You can start here, or continue with
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
or the epilogue.


Prologue.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard walked through the empty corridors of the Enterprise with Commander William Riker.
"Shore leave was enjoyable, Number One," he said, "but I have to admit I was champing at the bit to be back the last few days."
"I'm not sorry to be here," said Riker with a smile. "I enjoy the leave up to the last minute, but I always know I'm coming back here! It'll be good to fly again."
"This is actually one of the times I enjoy most," said Picard. "A new crew, another group to get to know over the coming months. Will there be another Geordi La Forge among them? Another William Riker?"
"One of me used to be plenty," said Riker with a smile. "I don't think we want any more! It's not really a new crew. About twenty new personnel. One or two look like they might be challenges."
"Oh?" said Picard. "How's that?"
"There's a new Ensign from some planet I don't know. Got very good scores from the academy, especially in gunnery, but supposed to be a bit antisocial."
"That can be a problem," said Picard with a frown. "That would be Ensign Arrg, from Tarkassia. I pride myself that the Enterprise is a friendly ship. No interpersonal antagonisms. Still, with Guinan and Deanna aboard, maybe they'll straighten him out."
Riker was not surprised to have Picard immediately identify the possible troublemaker. The Captain had received the manifest, and always studied it before passing it on.
"He may not be unfriendly. He may just like to keep to himself."
"True."
"Have you received your orders yet?"
"Yes." Picard shrugged. "It looks like a fairly straightforward mission to start. One of the Cardassian ambassadors has been at some sort of conference near Starbase 44. The powers-that-be thought it would be a good idea if we offered to drive him home."
"A pretty expensive chauffering system!" This was a standard joke from Riker. The Enterprise had often carried out missions of this nature before.
They had arrived on the bridge by this time, and it was in a state of disarray. Panels were off, with wiring everywhere. People tested things all around.
"I don't know why they have to take everything to pieces," said Picard crossly. "You'd think they could check out all the systems without this mess!"
"I suppose they know what they're doing," said Riker, stifling his amusement. Picard liked the Enterprise to be always immaculate.
"Yes. Anyway, it was not entirely philanthropic. Starfleet wants us to investigate some stellar phenomena beyond the Cardassian system. They came to the party, and have offered us passage through their territory after we drop the ambassador. It will save us weeks of travel."
"They are a bit slow with these repairs," said Riker with a frown. "The crew will be shipping aboard in a few hours. They're already over on the starbase waiting."
Most of the crew waiting on starbase 6 were old hands. They had been there since leaving the Enterprise previously, and had simply sampled the pleasures of the starbase and the planet it orbited. Others were new. They had just flown in by smaller transports, and were nervously awaiting their new posts.
Mary-Anne Smith had arrived early in the waiting area, and had been reading a book to while away the time. She was one of those who arrive way ahead of time in case something goes wrong. there were shops, but she had resisted buying anything, although she spent some time browsing. As an ensign, she would be sharing a room, and had resolutely kept her luggage to a minimum. Most things, such as clothing and food, could be supplied from replicators, and only personal items or those with some sentimental attachment need be brought aboard.
Her posting was as a biologist, but she had impressive credentials from the academy in gunnery, Federation history, and astrophysics among others. She was skilled in a number of sports, but did not expect to have much time to practise those.
The number of those waiting grew gradually, and they spread around the waiting area somewhat randomly, until a new arrival changed the pattern.
It was one of the most ferocious-looking creatures Mary-Anne had ever seen. It looked like a cross between a ravening wolf and one of those old classic monsters, a Giger alien. Its eyes were yellow, and narrowed menacingly. Its lips curled back in a menacing snarl as it looked around, and sat in a vacant seat.
Nobody got up straight away and moved off, but the natural comings and goings seemed to create a circle of empty seats around it. Even when most people had arrived, and room was running low, people stood off to the side rather than sit near the creature. The anomalous thing was that the creature was wearing the uniform of a Starfleet ensign.
"Well, I hope he's not working with me," thought Mary-Anne. "I wouldn't like to be left alone with him!"
These reactions were not the norm. Starfleet was populated with a variety of life-forms of varying degrees of repulsiveness, but it was bad form to show distaste. This creature, however, radiated a feeling of uneasiness and menace.
Her musings were interrupted by the arrival of a space shuttle at the doors of the transfer room. She put away her Romance novel, and thought with an inward grin, "Well, he's not the man on page three!"
In a tradition going back some hundreds of years, the hero of Romance novels always made his appearance on page three. Romances were not mysteries. If you didn't want to know how your novel was going to come out, you bought a murder mystery. in fact, it was not so much tradition as that a large percentage of novels still in print were very old. Stories were still written, but usually as holonovels these days. Print books were expensive to produce now, and since the quality of paper had been improved a couple of centuries ago books tended to be very long-lived, and somewhat indestructible. Used-book stores existed in every large city.
As they lined up she was amused to note that the strange ensign, who was some distance in front, stood in a little gap, with nobody close either in front or behind. He looked around, his lip curling in a menacing way. When they were on the shuttle he took his little personal space with him. He sat alone, while the others mostly stared out at the approaching side of the Enterprise. Mary-Anne stared at it too. It was impossible to see too much from so close-up, but the gleaming... cleanness of the exterior impressed her. Her logical mind told her that the outside of a starship is unlikely to get dirty, but a first impression is a first impression.
Near her a child stared through the window in awe.
"Mummy, she asked, "why doesn't it bang into the walls next to it? It's just hanging there."
"It's gravity, darling," replied her father, after a look from mother. "Both the ship and the station are moving in a solar orbit at exactly the same speed, so they stay the same distance apart."
"Oh," said the child, happy to have had her question answered, but none the wiser. Just as well, thought Mary Anne, since the answer was wrong. Two large masses like that would be quite difficult to settle into exactly the same orbit. The Enterprise was held in place by tractor beams. They did not have to be strong, as the ship had no acceleration, but they had to be there.
The shuttle drew in perfectly and joined hatches without a jar. Good driving, she thought, even if it is driven by a computer. As the hatch slid open the passengers moved into a spacious docking bay. If a docking bay is this big, she thought, how big is the ship?
Her main luggage was stowed away somewhere, and all she had was accessories and her novel. "But will there be a 'man on page three' waiting for me here?" she thought in amusement. "I'm going to be aboard here a long time!"
Her musings were not something new. Fantasy amused her, and she was aware that whenever Sir Galahad appeared, she bolted (metaphorically) like a startled faun, back to her books and hobbies.
All of the members of the crew going aboard were quickly 'processed', having to identify themselves, show iris identification, collect a docket and pass inside. A speaker repeated its message, "Welcome aboard. All of you have been allocated a room. The first digit on you docket corresponds to the deck and your room will be there. If you wish, take time to freshen up, and deposit your hand luggage. There will be a general welcome in hangar 17 in forty minutes, at 1100 hours. All crew must attend."
"All crew except those phantoms who deliver the luggage," she thought. She was wrong. The luggage was delivered to the rooms by personnel from starbase, who then left the Enterprise.
She wondered whether someone was watching them, or simply reciting a message elsewhere on the ship.
Below the entrance deck, the luggage was being loaded, and going through a security check. Malcolm French, a dark young man whose face reflected his Australian aborigine heritage, and Chr' Gyr', a female avian from Bontarr', watched the scans of the suitcases as they drifted by. It passed the time to try to identify the shapes that passed their eyes.
"This one seems to have blocks of wood in it," Gyr' remarked, and Malcolm glanced over.
"Don't you recognise books?" he said with a smile. "They were used, on earth anyway, to record stories and information before padds and information chips."
"Why would someone bring them on a starship?" asked Gyr' curiously. Each crewman had a good living space, but would not need many possessions. Things which were to be used were made in the replicators, and then recycled. That included food and clothing.
"Some people have sentimental attachments to them," said Malcolm. "They like to keep them forever."
"Information tablets?" said Gyr' in surprise.
"Stories, more usually," he replied, and she nodded in understanding. In any race, stories were fundamental.
"In any case," he added, "one of the crew who possesses hard copy books is the captain."
"You've been in Captain Picard's room?" she said in surprise. The captain's luggage did not go through security scans.
"I had to fix his replicator one time," he said. "His tea was out of flavor. I was looking at the books on his shelf, and he showed them to me. I'd say they are real sentimental favorites!"
"Which implies that you like books, too," she observed.
"Yeah," he agreed.
"Well, that's the last of them," she said eventually. "We're to go up to the welcoming with the rest. Somebody else can deliver all these."
They stood up, a little stiffly after sitting and staring for so long, and walked together up to hangar 17. They had become good friends, even though they worked together only occasionally. Malcolm usually worked in Engineering, and Gyr' in Navigation and general repairs.
Upstairs they mingled with the new arrivals. As it was a short meeting no chairs were organised, and people stood.
"Do you see any interesting 'birds'?" Gyr' asked him. "I am a bird, but you never seem to chase me."
"No doubt your mate would object," he grinned. "I'll stick to looking for now. If you are as fast as the emus back home, I'd never catch you anyway. There are a couple of nice-looking birds in the new arrivals actually."
Gyr' smiled, as much as an avian is able. "You are all talk. If one of them came and talked to you you'd probably faint. And if she didn't know anything about starship engines, you'd have nothing to talk about."
He grinned.
"I do have other interests," he said.
"Not too many women you meet are likely to be deep into number theory," she said. "Nor many men, for that matter."
There was a gradual hush, as the crowd became aware that the senior officers had arrived. They took up places on a raised platform at one side of the enormous room.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard was still a little nervous of addressing crowds, although he was perfectly at ease in a position of command on the bridge. He liked to say his piece, and pass the baton to Riker. He stepped up to the improvised rostrum, and set the crowd at ease.
"Most of you have been a part of my crew before," he said. "I welcome you back. We can get to know this ship again, together. To those of you who are joining the crew for the first time, you have big shoes to fill, but I am sure you are all capable of doing so. Some of you, like Ensign Mendon, have served with us briefly, but are now here to stay."
Ensign Mendon, startled to have been picked out, flushed with embarrassment. As his face was hidden by the breathing apparatus he always wore, nobody noticed.
He paused, then continued, "All of you have joined because you want to go that step further, to see what has not been seen. We will do that soon. Our first duty is simply a transport of an ambassador from Starbase 44 to Cardassia, after a conference. From there, however, we will continue on for exploration of unseen territory beyond the Cardassian territory. In repayment for our help in facilitating the meeting between their ambassador and the Excalbians, the Cardassians are allowing us to travel straight through their space instead of around it."
He sat down, and Commander William Riker rose, and began to announce duties and shifts. Mary Anne looked at the handsome face as he spoke, and noted his trim physique, how well he spoke, and his air of command. "Is this page three?" she thought sardonically. She glanced around, and noted that most of the human females were also giving Riker some rapt attention. She formed an opinion that some might have received attention back. Not true, as it happened. Commander Riker maintained a distance from subordinates.
At the end, Riker said, "For those of you new to the ship, gatherings like this are not the norm. We have these formalities so that you can get together at least once, but normally communication will be by intra-ship broadcasts for general information, or meetings of smaller groups if necessary. Once again, welcome to the Enterprise, or welcome back. We expect excellence, and I'm sure you won't disappoint us."
"Was that a royal 'we'?" Mary Anne remarked to herself.
The ceremonies ended, and the crowds drifted away. Some of the newcomers looked around curiously at the shipmates fate had saddled them with. Ensign Mary Anne Smith looked about at the crowd of strangers she would soon know well. Perhaps one of them... She sighed, and went back to her cabin, and found her new shipmate, who was Chr' Gyr'.
"Hi, I'm Chr'," said she. "Chr' Gyr'. I'm in Navigation. Is this your first time on the Enterprise?"
"It's my first time on any starship," said Mary Anne. "I'm fresh out of the Academy."
"You'll like it here," said Chr' Gyr'. "The Captain is a bit distant, but you never see him much anyway. The rest are very nice. Strict but fair."
"Commander Riker seems very nice," Mary Anne said.
"Oh, he is," said Chr', "always charming, but tough on his subordinates."
"Strict but fair," said Mary Anne.
"A winner of hearts," said Chr'. "Can I help you unpack?"
"No thanks," answered Mary Anne. "I don't have all that much."
She opened the suitcase which had been delivered for her, and put her clothing in drawers. She took out a pile of books and set them out on shelves.
"Oh, the books," said Chr'. "I haven't seen any before."
"What do you mean, 'the books'?" asked Mary Anne.
"I was on luggage scanning. I thought they were blocks of wood. My partner explained what they were. Why do you carry them?"
"I guess they are sentimental favorites," smiled Mary Anne. "I like the feel of a book while I'm lying in bed."
"Then you lie in bed alone?" asked Chr'.
"So far," answered Mary Anne with a smile. "It might be difficult to share a bed when I'm sharing a room, anyway."
"What are the books?"
"Some scientific books, exobiology, astronomy, and so on, and some of my favorite Romance novels."
"What are they?"
"Oh, fantasy. A lonely young girl meets a handsome devil of a man and reforms him, and they marry, and presumably live happily ever after."
"Is that fantasy?"
"I suspect so," smiled Mary Anne. "I don't run into many handsome devils myself."
"Human women seem to regard Commander Riker so. Who knows?"
Mary Anne laughed.

The captain met briefly with the senior officers.
"That went well," he said. "It seems a good crew again. This is the kind of mission I enjoy. It is pleasant yet important in its way. If the meeting goes well, both Cardassia and the Excalbians will be more inclined towards peace with the Federation, and perhaps closer to joining."
"I think the Cardassians are a long way off yet!" said Riker.
"A while ago we would have thought that of the Klingons," replied Picard. "Now they are our good friends."
"But the Cardassians are basically a bunch of treacherous... lizards," muttered Worf.
Tactfully, no one replied.
"Well, we can only hope that the voices of reason among them prevail," said Jean-Luc after a pause. "The Excalbians are a strange race. They must finally have decided to mix. In any case, our safe conduct of the ambassador will be one step along in a long journey towards real peace with the Cardassians."
"I can't see a Cardassian joining Starfleet too soon," observed Riker.
"I wouldn't have thought a Ferengi could ever become a Starfleet Ensign," remarked Geordi, "but I've got one under me, and he seems to be working very well so far. I would have thought a Ferengi would have been better at poker, though."
"Well, don't invite the Cardassian ambassador into your card games," said Picard. "That might set peace back a century!"

After the meeting Riker and Deanna made their way down to Ten Forward, partly to relax, but partly to get a look at some of the new crewmembers as they relaxed.
"Are there any hidden agendas to our mission, Will?" asked Deanna.
"No. Seems pretty straightforward. I could do with a straightforward mission," he added. "I'm tired of saving the world all the time."
"You've saved the world recently?" she asked with a smile.
Gr'h Arrg, the ferocious looking new ensign, walked in, and headed towards the bar. People drifted out of his way. They knew he must be "all right" if he wore a Starfleet uniform, but his appearance was somewhat frightening. He seemed to scowl and glower as he looked around the room.
"I hope he's not going to be one of those types who's always starting fights," muttered Riker.
Deanna looked puzzled.
"I'm not getting any feelings of animosity from him at all," she said.
"Dropped your shields to feel him out, have you?" he asked. "Actually, there's no trouble on his record, but I get that feeling about him."
He drifted alone up to the bar, and Guinan came over. For once in her life she was surprised.
"You're a Tarkassian, aren't you?" she asked.
His face showed absolute fury, and he said, "Why, how did you know?"
"I was there once," she said. "When I was a little girl." She did not add that that was some centuries ago.
"You've visited Tarkassia?" he said, his voice snarling in pleasure. "Why would anyone do that?"
"My parents took me there," she said. "I loved it. So unusual. I loved the animals."
"Not many people visit Tarkassia," he observed.
"Not many people leave Tarkassia," she replied. "I never thought I'd see a Tarkassian in Starfleet."
"It was just something I thought I'd like to do," he said. "It's been a bit lonely, but I expected that. It's so nice to meet someone who is friendly. Can I talk to you again?"
Someone else was nervously trying to attract her attention.
"Anytime," she said, as she turned to serve him. "Enjoy your drink."
None of his talk had sounded at all friendly, but Guinan took it as meant. The ensign took his drink and moved into a corner of Ten Forward, a room in which corners were hard to find.
Riker moved over as he left, with Deanna in tow.
"You didn't seem too fazed by that fellow," he commented to Guinan. "Everyone else seems a bit nervous of him."
"How often have you seen me fazed?" she asked with a quiet smile. "Are you nervous of him?"
"He's one of our new ensigns," Riker said, answering neither question.
"I know," replied Guinan. "What do you know about him?"
"He's Tarkassian," said Riker, "and came out with some of the top gunnery scores for his year. Very good at most sciences, but not a good mixer. I can see why!"
"That's unfortunate. What you see is not what you get on Tarkassia," said Guinan.
"Tarkassia, Tarkassia?" mused Deanna. "Didn't you have a Tarkassian pet once, you told me?"
"An imaginary Tarkassian razorbeast," Guinan smiled. "It protected me."
"Well, if it looked anything like Ensign Arrg," said Riker, "I'm not surprised!"
"It was actually a sort of personal joke," said Guinan, "even when I was small. If you're going to be working with a Tarkassian, there is something you should perhaps know."
"What's that?" said Riker and Deanna simultaneously, and they laughed.
"Tarkassian evolution was one of those unusual ones you sometimes find. The major defence of a lot of animals was to frighten off predators. The scariest-looking animals were usually completely harmless. If you saw an animal that looked like a rabbit or a hamster, you gave it a wide berth! It was likely to be a savage predator."
"So your razorbeast..." said Deanna.
"A real razorbeast looked absolutely terrifying, but was a great pet. It scared off the fears of childhood quite adequately, but a razorbeast would be useless if actually attacked."
"But surely the predators would have learned all this?" said Deanna. "They would go for the most fearsome looking prey."
"Looking and sounding frightening weren't the only weapons in their armory," laughed Guinan. "The intelligent beings on Tarkassia evolved from the pussycat types who looked fierce but weren't. Just like we evolved from animals, and still have a lot of their characteristics, so did the Tarkassians. They look ferocious, but they are the gentlest people you could meet. That's why I was so amazed to see one in Starfleet. I can't imagine one actually firing a weapon!"
"That's handy to know," observed Riker. "He has never been in real combat, so I'll have to see how he goes. I won't rely on him to save my life, if I can help it, for a while! But he came out with great scores."
"He may be a great officer," said Guinan. "You can't judge a person by his species."
"By the way," Riker commented, "it must have taken your people a long time to evolve at all, with lifetimes the better part of a thousand years!"
"We evolved the long life," she said. "Our ancestors may not have lived so long. But compared to the life of the universe, you can fit in a hell of a lot of millenia to evolve in!"
"Well,here's to a boring assignment!" said Riker. "May nobody have to save anything."

On to Chapter 1, or back the way you came..