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Dayton Ward served for eleven years in the U.S. Marine Corps before discovering the private sector and the piles of cash to be made as a software engineer. He got his start in professional writing by placing stories in each of the first three Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthologies. He is the author of dozens of Star Trek novels, many written in collaboration with coauthor Kevin Dilmore.
Still reeling from the knowledge that Star Trek was a live-action series before it was a Saturday-morning cartoon, Kevin Dilmore is continually grateful for his professional involvement on the fiction and the nonfiction sides of the Star Trek universe for nearly a decade. Since 1997, he has been a contributing writer to Star Trek Communicator, penning news stories and personality profiles for the bimonthly publication of the Official Star Trek Fan Club.
™, ®, & © 2012 CBS Studios, Inc. Star Trek and related marks are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
As a former science officer and now the captain of a science vessel, Ronald Arens had encountered his share of interesting stellar phenomena. There had been the odd black hole or quasar, stars in the midst of going nova, and the occasional nebula here and there. He even had spent two weeks studying a rogue pulsar. Nothing Arens had seen with his own eyes or read about in reports submitted by those observing even stranger examples of spatial oddities compared to the image now displayed on the main viewscreen of the U.S.S. Huang Zhong’s bridge.
“Okay,” Arens said, rising from his command chair and moving closer to the screen, “I think this qualifies as an impressive welcome to the Kondaii system, especially considering how we nearly blew out our engines trying to get here.” Built for speed, the Huang Zhong, an Archer-class scout ship configured to hold an enhanced suite of sensor arrays and other science-related information-gathering equipment, had proceeded here at maximum speed after its abrupt reassignment from patrol duty. Despite his comment, the dependable little craft had handled with ease the exertion of traveling at high warp for nearly a week. As for why they had been dispatched, the captain had been told that the ship originally assigned to be here, the U.S.S. Lexington, had been deployed elsewhere on a task of greater priority. Though his ship’s science equipment would do in a pinch, Arens knew it could not substitute for a Constitution-class vessel. To that end, the Enterprise was being redirected to the Kondaii system to take on the brunt of the survey and research tasks. Until then, it was the Huang Zhong’s show.
Fine by me, Arens mused as he contemplated the anomaly on the viewscreen. To him, it appeared to be something of a cross between a plasma storm and a matter-antimatter explosion. It was an amorphous mass of energy, shifting and undulating in space, all while staying confined within what Arens already had been told was more or less a spherical area less than five hundred kilometers in diameter. Within that region was chaos, in the form of a kaleidoscopic maelstrom of light and color that seemed to fold back on itself, only to surge forth anew moments later. At the center of the field was a dark area, roughly circular in shape, which seemed to beckon to him. It took Arens an extra minute to realize that he had become all but mesmerized by the imagery.
“Captain?” a voice said from behind him, and Arens blinked as he turned to see Lieutenant Samuel Boma, a slightly-built man of African descent wearing a blue uniform tunic and regarding him with an expression that indicated the younger man had been waiting for his commanding officer with both patience and amusement.
Clearing his throat, Arens smiled. “I was daydreaming again, wasn’t I?”
The Huang Zhong’s science officer’s features remained fixed as he shook his head in melodramatic fashion. “I’m not qualified to speculate on that topic, sir. At all.”
“Damned right, you’re not.” Arens’s smile grew wider. Their easy banter, something the captain had missed, was a product of his and Boma’s service together years earlier. Arens at the time was the science officer on the Constellation, while Boma had been a fresh-faced junior-grade lieutenant fresh out of Starfleet Academy’s advanced astrophysics school. The friendship begun during that joint tour of duty continued even after both men went their separate ways to different assignments. Boma had joined the Huang Zhong’s crew less than six months earlier, transferring from a ground posting at Starbase 12 following a less than stellar performance while serving aboard the Enterprise. After Boma had run into trouble stemming from insubordination charges that resulted in a permanent notation in his service record, he had requested a transfer to any ship or station. When Arens found out that his friend was available, he had petitioned Starfleet Command to have Boma join his crew. Starfleet granted the request, allowing Arens to make sure that Boma was afforded a chance to redeem himself.
Gesturing toward the viewscreen, Arens said, “All right, let’s get down to business. What can you tell me about this thing?”
Boma replied, “Not much; at least, not yet. As the initial reports indicated, it’s about eight hundred thousand kilometers from the system’s fourth planet. According to my calculations, it maintains a consistent elliptical orbit with a duration of seventeen point six days.” He paused, pointing to the screen and indicating the dark area at the center of the energy field. “Most of the time, it’s impassable, but the rift we’re seeing appears at intervals that compute out to be approximately two point seven Earth years, give or take as much as two months. The rift stays open for a period of about thirty-eight days, again plus or minus a day or three, though it doesn’t just close; it shrinks over a period of several days before fading altogether. From the reports we’ve received, once the rift’s closed, that’s it until the next time it opens. No way in or out.” He gestured toward the screen. “The locals have a name for it that translates more or less as ‘the Pass.’ Seems appropriate enough for me.”
“Damnedest thing I’ve ever heard of,” Arens said, reaching up to rub the back of his bald head. Since being given the assignment to observe this phenomenon, he had familiarized himself with whatever information he could find on the Kondaii system, or System 965, as it had been catalogued after initial surveys by unmanned Starfleet reconnaissance probes more than a decade earlier. From the reports he had read, such as those provided by Federation first-contact teams that had visited the Kondaii system more than a year earlier as well as the most recent accounts submitted by continuing contact specialists and diplomatic envoys, the people who called the fourth planet, Dolysia, their home had always been aware of the phenomenon. Like their sun or the pair of moons orbiting their planet or even the other seven worlds occupying the Kondaii system, the mysterious anomaly had always been a part of the Dolysian people’s history.
“What about its interior?” Arens asked. “Anything on the moon or planetoid or whatever it is hiding in there?”
The science officer shook his head. “Not much, really. The locals call it ‘Gralafi,’ which in their language translates to something like ‘playful child,’ no doubt owing to the way it plays hide-and-seek from within the anomaly. It has a Class-M environment like the Dolysians’ own planet, so I suppose that’s a huge plus.” He shrugged. “By all accounts, it may be a dwarf planet, but there’s no way to know if it originally was part of this system and became trapped within that region, or if it’s from somewhere else. We won’t know anything until we get a closer look at it, run some scans, and see if it shares any properties with the planets here.”
“Regardless of where it came from,” Arens said, “or where it might belong, the Dolysians have certainly made the best of it.” The revelation that a spatial body had been discovered inside the rift residing within a form of pocket or other compartmentalized region of space had come as a surprise to him. Even more astonishing was learning that the Dolysians had explored and even settled upon it, having found a means of working with the rift’s sporadic if mostly...