Q space, p.1
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       Q-Space, p.1

           Greg Cox
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Q-Space


  POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Star Trek® Q Continuum #1: Q-Zone copyright © 1998 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

  Star Trek® Q Continuum #2 Q-Space copyright © 1998 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

  Star Trek® Q Continuum #3 Q-Strike copyright © 1998 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

  STAR TREK is a Registered Trademark of

  Paramount Pictures.

  This book is published by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., under exclusive license from Paramount Pictures.

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  ISBN-13: 978-0-7434-9182-2

  ISBN-10: 0-7434-9182-3

  First Pocket Books trade paperback edition October 2003

  POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  These titles were previously published individually by Pocket Books.

  Visit us on the World Wide Web:

  http://www.SimonSays.com/st

  http://www.startrek.com

  Acknowledgments

  Thanks to John Ordover for conceiving of this trilogy, to Paula Block and Paramount for sanctioning it, to my agent, Russ Galen, for handling the contractual details, and to Carol Greenburg for carefully and fruitfully editing all three volumes. Thanks also to David and Alexandra Honigsberg for bullfighting tips, and to everyone at Tor Books, for letting me restructure my editorial duties so that I could give Q all the time and attention he demanded. And to D. C. Fontana, Gene Roddenberry, and John DeLancie for creating Q and bringing him to life (even though Q insists he created them).

  Most of all, though, thanks to Karen Palinko for being the work’s first and most rigorous reader, as well as for penning the various sinister ditties that became so much a part of 0’s character. The Q Continuum is a lot more of a collaboration than it says on the cover.

  Q-Space

  Prologue

  Let me back in!

  In back me let!

  Beyond the wall, he gibbered. Time meant nothing to him. An instant was the same as an eternity; both were merely subjective measures of his isolation and his madness, which began the moment he was cast out of creation and had been taking its toll ever since. His exile had just begun, and it had lasted forever.

  It’s not fair, he thought, as he had thought since the wall came into being. Fair is fair, there is there, and here is nowhere, nowhere, no hope. Isn’t that so?

  So it is, he answered himself, since he’d had no one else to talk to for as long as long could possibly be. So, so, so…so how could they lock me up like this? Why could they?

  His feverish mind offered an explanation. Fear. That was their paltry excuse. Mere fear, sheer fear, that’s clear. He cackled at his own cleverness. Fear, here. Fair, there. Fear is fair.

  No, it is not, he protested angrily. I never did anything, anything that mattered. Matter isn’t anything. No, it isn’t, is it?

  Not at all. All is not. Not is now.

  Now. Now. Now.

  Now, for the first time since his bleak, barbaric banishment began, something new was happening. There was a weakness in the wall, not enough to allow him to slide his way through, at least not yet, but a certain slackening that perhaps foretold an end to his stubborn struggle to get past the wall. He felt a crack, an infinitesimal fracture in the infinite, that he shouted through with all his might.

  Me back in let!

  Even if the entirety of his being could not pass through the tantalizingly, tormentingly small lesion, he could still send his ceaseless craving back into the realm from which he had been so unjustly cast out, crying out to anyone who might hear his desperate plea.

  Back let me in! he demanded.

  And a voice answered back.

  One

  Captain’s log, stardate 51604.21

  At Starfleet’s request, the Enterprise has arrived at Betazed to take on Lem Faal, a distinguished Betazoid scientist, and his two children. Under Faal’s direction, this ship will take part in a highly classified experiment that, if it is successful, may open up a vast new frontier for exploration.

  “Are you quite sure, Counselor, that you do not wish to visit your family while we are here at Betazed?”

  “No, thank you, Captain,” Commander Deanna Troi replied. “As it happens, my mother and little brother are off on one of her regular excursions to the Parallax Colony on Shiralea VI, so there’s not much point in beaming down.”

  You didn’t have to be an empath to detect an unmistakable look of relief on Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s face when he learned that Lwaxana Troi was several dozen light-years away. She knew exactly how he felt; even though she genuinely loved her mother, Troi wasn’t too disappointed that there would be no parent-daughter reunion on this particular mission. Surviving a visit with Lwaxana always required a lot of energy—and patience. Maybe it will get easier someday, she thought. And maybe Klingons will become vegetarians, too.

  “That’s too bad,” Captain Picard said unconvincingly. “Although I’m sure our guest must be anxious to get under way.” He glanced toward the far end of the conference room, where a middle-aged Betazoid male waited patiently, reviewing the data on a padd that he held at arm’s length from himself. Must be farsighted, Troi guessed, a not uncommon condition in Betazoids of a certain age. Lem Faal had striking, dark brown eyes, a receding hairline, and the slightly distracted air of a born academic. He reminded Troi of any number of professors she had encountered during her student days at the university, although, on closer inspection, she also picked up an impression of infirmity even though she couldn’t spot any obvious handicap. Wearing a tan-colored civilian suit, he looked out of place among all the Starfleet uniforms. Almost instinctively, her empathic senses reached out to get a reading on the new arrival, only to immediately come into contact with a telepathic presence far more powerful than her own. Becoming aware of her tentative probing, Faal looked up from his data padd and made eye contact with Troi from across the room.

  Hello, he thought to her.

  Er, hello, she thought back. Growing up on Betazed, she had become accustomed to dealing with full telepaths, even though she felt a bit rusty at mind-speaking after spending so many years among humans and other nontelepathic races. Welcome to the Enterprise.

  Thank you, he answered. She sensed, behind his verbal responses, feelings of keen anticipation, excitement, anxiety, and…something else as well, something she couldn’t quite make out. Curious, she stretched out further, deeper until she could almost—

  Excuse me, Faal thought, blocking her. I think the captain is ready to begin the briefing.

  Troi blinked, momentarily disoriented by the speed with which she had been shoved out of Faal’s mind. She looked around the conference room of the Enterprise-E. The other Betazoid’s telepathic comment seemed accurate enough; her fellow officers were already taking their places around the curved, illuminated conference table. Captain Picard stood at the head of the table, opposite the blank viewscreen at the other end of the room, where Faal waited to make his presentation. Decorative windows along the outer wall of the conference room offered an eye-catching view of Betazed’s upper hemisphere, an image reflected in the glass panes of the display case mounted to the inner wall. Gold-plated models of great starships of the past hung within the case, including a miniature
replica of the lost Enterprise-D, her home for seven years. Troi always winced inside a little whenever she noticed that model. She’d been at the helm of that Enterprise when it made its fatal crash into Veridian III. Even though she knew, intellectually, that it wasn’t her fault, she still couldn’t forget the sense of horror she had felt as the saucer section dived into the atmosphere of Veridian III, never to rise again. This new ship was a fine vessel, as she’d proven during their historic battle with the Borg a few months ago, but she didn’t feel quite like home. Not yet.

  Preoccupied with thoughts of the past, Troi sat down at the table between Geordi La Forge and Beverly Crusher. Will Riker and Data were seated across from her, their attention on Captain Picard. Riker’s confidence and good humor radiated from him, helping to dispel her gloomy memories. She shook her head to clear her mind and listened attentively as the captain began to speak.

  “We are honored to have with us today Lem Faal, a specialist in applied physics from the University of Betazed. Professor Faal has previously won awards from the Daystrom Institute and the Vulcan Science Academy for his groundbreaking work in energy wave dynamics.”

  “Impressive stuff,” Geordi said, obviously familiar with Faal’s work. Troi could feel the intensity of his scientific interest seeping off him. No surprise there; she’d expect their chief engineer to be fascinated by “energy wave dynamics” and like matters.

  “Indeed,” Data commented. “I have been particularly intrigued by the professor’s insights into the practical applications of transwarp spatial anomalies.” The android’s sense of anticipation felt just as acute as Geordi’s. He must have activated his emotion chip, Troi realized. She could always tell, which certainly demonstrated how genuine Data’s on-again, off-again emotions could be.

  “Starfleet,” the captain continued, “has the greatest of interest in Professor Faal’s current line of research, and the Enterprise has been selected to participate in an experiment testing certain new theories he has devised.” He gestured toward Faal, who nodded his head in acknowledgment. “Professor, no doubt you can explain your intentions better.”

  “Well, I can try,” the scientist answered. He tapped a control on his padd and the viewscreen behind him lit up. The image that appeared on the screen was of a shimmering ribbon of reddish-purple energy that appeared to stretch across a wide expanse of interstellar space. The Nexus? Troi thought for a second, but, no, this glowing band did not look quite the same color as the mysterious phenomenon that had obsessed Tolian Soran. It looked familiar, though, like something she might have seen at an astrophysics lecture back at Starfleet Academy. Of course, she realized instantly, the barrier!

  She felt a temporary surge of puzzlement quickly fade from the room. Obviously, the other officers had recognized the barrier as well. Faal let his audience take in the image for a few seconds before beginning his lecture.

  “For centuries,” he began, “the great galactic barrier has blocked the Federation’s exploration of the universe beyond our own Milky Way Galaxy. It completely surrounds the perimeter of our galaxy, posing a serious hazard to any vessel that attempts to venture to the outer limits of inhabited space. Not only do the unnatural energies that comprise the barrier batter a vessel physically, but there is also a psychic component to the barrier that causes insanity, brain damage, and even death to any humanoid that comes into contact with it.”

  Troi winced at the thought. As an empath, she knew just how fragile a mind could be, and how a heightened sensitivity to psychic phenomena sometimes left one particularly vulnerable to such effects as the professor described. As a full telepath, Faal had to be even more wary of powerful psychokinetic forces. She wondered if his own gifts played any part in his interest in the barrier.

  Faal pressed another button on his padd and the picture of the barrier was replaced by a standard map of the known galaxy, divided into the usual four sections. A flashing purple line, indicating the galactic barrier, circled all four quadrants. “The Federation has always accepted this limitation, as have the Klingons and the Romulans and the other major starfaring civilizations, because there has always been so much territory to explore within our own galaxy. After all, even after centuries of warp travel, both the Gamma and the Delta quadrants remain largely uncharted. Furthermore, the distances between galaxies are so incalculably immense that, even if there were a safe way to cross the barrier, a voyage to another galaxy would require a ship to travel for centuries at maximum warp. And finally, to be totally honest, we have accepted the barrier because there has been no viable alternative to doing so.

  “That situation may have changed,” Faal announced with what was to Troi a palpable sense of pride. Typical, she thought. What scientist is not proud of his accomplishments? The map of the galaxy flickered, giving way to a photo of a blond-haired woman whose pale skin was delicately speckled with dark red markings that ran from her temples down to the sides of her throat. A Trill, Troi thought, recognizing the characteristic spotting of that symbiotic life-form. She felt a fleeting pang of sadness from the woman seated next to her and sympathized with Beverly, who was surely recalling her own doomed love affair with the Trill diplomat Ambassador Odan. Troi wasn’t sure, but she thought she sensed a bit of discomfort from Will Riker as well. A reasonable reaction, considering that Will had once “loaned” his own body to a Trill symbiont. She was relieved to note that both Will and Beverly swiftly overcame their flashes of emotion, focusing once more on the present. They acknowledged their pasts, then moved on, the counselor diagnosed approvingly. Very healthy behavior.

  Worf married a Trill, she remembered with only the slightest twinge of jealousy. Then she took her own advice and put that reaction behind her. I wish him only the best, she thought.

  “Some of you may be familiar with the recent work of Dr. Lenara Kahn, the noted Trill physicist,” Faal went on. Heads nodded around the table and Troi experienced a twinge of guilt; she tried to keep up to date on the latest scientific developments, as summarized in Starfleet’s never-ending bulletins and position papers, but her own interests leaned more toward psychology and sociology than the hard sciences, which she sometimes gave only a cursory inspection. Oh well, she thought, I never intended to transfer to Engineering. “A few years ago, Dr. Kahn and her associates conducted a test on Deep Space Nine, which resulted in the creation of the Federation’s first artificially generated wormhole. The wormhole was unstable, and collapsed only moments after its creation, but Kahn’s research team has continued to refine and develop this new technology. They’re still years away from being able to produce an artificial wormhole that’s stable enough to permit reliable transport to other sectors of the galaxy, but it dawned on me that the same technique, modified somewhat, might allow a starship to open a temporary breach in the galactic barrier, allowing safe passage through to the other side. As you may have guessed, that’s where the Enterprise comes in.”

  A low murmur arose in the conference room as the assembled officers reacted to Faal’s revelation. Data and Geordi took turns peppering the Betazoid scientist with highly technical questions that quickly left Troi behind. Just as well, she thought. She was startled enough by just the basic idea.

  Breaking the barrier! It was one of those things, like passing the warp-ten threshold or flying through a sun, that people talked about sometimes, but you never really expected to happen in your lifetime. Searching her memory, she vaguely recalled that an earlier Enterprise, Captain Kirk’s ship, had passed through the barrier on a couple of occasions, usually with spectacularly disastrous consequences. Starfleet had declared such expeditions off-limits decades ago, although every few years some crackpot or daredevil would try to break the barrier in a specially modified ship. To date, none of these would-be heroes had survived. She remembered Will Riker once, years ago on Betazed, describing such dubious endeavors as “the warp-era equivalent of going over Niagara in a barrel.” Now, apparently, it was time for the Enterprise-E to take the plunge. She couldn’
t suppress a chill at the very thought.

  “I’m curious, Professor,” Riker asked. “Where exactly do you plan to make the test?”

  Faal tapped his padd and the map of the galaxy reappeared on the screen. The image zoomed in on the Alpha Quadrant and he pointed at a wedge-shaped area on the map. “Those portions of the barrier that exist within Federation space have been thoroughly surveyed by unmanned probes containing the most advanced sensors available, and they’ve made a very intriguing discovery. Over the last year or so, energy levels within the barrier have fluctuated significantly, producing what appears to be a distinct weakening in the barrier at several locations.”

  Shaded red areas appeared throughout the flashing purple curve on the screen. Troi noted that the shaded sections represented only a small portion of the barrier. They looked like mere dots scattered along the length of the line. Like leaks in a dam, she thought, finding the comparison somewhat unsettling.

  Faal gave her an odd look, as if aware of her momentary discomfort. “These…imperfections…in the integrity of the barrier are not substantial, representing only a fractional diminution in the barrier’s strength, but they are significant enough to recommend themselves as the logical sites at which to attempt to penetrate the barrier. This particular site,” he said, pointing to one of the red spots, which began to flash brighter than the rest, “is located in an uninhabited and otherwise uninteresting sector of space. Since Starfleet would prefer to conduct this experiment in secrecy, far from the prying eyes of the Romulans or the Cardassians, this site has been selected for our trial run. Even as I speak, specialized equipment, adapted from the original Trill designs, is being transported aboard the Enterprise. I look forward to working with Mr. La Forge and his engineering team on this project.”

  “Thanks,” Geordi replied. The ocular implants that served as his eyes glanced from Data to Faal. “Whatever you need, I’m sure we’re up to it. Sounds like quite a breakthrough, in more ways than one.”

 

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