Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Reread — Trill: Unjoined

Worlds of Deep Space Nine, Volume Two
Trill: Unjoined
Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin
Publication Date: February 2005
Timeline: October 2376

Progress: This story takes place a week after Unity, but the novel itself begins a week into the story’s timeline, and it does so with a gripping set piece: Doctor Bashir is on Trill, tending to Trills wounded by some kind of “bioelectric attacks,” bombs that set off symbiont-harming radiation in addition to electromagnetic pulses. While providing this emergency relief, Bashir worries about Ezri Dax, who is at the Mak’al caves on an unspecified mission. Then we jump back a week to the events leading up to this scene.

Dax, Bashir, Ro, a Cardassian doctor named Vlu, and Taran’atar have traveled to Minos Korva—the world on which Ro determined that Shakaar was infected with one of the parasites—in search of any extant parasites or remnants thereof. They do discover possible parasite remains, but more importantly, Dax unearths a piece of ancient pottery later identified as belonging to the long-dead Kurl civilization. Kira lets Dax know that her presence is required on the Trill homeworld, where she is to testify before the Senate about recent events: now that news about the parasite crisis has reached the general population, there is much unrest, and many questions remain. Bashir decides to join Dax, who makes it clear from the start that she is in command of this mission. Dax and Bashir join forces with Hiziki Gard and General Cyl, but shortly after speaking to the Senate, an attack forces them into a defensive stance. Bashir is able to have the Rio Grande beam a device, which he has correctly guessed is a bomb, into orbit before it explodes. Agitators with various agendas swarm around the key symbiont spawning sites. As the situation deteriorates, neurogenic bombs are detonated, resulting in the deaths of thousands of joined Trill.

Ezri decides to head to Mak’ala in search of the truth, while Bashir cares for the injured. One of the Guardians of the caves, Ranul Keru, points Ezri in the right direction: into the depths of the subterranean waters in which dwell the symbionts. There Ezri encounters a kind of ancient, super-sized symbionts known as the Annuated; they accrete the memories, and have been doing so for thousands of years, of all the symbionts who have drifted down to the depths to die. Tapping into this chain of ancestral memories, Ezri discovers that the Trill had warp technology thousands of years ago, and that the planet Kurl was in fact a Trill outpost where things went horribly wrong (a vast understatement). Symbiont-hosting Trill there became ill; an attempt to genetically re-engineer the symbionts so that they could withstand the disease ravaging them only made events immeasurably worse, eventually transforming symbionts into parasites. As the new parasite-dominated Trill began to plan defensive measures against a forthcoming attack from the Trill homeworld, the encroaching armada committed genocide, killing millions through use of neurogenic radiation and incendiary weapons. The Trill retreated to their homeworld, and a massive, shame-fueled cover-up followed. Ezri pays a price for these incredible revelations, though, as the environmental suit she’s used in her deep dive has been pushed past its breaking point. General Cyl, however, fatally shot by agitators, repairs her suit at the cost of his own in the nick of time, and then sinks down, presumably towards the Annuated.

Bashir, recalling a way to potentially separate a symbiont and host without killing them (“Reflections” plants this seed), defies explicit orders and risks his career to follow his conscience, leveraging said knowledge to save a life and provide the proof of concept.

And now we get to some pretty momentous events: President Maz, after learning about Trill’s true history from Ezri, undergoes Bashir’s procedure and is willingly separated from her symbiont, which is then returned to Mak’ala; she thus becomes President Durghan. Only ten percent of symbionts have survived the neurogenic attacks, and therefore for the foreseeable future (until such time as the symbiont population is able to potentially regenerate) she decrees that there will be no new joinings. Also, currently joined Trill will be given the option to follow her own example and become unjoined if they wish. Trill society has been transformed, and the future looks very different from the recent past.

At key times during these events, Ezri and Bashir have had differences of opinion as to the best course of action and what comprised an acceptable risk. On their return shuttle flight to DS9, they discuss these tensions, which leads them to a broader realization: they are no longer the same people as when they began their relationship, and they have been growing apart for some time. Therefore, they decide to bring their romantic relationship to an end.

Behind the lines: In a word, this is the most consistently intense of the three Worlds Of DS9 stories we’ve covered so far. It begins with a bang and doesn’t ever really let up. Mangels and Martin do an excellent job of integrating all the essential information that might be needed for a reader picking this story up from scratch, which is no mean feat, given all the preceding building blocks, by justifying them narratively through Dax’s memories. These are nicely intercut with “present” moments of high tension—for example, during the creepy and memorably ambient Minos Korva cave scenes.

The in media res opening is another effective gambit, proving dramatically immersive, though it does take a while after that chapter for our players to end up occupying the board positions we know they need to assume. And an unfortunate side-effect of reading these three novels quickly back-to-back is that certain similarities in the ingredients begin to stand out and make parts of the plot feel repetitive (we’ll find a reason to have two of our main characters pair up and visit a homeworld, simmer the trip with political unrest among the locals, add in a bomb threat for extra spice…)

Still, even when we know the story’s partial outcome, and some beats are strongly reminiscent of the previous entries in this miniseries, the authors get us there in interesting ways, skillfully threading continuity throughout. I appreciated an appearance by “Trill Symbiosis Commissioner Dr. Renhol,” and this early description of the Kurlan naiskos was delightful: “The inside was filled with dozens of smaller but similarly proportioned internal figures, illustrating the Kurlan people’s belief that each individual is comprised of a diverse chorus of sometimes conflicting impulses and desires.” Compare it with Picard’s dialogue describing same: “…the Kurlan civilisation believed that an individual was a community of individuals. Inside us are many voices, each with its own desires, its own style, its own view of the world.” Locken, and the events of Section 31: Abyss in general, don’t seem to have gotten much ongoing play in subsequent relaunch novels, so the following light touch is also welcome: “Such techniques had not only essentially created Bashir himself, but had also spawned the Eugenics Wars. Khan Noonien Singh. Ethan Locken.” In another smart continuity move, we meet Ranul Keru—“Ranul Keru. Lieutenant commander, U.S.S. Enterprise”—who was featured in the TNG novel Rogue and whose backstory is linked to the events of First Contact and the fate of Lieutenant Hawk. I say smart because Keru is not only perfectly suited to play the role he does in this particular plot, but also because this novel concerns itself with the ongoing repercussions of traumatic events. Speaking of which, it’s not surprising that the Purist movement led by Verad didn’t end with his death in the Divided We Fall miniseries, but instead spawned the odious neo-Purists (“the neo-Purist movement, political radicals inspired by the late Verad Kalon’s anti-symbiont Purist group”).

The attention to detail doesn’t just manifest in callbacks, but shines through in one of this miniseries’ strengths—namely inventiveness regarding alien cultures. A few examples herewith: The sub-world of the Annuated is amazing. Unsurprisingly, Trills’ relationship with death is a complex one, and that shows up in little ways such as this: “Despite her ambivalence about the notion of death and burial—an attitude characteristic of joined Trills—she found some comfort in the permanence of the image.” That said, some Trills do believe in an afterlife, and it’s called “Mak’relle Dur.” Trill notions of shared memory can inspire architecture, as for instance in the capital, Leran Manev: “…entire sections of Leran Manev had become gallery displays of cultural history. It was a vibrant, though chronologically arranged, metropolis.” Also, witness the species-specific technology: “Bashir recognized the palm-sized device as a powerful, Trill-specific bioscanner known as a plisagraph.”

This richness of worldbuilding can also be glimpsed in the complexity of the political situation presented:

…three clear political viewpoints were discernible. One faction was demanding accountability from the Trill government regarding the parasite crisis; they carried signs suggesting that the genetic relationship between the parasites and the symbionts was quickly becoming common knowledge. Another group’s placards vehemently denounced the entire institution of joining, offering the parasites as proof that the symbionts were in fact mind-controlling alien life-forms bent on the conquest and domination of Trill. A third group—which apparently equated symbiosis not only with upward social mobility, but also with a sort of immortality—demanded joining for all healthy Trill humanoids who requested it.

It’s refreshing, particularly in Trek, to see not just one idea or value system in opposition to another, but a whole spectrum of notions being explored simultaneously. I feel like Mangels and Martin also make the widespread frustration at the stratification of society that we’ve seen touched on in prior stories believable, as for instance with this line, which probably feels more apt today than when it was written: “Every advantage possible in life seemed to flow effortlessly toward his world’s charmed few: the joined.”

Kudos too for finally giving us the answers to the mystery of the parasites. Though initially compelling, I was starting to feel like it might be getting too drawn out if not soon resolved, with so much build-up that no explanation would prove satisfying. The timing here is good, and I like the ingeniousness of weaving the Kurl into things. This resolution makes room for new storylines to take the place of the parasite arc. Though a part of me wonders… A reasonable question is posed by the Tellarite member of the Federation Council Bera chim Gleer:

I’d like to know how we can be certain that the parasite crisis is indeed over. After all, twelve years ago—after the creatures temporarily seized control of Starfleet Command—the threat was thought to be ended. But this year they’ve managed to return, popping up on Bajor of all places. If these organisms can wreak havoc with the Federation’s newest inductee, then how can we really know we’re rid of them?

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hasty to assume all is over and done with on this front. This is not the only throughline to come to a close, either, with Bashir and Dax deciding to break up. Though in retrospect this was nicely foreshadowed, I didn’t think it would happen, and found myself surprised and affected. I found the authors’ choice to leave this for the last scene particularly poignant. It was sensitively handled, with an excellent avoidance of melodrama: “Very gently, he released her hand. She withdrew it. Whatever cord had connected them romantically seemed to snap with that gesture.” One of the novel’s preoccupations is coming to terms with separation—and in light of the Dax/Bashir development, I can see the title Unjoined applying not only to the major shift in Trill society, but to the change in their relationship too.

This was a thought-provoking read. It will be fascinating to see the consequences of the very dramatic change to Trill society implemented here in future stories. I love the gutsy move on the part of the authors to not only provide the answers to the parasite mystery in a way that is both convincing and tragic, but to fundamentally change the status quo of the Trill homeworld.

Memorable beats: Isn’t this a classic Bashir moment? “…whenever stimulating conversation wasn’t an option, there was always the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.”

Remembering “Equilibrium,” this observation by Bashir is quite droll: “I remember a Guardian named Timor from our visit here five years ago,” Bashir said. “He wasn’t terribly interested in the outside world, except for the occasional weather report.”

Ranul Keru’s reply to Dax when she asks him what she needs to do in order to get answers is sure to make one smile: “Just swim to the very bottom of the pools. Where nobody’s ever gone before.”

And while we’re on the topic of Ezri Dax and questions, here she is stressing about her discoveries leading to even more questions in her lovably idiosyncratic way: “As a person whose mind had a decidedly problem-solving bent, she found the idea of increasing the universe’s net question-content somewhat distressing.”

Orb factor: Don’t let the glare of 9 orbs blind you.

In our next installment: We’ll be taking on Bajor: Fragments and Omens by J. Noah Kym, the second novel in Worlds of Deep Space Nine: Volume Two, in this space on Wednesday, March 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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