The fifth book in the “A Time To” Star Trek: TNG series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 263 and an excerpt from the next book
Publisher: Pocket Books

The crew of the Enterprise is still suffering from the aftereffects of the disaster at the Rashanar Battle Site, as seen in the first and second books in the series, A Time to Die and A Time To be Born. Even their help with the Dokaalan, as seen in A Time to Sow and A Time To Harvest, or their defense of the Baku, in Star Trek: Insurrection, weren’t enough to redeem them. Starfleet Command is still suspicious of Captain Picard’s abilities and sends the Enterprise on another mission where the crew is expected to fail. On top of that, the rest of crew has picked up on the command crew’s mood and the Starfleet scuttlebutt is calling Enterprise a doomed ship. Many of the newer crew members are requesting transfers off the ship. Riker and Troi are determined to talk at least some of them out of that decision.

Starfleet Command sends the Enterprise to Delta Sigma IV. Two races have been living in peace there for about 150 years but lately violence has broken out. A woman has been murdered and even though another man was clearly responsible, Kyle Riker, Will Riker’s father, fled after it. Picard is sent to minimize the mess.

Will and his father Kyle have a difficult relationship. They haven’t talked in years and Will didn’t even know about Kyle’s assignment. Of course, Will agrees to hunt down his father.

The humanoid races Dorset and Bader colonized the lush planet of Delta Sigma IV at the same time. Even though the races had had a violent history against each other and inside their races, too, on this planet they started to live peacefully side by side, and have lived so since the colony’s beginning over a century ago. Then they noticed that the lifespans of both races have been shortening. Starfleet offered to help and three Dorset and two Bader volunteered to be tested. After a year of research and testing, Starfleet medics were able to develop a cure. However, when the volunteers came back to the planet, one of them murdered the other in plain sight. There are protests against Starfleet and some people think that Starfleet had somehow caused the murder.

At the same time, Beverly Crusher is still thinking about the job offer she had for the head of Starfleet Medical. She and her team goes over the medical side of things, looking for anything which might have caused the sudden violence. Meanwhile, the engineering department is suffering from a supply problem; there are fewer ships and less supplies to go around after the war. So, Geordi LaForge decides to do some old fashioned trading. I found this amusing and a good counterpoint to the rather depressing main plot. However, they have state of the art replicators. Why don’t they just replicate the parts?

The book is pretty intense with the Bader and Dorset population starting to riot and Enterprise’s medical and security staff try to deal with them. At first, Picard wants to just advice the planetary Council (of eight people) but it quickly becomes clear that they aren’t used to anything like the protests and riots. Meanwhile, Riker is looking for his father with the planetary protocol officer. They travel to various villages and even meet the officer’s family. To my disappointment, they turned out to be very much a Western type family with the father working long hours and the mother staying home to raise the kids. The family and the officer himself are quite sympathetic characters.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of small inconsistencies in the book, such as people who had left the scene were suddenly back and the murder victim being first a woman and then a man. Also, this planet is part of the Federation and it clearly uses money. Apparently, they were able to sell food to other, presumably Federation member planets, for a tidy profit and so were in turn able to spend the money on the planet’s infrastructure. Riker is also thinking about buying local jewelry to Troi. The twist in the medical plot is also easy to figure out.

I find the overall storyline weird; no matter what Picard and his crew does, they can’t redeem themselves. If Picard is supposed to be so incompetent, why is he still the captain? Since the Enterprise is the flag ship why would Command leave it in the hands of a captain they don’t trust? There is a short scene in the book where two admirals ask this exact question from the admiral who sent Picard on this mission, but infuriatingly, the admiral doesn’t answer. It seems to me that either the admiral in question (Upton) is an infiltrator sent to sow chaos or incompetent. Or possibly has something against Picard for personal reasons but since we haven’t seen him before, that seems weird. At any case, the series seems to be aimed at dirtying Starfleet from the utopia it was seen in TNG. I don’t really care for that.

The book ends in a big cliffhanger.