The second Star Trek Seekers novel set in The Original Series/Vanguard universe…
The Taurus Reach. Once the conquered realm of a powerful alien species, this region remains largely shrouded in mystery even as it brims with potential for exploration and colonization. The Federation has sent in two of its finest starships on a quest to uncover the secrets it may yet hold...
The Tomol are aprimitive civilization occupying a lone island on a remote world. Their culture is an enigma, centered on every member’s commitment to a painful, fiery self-sacrifice upon reaching maturity. But one of their clan has shunned this obligation, triggering a transformation into a new, powerful life form. Answering the distress call of the U.S.S. Sagittarius—which has crashed on the planet following a fierce battle with the Klingons—Captain Atish Khatami and the crew of the Starship Endeavour must now attempt a rescue mission…even as they are locked in battle with the evolving, increasingly malevolent Tomol who, if allowed to escape their home world, pose an imminent threat to the entire galaxy!
Sitting in the high-backed command chair at the center of the Imperial Klingon Cruiser Voh’tahk’s bridge, the captain clasped his hands together before his chest, his fingers flexing as their nails pressed against skin, as though ready to draw blood of their own volition. His jaw clenched, he felt the rhythmic cadence of his teeth grinding against one another as he beheld the cursed green ball of water centered on the main viewscreen, all the while imagining the world consumed by fire.
“Report,” he snapped. “Where is the Federation cruiser, Mahzh?”
Standing at his tactical console, the Voh’tahk’s senior weapons officer turned to face the captain. “The Endeavour is maintaining standard orbit, currently on the opposite side of the planet from our present position. Their orbit will bring them over the Homghor’s crash site momentarily, and the location of their own downed vessel soon after that. Their weapons and shields are active, and their sensors are scanning both crash locations.”
It had been less than a rep since the I.K.S. Homghor, the bird-of-prey that had accompanied his own vessel to this star system, had plummeted to the surface of the world displayed on the main viewscreen, after falling victim to the weapons of a Federation scout ship, the U.S.S. Sagittarius. Driven by rage and a thirst for vengeance, Kang had brought the Voh’tahk’s own armaments to bear, crippling the smaller Starfleet vessel and driving it down through the planet’s atmosphere. The Homghor had crash-landed on the world’s largest landmass, while the Starfleet scout ship had come to rest on a smaller adjacent island. The U.S.S. Endeavour had arrived soon afterward, despite his demands for the Federation warship to give the planet a wide berth. Its captain had rebuked his admonition, choosing instead to offer her own warnings should hostilities ensue. This had served to stoke Kang’s temper, and it was requiring every iota of his will to maintain his composure.
“Helm, maintain our present orbit,” he ordered, before glancing once more to Mahzh. “And what of the Sagittarius?” He still was irritated that he had not been given the opportunity to destroy the bothersome ship before it fell from orbit.
The weapons officer replied, “It fared far better than the Homghor, Captain. Its crew was able to effect a partially controlled descent, though sensor readings indicate that the vessel is unable to regain flight.”
“Are you detecting any Homghor survivors?”
Mahzh nodded. “The only Klingon life sign I can find is Doctor Tormog, Captain. There also is some background interference that is clouding our sensor scans, but I’m detecting several other life-forms, and the readings are somewhat consistent with the Tomol biosigns forwarded to us by Tormog and the reconnaissance party.” He paused, and Kang saw him scowl. “There are some . . . variations, as well.”
“The transformation Tormog described?” Kang sensed movement to his right and looked up to see his wife, Mara, the Voh’tahk’s first officer, moving from her station toward him.
“It would seem that Captain Durak did not heed the doctor’s advice,” she said. “Tormog warned us not to transport any of the subjects to our ships. At least, not after the transformation had taken place.”
Kang grunted in reluctant agreement, his irritation further fueled by the knowledge that the petulant scientist, Tormog, was correct in his judgment regarding the hazardous nature of this planet’s inhabitants, the Tomol. Kang had been skeptical of the doctor’s claims and the reports he had submitted detailing his observations of these people, which initial accounts had concluded was a primitive society that would bow without resistance to Klingon conquest. Instead, Tormog had described the startling metamorphosis to which the Tomol’s bodies were subjected upon reaching maturity, and if they did not choose to end their own life as part of a bizarre, elaborate suicide ritual. It all had sounded more like the imaginative fabrication of a gifted storyteller or the deluded ravings of someone consumed by mental illness. Now, however, the evidence confronting Kang, in the form of the odd life readings on the surface and the deaths of Captain Durak and the crew of the Homghor, not only exonerated Tormog but also presented the captain with an unusual challenge.
It had been the doctor’s intention to capture and place into stasis one or more subjects who were not yet old enough to exhibit early symptoms of this inexplicable transmutation, and that seemed still to be a viable plan, but surely there was greater glory in capturing one of these ridiculous pujwI’ not in their natural state but rather after their changing into this far more powerful and dangerous life-form. That, to Kang, was a battle worth fighting. Perhaps Captain Durak had felt the same way, but even if that were true, it appeared that the Homghor’s commander and crew had tragically underestimated their adversary.
Kang had no intention of making that error.
“You’re still thinking of attacking them, aren’t you?” Mara asked, her voice low enough that only Kang could hear. Before he could offer even the first word of protest, her eyes narrowed and she leaned closer. “I see it in your face. You want to do it now, before reinforcements arrive.”
Scowling in disapproval, Kang glanced around the bridge to see if any of his crew might have overheard his wife’s blunt statements, but the other officers appeared focused on their duties. “Reinforcements do not concern me. I have considered an attack, but I know that now is not the time.” He paused, releasing a small sigh of exasperation. “Loath as I am to admit it, Earthers have a propensity for extracting answers to even the most imposing of questions. It’s possible they know more about these Tomol than even Doctor Tormog was able to learn. We must determine whether this is true, and that imperative outweighs any personal agenda I may hold.”
His desire to exact vengeance against the Sagittarius for the loss of the Homghor had been interrupted by the Endeavour’s untimely arrival. The Constitution-class cruiser and his own vessel were well matched to face off in battle, but Kang long ago had learned the harsh lesson that a ship is only as effective as its commander and the crew who followed him. While he had no doubts about his own abilities, he knew almost nothing about the Starfleet ship’s captain. Of course, Kang also was aware that the propaganda the empire liked to distribute about Earthers and their distaste for battle was as inaccurate as it was short-sighted. If humans had proved anything in the generations since the empire had become aware of their existence, it was their tenacity and guile. Kang’s own experience against human ship commanders had reinforced this belief, which was further supported upon the Endeavour’s arrival and its female Earther captain’s quick, unflinching warning that she would unleash her vessel’s weapons at the first sign of hostile action on his part. As he replayed the brief exchange in his mind, he found himself both angered and yet impressed by her brash declaration. In some ways, he realized, Captain Khatami seemed to embody many of the same qualities he admired in his own wife.
You would be wise to keep such observations to yourself, Captain, lest Mara carve them from your brain with her own blade.
The rage he had felt after his first and so far only conversation with the Endeavour’s commanding officer had ebbed, though he still harbored resentment at the Starfleet captain’s arrogant demeanor and threats against him and his ship. His first instinct had been to release the full fury of the Voh’tahk’s weapons against the Endeavour, but that impulse had subsided thanks in large part to Mara. In the rather pointed manner he tolerated only from her, his wife had reminded him of the larger issues in play here. His orders with respect to this assignment were clear: either secure one or more of the Tomol specimens for study, or do whatever was required to see to it that neither they nor their planet fell into enemy hands. However, the matter had become complicated now that fire had been exchanged with Starfleet forces. With both the Federation and the empire having demonstrated an interest in the planet, things no longer could be decided over something as simple as who had gotten here first.
And we have the meddlesome Organians to thank for that.
Though the Federation and the empire had for the past few years maintained what diplomats might call “strained relations,” Kang knew that the High Council had no reservations about going to war with the Earthers and their allies if the opportunity presented itself. This, despite the ever-present threat from the powerful, noncorporeal Organians, who two years earlier had imposed something of a cease-fire on both sides and then done precious little to enforce their edict. Although the empire and the Federation had observed the terms of the so-called peace treaty, there still remained the occasional testing of the accord’s limits. For example, none of the Organians had shown themselves during any subsequent incidents involving Starfleet and imperial vessels, including the skirmish that had just taken place here above Arethusa. Though there remained the possibility of the intrusive aliens making an appearance here, Kang doubted such an event would come to pass. Based on all that the Organians had seemingly allowed to transpire since imposing their will, he felt confident that they would not show themselves unless and until the empire and the Federation declared open hostilities.
Should that happen, Kang wanted to be sure it was for the right reasons and of utmost benefit to the empire. At present, the current situation did not seem to justify such extreme steps, at least not while there still was a chance to complete his mission. Though collecting Tomol specimens for transport back to the homeworld now was problematic, there still was the matter of the strange, still unexplained power source emanating from beneath the surface of the planet’s largest landmass.
“Mara,” he said, “have you examined the sensor data regarding those power readings?”
She nodded. “They are like nothing I have ever seen before and are not consistent with anything on record in our computer memory banks.”
What were its origins? What sort of apparatus was behind it, and how did it work? Was it something that could be exploited for the glory of the empire? Was there a connection to the Tomol, and perhaps even to the peculiar condition they exhibited? These were questions for which Tormog had not provided answers, and now they taunted Kang.
Leaning closer, Mara said, “I know what you are thinking, and the readings do not even conform to what we know of the Shedai.”
She nodded. “I am. The energy signatures are not at all similar.”
That was disappointing. Upon learning of Tormog’s discovery, Kang, like his wife, at first thought the Tomol and the mysterious power source might be related to the extinct race of powerful aliens who once had ruled this region of space. The Shedai, by all reports, had commanded an impressive level of technology unseen before or since. Thought to be a long dead species, representatives from the supposedly defunct civilization began revealing themselves soon after Federation scientists and Starfleet officers began seeking and examining artifacts and ruins on the worlds they once inhabited. To say that the Shedai were displeased at being disturbed in this manner was something of an understatement, and though the full circumstances of their threat potential remained unknown to all but a few select individuals, the truth was that the entire quadrant had come within a hairsbreadth of utter annihilation. Kang himself had become aware of the situation only after its resolution some months earlier, and even he did not know all of the details. So far as he had been able to determine, those Klingons who did possess such greater knowledge had been “relocated for security reasons.”
This region, which imperial star charts still called the Gonmog Sector but which the Federation had labeled the Taurus Reach, was essentially a wedge separating Klingon territory from that claimed by the Federation as well as the Tholian Assembly, and until recently had held only marginal interest for the empire. All three parties had seemed to treat the area as something of an unofficial neutral zone, preferring instead to expand their boundaries in other directions.
That status quo had been maintained until just a few years ago, when the Federation established a sizable presence in the region, and Starfleet had wasted no time sending their warships to scout numerous star systems in the hopes of finding resource-rich worlds to exploit. At least, that was what the Klingon High Council had believed, until it was learned that Starfleet had uncovered what at the time was thought to be an unparalleled alien technology. Worried that the empire’s most formidable adversary might well have discovered some new weapon with which to threaten imperial interests and security, the council had ordered an increased Klingon presence into the sector. There had been infrequent skirmishes with Starfleet forces during the handful of years Starfleet—along with the Klingons and the Tholians—carried out its search for the alien technology. It was not until the full scope of the Shedai’s power and potential revealed itself that such confrontations began to escalate in both frequency and intensity.
Now, however, the Shedai appeared to be gone for good, following a massive battle against Starfleet forces that had resulted in the destruction of the space station they had placed in this region, Starbase 47. Some members of the High Council had put forth the notion that the Federation might withdraw from the sector, perhaps cowed by their experiences here, but Kang knew better. If the Earthers and their allies were consistent about anything, it was their annoying curiosity about everything. With the Shedai seemingly vanquished, this expanse of space was ripe for conquest, and the Klingon Empire had no intention of allowing the Federation or anyone else unfettered claim to the vast resources to be found here. Confrontation between the two powers was almost sure to result.
The council may yet get their war, after all.
“Have you prepared a team for transport to the surface?” Kang asked.
Mara nodded. “They await your command, Captain.” She crossed her arms. “Given what’s happened to the Homghor and that they failed to capture appropriate test subjects, perhaps I should lead the landing force.”
Shifting in his chair, Kang considered her suggestion. He was not worried for Mara’s safety. She was more than capable of defending herself, and she was correct that with the loss of the Homghor, her duties as the Voh’tahk’s science officer would require her to take the lead on any specimens his crew managed to capture from among the planet’s native population. Still, with so little known about these life-forms, he was concerned with sending anyone—his wife included—to the surface without sufficient information to guarantee success.
As though reading his thoughts, Mara added, “Remember, simply collecting random specimens isn’t enough. We need to determine which among their population are at a point in their development that the transition to this other life-form might soon occur. If the metamorphosis is imminent, we can place one or more subjects into stasis as Tormog planned to do.”
Kang nodded in agreement, recalling their earlier, private conversation where Mara had made these same points. At the time, Tormog was the one tasked with selecting at least one Tomol specimen for transport to either the Voh’tahk or the Homghor. With Tormog still on the surface and attempting to continue his mission and despite the loss of the Homghor, it now fell to Kang—along with Mara and the rest of his crew—to complete the scientist’s work. The captured Tomol would be interred in stasis pods for transport to Qo’noS, where they would be studied and their transformation observed under controlled laboratory conditions. He was skeptical of any sort of regulated experiment yielding useful results, particularly if Tormog’s account of the Homghor’s fate was in any way truthful, but there was only one way to be certain. The presence of the other Starfleet vessel complicated matters, of course, but Kang was ready to deal with that as well.
“Very well,” he said. “Prepare to lead the landing group. Find the Klingon life sign Mahzh detected and verify that there are no others, then proceed with the primary mission.” For a moment, he entertained the notion of leading the expedition himself, but with the Endeavour in proximity, his place was here on the bridge of his own vessel. For the sake of maintaining military bearing while in the presence of his subordinates as well as avoiding any risks of her later making him pay for any perceived slight—however pleasurable such punishment might end up being—Kang resisted an urge to advise Mara to exercise care while down on the planet. Instead, he merely offered the traditional sentiment whenever a challenging or dangerous task was about to be undertaken. “Qapla’!”
“Captain,” called out his communications officer, Kyris, and when Kang rotated his chair to face her, he saw that the younger Klingon’s features were clouded with confusion. “We are receiving a transmission from the planet surface. It’s being sent on one of our frequencies, but there does not appear to be any targeted recipient. Instead, it is broadcasting to anyone who can hear it.”
“One of our communicators? Is it Tormog, or possibly a survivor?”
Kyris shook her head. “I do not know, Captain.” She paused, studying information on one of her console’s smaller display screens that Kang could not see, before adding, “The transmission appears to have concluded.” Without waiting for further direction, she tapped several controls and the bridge’s intercom system flared to life with a low-pitched buzz that was normal background noise for a ship-to-surface frequency, followed by a feminine voice Kang did not recognize.
“This message is for the people on the sky-ships above us,” it said, the words spoken in a deliberate, measured cadence that Kang took to be a product of the communications system’s universal translation protocols. “I don’t know where you’ve come from, what you want, or why you’ve involved us in whatever fight you seem to be waging. But know this: you are not welcome on Arethusa, either of you. My name is Nimur, and I rule this world. Tell your people, and anyone else who might be foolish enough to come here: if you trespass on our soil again, you will do so at your own peril. Because as of now, Arethusa, and every living thing that dwells upon it—including your stranded comrades—are now mine. This will be your only warning.”
A sharp crackle echoed over the speakers and Kang turned to Kyris, who shook her head.
“That’s the entire message, Captain. Shall I attempt to reestablish a connection?”
Kang waved away the suggestion. “I suspect this Nimur will understand but one form of communication.” His first instinct was to order his weapons officer to target the source of the transmission and open fire, but movement near one of the sensor stations made him turn to see Mara leaning over the console, her attention fixed on a pair of computer displays.
“I’m making sure to collect detailed scans of the altered forms,” she said, without looking up from her work. “The data may be useful later.”
“Do so quickly,” Kang replied, his eyes once more fixed on the blue-green world on the viewscreen. Despite his orders to obtain Tomol specimens for study, he was beginning to wonder if the effort would prove more costly than any benefits the empire might realize. As he continued to contemplate releasing the full fury of the Voh’tahk’s weapons on the intemperate life-form who dared threaten him, Kang was struck by a new thought.
“The transmission. Was it heard by the Endeavour?”
“Yes, Captain,” Kyris replied. “They received it just as we did. If the other Starfleet ship on the surface survived its landing, it may have heard it as well.”
Her report gave Kang pause. What might the Starfleet captain, Khatami, be thinking at this moment? In all likelihood, her thoughts mirrored his own.
This situation has just become a great deal more complicated.
Dayton Ward is the New York Times bestselling author or co-author of nearly forty novels and novellas, often working with his best friend, Kevin Dilmore. His short fiction has appeared in more than twenty anthologies, and he’s written for magazines such as NCO Journal, Kansas City Voices, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Star Trek, and Star Trek Communicator, as well as the websites Tor.com, StarTrek.com, and Syfy.com. A native of Tampa, Florida, he currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his wife and two daughters. Visit him on the web at DaytonWard.com.
Kevin Dilmore has teamed with author Dayton Ward for fifteen years on novels, shorter fiction, and other writings within and outside the Star Trek universe. His short stories have appeared in anthologies including Native Lands by Crazy 8 Press. By day, Kevin works as a senior writer for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri. In 2014, a short film written by Kevin, “Outside of Town,” was selected for screening in the Short Film Corner of the Cannes Film Festival. A graduate of the University of Kansas, Kevin lives in Overland Park, Kansas.
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More books in this series: Star Trek: The Original Series