Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Reread — Unity

Unity
S. D. Perry
Publication Date: November 2003
Timeline: September 2376, immediately following the end of Mission Gamma, Book Four and Rising Son

Progress: A tired Vaughn and crew travel through the wormhole and bring the Defiant back to DS9, while Jake catches Nog up on the events of Rising Son. When the Defiant emerges from the wormhole, they find a small fleet of Cardassian vessels blocking their path and communications. Gul Macet demands that Vaughn surrender the Defiant to him, but Vaughn comes up with a different plan.

Cloaking the vessel and using Tenmei’s ace piloting skills, they manage to break past some of the Cardassian ships, but Kira hails them and requests that they stand down. Admiral Akaar asks Vaughn and Bashir a series of questions clearly designed to have them prove their identities; when satisfied with the outcome, the Defiant is directed to the station. Reunions take place: Shar greets his mother, Kira is overjoyed to see Jake again, and more than a little surprised by Opaka’s return.

Kira sets up a debriefing to bring the Defiant’s crew up to speed on everything pertaining to Shakaar’s assassination and the parasites. Attending the meeting is General Taulin Cyl, the latest host embodying the Cyl symbiont, once hosted by Neema, the daughter of Audrid Dax, which understandably provokes a complex response in Ezri. Soon enough Kira, Ro, Dr. Girani and Dr. Tarses get down to brass tacks: they haven’t learned anything new from Hiziki Gard, Shakaar’s assassin; the parasites seem to operate in small telepathically-linked cadres engendered by one queen who directs the offspring, but they can function independently; six people aboard the station were found to be infected by the parasites; Macet’s successful resistance to the parasite that attacked him has led to the realization that Cardassians possess a natural immunity to the creatures, which is why they’re on point; once infected for more than several weeks the human carrier can no longer be saved even if the parasite is removed; the parasite can access short-term memories but not long-term recollections, which is why asking questions about long-ago events can prove effective in uncovering them; and there are currently one hundred and seven civilians on Bajor that were on DS9 before Shakaar’s death (and could thus be potentially infected) that haven’t yet been accounted for. Oh, and some of the parasites have figured out how to get their carrier bodies to use plastimasks to hide the barbs that would normally protrude from the back of their necks. In short, everyone is pretty riled up, security is heightened with the station on lockdown, and this isn’t exactly the homecoming Vaughn and his crew would have enjoyed.

Observing Kira’s exhaustion, Bashir confines her to quarters for six hours minimum. He asks Ezri about Cyl and she recaps the events from “Sins of the Mother,” including how that long-ago parasite vowed to obliterate the Trill, “the weak ones.” As if that weren’t enough, when Bashir inquires as to how Ezri knew Gard, she replies: “He killed me.” Meanwhile, Shar’s zhavey tells him that she knew of his private bond—the tezha—with the now-dead Thriss, and that his bondmates Dizhei and Anichent were also aware of it. Shar reveals that through his encounter with the Yrythny he may have found a chance to prevent the Andorian race from going extinct. His zhavey tells him that, should he not be ready to move to Andor now, she has found several candidates who would be willing to take Shar’s place. Quark laments how business has slowed down since Shakaar’s assassination. Ro stops by, and when Quark gripes about how busy she’s been for someone about to quit her job, she explains that even though Gard has been apprehended, they still need to catch whoever else is involved in the conspiracy to keep Bajor out of the Federation. Nog drops by and they catch up.

Opaka ponders recent events, and provides solace to Kira, who answers her questions about the Ohalu texts and basically breaks down. Ezri talks to Cyl and finds out what the TSC knew and didn’t know about the parasites. She then meets with Gard, who remembers Dax from her mismatch of Joran Belar to the Dax symbiont (see “Allegro Ouroboros in D Minor”), and they have a heart-to-heart about Trill affairs. Gard secretly wonders whether “his suspicions about Trill’s history would be proved right or wrong.”

Kira is contacted by Vedek Yevir, who has learned that Jake and Opaka are aboard the station and is requesting permission, along with vedeks Bellis and Eran, to come aboard and visit them. Kira reluctantly agrees. Bashir, despite being powerfully motivated, makes little progress on parasite biology, though he does figure out that the time before the union with the parasite and its victim becomes permanent is species-specific. Shar decides to remain on the station; his bondmates will return to Andor without him and meet the zhen candidates that may carry their offspring. Prynn Tenmei checks in on him, suggesting lunch, but he declines.

Jake reconnects with Nog, albeit briefly, before heading to Bajor, courtesy of Yevir. Wex decides to stay on the station and finds herself intrigued by Taran’atar. Vaughn settles into the Starfleet shelter set up in the Tilar peninsula on Bajor, where Bowers is acting as contact for all Starfleet personnel working on the planet.

Ezri finds herself experiencing a “negative instinctual reaction” whenever she thinks about the parasites. Bashir’s analysis suggests that the genetic linkage between the Trill symbionts and the parasites is “beyond ancestral,” meaning the result of ancient genetic engineering. Kira suggests to Cyl that maybe the reason no one on Trill has ever brought this up before is because there’s a generational conspiracy at work. Ro interrogates Gard, who admits that they narrowed down the place where Shakaar was infected to one of either three planets or two starbases. Prynn asks Shar to lunch again, and this time he says yes.

Jake visits Kas. Ro tells Kira she’s determined that Shakaar was infected on Minos Korva, and Kira congratulates her on a job well done, saying she’ll contact Admiral Akaar right away. Ro asks for a good word to be put in for Gard, without whom she wouldn’t have been able to make her deduction. Kira expresses the hope that Ro will reconsider her resignation, and Ro replies coolly. Vaughn, tortured by his memories of killing Ruriko, and despairing at the re-opened rift between him and Penmei, calls her to apologize, but she ends the conversation abruptly.

Quark intercepts a transmission between DS9 and the Trager and contacts Ro, wanting to know what the heck is going on. She confides that ten individuals aboard the station were found to be infected with the parasites, and are all presently in stasis. Quark threatens to spill the beans, but Ro gives him some compelling reasons not to. Grand Nagus Rom calls to give Quark the good news—his wife Leeta is pregnant. Liro Kavis, on security detail in the station’s bay 5G, “a nightmare jumble of discarded crates and stored excess, plus about a thousand personal items belonging to station residents,” is startled by fellow security officer Bennings, who reaches for her menacingly.

Lenaris and Kira have decided that Vaughn needs a break, and that he should go off to the monastery in Ashalla for a few days—a decision which makes him understandably grumpy. During their lunch, Prynn asks Shar about various aspects of Andorian culture, and he picks up that she’s interested in him romantically. Sensing his discomfort, she backs off, and they agree that they’ve enjoyed each other’s company. Vaughn meets Opaka at the monastery.

Aboard the runabout Madeira, O’Brien (along with Keiko, Molly, Yoshi, Judith, and Joseph Sisko) establishes communication with Kira, who advises him of several security clearances needed before they can reach their destination. She also tells them that Jake is down on Bajor with Kas, which brings enormous relief to Joseph. At Quark’s, one of his old vole traps snaps as a parasite passes by it and leaps towards Taran’atar’s face—which turns out to be a really bad move, since the Jem’Hadar chews it up and spits it out. Nog makes up a story about his “pet hunta spider” having just been eaten. At the Bajoran monastery, Vaughn has tea with Opaka, and seeks her counsel on his life path. He realizes that in order to gain the clarity he needs, he will benefit from contact with one of the Orbs once more.

Jake and Kas greet Joseph Sisko, Aunt Jude and the O’Briens. Ro considers a plan to try and draw the station’s queen parasite out into the open. She overhears a conversation between Kira and Akaar in which Kira is really going to bat for Ro. Ro is then accosted by a woman who has been infected by a parasite, and the parasite tries to get into her mouth. Shar shares the latest about Prynn with Nog, who recommends that Shar consult with Vic Fontaine “about females.” They hear screams, and when Shar sees Ro on her knees, clawing at the alien intruder on her face, he is overcome with rage and takes action, saving her. After the confrontation is over, stasis fields having been deployed for the infected, and med techs having beamed in, Ro declares that they have a queen.

Tensions are brewing on the home front for Keiko and Miles; she can sense that Miles is starting to chafe around the collar with his new teaching gig, and meanwhile she’s been offered a lead position with the Interstellar Agricultural Aid Commission. The only catch: it’s on Cardassia. Opaka makes arrangements for Vaughn to get access to the Or of Unity.

During his orb experience, Vaughn’s life is recast as a 1950s New York city narrative, that of one Eli Underwood. In this version of events, after being arrested for killing his wife Ruri, Eli is taken to the Riverdale asylum for the criminally insane—and there meets Benny Russell, who tells him, “this must be where you belong.”

Bashir holds a debriefing with Kira, Ezri, General Cyl, Sam Bowers, Ro Laren, Nog, and Shar, covering the findings he’s made examining the queen. Queens are able to communicate with soldiers by limited telepathic signals that rely on images rather than thoughts; they grow a temporary second gestational body in which the soldier offspring mature; and, once born, these soldiers are dependent on the queen’s continued existence for their own lives. The queens are in turn presumably mass-spawned by a larger creature, Bashir speculates, presently likely on Bajor. Kira emphasizes the importance of communicating with the queen they have in captivity, and Gard—who by dint of being a Trill has a chance of surviving a temporary joining—volunteers. Kira is successfully able to talk to the queen inside Gard, but the queen is unremitting in her plans for Trill’s destruction. After the parasite is pulled out of Gard, he says, “Mother. Bajor. Tears.” As reports come in from General Lenaris of skirmishes breaking out on Bajor, Kira realizes that not only are the queen’s soldiers dying on the station, but that a bigger chain of events has been set in motion, and that the Orbs may be in danger. Wex offers to help, but Kira brushes her off. Eli confides to Benny his regret at having missed so much of his daughter’s life. “Just because you missed part of her life,” says Benny, “doesn’t mean you have to miss all of it.”

Eli begins to suspect that there’s more to Benny than meets the eye. On Bajor, armed monks force their way into Kas’s home, and a prylar shoots Vaughn in front of Opaka.

As the conversation between Eli and Benny deepens, Eli comes to understand that it’s time for them to go their own ways. Kira, who has been making decisions without consulting the higher-ups, resolves, along with Nog, zh’Thane and O’Brien, to take the Defiant out and tackle the rapidly deteriorating situation on Bajor. Various Assembly vedeks, as well as B’hala, the Central Archives, and the shrine at Kendra, have all fallen to parasite forces. Before departing, she leaves Ro in charge of the station. Kas, Jake, and the other hostages are flown by shuttle from Kas’s house to the Ashalla monastery. where they encounter Opaka and a wounded Vaughn.

Cloaked near Bajor, Kira tasks O’Brien with devising a way to beam down while having the Defiant remain cloaked. Leveraging an idea one of his engineering students suggested, he devises a way to try and make it work. On Bajor, the two Sisko men convince one of their captors to get water for Kasidy and Vaughn. Opaka feels the strong pagh of Kasidy’s baby, who begins to move, and Kas has a contraction.

Kira subjects herself to O’Brien’s experimental trans-cloak transporter, and seconds after materializing on Bajor’s surface is attacked by parasites, and just as fast is saved by Wex—who shapeshifts—and turns out to have been Odo in disguise all this time. Whoa. Kas’s water breaks. Akaar requests permission to beam down from the Krager to DS9, and in an attempt to stall him, Ro has him transported to Kira’s office.

We learn that Odo disguised himself as a Trellian woman to investigate the rumors of Opaka having made contact with the Ascendants, a race the Great Link knows very little about. He and Kira team up to try and free the hostages and take out the parasite queen of queens. Eli and Benny’s world begins to dissolve away into nothingness. Kira finds the enormous queen inside the underground chamber that holds all the Orbs, and the queen’s eggs begin hatching at once. Kira drops her phaser and opens up every ark, exposing the creature to the powers of the various orbs: the Orb of Time, Contemplation, Destiny, Souls, Memory, Wisdom, Prophecy, Truth, and Unity.

Eli and Benny’s non-corporeal world explodes into light. The spawning parasite queen is told by a being “vast as space” that she’s picked the wrong planet. Jem’Hadar in the Celestial Temple, for whom no time has passed since their disappearance from their ships, meet the parasite queen, and launch a full-scale attack against her. Akaar gives Ro a hard time about getting the runaround from her, and she gives him a piece of her mind. Moments later, reports come in from Bajor that the hostage-takers have collapsed and the parasites are fleeing.

Eli returns to our world and wakes up as Elias. Kas has her baby: the Avatar is a girl. And Benjamin Sisko appears by her side, and holds them both.

A few weeks go by, and Bajor’s joining of the Federation is imminent. Kira informs Quark that the Chamber of Ministers and the Federation Council have declared his bar the Ferengi Embassy to Bajor. Quark realizes that Rom must have helped push this through. zh’Thane says goodbye to Shar. Opaka meets with Yevir, praising Kira and making a defense of the Ohalu texts. Ro receives a special gift from Jean-Luc Picard, and decides that maybe she shouldn’t resign after all. Garak makes a brief appearance. Vaughn has a heartfelt conversation with Prynn, and the process of reconciliation begins anew.

Everyone—including Sisko, Picard, Worf, Gowron, Opaka, and Odo—comes together for the formal ceremonies of Bajor’s entrance to the Federation. Various commendations are given out. Keiko accepts the job on Cardassia.

Sisko enjoys an intimate dinner and evening with his family on Bajor, reflecting on the past and contemplating the future…while making sure to savor the present.

What you don’t leave behind: This novel feels like a multi-episode season finale, and as such contains countless references to the preceding episodes (i.e. the preceding relaunch novels). None of these callbacks particularly stood out, but what I did find noteworthy was exactly how much how ground we’ve covered. Here is a summary, taken from the book itself, of everything that happened between the show’s finale and this novel.

Your journey’s end lies not before you, but behind you:

“Opaka smiled to herself, thinking of the beautiful child she had helped into the world. How strange to think that Ohalu’s book alone, among all the known prophecies, had foretold the birth of the Emissary’s daughter. She hoped that Yevir could be persuaded to see it as the wondrous gift that she had come to believe it was.”

While I too hope Yevir will be amenable to reason, I’m more curious as to whether additional prophecies from the Ohalu texts will continue to come to pass. So far, despite some inevitable interpretational ambivalences, it’s all checked out. I hope Bajoran and Federation scholars and scientists alike analyze the heck out of these texts!

It’s not linear:

“There were other places, far more of them, where he wasn’t even a child trying to learn, but a particle of an atom that was lost and always would be in a universe of complexities.”

A fine way to render Sisko’s non-corporeal existence.

“But repeating the guilt, living in the pain, in the past—it doesn’t work. It denies time. It denies life.”

Great advice, that, given by Benny to Eli.

Don’t tell me you’re getting sentimental:

“…Opaka coming home changed things, giving Kira real hope for the first time since Shakaar had been killed.”

The first reprieve for Kira in a long time.

Her words to Opaka, leading to her outpour of emotions, are moving: “I was Attainted for it. I’m unwelcome in the public shrines, forbidden to share the faith, and now everything is so wrong, there’s so much going wrong and I feel so alone….”

All I do all day long is give, give, give: Perry excels with Quark scenes, and deftly adjusts the prose to do justice to his psyche. Consider this gripe from Quark to Kira about Wex, which is even funnier knowing that Wex is in fact Odo: “She’s got an expression that could turn back time. Would you at least ask her to try smiling once in a while?”

And speaking of Quark and smiles, this is one—pun intended—jaunty metaphor: “Quark’s grin fell, crashed on the floor, bounced a few times, and rolled against the bar before it came to a stop and burst into flames.”

A chance to enjoy paradise again: Bashir being honest with himself about the depth of his feelings for Ezri: “Ezri’s story had frightened him, for entirely selfish reasons; he simply loved her too much not to worry.”

And then figuring out the worst-case scenario consequence, which I assume will be explored in forthcoming works:

We’re not going to be able to work together for much longer, he thought, and buried it before it could go any further, determined not to muck things up between them, aware that it was already too late. He loved her, and that had changed everything.

There’s a first time for everything: Ezri is right to point this out: “Even if we get past the immediate crisis without things getting any worse…Trill’s leadership will have a lot to answer for, to Bajor and the Federation.”

I will be waiting: Kasidy reflects:

It was funny, that her main worry about moving to Bajor had been that as the Emissary’s wife, she’d be treated differently. In the months since she’d settled in, she had noticed that people were especially nice to her…but had also noted that they were awfully nice to each other, too. Ben had chosen a beautiful piece of land to build on, but the community was what would make it feel like home.

Later, she is truly embraced, leading to a particularly poetic line: “Kasidy wept, dying with happiness, reborn with it. Ben held her, held them both.”

Can you hear me?: Perry is able to inject subtle character work into her portrayal of Jake through almost-throwaway moments like this one: “Feeling entirely out of touch with reality, Jake packed a bag. Traveling had always made him feel that way, the sudden change of environments making everything seem…not quite certain.”

He’s certainly dealt with a lot of that, and not only in the relaunch.

My people need me: “The information she’d [Opaka] shared about the continued existence of the Ascendants was important, perhaps vital to the future of the Gamma Quadrant, but he couldn’t return to the Link without first seeing Jake and Opaka safely home.”

This is one twist and plot development I completely didn’t see coming. How will the Ascendants affect the balance of power? And will they be the ones involved with the long-ago engineering of the parasites in the first place?

If I get lost: Nog observing Shar’s interaction with his mother: “Nog couldn’t imagine getting such a cold greeting from anyone in his family, after so long away; even Uncle Quark would work up enough enthusiasm to yell at him about something.”

Try re-aligning the induction coils: O’Brien admitting to himself that his gig since leaving DS9 wasn’t perhaps quite all that he’d hoped:

Teaching was an adventure, he supposed, but not in the same way that adventure was an adventure. In fact, as bright and motivated as his first-year AP students had been, he was finding his new position to be a little on the bland side….

Later, O’Brien’s realization of the depth of his love for Keiko leads to this wonderfully rendered passage, which highlights not only the relationship between him and his wife, but his self-awareness as a father:

His work made him happy, but his family was his life, and if she still wanted to go to Cardassia when this was all over, he’d find a way to make it work. He wasn’t overjoyed at the thought of living there, but Keiko deserved to have her turn at a real career, and it wouldn’t hurt the kids to see a fair partnership between their parents.

All bets are off: Finally, for real this time, Bajor is in the Federation! 

For Cardassia!: Garak doesn’t get much time in the spotlight here, but his cameo is memorable, his brief exchange with Ro rich: “Seeing her [Ziyal’s] work, I’m reminded of my real purpose—of what my life is now, you could say, helping others, rebuilding. Creating something new. Stray not from the path that fate decides for you, as my mentor used to tell me.”

On a separate note: Cardassia is lucky to be getting Keiko.

Behind the lines: All of the words Perry expends catching up readers on key events from prior novels and stories made Unity hard for me to get into. Slightly dismayed, I noticed the chapters going by with little narrative momentum or suspense arising. “And then,” to quote Picard from “All Good Things,” around the novel’s midpoint, “…it all changed. I was no longer in the past.” The actual story begins, the stakes are raised to an incredible degree, and a dazzling number of plot threads are ultimately wrapped up.

Reflecting on that sense of having been through so much in the previous relaunch books, Vaughn at one point thinks: “It was as though it was just one awe-inspiring experience too many; with all that had happened during their months in the Gamma Quadrant, his mind, body, and spirit were simply saturated with miracles and emotional traumas…” Smart writing. These words double as a commentary on the risks of heavily serialized storytelling, which often relies on the accretion of traumatic experiences for its protagonists to keep things going. Perry seems to be well aware of how much various characters in this series have endured and been subjected to, and rather than simply piling on the woes, she addresses the issue slyly and proceeds with caution.

Unity’s main plotlines are comprised of the hunt for the parasite queen, and the search for meaning by Vaughn’s alter-ego existence in the same domain occupied by Benny/the Emissary. Switching between our reality and that vision of the Celestial Temple, alternating between the creepily visceral and the more abstract and metaphysical, creates a sense of dynamism. Also, once Kira takes matters into her own hands, fails to establish any kind of useful dialogue with the queen, and ends up killing her aboard the station, the ramifications of her actions spread like fissures that fling almost all other characters into precarious situations. The plotting becomes intricate, and the transitions between scenes are handled very effectively.

One of the novel’s main themes is letting go, and growing in the process. When Opaka reconnects with Kira and notices that she’s missing her earring, she’s tempted to make some sort of judgment. Instead, “Opaka smiled again, letting go.” At the mental asylum, Shar’s alter ego says: “As with letting go of anything, a memory, a relationship… even the bad seems better than the nothingness that might take its place.” Kasidy’s experience giving birth is described in similar terms: “The feeling of letting go, of movement had become all-powerful, quenching the need, finally giving her release.” Shar’s mother and mates must let go of him. The Emissary must let go of one chapter in his life and embark upon the next. The price for not letting go is disastrous; emotional trauma, time frittered away, stasis.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of the cost of such obduracy can be found with the parasites, truly frightening antagonists. They are given several opportunities to reconsider their ways, but they are unable to relinquish their attachment to their plans for vengeance and control, which ultimately leads to their defeat (but not necessarily demise—we still don’t know their true origins). One of Siddhartha’s early life lessons was famously captured through his encounter with an old musician, who tells his student that if the strings of his instrument are slack, it won’t play, but if they are over-tightened, they will snap. Fortunately for us, it’s the baddies that do the snapping in this novel.

Perry likes to write from a tight third-person point of view, an engaging way of drawing the reader in. In this particular novel, because the cast is so large, jumping from one point of view to another, to another, and so on, can cause a bit of whiplash.

The book’s closing chapters move swiftly, but deliver signature emotional moments, with a satisfying amount of time spent on introspection. Perry handles the interactions between our regulars, particularly the core that carried over from before the relaunch, expertly, striking just the right chords with both description and dialogue to achieve real poignancy. After I finished the novel, I went back and re-read the last few chapters again—a rare occurrence and a testament to Perry’s storytelling chops.

Orb factor: If you’d asked me after the first hundred pages, I would have said “6 orbs”, because of all the summarizing of previous adventures. But once the plot kicks in, around the mid-mark, it’s a doozy. A brightly radiating 9 orbs.

In our next installment: We’ll be talking about Worlds of Deep Space Nine: Volume One, by Una McCormack and Heather Jarman, in this space on February Wednesday 26th!

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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