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The Returned, Part II

Peter David

  Pocket Star Books

  An Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  ™, ®, and © 2015 by CBS Studios Inc. STAR TREK and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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  First Pocket Star Books ebook edition August 2015

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  Cover design by Alan Dingman

  Cover art by Getty Images

  ISBN 978-1-4767-9093-0


  EVERY SINGLE SOLITARY life on Xenex has been wiped from existence by the D’myurj. Mackenzie Calhoun resolves to use the Guardian of Forever to go back in time and set things right, no matter the consequences. Mark McHenry arrives and convinces Calhoun to reconsider, to find another way to avenge his people.

  Using his abilities, McHenry takes them to Bravo Station and frees Soleta from a mind-meld that she was trapped in. Soleta informs Calhoun that the D’myurj come from a pocket universe where they are holding missing Starfleet officers. Hoping to travel through Thallonian space undetected, Soleta installs her cloaking device on the Excalibur. However, the Thallonians find the Excalibur because Xyon, Calhoun’s son, hid a tracking device on the vessel. The Thallonians offer the ship passage in exchange for Robin Lefler and her son, Cwansi. Calhoun refuses. However, McHenry offers to take Lefler to the Thallonians and accompanies her to their planet.

  The Excalibur passes through the wormhole to the pocket universe, where they discover a D’myurj vessel dead in space. The entire crew is dead, save for one who warns them to run.


  SHANTER KHEN HAS been praying nonstop.

  The others in his order have become concerned over his obsession, for there is no better word to describe it than that. Obsession.

  They know full well that it stems from negative places in his personality. They know that he despises the current ruler of Thallon, the individual known as Elia Canto. They know that he seeks intervention from the Awesome, the god of all Thallon, the unknowable, inaccessible being who looks down from on high and watches the Thallonians go about their miserable little lives.

  What, the brothers wonder, does Shanter Khen think that the Awesome will do? Strike down Elia Canto? Perhaps the Awesome will declare that Fa Cwan, Khen’s longtime friend and ally, should rightly take the throne? Everyone knows that Cwan has long desired it and has tried to assemble a group of backers to pursue his claim. There is no doubt that Cwan would be willing to challenge Canto directly. He is a warrior of the old school and is not the slightest bit worried about dueling Canto to the death. Unfortunately Canto is not the least interested in responding along those lines. He has gotten to where he is through cleverness and guile. Canto also has a small army of men who serve as both his allies and personal guards who would be happy to come between Cwan and any attempt he might make on Canto’s life. So physical assault would not seem to be the way to go.

  Khen had a lengthy meeting with Cwan over a month ago. Perhaps “meeting” would not be the correct term. “Drunken binge” might be more appropriate. The old friends got together to discuss options that they could pursue, and the alcohol flew fast and loose. Cwan’s hangover lasted a day and a half.

  Khen was not hungover at all, a feat that Cwan would never understand. Instead when Khen woke up, he was focused as he had never been before. He knew beyond any question that he had to appeal to the Awesome.

  On the surface this seems to be a ludicrous notion. The Awesome, as much as he has been worshipped over the years, has never actually been known to put in an appearance. There have been any number of occasions in the history of Thallon where matters transpired in a certain way after individuals prayed aggressively to the Awesome. The Awesome was then promptly credited with the achievement. Some Thallonian philosophers said that was a damned poor argument to prove that the Awesome even existed, but they were executed and therefore did not factor in the discussion.

  But Khen is convinced that the Awesome continues to look down upon the activities of the inhabitants of Thallon. He believes that if he is focused and devoted enough in his entreaties, the Awesome will step in and fulfill his desires.

  He decides all that is required is unfettered dedication. He will have to show the Awesome that nothing in the whole of Thallon can compare to Khen’s dedication. He must go to the temple of the Awesome and worship, pray, and offer supplications to the Awesome until he actually appears in all his divinity and arranges for Cwan to take the Thallonian reins.

  It is to that end that Khen retires to the temple of the Awesome, and it effectively becomes his second home. The brothers in his order express concern over Khen’s decision, but only to each other. They do not breathe a word to Khen, for they believe that it is their obligation to be completely supportive of any endeavor having to do with prayer. Over the following weeks, they take turns visiting Khen in his isolation as he prostrates himself before the great statue of the Awesome. He remains like this during most of his waking hours, taking breaks only to eat or to sleep. Nothing else, save that, occupies his time.

  For the first week, they accept his new venture, burying their worries over his new obsession.

  And the second.

  By the third week, all attempts to bury their concerns have been abandoned. They are not worried that Khen’s activities are going to reflect poorly on them. The fact is that no one is paying attention to what Khen has been doing. The activities of the religious order rarely gain anyone’s interest. Nevertheless, they worry about his obsession. It seems that he has parted interest with anything approaching reality and is instead focused entirely on incessant prayers to the Awesome. But since he is the leader of their order, none of them feels that it is their place to question his devotions.

  As the fourth week rolls around, the brothers confer and finally decide that something must be done. Khen quite simply appears to have lost his mind, and it is up to his brothers to reason with him. After some discussion, it is decided that Praetor Baan should be the one to speak with him. Baan is the second-oldest member of the order, and he has known Khen the longest.

  Baan approaches the Awesome’s temple. He does not understand why Khen has descended into this state of mind. Naturally, Baan believes in the Awesome as much as anyone in their order, but he is unable to fathom the reason for Khen’s incessant praying to their god. It simply does not seem right.

  The temple is quite spare. There are plain benches lining the walls for worshippers, but there is no one here at the moment. There is only Khen, and he has disdained the benches. Instead he is on his knees before the statue of the Awesome. Baan had expected to hear a steady stream of prayers, as he has always heard the previous times when he has come to check on his friend and brother. But for the
first time in weeks, Khen is not praying. He still remains affixed in front of the statue, but he is not uttering a word. Baan considers this to be a very positive sign. If Khen has ceased his previously endless impetrations to the Awesome, then perhaps it is possible to connect with him somehow and convince him to take a break from his devotions.

  Baan kneels down, speaking softly and gently to Khen. “How fare you?” he asks.

  “I fare very well,” Khen replies. “Very well indeed.”

  “Would you like to return to the order? There is food there for you. Good food, not the scraps upon which you have been subsisting.” He does not bother to mention that there is also a bath there. It is something that Khen should very much avail himself of, for he smells quite foul. Furthermore, his red face is covered with facial hair. Thallonians are religious when it comes to keeping themselves clean shaven, and so staring at Khen’s face is truly shocking. “You can eat decently, get yourself cleaned up. You can—”

  “None of that is necessary,” Khen says, “because I have other things to attend to. I must obey the instructions of the Awesome.”

  Baan stares at him, uncomprehending. “What do you mean? What instructions?”

  Khen turns and looks at Baan for the first time. When he speaks, his foul breath washes over Baan, and it is all Baan can do not to recoil from it. Khen grabs Baan by the shoulders, and he is wearing a smile that is not touching his eyes. Baan finds that a bit disconcerting but is willing to chalk it up to his friend’s lack of proper rest in the past weeks.

  “My friend, the Awesome spoke to me. He answered my prayers.”

  “He . . . He did?” Baan is not quite sure how to react. He considers it an interesting test of his faith. Could the Awesome truly have spoken to Khen? Every man, of course, communes with the gods in his own manner. It is not appropriate for one man to say that another is lying or deluded if he believes that a god has spoken directly to him. Certainly their sacred books are filled with tales of men claiming that they are acting on behalf of godly instructions, and these men are typically regarded as the best and the brightest of their religious order. Therefore, it is not for Baan to question Khen’s assertion. Nevertheless, he feels the need to probe more deeply. “How did He communicate with you? Did He speak to you in your mind?”

  “My mind? No, no. Not at all. He appeared right here, right in front of me, scarcely an hour ago. He actually appeared, Baan. He stood in front of me, as real as you are now.” His voice is trembling, excited. “I have to admit, I was surprised. Some part of me had given up on the concept that He would ever actually come to me. When one has been praying for as long as I have, His actual presence seems increasingly unlikely. And yet finally, finally . . .” Khen pauses, seemingly having run out of words. His red face is shining in the pale light of the setting sun. “He actually came.”

  Baan has to ask. “And what did He say? Did He say He would aid you in setting up Cwan as our new leader?”

  Khen’s head bobs. “He did. He said exactly that. But . . .” His voice trails off.

  “But what?”

  “He says I must show Him that nothing is more important to me than seeing Cwan put in place as our ruler.”

  “And how are you supposed to show Him that?”

  “I must make a sacrifice.”

  Baan does not understand. “What manner of sacrifice? We are sworn to religious fealty. You have nothing that you could sacrifice.”

  “That is not quite true,” Khen points out. “There is one thing that I have. Something that is very important to me. Something that we all have.”

  “What would that be?”

  “Each other,” says Khen.

  Baan still does not understand what Khen is talking about. And he continues not to understand until Khen’s hands suddenly clamp upon his throat. Baan’s eyes widen in shock, and he sees the focus and determination in Khen’s expression. There is no hint of the man whom he has known for years in that face. There is no presence of the quiet, dedicated man who has worshipped by his side for so long and with whom he has engaged in any number of scholarly debates.

  “I am so sorry,” Khen whispers. There is no true sorrow in his expression, no regret in his eyes. He is focused on one thing and one thing only: choking the life out of Baan.

  Baan desperately tries to shove Khen off him. He is finding it impossible to breathe as Khen’s hands clamp all the more tightly. Baan falls backward, but Khen goes down with him. They collapse to the floor and Baan is battling for his life, pounding away furiously at Khen’s arms and head. Khen’s strength grows as Baan’s fades. Baan tries to speak, tries to beg for his life, but he is unable to produce any sound other than a few pathetic gasps. His pounding on Khen’s upper body becomes weaker. Blackness descends and the last thing that he thinks, before his life slips away from him, is that the Awesome is a much more vengeful and mean-spirited being than he would ever have thought possible.

  Khen continues to strangle his friend for several minutes after Baan has died because he cannot be absolutely certain that he has accomplished the deed. Understandable, considering that Khen has never killed anyone before. He’s never had to and, until this moment, he was certain that he would never be able to do so. It is interesting what one is capable of doing when a god has instructed you to accomplish it as proof of your determination.

  Finally, convinced that Baan is truly dead, Khen releases his grip and slumps back onto his rump. He sits there and stares at Baan’s unmoving body. The immensity of what he has just done slowly begins to dawn upon him. He has robbed Baan of his future. It might not have been much of one, considering that each of Baan’s days was identical to the day before and the day before that, and there was a great likelihood that he would never accomplish anything important in the entirety of his existence.

  That did not detract from the reality that Baan was a good and decent man and in no way deserved to be murdered by someone he had considered a brother.

  Shame begins to well up within Khen. He is not proud of what he has done, and he is surprised to notice that tears are beginning to roll down his face. His chest begins to tremble and shake, and it is suddenly becoming hard for him to breathe. What have I done, what have I done, goes repeatedly through his mind.

  “Well, well. I am surprised.”

  His head snaps around, and he immediately throws himself upon the floor.

  The Awesome is standing before him. He is looking at him thoughtfully as if He is truly seeing him for the first time. “You talked a good game,” the Awesome continues, “but I did not truly think that you would take me up on my challenge. You’ve never killed before, I assume.” It does not seem to be a question, but Khen still shakes his head quickly. “Yes, I wouldn’t think so. You don’t strike me as the killer type.”

  “I have done as you asked.” Khen is surprised to discover that he is speaking in a whisper. He makes no effort to find his full voice. Somehow it seems more appropriate to whisper in the presence of a god. “I have killed one who is as a brother to me.”

  “Yes, you thoroughly killed him, all right. And with your bare hands. Quite the accomplishment. And how does that make you feel?”

  “I feel whatever you wish me to feel, Great One.”

  “That’s not the best answer in the world,” the Awesome informs him. “I far prefer people who are capable of thinking for themselves.”

  “I have given myself over to you, Great One. I am no longer capable of thinking for myself.”

  The Awesome scratches under His chin thoughtfully. “Yes. Yes, I suppose you have, at that. All right, then.” He claps His hands together briskly. “A deal is a deal. Let’s go put your friend in charge.”

  Khen is filled with joy.

  The Ship

  DEAD D’MYURJ AND Brethren were everywhere. There had to be at least a dozen bodies. Many of the D’myurj had been badly burned, and that was undoubtedly because sections of the bridge had exploded in their faces. Their clothes were shredded, their ski
n burned away.

  The Brethren were not in much better shape. Yes, they were still clad in their armor, but there had been some manner of combat. Hand-to-hand, by the look of it, and it had viciously gone against the Brethren. Chunks of their armor had been cut away as if weapons with buzz saws had slashed across them. Calhoun hadn’t thought it was possible to penetrate the armor, but clearly he had been mistaken.

  “Damn,” whispered Kebron. Meyer and Boyajian looked sickened, but were able to keep themselves together.

  Soleta, dispassionate as ever, was running a tricorder over the bodies. “They’re all dead. Every single one of them.”

  “Do we have any idea how?”

  “There was a fight. They lost.”

  That was obvious.

  She took a step forward and suddenly let out an alarmed cry. Something had grabbed her ankle. She dropped to the floor next to the body of the D’myurj who had reached out for her. He was flat on his stomach and she quickly turned him over.

  Calhoun came forward and felt ill. Much of the man’s skin had been burned away; his features were unrecognizable. He should, by all rights, be dead, and Calhoun had no idea how he could possibly still be alive. That tracked with what Transporter Chief Halliwell had reported: his life signs were so minimal that they had slipped past the Excalibur’s instruments.

  He tapped his combadge. “Calhoun to transporter room. We have a survivor here. Beam him straight into sickbay.”

  “Yes, sir. I’ll alert them to the incoming.”

  The D’myurj managed to turn his head toward Calhoun. One eye seemed blind; the other had some small amount of vision left to it, and it was focused on Calhoun.

  “Don’t worry,” said Calhoun. “You’re going to be fine.”

  The D’myurj’s mouth started to move, and with a huge effort, he managed to form one word.


  “Run?” said Calhoun. “I don’t understand. What should we run from? Are the creatures that did this to you coming back? Are you—?”