Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Gateways #4: Demons af Air And Darkness

Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Gateways #4: Demons af Air And Darkness

4.5 2
by Keith R. A. DeCandido

Once they moved from world to world in a single step, through innumerable doors that spanned the galaxy. They were masters of space, and to those who feared them, they were demons of air and darkness. But long ago they left their empire and their miraculous technology behind. Now someone has found the key to it, and all those doors have been þung open.
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Once they moved from world to world in a single step, through innumerable doors that spanned the galaxy. They were masters of space, and to those who feared them, they were demons of air and darkness. But long ago they left their empire and their miraculous technology behind. Now someone has found the key to it, and all those doors have been þung open.

A world near Deep Space 9™, threatened with destruction from the distant Delta Quadrant, becomes the focus of a massive rescue effort as Colonel Kira Nerys, her crew, and some unexpected allies Þght to avert disaster on a planetary scale. Meanwhile, as Lieutenant Nog and Ensign Thirishar ch'Thane search for a way to shut down the spatial portals forever, Quark becomes involved in a dangerous game that could determine, once and for all, who will control the Gateways.

Editorial Reviews

This volume concerns the efforts of the inhabitants of Deep Space Nine to deal with problems caused by the Iconian gateways. This series is interesting since most of the installments are taking place simultaneously but involve different Star Trek groups (except for the first volume, which was set in the earlier time of Captain James Kirk). Colonel Kira and the Deep Space Niners are faced with the task of rescuing the inhabitants of a nearby world threatened by radioactive waste that has suddenly come through a gateway. They also must figure out the source of the waste and stop its deadly flow before the planet becomes uninhabitable. (Start Trek: Deep Space Nine: Gateways, Book 4 of 7) Category: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Pocket Books, 292p., $6.99. Ages 13 to adult. Reviewer: Hugh M. Flick, Jr.; Silliman College, Yale Univ., New Haven, CT SOURCE: KLIATT, March 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 2)

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Star Trek: Gateways Series , #4
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Chapter One: The Delta Quadrant

"Shields one and two are now down, shield three is buckling, and warp drive is down!"

Controller Marssi of the Malon supertanker Apsac snarled at Kron's report.

For years, she had heard stories of this ship and its strange alien crew. Some had called it the "ship of death." At least two other Malon export vessels had encountered it, and neither had come out of the experience intact.

Now it was attacking the Apsac. They'd already been forced to drop out of warp, dangerously close to a star system. Marssi had no idea what had prompted the attack, nor did she care. She just wanted it to stop.

"Return fire," she snapped, moving from her small circular console in the center of the bridge to Kron's larger one against the starboard bulkhead.

"We have been," Kron said. "Our weapons have had no effect."

Marssi rubbed her nostrils. The smell of burning conduits was starting to fill the bridge. "I take it they aren't answering our hails?"

"Of course not. They don't want to talk, they want to destroy us, same as they do everyone else." Kron turned back to his console. "Shield three is now down. Our weapons banks are almost exhausted and we still haven't even put a dent in their hull. They're coming in for another pass." As he spoke, more weapons fire impacted on the Apsac's hull.

Kron spit in anger. His saliva was tinged with green. He motioned as if to wipe hair off his face, which under other circumstances would have made Marssi smile. Kron had been making that gesture during times of stress in all the decades they'd served together, but the old man's gold-brown hair had long since thinned past the possibility of ever actually impeding his vision.

"Shield four just went down and shield five is at critical levels," he said. "They're on a parabolic course -- they'll be back in weapons range in two minutes."

Marssi cursed. She had designed the Apsac herself, supervising its entire construction personally. The vessel was groundbreaking -- it had seven separate shields in addition to the reinforced tanks. If that redundancy wasn't enough, the shields were strengthened by an enhancer of her own design. (In truth, designed by someone to whom she'd paid a considerable sum, but as far as she was concerned that made it hers.) Her ship had the lowest incidence of theta-radiation poisoning of any export vessel on Malon Prime and she'd set several records for hauling. Perhaps best of all, her core laborers had a survival rate of sixty percent -- twice that of most other export vessels -- and she was able to pay them well above the already-lucrative going rate.

Her profit margin was huge -- the cost of constructing the ship and designing the shield enhancer had been recouped by her second run. With this latest trip, she would clear enough to finally buy that house in the mountains that she and Stvoran had had their sights on all these years.

And now, Marssi thought, these be-damned aliens are going to ruin it.

From the big console behind her, Gril said, "Controller, look at this." Gril was a new hire -- this was his first run. He's certainly getting more than he signed on for, Marssi thought bitterly. We all are.

The controller walked over to the young man. "What is it?"

"We're getting an analysis of their hull -- it's made of monotanium! Can you imagine that? No wonder our weapons have had no effect. If we could make our ships out of that -- "

Rolling his eyes, Kron said, "Do you know how much it'd cost to mass-produce enough monotanium to build a tanker, Gril?"

"I know, I know, but think of it! We'd never have another tank rupture."

"We've never had one in the first place, you idiot," Kron muttered.

Defensively, Gril said, "You know what I mean."

Marssi looked more closely at the readouts as they scrolled across Gril's black screen in clear green letters. In addition to the powerful hull, the small, squat ship had a very efficient dicyclic warp signature, decades ahead of anything the Malons had developed for faster-than-light travel.

"You're right, Gril," she said. "Those aliens do know how to build a ship."

An alarm sounded. Marssi heard the staccato rhythm of Kron's boots on the bulkhead as he ran to one of the other consoles. She turned to see that he seemed a bit blurry -- a green haze was starting to descend upon the bridge. One of those burning conduits must be leaking arvat. That's just what we need.

Kron pushed a few buttons and then pounded the console with his fist. "Dammit! The warp core containment field is showing signs of collapse and the impulse drive is down." He turned to look at Marssi, his yellow eyes smoldering with anger, his golden skin tinged with sweat. "We can't even move now. And they'll be in range in one minute."

Wonderful, Marssi thought. If the tanks don't rupture and the shields don't go down, we could still die from a containment breach.

"Who are these people, anyhow?" Gril asked as he nervously scratched his left nostril. "What do they want with us?"

"The Hirogen are hunters," Marssi said grimly, walking back to her center console and running a check to see if she could get the propulsion systems back online. "No one knows where they come from, but they've shown up in every part of known space. Supposedly, they'll hunt anything and everything. This particular ship has been reported in this sector at least twice."

"From what I hear," Kron said with a nasty look at Gril as he moved back across the bridge to his own console, "there's only one way to survive an encounter with them: don't be their prey."

"But -- but we are their prey."

"Smart boy," Kron said with a grim smile, then glanced at a readout. "That's interesting, they've slowed down. They're still closing, but it'll be another minute or two before they're in range." He snorted. "They probably realize that we can't fight back, so they're going to take their time with us now."

Gril shook his head. "I don't get it. Why hunt us?"

"It's what they do," Kron snapped.

"Yeah, but whatever they do to us will kill them, too, if the tanks rupture or the core breaches. What's the good of being a hunter if you don't live to enjoy the fruits of the hunt?"

Marssi turned to Gril. "That's a good point. Maybe he just doesn't know." She looked at Kron. "Open a channel to them."

Kron snorted. "They haven't answered a single hail yet."

"They don't have to answer, they just have to listen. Open the channel."

Scowling, Kron pushed three buttons in sequence. "Fine, it's open."

Marssi took a deep breath -- then regretted it, as the burning-conduit smell had gotten worse. "Attention Hirogen ship. If you continue with your present course of action, this ship will be destroyed and our cargo will be exposed to space. We are currently carrying over half a trillion isotons of antimatter waste. We have heard stories of how Hirogen hunters can weather anything, but I doubt that even you could survive being exposed to those levels of theta radiation. Over half our shields are down and a warp core containment breach is imminent. There's a danger of physical damage to the tankers as well. Any one of these can lead to this entire star system being irradiated and will result in the instant death of you, us, and anyone else in the immediate vicinity. Please, break off your attack -- for your own sake, if not for ours."

Kron's eyes went wide. "They're replying."

"You sound surprised," Marssi said dryly.

"That's because I am," Kron said, shooting her a look. "On screen."

A face appeared on the console in front of Marssi. The creature fit the descriptions from the stories she'd heard of the Hirogen: a face of rough, mottled skin, with the rest of the body covered in metallic, faceted body armor. The helmet had four ridges that began close together at the forehead and spread out and around to the back of the head. This one also had a streak of white paint on either side of each middle ridge. As he spoke, he reached up to his forehead with a gloved hand. Red paint dripped from the index finger, and the Hirogen applied it to the section of the helmet under the leftmost ridge.

"Prey. You will surrender."

The screen went blank before Marssi could say anything in reply.

"Either they're immune to theta radiation, or they don't believe you," Kron said. "Or maybe they just don't care."

Again, Marssi cursed. "Any luck getting the propulsion systems back up?"

"No. The Hirogen ship's velocity is still pretty leisurely. Rumor has it they like to deal with their prey one on one. My guess is that they're going to try to board us."

Since the Hirogen ship was only a fraction of the size of the tanker, this seemed reasonable to Marssi. There is no way I'm going to surrender to that monster. I've heard about what they do to people they capture -- weird experiments, dissections, and worse.

So, even if they surrendered, they were going to die.

If that's the way it's going to be, fine. They told me a woman could never be a controller. They told me the Apsac would never work right. I didn't let that stop me then, and I damn well won't let it stop me now.

She looked at the image of the Hirogen ship on her screen. And if I don't, at least I'll have the satisfaction of knowing you'll die too, you waste-sucking toad.

Kron announced, "They're firing again," and the Apsac lurched. "That did it. Shields five and six are both down and seven is buckling. One more shot, and we've got serious problems."

"Yes, Kron," Marssi muttered, shaking her head, "our problems until now have been quite droll."

"Controller, I'm picking up something!" Gril cried before Kron had a chance to reply. "Something just appeared a hundred and fifty hentas off the nose!"

"I'm picking it up, too," Kron said, much more calmly. "It's -- a hole."

Marssi blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

"A hole."

"Can you be a little more specific, Kron?"

"No," Kron snapped. "That's the only way I can describe this. It's an opening of some kind, and based on the readings I'm getting -- huh. There are stars and planets and such on the other side, but it's not matching anything on our star charts."

Another impact. Gril said, "Shield seven will go on the next shot!"

"So it's a wormhole," Marssi said to Kron.

Kron shook his head. "No, it's completely stable, and it doesn't have any of the properties of a wormhole. In fact, it doesn't have the properties of much of anything. I'm not picking up any particulate matter that wasn't there before, no changes in the chemical composition of the area around it. It's just -- a hole." He looked over at Marssi, and the controller was amazed at the look of disbelief on her old comrade's face. "It's like it's some kind of -- of gateway to another star system."

"What the tuul is it doing here?" Gril asked.

"Who the tuul cares?" Marssi said with a grim smile. Maybe I will see Stvoran and Ella again. "Kron, use maneuvering thrusters -- I want the Apsac positioned so that the openings to the tanks are facing that hole."

Kron returned her smile, though his was less grim for a change. "Consider it done. Thrusters online."

Marssi nodded. She remembered one controller who had once been the most profligate of those who disposed of Malon's industrial waste. He had found, in essence, a hole to dump the waste into -- a hole located in a starless region known simply as the Void. Unfortunately, another ship full of irritating aliens -- the Voyager -- had forced him to stop by cutting off his access to the Void. Marssi hadn't minded, as that opened the field a bit -- his success was in danger of putting several controllers out of business -- and it gave her the opportunity to secure the funds to build the Apsac.

Now she'd found her own version of that Void.

"Preparing to eject the tanks," Gril said.

"No," Marssi snapped, whirling on the young man. "We're just ejecting the contents into the hole."

Gril blinked. "But -- but Controller, that'll expose the waste! The radiation -- "

"We'll only be exposed for a short time, not enough to have any lasting effect. I'm not losing the tanks down that hole as well. Unless, of course, you want to replace them out of your earnings?"

"N-no," Grill said quietly, and turned back to his console.

"That may be academic," Kron said. "Shield seven just went down and the Hirogen is at four hentas and closing."

"Maybe. But even if we die, I want it to be just us who do. I won't let Stvoran and Ella live with the disgrace of being the husband and daughter of the woman who destroyed a star system."

"Very considerate," Kron said dryly. "We're in position now."

"Begin ejecting the waste."

Marssi stood at her console and saw the external camera's image of the green-tinged toxic material start to jet its way into the vacuum of space.

Soon enough it'll be in the hole and someone else's problem. My problem is the Hirogen. Once we no longer have to worry about the tanks rupturing, maybe we'll have a better chance against them.

Right on cue, the Hirogen ship came into view.

An errant cluster of waste material tumbled right toward it. It collided with the hunter's small vessel with sufficient impact that even a monotanium hull couldn't save it.

Like all explosions in space, it was brief, but no less spectacular for all that. It blossomed evenly, then contracted into nothingness -- aside from the green mass that had caused the explosion, which continued to tumble toward the hole.

To Controller Marssi, it was the most beautiful sight she'd seen since the completed Apsac was first unveiled on Malon Prime.

She still had no idea what that hole was or where it came from, and right now she didn't care. All she knew was that if it hadn't shown up when it did, she never would have ejected her payload, and the Hirogen ship would still be in one piece.

"Looks like you beat the odds again, Controller," Kron said with a smile, his words mirroring Marssi's own thoughts.

Laughing, Marssi said, "Did you ever doubt it?"

"Yes, every second. But, like all the other times you've proved me wrong, I'm glad you've done so."

"Controller," Gril said, his voice shaking, "I must protest this! We don't know what's on the other side of that hole! What if -- "

Marssi knew exactly what Gril was going to say, and so was happy to interrupt him. "Gril, what is the mission statement of this vessel?"

"To -- to dispose of the waste that accrues from our use of antimatter in a manner that will not be harmful to the Malon community as a whole," he said as if reciting from a textbook -- probably, Marssi thought, recalling Gril's age, read recently.

"Exactly," she said, advancing slowly on the young man who, for his part, started to cower as she moved closer. "And we have done that, and also kept this star system from being contaminated. We've saved millions of lives today -- most notably our own -- eliminated one of the scourges of this sector, and we've done our job. Not to mention the fact that we've made an astonishing discovery that could very well spell even more profit for us down the road. So what, precisely, are you protesting, Gril?"

Gril swallowed, and once again scratched his left nostril. "Well, when you put it that way, Controller, I guess -- nothing."

"Good. Keep an eye on the waste, and tell the core laborers to keep on their toes." Blinking a few times, she added, "And get someone to fix that damn arvat conduit -- I don't know what's worse, the haze or the smell."

"Yes, Controller." Gril returned to his console.

Kron shook his head and chuckled. "Were we ever that young?"

"I was," Marssi said. "But not you. When you were born, you were already a cranky old man." Placing an encouraging hand on her old friend's shoulder, she said, "We need to get the warp drive fixed. As soon as the last of the waste has gone through that hole, I want to get back home and file a claim on this little discovery of ours."

"The drive'll take at least a day or two to fix."

Marssi shrugged. "It'll be at least that long before all the the tanks are emptied."

"Good point," Kron said, and with a nod to Gril, sent the younger Malon down to engineering to surpervise the repairs.

Marssi turned back to her console, and watched as the first bit of waste material approached the event horizon of the hole and then disappeared from sight. Even if she wanted to know what was on the other side, she'd have a difficult time getting a proper sensor reading now, with all the radiation in the way.

Besides, she didn't want to know. She didn't care. She'd done her job. I can't wait to tell Ella about this, she thought with a smile. Her ten-year-old daughter always loved to hear stories about her mother's trips. Marssi predicted that this one -- where she defeated one of the most brutal foes imaginable and also made an astounding new discovery -- would quickly become Ella's favorite.

Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures, Inc.

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Meet the Author

Keith R.A. DeCandido was born and raised in New York City to a family of librarians. He has written over two dozen novels, as well as short stories, nonfiction, eBooks, and comic books, most of them in various media universes, among them Star Trek, World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Marvel Comics, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Serenity, Resident Evil, Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, Farscape, Xena, and Doctor Who. His original novel Dragon Precinct was published in 2004, and he's also edited several anthologies, among them the award-nominated Imaginings and two Star Trek anthologies. Keith is also a musician, having played percussion for the bands the Don't Quit Your Day Job Players, the Boogie Knights, and the Randy Bandits, as well as several solo acts. In what he laughingly calls his spare time, Keith follows the New York Yankees and practices kenshikai karate. He still lives in New York City with his girlfriend and two insane cats.

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