Read Star Trek: The Empty Chair Online

Authors: Diane Duane

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Star Trek: The Empty Chair (33 page)

BOOK: Star Trek: The Empty Chair
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On the screen they could see the sensor-augmented trace of the probe-torpedo as it streaked away from the
Enterprise.
Jim watched its course arcing gradually around toward 553 Trianguli. “Trajectory’s fine,” Scotty said quietly. “Setting up for hyperbolic orbit.”

The screen showed the projected hyperbola. It would be a tight, fast curve around the star, a worst-case orbit. If the probe could do its job under such circumstances, its successors would do quite well when there was enough leisure to put them in more open, more stable orbits around other stars.

“The generators are on line,” K’s’t’lk said. “Solving for the close-in data now.” This, as Jim understood it, was the diciest part of the operation. To “unseed” a star correctly, the probe had to set up and then solve a number of extremely complex equations describing the behavior of the star’s upper atmosphere, then tailor the field it would generate around the star to suit those equations—and keep changing the field every hundredth of a second or so to keep pace with the changes that had so far been made to the star.

Scotty and K’s’t’lk were both staring unblinkingly at the console above Scotty’s station as the bar graphs and sines there flickered and danced. “There’s your baseline, Sc’tty,” K’s’t’lk said, sounding pleased. “Second-order solutions coming now.”

Jim glanced back at the main viewscreen. “Push us in a little on that, would you, Mr. Sulu?” he said.

“Augmenting, Captain,” said Sulu. The view of the star, filtered to a nonblinding sphere, swelled to fill the screen. It was a fairly quiet star at the moment, only a couple of sunspots flecking it here and there.

“Second-order data’s done,” Scotty said. “Now the fun begins. Probe’s on auto now.”

The bar graphs on the display above Scotty’s station began to jump around most energetically. Jim looked at this with some slight concern, as was usual when he didn’t have a clue how Scotty had the readouts calibrated, or what the calibrations meant.

He looked over at Spock. The science officer had been watching the readouts as intensely as Jim had. Now he put up one eyebrow. “Mr. Scott,” he said, and looked away toward the viewscreen.

“Aye, I see it,” Scotty said. “It’s expected—just a herald effect.”

The sunspots seemed to start bobbing up out of the star’s photosphere like little black bubbles. And, like bubbles, they started to join up with one another, absorbing each other into larger and larger dark areas. Jim started to get a little unsettled as he watched this happening. There wasn’t a one of those spots that wasn’t the size of the Earth, and the joined-up ones were a whole lot bigger. “Scotty, is this supposed to—”

“Aye, Captain,” Scotty said. “Some amount of this effect is unavoidable, while the star’s finding its new equilibrium level and ‘syncing up’ with the other star. The probe has to readjust…”

And Scotty trailed off, watching the screen. Spock, at his station, had been peering down his viewer. He now stood up in what even for him looked like alarm. “Mr. Scott—”

On the screen, the star was going dark. The sunspot-blotches covering it spread, between one breath and the next, to cover maybe fifty percent of the star’s surface. By the next
breath, they had covered it all. The star had gone from something quite normal-looking to a strange smothered-looking body of an ashy darkness, all threaded with fading, twisting lines of fire.

A flash of furiously actinic light seared the whole bridge like a massive strobe, and whited out the screen. It took the screen some moments to adjust itself back down to normal levels again. When it did, Jim and the bridge crew found themselves looking at a star that was surrounded by a rapidly expanding shell of glowing hot plasma. At the shell’s core was a roiling little red body that was rapidly collapsing.

Jim stared at the screen for a moment, then hit the comms button on the center seat’s arm. “
Tyrava, Bloodwing.”

“Here,”
said Veilt, and
“Captain,”
said Ael.

“I think we need to back away from the star a little farther,” Jim said. “We’ll need to stay in the system for half an hour or so to get some more readings and find out what happened. Then it’s time to move out for Augo.”

“Agreed,”
said Veilt.
“Signal us when you are ready for departure.”

“Out,” Jim said, and hit the comms button again. He spared one more glance for the rapidly collapsing red dwarf that had been 553 Trianguli, and then turned around to look at Scotty and K’s’t’lk.

They were both staring at the collapsing readings on Scotty’s screen. Finally they both turned to look at Jim.

“It wasn’t supposed to do
that,”
K’s’t’lk said, in considerable shock.

“I would suggest,” Jim said, “that if this is supposed to be deployed around any stars with inhabited planets, it had better
not
do that.”

He stopped himself then, because it did no good to rub Scotty’s nose in this kind of thing. The failure itself would drive him far harder than any amount of comment from his commanding officer.
And it’s miraculous that he’s come this
far, even just at the theoretical end of things, under such circumstances.

The problem is that we’re going to need a lot more than theory. We need a version of this thing that
works. He looked over at Spock. “Mr. Spock,” he said, “can you shed any light on this?”

“We will need to get as many readings as possible in the next half hour, Captain,” Spock said. “After that we will be in a better position to hypothesize. However, we have one more piece of data to add to the equation. I now have readings via the Neutral Zone satellites from 658 Tri, across the Zone, which was in sympathy with this star. It too has collapsed.”

The silence on the bridge was deafening. Scotty hid his eyes with one hand.

“Very well,” Jim said, and got up from the center seat. “Coordinate with Mr. Scott.” He went over to the engineering station to glance at the readouts, then at Scotty. “Well, Scotty,” he said, “if at first you don’t succeed—”

“Aye, Captain,” Scotty said, “but between getting to Augo, and dealing with what we find there, and then heading on to the Romulan Homeworlds afterward, we’ll not have much opportunity to try, try again except in the computer. And the computer said that
this
should have worked.”

Jim clapped Scotty on one shoulder and headed for the turbolift. “You’re always telling me that the impossible takes a little longer,” he said. “We’ll be fine as long as it’s
just
a little longer, Mr. Scott. See to it.”

The lift doors closed on him.

FOURTEEN

Arrhae stood in the front hall of House Khellian—just stood there silently, for many moments. She was staring across the hall at the commlink.

Behind her, she heard Mahan pass through the hall, and then stop abruptly, looking at her. There must have been something about her stance that kept him from speaking.
He sees the tension,
she thought;
others must not. Nor hear it in my voice.

She reached out to touch the control pad of the commlink console. “Open channel,” she said to the link.

“Open,”
it said in that unctuously courteous voice it had.

“Praetor tr’Anierh,” she said.

“Public listing?”
said the link.

“The office listing,” Arrhae said. “It is flagged.”

Behind her, it was very quiet. Mahan was still standing there and watching her, listening to her. Arrhae acted as if he hadn’t noticed.
“Connecting,”
said the commlink.
“Please wait.”

Arrhae did. Behind her, she could just feel Mahan trying to decide whether to leave quietly before she officially took notice of him, or to stand there and discover what she was up to. More specifically, what trouble or danger she was
about
to be up to. Again, she paid him no mind.

“Connecting now,”
said the link. A second later, a masculine-like voice said,
“Praetor tr’Anierh’s office.”

“This is Senator Arrhae i-Khellian,” she said. “I wish you a good morning. Perhaps you can be kind enough to tell me when today the Praetor can clear some time from his schedule. He has asked me for a consultation, and I’m ready with the material he asked for.”

The voice at the other end sounded a little dubious.
“He did not mention any such consultation to me, noble
deihu.”

“I suspect there are many things that the noble Praetor does not mention to you,” Arrhae said, and laughed, making sure that the laugh was kind, and meant to be understood as such. She had no intention of alienating tr’Anierh’s subordinates, as she knew from her own work as
hru’hfe,
that was always a recipe for trouble. “I suspect it may have slipped his mind; he has been quite busy of late. If you would look into this for me, I would much appreciate it.”

She listened carefully for the tone of the response, and was relieved when the young man who spoke sounded not all offended.
“Noble
deihu,” he said,
“if you could come about sixth hour, that would be well. The Praetor has but little spare time today. However, that is normally an optional leisure hour for him. I’m sure he will not mind releasing it to you if you have information he has requested, and if the session will be brief.”

“There is no problem with that,” Arrhae said. “Brief it will be. I thank you for your assistance, sir—forgive me, I did not catch your name?”

“Alal tr’Fvennih,”
the Praetor’s assistant said.
“It’s my pleasure to be of service to the noble
deihu.”

“And mine to speak to you, tr’Fvennih.” Arrhae let the smile show in her voice. “I will see you, then, perhaps, a little after the noon meal. A fair morning to you.”

“And to you, noble
deihu.”

Arrhae let her hand drop to the console and touch the link off. There she stood, for a moment or so more, mastering her breathing. At last she turned, and saw Mahan still standing
there. Curiosity had overcome caution in him—a tendency of which she had long been aware. “Lay out a suit of midday darks for me, if you would, Mahan. I have a call to pay.”

He looked at her with more than just a little concern. “Mistress, where are you going?”

He was rattled. It was unusual for him to ask so bold or bald a question, one so nonnuanced. “To the Praetor’s,” Arrhae said. “Come, Mahan, he won’t eat me.”

“Others might.” Mahan came slowly over to her, his eyes suddenly full of the shadows of fear. “Mistress—what do you intend?”

“Nothing untoward,” Arrhae said. “The Praetor has asked me to look out for some information. And I am about to give him some. Nothing new there.”

But Mahan was not fooled.
Silly of me to think that he could be,
Arrhae thought.
We have been together too long, this old wise creature and I.

She went the rest of the way over to him, and put a careful hand on his shoulder. It was as much intended to be a steadying gesture as one of a restrained intimacy. “Mahan, I have been in far worse danger than this before. I was in far worse danger on
Gorget.
There simply comes a time when one must not wait for the danger to come to one, like a
shauv
sitting in its hole. No point in waiting and watching while the winged shadows cross overhead again and again. Soon enough, one of them will drop from the sky. If possible, the goal of the game is not to be there when it does so. And to have that come about, sometimes one must move first.”

She glanced around her. For all she knew, this might be the last time she ever saw the front hall of House Khellian, as either
hru’hfe
or senator, or as anything else that lived and breathed. But she could not spend time thinking about that now; any farewells she made from this point on were going to have to be brief. “Now, old friend, you have other business. You need to lay out that suit for me, and also to act as if
nothing unusual is happening. Truly, nothing is. At least, not in the greater scheme of things. I have some other business to attend to right now. See to it that the clothes are ready for me in an hour.”

And Arrhae turned and walked briskly away from him, trying with every fiber of her to communicate the message that, while things were going ill, they were not going
that
ill.

She heard no movement from behind her for some time. Finally, as she turned the corner of the corridor leading from the Great Hall to her office, she heard Mahan turn toward her own quarters. She regretted lying to him, but she refused to cause him more pain than was absolutely necessary.
The next day is likely to be difficult enough for all of us.

And so it was that she came to stand on the doorstep of the Praetor’s house. The staff had courteously enough sent a car for her.
See now,
she thought,
what good comes of a moment’s kindness.
Had she had to take private transport herself, all kinds of attention would have been paid to her arrival, much sooner than she would have cared to have it happen. Now, though, because she had been courteous to tr’Anierh’s assistant, the others who were doubtless watching her moves and his would see this as only another fairly routine meeting, one that had happened a few times before. And who knew? There might even be those who would think that this was the beginning of a relationship less than political, less than platonic. Arrhae smiled slightly as she stood there on the doorstep. Such misapprehensions were always useful as cover. They had been so for her before; they might yet again.

If I live out the week.

The door swung open for her. “Noble
deihu,”
said the young man who opened the door to her, “you are very welcome.”

She recognized the voice. “I thank you for your welcome,
tr’Fvennih,” she said. “I hope I have not too much troubled you or your noble employer today. But with events moving so quickly…” She shrugged. “He will not long have time for such lesser matters, I fear. Best to handle them now, before things become too…broken loose.” She raised her eyebrows at tr’Fvennih in a resigned way as they walked across the Great Hall of tr’Anierh’s residence.

BOOK: Star Trek: The Empty Chair
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