(written from a Production point of view)
- From the book jacket
- Before James T. Kirk, another captain stood on the bridge of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701), spearheading its mission of exploration into the uncharted reaches of the galaxy. He was a man driven to perfection, a brooding soul whose haunted eyes reflected the burden of the impossible standards he set for himself, and for whom his longtime science officer, Spock, one day would risk everything. Yet, little is truly known about the enigmatic Christopher Pike, the events that defined him… or the secrets that consumed him.
- From the embers of his early childhood among Earth's blossoming interstellar colonies, to the terrifying conflagration that led him back to the world of his birth; from the mentor who would ignite young Chris's desire to return to the stars, to the career he blazed in Starfleet that would end in supreme sacrifice – the path of Pike's astonishing life leads through fire again and again. But even amid the ashes of Talos IV, the forbidden world on which he would live out the remainder of his days, the dreams smoldering still within his aging, radiation-ravaged breast fan the flames of Pike's spirit to accomplish one final task…
2228–2231 – Nine-year old Christopher and his architect mother, Willa McKinnies, leave their home in Mojave and join their new stepfather/husband, Heston Prescott, in colonizing the frontier world of Elysium. Prescott is something of a legend in terraforming and he's awarded special considerations for helping the colony to establish its self-sufficiency. He has grand plans – harnessing a nearby volcano and the surrounding wilderness, using geothermal energy to completely power his own homestead away from the city, and breeding horses to introduce into the wild – though his reach repeatedly exceeds his grasp.
The volcano proves difficult to harness, sprouting new fault lines and causing flooding and earthquakes. Heston is constantly at odds with the Neworlders, crusty agronomists who decry all pre-millennial technology, especially his unnatural contraptions. The ruling council prohibits further tampering with the tectonics; Heston ignores them but is left using outdated and piecemeal technology in designing and building his master "Gizmo" to monitor and alter the environment. He becomes obsessed, prioritizing his own projects above Willa's and he's often away from home. He reveals Willa's pregnancy to Chris – something it was her place to tell the boy – but is too busy to care about his wife's rage. Despite several accidents and a volcanic eruption, Heston refuses to listen to anyone, insisting that he'll fix every problem himself and prove them wrong. His actions ultimately endanger his family and the whole colony.
Young Chris is very interested in the horses, but Heston forces the boy to keep his distance. Despite his plans, the horses are really only a hobby and an investment; Heston isn't that knowledgeable, so he pays others to do the real work. He hires Charlie Pike to see to their breeding, though the two men continually butt heads. Heston flexes his authority and calls the shots, but Charlie is the one who makes things happen. While Chris never knew his birth father, and his relationship with Heston goes from difficult to impossible, Charlie quickly becomes his best friend and mentor. He teaches Chris to ride and train horses, and somehow convinces Heston to let Chris keep the firstborn colt (Tango) as his own. However, Chris is crushed when he overhears Willa and Charlie discussing what to do about Heston and suspects them of having an affair.
Heston drafts Chris into helping him move the Gizmo into the volcano to continue tinkering, but by now he's so irrational that he suspects the boy of sabotage and threatens him; Chris runs away and Charlie rescues him from the wilderness. Though it temporarily seems like Heston fixes the tectonic problems, the earthquakes resume with increasing intensity. Soon after, the hybrid grasses that Heston planted to solve erosion issues (despite Charlie's cautionary warnings) erupt in a massive wildfire that consumes hundreds of thousands of acres. The fire may have been sparked by an "unforeseen interaction of transplanted grasses with the non-native environment causing spontaneous combustion," Newworlder teenagers playing with fire, a volcanic hiccup, or something else – a definitive cause is never discovered – but the conflagration threatens the whole colony and completely destroys the Prescott homestead. Heston runs off on his own and dies in the blaze. Willa is killed when their house catches fire and collapses on top of her. Charlie saves Chris, who blames himself for years after for failing to save his mother. Charlie, Chris, and Tango (now also an orphan) evacuate to an orbiting starship and return to Earth.
2231–2241 – Charlie and his wife Hobelia legally adopt Chris on his 13th birthday and the men settle back into Mojave. Charlie, a constant wanderer, is in and out of Starfleet and occasionally away on assignment. Chris excels in his studies, is captain of the football team, casually dates a lot of girls, and spends lots of time with Tango – their special relationship forged in fire. As Chris approaches graduation, he considers enlisting in Starfleet but Charlie convinces him that he's too smart and talented to be a grunt. With minimal help from Charlie and his well-placed contacts in Starfleet Command, Chris is easily accepted to the Academy. He’s haunted by the ghosts of Elysium and is very wary of being responsible for other people's lives, but still pursues the command track. Nearly obsessed with perfection, he retests himself for anything less than a perfect grade and graduates at the top of his class.
2246 – Pike quickly advances through the ranks without facing any major crises or losing a life under his command. Now a lieutenant commander, he's assigned as XO of the front-line cutter USS Aldrin. The ship is tasked with patrolling the border of the Vestios system where the local civil war is threatening to spill into Federation territory. Chris' excitement for the new assignment, especially as he and Charlie will be serving together for the first time, is short-lived. Hard-ass Captain Kamnach frowns on senior officers fraternizing with enlisted crew; he explicitly orders that the Pikes are not to have any contact outside of the line of duty. Second officer/weapons chief Hanley and Kamnach are old friends and the two share an itch to see some action. Pike is hopeful for a relationship with Lt. Hana Flowers in communications, but events conspire against them. Chief Engineer Chee Wee Chua ("Chewy") is by far the friendliest face that Pike is allowed to talk to.
While the ship is on patrol, insurgents topple the Vestian government. Kamnach is looking for a fight and uses the region's communications dead zones to get away with doing whatever he wants. Using circumstantial evidence of Vestian aggression, he orders an attack on a Vestian ship on their own side of the border, resulting in that craft's destruction, and later alters official logs to show the enemy ship was in Federation space. Worried, Pike feels out a few allies among the senior officers. Kamnach later orders an attack on a second ship (still within Vestian space) and refuses to listen to communiques that might defuse the situation. Pike stages a mutiny, having Kamnach removed to his quarters, but Hanley fires on the other ship without orders, forcing a battle that leaves the Aldrin heavily damaged. Chewy and six other crewmen are killed. Fighting the burden of command and distraught over the deaths on his watch, Pike apologizes for the attack and convinces the Vestians to stand down. He is vindicated when the communiques state that the war is over. The Aldrin limps home, but the incident becomes a source of great public debate, and the officers face a court martial. Starfleet Command rules that both men were right and wrong given the circumstances, and decides to whitewash the complicated situation; Kamnach is honorably retired but faces a loss of purpose, and Pike is promoted to full commander. In confidence, Admiral Straczeskie reveals that Pike was stationed on the Aldrin to expose Kamnach's questionable behavior.
Pike is incensed and considers resigning his commission. Trying to talk sense into Chris, Charlie finally reveals himself to be Chris' father. Years earlier, Charlie and Willa were together for a year before his wanderlust took him back into space. She let him go, didn't tell him she was pregnant, and refused his marriage offer once he did find out. Charlie correctly sensed that Heston would be a problem and followed them to Elysium to look after his son. Keeping such a large secret for so long only creates a wide gulf between them, and Chris immediately takes a long-term post on the USS York.
2254 – Pike is haunted by the ghosts of Talos for years after the encounter. He fears that he never actually left, that his experiences since are merely more illusion, and he occasionally puts himself in mortal danger to see what will happen. Spock believes that once such powerful telepaths touch another mind, they are forever, if only tenuously, linked. Pike is also preoccupied with Vina, learning all he can about her life. He even visits her mother's still-operational bakery though he instantly regrets it. Every future relationship is compared to her spectre.
Vina was born early in the 23rd century in Paris, the bustling Federation capital and cultural center. She studied as a dancer under her father, a famous choreographer, and as a shuttle pilot, but didn't have the focus to commit to any single pursuit. While a university student, she fell in love with Professor Theo Haskins and served as his assistant on several deep-space expeditions, the last of which took them past Talos. An engine failure forced a crash-landing and Theo shoved her into a refrigeration unit at the center of the ship. She alone survived, though horribly injured, and the Talosians recovered and treated her as best they could. They taught her how to retreat into her dreams while her body healed, and they followed her themselves. When the Enterprise arrives eighteen years later, she was coerced into cooperating with their scheme through the promise of true human companionship and the threat of what would happen to the Starfleet crew if they don't prove useful.
2262 – Pike's second five-year tour on the Enterprise ends with a survey of the Kanes system. Though one planet appears to be an uninhabited paradise, the crew quickly run into trouble. A ship operated by an unknown reptilian species – the Kan'ess – arrives in orbit. Its systems disrupt all communications and scanners and the most of the landing party are eaten alive by Kan'ess hunting parties. Spock and Pike avoid a similar fate but are marooned on the surface. Pike risks his life (unnecessarily) and is captured and taken to the Kan'ess homeworld while Spock escapes to the Enterprise, which is forced to withdraw. The captain discovers that the aliens are deaf and he learns the rudiments of their gestural language enough to demonstrate his own sentience. He is spared from becoming dinner but is instead kept by the regional director as a sort of pet, a curiosity. The universal translator has no provisions for communicating with deaf species, but Pike works with their scientists to develop a primitive voder translation device. He learns that the materials used in Kan'ess clothing and technology inadvertently disrupt communications and sensors, while his crew separately devise a means to penetrate the interference. When the director begins molting and retreats to her private quarters, Pike takes the opportunity to escape. He finds a communications center and discovers that the Kan'ess have reverse-engineered his voder, using it to lure the Enterprise in so that the crew can be captured as food. He warns the starship away, but is still rescued. Kanes space is declared off-limits and the Enterprise returns to port. Weary of his losses and put off of deep-space expeditions, Pike accepts a promotion to fleet captain.
2264–2267 – Pike's new position gives him great latitude and flexibility; he can cut orders from his desk or go out on assignment. His own wanderlust – and Vina's ghost – prevent him from developing any lasting romantic relationships, though he does become involved with Siddhe, an Argelian attaché. An empath-sensitive, she can feel the past and the future. While Siddhe helps Pike to face his past, even helping him to make up with Charlie and to forgive himself for his mother's death, she won't commit herself to his (doomed) future.
A training cruise ends horribly when the old ship suffers a structural failure. Half of the vessel is irradiated, but Pike saves most of the hundred instructors and trainees by sealing off the damaged sections and (single-handedly, without a radiation suit) pulling as many people out of danger as he can. He is left a broken man, incapable even of asking to be put out of his agony. Spock – and the Talosians, who indeed maintained a faint touch with his mind – offer him a last chance at anything approaching a normal life. Though wary, he ultimately accepts and is reunited with Vina. The self-exiled Humans come to know each other in truth, rather than dealing with idealized illusions and memories of each other. Pike also learns about the Talosians' past and finds purpose in helping them to build a promising new future. Siddhe visits Charlie and Hobelia, offering them a semblance of closure and the knowledge that Christopher Pike is safe and at peace. Tango has somehow sensed what has happened to his friend and he quietly passes away that same evening.
2320 – Spock is summoned to Talos IV once again. Using his ambassadorial status, he sneaks away and pilots a shuttle to the off-limits planet with only a brief interruption by the USS Excelsior. He finds that Captain Pike and Vina have long since passed away, but that the influx of Pike’s memories, ambition, and energy have spurred the Talosians to rebuild society themselves. Surface radiation has been minimized and the rubble has been replaced by gleaming cities and new generations of Talosians, who seek contact with the Federation. Having watched Spock from a distance for decades, they believe him the best person to share their story.
- This is the first Star Trek novel where, on the back cover, the Paramount Pictures mountain logo has been replaced by the CBS television logo.
- In the novel's inner title page, the fifth city listed under Pocket Books is Elysium, the planet Pike lived at as a child.
- Moves-With-Burning-Grace was previously depicted as the Enterprise's chief engineer during Pike's tenure as captain in the comic series Star Trek: Early Voyages.
- Canon characters listed below are linked to the main article about them. Non-canon characters are not linked, but those that recurred, appearing or being mentioned in more than one story, are defined further in Pocket TOS characters.
Regular and recurring characters
- Chee Wee Chua
- Chief Engineer of the Aldrin.
- USS Aldrin
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