Star Trek: Voyager: String Theory #3: Evolution (Bk. 3)

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9781416507819: Star Trek: Voyager: String Theory #3: Evolution (Bk. 3)

ENTANGLED STRANDS OF PAST AND PRESENT ENDANGER THE FUTURE

A wake of destruction and loss threatens the U.S.S. Voyager ™ as Chakotay assumes command. Grief over Janeway's impending death coupled with anxiety brought on by the disappearance of Paris, Kim, and the Doctor forces the crew to take increasingly dangerous actions in order to assure their own survival.

But Voyager doesn't fight alone: behind the lines, powerful forces have allied to give the starship aid. Toward this end, a familiar nemesis -- the cosmic meddler Q -- sends Paris and Kim on a perilous journey. Elsewhere, the Doctor, trapped in a dimension alien to human understanding, reunites with an old friend to help secure the fates of those he's left behind.

Yet the conflict raging in the Monorhan system is merely a surface manifestation of more serious turmoil; the true struggle is rooted in the universe's very foundation. Standing at the eye of this maelstrom is Voyager, whose crew may hold the fate of all.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Heather Jarman lives in Portland, Oregon, where she supplements her day job as a tired mommy with her writing career. Her most recent contributions to the Star Trek fiction include "The Officers' Club," the Kira Nerys story in Tales from the Captain's Table, and Paradigm, the Andor novel in Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Volume One.

By night Heather flies to distant lands on black ops missions for the government, where she frequently breaks open industrial-strength cans of whupass on evildoers.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

The Doctor floated in black so thick no sensation could penetrate. He tried moving his limbs, opening his eyes, seeking to touch, and failed to discern if his holographic body still existed. None of his programmed senses functioned as he was accustomed, and yet he knew he was someplace because he existed. When he was deactivated aboard Voyager, his sentience simply stopped -- a suspended pause -- until he was reactivated and his lifeline continued. Here and now, he knew only himself, as if the sum total of his existence had been reduced to self-awareness, nothing further. Not even his vast database could provide a reference point. Or had he even retained a connection to his database? He couldn't say for certain. So many of his thoughts were blurry and unfocused. He imagined his current state had much in common with what patients experienced post-anesthesia: aware, but not awake; cognizant of one's body, yet disconnected from it. Whatever force had ripped him from Voyager had sent his holomatrix into a state of shock, though the Doctor didn't know how that was possible.

Though he couldn't sense his limbs, he mentally directed his arms and legs to move, reaching into the darkness to find the parameters of his environment. The instant the thought left him, an impenetrable barrier, that he sensed but couldn't see, surrounded him. A force pressed right up against the parameters of his program. Drowsily he sought to lift his arm to touch his combadge. "Docplur . . . coo . . . sib . . . gib-blehb -- " he muttered thickly, his tongue cleaving to the roof of his mouth. The incomprehensible garble emerging from his mouth was beneath one of his abilities. He tried again. When his third attempt proved futile, his determination awoke. The luxury of lolling about like some lazy lush on eternal shore leave wasn't granted to one of such vital importance as himself. He must return to his patients and a crew who desperately needed him. Exerting his will, he pushed against the unseen force that cocooned him in this blackness. The force pushed back, squeezing him into claustrophobic confinement. Dizziness assaulted the Doctor; he would not be deterred, though his body quaked from the effort. The slightest give in the resistant force imbued him with confidence. With persistence, he would free himself, of that he was certain. A nanosecond of warning alerted him to possible danger: a faint, warm sizzle brushed his back. Nothing specific about the sensation worried the Doctor, who routinely passed through forcefields that would cook the innards of a carbon-based life-form on contact. Believing the sizzling sensation to be evidence of progress, he increased his efforts. Clenching his teeth, he thought, One last push. . . .

Jagged energy threads sizzled and sparked, burrowing thorough his body at lightning speed. His matrix frazzled, splintering him into bits of matter; every particle in his being spun at reckless velocity, unleashing torrents of superheated, subatomic tornadoes, scorching through every millimeter of his form. Out of self-protection, his thoughts instantly retreated into a detached, drifting place. From a separate vantage he processed the searing torment coursing through every photon he was composed of. It is odd, he thought, to have existed as long as I have and not understood pain before. His matrix oscillated with such speed and force that he wondered if he would explode into billions of tiny bits. As reflex took the reins from conscious thought, he twitched uncontrollably, soon jerking with seizure force. A single thought lingered: Save me.

As instantly as the attack had begun, it ended. The forces coursing through him ceased; cohesion returned. The Doctor's consciousness lurched for a few moments longer until stumbling to a peaceful stop. He recovered quickly from his ordeal; his matrix hummed along as though it had never been disrupted. More importantly, he had been freed from whatever forces had bound him. Sensation returned to his body and he became keenly aware of being sprawled, flat on his back, his vertebrae pressing uncomfortably into a cold, hard surface. He blinked several times but the impenetrable, silent darkness still surrounded him. Clearing his throat, he touched his combadge. "Doctor to sickbay."

Silence.

He repeated the action, calling on the ship and half the members of the crew before he accepted, howbeit reluctantly, that he must be out of combadge range. A few of Lieutenant Torres's choicer curse words came to mind, but he believed he was above such impulses. As a thinking being, he would reason his way out. He eliminated being trapped in the Gremadian black hole (no out-of-the-ordinary gravitational pull) and being suspended in a space vacuum from the list of possibilities. He sensed neither motion nor mechanically generated noise, allowing him to rule out a presence on any starship or traveling craft. Methodically, he contemplated every potentiality his mind could conjure until a strangely beautiful sight drew his attention from his ruminations.

Funnels of glowing specks swirled around him, casting shadows and illuminating, in flashes, rippling velvet black walls. He instinctively knew, as a distant relation, that the specks were individual photons. A steady stream of photons poured from an unseen place above him until a saturation point was reached, and the Doctor felt as though he was encircled by a glittery, golden tube. A transformation began. Sparkling white-yellow flecks danced, touched, and joined together in waves. In turn, waves braided with other waves, forming ribbons that became progressively brighter with each added strand until curtains of light revealed all. At last, the Doctor could see his surroundings.

The velvety black surface was not a wall, but hanging bloodred curtains; the hard surface beneath him was a floor of joined wooden slats painted matte black. High above, he saw row after row of red, blue, yellow, and white spotlights mounted on metal strips. A canvas backdrop painted with a typical pastoral setting -- grass, trees, blue sky, and sun -- stretched horizontally behind him and up past catwalks and hanging ropes. The ceiling was at least sixty meters away. I'm on a stage, he thought. The realization filled him with pleasure.

As he became more aware of his surroundings, he heard the faint strains of music playing somewhere beyond the curtains. He listened carefully. String instruments. Repetitious, almost atonal melodies, though the key progressions in that last section are quite sophisticated. Nothing in the style or sound of the piece recalled anything in his vast knowledge of music across the galaxy. He decided to investigate -- in the interest, of course, of augmenting his database. Placing his palms against the floor, he pushed himself up to his knees, then onto his feet. He took a few careful, creaking steps toward the curtains, the music becoming louder by the meter. Recalling his recent encounter with near-dissolution, he surveyed his surroundings to assess the danger and found nothing more troubling than an abandoned backstage area furnished with light panels, props, and cast-off costumes thrown over chair backs and tables. He walked more quickly to the front of the stage, curled his fingers around the edge of the curtain, and pulled it back.

The magnificent trappings of an ornately decorated theater -- perhaps nineteenth-century European -- filled his view. Upward of two thousand people could sit in this auditorium, resplendent in its gold-leafed railings and red velvet seats. The Doctor's eyes glanced upward -- and that chandelier! Voyager's bridge could hardly contain it! Flickering candlelight glinted through the teardrop crystals, illuminating the ceiling painted in round-cheeked cherubs and gauzy angels floating among the clouds. He stepped through the curtains into the empty auditorium and for the first time saw the source of the music.

The orchestra pit was filled with a large string ensemble -- as he had anticipated. What he hadn't anticipated was instruments playing themselves. He watched, fascinated by the bows seesawing over the taut strings, the plink-plink-plink of plucks by unseen hands. The Doctor, who didn't believe in ghosts, failed to understand why a creator with the brilliance to either perfectly automate an instrument or endow it with sentience would set his creations to playing rather obscure, purposeless music with no audience looking on. He was approaching the pit, hoping to study the curious technology, when the stage curtains parted abruptly and were pulled into the wings. The Doctor spun around and saw the pastoral backdrop, illuminated by spotlights calibrated to evoke the sense of dawn. Though the curtains had been drawn by an invisible hand, he was no longer alone onstage.

When the transformed Assylia emerged from the cocoon in sickbay, awe had filled him. Such beauty had been a flickering candle compared with the blazing sun that he witnessed descending from the stage's rafters. Creatures of light and wings illuminated the muddy gloom, radiating with serene majesty. One by one they emerged from a place beyond, until a dozen became a hundred, then thousands. In the lifetime he'd experienced since he'd been activated, he had come to know the fragility of life, both the steadily weakening flutters as a life was extinguished and the exuberant celebration of a life seized from death's grasp. Neither of those emotional extremes could compare to the rapturous wonderment he felt watching these astonishing creatures. Their wings beat rhythmically, up and down, with the strength of a massive sail catching the wind. The Doctor watched the creatures dashing around the vivid sky-canvas, feeling an unfamiliar longing to be freed from the restraints of his holographic existence, to live with utter abandon.

Tentative fingers of sunrise cleaved the blue. One by one, golden pink sunbeam spotlights heralded the day. Like angels, the creatures flew among tufts of clouds singing up the dawn....

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