Star Trek The Next Generation #55 - Double Helix #5 - Double or Nothing

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Like a lethal bacillus coursing through the bloodstream of the galaxy, a fiendish master plan has spread death and terror across the 24th century -- until two heroic captains risk everything to stamp out the evil at its source!

For more than a decade, since the very beginning of the Starship Enterprise's™ mission, unknown enemies have unleashed a string of deadly biological weapons throughout the Alpha Quadrant, inflicting ghastly epidemics upon the Romulans, the Cardassians, ...

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Star Trek The Next Generation #55: Double Helix, Book Five.

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Overview

Like a lethal bacillus coursing through the bloodstream of the galaxy, a fiendish master plan has spread death and terror across the 24th century -- until two heroic captains risk everything to stamp out the evil at its source!

For more than a decade, since the very beginning of the Starship Enterprise's™ mission, unknown enemies have unleashed a string of deadly biological weapons throughout the Alpha Quadrant, inflicting ghastly epidemics upon the Romulans, the Cardassians, the Bajorans, and even the Federation. Now, at long last, Captain Jean-Luc Picard joins forces with Captain Mackenzie Calhoun of the Starship Excalibur to track down and confront the hidden architects of the plagues -- and avenge the deaths of thousands!


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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671034788
  • Publisher: Pocket Books/Star Trek
  • Publication date: 7/23/1999
  • Series: Star Trek - The Next Generation Series , #55
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 276
  • Product dimensions: 4.19 (w) x 6.78 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: From Now...

Doctor Elias Frobisher was 43 years and one day old, and he couldn't quite believe he had made it. When he woke up, he had to pinch himself to make certain that he had really managed to accomplish it. When someone had lived under a bizarre death sentence for the last decade or so, as he had, the achievement felt particularly noteworthy. He lay in his bed, breathing in the filtered air of the cone-shaped space station, but never had that air felt quite so sweet. It felt like a glorious day. Granted, concepts such as day and night were entirely subjective, created and controlled by the computer core of the station. There was neither sunrise nor sunset, and this was something that had taken Frobisher some time to get used to. He had been planet-bound most of his life, and the curious and unusual life winch existed in space was a difficult adjustment that Frobisher had made because he'd really had no other choice.

Quite simply, he'd had no other choice. He'd had to get away from the Guardian.

He took a long shower that morning, and felt that he had earned it. It was pure water rather than hypersonic, a rarity that Frobisher was revelling in that morning. As he did so, visions of the Guardian came to him unbidden, as they were wont to do. Frobisher shuddered, thinking about the hideous shadow he had lived under all these years.

Then he started to tremble more and more violently. He had lathered up his thinning brown hair, and the shampoo dribbled down into his eyes, but it barely registered upon him. The soap slipped from his hands, his legs went weak, and he sagged to the floor, still unable to control the spasms which had seizedhim. Paradoxically, he began to laugh. It was a bizarre sound, that choked laughter, a combination of chuckling and sobbing that grew louder and louder, so much so that it could be heard in the hallway outside his quarters. His assistant, Dr. David Kendrow, heard it, and started banging on the door Normally Kendrow, a dun, blond man, was overly mannered and reserved in his attitudes, but one wouldn't have known it at that point as he was fairly shouting, "Doctor Frobisher? Are you all right, sir?"

"Yes! Yes," Frobisher called back to him. "Yes, I'll...I'll be fine." It was all that Frobisher could do to pull himself together. He hadn't expected to react in that manner, but really, it was inevitable when one looked at it with hindsight. The amount of anxiety that had built up as he approached his 43rd birthday had been truly horrific. The knowing, and yet not knowing. That insane combination of certainty and doubt, warring within him as each passing day had brought him closer and closer to the inevitable...except, maybe not.

And he had made it. He had survived his birthday. It really was true, what they said: Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

He emerged from the shower and, as he towelled off, looked at the gut that had been building up on him. As the dreaded day had approached, he hadn't been bothering to exercise or take care of himself. He'd had a fatalistic attitude about him, and that was certainly understandable. But now the joke was on him, as was the extra flab. He was going to have to do something about working that off. After all, it wouldn't be particularly attractive to women.

Women. His face lit up as he dressed. Relationships. He had been afraid to begin any, because the prospect of condemning some poor woman to become an early widow. Oh, certainly he could have had a string of casual relationships that went nowhere. Love them and leave them, and rationalizing that, since he was a walking dead man, it was the only way that he could conduct his life. But he was a highly moral man, was Dr. Frobisher. Highly moral, and more than that: He knew that one woman after another, used and tossed aside, was simply not for him. He wanted companionship, he wanted someone who, he knew, was going to be there for him. He wanted someone to wake up to, someone who would cheerfully kiss him in the morning and loved him so much that it wouldn't bother her if he hadn't had a chance to brush his teeth yet. Someone he would be able to look at across the breakfast and smile at. Someone who wanted to spend a lifetime with him...a real lifetime, not the truncated thing that had been handed him.

Oh, and someone who was a brilliant engineer in the field of artificial intelligence and computerization, of course. That was a must as well.

There were a few likely possibilities, actually. To give himself some vague bit of hope, something to cling to even though he was certain that it was hopeless, Frobisher had had the Omega 9 run a scan of potential mates. It was unbelievably quaint, even absurd: Using a creation as infinitely advanced as the Omega 9 for the purpose of, essentially, computer dating, seemed absurd on its face. But he had done so nonetheless, and the list that had been drawn up had been quite impressive. Now that the dreaded day had passed, he was looking forward to trying to act upon the possibilities. As he headed to the lab, having had his customary quick breakfast, he patted the data chip in his pocket to which he had copied the information that Omega 9 had obtained for him. His mind was already racing with possibilities. He would pick the most likely prospect, "likely" being derived from personality profile, shared interests, age, background, etcetera. He'd subtly do some checking to see if she was otherwise involved and, if not, he would find a pretense to begin a correspondence with her. Hopefully, he would be able to develop it into something substantive and sufficiently personal that she would be prompted to come out to the Daystrom Station where he worked and meet with him.

And then...who knew? Who indeed knew?

"I knew," he said rather cheerfully to no one. "I knew, but I didn't know. But now I know, and it's great knowing and not knowing!"

He entered the lab, his lanky legs carrying him across it with a jaunty speed. Kendrow was already at work, but he was casting a watchful eye upon Frobisher "Good morning, David!" called Frobisher.

"Good...morning, sir." The surprise in his voice was unmstakeable. He wasn't used to Frobisher sounding so cheerful in the morning...or ever.

Frobisher glanced over the station log, and frowned slightly. "Some sort of glitch in the standard running program?" he asked.

"Yes, sir, I just noticed it. It's minor systems failures...so minor that we hadn't even been noticing when they'd been going down. I'm running diagnostics checks on them, sir. I'm hoping to get it locked down by this afternoon."

"Oh, you'll get it sorted out, Kendrow." He patted him on the shoulder. "I have the utmost confidence in you."

"Th -- thank you, Sir." Kendrow stared at him as if he were concerned that Frobisher had been replaced by a lookalike, lighthearted alien.

"Not used to seeing me this chipper, are you, Kendrow?" asked Frobisher.

"To be blunt...no, sir. I'm not."

Frobisher laughed, and then sighed to himself. "Between my attitude now and what you heard earlier...you must be somewhat puzzled, eh, Kendrow?"

"Yes, sir. I am, sir."

"Sit down, Kendrow."

Kendrow looked down at himself. "I am sitting, sir. Already, I mean."

"Oh. Yes, of course." Frobisher leaned against a console and smiled broadly. "I'm sorry, Kendrow," he said earnestly. "The truth is, this last week, leading up to the day I've dreaded for so long, seemed almost to fly by. Now I know I've been out of sorts the past few days...weeks..."

"Try months," Kendrow muttered, but then looked immediately apologetic.

Frobisher waved it off. "'Months' is probably more accurate, to be honest," he admitted. "And yesterday was probably the worst of all."

"Well, I have to say, your behavior was rather pensive considering it was your birthday. I know that some people become daunted by the prospect of turning forty or fifty...but forty-three." He shrugged. "It seemed...odd. You seemed to want to do everything you could to ignore it."

"Believe me, I did want to ignore it. Although I'm surprised that my parents did. Usually they send me a greeting on my birthday, but this year...nothing.

"Had you told them not to?"

"No. No, I kept my unease to myself...or at least I thought I did. But perhaps they picked up on unspoken signals nonetheless. Ah well...no use worrying about it now. You see...there's been a reason for my concerns. Do you know what I used to do, Kendrow? Before I joined Daystrom, I mean, to work on the Omega 9."

"You were involved in some sort of archaeology project, I think, sir."

"Not just some sort. This was THE project. The Guardian of Forever."

Kendrow blinked in surprise. "The time portal? I'd heard about that, but I'd almost thought it was a myth."

"Oh, it's not a myth, I assure you. It's real." Despite his newly achieved state of bliss, Frobisher shuddered slightly as he recalled the image of that cheerless place. It wasn't just the Guardian itself that so spooked him. He couldn't get out of his head that eerie, mournful howl of the wind that filtered through the remains of the ruined city around the Guardian. It was as if ghosts of a race long lost still haunted the place, laughing and taunting. "It's...all too real."

He was silent for a moment. Prompting him, Kendrow said, "And you studied it?"

"People...tend to come and go there," Frobisher told him. "Oh, they're excited at first. Word spreads, after all. And it's an irresistible proposition: Studying the past, seeing it unspool before you. How can anyone pass that up? And yet...people bum out, very, very quickly. Six months, a year at most, and suddenly you see complete turnover in the staff there. I didn't understand why. But now I do." He laughed softly to himself. "Now I do. It just...gets to you after a while."

Kendrow tilted his head slightly as he regarded the doctor. "What happened there, sir?"

"I...saw my future. At least, I thought I did."

"The future? But..." Kendrow shook his head. "I thought that the Guardian only shows the past, not the future."

"That was my understanding as well. That's what they told us, at any rate. But I will never forget it, nonetheless. I had been there two months ...well," and he smiled ruefully, "two months, seven days, eighteen hours. I was monitoring a playback on the Guardian. No two are exactly the same, you know. Even if you ask for the exact same scenario to be replayed, there's always slight variances in the scene. Some of them can be extremely minor...but they're there. That's one of the things we study: The reasons for it all. It truly supports the notion that time is in a constant state of flux.

"In any event, I was monitoring...and there was a rather fearsome ion storm overhead. Not low enough to be of any direct danger to me, but I was getting apprehensive just the same. In fact, I was even considering packing it in for the day. Still, I was doing my job, my tricorder picking up the events as they hurtled past on the time portal's screen.

"Suddenly, overhead, there was this...this burst of ionic energy. Despite the awesome artificial intelligence that the Guardian displays, it's still just a machine. Perhaps the most sophisticated machine that ever existed...aside from the Omega 9," he smiled, and then continued, "but a machine nonetheless. Perhaps the ion storm interfered with its working for just a moment...or perhaps it was my imagination all along...I couldn't be sure. But the screen flickered in a way I'd never seen before, and then I...saw it...or at least, thought I saw it..."

"Saw what?" When Frobisher didn't immediately continue, Kendrow repeated, "Saw what, sir?"

"A report. A news report...a printed one, actually. It flew by so fast, my eye barely registered it. And it said..." His mouth suddenly felt dry. He licked his lips. "It said, 'Elias Frobisher Killed on 43rd Birthday.'"

"You're joking."

"Do I look like I'm joking?" Even though the awful day was behind him, he still couldn't keep that feeling of dull terror completely out of his thoughts. He had lived with the knowledge for so long...and had never shared it with anyone. How could he have, after all, inflicted that upon another human being?

"No, sir, you certainly don't:' He let out a low whistle. "That's...truly awful. To be carrying that with you all this time. Are you sure of what you saw...?"

"No. That's the worst part. I wasn't sure, not completely. It happened so quickly and then it was gone. Not only that, but no matter how many times I played back my tricorder record of the event, there was no trace of it. My tricorder hadn't picked it up either. Then there was the 'knowledge' that the Guardian only played the past, not the future. Every credible, scientific measure that I had available to me only served to underscore the impossibility of what I was sure I'd witnessed. And yet..."

"You couldn't be sure."

"Could you?" he asked. Kendrow shook his head. "Well, neither could I. I couldn't help but wonder if I'd been given this...vision...for a purpose. Except what that purpose might have been, I could only guess. Was it a warning? A random attempt at torture? Was it something avoidable, or was I supposed to surrender to fate? I remember..." The recollection was painful to him, even after all this time. "My last day there, I stood in front of the Guardian and just screamed and kept on screaming, wanting to know what the purpose to all of it had been. And the thing just sat there, replying in one of its preprogrammed ways that it was there to be my guide. No man should know his fate, Kendrow, or the time of his demise...even the possible time.

"The events that I experienced on that world shaped -- 'distorted,' might be a better word -- the way in which I handled the rest of my life up to this point. I had no idea whether I had imagined it, whether it was to happen irrevocably or whether it was one of the assorted possibilities that trickled through the Guardian but wound up being swept away by the rivers of time. I spent about six months barely functioning as a human being before I pulled myself together enough to carry on with...well, with whatever it was that I was going to be left with.

"But you know what, Kendrow?"

"What, sir?"

Slowly he walked over to the interface console of Omega 9. The flashing pad blinked its hypnotically entrancing lights at him. The pale blue pattern was rather soothing to him. "if not for that experience...it's possible the Omega 9 might not exist. When your mind reaches a point where it can't function in its normal patterns, it seeks out new patterns. And my thoughts eventually brought me in the direction of the Omega 9. I saw...possibilities," he whispered the word. "Circuits, possibilities, revealed themselves to me, one unfolding upon another. And when I saw them, ignoring them was not an option. That's what brought me to the Daystrom Institute. The years hurtled past, Kendrow. I almost didn't notice them, because I was so busy working to produce the Omega 9."

"I just wish..." Kendrow began to say, but then he stopped.

"No, it's all right, Kendrow." He folded his arms and leaned back against a console. "What's on your mind?"

"Well...the top secret turn this entire project has taken." He gestured around bun, at the banks of computer circuitry and nannite growth technology that was in place. "It's...well, this outpost is fairly remote, sir. Somewhat lonely."

"I prefer it that way, Kendrow. My theories, my work is off the beaten path. I'd prefer that I remain that way as well. The fortunate thing about the Daystrom Institute is that they understand and respect the concept of creative vision. Once they're convinced that they're dealing with a true visionary ... such as myself, I modestly admit," and he laughed at the obvious pretentiousness of the viewpoint, "then they're willing to provide as much or as little help as required, as much or as little in terms of equipment as needed. And the precise working environment to foster the best work. I wish..." and he shook his head, "I wish I could have met Daystrom himself. Poor fellow.

What a tortured genius he was. That incident with the Enterprise a hundred years ago..."

"Sir...about this working environment..." He coughed politely. "To be honest, I haven't spoken to you about it since I first came here six months ago because of, well...your attitude and the tension that seemed to, frankly, ooze from every pore. But since we're being open and straightforward now, I feel inclined to ask...doesn't our presence here make us something of a target, sir? The Omega 9...?"

"Of course not." Frobisher laughed at the notion. "The work we've developed here is going to be made available to all. There's nothing for anyone to steal. And even if we did... we have enough internal defenses here to hold them off until help comes. And those defenses were built by very paranoid Daystrom executives who have the exact same mindset as you, Kendrow. You should be pleased...or maybe you should be afraid, I'm not quite sure." He clapped Kendrow on the shoulder. "Be of good cheer, Kendrow. I feel like I have a new lease on life. Tell you what: Let's track down that glitch you were talking about, and then we can actually take the rest of the day off from work. Have you put Omega 9 on the trail of this glitch?"

"Oh, sir, that's kind of like using photon torpedoes to kill an insect. It's just some sort of elusive little bug. Why waste the O-9's time on it?"

"Kendrow, for all its advancement, for all the potential it displays...it's still just a machine. It's not as if we're going to hurt its feelings or insult it by asking."

"Sir, perhaps..."

"Kendrow, for crying out loud, cheer up! Life's too short." He walked over to the Interface station and placed his hand against it.

"Interface activated," came the calm tone of the Omega 9. Despite the ominous, name of the computer itself, the machine's voice was that of a young female, not more than ten years old. One of the scientists back at the main institute, in the early days of the computer's development, had patterned the voice on his daughter's as a sort of birthday surprise for her. He had intended to change it subsequently, but Frobisher felt it was so charming that he opted to retain the voice for the Omega 9.

"Interface prepared," said Frobisher. "Activate nannotech for link."

He felt the familiar tingling along his palm. The most difficult thing he'd ever had to accomplish in the early days of the Omega 9 was develop the confidence to allow the machine to work as intended. It had taken something of a leap of faith for him, and he still saw it as the one possible drawback in the widespread spread acceptance of the Omega 9. But he hoped that that, too, would pass.

"Nannotech on line," the computer informed him. Already he could sense the computer's voice not outside of his mind, but within. "Link established."

"Doctor..." Kendrow seemed to be trying to get his attention.

But it was too late. Frobisher's mind was already deep within the Omega 9. He felt the usual, intoxicating rush that came to him at such tunes. It took an act of will for him to steady himself, to avoid being swept away into the morass of the complex machine's innermost workings. The nannotech helped keep his mind focused, and then he turned the Omega 9's formidable abilities to the fairly minor task at hand.

His mind plumbed the depths of the machine, information coming in from all over, giving Frobisher a link to every part of not only the computer, but the entire station.

At times such as this, Frobisher rarely had any true sense of time. Usually, he felt as if he were inside the machine for at least an hour, perhaps more. Invariably, though, he was there for less than a minute.

This time it was only seconds. But when he emerged from the machine, his eyes were wide and his face pale. Slowly he turned his gaze toward Kendrow. "What... have you done?" he whispered.

"Done, sir?" Kendrow appeared politely confused.

"You've...taken down our defenses. Slowly, gradually, subtly...done it in such a way that the computer detected no attempt at sabotage. Rerouted systems, drained away energy..."

Kendrow started to voice a protest, but one look from Frobisher was enough to silence him.

"...and your work...affected the chronometers," Frobisher continued, as if speaking from a place very far away. "You probably didn't even realize it. It was an accident, an unexpected side effect of your tampering. It sped the chronometer up. That's why time seemed to fly by. It wasn't just subjective. The computer core was actually malfunctioning, shortening hours and minutes, eventually days over the past week or so. At night, while we were sleeping, we lost even more time. At his point, we've misplaced about twelve hours. Which means..."

Kendrow's expression was one of frightened understanding. "I'm...I'm sorry..."

"Which means...today is still my birthday," Frobisher said tonelessly.

At that moment, the entire station shuddered as something smashed against the exterior. Frobisher, at one with Omega 9, felt the shock as if it had happened to him personally. Alarms screeched throughout the station, and the Omega 9 registered that a group of unknown beings had just materialized in one of the station's upper sections. There was a ship, a massive war vessel of some sort with utterly unknown markings, in orbit around the station. The sensors and early detection devices had all been taken off line, as had communications and weaponry.

So...here it was. His destiny, staring him in the face.

Oddly, he had never felt more calm. He had spent so many years worrying, wondering, angsting over his known-but-frightening future, that now that it had arrived, all the fear dissipated. Instead he marshalled his concentration and dove into the Omega 9 with all the speed and precision that he could muster. All the damage that Kendrow had done was laid out before him, and he had only seconds to choose what would be the most effective thing to undo. Shields? Too late. Weaponry? Likewise. That was all created to deal with potential intruders while they were still outside, but they already had unknown enemies rampaging through the station.

Communications. That was the only hope. Again, seconds were what remained to him...but a second for a computer is quite unlike a second for anyone else. Frobisher envisioned himself within the Omega 9, saw his hands moving through the circuitry like an electronic ghost. Like a father gently kissing a scrape on a child's knee in order to make it feel better, Frobisher untangled the knots of interference that Kendrow had tied. Kendrow, good lord, how could Kendrow have done this to him? He had hand-picked the man out of a field of twenty-seven applicants as the man who seemed most capable, most intelligent, who had the most on the ball. And Kendrow had betrayed him to these...to whoever these people were.

He had allowed his mind to wander. That was pure foolishness, something he should not be permitting himself to do. He had little enough time as it was.

Using the Omega 9, he punched through the comm snarl that Kendrow had created and immediately sent out a distress call. He didn't have to record it, didn't have to speak. His mind shouted into the computer, "This is Daystrom Station, we are under attack, repeat, we are under attack. Any Federation vessel in the area, please assist. This is Doctor Elias Frobisher of the Daystrom, Station, we are under attack, please assist..."

A comm message suddenly sprang into existence within the computer's program. That was fast, miraculously fast. Perhaps there might be a hope in hell of salvaging this situation yet. Frobisher's mind opened the message...

It was from Earth. It had been sent hours ago. There was an elderly couple, smiling at Frobisher. The man looked like an older version of Frobisher himself.

"Elias, darling! It's Mom and Dad! Happy birthday, son! We ran a little late, but this should still get to you in time, and we wouldn't want you to think we forgot your very special day!"

And suddenly Frobisher felt himself yanked out of the Omega 9. He fancied that, from very far away, he heard the alarmed cry of a young girl's voice...the voice of the Omega 9, pleading with him to come back, asking that she not be left alone.

Frobisher staggered, the nannites slipping away from him, scurrying back into their techno hidey-hole. The world around him appeared flat, one dimensional, as his senses fought to cope with reintegrating themselves with reality. The world snapped into two-dimensions, then three, and Frobisher found himself handled roughly by an alien being of undetermined origin. His skin was brown and leathery, and he had thick tusks jutting from beneath his upper lip.

There were several others nearby, a mixed bag of races, and one being from a race he did recognize, for they had been very much in the news lately. It was a Thallonian. He was very oddly built, however. His head seemed smaller in proportion to his massive body than it should have been. Frobisher attributed it to body armor.

Beg for your life, the suggestion came into his head. You might still get out of this. Beg. Beg to live.

Frobisher was not a fighter, not a hero, and not particularly brave. But he felt an anger, implacable and unstoppable, bubbling up and over. And he realized that all these years of living in fear, all the years of frustration, he had carried incredible resentment within him. The problem was, he had never had anyone to be angry with. No one had done anything to him. No one had forced the knowledge upon him. He had simply stumbled upon it, like a scientist out to probe the secrets of the universe and inadvertently finding more than he had bargained for.

But he resented it nonetheless. Why had the fates done this to him? What in the world could he have possibly done to deserve this awful foreknowledge of the time of his demise? He had been a good person his entire life. Never cheated anyone, never tried to hurt anyone that he knew of. And yet he had been handed this hideously raw deal.

For years, for more years than he cared to think about, he had wanted someone, anyone he could strike against. A target upon which he could vent his anger, anger which had grown exponentially as years had passed. Wasted, wasted years...

The being who was leering over him was bigger, broader, infinitely stronger than he. It was the kind of situation where, under normal circumstances, Frobisher would have put up his hands, surrendered, and prayed...

...and given over control of his life one more time.

In his mind's eye, he saw the Guardian stating at him. That thing, that monster, that machine had cast a long shadow over so much of his life. Built by beings unknown, functioning in ways no one knew. The Andorians had their own name for it: The T'Sh'Iar, which meant "God's Window."

God had looked through the window, seen Frobisher peering through, and had punished him for absolutely no reason at all. Taken away his destiny by sadistically handing it to him.

Frobisher saw the blaster hanging at the hip of the alien with the brown, leathery skin, the being who looked like a giant serpent. There was a throbbing in Frobisher's head. The MR red alien nearby was addressing him, but the pounding in his head drowned it all out. All the rage, all the anger, everything that had ever infuriated him over the hopeless wreck that his life had become as time's inexorable march had carried him unwillingly toward his doom, it all exploded from him at once.

There was no way that Frobisher should have been a threat to the serpent man, no way. The serpent man was paying so little attention to the possibility of Frobisher as a threat that he never even saw the trembling fist that Frobisher's fingers had contracted into. Furthermore, his skin was so hard that even if Frobisher were to land a punch, he shouldn't even have felt it.

Frobisher's years of anger congealed into that fist, and without listening to a word that the red-skinned alien was saying, he spun and swung his fist into a powerful roundhouse. In his entire adult life -- for that matter, throughout his childhood and adolescence -- he had never thrown a punch in his life. The roundhouse was his very first.

It was perfect.

It caught the serpent man squarely in his lantern jaw. The impact immediately broke Frobisher's knuckles. It didn't matter. Frobisher never even felt it. But the serpent man most certainly felt the blow as his head snapped around and he let out a startled squeal that seemed totally at odds with his hulking demeanor. He staggered, and that was all the opening Frobisher needed. He yanked the blaster out of the holster at the serpent man's side, swung it around and aimed it squarely at the red-skinned man who was clearly the leader The red-skinned man looked mildly surprised.

It was the single most exultant moment in all of Frobisher's life. Given a half second more, he would have fired the blaster.

He never saw the blow from the serpent man coming. The alien swung his fist like a club, and it caved in the side of Frobisher's head. His arm swung wide. His finger squeezed spasmodically on the trigger and the shot went wide, exploding harmlessly against the far wall. Frobisher collapsed, his head thudding to the floor. He heard a sort of distant buzzing, saw a thick liquid dripping in front of his eyes that he did not recognize as his own blood. He reached out a hand, and it touched something warm. He couldn't tell what it was, but a female voice seemed to be singing to him.

His lips puckered together. He drew in a breath with effort, and then with even more effort expelled it. It rattled from his throat and out through his mouth, and in his mind's eye he saw candles flickering in front of him. With the gust of breath from his lungs, the flames disappeared. All out at once.

I hope I get my wish, thought Frobisher as he died.

Zolon Darg stared at the corpse on the floor, and then slowly levelled his gaze at Shunabo. Shunabo, for his part, seemed extremely irritated with Kendrow. The brown skinned, leathery Shunabo approached Kendrow with a stride that was an odd combination of swagger and slink. "You said he wouldn't be a problem," Shunabo said, his irritation causing him to over enunciate every syllable. "You told us -- you told me -- that he was a quiet, reserved, run-of-the-mill human who wouldn't offer up the slightest resistance." His soft voice began to get louder. "Oddly, you didn't happen to mention that he had a punch like a berserker Klingon, or that he was capable of coming within a hair of shooting Zolon Darg's head off!"

In point of fact, Zolon Darg knew that Shunabo was right. He had been caught completely flat-footed, and this little scientist, this no one, this weakling, this nothing, had nearly succeeded in accomplishing what some of the greatest and most accomplished bounty hunters in two quadrants had not. Darg had gotten sloppy, very, very sloppy, and Shunabo had saved his ass.

It was a situation that had to be addressed immediately.

In two quick steps, Darg was directly behind Shunabo. He slapped a hand around Shunabo's chest, yanked him backward, grabbed the top of his head and twisted quickly. The sound of Shunabo's neck snapping echoed through the suddenly silent lab.

There was still a flickering of light in Shunabo's eyes as Darg snarled in his ear, "I was in no danger. I could have handled him.


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First Chapter

Chapter One: From Now... Doctor Elias Frobisher was 43 years and one day old, and he couldn't quite believe he had made it. When he woke up, he had to pinch himself to make certain that he had really managed to accomplish it. When someone had lived under a bizarre death sentence for the last decade or so, as he had, the achievement felt particularly noteworthy. He lay in his bed, breathing in the filtered air of the cone-shaped space station, but never had that air felt quite so sweet. It felt like a glorious day. Granted, concepts such as day and night were entirely subjective, created and controlled by the computer core of the station. There was neither sunrise nor sunset, and this was something that had taken Frobisher some time to get used to. He had been planet-bound most of his life, and the curious and unusual life winch existed in space was a difficult adjustment that Frobisher had made because he'd really had no other choice.

Quite simply, he'd had no other choice. He'd had to get away from the Guardian.

He took a long shower that morning, and felt that he had earned it. It was pure water rather than hypersonic, a rarity that Frobisher was revelling in that morning. As he did so, visions of the Guardian came to him unbidden, as they were wont to do. Frobisher shuddered, thinking about the hideous shadow he had lived under all these years.

Then he started to tremble more and more violently. He had lathered up his thinning brown hair, and the shampoo dribbled down into his eyes, but it barely registered upon him. The soap slipped from his hands, his legs went weak, and he sagged to the floor, still unable to control the spasms which had seized him. Paradoxically, he began to laugh. It was a bizarre sound, that choked laughter, a combination of chuckling and sobbing that grew louder and louder, so much so that it could be heard in the hallway outside his quarters. His assistant, Dr. David Kendrow, heard it, and started banging on the door Normally Kendrow, a dun, blond man, was overly mannered and reserved in his attitudes, but one wouldn't have known it at that point as he was fairly shouting, "Doctor Frobisher? Are you all right, sir?"

"Yes! Yes," Frobisher called back to him. "Yes, I'll...I'll be fine." It was all that Frobisher could do to pull himself together. He hadn't expected to react in that manner, but really, it was inevitable when one looked at it with hindsight. The amount of anxiety that had built up as he approached his 43rd birthday had been truly horrific. The knowing, and yet not knowing. That insane combination of certainty and doubt, warring within him as each passing day had brought him closer and closer to the inevitable...except, maybe not.

And he had made it. He had survived his birthday. It really was true, what they said: Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

He emerged from the shower and, as he towelled off, looked at the gut that had been building up on him. As the dreaded day had approached, he hadn't been bothering to exercise or take care of himself. He'd had a fatalistic attitude about him, and that was certainly understandable. But now the joke was on him, as was the extra flab. He was going to have to do something about working that off. After all, it wouldn't be particularly attractive to women.

Women. His face lit up as he dressed. Relationships. He had been afraid to begin any, because the prospect of condemning some poor woman to become an early widow. Oh, certainly he could have had a string of casual relationships that went nowhere. Love them and leave them, and rationalizing that, since he was a walking dead man, it was the only way that he could conduct his life. But he was a highly moral man, was Dr. Frobisher. Highly moral, and more than that: He knew that one woman after another, used and tossed aside, was simply not for him. He wanted companionship, he wanted someone who, he knew, was going to be there for him. He wanted someone to wake up to, someone who would cheerfully kiss him in the morning and loved him so much that it wouldn't bother her if he hadn't had a chance to brush his teeth yet. Someone he would be able to look at across the breakfast and smile at. Someone who wanted to spend a lifetime with him...a real lifetime, not the truncated thing that had been handed him.

Oh, and someone who was a brilliant engineer in the field of artificial intelligence and computerization, of course. That was a must as well.

There were a few likely possibilities, actually. To give himself some vague bit of hope, something to cling to even though he was certain that it was hopeless, Frobisher had had the Omega 9 run a scan of potential mates. It was unbelievably quaint, even absurd: Using a creation as infinitely advanced as the Omega 9 for the purpose of, essentially, computer dating, seemed absurd on its face. But he had done so nonetheless, and the list that had been drawn up had been quite impressive. Now that the dreaded day had passed, he was looking forward to trying to act upon the possibilities. As he headed to the lab, having had his customary quick breakfast, he patted the data chip in his pocket to which he had copied the information that Omega 9 had obtained for him. His mind was already racing with possibilities. He would pick the most likely prospect, "likely" being derived from personality profile, shared interests, age, background, etcetera. He'd subtly do some checking to see if she was otherwise involved and, if not, he would find a pretense to begin a correspondence with her. Hopefully, he would be able to develop it into something substantive and sufficiently personal that she would be prompted to come out to the Daystrom Station where he worked and meet with him.

And then...who knew? Who indeed knew?

"I knew," he said rather cheerfully to no one. "I knew, but I didn't know. But now I know, and it's great knowing and not knowing!"

He entered the lab, his lanky legs carrying him across it with a jaunty speed. Kendrow was already at work, but he was casting a watchful eye upon Frobisher "Good morning, David!" called Frobisher.

"Good...morning, sir." The surprise in his voice was unmstakeable. He wasn't used to Frobisher sounding so cheerful in the morning...or ever.

Frobisher glanced over the station log, and frowned slightly. "Some sort of glitch in the standard running program?" he asked.

"Yes, sir, I just noticed it. It's minor systems failures...so minor that we hadn't even been noticing when they'd been going down. I'm running diagnostics checks on them, sir. I'm hoping to get it locked down by this afternoon."

"Oh, you'll get it sorted out, Kendrow." He patted him on the shoulder. "I have the utmost confidence in you."

"Th -- thank you, Sir." Kendrow stared at him as if he were concerned that Frobisher had been replaced by a lookalike, lighthearted alien.

"Not used to seeing me this chipper, are you, Kendrow?" asked Frobisher.

"To be blunt...no, sir. I'm not."

Frobisher laughed, and then sighed to himself. "Between my attitude now and what you heard earlier...you must be somewhat puzzled, eh, Kendrow?"

"Yes, sir. I am, sir."

"Sit down, Kendrow."

Kendrow looked down at himself. "I am sitting, sir. Already, I mean."

"Oh. Yes, of course." Frobisher leaned against a console and smiled broadly. "I'm sorry, Kendrow," he said earnestly. "The truth is, this last week, leading up to the day I've dreaded for so long, seemed almost to fly by. Now I know I've been out of sorts the past few days...weeks..."

"Try months," Kendrow muttered, but then looked immediately apologetic.

Frobisher waved it off. "'Months' is probably more accurate, to be honest," he admitted. "And yesterday was probably the worst of all."

"Well, I have to say, your behavior was rather pensive considering it was your birthday. I know that some people become daunted by the prospect of turning forty or fifty...but forty-three." He shrugged. "It seemed...odd. You seemed to want to do everything you could to ignore it."

"Believe me, I did want to ignore it. Although I'm surprised that my parents did. Usually they send me a greeting on my birthday, but this year...nothing.

"Had you told them not to?"

"No. No, I kept my unease to myself...or at least I thought I did. But perhaps they picked up on unspoken signals nonetheless. Ah well...no use worrying about it now. You see...there's been a reason for my concerns. Do you know what I used to do, Kendrow? Before I joined Daystrom, I mean, to work on the Omega 9."

"You were involved in some sort of archaeology project, I think, sir."

"Not just some sort. This was THE project. The Guardian of Forever."

Kendrow blinked in surprise. "The time portal? I'd heard about that, but I'd almost thought it was a myth."

"Oh, it's not a myth, I assure you. It's real." Despite his newly achieved state of bliss, Frobisher shuddered slightly as he recalled the image of that cheerless place. It wasn't just the Guardian itself that so spooked him. He couldn't get out of his head that eerie, mournful howl of the wind that filtered through the remains of the ruined city around the Guardian. It was as if ghosts of a race long lost still haunted the place, laughing and taunting. "It's...all too real."

He was silent for a moment. Prompting him, Kendrow said, "And you studied it?"

"People...tend to come and go there," Frobisher told him. "Oh, they're excited at first. Word spreads, after all. And it's an irresistible proposition: Studying the past, seeing it unspool before you. How can anyone pass that up? And yet...people bum out, very, very quickly. Six months, a year at most, and suddenly you see complete turnover in the staff there. I didn't understand why. But now I do." He laughed softly to himself. "Now I do. It just...gets to you after a while."

Kendrow tilted his head slightly as he regarded the doctor. "What happened there, sir?"

"I...saw my future. At least, I thought I did."

"The future? But..." Kendrow shook his head. "I thought that the Guardian only shows the past, not the future."

"That was my understanding as well. That's what they told us, at any rate. But I will never forget it, nonetheless. I had been there two months ...well," and he smiled ruefully, "two months, seven days, eighteen hours. I was monitoring a playback on the Guardian. No two are exactly the same, you know. Even if you ask for the exact same scenario to be replayed, there's always slight variances in the scene. Some of them can be extremely minor...but they're there. That's one of the things we study: The reasons for it all. It truly supports the notion that time is in a constant state of flux.

"In any event, I was monitoring...and there was a rather fearsome ion storm overhead. Not low enough to be of any direct danger to me, but I was getting apprehensive just the same. In fact, I was even considering packing it in for the day. Still, I was doing my job, my tricorder picking up the events as they hurtled past on the time portal's screen.

"Suddenly, overhead, there was this...this burst of ionic energy. Despite the awesome artificial intelligence that the Guardian displays, it's still just a machine. Perhaps the most sophisticated machine that ever existed...aside from the Omega 9," he smiled, and then continued, "but a machine nonetheless. Perhaps the ion storm interfered with its working for just a moment...or perhaps it was my imagination all along...I couldn't be sure. But the screen flickered in a way I'd never seen before, and then I...saw it...or at least, thought I saw it..."

"Saw what?" When Frobisher didn't immediately continue, Kendrow repeated, "Saw what, sir?"

"A report. A news report...a printed one, actually. It flew by so fast, my eye barely registered it. And it said..." His mouth suddenly felt dry. He licked his lips. "It said, 'Elias Frobisher Killed on 43rd Birthday.'"

"You're joking."

"Do I look like I'm joking?" Even though the awful day was behind him, he still couldn't keep that feeling of dull terror completely out of his thoughts. He had lived with the knowledge for so long...and had never shared it with anyone. How could he have, after all, inflicted that upon another human being?

"No, sir, you certainly don't:' He let out a low whistle. "That's...truly awful. To be carrying that with you all this time. Are you sure of what you saw...?"

"No. That's the worst part. I wasn't sure, not completely. It happened so quickly and then it was gone. Not only that, but no matter how many times I played back my tricorder record of the event, there was no trace of it. My tricorder hadn't picked it up either. Then there was the 'knowledge' that the Guardian only played the past, not the future. Every credible, scientific measure that I had available to me only served to underscore the impossibility of what I was sure I'd witnessed. And yet..."

"You couldn't be sure."

"Could you?" he asked. Kendrow shook his head. "Well, neither could I. I couldn't help but wonder if I'd been given this...vision...for a purpose. Except what that purpose might have been, I could only guess. Was it a warning? A random attempt at torture? Was it something avoidable, or was I supposed to surrender to fate? I remember..." The recollection was painful to him, even after all this time. "My last day there, I stood in front of the Guardian and just screamed and kept on screaming, wanting to know what the purpose to all of it had been. And the thing just sat there, replying in one of its preprogrammed ways that it was there to be my guide. No man should know his fate, Kendrow, or the time of his demise...even the possible time.

"The events that I experienced on that world shaped -- 'distorted,' might be a better word -- the way in which I handled the rest of my life up to this point. I had no idea whether I had imagined it, whether it was to happen irrevocably or whether it was one of the assorted possibilities that trickled through the Guardian but wound up being swept away by the rivers of time. I spent about six months barely functioning as a human being before I pulled myself together enough to carry on with...well, with whatever it was that I was going to be left with.

"But you know what, Kendrow?"

"What, sir?"

Slowly he walked over to the interface console of Omega 9. The flashing pad blinked its hypnotically entrancing lights at him. The pale blue pattern was rather soothing to him. "if not for that experience...it's possible the Omega 9 might not exist. When your mind reaches a point where it can't function in its normal patterns, it seeks out new patterns. And my thoughts eventually brought me in the direction of the Omega 9. I saw...possibilities," he whispered the word. "Circuits, possibilities, revealed themselves to me, one unfolding upon another. And when I saw them, ignoring them was not an option. That's what brought me to the Daystrom Institute. The years hurtled past, Kendrow. I almost didn't notice them, because I was so busy working to produce the Omega 9."

"I just wish..." Kendrow began to say, but then he stopped.

"No, it's all right, Kendrow." He folded his arms and leaned back against a console. "What's on your mind?"

"Well...the top secret turn this entire project has taken." He gestured around bun, at the banks of computer circuitry and nannite growth technology that was in place. "It's...well, this outpost is fairly remote, sir. Somewhat lonely."

"I prefer it that way, Kendrow. My theories, my work is off the beaten path. I'd prefer that I remain that way as well. The fortunate thing about the Daystrom Institute is that they understand and respect the concept of creative vision. Once they're convinced that they're dealing with a true visionary ... such as myself, I modestly admit," and he laughed at the obvious pretentiousness of the viewpoint, "then they're willing to provide as much or as little help as required, as much or as little in terms of equipment as needed. And the precise working environment to foster the best work. I wish..." and he shook his head, "I wish I could have met Daystrom himself. Poor fellow. What a tortured genius he was. That incident with the Enterprise a hundred years ago..."

"Sir...about this working environment..." He coughed politely. "To be honest, I haven't spoken to you about it since I first came here six months ago because of, well...your attitude and the tension that seemed to, frankly, ooze from every pore. But since we're being open and straightforward now, I feel inclined to ask...doesn't our presence here make us something of a target, sir? The Omega 9...?"

"Of course not." Frobisher laughed at the notion. "The work we've developed here is going to be made available to all. There's nothing for anyone to steal. And even if we did... we have enough internal defenses here to hold them off until help comes. And those defenses were built by very paranoid Daystrom executives who have the exact same mindset as you, Kendrow. You should be pleased...or maybe you should be afraid, I'm not quite sure." He clapped Kendrow on the shoulder. "Be of good cheer, Kendrow. I feel like I have a new lease on life. Tell you what: Let's track down that glitch you were talking about, and then we can actually take the rest of the day off from work. Have you put Omega 9 on the trail of this glitch?"

"Oh, sir, that's kind of like using photon torpedoes to kill an insect. It's just some sort of elusive little bug. Why waste the O-9's time on it?"

"Kendrow, for all its advancement, for all the potential it displays...it's still just a machine. It's not as if we're going to hurt its feelings or insult it by asking."

"Sir, perhaps..."

"Kendrow, for crying out loud, cheer up! Life's too short." He walked over to the Interface station and placed his hand against it.

"Interface activated," came the calm tone of the Omega 9. Despite the ominous, name of the computer itself, the machine's voice was that of a young female, not more than ten years old. One of the scientists back at the main institute, in the early days of the computer's development, had patterned the voice on his daughter's as a sort of birthday surprise for her. He had intended to change it subsequently, but Frobisher felt it was so charming that he opted to retain the voice for the Omega 9.

"Interface prepared," said Frobisher. "Activate nannotech for link."

He felt the familiar tingling along his palm. The most difficult thing he'd ever had to accomplish in the early days of the Omega 9 was develop the confidence to allow the machine to work as intended. It had taken something of a leap of faith for him, and he still saw it as the one possible drawback in the widespread spread acceptance of the Omega 9. But he hoped that that, too, would pass.

"Nannotech on line," the computer informed him. Already he could sense the computer's voice not outside of his mind, but within. "Link established."

"Doctor..." Kendrow seemed to be trying to get his attention.

But it was too late. Frobisher's mind was already deep within the Omega 9. He felt the usual, intoxicating rush that came to him at such tunes. It took an act of will for him to steady himself, to avoid being swept away into the morass of the complex machine's innermost workings. The nannotech helped keep his mind focused, and then he turned the Omega 9's formidable abilities to the fairly minor task at hand.

His mind plumbed the depths of the machine, information coming in from all over, giving Frobisher a link to every part of not only the computer, but the entire station.

At times such as this, Frobisher rarely had any true sense of time. Usually, he felt as if he were inside the machine for at least an hour, perhaps more. Invariably, though, he was there for less than a minute.

This time it was only seconds. But when he emerged from the machine, his eyes were wide and his face pale. Slowly he turned his gaze toward Kendrow. "What... have you done?" he whispered.

"Done, sir?" Kendrow appeared politely confused.

"You've...taken down our defenses. Slowly, gradually, subtly...done it in such a way that the computer detected no attempt at sabotage. Rerouted systems, drained away energy..."

Kendrow started to voice a protest, but one look from Frobisher was enough to silence him.

"...and your work...affected the chronometers," Frobisher continued, as if speaking from a place very far away. "You probably didn't even realize it. It was an accident, an unexpected side effect of your tampering. It sped the chronometer up. That's why time seemed to fly by. It wasn't just subjective. The computer core was actually malfunctioning, shortening hours and minutes, eventually days over the past week or so. At night, while we were sleeping, we lost even more time. At his point, we've misplaced about twelve hours. Which means..."

Kendrow's expression was one of frightened understanding. "I'm...I'm sorry..."

"Which means...today is still my birthday," Frobisher said tonelessly.

At that moment, the entire station shuddered as something smashed against the exterior. Frobisher, at one with Omega 9, felt the shock as if it had happened to him personally. Alarms screeched throughout the station, and the Omega 9 registered that a group of unknown beings had just materialized in one of the station's upper sections. There was a ship, a massive war vessel of some sort with utterly unknown markings, in orbit around the station. The sensors and early detection devices had all been taken off line, as had communications and weaponry.

So...here it was. His destiny, staring him in the face.

Oddly, he had never felt more calm. He had spent so many years worrying, wondering, angsting over his known-but-frightening future, that now that it had arrived, all the fear dissipated. Instead he marshalled his concentration and dove into the Omega 9 with all the speed and precision that he could muster. All the damage that Kendrow had done was laid out before him, and he had only seconds to choose what would be the most effective thing to undo. Shields? Too late. Weaponry? Likewise. That was all created to deal with potential intruders while they were still outside, but they already had unknown enemies rampaging through the station.

Communications. That was the only hope. Again, seconds were what remained to him...but a second for a computer is quite unlike a second for anyone else. Frobisher envisioned himself within the Omega 9, saw his hands moving through the circuitry like an electronic ghost. Like a father gently kissing a scrape on a child's knee in order to make it feel better, Frobisher untangled the knots of interference that Kendrow had tied. Kendrow, good lord, how could Kendrow have done this to him? He had hand-picked the man out of a field of twenty-seven applicants as the man who seemed most capable, most intelligent, who had the most on the ball. And Kendrow had betrayed him to these...to whoever these people were.

He had allowed his mind to wander. That was pure foolishness, something he should not be permitting himself to do. He had little enough time as it was.

Using the Omega 9, he punched through the comm snarl that Kendrow had created and immediately sent out a distress call. He didn't have to record it, didn't have to speak. His mind shouted into the computer, "This is Daystrom Station, we are under attack, repeat, we are under attack. Any Federation vessel in the area, please assist. This is Doctor Elias Frobisher of the Daystrom, Station, we are under attack, please assist..."

A comm message suddenly sprang into existence within the computer's program. That was fast, miraculously fast. Perhaps there might be a hope in hell of salvaging this situation yet. Frobisher's mind opened the message...

It was from Earth. It had been sent hours ago. There was an elderly couple, smiling at Frobisher. The man looked like an older version of Frobisher himself.

"Elias, darling! It's Mom and Dad! Happy birthday, son! We ran a little late, but this should still get to you in time, and we wouldn't want you to think we forgot your very special day!"

And suddenly Frobisher felt himself yanked out of the Omega 9. He fancied that, from very far away, he heard the alarmed cry of a young girl's voice...the voice of the Omega 9, pleading with him to come back, asking that she not be left alone.

Frobisher staggered, the nannites slipping away from him, scurrying back into their techno hidey-hole. The world around him appeared flat, one dimensional, as his senses fought to cope with reintegrating themselves with reality. The world snapped into two-dimensions, then three, and Frobisher found himself handled roughly by an alien being of undetermined origin. His skin was brown and leathery, and he had thick tusks jutting from beneath his upper lip.

There were several others nearby, a mixed bag of races, and one being from a race he did recognize, for they had been very much in the news lately. It was a Thallonian. He was very oddly built, however. His head seemed smaller in proportion to his massive body than it should have been. Frobisher attributed it to body armor.

Beg for your life, the suggestion came into his head. You might still get out of this. Beg. Beg to live.

Frobisher was not a fighter, not a hero, and not particularly brave. But he felt an anger, implacable and unstoppable, bubbling up and over. And he realized that all these years of living in fear, all the years of frustration, he had carried incredible resentment within him. The problem was, he had never had anyone to be angry with. No one had done anything to him. No one had forced the knowledge upon him. He had simply stumbled upon it, like a scientist out to probe the secrets of the universe and inadvertently finding more than he had bargained for.

But he resented it nonetheless. Why had the fates done this to him? What in the world could he have possibly done to deserve this awful foreknowledge of the time of his demise? He had been a good person his entire life. Never cheated anyone, never tried to hurt anyone that he knew of. And yet he had been handed this hideously raw deal.

For years, for more years than he cared to think about, he had wanted someone, anyone he could strike against. A target upon which he could vent his anger, anger which had grown exponentially as years had passed. Wasted, wasted years...

The being who was leering over him was bigger, broader, infinitely stronger than he. It was the kind of situation where, under normal circumstances, Frobisher would have put up his hands, surrendered, and prayed...

...and given over control of his life one more time.

In his mind's eye, he saw the Guardian stating at him. That thing, that monster, that machine had cast a long shadow over so much of his life. Built by beings unknown, functioning in ways no one knew. The Andorians had their own name for it: The T'Sh'Iar, which meant "God's Window."

God had looked through the window, seen Frobisher peering through, and had punished him for absolutely no reason at all. Taken away his destiny by sadistically handing it to him.

Frobisher saw the blaster hanging at the hip of the alien with the brown, leathery skin, the being who looked like a giant serpent. There was a throbbing in Frobisher's head. The MR red alien nearby was addressing him, but the pounding in his head drowned it all out. All the rage, all the anger, everything that had ever infuriated him over the hopeless wreck that his life had become as time's inexorable march had carried him unwillingly toward his doom, it all exploded from him at once.

There was no way that Frobisher should have been a threat to the serpent man, no way. The serpent man was paying so little attention to the possibility of Frobisher as a threat that he never even saw the trembling fist that Frobisher's fingers had contracted into. Furthermore, his skin was so hard that even if Frobisher were to land a punch, he shouldn't even have felt it.

Frobisher's years of anger congealed into that fist, and without listening to a word that the red-skinned alien was saying, he spun and swung his fist into a powerful roundhouse. In his entire adult life -- for that matter, throughout his childhood and adolescence -- he had never thrown a punch in his life. The roundhouse was his very first.

It was perfect.

It caught the serpent man squarely in his lantern jaw. The impact immediately broke Frobisher's knuckles. It didn't matter. Frobisher never even felt it. But the serpent man most certainly felt the blow as his head snapped around and he let out a startled squeal that seemed totally at odds with his hulking demeanor. He staggered, and that was all the opening Frobisher needed. He yanked the blaster out of the holster at the serpent man's side, swung it around and aimed it squarely at the red-skinned man who was clearly the leader

The red-skinned man looked mildly surprised.

It was the single most exultant moment in all of Frobisher's life. Given a half second more, he would have fired the blaster.

He never saw the blow from the serpent man coming. The alien swung his fist like a club, and it caved in the side of Frobisher's head. His arm swung wide. His finger squeezed spasmodically on the trigger and the shot went wide, exploding harmlessly against the far wall. Frobisher collapsed, his head thudding to the floor. He heard a sort of distant buzzing, saw a thick liquid dripping in front of his eyes that he did not recognize as his own blood. He reached out a hand, and it touched something warm. He couldn't tell what it was, but a female voice seemed to be singing to him.

His lips puckered together. He drew in a breath with effort, and then with even more effort expelled it. It rattled from his throat and out through his mouth, and in his mind's eye he saw candles flickering in front of him. With the gust of breath from his lungs, the flames disappeared. All out at once.

I hope I get my wish, thought Frobisher as he died.

Zolon Darg stared at the corpse on the floor, and then slowly levelled his gaze at Shunabo. Shunabo, for his part, seemed extremely irritated with Kendrow. The brown skinned, leathery Shunabo approached Kendrow with a stride that was an odd combination of swagger and slink. "You said he wouldn't be a problem," Shunabo said, his irritation causing him to over enunciate every syllable. "You told us -- you told me -- that he was a quiet, reserved, run-of-the-mill human who wouldn't offer up the slightest resistance." His soft voice began to get louder. "Oddly, you didn't happen to mention that he had a punch like a berserker Klingon, or that he was capable of coming within a hair of shooting Zolon Darg's head off!"

In point of fact, Zolon Darg knew that Shunabo was right. He had been caught completely flat-footed, and this little scientist, this no one, this weakling, this nothing, had nearly succeeded in accomplishing what some of the greatest and most accomplished bounty hunters in two quadrants had not. Darg had gotten sloppy, very, very sloppy, and Shunabo had saved his ass.

It was a situation that had to be addressed immediately.

In two quick steps, Darg was directly behind Shunabo. He slapped a hand around Shunabo's chest, yanked him backward, grabbed the top of his head and twisted quickly. The sound of Shunabo's neck snapping echoed through the suddenly silent lab.

There was still a flickering of light in Shunabo's eyes as Darg snarled in his ear, "I was in no danger. I could have handled him. And you were under specific instructions to keep Frobisher alive." That last, at least, was accurate, and really, in the final analysis, one point was all that was necessary. Zolon Darg spread wide his arms and Shunabo sank to the floor. Before Shunabo even landed, Darg turned away from him disdainfully. He towered over Kendrow, and he could see that Kendrow's legs were trembling. Kendrow appeared to be keeping himself standing by bracing himself against a table.

"Are you going to be able to do the job in Frobisher's place?" he demanded.

Kendrow's mouth moved, but nothing audible came forth. Darg scowled in a manner that seemed to suck the light right out of the lab. "Well?" continued Darg. "Are you capable of speech at all?"

"Probably not at the moment, Zolon."

The voice behind them in contrast to the increasing bellow of Darg, was remarkably mild. The individual to whom it belonged likewise seemed mild in appearance. He was a Thallonian like Zolon, but whereas Zolon Darg was massive, the newcomer appeared quite slender, although it was hard to tell since he was wearing fairly loose black and purple robes. He had a neatly trimmed, yellowing beard, which indicated his age to anyone who happened to know that Thallonian hair tended to yellow with age rather than turn gray or white, as occurred with humans. His face was carefully inscrutable. Only his eyes seemed to bum with an inner light. The rest of his presence was so minimal that one's gaze could easily have passed right over him.

"Is that a fact, General Thul?" Darg said. But despite the defiant sound of the words, there was nothing in his tone that was challenging. It wasn't out of fear, of course. It was more from a sense of respect. And it was quite possible that General Gerrid Thul was the one individual in the galaxy for whom Darg was capable of showing that sort of deference.

"Well, look at the poor man," Thul said. He crossed the room toward Kendrow, and didn't seem to walk so much as glide. "You seem to have scared him terribly. Am I correct, sir?"

Kendrow slowly nodded.

"There? You see?" The General clucked sympathetically. "You know, Darg...you used to be a much calmer, understanding individual. The difficulties you've encountered in the past years have not mellowed you. You must learn to be calmer. You will live longer."

Darg smiled in a rather mirthless way. "I shall be sure to remember that."

"See that you do. Now, Mr...Kendrow, is it?" When Kendrow nodded, the one called Gerrid Thul continued, "Mr. Kendrow, you have been paid a significant amount to cooperate with us, have you not."

"Yes, sir. I have, sir."

"Articulate speech. You are capable of articulate speech. That is good, that is very good. Now then, Mr. Kendrow...since the good Doctor here," and he tapped Frobisher's corpse with the toe of his boot, "is not in any condition to provide assistance to us, it is important to know whether you are going to be able to continue in his stead."

"I'm..." He cleared his throat. "Do you really want an honest answer?"

General Thul smiled in an almost paternal fashion. "Honesty is always to be preferred."

"Truthfully, I'm not sure. I tried to familiarize myself with all aspects of his work, but the Omega 9 was such a uniquely personal, and truly amazing, piece of work...I can't pretend that I know or understand all the parameters and aspects that he brought to it. I know and understand the basic interface options, I can program the -- "

Thul stopped him with a casual gesture. "It is not necessary to go into details, Mr. Kendrow. Your honesty is appreciated. Is it safe to assume that you can aid us in transporting the key components of the Omega 9 to our ship, and that you will, at the very least, give us your best effort in adapting and understanding the possibilities this amazing device provides?"

Kendrow's head bobbed so eagerly that it seemed as if it was about to tumble off his shoulders. "Yes. Yes, absolutely, sir."

"That is good. That is good to hear. So, to summarize," and he placed a hand on Kendrow's shoulder, "You will help us...and we will allow you to live. And if you cease to help us, either due to lack of cooperation or lack of knowledge, why...you shall meet the same fate as Doctor Frobisher. Except your demise will be far slower, much more protracted and will involve an impressive array of sharp objects. Do we understand each other?"

Kendrow gulped deeply.

Zolon Darg, for his part, smiled. For a moment there, he had been concerned that Thul was going to be entirely too sympathetic. He realized that he should have known better After all, when someone was interested in obliterating almost all sentient life, as General Thul was, such an individual was not about to be concerned about sparing the feelings of one insignificant little scientist.

"Well, Mr. Kendrow?" General Thul prompted once more. "Do we understand each other?"

Kendrow nodded.

"Well, then!" Thul said, and he clapped his hands and rubbed them together briskly, "let's get to work, shall we?"

And as they got to work, the distress call continued to issue forth, searching for someone...anyone...who might be able to save what was left of the day...

Copyright © 1999 by Paramount Pictures

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2000

    JUST GREAT

    THIS BOOK ANSWERED QUESTIONS I HAD ABOUT BURGY. PLUS I COULDN'TPUT IT DOWN.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

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