Gateways #4: Demons of Air and Darkness
Written by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Publication Date: September 2001
Timeline: April & May 2376; two weeks after Section 31: Abyss
“Horn and Ivory”
Written by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Publication Date: September 2001
Timeline: Immediately after Gateways #4; also, 27,600 BC
Special Dedication: On September 21st, Aron Eisenberg died. His death was met with an outpouring of grief and a celebration of his accomplishments, including his brilliant portrayal of Nog on DS9 and, more significantly, his positivity and kindness as a human being. The team behind What We Left Behind posted an extended interview with him as tribute.
I hereby dedicate this reread series to the loving memory of Aron Eisenberg. May he long be remembered. And may Nog’s adventures—on the screen and on the page—continue to bring joy to viewers and readers for years to come.
Progress: In the Delta Quadrant, Controller Marssi of the Malon supertanker Apsac finds her vessel under attack by a Hirogen ship. The Hirogen don’t care that the Apsac is carrying half a trillion isotons of antimatter waste. With its shields collapsing, the Apsac stumbles upon an Iconian gateway and begins to vent its waste into the “hole.” Stray waste destroys the Hirogen ship, and Marssi appears to have been spared.
Shortly after successfully reactivating the Federation communications array in the Gamma Quadrant, the Defiant is called back to DS9 by Kira. The colony Europa Nova has sent out a distress call, and Starfleet has declared a state of emergency. The Defiant then receives a civilian message via the array, from one Captain Monaghan of the Mars freighter Halloran, which has somehow ended up in the Gamma Quadrant. Vaughn reassures Monaghan that they’ll send out a runabout immediately to bring her ship back home.
A debriefing with Admiral Ross and other Starfleet personnel reveals that the Iconians, believed to be long extinct, are apparently around again, and have activated their gateways. Monaghan wasn’t the only one to find herself displaced. A plan is formulated to evacuate three million people off Europa Nova, which is being bombarded with the waste radiation of the Malon vessel in the Delta Quadrant, using some twenty ships. We also learn that the search for Jake has turned up nothing. Nog and Shar on the Sungari are sent to investigate why there are no gateways within ten light-years of Bajor.
Malic, the Orion criminal we met in Section 31: Abyss, compels Quark to help the Orions negotiate with the Iconians. The only wrinkle in this plan, it turns out, is that the Iconians’ representative is Quark’s famed cousin Gaila.
Nog and Shar figure out that it’s the tachyon eddies of the Denorios belt, rather than the wormhole itself, that is likely responsible for the absence of gateways in the sector, and they devise a way to potentially interfere with the gateways. Just then, a large vessel drops out of warp and fires on them.
Kira spearheads the evacuation of Europa Nova, delegating all the appropriate tasks to the right people in the task force and coordinating efforts with the colony’s President Grazia Silverio. Old acquaintances are reunited aboard the Defiant when Vaughn meets up with the Andorian Charivretha zh’Thane, one of Shar’s parents. The minister of agriculture makes a stink about the ship’s accommodations but Vaughn smoothly puts him in his place. He also successfully makes a deal with the xenophobic Jarada, the occupants of the planet connected to the Europani city of Costa Rocosa by an Iconian gateway; in exchange for whatever intelligence the Federation gains on the gateways, the Jarada will accept half a million Europani refugees.
It’s a close call for Nog and Shar aboard the Sungari, but the Defiant lends a helping hand in repelling the attack from the unknown vessel, destroying it. The Sungari itself is lost, but not before Nog and Shar are beamed aboard the Defiant, where Shar has an awkward conversation with his zhavey Charivretha, who admonishes him for stalling his duties and makes it clear they’ll be having a serious conversation once the pressing needs of the moment have passed.
On Europa Nova, Kira and company deal with the threat of a waste meteorite killing all life in the town of Spilimbergo. With transporters offline due to radiation, the Euphrates uses a tractor beam to alter the meteorite’s trajectory so that it crashes in a depopulated lake instead. Grazia Silverio expresses gratitude, and more good news arrives when Kira learns that Nog and Shar think that they’ve found a way to disrupt the gateways. The only question is, will the entire network go down once their plan is implemented? Kira, unwilling to risk Europa Nova’s Costa Rocosa gateway going down before the evacuation is complete, sends out a communication apprising Admiral Ross of this progress. A Cardassian Galor-class vessel Trager enters the system—with Gul Dukat in command?
The ship that nearly killed Nog and Shar seems to have been acting on the side of the Iconians or whoever is mediating on their behalf. Gaila intimates to Quark that Grand Nagus Rom’s rule is to be short-lived and then accuses Quark of needlessly dragging out the negotiations because he’s secretly working for Starfleet, citing circumstantial evidence that includes Nog’s recent transmission about bringing the gateways down. Under duress from Malic, Quark offers a confession in order to stay alive, but Malic orders him killed anyway.
The Cardassian vessel Trager is being commanded by a Cardassian gul named Macet, a cousin of Dukat’s bearing a striking physical resemblance to him, who worked under Damar in the resistance. He offers the Trager’s services in evacuating Europani. His vessel was one of several upgraded with Dominion technology, meaning transporters that can endure the current radiation levels. Discovering bad blood between the Cardassians and Europa Nova, Kira requests Silverio’s authorization for Macet’s involvement, which she grudgingly grants. Vaughn informs Kira that Ross has authorized the gateway network disruption once Costa Rocosa is evacuated. Kira gives the order for her runabout to cross through the system’s orbital gateway, which leads into the Delta Quadrant, to investigate the source of the radiation which has originated the Europa Nova crisis.
On DS9, Dax deals with the mounting pressures of refugees both on the station and on Bajor, and happens to eavesdrop on a vital conversation between Shar and Charivretha. The conflict between them stems from the fact that Shar is electing to remain in Starfleet, while Charivretha believes his Andorian duty is to return home and participate in the shelthreth—for which there is a limited window of time—with three individuals named Anichent, Dizhei, and Thriss. Why is this so important? Oh, right: the Andorian species is dying.
In the Delta Quadrant, Kira and Taran’atar discover the Malon vessel leaking radiation into the gateway. The vessel doesn’t reply to hails and fires on the Euphrates. Then Kira is beamed aboard the ship, where a Hirogen utters the word “prey.”
Quark is saved by the dabo girl who accompanied him on the journey, Tamra, revealed to be none other than Ro Laren in disguise. A flashback fills us in on how Ro uncovered an illicit Cardassian real estate operation involving Quark and a Cardassian named Deru, and then essentially blackmailed Quark: in exchange for Ro not informing Starfleet or Garak about Quark’s exploitative activities, he’ll help her infiltrate the Orion Syndicate and get dirt on Malic (who in turn was already blackmailing Quark over the same Cardassian operation). Back in the present, Ro uses a valued Orion slave named Treir as leverage to escape from the Orions’ clutches, and beams Treir, Quark, and herself to Farius Prime’s innermost moon. Here they rendezvous with Sargent Ychell Mafon, and Ro reveals in the escape kerfuffle she managed to grab Malic’s padd, which contains a wealth of information on the Syndicate.
On the Malon ship, the Hirogen reveals that he killed all of the crew, who proved easy prey, and is ready for a real challenge. He perks up at his first taste of combat with Taran’atar. Kira and the Jem’Hadar evade the Hirogen long enough to find a device that will help diminish the radiation leak through the gateway. Taran’atar stays aboard to fight the Hirogen while Kira beams back to the Euphrates with the shield enhancer, installs it on the runabout and sets the ship to block the waste at the Iconian gateway. Unfortunately, in order for this to work, life support can’t be functional, so she beams herself to the fifth planet in the system, barely M-class, and leaves a recording of her plan on repeat broadcast in the runabout.
Vaughn and Bashir deal with a hostage crisis on the Costa Rocosa gateway. Once the evacuation is complete, Vaughn gives the order, per Kira’s message, to use a tachyon burst to disarm the gateway. All gateways go dark.
The situation looks dire for Kira as she suffers under the effects of extreme heat and radiation poisoning on the planet’s surface. Then she appears to discover a gateway to safety, only for it to fade out before her eyes.
The gateway closes before Quark, Ro, Ychell, and Treir make it through, giving the Orions the opportunity to locate them.
On the Malon ship, Taran’atar fights the Hirogen and is severely injured.
Quark breaks the encryption code being used in communications from the Iconians, and thereby reveals them actually to be the Petraw, aliens pretending to be Iconians. The gateways reboot (it takes about ten minutes, like a trusty old PC running Windows XP). Gaila escapes from the Orion syndicate ship and joins Quark on the return trip to DS9.
Upon the successful completion of the Europani evacuation, Vaughn has a chat with Gul Macet, who reveals his previous partnership with the Enterprise-D crew to stop Benjamin Maxwell’s anti-Cardassian exploits. Macet is determined to avoid his ways, instead working to preserve the peace, and gives a nice little speech.
Deru (who was working the illegal Cardassian real estate deal with Quark) is paid a visit by Garak.
Treir, Malic’s former Orion slave, decides to become a dabo girl at Quark’s. Garak contacts Quark and lets him know that Ro put him onto Deru’s scheme, but fortunately for Quark, Ro vouched for his innocence. Still, despite his wide grin, Garak’s warning is clear.
After much bloody struggle, Taran’atar defeats the Hirogen and heads toward an escape pod before the Malon vessel explodes from a radiation-triggered warp core breach.
Sam Bowers and Ensign Roness aboard the Rio Grande pick up lifesigns from an escape pod that comes through the gateway, and beam Taran’atar aboard. Based on the last sensor readings he saw aboard the Malon ship, Taran’atar tells them Kira is dead. They head to DS9 so that Bashir can treat Taran’atar’s severe injuries.
Kira steps through the gateway.
Yep, that’s it!
“Horn and Ivory” Mini-review: Kira arrives in Bajor’s ancient past and…has a series of adventures I’m not going to recap. They involve various physical hardships and character-building insights—and pirates! Yay pirates.
The last couple of chapters of this novella is where, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, the latinum lies. Kira enters Bajor’s fire caves and discovers a gateway that transports her to a unique observing post with some fantastic views. There she’s greeted by a mysterious hooded being, no less than an Iconian gateway custodian. This custodian cures Kira of her radiation sickness, diverts the waste energy coming down on Europa Nova to another system, and prepares to send Kira back, moving forward through time (and he takes care of the Euphrates, too).
Before he does all this, he tells Kira that one of the factors that doomed the Iconian Empire was that they “lost sight of the journey” because they only cared about their destination. This is a nice thematic callback to the very beginning of Star Trek, for if you recall, in “The Cage” the Talosians became addicted to their own illusions and, as a result, their technological skills atrophied and their race declined. Different means, similar message: beware stagnation and complacency. I enjoy thinking about What Lay Beyond, a grand finale to an epic miniseries, as—at least with this story—spiritually circling back to the start of everything. The novella itself concludes with Kira putting away Sisko’s baseball and recommitting, in the wake of all her hardships, to her forward journey. This lovely scene is followed by a quote from Homer’s The Odyssey, which explains the story’s title, elegantly encapsulates the theme of “dreams of glimmering illusion” contrasted with those that “may be borne out,” and, by referencing Odysseus’ epic journey, invokes the idea of homecoming. Though the earlier parts of this story are exciting enough, I don’t think they’ll leave much of a lasting impression on this reader. The plot resolution was anticlimactic (alien waves hands and everything is made right again)—but the thematic and emotional grace notes of the ending are deftly handled.
What you don’t leave behind: Readers of this site are surely familiar with DeCandido’s proficiency both as fiction writer and as commentator on genre, especially Trek. It’s not surprising, therefore, that in this novel we see DeCandido pack in many a reference to previous episodes and stories. One of my favorites occurs in Chapter 5, when Nog and Shar are investigating the absence of gateways around Bajor, and Nog realizes that tachyons may play a role. “A couple of years ago,” he says, “Captain Sisko re-created a Bajoran solar sailing ship.” Indeed, and it’s exactly the kind of detail that it would make sense for a smart character to remember when thinking about what might make the Denorios belt and environs different from surrounding space.
The second bit of continuity I want to single out is a reference to Istani Reyla. Kira remembers something Reyla told her when Kira was a child: “One does not explain faith. One simply has it or does not.” This works on multiple levels. It adds depth to the relaunch literary universe by continuing to illustrate the consequences of actions and how grief is an ongoing process. Just because a character hasn’t been a major player for us doesn’t mean that said character isn’t deeply integrated in the pre-existing tapestry of the characters whose lives we’ve been following. It also elegantly shines a historical light on Kira’s faith. Kira once told Odo, “That’s the thing about faith… if you don’t have it, you can’t understand it. If you do, no explanation is necessary.” DeCandido’s contribution retroactively enriches this moment and continues to build on one of Kira’s most important traits.
And just for kicks, here’s a third one: Lenaris Holem, who we first met in “Shakaar,” is here assigned by the Militia to the evacuation, for which Kira is thankful. Though Kira suspects that he’s not comfortable with her having been Attainted by the Vedek Assembly, he has the good sense to keep those feelings to himself.
Your journey’s end lies not before you, but behind you: Referring to the Prophets, the Iconian gateway custodian tells Kira: “We respect the beings that watch your worlds. And we long ago promised never to interfere with them.” That sounds like a potentially fascinating story, doesn’t it? If this has been explored somewhere in the expanded Trek universe, please let me know.
Don’t tell me you’re getting sentimental: DeCandido gives Kira a beautiful arc in the overall novel-and-novella story. As the situation on Europa Nova worsens, Kira’s resolve to save its population never falters. Yet inwardly she longs for simpler days, when she was a resistance fighter bent on the liberation of her home world from the Cardassians. It happens more than once, and she has the self-awareness to chide herself for her regressive thinking (“How screwed up is my life that I’m looking back fondly on the resistance? Now I’m feeling nostalgia for Gallitep?”). By the end of “Horn and Ivory”, she’s telling herself a very different story: “I may have lost the Emissary, Odo, Jast, and the kai. I may be Attainted—but I’ve got responsibilities, just like Torrna did. And damnit, I’m going to live up to them.” In a sense, then, this is the chapter of the relaunch series in which Kira finally reconciles herself to all of her recent losses and discovers within herself afresh the determination to continue.
A key moment in her journey, I think, occurs when she has to convince Europa Nova’s president to overlook the Cardassian’s past heinous actions against the Europani and to accept Gul Macet’s aid. Her impassioned plea is tone-perfect, and really gets to the core of how far Kira has come over the years, delivering one of those signature Trek moments of overcoming the past and striving to do what’s right:
“Nobody knows more than me what horrors they’re capable of, and what they’ve done. And I’m telling you, we have to let them help. If you turn them away, people are going to die.”
Her exchanges with Taran’atar on the Euphrates are also compelling, and continue the relationship seeded in Section 31: Abyss. When he asks her why she’s commanding a runabout instead of the Defiant, she agrees with him that she prefers to wield the kind of weapon “she’s used to,” a deceptively simple point. Their talk about the concept of home and how it relates to faith is also a standout:
“You believe caring for your home brings you closer to your gods?”
“I suppose that’s one way of looking at it,” she said neutrally.
“Yet your gods cast you out.”
On reflex, Kira’s hand went to her right ear, which had gone unadorned since she’d been Attainted. “Not my gods,” she said, quietly but firmly. “Only a few men and women who claim to represent them.”
There was one moment in which I didn’t totally buy DeCandido’s characterization of Kira. That’s not to say that I think he’s wrong, simply that the way he chose to calibrate the magnitude of her response to the situation didn’t align with my interpretation of her character. When she and Taran’atar discover the Malon vessel responsible for the waste radiation poisoning Europa Nova, her internal response is visceral indeed: “A brief urge came over Kira to lock the runabout’s phasers on the ship and destroy it just to teach these people—whoever they were—a lesson.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I can understand her impulse. I realize she’s probably operating mostly on adrenaline at this point and is burned out from the evacuation efforts. I also appreciate the implicit reminder that she wasn’t raised with Starfleet ideals (a point made explicitly earlier on, when she’s thinking about trust and tells herself, “I’m not a Starfleet captain.”) But I still feel that even briefly entertaining the thought of potentially committing murder, particularly when she doesn’t know the context of the situation, simply to teach “these people…a lesson” is raising the volume a few decibels too high.
All I do all day long is give, give, give: I was pleasantly surprised by the importance of Quark’s sub-plot to this story, and all of his scenes are thoroughly diverting. Favorite moment: when he grudgingly resorts to asking Ro for help, only to discover she’s three steps ahead of him, and has quite the deal in mind! This line of description, leading right up to that exchange, is quintessential Quark: “Now Quark was scared. He hated being scared—so much so that it rather irritated him how often he wound up feeling that emotion.” Where’s Moogie when you need her?
A chance to enjoy paradise again: Bashir does an excellent job with the science and administration of the radiation-fighting drugs, but he has a few overblown moments, like he did in Avatar, Book One. I got a real kick out of Vaughn’s appraisal of Bashir: “His predilection for histrionics notwithstanding, Bashir was a damned efficient doctor, and the treatment of the sick had been handled very well on this mission.” Precisely.
And speaking of Vaughn, though his use of command to carry out a personal favor for Charivretha feels somewhat unethical, it also rings true, and he more than redeems himself in other ways. I’m enjoying Vaughn more and more with each passing book.
There’s a first time for everything: Ezri continues to find herself in this novel. We learn that she’s supposed to have check-in calls with a member of the Trill Symbiosis Commission named Renhol at least once a month, and with everything that’s been going on she’s been neglecting them.
Admittedly, the way she overhears the conversation between Shar and Charivretha came across as contrived to me.
I will be waiting: Kasidy Yates, five months pregnant, has relocated to Bajor and lives in the house that Sisko had started construction on. She makes a brief appearance on the station to receive her monthly prenatal check-up with Bashir, and volunteers her ship, the Xhosa, for assistance with the evacuation. Great to have her play an active, if minor, role in this adventure.
If I get lost: If Quark deserves credit for helping to figure out who the faux Iconians really were, Nog should be awarded even more points for using a combination of careful reasoning and intuition to arrive, with Shar, at a way of temporarily disabling the gateways. Not only that, but his contribution of the shield modulating technology that allows greater resistance to the radiation proves critical to the saving of lives. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that in this adventure he ultimately saves the day. And proving just how badass he is, Nog casually reveals that he acquired the shield technology from the Shelliak.
Have you ever considered Minsk?: Worf isn’t in this one, but there’s a nice reference to a firing pattern Nog uses that he learned from the Klingon.
Try re-aligning the induction coils: O’Brien and his clan continue to be off the page, but I appreciate DeCandido’s reference to Keiko, who apparently credited the Europani with significant breakthroughs in botany and agriculture.
All bets are off: DeCandido returns us to one of DS9’s central issues by letting us know that Bajor’s entry into the Fedeation is now close at hand, at least according to Shakaar. This sums it up nicely:
“It was, she knew, what DS9 had been about from the beginning. In part it was also what Bajor’s role in the relief efforts to Cardassia was about, and this mission to help the Europani—Bajor was learning to think outside the confines of one planet and one people. ”
For Cardassia!: Macet realizing the errors of Cardassian thinking, and wanting to actively help forge a new path for his people by being of service to others, makes for interesting reading. I hope this is genuine and not part of an elaborate scheme somehow involving the return of Dukat.
Dramatis personae: There are many, many new characters introduced here. None of them gets a ton of time, but if I had to pick two that I’d be happy to see more of, they’d be Macet and the Orion Treir. And based on Chapter 11 of “Horn and Ivory,” I may get my wish with at least one of these, as we learn that Vaughn invites Macet to “stay for a bit,” and at the story’s conclusion Macet’s ship is docked on Upper Pylon 1.
In absentia: The Emissary, Jake, Worf, Odo, O’Brien, Vic Fontaine.
Behind the lines: There’s a lot to like about Demons of Air and Darkness, and a lot to admire from a purely logistical perspective. The novel somehow accomplishes the seemingly impossible task of simultaneously A) being enjoyable as a standalone introduction to the DS9 relaunch series, with DeCandido furnishing short summaries of everything one needs to know at the relevant moments; B) pushing that narrative forward and therefore bridging the preceding Section 31: Abyss with what follows; C) fitting neatly into its own seven-volume Gateways series; and D) ending on a cliffhanger whose resolution in “Horn and Ivory” provides emotional closure while setting the stage for future adventures in Mission Gamma, Book One: Twilight. And it does all of this with fun and pizzazz!
Perhaps as a result of having to serve so many masters, though, the story of Europa Nova itself feels more disposable than I would have liked, and Kira’s plot resolution in “Horn and Ivory” a little too deus ex machina. Part of the blame may lie with the fact that I never found Trek’s use of the Iconians particularly interesting; I didn’t much care for “Contagion,” and though “To the Death” was somewhat better, it’s still not a favorite, nor is the role of the Iconians in it in any way significant. DeCandido’s two-part story, at least—especially the coda—makes me appreciate them more, which is a testament to his storytelling.
I mentioned earlier that there are a lot of characters here. During the evacuation set-pieces we get the names of various folks and vessels, and while it all sounds plausible and logistically sound, it didn’t feel fleshed out. There’s a tendency to spend a fair amount of time introducing a character and a situation and to then write said character off with hardly a backward glance. Case in point, the book kicks off with Marssi and her Malon crew in a manner that is supposed to invite our investment in their plight. We’re relieved when they appear to best the Hirogen at the end of the chapter, only to discover over a hundred pages later that no, they were actually all killed by a Hirogen we don’t know much about. Another example is the hostage negotiation involving the Costa Rocosa gateway. Just as I was starting to care about the perpetrator and his plight, the whole situation was rapidly resolved and the tension deflated. Truly becoming attached to the fate of the Europani, I’m afraid, would have required several hundred more pages, including a strong viewpoint character on the ground representing an internalized perspective on their way of life and beliefs. Their subsequent lack of gratitude, as expressed through their endless complaints to Dax—espresso, really?—was also off-putting.
DeCandido does a magnificent job with all the background Trek details, and that kind of lore knowledge shines in scenes like the extended Starfleet debriefing. His action sequences are also really engaging—for instance the chapter involving the Hirogen vs. the Jem’Hadar. Taran’atar’s ability to shroud gives off a distinct Predator-vibe in this match, though with the added interest of, in this case, rooting for him. Speaking about aliens I didn’t connect with, there’s the Hirogen—the bias here is mine; I’ve never been interested in them—and the Petraw. That reveal fell a bit flat for me. Do we ever find out more about these impostors?
While DeCandido successfully juggles at least three major plotlines in various quadrants, no easy feat, the way the book shifts tonally didn’t quite work for me either. In the first two thirds we have some real intense character stakes. At one point Nog prepares himself to die; at another, Quark; later, Kira herself faces extinction. And then within a couple of dozen pages we move to several chapters involving mostly humorous hijinks related to Quark’s storyline. I appreciated the sense of relief and resolution, but perhaps the ending arrived too soon.
DeCandido’s approach to this material is often impressively nimble, and on the whole I see this both as a challenge—I tend to prefer more depth in the exploration of one or two situations, rather than a dozen problems detonating at once—and as a positive—who else could have pulled off even a fraction of this? If Section 31: Abyss was the most episode-like novel in this series so far, this story is the most film-like, cramming in the equivalent of at least four or five episodes. To be fair, too, I haven’t read the other Gateways novels, which may contextually elevate what happens here.
Orb factor: I really respect DeCandido’s work, professionalism and productivity, but to my own self I must be true. Despite many enjoyable narrative turns and some great character development, I feel like the execution didn’t fully deliver on this story’s ambitious scope, so I’m going to give this novel/novella pairing a combined rating of 7 orbs.
In our next installment: Look for the discussion of the graphic novel Divided We Fall by John J. Ordover and David Mack in this space on Wednesday October 23rd!
Alvaro is a Hugo- and Locus-award finalist who has published some forty stories in professional magazines and anthologies, as well as over a hundred essays, reviews, and interviews. Nag him @AZinosAmaro.