Captain Chakotay and his sister, Sekaya, are being held captive beneath the surface of Loran II by a Changeling -- an outcast Founder masquerading as Chakotay's second-in-command, Andrew Ellis. To Chakotay's horror, the Changeling gives the two prisoners over to the infamous Cardassian scientist Crell Moset, who plans to use Chakotay's Sky Spirit-enhanced DNA to create a super species that will bring him the fame and acceptance he craves.
Leaving Chakotay and Sekaya to their fate, the Changeling assumes Chakotay's image and infiltrates the Starship Voyager, putting the entire crew at risk. Dr. Jarem Kaz and Lieutenant Harry Kim, increasingly suspicious of their captain's odd behavior, turn to Admiral Janeway and Lieutenant Commander Tom Paris for help. As Paris races to save Voyager from catastrophe, the real Chakotay must undertake a "Spirit Walk" that could set him and his sister free -- or lead to their ultimate destruction....
Commander Andrew Ellis lifted his thumb off the small button concealed in the soil. He regarded Captain Chakotay and his sister, Sekaya, as they lay sprawled on the chalk image his partner had drawn. Unconscious, both of them. Excellent. He pressed a second button, then rose from his kneeling position and dusted off his hands.
It took only a few minutes for his...servants...to arrive. They were largely silent as they approached, their presence revealed only by the soft swishing of their massive legs through the long grasses. He surveyed them with approval.
It could be said they were humanoid in shape, but only vaguely so. Standing well over two meters tall, they had grossly overdeveloped chests and arms, and their mouths were crammed full of sharp teeth. Rusty orange fur covered their bodies, crowned by a ridge of spines that crested along their backs. Small, bright black eyes peered out at their master through thick falls of hair. One of them began to salivate in anticipation; a long rope of drool hung from its lower lip. Their scent was musky and rank, all the stronger for their present state of excitement.
"You," Ellis said, selecting two at random, "take these two to the center." He indicated the fallen bodies of Chakotay and Sekaya. "The rest of you, pay attention to me."
He raised his hand and pointed his third and index fingers to his eyes, as he might with a dog he was trying to train. Their eyes fastened on his obediently.
"You will find four people in uniforms like this one wandering about. You will attack them."
One of the creatures roared its approval and began to jump about happily. "Silence!" Ellis cried, irritated. The creature quieted.
"You are not to kill them. Understand?"
They looked disappointed. One of them whimpered.
Ellis continued. "You are to chase them, frighten them, hurt them if you must, but I will be very, very angry if any of them dies. I will find the one who did it and kill him or her. Understand?"
"Good. Now. Go and have fun."
The creatures scattered, chittering and hooting, eager to perform so pleasant a duty. The two chosen to bear Chakotay and Sekaya lumbered forward, easily picking up the limp bodies in their powerful arms.
Ellis watched them go. Delight was warm inside him. It was all going according to plan. There'd been a slight glitch when Chakotay had unexpectedly decided to follow regulations regarding the away team, but Ellis had recovered. After some quick thinking, he'd been able to lure not only the human captain to the planet, but his sister as well. His Cardassian ally would be so pleased.
He followed his creatures as they walked to a seemingly solid boulder and passed easily through. It had been difficult to convince them they could safely walk through something their eyes told them was solid. Eventually, though, they became familiar with the holographic illusion. Now Ellis followed them down the rough stairs carved into the rock. He couldn't wait until Chakotay awoke.
Lieutenant Devi Patel loved the sciences. She practically romanced them, sometimes to the exclusion of less intellectual attachments. The only pain her passion for science had ever caused her was at the Academy, when she had been forced to choose a field of specialty. She wished there were such a thing as a "generalist." Even after choosing biology, she had taken a staggering number of extra courses in other fields to the point where she was practically an expert in all of the sciences.
She had decided, reluctantly, to let medicine be one of the fields she could bear to part with. She'd never felt drawn to be a healer, but rather an explorer. She had an insatiable curiosity that had gotten her into trouble more than once, and a peculiar blend of cheery optimism and logical intellect that had gotten her out of most of the tight spots in which she'd found herself. During her first assignment, aboard the U.S.S. Victory, she had been given the nickname "Fearless." She wasn't sure if it was appropriate. Patel had always associated "fearless" with "heroic," and she certainly never felt heroic. She just was almost always, in any situation, more curious than afraid. The universe was full of scientific wonders and marvels, and her brain automatically snapped into that mode rather than get me out of here.
This planet, actually, was rather boring from a scientific viewpoint. She'd spent her free time on the trip here analyzing the data Marius Fortier and the other colonists had collected, and it was pretty standard Class-M stuff. While as always there were interesting variations on things, such as a new strain of orchid or arachnid, there was nothing startling or amazing or wondrous. Still, she had her tricorder out and was analyzing it intently. Who knew but that something exciting and unusual might register and she would be the one to --
Patel took a swift breath and her eyes widened as she stared at the tricorder.
They were enormous, mammalian, bipedal --
And heading right for her.
This was such a beautiful planet, Lieutenant Harry Kim thought as he strode toward the center of the colony, which had been designated as the rendezvous point. No wonder Fortier and the others wanted to return. He wondered if they would indeed still want to resume colonization of the place, now that they knew there were no survivors among the colonists who had chosen to stay behind.
He wished that hadn't been the case, and hoped at least that they would able to find the colonists' bodies and give them a proper burial.
He crested a slight ridge and looked down at the group of buildings nestled in the valley. What was the word he was looking for? Pastoral? Bucolic? Either would do. It wasn't quite a rustic farmland of the eighteenth century or anything like that -- Fortier and his friends certainly didn't eschew the benefits of technology -- but the little town that lay before him had an aura of simplicity about it that made him want to walk its streets and sit and watch sunsets by its lakes.
Kim made his way down the hill, stepping sideways now and then to avoid stumbling on grass still slick from the recent rain. He looked again at the little square and suddenly saw something that made the scene look decidedly less bucolic -- the fallen bodies of security officers Brendan Niemann and Kathryn Kaylar.
He had put away his phaser while he descended the slope. Now he pulled it out again and started running down the hill, his eyes glancing around for whoever or whatever might have done this.
Kim never saw the enemy that had stalked him silently and now launched itself at him from behind.
Patel had two instruments in her hands -- her phaser and her tricorder. She thumbed a button on the latter and lifted the former, but she had underestimated the creature's speed. It sprang on her even as she fired and her shot went wild. Her small body fell beneath the creature's weight, and the tricorder flew from her hand.
The beast weighed several hundred kilos, and she felt her ribs crack. Ignoring the pain, her arms pinned, she squirmed stubbornly beneath it, staring up at its small dark eyes and muzzle crammed with teeth.
Carnivore, she thought in a detached part of her mind. She felt hot breath on her face and smelled rotting meat. Yes, definitely carnivore.
Patel braced herself for the crunching of those sharp teeth on her unprotected throat, but it didn't come. She and the creature locked gazes for the span of a few heartbeats. Saliva dripped onto her cheek.
Then, as suddenly as it had attacked, it was gone. Patel gasped for breath and wished she hadn't as the pain redoubled. Through the agony of each inhalation, she wondered: Why didn't that thing kill me?
"Sekky, are you all right?"
Oh, good, thought Ellis. They're awake. That should make this more fun. He looked over at his companion, grinned, and inclined his head in the direction of the lab. His companion nodded and stepped briskly down the corridor toward their captives. Ellis waited, timing the moment.
"What happened?" Sekaya still sounded groggy.
"An excellent question, and one we'll be happy to answer."
Ellis smiled at Sekaya's gasp as she recognized the Cardassian. He wanted to see her reaction himself but knew that the moment would be sweeter if he prolonged it.
"You! You son of a bitch!"
Ellis raised an eyebrow in surprise. Do you kiss your brother with that mouth? he thought, amused. He began to make his own way down the corridor, moving quietly while Crell Moset spoke.
"Hello, Sekaya. I'm flattered that you recognized me. I must have made quite an impression. No, no, dear, don't struggle, you'll hurt yourself and I'll have to sedate you."
"And that just wouldn't be any fun at all, would it, Chakotay?" Ellis said, stepping inside. He couldn't help grinning as he saw Chakotay's dark eyes dart from his face to that of the real Andrew Ellis, stuck in a stasis chamber.
"It wouldn't be any fun at all." And this was the moment he had been waiting for, the moment when Chakotay, after so many years, would finally understand. He let his features shift, blur, rearrange themselves into a face Chakotay had known well, so long ago.
"Arak Katal," breathed Chakotay.
The shape-shifter who wore the face of a Bajoran freedom fighter shrugged. Its earring danced with the movement. "Among others," he said.
"Suddenly it all makes perfect sense," said Chakotay. "I never could figure out why a Bajoran would want to betray the Maquis."
"That's been bothering you for a while, I know," said Katal/Ellis. "Glad I could solve that little mystery. But I didn't bring you down here just to reminisce. I've been looking for you for quite some time, Chakotay."
With each second that passed, Chakotay's thoughts grew clearer. He remembered now that it had been Katal who had sent him on his last mission as a Maquis -- the mission that had forced him to hide in the Badlands, where his ship had been snatched by the Caretaker. Chakotay had operated from Tevlik's moon. As he had told Admiral Janeway, had he not headed for the Badlands in an attempt to evade the clutches of Gul Evek, he knew that he would have died at the massacre along with so many others. Being lost in the Delta Quadrant had probably saved his life.
"You sent me away," he said to the shape-shifter. "Into the Badlands. Did you know about the Caretaker somehow?"
"Of course not," Katal responded. "That would have defeated the whole point. I just wanted you captured, Chakotay. Not dead, not abducted by some super-being and whisked seventy thousand light-years away -- just safely captured by a Cardassian Gul."
Without appearing to, Chakotay subtly tested the restraints. They were solid. Next to him Sekaya had fallen silent. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her staring, wide-eyed, totally in shock at what she beheld.
Stay quiet, Sekky, he thought. Let me handle this.
"Safely captured by a Cardassian," he repeated, "and then turned over to the tender ministrations of one Dr. Crell Moset." Better known as the Butcher of Bajor, he thought.
"Exactly," said Moset. "I understand that you are what your people call a contrary. That made this quite difficult for me. Did you know that you were the only inhabitant of Dorvan V who ever left the planet? And I'm a completist."
"Sorry to have inconvenienced you," Chakotay said sarcastically. He was beginning to understand what was going on. For whatever reason, Crell Moset wanted to take samples from Chakotay, to finish his analysis of the colonists of Dorvan V.
What kind of sick mind would obsess about something so trivial when his people had been so thoroughly defeated? And why would Katal be assisting him? The whole thing was bizarre. Bizarre, and disturbing. Chakotay had no doubt but that if he and Sekaya couldn't manage to escape, they would be joining Blue Water Dreamer much sooner than either of them wanted.
"Just what is it you're trying to complete?" he asked, stalling for time. "You may not know this, Moset, but our Doctor on Voyager created a holographic version of you. Your expertise saved a crewman's life. A friend's life."
Moset managed to look both pleased and offended when he replied, "I am indeed aware of that, Captain. And I'm aware that despite my expertise, your doctor chose to delete my program permanently. Think of the lives I -- excuse me, my hologram -- could have saved! Think of the knowledge we would have gained! Wandering in the Delta Quadrant for seven years, all that new information -- "
Chakotay kept his gaze on the Cardassian, but out of the corner of his eye he tried to take in everything else: the size of the room, the instruments, the tools, the type of rock that surrounded it, anything that could be used as a weapon. And of course he watched Katal -- damn it -- the shape-shifter. Probably a Changeling, given his easy way with the Cardassian.
Who was looking at him with an odd expression on his face at this very moment.
"He's playing you, Moset," the Changeling drawled. Chakotay's skin prickled and he felt a wave of anger and hatred wash over him at the sound of that familiar voice. The voice that he had thought belonged to a friend; the voice that had spoken lies that sounded so much like truths no one ever suspected what was really going on.
"Nonsense," said Moset, but he looked a little subdued.
"Come, my friend," the Changeling said, taking Moset by the arm and steering him away. "We have much to discuss."
They stepped down the corridor, speaking in low tones. Chakotay couldn't understand their words, but right now that wasn't his primary concern.
"Sekaya," he hissed, "are you all right?"
She didn't answer at once. Then she turned her head slowly on the bed to look at him. Her beautiful eyes were wet.
"He found us, Chakotay," she said, and her normally melodious voice was thick. "Great Spirit, he found us. I thought I'd left him behind. I thought he'd taken enough from me. First Blue Water Dreamer and then Father...and now he's going to murder us, too."
"No, he's not," said Chakotay. Yet even as he uttered the words, he looked around at their surroundings with dwindling hope, and wondered if he would prove to be as much a liar as Arak Katal.
New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Christie Golden has written more than forty novels and several short stories in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Among her many projects are over a dozen Star Trek novels and several original fantasy novels. An avid player of World of Warcraft, she has written two manga short stories and several novels in that world. Golden lives in Tennessee. She welcomes visitors to her website: ChristieGolden.com.