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Star Trek - TNG - Vendetta

Peter David


  Introduction and

  Technical Notes

  For those who actually keep track of my career

  and heard about my upcoming projects, no, this

  isn't the book with Q. That's in a few


  When Rock and a Hard Place came out,

  I cautioned readers up front that it was going to be

  somewhat more serious--even slightly morbid--in

  tone than my previous Trek book, Strike

  Zone. Readers seemed to appreciate this. I

  feel no such statement of dramatic style is

  required with Vendetta. Considering that the Borg

  are back in force with this novel, you know this isn't

  going to be a laugh riot.

  Vendetta, as a work, owes its existence to a

  few people. First and foremost, to Pocket Books

  editor Kevin Ryan, whose idea this all was.

  Kevin is also the only person I know who can

  tell you that a manuscript is great, wonderful,

  fantastic, the best thing you've ever written, and

  then fax you six pages of requested changes.

  He should be in Hollywood. He'd fit in great


  Then there is the incredibly understanding phalanx of

  editors with whom I work, who were willing to cut me

  slack on my monthly comic book assignments

  so that I could get this novel done. Not that they had

  much choice, since I had my remarkably rude

  answering machine message-screening my calls.

  There is also my family--wife Myra, and

  daughters Shana and Guinevere, who have come

  to understand that the phrase "Daddy's on deadline"

  means that you tiptoe around the house until the

  damned thing is done.

  Then, of course, there is Next Generation

  itself, celebrating a quarter century of the

  durability of Gene Roddenberry's dream, which

  by introducing the formidable Borg, gave us a

  race that makes the Klingons and Romulans

  combined look like campfire girls.

  And now, something totally alien to my usual

  writing--technical notes. I found myself leaning

  very heavily on the Star Trek Writer's

  Technical Manual, that marvelous document

  created by Rick Sternbach and Mike Okuda that

  is the official, unvarnished,

  accept-no-substitute guide for anyone

  trying to write for the TV show. Whereas usually I

  give the manual a casual glance in the course

  of writing a book, to double-check bridge stations

  or something, with Vendetta I kept it to my immediate

  right and referred to it constantly.

  In Vendetta you will find discussions of the

  capabilities of warp drive, phasers and

  respective settings, setups of the engine

  room, etc., etc. All of this is taken

  directly from the Technical Manual, with a

  few extrapolations of my own tossed in along the

  way. This serves a twofold advantage.

  First, it gives Vendetta, I would hope, a

  feeling of authenticity. Second, it means that

  when fans come complaining to me about my depiction of

  warp speed limits and the like, I can just turn them

  on Sternbach and Okuda. The Tech Manual

  is the final, official word of the Star Trek

  office, so if you take issue with anything in

  Vendetta, don't gripe to me about it. I just

  work here.

  Special thanks to an advertiser in Comics

  Buyer's Guide whose nom de plume I

  borrowed for a character herein.

  And lastly, an acknowledgment to Miguel de

  Cervantes, who knew squat about warp drive

  but everything about what drives the human heart.



  Chapter One

  Jean-Luc Picard leaned against a wall and

  ran his fingers through his mop of thick brown hair.

  His feet tapped a vague, disassociated

  rhythm, more stream-of-consciousness than anything

  else. His mind was wandering in the way that it often

  did--analyzing any number of facts,

  figures, and other bits of information that were tumbling

  through his head while, simultaneously, drawing

  together possible connections.

  It was called "thinking empirically" by his

  teachers. According to his father, it was called "being able

  to see the forest for the trees."

  "Step back, gentlemen. Give the young man


  Picard didn't even glance in the direction

  of the slightly taunting voice. "Just thinking,

  Korsmo. No need to make such a fuss over

  it. Since you do it so rarely, you probably

  didn't recognize the process."

  Korsmo, to the amusement of other cadets

  nearby, staggered back slightly, as if he'd

  been stabbed to the heart. "Oh," he moaned,

  "Oh! The stinging wit of Jean-Luc Picard.

  Shot to the heart. How can I ever recover?"

  Picard shook his head. "Don't you ever take

  anything seriously, Korsmo?"

  Korsmo was tall and lanky, rail-thin. His

  eating habits were legendary, but his body burned

  up the food so fast that he never gained weight.

  His black hair hung just in front of his eyes,

  and he would periodically brush it back out

  unconsciously. "There's a difference between being

  serious and being dead. You should learn it, Picard.

  You're the biggest stiff in the Academy.

  Legend has it, the only bigger stiff in the

  Academy's history was James Kirk."

  "I would consider it an honor," said Picard

  archly, "to be placed in such august company."

  The corridor outside the classroom was

  becoming more crowded as the rest of the cadets began

  to show up, one by one, for the lecture. They watched

  with amusement the cautious and long-accustomed

  sparring between Picard and Korsmo. It had been

  going on since practically the first day of the first

  year. The two men weren't exactly friends, but they

  weren't exactly enemies. Instead they saw things

  in each other, instinctively, that they

  simultaneously disliked and envied. After three

  years the give and take of their routine had an

  almost comfortable familiarity.

  "Your concern is heartwarming, Korsmo,"

  Picard continued. "Some of--"

  His voice trailed off as he saw something at

  the far end of the hallway.

  There was a woman there. She seemed almost

  insubstantial, fading into the shadows at the

  corridor end. Picard noticed immediately that she

  was not wearing a Starfleet uniform, but, instead, some

  sort of almost diaphanous gown.

  Though Picard had never seen her before, there was

  something about her, something that made her seem as if

  she were there, but not--as if his mind were telling him that

  he was seeing nothing at all.

was saying something and Picard wasn't

  paying the least bit of attention. Korsmo

  realized it and tapped Picard on the shoulder.

  "You got a problem, Picard?"

  Picard's gaze strayed to Korsmo for a

  moment, refocussed, and then he said, "Who's that


  "What woman?" asked Korsmo.

  He turned and pointed to the end of the corridor,

  and there was no one there.

  Picard's mouth moved for a moment, and for the first time

  that Korsmo could recall, Jean-Luc Picard

  actually seemed flustered. "She was there," he

  said. "She was right there."

  The other cadets were looking where Picard was

  pointing and turning back to him with confusion. "One of

  you must have seen her," said Picard urgently.

  Korsmo was trying to keep the amusement out of his

  voice, but not all that hard. "This another

  example of the famed Picard humor ... no,

  wait. I just remembered. We've never seen an

  example of the famed Picard humor, so who could


  "Dammit, Korsmo, this is serious. There's

  some woman walking around here, and she's not

  authorized and--"

  Korsmo, a head taller than Picard,

  took him firmly by the shoulders. But his words were

  addressed to the others. "Gentlemen ... our

  fellow cadet states that security has been

  breached. His claim must be followed up. Spread

  out, gentlemen and ladies. Let's see if we

  can turn up Picard's mystery woman."

  There were brisk nods, the youthful banter

  quickly being set aside, as a potential problem

  presented itself. Picard felt a brief flash of

  gratitude to Korsmo, but realized within short

  order that Korsmo's main interest was trying to show

  him up.

  In this, it appeared, Korsmo succeeded. The

  cadets deployed themselves with admirable

  efficiency, and had the entire floor covered in

  less than a minute. But there was no sign

  anywhere of the alleged intruder.

  Picard was shaking his head in utter befuddlement.

  He paced furiously in place--just a small

  area, forward three steps and back three steps.

  When Korsmo approached, he didn't have to say

  anything. It was clear from the taller cadet's

  attitude that no one had been found, and that left

  Picard looking like something of a fool.

  "She was there," said Picard stubbornly. The

  others were gathering around now, but again Picard said

  firmly, "I saw her. I'm not imagining it."

  "I checked with the front security area," said

  Korsmo. "No non-Starfleet personnel were

  granted access to the premises today, not even for a

  casual visit."

  "I don't think Jean-Luc is claiming she

  was supposed to be here," offered up Cadet Leah

  Sapp. Picard flashed a quick smile at her.

  Leah was always the first to step in on Picard's

  side when there was any kind of dispute. He knew

  damned well that she had a bit of an infatuation

  with him, but he didn't take it seriously. He

  took nothing seriously except his studies.

  Gods, maybe he was the biggest stiff in the

  Academy at that.

  "No, I'm not," Picard agreed. "All

  I'm saying is that perhaps we should--"

  There was a loud, throat-clearing harrumph,

  and the cadets turned towards the source.

  Professor Talbot was standing in the doorway

  of the classroom, his arms folded, his dark face

  displaying great clouds of annoyance.

  "I am not," he rumbled, "in the habit of

  waiting for classes to come to me in their own sweet


  "We were trying to help Cadet Picard find

  a woman," Korsmo said helpfully.

  Picard rubbed his forehead in a faint, pained


  "Indeed," said Talbot thinly. "Cadet

  Picard, kindly maintain your sex life

  on your own time, not mine."

  "I ... yes, sir," said Picard,

  swallowing the response he really wished to mak e.

  Something told him that any response would not do him

  one shred of good and, quite likely, a fairly large

  dollop of harm.

  The students filed into Professor

  Talbot's course on Starfleet history. The

  classroom was meticulously

  climate-controlled, and yet it always felt stuffy

  to Picard. As he took his seat, he pondered the

  probability that the perceived stuffiness was pretty

  much in his head. Somehow, talking about great

  adventures and sweeping voyages of great

  Starfleet officers was stifling when it was discussed

  in a classroom. Picard didn't want to sit

  around and review the adventures of others. He

  wanted others to be studying .his adventures.

  Intellectually, he knew the impossibility

  of the latter without a solid grounding in the former.

  If he could not learn how to imitate the

  successes and avoid the failures of his

  predecessors, then what sort of Starship

  captain (for such was his goal) would he be?

  A dead one, most likely.

  He was snapped immediately back to attention

  by Talbot's brisk statement of, "Picard ...

  you have, of course, been reviewing the topic of the

  life and career of Commodore Matthew Decker,

  have you not?"

  Picard was immediately on his feet, his shoulders

  squared, his gaze levelled and confident. "Yes,

  sir," he said with certainty.

  "Would you care to tell us of the commodore's final


  "Yes, sir." There might have been times when

  Picard grated on the nerves of other students with

  his singlemindedness and utter devotion to making a name

  for himself in the fleet. These things preyed on him and

  sometimes made him wonder--there, in the darkness of his

  quarters at night, when there was no one around

  except he himself and his uncertainties--whether he

  would ever be able to sufficiently command the respect of

  others that was so necessary to become a starship captain.

  Such self-doubt, however, never existed when it

  came to pure academics. On facts and

  history and raw information, he was always on top of

  his game.

  "Commodore Decker's ship, the Constellation,

  had encountered a planet-destroying

  machine," Picard continued. "It came from

  outside the galaxy and, using planetary mass as

  fuel, was progressing through the heart of our

  galaxy as part of a perpetual program of


  "Go on," said Talbot, arms folded.

  "His ship was incapacitated, and he beamed his

  crew down to a planet which was subsequently

  destroyed by the planet-eater. With the aid of the

  Enterprise, NCC-1701, the so-called

  doomsday machine was incapacitated, but not before

  Commodore Decker sacrificed his life in

  combat against it."

  "What were the details of that combat?" asked


bsp; Picard frowned. "Enterprise logs merely

  state that Decker died heroically. Details were

  not recorded."


  Picard ran through the various possible scenarios

  in his mind, any and all that made sense. Finally

  he said, "It was the destruction of the Constellation

  within the bowels of the planet-killer that caused its

  deactivation. That much is recorded. I would

  surmise that Commodore Decker, choosing to go

  down with his ship, piloted the Constellation himself

  into the machine. Enterprise transporters might

  well have suffered damage in the course of the

  battle with the planet-killer, and were unable

  to transport him back in time."

  "A very reasonable surmise, cadet," said

  Talbot. He slowly circled his podium.

  "Since, as you so accurately noted, the

  details are not recorded, we can never know for

  sure. Can we?"

  "No, sir," said Picard, and started to sit


  He froze in a slightly ridiculous,

  half-seated position, because Talbot was glowering

  at him in an expectant manner that seemed

  to indicate he wasn't quite finished with the cadet.

  Unsure of what to do, Picard stood fully

  once more, waiting patiently for instruction from his


  "Do you think Decker felt guilty,


  Picard raised a questioning eyebrow. Somehow the

  thought of guilt or concern or any other human

  feeling never seemed to enter into the study of

  history. One studied facts,

  figures, distant events, and strategies--not


  "I'd never given it any thought, sir."

  "Think, now," invited Talbot. "We've

  all the time in the world." Talbot gestured

  expansively and then leaned back in a carefully

  cultivated casual manner.

  Picard didn't let his gaze wander. The last

  thing he wanted to do was glance at bemused fellow

  classmates. "You are referring to guilt over the

  deaths of his crew."

  Talbot merely nodded, waiting for Picard

  to continue.

  "The commodore made the correct decision,"

  said Picard. "Given the same circumstances, it

  would be perfectly in order for him to do it again.

  Therefore, he had nothing over which to feel guilty."

  "Even though his people died."

  "Yes, sir."

  "Even though he could doubtlessly hear their

  cries of anguish as the planet that was supposed

  to be their haven was cut to pieces beneath their feet."