Two mysteries vie for the attention of the crew of the Excalibur. Is the hospitality of the people of Nelkar too good to be true? And does a stranded spaceship truly hold the object of Si Cwan's quest...or is it instead an all-too-deadly trap?
As the novel opens, the USS Excalibur is under attack by an unknown vessel. An indignant Mackenzie Calhoun exclaims he wants to "blow those bastards out of space", but resolves to handle the situation with more caution. Soleta has trouble determining the origin of the vessel saying that it has only passing similarities to a Kreel vessel. While the Excalibur engages in evasive maneuvers, Calhoun opens a channel with the ship and gives them five seconds to stand down. Three seconds later, Calhoun orders Boyajian to fire a warning shot on a weak spot suggested by Soleta. The commander of the opposing ship then hails the Excalibur. She identifies herself as Laheera, a Nelkarite. She suspects Excalibur of being a pirate vessel and demands proof it was not them who damaged the transport Cambon, rescued by Excalibur in the previous novel. Calhoun has Selar round up Hufmin, who is the captain of the transport, and two other passengers to serve as representatives. He then hails Si Cwan on subspace to gain some information on the Nelkarites.
Meanwhile, the Thallonians aboard the Kayven Ryin notice that the USS Marquand, the runabout carrying Si Cwan and Zak Kebron is beginning to slow down, and the Thallonians are worried that their would-be prey suspect something. They hail the Marquand demanding to know why they haven't yet given assistance, and Kebron responds that they must attend to an incoming communique from Excalibur. Si Cwan tells Calhoun that as far as he knows the Nelkarites are fairly harmless and never started any wars or made any attempts to resist Thallonian rule, however they are known to be a scavenger race, piecing together technology they often don't understand to form ships and such. Calhoun orders Marquand not to proceed to Kayven Ryin until the situation on Excalibur is cleared up, and though Si Cwan protests, neither Calhoun nor Kebron will change their minds. Back on Excalibur, Bortskee and Cary, the two representatives of the Cambon refugees, along with Captain Hufmin speak to Laheera to explain their situation. They confirm Calhoun's story, and Laheera offers them sanctuary on Nelkar. Shelby and Calhoun are concerned that they don't know enough about the Nelkarites to be positive they pose no threat. Cary protests however, explaining that unlike the crew of the Excalibur, they are not pioneers or comfortable with spacefaring and they simply wish to settle down. Hufmin says he is only under obligation to take the refugees where they want to go, but Calhoun still refuses to release them as he is suspicious of the Nelkarites. Shelby notes that regulations will not permit Calhoun to hold these people against their will. In order to reach some kind of compromise, Calhoun decides he will take the refugees to Nelkar on the Excalibur. Excalibur then alerts Marquand to the situation, allowing them to proceed to assist the Kayven Ryin.
Zoran and the other Thallonians aboard the Kayven Ryin are tense as without the Marquand approaching, their plan can not be put into motion. Zoran is frustrated because Si Cwan's presence complicates things. He wasn't originally part of the plan, but now that he is here, he must be captured. Si Cwan hails Kayven Ryin to ask about the urgency of their distress, and they claim their life support systems to be working, but their propulsion is out. Kebron then asks to speak to Si Cwan's sister Kalinda who is listed as a passenger. This request confuses Si Cwan, and Kebron informs him he is merely being cautious. Kalinda's voice comes through and Si Cwan asks if she remembers a talk about their "special place" to confirm her identity. When she asks if he means that time at the fire falls, Si Cwan is convinced and promises to be over shortly. Kebron cuts the engines and transmission, saying he still doesn't like it. Kayven Ryin hails them again to demand to know why they are backing off, and while Kebron and Si Cwan fight over this course of action, Kebron detects that Kayven Ryin is opening fire. Zoran and his men realized that their trap wasn't working and resolve to destroy the Marquand They knock out the warp drive before Marquand can escape. Si Cwan is confused as to why this is happening, and Kebron theorizes that they are trying to kill Si Cwan, he is simply the bystander. With no way to run, Kebron and Si Cwan then flee to the transporter, beaming over to the Kayven Ryin before the Marquand is destroyed. As Zoran's crew celebrates, one of them named Rojan scans the debris. Since he finds no biological remains, he warns them that Si Cwan and Kebron are probably still alive and somewhere on the Kayven Ryin, the only target in transporter range. The Thallonians then arm themselves and prepare to hunt down the two intruders.
Back on Excalibur, Mark McHenry is thanking Soleta for sticking up for him in front of Calhoun and Shelby about his "spacing out". He then rather abruptly asks her why she left Starfleet earlier. Soleta claims it isn't important, since she came back, but McHenry insists to know since they were friends back at Starfleet Academy, along with Worf and Kebron. Soleta clarifies that she had classmates, but no friends. Soon the two are yelling at each other until Calhoun breaks them up. The two deny anything is wrong and go back to work. Down in the lounge, Selar is sitting at the only available table and seems clearly annoyed when Burgoyne 172 sits down across from her. After a brief dispute over Burgoyne's earlier "aggressive propositioning", Burgoyne gets up for a glass of scotch. S/he offers some to Selar, who experimentally downs half the glass and barely stops herself from coughing it up. Burgoyne explains to her what it is and then tells the story of how s/he aquired a taste for it. About two years earlier, S/he was taking shore leave on Argelius II and encounter a rather odd character in a local bar, who was none other than Captain Montgomery Scott. S/he dismissed Scott's stories of being over a hundred years old and serving under Captain Kirk as mere drunken rambling, but the two talked and drank nonetheless. Burgoyne admits that s/he can't remember many details, but does remember yelling at Scott, saying he was hiding in a pub when he could be out doing amazing things. S/he woke up in a back room, finding that Scotty had left her something, a bottle of scotch with the message "you're right" written on the label. Selar finds this story relatively pointless and assures Burgoyne that she is not interested in hir. Burgoyne denies this, stating that s/he can detect her elevated pheromone level. Selar leaves the room and is shaken by the fact that she may actually have feelings for Burgoyne.
Kebron and Si Cwan are at a rather large disadvantage on the Kayven Ryin as they are not only outnumbered, but also have only one phaser between the two of them. Si Cwan thinks they should split up, and Kebron explains that due to their respective sizes they will be easy targets alone or together. Si Cwan tries to take off anyway and Kebron knocks him down, reminding him he is neither a prince nor a lord here and will need to follow his orders. Kebron sees two guards ahead and has Si Cwan act as a decoy. While they attempt to capture Si Cwan, Kebron appears and knocks both the guards to the ground. Before they die from the impact, Si Cwan aggressively questions one of them as to the whereabouts of his sister. The guard gets out only one word, Zoran. Kebron asks Si Cwan who this is but is interrupted when they are attacked by another guard. Kebron and Si Cwan eventually overpower and kill him, then remove from him a communication device. Zoran and his remaining men are concerned over the fact that they can't raise any of their guards, and hear Si Cwan raise their bridge with the stolen device. Si Cwan and Zoran argue for a while, claiming it has been a long time, and when Si Cwan continuously asks about Kalinda's whereabouts, Zoran yells to Si Cwan that she is dead. The other Thallonians cut the transmission, though Si Cwan continues to scream into the device from the other end. Rojam is irritated as by telling him that Kalinda was dead, Zoran had cut their tactical advantage. Juif reminds them that Si Cwan was never part of the plan and they need to abandon and destroy the vessel to cut their losses. Zoran asks for ten minutes to hunt down Si Cwan. They agree to this and Rojam sets a bomb for fifteen minutes in order to give them enough additional time to escape. Si Cwan resolves to take on Zoran in hand to hand combat while Kebron tries to calm him down by telling him the story of the death of his parents. They were killed by Orion pirates while Kebron was at the academy, and Kebron took leave in order to get revenge. He claims that he was nearly killed and spent two months in the hospital. Blinded by rage, he was unable to fight effectively. Kebron then asks about Zoran again and Si Cwan clarifies that he will probably have Rojam and Juif with him, they're a "trio". Si Cwan knows this as the four of them used to be a "quartet"
The Excalibur has arrived at Nelkar and Calhoun receives a transmission from Celter, the governor of their capital city Selinium. Calhoun informs Celter he is still uncomfortable with setting down four dozen passengers on a world he knows little about so he will be sending an escort down with the refugees. Shelby asks permission to lead this escort and Calhoun agrees sending Security Officer Meyer and Robin Lefler down as well. Soleta then alerts Calhoun that Selar has just asked to see her in Sickbay and asks for permission to leave the bridge. Calhoun agrees though he and Soleta are both confused by this request. Down on Nelkar, Lefler begins her analysis of Nelkarite technology, per Calhoun's request. She notes that the vehicles are quite low tech, relying on wheels. She explains to Shelby that the Nelkarites seem to have "assimilated" technology from various races as most of the buildings have various parts strewn together with no real reason. Some of these parts include an Andorian dome and a door from an Orion slave ship. This corroborates with both Si Cwan and Soleta's respective analyses, and Lefler goes on to theorize that the ship they encountered earlier was formerly a Kreel raider the Nelkarites defeated, modified, and used as their own. Laheera then approaches the away team with Hufmin in arm, assuring them that the Nelkarites mean them no harm as she leads the away team and the refugees to their residence.
Selar has invited Soleta into her quarters and asks her to mind meld with her in order to determine if she is mentally insane, a process called Succor. Soleta tells Selar she is uncomfortable with this, and after some questioning reveals that it is because she is not fully Vulcan. Her mother was raped by an escaped Romulan criminal and decided against an abortion. She was not aware of this until years later when she was serving as science officer aboard the USS Aldrin. The Aldrin had taken this Romulan criminal into custody, but when Soleta came into contact with him, he noticed her IDIC pin, which she received from her mother, realized who she must be, and told her in full detail the circumstances surrounding the rape of her mother. Soleta assumed that he was lying or had seen an identical pin, but when she returned to Vulcan, her parents confirmed this story. She then temporarily resigned her commission and wandered about until deciding to re-enlist, as it was her mother's dying wish. Selar assures Soleta she doesn't mind about her mixed heritage, so Soleta agrees to mind meld with her. After the meld is complete, Soleta tells Selar she is going through pon farr. Selar claims this is impossible, as the timing is wrong, but Soleta has learned from the meld that the urge was never satisfied to begin with due to Voltak's abrupt death.
Si Cwan has broken off from Kebron and is attempting to find and face Zoran alone. When he enters a science lab, Zoran drops from the ceiling and lands on Si Cwan's back. Si Cwan is able to break free and the two continue to fight. Zoran assures Si Cwan that Rojam and Juif will not be joining them, as this struggle is between the two of them alone. Zoran stabs Si Cwan in the shoulder, and Si Cwan proceeds to strangle Zoran. While Zoran is being wrestled to the floor, he headbutts Si Cwan in the shoulder, driving the knife in further, and causing Si Cwan to release his grip. Zoran then hits his communicator and requests emergency beam out, escaping the area. Zoran, Rojam, and Juif flee the vessel in the escape pod while Si Cwan and Kebron come face to face with the bomb. Kebron tries and fails to disarm it. Facing their death, Si Cwan calls Kebron a fine warrior, saying that at least they will get to be with their departed family members: Si Cwan's sister, and Kebron's parents. Kebron then reveals that his parents are alive and well on Brikar, and he made up the story simply in order to try to get Si Cwan to listen to him instead of running off alone, which of course failed. Si Cwan is only able to get out three words, "I hate you", before the Kayven Ryin explodes.
The away team has returned to Excalibur, reporting that the Nelkarite facilities are adequate and the refugees seem happy on Nelkar. Calhoun admits that they have no choice but to leave them behind, regardless of his suspicions. Excalibur then receives a transmission from Laheera along with a rather drunk Hufmin who is leaning on her. Laheera then requests that Calhoun turn over Starfleet technology to her as compensation for her selfless act of taking on the refugees. Calhoun refuses, and Laheera responds by slitting Hufmin's throat. Laheera threatens to kill all the refugees unless she gets what she wants. Calhoun still bluntly refuses, saying he gave the refugees his advice and they refused it, he does not feel obligated to negotiate with terrorists on their behalf. Laheera reminds Calhoun that he was a terrorist once, a statement causing several moments of dead silence on the bridge. Calhoun then speaks up, telling Laheera that he does not negotiate, but will treat each action with an equal opposite reaction. He tells her he doesn't care if she kills the hostages, but that if she does, he will immediately order Excalibur to fire on and destroy her capital city. Calhoun then cuts the transmission.
To Be Continued...
- Atol • Boretskee • Boyajian • Burgoyne 172 • Mackenzie Calhoun • Cary • Celter • Si Cwan • Dackow • Hufmin • Juif • Kalinda • Zak Kebron • Laheera • Robin Lefler • Maxwell • Mark McHenry • Meyer • Rojam • Selar • Elizabeth Shelby • Skarm • Soleta • Zoran
- Referenced only
- Finnegan • Gandhi • Norman Kenyon • James T. Kirk • Alynna Nechayev • Rajari • Montgomery Scott • Spock • T'Pas • Volak • Voltak • Worf
Starships and vehicles
- Cambon (transport) • USS Excalibur • Kayven Ryin • USS Marquand (runabout)
- Referenced only
- USS Aldrin • Kreel raider • Orion slave ship
Races and cultures
- Brikar • Hermat • Human • Nelkarite • Romulan • Thallonian • Vulcan • Xenexian
- Referenced only
- Andorian • Kreel • Orion
States and organizations
Science and technology
Ranks and titles
- cadet • captain • commander • criminal • governor • pirate • refugee • science officer • security officer • terrorist • warrior
- away team • bar • bridge • capital city • death • glass • hospital • IDIC • mind meld • month • pin • planet • pon farr • quarters • rape • Scotch • sickbay • Succor • technology • year
- Burgoyne 172 once met Montgomery Scott in a bar and urged him to get his life back on track.
- Soleta is half Romulan as her Vulcan mother was raped by an escaped Romulan criminal. Learning of this was traumatic enough to cause Soleta to resign her commission. She rejoined Starfleet as it was her mother's dying wish.
- Selar's Pon Farr was never completed due to Voltak's untimely death.
- Zak Kebron's mother and father are a politician and salesman of motivational programs, respectively. They are alive and well on Brikar.
Into the Void
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Into the Void