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It is a time of political upheaval and uncertainty in the New Thallonian Protectorate. Following the brutal assassination of her husband, Si Cwan, former Starfleet officer-turned-newly-appointed-Prime Minister Robin Lefler must now face the growing danger and intrigue surrounding her newborn son and heir to the noble line of Cwan. Following a harrowing assassination attempt, Robin has no choice but to flee New Thallon with her child...seeking refuge with Captain Mackenzie Calhoun and the crew of the U.S.S. Excalibur and creating a major diplomatic crisis in Sector 221-G.
The political fallout between the Federation and the New Thallonian Protectorate pales, however, in comparison to the threat of an enigmatic alien race determined to seize the infant Cwan for its own mysterious purposes. But nothing could possibly prepare Calhoun for the shocking betrayal from within -- an act of treachery to aid and abet this alien race -- forever altering the lives of the Excalibur crew....
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Peter David is a prolific writer whose career, and continued popularity, spans more than twenty-five years. He has worked in every conceivable media—television, film, books (fiction, nonfiction, and audio), short stories, and comic books—and acquired followings in all of them.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"Burgoyne propositioned me."
The announcement took Mackenzie Calhoun, captain of the Starship Excalibur, by surprise. Seated in his ready room, he put aside the ancient Xenexian battle axe that he had recently acquired and looked up with a quizzical expression at Tania Tobias. The conn officer was standing just inside the door, shifting uncomfortably, fiddling with the trailing ends of her hair.
"I apologize," he said, "if hir doing so made you feel uncomfortable, Lieutenant, and I assure you that -- "
"I wasn't offended, Captain."
"Oh." Calhoun took pride in his ability to react quickly and authoritatively to any situation. It was that resourcefulness that had enabled him and his crew to survive many hazardous situations. Yet he occasionally found himself disoriented when talking with his eclectic crew members, and this was one of those occasions. "So this is not something I should be concerned about?"
"I think you should be, yes."
He leaned back in his chair, resisting the temptation to throw his hands up in surrender.
His bewilderment must have been evident to Tobias, because she said apologetically, "I'm sorry if I lost you, Captain."
"I wouldn't say you've lost me, Lieutenant," he said, without adding aloud, I was never following you to begin with. "I am a bit unclear on what the precise nature of your complaint is. Do you see this as a disciplinary matter?"
"I see it as cause for concern."
"Why? Burgy has always been rather licentious by nature. Granted, s/he curtailed that when s/he became involved with Doctor Selar, but they never actually married and the relationship seems to have gone by the wayside. So I don't see that there are any moral issues in the mix."
"It's nothing like that, Captain. I'm sorry, I haven't been makingmyself clear."
No kidding. He forced a smile, which caused the edges of his mouth to hurt from the unaccustomed muscle strain. "Well, then, perhaps clarification might be in order at some point within our lifetimes."
She gave no indication that she noticed the gentle dig. "The problem is," she said, "that when s/he propositioned me, hir heart wasn't in it."
"I don't understan -- " But then his voice trailed off as he comprehended her meaning.
Tobias, still in that gentle obliviousness that was her foremost characteristic, didn't realize that further explanation was unnecessary. "When Burgoyne makes hir interest known to people, s/he's very enthused. S/he..." Tobias paused, trying to determine the best way to put it. "When hir attention is on you in that way, s/he makes you feel as if you're the only person in the entire galaxy. That there's nothing else s/he would rather be doing than gazing into your eyes." Her voice was soft and languorous, and she was looking dreamily off to the side as if she had mentally departed the ready room several minutes earlier. "That's how s/he does it. S/he just makes you come alive. Appeals to sensuous aspects of your personality that you hadn't dreamed could possibly -- "
Calhoun cleared his throat loudly, and the interruption snapped Tobias from her reverie. She looked momentarily confused, as if she had forgotten where she was. Quickly composing herself, she said, "At least that's what I've heard."
"Obviously heard and thought about a good deal."
"The point is, s/he wasn't that way with me. S/he just seemed to be -- "
"Going through the motions?"
"Yes!" she said excitedly as if Calhoun had just produced three doves from his sleeve. "Yes, that's exactly it. Going through the motions. S/he was doing it because s/he thought it was expected of hir, or maybe because s/he felt maybe s/he could make hirself feel a certain way."
"And your concern is that if s/he's off hir game in this manner, it could negatively affect the way s/he carries out hir duties as first officer?"
"I hadn't even thought about that, to be honest. My concern was that a friend was in trouble." She tilted her head and looked at him with open curiosity. "That wasn't your concern, Captain?"
"Of course it was," said Calhoun, who was a bit disturbed that it had not, in fact, occurred to him. "I just...I hadn't noticed anything that 'off ' about Burgy. Then again, since Burgoyne has never propositioned me, that could be why it slipped past."
"Well then," she said briskly, "I've done what I needed to do. I'm sure you can handle it from here, Captain."
"I appreciate the vote of confidence, Lieutenant."
Tobias walked out of the ready room. Calhoun watched her go, and wondered what the best way was to proceed on the matter. Mackenzie Calhoun, one of the foremost strategists in all of Starfleet, couldn't conceive of how to handle it. What was he supposed to say? He could have found a means of addressing it if he had noticed some sort of deterioration in Burgy's performance of hir duties, but that had not been the case. Calhoun had been caught off guard by Tobias's concerns specifically because he had not, in fact, noticed anything wrong with the way Burgoyne 172 was conducting hirself. "How am I supposed to approach hir on this?"
"Have you considered doing so as a friend?"
Calhoun was startled, which was not something that happened often. When it did occur, though, Morgan Primus was more often than not involved somehow. This time was no exception, although one would not have known at first glance that it was, in fact, Morgan, because she had assumed the exact likeness of Mackenzie Calhoun. His clone might as well have walked into the room.
"Ask how things are going in a general way," the duplicate Calhoun said, "and see if s/he presents an opening. Doesn't that seem practical?"
"Change back to yourself, Morgan." He did nothing to keep the irritation from his voice. "It's just that you are the only person you ever feel comfortable consulting. Except, of course -- " and abruptly Elizabeth Shelby, Calhoun's wife, was in front of him.
"Morgan -- "
To Calhoun's surprise, "Elizabeth" sauntered toward him. Every movement, every aspect of her appearance was indistinguishable from the original. She even had Elizabeth's smile down. Calhoun was standing behind his desk, and the image of his wife came around the desk and cradled his chin in her hand. "Morgan..."
"I can be her, if you wish," said the mouth of Elizabeth Shelby. "It would benefit you tremendously."
" You're becoming isolated and increasingly frustrated, Mac, because you'rehere and your wife is off commanding Bravo station. It's not fair to either of you, but it's particularly unfair to you. You could use the diversion. Release all manner of endorphins. Put you back on your game."
"I was unaware I was off it. You need to step back, Morgan." She rested a hand on his chest. "I am simply trying to -- " Calhoun grabbed her wrist and, gripping it firmly, said, "Step. Back."
Morgan did so, pulling her hand free. Her appearance rippled and the holographic form of Morgan Primus changed back into her normal image. "Burgoyne isn't the only one who could use a little intimate time, is all that I'm saying."
"I know what you're saying. Now listen to what I'm saying: I'm going to order Tobias and Xy to run a complete diagnostic of your operating systems."
Morgan smiled. "I don't see that that's necessary, Captain."
"I say that it is. And since I'm the captain, I have to think that my feelings on the matter take precedence over yours. Are you disputing that, Morgan?"
"No, but -- "
"There's no 'but' involved in this, Morgan. Obviously you don'trealize it, but you haven't been yourself since you rebooted."
"And here I thought you were happy to see me return from the dead."
"I was. We all were. Even though I'm not entirely certain that what happened to you counts as 'dead.' But your behavior has become increasingly erratic in recent months."
She drew herself up, fixing him with a stern glance. "Have I been less than diligent in fulfilling my duties as ops officer? To say nothing of being the heart of this ship's operating systems."
"No, you have not."
"Then I do not understand the reasoning behind a full diagnostic. It is an intrusive procedure and the prospect makes me uncomfortable."
"You're a computer entity, Morgan, whatever else you may have been in your previous life. The fact that you would find it uncomfortable alone should tell you something, shouldn't it?"
She paused, not having an immediate response, and then shrugged as if the matter were simply not worth pursuing. "As you say, you're the captain."
"Thank you for that acknowledgment," he said, trying not to sound sarcastic and only partly succeeding.
"By the way, you'll probably want to get out onto the bridge. Something new is about to start."
"Something new? What are you -- ?"
His comm badge beeped at him. He tapped it, never taking his eyes from Morgan. "Calhoun, go."
The voice of Zak Kebron, security chief, came back to him. "Long-range scanners are picking up something, Captain. A ship floating."
"Derelict? Or survivors?"
"Impossible to determine from this distance, sir."
"Then let's cut that distance down, Mr. Kebron. On my way."
Calhoun strode toward the door as Morgan stepped aside. "Captain," she said.
He turned toward her and froze.
She had reassumed the image of Elizabeth Shelby, and she was stark naked. She was also smiling in a come-hither manner. "In case you change your mind, just call my name. Or hers. Never underestimate the power of a good endorphin rush." Morgan vanished before he could say anything further.
"Grozit," he murmured.
Commander Burgoyne arched an eyebrow upon seeing Calhoun emerge from the ready room. "Captain, are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Burgy."
"Because you're walking rather oddly -- "
"I said I'm fine," Calhoun said impatiently. Moving quickly, he sat in his command chair and crossed his legs. Burgoyne considered this a bit odd, since Calhoun tended to stand or move about the bridge like a caged cat. "What have we got?"
"Single-pilot vessel drifting at 325 mark...
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