- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
With their sun about to go nova, the people of Epictetus III face annihilation. Although the U.S.S. Enterprise has come to lead the rescue operation, there is no way to evacuate a population of over twenty million, leaving Captain Picard to make an agonizing decision. Should he try to salvage the planet's children, its greatest leaders and thinkers, or its irreplaceable archeological treasures? No matter what he decides, millions must be sacrificed — unless another solution can...
With their sun about to go nova, the people of Epictetus III face annihilation. Although the U.S.S. Enterprise has come to lead the rescue operation, there is no way to evacuate a population of over twenty million, leaving Captain Picard to make an agonizing decision. Should he try to salvage the planet's children, its greatest leaders and thinkers, or its irreplaceable archeological treasures? No matter what he decides, millions must be sacrificed — unless another solution can be found.
With time running out, Data proposes a revolutionary scientific experiment that could save all of Epictetus III, or doom both the planet and the Enterprise as well.
No, he told himself. Tragedy was not an outcome to dwell on; he would do whatever it took to prevent it. But what could mere mortals, even a highly trained starship crew, do about a nova that threatened a world of twenty million people? How could the Enterprise help when only days remained before Epictetus III was swallowed by its sun?
The Federation Council clearly wanted to do something helpful and compassionate, if possible, during the short time remaining to the people of Epictetus III. If indeed nothing could be done, the Federation could not leave the planet below to its doom without at least a show of concern and an effort to help. There had to be a presence, so that these Federation citizens would know that they were not to be simply abandoned and forgotten. He wondered how much comfort that would be to this proud and thriving colony world, and concluded that he was not seeing the entire problem. There had to be much more to it, and it would take all the skill and ingenuity present in his crew to find a solution - or, at least, to make certain that there was none.
Picard touched the panel in front of him. "Captain's Log, Stardate 46300.6." He leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. "We have reached Epictetus Three and are awaiting Starfleet's further instructions. Our on-arrival conference with Admiral Barbieri will begin in five minutes." He had an impulse to add a few words about his hoped-for meeting with Samas Rychi, whose work he had long admired, but such a personal comment seemed inappropriate now.
Samas Rychi, one of Epictetus III's most eminent archaeologists, had been the first to uncover a site revealing the existence of a highly advanced ancient humanoid civilization on his world. His subsequent excavations, which had revealed a large number of sites containing hundreds of monumental and majestic structures, had shown that this early culture had abruptly disappeared. Had it collapsed suddenly, as had the Mayan civilization of Earth? Or had those people made contact with a far more advanced civilization and abandoned their home planet in the wake of a geological disaster, as some recently discovered etched metallic plates seemed to suggest? Rychi would never know, Picard thought. The sun that illuminated his world would destroy any evidence that these ancient people had ever existed.
Rychi, ironically, was also the archaeologist who had so recently found evidence of exactly how powerful the previous inhabitants of his world had been before their culture had vanished so abruptly. Their humanoid civilization might well have found a way out of this dilemma. Now Samas Rychi would be facing the death of his work, his adopted world, and very likely his own death as well.
There was one course of action for Picard to take, although it presented painful and perhaps even unethical choices. The Enterprise could save perhaps a few thousand people and a few of Epictetus III's most precious cultural artifacts. Had Starfleet Command and the Federation Council already concluded as much, that the situation was hopeless, and ordered him into a predicament in which he would be forced to do the absolute minimum because it was the only choice?
No, Picard told himself. It was not like the Council or Starfleet to be so vague, so - uncertain. They expected more from the Enterprise than a token act. Somewhere, in all the information that was now being examined by the Council, his own science officers, and his crew, there might be the pieces of a solution, just waiting to be assembled. Solutions were often like that, needing no new discoveries, only existing knowledge put together in a new way, under the stimulus of an overwhelming danger.
But as he rose to go out on the bridge, determined to do everything he could, a feeling deep within him told him that he might have to face the conclusion that there was no good solution to the problem of saving the people of Epictetus III because there was not enough time left to help them. The Enterprise had used up much of that time in getting here, and now the planet's expected lifetime could be measured in days. He hoped that the scheduled conference with Admiral Barbieri would not be an exercise in futility, and that the presence of the Enterprise in this system would not raise false hopes that might only be dashed in the end.
As the crew on the bridge listened again to Admiral Barbieri's recitation of the grim facts about the coming nova, Lieutenant Commander Data considered the problem presented by the unstable star. This was not a star of the classic eruptive novae. It was certainly not a candidate for a supernova. It was simply not massive enough for either of these states. This was a sun like that of Earth, except that it had been affected in some way to bring on this sudden instability. The star presented an extremely perplexing problem, but his mind was already searching for explanations, and a solution.
The Federation Council was tacitly treating the rescue of Epictetus III's population as an impossible task. Data admitted to himself that there might be no way to solve this particular problem, that twenty million people might suffer a scorching death. It was only a matter of days, perhaps a week, before the great death took place. And, as he considered the facts that Admiral Barbieri was repeating, it became even more clear that no earlier warning had been possible.
He reminded himself that the Enterprise was also at risk. The unstable sun might bloom into a nova with almost no warning, and any malfunction delaying the Enterprise's departure could conceivably doom the starship. It was not likely to happen, but the risk could not be ignored.
"... and it now appears," Admiral Barbieri was saying, "that the attractions of this system were too good to be true. Thanks to Samas Rychi, we now know that the star of Epictetus was stable because of a previously undetected device left within its subspace core by the ancient humanoid civilization that once lived on the planet. Professor Rychi recently discovered a site that is apparently a station linked to the sun's stabilizing device, along with some visual depictions that seem to give a picture of the device and how it was placed. Now we're convinced that this highly advanced technology must be failing, because the sun's emissions suggest all the classic signs of instability."
The admiral paused, reached toward a panel in front of him, then turned his great weight in the zero-g environment that had been his home for the last thirty years, and from which he routinely communicated with the Federation Council. It was unusual for a human being to be so massive in size, but the admiral reportedly had both a rare chaotic metabolic disorder and a great love of food. He was a remarkable man, Data thought, recalling what he had read about Pietro Barbieri in the records: the admiral had earned a degree in astrophysics at fifteen, had been one of Starfleet Academy's most brilliant students after that, and had spent twenty years as a starship captain, when his incurable metabolic ailment and increasing corpulence had made a life aboard ship as an active officer impossible. From what Data knew about Admiral Barbieri, he spent almost all of his time thinking, but clearly the admiral had not had much time to think about this nova.
"The Enterprise," Barbieri continued, "was the only vessel close enough to get to Epic Three within a week. There's no chance of routing additional Starfleet vessels to you in time to help out." An uneasy look passed across his round face, as if he were feeling the emotion called shame. Perhaps he was ashamed, given that he had so little advice to offer. Starfleet and the Council depended upon the admiral as they would a natural resource. If a problem seemed intractable, it was said, ask Pietro Barbieri. He was capable of vast intuitive leaps - many of them illogical, of course, but always interesting as hypothetical proposals that were often justified much later. It was said that Barbieri prided himself on being able to help guide Federation Council decisions with his intuition and intellect alone, although Data suspected that this widespread assumption was inaccurate. The admiral was, after all, only one individual. Many others also advised the Council, and perhaps the admiral had simply accumulated credit for the results of larger brainstorming efforts.
"But now that we're here," Picard asked from behind Data, "exactly what can we do?" Data glanced back for a moment to see the captain lean forward slightly in his station chair. "It's impossible to move twenty million people in so short a period. We couldn't even begin to set up our transporters to beam up and temporarily store that many people in a week's time. Even if we had the time, no one has ever tried such a procedure on that large a scale. The error rate would be enormous."
Data knew that this was so, and that only lip service would be devoted to this illusory possibility. Glancing aft, he could see Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge, who was sitting at his engineering station, nodding in agreement with Lieutenant Miles O'Brien, the transporter chief, who was at mission operations. Interesting as it was to speculate about such a transporter feat, it was far beyond what could be done reliably within a week. To place that many people safely in the transporter's pattern buffer, assuming that the extensive modifications to make that possible could be made quickly, would require that a beam operate day and night for months. Quantum errors would make a substantial loss of the human data inevitable. Even if those losses were accepted, the power and a sufficiently detailed program were just not there, leaving aside the problem of exactly where such a vast block of human information could be rematerialized in time to prevent deterioration.
"You're quite right, Captain." Barbieri's jowls trembled as he shook his head. "There's no way out of it. When the time comes, you may have to settle for taking the few people you can, along with one or two cultural treasures. You'll just have to assess the situation personally and decide what is to be done. That's all I can tell you. We cannot leave this world to its fate without some demonstration of concern and an effort to help, however futile." The admiral grimaced. "There has to be a presence, so that other Federation worlds will know that we tried, that the people of Epictetus Three were not completely abandoned."
Admiral Barbieri was correct, Data concluded, given what they knew so far; the situation seemed intractable, perhaps even truly hopeless. But Data also concluded that no one yet had all the facts about the threat to Epictetus III. And where there seemed to be a poverty of both facts and assumptions, there might also be hope.
Lieutenant Commander Deanna Troi glanced to her right at Captain Picard, then turned back toward the viewscreen. The captain's concern was obvious. Jean-Luc Picard would do whatever he could even while knowing that his efforts were useless, but she sensed the strain inside him and the anger he felt at his helplessness. Admiral Barbieri's heavily-lidded brown eyes hinted at his own suppressed rage. He would have to suppress it, having nowhere to direct it. It was the Kobayashi Maru - the no-win scenario. To save some two or three thousand lives out of all the millions was to do almost nothing, however precious those individual lives were. Save a few, abandon the many, and call that success.
This mission was impossible, its criterion of success too narrowly defined; it would certainly lead to severe strains on the personalities of the officers and all the members of the crew. Too many lives were at stake, too many would vanish as though they and their world had never existed. Troi had never faced such an overwhelming eventuality, even in her worst nightmares. She could almost feel the insides of the doomed millions beginning to press in on her, as if somehow she might be a refuge into which they could escape.
Everything in her suddenly rebelled against her training, her duty, this mission. No one, not even the organized intelligence of a starship crew, should have been put into such a position of responsibility, forced to make such horrifying and impossible choices. Yet she did not know what else could have been done. For the Federation to have made no effort at all would have been even worse. Even among the wild animals on her world of Betazed, and among some species on Earth, mates or siblings would stay close to a dying member of their species, to keep company with the life that was slipping away. Rational beings could do no less.
Captain Picard seemed steadier now, and she felt more confident that he would hold himself together. But another crew member on the bridge was containing emotions tied into knots of agony. Troi turned her attention to Ensign Ganesa Mehta, the officer sitting at the controller station next to Data. The young woman's back was stiff, betraying the ensign's tension. Ganesa Mehta had remained at her station, asking not to be relieved, and Commander Riker had honored that request. Now Troi was beginning to think that he should have insisted on replacing her with another officer.
Ganesa Mehta, Troi thought sadly, had come home to Epictetus III only to see her home world die.
Ensign Mehta seemed to be holding up - so far. Commander William Riker had worried about leaving her at her post, but she was an extremely promising young officer, and he had trusted her when she had told him that she was able to stay on duty. "I must do what I can," she had told him. "To sit around waiting - that would be worse."
Admiral Barbieri was now speaking of the slight risk the mission posed to the Enterprise. Riker did not like the idea of putting the starship so close to a nova, despite the fact that there would be plenty of warning to allow the ship to get clear. Plenty of time, he reminded himself, as long as nothing went wrong, as long as no unforseen malfunction developed. He had played poker enough times to know that a player could lose even when holding a good hand, and the stakes this time would be the lives of the entire Enterprise crew. Unfortunately, this was a hand he could not fold or refuse to play; but his poker player's heart was warning him that it was not wise to play poker with a sun about to go nova, that some unanticipated circumstance might somehow fatally delay the Enterprise.
As he listened to Admiral Barbieri, Riker tried to banish his irrational fear. If it persisted, he would have to talk to Deanna Troi about it. He shifted in his seat, then glanced past Captain Picard at Counselor Troi. She was sitting perfectly still, and he could almost see the doubt within her that she would never allow to be seen in her lovely face. And he also knew that he would do his duty, even if it cost him his life.
As Admiral Barbieri signed off, the crewmembers on the bridge were silent. Then the viewscreen showed the sun that promised to release an impersonal violence vastly greater than a star's usual seething cauldron. Outwardly, the sun did not betray the presence of the fury, so long imprisoned, that was readying to wipe all life from this system's third planet. Riker knew that the Enterprise's instruments had already recorded enough information to predict with certainty the coming hellfire.
Then he noticed something else, and leaned forward to study the panel in front of his station. The Enterprise's sensors had detected twenty sublight spacecraft accelerating toward the edges of this solar system. They had to have been boosting for some time to have gone so far, and they could only have come from Epictetus III.
"Twenty sublight ships are leaving this system," the deep voice of Lieutenant Worf said from his station behind Troi.
"Computer," Picard said, "view aft." The viewscreen revealed the tiny dots of the sublight craft. He turned toward Riker. "Where can they be going?"
Excerpted from A Fury Scorned (Star Trek: The Next Generation) by Pamela Sargent George Zebrowski Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.