Under the best circumstances, terraforming is a tough, dangerous task that pits the hardiest of pioneers against an unforgiving environment. When the terraformers on the planet Paradise fall behind schedule, Commander William T. Riker is given temporary leave from the USS Enterprise and sent to assist.
Riker's replacement on the Enterprise is a volatile officer named Quintin Stone whose behavior soon raises questions about his ability and his judgment. Meanwhile, Commander Riker has become enmeshed in a life and death struggle with Paradise's brutal landscape. However, he soon learns that not all of the planet's dangers are natural in origin -- as he comes face to face with Paradise's greatest danger and most hideous secret.
Commander Quintin Stone has an uncanny knack for pulling situations—and crewmembers—out of the fire, though he also has a great disdain for authority and regulations, especially the Prime Directive. His radical, often reckless, methods gain him highly praised successes, but infuriate his commanding officers, and he is repeatedly transferred to new postings. Following his rescue of several stranded crewmembers against his captain's orders, Stone is transferred from the Nimitz to the Enterprise-D, where he is to temporarily fill the first officer position.
Riker is sent on special assignment, leading a science and advisory team to the terraforming colony on the hellish planet Paradise. The colony's leaders are two old friends of Riker's from Valdez—Jackson and Eleanor Carter, and Jackson takes great joy in ribbing and challenging his childhood pal. As Riker's team surveys the colony, he learns that the terraformers had tried to genetically engineer a new life-form suited to surviving in the harsh natural environment, but that these "Wild Things" quickly grew brutally violent. It was believed that all of the creatures that had escaped into the wilderness had been hunted down and killed, but that is discovered to be false when one attacks Riker and is killed.
The next day, the Carters and their teenage daughter, Stephanie, venture into the wild to repair a faulty environmental monitor, but Riker worries when they don't return by the afternoon. He fights through the stubborn colonists, takes the settlement's only remaining rover, and sets off to find them alone, while a member of his team sends out a distress call. Riker finds the Carter's rover disabled with Jackson dead inside, having fought a Wild Thing to their mutual end while protecting his family. The ladies are missing and the rover's log indicates that they sought shelter in a treacherous nearby mountain range. Riker kills another beast that attacks him and pursues the women. He tracks them through the frozen waste, finding them just as they are attacked by another pair of the animals. Both creatures are killed, but Eleanor falls off a precipice and Riker and Stephy are trapped within a small cave by an avalanche. Stephy, having watched both of her parents die and facing her own demise, quickly gets over her crush on Riker. They survive through the night with meager supplies and Riker destroys his phaser to free them from the cave. They set off for the colony unarmed and pursued by more Wild Things.
Stone is off-putting and disrespectful to most people, and though he makes an effort to forge bonds with Worf, Wesley, and a few other crewmembers, he does so by inventing lies about his own past. The crew, perhaps unfairly, constantly compares Stone with Riker, and Troi finds herself emotionally torn. Picard and Troi question Stone's sanity and emotional stability, just as his former commanders did before, though Stone passes every test with flying colors. The Enterprise is sent to rescue several Federation advisors taken hostage by Praedor Ryne of Culinon. The monarch recently agreed to hold democratic elections, but he refused to surrender his power when he was voted out of office and he plans to extort Starfleet for aid. Picard warily allows Stone lead the away team to meet with Ryne, and indeed Stone and Ryne posture against each other. When Ryne grabs Troi, Stone attacks and threatens to kill the praedor, seemingly willing to die himself in the effort. Ryne agrees to release his hostages and step down, but Stone still holds a phaser to his head until everyone can escape to safety; even then, he throws Ryne out a window to be dealt with by his infuriated subjects. Picard is furious at Stone's actions, but the legally elected Culinon government that comes to power applaud and venerate him. Again, Stone's results forgive his actions. The starship then answers the distress call from Paradise.
Stone leads a security team to the surface of Paradise, finding the two rovers before being set upon by still more animals. One guard is killed, and the commotion leads Riker and Stephy to find them, but the pack leader attacks Riker. He blinds the creature, but is injured and falls off a ledge. Stone arrives, but insists on sharing his own tortured history before actually saving the dangling Riker. Several years earlier, Stone led a diplomatic mission to Ianna. During the visit, however, the royal family is deposed and brutally murdered one-by-one in a coup while Stone is forced to sit by and watch, his hands tied by the Prime Directive. He returns to his starship, but finds that he has died inside, and he abuses himself physically in an effort to feel again; he never does. He ultimately pulls Riker to safety, then resigns his commission and plans to stay at the colony, hoping for a fresh start. Eleanor is discovered barely alive and is rushed to the Enterprise sickbay. She recovers, and she and Stephy return to the colony while Riker and Troi reunite, but still refuse to resume their romance.
- Ebunan A'T'siva • Andrew Borjas • Buchanan • Eleanor Carter • Jackson Carter • Stephanie Carter • Clarke • Beverly Crusher • Wesley Crusher • D'Angelo • Data • Vernon Detwillor • Paul Estin • Guinan • Jansen • Jenny • Geordi La Forge • Mark Masters • Neilson • Miles O'Brien • Jean-Luc Picard • William Riker • Ryne • Scully • Quintin Stone • Sweeney • Sylvia • Taylor • Tinker • Deanna Troi • Karen Williams • Worf
- Referenced only
- Jack Crusher • Gloria • Sherlock Holmes • Kahless • M-5 • Machiavelli • Dave Mosely • Katherine Pulaski • Q • Qumwl • The Traveler
Starships and vehicles
- Culinan • Ianni • Paradise • Roze system • Starlight • Hidden Hills • Umbo Mountain
Races and cultures
- Betazoid • Culinan natives • Human • Klingon • Wild Things
- Referenced only
- Borg • Ferengi • Horta • Orion
States and organizations
- Working titles for this book included Trouble in Paradise and Space Case.
- Peter David conferred closely with Marina Sirtis at various conventions to get a feel of her character for this novel.
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A Call to Darkness
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All That Glisters...