Spock is transported back in time to the 1860s, where he loses his memory and is taken in by a man named Aaron Stemple, who dubs him "Ishmael". Stemple is the target of time-traveling Klingons who have identified him as the key figure in human history.
The 1860s setting of the novel is inspired by the 1968-1970 historical TV series Here Come the Brides, the joke being that Aaron Stemple, who is implied in this novel to be one of Spock's ancestors on his human side, was played by Mark Lenard, who also played Spock's father in Star Trek: The Original Series. The novel is, however, written so that no knowledge of Here Come the Brides is necessary (and indeed doesn't explicitly mention the connection, since it was done without actually obtaining the rights to that series).
This novel contains examples of:
- Animals Hate Him: Aaron notices that while the town's cats are fascinated with "Ishmael", dogs really don't like him. They range from hostility to terror, but none actually tolerate him well.
- Ascended Fanfic: The original version of the story was a fanfic Hambly wrote in high school. When she reworked it and submitted it as an official spin-off novel, she offered to replace the crossover aspects with original characters, but the editor decided it wouldn't be necessary.
- Awesomeness by Analysis: Spock excels at pool without thinking about it, later commenting to a surprised onlooker that it is nothing but simple geometry and physics.
- Chekhov's Time Travel: Spock travels back in time to explore the set of "Here Come the Brides" in Seattle, where he discovers that the Klingon are plotting to use time travel to kill one of his own ancestors — not to prevent him from being born, but because they were instrumental in another war. In addition, Spock is relatively amnesiac for most of the story and may have actually got another set of his predecessors together.
- Humanoid Aliens: Vulcans, Klingons, and Karsids are all described as being similar enough to humans to be easily disguised as them, but not so closely that a human paying attention might not notice something off. Which incidentally implies that the book ignores the 70s/80s Klingon redesigns from the movies.
- Intercontinuity Crossover: The novel is an extended crossover with the 1968-1970 ABC series Here Come the Brides, including several Mythology Gags spanning both series and a number of Shout Outs. Additionally, it features crossover cameo elements from Have Gun Will Travel, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Bonanza, and Maverick. Notably, Hambly somehow got away with this despite most of those not being CBS or Paramount properties.
- Low Culture, High Tech: This novel asserts that the Klingons were a primitive race who were conquered by starfarers called the Karsids. The Klingons, being Klingons, then defeated the Karsids and appropriated all their tech, giving them advanced tech despite still being culturally barbaric, a perfect object lesson in the worth of the Prime Directive.
- Make Wrong What Once Went Right: The Klingons time-travel back to the 1800s to kill a man who prevented an alien empire from taking over the Earth.
- Noodle Incident: How Spock escaped his Klingon captors is never explained, as Spock suffered from amnesia and the Klingons didn't stick around to explain. McCoy and Spock theorize that the Klingon torture left him in such a mental state that he was operating on pure (human) instinct.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Spock's disguise, in the guise of Ishmael, consists mostly of growing his hair long enough to cover his ears and eyebrows. A human doctor is immediately able to sus him out while dancing with him, noticing that his skin was hot enough to the touch to suggest he should be delirious with fever, though this doesn't happen until long after she's had a chance to judge his character.
- Pet the Dog: Aaron Stempel realizes that Spock isn't human, and is likely dangerous himself or will be sought after by those dangerous enough to have left him in his badly injured state in the woods. He takes pity on him and gives him shelter.
- Stay in the Kitchen: At one point two characters have gone missing in the rainy Seattle woods and Spock suggests Biddie Cloom lend a hand in the search. "But she's a woman!" says Stemple. "What has her gender to do with her ability to locate missing persons?" asks Spock.
- What You Are in the Dark: The events of the story are largely set in motion by Aaron Stempel, who would be the last person to describe himself as a particularly charitable man, takes pity on a helpless, badly injured, and very possibly dangerous alien he finds in the woods a few miles outside of town.
- You Already Changed the Past:
- Due to the intervention of Spock and the Enterprise crew, all the Klingons end up doing is alerting their target that aliens exist and thereby creating the event they were trying to stop.
- It's implied that Spock's actions brought Stemple and Stemple's wife-to-be together and thereby created his own family history.