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HISTORIAN'S NOTE: "Nobunaga" takes place in early 2156 (ACE). The Terran Empire has possession of a powerful weapon, the twenty-third-century Federation Starship Defiant ("In a Mirror Darkly," Star Trek: Enterprise; "Mirror, Mirror," Star Trek). The Empress Sato, having mercilessly destroyed the usurpers to her rule (Star Trek Mirror Universe: Glass Empires -- Age of the Empress), now seeks to eradicate any rebellion.
He dreamed of T'Pol.
Not the Regent she had become but the woman she had been. The woman he had loved, out of duty at first and then with all his heart. He pictured her as she had looked ten years ago, at the time of the Empress's ascension, wearing the uniform she had taken from the Defiant's stores, a blue skirt that let her long legs show, that left the curve of her neck bare.
He pictured himself kissing that skin, felt her long hair brush against his face, felt his hands moving over her body, her yielding to him. He luxuriated in the moment, stayed with T'Pol as she had been for as long as he could stand the memory.
And then the memory faded, and for a second, he saw T'Pol as she was now, T'Pol the Regent, hard, harsh, close-cropped hair. He pictured her standing over him, her face blank, expressionless, emotionless. Alien. Vulcan. As if they had shared nothing. As if he were nothing more to her than another cog in the Empress's machine.
He saw her hands reaching for him. Her fi ngertips on his forehead. Her mind invading his. Her strength forcing him to yield.
He shot up in bed, suddenly awake. Drenched in sweat.
He wasn't aboard Defiant. He was -- where?
Wearing a hospital gown. A hospital bed. Dim lighting in the room, a small room, no windows, a door at the foot of his bed, ventilators humming...
The door cracked open. Lights -- dimmed, thank God for that -- came on.
Dr. Phlox walked in.
"You." Tucker hated the Denubolan with a passion. "Where am I?"
"I'd take it easy if I were you, Commander. Your body needs time to recover from the -- "
"Answer the damn question."
"You're in a private medical facility. On Earth."
"Earth? How did I get here?"
Tucker shook his head. Images fl ashed through his mind. He was out on Defiant, near the Neutral Zone, hunting the rebels. Hunting Archer.
"I want that man caught!" Robinson yelled, slamming his fist into the padded armrest of the captain's chair. "I want more speed!"
He turned and glared at Tucker.
"I want my ship!" he screamed, and his face morphed into Hoshi's. The Empress's.
Tucker blinked, returning to the here and now.
"There was an accident," Phlox said. "In engineering."
"I don't remember that at all."
"Not surprising. It was rather a large explosion. You've been unconscious for some time."
"Three weeks? What about the ship?" Tucker asked.
"The ship is functional."
"Functional. What does that mean?"
"There is time to worry about the ship later," Phlox said. "For now, I need to examine you."
The doctor moved closer to the bed. Tucker flinched.
"I'd rather have another doctor."
"You don't get a choice. The Empress has personally charged me with your care."
Ah. Tucker could guess how that conversation had gone.
Heal him, or else.
He gritted his teeth, and endured the doctor's none-too-gentle probing. His machines and his tests. At the end, Phlox stepped back.
"So?" Tucker asked. "How am I?"
The doctor shook his head. "Dying," Phlox said.
Something to do with delta rays and radiation. The Defiant's warp engines and the explosion that had occurred. Impending CCB -- catastrophic cellular breakdown.
A more extreme version of the energies that had scarred his face at Bozeman, at the warp training facility, twenty years ago.
"Fix me," Tucker said. "The Empress charged you with my care, right?"
"Believe me, I am well aware of that fact. There is nothing I can do, however."
Tucker sat up. Frowned. "I don't feel any pain."
"It will be minimal at first," Phlox said. "As the nerve endings deteriorate, however, you will begin to -- "
"Spare me the gory details." Tucker glared, rubbed the small of his back. "I hope this isn't another one of your sick jokes."
"Maybe I should get a second opinion."
"A second opinion." Phlox burst out laughing and, just as suddenly, stopped. "Get all the opinions you want, Commander. The Empress would certainly love to have you with us for as long as possible. But the data are irrefutable. Machines do not lie."
There was a rolling cart next to the bed; on it, a case lay open. A machine lay within the case, the last machine the doctor had used. He popped a data chip out of the machine and put it into Tucker's hand.
"So, what kind of time frame we talking about?" Tucker asked.
"A few weeks. Perhaps longer. Depending."
"On the speed of the breakdown. How fast the effect travels through your system." The doctor retracted cable, folded sensors, snapped the case shut. "If I were you, I would get my affairs in order. Sooner rather than later."
He picked the case up by a handle, nodded, and left.
Tucker got out of bed. A mirror, three feet square, occupied one wall of the room. He went and looked at himself in it.
His body was scarred all over, burned. New scars to go with the old ones, the ones running down the side of his face. Souvenirs from Bozeman and the years he'd spent slaving next to the reactor chambers of various starships. Enterprise. Defiant. And --
Pain stabbed into his head. Sudden, sharp, debilitating. He groaned, lowered his head, waited for it to pass. Eventually, it did.
He stood up, and the room stopped spinning after a moment.
He'd never felt pain like that before. Not even after Bozeman.
Dying. Maybe Phlox was right.
He went to a terminal on the other side of the room. He popped in the data module Phlox had given him and reviewed what was on it. Started to, anyway. He was no doctor. He couldn't make heads or tails out of what he was seeing; it was highly unlikely, though, that Phlox had been lying. The Empress would have his head. Tucker was important to her -- or, rather, the knowledge in his head was important.
His stomach growled. He walked out the door and into the hall.
There was a guard there, of course. There were guards everywhere.
This one was a good half-meter taller than he, built like a walking mountain.
"You don't leave the room." He drew his weapon and motioned Tucker back inside.
"Food," Tucker said, and went back into the room. Ten minutes later, a tray showed up. Hospital crap. He ate it anyway.
He lay back on his bed, hands behind his head, and closed his eyes.
When he'd never really had a chance to live.
He slept, and dreamed again. Of T'Pol at fi rst, not the T'Pol he had loved but the Regent, standing over his bed. Her fingers probing. Her mind probing.
The Empress stood next to her. Watching. Glaring. Fury written all over her face.
The pain in his head returned, stronger than ever.
The dream shifted.
He was back on Defiant. Back in his quarters. Staring at a red light fl ashing on his console: message waiting.
Message? Who would be sending him a message?
No way to know without opening it, of course.
His fingers danced above the input screen. Curiosity and fear warred within him.
He tapped the screen; it came to life.
The past came to life with it.
The message was from Jonathan Archer.
"I won't waste words," Archer said. "You can't do it. You can't let her -- "
Tucker stabbed at the screen.
"Delete!" he shouted. "Delete, delete, delete!"
If the Empress found out...
He awoke, his heart thudding in his chest. His head ached. His body stank. He needed a shower. He needed to get back to Defiant. Whatever life he had was back on that ship. Correction: whatever life he had was that ship. He had no friends; his family had long ago abandoned him. His work was his legacy.
He took care of the washing up fi rst, then went to the terminal. He opened a comlink, and after almost an hour of waiting, got through to his ship. To the captain.
"You're awake." Robinson looked neither pleased nor displeased. "What can I do for you?"
"How's the ship?"
"The ship is fine. How are you?"
"Ready to get back to work."
Traces of a smile flitted across the captain's face. "I heard you were dying."
"So they tell me. But I'm not dead yet." He leaned forward. "And I'm sick of this place already."
"I can understand that. I hate hospitals myself. But..." Robinson shrugged. "I can't help you."
From whom? Tucker was about to ask, and then realized that, of course, there was only one person Robinson took orders from these days.
Right at that second, he heard footsteps in the hall. He turned in time to see the door open.
A woman stepped in.
She wore a black robe styled like a uniform and boots that added half a foot to her height. Bodyguards crowded the doorway behind her.
Tucker went to one knee, gritting his teeth the whole way down. "Empress."
"Commander. Rise -- please. There's no need for such formality between old friends."
Which was an out-and-out lie, of course, Tucker thought as he got back on his feet, a lie that Travis Mayweather's component atoms -- wherever they were -- would happily attest to.
Hoshi entered the room. Two of the bodyguards followed her in -- hulking monsters, bigger even than the man-mountain who'd shooed Tucker out of the hall before. Augments, though if what Tucker had heard about the Empress was true, she hardly needed them these days. The word was, she'd augmented herself as well, her strength, her recuperative powers...other things. Image-projection fi elds, allowing her to disguise herself. Telepathic abilities. The rumors were legion. Three-quarters of them were false, no doubt, but they all added to her mystique.
The Empress. Some said she would live f... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.