The second in a nine book series about Star Trek: TNG crew before the movie Nemesis.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 296 plus an excerpt from the next book in the series
Publisher: Pocket Books

At the start of the book the crew of Enterprise-E is in a bad place after their return from the disastrous tour on the Rashanar Battle Site. Captain Picard has been relieved of command and is in the custody of Counselor Colleen Cabot of the Medical Mental Health department. Riker is the acting captain but he’s unable to keep the crew’s spirits up and many have requested reassignment. LaForge is thinking of retiring and Data has been ordered to hand over his emotion ship because the Admiralty is afraid that the chip will unbalance him. The Ontailians want Picard to admit to murder or they will leave the Federation.

Picard is stationed on the Medical Mental Health’s holodeck where he has lived like a recluse. He accepts a deal so that he won’t be sent to prison and that Starfleet will avoid a public trial. However, Wesley is determined to help with his Traveler powers. Wesley visits a few key people and tries to convince them that Picard did the right thing and that something very dangerous is lurking in the Rashanar Battle Site. Wesley is concerned that his meddling will cause the other Travelers to strip him of his powers but he can’t just observe dispassionately. He goes so far that he takes Picard’s accuser at the inquiry, in the previous book, to Rashanar to show him what is going on there. He also takes Cabot to a similar journey and soon enough they persuade the Admiralty to send the Enterprise back to Rashanar to investigate it, unofficially. However, Riker is still the acting captain during this undercover operation and Picard is just a passenger. Cabot is also going because Picard is still her patient.

The Ontailians aren’t happy to see Starfleet, or especially the Enterprise, to return to the site, so the crew must disguise themselves. They end up getting an old shuttle and sending four people in it to scout the site. Picard, Cabot, tactical officer Vale, and Wesley in disguise as Ensign Brewster put on civilian clothes and try to blend in with the looters on the battle site. It’s very dangerous.

There’s also a side plot with Data. One of the admirals wants to insert a chip in his head to replace the emotion chip. The Admiral doesn’t tell Data what the chip will do and it’s all really fishy. LaForge is rightly very concerned and Wesley interferes to get Data out of the Engineering section intact. Maybe this will be explored further later.

Cabot has a passionate romance with one of the established characters. She’s also a significant point-of-view character to the point that she seems to be the main character. She starts out the book as a competent Counselor who doubts Picard’s story but not his sanity or capability as a captain. As far as I can tell, she’s never left Earth. However, once she’s on the Enterprise, she quickly shows a strong adventurous spirit and she has no trouble handling the suspicious and rowdy looters of various races. This seemed quite abrupt change to me. I had no problem with the romance but I wished to see more of the regular cast.

I tend to love stories where the (highly capable) Starfleet officers are out of their element (such as Gambit 1 and 2) and this was definitely such a book. Picard and Vale disguise themselves as looters and try to get information out of the other looters. I enjoyed this even though Cabot steals their thunder somewhat. I also enjoyed Wesley’s reluctance to show himself to his friends because he feared that the more he showed himself, the sooner his powers would be gone. In that respect, the ending wasn’t satisfying.

I was a bit surprised that the Ontailians apparently got no trial and no punishment even though they destroyed a Starfleet ship in the previous book. It just wasn’t mentioned and somehow Picard got accused for that. We did get to know more of the Ontailians in this book and their culture seems to be, for once, quite different from the modern Western one, which was a pleasant surprise. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them.

The plot is wrapped up in this book, except possibly the issue with Data’s emotion chip.