Read Encounter at Farpoint Online

Authors: David Gerrold

Encounter at Farpoint

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

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Table of Contents
Prologue
T
HE FIRST TIME
Captain Jean-Luc Picard saw the starship
Enterprise
he was struck by the sleekness of her lines. It felt
right
to him that a ship of that size and power should also be beautiful as well. Why shouldn’t starships be a demonstration of art as well as strength?
The third time Captain Jean-Luc Picard saw the starship
Enterprise
, he saw it from a different angle and he realized the designer’s private joke. A quiet, almost unnoticeable smile played across his otherwise stony visage. Starships were always “she”—but this one was more feminine than most. For some reason, he liked the thought. Maybe later he would think about it some more and wonder why. Since the death of Celeste, he hadn’t let himself think too much about relationships.
The seventh time Captain Jean-Luc Picard saw the
Enterprise
he was on his way to take command of her.
The tradition was that the new captain of a vessel always arrived by shuttlecraft so that he could be piped aboard. This tradition was nearly a hundred years old, and dated back to the time when the legendary Admiral James T. Kirk took command of the original
Enterprise
. (Not many people remembered that he had only boarded by shuttle because of a major transporter malfunction at the time.)
Picard wasn’t a superstitious man, but this was the
Enterprise
and it wouldn’t be appropriate to ignore a tradition that had begun on the first starship to bear that name.
The first time that Jean-Luc Picard walked the corridors of the new
Enterprise
he was struck by the newness of everything. It was as if this ship were somehow not yet alive, not yet
real
. That feeling would vanish quickly, he knew, but just the same he found it slightly unsettling.
He had been piped aboard by the android—
“Data?” he had asked. As if there was any doubt. The android had opalescent-gold skin and eyes so yellow they seemed to be lit from within. Its—
his
—hair was slicked straight back in an efficient, but somewhat unattractive style.
The android acknowledged its name with a nod and saluted.
Picard hesitated, then returned the salute. Formal salutes were one of those traditions that Starfleet was ambiguous about. Were they appropriate for a nonmilitary space fleet? Were they an homage to the heritage of centuries of space travel and sea exploration before that? He appreciated the formal ritual, but he despised something of what it implied.
This moment—the first moment aboard a ship—was always uncomfortable. Picard glanced around at the honor guard standing stiffly and decided deliberately to break the stiffness. He held out his hand to Data. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. I’ve been studying your record. It’s extraordinary.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Picard noticed that the android’s hand was curiously cool, too cool to be real. An odd sensation, Picard mused. Later, he would have to ask Data about its—
his
—background.
“The bridge is this way, sir.”
“Thank you. May I ask you something, Commander?”
“Sir?”
“Your name? Data.”
“It’s self-chosen, sir. I love knowledge. Indeed, I
am
knowledge. This body is merely a container. Who I really am is the sum total of what is stored in the vessel. What better identifier for me?” Data’s pleasant smile was disconcerting.
Picard nodded. It made sense.
The first time Captain Jean-Luc Picard stepped onto the bridge of the starship
Enterprise
, he was struck by how
bare
it looked. The contrast with the old
Stargazer
was startling.
There were only three officers on the bridge. It felt undermanned. They stood up to face the captain as he entered. Picard recognized Worf, the Klingon. It would have been impossible not to recognize him. The others he would meet soon enough.
He stepped down off the horseshoe at the rear of the bridge and crossed to the captain’s chair. There was an air of expectancy in the room. Captain Jean-Luc Picard sat down in the chair and asked himself if he was comfortable here. The answer was yes.
“Computer?”
“Yes?”
“Can you identify me?”
“Voiceprint analysis indicates that you are Captain Jean-Luc Picard, assigned to take command of the starship
Enterprise
, NCC-1701-D, this date.”
“I am now assuming command.”
“So noted,” said the computer.
“Activate log.”
“Recording.”
Picard cleared his throat. “Stardate 41150.7. Captain’s log. First entry: These are the voyages of the starship
Enterprise
. Her continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before. Entry complete.”
Picard looked around at his officers. Their faces were beaming. Abruptly, they applauded.
Picard was embarrassed, and held up a hand to stop them. “Belay that until we do something worthy of applause.”
And then he retreated to his office.
He was pleased that his aquarium had already been installed. The lionfish were his only vice. They were beautiful to watch. He sat down behind his desk and installed his personal memory cartridge in the desk’s reader. The ship’s computer now had Picard’s personal files available to it.
“I have messages for you, sir.” The computer said softly.
Picard glanced at the desk screen. Most of the messages were congratulatory notes. Two of them were tagged with Starfleet Insignia. One was his formal orders. The other message was sealed orders and could not be decoded until the ship was enroute to Farpoint Station. There was also a personal message from Admiral Hidalgo.
Jean-Luc Picard was not a man for self-doubt, but . . . the starship
Enterprise
was the jewel of the fleet. There was no greater responsibility that a captain could be entrusted with. To be named captain of the
Enterprise
was an honor, an acknowledgment, and—
—and what?
There was a story, probably apocryphal, that James T. Kirk had once said that captaining the
Enterprise
was like making love in a fish bowl. You couldn’t make a move without someone voicing an opinion about your technique. The statement sounded like something James T. Kirk might have said, but then again, there were more stories about James T. Kirk in circulation than
twenty
men could have lived up to—even if they had each had a Vulcan to assist them.
But . . . there was something else that disturbed Jean-Luc Picard.
This was to be the pinnacle of his career; the posting he had waited nearly twenty years to achieve. He wondered if he would be able to handle this—or if he might blow it. There had been other captains who had been entrusted with great responsibilities; good, kind, compassionate men and women who should have succeeded—and had not. Picard had studied their records, looking for that one failing that might have been common to all, looking to see if that failing was present in himself.

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