Mission Gamma, Book Two: This Gray Spirit
Written by Heather Jarman
Publication Date: September 2002
Timeline: July 2376; following Mission Gamma, Book One: Twilight
Progress: Continuing its mission of exploration, the Defiant inadvertently activates a subspace “snare” that releases a swarm of nanobots into the ship and damages all energy systems. Immediately after, an alien vessel positions itself near the ship and attempts to communicate with the Defiant, but the universal translators are initially unable to decode the messages. An alien away team beams into the Defiant’s engineering section. Fearing hostile intent, since they appear to be attempting to interfere with the warp core, Nog phasers one of the intruders. After the universal translators finally kick in, the crew learns that these aliens, the Yrythny, were trying to help. As the Yrythny “technologist” Tlaral explains, they have been subject to many such attacks by the Magiesterial Cheka Kingdom. The Cheka wish to exploit the Yrythny’s unique genetic provenance: in the distant past the ancient Others created a “Turn Key” in the Yrythny’s genome, accelerating their evolution. Vaughn accepts an offer of help from Tlaral that will take the Defiant to Vanìmel, the Yrythny homeworld.
Gul Macet, of the Cardassian ship Trager, contacts Colonel Kira, advising that he is on his way to the station, along with Natima Lang, who is an envoy from Alon Ghemor and is requesting an audience with First Minister Shakaar. Someone has left religious artifacts related to the Ohalu prophecies right outside Kira’s quarters, and Ro appoints one of her security people, Shul, to investigate. Kira recalls Kasidy’s mention to her about a schism in the Vedek Assembly and wonders whether that could be related to her anonymous gift. Given Gul Macet’s uncanny resemblance to Gul Dukat, Kira asks Ro to up security in anticipation of Macet’s arrival aboard the station. Shakaar asks Kira to organize a reception for Macet and Lang to formally introduce them to Admiral Akaar and zh’Thane, and Kira delegates the task to Ro and Ensign Beyer. Ro is forced to cancel her holosuite plans with Quark, freeing up valuable holosuite time which he decides—following a suggestion from Treir (who gives him a good amount of attitude along with the idea)—to put up for auction.
Almost as soon as their tour of Luthia, Vanìmel’s capital, gets underway, Vaughn and the rest of the away team is essentially mobbed by Yrythny who believe they may be Cheka spies. All is not well in paradise, as it soon becomes apparent that two separate, differently-reproducing Yrythny factions—the Houseborn and the Wanderers—have fallen into enmity. The Wanderers, for which Delegate Keren is a spokesperson, are treated like second-rate citizens, and naturally they’re not happy about it. Remembering Curzon’s deft political maneuverings, Ezri suggests that perhaps a third party could act as peace brokers, establishing a non-violent dialogue between the two castes. Oh, well-meaning Ezri! Sure enough, Ezri Dax is soon regarded as a kind of prophet by Yrythny, who become smitten with the notion that she should be the one to play mediator. Late at night, Keren visits Shar and convinces him to join her on an outing that will allow him to better understand the needs and position of the Wanderers by attending one of their underground meetings.
Taran’atar is touchy about the sudden influx of Cardassians on the station, and his behavior deviates from protocol, prompting Ro to have a word with Kira. Ro and Lang bond over having been part of fringe militia groups. zh’Thane gets word that Thriss is not doing well; Shar’s absence has triggered in her a dangerous biochemical state, causing her behavior to become increasingly—and more publicly—erratic. Thus, zh’Thane asks Ro if the yellow-level security protocols in place for the Cardassian delegation, which require a twenty-four hour delay on incoming or departing ships, could be bypassed for her, should Thriss need a rapid evacuation back to Andor. Ro is reticent to grant the exception, prompting zh’Thane to reveal the details of the Andorian four-gender-based reproductive crisis. Promising discretion, Ro commits to taking the request to Kira and doing whatever she can to help.
Science Minister Y’Yeoh, Vice Chair Jeshoh and Assembly Chair Rashoh try to strong-arm Vaughn into assigning Ezri as the official mediator between the Houseborn and the Wanderers. Their coercive tactic—not allowing Nog and associated personnel access to the Defiant on the grounds of potentially unsafe radiation levels—turns out to be unnecessary, because canny Vaughn has been expecting these Yrythny demands since day one. In exchange for Dax’s mediation, the Yrythny agree to put their membership of the Matter Consortium to good use and obtain the structural materials needed for the Defiant’s repairs, and for femtobot countermeasures to further nanobot activity. Shar, Candlewood, Juarez, and McCallum prepare to assist Dax. Shar misses Thriss deeply and regrets having been overly formal in his last communication to Zhavey, so he writes a more heartfelt letter and asks Vaughn to send it along with the next weekly report to Kira. A day after the Avaril leaves Luthia, the General Assembly summons Ezri. Despite at first being overwhelmed by the quantity of Yrythny present and the seriousness of the proceedings, she soon finds her confidence.
Kira and Ro are treating Jake’s disappearance like a criminal investigation; searching yet again through his quarters produces no new leads. Thriss continues to struggle, and rather than joining her bondmates in a trip to the holosuites, she passes the time by playing back Shar’s personal logs. A long conversation between Natima Lang and Ro makes Quark uncomfortable. When Thriss finds out that a special request was made to permit a station departure on short notice, she feels betrayed by her bondmates, and an altercation breaks out at Quark’s.
Tenmei, Bashir, Bowers and several others are playing poker, and invite two of the Yrythny engineers, Tlaral and Shavoh, to join in. The game is interrupted by Tlaral’s collapse: “She’s ready to go into the waters! It’s her time to mate,” Shavoh explains. On the bridge of the Avaril, Vaughn marvels at a ruptured singularity, and is warned about storm-heavy straits the ship must pass through before reaching the Consortium. The plan is for a small Starfleet contingent to accompany Minister M’Yeoh, negotiate a trade that secures the material needed for Defiant’s repairs and defense, and for the Avaril then to return to Vanìmel and retrieve Dax and her team. To aid Dax, Shar suggests an additional scientific investigation of possible differences between Houseborn and Wanderers, and she approves as long as it doesn’t interfere with the duties she has already assigned him.
Kira catches up with Kasidy, and agrees to come visit her on Bajor soon. Feeling restless, Kira realizes she has been deliberately avoiding thinking about the Cardassians and what their possible agenda might be; just as she’s entertaining these thoughts, Macet drops by for a visit. A fight breaks out in Quark’s between Thriss and Ro. Macet puts forward a simple request to Kira: he would like Ambassador Lang to have the opportunity to present a gift from the Cardassian provisional government during the forthcoming reception. Macet also asks Kira about her recent gateway experience, but she declines to comment on it. Next, Kira addresses his recent behavior with Taran’atar. Ro speaks with Lieutenant Commander Phillipa Matthias, the new counselor, who thereafter begins to work with Thriss.
Initial attempts to barter with the Consortium prove fruitless, but M’Yeoh suggests there might be an unofficial, much more dangerous, way to move forward, by trading with a shadow dealer. An interaction with a creature named Fazzle helps get the word out. Keren points out to Shar that the historical and cultural data the Houseborn are sharing with Dax is incomplete. Shar confides in Keren about his genetic research, but laments that the labs which contain the information he needs are restricted. Keren explains that their genetic data is under layers of security, to protect it from Cheka exploitation, but she agrees to look into the situation for Shar. When Shar asks why peace with the Cheka isn’t possible, Keren says she has something to show him. A robot escorts Vaughn to his meeting with the Cheka shadow trader L’Gon. Ezri reflects on all that she has been shown of the planet via hydrofoil by the Upper Assembly committee, and decides it’s time to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Keren takes Shar to a site where Yrythny rescued from Cheka research labs are being treated for the various ailments resulting from the Cheka’s cruel experiments on them.
While waiting for the turbolift, Phillipa Matthias reflects on her relationships, and meets Kira for the first time. Kira asks Phillipa if she thinks that zh’Thane’s emergency exit permit is justified, and whether Thriss is a threat to the station, or to herself. Phillipa advises that Thriss is no threat to others, but is in a very personally precarious situation. After being cleared by Phillipa, Thriss has a heartfelt conversation with Ro, in which she expresses contrition for her behavior and promises not to do anything of the sort again; Ro decides to let her go free of charges. At the fancy reception organized, under Kira’s orders, by Sirsy and Ensign Beyer, Kira meets with First Minister Shakaar, who asks to be introduced to Gul Macet and Ambassador Lang. Ro, busy with the reception, follows up with Quark about their date and tells him she’ll be available in two days at 2100 hours in Holosuite One—and she’s got a surprise planned for him. When the meal concludes, Lang takes center stage and offers a “symbol of hope that personifies not only the terrible beauty of where we have been, but a vision for the future,” surprising Kira.
Jeshoh takes Ezri on an underwater tour of the remains of House Tin-Mal, a four-centuries old “social experiment” gone wrong, in which a group of Wanderers enhanced their infrastructure with new technologies and accidentally blew themselves up. Offplanet, L’Gon tells Vaughn the Cheka are interested in the Defiant’s cloaking technology. Vaughn declines and has Nog beam him out. Shar and Keren go on a hike, during which Keren reveals three scars representing her branding at the hands of the Houseborn, and shows Shar a series of grottos only available by sea in which Wanderer females illegally sneak away with Houseborn males, crossing castes. Shar empathizes and shares his own bondmate situation with Keren, and wonders whether the Other’s Turn Key might reveal genetic engineering techniques that could help resolve the chromosomal mutation problems underlying the Andorian reproductive crisis. Keren relates to the idea of knowing only a collective life. Vaughn shares his suspicion with Nog that someone aboard the Defiant is leaking information to the Cheka. Ezri gets word that an aquaculture village has been attacked, and the explosives were detonated using a signal sent from the hydrofoil vessel she’s on.
Lang’s “symbol” is packed with emotional resonance for Kira: Lang produces a series of holovid recordings made by Tora Ziyal, Gul Dukat’s half-Bajoran, half-Cardassian daughter, who had become a dear friend to Kira. Following these moving recordings, in which Ziyal talks about her creative process in the context of healing Cardassia and Bajor, Lang announces that a collection of Ziyal’s work survived the Dominion bombing of Cardassia, and that the new provisional government wishes to gift it to Bajor. This offering is met with approval by Shakaar and Akaar, and Shakaar asks Kira to find a place to display the art before it goes on a traveling tour through Bajor. Meanwhile Thriss has a heart-to-heart with Dizhei. At the end of the day, Kira discovers a Cardassian flag burned and a knife stabbed into a chair, so she calls in security.
Keren leads Shar to the Hebshu Peninsula, which houses a treasure-trove of genetic records about Wanderers, painstakingly collected by scientists over generations. A helpful child then returns Shar’s combadge to him, and he’s horrified to discover he hadn’t even realized he’d misplaced it. He contacts Ezri, who’s been trying to reach him repeatedly, and gives the orders for him to become airborne on the Sagan and then beam her up along with the rest of the away team. Nog is dissatisfied with Vaughn’s decision not to share their cloaking technology in exchange for the material needed for a femtobot solution to the Cheka’s webbed weapons, but Nog’s peers disagree with him. When Shar arrives on the Sagan, Ezri has him beam up wounded Wanderers from the attacked aquaculture village. Shar then reveals the genetic information he obtained at the Hebshu Peninsula, as well as Keren’s association with underground Wanderer activities; hearing this news, Ezri becomes understandably frustrated.
Ro’s holosuite date with Quark involves roasting chestnuts over a campfire in the chilly recreation of a Pacific Northwest forest, after a bout of windsurfing. Not exactly Quark’s idea of a good time. Still, they manage to have a thoughtful heart-to-heart, during which they both share concerns that make them vulnerable to the other. The date is cut short when Kira requests Ro’s presence at one of the conference rooms. At the scene Ro examines the defaced flag and furniture, thankful that there was no murder, and begins forensic analyses to be shared with Ambassador Lang. As negotiations between Cardassia and Bajor continue, Kira observes Second Minister Asarem Wadeen taking an increasingly hard line and essentially road-blocking progress, which triggers painful memories in Kira of her first-hand experiences of Cardassia’s destruction. Sensing an imminent breakdown in the talks, Macet calls for a recess. Asarem suggests that this break be of indeterminate length. Kira approaches her separately, and the conversation doesn’t go well at all. She decides to seek out Macet.
Vaughn receives news that Yrythny security caught Nog attempting to leave the Avaril with cloaking technology information on his tricorder. The crew then beams Prynn back from a covert mission to attach a “worm” to a Cheka terminal, which will now transmit hopefully useful information back to Vaughn. On Luthia, the Old Quarter is placed under martial law following the attacks on the Coral Sea Bay aquaculture. Fearing more violence, Keren asks Shar to join her in getting the data files he needs to complete his genetic research from her apartment. Vaughn deals with the Nog situation by temporarily relieving him of duty, and placing Ensigns Senkowski and Leishman in charge of engineering. At Keren’s apartment, Shar and Keren are confronted by a hooded figure with a starburst tattoo over the palm of the hand, but find the datachips intact. The Defiant clears the Avaril and sets a course on one of the Consortium shipping lanes, soon to realize that Nog has been kidnapped and is still aboard the Avaril. Dax begins to draft up a Yrythny Compromise and asks for a meeting with the Assembly Chair Rashoh. Under cloak, the Defiant shadows the Avaril, and picks up a Cheka warship on long-range sensors. Vaughn devises a plan to get Nog back.
Kira and Macet confer at Garak’s old tailor shop, which has been converted into an exhibit of Ziyal’s art, perfectly appropriate given her love of Garak. Macet asks Kira to act as intermediary on behalf of Cardassian interests when negotiations resume. Unrest breaks out at Quark’s yet again, with Bajorans and Cardassians brawling in the style typical of a Babylon 5 episode. Kira and Macet put an end to the madness, and Ro, Phillipa, and even Thriss (who trained as a level three medic) arrive on the scene to help tend to the wounded and clear up the shambles. With the cleanup well underway, Kira heads to ops, and gives Taran’atar permission to deshroud. He’d been with her all along, observing Macet’s behavior.
Shar recollects special intimacies he shared solely with Thriss, which made him feel guilty with his other bondmates. His genetic analysis finds no significant variations between Houseborn and Wanderers. Next he models future genetic drift among both groups and determines that the Wanderers are the key to preventing Yrythny decline and ultimately extinction, as their mutations would have a beneficial effect when introduced into the Houseborn genome, which has been damaged through inbreeding. To further help the Yrythny, Dax suggests that a colony be established off-world for the Wanderers. The Assembly receives Dax’s compromise proposal well. Shar spots the same mark on the palm of another Yrythny as they’d seen on the intruder at Keren’s apartment, who is later revealed to be Vice Chair Jeshoh. Though Houseborn, he is in fact Keren’s mate, and is behind the theft of eggs from a breeding ground. His plan is to trade these eggs with the Cheka for weapons, so that the Wanderers will be able to rise up in arms. Jeshoh holds Shar, Dax, and Keren hostage as he pilots a shuttle to rendezvous with the Cheka ship Ston’yan.
Using a “noisemaker” gambit—having a shuttle project false sensor readings, tricking the Ston’yan into believing the shuttle is a second Yrythny ship—Vaughn causes the Cheka to fall prey to one of their own booby-traps. The mystery of the spy undermining Vaughn’s trade efforts is also resolved: Tlaral, who is actually Wanderer, was responsible. Dax is able to diffuse the situation with Jeshoh by tapping into her counseling skills and Jeshoh’s compassion towards Keren, who has suffered a subdural hematoma and requires immediate medical attention. Jeshoh relinquishes himself to the authorities, and Keren is treated by Bashir, who is able to repair the damage. Keren is sentenced to exile on Dax’s proposed colony.
Kira talks to Shakaar about Asarem’s inflexibility, and he says he’ll look into the matter. When the situation fails to improve, she confronts Asarem again, who reveals it was Shakaar who instructed her to take an obstructionist position in the first place. Confronted by Kira on this point, Shakaar admits to as much, arguing that once Bajor is integrated with the Federation, standard rules will apply to its dealings with Cardassia, and it therefore doesn’t make sense to establish a separate accord with them now. Kira’s plea for compassion falls on deaf ears, and she is distraught by how much Shakaar has changed over time. Ziyal’s art exhibit is vandalized, with some pieces irreparably damaged. Thriss, under the putative care of her bondmates, is hit particularly hard by the absence of news from Shar, whose letter doesn’t reach her.
Shar is determined to apply the knowledge he’s obtained to the Andorian reproductive crisis, and feels a true sense of purpose in re-establishing his connection with his bondmates, particularly Thriss. Alas, Ezri overhears (Ezri really needs to stop doing this; see Gateways #4) Shar receiving news of Thriss’s suicide.
Kira finally does visit Kasidy, an experience interrupted by Vedek Yevir, who wishes to discuss Bajor’s spiritual well-being. Walking on a twisted path after her time with Kasidy, Kira trips and falls down—and discovers a baseball in the dirt.
What you don’t leave behind: Delightful continuity in the form of a comically-timed reference to the Alamo by Bashir: “He considered her, and by some not-genetically-enhanced instinct, Julian knew that Lieutenant Colonel Travis had stood a better chance of defeating General Santa Anna at the Alamo than he, in this moment, had in winning an argument with Ezri Dax.” A few lines later Bashir recalls “a victory celebration General Martok had once hosted aboard the Rotarran.”
Also, Ezri enjoying being upside-down (in “Strange Bedfellows,” though it was an involuntary situation, she remarked that it did wonders for her back; she stood on her head deliberately in “Afterimage,” because Emony “found it relaxing”): “After a few minutes standing on her head (which seemed to settle her nerves) she had begun mapping out strategy, searching Curzon’s memories for any relevant experiences he might have had. ”
My favorite drink served at Quark’s makes an appearance here: “My house specialty drinks are the perfect way to toast your pleasant evening,” he [Quark] suggested to Matthias. “A Warp Core Breech?” [Note: I presume this is a typo in the novel and should be “Breach.”]
And a welcome mention of Dr. Renhol from Gateways #4, because even counselors need counseling: “Unbidden, she remembered a similar conversation she’d had with Dr. Renhol of the Symbiosis Commission during the Europani evacuation—how she’d confronted Ezri with her recent tendency to slip into her past-host personae, blurring the lines between present and past.”
Don’t tell me you’re getting sentimental: The novel’s second chapter sets the stage for Kira’s growth: “The coolest heads had gone with Vaughn to the Gamma Quadrant, leaving the jumpy ones behind; Kira was learning patience.” She pushes ahead, aware of her own elevated, by-now-chronic stress levels: “Enough, Nerys, this is the part where you look at your endless to-do list and come up with meaningful reasons why you won’t be tumbling back to your quarters until after midnight.”
The scene in which Kira works up the courage to confide in Shakaar (“The time of reckoning is here, Nerys”) that the reason she’s asking him to circle back with Asarem is that Gul Macet asked her to review the transcripts is brilliant, with every detail vividly observed. It also makes the emotional payoff when she discovers Shakaar’s puppet-master role that much more intense.
And despite how trying her life is, at the novel’s end Kira is fiercely digging in to her own perseverance: “I’ll keep going as long as my body has breath, if that’s what the Prophets want from me, she vowed.”
All I do all day long is give, give, give: More solid growth for Quark in this one. During his holodeck date conversation with Ro, they discuss her two “falls” from Starfleet, at which point Quark is quick to point out that Starfleet is fundamentally flawed because its way of doing things is invariably not going to work for all peoples—fair enough. Ro counters that there’s nothing better in life than chasing a dream, even if it can never be realized, which nicely underlines the difference between his pragmatism and that part of her that is aspirational. But best of all is when she can sense that something is eating him up, and he grudgingly admits that he’s “a little preoccupied with the Jake situation.” Wondering whether he’s responsible for Jake’s disappearance because he helped Jake obtain a shuttle is quite endearing.
A chance to enjoy paradise again: Bashir’s role in this novel isn’t huge, and pages 57-58 unfortunately see a little bit of that regression into soap-opera territory from previous books when he brings up Commander Jast yet again. But he does make a good point when he asks Ezri if she honestly thinks she’s found equilibrium with her past personalities (towards the end of the novel she concedes that she hasn’t).
There’s a first time for everything: The Dax subplot in this novel takes up a considerable amount of space and frames up probably the fullest, most convincing treatment of Ezri Dax in the relaunch series to date. The way she toggles from near panic to self-confidence, for instance, on the last page of Chapter 5 is utterly relatable, and makes great use of the Ezri-accesses-Dax’s-memories trope in real time. Later, when she insists on taking action to try and save Yrythny lives, we’re reminded of a key reason we love this character: “Dax lived by her own ethical compass.”
I really appreciated how Jarman also explicitly pulled in Jadzia’s experiences, often events with which we’re familiar, and showed Ezri leveraging them for added perspective. One nifty example:
She looked at Shar, frustrated by the fact that she knew his intentions had been honorable. During the war, she recalled, even Benjamin had been willing to forgive her theft and loss of a runabout—not to mention subsequent capture by the Dominion—because not only had she managed to rescue Worf, she’d also returned with the knowledge that Damar sought the Federation’s help against the Dominion. That information became the turning point of the war.
Sometimes, she knew, the only difference between poor judgment and a calculated risk was the outcome.
And it’s wonderful to see her coming into full bloom as Ezri in the denouement with Jeshoh: “Ezri alone had studied the workings of the mind and it was Ezri who needed to fix this. Not Curzon. Not Lela. Not Jadzia. Ezri.”
Is it a coincidence that Ezri’s best scenes always seem to occur when Bashir isn’t around? Hmmm.
I will be waiting: Kasidy urging Kira to visit her: “I’d like the company. Someone who knows me for me and not merely as the Emissary’s wife and mother of the Avatar. And don’t forget the farmers are bringing in the katerpods over the next few weeks. You don’t want to miss that!”
If I get lost: I didn’t particularly like the subplot involving Nog wanting to trade the cloaking specs behind Vaughn’s back. Though it all worked out in the end, I wasn’t exactly sure how much had been part of a master plan on Vaughn’s part and how much of it was simply Nog being uncharacteristically rogue-ish.
This one’s from the heart: No Vic Fontaine this time around, but Nog keeps his spirit alive for us by invoking him twice, once thinking “The jig, as Vic might say, is up” and later referring to “Ezri’s gig,” which understandably elicits a confused response from Shar.
All bets are off: How disappointing—Shakaar has turned into a jerk! First he admits that he was deceptive, but performs verbal gymnastics to spin himself free from culpability (“‘You’ve never asked me for my position on the talks, you’ve only complained about Minister Asarem’s behavior and asked me to use my influence on her,’ he rationalized.”). And then he shows his true colors when he tells Kira in no uncertain terms that the Cardassians aren’t really interested in peace, but concocted the plan to use Ziyal’s art as some kind of twisted reminder of their own superiority over Bajorans (“They’re the masters and we’re the slaves. Not while I’m First Minister of Bajor. Never again”). Ugh.
For Cardassia!: Not since A Stitch in Time has the plight of decimated Cardassia been as well presented as here. Gul Macet certainly helps to sell the urgency of the situation, though he also gives off a few creepy vibes, like when he tells Kira that his men will “submit to any interrogations Lieutenant Ro might require,” or asks her about her Gateway experience. But it’s really Lang that most successfully makes the case for Cardassia at the negotiating table, as when, for instance, she asks Asarem the following: “‘With all due respect, Minister, a week before I left, I spent five days helping deliver supplies to our medical facilities,’ Lang began, ‘and I have to ask, when was the last time you held a child in your arms dying from the curable Fostassa virus?’”
Dramatis personae: Phillipa Matthias is an interesting addition to the DS9 roster. She seems down-to-earth and practical, as well as principled and cool under pressure, and her husband and children add layers. I wonder how she will cope with Thriss’s suicide.
Behind the lines: Kudos to Heather Jarman for an impressive debut. This novel contains the same sense of exploration and wonder as its predecessor, with at least as much if not more action, an intricate plot that magnifies the main themes (genetic tampering and the hidden relationships between various races felt like prime Trek material to me, while the “thoughtscape” concept from the previous book was less convincing), and a solid continuation of the ongoing character arcs. Perhaps most important of all, the writing style is significantly better.
Jarman’s prose was consistently fun to read. Conversations flow in a naturalistic way, and her descriptions are rich and evocative while still working in service of the story. Her sense of rhythm, pacing, and even language cadences all made for an engrossing, entertaining read. Where she begins and ends scenes also helps to maximize the drama and suspense. This was definitely a relief after my experience with Mission Gamma, Book One. It didn’t hurt that this second Gamma installment was a hundred pages shorter, either. I think that with this novel Jarman proves right out of the gate that she’s extremely well-suited for the literary Star Trek universe.
A few elements I’d like to single out for specific praise:
The Andorian crisis didn’t have a lot of breathing room in the already-overstuffed Twilight, but here it is explored in depth and is well handled. If the first volume was, on a macro-scale, about establishing relationships and connections, this volume feels to me like a keen exploration of intimacy and true attachment, and what it means to find one’s place in a broader network or community. Incidentally, I loved the detail of Shar observing Vaughn’s reconciliation with Prynn relatively early on (p. 90) and wondering whether one day he too will need to rearrange his priorities in order to reconcile with his bondmates. Jarman has many such quiet moments of foreshadowing and setup interspersed with the action.
An instance of classic Trek social commentary occurs right after Shar raises the notion that the differences between Houseborn and Wanderer might not be biologically rooted after all, and that this scientific truth could be used to help bridge the divide between them. Dax readily admits that the suggestion is plausible: “I think they’ve built a complex social culture of castes and customs based on suppositions and preconceptions, regardless of any basis in actual fact.” It’s what she says next that I found more memorable:
Perception is nine-tenths of reality, and in the perceptions of the Houseborn, the Wanderers are inferior. I doubt scientific proof would change that perception. Besides, sometimes even the most absurd traditions and customs evolve as a way to preserve a species or protect a planet.
She has the experience and intuitive understanding that Shar’s hypothesis, even if borne out by the data, won’t be enough to overturn a caste system that has arisen out of tradition and emotional reasoning. While Shar’s instincts are sharp, his belief that social structures might be so easily shaken by scientific data reveals naiveté and a lack of experience out in the field. Also, don’t lose your combadge next time, Shar; those things are useful!
One of many elements that adds verisimilitude to this world is the characters’ own engagement with fiction, from the risqué Klingon “bodice ripper” Burning Hearts of Qo’noS introduced in Chapter One, which apparently makes its way through most of the senior crew, to The Adventures of Lin Marna and the Mystery of Singularity Sam, read by Arios, the son of Phillipa Matthias and Chon Sibias.
And again we have a welcome reminder of the importance of internal exploration, a mandate which has spoken to me ever since “All Good Things” and which I feel like some latter Trek lost sight of. The sentiment is beautifully captured in this exchange between Dax and Vaughn:
“Over my lifetime, I’ve found that often the most important thing we take from exploration is a better understanding of the world within than the worlds outside.”
Dax looked at him quizzically. “What are you suggesting? That the final frontier is less about exploring space than it is about exploring ourselves?”
Vaughn smiled. “Isn’t it?”
As with Twilight, I’m impressed by the ambitions of this book and by its scope. In my opinion, the latter also represents the novel’s least successful element: while known characters are tastefully developed, too many new folks are brought onstage, often with little more than a few lines of characterization. Generally speaking, while I cared for their plight on a philosophical level, I failed to connect with most of the Yrythny characters, the one exception being Keren. The reveals involving Jeshoh and Tlaral both fell flat for me. Additionally, the sections of the plot with Ezri and Dax on Luthia, despite the sporadic bursts of action, tend to drag because they feel somewhat padded. The same conclusions and story outcomes could have been reached with less dithering and fewer digressions/flashbacks. Then again, it’s these flaws in 24th-century characters that largely help to humanize them and make them accessible to us 21st-century readers, so I understand the need for balance. On the whole, This Gray Spirit ably continues the broader Gamma epic and sets up a number of new conflicts and mysteries in the process.
Orb factor: 7 orbs for a thought-provoking story well told, though there’s still the opportunity for slightly tighter focus.
In our next installment: We’ll be discussing Mission Gamma, Book Three: Cathedral by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels in this space on Wednesday November 27th!
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.