Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Reread — Mission Gamma, Book Four: Lesser Evil

Mission Gamma, Book Four: Lesser Evil
Robert Simpson
Publication Date: November 2002
Timeline: August 2376, following Mission Gamma, Book Three: Cathedral; plus various flashbacks (2347, 2349, 2355, 2369)

Progress: Judith—Joseph Sisko’s daughter by his second wife Rebecca, and therefore Benjamin Sisko’s half-sister (referred to as his sister in the episodes “Past Tense, Part I” and “Homefront”, before the revelation that a wormhole alien worked through Joseph Sisko’s first wife, Sarah, to conceive the Emissary)—is worried about her father’s condition. Joseph has been spending a lot of time alone in his room and Judith feels like she can’t get through to him. She shares her concerns with Kasidy Yates, who suggests someone else who may have more luck engaging with Joseph… Enter the O’Brien family!

Ezri Dax reflects back on the Defiant’s accomplishments and discoveries over the last few months in the Gamma Quadrant. Julian Bashir voices his displeasure at the ration packs the crew has been forced to eat ever since the replicator system blew out, but his complaining ends when Vaughn reminds him that this is the result of having saved his life, along with those of Ezri and Nog. Vaughn and his daughter Prynn are getting on well. Analyzing data from one of the Defiant’s probes, Sam Bowers discovers a Starfleet transponder signal that sets Vaughn’s heart racing.

Following Shakaar’s assassination, Asarem Wadeen is sworn in as Bajor’s new First Minister. Ro puts most of the station on lockdown, figuring that Shakaar’s killer, Hiziki Gard, may have transported somewhere on DS9. Fleet Admiral Leonard James Akaar begins to blame Ro for the lapse in security leading to Shakaar’s death, but she pushes back, quite rightly pointing out that the Federation’s screening procedures failed to find anything wrong with him. Kira vows to find out why Shakaar was killed and expose the truth.

The Defiant crew tracks down the Starfleet transponder signal to a class-M planet and enters orbit. Scans reveal that the transmission appears to be originating from the wreckage of a Jem’Hadar ship. Heavy atmospheric interference, however, means than an away team will need to beam down. Vaughn orders Nog and Bowers to join him, so they can determine what caused the crash and pinpoint the origin of the signal. He also tells them not to discuss their findings so far with anyone else.

Ro questions Ambassador Gandres, who insists that he knew nothing about Gard’s intentions and that his aide had been assigned to him by the Trill Diplomatic Corps. The Trill leader Elekzia Maz tells Councillor Charivretha zh’Thane that an official statement of apology will be issued within a day. Should Bajor continue to move forward with its entrance into the Federation? General Lenaris Holdem points out that Shakaar’s death will give many Bajorans pause. Akaar argues that this is what the assassin surely wanted: to sow division. Asarem meets with zh’Thane and Akaar and tells them that Bajor can’t accept the Federation’s membership invitation at this time, because Shakaar’s murder was committed by a member of the Federation diplomatic delegation. zh’Thane, while empathizing, argues that this evil act shouldn’t be allowed to render the actions of the Emissary meaningless, and assures Asarem that the Federation will remain true to Bajor and support the investigation to bring the killer to justice. Ro suggests that Gard may still be hiding on the station, waiting for his chance to escape. Seemingly invalidating Ro’s theory, Captain Mello of the Gryphon reveals the detection of a faint energy trail consistent with a cloaking device, and suggests that the Gryphon pursue it. Akaar approves, nominating Kira, who is apparently still recognized by Starfleet as an active-duty commander, to join the Gryphon while Lenaris heads up Bajoran ops on DS9. Asarem agrees, stating that she’s not quite ready to give up on the Emissary’s work. While the Gryphon investigates, she and zh’Thane will head back to Bajor. Asarem and Kira have a heart-to-heart about Shakaar’s strange behavior in the weeks leading up to the signing ceremony.

On the planet, Bowers seems to pick up a humanoid life-sign inside the wreck of the Jem’Hadar ship, which contains eight dead Jem’Hadar and one Vorta, but it appears to be only a green, crane-like creature. Vaughn proceeds to trace the origin of the transponder signal alone, and then has Nog and Bowers—who believe there’s a changeling on the loose, explaining the original humanoid readings—beam to his location. In a large crash site, they make out the remnants of a Borg ship!

Ro is convinced that whatever the Gryphon detected, it’s not Gard escaping, because he’s still on DS9. Working with Taran’atar, she concretizes her suspicion and locates a small space on the station in which Gard may plausibly be hiding. Vedek Yevir informs Lenaris that the recently recovered Orbs will be returned to Bajor, and that the Vedek Assembly and the Oralian Way will “exchange permanent religious embassies.” Without requesting permission, Ro takes over control of DS9’s ops center.

Beneath the Borg hull plating of the crashed ship, Bowers, Nog and Vaughn find the remnants of the U.S.S. Valkyrie. Vaughn says: “Paladin-class, NCC-68816. Crew complement: 30. Lost with all hands stardate 46935 during a Borg engagement at the planet Uridi’si. Presumed destroyed.” Aboard the ship there are mostly dead drones—except for one, still alive, who was once a Starfleet officer. Vaughn instructs Bashir to beam down to their coordinates. Bashir does so, and his analysis reveals that the drone was once a human female, and that roughly sixty-eight percent of her body has been replaced with Borg tech. Vaughn orders Bashir and Nog to extract the drone from the alcove without killing her, beam her up to the Defiant, and restore her humanity. The drone, it turns out, was Vaughn’s wife and Prynn’s mother, one Commander Ruriko Tenmei.

Despite Akaar’s and Lenaris’s protests, Ro proceeds with her plan, and with Taran’atar’s help, locates and exposes Gard, who is wearing a Federation isolation suit.

Bashir informs Vaughn that the extent of Ruriko’s assimilation surpasses anything on record, and that in order to give her the best treatment they need to return to the Alpha Quadrant. Vaughn is adamant about the work being done on the Defiant, despite its limited resources. Prynn makes her way to the medbay and is naturally horrified at the glimpse of her Borg-ified mother. Several crew members express their concerns about Vaughn’s recent orders to Dax, who resolves to talk to him.

Shakaar’s autopsy reveals that his nervous system contained isoboramine, and a wound in his neck has traces of alien DNA. Akaar realizes what’s going on: Shakaar was host to a parasite encountered by the Federation twelve years earlier (and a century before that by a joint team of Federation and Trill scientists, as will be detailed in the short story “Sins of the Mother” in The Lives of Dax anthology). This raises the obvious question: what is the Gryphon chasing? Answer: Captain Mello is likely also being controlled by an alien parasite, en route to Trill for an act of retaliation.

Miles O’Brien, along with his wife Keiko and their two children Molly and Kirayoshi, hatches a scheme to entice Joseph Sisko out of his room: cook corned beef and cabbage in Joseph’s kitchen, and let the aromas do the talking. Happily, it works.

Kira feels uneasy aboard the Gryphon. She catches up with Captain Mello, and Mello’s first officer, Commander Montenegro, shows Kira to her quarters.

Dax engages in some straight talk with Vaughn, reminding him that his duty to his crew, and the safety of the Federation, must override his personal considerations. Vaughn is furious, but sees her point. He has been acting out of a sense of guilt towards Ruriko, feeling responsible for her fate. Dax asks him to explain what happened, and he does, recounting his first meeting with Ruriko and their missions together in a series of extended flashbacks. Through these we learn that a Cardassian scientist named Cren Veruda invented an A. I. that once threatened the Federation, and said A. I. eventually used subspace to make contact with the Borg and copy itself onto the Borg vessel. Vaughn then had to order Ruriko, commanding the Valkyrie, to stop the Borg ship. Unloading all of this on Dax gives Vaughn enough perspective to realize that she’s right in suggesting that the changeling on the planet be brought back aboard so that they can return her to her people, and also that Vaughn needs to talk with Prynn.

Quark pays Trier a visit. He’s becoming nervous that Ro may not actually want to leave DS9, because since Shakaar’s death she’s been so focused on her job. Trier asks Quark if he loves Ro, and his answer is somewhat confused. A thud against the wall of Trier’s quarters leads them to an agonizing Gul Macet—who has a parasite wriggling on the back of his neck.

An engineering mishap, sparked by one of Captain Mello’s orders, results in plasma burns to Lieutenant Commander Savitri Bhatnagar and an engineer named Hallerman. Kira has a private conversation with Montenegro, who shares his misgivings about recent changes he’s observed in Captain Mello’s behavior and in her attitude towards him. Kira then receives a communication from Akaar, explaining that they’ve caught Shakaar’s assassin, indicating that a parasite has likely taken over a member of the Gryphon’s command crew, and instructing Kira to stop the ship from reaching Trill, “no matter what the cost.”

Vaughn has been keeping Prynn away from her droned mother, but when she shares with her father that she has secretly been searching for her mom ever since he told her that Ruriko had been lost on a mission, he reconsiders. In the medbay, Prynn hums Ruriko’s favorite tune to her, and the drone appears to whisper her name in response.

Kira and Dr. Xiang confront Captain Mello—but there’s no sign of a parasite at the back of her neck. They’ve been misled: it was Montenegro—who now initiates a computer program—all along.

Back on the planet, Bowers and Nog persuade the changeling to return with them, explaining that the war between the Federation and the Founders has ended, and that they even have a Jem’Hadar, sent by Odo, living with them in the Alpha Quadrant. Aboard the Defiant, Shar tells Vaughn that after the Valkyrie was assimilated by the Borg seven years earlier, the Borg deployed it as an advanced scout in the Gamma quadrant via transwarp conduit. In the Gamma Quadrant, it encountered the Jem’hadar. It’s not clear that the collective learned of the Valkyrie’s fate, as the Jem’hadar heavily damaged the vessel, effectively cutting off its communications. The Ruriko drone, reawakened, attempts to assimilate the changeling, but fails. Vaughn, fearful that it will attempt to take over Prynn next, blasts it with his phaser.

The Gryphon heads to Trill at Warp 9.5, while a warp core breach appears imminent. Kira, Mello, and a few others track down the parasite-controlled Montenegro to engineering. They use a Jeffries tube to advance towards his position, but Mello is killed by phaser fire. Before dying, Mello transfers command of the ship to Kira.

At Joseph Sisko’s home, Judith asks Keiko and Miles about Molly’s unusual necklace. They share that it was a gift to Miles from Kai Opaka. Over the next few days Joseph helps Molly learn how to ride a bike. Joseph asks Miles to take him to Bajor.

Dax tries to help Prynn understand that it wasn’t really Vaughn who killed her mother, but rather the Borg. Vaughn considers the consequences of his actions.

Kira manages to kill the parasite who had taken over Montenegro, and by using a clever strategy, is able to prevent a conflict with several other vessels that would have destroyed the Defiant. On the return trip to DS9, Kira learns from General Taulin Cyl of the Trill Defense Ministry that the parasites are in fact waging a war against the Trill symbionts, and that humanoids were never their targets.

The Defiant’s scans show that the wormhole appears to have shifted to the Idran system. A Jem’hadar ship hails the Defiant. On board is a new Weyoun clone (!), who tells Vaughn that they have something belonging to the Federation. In beam Jake Sisko, an alien woman named Wex—“she’s on pilgrimage,” according to Jake—and Kai Opaka.

What you don’t leave behind: By focusing an important part of its plot on the parasites we saw in “Conspiracy,” this novel automatically trades in suspicion and heightened paranoia. A relevant callback that feeds directly into that sense of fear is this reference to the events of “The Adversary” in an exchange between Bowers and Nog:

“A Founder on the Defiant, that’s something to keep the security staff up at night. I heard about the one who almost took control of the old Defiant before the war.”

“It did take control,” Nog corrected absently as he double-checked his own equipment. He hadn’t been with Starfleet then, but he’d heard the story enough times from Chief O’Brien. “Captain Sisko almost had to destroy the ship.”

We’ve come to expect plenty of DS9 and TNG series events to be referenced in these relaunch novels, but it’s nice to see VOY contribute as well (Section 31: Abyss, similarly dark in tone, also did this). This one, taking us back to “Scorpion,” “Scorpion, Part II,” and “Pathfinder,” occurs when the crew discusses possible communications between the Valkyrie in the Gamma Quadrant and the collective: “Or it may be that circumstances forced them to deprioritize the Gamma Quadrant—according to the Pathfinder database, the Valkyrie’s mission to the Gamma Quadrant coincided with the Borg first contact with Species 8472.”

I’ve long wondered about Kai Opaka’s fate, and was delighted to see that thread picked up here. This is the perfect recap for readers who don’t remember the events of the first season episode “Battle Lines”: “She wound up trapped on the surface of a moon in the Gamma Quadrant. There was nanotechnology—artificial microbes—in the biosphere that resuscitated anyone who died there, and Opaka had been killed when the ship crashed. She came back to life, but she was now dependent on the nanotechnology, which wouldn’t function outside the moon’s biosphere.”

One of my favorite scenes, the heart-to-heart between Akaar and Vaughn from Mission Gamma, Book One, is touched on here: “Vaughn nodded. ‘He warned me not to take Prynn on this mission. He said he wasn’t worried about the crew; he was worried about the two of us.’” It’s sad that Akaar turned out to be right.

It’s clever and effective to have the resolution of the grim, life-or-death situation aboard the Gryphon hinge on the events of “Take Me Out to the Holosuite,” the very mention of which adds welcome levity to our story:

Solok, Kira thought. Abrasive, arrogant Academy classmate of Captain Sisko. Solok was so certain of the innate superiority of Vulcans over humans and most other Alpha Quadrant humanoids that he’d once challenged Benjamin to a game of baseball during a quiet moment in the middle of the Dominion war. Kira had played on Sisko’s team, and they had lost spectacularly, but nevertheless claimed a victory by simply taking joy in playing the game—something the Vulcans would never do.

Ah, Weyoun. I never thought you were truly gone. And so you’re not. “The Changing Face of Evil” gets its due with these lines: “…by all accounts, after the Vorta cloning facilities on Rondac III were destroyed, the last Weyoun had been killed during the final battle on Cardassia.” Well, clearly not by all accounts.

Your journey’s end lies not before you, but behind you: I like the suggestion that Vaughn’s Orb experience may have led him, somewhat circuitously, to closure with Ruriko. The reality is that it’s probably had transformative effects that will continue to play out in this relaunch series.

She [Prynn] stared at him. “You’re trying to tell me that this all happened because of the wormhole aliens?”

“I really don’t know,” Vaughn told her honestly. “But I think something beyond my understanding, or yours, put me on this path I’m following. It’s the path that made me change my life.”

It’s not linear: The Emissary’s work in bringing Bajor and the Federation together is mentioned several times, and proves to be a powerful argument that makes Asarem reconsider her initial response to Shakaar’s assassination.

Don’t tell me you’re getting sentimental: Joining the Gryphon’s crew takes Kira back to the days when she felt like an outsider, and displayed an understandably challenging attitude towards certain command decisions:

It had taken Kira a long time to get past those feelings, to see beyond her automatic resentment of the Federation’s presence. Years of serving alongside Benjamin, Jadzia, Miles, Julian, and even Worf, had helped her to understand that these people were her partners, her friends and allies—not her adversaries.

I like the reminder that it took years for Kira to grow past these reservations and resentments. Personal change and growth are slow, often painful processes, and the interiority of these novels provides an ideal format for illuminating such arcs.

Also, Kira is a certified action hero in her mano a mano with the possessed Montenegro. After she knocks him out and the parasite crawls out of his mouth, we are treated to this moment of indelible badassery:

Kira waited until the thing was half a meter away, then raised her foot and brought her heel down with enough force for the impact to echo through the engine room, sending a jolt of pain up her leg. She scarcely noticed, and proceeded to scrape off the smashed remains of the parasite against the lip of the warp-core base.

All I do all day long is give, give, give: Quark whining to Trier that “It’s not a midlife crisis!” is really amusing.

His honest answer, when she asks him if he’s in love with Ro, is also worth admiration:

“You wanna know the truth? I’m not even sure I know anymore. Everything I do now, every choice I make, I keep making Laren part of the equation, whether I mean to or not. And now I wonder if the only way she and I will ever get together is if one of us becomes something we’re not. Which would kill it between us, wouldn’t it?” Been living on this station too long, he thought. I’m starting to think like these people.

A chance to enjoy paradise again: Here is Bashir, resolute in his disagreement with Vaughn’s order, but still feeling bound to the chain of command:

Bashir met Vaughn’s challenging stare and held it. “All right,” he said quietly. “But I want to be clear that this is against my medical judgment. And I fully intend to enter it into my log that your orders are putting this woman’s life and the safety of the crew at risk.”

I will be waiting: Robert Simpson reminds us that Kasidy Yates is now “more than eight months pregnant.” So, yes—any day now.

“I just realized…maybe there is someone who can get through to him [Joseph Sisko].” Kasidy’s idea pays marvelous dividends.

Can you hear me?: The return of Jake Sisko! Endearingly, Jake’s first word upon reappearing in this narrative is “Woah.” (To be fair to him, Dax’s welcome hug is very effusive). His comment about the events he’s experienced off-page since his disappearance in Avatar, Book Two— “Nothing worked out the way I expected”—hints at a major catch-up, which will no doubt occur in the forthcoming novel Rising Son. I can’t wait.

If I get lost: Trust a Ferengi’s lobes. On the planet, “the longer they walked, the more Nog became convinced that something wasn’t right with the forest. He felt like they weren’t alone, that something was nearby, watching them. […] something else was out there. Nog could feel it in his lobes.” How right you were, Nog.

Try re-aligning the induction coils: The return of another character from the season seven finale cast! Fortunately, this one occurs early enough to allow for several amiable scenes. The following passage summarizes O’Brien’s life philosophy

Chief Petty Officer Miles O’Brien tended to think of himself as uncomplicated. He lived life by a very fundamental rule: If something’s broken, you fix it. And if his long career as a Starfleet engineer had taught him anything—from his time aboard the Rutledge, to the Enterprise, to Deep Space 9, to his current posting on the faculty staff at Starfleet Academy—it was that people needed fixing as much as machines. More so. Especially family.

Certainly, this helps to make him a consummate engineer, and a very practical individual. On the other hand, one gets the sense that O’Brien might not be the best person in the world if you just want someone to listen while you vent.

All bets are off: Despite the wording of this section title, I’d say Bajoran entrance into the Federation still looks like a fairly likely outcome. Admittedly, the new Trill storyline could delay it.

Dramatis personae: Vaughn is obviously not a new addition to the relaunch. He’s been with us since the first book. And, in point of fact, he’s been through a lot in just this miniseries alone. Yet seeing him go off the rails and make emotional decisions, clearly at odds with what his command crew would consider to be sound judgment, is fresh, and it humanizes him. Despite his seniority and vast experience, he too can succumb to internal turbulence.

His evolution has been interesting throughout these books. Twilight mired him in static angst, delivered mostly through indirect internal soliloquy, and gave us the reconciliation with Prynn. This was cemented in This Gray Spirit, which showed Vaughn’s tactical cunning and ability to improvise when needed, though he was not particularly foregrounded. In Cathedral, Vaughn again had more to do, and the action was nicely balanced with reflection. And now, in Lesser Evil, the Vaughn action is inextricably linked with his character growth, and his relationship with Prynn has once more been upset.

Behind the lines: “Which is the lesser evil?” asks this novel early on, through Asarem’s voice. “To complete what Shakaar started, when I know he acted ignominiously in his pursuit of it? Or to reject it, even though I know that a different evil may be attempting to pit us and the Federation against each other?” By the book’s end, Asarem’s final decision remains un-made, with Bajor’s future—perhaps even its destiny—hanging in the balance. Yes, we’ve learned that the “ignominious” behavior in question was driven by an external agent, namely a parasite, but the extent of that infiltration is still unclear, as well as which path would cause most damage. (Incidentally, is Cardassia under attack too?) If Bajor’s entrance into the Federation, for instance, led to the dissemination of more parasites through other infected Bajorans, it might be better for everyone involved to take a step back. The weight of Bajor’s past, and everything it’s taken to get to the current moment, is a serious consideration for the likes of Akaar, Kira, zh’Thane, and to some degree Asarem herself.

In a sense, this speaks to the book’s central theme, which is facing up to the past and learning from it. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” wrote Faulkner, and Lesser Evil makes an eloquent case for the truth of that sentiment: consider Vaughn’s plot, and the parasite plot, and the Joseph Sisko subplot, and Kira’s experiences, just to mention a few. Simpson handles the theme deftly, letting it emerge organically through the narrative rather than shoehorning it in (unlike, say, certain passages in Twilight).

Ironically, considering that this is the fourth volume, and clearly labeled as such, it also functions as a standalone better than any of the preceding three entries would have. This is due to Simpson’s short recaps of everything essential that’s happened up to this point whenever he introduces a prominent character or an important situation.

Vaughn’s flashback sequence is immersive, and as the years gradually jump forward from scene to scene, bringing us back towards the present, tension builds, despite the tragically inevitable outcome for Ruriko. The amount of foreshadowing and misdirection in the various plotlines are also commendable (with the possible exception of Kira being duped by Montenegro, a twist perhaps telegraphed too boldly).

I imagine some readers might find the Defiant’s discovery of the drone transponder signal somewhat of a contrivance, but I believe that Prynn and Vaughn’s conversation sufficiently addresses this. One plot element that I did find unsatisfying was Nog and Bower’s decision not to contact Vaughn right away after suspecting that there was a changeling on the planet. Their reasoning goes like this:

“Should we notify the commander?”

Bowers hesitated. “We don’t have a lot to go on. And the commander…I don’t think he’d appreciate speculation right now.”

I suppose this is designed to suggest that Vaughn has already become intractable and obsessive on the mission, but to me it came across as unrealistic behavior on Nog and Bower’s part.

I was also surprised by this development of Shar’s storyline: “Although it wasn’t discussed openly, word had circulated among the crew about the news Shar had received last month—the worst possible on a voyage like this one: the death of a loved one back home.” But how did word get out? Shar made it clear to Nog that it was extremely personal information, of the type he’d normally not share with non-Andorians, and Nog understood the confidentiality of the situation. Perhaps Vaughn or someone else was informed, but it’s unpleasant to think of anyone at that level violating Shar’s privacy.

These are admittedly minor annoyances. Simpson is a strong storyteller. Indeed, it’s remarkable how much story he’s able to pack into the slimmest volume in this series; yet nothing feels missing or undercooked. The novel is thoroughly engrossing, often surprising, and an ultimately satisfying conclusion to the Gamma miniseries.

(There are a few signs of haste in the grammar, which I think reflects poorly on the proofreading part of the process, though, rather than on Simpson himself. For example [italics mine], “You’re attitude surprises me, Doctor” or “Abruptly the beast shrank and altered shape, changing into an a morphous mass”.)

I wasn’t familiar with Simpson’s work before reading this story, and I’m sad to see he hasn’t contributed other novels to the Trek universe. His job was a difficult one, and he delivered.

Orb factor: A strong finish to this miniseries, with another 9 orb rating. And an overall rating of 8 orbs to the Mission Gamma miniseries as a whole.

In our next installment: We’ll be discussing The Lives of Dax, edited by Marco Palmieri, in this space on Wednesday December 18th!

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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