This is the third (and final) installment of the Cold Equations trilogy. This story is set not long after the events that take place in the final Next Generation film, Nemesis. The main story arch of the three books revolves around a resurrected Data and his efforts to resurrect his daughter Lal. While the first two books deal with a mostly political plot line in which the Breen are making efforts to usurp power in the Alpha Quadrant, the third book takes a very different direction bringing back Wesley Crusher in his role as a Traveler whose purpose is to save the galaxy itself from extinction.
While traveling the galaxy, Wesley discovers a giant, planet-sized Machine that is destroying star systems and feeding them into the Abaddon super-massive black hole that lies at the center of our galaxy. When Wes discovers that inhabited systems are being destroyed, he contacts his fellow Travelers to find a way to stop this appalling activity. The Travelers, who have encountered this phenomena before tell Wes that there is nothing to be done; the galaxy is doomed. Wes doesn’t accept this assessment and while the rest of the Travelers abandon this galaxy to escape the destruction, Wes turns to the crew of the Enterprise for help.
Picard agrees to look into the matter and Wes uses his Traveler skills to transport the Enterprise to the scene. An away team goes aboard the Machine and learns that the Machine is was built by the same race that enhanced V-Ger (from ST: The Motion Picture). They also learn that the Machine’s mission is to increase the mass of Abaddon, then crash it into another body called Sagittarius A-Star which will create a wormhole and causing a shockwave that will destroy subspace, thus making warp travel through the galaxy impossible, and eventually would also eradicate all organic life.
Now at the end of the second installment of this series, Data was seeking to make contact with Emil Vaslovik to help him restore Lal, Data’s daughter from TNG. He discovers that Vaslovik has changed his name to Ahkarin. At the end of the second novel, Ahkarin had been kidnapped by a rogue faction of the Fellowship of Artificial Intelligences to extract certain cybernetic secrets from him. Data discovers Ahkarin aboard the AI’s ship as well as Ahkarin’s cybernetic daughter, Rhea. It also happens that Data is deeply in love with Rhea, so he takes it upon himself to rescue them both.
With Wesley’s help, Data transports onto the Fellowship’s vessel and is incapacitated and imprisoned by the AI leader, Gatt. Gatt then makes contact with the Machine and decides that his entire crew should up-load their knowledge to the Machine, seeing this as a move toward immortality, even against his crew’s wishes that wish to retain their individuality.
With the help of the Enterprise crew, Data affects an escape from the brig and takes over the AI ship. He then makes contact with the Machine to try to reason with it, explaining that there is not only will all organic life would be destroyed, but the Machine would also be eradicating all artificial life as well. The Machine’s response is to determine that the artificial life in our galaxy is unworthy of assimilation and begins sending the AI ship into Abaddon. Most of the Fellowship members abandon their ship in escape pods. Included in two separate escape pods are Ahkarin and Rhea. Data, aboard his sentient ship, uses his tractor beam to attempt to save both Ahkarin and Rhea before they plunge into Abaddon, but he soon learns that he can only save one of them. Whom he decides to save is a result of the coldest equation of all, does he save the woman he loves, or does he save the one person in the galaxy that can help him bring Lal back from the cascade failure that ended her life?
All through the history of science fiction, writers have speculated on Artificial Intelligence, and our relationship with it. It is my belief that this day will come sooner rather than later. In this novel, David Mack explores this in a way that, as far as I know, hasn’t been looked at in depth. At one point in the book, the author discusses how artificial life might look at us from a philosophical point of view. In Mack’s estimation, the artificial intelligences of the future would view humanity as nothing more than a step in their own evolution. I personally would have liked to see the author delve deeper into this existential speculation, as well as how the AI’s might view the Machine as a religious figure.
I enjoyed this book. However, it was not my favorite of the Cold Equations series. That honor is reserved for the first of the series.
The three novels in this series include:
#1 – The Persistence of Memory
#2 – Silent Weapons
#3 – The Body Electric
Well, there it is…