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Twenty years before the start of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a young Lieutenant called Jean-Luc Picard takes command of his first ship, the USS Stargazer...The USS Stargazer, a long-range exploration ship commanded by Captain Ruhalter, is assigned to pick up descendents of the survivors of the USS Valiant, a ship that was lost at the far edge of the galaxy in the very first Star Trek Original Series episode. The evacuees claim that a deadly invasion force from outside the galaxy is nearing the United Federation of Planets. When they are ambushed by the invaders, Captain Ruhalter is killed, leaving a young Lieutenant, Jean-Luc Picard, in charge of the ship in the midst of a deadly confrontation. Picard must swiftly learn to be an effective Captain; while dealing both with a crew that has not yet come to trust his judgement and with hostile aliens more powerful than anything the Federation has encountered before.
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Michael Jan Friedman is the author of more than forty science fiction and fantasy books, among them many Star Trek and Star Trek: Next Generation novels.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Carlos Tarasco of the S.S. Valiant stood in front of his captain's chair and eyed the phenomenon pictured on his viewscreen.
It was immense, he thought. No -- it was beyond immense. It stretched across space without boundaries or limits, a blazing vermillion abyss without beginning or end.
"Amazing," said Gardenhire, his redheaded ops officer.
Tarasco grunted. "You can say that again."
Sommers, the curly-haired brunette who was sitting next to Gardenhire at the helm controls, cast a glance back at the captain. "You still want to go through it, sir?"
"Do we have a choice?" Tarasco asked her.
The helm officer recognized it as a rhetorical question and returned her attention to her monitors. With her slender fingers crawling across her control dials like an exotic variety of insect, she deployed additional power to the propulsion system.
"Ready when you are, sir."
Was he ready? The captain drew a deep breath.
The phenomenon had puzzled him ever since it came up on the viewscreen earlier that day. Their optical scanners registered what looked like the universe's biggest light show, but there was nothing there as far as their other instruments were concerned.
Unfortunately, it wasn't merely a matter of scientific curiosity. Tarasco and his crew of eighty-eight had set out from Earth years earlier, aiming to chart a stretch of space from their home system to the farthest reaches of the Milky Way galaxy -- part of a sector that Terran astronomers had labeled the Alpha Quadrant.
They had almost completed their assignment when they encountered an unexpectedly powerful magnetic storm. At first, it seemed that they might be able to outrun the thing. Then they found out otherwise.
The storm caught them up and flung them light-years off course, well past what Tarasco's cartography team reckoned was the outer edge of the galaxy. If not for the readings their scanners took along the way, they wouldn't even have known which way was home.
But knowing the way was only half the battle. The storm had wrecked both their warp and nuclear impulse engines, forcing them to drift on emergency power until the crew could get them up and running.
Finally, after weeks of languishing under the glare of alien stars, Tarasco and his people got underway again. They knew that their trip back to Earth had been lengthened by nearly eleven months, but no one griped. They were just glad to be heading home.
And all had gone well from that point, the captain reflected. Until now, that is.
He couldn't be sure if the phenomenon had been there when the storm threw them so precipitously in the other direction, or if it had sprung up since that time. Certainly, their computer hadn't made any record of it.
One thing was for sure -- they weren't going to get back to Earth without passing through the thing.
Tarasco glanced at Sommers. "Let's do it."
He could feel a subtle hum in the deck below his feet as the Valiant accelerated to the speed of light. The phenomenon loomed in front of them, a gargantuan, red maw opened wide to swallow them up.
"Still no sign of it on sensors," said Hollandsworth, his tall, dark-skinned science officer.
"Deflectors are registering something," reported Gardenhire. He turned to the captain. "A kind of pressure."
"So we're not just seeing things," Tarasco concluded. "I guess we can take some comfort in that."
"Maintain heading?" asked Sommers.
"Affirmative," said the captain.
The closer they got, the more tumultuous the phenomenon appeared. The ruby light within it began to writhe and shimmer, giving birth to monstrous caverns and towering eruptions.
It was beautiful in the way a stormy, windblown sea was beautiful. And like a stormy sea, it was frightening at the same time.
"All available power to the shields," Tarasco ordered.
"Aye, sir," said Gardenhire.
Suddenly, the ship jerked hard to starboard. Caught by surprise, the captain had to grab hold of his chair back for support. He turned to his operations officer, a question on his face.
"We're all right," Gardenhire reported dutifully. "Shields are holding fine, sir."
Tarasco turned back to the viewscreen. They seemed to be entering a deep, red-veined chasm, pulsating with forces that baffled him as much as they did his scanning devices. Before he knew it, the phenomenon wasn't just in front of them, it was all around.
He felt another jerk, even harder than the first. But a glance at Gardenhire told him that everything was still under control.
Behind the captain, the lift doors whispered open. He looked back and saw that his first officer had joined them. Commander Rashad was a wiry man with a neatly trimmed beard and a sarcastic wit.
"I hope I'm not too late," Rashad said darkly.
"Not at all," Tarasco told him. "The show's just starting."
"Good," said his exec. "I hate to miss anything."
The words had barely left his mouth when the lights on the bridge began to flicker. Everyone looked around, the captain included.
"What's happening?" he asked his ops officer.
"I'm not sure, sir," said Gardenhire, searching his control panel for a clue. "Something's interfering with our electroplasma flow."
Abruptly, the deck lurched beneath them, as if they were riding the crest of a gigantic wave. Hollandsworth's console exploded in a shower of sparks, sending him flying backward out of his seat.
Tarasco began to move to the science officer's side. However, Rashad beat him to it.
"Shields down forty-five percent!" Gardenhire announced.
Another console exploded -- this time, an empty one. It contributed to the miasma of smoke collecting above them. And again, the ship bucked like an angry horse.
"The helm's not responding!" Sommers cried out.
Rashad depressed the comm pad at the corner of Hollandsworth's console. "Sickbay, this is Rashad. We need someone up here on the double. Lieutenant Hollandsworth has been -- "
Before he could finish his sentence, the first officer seemed to light up from within, his body suffused with a smoldering, red glow. Then he fell to his knees beside the unconscious Hollandsworth.
"Amir!" Tarasco bellowed.
For a gut-wrenching moment, he thought Rashad had been seriously hurt. Then the man turned in response to the captain's cry and signaled with his hand that he was all right.
"Shields down eighty-six percent!" Gardenhire hollered. He turned to the captain, his eyes red from the smoke and full of dread. "Sir, we can't take much more of this!"
As if to prove his point, the Valiant staggered sharply to port, throwing Tarasco into the side of his center seat. He glared at the viewscreen, hating the idea that his choices had narrowed to one.
"All right!" he thundered over the din of hissing consoles and shuddering deckplates. "Get us out of here!"
There was only one way the helm officer could accomplish that: retreat. Wrestling the ship hard to starboard, she aimed for a patch of open space.
Under Sommers's expert hand, the Valiant climbed out of the scarlet abyss. At the last moment, the forces inside the phenomenon seemed to add to their momentum, spitting them out like a watermelon seed.
Tarasco had never been so glad to see the stars in his life. Trying not to breathe in the black fumes from Hollandsworth's console, he made his way to the science officer and dropped down beside him.
Hollandsworth's face and hands had been badly burned. He was making sounds of agony deep in his throat.
"Is he going to make it?" asked Rashad, who was sitting back on his haunches. He looked a little pale for his experience.
"I don't know," the captain told him.
Before he could try to help, the lift doors parted and a couple of medics emerged. One was a petite woman named Coquillette, the other a muscular
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Book Description Pocket Books, 2000. Condition: Good. Sorry, CD missing. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Seller Inventory # GRP60094772