Skip to Main Content

Vanguard: What Judgments Come

About The Book

An adventure in the Taurus Reach with Starfleet crews, undercover agents, civilian colonists, and alien power players of the Vanguard saga—based on Star Trek: The Original Series.

Operation Vanguard has risked countless lives and sacrificed entire worlds to unlock the secrets of the Shedai, an extinct alien civilization whose technology can shape the future of the galaxy. Now, Starfleet’s efforts have roused the vengeful Shedai from their aeons of slumber.

As the Taurus Reach erupts with violence, hundreds of light-years away, Ambassador Jetanien and his counterparts from the Klingon and Romulan empires struggle to avert war by any means necessary. But Jetanien discovers their mission may have been designed to fail all along.​

Meanwhile, living in exile on an Orion ship is the one man who can help Starfleet find an ancient weapon that can stop the Shedai: Vanguard’s former commanding officer, Diego Reyes.

Excerpt

What Judgments Come 1
“What do you want to know?”

Tim Pennington had to strain in order to hear the question over the din permeating the Omari-Ekon’s main gaming floor. Even standing less than an arm’s length from the person he was talking to, he had to shout to be heard.

“I want to know what the hell you’re doing here!” Pennington said, then looked around as he realized his voice had carried above the dull roar around him, and likely to ears not belonging to his intended target, Diego Reyes. The last time Pennington had seen him—almost a year ago, now—Reyes had been wearing a Starfleet commodore’s uniform, but now the man seemed quite at home in an open-necked dark shirt and pants, over which he wore a black leather jacket. His hair, far more gray than black now, was longer on the sides, though still thinning on top. To Pennington, the former Starfleet officer appeared no different than the other civilian customers taking up space on the gaming floor.

Leaning against the bar, a thin rectangular glass held in his left hand, Reyes paused to scan the faces of nearby patrons, as though trying to verify that he and Pennington were not being overheard. He considered his glass before downing its contents in a single swallow, grimacing at its taste before returning his attention to Pennington. “It’s a long story.”

“I gathered as much,” the journalist replied, taking care now to ensure his voice did not rise above the crowd noise. Still, he tossed glances over both shoulders to check for potential eavesdroppers, but saw no sign of anyone appearing to engage in such activity. Everyone in the room appeared to be focused on the gaming tables, or their meals as they sat at tables or in booths, or the lithe figures of the Orion waitresses as they drifted around and among the patrons. A thin veil of multihued smoke lingered near the ceiling lights, a by-product of the different tobaccos and other noxious substances of which various customers were partaking. Pennington tried not to think about the potential damage being inflicted upon his own lungs at that moment.

The man now standing before Pennington seemed to possess only a superficial resemblance to the Starfleet flag officer he once had been. How much time had passed since they had last spoken? More than a year, the journalist recalled, before Reyes’s arrest by Captain Rana Desai and imprisonment while awaiting court-martial. Pennington had missed those proceedings, electing instead to travel to Vulcan with Starbase 47’s former assistant chief medical officer, Jabilo M’Benga. The doctor had made the journey while escorting his patient, T’Prynn, who at the time had fallen into a coma following a severe neurological trauma. By the time her condition was treated and she and Pennington left Vulcan on what at best could be described as a circuitous journey back to Vanguard, they had learned of Reyes’s trial and conviction, and his sentencing to ten years’ confinement at a penal colony back on Earth.

What had come as a shock was their learning of an attack on the U.S.S. Nowlan, the transport vessel carrying the disgraced officer to Earth. The ship had been reported destroyed with all hands, so it came as an even greater surprise to subsequently learn that Reyes was alive and in Klingon custody. Further, it appeared that the former Starfleet commodore had provided the captain of the Klingon vessel with sensitive information, ensuring a successful attack on Starbase 47. For reasons that remained a mystery, Reyes had found a way to trade his Klingon hosts for Orions—specifically, the merchant prince Ganz and the crew of the Omari-Ekon, where he had been for the past several months. Though the vessel was docked at Vanguard, it remained sovereign Orion territory. As such, Reyes was beyond the grasp of Starfleet regulations and Federation law.

And of course that has somebody’s innards in an unholy knot, Pennington mused, thinking of Admiral Heihachiro Nogura, Starbase 47’s current commanding officer and the one nursing the biggest headache with respect to the “Reyes situation.”

“So, what? Are you hoping to write some award-winning exposé or something?” Reyes asked, holding up his glass and signaling the bartender for a refill.

Pennington shrugged. “The thought had occurred to me, and it goes without saying that it’d be the easiest sale I ever made to my bosses at FNS.” Pausing to sip from his drink, he added, “However, I’m afraid I’m not equipped to conduct a decent interview.” Upon boarding the Omari-Ekon, the journalist was subjected to a thorough search, and as a consequence had been relieved of the handheld recording device he normally used to collect notes and his interviews. It would be returned to him upon his departure, but it was obvious that neither the guards nor their employers wanted anyone making any audio or visual recordings of the ship, its crew, or its patrons. As for his personal inspection prior to entering the gaming floor, while it had not advanced to the point where Pennington might have asked the Orion guard frisking him to at least consider buying him dinner, it had come uncomfortably close.

“Well, then,” Reyes said, accepting a new glass of some unidentified green liquor, “it was nice seeing you, Tim. Take care of yourself.” He turned as though readying to cut a swath through the crowd milling near the bar, until Pennington reached out and put a hand on his arm.

“What’s your bloody hurry, mate? I just got here. After all we’ve been through together, this is how you’re going to treat an old friend?” His comments, delivered in what he hoped were an accusatory fashion, were enough to catch the bartender’s attention, and Pennington noted how the Orion strove not to appear as though he might be eavesdropping on their conversation.

Real smooth, wanker. Still, now that he had confirmed he was under surveillance, Pennington knew he would have to be even more careful than he had been to this point.

When Reyes turned back to face Pennington once again, the first signs of irritation had begun to cloud his features. “Just for your future reference, there’s a sizable chasm separating casual or professional acquaintances from those I call friend. Now, while you’re probably closer to the latter group than the former, don’t go pushing your luck.”

Pennington offered an uncertain nod. “No problem. Look, I suppose I came here because I wanted to know what happened to you. I wanted to know how a man with your record and reputation could turn his back on everything and everyone he cared about. I can’t believe you’d just walk away from all of that, and I sure as hell could never believe you’d do it to partner up with the enemy.”

“I’d watch your words here if I were you, Mister Pennington,” Reyes said, glancing toward the Orion behind the bar, who was doing his level best to keep his attention on the drinks he was concocting. “There are people skulking about who might not take kindly to some of your views.” If he understood what Pennington was trying to do so far as throwing off the bartender’s covert observations were concerned, he offered no sign. “As for me turning my back on anything, hopefully you’ll recall that I was heading for a penal colony when the ship I was on got blown out from under me. Everything I’ve done since then has been motivated by simple survival.”

His eyes narrowing, Pennington asked, “Does that include collusion with the Klingons?”

Pausing as though to consider his answer, Reyes frowned. “Let’s get something straight: the Klingons were planning that raid on the station. I gave them the information they needed to get in and get out without inflicting casualties.”

“But what about the security concerns?” Pennington asked, struggling to process what he was hearing. “What if we hadn’t been able to get back what they stole from the station?”

“It still wouldn’t have been worth anyone getting hurt,” Reyes said, biting every word. He reached for his glass and gulped down a substantial portion of its contents, after which he all but slammed his glass down onto the bar. When he spoke again, there was no mistaking the new edge in his voice. “Now, are we done here, Mister Pennington?”

Holding up his hand in a gesture, Pennington cast another glance around them before responding. With the exception of the bartender, who truly was doing a very poor job of feigning disinterest, none of the bar’s other patrons appeared to give a damn about anything that did not involve their own drinks or ogling the Orion women serving them.

Damn, this is harder than I thought. It took physical effort for Pennington to keep from repeating his hurried looks around the bar, or otherwise tip off any alert observers that he knew he and Reyes were being watched. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to imply anything, but look at it from where I’m standing. Now, I don’t for one bloody second believe that you could ever betray Starfleet or the Federation, no matter how disillusioned you might’ve become with them.” When Reyes regarded him with a quizzical expression, he added, “Yeah, I heard about what you said at your court-martial.”

Pennington had not been surprised to learn that Reyes had offered no defense for his actions. The commodore had been forced to order Gamma Tauri IV’s destruction in order to contain an attack by a group of runaway Shedai sentinels which had wiped out the Federation colony there. An encounter with other Shedai entities on their apparent home planet resulted in the destruction of the entire Jinoteur system. Reyes had violated his orders and given Pennington approval to write an article for the Federation News Service, recounting what he had witnessed firsthand in the Jinoteur system, along with a companion piece detailing the events on Gamma Tauri IV. Pennington was certain that there was much more to the mystery of the Shedai than had been made public. He also knew that what Reyes had allowed him to expose was damaging to the veil of secrecy in which Starfleet had wrapped Starbase 47’s true purpose in the Taurus Reach.

“Those records are supposed to be sealed,” Reyes countered, lowering his voice so that Pennington could barely hear him above the crowd. “Classified. Top secret, and all that other bullshit.”

The journalist nodded. “And they are, but you still have friends, Diego, whether you want to believe that or not. No matter what you might’ve told those blokes at your trial, you’re still you, and the Diego Reyes I know would never betray his oath, no matter how pissed off he might get at the idiots in charge. Doing what’s right is part of your DNA. That’s why you did what you did and said what you said, and why you allowed me to write what I wrote.” He paused, noting that the bartender seemed once again to be hovering too close. Directing his attention to the Orion, he said, “If you’re going to keep standing there, at least bring me a decent shot of whiskey. In a clean glass, if it’s not too much trouble, mate.” The bartender responded with a menacing glower before turning to reach for a rectangular blue glass bottle on one of the shelves behind the bar.

With the Orion now otherwise engaged, at least for a moment, Pennington redirected his gaze to Reyes. “So far as I and a lot of other people are concerned, you’re a bloody hero for what you did, but none of that matters when we see you consorting with Klingons and Orion pirates. And to help the Klingons steal Shedai technology from the station? You do understand that to casual observers, you look like a traitor, right?”

His gaze fixed on his own glass, Reyes nodded. “I know what I look like.”

“So,” Pennington said, stepping closer, “tell me the casual observers are wrong.”

Both men stood silent as the bartender returned with Penning-ton’s drink before holding out a beefy jade hand, palm up. It took Pennington a moment to realize the Orion was waiting for payment. “Put it on my tab.”

“I’m closing out your tab,” the bartender replied. “You’ll be leaving soon, and I don’t want you skipping out on your bill.”

Pennington saw Reyes’s expression change as he looked toward the entrance to the gaming floor. “Security’s coming,” he said, scowling. “You’ve got about fifteen seconds before they get here. Anything else you want to say before they toss you out on your ass?”

Turning to look toward the door, the reporter saw a pair of burly Orion males heading toward him. They were bare-chested save for the leather bandoliers that crisscrossed their muscled, jade-green torsos, and their heads were shaved bald. Both guards sported an assortment of gold and silver rings, studs, and other piercings on their faces and bodies, and there was no mistaking the disruptor pistols and sheathed knives each Orion wore suspended from the thick leather belt around his waist.

Uh-oh.

Doing his best to appear resigned to his forthcoming departure, Pennington turned back to Reyes. “Guess that’s my cue,” he said, struggling to maintain his casual demeanor. “Any messages you want me to pass along? Something for Doctor Fisher or the admiral? Hell, if you want, I could even pass on a note to your mother.” Though Pennington saw recognition in Reyes’s eyes as he spoke that last word, the former commodore’s features remained fixed, and he even shrugged before nodding in apparent understanding.

“If you can get word to my mother,” Reyes said, “let her know I’ll try to send a message soon.”

Well, that’s bloody insightful, Pennington thought, but kept his musing to himself. What the hell was Reyes’s response supposed to mean, anyway? Rather than spend too much time contemplating that question, he instead offered a simple nod. “You got it, mate.”

His reply was punctuated by the pressure of a large hand on his shoulder, and he turned to the owner of the hand, one of the Orion security guards, towering over him. The guard’s expression was one of controlled disdain, and Pennington was sure that the Orion would happily kill him where he stood with only the slightest provocation.

“Mister Pennington,” the guard asked, his voice low and gravelly, as though he had spent the past few hours inhaling some of the pernicious substances people around the bar were smoking, “we’ve been asked to escort you to the docking port.”

“Is that right?” Pennington asked, hoping his words carried the appropriate level of surprise and annoyance. “What’s the problem? I just got here.”

The guard leaned closer. “All I know is that I’ve been ordered to see you off the ship, sir. You can either come willingly, or I’ll carry you.”

Okay, that’s enough, Pennington decided. “All right, mate. No worries. I promise not to make a fuss.” Turning back to Reyes, he provided a mock salute. “Cheers, Diego.”

Reyes nodded. “Take it easy, Tim.” Pennington thought he saw something else, some question or request, in the other man’s eyes, but then it was gone as the former Starfleet flag officer signaled with his glass to the bartender. “Hit me, barkeep.”

And that’s it, then.

As he had promised, Pennington did not make a scene while being escorted to the security guard station near the gaming floor entrance. There, his Orion chaperones stood in silence as he collected his portable recorder and the other odds and ends he had been forced to remove from his pockets for safekeeping. Only one of the guards walked with him to the docking port and collar that served as a connecting gangway between the Omari-Ekon and Starbase 47.

“Thanks, but I think I’ve got it from here,” Pennington joked as they reached the Omari-Ekon’s docking hatch, knowing full well that the Orion would not venture into the passageway, much less onto the station itself. The guard’s sole response was to glare at him, though Pennington was sure he heard a low growl from somewhere at the back of the Orion’s throat.

The short stroll through the gangway was followed by a brief inspection at the Starfleet checkpoint inside the docking hatch that served as an entrance to Vanguard, with the two security officers positioned there grateful for the interruption in their otherwise boring assignment. Pennington passed through the checkpoint without difficulty and made his way toward the bank of turbolifts at the far end of the passageway. Dinner at Tom Walker’s place, one of the civilian establishments in the station’s retail center, Stars Landing, was sounding pretty inviting right about now, followed by a drink or two and then, most likely, bed.

Living life on the edge again, I see.

However mundane his evening schedule was looking, none of those activities would be happening right away, he knew. At least, not until he got past T’Prynn. The Vulcan was waiting for him near the turbolifts, her hands clasped behind her back as she stared at him. She was dressed in a standard female Starfleet officer’s duty uniform, the form-fitting one-piece red skirt and tunic working in concert with the polished black boots to accentuate her trim, athletic figure. Her long dark hair was worn in a regulation style, pulled away from her face and secured with a clip at the back of her head, leaving a ponytail to drop between her shoulder blades.

“Lieutenant T’Prynn,” he said as he approached her. “What a pleasant surprise, meeting you here.”

T’Prynn’s initial response was to raise her right eyebrow, though she offered no rebuttal to his comment. Instead, she asked, “Were you successful?”

“I think so,” Pennington replied, sticking his hands into his pants pockets. “I managed to slip the code phrase you gave me into our conversation. I don’t think the bartender or anyone else who might’ve been eavesdropping took anything from it.” He had no idea why T’Prynn would instruct him to ask Reyes if the man wanted to send a message to his mother, who so far as Pennington knew had died nearly three years earlier. Despite his uncertainty, he had done as the Vulcan intelligence officer asked, the whole reason for his venturing aboard the Omari-Ekon being to meet with Reyes and make that request on her behalf. It was obviously a signal of some kind, as had to be the case with Reyes’s response. “The commodore said that he’d be in touch with her soon.”

Nodding in approval, T’Prynn said, “And you’re certain your actions were not understood to be anything more than a casual conversation with Mister Reyes?”

“I don’t know about that,” the journalist replied. “I mean, I know we were overheard, and there’s no way the bartender wasn’t a spy for Ganz or one of his lieutenants. However, I was careful with what I said, and the commodore was very guarded.”

“Was he under guard, or accompanied by any other escort?” T’Prynn asked.

Pennington shook his head. “No, but I’m sure they’re watching every move he makes.” Wondering where all of this might be heading, he frowned. “You’re not thinking of trying to snatch him off that ship, are you?” Was Reyes’s response to the code phrase a call for help? Did he perhaps possess some information T’Prynn sought?

All this cloak and dagger bollocks makes my gut ache.

Rather than answer his question, T’Prynn instead said, “Thank you for your assistance, Mister Pennington. Your efforts are most appreciated.”

“Whoa,” Pennington said, holding out a hand as the Vulcan turned to leave. “That’s it? What the hell did I just do?”

“You provided information that may well prove quite useful,” T’Prynn replied. “However, I’m sure you understand that discussing this matter any further risks violating the station’s operational security. Now, I must return to my duties, but when you check your station credit account, you’ll note that your apartment’s rental fee has been paid for the next six months. Consider it a small token of our appreciation for your efforts.”

Caught off guard by the intelligence officer’s abrupt dismissal, Pennington said, “So, you just used me as a go-between, and now you’re paying me off? After all we’ve been through, that’s how you treat me? What if Ganz or his men had decided to drag me into some back room or toss me out an airlock?” Or worse, he mused, recalling what his unlikely friend, Cervantes Quinn, had told him about Ganz’s treatment of the Sakud Armnoj, one of several accountants employed by the merchant prince. After the crazy—and quite nearly fatal—adventure Quinn and Pennington had undergone to retrieve the insufferable Zakdorn and bring him to Ganz, the Orion had, according to Quinn, “disappeared him with extreme prejudice.” Quinn had not elaborated, and Pennington had never quite summoned the will to want to know the details.

“The risk to you was actually quite minimal,” T’Prynn answered. “Neera would not allow Ganz to take any action which might endanger the relative protection their ship receives merely by being docked at the station.”

Pennington scowled. “Right, Neera.” He recalled what T’Prynn had told him about the truth behind Ganz’s organization, and Orion women in general. According to the Vulcan’s intelligence-gathering efforts, Neera was the true head behind Ganz’s criminal enterprise, allowing her lover to act as its public face while she pulled his strings from a position of relative anonymity. It was a startling revelation, given the common perception of Orion females and their role in the supposedly maledominated culture. “Something tells me that if she wields that kind of power, she can order the removal of a bothersome journalist without too much trouble.”

T’Prynn’s eyebrow cocked again. “In that unlikely event, we would have ensured that any funeral expenses were addressed.”

Releasing a chuckle, Pennington replied, “Good to know. With friends like you, and all that.”

“I really must return to my duties, Mister Pennington,” T’Prynn said, once more turning to leave. “Thank you again.” She said nothing else as she entered one of the nearby turbolifts, but her eyes met his, and he could swear he caught the faintest hint of a smile tugging at one corner of her mouth just as the lift doors closed. Once she was gone, Pennington stood alone in the corridor, shaking his head in disbelief.

No matter how long he lived, he was certain he never would understand that woman.

About The Authors

Dayton Ward is the New York Times bestselling author or coauthor of nearly forty novels and novellas, often working with his best friend, Kevin Dilmore. His short fiction has appeared in more than twenty anthologies, and he’s written for magazines such as NCO JournalKansas City VoicesFamous Monsters of FilmlandStar Trek, and Star Trek Communicator, as well as the websites Tor.com, StarTrek.com, and Syfy.com. A native of Tampa, Florida, he currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his wife and two daughters. Visit him on the web at DaytonWard.com. 

Kevin Dilmore has teamed with author Dayton Ward for fifteen years on novels, shorter fiction, and other writings within and outside the Star Trek universe. His short stories have appeared in anthologies including Native Lands by Crazy 8 Press. By day, Kevin works as a senior writer for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri. A graduate of the University of Kansas, Kevin lives in Overland Park, Kansas.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (February 13, 2021)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982183950

Browse Related Books

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books in this series: Star Trek: The Original Series