A rift in the fabric of space threatens the lives of Jean-Luc Picard and the Stargazer's crew. Lean-Luc Picard and the Stargazer crew must seal an anomaly in the Mirror Universe, a rift that may ultimately destroy the Federation. However, the warlike Balduk refuse to grant the Stargazer passage to the vicinity of the tear. His small, ill-equipped ship could very well be lost in the struggle, but the young Captain Picard won't even consider that possibility.
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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.:
Gerda Asmund had developed a certain level of awareness as a child, a sensitivity that came close to the level of pure, untutored instinct.
At the moment, as she studied the updated data on her navigation monitor to see what kind of hazards awaited the Stargazer in the solar system they were approaching, that awareness told her she was being watched. But it was experience that told her by whom.
Turning to her twin sister, Idun, who was sitting at the helm panel beside her, she said in a soft voice, "Just behind you and to the right. At the engineering console."
Idun's brow creased ever so slightly. Then she cast a glance over her shoulder in the indicated direction. When she returned her attention to her helm controls, it was with an air of puzzlement so subtle and unobtrusive that only her sister was likely to recognize it.
"Refsland?" said Idun.
William Refsland was the ship's senior transporter operator -- an efficient and responsible member of the crew, by all accounts. But he displayed what was, in Gerda's estimate, a single very annoying habit.
"He keeps staring at us," she told her sister.
"What's so funny?" Gerda asked.
"I'll bet he's fantasizing," her sister said.
Gerda looked at her. "Fantasizing?"
"We're twins," Idun said, as if that were all the explanation Gerda needed.
"And?" said the navigator.
Her sister sighed. "Refsland is probably imagining what it would be like to have sex with us." Then, seeing that Gerda was still perplexed, she added, "You know...at the same time?"
Gerda realized her mouth was hanging open. She closed it. "Why do you say that?" she asked.
"It's a fairly common daydream among human males," said Idun. "You've never heard of it?"
"No," said Gerda, uncomfortable with her ignorance. "I haven't. But why would anyone want to have sex with two people at once? Wouldn't it be dangerous?"
"Only among Klingons," Idun noted.
Gerda frowned. "Right. Stupid of me."
Humans had a significantly gentler sex life than Klingons did -- Gerda and her sister being notable exceptions to that rule. Having been raised on the Klingon homeworld by a Klingon family, their sexual hungers and behaviors had been formed in the steaming cauldron of their adopted culture -- much to the chagrin of Gerda's recently adopted lover, Carter Greyhorse.
Or at least, Gerda added, that was the way he had felt at first. After a while, Greyhorse had grown accustomed to her decidedly Klingon brand of intimacy.
She glanced at Refsland again. He seemed intent on his console, where it was his job to periodically study ambient conditions against the prospect of an emergency transport. But Gerda got the impression that he was only biding his time before he snuck another peek at her and her sister.
The navigator felt a hot lump of anger lodge in her throat. It wasn't the notion that Refsland wanted to have sex with her that bothered her so much. It was the idea that he coveted her only because she was a twin.
Without meaning to, she expressed the thought out loud.
"I know," said Idun, though she didn't sound particularly resentful. "It's as if we're a matched set of bat'leths, valuable only because we're exactly the same."
Gerda shot another look at Refsland. He was talking to Paxton, the communications officer, and laughing about something she couldn't make out.
For their sake, Gerda hoped it wasn't what she thought it was.
"Besides," she pointed out, "if Refsland wants to have sex with two women at once, why does he prefer that they look alike? Wouldn't it be a more satisfying experience for him if they looked different from each other?"
Idun grunted. "One would think so. Sometimes I find humans more difficult to understand than any other species I've met -- Vulcans included."
Gerda nodded in agreement. And it didn't seem to help that she and her sister were humans themselves.
As she thought that, she noticed that Refsland was leaving the bridge. With a sigh of relief, Gerda turned back to her monitor and resumed her search for navigational hazards.
It was a job she did better than anyone else on the Stargazer, Idun included. So much for their being exactly the same, she reflected, putting the thought of Refsland and his irksome imagination aside.
Ensign Andreas Nikolas stopped in front of his captain's featureless, gray ready-room door and smoothed the front of his cranberry-colored uniform.
It would take a moment before the door chimed to let Picard know there was someone outside it. The ensign used that time to put himself in the right frame of mind. After all, it wasn't every day he had a private meeting with his captain.
Nikolas just wished he had some idea what it was about.
Finally, the duranium surface slid aside with an audible breath of air, revealing the warm but efficient interior of Picard's ready room. As Nikolas walked inside, he saw that the captain -- a man only about five years his senior -- was studying some information on his computer monitor.
The ensign smiled deferentially. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
Picard turned to him and pointed to the chair on the other side of his sleek, black desk. "I did indeed, Ensign. Have a seat."
As Nikolas sat down, he saw Picard's brow crease ever so slightly. He didn't think it was a good sign.
But what had he done to deserve a reprimand? Nothing he could think of. Then what -- ?
"Prior to your arrival on the Stargazer," the captain began abruptly, "you had a reputation for being impulsive, headstrong, and even -- on occasion -- insubordinate."
True, Nikolas had to concede, if only to himself. But as Picard himself had noted, that was before the ensign arrived on the Stargazer.
"It appears you earned that reputation by virtue of several well-documented arguments with Academy professors, colleagues, and superior officers."
Nikolas frowned. True again. But --
"On at least two occasions," Picard continued, "those arguments blossomed into actual fistfights."
Nikolas could feel a caustic response coming on and he stifled it. Otherwise, he would be showing the captain that the behavior he had described was still an issue.
"Permission to speak freely, sir?" he asked.
The captain sat back in his chair and nodded. "Go ahead."
Nikolas leaned forward. "With all due respect, sir, I've done my best to put all that behind me. No one has tried harder than I have to be a cooperative and productive member of this crew."
"Without question," Picard said, "you have done exemplary work here. Every officer with whom you've come in contact has attested to that fact."
The ensign didn't get it. "Then...why am I here?"
"You're here," said the captain, "because in the course of the last few weeks, you've twice been taken to sickbay with a rather spectacular collection of bruises and lacerations. And in both cases, it was the result of injuries you had suffered in the ship's gymnasium."
Again, the facts were difficult to dispute.
"Considering your penchant for getting into fights before you joined us," Picard went on, "I am concerned. If this is a step backward, I want to nip it in the bud."
The ensign shook his head. "It's not what you think, sir."
"Then what is it?" Picard asked.
"That first time," said Nikolas, "was when I tried to stop Ensign Caber from beating up Lieutenant Obal."
The captain's eyes narrowed. "A laudable gesture. However, Mr. Obal made it clear that he could take care of himself. One wonders why it was necessary for you to intervene."
"Sir," Nikolas rejoined, suppressing a surge of indignation, "I had no way of knowing that Obal could defend himself. I mean, he's not exactly a mountain of muscle. For all I knew, Ensign Caber was going to kill him."
Picard considered the response. "You thought you had to go to your friend's rescue. That's certainly understandable." His gaze hardened. "Or rather, it would be, if that were the only instance of this sort of behavior."
The ensign knew where the captain was going next. "You're talking about my sparring session with Lieutenant Asmund."
"I am," Picard confirmed. He tapped the screen of his computer monitor with a fingernail. "According to Doctor Greyhorse's report, at least one of the blows you took to your head was serious enough to cause you to lose consciousness."
Nikolas sighed. "I didn't expect it to go that far."
"But it was a sparring session. And your opponent was one of the most formidable hand-to-hand fighters on the ship."
"I know that now, sir. But at the time -- "
"You had no idea. I believe that." Nonetheless, Picard seemed unimpressed. "Where there is smoke, Ensign, there is fire. And where there are fights, there is the will to engage in them."
Nikolas groped for a way to assure the captain that he wasn't going to get into any more fights. But in the end, all he could say was "It won't happen again."
The captain looked at him. "I'm glad you said that. But it doesn't set my mind at ease."
What more can I do? Nikolas wondered silently.
"If I were you," said Picard, "I would take special care to avoid physical conflicts with my colleagues -- whether they start in anger or not." His features softened. "It would be a shame to mar what is becoming a most compelling case for promotion."
Nikolas found himself smiling. "Promotion, sir?"
"That's correct, Ensign. But if that's to be even a possibility, you'll have to show me that you can stay out of sickbay. Understood?"
A promotion. Nikolas nodded. "Understood, sir."
"In that case," said Picard, "you are dismissed."
"Yes, sir," the ensign responded. "Thank you, sir."
And he left the captain's ready room a lot more lighthearted than when he entered it.
*Â Â *Â Â *
Vigo packed the last of the three uniforms he intended to take planetside with him. Then he closed his gray plastic garment case, latched it, removed it from his bed, and placed it on the floor beside his bedroom door.
The Stargazer's chief weapons officer took a look around his quarters and decided that everything was in order. With nothing to do until he was called down to the shuttlebay, he sat down on the room's only chair.
It was a bit too small for him. In fact, all the furniture in his quarters, indeed in the entire ship, was too small. But then, he wasn't the first Pandrilite who had been forced to overcome that problem in his dealings with other species.
As Vigo reflected on that, he heard a soft, melodic chime. Getting up from his chair, he emerged from his bedroom into the small anteroom beyond it and said, "Please come in."
The doors to the anteroom parted, revealing his friend and colleague Pug Joseph. The ship's acting security chief, Joseph, was a stocky, sandy-haired man whose straightforwardness had endeared him to the other members of the crew.
Vigo found it a refreshing quality in a species that often seemed to pride itself on its guile. Not that that was all bad. It made the humans on board some of Vigo's most challenging sharash'di partners.
"So," said Joseph, "all packed?"
"As a matter of fact," said Vigo, "I am."
Joseph smiled. "Boy, I envy you. I mean, going down to Wayland Prime...every weapons innovation in the last ten years has come out of that place."
Vigo couldn't argue with Joseph's assessment of the place. The Level One Development Facility on Wayland Prime had become a veritable hotbed of innovation thanks to the handful of brilliant tactical engineers Starfleet had assembled there.
"And," Joseph added, "as if that weren't enough of a plum, you're going to be one of the first weapons officers in the fleet to see the new Type Nine emitter."
Truly, Vigo was looking forward to examining the new and improved ship's-phaser emitter, and watching it perform in test mode. But that wouldn't be the biggest thrill he was likely to encounter on Wayland Prime.
"Hey," said Joseph, "I heard the guy who spearheaded the Type Nine project is a Pandrilite. Name's Ejanix."
Vigo nodded. "Yes."
"Do you know him?"
The weapons chief smiled to himself. "As matter of fact," he said, "I do."
First Officer Gilaad Ben Zoma stood in the middle of the Stargazer's shuttlebay and considered nothing.
At least, it looked like nothing. It was actually a transparent, semipermeable barrier that separated the atmosphere in the shuttlebay from the vacuum of space.
"So it's working all right now?" he asked.
"It's working fine," said Chiang, the shuttlebay supervisor, "as you can see."
Ben Zoma smiled. "Or not see, as the case may be."
Earlier that morning, the barrier had displayed some instability, as evidenced by the pale yellow ripples running through it. Then, about an hour ago, it had actually begun to sputter.
The last thing anyone else in the shuttlebay wanted was an unstable barrier, considering that everyone's lives depended on how well it worked. Chiang had made note of that to Ben Zoma, who had in turn made note of it to Simenon and his engineers.
The result? A new wave projector and a much more relaxed Lieutenant Chiang.
"Let me know if you have any more trouble with it," Ben Zoma advised the supervisor.
"Don't worry," said Chiang. "I will."
That promise exacted, the first officer strode across the shuttlebay and headed for the exit. He was just shy of the doors when they slid open and admitted Lieutenant Kastiigan.
"Commander Ben Zoma," he said happily. "I was told you would be down here."
"Well," said Ben Zoma, "you were told right."
Kastiigan had been with them for just a few weeks -- ever since the previous science officer was relieved of her duties and sent back to Earth. In that short time, the Kandilkari had shown himself to be as canny and dedicated a science officer as anyone could have wanted.
"May I speak with you for a moment?" Kastiigan asked.
"Sure," said the first officer. "I've got nothing urgent at the moment. What is it?"
The science officer lifted his chin. "I understand Lieutenant Vigo is going to attend a meeting on Wayland Prime."
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