The Rings of Time (Star Trek: The Original Series)

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9781451655476: The Rings of Time (Star Trek: The Original Series)

When a mining colony on an endangered moon is threatened, it’s a race against time for the Enterprise crew to find a solution in this original novel set in the universe of Star Trek: The Original Series.

The U.S.S. Enterprise responds to a distress call from a vital dilithium-mining colony in the Klondike system. The colony is located on Skagway, a moon orbiting Klondike-6, a gas giant not unlike Saturn. For unknown reasons, the planet’s rings are coming apart, threatening the colony and its inhabitants. Kirk and his crew need to find a solution—fast.There are more than 3,000 colonists, including hundreds of families, on Skagway, which is more than even the Enterprise can take on, and there are no other rescue ships or habitable planets anywhere in the vicinity.

Meanwhile, an approaching comet that may be the source of the crisis turns out to be a mysterious alien probe. Sensors indicate that the probe is incredibly old and running low on power. Suspecting that the probe may have something to do with the threat to Skagway, Kirk has the probe beamed aboard the Enterprise. Suddenly after a blinding flash, Kirk suddenly finds himself floating in orbit above Saturn in our solar system, drifting in space wearing a twenty-first century NASA spacesuit. What just happened...?

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About the Author:

Greg Cox is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including the official movie novelizations of Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Death Defying Acts, and all three Underworld movies. In addition, he has written books and short stories based on such popular series as Alias, Batman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fantastic Four, The 4400, The Green Hornet, Infinite Crisis, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Star Trek, X-Men, Zorro, among others. He lives in Oxford, Pennsylvania. His official website is: GregCox-Author.com.

™, ®, & © 2012 CBS Studios, Inc. Star Trek and related marks are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One

June 28, 2020

“Launch minus five minutes . . .”

The space shuttle Renaissance faced the early-morning sky at Cape Canaveral. Its enormous fuel tanks and boosters dwarfed the vessel as it towered over the launch pad. The launch tower pulled away, leaving the shuttle and its booster rockets clear for flight. It was a beautiful morning, the last Colonel Shaun Christopher would see for more than six months. It would be winter the next time he set foot on Earth.

Assuming all goes well, he thought.

Inside the cockpit, Shaun was strapped into his seat, staring up at the nose of the ship. A flight suit and helmet provided meager protection from the titanic forces about to be unleashed. The Atlantic Ocean could be glimpsed out the starboard window. A pair of old-fashioned military dog tags dangled above the lighted instrument panel in front of him. A good-luck charm, the tags had accompanied him into space before.

“Ready to go, Colonel?” the pilot sitting next to him said. Commander Shirin Ludden was among the first of a new breed of shuttle pilots. She seemed shockingly young to Shaun, who was in his early fifties.

“You tell me,” he answered. “I’m just a passenger on this flight.”

Despite their banter, the launch procedure continued on schedule. The sound-and-heat-suppression system fired up far below the cockpit, but Shaun could feel the vibration from all that water where he was sitting. He and Ludden closed the visors on their flight helmets. He took a deep breath of piped-in oxygen. The entire shuttle trembled as the launch engines gradually came online. Shaun felt a familiar excitement growing inside him.

The Renaissance had been intended to be the first in a new fleet of second-generation shuttles, but then the aerospace bubble had gone bust, cratering the economy again and creating entire districts of homeless people in many of the world’s cities. The latest round of budget cuts had left the Renaissance as a one-of-a-kind prototype, kept alive primarily by private investors and international partners who couldn’t afford to build ships on their own. She was an impressive vessel, state-of-the-art. A shame she had to fly alone.

Still, at least she would get him where he was going.

“Launch minus ten seconds . . .”

The engines ignited, and the shuttle strained to escape the eight-inch metal bolts holding it down. The spaceplane swayed violently before turning its nose back up toward the sky. Computerized systems went through their paces. Even though Ludden was nominally the pilot, the launch was out of her hands now. Rattling inside the cockpit, Shaun braced himself for what came next. A grin spread across his rugged face.

This never got old.

“Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . .”

Liftoff!

Explosive charges blew away the hold-down bolts. The Renaissance blasted into the sky atop an inverted geyser of fire and smoke. Shaun was slammed back into his seat, then shaken back and forth like a rat in a dog’s jaws. The shuttle rocketed up from the Cape, leaving Mother Earth far behind. The booster rockets fell away, having done the heavy lifting. Shaun felt a twinge of relief; like most astronauts, he felt safer rid of those enormous Roman candles. The bumpy ride quickly leveled off as the bright blue sky before him gave way to the blackness of the upper atmosphere.

The g-forces pressing down on him felt like an elephant standing on his chest. Shaun gritted his teeth; this part did get old after the first few minutes. He craned his neck to try to read the gauges on the instrument panel. So far, everything looked okay, although the elephant seemed to have gained weight since the last time he took this ride.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Just when he thought he couldn’t take it anymore, the elephant disappeared as though conjured away by a Las Vegas magician. One last jerk shook the ship as the empty fuel tank fell away. The pressure on Shaun abruptly went from three g’s to zero. His body lifted away from the seat cushions, held in place only by his safety straps. Glancing at the instrument panel, he saw the lucky dog tags floating weightlessly.

We did it, Dad, he thought. We’re in space. Again.

The tags had been worn by his father, Captain John Christopher, during his Air Force jet-pilot days. The senior Christopher had applied to the astronaut program back in the 1960s but hadn’t quite made the cut. Shaun had taken his dad’s tags up with him on every mission, so that even though the real John Christopher had only watched the liftoff from the bleachers eight miles away, he was also flying beside his son.

“So much for the fireworks,” Ludden said, sounding almost disappointed that the thrill-ride component of the launch was over. “Smooth sailing from now on.”

“Knock on wood,” Shaun said.

She used the shuttle’s smaller space engines to guide the Renaissance into orbit approximately four hundred kilometers above Earth. Circling the planet at some twenty-nine thousand kilometers per hour, she rotated the shuttle so that its belly faced outward away from Earth. The engines cut off, and the cockpit was suddenly so quiet that Shaun could hear the fans and air filters whirring, along with his own breathing inside the helmet. The payload bay doors opened, exposing their cargo to the vacuum. This was standard procedure in space and essential to the next stage of their mission.

“Tell you the truth,” Ludden said, “I wish I was going all the way with you.”

“Now, Commander, you know NASA frowns on that kind of fraternization.”

She punched him in the shoulder. “You know what I mean. This is just a taxi ride to the airport. You’re making the real trip.”

“Maybe next time,” Shaun said to console her.

“Well, let’s make sure you don’t miss your flight.”

The shuttle’s launch was just the first leg of a much longer journey. Shaun waited impatiently, occupying himself with routine flight operations, while the shuttle caught up with his destination. Hours passed before Ludden nudged him.

“Heads up,” she said. “There’s your ride up ahead.”

Peering through the cockpit window, he glimpsed a bright reflective object cruising above them. At first, it was only a shiny lure in the distance, but as they closed on the other vessel, a truly awe-inspiring spacecraft came into view. More than forty-five meters long, the ship was many times larger than the Renaissance and resembled several large tour buses linked together. Its modular components had been assembled in orbit over the course of the last five years. Shaun could count them off one by one: engine assembly, communications array, cargo bay, crew habitat, and command module. The impulse thrusters fanned out from the tail of the ship, while a docking ring was attached to the nose of the command module. Antennae, EVA rails, and signal dishes sprouted from the ship’s silvery titanium-polymer hull, although its delicate solar panels had been retracted in anticipation of breaking orbit. Additional insulation and padding protected the habitat. Lights shone in the windows. A NASA logo was emblazoned on the side of the cargo bay, along with the name of the vessel: U.S.S. Lewis & Clark.

Ludden whistled in appreciation. “Quite a ship.”

Shaun had to agree. Even though he had trained on simulators, had familiarized himself with the individual modules on Earth, and already knew pretty much every inch of the ship by heart, he took a moment to admire it in its natural environment. Savor the moment, he thought. There had been times, during the economic roller coaster of the last few years, when he had wondered if the Lewis & Clark would ever get finished at all.

But here it was, waiting for him.

Renaissance to Lewis & Clark.” Ludden hailed the other vessel. Like Shaun, she had shed her helmet and flight gear in favor of a comfy blue NASA jumpsuit. “Initiating docking procedure.”

Roger that, Renaissance,” a husky female voice answered via ship-to-ship radio. “We’re ready on our end.”

The shuttle approached the larger spaceship from below. Onboard computers and laser-guidance systems steered the shuttle toward the docking ring. The Renaissance’s own docking mechanism was located in the forward payload bay, just aft of the crew compartment, so the shuttle presented its open back to the nose of the other ship. Multiple redundant systems ensured that the shuttle remained exactly on track. Ludden eyeballed it through the window, while Shaun watched the docking ring grow larger on a small television monitor. Even with the guidance systems constantly checking the shuttle’s range, speed, and trajectory relative to the other ship, frequent small course corrections were required to stay on course. Ludden worked the brake and thruster control sticks like an expert, taking her time. By the time the ships were less than ten meters apart, the Renaissance was approaching the other vessel at roughly one-tenth of a foot per second. Pale yellow vapor jetted from the forward thrusters with each momentary burn.

Ludden’s face was a portrait of concentration. “Almost there,” she muttered under her breath. “Just a few meters more . . .”

Contact! The ships came together with a gentle bump, less jolting than a 747 touching down on the tarmac. Automatic latches grabbed onto the shuttle and pulled the two spacecraft together, creating an airtight seal, at least in theory. Shaun would have to double-check that carefully before they tried crossing over to the other ship, but he could not have asked for a more successful rendezvous with his new home away from home.

So much for the easy part, he thought.

“I believe this is your stop,” Ludden quipped. “Don’t forget to tip your driver.”

He patted his jumpsuit. “I’m afraid I forgot my wallet. Guess I’m going to have to owe you.”

“Okay, but you’re looking at six-plus months of interest.”

“Take it up with NASA.”

“Are you kidding? They’re more cash-strapped than I am.”

Ain’t it the truth, Shaun thought.

He unstrapped himself from his seat. He had never been subject to space-sickness, so he had quickly adjusted to the lack of gravity. Taking care to retrieve the dog tags, he floated to the back of the cockpit and opened the hatch to the mid-deck below. A convenient ladder helped him descend headfirst to the lower level, where the airlock to the docking ring waited. A red indicator light above the hatch warned that the airlock was not yet pressurized.

He rang the doorbell, so to speak. A video-com connected him with the spaceship’s flight deck. “Permission to come aboard?”

“Just give us a second to roll out the welcome mat,” the female voice replied. An attractive redhead appeared on a miniature video screen adjacent to the hatchway. “Pressurizing now.”

Pumps rapidly filled the airlock with breathable air, so that the air pressure in the docking ring matched that of both the shuttle and the Lewis & Clark. The process took place with admirable speed; within minutes, he was able to unseal the hatch and rise through the vestibule connecting the two ships. The hatch at the other end opened onto the lower deck of the Lewis & Clark’s command module. The ship’s onboard spacelab occupied most of the mid-deck. This was where he and the rest of the crew would be conducting many of their experiments over the next several months. Right now, everything was stowed away in preparation for their departure.

Two people floated just beyond the airlock.

“About time you got here,” astronaut Alice Fontana teased him, her arms crossed over her chest. An athletic redhead of Amazonian physique, she was oriented in the same direction as Shaun. Her blue jumpsuit proudly bore a Canadian flag decal in addition to its NASA logo. Microgravity had given her a slightly fuller face than usual and added at least an inch to her height. Her naturally flame-colored hair had been cut practically short. In her mid-thirties, she was younger than Shaun but not so much that he thought of her as a kid. She was his copilot on this mission.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” he joked back. “Just be thankful you were safely up here, away from the dog-and-pony shows.”

Prior to the usual prelaunch quarantine, Shaun had spent the last few weeks doing publicity for the mission, in an attempt to drum up public and political support. Compared with the endless interviews, rubber chicken, and schmoozing, blasting off into space had been a breeze.

“Poor baby!” She gave him a hug that was slightly awkward, given their history, then disengaged quickly. “Better you than me.”

“I have to agree,” Dr. Marcus O’Herlihy said. Eschewing a hug, he shook Shaun’s hand instead, while holding on to a handrail to anchor himself. “Welcome aboard, Colonel.”

A distinguished-looking black man in his early fifties, about Shaun’s age, O’Herlihy had a slightly professorial air befitting his status as one of the world’s foremost astrophysicists. Combining disciplines, he was also the mission’s resident physician. His neatly trimmed beard and mustache had gone gray, and, like Fontana, he was slightly taller and rounder of face while weightless. His deep voice had a slight Irish accent.

“Good to see you, Doc,” Shaun greeted him. “You two been taking good care of my ship?”

“I think we’ve gotten everything battened down,” O’Herlihy said. He and Fontana had been conducting system tests and checks while the Lewis & Clark was in orbit. Everything needed to be working perfectly before the ship set off for its ultimate destination; after all, it wasn’t as if they could call for a tow if anything broke down later on. “We’re merely awaiting your final inspection and that last load of supplies from the Renaissance, of course.”

“Don’t worry,” Shaun said. “I remembered to get the groceries.” He drifted further into the module. “So, which one of you ordered the pineapple pizza?”

“That would be me,” Fontana confessed. “And don’t even think of breaking into my private stock—unless you ask nice, that is.”

“Duly noted,” Shaun said. “I promise not to raid the fridge when you’re not looking.”

“I’m sure we’ll all be on our best behavior,” O’Herlihy said. “Or this could be a very long trip.”

Shaun smiled. It was good to see them again. The three of them had been training together for months and had been judged psychologically compatible by the space shrinks back at Houston. Good thing we get along, he thought, given that we’re going to be stuck together for the next one-point-two billion kilometers.

He made a mental note to give Ludden a tour of the Lewis & Clark before she headed back home.

“Prepare to engage engines,” Shaun ordered.

Days had passed, and more than two thousand pounds of stores and equipment had been transferred from the Renaissance to the Lewis...

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