Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Reread — Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game

Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game
David Mack
Publication Date: November 2010
Timeline: April 2382; August 2382

Progress: Welcome to the Typhon Pact eight-book miniseries, which is set a year after David Mack’s Star Trek: Destiny trilogy and three years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. Because our focus is on the relaunch adventures of the DS9 cast, we won’t be covering all eight of these books, but instead limiting ourselves to the current title, along with Rough Beasts of Empire, Plagues of Night, and Raise the Dawn. Anyone worried that skipping over some related books, as we’re doing, may make it difficult to jump into this volume, fret not. The following two paragraphs from Chapter 3 of Zero Sum Game basically give us all the key info we need to know to dive in:

Miles O’Brien had left DS9 with his family years earlier, after the end of the Dominion War, to help in the rebuilding of Cardassia Prime. Garak, of all people, had been appointed Cardassia’s ambassador to the Federation. Benjamin Sisko, after returning from his brief sojourn with the Prophets—the nonlinear-time entities that had created and resided within the Bajoran wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant—had gone to live on Bajor and never returned to active duty on the station. Odo had not yet come back from his pilgrimage to commune with the Founders on some remote world in the Gamma Quadrant. The Jem’Hadar observer Taran’atar likewise had not returned, having been designated a persona non grata by Starfleet Command after he attacked and nearly killed Captain Kira and Ro Laren before becoming an outcast even from his own people. It had been more than a year and a half since Ezri Dax had accepted a transfer to the U.S.S. Aventine as its second officer—only to become its commanding officer as the result of a battlefield promotion, when her captain and first officer were killed during an early battle of the Borg invasion. To fill gaps in her ship’s roster, she had poached three of Deep Space 9’s best young personnel: command officer Sam Bowers, engineer Mikaela Leishman, and Dr. Simon Tarses, who had excelled as an attending physician under Bashir’s tutelage.

The main trigger for the events of this story is the theft by the Typhon Pact—an alliance of the Romulan Star Empire, Tzenkethi Coalition, Breen Confederacy, Gorn Hegemony, Tholian Assembly and the Holy Order of the Kinshaya, in opposition to the Federation and the Klingon Empire—of a valuable piece of technology. Admiral Alynna Nechayev states it succinctly: “If the Typhon Pact develops their own version of the slipstream drive, we’ll lose the only tactical advantage we have left—and with it, our only hope of keeping this cold war from turning into a real one.” In order to mitigate this damage, Commander Aldo Erdona from Starfleet Intelligence recruits Julian Bashir and Sarina Douglas to a covert mission: Their task is to undermine Breen efforts to replicate the slipstream drive, and to destroy any extant copies of the specs. “A full-sanction operation,” Erdona states flatly. “It means whoever we send in has a license to kill, authorized by the president herself.” Once Bashir accepts, the novel splits naturally along three main storylines:

(A) Bashir and Sarina. A simulated space battle leaves these two, disguised as Breen, adrift in a specially selected region of space where they are rescued by the Breen Confederacy. They’re transported to the world of Salvat, which they explore undercover. At one point they stand around too long trying to learn Breen language and culture and are identified as a potential risk. On the run, they’re intercepted by dissident Chot Nar, who helps forge new identities for them while they pretend to be Federation cultural observers. During these various escapades, Bashir and Sarina reignite their former romance. Eventually first Nar and then Sarina are captured and tortured, while Bashir hitches a ride on the outside of a Breen vessel that takes him to the true location of their slipstream drive project headquarters in the Alrakis system. Sarina manages to escape (Nar isn’t so lucky) while Bashir sabotages the installation and destroys their records, but, alas, incompletely, replacing the schematic backups with inaccurate data. After several harrowing escapes, Sarina and Bashir end up sort of like they started, floating in space inside their super-advanced suits. They activate special extraction beacons and wait to be rescued.

(B) Dax and the crew of the Aventine. While they’re initially on standby, waiting for the extraction signal, which might sound somewhat passive, they soon have several major problems on their hands. First, they’re pursued by a cloaked Romulan vessel, and are able to dissuade the Romulans from strong-arming them by having several Klingon vessels make a surprise decloak visit of their own. Then Dax and co. hatch a more elaborate plan to mimic an attack on Breen worlds, as though by Klingon hands, so as to divert sufficient Breen resources away from their blockade and punch through to rescue Bashir and Sarina. A nifty space shoot-out, this one totally real, ensues, along with some innovative reverse warp shenanigans and simultaneous split-second transports—and did I mention the quantum slipstream drive?

(C) Alternating views into both political sides of the Typhon Pact power struggle. Roughly half of these scenes depict Thot Keer trying to assemble a successful prototype while under political pressure to divulge secrets to the Romulans and Gorn. The other half is comprised of the Federation President Nanietta Bacco making strategic decisions, while dealing with political heat, to bring her operatives safely back home without acknowledging the mission or escalating events into an out-and-out conflict.

Towards the novel’s end, plot A intersects with C when Bashir reaches the Breen slipstream base, B meets up with A when Bashir and Sarina are retrieved, and A and B connect with C when President Bacco denies culpability to Tezrene, the Typhon Pact’s ambassador to the Federation.

In the end, the mission is only partially successful, since the Typhon Pact still has a copy of the slipstream drive specs that they can try to create a new prototype from, the mission is successful. Oh, also, Sarina turns out to have been working for a Vulcan Section 31 operative named L’Haan the whole time. She’s instructed to make Bashir love her so that he can be manipulated into “further development as an asset.”

Behind the lines: This is the one where we discover that Bashir doesn’t just like holo spycraft, he’s actually the twenty-fourth century reincarnation of Rogue Nation-era Ethan Hunt, with some Moonraker-Bond thrown in for extra spice.

But no, let’s talk about Bashir in this novel, really.

His moody introspectiveness at the book’s start is understandable, the result of ageing and realizing that many of his once-close friends have moved on. Bashir’s genetic enhancements have long caused him to harbor feelings of otherness, so this doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, but it’s somewhat sad to see these sour into something akin to alienation. Bashir is at a low point when Zero Sum Game opens, which adds believability to the way he gets sucked into this covert mission, despite its icy ends-justify-means brand of morality.

But as events unfold Mack’s portrayal colors in other subtle elements that are perhaps less savory, and predictive of Bashir’s questionable actions during the novel’s conclusion. Consider, for instance, Bashir’s reflection on his relationship with Sarina:

Though his time with Sarina years earlier had been brief, it also had been the most intense connection he had ever felt with another person. No other woman with whom he had ever been involved—not Melora, not Leeta, not even Ezri—had been so effortlessly brilliant, so innately attuned to his way of seeing the world as Sarina was.

Interestingly, the quality that Bashir seems to prize above others in a prospective romantic partner is intelligence—note the emphasis on “effortlessly brilliant” rather than “compassionate” or a number of other possible traits he could have focused on. There’s also an implicit self-centeredness to his assessment: He appreciates someone who will meet him squarely on his own terms and fit with the way he already is, rather than challenging his viewpoint. This latter proposition was clearly embodied by Dax, with whom things didn’t work out. And speaking of Dax, when she and Bashir are re-united on the Aventine, he is quick to suspect that her “veneer of politesse concealed a swift current of lingering bitterness from their failed romantic relationship several years earlier.” While he’s not entirely wrong in reading unresolved issues in her behavior, it’s also the kind of attitude, combined with earlier thoughts like the one I cited, that made me want to tap Bashir gently on the shoulder and say, “Get over yourself.” Mack is giving us a complex, successful, highly intelligent individual—who has become, by dint of his ego, susceptible to a hubristic fall from grace.

We see this play out explicitly during the actual mission with Sarina. Time and again, Bashir asks her to take the lead in a given situation, and time and again she demonstrates that she’s more resourceful, knowledgeable, adaptive, and even-keeled under stress than he is. And yet, several chapters into their adventures, he becomes annoyed because Sarina presumes to give him orders: “I guess she’s forgotten I outrank her.” He wants authority but fails to demonstrate leadership. On the contrary, he continues to delegate responsibility for all major decisions to her, shows little appreciation when her plans prove effective, and is quick to second-guess her when they encounter obstacles. The more his gaze turns inward in this fashion, the more rife he becomes for manipulation.

When he does take the time to engage with the fraught morality of their actions, we get glimpses of a younger, more idealistic Bashir, one less jaded by massive military conflicts and personal losses. For instance: “Bashir didn’t know what bothered him more—the prospect of spilling more blood in a fashion that felt more like murder than like war, or the fact that Sarina’s argument was eminently logical and her prediction likely correct.” In the end, though, this desire to abide by his own internal code of right and wrong isn’t strong enough, and he ends up, as the novel says, hardening his heart and doing some pretty nasty things.

What I take away from this is that, while on the surface it may appear that Bashir is simply becoming more selfish or unlikable throughout the course of this narrative, he is in fact following part of a classical arc, wherein a character flaw causes a tragic blind-spot that leads to regrettable actions and personal suffering. A beautiful instance of foreshadowing takes place when Bashir makes this observation about Prynn Tenmei’s unwillingness to disconnect her father from artificial life support: “She’s smart enough to know what’s right and weak enough not to choose it, he lamented. But that could describe any of us, at one time or another.” Indeed.

Remaining volumes in this mini-series will determine the scope of Bashir’s recovery and growth—which, because this is Trek, I expect to be substantial and uplifting. (When Bashir responds to a Breen greeting with one of their customary idioms—“May darkness bring you fortune”—in Chapter 10, is this prophetic?)

Mack structures a big part of this novel as a travelogue, albeit an adrenaline-fueled one. This thoughtful elucidation of Breen culture, which leaves plenty of room for future development, is one of my favorite elements of the story. Breen: Night and Silence might have been a working title for these chapters, which follow the compelling thread of immersing us in an alien society, just as The Never-Ending Sacrifice did, a natural continuation of the Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine mini-series.

Mack continues to show slick writing chops with this tale, particularly when it comes to action sequences. The end of Chapter 12, for example, contains one of those signature action-movie beats, when Bashir asks how Sarina can be sure there won’t be traces of their DNA on the train they just used, and in response to his question, “a powerful explosion quaked the bedrock and rained dust on their heads,” an event that she follows up with the line: “Let’s just say I took a few precautions.” Mack’s descriptions are visual and clear, rooting us in the specificity of the characters’ environments and the cost-to-benefit analyses of their combat moves. The prose is energetic and efficient. A simple example: “They bladed through dense knots of people blocking their way.” This novel also continues to highlight Mack’s ability to make the drama of tactics and counter-tactics thrilling, as we saw in Warpath, particularly with the Aventine’s devising of new ways to keep the Typhon Pact off balance so as to penetrate their blockade. Rotating through the three main storylines makes the pacing breathless.

In terms of continuity, I found the encounter with the Jack Pack in Chapter 4 sensitively handled. It adds an element of humanism to the starkness of Bashir’s mission, particularly with Sarina’s dramatic entrance. When Dax points out the potential complications inherent in Bashir going on a high-risk secret mission with a woman he’s in love with, and in response he recalls the events of Sindorin, it’s nice to get the parallelism in the duo’s setup made explicit, particularly since I quite enjoyed Section 31: Abyss. Chapter 16 ends with a dramatic observation (“She had seen almost every species that had ever lived under the Breen banner—but until that moment she had never seen humans with her own eyes.”) that made me think of the TNG episode “First Contact”. And the book’s opening scene of sabotage on Utopia Planitia now feels evocative of the backstory to Star Trek: Picard, not because of specific similarities, but via the depiction of Starfleet’s unexpected vulnerability (Ensign Fyyl, the young Bolian from whose perspective the novel opens, thought that his posting at the shipyard was going to be “one of the safest assignments in the Federation”).

While, as mentioned, the action is praiseworthy, I did become a little fatigued by the crazy, relentless set pieces towards the last third of the novel, and would have liked a little more politicking and character development instead. I wish that the question of granting Breen dissidents asylum had been addressed, even if it was with one or two throwaway lines. Keer’s backstory (“I gave it [this job] all I had—my youth, my vigor, my imagination. When I lost my family I submerged myself into this. Now it is all I have left”) would have been more effective if delivered earlier on, rather than immediately preceding his demise. Not all of Mack’s efforts to be realistic worked for me (“Not to be a bitch about this,” Sarina says at one point, sounding stylistically too contemporary for my tastes). And then there’s that final reveal of Sarina’s employment by Section 31. In a sense, it’s the same kind of development found in Warpath, a last-minute stinger that serves to set up a longer story arc. As happened last time, while I appreciate its storytelling function, I don’t particularly love it. On the plus side, though, when it comes to sinister twists, I’ll take Section 31 over the Mirror Universe any day of the week.

Memorable beats: A somewhat morose Bashir, at the book’s outset: “Have I really been here thirteen years?”

Cynical Bashir: “Conquer it, sanitize it, and homogenize it. That’s the Federation way.”

Jack: “Pay attention, this is important: there is no such thing as Breen physiology because Breen is not a species. Breen is an arbitrary social construct.”

Sarina, un-ironically persuasive: “I believe we have an obligation to use our superior abilities in the manner that best serves our society and our principles.”

Orb factor: Swift and gritty; 8 orbs.

In our next installment: We’ll be back in this space on Wednesday July 8th with David R. George III’s Typhon Pact: Rough Beasts of Empire!

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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