With all my focus on Marvel Comics lately, I have let a few of my other favorite stories go by the wayside. (What do you mean, Mithril? You have all but ignored them! Insert eye-roll here.) A while ago, I wanted something light to read, so I went to my bookcase, pulled a volume from the shelf, and read it.
That book was Star Trek: The Janus Gate – Past Prologue by L. A. Graf.
L. A. Graf is the pseudonym of two writers – Julia Ecklar and Karen Rose Cercone – who write, or wrote, fiction based on the original Star Trek series and its following series. Once, there was a third writer (Melissa Crandall), but she did not stay to write more than one book with the other ladies. L. A. Graf is supposed to stand for “Let’s All Get Rich And Famous!”
Obviously, the writers have had some success with that. 🙂
Star Trek was/is one of my favorite TV series EVER! I can remember watching reruns of original Star Trek episodes from a very young age; I think I was five or six when I saw it first. I have always enjoyed Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, and I eventually learned to pay attention to the rest of the Enterprise Seven: Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov. After a while, I ended up reading novels based on the original Star Trek series. (Star Trek: The Next Generation, is not high on my favorites list. Neither is DS9, really; Voyager and Enterprise are sequel Trek series I do like, however.)
The Janus Gate trilogy, made up of Present Tense, Future Imperfect, and Past Prologue, takes place after the first season episode The Naked Time. In that episode, the Enterprise landing party is infected by a virus which killed a Starfleet research crew on planet Psi 2000. The virus makes those who receive it go mad; sometimes by releasing rage and psychopathic fury, sometimes by making the person go “La, la, la!” and doing crazy things, such as showering in sub zero temperatures with their clothes on. Depends on the person who gets it.
The book trilogy picks up at the end of this episode when, to escape the dying planet, the Enterprise is sent hurtling three days back in time. Since going on to their next assignment while the Enterprise is technically headed to Psi 2000 (the dying planet) would completely muck up the time stream, Kirk decides to take the Enterprise back to a different planet, where he had left three research teams before going on to Psi 2000.
Before I go any further, I must warn you that Star Trek books, or some of them, have no bearing on the original TV show/original film timeline. They are, as fans like to say, non-canon stories which were written to amuse the fans and the writers. After all, the Enterprise in the original TV series is supposed to be on a five year deep space mission. CBS, the TV station which produced and showed Star Trek in the 1960s, hated the series and tried to kill it after two seasons.
That did not work, as Star Trek fans flooded the studio with letters demanding that the series remain on the air. CBS relented long enough to allow a third season of Star Trek, but they cut the show’s funding so much that the special effects for season three were very poor. Star Trek did not return for a fourth season.
But that is not where the story ends. CBS prevented Star Trek from carrying on beyond three seasons, true, but the series has never been off the air since it was killed. Though finding the reruns on TV now is next to impossible (for me, anyway), I can recall when the original Star Trek series would play on TV.
For an unsyndicated series – that is, a TV series with less than a hundred episodes – to remain on television for as long as Star Trek has is amazing. In the 1960s and even today, TV shows in the U.S. are not rerun on television unless they are syndicated – that is, unless they have a hundred episodes or more. Star Trek, and now Joss Whedon’s series Firefly, are enormous exceptions to this rule.
This is the reason – or one of the reasons – for all the original Star Trek novels. We Trekkers and Trekkies like our original series too much to let anyone kill it, and if no one is going to tell the stories we want to hear, then we will tell ‘em ourselves. Preferably while being paid bucket loads of money to do it, but only a few lucky people actually manage to get that.
Someone in the publishing department messed up when they printed The Janus Gate trilogy, because the blurbs on the backs of books one and three – Present Tense and Past Prologue – describe the wrong story and refer to actual Star Trek episodes from the original series. The blurb on the back of book two, Future Imperfect, is mostly accurate.
With these digressions out of the way, we can now get back to business. L. A. Graf books always focus on the three “lower level” officers from the Original Star Trek series: Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, and Ensign Pavel Chekov. This is part of the reason I enjoy L. A. Graf’s books so much. I do have other favorite fan fiction novels for Star Trek, of course. L. A. Graf books, though, are the ones I keep my eyes peeled for.
The Janus Gate fits into L. A. Graf’s modus operandi, focusing mainly on Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov, though Kirk gets very good “screen time,” too. That is always a plus!
The first book of The Janus Gate trilogy, Present Tense, picks up immediately after the events of The Naked Time. Kirk brings the Enterprise to the barren planet Tlaoli 4, where he left three research teams before going on to Psi 2000. Contacting the lead team, Kirk finds out that Team Three went spelunking – against orders – and has been missing for several hours.
Kirk also learns from Team One that the reason they broke with his orders was because they found the wrecks of at least nineteen starships buried in Tlaoli’s scoured surface. Afraid the Enterprise could suffer the same fate, Team One sent Team Three to investigate nearby caves where something was draining the research teams’ power from their equipment, and even from their shuttlecraft!
With the power drain likely stranding Team Three in the caves, Kirk decides to move in and rescue his people, sending down a landing party from the Enterprise. He also orders “primitive” equipment such as chemical batteries and carbide lamps to be sent along with the rescue team, so they at least have light and an alternate source of power for their phasers, communicators, et al. Kirk will lead the team, and he calls on several others to join him. The people he wants are short, so that they can fit into the caves’ tight spaces. That lands Uhura on his spelunking team, and Chekov ends up in the landing party because he knows how to make maps by hand.
Once in the caves on Tlaoli, Kirk’s team cannot find the research team. Finally, the spelunker on Kirk’s team, Zap Sanner, figures out where the leader of Team Three would have gone. He does this after Kirk and the others’ use of their phasers to light the dark caverns so he can see more of the cave system.
However, despite the use of the chemical batteries, the phasers, communicators, and tricorders are still losing power. No one can figure out why and, with a stranded team of their fellow officers somewhere in the caverns, they do not take time to work out the why. Sanner throws a rope ladder down the crevasse where the research team went. But then Chekov, who is going down first, slips and falls into the hole before you can say “Moscow.”
Kirk, who was next in line down the ladder, goes to rescue the Russian kid. He drops down the crevasse and lands in icy water, having forgotten it was there. Swimming to shore, he finds a disoriented and somewhat hypothermic Chekov already there. The ensign seems bemused, as if he is suffering from déjà vu. Worse, he has lost the maps he was making. Now he has to write them up again from memory. Yay.
Further exploration of the caves ends in the discovery of the lost Team Three. But when the Enterprise tries to beam up both parties, the ship experiences an immense power loss. It takes everything Sulu and Scotty have to get the ship back into a safe orbit above Tlaoli. In fact, they end up throwing the ship away from the planet.
When the transport Kirk and his people are expecting does not occur, they settle on trying to find another way out of the caverns. Research Team Three leads them to an “ice cave” which may have a back door out of the cavern system. When Kirk goes to help Chekov take a measurement of the cave for the new maps, he suddenly stops. “Do you hear that?” he asks the young ensign.
Then, without warning, he and Chekov vanish from the cave.
This leaves a startled Uhura in charge of the landing parties. As she gets them out, they discover some flame-like blue energy wafting around the ice cavern. It is only visible in the pitch dark. Unsure just what it is, but assuming it is some kind of transporter device, Uhura gets the team back to the cavern where they found the research team – and they find Chekov, totally unhurt but equally miserable. However, there is no sign of Kirk in the cave with him.
Questioning him, Uhura and the others learn that Chekov remembers nothing but falling into the crevasse and its icy waters. He has no idea where the captain is and does not recognize anyone except the members of his own landing party, and them only by face, not by name.
Eventually, the team makes it out of the caves and back to the base camp. Gambling that the power drain on the equipment here has not been terrible due to distance, they try to contact the Enterprise. Unknown to them, Sulu has already made two runs to Tlaoli’s surface to pick up the remaining researchers and bring them back to the ship in a cargo shuttle with a shielded engine.
Also, on the way out of the caves, Chekov found human tracks and a handprint. This proves that someone – hopefully Captain Kirk – got out of the caves ahead of them. In hopes of attracting the captain’s attention and leading him back to the base camp, Uhura allows the two weapons officers in the group to set up a beacon. However, despite the distance, the equipment at the camp is losing power. Before Uhura can decide whether to shut down the beacon or keep it on, Sulu lands the cargo shuttle Drake at the camp, having found the location more easily thanks to the beacon.
McCoy, who arrived with Sulu in the shuttle, spends the rest of the night operating on an injured member of the spelunking crew. Meanwhile Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov muse on how to find the captain. Uhura reluctantly lets Sulu take the shuttle back into the air to do aerial recon to find the captain, while Chekov and two others follow him on the ground.
It does not take Sulu long to spot Kirk. He gives Chekov and the others his signal, only to disappear in a flash of light when his shuttle collides with the strange energy field that made Kirk and Chekov vanish.
Uhura is horrified by this turn of events. But the geologists in the landing party figure that, if Kirk and Chekov are still on Tlaoli, and since they found Chekov in the caves, that is where Sulu will be. Where the shuttle went – well, that they will find out sooner or later. Uhura lets Chekov and his team search for the captain while she takes McCoy and Sanner back into the caves. There, they find Sulu in one of the pillars of rock in the cave – only to realize the pillar is a travertine-encased, alien healing device. But it is healing a Sulu who is twenty years older than the pilot they know!
Elsewhere, hunting down the captain, Chekov gets a similar shock. He finds and corners, not a great starship commander, but a rebellious fourteen year old James Tiberius Kirk!
Back in the caves, Sulu comes to and Uhura tries to get him to calm down. It takes a few minutes, but eventually Sulu realizes he is not only out of place, he is out of time. When they question him, McCoy, Sanner, and Uhura learn that in this Sulu’s timeline, the Gorn have invaded the galaxy and are on the verge of destroying the Federation. Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov were on a mission to stop the Gorn when the Tlaoli device picked the younger Sulu up to replace his older self.
Trying to find out just when he is, Captain Sulu asks who the captain of the Enterprise is. In the process, he names Captain Kirk’s former first officer, Gary Mitchell, as a previous captain of the ship in his timeline.
Uhura and McCoy share a blank look, then explain that Mitchell is dead and James Kirk is captain of the Enterprise.
Now it is Sulu’s turn to give them a blank look, dropping the bombshell that he has never heard of a James Kirk commanding any ship in Starfleet. In fact, to the best of his knowledge, no such man ever existed.
Well, now that I have basically spoiled the first book in the trilogy for you, readers, I will have to tell you to pick up the three volumes yourselves and allow you to take the adventure on your own. Suffice it to say that I greatly enjoy these books, as we get a look at how the three “lower level” Enterprise officers learn about the great friends they are going to become through their adventures in the original TV series.
Temporal mechanics being what they are, we readers have the best chance of remembering the whole adventure. After all, since the trilogy is set in the first season of the original Star Trek series, L. A. Graf cannot go jumping around that much! Still, the trilogy is a fun sci-fi story and a grand illustration of Uhura’s, Sulu’s, and Chekov’s characters.
I have to warn you, the ending for the trilogy, Past Prologue, is a heartbreaker. It is very, very hard to see what happens to the older versions of Sulu and Chekov at the end – but at the same time, it makes me so darn proud of the two of them!
Sooner or later, I may get around to reviewing my other favorite Trek fiction here, readers. Until then, “Live long and prosper!”
The Mithril Guardian