Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Warpedby K. W. Jeter, Kevin Ryan (Editor)
Political tensions on Bajor are once again on the rise, and the various factions may soon come to open conflict. In addition, a series of murders has shaken everyone on board the station. While Security Chief Odo investiages the murders, Commander Sisko finds himself butting up against a new religious faction that plans to take over Bajor and force the Federation to leave Deep Space NineTM.
Odo traces the murders to a bizarre and dangerous new form of holosuite technology, a technology that turns its users into insane killers, and now threatens Sisko's son, Jake. As the situation on Bajor deteriorates, Sisko learns that the political conflict and the new holosuites are connected, and part of the plan of a dangerous madman.
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Warped (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
By K.W. Jeter
Star TrekISBN: 0-671-56781-0
A hand darted into the water, through the ribbons of green weeds streaming in the current, into the darkness between the stones smooth as black pearls. A fist came back up, with flashes of silver wriggling from either side, a clear rivulet dripping from the elbow.
Jake Sisko regarded the fish in the other boy's grasp. As before-since the first time-he was filled with both admiration and a stomach-knotting unease at the other's lightning quickness. Too fast, he thought. Like a knife piercing the water without even a splash. That's not right.
The two boys hunkered knees-to-chest on the largest rock in the middle of the creek, the yellow sun above drying the wet marks their bare feet had left behind them. The water churned white a few inches away. Jake squinted against the glare, turning his gaze toward the tall-grass fields that rolled up to the stand of trees that served as a windbreak at the crest of the hill. Eucalyptus, his father had called them, crushing the sickle leaves in his big hand to release their sharp, penetrating scent. Jake's father had reached up and pulled away a strip of bark-it didn't hurt the trees, this type shed the long, twisting pieces like snakeskins-and given it to him as a kind of souvenir, one that he still had dangling on the wall of his bedroom.
"Look," insisted the other boy, thrusting the captured fish in front of Jake's face. The creature's round eyes were emblems of unreasoning panic, the pink- rimmed gills fluttering wide in the strangling air. Its mouth made an idiot O, as the boy's thumb traced the scam of its belly.
Jake wanted to tell the other boy to let the fish go, to throw it back into the water, where it could disappear into the shadowed refuge downstream. But he was afraid to. Not afraid-Jake's spine stiffened at the edge of the traitorous thought-but held by a dark fascination, as though standing at a cliff whose rim crumbled beneath one's toes.
He didn't even know the other boy's name. But then he didn't need to.
"Aw, we've done a fish before. They're nothing special." The other boy weighed the creature's fate and found it unworthy of further consideration. He tossed it away, not even watching where it broke the water's surface and flicked out of sight. He leaned over the side of the rock, shading his eyes to hunt for something better.
Jake felt the squeezing around his heart relax. In the distance, on the creek's other side, the grasses' feathery tops parted and settled together again as a hidden shape moved below them. He knew it was the big orange tabby with battered ears that lived on the mice from the barn beyond the hill. Or the barn that had used to be over there; the swaybacked shingled roof and gaping boards, with the mounds of dusty-smelling hay and withered, ancient horse turds inside, had gradually faded away, as though pushed from existence by this little world's new commanding presence. That was probably why the cat had to roam farther afield, to find something to eat. Everything here had changed, or was about to, Jake knew.
His companion leaned closer to the shadow on the water. Jake watched, keeping his own breath still. He didn't want to do or say anything that would draw attention to the cat on its solitary, preoccupied hunt. There were things that could happen to it-things that the other boy might do-that made Jake's stomach knot up again.
"I saw something down here...." The other boy muttered as his hand brushed through the green weeds. A lock of hair dark as his eyes dangled across his brow. Oddly-another thing that Jake knew wasn't right-the other boy's shoulders were dusted with freckles, like the ones on his forearms beneath sandy red hair. It seemed as if those parts were all that was left of the boy who had lived in this world before, a redhead with a snub nose and a broad, open smile. The newcomer's smile was a twisting of one corner of a thin-lipped mouth, an expression filled with amusement at what its owner had glimpsed inside Jake's heart.
"What?" Curious despite his misgivings, Jake leaned over to see. His shadow mingled with the other's, casting the water even darker. "What is it?"
The other boy stretched out, chest against the rock, so he could reach all the way down, the water swirling to the pit of his arm. Jake could see when he had caught whatever it was, from the sudden tensing of his muscles and the black spark of delight in his eyes.
Sitting back on his haunches, the other boy held up the prize. For a moment, Jake thought the wetly shining thing was just a rock, a flattish one wide as his companion's outstretched fingertips. Then he saw the stubby clawed legs poking out from the comers. A face like a crabby old man's, annoyed at his bald head being exposed to the sun, protruded from under the shell, then drew back in deep suspicion. When the scaly eyelids came partway down, it looked kind of like his friend Nog's uncle, the Ferengi innkeeper back aboard the station.
"Cool...." The other boy examined the turtle as if he had never seen one before. Jake was surprised at that-the creek was full of them, either scooting about on the bottom or basking on the lower rocks in the shallows. "This could be ... interesting...."
Jake felt the sick feeling in his gut again, as though he were helpless to keep himself from falling into the dark eyes that looked over the turtle shell at him. Whatever happened next-like the things that had happened already-he knew he would be part of it. That his hands would be right next to the other boy's. That he would even hold, if the other let him, the little knife with the blade that jumped out when a button was pushed.
In the field beyond the creek, the barn cat had caught some small, blind thing that it had greedily torn open with its teeth and claws. The sweat on Jake's shoulders chilled, as though the sun had disappeared behind a cloud. At the horizon of his vision, he'd always before been able to see, if he stared hard enough, where this world became nothing but a wall inside another world. Now this bright earth's shadows gathered there.
He brought his gaze back to the two smaller pieces of darkness before him. The eyes regarded him; then the other boy smiled in wicked conspiracy.
"This'll be fun." The other boy reached into the pocket of his jeans and fetched out the little folding knife. "You know it will."
Jake squeezed his eyes shut, against the reflection of his own face that bounced off the sudden snap of metal in the other's hand. It didn't do any good to keep whispering to himself that nothing here was real.
But he went on saying it, anyway.
A section of bulkhead, the curved wall between the gridded floor and the overhead light panels, considered its position. There's really no needfor this- if the bulkhead had possessed any vocal apparatus, it might have spoken the words aloud, just to hear them echo down the station's empty corridor. The bulkhead would have been able to hear that, as part of its surface, indistinguishable from the rest, served as a crude tympanic membrane, carrying the sounds of voices and footsteps-if there had been any-to the intelligence concealed within. He must be already gone, thought the bulkhead; it rippled like flowing water for a moment, then peeled away from the insensate metal beneath and recoalesced into the form of Deep Space Nine's chief of security.
Odo looked around the angle of the nearest comer, to where the passageway split into the farther reaches of the station. Now that he had resumed the humanoid appearance by which most of DS9's personnel recognized him, he could visually scan the area. Before, any transformation of his matter into an optic sensor might have given away his carefully maintained disguise.
There was no sign of the individual he had been tracking. In Odo's memory was a complete dossier on one Ahrmant Wyoss, an itinerant freight handler who had been catching occasional pickup work in the station's main docking pylon. Despite the range of computerized equipment on the dock, from overhead- tracking forklifts that could shift multi-ton reactor cores to tweezerlike micromanipulators capable of extracting the black specks of monocloned seed stock from radiation-resistant transport gel, there was still a need for the kind of sheer muscle mass that could break open a wooden packing crate from one of the low-tech trading worlds. Wyoss possessed that much, along with a heavily brooding face that to Odo indicated a chronic overindulgence in central nervous-system depressants. That Wyoss also had enough rudimentary intelligence left to elude a tracker tinged Odo's thoughts with unease; it didn't fit with the profile he had mentally constructed of the suspect.
From behind him came the sound of a small object hitting the floor. Not startled, but in his customary state of hyperalertness, Odo turned quickly and spotted the source, a small plastoid box with a pair of dangling probe wires and a digital readout on one side. It was a sign of how-thoroughly Ahrmant Wyoss had filled his thoughts, that he had forgotten the device he had brought along. He had hidden it, tucking it into a ceiling crevice, before flowing into his own moleculethick concealment over the bulkhead segment.
He turned the device over in his hand; the numbers on the readout still corresponded to Wyoss's credit/access code. Chief of Operations O'Brien had cobbled together the device as a favor for Odo, part of the relationship of mutual back-scratching the two of them had worked out. Odo had exceeded his authority, by perhaps only a small bit, in leaning on a band of petty thieves who had been pilfering from some of the chief's outlying storage lockers, and O'Brien had in turn designed and put together this handy little gizmo. And kept quiet about it.
Odo meditatively ran his thumb across the points of the probe wires. By a strict interpretation of DS9's regulations, the device was illegal; without a written order from the station's commander, the equivalent of a planetside court order, accessing any record of an individual's financial dealings, no matter how small, was forbidden. The moral qualms Odo felt-it was his job to enforce the laws, not break them-were small, in proportion to the device's limited function: all it could do was extract the access codes and corresponding names from the data banks of the station's holosuites, giving him a record of who had used each one, and when. That had been useful in establishing a pattern of behavior for Wyoss; the suspect had spent an inordinate amount of time immersed in the artificial worlds created by one or another of the holosuites that had been installed along this passageway.
That habit alone served as an identifying quirk for Wyoss; this bank of holosuites was several levels away from the main action of the Promenade. Whenever the suspect had emerged from the detailed sensory experience for which he had programmed the suite, he'd had to trudge a long way to knock back a few synthales at Quark's emporium. That datum was still being turned over at the back of Odo's thoughts, an analogue to his slow fidgeting with the device in his hand.
An obsessive need for privacy? Odo considered that possibility, and discarded it as before. A thug like Ahrmant Wyoss wouldn't care what other people thought of his recreational activities. And besides, the interior of a holosuite, no matter what busily teeming sector its door might exit onto, was already as private as, technology could devise. The only place more private would be the inside of one's own skull. Which was of course, part of the holosuites' attraction. For himself, Odo couldn't see much of a point in that; there was rarely a moment of his life when he didn't feel essentially alone, a creature of unknown origin, separated from all others.
He pushed those thoughts aside, with no more effort than closing the lid on a box of old-fashioned still photographs and family data recordings. He had trained himself to do as much, to attend to the job at hand, whatever it might be. Everybody, he supposed, did the same; the fact that the box he carried around, tucked away in a dark corner of remembrance, held nothing but empty brooding made no difference.
Ahrmant Wyoss was somewhere else aboard the station; the sooner the suspect was located, the better. There were three corpses lying in the morgue connected to the station's central infirmary; each of them had been ripped open, from throat to bipedal lower extremities, by a honed pryblade, the folding tool that the loading docks' freight-handlers used to slice through heavy cables and lever apart stuck container seals.
Odo had seen one of the pylon crew draw the razor-edged tool out of his overalls' back pocket and flick it to full extension in his hand faster than eye could follow or thought anticipate. Two of the corpses in the morgue had been the frenzied product of one of Wyoss's coworkers, who had slit his own throat before Odo could apprehend him. The third and latest murder had been committed more discreetly, with no clue left behind, other than the rousing of the security chief's even sharper instincts, every time he had seen Wyoss skulking through the station's corridors. Something in the eyes, or rather behind them, like a worm uncoiling around the pit of a small fruit ... That, plus the rather more concrete datum of Wyoss's pryblade being missing from the locker where he kept his other tools when he wasn't working.
Stop wasting time, Odo scolded himself. Something had kept him loitering here, long after he had ascertained that Wyoss was not in this sector. Another suspicion, as though a sense beyond sight or hearing had caught the trace of some other crime being committed.
The holosuite closest to him was one of the new ones that had been shipped on board the station and powered up. It provided him a measure of grim satisfaction to think of someone cutting into Quark's territory of salacious entertainment; the Ferengi was no doubt already fuming about this competition and how unfair it was to him. The notion of Quark's discomfiture was almost satisfying enough to outweigh the tiresome necessity of investigating and keeping an eye on the owners of the new holosuites.
At the moment, this one was occupied; he had already used O'Brien's clever device to determine that someone other than Wyoss had entered the suite, before he'd taken up his disguised surveillance. Odo reinserted the probe wires beneath the edge of the door's control panel, to obtain the exact credit/access code.
On the device's small readout panel, the numbers shifted, held for a moment, then changed to letters. One by one, they spelled out the name SISKO.
That's odd, mused the security chief. Why would the station's commander come this far to use a holosuite, when there were the closer ones above Quark's bar.
Another letter appeared on the readout. The initial J. The access code had been that for Benjamin Sisko's son, Jake.
Odo gazed at the small mystery for a few seconds longer, then switched off the device and stowed it in his uniform pocket. A wordless concern still nagged at him, but there was no time to puzzle over it now. He turned and strode quickly toward the corridors' hub.
Just for a moment, he had felt as if someone else was there with him, another presence more human than the one with which he shared this little world. Jake looked over his shoulder, expecting-or rather, hoping-to see a door open in the horizon, Maybe his father would step across the water-smoothed rocks turning back to gray metal, reach down and take hig hand as the stream thinned and disappeared, and pull him back into the narrow spaces and skyless ceilings of the real world.
He saw no one behind him; the feeling passed, replaced by the certainty of how alone he was, with no one but the other boy for company. The boy who existed nowhere else but here.
Reluctantly, Jake brought his gaze back around to his companion. The other boy's dark, lank hair fell across his brow as he studied the turtle in his hand. He poked at the side of the shell with the knifepoint, as though trying to find a hidden latch. Jake felt a hollowness at the base of his gut, a souring wad of spit beneath his tongue.
Excerpted from Warped (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) by K.W. Jeter Excerpted by permission.
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