your case for refusing protectorate status incomprehensible."

Mimicking his archly patronizing tone, she replied, "Perhaps your colleague Captain Desai could explain it to you, Mr. Ambassador." She tried to glean some sense of his reaction, but his face, a leathery olive mask marked by a turtlelike beak and deep amber orbs for eyes, betrayed nothing. His thoughts were even more remote from her; Chelon brain waves were too dissimilar from those of most humanoids for Vinueza to read.

Jumping into the conversation, Miller seemed genuinely taken aback by the colonists' petition. "I respect your colony's right to independence," he said, leaning forward. "But declining official Starfleet protection in a sector targeted for conquest by the Klingons seems, well, unwise."

Desai added, "If it's a matter of preserving your world's legal autonomy, Ms. Vinueza, there are several exemptions available under the Federation's colonial charter for the Taurus Reach. Accepting our protection would not obligate you to anything that hasn't been ratified by a vote of your colony's residents."

There was no duplicity in Desai's surface thoughts, at least none that Vinueza could detect. Something felt off about the slim Indian woman's demeanor, however. A tinge of concern, a shadow of doubt, the hint of a secret lurked behind her words. She isn't malicious, Vinueza concluded, but she's not being completely forthright, either.

Vinueza replied, "It's not about our independence, Captain. Our concerns are based on the rising frequency of clashes between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. If we accept UFP protectorate status, we might as well paint a bull's-eye on our colony. Neutrality, both politically and economically, seems like the safest course to us. So with all respect, the people of New Boulder would rather not fly your banner over their new home."

"I daresay you would be hard-pressed to find a more ardent supporter of colonial self-rule than myself," Jetanien said. "However, I have to confess that I find your political risk assessment of the Taurus Reach somewhat lacking in nuance and marred by gross naïveté. Disavowing affiliation with the Federation, far from sparing you the notice of the Klingon Empire, will in fact bring you more swiftly to their attention as a soft target, one that they can encroach upon without fear of Starfleet interference or reprisal. I would beg you to reconsider and withdraw your petition."

She shook her head. "That's not an option, Mr. Ambassador. The colonists have already ratified this petition. As their representative, it's my responsibility to honor it."

"And as their leader," Jetanien countered, "it's your duty to prevent them from making a potentially fatal mistake. The people of New Boulder are your constituents, Ms. Vinueza, not your shareholders. You are not blindly yoked to their will."

Vinueza sighed softly and resisted the urge to reply before thinking through her response. Jetanien's remark about shareholders clearly had been intended to goad her, by casting aspersions on her previous tenure as the chief executive of an interstellar dilithium-mining corporation and implying that her experience in the much-maligned private sector was inapplicable to her new role as an officer of civil government. The first one to get angry loses, she reminded herself. Don't take the bait.

"I would not present a petition in bad faith, Mr. Ambassador," Vinueza said. "Nor would I advocate any measure that I felt would be to the detriment of those I represent. The New Boulder colony is an agricultural collective. Gamma Tauri IV has no dilithium, so I'm not worried the Klingons will show much interest in it. What does worry me is how interested Starfleet seems to be. You've clearly read my file, so you know about my esper skills. Well, every time I've talked to Starfleet Command about this colony, I've gotten the feeling that someone is hiding something. Bottom line? I don't trust you people."

"Ma'am, we just want to ensure the safety and success of your colony," Miller said. "The Lovell and a team from the Corps of Engineers have been there for the past four weeks, helping your people get their farms running, their water cleaned, and their backup generators operational. And I want to assure you that even if you refuse protectorate status, the Lovell and her team will stay on to assist you, no strings attached, until your colony is fully self-sufficient. Starfleet just wants to help."

Rising from her seat, Vinueza said, "Thank you, Commander, that's very generous." She picked up her briefcase and cast a suspicious glare at Jetanien and Desai. "But I suspect we'll be getting Starfleet's help whether we want it or not."

Copyright © 2007 by CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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