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Interstellar civilization depends on the twin blessings of warp travel and subspace communications. But now an unknown force is disrupting subspace throughout the galaxy, creating "dead zones" in which advanced technology will not function. Ships are stranded in space, unable to communicate. Colonies are losing life support. Governments can no longer negotiate with their allies -- or their enemies. Worse yet, the dead zones are proliferating at a geometric rate. Unless a solution is found, the entire Alpha ...
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Interstellar civilization depends on the twin blessings of warp travel and subspace communications. But now an unknown force is disrupting subspace throughout the galaxy, creating "dead zones" in which advanced technology will not function. Ships are stranded in space, unable to communicate. Colonies are losing life support. Governments can no longer negotiate with their allies -- or their enemies. Worse yet, the dead zones are proliferating at a geometric rate. Unless a solution is found, the entire Alpha Quadrant may be doomed to a new dark age!
in the wake of the Dominion War, a tenuous peace exists between the Federation and the Romulan Empire. The uneasy alliance is strained to the breaking point, however, by the enigma that is destroying subspace. Now Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Ambassador Spock must join forces with an infamous Romulan war criminal in a desperate attempt to find the source of the disruption -- even if it means sacrificing the very peace they hope to save!
U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-E
Romulan Neutral Zone
Three weeks ago
"Transfer auxiliary power to shields. I want those sensors on-line. What's happened to main power?"
"I don't know, sir. Warp and impulse are off-line. Helm is not responding."
"Thrusters to station-keeping." Captain Jean-Luc Picard jabbed at the panel on the arm of his command chair. "Picard to Engineering. What's happening down there?"
"Comm systems are down, Captain." Lieutenant Chamberlain's voice from tactical was tense but controlled. "Aux power is not responding, sir. Life support is on battery backup and holding."
Picard spun toward the ensign at the engineering station. "Get down there, Bradley. Have Mr. Riker return with a report on all systems, and have Engineering put priority on sensors and shields."
Bounding from his chair and into the turbolift, Bradley only had time for a half-nod and a chopped, "Aye, sir."
The captain hoped he had put priority on the right systems. Eyes and claws -- it seemed logical. But without knowing the status of Engineering...He half wanted to race down there himself. "Helm?" He edged toward the conn.
Ensign Barbara Rossi shook her head. "Still negative helm control, sir, but thrusters are maintaining station-keeping." Only her second month on bridge duty, Picard thought, and she was suddenly steering an anchor, not a starship.
The captain leaned over the helm and ran his own hands over the near-dead controls. No helm, no sensors, and the last reading they did get was of a Romulan warbird decloaking between them and the Federation cargo hauler that had found itself stuck in the Neutral Zone.
It wasn't long before the starboard lift door opened, and Picard pivoted toward it as Commander William Riker shot onto the bridge.
"Status?" Picard demanded.
Riker dropped down to the lower deck. "Verified we've lost all main power. Sickbay is on internal batteries. So are the lifts. Every nonessential system is down." He lowered himself into the console seat at Picard's right. "Inertial dampers and SIF generators are using the artificial gravity power grid. La Forge did that first."
"None, yet. We don't even know why it's happened."
"Not good enough," Picard said. "We need the cause. Romulan defensive weapon? Sabotage?"
"I thought we were supposed to be allies now."
The captain grunted. "Supposed to be" was the key phrase. The Dominion War was over finally, at great cost. Now some allies, in their weakness, could turn paranoid toward their war-weary partners.
Riker shook his head, and a single strand of dark hair bounced once before becoming matted to his damp forehead. "Well, whatever it is, it's the damnedest thing I've ever seen, sir. Everything but electrical power seems dead. Even Data is having problems. He's had to switch around all his internal power settings."
Picard looked up, then rose, taking a step toward...he wasn't sure where. "Data? How bad?"
"Not sure. He said he'll 'function adequately' for now. I'm guessing that's the android equivalent of a stiff upper lip. But if whatever's keeping us from using most of our power systems is hampering him, too, that tells me it's not internal to our systems." Riker's tone was suddenly softer, more concerned. "He's working through it. He wants to deploy an optic buoy so we can see what's going on outside." He shook his head. "Blasted bay doors won't override manually. I'm not even sure they've found the old buoy. Pretty old technology."
Turning toward the blank forward viewscreen, Picard glared, wishing he could see right through the bulkhead. "Let's assume this is some dampening field the Romulans have developed as a defensive tool." That would have been a better assumption before the Dominion War. Now...would the peace fall apart so quickly? There was no way to know. A Romulan ship with a renegade commander could be mistrustful of the Enterprise appearing in the Neutral Zone. Picard might have been, if the situation were reversed, and he was no renegade. Usually.
The captain turned back to Riker. "Signal General Quarters, deck by deck. Until the internal comms are working, we fall back on relays. Then see if hand phasers are working. Priorities: arming the crew, sensors, shields, communications. Go."
"On screen." Picard usually didn't have to wait so long for such a simple order to be followed, but in the moments that dragged on into minutes, he did just that. He paced a bit, not wanting to sit down. Any moment he thought he'd hear the hum and feel the static of a Romulan transporter beam. An enemy guard could be deposited next to him, behind him...throughout his ship. He held a phaser in his hand, ready. It was useless, he'd learned just moments earlier. Fully charged phasers, not working.
The trigger was warm to the touch. Hand phasers worked on battery packs, so why didn't they work when they should have? And why did he still keep it in his hand, now that he knew it was a dunsel? What would he do? Throw it at a Romulan invader? The idea that the Romulans would offer resistance rather than help was probably wrong, in any case. There had been good relations with the Romulans since the end of the war. But he couldn't get the feeling out of the back of his mind that something was just...entirely wrong here.
Again, a bit too harshly, he ordered, "Visual tie in, Ensign Rossi."
Of course -- it wasn't his crew's fault. Optical buoys were low-tech and hard to calibrate. But they ran on battery power, and they didn't broadcast in subspace. With one deployed, Enterprise would at least have eyes outside the ship. And ears -- they might be able to set up local-space communications as well. He'd have preferred that shields and sensors came on-line first...but he'd take what he could get. "Ensign Shapiro?"
"Still nothing, sir." The ops officer shook his head. He struggled with the old-fashioned, seldom-used comm protocols, not something heavily taught at the Academy. "Coming through now, Captain."
Static-scratched and jumpy, a picture formed on the main viewscreen. Space looked odd, black. A digital picture, not one created by sensors. Digital. Video. Antique.
But even with the electronic equivalent of naked eyes, a Romulan warbird's stalking presence was unmistakable in the distance.
Picard moved toward the viewer, standing between Rossi at the conn and Shapiro at ops. "Try to raise them, and the cargo ship as well."
Shapiro toiled again with his mostly lifeless console. "Cargo ship doesn't respond, Captain. They may not be able to read a frequency this low. Visual data only...they appear to be drifting. No external lights or beacons."
A nod, and Picard paced a step away. He thumbed his chin thoughtfully. "And the Romulans?"
"No response yet. But they should be able to hear us if they're monitoring these bandwidths."
"If they're smart, they're monitoring all bandwidths," Picard murmured.
Suddenly, Shapiro looked up, slightly surprised. "Captain, they're returning the hail."
"Hold a moment." He turned toward the rear of the bridge and holstered his phaser. "Voices low. Let's not show all our cards. As far as this ship is concerned, we're doing as well as we can sell them." He turned back to Shapiro. "Now, patch them through."
"Patch" was right. Picard had time to pace between the helm and the command chair three times before he settled into his seat. Finally, the warbird commander appeared on the viewer.
No need for introductions. They knew who commanded the Enterprise. And Picard knew the Romulan by appearance as well.
U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC 1701-E
Three days ago
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you, Picard."
He'd done it. Lotre had accomplished what so many had tried yet failed — he'd taken by force a Federation starship, and had its captain at his mercy.
The Klingon pulled his weapon away from the underside of Picard's chin and grabbed the captain around the neck with his open hand. Grunting, he strenuously lifted Picard off the deck of the bridge.
It was a moment to behold. Captain Jean-Luc Picard, commander of the Starship Enterprise, relieved of his command — by this Romulan citizen. A Klingon who'd rejected his native culture, and done what no other Klingon ever had.
He couldn't help but glance around as the Star-fleeters twitched in fear.
Lotre snickered. "Tell me why I shouldn't vaporize you this instant."
To his surprise, Picard was not gurgling his breaths through what should have been a collapsing trachea. Rather, Picard's posture was as if his feet were not dangling three inches over the deck.
"Because you can't," the Starfleet captain said in a perfectly even tone. His right hand came up and easily wrenched Lotre's fingers back painfully, awkwardly. The Klingon tried to pull away but the Terran's grip was too strong. Instead, Picard somehow gained footing on the deck. In one twisting motion he somehow managed to toss Lotre halfway across the bridge.
The lights seemed to wink out for a moment, but it was only Lotre's consciousness that flickered under the pain caused him. Anger overwhelmed the agony, however, and Lotre got back up on his feet. He waved off the others. They were needed to cover the rest of the bridge crew anyway. Picard was his alone.
He lunged, but with amazing speed Picard stepped out of the way and the Klingon slammed into the deck. He felt the Starfleeter lift him, punch his face, and let him drop to the deck again.
Lotre was dazed and bruised, and his lungs burned from what was probably a broken rib. He coughed up a spot of blood and looked up to see Picard standing over him ominously.
He seemed taller at this angle, stronger. And he wasn't even out of breath.
"Wha — what are you?" Lotre said with a gasp.
Picard smirked down at him. "Just a starship captain."
Lotre laughed painfully as he hooked his arm around Picard's legs and pulled him down to the deck, hard.
Recovering quickly, Picard cracked Lotre in the jaw with his boot. Lotre didn't shrink away, however — he looped his arm around Picard's extended leg, pulled the captain in, and drove the butt of his rifle unto Picard's gut.
In what seemed like a nanosecond, Picard was on his feet again. Lotre scrambled up as well, but a flurry of limbs — he wasn't sure if he was being kicked or hit — knocked him back to the deck.
In a red haze, Lotre's battle instinct took control. As Picard moved toward him again, Lotre fired his disruptor. The air on the bridge snapped with energy.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard clasped his hands over his ears and shrieked so loudly Lotre had to do the same. But then Picard folded in on himself, static electricity sparkling over his form as he disintegrated...and then was gone.
"I'm far too young to die," Picard said.
Spock looked up from his console. "I did try to delay it as long as possible. But given too many occurrences that are unlikely, they would soon deduce they're not in a natural environment."
Picard smiled slightly, despite the grave circumstances. "Ambassador, are you suggesting I can only defeat a Klingon in hand-to-hand combat on a holodeck where I reprogram my abilities?"
"Not at all, Captain." The Vulcan tabbed at his holodeck controls. "I suggest that is only the case with this Klingon."
Hesitating a moment, Picard nodded his good-natured acceptance of Spock's slight gibe. After all, part of the holodeck idea had been Spock's.
The captain watched Lotre on the screen a moment. What was within this man to fight so? Just a mercenary? That didn't seem to be the case. Why did he support the Romulan T'sart — a mass murderer who'd helped to kill thousands of other Klingons, and members of countless other races? Perhaps for the same reason Picard seemed to be helping T'sart — because the galaxy's well-being was at stake and the Romulan criminal might hold the key.
That didn't mean that Picard trusted T'sart. Both he and Spock thought the Romulan would attempt something — they just weren't sure what. But they'd found a virus in the data chip the Romulan had given them, and that alone was cause for concern. The virus has been programed to give T'sart computer access and to take down the shields at a specified time. Spock caught it before it infected the Enterprise computer core, but it was obvious T'sart wanted the shields out of the way for a reason.
Spock had suggested that if they could time it right, they could intercept the transporter beams of a boarding party. Picard agreed, and asked the Vulcan to set up a simulation on the holodeck. Beamed directly into a running program, the boarding party would think it was succeeding at taking over the Enterprise, and wouldn't call for reinforcements.
It was working, for now. But two questions remained: Who caused the explosions that did bring down the shields, and how?
T'sart had that answer and Picard wanted it. "Make sure Lotre and his team are occupied for now. Hide T'sart on their version of the ship. They'll be looking for him, and obviously we can't let them accomplish all their goals."
"Aye, sir." Spock nodded and went to work. He'd not been on active duty on a starship since before Picard was born, and yet he slipped back into it as if he'd never been away.
"Status on the enemy ship?"
"You were correct," Spock said, switching scanners. "They recloaked when our shields returned and they'd not heard from their comrades."
The captain cradled his chin in one hand. "They'll be back. Let's make sure we're ready for them." He began toward the turbolift.
"Where will you be?" Spock asked.
"Deck seven. I'm going to pay Mr. T'sart an overdue visit."
As Picard entered T'sart's cabin, he found the Romulan walking toward the doorway. "Captain, I believe I'm due in sickbay."
"You're going to be late." Picard laid one hand on T'sart's arm and guided him back into the living quarters.
"Is something amiss?" T'sart asked. "I did notice you doubled my guard. And I thought I may have heard some explosions somewhere."
T'sart sat himself down into one of the more comfortable chairs and Picard remained standing.
"Surely you can be less obvious than that," Picard said coldly.
Adept at innocent-lamb expressions, T'sart smirked up at the captain. Picard wasn't impressed.
"You wound me, Captain."
Picard said, "The thought had crossed my mind."
As if some inner switch had been flipped, T'sart's expression changed instantly. He was serious now, and perhaps his lips were turned down with slight bitterness. "I assume Lotre has failed and is dead?"
Picard said nothing, preferring to let T'sart wonder about his comrade's fate.
T'sart shrugged. "I make no apologies, Captain. I don't trust you to do what needs to be done."
"You mean killing your own people," Picard barked.
"I have no 'people,' " T'sart said calmly as he leaned back into the easy chair. "I am an individual."
"Who sees himself as the only individual with rights, it would seem."
"Rights," T'sart scoffed. "A very Federation notion."
"I don't intend to debate philosophy with the likes of you," he said as he stepped toward the Romulan.
"Then why are you here?" T'sart's tone was annoyed, as if he didn't wish to be bothered with the frivolous lives and rights of others, and Picard felt as if he were talking to a petulant child.
"To give you an ultimatum. You will cooperate with us and cease your attempts to take over my ship."
T'sart sounded unimpressed. "Or?"
Picard put one hand on the back of T'sart's chair and spun the Romulan toward him so that they were almost nose to nose. "Or I continue on without you — and ask the Klingons to bring you back to Starbase 10."
"Leaving me in their 'care,' Picard?" T'sart didn't seem fazed by Picard's invasion into his personal space. Nothing fazed T'sart much, it seemed. "Doesn't that break your regulations? Leaving someone under your charge in such an...unhealthy situation?"
Picard pushed off T'sart chair and stood straight. "I can't contact Starfleet Command, and if you're right about the time this galaxy has left, there won't be a Starfleet to which I would need to answer. As for your well-being?" Picard let his lips curl into a slight snarl. "I'm relatively unconcerned about the repercussions of leaving you in the Klingons' hands."
"I see." For once, T'sart seemed speechless. Picard liked the idea of that.
"I'm glad we understand one another," the captain said. "Now, I'll have you escorted to sickbay."
T'sart stood slowly, his face contorted in a grimace. "I — "
He collapsed forward and Picard had to lunge forward to catch him before he hit the deck.
Supporting the Romulan in one arm, Picard awkwardly punched his combadge with the other. "Picard to sickbay. Medical emergency in T'sart's quarters!"
Damn. Not enough time.
"Saunders! Miketo! Get in here!"
"What happened?" Beverly Crusher pounced onto T'sart with a medical tricorder the instant his stretcher broke the sickbay threshold.
Picard helped the orderlies move the Romulan to the main biobed diagnostic table as the sickbay personnel came alive in a flurry of activity. "He collapsed."
"He's gone into respiratory arrest," Crusher said as she dropped the tricorder and scooped up a more sophisticated sensor. "Get that cart over here!"
Not wanting to be in the way, Picard stepped back. Here, on this table, was a man whom whole races would pay almost any price to see tortured and killed. Splayed across Dr. Crusher's biobed was someone who by most judgments didn't deserve to live — by dint of having killed so many.
And yet, the fate of the galaxy might truly be stored within him.
"It's as if there's fluid in his lungs, but there's not. Some sort of fibroid structures." Crusher was talking more to her staff than Picard, at least until she turned to him. "Was he coughing?"
The captain shook his head. "No, he was fine until he collapsed."
She slit T'sart's sleeve with a low-powered laser scissor and exposed his skin. "We're going to oxygenate and filter impurities out of his blood for now, but I'll need to operate to remove the tumors." She slapped some device on his arm and set about cutting open the front of his tunic. "Twenty-five cc's tri-ox, Romulan mixture."
"Is he going to live?" Picard asked.
Crusher didn't bother looking up. She was too intent on saving the life of a man everyone in the room probably hated. "I'll let you know."
Picard nodded. T'sart began to slacken under the drugs and the medical relief. He'd seen such a loose body posture many times before — in the bodies of the dead.
Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Posted April 19, 2003
I was having trouble giving how many stars to this book, it was between 4 and 5 and then I said what the hell?, give this book a 5 stars, it deserves it. This is just like a prologue to the 10th Star Trek film, Star Trek Nemesis. (That's why I named my topic Star Trek 9.5) It would have been another perfect plot for a Star Trek movie. Anyway, this book was great, there's action, excitement, and something to make you laught. Also, an all-star crew including Spock is the perfect characters to this book, and an ending that will be speechless. I can't wait to get the final book in this series.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 21, 2010
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