© 2008 David Mack
In 2158*, the Earth ship Columbia limped its way to a nearby planet to find repair. Instead, they were trapped by a hospitable if overly cautious race of highly advanced beings called the Caeliar, who were adamant about keeping their galactic profile to a minimum, so much to the point that any visitors were either forced to stay or flung across the galaxy to be forever cut off from their homes. Hundreds of years later, the crew of the USS Titan stumbled upon these same Caeliar while tracking the transwarp energy lanes that Starfleet believes the Borg were using to mount their incursions into Federation space. Titan's crew met the same fate as Columbia's: friendly imprisonment. To their astonishment, the captain of the Columbia -- Ericka Hernandez -- greeted them upon their arrival, in the best of health despite being hundreds of years old. Meanwhile, Captains Picard and Dax begin attempting to access the energy lanes and find the route the Borg have been using to launch their invasions. While Picard's initial desire is to destroy the subspace lanes, the task is seemingly impossible. While the Federation's best minds attempt to sort out how to shut these pathways down, Picard believes they can be used to the Alpha Quadrant's advantage. He proposes that the Federation build a coalition of Alpha- and Beta- quadrant powers ready and willing to take the Borg on directly -- that the allied powers send a combined expeditionary force into the Delta Quadrant to destroy the Borg's staging ground and prevent Borg forces from accessing the lanes until the Federation can destroy them safely.
Although Mack focuses on the same four crews -- the Enterprise, Aventine, Titan, and Columbia, Mere Mortals primarily focuses on the combined efforts of Picard and Dax to find the lane leading to the Delta Quadrant. Titan is only a sideline story, as her characters are essentially powerless to do anything: they're barely there. The inclusion of a Columbia story thread surprised me, but Mack follows Hernandez and her crew as they adjust -- or fail to adjust -- to their benign captivity, eventually linking Hernandez' story with that of the Titan crew's. Most of the book is simply setting the stage for the final chapter, but tension mounts as Picard and Dax continue to narrow down which lane leads to the Delta Quadrant: one bridge officer comments that their efforts remind him of Russian roulette. While this is happening, an Allied fleet -- hundreds of ships from the Federation, the Klingon, Cardassian, and Romulan empires, and the Ferengi Alliance (with Breen mercenaries tagging along) -- slowly gathers. In the book's final chapters, Mack forces the fleet to stare into the Abyss -- into the mouth of hell, to borrow from Tennyson -- and then sends it hurtling in.
Destiny continues to impress. Gods of Night was interesting, but Mack uses drama to a greater effective here -- slowly lulling the reader into the feeling that this book is just filler, just a train between two ports. Then the tracks disappear and you realize this is a roller coaster, and you no idea where the fall will stop, or what gut-wrenching turns await. I have a feeling that once I finish Lost Souls next week, I'm going to need to watch a few warm and fuzzy episodes of TNG or the original series to recover.
On the cover: Sir Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard; Ada Maris as Captain Hernadez-pretending-to-be-Wonder-Woman.
*Give or take a decade. 2168 is when the Columbia was lost, but she'd been traveling at near-light speeds long enough that they were out of sync with Earth's calendar, so I'm not exactly sure.