Taking Wing (Star Trek: Titan, Book 1)

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9780743496278: Taking Wing (Star Trek: Titan, Book 1)
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In the wake of the assassination of the Romulan Senate and the chaos and power struggles that threaten to destroy the Romulan Star Empire, Captain William Riker and the U.S.S. Titan head to Romulus to set up negotiations among the powerful factions, unaware that remnants of the Tal Shiar, the notorious Romulan intelligence service, are threatening to unleash a bloodbath. Original.

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About the Author:

Michael A. Martin's solo short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. He has also coauthored (with Andy Mangels) several Star Trek comics for Marvel and Wildstorm and numerous Star Trek novels and eBooks, including the USA Today bestseller Titan: Book One: Taking Wing; Titan: Book Two: The Red King; the Sy Fy Genre Award-winning Star Trek: Worlds of Deep Space 9 Book Two: Trill -- Unjoined; Star Trek: The Lost Era 2298 -- The Sundered; Star Trek: Deep Space 9 Mission: Gamma: Vol. Three: Cathedral; Star Trek: The Next Generation: Section 31 -- Rogue; Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers #30 and #31 ("Ishtar Rising" Books 1 and 2); stories in the Prophecy and Change, Tales of the Dominion War, and Tales from the Captain's Table anthologies; and three novels based on the Roswell television series. His most recent novels include Enterprise: The Romulan War and Star Trek Online: The Needs of the Many.

His work has also been published by Atlas Editions (in their Star Trek Universe subscription card series), Star Trek Monthly, Dreamwatch, Grolier Books, Visible Ink Press, The Oregonian, and Gareth Stevens, Inc., for whom he has penned several World Almanac Library of the States nonfiction books for young readers. He lives with his wife, Jenny, and their two sons in Portland, Oregon.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: Romulus, Stardate 56828.8

"This must be your first visit to Ki Baratan," said the woman who stood behind the operative.

So much for hiding in plain sight, the operative thought, quietly abandoning his hope that she would pay him as little heed as had the throngs of civilians and military officers he'd already passed along the city's central eyhon. He turned and regarded her, averting his gaze momentarily from the graceful, blood-green dome of the Romulan Senate building. The ancient structure gleamed behind him in the morning sun, reflecting an aquamarine glint from the placid Apnex Sea that lay just beyond it.

"As a matter of fact, this is my first visit," the operative said. He smiled broadly, confident that the woman wouldn't sense how awkward this particular mannerism felt to him. "Before today, I had seen the greatness of Dartha only in my grandfather's holos."

As she studied him, he noted that she was old and gray. Her clothing was drab and shapeless, her lined countenance stern, evidently forged by upwards of two centuries of hard life circumstances. He watched impassively as she ran her narrowed, suspicious gaze over his somewhat threadbare traveling cassock.

"Dartha?" the woman said, still scrutinizing him. "Nobody has referred to the Empire's capital by that name since Neral came to power."

The operative silently cursed himself even as he concealed his frustration beneath a carefully cultivated mask of impassivity. Though his lapse was an understandable one -- roughly akin, he thought, to confusing Earth's nineteenth-century Constantinople with twentieth-century Istanbul -- he upbraided himself for it nonetheless.

"Forgive me, 'lai," he said, using the traditional rustic form of address intended to show respect to an elder female. "I arrived just today, from Leinarrh. In the Rarathik District."

An indulgent, understanding smile tugged at her lips. "Just what I thought. I took you for a hveinn right away. A farmer who's never left the waith before."

The operative forced his own smile to broaden, reassured that she found his rural Rarathik dialect convincing. He maintained his caution, however; like him, this apparently harmless old woman might not be at all what she appeared to be. "At your service, 'lai. You may call me Rukath."

She nodded significantly yet discreetly toward the dome -- and the disruptor-carrying guards that walked among the green, ruatinite-inlaid minarets that surrounded it. "Then allow me to give you some friendly advice, Rukath of Leinarrh. Continue gawking so about the Hall of State, and I might have to call you 'dead.' Or perhaps worse."

The operative allowed his smile to collapse, which actually came as a relief. He feigned innocent fear, per his extensive intelligence and tactical training. "Do you really think those uhlans over there would actually shoot me? Just for looking?"

"Just pray that the cold fingers of Erebus find you too unimportant to snatch away into the underworld," she said with a pitying shake of the head. "Daold klhu."

Tourists, the operative silently translated the unfamiliar Romulan term as the old woman turned and walked away. "Jolan'tru, 'lai," he said to her retreating back.

He turned back toward the Senate Dome and watched as the guards made their rounds. He counted six at the moment, marching in pairs, their arrogant, disciplined gazes focused straight ahead. The old woman's warning notwithstanding, he might as well have been invisible to them.

But it's best not to become complacent, he thought, checking the chrono built into the disguised subspace pulse transmitter he wore on his wrist. Time was growing short. Since his surreptitious arrival on Romulus the previous day, he had taken in sights very few of his people had ever seen.

He'd just paid what might well turn out to be a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the Romulan capital of Ki Baratan. Now the time had come to venture beneath it.

The operative deliberately set aside unpleasant thoughts of the underworld of ancient Romulan mythology. Those old stories hadn't sufficiently described the noisome smells that were wafting up around him from the figurative -- and literal -- bowels of Ki Baratan. Erebus, indeed.

Guided through the stygian gloom by his wrist light, the operative was relieved to note that the venerable maze of aekhhwi'rhoi -- the stone-lined sewer tunnels that ran below Ki Baratan -- corresponded precisely to the maps the defector M'ret had provided to Starfleet Intelligence. Carefully stepping over and past countless scuttling, multilegged, sewer-dwelling nhaidh, he made his way to the appointed place. Once there, he pulled hard at a rust-covered, meter-wide wheel, laboriously opening up a narrow access hatchway that looked to be older than Surak and T'Karik combined. The corroded steel aperture groaned in protest, moving only fractionally as the muscles in his back strained. After perhaps a minute of hard coaxing, the wheel gave way and the hatch opened with a clang that reverberated loudly throughout the catacombs.

Releasing the wheel, he pulled a small disruptor pistol from beneath his cassock, then squeezed through the narrow opening without making any further pretense of stealth; by now whoever else might be down here, whether friend or foe, was surely aware of his presence.

He passed into the darkened chamber beyond the hatch, where air that reeked of stagnation, moldy old bones, and damp earth assailed his nostrils. Stepping forward, he heard a quiet yet stern male voice.

"Halt! Drop your weapon." Something cool and unyielding pressed forcefully into the small of his back.

The operative released his grip on the weapon, allowing it to clatter to the rough stone floor. A bright light suddenly shone before him, momentarily triggering his nictitating inner eyelids. He caught a glimpse of several humanoid silhouettes standing before him, several meters farther inside the cavern's depths.

"State your name," said the voice behind him. It sounded young, almost adolescent. Or perhaps merely frightened? "And state your business here."

The operative knew that this was the moment of truth, and very possibly the last moment of his life. He faced that prospect with a Vulcan's ingrained equanimity.

"While on Romulus, I am known as Rukath."

"Of Leinarrh, in far-off Rarathik," someone else said, in a stern female voice. "By way of Starfleet Intelligence. Yes, we knew you were coming."

The operative nodded. "Then you already know my business here. I expected no less."

He felt the weapon at his back quiver slightly, and he calculated his odds of disarming the man behind him. They weren't at all good. Nevertheless, the time had come to end the standoff, regardless of the outcome.

"I also bring greetings from Federation starship Alliance. Captain Saavik sends her best regards to the movement. And to the ambassador, of course."

As the operative had hoped, the mention of the ambassador's wife prompted one of the silhouettes before him to detach itself from the others and step forward. The tall, lean form spoke in a graveled yet resonant voice that he recognized instantly, even though more than eight decades had passed since he had last heard it.

"Lower your weapon, D'Tan. Rukath is among friends."

"But how can we be certain this Rukath is a friend? If that's even his name."

The figure stepped forward another several paces, and waved an arm in what was obviously a prearranged signal. In response, the light levels diminished, allowing the operative to see the approaching man's face clearly, as well as the coterie of a half-dozen armed Romulan civilians, an even mix of men and women, who stood vigilantly all around him.

Ambassador Spock.

The tall, conspicuously unarmed figure came to a stop only a meter away, his hands folded in front of his simple hooded pilgrim's robe as he studied the operative's face. The operative recalled his only previous meeting with the ambassador, whose saturnine visage was umistakable despite the addition of a great many new lines and wrinkles. He wondered if Spock remembered him as well, after the passage of so many years. Perhaps the minor surgical alterations that had been wrought on his facial structure obscured his identity.

"Your vigilance is an asset to us, D'Tan," Spock said to the young man with the weapon. "But as Surak teaches us, there can be no progress without risk."

That evidently got through to the armed man, who withdrew his weapon and backed away. The operative spared a quick glance over his shoulder, nodding toward Spock's youthful bodyguard in a manner that he hoped would be taken as nonthreatening and reassuring. He noted the other man's response: a hard scowl and a still-unholstered disruptor.

The operative fixed his gaze once again upon Spock, a man who had achieved great notoriety back on Vulcan -- as well as throughout the Federation and beyond -- more than a century earlier. How strange, he thought, that one who never even achieved Kolinahr now represents all of Vulcan here in this forbidding place -- and attempts to bring such radical change to both Vulcan and Romulus. He wondered if Spock would have taken on such a task had he attained the pinnacle of logic that the Kolinahr disciplines represented.

Would I have been so foolish to have followed him here had Kolinahr not eluded me also?

"Walk with me, please, Rukath," Spock said, then abruptly turned to stride more deeply into the rough-hewn cavern that stretched beyond the sewer hatch. The operative immediately fell into step beside the ambassador. He heard the crunch of gravel behind him, as Spock's followers tailed the pair at a respectful distance. If I really were the Tal Shiar or military intelligence infiltrator these people fear that I am, this mission would surely be a suicide run.

"You must forgive D'Tan," Spock said.

"There is nothing to forgive, Mr. Ambassador. His caution is understandable. The Tal Shiar's eyes and ears are everywhere."

"Indeed. And none of us have forgotten Senator Pardek's betrayal."

The operative thought he detected a touch of wistfulness in the ambassador's tone. Though it was a surprising departure from Vulcan stoicism, he could certainly understand it. Though he had studied Captain Jean-Luc Picard's reports about Romulus -- one of which included Spock's own observation that reuniting the long-sundered Vulcan and Romulan peoples might take decades or even centuries to come to fruition -- it was disappointing to think that Spock's efforts had yielded so little after eleven years of hard, often perilous work.

As though he had surmised the dark turn the operative's thoughts had taken, Spock came directly to the point: "Tell me, Rukath: Why have you come to Romulus?"

The operative was not surprised to learn that Starfleet Intelligence might not have briefed Spock thoroughly on his reason for visiting Romulus. Or perhaps Spock was testing him, despite his reassurances to D'Tan.

"I bear an offer from the Federation Council," the operative said.

Though the cavern's illumination remained dim, the operative could see Spock's right eyebrow rise. "And the nature of that offer?"

"The council has decided to give its official endorsement to your agenda of Vulcan-Romulan unification. But both the council and the new president will want you to return to Earth to make a formal report first."

Spock brought their walk to an abrupt halt. His dark eyes flashed with an almost fanatical intensity. The operative wondered what so many years living among Vulcan's hyperemotional cousins had done to the ambassador's emotional disciplines. Had he "gone native"?

"My work is here," Spock said.

The operative raised a hand in a placating gesture. "You would be returned here, Mr. Ambassador, to resume that work as quickly as possible. After you've addressed both the council and the president's office on your progress."

Spock turned his gaze downward and stared into the middle distance, a deliberative expression on his face. "I see," he said after a pause. "To avail myself of an Earth idiom, the council evidently wishes me to 'come in from the cold.'"

Thanks to nearly a century of at least intermittent association with humans, the operative was conversant with the idiom Spock had used. "Yes, Mr. Ambassador. And the council will almost certainly place Federation resources at your disposal, at least covertly."

Spock paused again before responding. "Indeed. That would be a significant change in Federation policy."

"We live in changing times, Mr. Ambassador."

"Unquestionably. President Zife's sudden resignation is but one sign." Spock clasped his hands before him, steepling his index fingers. "I cannot help but wonder whether the council's offer is related to Zife's abrupt departure."

The operative was impressed by Spock's knowledge of the political landscape beyond the Romulan Neutral Zone, though he knew it shouldn't have surprised him; he reminded himself that the ambassador had made more than one brief return to Earth since beginning his work on Romulus.

"I'm afraid all I know about that is what's been on the newsnets," the operative said truthfully.

Spock nodded, his expression grave. The operative had no doubt that the ambassador was well acquainted with those same reports.

Sensing that the ambassador still required some additional persuasion, the operative said, "I will need to rendezvous with my transport this evening. If you will agree to accompany me, we can have you back in Federation space within days."

Something resembling a half-smile crossed Spock's face. "I trust, Rukath, that you aren't prepared to use force to return me to Earth."

The operative gestured toward D'Tan, whom he knew still stood -- disruptor in hand -- only a short distance behind him. "I am obviously in no position to force you to do anything, Mr. Ambassador. I had hoped you would agree to come to Earth voluntarily."

Spock very slowly shook his head. "I am pleased that the council has finally come to understand the necessity of the cause of reunification. But I cannot afford to abandon my work on Romulus, even temporarily. Especially now, while tensions between the Romulan Senate and one of the key Reman military factions continue to escalate."

The operative recalled yesterday's update about this very subject in his daily intelligence briefing. The mysterious Shinzon, the Reman faction's young leader, had led a number of successful military engagements against Dominion forces during the war. His sudden prominence in Romulan politics could cause unpredictable swings in the delicate balance of power within a senate now evenly divided on issues of war and peace.

"You wouldn't be away from Romulus for very long, sir," the operative said quietly.

"The local political landscape is far too volatile for me to leave now. In addition to the unpredictability of the Reman faction, there are rumors of unrest on Kevatras and other Romulan vassal worlds. I dare not leave Romulus now, even for a short time."

The operative decided that the time had come to risk goading the ambassador into cooperating. "Has your unification movement progressed so little over the past decade that you remain completely indispensable to it even now?"

But clearly Spock wasn't taking the bait. Sidestepping the question, he said, "I must also consider two other possibilities. One is that you ac...

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