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As the dreaded Genesis Wave continues on its devastating path, threatening civilizations with extinction, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise must race against time to halt its path of destruction before it makes a deadly sweep throughout the entire galaxy.
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John Vornholt is the acclaimed author of numerous Star Trek® novels, including the bestselling Gemworld series, Sanctuary, Mind Meld, Masks, Contamination, Antimatter, Rogue Saucer, and The Dominion War Books One and Three.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
She was the only one left of her species, and now they were trying to kill her. They wanted what she carried, and she knew she could save herself if she left it behind. Like her, it was the only one of its kind left.
The disruptor beam streaked past her crouching body, charring the corrugated tin wall and burning a hole in the vacant building. For an instant, the dusty alley was illuminated by blazing beams and molten metal. She clutched the bulky chrome box to her torso, knowing she could not disguise it from them. Her pursuers knew her true identity, and they were wearing environmental suits to protect themselves from her spores. No doubt, they were only firing to keep her pinned down. She counted three of them, and she assumed them to be Romulans, judging by their weapons and their knowledge.
A red fog drifted across the two slivered moons of Torga IV, giving the dingy alley a patina of exotic mystery. They could have rushed her, but they feared her. Feared what she could do with the box.
It was so strange being known, being exposed, when she had
operated for years undercover. She and the other Seedlings had infiltrated every nook of the Federation, but it was never to cause disruption. It was always to gather information -- to find out how the meat creatures could help them escape their dying world. Their roots had found nourishment in the garden of Starfleet. With the Genesis technology, they had discovered a way to prepare new homes and propagate their species at the same time.
All of that had ended three days ago, when their world was invaded and their base destroyed. After living among the meat creatures -- impersonating them -- the Seedling could appreciate the irony. The repository of all data on Genesis had once been a lone human being, and now it was the awkward silver box in her appendages.
If the Romulans had tracked her down, it meant they had ransacked the home base, deciphering the records. There was no other way for them to know about her -- that she had been entrusted with a portable device for a new experiment. No matter what, she had to resist giving the emitter to the Romulans, who were ruthless and unscrupulous. She either had to destroy it or give it to someone who would do no harm. Genesis could no longer benefit her species, but perhaps it could benefit someone.
The Seedling gazed up into the sky of Torga IV, where the blood-red night clouds had parted to reveal a sliver of stars. Somewhere up there were worlds full of her kind, but she was sworn never to go to them. They were new worlds, unsullied by past corruptions. If the meat creatures would allow, her species could have a fresh start -- without the temptation of humanoid hosts.
However, a rebirth was not to be for the Seedling, who knew too much and would corrupt them with her knowledge. She was doomed to perish no matter what else should happen.
A figure in a black environmental suit darted from an abandoned hovercraft to a dumpster, coming a few meters closer to her position in the alley. They were careful with their disruptor fire, because they didn't want to hit the box; but they wouldn't hesitate to kill her if they had a clear shot. That's why they were getting into position.
If she could draw their fire, decided the fugitive, she had to make them hit her precious box. If she couldn't save it from them, she had to destroy it. The alley was open behind her, but it was a long run to the walkway. The Seedling did not move swiftly, especially carrying the bulky device, which was nearly a meter tall and half a meter wide on each side.
At that moment, her salvation arrived in the form of a loud and rowdy crew of Bajoran miners and their consorts. They came weaving down the dusty walkway, toasting, drinking, and singing. The Seedling instantly called out in her most helpless voice. When they didn't stop, she screamed again and again until the unruly party halted on the sidewalk and peered into the dark alley.
There was a chance the miners were all about to be slaughtered, but the Romulans were like her species, she reasoned. They preferred stealth and guile to brute force and messy scenes.
The Bajorans came stumbling down the alley, and it took them a while to locate her and focus their eyes upon the pleasing Bajoran shape she had become -- at least to those within range of her spores. This subterfuge was second nature to the Seedling by now, and she instantly roused their concern and helpfulness.
"What's wrong with you?" asked one brawny male. His nose ridges rippled, and she sensed that he was attracted to her.
"Are you injured?" said another, kneeling beside her. I remind him of an instructor he had in the orphanage. Such a broken, pathetic life he has endured.
The miner took her arm and gingerly helped her sit up. The Seedling feigned dizziness for a moment as she absorbed more of their thoughts.
"Where did she come from?" sniffed one of the females to her
female friend. Their antagonism was a side effect she could do nothing about, so she ignored them and concentrated on the males.
"They tried to rob me," she rasped.
"Who?" snapped several Bajorans at once.
She pointed behind her at the narrow alley, where dim light faded into mist, shadow, and abandoned machines. The brawny one instantly ran down the thoroughfare, stomping and making his presence known. Her pursuers had been lurking there, but they were certainly gone now.
"Don't see them!" he called.
"It's okay," said the gentle one. "Let us get you some brestanti ale -- that will fix you up."
"Thank you," she replied with a smile. "Don't let me forget my luggage." She touched the shiny metal box, and he gallantly picked it up.
As they strode from the alley, the Seedling glanced over her shoulder at the dark passage between the corrugated buildings. She hadn't brought herself more than a few minutes of respite, and her pursuers were probably already on the roofs, planning their next move.
"What's the matter?" asked the gentle one. "You afraid they're still out there?"
"Yes." With a pleasant smile, she enhanced her similarity to the teacher he had loved at the age of ten.
"My name is Wislow. And yours?"
"Arden," she answered, choosing the identity she had used the most here.
"Pretty name," said the Bajoran male with a simpering smile.
When they reached the sidewalk, Arden gripped his arm and another male's, trying to keep herself surrounded by their flesh. She looked around and saw cheap industrial buildings lit by garish neon and halogen -- an instant city built on a dead planet. At least Torga IV had been dead until the discovery of cormaline deposits and the importation of thousands of impoverished Bajoran workers.
A string of small two-seater hovercraft swerved down the street, and pedestrians had to scatter. The majority of residents were Bajoran, but other races loitered on the dusty sidewalks. Down one alley, a contingent of Klingon miners were fighting targs, in contradiction to the law. From a low-slung balcony, females were soliciting males to enter a casino. Torga IV was a brutal, corrupt place, inhabited by the dregs of the quadrant. It had been a perfect place for Arden's canceled experiment, and now it would be a fitting place for her death.
"We're here!" said the gruff miner, grabbing her by the shoulders and trying to push her into a dimly lit tavern. She willed him to remember a lecture his grandmother had given him about the treatment of females, and he instantly released her.
"No. Please, not here." She appealed to Wislow. "What I want is someplace spiritual -- like a temple or a chapel."
"We've got them," answered the miner, "but you don't want to go there. They've been slammed with refugees from the Genesis Wave. Every morning they come to the commissary, looking for food we're throwing out."
"Even the bars are crowded," said one of the females with a wave of her hand, "and it's the middle of the night."
"We've got to celebrate surviving the wave!" said the brawny one, trying to hustle them through the door.
Arden remained steadfast as she concentrated on the sensitive Bajoran. "Wislow, I could use some help getting to the nearest temple."
"All of you go inside," he ordered confidently. "I'll escort the lady to the...which one?"
"The Shrine of the Prophets on Aurora Avenue is the closest," answered one of the females. "I've got friends working there, and I better hear from them that you showed up!"
The others laughed. An odd reaction, thought the Seedling, considering that billions of their fellow meat creatures had perished in the last few days, and billions more were homeless. But Torga IV had been spared, and the sleepy backwater had turned into a bustling city hosting an impromptu festival. Such were the recuperative powers of the meat creatures, who were to be envied. If she could find the right one to trust, she would give up her secret. But not to the Romulans, whom she had grown to detest.
Arden thought she saw someone in a black hood and suit moving among the convivial crowd. She tugged on Wislow's shoulder and said persuasively, "Let's go now."
The bawling and mewling of the children never stopped, and most of them weren't even Bajorans. Prylar Yorka recoiled from the noise and the stench and sunk back into the vestibule atop the staircase. His elegant, richly appointed temple had been turned into a glaring warehouse for humanoid suffering. They were hungry, disoriented, grief-stricken, and sick...some very sick. He had called in the auxiliary volunteers, and Starfleet had contributed food and medical supplies; but they were still overwhelmed.
Plus the wretched smell had returned. They were taxing the sewage system, which was never designed to support this many residents; nor was it built to last this long. Who knew that the haphazard mining colony would last a decade and have its population doubled in a matter of hours?
Yorka stroked the wispy gray hair atop his head and considered bolting back to his private chambers, but he couldn't hide. This was what he was trained to do -- step in where needed and help the poor and afflicted. He pulled his maroon robes around his stout figure and tried to look officious and unruffled, when he felt out of his depth. He was nothing more than a prylar, a monk, but this sect respected him as a former vedek in the assembly. Yorka was their leader in all but name and rank.
He disdained titles now, feeling that ambition had caused the ills of mainstream Bajoran religion; and the Vedek Assembly disdained him, not recognizing his sect. For food, they had to depend upon local resources, but all of the replicators in town were churning out ale and appetizers for revelers and well-funded refugees. When he really needed help from the powers above him, none was forthcoming.
The aging Bajoran tried to put the worries out of his mind; he had to lead his acolytes and volunteers through this tragedy. The old lion had to muster the confidence needed to inspire them, even though he felt nothing but dread. Starfleet will return to relieve us, he told himself, just as they promised. Even so, they were disturbingly vague on when that might be.
I could pray to the Prophets, but they -- and the leaders of my faith -- have abandoned me here. I have tried to shine the light of the Orbs, but no one has shown me any grace.
"Prylar!" he heard someone yell.
Yorka broke out of his troubled reverie and glanced down the metal staircase, where Acolyte Bowmyk came charging toward him, his yellow robes dirty and blood-splattered. "Sir, you've got to come," said the young Bajoran, twisting his thin hands nervously. "We've had another one of those mysterious deaths -- we can't figure out why."
"Call the coroner," said Yorka, stomping down the stairs and brushing past him.
"We have, but they can't be here until dawn. That won't be for hours." The acolyte chased after his master, a worried look on his pinched face.
"What does the doctor think?" grumbled Yorka.
"The doctor has left for the day."
"What?" The burly monk stopped in his tracks, surrounded by refugees, overflowing the pews, sitting in the threshold of the sanctuary. His young assistant stared at him, and he knew he had to be forceful yet calm. This madness could not go on for long.
"What did the doctor say before he left?" asked Yorka evenly.
"He couldn't figure out what had killed him, but he said it wasn't anything contagious. There were some unusual tricorder readings, but no clear cause of death."
Yorka nodded sagely and managed a smile. "You see, there's no reason for concern, if it's not contagious. Take the bodies to the storage room."
"Where the food is?" asked Bowmyk, aghast.
"There's precious little of that," muttered Yorka. He pointed to a blood spot on the acolyte's satin tunic. "And change your clothes. Put on something more practical, if you're going to assist the sick."
"Yes, Master." The acolyte bowed and hurried off.
Yorka was immediately besieged by Ferengi, and he gritted his teeth. No one was more difficult to mollify than a suddenly impoverished Ferengi. A middle-aged businessman with three wives, who were wearing blankets at Yorka's insistence, shook his fist with such anger that his ear lobes wiggled.
"You've got to get us back to Ferenginar!" he demanded. "You don't know who I am -- you don't understand! I've got to file reports -- insurance forms -- "
The words were just a babble in Yorka's ears, because he already knew his reply. "I have no transportation to furnish, and you're free to leave or to stay in our house of worship. If you want to remain in our care, you must behave yourselves and abide by our rules. We'll do our best to feed and shelter you."
"That's not what they promised us! That's not what they promised us on the ship!" insisted the Ferengi.
"This isn't the ship," answered Yorka calmly. "Normally we're not a refugee station -- we're a temple offering outreach to the Bajoran community here. May I suggest that you pray to the Prophets? We're having services in half an hour."
"This is outrageous!" sputtered the Ferengi, stomping on the floor and wiping away real tears with his knuckles. "I lost my whole fortune -- my factories, my latinum...I lost everything."
Yorka raised an eyebrow. "You still have your life. And your wives." Behind him, three females looked at one another as if that wasn't a certainty.
"All I need is a few strips of latinum to help us get home," begged the Ferengi. "Perhaps you -- "
"Look around you, Sir," snapped Yorka. "Do we look like we are hoarding extra latinum? I recall two Rules of Acquisition, which I believe a Ferengi in your situation ought to consider deeply."
The distraught merchant blinked at him with surprise, and even his wives drew closer to hear the words of the Bajoran religious figure.
"Rule number two-hundred-thirty-six: You can't buy fate," began Yorka. "And rule number twenty-two: A wise m...
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