(written from a Production point of view)
- A thrilling novel leading into the new CBS series, Una McCormack's The Last Best Hope introduces you to brand new characters featured in the life of beloved Star Trek captain Jean-Luc Picard – widely considered to be one of the most popular and recognizable characters in all of science fiction.
2381–2382: Jean-Luc Picard is summoned to a meeting with Starfleet's C-in-C, Admiral Victor Bordson, who informs him that the Romulan star is going to go nova within a few years. The blast is expected to expand across nearly ten light years, destroying multiple inhabited planets, including Romulus, though climatological effects are already being felt. Billions of people will be killed and the Star Empire will be, at best, severely destabilized. Picard is instantly promoted to admiral and placed in charge of the mission to relocate as many people as possible outside of the blast radius. This massive undertaking will require thousands of ships, people to crew them, relocation specialists, the construction of new settlements, new homes for the refugees, and the supply lines to maintain them. Picard insists that there must be total dedication to the mission, even if it means reassigning the bulk of Starfleet's personnel and materiel for a decade or more, over the vehement but pragmatic objections of Bordson's attaché, Captain Kirsten Clancy.
A mission headquarters is quickly set up on Earth, though Picard will oversee the evacuation while leading a fleet of available ships. The Enterprise itself is deemed too controversial within the Empire, a symbol of years of conflict between the two powers, so Picard assumes command of the USS Verity. He chooses Lt. Commander Raffi Musiker, an intelligence specialist in Romulan Affairs, as his new first officer. Raffi understands the Romulans and isn't afraid to stand up to them, Starfleet brass, or Picard himself. However, her husband Jae and son Gabe are upset at Raffi's abandoning them for the mission. Lt. Koli Jocan, a Bajoran relocation specialist, is assigned over Picard's head, but he finds her compassion and interpersonal skills a valuable addition to the team. They agree that the Romulans must be treated with dignity and respect, provided with hope and security besides actual transport to a new home, though many of the Romulan elite object to receiving the same treatment as commoners.
La Forge transfers to Utopia Planitia to oversee the construction of a massive refugee fleet. Though eager for the monumental challenge, he finds many of his team angered at shelving their existing work to help a long-time enemy. In contrast, Commander Estella Mackenzie becomes a welcome ally. She notes that they don't have nearly enough skilled personnel to construct the new ships in time and suggests a new kind of limited capacity bio-neural synthetic android worker. Dr. Bruce Maddox is dismayed to abandon his life's work of creating a sentient android in order to oversee the synth project, but he has little choice. In the midst of his professional turmoil, he mentors graduate student Agnes Juratti, finding in her a brilliant kindred spirit. He ultimately succeeds in the creation of the Daystrom A500 model synths, which are put to work building the fleet.
At Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy, Dr. Amal Safadi conducts her own studies on the nova, finding that the blast's expansion will be sooner and more widespread than was reported by the Romulans. According to Safadi's projections, several worlds planned as havens will also be destroyed; they can't take in refugees and will have to be evacuated themselves. Her attempts to communicate with noted Romulan astrophysicist Dr. Nokim Vritet are rejected by the Romulan government. Confirming her own models, Safadi suspects that the Romulans provided them with disinformation and presents her findings before an open symposium.
The Verity fleet's first task is to transport colonists from Ectis II to Arnath, though they find the accommodations set up by Romulan authorities to be little better than a prison. Starfleet's protests are ignored by the Romulan government, which insists that the refugees are no longer Picard's concern. When the destination of another group of refugees is deemed unsafe, Picard unilaterally accepts the offer of the Federation colony on Torrassa to accept the refugees. He resettles these Romulans within Federation space and damns the consequences.
2383–2384: Torrassa is much better prepared to offer the refugees a new home than were the authorities on Arnath, but Starfleet Command is upset by Picard's decision to set up a significant Romulan presence within Federation space. Bordson ultimately supports Picard, but his actions lead to the assignment of a Romulan "cultural liaison officer" (Tal Shiar spy), Lt. Tajuth, to the Verity.
Olivia Quest is elected as the junior Federation Councilor from Estelen, an agricultural colony near the Romulan border. She is frustrated that the Federation's founding member worlds hold considerably more influence over Federation policy, and benefit more from technological advancements and resources, than do frontier planets such as her own. Quest establishes and oversees a committee to scrutinize the relief mission and its allocation of resources away from lesser member worlds. She questions whether border worlds will be pressured to accept more enemy refugees, stirring up popular opposition to the mission and anti-Romulan sentiments. Picard tries to placate her by showcasing technological advances in ship design and synthetics. She is impressed by the A500s and suggests that using them in domestic and agricultural settings – "a synth in every home" – would benefit the average citizen. Maddox feels that the synths are a mockery of his true work and is angered by Quest's politicization of his research, but he is comforted by Jurati and the two become lovers. He later becomes captivated by the idea of fractal neuronic cloning as a new avenue for his real work and neglects the A500s. The synths working on Mars have nearly completed the first batch of specially-designed Wallenberg-class transports.
Safadi's research is criticized by the Romulan government, cited as false and inflammatory, and they threaten war if the "Federation scheme" drives their citizens to panic. Quest calls Safadi to testify before her committee and is combative, misconstruing the scientist's statements. Vritet lives under the Romulan police state, ignorant of current events, his actions and communications monitored and censored. When his latest research confirms Safadi's results, his superiors mislead him and the Tal Shiar intimidate and beat him into submission.
While evacuating Inxtis, Starfleet is openly welcomed by the Qowat Milat, a sect of warrior nuns. They offer truth and openness rather than typical Romulan secrecy, friendship and support rather than anger, hatred, fear and demands. Picard finds their leader, Zani, to be an immediate friend and confidante, and he bonds quickly with young Elnor. With the Qowat Milat establishing a reassuring community aboard the fleet and fairly policing their own, the evacuation and passage go very smoothly. The Romulans are eagerly welcomed at the Federation world of Vashti and this mission proves to be a viral "success story," reaffirming public support of the relief efforts and of Romulan resettlement within Federation space. Their arrival is one of the most moving sights Picard has seen in years, and Vashti becomes a touchstone for him in difficult times.
By contrast, the evacuation of Nimbus III is a disaster. The "planet of galactic peace" failed in its original goal and was ceded to the Romulans, who neglected it for decades, leaving it a lawless haven for criminals. In recent years, the population had worked hard to build a safe and respectable society, but a home so hard won will not be easily surrendered. Before the evacuation can begin, armed Tal Shiar forces arrive, insist that Starfleet withdraws, and shoot a belligerent citizen. Seeing no options that would prevent further bloodshed, Picard pulls his team off the surface over the pleas of Koli Jocan. After learning that the Tal Shiar massacred another fifty of their own people, and bitter that Picard did nothing, Koli resigns her commission in protest.
2385: Olivia Quest is approached by the councilors from several other border worlds, who feel that their planets are being neglected and unheard. They discuss seceding from the Federation and forming their own local alliance for mutual protection and trade. Quest isn't ready to go that far, but leverages the threat of secession to pull some relief ships and resources back to these worlds. Clancy believes that each of these worlds working toward their own advantage would make the increasingly unstable region even more dangerous. Picard is angered that his resources are being pulled away when he needs them the most and pours his entire self into the mission. Raffi falls into substance abuse when Jae files for divorce; he and Gabe are done waiting and have moved on with their lives. She momentarily connects with a similarly intoxicated Tajuth and fears that this mission will destroy them all.
The situation on Romulus is rapidly deteriorating, yet the government prioritizes saving face over saving lives. Significant climate change and other strains cause a breakdown of infrastructure and resources. Most of the Romulan elite have already fled, abandoning the commoners to their fate. Finally desperate, they accept Starfleet's help in evacuating Vejuro. Though one of the most populated worlds outside of their core system, Romulan relocation efforts have not begun. Arriving at Vejuro, the Verity wastes two weeks trying to get approval to establish a base of operations before Picard orders it built anyway. Armed guards order that the base be dismantled, but the huddled masses waiting to be processed drive them off. Picard and Tajuth must personally visit Kurrem, a rich and powerful senator who keeps his half-million subjects in virtual feudalism. The pair must navigate an immense maze and several obstacles to even reach Kurrem, only to find him intransigent. He refuses to believe the "propaganda of the Federation invasion" or to allow his people to leave. However, a guard, Molula, is willing to hear Picard out and to witness the relocation efforts for herself, as Kurrem restricts their access to news and information. She agrees to help, but is killed by Kurrem for her betrayal. Though the senator escapes to a bunker, he provides no more interference in the evacuation. The Verity delivers this batch of refugees to Vashti, though Picard is unable to recuperate; he is immediately recalled to Earth following the synth attack on Mars.
The attack ignites Mars' stratosphere, kills thousands, and destroys all of the ships in orbital construction. Geordi La Forge happened to be en route to Earth, but Estella Mackenzie and his entire team are dead. He believes that Maddox was distracted and made a mistake that led to the revolt. Maddox himself can't be sure, and with Daystrom's Robotics Division shut down and an immediate ban on synthetic production and research, he flees Earth to continue his work elsewhere. Distraught, Agnes Jurati isn't ready to abandon her life to go with him. Picard believes that the synths gained sentience and violently objected to their enslavement. Sure of his mandate and his influence, he offers a revised mission plan to Starfleet Command. However, focused on their own disaster and facing secession threats from fourteen member worlds, Command has already decided to unequivocally cancel the relief efforts. Picard insists that they accept either his new plan or his resignation; they accept the latter. Shocked, without any direction or purpose, without Starfleet for the first time in sixty years, he returns to Labarre.
Raffi, unable to cope with the loss of her family and the loss of the mission to which she'd sacrificed her family, falls further into depression and substance abuse. Seeking to make sense of it all and believing that the attack was deliberately engineered, she begins weaving a conspiracy theory that no one will listen to. Quest weathers the political storm, throwing her full weight behind the synth ban and outlining a new deal for smaller worlds to exercise greater influence within the government. She eventually becomes Estelen's senior council member and sets her sights on the Federation Security Council. Personnel setting up and maintaining the new Romulan settlements are reassigned or quit, leaving power vacuums for dangerous opportunists to move in. Millions of other Romulan refugees await a rescue that never comes and are consumed by the great conflagration.
Picard never returns to the Enterprise following his initial meeting with Bordson, though he does communicate his goodbyes and the reassignments of himself, Worf, and La Forge. Clancy objects to Worf's promotion to Enterprise captain, but Picard insists that the man has more than earned it. He also notes that the Federation aided the Klingons a century earlier and to have a Klingon in command of the flagship is a powerful symbol, one that suggests a potential peace with the Romulans in the years to come.
The relief effort is overseen by the UFP's High Commission on Refugees (UFPHCR).
Unable to find a natural cause for the star's collapse, Dr. Safadi suspects a deliberate attack by unknown parties but can offer no evidence. This plot thread is mentioned several times, then dropped.
The four founding members of the Federation hold considerable influence over Federation policy that smaller, newer frontier worlds can't compete with. Many NZ border worlds are concerned by influx of Romulans, long-time enemy, feel they will be pressured into taking on refugees among communities that still hold enmity. Promised infrastructure efforts, supplies are redirected away. All new ships and tech going to Romulans, and relief mission has NO trouble getting whatever resources they request.
Olivia Quest trained as an engineer, specializing in terraforming, before becoming CEO of her family's large-scale agricultural operation. She is descended from Estelen's original settlers.
Figures from Romulan legend: Tuthus of Two Faces, the trickster who presided over Year Turn. Vanauka and her many masks. Laleen and her eight white wolves. Surri, who kept the tally and devoured suns. Kalle, the deceiver, most honored of the demigods, with his guard of 8,000 snakes. Lotro, who built an image of herself out of silver, and for that crime had been sentenced to burn for eternity and never die.
The musical form of Romulan indeterminate polyphony is a fine example of Romulan secrecy as applied to their art. A group of people is given a starting note, a musical key, and a tempo and asked to sing, but they are isolated from each other and don't know what anyone else is singing.
Though somewhat eccentric, Kurrem's home perfectly embodies the traditional Romulan value of secrecy and is a display of enormous wealth. Picard and Tajuth must navigate a broad foliage maze full of hidden passages, tiny clues, and misdirections, locate a hidden exterior door on the structure itself, and use the collected clues to pass through a potentially booby-trapped vestibule. Even after finally reaching their host, Kurrem leads them through even more mazes throughout the estate. He also displays a chronophage ("time eater"), a giant ornate clock marking the twenty-five hours of the Romulan day.
Collateral damage of the nova includes the terraforming project on Tavaris VI. Resources were pulled away during a critical stage, causing severe climatological effects that necessitated ground-disaster relief on top of the evacuation. Citizens are imprisoned or killed for trying to learn the truth of the nova or for speaking out against the government's handling of the disaster. A colonist suffers an animal bite, but dies of infection when medication is unavailable.
- In a review of The Last Best Hope for Star Trek Magazine, Michael Clark points out references to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Lord of the Rings, Cambridge University (where author Una McCormack taught), that the starship Verity is named after McCormack's daughter, and that Admiral Clancy's first name, Kirsten, is a reference to Star Trek: Picard co-creator Kirsten Beyer. (Star Trek Magazine issue 203, p. 81)
- 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 PIC characters.
- Bordson, Victor
- Clancy, Kirsten
- Crusher, Beverly
- Hwang, Gabriel
- Kaul, Vianu
- La Forge, Geordi
- Musiker, Raffi
- Picard, Jean-Luc
Colonization Bureau; Dominion War; Earl Grey tea; Ectis II; Federation Council; Insitor V; Klingons; Mars; Occupation of Bajor; PADD; Qo'noS; Romulans; San Francisco; Soukara; Starfleet Command; Starfleet Intelligence; Tavaris IV; Utopia Planitia Shipyards; Verity, USS; Wallenberg-class
- The Last Best Hope at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- The Last Best Hope at Memory Omega, the wiki for licensed Star Trek books, audiobooks, and comics
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