About the Author
His work has also been published by Atlas Editions (in their Star Trek Universe subscription card series), Star Trek Monthly, Dreamwatch, Grolier Books, Visible Ink Press, The Oregonian, and Gareth Stevens, Inc., for whom he has penned several World Almanac Library of the States nonfiction books for young readers. He lives with his wife, Jenny, and their two sons in Portland, Oregon.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
U.S.S. TITAN, DEEP IN THE VELA OB2 ASSOCIATION, BETA QUADRANT
The aquamarine world that turned serenely on the main viewer had seemed hospitable enough when Captain William Riker had first looked upon it from orbit. It had seemed so when he had first set foot upon one of the small rocky continents that punctuated a planet-girdling, highly saline ocean. Other than the prevalence of strong winds, and the clouds of grit and dust they kicked up, the place had been very accommodating to Titan’s survey teams—it offered breathable air, middling-warm temperatures, and fair-to-tolerable humidity levels.
But the sometimes all-but-invisible fabric that nearly always accompanied such humanoid-compatible environments—an oft-taken-for-granted little thing more commonly known as life—was conspicuously absent from this place, from pole to pole and meridian to meridian.
William Riker leaned forward in his command chair, resting his chin on his fist as he regarded the dead world that even now Titan’s planetary-science specialists were still busy trying to understand.
“Deanna, what do you think about naming this place ‘Doornail’?” he said, turning to his left just far enough to see an amused smile split his wife’s face.
“ ‘Doornail,’” repeated Commander Deanna Troi, Titan’s senior diplomatic officer, chief counselor, social-sciences department head—and beloved Imzadi of the captain. She pitched her voice low, as if to be audible only in Riker’s immediate vicinity. “That’s a curious choice, Will.”
He repaid Deanna’s grin with interest. After spending the past six hours down on that sterile, rocky world, he was grateful to be back aboard Titan and in the warmth of her presence. “‘Doornail,’” he said, matching her sotto voce delivery. “As in ‘dead as a.’ “
She shrugged. “I understand the idiom, Will. My father came from Earth, after all.”
“But you don’t seem to be falling in love with it.”
“No, it’s a fine choice,” she said, though a slight wrinkling of her nose belied her endorsement. “Besides, assigning names to new worlds is one of your prerogatives as captain.”
Commander Christine Vale, who was seated in the chair to Riker’s immediate right, chimed in quietly, “At least until the Federation Science Council settles on something a little more, um, dignified.”
“Ouch, Commander,” Riker said as he turned his command chair so that he faced Vale. “Way to show loyalty to your captain.”
Vale answered with mock solemnity. “I wouldn’t be much of a first officer if I didn’t point out the captain’s mistakes, sir.”
“TouchÉ. But as I recall, you were quite a bit more eager than I was to get away from that dustball.”
“I was just more vocal about it, Captain. After all, a healthy set of lungs and a lack of hesitancy to use same are the main keys to success in this job.”
“So . . . an exec’s job amounts to either arguing with the captain, or just bellowing the captain’s orders to the crew at the top of her lungs?”
Vale smirked as she pushed several strands of her shoulder-length auburn hair from her eyes. “I learned from the best, sir—aboard two ships called Enterprise. That reminds me of another nice thing about the planet: good acoustics.”
Riker heard Deanna snicker behind him. “It sounds to me as if you like the planet a lot better now that you’re safely back aboard Titan.”
“Places like that always look better in retrospect,” Vale said, gesturing toward the bluish orb that hung in the viewscreen’s center. “Not to mention from nearly five hundred kilometers away. Besides, it could have been worse. At least there weren’t any mosquitoes—”
With an almost Vulcan-like calm, Deanna said something that Riker belatedly recognized as “Incoming!” Simultaneously, Vale interrupted herself by letting out a yelp—accompanied by a brief chorus from Lieutenant Sariel Rager at ops and Lieutenant Aili Lavena at the conn—that startled the captain into turning toward the section of the bridge at which his exec’s eyes had been directed: the main viewer.
An apparition had suddenly appeared directly between the screen and the forward helm and ops consoles, where it rapidly took on solidity—or at least the appearance of solidity. In the space of a few heartbeats, it had become recognizable as the high-fidelity holographic avatar of Lieutenant Commander Melora Pazlar, even as it continued to hover several centimeters above the deck directly in front of the wide central screen.
“I don’t think I’m ever gonna get used to that,” Vale said.
“Nor will I,” said Lavena. The Pacifican flight controller shuddered as though something had gone wrong with her hydration suit’s temperature controls. The suit made a barely audible sloshing sound in response to her brief startle reaction.
“Sorry, Commander,” Pazlar said. “Lieutenant.”
The senior science officer entered a command into the padd she carried; in response, Titan’s holographic telepresence system gingerly shifted her toward an open space on the bridge’s port side. Pazlar’s willowy form was outfitted in an ordinary duty uniform rather than in one of the slightly bulkier contragravity suits she wore when venturing outside the comfortable variable-g environment of her stellar cartography lab or her living quarters. Being an Elaysian born, bred, and raised in the microgravity environment of the planet known as Gemworld, Pazlar’s body was structurally incompatible with a Federation starship’s standard one-g environment.
Riker turned his chair toward Pazlar’s floating image. “Commander, I assume you’re here because the department heads have reached a consensus about the origins of this planet.”
“Yes, Captain,” Pazlar said. “At least insofar as our current knowledge can take us.”
“Are most of you still convinced that this planet’s M-class environment didn’t come about naturally?” Deanna asked.
“As surprising as you might find this,” Pazlar said, “the answer is ‘yes.’ “
Riker smiled. “Huh. Maybe ‘Doornail’ will stick after all.” As dead as they were, even doornails did not spontaneously generate themselves.
Pazlar’s V-ridged forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. “Sir?”
“Never mind. As I recall, you were part of the ‘this planet’s environment is a natural product of planetary evolution’ camp.”
“I was, Captain. At least at the beginning of our analysis.”
“What changed your mind?” Riker wanted to know.
“Well, to give credit where credit is due, Captain, Eviku and Chamish were the first to notice the pattern—a pattern that appears to have played out in several other star systems scattered throughout the Vela OB2 Association, and perhaps even much further into deep Beta Quadrant space.”
Commander Christine Vale, Titan’s executive officer, spoke up from the seat at Riker’s right hand. “If anybody aboard Titan was going to find that sort of pattern, it would be our resident xenobiology and ecology experts.”
“Apparently,” Pazlar said with a nod. “Unfortunately, my expertise in those fields doesn’t overlap all that much with that of the biospheric scientists. My specialties are cosmology and big-bore physics. Since we hadn’t found a clear-cut footprint indicating intelligence the way we had with the Sentries, I still needed a little more convincing at the outset.”
“Sounds like you got what you needed,” Vale said.
The Elaysian nodded. “Torvig and White-Blue crunched the numbers—twice, I might add—and the end results finally made a believer out of me.”
SecondGen White-Blue was the designation of the eight-limbed artificial intelligence that Riker had allowed to remain aboard Titan a few months back, following the starship’s harrowing encounter with White-Blue’s kind, the ancient AI civilization whose members referred to themselves as “the Sentries.” Although Riker couldn’t deny that White-Blue had been invaluable in preventing Titan’s destruction, both at the hands of White-Blue’s own kind and via the destructive energies of their extradimensional nemesis, the Null, he was also keenly aware of how much trouble the little AI had brought to his ship. The fact that White-Blue had violated the ship’s security and privacy protocols on numerous occasions—to say nothing of its having briefly “uplifted” Titan’s main computer to full sentience—left the captain still wary of any judgments White-Blue might care to render. That White-Blue’s conclusions were supported by calculations run by Ensign Torvig Bu-Kar-Nguv—a Choblik science specialist whose own sentience depended upon an extraordinary degree of integration between his natural biological form and his bionic components—made Riker feel only slightly better.
Riker’s face felt flushed as he noticed Deanna regarding him curiously from her station at his immediate left. He stood, straightening his uniform tunic as he got to his feet.
“Give me the gist of it, Commander. Why are you convinced that this planet couldn’t have produced its atmosphere on its own the way billions of other planets across the galaxy have?”
“The long and short of it is the balance of gases in this planet&rs...