No law…no conscience…no mercy. Amoral, shrouded in secrecy, and answering to no one, Section 31 is the mysterious covert operations division of Starfleet, a rogue shadow group pledged to defend the Federation at any cost. The discovery of a two-hundred-year-old secret gives Doctor Julian Bashir his best chance yet to expose and destroy the illegal spy organization. But his foes won’t go down without a fight, and his mission to protect the Federation he loves just end up triggering its destruction. Only one thing is for certain: this time, the price of victory will be paid with Bashir’s dearest blood.
Stunned, bleeding, and falling like a stone, Julian Bashir was half-conscious when he and Sarina Douglas struck the ring-shaped metal platform. She landed on her back with a brutal thud. He crashed down on his right side and heard his ulna break. The fractured bone tore through flesh and fabric, flooding his arm with pain.
He struggled to breathe. His nose was broken, and his lips were swollen and split. He rolled onto his back to get the weight off his broken arm. Above him loomed the auxiliary control center of Memory Alpha’s main computer tower. Beyond the platform, the Federation archive’s underground city of core towers, each over two hundred meters tall and fifty meters in diameter, stretched away in concentric rings and vanished into the far unlit unknown.
All Bashir wanted to do was succumb to fatigue. Defensive wounds on his forearms stung with fresh cuts, and the sickening pain blooming deep within his torso told him he was bleeding inside. He doubted he could stand, much less force himself to endure a one-handed climb up the ladder to the facility’s main console.
Turning his head to look at his left hand was agony, but it had to be done. He opened his fist to see the data chip he had fought so hard to protect. It was intact, which was more than he could say for his palm. The chip’s corners had cut into his flesh because he had clutched it with such ferocity. He tucked the precious chip into one of his pressure suit’s chest pockets.
I didn’t come this far to quit here, he told himself.
Trying to sit up made his head swim. He rolled onto his left side and fought to push himself away from the metal grating. Get up. Get up!
His pulse thundered in his temples and made his skull feel as if it were being broken open from within. Probably a concussion, he realized. His suspicion was confirmed by a nascent urge to vomit. No time for that now. Have to keep moving.
Raised edges on the steel deck’s diamond-shaped grating bit into his knees and palm as he crawled to the ladder. He locked his one good hand on a rung and looked back at Sarina. She lay still, twisted and pallid. There was no time to assess her injuries; only minutes remained for Bashir to finish the mission that had brought him here—his first and perhaps last chance to strike the deathblow that would end the vile cabal he knew as Section 31.
He knew he should climb, but his heart demanded he go back to help Sarina. In spite of the ticking clock, he couldn’t forget he loved her. How much he would always love her.
Bashir let go of the ladder and looked back, but his conscience halted him. If I go to her now . . . how many more will die because I was selfish? This mission was bigger than her life, or his. Too much was at stake.
With his one good hand, he climbed the ladder. His broken right arm dangled, useless and vulnerable. Stabbing sensations filled his gut as he pulled himself upward. It took all his will to keep his grip on the rungs and continue his ascent; his body was desperate to give in, surrender to gravity, and plunge into the shadowy abyss between the core towers.
By the time he reached the apex of the ladder and clawed his way onto the control center’s upper level, he was delirious with exhaustion. He spent a moment on his knees, fighting to catch his breath. Ahead of him, at the end of a twenty-meter catwalk, was the auxiliary control panel of the main core. Bathed in icy blue light, it beckoned him. A glance at his wrist chrono confirmed he had barely two minutes to reach the console and finish this war.
He reached up and seized the catwalk’s railing. Every muscle in his body burned in protest as he pulled himself to his feet. Holding the railing to steady himself, he plodded forward. Each step shook drops of blood from the broken bones of his right arm.
The closer he got to the main console, the softer his vision became. He hoped to remain conscious long enough to complete his task, one staggering in its simplicity: all he had to do was insert the data chip into the secure input node on the console. The embedded software on the chip would do the rest.
If only we could have uploaded this remotely, instead of having to carry it into the most heavily guarded data archive in the galaxy—
The dull pressure of a punch was followed by a knifing pain between Bashir’s shoulder blades—ice-cold at first, then white-hot. He couldn’t see the dagger in his back, but he knew for a fact it was there.
Bashir tried to soldier on, only to find he could no longer feel his legs. They buckled under him as if they were made of rubber. He used his left arm to break his fall, but his bearded chin slammed onto the catwalk’s steel plates.
So close . . . The console was just a couple of meters away. Bashir fought to pull himself forward, his bruised and slashed left arm laboring to drag his entire body weight the length of two long strides that suddenly might as well be two light-years.
Behind him, halting steps echoed on the catwalk.
At the base of the console Bashir fished the data chip from his pocket. Clutching it, he extended his blood-caked hand toward the console’s secure input terminal only to find it stubbornly out of reach. To finish his mission, he needed to stand one last time.
The side of his hand found the console’s edge, but he couldn’t pull himself to his feet. He lost his grip and fell to the deck with his back to the console, facing his slowly approaching enemy, the agent of his imminent destruction.
In that moment Bashir realized two terrible truths.
David Mack is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure, including the Star Trek Destiny and Cold Equations trilogies. His writing credits span several media, including television (for episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), film, short fiction, and comic books. He resides in New York City.
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