David Mack is the New York Times
bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Wildfire
, Reap the Whirlwind
, Road of Bones
, Star Trek: The Fall: A Ceremony of Losses
, the Cold Equations trilogy, and the Star Trek Destiny trilogy—Gods of Night
, Mere Mortals
, and Lost Souls
. His first original novel, the supernatural thriller The Calling
, debuted in July 2009 to critical acclaim. In addition to novels, Mack’s diverse writing credits span several media, including television, film, short fiction, magazines, newspapers, comic books, computer games, radio, and the Internet. He currently resides in New York City.
With a sonorous hum and a luminous flare, the transporter beam faded and Commander Geordi La Forge found himself alone in the dark, staring down the barrel of a phaser rifle. The hard-eyed Tellarite security officer behind the weapon lurched forward, tensed for confrontation as he challenged La Forge in a harsh voice. “Identify yourself!”
Hands raised and palms open, the veteran Starfleet engineer recoiled, only to freeze in place as he noticed on the edges of his vision more rifles being brought to bear against him. “La Forge, Enterprise
. What’s going on?”
The Tellarite glared down his snout at La Forge, his bearing laced with suspicion and hostility. “We’ll ask the questions.” He nodded at someone behind La Forge. “Search him.”
Singsong tones from a tricorder broke the eerie silence as La Forge was scanned, then rough hands patted him down, stripped his field tricorder from his hip pocket, and plucked the padd from his left hand. A burly Denobulan with sinister-looking ocular ridges stepped into his line of sight and showed the confiscated devices to the Tellarite. “These are all he had on him, sir.” Somewhere in the distance, sirens wailed in the night, their cries faint but drawing closer.
Despite his subordinate’s assurances, the Tellarite lieutenant commander kept his rifle aimed squarely at La Forge’s face. “What are you doing here?”
“I was invited,” La Forge said. “I’m a guest of Captain Bruce Maddox. He contacted me via subspace two days ago and asked me to come here in person. He said it was urgent.”
A Trill woman with a crew cut that matched her severe features edged into view on La Forge’s left. “Sir, I just confirmed the Enterprise
is in orbit. He is who he says he is.”
The news seemed to disappoint the Tellarite, who scowled as he lowered his weapon. “All right, stand down.” He stepped forward and offered his three-fingered hand to La Forge. “Lieutenant Commander Teg. No hard feelings, Commander.”
“We’ll see about that.” La Forge stepped around Teg and got his first good look at the exterior of the Starfleet Annex of the Daystrom Institute. It had been nearly a decade since the Enterprise
’s last visit to the facility; not much seemed to have changed. The five-story building was bland and utilitarian, and its surrounding lawn, which sloped gently downhill to a dense sprawl of old-growth forest, was impeccably manicured. He looked back at the dour Tellarite, who continued to watch him with wary, flat-black eyes. “Where’s Captain Maddox?”
Teg beckoned La Forge with a tilt of his head. “Follow me.” Rifle slung at his side, he led La Forge inside the Annex through its open main entrance.
Stealing looks around the wide-open ground floor, La Forge noted that the facility’s interior was far more spartan than he had remembered. If not for the armed Starfleet security personnel milling about, he might have thought the Annex deserted. Force field-partitioned work spaces that once had been crowded with fabrication equipment and computers now stood empty. What had been an office was now a stack of crates. It looked more like an academic laboratory than an active research environment at one of the Federation’s preeminent scientific institutions.
At the far end of the floor, Teg ushered him inside an elevator and pressed the button for the recently added sublevel, where Captain Maddox’s new lab was situated. Ten years earlier, Maddox had conducted his studies in the spacious main laboratory on the ground floor. With its state-of-the-art accoutrements and commanding view of the Annex’s wooded environs, it had seemed like an ideal working environment—until its overall exposure had left it vulnerable to a devastating sneak attack that had nearly cost Maddox his life. Since then, Maddox had erred on the side of safety, eschewing the luxuries of sunlight and scenery for the practical benefits of privacy and security.
The elevator doors parted, and bitter smoke rolled in over La Forge’s head. Teg led him out into the sublevel and down the hallway toward Maddox’s lab. Walking slowly, La Forge squinted through the smoke at the numerous scorch marks dotting the corridor. Then he saw that the airlock-style double doors to the lab were open, and through the doorway flowed a steady haze tinged with the acrid stench of burnt metal and melted circuitry. He dodged a departing firefighter as they both stepped through the doorway. Once inside, La Forge’s worst fears were confirmed: the high-tech cybernetics lab had been demolished.
Standing in the middle of the wreckage was Bruce Maddox, one of the Federation’s leading experts on cybernetics and artificial intelligence. He was in his mid-sixties but still retained the trim physique of his youth; only his salt-and-pepper hair betrayed his years. Dark circles of fatigue ringed his eyes, and his disheveled uniform suggested to La Forge that the man had been involved in whatever crisis had just unfolded.
Maddox’s first brush with the Enterprise
crew, nearly twenty-five years earlier, had been adversarial; he had tried to have Data declared the property of Starfleet so he could disassemble the android to further his own research. That legal battle had been decided in Data’s favor, setting the first precedent that eventually led the Federation to recognize the legal personhood of artificially sentient beings—an argument that Maddox himself had made before the Federation’s highest civilian court, in defense of Data’s older brother, B-4. In the fifteen years between those two legal milestones, Maddox and Data had developed a mutual if guarded professional respect. It still amazed La Forge that Data had never borne a grudge against Maddox, not even after he’d acquired his emotion chip. Inspired by Data’s example, La Forge had put aside his own anger at Maddox long ago and since then had come to respect and admire the man’s work. If pressed, La Forge would have had to admit that Maddox was likely the only person alive who knew more than he did about Soong-type androids.
They met in the middle of the lab and clasped hands. Maddox looked exhausted and desperate. “Geordi! Thank God you’re here. Please tell me the Enterprise
is with you.”
“Yes, it is.” He put a hand to Maddox’s shoulder in reassurance. “Bruce, calm down. Tell me what happened.”
Maddox pressed his dirty palms over his eyes, then pulled down, stretching his face into something that looked like it belonged in a funhouse mirror. “It happened so fast. One minute I was upstairs in my office, preparing for our meeting. The next, alarms started going off. I raced down here, and when I stepped out of the elevator, they started shooting.”
“I don’t know who they were. I couldn’t get a good look at them.” He turned and pointed at a wall console that had been blasted to pieces, leaving only an ugly scorch from floor to ceiling. “They knocked out the security system, including the scattering field. Then they beamed out—I heard the sound of the transporter from the end of the hall. I ran toward the lab, and that’s when something exploded.”
Teg stepped between La Forge and Maddox. “Five somethings exploded, actually.” He grunted and shook his head. “Hell of a way to cover an escape.”
La Forge surveyed the damage inflicted by the explosives. “That wasn’t part of their exit...