Summoned to an emergency brieÞng at Starþeet Headquarters, Captain Jean-Luc Picard is stunned to discover that the legendary Iconians have returned at last, and are offering to sell the secrets of their advanced technology to the Federation. To prove their sincerity, they have reactivated their long-abandoned Gateways, but the results have been strife and chaos throughout the entire Alpha Quadrant. Now Picard and his crew must contend with feuding Klingons and Romulans as the captain seeks to discover the sinister truth behind the Iconians' unexpected rebirth!
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The first thing they noticed was the stench. A rotting-food kind of smell drifted from the open window at the rear of the museum. Its visitors were long gone, its doors locked. The building itself wasn't terribly large, just two stories tall but a block wide. In fact, it was a rather ordinary building, without much in decoration, which made Jhen sneer. They showed more respect for their past back home, he decided.
Four figures moved quietly toward the window, ignoring the odor. Street lighting was minimal toward the rear and this helped hide their tall and thin silhouettes. After all, few Andorians were seen on Tellar, each race preferring to keep to themselves.
It occurred to Jhen that he never quite knew what the original problem was between these two people. He knew they had found one another long before there was a United Federation of Planets, but why two aggressive races did not form an alliance and conquer nearby worlds such as Alpha Centauri and Vulcan made no sense to him. It didn't matter, because the Andorians had their pride and if the Tellarites wouldn't be their allies they were to be considered potential adversaries.
When the dormant doorway lit up and Tolin saw it led to Tellar, it was she who suggested they step through and retrieve the revered artifact, the colAndor Scrolls. Jhen knew the history: how the Scrolls were brought to Tellar as part of a cultural exhibition. How they were used to show Tellar another way to organize their government. And how Ger, High Councillor to the First Seat of Tellar, spirited them away and threw the Andorian delegation off the planet. The Scrolls had been lost to the Andorians and skirmishes almost led to a war. Changes in both governments led to a truce some years later, but the Scrolls remained on Tellar.
Tolin tugged at Jhen's loose sleeve. He turned and saw her gesture toward the window. Below it was a stack of containers, sturdy enough to support them. How very careless of these arrogant creatures, Jhen thought. With a wave of his hand, Jhen directed his small party forward, inching toward their goal. No sound came from the building, so if it was guarded, it was from an artificial, not living, source. This made it simpler, as Tolin thumbed a palm-sized cylinder. Its purple light flared and she nodded in satisfaction. Now the automated surveillance would be fooled and they could move freely. She placed the cylinder just inside the window, fastening it to the interior wall.
Okud was the first one through the window, open more than enough to allow their slender forms through. The drop to the polished marble floor was less than a meter and was done with only the slightest of noises. Tolin followed, then Mako, and finally Jhen. All four stood within the room, breathing through their mouths to ignore as much of the stench as possible, which was stronger inside the building. Lighting was dim and Jhen could spot the various sensors, none of which changed from their amber status. The room they had entered was cluttered with stone carvings and paintings on metal. He knew even less of Tellarite culture than his companions, so he couldn't begin to guess what he was looking at. What he did know was that the workmanship was crude, like the Tellarites themselves.
Mako looked closely at one statue, that of a boy at play. He smiled at it, earning him a disapproving glance from Tolin. As far as Jhen was concerned, there was nothing to like about the heathen race, and Tolin seemed to agree. Reaching into a hidden pocket within her leather tunic, she extracted a folded piece of paper, opened it, and studied the map. Satisfied, she replaced it and pointed one light-blue-skinned finger to her right.
The quartet ignored the rest of the items surrounding them, heading straight for their objective. Passing through two more rooms, they finally saw a large chamber with a glass-covered pedestal. Within it was their objective: the Scrolls. Jhen silently counted to five, smiling that they were all together. Tolin grinned at him. Mako walked ahead of her to peer at the placard underneath the glass, trying to read the description. He growled in frustration; his knowledge of the Tellarite language was almost nonexistent, so he couldn't understand the words.
Remaining silent, Jhen pointed at Okud, who opened up a brown satchel that had been strapped to his back. The first object was palm-sized, oblong and dark. He removed it, thumbing a control set deep within the item. Its low hum indicated the localized disruptor was scrambling a spectrum of frequencies normally associated with security shielding. Withdrawing thin, elegant tools next, he made quick work of the sealant around the glass's base. A glance at the disruptor showed no warning lights, so Tolin and Jhen gently lifted the glass upward. Mako reverently touched the Scrolls, then placed each of them in the satchel. He nodded toward Jhen, signaling he was done. Okud absently disengaged the disruptor while Tolin reached once more into her bag when they were interrupted.
As expected from the outset, an undetected sensor was triggered and a keening sound came from the pedestal. The Tellarites weren't entirely stupid, they knew, but they figured they would get this far before being detected. They had speed working in their favor.
None of them hurried, but walked with long strides toward their window exit. Jhen saw that a metal plate was sliding down to cover it -- a standard security tactic. Tolin unholstered a hand-sized phaser, and fired. The amber beam turned the metal plate into molten slag, halting its movement. With a little more speed, they exited and began strolling away. Jhen had successfully found the back-alley route that would return them to the door, and home.
When a security detail arrived five minutes later, they went from room to room checking for damage. As they approached the chamber that once contained the Andorian Scrolls, they saw in its place a small figurine. It was of an Andorian female, in cleric's robes, praying.
"Grand Nagus!" The voice was urgent, if high-pitched. It sounded like that of a child entering adolescence, cracking and nervous.
"Yes," said Grand Nagus Rom of the Ferengi Alliance. There were still mornings he woke up convinced this was the longest dream he had ever had. But no, he was really the Grand Nagus. He still remembered the day it happened, with vivid clarity: Zek, gnarled and cackling as usual, telling him it was time he and Ishka -- Rom's mother -- settled down into retirement. Since Rom shared Zek's vision for long-term changes in Ferengi society to insure its viability in an ever-shifting universe, the outgoing Grand Nagus asked Rom to succeed him. With his Bajoran wife Leeta by his side, Rom considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the planet.
Of course, not everyone agreed with Zek's logic, most notably Rom's older brother Quark.
"Three Orion ships approaching orbit. They've already disabled forty-three percent of our satellite defenses!" His voice grew even more excited, if that was possible.
Rom raised a hand to his left ear, making sure it was not blocked and that he heard the warning properly. Orions! They had no respect for the Rules of Acquisition, just plunder. They had proven incredibly unreliable business partners and even his older brother avoided working with them. But they had never ventured anywhere near Ferenginar before, so what did they want -- and how did they get so close without triggering the deep space sensor net?
Jumping to his feet, Rom left his soft, warm bed, letting the tall and sultry Leeta remain slumbering. If she was anything, he mused, slipping into a shiny robe, Leeta was a good sleeper. He began flipping switches on the desk he used for late-night accounting reviews. While he might have been poor with business, Rom was good with matters technical, and this got his curiosity aroused.
"Errr, just stay clam," he muttered into the communications system. "Have we mobilized the Treasury Guard?"
"Yes, Your Grandness."
"Oh, okay," he replied. "Make sure we have forces surrounding our key trading facilities and, um, let's mount an aerial force to keep them from landing."
"Yes, Your Grandness!" Rom wasn't sure who this shrill man was, but he assumed he was from the morning watch, and had never experienced the unexpected before. The current Nagus had certainly seen plenty of that during his time on Deep Space 9, both as the "assistant manager of policy and clientele" for his brother's bar, and later as an engineer during the Dominion War -- a war in which Rom had fully expected to become a casualty. In the months since he had returned home to rule, Rom had fallen into a new routine and it gave him comfort. While letting business continue as usual, he began exploring the various ways off-world trading was conducted, drafting reforms that he would phase in. It was like solving any engineering problem, as Chief O'Brien used to tell him: don't try and fix anything until you're sure you know the full extent of the damage. "Shortcuts can lead to short circuits," he used to mutter in his Irish brogue. Rom missed that voice and idly wondered how the chief was faring back on Earth.
With a shake of his head, he turned his attention to the feeds from the remaining orbital satellites. Telemetry was coming in and he began to notice odd energy readings just a few tens of thousands of kilometers from Ferenginar. The readings were massive, emitting an energy signature he didn't recognize, but clearly a portal of some sort, large enough to allow Orion starships to traverse through it. This was disturbing, if the Orions found some way to alter the scale of trade. Should they manage to just show up and attack worlds or shipping lanes, no one would be safe.
Again, he wondered why would they come to Ferenginar. Zek was no fool, and had made certain their wealth was spread out far and wide, controlled through some of the most sophisticated software imaginable. Rom saw no reason to change what worked.
"Grand Nagus!" shrieked the voice once more.
"They've established orbit and are engaging the aerial police. But we've detected transporter activity."
This wasn't good. Orions would not beam down just to trade or make a deal. They came to steal and his people would not know what to do. This would be worse than the Great Monetary Collapse. "Where?"
Rom bit his lip in surprise and he yelped. His home! Not that he had a lot of gold-pressed latinum on hand, but he had mementos brought from both Deep Space 9 and the house where Ishka raised him and Quark. "But I don't hear..."
His words were cut off by a loud crash, as the front door was kicked in. Orions, Rom knew, were physically imposing and preferred brute strength to weapons, and if they needed weapons, loud and destructive ones over anything subtle. Hands flew over his ears as the thumping continued, growing closer.
Rom hurried over to his bed and spent a few precious seconds gazing at his wife. How he loved Leeta, he thought. Then, with rising panic, he shook her awake with almost violent force.
"What's the matter, sweetie?" Her voice was still sleep-thick.
"We're being invaded! Quick, to the closet!" Rom tugged at her and Leeta rose from the bed, eyes wide in shock. Her next few words were garbled since she couldn't quite form a coherent sentence, which suited Rom just fine, since he didn't think he could give her a proper response. Tapping two studs in the wall, a hidden panel opened up and Rom practically shoved his wife, still in her diaphanous gown, through the doorway. "You stay there," he advised her. "I'll see what they want."
"Want? They want everything!" she exclaimed as the hatch sealed itself, once more looking like an ordinary closet.
Rom turned and headed back to his desk. He studied the data from space, marveling over the size of the aperture that allowed the invading force. Was it stable like the wormhole he lived near for so long? Could the Prophets of Bajor come for his meager profits? His thoughts were stopped when his bedchamber door was obliterated by a booted foot. Six Orions, each in his own version of fighting gear, walked in, weapons waving in every direction. The leather they wore was dark, well oiled, and reflected the hall lights. The weapons seemed almost as big as the average Ferengi and they hummed with power.
"You!" the first one shouted. He had scars along the right side of his face and, Rom noted, had rather dainty ears. He suppressed a giggle.
The next few minutes had the Orions rampage through the room and the rest of the house, taking what looked valuable, breaking a few things when
they were frustrated, and demanding Rom quote open-market prices on just about everything. He had a hard time keeping up with six determined shoppers but through whimpers, he managed. Rom could hear fighting going on, in the rainy streets. Thank the Great Exchequer, he thought, his people were defending their Nagus.
Finally, satisfied they each had enough, they tapped identical blue buttons on their forearms and were transported back to their ship. Rom stood, shaking, amid the litter. Some of his favorite items were gone, others cracked or broken. Still, he was alive and they never found Leeta. As he returned to the bedroom to retrieve his wife, Rom remained fascinated by the engineering that was used to create the passageway.
"Macan deserves its unity! Macan's people deserve peace and prosperity! Macan does not, however, deserve its corrupt government!"
The small throng of people listened intently as the portly figure spoke. He was tall, broad, and had perfectly coiffed hair. His clothes were neatly pressed, the sixteen buttons on the jacket gleaming in the afternoon sun. For the last month, he had met with small groups such as this one, speaking with a lilt in his slightly accented voice, which the people of Sherman's Planet found appealing.
Jiggs Cardd had escaped his homeworld of Macan, fearing for his life. Now, several systems away, he once more was an outspoken critic of his government. Since unification came to his world, it had struggled to band nine continents and three dozen smaller governments into a cohesive whole. To accomplish this meant a merging of ideologies, finances, and a plethora of other details. What Cardd had learned was that along the way, those left to organize this glorious new beginning for the people of Macan were accepting bribes and favors to help shape a government that would favor some countries' peoples over others. There was even word that deals with off-planet interests would weaken their ability to conduct trade or apply for admission to the United Federation of Planets.
The people leaned in, engaged by the tenor of his voice but also by his spirit. Cardd was not the only one to speak out, but by being first, he was seen as the leader of a rebellious faction. On more than one occasion he avoided being arrested by the hastily formed Planetary Defense Initiative -- Macan's secret police. His home had been burned to the ground, he had lost his job, and he had been roundly criticized on the information networks.
And still he spoke, making sure his people knew they were being sold out.
When things got so difficult he could no longer speak out in public, he found sympathetic friends who took him away from Macan. Now, speaking out in exile, Cardd tried to keep people focused on the problems before they were too entrenched to be fixed.
"We have over two hundred cultures and languages on my world, two hundred different ways for describing a sunny day. Should fifteen of those ways be given preference over the rest? I think not. Nor should those unfortunate enough to live in poverty be subjected to testing to qualify for relief. Pooling together these countries means redistributing all the resources to help everyone. These are the overriding principals that allowed Vulcan to become one of the leading races in the galaxy. These are the same reasons that allowed Earth to put countless world wars behind them and seek a better way of life. And that's all I ask for Macan."
As Cardd spoke, no one noticed the three men that entered the town square. They wore dark brown uniforms and visors that covered their eyes, and had energy weapons clipped to their sleeves. With determined steps, the men neared Cardd. Once they spotted him, they fanned out in a well-practiced formation, unclipped the weapons, and took aim. Without a word, they fired in unison and all three bright violet beams struck the speaker. Cardd slumped forward, people screaming in shock.
The men merely turned away and walked back through the town, to the doorway that remained patiently open, waiting for their return.
Delta IV and Carreon were separated by four solar systems, each populated with up to eleven planets. And yet, they each laid claim to one planet in a nearby system. Admittedly, the planet was mineral rich unlike any of the others. In fact, the solar system was devoid of life, so the planets were ripe for the exploitation.
In the past, to avoid a war that would devastate both cultures, they signed treaties to leave the planet alone. But now, a small number of Carreon ships emerged through a gateway, figuring the instant transport to the planet would go undetected by the generally peaceful Deltans.
The Deltans clearly had the same thought.
Now, a total of seven ships hung in space, none close enough to orbit the planet -- which had curiously gone unnamed all these years -- and unwilling to give an inch.
Aboard the Carreon lead ship, Landik Mel Rosa looked through his viewscreen and tried to guess what his counterparts would do next. His red-gloved hand stroked his stubbly chin as he fine-tuned a sensor reading. Their bridge, located deep within the center of the vessel, was bright and well staffed by veterans. Mel Rosa liked that about his crew; they had all tested their mettle together and formed a battalion that was undefeated.
While he had protected his world from threats such as Orion pirates and exploratory Klingon ships, Mel Rosa had never led his crew into battle against the Deltans. Those days were lost to him, he assumed -- that is, until recently.
Just days before, a gateway opened near their twin moons. No one knew it was there, hidden as it was among asteroids that floated in a loose ring around Carreon and its moons. One brave pilot led a scout craft through the gateway to see what lay beyond and within an hour returned with word: it was a direct pathway to the coveted planet. The transition was instantaneous and did no damage to life or equipment.
Quickly, Mel Rosa was asked to lead a small fleet through the gateway, finally laying claim to the planet and establishing a presence before the Deltans had a clue that anything had changed. He remembered laughing with his subordinates as they took the fastest journey of their careers yet went farther from home than ever before.
The laughter quickly turned into something less mirthful when Mel Rosa spotted flashing pinpricks of light near the world. Sensors confirmed four other ships, Deltan in design. He snapped an order to his weapons officer and sure enough, another gateway signature was spotted, a little farther out in the system. It appeared the Deltans had the same sneaky idea.
Now they faced off, neither one answering the other's hails. Mel Rosa could not go back for reinforcements; they were already outgunned by one ship. He couldn't reduce the odds without letting the Deltans think they had won. The world was needed to help a shaky economy and the timing was opportune. Once more he rubbed his chin and looked at the readouts. The gateways had identical signatures, so he knew it was not of Deltan origin. They also had not moved into a fighting configuration, and their weapons remained offline.
Mel Rosa turned to his second and asked, "What do you think?"
"I think they're ripe for the picking. Deltans go for all things sensual; they're not fighters. Four against three, I still like our chances."
The captain looked around his bridge, the determined looks on the crew's faces. All of them knew the stakes, knew the need for the world just within their grasp. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and began giving orders.
The first volley rattled the Deltan craft. Inside the flagship, Oliv, leader of the expedition, nearly fell from his chair. "Shields, return fire!"
Confirming calls went out from the crew and he watched as crimson streaks crossed his forward viewscreen. As expected, the Carreon were prepared and began moving away, letting the shots graze their shields.
Oliv knew the Carreon were practitioners of battle. Their vessels were better armed and protected. The Deltans had the advantage of numbers, but not the experience of bloodlust he knew was required. Which was why the moment the Carreon starships floated through the surprising second gateway, Oliv sent out a hail to Starfleet for help.
"We should have expected this," Hath said. "After all, why should we be the only ones so blessed with this miraculous transportation device?"
The captain looked at his companion, noting the sweat adding a shine to his bald head. This was a vessel full of miners and explorers, with just a handful of security. Still, Oliv was one of the few to have actually participated in battle. He had recently returned to Delta IV after volunteering with a mercenary band that fought in the Dominion War. It was that experience that led his government to ask him to undertake the current mission.
"Oliv," the communications officer called. She was incredibly attractive, with thick eyebrows and high cheekbones. "We've received word from Starfleet that help is on the way. They say it's the Enterprise."
Oliv's own eyebrows rose in surprise. "Now we just have to survive until they arrive."
Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures, Inc.