Authors: David Mack
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For John, who got me into this mess
The events of this story take place in 2384, approximately four years and four months after the events of the movie
Star Trek Nemesis,
and two months after the events of
The Persistence of Memory,
in which legendary cyberneticist Noonien Soong (who was not so dead as the galaxy had been led to believe) sacrificed his life to resurrect his android son, Data—who has now undertaken a personal mission to bring back his own lost child, Lal.
Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur
(The world desires to be deceived, so let it be deceived.)
It had been three days, nine hours, and eighteen minutes since Federation Security officers Kohl Chamiro and Treg mor Glov had embarked on their patrol of the Komatsu Sector’s most desolate star systems, and it would be three days, fourteen hours, and forty-two minutes before they could chart a course back to civilization. Kohl stared with sullen boredom at his reflection in the
’s cockpit window. He noted with dismay the first hint of a doubled chin on his otherwise youthful face and the slow proliferation of gray hairs above his ears. Despite his best effort not to disturb the silence between himself and his partner, the disgruntled Bajoran man succumbed to a heavy, dejected sigh. “I’m not trying to point fingers or anything, but this is all your fault.”
The rust-maned Tellarite swiveled away from the helm console and looked down his snout at Kohl, his brow furrowed with reproach. “We’ve already had this discussion.”
“We could be at the game
Treg.” The harder Kohl tried not to think about missing the long-awaited championship
match between Pacifica United and Royal Betazed, the more stubbornly rooted his resentment became. “Do you have any idea what I went through to get those tickets? We had
seats, Treg. At midfield.”
Glov’s solid black eyes betrayed no sympathy. “I won’t apologize for doing my job.” He shook his head and frowned at Kohl’s resurrection of this sore subject. “It’s unfortunate that our recreational plans were affected, but that was beyond our control.”
“It was completely within our control. If you hadn’t been so gung-ho to chalk up another arrest, we could be kicking back at the stadium with cold drinks and an unobstructed view.”
A low growl of irritation rumbled inside Glov’s chest. “I did what the law required. Just because young Mister Nolon’s father is the governor of Tyberius Prime, that doesn’t exempt him from responsibility for his actions.”
Kohl wondered why this was so hard for Glov to understand. “I’m not saying it does, but it’s not like he killed someone. Letting him make restitution would have been a perfectly—”
“He tried to drive a hover vehicle while intoxicated. It was only good fortune that his accident resulted in no injuries or fatalities. Reducing his penalty to a mere fine would hardly have been equal to his offense. I doubt such a sum would even seem significant to him.”
“So, because his family’s rich, we have to put him in jail?”
“No, we put him in jail because that’s what the law instructs us to do.” Glov shot a disparaging glance at him. “The fact that Governor Nolon abused his authority to punish us for performing our duty reflects upon his character, not our judgment.”
The rant drew a bitter chortle from Kohl. “Your judgment, pal—not mine.”
A tense and uncomfortable silence fell between them for a long moment. Then Glov mumbled under his breath, “No one forced you to come with me.”
“You heard me.” The Tellarite aimed a sidelong glare at his partner. “The director put my name on the duty sheet for this patrol, not yours. If you’d really wanted to attend that
match, you could have let one of the rookies ride shotgun for me.”
Kohl pinched the ridges above his nose, then rubbed some crud from the inside corners of his eyes. “Nice try, Treg, but you seem to be forgetting one important detail.”
“And that would be . . . ?”
It pained him to say it, but it had to be said. “I’m your partner. If you’re on dust patrol, so am I.” He sighed. “Besides, it’s not like I’d enjoy the game half as much without you.”
His admission coaxed an embarrassed smile from Glov. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.” A small flashing icon on the sensor display snared Kohl’s eye. “Hey, look at this. Guess we’re not the only ones roaming the galaxy’s ass crack.”
Glov checked the command display between their seats and tapped it a few times to call up more detailed readings. “Wow, that’s big. What do you make of it?”
“Hang on. Scanning it now.” Kohl trained the interceptor’s sensors on the ship, which was maneuvering into orbit above Tirana III. “It’s a Trill design, a
-class industrial ship.” He paged through some secondary screens and read a few of the highlights aloud. “Crew complement ranges from as low as twenty-five to as high as sixty. Says here they’re used mostly for mining, heavy salvage, and refinery operations.” Troubled by suspicions he couldn’t name, he keyed in a new series of commands. “I’m running a check on its transponder.”
As the onboard computer processed his request, Glov plotted and executed a short-range warp jump. After a momentary blurring of the heavens, the
cruised into orbit close behind the hulking mass of the Trill industrial ship, which looked more like a floating factory than a vessel capable of crossing interstellar distances. “Coming up on their six,” the Tellarite said. “Quick scan shows they have no weapons, no shields, and a skeleton crew. I’m reading only twelve life-forms on board—humanoids, species unknown.”
“I’ve got a hit: the
an excavation-and-recovery ship. Registry . . . Ramatis.”
Glov frowned. “That figures.”
Kohl inferred his partner’s meaning. In the three years since the Borg invasion had laid waste scores of worlds within sixty light-years of the Azure Nebula, criminals had made a practice of fabricating ship registries from worlds on which there no longer existed anyone or anything to corroborate or refute their authenticity. “What do you think? Smugglers?”
“Could be. Or it might be an illegal mining op.” He nodded at a console showing a geological profile of the planet below. “Gallicite, kelbonite, noranium, boridium . . . no shortage of minerals worth stealing.” He powered up the interceptor’s weapons. “Hail them.”
With a tap on the comm controls, Kohl opened hailing frequencies. “Attention, mining vessel
. This is the Federation Security interceptor
. Please respond.” Several seconds passed. Kohl looked askance at Glov, who was locking the interceptor’s phasers onto the
’s prodigious impulse drive. Glov nodded, and Kohl pressed the transmit key again. “Mining vessel
this is the Federation Security interceptor
. You are ordered to respond and prepare to be boarded. Please acknowledge.”
“I hope they try to run,” Glov grumbled. “I’ve got a lock on their warp core. First sign of a power-up, I’ll put a hole through that thing so big it’ll—”
An alert chirped from the forward console half a second before a thundering blast rocked the
and sent it spiraling toward Tirana III. Sparks erupted from blacked-out consoles, and outside the cockpit canopy, the airless world whipped in and out of sight as the interceptor wheeled and tumbled out of control.
Kohl shouted over the screeching of the fragged impulse drive. “What the hell hit us?”
“No idea!” Glov struggled with the helm controls in a bid to arrest their uncontrolled plunge. “Patch in the backup thrusters! Try to—”
A flash of white light was the last thing Kohl knew . . . and then there was nothing but darkness and silence, forever.
Few things vexed Hilar Tohm as much as being kept waiting. Ever since her youth on Trill, all through her years at Starfleet Academy, and since then as an analyst and now a section chief for Starfleet Intelligence, she had prided herself on her punctuality, and she took it as an affront when others failed to extend to her the same degree of professionalism and courtesy. In her opinion, those who insisted on arriving late to scheduled appointments tended to fall into one of two categories: the passive-aggressive, who used their tardiness to exact a measure of revenge on others, and the utterly rude, who kept others waiting as an exhibition of personal power, a means of telling others,
I feel free to waste your time because I think mine is more important.
She took a sip of tepid oolong tea with lemon and honeysuckle honey, brushed a lock of her curly chestnut hair from her eyes, and glanced at her wrist chrono. It counted down the final thirty seconds to 1600 local time, adjusted for the peculiar variances of chronometry on the Orion homeworld.
He’d better not be late.
Twenty seconds before the hour, the person for whom she had been waiting stepped through the café’s front door, took a cursory look around the room, and spotted her. Slim and blue-eyed, Data was a bit taller than the average human. His complexion was fair, and his head was crowned with a shaggy tousle of light brown hair parted on the right. He dressed in simple clothes—dark trousers and shoes, a cream-colored linen shirt, and a jacket of synthetic leather—and he moved with grace and confidence. Without a wave or any shift in his expression, he slalomed through the room of closely packed tables and back-to-back chairs filled by patrons of dozens of different species, working his way toward her with tireless resolve.
He reached her table and greeted her with one polite nod. “Is this seat taken?”
She responded with their prearranged challenge phrase. “I was saving it for my brother.”
“All men are brothers—until the rent comes due.” Tohm motioned for him to sit, and he settled into the chair across from her. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”
“No problem.” She lowered her voice. “What name are you traveling under?”
Data leaned forward and whispered, “Daniel Soong.” A one-shoulder shrug and a self-effacing half smile. “Call me sentimental.” His mien shifted like mercury, at once sharp and businesslike. “I just want to say that I appreciate your discretion in this matter.”
“And I just want to say that if certain notable persons hadn’t vouched for you, we wouldn’t be talking right now.” Impatient, she stole a look at her chrono. “What do you need?”
The human-looking android reached inside his jacket, took out a translucent aqua-colored isolinear chip, and pushed it across the table to within a few centimeters of Tohm’s hand. “A comprehensive search of the Orion banking system. The private databases and offline archives.”