About the Author
Alan Dean Foster is the author of several bestselling Star Wars novels as well as science-fiction, fantasy, detective, western, historial and contemporary fiction.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Star Trek Into Darkness I
It seemed as if not just the supervolcano, but every square meter of solid ground on the planet was on the verge of shaking itself apart. The serpentine smoke cloud that emerged from the enormous, towering cone stretched far out to sea, retaining its ominous coherence even as it cast much of the ocean’s surface in shadow. Struggling to escape the noxious gases that rose from the planet’s interior, troubled flying creatures sought clearer air to the north and south. Meanwhile, landslides periodically thundered down the volcano’s slopes as its insides continued to swell, while the magma-clogged throat coughed and rumbled threateningly. Far below the outer planetary crust, something was building, something that portended far more than a mere series of Strombolian eruptions.
Designed by its builders to withstand intermittent quakes and recurring tectonic stutters, constructed of hand-hewn stone, the massive temple situated not far from the mountain’s base violently trembled but did not fall. Mute and immovable at the convergence of multiple pathways that had been laboriously cleared from the red-leaved forest, it had stood thus for many hundreds of cycles.
The bipedal figure that burst from the bas-relief framed entrance was moving as fast as possible. While the simmering volcano appeared the greater threat, the more immediate one took the form of dozens of figures who emerged from the interior of the temple in hot pursuit. The bright yellow cowls and loincloths they wore stood out in sharp contrast to their skin, which more than anything resembled the cracked and splitting clay that might be found at the bottom of a long-dried-out lake bed. Primitive, simple symbols and lines of painted vegetable dye marked their otherwise bare bodies. Their yelling and screaming formed a nightmarish cacophony that contrasted with the lead figure’s heavy breathing.
The gray cloth wrappings James Tiberius Kirk wore had disguised him. Now they interfered far too much with his breathing as he struggled to stay ahead of his pursuers. Whipping them off, he sucked in one desperate lungful of alien air after another as he dodged primitive spears that would terminate his life as surely as any phaser. Around him, the deep red Nibiran forest seemed intent on deliberately impeding his flight.
Emitting a howl of outrage in memory of the desecration that had just taken place in their most holy temple, the high Nibiran priest shook the weapon he was carrying as he urged on his fellows. Though the Nibirans were decidedly humanoid, their rounded facial features, ritually marked clay-colored skin, and black pupil-less eyes marked them as genetically and evolutionarily different from the humans they otherwise closely resembled.
As the object of their fury, Kirk fought to lengthen his stride as he ran. He knew that if he was caught in possession of the scroll he had snatched from the temple, his pursuers would show him no mercy. He would be dead before he could explain that his intentions were wholly benign. He had to just keep running—if all went according to plan, that would not be much longer.
It couldn’t be much longer, he knew. His legs were turning to rubber while his lungs threatened imminent surrender.
The branches and tendrils of the surrounding forest whipped at him; every second they slowed him, allowing the furious Nibirans to draw that much closer. A foraging mother and child gazed up at him with wide eyes as he bolted past. Sitting on a red branch, a creature that resembled a yellow anemone drew tentacles back into its sack-like body as he sped by. He didn’t know if it was plant, animal, or a combination of both, and at the moment he didn’t care. Down a slope blanketed in red foliage, across a stream, and into a small clearing he raced—where, startled by his sudden emergence from the thick undergrowth, a massive fanged quadruped reared directly and unexpectedly in front of him.
The phaser Kirk drew was as technologically out of keeping with his surroundings as a ram hydrofoil would have been in a traditional sailing regatta. Before huge paws could come down on him, he hit the animal with a full blast from his weapon. It promptly collapsed in a pile of legs, fur, and dismay, revealing another masked biped behind it. Facing Kirk but weaponless, this second figure fumbled to remove its own facial wrappings. The face soon revealed was contorted, but no more so than usual.
“Dammit, man,” Leonard McCoy sputtered, “that was our ride! You just stunned our ride!”
Confronting the ship’s doctor and still breathing hard, Kirk barely managed to mutter a frustrated “Great” before the babble of the pursuing mob of enraged Nibirans rose above every sound except the dangerously deepening growl of the looming volcano. Gesturing in lieu of speech, Kirk beckoned for McCoy to join him as he resumed his flight. With a last regretful glance at the immobile local riding beast, the doctor followed.
Taking note of the rolled tube of local parchment that Kirk clutched like a relay runner’s baton, McCoy nodded in its direction.
“What the hell is that?”
“I don’t know.” The captain was fighting for breath now, each lungful demanding an increasingly painful effort. He motioned in the direction of the bellowing native throng behind them. “But they were bowing to it.” As a second glance showed the lead Nibirans continuing to close the space between them, he drew his communicator with his free hand and snapped the instrument open.
“Kirk to Shuttle One: Locals are out of the immediate kill zone. I’ve . . . given them something else to focus on. You’re clear to proceed as we discussed! I repeat, you’re clear to proceed! Operation’s a go now!” Lowering the communicator, he looked to his left. “You know, for someone whose expertise resides in what is essentially a sedentary profession, you move pretty good.” A spear slammed into the tree just to his right.
Behind them, the immense volcano was beginning to spill streams of lava down its flanks, bleeding bright red-orange against the dark basaltic slopes.
McCoy’s gasping reply was as dry as the chief engineer’s favorite gin. “Being chased by howling homicidal indigenes has a way of enhancing my sprinting ability.” His tone darkened. “Of course, if you hadn’t shot our ride . . . ”
Kirk shook his head. “Can’t hear you, Bones. Volcano noise.”
“Volcano noise, my—!”
* * *
Computer-augmented stability controls notwithstanding, Hikaru Sulu had to fight to hold the shuttle steady. As the interior of a fast-rising volcanic plume and its accompanying blasts of acidic gases was not the most salubrious location for a hovering shuttle-craft, it required Sulu’s full attention to keep the compact craft from being knocked ass-over-teakettle. Or worse, cast on an out-of-control vector toward the unforgiving ground below.
There was nothing wrong with audio reception, however. Kirk’s voice filled the cockpit.
“Copy that, Captain!” A glance rearward showed that while well under way, preparations for the final aspect of their questionable intervention were not yet complete. Shorn of anything resembling spare time, Sulu made his concern known in no uncertain terms.
“We have to do this now, people! If we sit in this murk much longer, the acids in the offgassing are going to start impacting our systems. All we have to do is lose one thruster and we risk going down!”
His warning was acknowledged with a hand wave. It was not half-hearted, but half-human. Turning back to Nyota Uhura, Spock stood stoically as she continued sealing him into the exosuit. Designed for heavy-duty work under the most extreme conditions, the brilliantly metallic, copper-colored suit was far less flexible than its standard-issue cousins. It could protect its wearer from nearly anything, but it could not make Spock comfortable. The latter did not concern the Vulcan. Survival did. Tilting his head slightly to one side, he spoke toward the suit’s pickup.
“Captain, did any representatives of the indigenous intelligence see you? At the risk of repeating the obvious and despite the difficulties inherent in our current effort, I must repeat that the Prime Directive clearly states that there can be no perceived external interference with the internal development of an alien civiliza—”
Despite the shuttle’s increasingly violent rocking, Kirk’s response came through clearly.
“No, Mr. Spock, they did not! I know what it says! I might have missed a few details here and there in certain classes . . . ” The admirable clarity of the surface-to-shuttle transmission was confirmed as Kirk’s communicator picked up the nearby McCoy’s unmistakable sarcastic snicker. “. . . but I didn’t miss that one. We’re not supposed to be here at all. It’s because of the Prime Directive that we’re having to do this the hard way. Now, drop off your super ice cube and let’s get out of here! Kirk out!”
The science officer would have argued further with his captain save for two reasons: The time to do so had long since expired, and arguing with James T. Kirk frequently generated far more frustration than satisfaction. Filing the details of their brief conversation away for future discussion, Spock returned his focus to the business at hand.
As Uhura stepped back, Spock knelt and opened a clamshell metallic case. In addition to the brace of simple unifying electronics that turned the contents of the container from an assortment of seemingly unrelated materials and components into a device of uncommon power and unusual purpose, it was first and foremost a basic but well-made timing unit. After entering final critical information into it, he watched and waited a moment longer to ensure himself that the apparatus had been properly activated. Only when he was certain of this did he stand, maintaining his balance as, despite its stabilizers, the shuttle was rocked by increasingly violent atmospheric forces.
Slipping on the suit’s helmet, Spock locked it in place. After clipping the safety line to his chest plate, Uhura moved to ensure that it was solidly affixed to the shuttle’s cargo winch. Spock then picked up the case and secured it to the equipment bracket on his side.
Uhura stared at him through the helmet’s industrial-strength visor. “Sure you don’t want me to go?” Requesting a response was one way of making certain his suit’s comm unit was functioning. Her query provoked exactly the sort of reply she expected.
“That would be illogical,” Spock responded calmly, “as I am already outfitted in the requisite gas- and heat-resistant equip—”
Stepping forward, she placed an open palm on either side of the heavy helmet. When she next spoke, her tone was utterly different. Soft, affectionate, and full of that meaning that went beyond words.
“Spock. I was kidding.” Rising on her toes, she placed a quick kiss on the transparent front of his protective helmet.
“However transitory, even minimal visual distortion is not helpful,” he muttered.
“It’ll dissipate fast.” She stepped back. “Hopefully the attendant meaning won’t. You’ve got this, Spock.”
Their eyes locked. The moment, if not the visual distortion, was broken by the anxious voice of Sulu calling back to them from the cockpit forward.
“If we’re gonna do this, we’ve got to do it now! Or we’ll lose the shuttle as well as the moment!” Erupting gases jolted the shuttle, sending it rocking dangerously from side to side. Constantly changing atmospheric pressure threatened to knock it into surrounding walls or send it plunging into the fiery lava lake not far below.
It would have been far easier if Spock could simply beam in and out with the ship’s transporter. But while they could beam him into the volcano, it would be impossible to set him down on a safe, solid location. To do that would have required a preliminary visual fix: one they had neither the time nor the precise means to obtain. Sometimes, despite the availability of the most advanced tech, nothing worked better than a pair of experienced eyes . . . and being directly on site.
Uhura’s hand patted the science officer on the side of his helmet. “I’ll see you in a few minutes. Keep cool.”
“It is my intention to ensure that everything keeps cool.” Spock turned toward the rear of the shuttle’s cargo bay.
“Spock!” Sulu yelled from the violently rocking cockpit. “You’ve got to go now!”
Uhura laid a last look on the science officer, then turned and joined Sulu in the cockpit. Airlock doors shut tightly behind her as she settled into the seat beside the helmsman. Sulu was now sweating as heavily as if he were floating outside in the volcanic flow. Uhura spared a final thought for the science officer rather than for what he was about to do, and then, taking a deep breath, she initiated the drop.
* * *
Safely encased in the exosuit, Spock was able to swallow once before the doors parted beneath his feet, sending him on a controlled plunge into the intense heat, towering flames, and swirling mix of gases below. Behind him, the shuttle bay doors immediately slammed shut. The cool transparency of the atmosphere inside the shuttle was replaced by angry yellows and reds as he embarked on a highspeed descent into hell.
Explosive emissions of dark gases, corrosive as well as poisonous, made visual monitoring of his immediate surrounds difficult but not impossible. The heat rendered standard infrared worse than useless. Only focused life-form imaging made it possible for those on board the shuttle to track the science officer’s descent, and that only intermittently, what with the continual eruptions of large masses of hot magmatic material. One such discharge the size of a small personal vehicle barely missed Spock as he dropped. The shockwave from its passing rocked him, sending him spinning on the descent cable until he could correct for the atmospheric distortion and steady himself once more. He imagined himself a spider on a silken thread, hunting for the one stable perch above a vat of boiling oil.
Picked out by the shuttle’s hasty surface scan, the landing site was right where it was supposed to be. Its spear of metamorphic stability thrust comfortingly above the lava that geysered around it. Though recognition of it was gratifying, securing the visual did not make touching down on it any easier. All around him, huge jets of molten rock the color of the sun fountained upward, threatening to collapse atop his precarious perch and drown him. Air currents rippling with heat made it difficult to maintain position, and despite the best efforts of Sulu and the shuttle’s optimizing stability system, perfect immobility was impossible to achieve in the hissing throat of the volcano. The overwhelmed helmsman finally had to admit as much. His voice filled the increasingly warm interior of the exosuit’s helmet.
“I can’t hold us here! Activity is becoming more violent, and the stabilizers’ algorithms aren’t designed to cope with this combination of heat and atmospheric distorti...
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