Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Reread — Divided We Fall

Divided We Fall: #1-4
Written by John J. Ordover & David Mack
Illustrated by Andrew Currie, Richard Bennett, David Roach, Michael Collins, John Nyberg
Publication Date: May-August 2001
Timeline: May or June 2376, sometime between Section 31: Abyss and Mission Gamma Book One: Twilight.

[Note: The Memory Beta entry for the shuttle Chaffee, featured in Divided We Fall, suggests that this story takes place before the novel Gateways #4: Demons of Air and Darkness. However, based on this mighty flowchart, this story occurs after Demons of Air and Darkness. In either case, it’s clearly before the start of the Mission Gamma series.]

Progress: The Enterprise-E receives a distress call from the Trill diplomatic transport Tynan, a ship carrying the Trill Ambassador Odan. By the time the Enterprise arrives on the scene, Odan’s damaged transport has crashed on a nearby planet, and they discover that Odan’s current host—Kareel—is too critically injured to survive. Dr. Crusher extracts the Odan symbiont, too weak to be implanted in another host, and keeps it alive in a fluid environment. Deanna Troi enters said, and is able to communicate with it, thereby learning that a faction of un-joined Trill, the Purists, are behind this and other attacks on joined Trill throughout the Federation.

Aboard Ds9, Ezri receives word that Dr. Lenara Kahn has been kidnapped on the Trill homeworld, and the kidnappers are demanding five kilos of weapons-grade protomatter in exchange for the doctor. Kira orders the Defiant, under Elias Vaughn’s command, to transport Ezri with the protomatter to the Trill homeworld. Unfortunately, despite Julian Bashir’s involvement in the handoff, Ezri is abducted by the head of the Purist faction, one Verad Kalon, and Bashir finds Lenara seemingly dead.

Verad proceeds to torture Ezri with a mind probe in order to obtain information from her Dax symbiont, claiming that he’s set her “free” by breaking the link between Ezri and her symbiont. Bashir works his magic to resuscitate Khan, whose body was partially preserved by extremely low temperatures, but has no luck in bringing her back to full consciousness. The Enterprise and the Defiant join forces—that’s a lot of brain and computer power—to figure out a way to locate Dax. Crusher and Troi deal with Troi’s newfound internal experience, resulting from her link to Odan, of what it was like for Odan to have been with Beverly when he occupied Riker’s body about ten years prior. And since the clock is ticking for Odan in his artificial environment, Crusher and Troi take the symbiont to the Caves of Mak’ala, where he can enter one of the symbiont pools. Ezri breaks free from her captors, and a team lead by Bashir rescues her. About to lose consciousness, but still cogent, she warns that Verad is planning to kill all the symbionts in the caves. Sure enough, Crusher and Troi come under attack, and a bomb countdown is triggered by one of Verad’s followers.

Crusher and Troi ward off their attackers, and Troi uses her empathic skills to find out what she needs to know in order to successfully deactivate the bomb. Verad proclaims that the symbionts are in reality an alien force that has conquered Trill, and that he intends to free his world from these oppressors. Picard meets with the Madam President of the homeworld, who authorizes Starfleet to take whatever action is needed to deal with the crisis. One of Verad’s accomplices—Jull—turns out to have Dominion technology. Bashir and Crusher work together to determine that a virus is responsible for keeping Ezri and Lenara and unconscious. In fact, Verad is using himself as a vector to spread this retrovirus—which will cause no harm to un-joined Trill but kill all who are joined—by hopping from one city to another via the planet’s global transportation network. A plan is enacted to begin quarantining the infected Trill. A Starfleet team manages to corner Verad, and rather than face the music, he kills himself. Since by now most Trill physicians are infected with the retrovirus, Crusher volunteers to be temporarily joined with Odan.

Verad’s posthumous gift to all assembled is the hijacking of Trill’s defense perimeter, which unleashes a number of deadly drones programmed to raze the surface of Trill. Crusher, being a doctor, is able to understand the chemical formula for the retrovirus cure that the Odan symbiont had been trying to bring to the Trill. With Bashir’s help, they synthesize the antidote, and administer it to the population at large. The Enterprise fights off drones in orbit, while the Defiant enters the planet’s atmosphere to destroy yet more drones at closer range. The Odan symbiont is transferred to a new host, and, for the second time in her life, Beverly bids it farewell—this time, unlike the last, joyously.

What you don’t leave behind: Ambassador Odan, from “The Host,” Dr. Lenara Kahn, from “Rejoined,” and Verad Kalon, from “Invasive Procedures,” are all key players in this story. This is a great example of tie-in fiction enriching interesting characters whose on-screen appearances were too brief and too much in the service of a single specific story to really do them justice. More specifically, I think that exploring the consequences of the intimacy shared by Dr. Crusher and Odan-inside-Riker’s body in “The Host” on the current relationship between Riker and Troi is a stroke of genius. Given this story’s graphic format, those repercussions could have easily veered into melodrama, but I thought this element was well-integrated with the rest of the story, and tastefully done.

More broadly, Divided We Fall really digs into the implications of the existence of a society with both joined and un-joined Trill, as established in the episode “Dax.” The possibility of resentment by one group towards the other is explored and rendered compellingly.

Kell Perim, who appeared in Star Trek: Insurrection and Avatar: Book One, makes a welcome return.

Larutan, the scientist who formulated the retrovirus—and its cure—turns out to have been a Yridian, who up until this point we’ve mostly seen as shady dealers in the various Trek series. It’s refreshing here to break with that mold a little, but Larutan’s deeds don’t exactly redeem his species’ name, and even though he’s a scientist, it’s his greed that ends up doing him in. Oh well.

And now for my favorite continuity nugget by far… Check out the following line, which appears in a thought bubble early on in Divided We Fall #4: United We Stand: “That place went up faster than a twig in a Bersallis firestorm.” Bersallis, you ask? Why yes, Bersallis III is the third planet of the same-named system, a world ravaged by fire storms every seven years. It was featured in “Lessons,” a fantastic episode that will always be dear to my heart. Bravo for such attention to detail.

Don’t tell me you’re getting sentimental: Kira is on the cover of the first issue, but besides giving Ezri the go-ahead for her mission to Trill, she doesn’t play much of a role in this adventure.

A chance to enjoy paradise again: The most substantial dynamic investigated here involving our post-finale cast is that between Bashir and Ezri. Bashir completes a nice arc, starting with this realization: “I have the emotional maturity of a four-year-old. Me, me, me. It’s hard, though, sharing my life with someone who has had so many.” To some degree, this comment echoes (or anticipates?) the observation Vaughn makes about him in Demons of Air and Darkness about being histrionic, and voices what many readers probably thought of his behavior in Avatar: Book One. After almost losing Ezri to the retrovirus, he muses: “Even a doctor can forget how fragile life can be and how quickly things can change.” I appreciate Bashir’s growth. I feel that this and Section 31: Abyss are the post-finale tales to have added the most depth to his character thus far.

There’s a first time for everything: Ezri too experiences growth, reflecting that “You never get too old to say the wrong thing. And love never gets any simpler.” The idea that the past can revisit one at any moment, and spark strong emotions thought long-outgrown, is explored with Ezri’s reaction to Lenara’s kidnapping, and also with the Riker/Troi subplot.

But Ezri doesn’t just develop internally here; she kicks some serious butt when she frees herself from Verad’s clutches. Well done!

If I get lost: It’s nice to see the camaraderie established in the last few books between Shar and Nog continue to unfold here, even if Nog’s comment in Divided We Fall #1: Crossfire, “You know how much we could get for five kilos of fake protomatter?” feels a little regressive.

Two standout moments for Nog: In Divided We Fall #2: No Quarter, Nog, working with Shar and Data, realizes that because the Trill transportation network keeps encrypted pattern logs, they can track the specific transports of the Purists who kidnapped Ezri by looking for pattern matches. Doing so would normally require too much processing power for the Defiant, but linking up the Defiant’s computers with the Enterprise’s solves that problem. This strategy prompts Data to say, “An excellent idea, Lieutenant.” When Data congratulates you on the quality of your thinking, you know you’ve done a good job.

Later, in United We Stand, Nog manages to repair the Defiant’s damaged computers in record time, a necessary step for Data to figure out how to punch through the drone’s shields. Beautiful teamwork.

In absentia: The Emissary, Jake, Quark, Kasidy, Worf, Odo, O’Brien, Vic Fontaine.

Behind the lines: And now for something a little different.

It was pointed out to me in the comments of my previous column that this four-issue comic book mini-series, now available in enticing hardcover graphic novel presentation, unfolds right around the point of the timeline we’re at in this relaunch reread. That was intriguing, and when I realized this was a TNG crossover story, I was sold. We do have a lot of stories still to cover in this series, and I’d rather not add to that queue as a rule, but this was one I couldn’t resist. And I’m glad I was able to cover it, because I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Its crossover approach is smartly executed. Rather than trying to bring in every character from TNG and DS9, Ordover and Mack astutely focus on the ones with maximum dramatic stakes for this tale. For example, I appreciated how Picard (a character it’s probably hard to resist wanting to write for) was initially downplayed in the Enterprise-set sections, in favor of shining the spotlight—or in this case, framing the panels—on Riker, Troi, and Crusher, who are the characters most naturally emotionally invested in the outcome of these events.

Ordover and Mack prove equally adept at handling delicate interior monologues and technobabble, balancing these admirably. The story alternates between epic action and probing intimacy, each element organically reinforcing the other. It’s lovely to get another glimpse of the TNG crew, too, and in a way this makes Divided We Fall feel like a bit of an extension of the Avatar duology. I liked the emphasis on Crusher, and her team-up with Bashir was excellent. One thing I wondered about—when she hosts the Odan symbiont, does she relive the memories of having sex with herself both as herself and her own partner (Odan in different host bodies)? She does mention the experience is “overwhelming,” so who knows…

It’s not all flawless. In Crossfire, the scenes wherein Troi enters the artificial symbiont tank and communicates with Odan are trippy, in a cool way. During this key exchange, it’s clear that the Odan symbiont is attempting to impress upon Deanna Troi something about a “cure”—it uses the word twice. I was puzzled, then, when, some six pages later, Deanna doesn’t mention this at all in her debrief with Captain Picard. You’d think it would be a major driver of that particular conversation. The only explanation that comes to mind is that it would have given away too much of the story too soon, which of course isn’t a good answer.

In No Quarter, the scene in which Verad shoots his underling at point-blank range while exclaiming “I don’t like bad news!” is a little over-the-top, even for this comic book format, though I suppose it’s more palatable than it would have been in novel form.

Perhaps my greatest critique is a structural one. When reading the four issues in quick succession, the final installment feels a bit disconnected and reads like more of a stand-alone compared to the previous ones. The first three issues flow seamlessly into one another; without going back and checking, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you exactly where one ends and another begins. The fourth one, however, occurring  after the sharp discontinuity of Verad’s death, is less affecting. The enemy here is basically technology (the drones), a much less gripping antagonist than even your fairly standard, self-righteous villain. There was simply no question in my mind that the combined might of two elite crews and ships wouldn’t prove victorious over Verad’s reprogrammed drones, so the suspense was minimal. I will say, though, that the final emotional beats—Bashir having gained a new, deeper perspective on his relationship with Ezri, Crusher having come to terms with the past and being able to finally attain closure with Odan—were rewarding.

A few words on this story’s visual format. The artwork is generally marvelous, and while the illustrators don’t go for exact likenesses of the actors who played the same characters depicted herein, they texture every frame with interesting elements. The Dutch angles during heavy action sequences and the proportions of panel sizes and splashes add a thrilling sense of momentum and do a great job of replicating the show’s rhythms. One of the benefits of this format is also getting to see places, things, and beings we’ve only thus far read about. I’ll just say one thing here: Shar is definitely taller and more strapping than I had imagined.

Speaking of visual presentation: I’m particularly grateful at the nifty color-coding of caption boxes for each character, to visually differentiate their internal monologues (and even dialogue) from the images of other characters with whom they’re paired at dramatic plot moments. This also gives Ordover and Mack versatility in being able to introduce “off-panel” characters before we see them, a particularly effective technique to add storytelling dynamism. And sometimes the writers let the images do all the talking for them. Divided We Fall #3: All Fall Down contains a stark two-page spread of richly-colored action panels—Verad is trying to escape aboard a shuttle—in which not a single word is uttered and not a single thought is cogitated; the scenes are in this way vividly enhanced.

Overall, I’m really pleased with how many things this miniseries gets right, in terms of tone, plausible extrapolative worldbuilding, and engaging character development. Considering that this was the first time these writers tackled this format, Divided We Fall is a particularly fine achievement.

I asked David Mack a few questions about this graphic novel’s genesis in the context of the relaunch series. To close out this reread, here’s what he shared:

When we started working on a TNG/DS9 crossover story, John and I coordinated our efforts with Keith (DeCandido), with whom we usually had lunch every Wednesday at that time. We also coordinated with DS9 novels editor Marco Palmieri, who made sure we didn’t step on what he, Andy Mangels, and Michael Martin had planned for their Worlds of Deep Space Nine story, “Unjoined.” In 2001, I worked at the SCI FI Channel, which was on the 3rd floor of the Simon & Schuster building. So I was only a few floors away from John and Marco, which made it easy to pop in for quick visits, etc.

An interesting thing, obvious only in retrospect: Bashir appears on every cover in this miniseries. This must have been where my writerly fixation on Bashir began. I had not previously thought of him as one of my favorite characters, but I have spent A LOT of time penning his adventures in the post-finale Trek novels.

Orb factor: This one earns 9 orbs from me.

 

In our next installment: We’ll be discussing David R. George III’s Mission Gamma, Book One: Twilight in this space on Wednesday November 13th!

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.

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