Publication Date: April 2006
Timeline: January 2377, immediately after Worlds of Deep Space Nine #3—The Dominion: Olympus Descending
Progress: There are five main plotlines in Warpath, all of which advance simultaneously by alternating increments, before converging at the novel’s end. I’m going to break them up into separate self-contained units here, to avoid the whiplash of going back and forth a dozen times in this summation.
(1) Things kick off with a character referred to as the Cardassian Woman being pursued by a bounty hunter named Jonu on the planet of Harkoum. The Cardassian Woman defeats her pursuer. When we cut back to Harkoum several chapters later, we learn of a second agent, Grauq, dispatched by the same mysterious client as Jonu, again on the trail of the Cardassian Woman. After some cat-and-mouse moves through which the prey steals the hunter’s ship, the Cardassian is once again victorious, and Grauq too dies. Finally, a third killer name Savonigar pursues the Cardassian agent, and despite getting farther than his predecessors and actually inflicting serious wounds on his target via hand-to-hand combat, Savonigar too is vanquished, and the Cardassian Woman goes after the client.
(2) As we learned right at the end of David R. George III’s The Dominion: Olympus Descending, both Kira and Ro were brutally attacked by Taran’atar and left near death. Doctors Bashir, Tarses, and Aylam Edeen deploy all their skills to try and undo the damage. Ro is temporarily paralyzed, causing her psychological anguish, and undergoes an extremely complex and risky surgery to try and restore her motility; the outcome is eventually a positive one, though she will require extensive physical therapy. Kira’s entire heart needs to be replaced with an artificial one, in addition to her requiring blood transfusions and several other procedures to achieve stabilization. Benjamin Sisko travels from Bajor to the station to be near Kira while all of this is happening. She is out for the duration.
(3) Kira’s experience of events is not the void of unconsciousness. Instead she lives through a complex battle sequence that involves a fortress being held by the Eav’oq, a fortress that Kira claims belongs to Bajor. An invading army of Ascendants appears and Kira has to make some tough calls: suggest an alliance with the Eav’oq to fight off their common enemy, let each side fight the other and try to claim the spoils, or maybe attempt to defeat both foreign parties? With some abstract guidance from the Prophets, she comes to understand what the fortress represents, and realizes that she must not only side with the Eav’oq, but more importantly relinquish her claim of Bajoran ownership on the fortress. Only by extending unconditional support to the Eav’oq and being willing to put everything on the line for their common cause does she have any chance of succeeding. The Eav’oq accept her offer, and in a grisly turn of events, Kira is killed during the epic confrontation with the Ascendants. Recalling this experience, as well as her interactions with the Prophets, she finally comes to in the station’s infirmary. Sisko is at her side.
(4) Taran’atar escapes DS9 aboard the runabout Euphrates and takes Prynn Tenmei hostage. Vaughn leads the Defiant in pursuit. Taran’atar manages to temporarily disable the Defiant and makes Vaughn think that he’s killed his daughter Prynn, gaining both a tactical and emotional advantage. Back on the station, Nog’s meticulous sleuthing uncovers that Taran’atar has been being manipulated by remote wave transmissions à la The Manchurian Candidate this whole time. (Taran’atar, it turns out, was behind the Sidau village massacre from Bajor: Fragments and Omens). Using Nog’s information, Bashir is able to design a weapon which, if yielded in close proximity to the Jem’Hadar, may break his susceptibility to this foreign influence. Eventually, Vaughn and company are able to reach Taran’atar at his destination, a place to which Taran’atar has been compelled to travel for a mysterious rendezvous: Harkoum.
(5) Intendant Kira of the Mirror Universe kicks off a complex plan not only to retake Terok Nor, but to expand her power far beyond the bounds of the quadrant. During Warpath’s climactic showdown, Vaughn is almost killed by Taran’atar but is rescued by Prynn just in the nick of time. Prynn and Vaughn then almost both die, but Vaughn’s attempted self-sacrifice ends up inadvertently saving them. The Cardassian Woman from the novel’s start, we discover, is the Mirror Iliana Ghemor, who was trying to stop Taran’atar, and rescues Vaughn and Prynn. Taran’atar is whisked away to the Mirror Universe by Intendant Kira, and it seems she was behind his manipulation. Taran’atar ends up killing the Intendant, however, under the influence of someone who appears to be another Kira, the person who was really controlling him all along. This is in fact a crazed Iliana, originally from our universe and surgically altered to resemble Kira, who has gained access to multiverse transportation (the theft of Hovath’s paghvaram in Bajor: Fragments and Omens). This evil Iliana now replaces the Intendant and vows to exterminate the Kiras from all other dimensions.
Behind the lines: David Mack’s website offers comprehensive annotations on Warpath, which include a myriad of continuity elements. I encourage readers of this novel to go through the notes, which will undoubtedly enhance their experience. These annotations are a testament to Mack’s incredible attention to detail, and his ability to seamlessly integrate what would have otherwise been throwaway lines or one-offs from previous episodes into his narrative. I’ll admit that when I was reading Chapter 19 and hit the reference to the preganglionic fiber and postganglionic nerve I laughed out loud—not because of the allusion itself, but because of how Bashir, when challenged by Tarses, confirms that he’s positive and then makes “a sweeping, it-doesn’t-matter gesture with his hand.” A simple but elegant example of a perfectly used detail is Mack’s reference to genetronic replication as part of Ro’s treatment by Tarses and Etana Kol. And, though I don’t see this specific moment called out in Mack’s annotations, I’ll mention it because even if it’s a coincidence, it was a fantastic echo of a powerful moment from the series. Consider Prynn’s words during a moment of intense duress: “I’m a hostage, she reminded herself. He’ll kill me when he’s done with me. This is self-defense. I don’t want to kill him if I don’t have to, but if he dies… I can live with it.” Ring any bells?
Warpath is an intricately-assembled emotional rollercoaster which, despite plenty of quiet character scenes, never lets up on tension. Part military thriller, rip-roaring medieval battle, detective mystery, post-modern Western, and high-tech medical drama, it plays on the strengths of all these sub-genres and fuses them together into a dazzling story that is amply greater than the sum of its parts. The main reason for this success, outside of fastidious and intelligent worldbuilding, is Mack’s prose. He is able to switch effortlessly between scenes of muscular action, measured dialogue, and evocative description. Here’s a sample of the latter:
Dawn broke over Iljar in pale silver flares and seared away the rain clouds. Harkoum’s two suns ascended in unison, so close together that they could be mistaken for one. Dark gray shapes were transformed into rust-hued clusters of shoddy buildings; the morning light turned orange, and the brightening streets grew deserted as the town’s heliophobic residents scurried for refuge in the dim indoors.
In addition to rotating between five storylines, then, Mack also keeps us engaged through his control of language. In combination, these two effects create a tour de force. The combat scenes throughout are realistically gory and harrowing. Character’s thoughts and voices are true to form, and their ideas and decisions (as when, for example, Nog realizes that employing Cardassian tech presents the answer to creating the device to break Taran’atar’s foreign influence) arise organically and spontaneously from their circumstances and characters, rather than being plot contrivances.
The timing of revelations is critical, and Mack executes it masterfully. I found the reveal of Taran’atar’s responsibility for the Sidau massacre, for example, effective and shocking; it made me revisit that entire incident from a new, chilling perspective. The way this coupled with the Mirror Universe angle felt satisfying. There’s a sense of intelligence behind these disclosures: Mack has clearly thought through everything he’s doing, so even when events take a dark, grim turn—and boy, do they ever—we can rest easy in the knowledge that this is all leading somewhere interesting and worthwhile, rather than being mere spectacle—action in the service of drama, then, rather than as simple escapism. I immediately felt reassured that I was in the hands of a thoughtful storyteller when I read the phrase “Klingon bounty hunter” on the novel’s first page, and was prompted to jot down a series of questions in the following vein: “How would this work? Can a mercenary truly be honorable? What is the real motivation here?” A lesser storyteller would have created this character and let events play out without engaging with these queries. But by the end of the chapter, Mack had fully addressed them. Plant the seeds, reap the bounty.
Despite significant doings by legacy series characters in this tale, one could argue that Vaughn, Prynn, and Taran’atar are the novel’s real protagonists; we probably spend more time with them than anyone else. Once again, I marvel at how riveting these characters have become when I realize that none of them existed before the relaunch novels. The chapters covering Taran’atar’s tactical maneuvers and intellectual combat with Vaughn are utterly enthralling (the way he hides Prynn, for example, in the transporter pattern buffers, and weaponizes the asteroid, is ingenious). Add to this Prynn’s simultaneous efforts to undermine Taran’atar, which Mack conveys by nimbly switching points of view within a single chapter, sometimes even overlapping the same events with differing perspectives. He does this several times, but a particularly effective use occurs in Chapter 6 on the Euphrates. It’s a clever way of making sure we have all the information we need as readers to follow along, rather than being misdirected for no good reason, and it also shows how differently the same events can be experienced by different beings.
In the end, the arcs of Taran’atar, Prynn, and Vaughn all have rewarding payoffs. Taran’atar is only able to achieve a kind of internal metaphysical freedom when, ironically, he comes to truly accept that he is a slave, while Vaughn’s fullness of self arrives only when he gives himself up in order to save Prynn, a necessary act to truly kickstart their reconciliation. Mack puts these characters through the ringer, though, in order to earn these moments of insight and partial redemption. Taran’atar’s confusion and suffering, even in the midst of his virtuoso military moves, are rendered vividly. Vaughn’s pain, when he thinks he’s killed his daughter, is compellingly conveyed. I feel that Prynn comes into her own as a fully-fledged hero in this book, too. But even here the journey isn’t a straightforward one; she must also face a difficult emotional landscape, even when plotting against Taran’atar. Existential weightiness pervades these psyches. It’s nice to see the ramifications of previous events inform these arcs, as for instance Prynn’s feelings of loss regarding Shar: “Shar’s absence, however, gnawed at her. She had let him go willingly; she had urged him to go, to leave her and embrace the start of a new path in his life… but now, back here, without him, she struggled not to succumb to regret.” The depiction of Vaughn’s PTSD regarding Ruriko, for example, is also very well done.
This is not to say that other characters are given short shrift. Bashir gets to shine, for instance, when he expresses ethical concerns about developing a weapon to cancel out Taran’atar’s manipulation (and Nog astutely counters each of them). Quark’s caring towards Ro is touching and sensitively portrayed, perhaps made the more affecting by their lack of a romantic relationship at this point. (The Quark scenes are nicely interlaced with humor. Case in point: “The biobed display above her head was full of graphs and numbers […] If any one of them was meant to represent her finances, he’d have to tell her that she was going broke faster than a Romulan trying to sell tribbles on Qo’noS.”)
Meanwhile, Sisko’s misgivings about the future, which have been with him since his return in Unity, intensify. I appreciated this callback: “They told me that I was ‘of Bajor,’ but that I would ‘find no rest there.’ After what happened in the fire caves with Dukat and Winn, I thought I’d finished with that. Now I’m starting to see it doesn’t have an expiration date.” We also learn that he doesn’t see Starfleet in his short-term future. Kira’s journey, which ends up dovetailing with Sisko’s, is an intriguing one. Her wrestling with the Eav’oq and Ascendants leads to memorable moments, such as this one: “Let us stand with you. Seeing your keep might help us better know our own, and our passion to defend it might show you how precious it truly is.” I also liked the supporting cast in these scenes, including Opaka Sulan. This brings me to a criticism, however: I do feel that these sequences went on too long. Because they were spliced with Prophet visitations, tension was dispelled, and because we also kept cutting back to the real Kira on the operating table aboard DS9, it was hard to become very invested in the particulars of her otherworldly thought-scape.
And speaking of suspense, I’ll say—and in my opinion this may be the novel’s only real weakness—that the reveal of Iliana’s machinations (both the mirror version, helping our characters, and our original version, now transposed into the Mirror Universe and pulling some hefty strings) was anticlimactic. I found it provocative, sure, but I wish Mack had invented a purely new villain instead, rather than freighting a minor character from the series with all of this import. I’m not sure I understand the desire to eliminate all other Kiras, either, but hopefully this will be fleshed out in future stories.
Memorable beats: A wonderfully understated moment: “He [Vaughn] picked up the baseball on the captain’s desk. Kira had told him, more than once, about the ball’s totemic significance to Captain Sisko, and she had confessed to having developed her own superstitious attachment to it, as well.”
Kira and the Prophets:
“The fortress,” she said. “It’s faith.”
“Yes,” Sisko said. “And it’s more than that.”
“It’s the Celestial Temple,” Kira said.
Orb factor: A busy, brilliantly-crafted, hard-hitting read; 9 orbs.
In our next installment: We’ll be back in this space on Wednesday May 13th with Fearful Symmetry by Olivia Woods!
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.