New York Times
bestselling and award-winning author Christie Golden
has written over thirty novels and several short stories in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Golden launched the TSR Ravenloft line in 1991 with her first novel, the highly successful Vampire of the Mists
which introduced elven vampire Jander Sunstar. To the best of her knowledge, she is the creator of the elven vampire archetype in fantasy fiction.
She is the author of several original fantasy novels, including On Fire's Wings, In Stone's Clasp, and Under Sea's Shadow (currently available only as an e-book) the first three in her multi-book fantasy series “The Final Dance” from LUNA Books. In Stone's Clasp won the Colorado Author's League Award for Best Genre Novel of 2005, the second of Golden's novels to win the award.
Among Golden's other projects are over a dozen Star Trek novels and the well-received StarCraft Dark Templar trilogy, Firstborn, Shadow Hunters, and Twilight. An avid player of Blizzard's MMORPG World of Warcraft, Golden has written several novels in that world (Arthas, Lord of the Clans, Rise of the Horde) with more in the works, including The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm, due out in August 2010. She has also written two Warcraft manga stories for Tokyopop, “I Got What Yule Need” and “A Warrior Made.”
Golden is currently hard at work on three books in the major nine-book Star Wars series “Fate of the Jedi,” in collaboration with Aaron Allston and Troy Denning. Her first book in the series, Omen, hit shelves in June of 2009, and her second, Allies, is slated for publication in early summer of 2010.
Golden welcomes visitors to her website, www.christiegolden.com.
--This text refers to the
I've never considered myself the literary type. Well, I've now learned the hard way that when you're stuck so far from home that you don't even know where home is, in a civilization that's nothing like everything you left behind, you can go nuts without something that connects you to the life you used to know. So I started this.
The Culilann are a little bit nervous about this writing thing I'm doing. It sort of feels like I'm violating the Prime Directive with the ABCs. But the Culilann certainly know about advanced technology, they just choose not to embrace it. The Alilann -- well, suffice to say that if I were with the Alilann right now I'd be writing this on something resembling a padd, not on dried and stretched tree bark. I somehow think the captain would be proud of this.
Ensign Tom Paris paused and stretched his fingers, grimacing as they cracked. He was surprised at how badly his hand was cramping, but he wanted to get all this down. He used his hands all the time on Voyager, but he was learning that operating the responsive controls at his station and grasping a sharpened stick smudged with soot from the fire exercised very different finger muscles.
He continued: My fingers hurt, but here goes, trying to make a long story short. A few --
He paused again. How long had it been? This place, with its slow pace and repetitive days, blurred time for him. And of course, being injured for so long, he'd really been out of it for a while. He thought back to when the strange wormholes had been "following" Voyager, opening and closing like the mouths of some kind of space monsters. No one had suspected that it was the Romulan scientist Telek R'Mor, a man who lived in the Alpha Quadrant dozens of light-years and twenty true years ago, trying to find them at the command of the Romulan Tal Shiar.
What a weird tale Telek had told them, of powerful aliens called Shepherds, and of dark matter being mutated and causing terrible harm. They'd mistakenly beamed Telek aboard against his will, thinking he was in danger. What followed was one of the strangest adventures of Tom's life, and he knew he'd had his share of them. They had known something was dreadfully wrong when Neelix -- quite possibly the nicest person aboard the entire ship -- had tried to murder Telek R'Mor. It was the mutated dark matter, of course, affecting Neelix's mind. As it had affected Tom's own, as well.
He frowned, and scratched down his thoughts. My personal experience with the dark matter was frightening. It made me completely paranoid. I had hallucinations, lost my enthusiasm for things -- it turned me into someone I wasn't. Someone I really didn't like. And it damaged people physically, too.
He thought about the two Romulan scouts who had managed to get aboard the ship, the awful things the dark matter had done to them. He decided he didn't want to write that part down.
It might have been Telek who got us into this mess, but he was also the one to get us out of it. He was able to track down one of the so-called good Shepherds, Tialin. She removed all the dark matter from our bodies and put it into a small, glowing sphere. She told us that she could give us the technology to do this ourselves, and asked Captain Janeway if she would agree to take Voyager and gather up the rest of this dangerous dark matter. The captain consented. I don't think any of us believed she'd refuse.
Again he paused, and shook out his right hand, cursing. It was not cooperating. He would have to wait until later to describe being dragged by Chakotay into this strange place, injured and weak. The aliens here had not greeted them with overwhelming warmth. They had even put him and Chakotay into a pit for a few days. The "Ordeal," they called it, a sort of test to see if he and Chakotay were acceptable to their gods, the Crafters. He didn't remember a lot after that until he got better.
Most troubling was the events of the last few days. Chakotay had mysteriously disappeared and the spiritual leader of the Culilann, a gentle young man named Matroci, had died. The Sumar-ka, the villagers, attributed the death to asphyxiation. But Tom had seen the corpse before it was ritually burned; had seen the unmistakable mark left on Matroci's abdomen by some kind of energy weapon.
Paris knew he was not under direct suspicion of Matroci's death. They didn't even realize their Culil had been murdered. But the tragedy occurring on the same night as Chakotay's unannounced disappearance had made the Sumar-ka uneasy around him. The result was that Paris, who had just started to think maybe he had made friends here, was again feeling isolated and itchy to leave.
But first, he had to find out who had killed Matroci. He had not voiced his suspicions, but he was going to emulate Chief Inspector Tuvok and see if he couldn't do a little detective work on his own. He would start his investigation tomorrow. His first suspect: Trima. She was the one who directly benefited from Matroci's death. She got promoted, from a mere Sa-Culil to the Culil herself. And she was so icy and unapproachable, she had to be up to something. He tried to pretend that he wasn't pleased at the thought of spending more time with her, for cold as she was, she was gorgeous. It wasn't cheating on B'Elanna just to want to look at and talk to someone he found attractive.
He leaned over on the pallet stuffed with fragrant ferns and blew out the lamp. He did not look over at the empty bed where Chakotay had slept.
Trima wondered if the Stranger Paris had killed Matroci.
He and the one called Chakotay had come from a strange and far-off place, been accepted by the Sumar-ka, and then the same night as Matroci's death Chakotay had vanished. She had made certain that Paris's alibi had been investigated. He had led them to the tree and shown them deep, fresh gouges in the trunk that could have come only from the claws of an iislak, and a large one at that. Smaller footprints confirmed his story of a mother and cub in the area. Still not completely satisfied, she had shinnied up the tree herself. Sure enough, there were fresh breaks in the trunk, still oozing sap, in places where someone Tom's size could have been supported.
She felt his eyes on her as she climbed and was fairly certain that he was looking at her legs. This Tom was one for the females, it would seem, though he had never behaved improperly. Trima thought she had heard Yurula, who found both Strangers quite handsome, say something about Tom having a partner back in his old life. But Trima knew that ties loosened their hold on one after enough time had passed. One day, Tom would truly realize that he was to spend his life here in Sumar-ka, and set about looking for a mate among the Culilann. She imagined he would have his pick of willing females.
So his story had been verified -- he had indeed been treed by an angry predator until the morning. But what if he had been treed while trying to flee with Chakotay, after they had murdered Matroci? Why was he still here while his friend had gone?
It seemed a sound theory, but for one thing: the reaction Paris had had to the dead body. She had been watching him keenly when he approached the pyre to pay his last respects. She had seen Paris notice the burn mark, seen him express shock and horror, seen those emotions quickly covered as he realized that no one else would recognize the mark for what it was. Would a murderer so give himself away as to react to the sight of his killing, especially if no one else even realized that murder had been committed? It did not make sense. So now she was confused, and not a little frightened.
Because of her position, first as Sa-Culil and now Culil proper, Trima could not express much interest in Tom's origins. One did not quest