Star Trek Novels

Once upon a time, there was a teen aged boy who loved Star Trek. He watched the show every day after school, starting just a few minutes after he got home on the bus. This was in mid 1980s, in the days before Star Trek: The Next Generation, at least two years before he even heard rumours of a new series in production.

One Saturday afternoon, stranded in the grocery store waiting for his mother to finish shopping, on a spinning book rack near the cash registers, he found a novel with the holy phrase of Star Trek on the cover and the promising title of “Web of the Romulans”. In that moment, the universe expanded and he knew he could not leave the store without that book.

And he didn’t. I didn’t. And it was the first of many, many Star Trek books. For the next decade or so, I picked up every Star Trek novel I came across, eventually collecting the first sixty or so Original Series and twenty-five-ish Next Generation numbered novels and most of the one offs published as hard covers (though I usually waited for the mass market paperback). Throw in a few of the older books discovered in used book stores and, all told, I probably had something around 100 Star Trek novels in the house. And I read a lot of them more than once.

It wasn’t necessarily about the stories because a lot of them weren’t terribly original and some of them weren’t very good. It was about the characters. More adventures for each of the main characters from each crew. In a novel, you can give them a lot more screen time, see deeper into their thoughts and their world.

I stopped buying Star Trek novels after a while, trailing off to only the big ones and ignoring the DS9 and Voyager books completely. My tastes moved on to other things, mostly, but I’d reread one once in a while. Maybe partly for nostalgic reasons to remember my own youth, but also partly to stay in touch with the characters between movies.

Recently, delving deeper into the e-book world, I’ve picked some up again. I still prefer paper books, but seem to be able to read more electronically. Portability, ease of storage, convenience. Whatever the reason, so far this year I’ve read 10 books and 7 of them have been Star Trek novels. Of the three in progress, one of those is a Star Trek story, too.

A return in excess to my youth, perhaps. It’s still about the characters, only now I’m getting back in touch, and wondering if I started with the right book. You can dive into the universe almost anywhere, I think, but it seems like Pocket Books is attempting a Star Wars: Expanded Universe type thing, picking up after the end of Nemesis. But don’t quote me. That’s just an impression based on what I’ve read so far, and maybe things will change.

Or maybe I’ll get bored after I’ve touched based with the characters enough. I’m already easing back a bit, reading one Star Trek story while I’m reading two non-Trek e-books and a paperback, but I’m not giving them up completely. While I haven’t found one yet that I could say more than “I liked it”, there’s nothing saying that every book you read has to be awesome. Liking something is good, and I mostly like Star Trek books.

Because, and I’ll say it just one more time, it’s all about the characters.

Pick a crew, pick a member of that crew, and s/he is someone’s favourite, a great many someones. Pick another, and we probably all still like them. We enjoy reading about them. We want to read more, to see the universe get bigger, to believe in the power of the Star Trek future. We understand, we identify, we enjoy.

I’m going to step out onto a limb and say that in some ways Star Trek novels are the equivalent of series romance novels for a certain segment of the reading population. Fast, easy to digest stories but with familiar characters rather than familiar plots and plot points (yes, there are some of those too).

And that’s okay. It’s more than okay; it’s Star Trek.

Live long and prosper.

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The Doorbell Rang

A quick little bite of fiction for Friday…

The doorbell rang.

Harvey stared at the front door, dreading what might stand on the other side.  What horror might await the unwary?  A salesman?  Perhaps one thinly disguised offering a prize or special discount.  Or the young variety, fundraising with chocolate or magazines.  Perhaps someone canvassing for charity?  A politician?  It might even be the dreaded invitation to a local church.

The doorbell rang.

It could be worth a man’s wallet, life, political allegiance, or immortal soul to answer the door. 

The doorbell rang, but Harvey didn’t answer.  He didn’t even bother to bark.  The rug was too comfortable.

Mummy Powder, Part 7

The renewed hollow grinding sound startled me.  I didn’t know how long I’d lain there, but I must have been asleep.  Falling asleep in a sarcophagus, wrapped up like a mummy.  No point in struggling.  They’d wrapped me too tight.  Nightmare faces jumped out of my memory.  Mummies, the old Pharaoh and the young one, Bruce.

Ah hell.  Bruce.  No tears, but I felt his death again.

Grinding.  I knew the sound.  Someone had started to move the sarcophagus’ lid.  Was it opening?  Had Pharaoh changed his mind?  A chill ran through me.  I’d be fodder for his restored youth after all.  Or could I be so lucky that the mummies were gone and someone had come to rescue me?  Was there a Van Helsing for mummies?

Voices.  Muffled, but definite voices.  I tried to say something, but my lips locked shut.  Talking right now might not be the best idea I’d ever had.  I didn’t know if I wanted to be discovered yet.  Only a few words reached through the mask, not enough to make sense of anything except that there was more than one voice.  Accented English but not Egyptian-flavoured, or even anything from America.  A couple more words, and I pinned it to the British Isles, probably, but couldn’t do better than that.  Mediterranean accents were more my specialty.

Fingers wrapped around the mask’s edge and lifted it away.  I wanted to close my eyes, but needed to see what was going on.  When the mask had risen far enough to be clear of the edge of the sarcophagus, it moved aside and Doctor Harold Witkinstein held it.  That didn’t make any sense.  I’d seen his body, or parts of it at least.

“What did I tell you, guv?”  A broad grin showed several missing teeth and half of the rest were crooked.  His bushy eyebrows jumped up and down at someone I couldn’t see.  “Look at the preservation on this one.  Why, three thousand years old if he’s a day, but he doesn’t look a day over three hundred.”

Not the accent or the dental work I expected from a member of the modern German upper class.  The second voice, belonging to someone I couldn’t see, fit a little better.  Cooler, even, and with the barest touch of an accent.  Probably still British.  “Indeed.  It appears well preserved.”

Witkinstein reached into the coffin and slapped my stomach.  I didn’t have time to flinch, but the touch was weird, hollow, and didn’t carry a lot of sensation with it.  It didn’t feel much like a slap, but more like remembering what a slap to the stomach might have felt like.  It wasn’t worth a flinch or even an ouch.

And I couldn’t say ouch, anyway.  I tried opening my mouth to say something, anything and couldn’t feel my lips move, couldn’t make my lips move.  Breathing deep, I found I couldn’t breathe and fought down a sense of panic.  What had they done to me?  Why didn’t Witkinstein and his unseen friend see me?  They acted as if I weren’t present.  Thoughts tumbled in my head, coalescing and shattering again.

Three thousand years old if he’s a day, but he doesn’t look a day over three hundred.

“As well preserved as you can get, guv.  So, is it worth a few pounds to you?”

“Yes.  Yes, I think so.”  A sniff.  “I’m quite willing to pay a few coins above the current market rate.  You can keep the stone box, though.  I’ve no need for that.”

“Of course, of course.  The customer’s always right, isn’t he?”

“Indeed.  I understand you have the ability to powder them?”

Sleep now, if you can, though when you wake, you will wish you had not.

Witkinstein bowed.  “Aye.  We grind the mummies to order for a nominal fee.  It’s all about what the customer wants.  There’s them what want the whole thing shipped back home, box and all, but those in the medical profession, such as yourself, usually want just the powdered remains for treatment and whatnot.”

“Exactly.  The grinding will be fine.”  A short pause as a shadow shifted just out of my sight.  “Just be sure you don’t cut it with anything.  My master treats a higher class of patients than most.  Only pure ground mummy will do.  Anything else, aside from being less efficacious, would be insulting to his patients.”

Look at the preservation on this one.

The look of shock on Witkinstein’s face, so obvious, so expressive, belonged to an earlier age when haggling was part of every transaction, as much friendly banter as driving the price up or down.  “Certainly not, guv.  You’re in Egypt, the land of mummies.  That kind of thing might go on back home, but there’s no need for it here with a nearly limitless supply at hand.”

“See that it doesn’t.”

You will suffer the indignity of the New Kingdom’s dead.

If I could feel the cold, it would wrap around my heart.  If I had a heart.  I wondered where the jars holding my organs were.  And shouldn’t my brain be in one of them?  How could I be aware and thinking in my present state?  Why should I expect any kind of logic to hold sway in my present state?

Money changed hands.  The clink of metal coins in a leather bag.

“How soon can I expect delivery?”

Witkinstein bowed and bits of dandruff rained down over my face.  “We’ll have it rendered down for you and packaged by lunch time tomorrow, if that’s acceptable.”

“Quite.”  Departing footsteps.

Tucking the small bag of coins into his shirt, the old Doctor, if he was a doctor any more, looked down at me and smiled.  He reached into the sarcophagus and patted my cheek, not using enough force to give any sensation to my preserved flesh.  “Alas, it’s the grinding mill for you, my lad.  I don’t know if it’ll hurt much the first time, but the Holy Master assures me you’ll come back in every mummy that goes through the rods.”

You will suffer the indignity of the New Kingdom’s dead.

Witkinstein chuckled and dropped the mask back onto my face.

End

The Beginning

Mummy Powder, Part 6

We stopped five or six feet from the sarcophagus, my feet still dangling above the floor.  A slightly more mobile mummy stepped into view, bits of its exposed flesh a little lighter, a little less like leather, and the rags covering its chest stained red.  The red of fresh blood.  I closed my eyes for a moment.  Fresh blood could only have come from one place.

They flew open again when something grabbed my foot.  I kicked and squirmed even before I looked down to see the stained mummy grasping for the other.  It straightened its arm, locking my knee while taught fingers snatched at air.  The mummies were strong, but not very fast and I didn’t see any reason to make it easy for them.  Pharaoh’s voice floated through space from somewhere behind me.  “If you struggle, you will only add to your suffering.  I leave the choice to you.  Perhaps you may enjoy a few broken bones, though I doubt it.”

“Fuck you.”  I kicked harder.

Something smashed the back of my head and the world went very dark for a moment.  I didn’t lose consciousness, but I stopped struggling long enough that the newest arrival caught both of my feet and I felt something pressing them together.  By the time I could open my eyes long enough to focus on anything, my legs had been wrapped in linen nearly to my crotch.  Before I managed to pull one coherent word out of my head, they had me wrapped to the waist.  After tilting me back, something braced me from below and the wrapping continued.  Slow, but somehow their extreme age had only built their strength and the hands that held me still could have been carved from the same limestone as the coffin.

They bent my arms into the classic mummy pose and wrapped my chest so tight I had to work to draw breath.  When only my face remained free of the bandage, the hands tilted me back further until I rested flat in the air.  I hung suspended for several seconds before they shuffled to the side and lowered me directly into the sarcophagus.  Even through my wrappings, the stone felt cool, cooler than I’d felt since coming to Egypt.

I tried to flex my arms, to move any muscle, but they’d wrapped me too well, too tightly.  A slow suffocation instead of a quick knife to the heart.  I wasn’t sure which would be worse.  How long did Bruce’s death last from his perspective?

Pharaoh leaned over the edge of the sarcophagus and smiled.  “I hope your discomfort is not too great.”

Not too great?  Wrapped like a mummy and stuffed in a coffin?  God, were they really going to leave me in a stone box to die?  I wished I could come up with something clever to say, or just something, but my brain refused to cooperate.  All I could manage was a weak glare.

“Your thoughts are plain enough, if simple.  Sleep now, if you can, though when you wake, you will wish you had not.”  With both hands, he lowered a mask over my face.  I wondered what it looked like, if my features were worked into the surface.  From my side, without holes or even slits for my eyes, it served only to block out the light, to leave me in darkness.

I felt as much as heard the thud of the limestone lid and then the low, steady grinding as it slid into place.  After that, nothing but hollow sound of laboured breath and my own heartbeat.  Would even loud noises come through the stone walls?  The coffin was pretty thick so I doubted I’d hear anything.  I didn’t think it could sealed completely, but I might easily use up the air faster than it could be replenished.  Horrible as the thought was, I decided that would still be better than slowly starving to death.

No, don’t think about that.  Focus on breathing and think about options.  There had to be a way to survive, but how the hell could I get out?  Unwrap myself from the ridiculously tight cloth, push the lid from the stone coffin, and fight my way through a horde of mummies into the streets of Cairo without my bodyguard.

My dead bodyguard.

I tried to wiggle my toes.  Inside my shoes, the circulation to my feet hadn’t quite been cut off but they already felt a bit numb.

I wasn’t going anywhere.

#

Continue Reading * The Beginning

Mummy Powder, Part 5

Looking up into the puckered eye socket of my guardian mummy, I watched as its hand came down in slow motion to smash against the side of my face, flipping me over to lie in a still-spreading pool of my own vomit.  A deep chuckle, filled with amusement and contempt, pulled me back to what I’d given up hope of being reality.  How could it be?  Ancient mummies walking around and Bruce dead, being sawed open and having his heart ripped out?

Bruce.  Tears burned from the corners of my eyes, just missing my ears as they ran to my jaw.  More harsh words in ancient Egyptian.  I closed my eyes and tried to close my ears so I couldn’t hear Bruce being dragged away.  He’d worked for me for almost four years.  If we weren’t friends, at least we’d understood each other, more or less.  I owed him grief, at least.

The floor boards shifted near me and a shadow fell across my face.  I squeezed my eyes shut so I wouldn’t see it.

“Open your eyes.”  The voice was the same, but not.  Thicker, heavier, even more suited to command, and it forced my eyelids apart so I had to look into the backlit face of Pharaoh.  Whatever his name and title in life, he could only have been royal.  I had no idea who he’d been and didn’t really care, but I could see now the perfect, living image of the face on the sarcophagus.  He gave me a slow smile and it showed his complete understanding.

Somehow, no blood stained his chest or face even though it must have fountained from Bruce’s heart as he bit or sucked or whatever he’d done to it.  Pharaoh held up a hand, a tiny brown thing between thumb and forefinger, wrinkled like a crushed soda can.  “Your slave gave his life for mine and so his name will be sung down the ages.”  The brown thing dropped and my eyes followed it as it fell through the air between us and bounced off my chest.

Bruce’s heart.

“What remains of him will feed my minions, give them strength to do my bidding.  But you.”  Pharaoh leaned forward, wrinkling his royal noise and allowing something like a sneer to grace his lips.  “You did not hold still as I bid, and would have raised my own tool against me.  This I cannot abide.  You might have been a servant of high order, perhaps even one of the heralds of the new age.  Instead, I fear I must punish you.”  English.  How was he speaking English?  I never understood that in movies or on TV.  Ancient menaces and aliens always managed to speak modern English with no more than a slight accent and sometimes not even that.

I only just found the strength for speech, wishing I could find enough to be an asshole.  “How can any punishment be worse than what you did to Bruce?”

Pharaoh smiled almost kindly.  “Ah, but slave Bruce lives on in me and his spirit rejoices in the living.  You.”  He shook his head; the eyes and smile turned cold, calculated for fear.  “I see into your soul now.  You are kin to the rapists of my kingdom’s history and heritage, and that takes you past forgiveness, I think.  Your transgressions are doubtless numerous and legendary, and so I pronounce sentence.”  He raised his voice as if speaking to a crowd, spreading his arms to lift his hands in front of his shoulders.  “You will suffer the indignity of the New Kingdom’s dead.”  Pharaoh clapped his hands together once and a pair of mummies appeared to either side of me, hoisting me up much as they had with Bruce, but where his feet dragged, mine dangled.

I cleared my throat and spat, hoping to hit him in the face as he turned away, but the blob of phlegm and saliva flew over his shoulder.  “Screw you.”  He didn’t abandon enough dignity to acknowledge me as his two hideous minions carried me out of the hidden office and into the warehouse.

Dim as they might have been, the scattered overhead fluorescents had been turned on and while Pharaoh refreshed himself on Bruce, his undead minions had been busy.  They’d opened every crate, every sarcophagus, every box, and decorated the warehouse interior in an ancient Egyptian motif.  I couldn’t see how they’d done it all without some noise reaching into the office.  But then, I didn’t really understand how most of the last few minutes could have happened.

While it didn’t surprise me, the open sarcophagus in the middle of a clear area scared me, enough that I started to shiver.  I knew that stone coffin was my final destination.  Were they going to embalm me?  Or just seal me in to starve to death?  What had Pharaoh meant with his pronounced sentence?

At least twenty of the desiccated walking corpses wandered around the inside of the warehouse, but they all turned to focus on me as I struggled in my captors’ grip, desperate to escape the stone box.  Dark grey stone, not wood, and not inlaid with gold or anything on the outside at all.  The coffin’s top leaned lengthwise against its side.  I could see the remains of a carved face there, worn away by dozens of centuries.  Eyes, nose, and mouth were all present, but they were smooth and nearly hidden in the stone, like an old photograph faded by too much sunlight.  My adrenaline-enriched brain tried to see my own face in the carving.

Continue Reading * The Beginning

Mummy Powder, Part 4

He smiled, one side of his mouth tipped higher and crinkles deepening next to his eyes, and there was knowledge in that smile.  Either I’d somehow broadcast my thoughts or he’d just pulled them out of my head.  I shivered, my heart back under control but the beat echoing in my ears.  Fear seemed like a permanent friend now.

He spoke, not to me but still looking at me, complicated words rolling off a tongue that had obviously seen recent use.  I didn’t catch any of them, couldn’t even decide what language they’d been in, though it seemed obvious.  My own tongue felt like lead or a dried stick, so I couldn’t answer if I’d known what to say.  A hand lashed out toward the other mummies, or maybe the door.  My eyes followed the commanding motion, and I watched as the visible mummies creaked and bowed.  The closest, who’d dragged Bruce in, grunted and growled, then stepped aside as the old pharaoh moved forward.

I registered motion beyond the door and something glittered in the darkness, barely touched by the light.  One of the mummies in the doorway turned and reached behind to grasp something and my heart started again when it passed a shining gold knife to the mummy standing over Bruce.  With a stiff bow, that one held the knife out to Pharaoh.

Finding a bit of will, I started to get up.  “No, wait.  Leave Bruce—”

Pharaoh cut me off with a slashing gesture, knife in his left hand.  One of the mummies shuffled to put itself between us.  “I do not wish to hear your voice again.  Be silent and still.  If you disturb me, your fate will be far worse than that of your minion.”

I bit back a smartass comment as my guard leaned forward, brittle fingers creaking as they flexed.  I pictured those fingers wrapped around my throat, crushing the life out of me.  Certainly just what I was supposed to think, but how do you appeal to a nightmare you never knew you had?

Another mummy stepped into the room.  With the first, it bent down and the pair of them lifted Bruce together, hauling him up by the arms.  His head fell forward, lolling, and my eyes focused on a sudden droplet of drool that fell from his lips, slowed from gravity’s grip by stretching for a moment to hang by a long strand that snapped back when the drop’s weight finally became too much for it to bear.  My eyes followed it only to the point it passed the knife in Pharaoh’s hand.

The knife that suddenly reared back and plunged into Bruce’s chest.  Blood soaked his white cotton shirt, spilling over the leather vest.  So much blood.  I thought for a moment the blow hadn’t struck anything vital, but Bruce’s head snapped up, his eyes wider than I’ve ever seen them, and his mouth opened in a soundless scream that seemed to go on forever.  He surged against his captors but might as well have been held in concrete.  Blood continued to drain from his body.  Seven or eight percent of body weight, that’s how much blood we have.  How much in someone Bruce’s size?  It just kept coming.  The whole shirt turned red and I could see darkness spreading to his pants now.  Wide blue eyes found mine, mouth still frozen wide as Pharaoh sawed the knife down through ribs and cartilage.

I jumped up, intent on grabbing the old man from behind and wringing his neck, but a stiff, cloth-wrapped arm flew out into a barrier as solid as a crowbar, catching me across chest and shoulders.  Most of the air flew from my lungs with the impact and the rest followed as I slammed to the wooden floor to lay gasping on my back.  By the time I could lift my head again, Bruce’s chin bobbed against his chest as his head rocked back and forth.  He couldn’t still be alive.

Pharaoh yanked the knife free and tossed it behind him.  The blade spun through the air, throwing tiny globs of blood in every direction.  It hit the floor with a clang and a smear of red.  The mummies holding Bruce each reached in with their opposite hands and jammed fingers into the jagged incision.  Without a grunt or any other sound, they pulled outwards and a series of wet cracks and pops sprayed gore far enough I feel tiny impacts on my cheek.  They kept pulling until Bruce’s chest hung open like a kitchen cupboard for me to see his heart and lungs and a bunch of other things I couldn’t name.  Nothing moves.  Shouldn’t I have been able to see his heart beating?  Terror speaking.  I don’t know why I thought he could still be alive.  No one could survive being ripped open like that without a horde of doctors around to keep things under control.

Damn.  I’m sorry, Bruce.

I dropped to my knees, not wanting to see what would come next, but couldn’t pull my eyes away as Pharaoh wrapped his hands around Bruce’s heart and yanked it free in a spray of brilliant red.  He raised the steaming organ over his head, blood raining down over him, and spewed a long stream of syllables before lowering it back to what I think is eye level.  After staring at it, I think, for a long moment, he pressed it to his face.

Before I could swallow, the taste of bile in my mouth became puke and I threw up all over the floor, again and again.  In between retches, a deep sucking sound absorbed anything else I might have been able to hear.

Acid dripped from my lips and my eyes slipped from the floor to my dead bodyguard to the weapon that killed him, a knife that looked to be cast from pure gold and lying no more than a foot or two out of reach to my right.  I lunged for it and my fingers closed around the hilt at the same instant a foot slammed down on the blade.

Continue Reading * The Beginning

Show and Tell: Worm Bait

Greetings, everyone!

I’ve decided that it’s show and tell day. What does that mean? Well, from a self-serving promotional standpoint, it means that I’m going to tell you about something I’ve published somewhere and what a great story it is. From a reader’s standpoint, hopefully I’m going to point you at something you’ll like.

For this first edition of show and tell, I’m picking a very recent publication, a fun little story titled “Worm Bait” included in the Dead Bait 3 collection.

With a caption of ‘reaching new depths of terror’, Dead Bait 3 is a 45,000 word Kindle book retailing on Amazon for $2.99 and published on April 30th of this year. I’m sharing the contents page with seven other authors, as follows (and my apologies to anyone whose name I’ve mispronounced in the audio):

Stumped by Cody Goodfellow

Worm Bait by Lance Schonberg (that’s me)

The Demon in the Water by Mark C. Scioneux

The Brotherhood of the Needle by S.T Gulik

Old Man and the Fish by Randal Tanabe

Sinkers by Murphy Edwards

The Fish in the Fields by C. Dennis Moore

The Old Man and the Sea of the Dead by Tim Curran

If experience is a guide, my story is probably the least disturbing of any tale in the collection, but I’m more than okay with that and thrilled just to be included. The truly disturbing and horrific isn’t my forté, anyway. When I write horror, it’s designed to make you shiver a bit and maybe look over your shoulder. “Worm Bait” is a quick and dirty tale of two cryptozoologists on the hunt for the Lagarfljót Worm, a lake monster living in a glacier fed, silt filled lake in Iceland. Legend has it the beast is at least three hundred feet long and spits poison. My kind of cryptid.

If you want to check it out, the Amazon link is attached to the cover shot below.

Be well.

Dead Bait 3 for Kindle

Sorry, the audio claims it’s yesterday. I recorded last night but didn’t do it early enough to satisfy myself being able to listen to it on enough devices. Still working on the quality, but it’s pretty clear.

Click the play button or right click the link below and choose ‘save as’ to download.

Show and Tell: Worm Bait (18 Jun 2012)