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Double or Nothing
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Double or Nothing

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Author: Peter David
Publisher: Pocket Books, 1999
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation: Double Helix: Book 5

1. Infection
2. Vectors
3. Red Sector
4. Quarantine
5. Double or Nothing
6. The First Virtue

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Synopsis

Like a lethal bacillus coursing through the bloodstream of the galaxy, a fiendish master plan has spread death and terror across the 24th century -- until two heroic captains risk everything to stamp out the evil at its source!

For more than a decade, since the very beginning of the Starship Enterprise's mission, unknown enemies have unleashed a string of deadly biological weapons throughout the Alpha Quadrant, inflicting ghastly epidemics upon the Romulans, the Cardassians, the Bajorans, and even the Federation. Now, at long last, Captain Jean-Luc Picard joins forces with Captain Mackenzie Calhoun of the Starship Excalibur to track down and confront the hidden architects of the plagues -- and avenge the deaths of thousands!


Excerpt

Chapter One: From Now...

Doctor Elias Frobisher was 43 years and one day old, and he couldn't quite believe he had made it. When he woke up, he had to pinch himself to make certain that he had really managed to accomplish it. When someone had lived under a bizarre death sentence for the last decade or so, as he had, the achievement felt particularly noteworthy. He lay in his bed, breathing in the filtered air of the cone-shaped space station, but never had that air felt quite so sweet. It felt like a glorious day. Granted, concepts such as day and night were entirely subjective, created and controlled by the computer core of the station. There was neither sunrise nor sunset, and this was something that had taken Frobisher some time to get used to. He had been planet-bound most of his life, and the curious and unusual life winch existed in space was a difficult adjustment that Frobisher had made because he'd really had no other choice.

Quite simply, he'd had no other choice. He'd had to get away from the Guardian.

He took a long shower that morning, and felt that he had earned it. It was pure water rather than hypersonic, a rarity that Frobisher was revelling in that morning. As he did so, visions of the Guardian came to him unbidden, as they were wont to do. Frobisher shuddered, thinking about the hideous shadow he had lived under all these years.

Then he started to tremble more and more violently. He had lathered up his thinning brown hair, and the shampoo dribbled down into his eyes, but it barely registered upon him. The soap slipped from his hands, his legs went weak, and he sagged to the floor, still unable to control the spasms which had seized him. Paradoxically, he began to laugh. It was a bizarre sound, that choked laughter, a combination of chuckling and sobbing that grew louder and louder, so much so that it could be heard in the hallway outside his quarters. His assistant, Dr. David Kendrow, heard it, and started banging on the door Normally Kendrow, a dun, blond man, was overly mannered and reserved in his attitudes, but one wouldn't have known it at that point as he was fairly shouting, "Doctor Frobisher? Are you all right, sir?"

"Yes! Yes," Frobisher called back to him. "Yes, I'll... I'll be fine." It was all that Frobisher could do to pull himself together. He hadn't expected to react in that manner, but really, it was inevitable when one looked at it with hindsight. The amount of anxiety that had built up as he approached his 43rd birthday had been truly horrific. The knowing, and yet not knowing. That insane combination of certainty and doubt, warring within him as each passing day had brought him closer and closer to the inevitable... except, maybe not.

And he had made it. He had survived his birthday. It really was true, what they said: Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

He emerged from the shower and, as he towelled off, looked at the gut that had been building up on him. As the dreaded day had approached, he hadn't been bothering to exercise or take care of himself. He'd had a fatalistic attitude about him, and that was certainly understandable. But now the joke was on him, as was the extra flab. He was going to have to do something about working that off. After all, it wouldn't be particularly attractive to women.

Women. His face lit up as he dressed. Relationships. He had been afraid to begin any, because the prospect of condemning some poor woman to become an early widow. Oh, certainly he could have had a string of casual relationships that went nowhere. Love them and leave them, and rationalizing that, since he was a walking dead man, it was the only way that he could conduct his life. But he was a highly moral man, was Dr. Frobisher. Highly moral, and more than that: He knew that one woman after another, used and tossed aside, was simply not for him. He wanted companionship, he wanted someone who, he knew, was going to be there for him. He wanted someone to wake up to, someone who would cheerfully kiss him in the morning and loved him so much that it wouldn't bother her if he hadn't had a chance to brush his teeth yet. Someone he would be able to look at across the breakfast and smile at. Someone who wanted to spend a lifetime with him... a real lifetime, not the truncated thing that had been handed him.

Oh, and someone who was a brilliant engineer in the field of artificial intelligence and computerization, of course. That was a must as well.

There were a few likely possibilities, actually. To give himself some vague bit of hope, something to cling to even though he was certain that it was hopeless, Frobisher had had the Omega 9 run a scan of potential mates. It was unbelievably quaint, even absurd: Using a creation as infinitely advanced as the Omega 9 for the purpose of, essentially, computer dating, seemed absurd on its face. But he had done so nonetheless, and the list that had been drawn up had been quite impressive. Now that the dreaded day had passed, he was looking forward to trying to act upon the possibilities. As he headed to the lab, having had his customary quick breakfast, he patted the data chip in his pocket to which he had copied the information that Omega 9 had obtained for him. His mind was already racing with possibilities. He would pick the most likely prospect, "likely" being derived from personality profile, shared interests, age, background, etcetera. He'd subtly do some checking to see if she was otherwise involved and, if not, he would find a pretense to begin a correspondence with her. Hopefully, he would be able to develop it into something substantive and sufficiently personal that she would be prompted to come out to the Daystrom Station where he worked and meet with him.

And then... who knew? Who indeed knew?

"I knew," he said rather cheerfully to no one. "I knew, but I didn't know. But now I know, and it's great knowing and not knowing!"

He entered the lab, his lanky legs carrying him across it with a jaunty speed. Kendrow was already at work, but he was casting a watchful eye upon Frobisher "Good morning, David!" called Frobisher.

"Good... morning, sir." The surprise in his voice was unmstakeable. He wasn't used to Frobisher sounding so cheerful in the morning... or ever.

Frobisher glanced over the station log, and frowned slightly. "Some sort of glitch in the standard running program?" he asked.

"Yes, sir, I just noticed it. It's minor systems failures... so minor that we hadn't even been noticing when they'd been going down. I'm running diagnostics checks on them, sir. I'm hoping to get it locked down by this afternoon."

"Oh, you'll get it sorted out, Kendrow." He patted him on the shoulder. "I have the utmost confidence in you."

"Th -- thank you, Sir." Kendrow stared at him as if he were concerned that Frobisher had been replaced by a lookalike, lighthearted alien.

"Not used to seeing me this chipper, are you, Kendrow?" asked Frobisher.

"To be blunt... no, sir. I'm not."

Frobisher laughed, and then sighed to himself. "Between my attitude now and what you heard earlier... you must be somewhat puzzled, eh, Kendrow?"

"Yes, sir. I am, sir."

"Sit down, Kendrow."

Kendrow looked down at himself. "I am sitting, sir. Already, I mean."

"Oh. Yes, of course." Frobisher leaned against a console and smiled broadly. "I'm sorry, Kendrow," he said earnestly. "The truth is, this last week, leading up to the day I've dreaded for so long, seemed almost to fly by. Now I know I've been out of sorts the past few days... weeks... "

"Try months," Kendrow muttered, but then looked immediately apologetic.

Frobisher waved it off. "'Months' is probably more accurate, to be honest," he admitted. "And yesterday was probably the worst of all."

"Well, I have to say, your behavior was rather pensive considering it was your birthday. I know that some people become daunted by the prospect of turning forty or fifty... but forty-three." He shrugged. "It seemed... odd. You seemed to want to do everything you could to ignore it."

"Believe me, I did want to ignore it. Although I'm surprised that my parents did. Usually they send me a greeting on my birthday, but this year... nothing.

"Had you told them not to?"

"No. No, I kept my unease to myself... or at least I thought I did. But perhaps they picked up on unspoken signals nonetheless. Ah well... no use worrying about it now. You see... there's been a reason for my concerns. Do you know what I used to do, Kendrow? Before I joined Daystrom, I mean, to work on the Omega 9."

"You were involved in some sort of archaeology project, I think, sir."

"Not just some sort. This was THE project. The Guardian of Forever."

Kendrow blinked in surprise. "The time portal? I'd heard about that, but I'd almost thought it was a myth."

"Oh, it's not a myth, I assure you. It's real." Despite his newly achieved state of bliss, Frobisher shuddered slightly as he recalled the image of that cheerless place. It wasn't just the Guardian itself that so spooked him. He couldn't get out of his head that eerie, mournful howl of the wind that filtered through the remains of the ruined city around the Guardian. It was as if ghosts of a race long lost still haunted the place, laughing and taunting. "It's... all too real."

He was silent for a moment. Prompting him, Kendrow said, "And you studied it?"

"People... tend to come and go there," Frobisher told him. "Oh, they're excited at first. Word spreads, after all. And it's an irresistible proposition: Studying the past, seeing it unspool before you. How can anyone pass that up? And yet... people bum out, very, very quickly. Six months, a year at most, and suddenly you see complete turnover in the staff there. I didn't understand why. But now I do." He laughed softly to himself. "Now I do. It just... gets to you after a while."

Kendrow tilted his head slightly as he regarded the doctor. "What happened there, sir?"

"I... saw my future. At least, I thought I did."

"The future? But... " Kendrow shook his head. "I thought that the Guardian only shows the past, not the future."

"That was my understanding as well. That's what they told us, at any rate. But...

Copyright © 1999 by Peter David


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