Gateways #6: Cold WarsPeter David
The door to the waiting room slid open . . .
. . . and a scent immediately caught her attention. It was incredibly familiar, one that she knew almost as well as her own. She rose from her chair, determined to stand even though she felt so weak-kneed from astonishment that she thought she would fall.
The owner of the scent scuttled in with that bizarre, familiar, semi-pirouette walk that his tripodal form required.
“Arex!” she fairly shrieked, and leaped the distance of the room toward him. He enfolded her in his three arms and she felt, rather than heard, amused laughter in his chest.
“Greetings, M’Ress,” Arex said. . . .
BOOK SIX OF SEVEN
Based upon STAR TREK ®
created by Gene Roddenberry
New York London Toronto Sydney Singapore
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.
An Original Publication of POCKET BOOKS
POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Visit us on the World Wide Web:
Copyright © 2001 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
POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
2: Department Of Temporal Investigations
26: Above Sinqay
Look for STAR TREK fiction from Pocket Books
THE ZARN FINALLY DECIDED that if he did not get the matter settled, he was never going to be able to get any sleep. It was not a decision that came lightly to him. The Zarn was a proud individual, and disliked intensely having to admit to any shortcomings or weaknesses. Certainly not being able to slumber was one such. Furthermore, he was going to have to seek aid from the Zarna, who had the temerity to lie peacefully next to him, snoring away contentedly. She had denied any number of times that she snored, and he had insisted with equal vigor that he, and not she, would be in a superior position to make such a determination. Such was the female’s intransigence, however, that she refused to accept his word— his word—of this particular shortcoming of hers. Yet there she stubbornly lay, snoring blithely away. He wished, not for the first time, that there was a way to put an end to her snoring, and he further wished that he was not so besotted with her, even after all this time, that he could not bring himself to deal in any harsh manner with her.
The Zarn rolled over, studying the shape of her pale back, the jutting spine ridge exposed and alluring as ever. He ran his elegant fingers along it, not with a steady, brushing touch, but instead a series of light taps along the edges that he knew would rouse her, even in her sleep. Her hips twisted slightly with subconscious pleasure, and she made a little humming sound. “What are you doing?” she yawned thickly, but with the slightest sound of amusement in her voice.
“Nothing,” replied the Zarn, sounding utterly innocent. He made no pretense of his own wakefulness, but instead simply lay there with his head propped on one hand. “I am doing nothing except regarding the magnificence that is your body.”
“Mm-hmm,” she said, in a tone that both managed to convey that she Was Not Amused, and yet simultaneously made him aware that she did, indeed, find it just ever so slightly funny. She wasn’t looking at him, instead keeping the spine presented. It was a provocative decision, and she knew it to be so, but acted as if it wasn’t. She managed to push the last vestiges of sleep from her voice. Her dark green eyes, solid and pupil-less, glowed in the darkness with that eerie luminescence so characteristic of the Aeron race. “All right, my husband . . . you have awakened me. Satisfied?”
“I? I intended no such thing,” he assured her, sounding suitably stricken. He wasn’t fooling her for a moment, of course, but after so many years together, they had developed little verbal rhythms that were as much a part of their union as sex or trust or anything else. “What sort of husband would I be if I thought I could disturb your much-needed rest whenever it suited my fancy?”
“You would be a ruling husband,” she pointed out, “a Zarn, to be specific. And I would be your endlessly patient Zarna, wondering why she had been awakened while miraculously keeping a level tone.”
He touched the fluttering membrane at the base of her throat in a vaguely suggestive manner, but she gently pushed his hand away. “Enough of that,” she said firmly. “You did not rouse me from a perfectly sound slumber simply to feign interest in play.”
“It’s hardly feigned.”
“Perhaps,” she allowed, “but neither is it your concern. I know you too well.” She now sat up, curling her knees to just under her chin. “Speak to me of what is truly on your mind.”
“If you know me as well as you claim, then you should know without my having to tell you.”
“Very well,” said the Zarna evenly. “You’re worried about our eldest son.”
The Zarn looked at her with open admiration. “I am well and truly impressed,” he admitted.
“It was not that impressive a feat, much as I would like to pretend otherwise.” All of the banter, the teasing amusement in her voice had given way to seriousness. She was nude in bed next to her husband, and yet one would have thought from her deportment that she was fully robed and gowned, and seated in her Place of Discernment in the main courtroom. “The relationship between you and the Zarnon has become more strained with each passing day. The Zarnon is no fool. He knows that you are disappointed in him.”
“My disappointment arises from his own conduct and my judgment thereof.” The Zarn swung his legs out of the gentle liquid bubble that served as their bed and stepped onto the floor. Even in the warmth of the Palace, the coldness of the night could be felt in the air. He slid his feet into slippers that sat near the edge of the bed, and pulled on his dressing gown, which hung nearby. His wife, the Zarna, clearly preferred the warmth of the liquid bed, and made no move to exit it. “He knows his duties, and appears unable to live up to them. In theory, he is to become Zarn after me. . . .”
“In theory,” the Zarna pointed out. “But to the Zarnon, it is not quite as easy as all that.”
“Why not?” demanded the Zarn with irritation. “He is given the best of everything. The best t
eachers, the best training. All his young life, he has been provided every opportunity to live up to that which is his birthright. He should be proud. Instead he . . . seems to resent me. I do not understand.”
“Tell me, my husband,” the Zarna said slowly, apparently aware that she was treading on delicate ground. “How did you feel . . . about your own father?”
The Zarn shrugged indifferently. “I felt nothing for him one way or the other. He was my father and taught me my duty. I lived up to it. I ask nothing more of my own son.” His pale face flushed with slight annoyance. “Are you now claiming that I have been an inadequate father? For if you are, I cannot help but take offense. I have labored mightily to be a far better father to the Zarnon than ever my father was to me.”
“And you have succeeded,” she assured him soothingly. “There is a very close bond between you and your son . . . deeper, perhaps, than even you know or understand. And in that bond may lie the problem.”
He stared at her blankly. “I do not follow.”
“All of the duties for which he is trained,” she explained, “are predicated upon one thing: his assuming your duties after you are no longer capable of doing so, either because of incapacitation or death. Apparently our gentle son does not desire to dwell on such things.”
The Zarn was not a stupid person, and even though it took him a few moments to process what the Zarna was saying to him, in time he finally understood. “He does not wish to dwell on my passing.”
She nodded. “That is exactly right.”
He stood in the middle of the dimly lit room. It was ornately furnished with many ceremonial trappings from the long line of Zarns who had preceded him in office: robes and headdresses and similar adornments, all carefully mounted and labeled with gleaming plaques beneath them. It had never occurred to the Zarn that being part of that line was not the greatest honor that any creature could hope for. He had often said that death held no terror for him, for in many ways he was already immortal. No matter what happened, he would join the line of illustrious Zarns who had overseen the fortunes of the planet Aeron, a marvelous little globe of blue and green hanging in the depths of what had once been called Thallonian space. It now appeared, though, that his successor, the Zarnon, felt differently.
The reality of it was a good deal for the Zarn to take in all at once. He eased himself down onto the edge of the bed, shaking his head. “I find that . . . difficult to believe. . . .”
“Why so difficult? You have worked hard to be a caring and supportive father. The Zarnon wants only to please you, to gain your approval. And yet his greatest opportunity to do so can only occur after you are in no position to grant that approval. He is conflicted and frustrated. To his mind, he is being groomed for a position, for a duty, that will commence with failure. You will not be able to tell him that he is a good Zarn, nor will he be able to show you what he is capable of.”
“He has overanalyzed the situation,” the Zarn said, but he sounded a bit uncertain, and that was most unusual for him. He loathed any hint of uncertainty; he would rather make a wrong decision quickly than a considered decision slowly. “He has created in his mind a no-win scenario. That is hardly worthy of a ruler.”
“He is not the ruler. Titles such as ‘Zarnon’ aside, he is simply a frustrated young man who wants to make his father proud, and has no true idea how to go about doing so.”
“Well, what would you suggest . . . ?”
“I am but the humble Zarna. You are our esteemed ruler. It is for you to decide.”
He had no ready answer. He simply lay back on the bed, still in his dressing gown, his hands behind his head. He considered the matter for a considerable length of time, during which his wife’s steady breathing did little to convince him that she had gone to sleep. When he finally spoke again, it was half an hour later. “I know what you are suggesting.”
“Do you?” she said with amusement in her voice, making no pretense of having been slumbering.
“You do not fool me in the least.”
“I don’t?” Her tone had not changed.
“You are suggesting that I retire as Zarn. That I step aside and hand the office over to the Zarnon.” His eyes narrowed as he spoke, and he did not sound any too pleased at the notion.
“I have suggested no such thing,” replied his wife.
“Zarns retire when they are incapacitated. When they are unfit and unable to serve in the office.”
“That is true,” she allowed, but then added after a moment’s thought, “However, that is not any sort of a rule. Merely a custom . . . and an unfortunate one at that.”
“Unfortunate?” He was thunderstruck. The Zarna had always been second-to-none when it came to respect for traditions on Aeron. “Why unfortunate?”
“It is not my place to—”
“Bellanaria,” he said abruptly.
It brought her up short. The Zarna could not remember the last time he had addressed her by her true name. It made her realize just how much they had lost sight of that which they once were, and instead become simple extensions of their offices. Perhaps, she mused, that was part of the problem. As parents they knew what was right and true, almost instinctively. As Zarn and Zarna, every decision they made had to factor in what was best for the world of Aeron.
He had spoken sharply, and when he repeated the shortened version of her name, a more gentle “Bell,” it was with as much compassion as he was capable of mustering. “Bell . . . why do you say it’s unfortunate?”
Normally the Zarn did not like to hear anything against the traditions of their world, but it was quite clear to the Zarna that he was making an exception this time. She knew she had to speak as carefully as possible; who knew how long his mood would last? “Well,” she said after several moments’ consideration, “you really need look no further than the history of our world, do you? The beginning of a young Zarn’s reign is always fraught with difficulties. Skirmishes, wars always seem to break out, until such time as the new Zarn gets a more secure grip on his people.”
“Isn’t that unavoidable, though? No matter how carefully a successor may be trained, there still has to be a time for him to learn, correct?”
“Yes, but look who he learns from: those who were advisors to the Zarn before him. Advisors who always seemed to act in the best interests of the Zarn and Aeron while the Zarn was alive . . . but once the Zarn they initially served passes, they always strive to grab whatever personal power they can. It happens time after time, and each Zarn, later in his career, appoints people who he thinks won’t fall prey to such self-serving motivations. Yet it recurs. Such is Aeron nature, I suppose.”
“And what would you suggest,” he asked, “to break this cycle?” But he said it with the air of someone who knew the answer before he asked the question.
She took a deep breath, feeling as if she were launching herself off a precipice. “Step aside for your son. Instead of ruling as Zarn, be content to serve in an advisory capacity.” She saw the expression on his face then, which spoke volumes in its silence. It seemed to say, You think I’m not doing the job. You’ve lost faith in me. It almost broke her heart to see that in him, and she made certain to keep a tone of love, affection, and respect uppermost in her voice. “You would not be driven by desire for power, because you would already have walked away from power, set it aside willingly. Other advisors and chancellors will not attempt to foist their own agendas upon the Zarnon . . . I’m sorry, the new Zarn. You will be able to guide the young Zarn in the ways of his office. Help give him the sort of on-the-job training that is the only way a new Zarn can truly come to understand his duties. As opposed to previous Zarns, who have always had to weigh the self-interest of their advisors into decisions, the new Zarn will be able to trust you—his father—implicitly. And in turn, it will give him the opportunity to show you what he can do. To earn your respect, your approval, while you are still here to give it.”
“And when he has no need of me?” asked the Zarn. “
Sooner or later, my presence will cease to be a comfort, and instead be a shadow that he cannot escape. That is certainly not desirable.”
“When that time comes,” she replied readily, “why . . . then you will just have to focus your attention on the rest of your family. We do have other sons, as well as two daughters. And a wife . . . a wife who enjoyed hearing you speak her true name just now.” She stroked his arm, gently, adoringly. “A wife who would very much appreciate the opportunity to have you all to herself. Sometimes when I climb into bed with you, I feel as if I’m here with the entire population of Aeron, for your attention is split in so many directions at once. If, on the other hand, it were just us, oh, the pleasure that would bring me. And for that matter, the pleasure I could bring you . . .” She let her voice trail off, but there was a teasing look on her face.
“You present a very . . . compelling argument,” he said after a time. He had been propping himself up on one elbow, watching her as she had spoken, and she’d felt as if that gaze were boring deep into her soul, dissecting her molecule by molecule. Then, to her utter astonishment, he said, “I will do it.”
“What?” she managed to get out. “You . . . you don’t wish to discuss something of such importance with . . .”
“With others? Those who might feel disenfranchised, or believe that I am making decisions based on lack of trust in their abilities? No, I see no need to discuss it with them.” He was nodding, although it seemed more to himself than to anyone else. “I am the Zarn. I am the leader of the Aeron. I am the one who makes the decisions, and once a decision is made, I see no reason at all to consult others. The things you’ve said to me make infinite sense; why should I waste time discussing the matter with those who will make less sense? Or who will strive to explain to me why you are wrong? I do not think you are wrong, and furthermore, if you are . . . I do not wish to know about it.”