Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Reread — The Left Hand of Destiny, Book Two

The Left Hand of Destiny, Book Two
J.G. Hertzler and Jeffrey Lang
Publication Date: May 2003
Timeline: Immediately following The Left Hand of Destiny, Book One, in 2375

Progress: At some point in the future, Ezri finds herself on the Rotarran, still donning an EVA suit after a space walk. The ship has lost artificial gravity and is suffering from a major coolant leak in the wake of an attack. Worf and Alexander are there too. An ancient Trill rune-verse plays over and over in her mind as the Rotarran begins to plummet towards the icy surface of the planet Boreth (which, at the time this novel was published, we’d last seen here, but have since glimpsed again here).

Back in the present, Ezri responds to Worf’s one-word message, which she understands to mean that the House of Martok needs her, by asking Kira for a leave of absence, renting a shuttle (named the Wardrobe, after Narnia) and heading into a “remote corner” of Klingon space. After waiting around for a couple of hours at the coordinates that Worf piggybacked on his communication, she sends out a message addressed to him emphatically announcing her presence, and five Klingon vessels, including the Rotarran, decloak. Worf is understandably happy to see her.

After a very brief space-walk—the Klingon and shuttle docking ports aren’t compatible—she joins the Rotarran’s senior crew in a conference room and is brought up to speed regarding Morjod, Gothmara and the events of Book One. Sirella’s reception of Ezri is frosty, but Ezri leans into Dax’s Klingon ways and holds her ground, gaining the crew’s respect.

Kahless talks about the difficulties he experienced trying to inspire Klingons while Gowron ruled, and Martok fills us in on his history with Gothmara. He fell in love with her when she was a science officer on the Gothspar, and only after developing loyalty for her father, Kultan, the ship’s captain, did he find out that Kultan financed his House through the sale of bioweapons.

Martok recounts how he confronted Gothmara regarding her father’s treachery in her ship’s labs. Gothmara was well-aware of Kultan’s doings, and claimed her father was a visionary and hero. She attempted to sway Gowron through a combination of sex and a mind-control device. Martok ultimately resisted, and in the ensuing confrontation with Kultan and Gothmara, one of her experiments went awry, causing a lethal series of ship-wide explosions. Martok gave the order to abandon ship.

Kahless, himself the result of Gothmara’s cloning experiments—she wished to destabilize the empire and thought that bringing back Kahless might create a civil war—reveals that while at Boreth he retrieved certain documents that illustrate how Gothmara brought back the long-dead Hur’q. He reads from her journals, where she chronicled her adventures in a cave and the discovery of Hur’q remains. Using a mutagenic virus, she merged these fragments with Klingon DNA, in essence creating hybridized creatures.

Drex proposes that they retake Ty’Gokor, arguing that many of the warriors at that command center are still loyal to Martok. Kahless points out, though, that even if they won, it would only be a military victory, sundering the empire further and causing years of conflict. Martok believes that Boreth lies at the heart of all their ills, and the others agree that it makes for a good target, particularly since neither Gothmara nor Morjod know how much Kahless learned about their doings there. Martok orders Worf to take the Rotarran, while he and Darok will take command of the Ch’Tang—Pharh will join its crew also—Sirella will board the Orantho, and Drex will join B’Tak on the Ya’Vang. Before dispersing, Sirella has some strong words for Martok about having abandoned his men in his futile attempt to rescue her, but Martok brings the discussion to an abrupt end. Kahless shares with Martok that on Boreth he found a document “written in an obscure dialect” containing a reference to Katai Urthog—where katai is presumably some kind of mysterious honorific, neither of which they have ever heard before, describing Martok’s father.

Ezri and Alexander join Worf on the Rotarran, and Ezri effectively handles a challenge from Ortakin, a Klingon who once challenged Jadzia when she stepped on the ship’s bridge. The Rotarran warps toward its destination, known “to only three of her crew.” Martok and Darok trade barbs on the bridge of the Ch’Tang, as is their wont, until Darok has to discipline a young weapons officer named Kurs, who inappropriately joins in, by breaking his jaw. In a personal aside, Darok suggests to Martok that he may wish to speak to his wife one last time before entering into battle, and he does, their conversation this time ending on a much more positive note.

Morjod has taken control of Ngane’s flagship, having beheaded Ngane himself, and Martok sends a warning to the Orantho, Ya’Vang and B’Moth. Two light cruisers and two birds-of-prey under Morjod’s command decloak and fire at the Ch’Tang. The ship takes a pounding. Just as things are looking particularly dire, the Orantho arrives on the scene. On it Sirella shouts “Long live the Klingon Empire” and then uses the Orantho to ram the cruisers flanking the Chak’ta, sacrificing herself in the process. Before fleeing, Martok wishes to turn back and see if there may have been survivors, but Kahless wisely talks him out of it. Martok also finds out that Captain B’Tak is dead and that Drex, whose response to losing his mother is stoic even by Klingon standards, has assumed command of his ship. Martok announces that he is going to spend some time in his quarters, but in fact he boards a shuttle, cloaks, and leaves. Destination: Boreth. As luck would have it, Pharh was hiding out in the shuttle.

Morjod’s rule on his ship goes beyond the despotic and into the psychopathic, as he essentially ends up having anyone who mildly displeases him beheaded, and the heads laid out “in a row under Chak’ta’s main bridge monitor.” One of his officers picks up the Rotarran’s signal, and Morjod gives the order to follow it. Martok enters a dream space in which he meets the diminutive Lukara, Kahless’s wife. When Martok remarks that Kahless reminds him of Sisko, inasmuch as Kahless seems to be a “seer,” Lukara uses the word katai, a word which she defines as “firebringer” in the oldest tongue and “teacher” or “builder” in the more contemporary meaning. In orbit around Boreth, Martok and Pharh discover that the monastery has been bombarded. Martok wants to find out if anyone is still alive and leaves Pharh in charge of piloting the shuttle.

Pharh beams Martok down near the monastery. The destruction, he finds, is quite thorough. Inside the caverns, he discovers a fatally-wounded monk named Korath, who dies in his presence. A short while later, he encounters Gothmara,  who unleashes Hur’q on him. Through a combination of warrior’s cunning and strength, he defeats several of them, but finally tumbles down a massive precipice while in the grip of one of the beasts. He is found by Klingons not under Gothmara’s command, who surmise that the Hur’q helped break his fall—Martok lives.

Worf, Ezri and Alexander manage to track down the sword of Kahless. Unfortunately, kelbonite in the area means they can’t transport it on to the Rotarran, and a shuttle might alter its pathway, so someone needs to go out and grab it. Martok, back in the dream space, floats in a wine-dark sea, is swallowed by an enormous sea monster that acts as his transportation, visits with his father Urthog—who declares “Honor me by honoring yourself”—and encounters Kahless, who tells him that he, Martok, is the line that divides the old from the new. He wakes up and Pharh lets him know he’s been out for a couple of days.

Martok learns that he and Pharh are kilometers beneath the remains of the mountain monastery, guests of a group of katai masters. Ezri heads out into space with the Klingon equivalent of an EVA suit—a “personal, armored biosphere,” as she describes it—and makes her way to the comet in which is embedded the sword of Kahless. The Chak’ta arrives on the scene along with two birds-of-prey, having tracked the Rotarran’s movements, and fires on the Rotarran. Worf is able to stave off the attackers long enough to retrieve Ezri, who has used a laser to extricate the sword of Kahless from the comet, and warp out.

Gothmara is frustrated when Martok’s body is not to be found, with footprints leading off to the north side of the monastery mountain. Her men report a glorious warrior who managed to kill the previous taskforce, along with the Hur’q. Darok and Kahless give the order to their small fleet to assume battle formation. Kahless and the others have found no sign of Martok. Kahless prepares ground troops for an assault. Martok learns the history of the ancient katai masters, who in fact preceded the Hur’q, from Okado, their eldest. They have used advanced techniques to heal his terrible injuries and make him feel stronger than ever before. More importantly, Martok experiences a spiritual awakening, realizing that he may yet play the role of a Kahless-like figure for the empire.

Gothmara is outraged that despite having been at its location a dozen times, she never before saw the cave mouth her men have reported on. She orders her troops into the cave, telling them to bring back Martok alive but to kill everyone else. Angwar, Okado and the other katai—who number thirteen in total—prepare to join Martok and Pharh in battle, for the time has come, and all of this has been prophesied and written in their ancient texts. Martok, in fact, finds a helmet specifically designed with no left eyehole. They advance towards the surface and engage Gothmara’s forces, receiving a significant boost from a katai woman who single-handedly offs a number of Hur’q and Klingons. As Martok and company exit the cave and head towards Gothmara’s position, reinforcements beam in, including Drex and Kahless. Kahless says that they should try to save as many Klingons as possible, but Drex is reluctant to heed his advice.

The katai avail Martok and the others of beasts known as jarq (Pharh complains about their smell). Alexander greets Ezri in the airlock, and is dazzled by the sword of Kahless. The Rotarran is malfunctioning badly due to its damage, and Ezri saves herself and Alexander by making use of the turbolift’s emergency control. Kahless, Darok, and the others make gains, killing at least a dozen Hur’q, but they suspect they’re being played by Gothmara, who likely has a long fight in mind, for which they’re ill-prepared. The Chak’ta flings a pair of torpedoes in the Rotarran’s path, and the ship begins to come apart. This links us up with that opening scene set in the future. In the midst of the conflict, Martok asks Pharh to help feed him ammo into a “gigantic gun” that he intends to use to take out the enemy’s own guns and gunners. Gothmara talks to Morjod and asks how long it will take him to be close enough to Boreth to beam down troops, to which he replies “three-point-six minutes, Mother. Right after I finish off Rotarran.”

Morjod continues to rule tyrannically from the bridge of the Chak’ta, executing officers who displease him on a whim, and decides he won’t tell Gothmara about his plan to obtain the sword of Kahless from the Rotarran. Angwar counsels that Gothmara wields “an unwholesome influence” over her men, so they should try to liberate rather than slay them. Darok discovers that many new soldiers on Gothmara/Morjod’s side are beaming in, waves upon waves of them. Gothmara edits her earlier command and now asks Morjod to kill everyone, including Martok. Worf and company realize that the only reason the Rotarran, barely functional, is still in orbit is that Morjod has discovered that they possess the sword of Kahless. Worf asks his officer Leskit to plot a course that will land the ship on Boreth, and Ezri advises that they try to keep the transporters online, “just in case.” Pharh finds an injured Darok and drags him into a small cave. They discuss their culture’s beliefs about the afterlife, and Darok persuades Pharh to join Martok in battle, though Martok asked Pharh to stay with Darok. A few minutes after Pharh leaves, Darok dies.

Kahless and Drex fight side-by-side until Drex’s shoulder is hit by a disruptor, so Kahless carries him. He heads in the direction opposite of Morjod’s oncoming men, and at the mouth of a valley makes out Martok and his forces. Drex asks to be put down and implores Kahless to join Martok, which Kahless does. A wounded Hur’q fires on mortar shells, causing a massive explosion that opens the crack in the wall that had been keeping Morjod’s men from swarming through. Angwar mouths the word “Retreat.” Halfway down the canyon, the katai encounter two hundred warriors led by Kahless, and Martok, though they’re a little short on numbers to do it correctly, gives the order for them to be arrayed “in the Columns of Koloth.” The Rotarran begins its tumble through the atmosphere.

The Rotarran crashes near the site of the battle, breaking the ice of a lake and sinking into the water. The crew has beamed safely out of the ship, and Martok is given the sword of Kahless. Pharh sacrifices himself saving Martok’s life from sniper fire by Morjod. Martok rallies his army.

Morjod informs Gothmara that Martok has the sword of Kahless, and she uses her technological mind-control—“the Voice”—to program Morjod to kill Martok “no matter the cost.” Worf and Alexander fight valiantly. Martok is heavily protected by his guards, and easily kills any attackers that make it through to him. Morjod, driven beyond reason, kills many, including the katai Starn. Eventually he makes his way to Martok and there is a drawn-out, gruesome confrontation, in which Morjod attempts to overpower his father through brute strength, not bothering to block the onslaught of blows, thus being heavily cut as a result. After disarming him, Martok tries to get him to surrender, but Morjod slashes the backs of both of his legs open instead. Instead of dying, though, his body shakes violently and undergoes a macabre, grotesque transformation into a Hur’q. Martok delivers a fatal strike to the beast that had once been his son, whose blood is now dark blue. As Morjod/the Hur’q dies, one hand opens up to reveal a communicator, through which Gothmara had exerted her control. With Morjod’s death, the battle comes to an end, and the “second age of the Klingon Empire” officially begins.

With Worf and Alexander’s help, Martok uses the communicator to trace Gothmara, who has retreated back to her lab to escape from the cold. Martok tells her that Morjod is dead, which has little effect on her demeanor. Gothmara then uses her trickery (of which the katai warned Martok) to make Martok believe that Sirella is still alive, the result of having been beamed off her ship just before it exploded. Gothmara uses the deception to stick a knife into Martok, sliding up his midsection and nicking his intestines. Martok has a vision then of a woman holding a simple wooden cup in one hand and a gleaming bat’leth in the other. He raises the sword of Kahless and kills Gothmara, cutting her at the neck.

Two months later, Martok is sort of napping through Federation debriefings, but it’s fine because he’s earned it. Admiral Ross expresses satisfaction at the new safeguards in place at Federation embassies—which had been “a rather outrageous gap” in security, according to him—Dax is fine but has “become fond of long, hot baths,” and Drex is relearning his warrior skills after extensive nerve and skin regeneration procedures undertaken to treat his frostbitten appendages. Martok basically tells Worf that he should get back to Federation business—“Go”—and Worf agrees to wrap up his affairs pronto. During his convalescence, Martok favors a garden outside the reconstructed Great Hall in which has been erected a statue of a Klingon woman bearing Sirella’s features. She holds a cup in one hand and a bat’leth in the other.

What you don’t leave behind: The two continuity nuggets that pleased me most actually reference TNG films. I was delightfully surprised by both of them.

A sterling Star Trek: First Contact moment: “Recalling the encounter with the Borg on the hull of the Enterprise during their jaunt back to the twenty-first century, Worf remembered how glad he was that he had made special modifications to his suit.”

And a cute throwback to Star Trek: Generations: “Alexander had met up with one of the bridge officers from the old Enterprise-D on DS9 several months ago, who had related the story of the day Deanna Troi and Data had successfully piloted the crippled saucer section onto the surface of Veridian III. ‘Such language!’ the officer had said in response to Data’s now-legendary comment as he had felt gravity’s final, inexorable tug on the seat of his pants. ‘He just hasn’t been the same since he got that emotion chip!’”

There’s a first time for everything: “She had stacks of Trill mythology, tales of the Qieltau and accounts of the travels of Evu, supposedly the longest-lived symbiont on the planet (though there was some doubt about the veracity of Evu’s claims).”

I’d like to read more about these Trill myths!

Have you ever considered Minsk?: This is technically a Martok moment, but pertains to Alexander and Worf: “In the past several years, there have been few acts that I have felt were as uncompromisingly correct as taking your father and you into my house.”

Dramatis personae: Pharh was my favorite of the “new” characters in this one, and I was truly sad to see him go. His comic relief is most welcome in this heavy story, and is exemplified by these two moments:

“Pharh hunkered back down against the wall and muttered, ‘You people lead very complicated lives. No wonder you all look so tired.’”

The second occurs as Pharh is dying, a loss I found quite moving:

“Darok said Klingons could maybe buy their friends a spot in the Ko-Vo-Store.”

Ko-Vo-Store? Martok wondered, then moved the sounds around and got it. “Yes,” Martok said.”

Alexander also gets plenty of good beats. This one, which occurs in the heat of battle, stayed with me:

Maybe it was a good day to die, but Alexander hoped not. He wanted very much to taste his grandmother’s borscht once more and take a long ramble through the streets of the First City (a place he had grown to like before the stupid bastard had crushed part of it). Maybe he could even find a nice girl who would love him the way he loved her.

In absentia: This is a Martok/Worf/Dax story—we’ll team up with the rest of our post-finale peeps in Unity.

Behind the lines:

“A poison has polluted the souls of our people; Gowron is only a symptom of its foulness. I have been on a quest for a cure and will not return until I have found it.”—Kahless

Now this was epic.

About twenty or thirty pages into Book Two, the narrative clicked for me. I found myself immersed in the material in a way that never happened with Book One. It’s not necessarily what I would have expected, either, since the first six chapters are basically all talk, as various characters recount their experiences for the benefit of various other characters, revisiting the main events from the prior novel but fleshing them out, adding more backstory and sprinkling in some intriguing revelations. The voices of Martok, Worf, Ezri and Kahless become utterly captivating, and our understanding of new background information ends up significantly enriching the story rather than slowing it down. That sense I had during the first volume that characters were mechanically being moved through a series of pre-rigged set pieces disappeared, and I came to see these protagonists as having agency and being fully in control of their actions, their fates beyond my ability to predict. I started turning the pages more and more quickly after chapter 7 and essentially finished the book in one long sitting.

Besides creating solid character investment, this comparatively measured start has another positive side effect: it builds up our expectation, even if on a subliminal level, of forthcoming action. And then the novel delivers—does it ever. The initial space battles are thrilling, the retrieval of the sword of Kahless from the comet is nail-biting, and the final massive confrontation on Boreth is enthralling. One reason is that Sirella’s dramatic demise midway through the story has signaled to us that all bets are off about who may be next. (And the casualties aren’t trivial: Darok and Pharh, among others). Another is that the battle hinges on the complex interaction of many different elements—specific attack positions and patterns, the weather, the geography of Boreth, the precise timing of the arrival of back-up forces on both sides, the psychological effect on soldiers of seeing the sword of Kahless in action, possible last-minute defections and alliances, Gothmara’s secret machinations and the reach of her manipulative technology, and so on—all of which are rendered thoughtfully and given their due.

The weaving in of mythology, and the fluidity between the worlds of the living and the dreaming, are also well handled, achieving a resonance of imagery and themes that I found lacking in the first book. Moreover, we received the pay-off of emotional beats, whether they happened in Martok’s dreams—the “heart” moment, for example—or not, that appeared in the first book and felt like filler at the time, but can now be appreciated as serving a specific dramatic purpose. As was noted in the comments of the review of Book One, this is one single story published in two volumes, and it shows.

The turning point, I think, where the novel pivots from solidly entertaining to more deeply affecting is when we realize the extent of Morjod’s madness and the nature of the chains that bind him to Gothmara. A stark, pitiful contrast is established between the way his ego fantastically inflames his sense of himself as a walking, talking legend whose every desire ought to be satisfied, with Gothmara’s utter disregard for him as anything other than a blunt tool to be disposed of when he’s done his bit. Gothmara has created and manipulated a sentient being that thrives on her approval, yet toward whom she feels nothing; this makes for a rather spectacularly tragic arc, for both created and creator. The moment when Morjod, bleeding from a half-dozen wounds, runs towards Martok, swinging his blade wildly and shouting, “MOTHER! FOR YOU!” is poignant and disturbing. The explicit descriptions of injuries and wounds during these closing chapters contribute to our suspension of disbelief. In Book One, events felt sanitized. Here, there’s gore and gristle aplenty.

In the final analysis, though, this remains Martok’s journey, and everything that was blurry previously now falls into sharp focus. Worf is right when he makes the following observation to Ezri: “Martok is … resistant. He does not seem to understand that he must embrace the destiny that has been laid out before him.”

Martok’s lack of clarity on this point is the through-line connecting his past with his present; accepting his destiny is the key to preventing his past mistakes from engulfing the future of the empire itself. At one point he complains to Kahless about the litany of tragedies he’s had to endure, revealing a sense of himself as somehow passive, and Kahless replies: “Sometimes, Chancellor…we have no control over our lives simply because we have not yet chosen to take it.” Though he doesn’t immediately reply, Kahless’s words clearly strike a nerve.

Losing his wife Sirella—their complicated relationship being depicted with a wonderful combination of tenderness and irony—opens up a window into the rawness of Martok’s suffering and vulnerability:

He [Martok] had always assumed, however foolishly romantic the notion, that when she died, he would know it, feel her loss within himself; his body would then die of its own volition, being severed from the very force that gave it life. But, here he stood, alive—though it was not possible that he live without her.

Another profound truth that helps Martok become his full, best self, is this pearl shared with him by the katai master Okado: “The greatest lesson that he taught was simply this: We Klingons should fear nothing except ourselves. No one could destroy us except ourselves.”

Having internalized these hard-earned lessons, Martok is finally able to embrace who he is and to pursue his destiny without getting tripped up by self-doubt and by others’ expectations of him. He’s always been a natural-born leader who inspires others—and now, at last, he knows where he’s taking them. On the battlefield, he is refined into the most basic, yet most self-assured and effective, version of himself: “Martok enjoyed himself tremendously. He was not the chancellor now, not the general, and certainly not the glorious leader the katai had envisioned, but only Martok the soldier.”

And that is the beautiful paradox at the heart of this odyssey: only by returning to and accepting our most fundamental selves can we ever hope to transcend them.

Orb factor: A glorious, blood-soaked 9 orbs.

In our next installment: We’ll be talking about S. D. Perry’s Unity in this space on Wednesday, February 12th!

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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