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The Face of the Unknown
     

The Face of the Unknown

by Christopher L. Bennett
 

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Continuing the milestone 50th anniversary celebration of Star Trek—a brand-new novel of The Original Series featuring James T. Kirk, Spock, and the crew of the USS Enterprise!

Investigating a series of violent raids by a mysterious predatory species, Captain James T. Kirk discovers that these events share a startling connection with the First

Overview

Continuing the milestone 50th anniversary celebration of Star Trek—a brand-new novel of The Original Series featuring James T. Kirk, Spock, and the crew of the USS Enterprise!

Investigating a series of violent raids by a mysterious predatory species, Captain James T. Kirk discovers that these events share a startling connection with the First Federation, a friendly but secretive civilization contacted early in the USS Enterprise’s five-year mission. Traveling to the First Federation in search of answers, the Enterprise suddenly comes under attack from these strange marauders. Seeking refuge, the starship finds its way to the true home of the First Federation, an astonishing collection of worlds hidden from the galaxy beyond. The inhabitants of this isolated realm are wary of outsiders, and some accuse Kirk and his crew for bringing the wrath of their ancient enemy down upon them. When an attempt to stave off disaster goes tragically wrong, Kirk is held fully accountable, and Commander Spock learns there are even deeper forces that threaten this civilization. If Kirk and Spock cannot convince the First Federation's leaders to overcome their fears, the resulting catastrophe could doom them all!

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781501132421
Publisher:
Pocket Books/Star Trek
Publication date:
12/27/2016
Series:
Star Trek Series
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
52,460
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Star Trek: The Original Series: The Face of the Unknown

One

Captain’s Log, Stardate 5361.7.

Two days have now passed since our discovery of the Betelgeusians’ mysterious attackers and their apparent connection to the reclusive civilization calling itself the First Federation. In the interim, we have received reports of similar attacks on a Saurian transport and an Arcturian trading post, both of which were able to repel the assaults—though not without casualties in the latter case. Whoever these beings are, they seem to be targeting races capable of putting up a fight . . . and their own skill seems to be improving. As they draw nearer to Federation space, a confrontation with Starfleet increasingly appears inevitable.

The First Federation clearly has knowledge of these beings, but our attempts to contact Lieutenant David Bailey, our unofficial ambassador to the First Federation, have proven unsuccessful. The Enterprise is proceeding toward the First Federation border in hopes of establishing direct contact with their representatives. In the meantime, the office of the Federation diplomatic commissioner has requested a full briefing on the matter.

The briefing was at 1900 hours, late by the Enterprise’s clocks, but that allowed Kirk to assemble all the senior officers who had been present for the first encounter with Balok: himself, Spock, McCoy, Scott, Uhura, and Sulu. They met in the largest briefing room, the one with a wall screen in addition to the smaller three-sided viewer in the table, so that Commissioner Gopal could see them all at once. Damayanti Gopal was a strong-featured woman in her mid-forties, only recently promoted to diplomatic commissioner after spending two years as assistant commissioner. Kirk had briefly known her predecessor in that post, Nancy Hedford, and had found her to be a rather prickly and un­diplomatic individual, at least on the surface. So far, Gopal did not seem much different, making Kirk wonder what standards the previous commissioner had employed to select his deputies.

“I have, of course, read all the reports on the Enterprise’s initial contact with Commander Balok and the Fesarius,” Gopal said on the viewscreen. “What concerns me is the lack of follow-up. Your Lieutenant Bailey has had three years to learn more about the First Federation, but he hasn’t found the location of their homeworld or even their true name for themselves. We’re forced to call them Fesarians for lack of anything better!”

“You must understand, Commissioner,” Spock replied, “that Commander Balok’s people have good reason to be cautious. They are a neotenous species, retaining the size and appearance of small humanoid children well into adulthood. Many hostile cultures would be quick to take advantage of such physically fragile beings.”

“Their reactions go beyond caution, Commander Spock. They embrace deception and concealment and use highly aggressive measures to defend their territory. The buoy you first encountered provided no warning, merely clung to you and bathed your ship in lethal radiation until you were forced to destroy it.”

“But we were able to destroy it,” Spock pointed out. “With their technology, they could easily have shielded it against our phasers. The buoy was part of a test to assess our—”

“Your peaceful intentions, yes.” Gopal turned to Kirk. “I do wonder, Captain, why you thought the best way to demonstrate those was to push forward into the territory they obviously wished to fence off. You must have known that would provoke a further response.”

“I was counting on it, Commissioner,” the captain ­replied. “We were peaceful, but we didn’t yet know whether they were. Given the level of technology on display, I decided it was imperative that we learn more about what we were facing.” He gave a small smile. “Consider it a chess move. You have to advance your pieces onto the board to get your opponent to reveal their strategy.”

“And yet we still have more questions than answers. With the power of their technology, their effortless ability to shut down a starship’s power and rifle through its memory banks, why do they feel the need for all this protective camouflage? A giant starship with only one person aboard. A threatening face and voice that turn out to be mere ­puppetry. This is a systematic pattern of deceit, and you had no guarantee the tricks would end once Commander Balok allowed you to board his ship and see his true face. And yet you had no problem assigning your most in­experienced bridge officer as the Federation’s ‘ambassador’ to these people.”

“Lieutenant Bailey was an eager volunteer. I felt it would give him valuable seasoning.”

“Mere hours before, you’d ordered him off the bridge when he became insubordinate and suffered a panic attack. Perhaps you were simply eager to foist him off on some other ship’s captain.”

Kirk clung to his patience. “I wanted to give him a chance to make up for that mistake. Something he was strongly motivated to do. I was that young once myself, Commissioner. I was cocky, and I made my share of mistakes.” He tried to ignore Doctor McCoy, whose expression almost audibly countered, Was? “But I learned a great deal from assignments where I spent time living among other cultures, getting to know them. They brought me valuable perspective, showed me there was always another way of looking at any problem—and at myself.” He reflected on the individuals he had befriended on those missions, leaders whose example had helped guide him in becoming a better officer and a better man—Tyree of Neural, Ren’xaan of Arkoni, King Stevvin of Shad. He had sensed a similar wisdom in Balok and had hoped the little trickster could play a similar role for David Bailey.

“But what exactly has Bailey done with that second chance?” Gopal challenged. “Hit wall after wall trying to pierce the First Federation’s veil of secrecy. Been stuck in an unofficial ambassadorial posting because the Fesarians unequivocally refuse to deal with a more qualified representative. Could it be that they prefer dealing with him because his inexperience makes him easy to manipulate and mislead?”

“Excuse me, Commissioner,” McCoy put in. “Maybe I got the wrong memo, but I was under the impression we were here to talk about these aliens that happen to look like Balok’s mechanical scarecrow, not dissect Lieutenant Bailey’s career.”

“That is exactly my concern, Doctor. Balok claimed his ‘scarecrow,’ as you put it, was a mythical construct.” She checked a note on her data slate. “The Hyde to his Jekyll, he called it. I’m not sure whether I’m more troubled by the idea that he could have assimilated the Enterprise’s databanks rapidly enough to be able to make that allusion, or by the implication that his people may have already known more about us than they admitted. In any case, it is now evident that Balok was lying—that these creatures are far from mythical, and that the First Federation’s members are more physically intimidating than we were led to believe. Perhaps Balok is not the mature form of his species after all, or perhaps their federation includes a more aggressive race among its members.”

Lieutenant Uhura pursed her lips in thought. “There is another possibility, Commissioner. Balok’s people chose the image of these beings to frighten. To represent a deadly and implacable foe. So maybe it represents something that they are afraid of. Maybe they’re even the reason the First Federation is so cautious with aliens.”

“Didn’t the Betelgeusians’ report indicate that they used the same technology as the Fesarians, though?”

“Not the same, ma’am,” Montgomery Scott replied. “I’ve reviewed the ’Geusians’ scans of the attack and the wreckage they recovered. It’s based on the same principles, for the most part, but it’s a different application. Cruder in some ways, but in other ways just . . . different.” He shrugged. “I’d say they and Balok’s people have a history, but I cannae say what kind of history. They could be allies, sure. Or they could be enemies, spying on each other and reverse-engineering each other’s technology. How do you think the current crop o’ Romulan birds-of-prey ended up with warp nacelles so much like ours?”

“I concede that’s possible,” Commissioner Gopal spoke up, her manner making it clear that she intended to stay in control of the conversation. “But it’s all speculation until we can convince the Fesarians to cough up some real answers. We’ve indulged their mysterious ways for far too long, and now we might be facing a new threat on our border. Captain Kirk, when you make contact, I expect you to press for answers. No more kid gloves. Threaten to withdraw Bailey if they don’t start practicing full disclosure. His Starfleet commission is still active, so you could order him to return with you.”

Kirk replied with care. “Commissioner . . . it wasn’t easy to get through the First Federation’s defenses the first time. I’m concerned that if we attempt strong-arm tactics, it will simply drive them into retreat—or worse. If they decide the Enterprise is genuinely a threat, we may not be able to handle their response.”

“As you said, Captain, in chess you have to risk your pieces to expose the opponent’s strategy. It’s time to stop probing with pawns like Bailey and move into the middle game. Because these ‘scarecrow’ attacks might just be their opening gambit.”

When Gopal signed off, Kirk turned to his first officer. “Spock, your assessment?”

The half-Vulcan raised an eyebrow. “Her extended metaphor was somewhat labored.”

His remark broke the tension and brought a laugh to Kirk and the others—no doubt Spock’s intention, though he would never admit it. McCoy played along. “Blast it, Spock, save the literary criticism for poetry night. Do you think Gopal knows what she’s talking about? Or is she just the latest blowhard commissioner in a long line?”

“She is a duly appointed Federation official, Doctor, and we are obliged to defer to her judgment on diplomatic matters.”

“Bull! We’re the ones on the front lines. Jim’s got the full authority of a Federation ambassador when he needs it. That’s how he was able to appoint Bailey as one to begin with!”

“Yet the commissioner does have a point,” Spock continued. “In chess, or indeed in poker, one must be willing to provoke a response from the opponent. I believe the expression is, ‘You must pay to see the other’s cards.’ ”

“But Balok’s people aren’t the opponents, are they?” Sulu asked. “It just doesn’t make sense that they’d be behind these attacks. Why go around operating robotic puppets of these warrior creatures if they’re actually real and on their side?”

“Perhaps, Mister Sulu. But Spock’s right,” Kirk said. “Either way, they’re hiding something from us, and we need to find out what it is. We’re on friendly terms, yes, but guardedly so at best. They’re very slow to trust, and they’re undoubtedly keeping a great many secrets. They haven’t even begun to share any of their technology with us, for one thing.”

“Aye,” Scott said. “And I shouldn’t wonder that that’s part o’ the reason the commissioner’s so eager to dig deeper into their secrets. I know I’d love to get my hands on the Fesarius’s specs.”

“But you were right, too, Jim,” McCoy said. “Push them too hard and we may lose what little trust we’ve gained. And think about the consequences to Bailey’s career. Gopal’s already written him off as a failure. We swoop in there and pull him out, and he’s probably done in Starfleet.”

“And yet,” Kirk answered patiently, “there’s a band of marauders out there picking fights with anyone they run across. And Balok’s people know them somehow. We have to tread carefully, but we need to get answers—before these marauders get better at hitting the mark.”

The cube spun on the viewscreen like an angular top, flashing bright colors at the Enterprise as it blocked the starship’s path. “It’s certainly . . . festive,” was the judgment of Pavel Chekov, who was seeing this sight for the first time.

“They’re meant to be noticed,” Hikaru Sulu bantered back. “Think of it as a very aggressive stoplight.”

“Lieutenant Uhura,” Kirk said, “transmit the recognition code to the buoy.” And let’s hope Balok was being ­honest when he gave it to us, he added to himself.

As Uhura acknowledged his order and worked her console, the turbolift doors swooshed open and Doctor McCoy entered the bridge. Multicolored lights played across his face as he studied the image on the view­screen and frowned. “Is that thing going to behave itself, or do I need to have Nurse Chapel prepare hyronalin ­injections?”

“No increase in baseline radiation as yet, Doctor,” Spock said, not looking up from his hooded viewer. “I shall let you know if that changes, however.”

Kirk glanced up at McCoy as the doctor took his wonted spot to the left of the captain’s chair. “Have you had a chance to review Bailey’s reports?” he asked softly.

The doctor kept a wary eye on the twirling buoy as he replied, “I have.”

“Your assessment?”

“Well, they’re certainly thorough, as far as they go. I’ve learned a lot about the workings of the Fesarius and its crew. Like the fact that it has a crew. I remember Balok being rather insistent that he had none. Another one of his bluffs.”

“To be fair, the others did retreat in their pilot vessels before the Fesarius confronted us,” Kirk replied. “So he was technically telling the truth, at that moment.”

“Yes, standard contact procedure, per Bailey’s reports.” Paraphrasing those reports as best he could, he adopted a singsong tone. “An orbship like the Fesarius is primarily a freighter and asteroid miner, large enough to support its crew for years away from home. But that size makes it valuable as an intimidating presence on the borders when necessary.” He went on more normally. “But where home might be, or why they spend so much time away from it, is another matter. Bailey’s reports get thinner and thinner with time—I can almost hear him getting more frustrated as he tries to find something new to say.”

Kirk frowned. “Do you think he’s handling it?”

“You mean, did you make a mistake giving him this responsibility?” He quirked a brow. “Honestly, Jim, I’m impressed that he didn’t demand a transfer a year or two ago. It’s a thankless job, but he’s stuck with it and been as diligent as his hosts would permit.” He threw an im­patient glance at the screen. “And you know how tough it is to convince them to lower their guard,” he said more loudly, as if challenging the buoy directly.

And it seemed to work. “The buoy is withdrawing,” Spock announced, mere seconds before its retreat became obvious. “We are evidently cleared to proceed.”

Kirk threw McCoy an impressed look, and the doctor bounced smugly on his heels. “Well. It’s about time somebody around here started listening to me.”

“What was that, Doctor?” Kirk grinned at McCoy’s sour look. “Mister Sulu, ahead warp factor one.”

“Aye, sir.” Moments later, at Sulu’s command, the ship around them hummed with power as the warp engines engaged and drove it forward. “Entering First Federation space.”

“Some space,” Chekov said, shaking his head. “I do not see why they make such a fuss over it. There is nothing here. Virtually no inhabited planets to speak of.”

“That we know of,” Sulu added. “If there’s one thing we know about Balok’s people, it’s that they like to stay hidden.”

“Habitable planets are hard to hide, Sulu. We can see the oxygen in their spectra, their warmth in infrared.”

“Well, maybe they don’t live on a planet. The Betelgeusians don’t.”

“However,” Spock interposed, “while Mister Bailey has reported encounters with additional ships and outposts—even with First Federation member species besides Balok’s own—their population density appears too low to sustain an entire interstellar civilization.”

“What if there aren’t any more?” McCoy suggested. “They say they’re the First Federation—maybe they’re so old that their civilization is almost extinct. Maybe there’s hardly anyone left.”

“You have read the reports, Doctor. Mister Bailey has not been able to learn the etymology of their name.”

“So that means it’s possible.”

“Many things are possible, Doctor. It is thus pointless to conjecture in the absence of evidence.”

“In the absence of evidence, what else is there to do but conjecture?”

“To be silent,” Spock replied pointedly, “so that one may listen . . . and learn.”

McCoy glowered. “Fine with me. You go first.”

Spock made the decisive move in their latest game by doing exactly as McCoy suggested—turning wordlessly back to his station and resuming his scans. With no volley to return, and no one to blame but himself, McCoy was stymied. “If anyone wants me, I’ll be in sickbay.”

As the doctor left, Kirk reflected on how unusual it was for McCoy to make such an unforced error in his ongoing match of wits with Spock. Maybe McCoy was more on edge than he let on. Kirk felt a similar unease of his own. The encounter with Balok had been the first major contact with a new civilization in the course of the Enterprise’s current tour of exploration. Kirk and his crew had taken its positive outcome as an auspicious ­beginning for the mission. No doubt they had endured far worse consequences on many subsequent missions, but they would always have that early success to take pride in. But now their certainties about that mission were shaken, and it was less clear what they had really achieved. Kirk only hoped that whatever new answers they found would restore that certainty . . . rather than destroying it ­altogether.

The Enterprise’s hails to the Fesarius evoked only a brief reply in return, consisting of little more than a set of rendezvous coordinates in a system a day’s travel from the border. As the Starfleet cruiser neared the system—a young star with a dense planetesimal disk still surrounding it—Spock’s scans detected the massive orbship keeping station with a moderate-sized asteroid, an undifferentiated mass of rock, ice, and carbonaceous minerals that could be easily broken up and harvested for materials. If the Fesarius were in the midst of a mining operation, Kirk thought, that could explain why it had not been able to come to the Enterprise.

However, it soon became evident that mining was not the only thing going on. “Power readings from the Fesarius are fluctuating,” Spock reported. “It would appear to be damaged.” Indeed, as Uhura refined the magnification of the image on the main viewer, Kirk could see that for himself. The Fesarius was a massive sphere covered in a hexagonally tessellated grid of illuminated domes, reminding Kirk of a vast sequined Christmas ornament. Normally, the golden light from those domes pulsed on and off in a regular pattern like a heartbeat as the vessel’s many power reactors cycled. Now, many of the domes were dark and most of the rest were flickering and guttering. Moreover, the spherical symmetry of the craft was broken. On one side, a large hexagonal section nearly a third of the orbship’s diameter had been peeled open, exposing the vessel’s innards to space. For a moment, Kirk feared the worst, until he realized that the opening was ringed by six regularly shaped triangular flaps. The orifice must have been built into the orbship’s design, a vast hatch for the processing bays that filled much of its interior. The crew must have been in the process of breaking up the asteroid and tractoring its material inside the Fesarius. It had been the worst possible time for the orbship to come under attack.

Kirk’s eye shifted from the orbship to the fighters that swarmed around the vast globular vessel—mere pulsating points of light at this resolution, but numerous and mobile. “Scans show technology similar to First Federation pilot vessels,” Spock reported. “Consistent with the reports from the Betelgeusians. And more: I register numerous objects with no life signs, emitting high-intensity radiation.”

“More buoys?” Sulu asked.

“But on which side?” Kirk mused.

“They do not have the size or spectrographic profile of the First Federation buoys,” Spock answered. “And they appear to have the Fesarius in an englobement. With its interior exposed to space, the radiation levels would not be salutary for its inhabitants.”

“Why aren’t they closing the hatch?” Chekov asked through gritted teeth.

“There,” Kirk said, pointing. “One of the doors is out of alignment.”

“Correct, Captain,” Spock said. “It would appear to have been struck by an asteroid fragment. I would deduce that the attackers chose to strike when the Fesarius was at its most vulnerable and are attempting to disable it.”

“That is a pretty successful attempt,” Chekov put in.

Kirk set his jaw. “Not if we can help it. Mister Sulu, take us in. Raise deflector shields, ready weapons.” He hit the intercom button on his chair arm. “Kirk to engineering. Mister Scott, we’re going to need maximum radiation protection from the deflectors.”

“Aye, sir. I’ve been tweakin’ them with that in mind, just in case one o’ those buoys acted up.”

“Not exactly a buoy, Scotty, but close enough. Keep monitoring the exposure levels. Kirk out.” He switched channels. “Kirk to sickbay. Bones, you know those hyronalin injections you talked about?”

“I knew it. I’ve had Chapel working on them since yesterday. I’ll get them ready.”

“Hopefully we won’t need them, but good job. Kirk out.” He smiled to himself. I have the best crew any captain could ask for.

As the Enterprise closed in, a pair of the attacking ships broke off to intercept it. They soon drew near enough for Kirk to see that they were asymmetrical clusters of octahedral and icosahedral modules, connected by short struts and pulsing with a red-orange light. Just as the Betelgeusians had described, they were like angular, aggressive versions of Balok’s pilot vessel. If they had anywhere near that vessel’s power, Kirk knew, then they would be more than a match for the Enterprise despite their small size. “Uhura, hail them.”

“Hailing frequencies open, sir.” A moment later: “No response.”

I didn’t think there would be. “Evasive, Sulu. Don’t let them get a tractor lock.”

Sulu acknowledged the order, then fulfilled it by swinging the Enterprise around behind the asteroid. Many chunks of the loosely packed body had been dislodged, either by the mining operation or by the raiders’ attack, and they provided effective cover against the pursuing ships’ tractor beams. The angular craft fired some kind of plasma bolts at the Enterprise, but the energy bursts struck chunks of intervening rock and ice and blasted them into still further chaff. “Impulsive,” Kirk noted. “Undisciplined. Wasting their fire without a clean shot. Maybe we can use that.”

As the starship curved around to the other side of the asteroid, Spock announced, “Captain, I am now detecting a Fesarius pilot vessel.” He altered the viewer angle to display the small craft, a cluster of pale gold spheroids of various sizes. A beam of light burst from its leading spheroid and struck at one of the raiders. At least someone was trying to defend the Fesarius.

“Is it Balok?” Kirk wondered. “Uhura, hail the pilot vessel.”

“They’re hailing us, sir.”

“On screen.”

The face that appeared on the viewer was not the bald, childlike visage of Balok, but a familiar human face—a young, light-complexioned man with dark blond hair, narrow eyes, and a prominent chin. “Enterprise, this is David Bailey.”

“Yes, Mister Bailey, this is Kirk. We read you.”

“Captain, you’re just in time. The attackers are trying to board the Fesarius. The crew is trapped inside—the radiation out here is too intense for them to withstand in their pilot vessels. Only Balok was able to get away before the cubes had us completely surrounded. I’m big enough to withstand a larger dose, so I’ve been playing goalie out here, defending the hatch the best I can. But I’m close to my limit. And this thing’s only got a mining beam, not combat-level phasers.”

“Understood, Mister Bailey.” Kirk wasn’t sure whether it would be more appropriate to address him as Lieutenant or Ambassador. “You get back inside—we’ll take over tending your goal.”

“Negative, Captain. The Fesarius won’t be secure or mobile until the hatch is closed. If you run interference for me, I think I can tractor the damaged leaf back into alignment and seal the hatch. This thing’s a fortress when it’s closed up.”

Kirk considered it. The Bailey he remembered had been a hothead, favoring action over judgment. Was he being just as reckless now? Yet he was choosing a defensive action over an aggressive one, which was a change. And he knew the situation better than Kirk. So the captain chose to defer to his judgment. “Agreed. But as soon as your radiation tolerance reaches its limit, you’re to withdraw inside. Is that understood, Lieutenant?”

Bailey didn’t miss the significance of the title Kirk chose. With only a slight hitch in his voice, he replied, “Aye, sir.”

Sulu deftly maneuvered the Enterprise into position in front of the enormous, gaping hatch. Each of the large domes that dotted the Fesarius’s surface was big enough to hold the Enterprise inside it, and each leaf of the unfolded shell was covered in six of those domes, with three smaller domes at their points of intersection. Before the starship rotated to face the oncoming raiders, Kirk caught a glimpse of the gaping interior of the Fesarius, with a similar array of domes dotting the inner shell and a complex latticework surrounding a cluster of spherical reactors at the core. Kirk shuddered to think what would happen if the raiders managed to destroy one of those reactors. “Deflector shields to maximum extension,” Kirk ordered. “Don’t let anything get past us.”

Of course, the downside to taking up a stationary position was that it left the Enterprise vulnerable to the raiders’ tractor beams. But the Fesarius crew was not idle. Mining beams shot forth from emitters in the black, textured hull layer underneath the domes, firing through the gaps between them, and prevented the raiders from holding still long enough to get a lock on the Enterprise. Sulu, freed from the need to maneuver the ship, supplemented their efforts with phaser fire. The maneuverable raider ships were able to dodge the mining beams with ease, but they had less practice avoiding Sulu’s keen aim, and several of them were struck. Their own plasma bolts retaliated against the Enterprise, rocking the ship, but the shields held.

Before long, Spock reported that the raiders were attempting another strategy. “Several attacker ships have seized fragments of asteroidal matter in their tractor beams. They are accelerating them toward the Enterprise.”

“That’s how they jammed the hatch in the first place,” Bailey advised from his pilot vessel. “Those tractors pack quite a punch.”

“Sulu, divert those chunks,” Kirk ordered. “Mister Gabler, extra power to the shields.”

Sulu’s aim remained true. Rather than wasting energy attempting to blow apart the asteroid chunks, he struck them obliquely, vaporizing a portion and using the vapor pressure as thrust to angle the chunks off course. They struck only glancing blows against the shields and bounced away harmlessly.

“Mister Bailey has engaged his tractor beam,” Spock announced. He put the sensor feed on one of the auxiliary wall screens. While keeping an eye on the larger battle, Kirk watched as the lieutenant’s pilot vessel grabbed on to the misaligned hatch with an invisible force beam. The pilot vessel trembled and flickered as it heaved at the enormous hatch. Kirk hoped Bailey’s tractor beam was as potent as the one Balok had used to tow the Enterprise years before.

“Incoming,” Sulu warned. The raiders were proving the potency of their own tractor beams, hurling asteroidal debris from multiple directions, and even Sulu and the Fesarius crew together could not target them all. One chunk got through and struck a ringing blow against the deflectors, and the Enterprise heaved mightily.

“Eighteen percent deflector shield drain, Captain,” Gabler reported. “We can’t take many more of those.”

“We may not have to,” Spock announced. “Mister Bailey’s efforts appear to be efficacious.”

On the auxiliary screen, the enormous flap of the Fesarius’s hull was moving, shifting back into alignment on its massive hinges. Before long, it appeared to click into place, whereupon all six leaves began to close inward. “It’s done,” Bailey announced. “Heading in now. Captain, I suggest you bring the Enterprise inside after me.”

“Negative, Lieutenant. The Fesarius is still damaged. Once we’re free to move again, we can cover your retreat.”

A pause. “Acknowledged, sir.”

Three raider ships made a last-ditch attempt to dive toward the closing hatch. The crossfire from the Enterprise and the Fesarius forced them to veer off. After another few moments, the tips of the six hull wedges locked against one another, and one last dome unfolded from between its neighbors and locked into place over the center point. With the orbship now sealed up tightly, the raiders abruptly broke off the attack and fled, the more badly damaged ones being tractored by their fellows and towed into warp.

Bailey’s image appeared on the main viewer. “I appreciate your help, Captain,” the lieutenant said, sounding winded. “Since I’m the ambassador, I guess I’m entitled to thank you on behalf of the Fesarius crew. We could probably use your help with repairs, if you don’t mind.”

“We’d be glad to, Mister Bailey,” Kirk said. “And in exchange, I trust your First Federation friends can tell us something about who these raiders are and what their goal is.”

Bailey grimaced. “Honestly, Captain . . . I was hoping you could get some answers out of them. All I know is that a fairy tale seems to have come to life.”

Meet the Author

Christopher L. Bennett is a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, with bachelor’s degrees in physics and history from the University of Cincinnati. He has written such critically acclaimed Star Trek novels as Ex Machina, The Buried Age, the Titan novels Orion’s Hounds and Over a Torrent Sea, the two Department of Temporal Investigations novels Watching the Clock and Forgotten History, and the Enterprise novels Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures, Tower of Babel, Uncertain Logic, and Live By the Code, as well as shorter works including stories in the anniversary anthologies Constellations, The Sky’s the Limit, Prophecy and Change, and Distant Shores. Beyond Star Trek, he has penned the novels X Men: Watchers on the Walls and Spider Man: Drowned in Thunder. His original work includes the hard science fiction superhero novel Only Superhuman, as well as several novelettes in Analog and other science fiction magazines.

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