- STAFF PICKS
- GIFTS + GIFT CARDS
- SELL BOOKS
- FIND A STORE
Used Trade Paper
Ships in 1 to 3 days
More copies of this ISBN
Star Trek: Mirror Universe Saga #03: Shards and Shadowsby Marco Palmieri
HISTORIAN'S NOTE: "Nobunaga" takes place in early 2156 (ACE). The Terran Empire has possession of a powerful weapon, the twenty-third-century Federation Starship Defiant ("In a Mirror Darkly," Star Trek: Enterprise; "Mirror, Mirror," Star Trek). The Empress Sato, having mercilessly destroyed the usurpers to her rule (Star Trek Mirror Universe: Glass Empires — Age of the Empress), now seeks to eradicate any rebellion.
He dreamed of T'Pol.
Not the Regent she had become but the woman she had been. The woman he had loved, out of duty at first and then with all his heart. He pictured her as she had looked ten years ago, at the time of the Empress's ascension, wearing the uniform she had taken from the Defiant's stores, a blue skirt that let her long legs show, that left the curve of her neck bare.
He pictured himself kissing that skin, felt her long hair brush against his face, felt his hands moving over her body, her yielding to him. He luxuriated in the moment, stayed with T'Pol as she had been for as long as he could stand the memory.
And then the memory faded, and for a second, he saw T'Pol as she was now, T'Pol the Regent, hard, harsh, close-cropped hair. He pictured her standing over him, her face blank, expressionless, emotionless. Alien. Vulcan. As if they had shared nothing. As if he were nothing more to her than another cog in the Empress's machine.
He saw her hands reaching for him. Her fi ngertips on his forehead. Her mind invading his. Her strength forcing him to yield.
He shot up in bed, suddenly awake. Drenched in sweat.
He wasn't aboard Defiant. He was — where?
Wearing a hospital gown. A hospital bed. Dim lighting in the room, a small room, no windows, a door at the foot of his bed, ventilators humming...
The door cracked open. Lights — dimmed, thank God for that — came on.
Dr. Phlox walked in.
"You." Tucker hated the Denubolan with a passion. "Where am I?"
"I'd take it easy if I were you, Commander. Your body needs time to recover from the — "
"Answer the damn question."
"You're in a private medical facility. On Earth."
"Earth? How did I get here?"
Tucker shook his head. Images fl ashed through his mind. He was out on Defiant, near the Neutral Zone, hunting the rebels. Hunting Archer.
"I want that man caught!" Robinson yelled, slamming his fist into the padded armrest of the captain's chair. "I want more speed!"
He turned and glared at Tucker.
"I want my ship!" he screamed, and his face morphed into Hoshi's. The Empress's.
Tucker blinked, returning to the here and now.
"There was an accident," Phlox said. "In engineering."
"I don't remember that at all."
"Not surprising. It was rather a large explosion. You've been unconscious for some time."
"Three weeks? What about the ship?" Tucker asked.
"The ship is functional."
"Functional. What does that mean?"
"There is time to worry about the ship later," Phlox said. "For now, I need to examine you."
The doctor moved closer to the bed. Tucker flinched.
"I'd rather have another doctor."
"You don't get a choice. The Empress has personally charged me with your care."
Ah. Tucker could guess how that conversation had gone.
Heal him, or else.
He gritted his teeth, and endured the doctor's none-too-gentle probing. His machines and his tests. At the end, Phlox stepped back.
"So?" Tucker asked. "How am I?"
The doctor shook his head. "Dying," Phlox said.
Something to do with delta rays and radiation. The Defiant's warp engines and the explosion that had occurred. Impending CCB — catastrophic cellular breakdown.
A more extreme version of the energies that had scarred his face at Bozeman, at the warp training facility, twenty years ago.
"Fix me," Tucker said. "The Empress charged you with my care, right?"
"Believe me, I am well aware of that fact. There is nothing I can do, however."
Tucker sat up. Frowned. "I don't feel any pain."
"It will be minimal at first," Phlox said. "As the nerve endings deteriorate, however, you will begin to — "
"Spare me the gory details." Tucker glared, rubbed the small of his back. "I hope this isn't another one of your sick jokes."
"Maybe I should get a second opinion."
"A second opinion." Phlox burst out laughing and, just as suddenly, stopped. "Get all the opinions you want, Commander. The Empress would certainly love to have you with us for as long as possible. But the data are irrefutable. Machines do not lie."
There was a rolling cart next to the bed; on it, a case lay open. A machine lay within the case, the last machine the doctor had used. He popped a data chip out of the machine and put it into Tucker's hand.
"So, what kind of time frame we talking about?" Tucker asked.
"A few weeks. Perhaps longer. Depending."
"On the speed of the breakdown. How fast the effect travels through your system." The doctor retracted cable, folded sensors, snapped the case shut. "If I were you, I would get my affairs in order. Sooner rather than later."
He picked the case up by a handle, nodded, and left.
Tucker got out of bed. A mirror, three feet square, occupied one wall of the room. He went and looked at himself in it.
His body was scarred all over, burned. New scars to go with the old ones, the ones running down the side of his face. Souvenirs from Bozeman and the years he'd spent slaving next to the reactor chambers of various starships. Enterprise. Defiant. And —
Pain stabbed into his head. Sudden, sharp, debilitating. He groaned, lowered his head, waited for it to pass. Eventually, it did.
He stood up, and the room stopped spinning after a moment.
He'd never felt pain like that before. Not even after Bozeman.
Dying. Maybe Phlox was right.
He went to a terminal on the other side of the room. He popped in the data module Phlox had given him and reviewed what was on it. Started to, anyway. He was no doctor. He couldn't make heads or tails out of what he was seeing; it was highly unlikely, though, that Phlox had been lying. The Empress would have his head. Tucker was important to her — or, rather, the knowledge in his head was important.
His stomach growled. He walked out the door and into the hall.
There was a guard there, of course. There were guards everywhere.
This one was a good half-meter taller than he, built like a walking mountain.
"You don't leave the room." He drew his weapon and motioned Tucker back inside.
"Food," Tucker said, and went back into the room. Ten minutes later, a tray showed up. Hospital crap. He ate it anyway.
He lay back on his bed, hands behind his head, and closed his eyes.
When he'd never really had a chance to live.
He slept, and dreamed again. Of T'Pol at fi rst, not the T'Pol he had loved but the Regent, standing over his bed. Her fingers probing. Her mind probing.
The Empress stood next to her. Watching. Glaring. Fury written all over her face.
The pain in his head returned, stronger than ever.
The dream shifted.
He was back on Defiant. Back in his quarters. Staring at a red light fl ashing on his console: message waiting.
Message? Who would be sending him a message?
No way to know without opening it, of course.
His fingers danced above the input screen. Curiosity and fear warred within him.
He tapped the screen; it came to life.
The past came to life with it.
The message was from Jonathan Archer.
"I won't waste words," Archer said. "You can't do it. You can't let her — "
Tucker stabbed at the screen.
"Delete!" he shouted. "Delete, delete, delete!"
If the Empress found out...
He awoke, his heart thudding in his chest. His head ached. His body stank. He needed a shower. He needed to get back to Defiant. Whatever life he had was back on that ship. Correction: whatever life he had was that ship. He had no friends; his family had long ago abandoned him. His work was his legacy.
He took care of the washing up fi rst, then went to the terminal. He opened a comlink, and after almost an hour of waiting, got through to his ship. To the captain.
"You're awake." Robinson looked neither pleased nor displeased. "What can I do for you?"
"How's the ship?"
"The ship is fine. How are you?"
"Ready to get back to work."
Traces of a smile flitted across the captain's face. "I heard you were dying."
"So they tell me. But I'm not dead yet." He leaned forward. "And I'm sick of this place already."
"I can understand that. I hate hospitals myself. But..." Robinson shrugged. "I can't help you."
From whom? Tucker was about to ask, and then realized that, of course, there was only one person Robinson took orders from these days.
Right at that second, he heard footsteps in the hall. He turned in time to see the door open.
A woman stepped in.
She wore a black robe styled like a uniform and boots that added half a foot to her height. Bodyguards crowded the doorway behind her.
Tucker went to one knee, gritting his teeth the whole way down. "Empress."
"Commander. Rise — please. There's no need for such formality between old friends."
Which was an out-and-out lie, of course, Tucker thought as he got back on his feet, a lie that Travis Mayweather's component atoms — wherever they were — would happily attest to.
Hoshi entered the room. Two of the bodyguards followed her in — hulking monsters, bigger even than the man-mountain who'd shooed Tucker out of the hall before. Augments, though if what Tucker had heard about the Empress was true, she hardly needed them these days. The word was, she'd augmented herself as well, her strength, her recuperative powers...other things. Image-projection fi elds, allowing her to disguise herself. Telepathic abilities. The rumors were legion. Three-quarters of them were false, no doubt, but they all added to her mystique.
The Empress. Some said she would live forever.
Tucker wouldn't bet against it.
The bodyguards stayed put, flanking the door. Hoshi walked closer, put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm so sorry."
"So am I, Your Majesty." The first time he'd had to mouth those words, he'd almost choked on them. Now they slipped out like snake oil.
She sat down on the edge of the bed and patted a spot next to her. Tucker sat as well.
"How is the pain?"
"Tell you the truth, I don't feel it very much."
"That's good, at least. A minor blessing." Her face smiled; her eyes stayed cold. "You'll have the best care, of course. We'll make you as comfortable as we can."
He took a deep breath. "I'd be more comfortable aboard Defiant."
"Defiant is on the line. In harm's way. You — "
"I can take a courier. Be there in three days." He turned back to the monitor, to the image of Captain Robinson watching them. "I can help you, Captain. You know I can. Morowski is good, but nobody knows those engines like I do."
Rather than respond, Robinson looked at the Empress.
She smiled again. Rattlesnake smile. "The ship is in good hands. Engineering is in good hands — isn't that so, Captain?"
Robinson bowed his head. "We stand ready, Empress, to serve your will."
She nodded. "So you see, Commander — "
The frustration boiled over inside him. "Empress, please. I — that's my life out there. That ship — I rebuilt those engines from parts, remember? That's my design out there — that's my — "
Her grip tightened on the mattress frame. The steel snapped.
Some of those rumors about the augments were obviously true.
The Empress stood. "Defiant is mine to staff as I see fit."
Tucker lowered his head. "Of course, Your Majesty. Forgive me."
She nodded. "Your service to the Empire has been long and meritorious, Commander. It will never be forgotten."
She looked him in the eye then and smiled. "I brought you something," she said. "A gift in honor of that service."
She reached inside her robe and pulled out a badge. It was shaped like a starship. There was writing on it, Japanese characters. Tucker couldn't read the language, and yet...
They looked somehow familiar to him.
His head began to ache. "Thank you, Your Majesty," he managed.
"Of course." She took his hand and put the badge in it. Closed his fingers around it. "A memento," she said, "of your greatest achievement."
"Yes," Tucker said, just to say something, because all at once, his head was pounding even harder, pounding as if it would split.
She leaned closer to him. "Nobunaga," she whispered. "You remember."
No, he was about to say. I don't.
But then, all at once, he did.
Five years ago, he'd been summoned to Kyoto, to the palace, to the Empress's presence. T'Pol was there, the Regent, at the Empress's side. Her hair cropped close to the skull, her face a mask, her eyes looking right through him.
Tucker went to his knees in front of the throne. "Empress," he said.
"Rise, my old friend. My old comrade." Hoshi sat on her throne, her robes gathered around her, bejeweled, the imperial crown of old Japan restored to her brow.
Tucker rose and, for a second, felt dizzy. She smiled at him.
He felt sudden desire.
Word was she continually spiked the air with them, rendering her visitors — her supplicants — compliant. Suggestible. Putty.
"I want you to build me a ship," Hoshi had said. "A sister to Defiant."
Tucker remembered the feelings that had gone through him then.
Terror. Honor. Above all, apprehension.
Defiant's technology was decades ahead of anything the Empire had. Her warp drive, her weapons systems. Tucker had spent the last ten years probing those systems, teasing their secrets out. He understood them as well as anyone.
He was not sure he understood them well enough to replicate them.
He said as much.
"We can replicate the weaponry — the torpedoes." T'Pol spoke for the fi rst time. Her expression was unreadable. "But the warp engines — "
"We require your assistance in this matter, Commander. This ship must be built. We must show all that the way forward — the way toward lasting peace — is under our dominion." Hoshi leaned forward. "Do you not agree, Commander?"
It was as if she were daring him to mention the rebels. Or the man who led them.
He lowered his head. "I am yours, as always, Empress."
"Of course you are." Her smile was dazzling. "Who else's would you be?"
The Empress left, vowing to return. Empty words; Tucker knew it, and she knew he knew it. She would never be back.
He managed to stay on his feet long enough for her to depart. Then he lay down on his bed and waited for the pounding in his head to stop.
How had he forgotten? That ship had been as much a part of his life for the last five years as Defiant. Even when he wasn't in Spacedock, overseeing her construction, he was on the subspace to Hess, or another of his subordinates, making sure things were done the right way. And they had been. The ship was a masterpiece. The ship was...
He frowned. He could remember virtually nothing to do with the ship since it had been constructed. The last he could recall of Nobunaga was months ago.
He went and got the guard. The guard went and got Phlox.
The doctor didn't even need to unpack his machines. "Memory loss is not surprising. Neural tissue is particularly sensitive toward delta radiation."
"Yeah. I know that." It was delta radiation, after all, that had scarred Jonathan Archer's mind, as it had scarred Tucker's face. "But this seems like a pretty specific set of memories being affected."
"Ah." Phlox smiled. "Memory. A fascinating phenomenon. Its acquisition, its retention...the mechanisms are still so poorly understood. How are specific memories grouped within the brain? How are they linked? Recalled? How — "
"I get the point."
"I am conducting experiments. Some show great promise. Perhaps you would like to participate?" Phlox's eyes glittered with pleasure. "The remunerative value is relatively small, but consider the legacy you would be leaving to — "
"No, thanks." Tucker knew a little too much about how Phlox conducted his laboratory ever to enter it voluntarily.
The doctor's eyes narrowed. "Of course, I will have to notify the Empress of this latest development, Commander."
"Of course you will."
"There can be no question of your returning to duty now. What other portions of your memory have been affected? Your knowledge of warp systems? Proper intermix procedures?" Phlox almost smiled. "It would be irresponsible to allow you anywhere near such valuable machines. You understand."
"Sure." Tucker managed a smile himself. Ha-ha. Funny joke. "I understand."
Phlox bowed and left the room.
Tucker stood there a moment, arms folded across his chest.
Dying was one thing, but to go out a drooling, raving mess, who couldn't even remember his own name —
He looked across the room at his image in the mirror. The image stared back.
It was as if it spoke to him.
You're going to die here, it said.
You're going to die all alone.
An overwhelming wave of despair washed over him.
No one would mourn his passing. No one would remember him when he was gone. No one, more than likely, would even come to say good-bye. And he would never be allowed to leave. Mixed up as it was, the knowledge in his head was too valuable to the Empire to risk losing it to...
He stared into the mirror, and an idea came to him.
An idea, he realized, that had been drifting around in his mind for a long time. Years, even. Twenty years. Ever since he and Jonathan Archer had first met.
The Tucker who could have been. The Tucker who was, in some alternate place, somewhere. The universe that was. Not an Empire but...
He shook his head. It was a stupid idea, all things considered. It was a dangerous idea.
But it was his only chance, he realized. To leave a legacy of some kind.
To live before he died.
He bided his time.
He ate the hospital food. He did his exercises. He contacted Defiant daily, spoke to those who had been his staff, when they could spare the time. Which was less and less often. He was irrelevant. Which was no more than he expected.
He read his journals, and in between, he read the news reports. They were unfailingly optimistic. Inevitably censored. The war was going well. The rebellion was doomed to fail. Same old story; for a while it had even been true. Those fi rst few years following the Vulcans' about-face, their leaving the rebellion to ally themselves with the Empress, had been hard ones for the rebels. Their cause had seemed defeated.
And then came Archer.
And now the tide had turned again; reading between the lines of the news stories, he could sense it. The rebellion was growing, spreading. More systems, more races joining with the Tellarites, the Andorians, the Klingons...
Of course, there was nothing in the news reports about that. Or his old friend, for that matter. That was to be expected as well.
A week passed.
Mornings he spent dealing with the pain, the pounding in his skull, which came with renewed vigor. Days he spent reading and thinking. About the past and the present and the future. What had been, what could yet still be. He continued to dream at night and to work at the bed railing the Empress had snapped.
On the seventh day, he managed to break it at the other end. Ended up with a metal rod about a foot long, jagged edges. He hid it in the sleeve of his gown.
He went out into the hall.
"What?" the guard asked.
"I want out," he said. "I want to smell some fresh air."
The guard sneered and stepped closer. "Get back in there. Before I — "
Tucker drove the metal rod into his throat.
Blood gushed everywhere. The guard gagged and tried to pull the rod free. Tucker drove forward with his legs, slamming the guard up against the wall. The man gagged some more. Hospital white, on the walls, on Tucker's gown, blended with sticky red. The guard reached for his communicator and then his weapon. Tucker slapped his hands away each time.
The man gagged one final time and went stiff.
Tucker let go of the rod; the body slumped to the floor. The guard's uniform was soaked with blood, stained. That wasn't part of the plan. The plan was to put on the big guy's uniform, walk out the front door. What was the plan now?
He stole the guard's weapon, stole the guard's money. He found a laundry room, the door half open, beckoning him inside. A spare medical uniform — pale green jumpsuit, white coat. A stairway that took him out to a lobby and out onto the street.
He recognized the skyline immediately. Kyoto. The Empire's capital, the Empress's home turf. No big surprise; Hoshi was keeping him close. He was surprised she hadn't chained him to the bed.
They'd be looking for him by now, have all the spaceports locked down. Have all the harbor facilities and rail stations watched. There was only one way out for him, one way to get off this planet, out of the Empress's clutches, live the last few weeks of his life in peace. Go to his grave knowing he'd done something to justify his forty-odd years of existence.
He made his way to the seediest part of town he could find and went into the seediest-looking bar. He sat on a stool and ordered a beer.
Time passed; the bar filled up.
He started conversations, started asking questions. Leading questions, questions designed to lead him to a particular kind of person. He got a few nibbles, no bites. He finished his first beer and nursed a second. He kept asking questions.
He decided the plan wasn't working; he needed to improvise again. He fi nished his beer and went out onto the street.
He sensed movement behind him and turned.
Everything went dark.
When he woke, he was in a small, windowless room. Two men were leaning over him.
One was hawk-nosed, unshaven, dark-haired; the other was squat, balding, sallow-eyed. Robin Hood and Friar Tuck.
"You've been asking a lot of questions," the thin one said. "Why?"
They could be spies; the Empress had scores. Or they could be exactly what he was looking for.
If he was wrong, he was screwed. Of course, if he was wrong, he was screwed anyway.
He took a deep breath. "My name's Tucker. Archer is a friend of mine."
The two men looked at each other.
"Archer who?" the thin one asked. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"I'm talking about the rebellion," Tucker said. "I want to join it."
They asked more questions. They left the room for a good five minutes. Only the fat man came back.
"My friend has gone to check out your story," he said, sitting. "If you're lying, you're a dead man."
"I'm not lying."
"We'll see, won't we?" he said, and that was the last either of them said for the next hour or so.
Finally, the thin man returned. Robin. He handed Tuck a sheet of paper.
The fat man read it, looked at Tucker, and nodded.
"We have to hurry," he said, standing.
They blindfolded him. They bound his arms behind his back. Shoved him into a surface vehicle. A bumpy road, a long ride — several hours. Tucker's bladder almost burst. Finally, a stop. Tucker heard noises around him, familiar noises. Machinery. A spaceport.
He was pulled from the vehicle. Marched up a ramp, down a curving corridor, into a room. A metal door slammed shut. The blindfold, and then the ropes, came off.
Tucker was looking at a stranger. A woman. In the blue dress from his dream, the one that T'Pol had worn, a lifetime ago.
The rebel uniform. The uniforms they'd found aboard Defiant. Uniforms from a mirror universe, symbols not of Empire but Federation. The world that could be. Uniforms Archer had made his own.
"Commander Tucker," she said. "I'm Leandra. Welcome aboard." He looked around the room. It was a metal box, six by six. No windows. A cot, a sink, a toilet.
"The Ulysses. You're safe. In good hands."
"That's good to hear. We're going to see Archer?"
She smiled. "I'll be back soon. We can talk more then."
"All right." He smiled back. They weren't telling him. They still didn't trust him completely. He found that reassuringly familiar.
He lay down on his bed. The stress of the last few hours suddenly caught up with him.
He closed his eyes. He was too keyed up to sleep. Instead, he let his mind wander. To the past, recent and not so. Phlox, Robinson, T'Pol, Archer. The world as it had been before Hoshi became Empress. How she came to power, which had all started with Jonathan Archer and Enterprise.
Archer had been first offi cer; he'd picked up message traffic from Tholian space, images of a ship the Tholians had captured. An Earth ship but unlike any anyone had ever seen before. A ship from a mirror universe, a ship from a mirror future, Defiant. A starship somehow catapulted into the past, a starship so powerful it could render the entire Imperial fleet obsolescent. Archer had mutinied, led Enterprise and her crew into Tholian space to capture that ship, which eventually they accomplished. Enterprise had been destroyed, most of its crew killed in the process. Returning to Earth, a second mutiny, this one led by Hoshi with Mayweather's assistance, had resulted in her seizing control of first Defiant and then the Empire itself.
She used the ship — its weapons, its power — to cow those opposed to her into submission. The forces loyal to Cochrane, the forces intent on liberty. A relative calm descended on the quadrant. The calm before the storm.
Before the rebellion began growing in strength again. Before — "I want you to build me a ship," the Empress had said. "A sister to Defiant."
Tucker's head pounded.
He blinked, and suddenly he was there. At the engineering console, on her bridge. Reed stood next to him; stood over him. Malcolm Reed, chief of the Imperial Guard. The most feared man in the Empire.
"Explain this to me again," he said.
"It's called a prefix code," Tucker said. "Think of it like a last line of defense, for the Empress. It enables her to take personal control of this vessel, anytime she likes. From anywhere within subspace range."
"And who else besides the Empress will know this code?"
"That's not exactly true, is it?" Reed smiled. Not a pleasant smile. "You'll know it, won't you?" He leaned closer. His features morphed into T'Pol's. "Won't you?"
Her hands reached for his forehead.
Tucker screamed out loud and shot awake.
He was back in his bed, on Ulysses.
The door to his room was open. A man stood in the light from the hall.
He moved into the room; his features came into focus.
"Trip," he said. "You all right?"
Trip. No one had called him Trip in twenty years.
Tucker looked at the man.
The rebellion's new leader.
His old friend.
Hoshi killed him and took his command. Took Defiant and, with it, the Empire.
And then she changed her mind. She decided she needed Archer alive, needed his expertise, his skills, to further her goals. Phlox had done the medical work, the cloning. T'Pol had done the dirty work. Gone into Archer's mind, once the man was healthy enough, and conditioned him to obey the Empress's orders.
Phlox's work took; T'Pol's didn't.
Two years into his service to the Empire, Archer turned. Went over to the rebellion. Became the bane of the Empress's existence.
"Find him." Trip remembered her image on Defiant's main viewscreen, spitting at Mayweather. Spitting at Robinson. "Catch him. Kill him."
Neither man had been able to do it. And now —
"A nightmare." Tucker swung his legs over onto the floor and stood. "Been having a lot of those lately."
"Haven't we all."
Archer looked thinner than Tucker remembered; his golden uniform shirt hung off his body. He had a full beard, shot through with gray. He had a long scar running across his temple, at the hairline, courtesy of Dr. Phlox's tender ministrations, no doubt.
The two men shook hands.
"It's good to see you again, Trip."
"You, too, sir."
"Even better to have you here. With us."
"I didn't want to die in Kyoto. I didn't want to die without doing something about the way things are."
"Good," Archer said. "You've come at a very opportune time."
"We're in the middle of an operation. A plan that — if we can pull it off — will make things a lot harder for the Empress. For the Empire."
"I'll do what I can to help."
"I have the feeling you can do a lot."
The captain nodded. "Let's get you something to eat. Then we'll talk."
They went to the ship's mess — a second windowless room, half again as big as Tucker's quarters. Three tables, twelve chairs, dehydrated rations, purifi ed, lukewarm water. Tucker wasn't hungry; his head was still pounding. Continuous, low-level pounding.
"You're not eating," Archer said.
"I'm getting my sea legs." Tucker forced a smile; Archer returned it.
They weren't alone in the mess; Robin, the thin man from the bar who'd brought him there, was at the next table, along with Leandra. They were talking. They were also watching him and Archer. Probably making sure he didn't harm the captain.
"So, you gonna tell me about this mysterious plan of yours?" Tucker asked. "What I can do to help?"
"Sure. It's a pretty simple one, actually."
"Simpler ones always work the best. Less to go wrong."
"My feelings exactly."
Archer smiled. "Nobunaga."
The pounding in Tucker's head grew louder.
The room around him blurred.
"He was a visionary."
That was Hoshi's voice. The Empress's voice.
He was no longer aboard Ulysses.
He stood in an observation lounge, looking on the skeleton of a huge starship.
Hoshi stood next to him.
"He brought muskets to the army. Western trade to the empire. He sought to open Japan to the world. To open the empire to a better future. What better name for our vessel? What better way to represent the future we desire?"
She placed a hand on his arm, smiled her dazzling smile. Tucker inhaled her scent.
He was back on Ulysses. Back in the mess hall.
Archer was standing. Leandra was standing, too, just behind him. Staring.
"You all right?" the captain asked.
"You went away there for a minute."
"Sorry. It's been a helluva couple days." He willed the memory — and the pain — away. "What about Nobunaga? What's your plan?"
The captain smiled.
"We're going to steal it."
Tucker let out a long, slow whistle. "Steal Nobunaga?"
"Steal a whole starship?"
Archer's smile grew broader.
"That's a mighty tall order, Captain. The security at Beta Nairobi is tighter than a drum. Believe me, I know. You can't get within a parsec of that place without some sort of alarm going off. Not to mention the patrols they have."
"Beta Nairobi?" Archer shook his head. "Trip, they moved her from Beta Nairobi a long time ago. Don't you remember?"
Tucker frowned. "No," he said. "No, I don't remember that at all."
A drooling, raving mess.
Was it happening already?
"Nobunaga is at Vulcan now," Archer said. "Showing the flag. Cowing the locals."
"Wait a minute." Tucker shook his head. "The Empress — the Empire — Vulcan is an ally. Hell, half the army these days is Vulcan, they — "
"Propaganda. Believe me. Most of the people on Vulcan are very dissatisfi ed with the present state of affairs. A lot of them have been helping us — directly, indirectly. You'd be surprised at who."
Tucker waved a hand. "I don't doubt it. But still...getting to Vulcan isn't going to be easy either."
The captain smiled again. "Like I said...we have a plan."
Tucker frowned. "Yeah. I heard. Only..."
His head began to pound.
The room wavered.
He was back in his quarters. On Defiant.
The message light was blinking.
"You can't let it happen, Trip," Archer said. "You can't let her have that much power."
"Delete," he said. "Delete, delete, delete."
But the message kept playing.
"Remember Bozeman?" Archer said. "Everything we talked about? Everything the space program stood for, once upon a time?"
"Delete!" Tucker screamed.
"How many digits is it?" Reed asked, and now he was someplace else, Tucker realized. The agonizer. Reed's home-built torture chamber.
"How many digits?" Reed asked again. "Surely, if you simply give me that number, it's not the same as telling me outright. No one could blame you for just giving me a clue..."
Tucker shook his head.
Reed smiled, showing all his teeth. He pressed a button.
Tucker opened his mouth to scream.
T'Pol put a finger to his lips.
"Shhh," she said, but her lips didn't move. "Be strong."
She was wearing the dress she had taken from the Defiant's stores, the blue one, the one that let her long legs show, that left the curve of her neck bare. Her long hair brushed against his face.
He leaned forward to kiss her...
Restraints held him back.
He was in a hospital bed. Bound hand and foot. Dim lighting in the room, a small room, no windows, a door at the foot of his bed, ventilators humming...
He was back in Kyoto.
The same hospital room he'd escaped from earlier.
"No," he said, starting to shiver. "Oh, no."
The door opened. Phlox entered, pushing a cart before him. A cart with all sorts of gleaming metal instruments on top of it. Sharp edges, shiny surfaces...
The doctor rubbed his hands together. "Shall we get started?" he asked.
He was back on Ulysses. Not in the mess but in the room he'd first been taken to. His bedroom.
Archer leaned over him. The captain held Phlox's data chip in his hand.
"How long has this been going on?" Archer asked.
"Since the accident. However long that's been." Tucker sighed and shook his head. "It's getting worse."
"When were you going to tell me?"
"When I had to."
"When you had to." Archer cursed. "Come on, Trip. How long have we known each other? Why didn't — "
"Because what's the point? There's nothing you can do. There's nothing anyone can do."
The captain went to one of the walls, leaned against it. He was silent for a moment.
"I want to help," Tucker said. "That's why I didn't tell you. I was afraid that if I wasn't a hundred percent, you wouldn't — "
The comm sounded.
"Bridge to Captain Archer."
The voice came from a comm unit on the wall; Archer crossed to it and pressed a button.
"Our visitors, sir. They've arrived."
"Good. I'll be right there. Tell them to..." He looked at Tucker. "No. On second thought, send them down here. Commander Tucker's quarters."
"Aye, Captain. Commander Tucker's quarters."
"Good. Archer out."
The captain closed the channel.
"Visitors?" Tucker asked.
"That's right. Allies. People who are going to help make this possible."
"Stealing the ship."
"So — you going to tell me what the plan is?"
"I'll wait. Till they come. Part of the plan is theirs. They should get the chance to explain it."
"I'm all ears," Tucker said.
"What's so funny?"
A minute later, he did. The visitors walked into his cabin.
They were Vulcans. The first two were male, one older, one younger.
The third was T'Pol.
Tucker was utterly flummoxed.
He got to his feet. He looked from T'Pol to Archer, and back again, and shook his head.
"No. She's — " He pointed at T'Pol and looked at Archer once more. "She's the Regent, for God's sake. She runs the government, more than Hoshi does. She's the one who — "
"You're wrong, Trip." Archer stepped up next to him. "She's one of us. On the side of the angels."
Tucker shook his head. He wanted to believe, but...
He looked at T'Pol.
She looked exactly as she had in his dream. The blue dress. The long hair, the eyes —
"Commander," she said. "It is agreeable to see you again."
"Is it true? You're with the rebels, you're not — "
"I am allied with the rebellion," she said. "But I do also run the government. The two are not mutually exclusive propositions."
Archer smiled. Everyone smiled. Tucker smiled, too.
"That is the best news I've heard in years," he said.
"Many happy reunions," Archer said. "For all of us. But if we want to get that ship, we ought to talk it through now, people. So, if you all don't mind following me..."
Tucker's room was too small to meet in; Archer took them down the corridor, heading for the mess. He watched T'Pol, a step in front of him. The Regent, a rebel. It all made sense now; no wonder the rebellion always seemed to be a step ahead of the Empire. No wonder Defiant could never find, much less catch, Enterprise. T'Pol, one of them.
She turned at the doorway to the mess. Her hair turned with her. Her long hair, cascading down her back. How had it gotten so long so quickly? The last time he had seen her —
He frowned. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen her.
"Is something the matter?" she asked. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," he said. "I'm fine."
They entered the mess. The tables had all been pushed together, the chairs arranged in a rough horseshoe shape around them. Everyone sat, everyone except Archer, who stood in front of a viewscreen, three feet square, that hung on one wall of the room. A star chart was projected on it, a map of the space in Vulcan's immediate orbit. The moons, the space stations, the orbiting weapons platforms.
"This is how we're going to do it," the captain said.
Tucker listened as Archer outlined his plan.
A manufactured emergency on one of Vulcan's moons that would siphon off security personnel. An automated maintenance shuttle sent shortly thereafter to resupply Nobunaga's food synthesizers, a shuttle that would contain not raw foodstuffs but live people.
A Trojan horse kind of thing. Everyone discussed the details; as they talked, Tucker saw a flaw in the plan.
"They'll have shields up," he said. "Nobunaga. It's standard operating procedure on all Imperial ships. You sure they'll lower them for your shuttle?"
"They have in the past," Archer said.
Tucker shook his head. He still didn't like it.
His uncertainty must have shown.
"You have a better idea?" Archer asked. "Another way to get those shields down?"
His head began to ache. He tried to fight past it.
Another way to get those shields down.
There was something there...something in the back of his mind...
"Any thoughts?" T'Pol asked. "Commander?"
She looked at him. Everyone was looking at him.
His heart hammered in his chest. His head was pounding.
"Lower their shields," he said.
Archer nodded. "Yes. That's the point."
Everyone was still staring at him.
"I don't know," he managed. "I guess that'll have to work. The maintenance shuttle. I can't think of anything else."
Which was the truth. His head was pounding so hard he could barely think of anything at all.
The meeting broke up. T'Pol left with the other Vulcans. Tucker managed a quick good-bye but no more. All of the things that had been in his head so long, the things he wanted to say to her, they were suddenly gone. All he wanted to do was go lie down, stop the pain.
He found himself back in his quarters, without even knowing how he'd gotten there.
Leandra leaned over him. She smiled. "You should rest," she said.
She smelled nice. A familiar smell. He couldn't place it.
He looked over her shoulder, at the mirror on the wall, and realized the whole time he'd been on this ship, he had yet to see the stars. Had yet to see anything other than this tiny room and the bigger one down the hall.
"How long till we reach Vulcan?" he asked.
"You'll wake me. I want to be there. I want to help."
"Of course. I'll wake you." She smiled again.
Tucker closed his eyes.
Images fl ashed through his mind. The hospital room and Phlox leaning over him. Reed and his agonizer. The Empress.
"You are a gentle lover, Commander."
He was in her bedchamber. In the palace in Kyoto.
She propped herself up on one elbow. "Tell me again, what you were saying before..."
"They built it into all their ships," he said. "I found a reference in Defiant's computer banks."
The Empress's eyes fl ashed. The Federation — the mirror universe — these were dangerous topics of conversation. She'd wiped Defiant's computers clean long ago, had only made the old records accessible to Tucker and his staff recently, for them to refer to during Nobunaga's construction.
He hurried on with his explanation. "It lets one ship's computer take control of multiple vessels. So you can have split-second battlefield coordination — attack runs, that sort of thing. We build it into Nobunaga; it would enable you always to have ultimate control of the vessel."
Her eyes flashed again, this time with pleasure. "I begin to see your point, Commander."
"Of course, it only works over relatively short distances. But still — "
"Still." She smiled. He felt as if he could read her mind, for a second.
What happened long ago with Archer, and Enterprise, would never happen again.
"You are a gentle lover, Commander."
He smiled. "You said that already."
She raised herself above him. Straddled him.
He couldn't move.
He was in the hospital again, in Kyoto. Strapped to his bed.
The door opened. Phlox entered with his cart.
He looked up and shook his head.
"She's not happy with you," the doctor said. "The Empress. Not happy at all."
Phlox came closer; metal gleamed. He flipped switches; electricity sparked.
An alarm sounded. All quarters.
Tucker sat up in his bed. In his room, on Ulysses.
The door opened.
A figure stood in the light from the hall. A woman. She moved into the room; her features came into focus.
"Come with me," she said. "Hurry."
"What's going on?" Tucker sat up, still disoriented.
"Hurry," she said again.
She took him by the hand, pulled him out of his quarters, down the corridor into the mess.
The two older Vulcans were there. So were Robin and Tuck from the bar, back in Kyoto. They had all been staring at the viewscreen.
They all turned to stare at him now.
"Your concern was justified, Commander," Leandra said. "Nobunaga is not lowering her shields."
Tucker sat, trying to get his bearings. "So, what do we do?"
The hawk-nosed man — Robin — stepped forward.
"Whatever we decide, we have to do it quickly. They're sending over a boarding party, to check out the ship. To make sure it's safe."
"If they board that shuttle, they'll find the captain. And the others. They'll kill them," Leandra said. "T'Pol will die."
Tucker frowned. "But — " He looked over at T'Pol. "T'Pol's here."
"Of course." Leandra smiled. "I misspoke."
There was silence.
"So, what do we do?" Tucker asked again.
Leandra stepped forward. "I have an idea," she said. "What about the prefix code?"
The prefix code.
"Right," he said. "I don't know why I didn't think of that before."
"It doesn't really matter, does it?" Leandra smiled. "The point is, with the code, we can lower the shields ourselves. We can take over the whole ship."
"That's right." Tucker nodded. That's how it worked — the prefix code. He'd programmed it into Nobunaga at the Empress's command. So that she would have ultimate control of the vessel, in case...
"Tell it to me, quickly," Leandra said. "They're on the way."
"They're almost there." The older Vulcan stood next to the viewscreen and pointed at it. "See?"
Tucker followed the man's arm, looked where he was pointing.
For a second, the wall itself seemed to waver. Instead of the viewscreen, he saw — he thought he saw — a mirror.
And then the star chart appeared and gave him a view of the tactical situation. The shuttle and the starship. Nobunaga.
The message light was blinking.
"I hear you're building a ship," the captain said. "As powerful as Defiant."
"How did you hear that?"
"You can't do it, Trip. You can't let her have that much power."
"So what am I supposed to do?"
"The right thing," Archer said.
"Unless you have a better idea."
No, he was about to say.
And then he remembered.
"Tell it to me." Leandra gritted her teeth. "So we can transmit it."
She was on the verge of losing her temper, Tucker saw. He should tell her the code. There was no reason not to tell her the code.
He looked up at the viewscreen and frowned.
"Why aren't we on the bridge?"
Leandra walked around in front of him, put both her hands on his shoulders, leaned into his face.
"What does it matter where we are? We can transmit from anywhere. Now tell me the code! Before it's too late."
"We were fi red on." The hawk-nosed man stepped forward.
"Some structural damage. That's why the all-quarters alarm."
"Ah." Tucker nodded. That made sense.
"Access to the bridge is temporarily blocked," the man continued.
"So tell me." Leandra's eyes blazed fire. "The prefix code."
He inhaled her scent. It was so familiar...
His head began to pound. Harder than ever before.
He looked up at her again, and something stirred at the back of his mind.
"No," he said. "Oh God no."
The room around him began to waver.
The hawk-nosed man cursed.
"Look at him," he said. "Look at his eyes. He's coming out of it."
The fat man nodded. "Without a doubt."
"The code!" Leandra screamed. "Tell me the code!"
Her hands were still on his shoulders; she shook him. Tucker felt something snap.
The pain there, though, was nothing compared to the pain in his head. The pounding in his skull.
He screamed too then.
His head felt like it was going to explode.
T'Pol stepped forward. "Let me," she said, and put her hands on his forehead.
The pain stopped.
She looked him in the eye.
And then her voice was in his head.
Courage. Be strong.
She stepped back, which was when Trip became aware that everything around him had changed.
He was no longer aboard Ulysses. He was in his hospital room, at Kyoto.
He had never left.
The hawk-nosed man was Reed.
The fat man, Phlox.
"What did you do?" the Empress demanded, glaring at T'Pol.
"His mind was breaking down. The image projectors, the consistent mental intrusions. I feared we would lose him entirely."
"I don't care about him!" Hoshi screamed. "I want my ship. Where is my ship?"
Tucker watched her rant and barely — just barely — kept himself from smiling.
He remembered everything now.
Building Nobunaga, embedding the prefix code. Chasing the rebels. Archer's message. Changing sides. Giving the captain the key to the Empress's brand-spanking-new starship. Giving the rebels a weapon that, at last, could match Defiant.
Being captured. Being tortured. Physically, first, and then —
"Rip it out of his mind," the Empress said. "Get me that code. Now."
T'Pol nodded. "I will do as you wish, of course. However, if we cause permanent damage — "
The Empress let out a scream of frustration and left the room.
Reed started to follow, then stopped at the door. He looked at Phlox first and then at T'Pol.
"Let's do it again, shall we? Until we get it right?"
T'Pol and Phlox nodded.
Tucker felt his stomach turn over.
Again? How many times —
He tried to catch T'Pol's eye. She wouldn't look at him.
"Progress reports every hour," Reed said.
"Every hour." Phlox nodded. "You're saying we shouldn't sleep?"
Reed glared at him and left the room.
The doctor shook his head. "No sense of humor, that man." He walked to the far corner and pulled his cart forward. He looked up at T'Pol.
"Do you want to go first, or shall I?"
"You," T'Pol said. "I have had quite enough for the moment."
"Really?" Phlox smiled again. "Not going soft on us, are you?"
She reached up and pulled off her wig.
"Of course not," she said.
Her face was blank, expressionless, emotionless.
Courage. Be strong.
Oh God, Tucker thought. Had he imagined that, too?
Phlox stepped forward. His eyes glittered.
"Memory," he said. "Such an interesting phenomenon. Don't you agree?"
Tucker closed his eyes and braced himself. Copyright © 2009 by Paramount Pictures Corporation.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Other books you might like
Fiction and Poetry » Science Fiction and Fantasy » A to Z