Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Reread — Typhon Pact: Plagues of Night

Typhon Pact: Plagues of Night
David R. George III
Publication Date: May 2012
Timeline: April 2382 – August 2383

Progress: First, we revisit the attack on Utopia Planitia and the extraction of the Breen spy, Kazren, that kicked off Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game, this time from the perspective of the Romulans, and learn that Subcommander Orventa T’Jul led the mission. Kasidy, on Bajor, sees the UP attack on the news. She thinks about Ben. Jasmine Tey is the Malaysian woman who helps look after Rebecca, ever since Rebecca’s kidnapping, and acts as a “one-woman security force.” Kasidy replays the message Sisko sent her towards the end of Typhon Pact: Rough Beasts of Empire. She decides that even if Sisko keeps his distance from her, the Prophet’s words may not apply to his relationship with Rebecca, and she contacts Vedek Kira Nerys.

Captain Sisko, and his first officer on the USS Robinson, Anxo Rogeiro, are catching up when they receive news of the UP attack. Admiral Nechayev tasks Sisko with trying to stop the cloaked vessel that has stolen the quantum slipstream technology before it can leave Federation space. Praetor Gell Kamemor convenes Proconsul Tomalak, Proconsul Anlikar Ventel, and the new head of the Tal Shiar, Chairwoman Sela, to express her concerns that the recent shipyards attack may have been perpetrated by someone using advanced phase cloak technology, meaning someone within the Typhon Pact, including possibly a Romulan vessel. If members of the Romulan Imperial Fleet undertook the attack without her knowledge or approval, she might be facing a coup.

We skip forward two months: Kira shows up at Starbase 39-Sierra and relays a message from Kasidy to Sisko—she’ll agree to dissolve her marriage with Ben if he agrees to be involved in Rebecca’s life. He is reluctant but promises Kira that he’ll speak with Kasidy. The Romulan educator Corthin speaks in favor of Reunification at an event, with Spock and others of his Movement in attendance, when Spock learns that there’s been a brawl at a different event. He requests an investigation, though he doesn’t privately believe that the Praetor, the Senate, or the Tal Shiar are behind it. The autarch of the Tzenkethi Coalition, Korzenten, calls together a session of his senior Ministers to discuss the Federation’s handling of the worlds of Laskitor, Ergol, and Corat in the wake of the Borg incursion, and whether this behavior—these are Tzenkethi frontier worlds—poses any risk to the Tzenkethi.

Jumping forward another two months, Sarina recalls her recent mission with Bashir, as well as her involvement with Section 31. Bashir initially expresses interest in joining Starfleet Intelligence on a permanent basis, but after some discussion with Sarina he resolves to stay on DS9, with her by his side (she’ll resign the SI and find a job on the station or on Bajor). Ben visits Kasidy to spend time with Rebecca, as agreed. He still feels conflicted about leaving them, but at least he has the chance to better explain his decision to Kasidy. Rebecca doesn’t immediately warm to him, which makes sense given his long absence. “We just need to get reacquainted,” Ben explains.

Proconsul Ventel meets with representatives of the Typhon Pact’s constituent powers. Typhon I is the space station jointly constructed and maintained by the six Pact nations. Breen representative Vart lets the group know that efforts to build a starship with a working quantum slipstream drive have failed. The Tholian ambassador points out another strategy for destabilizing the Federation, one that entails helping the Andorians with their reproductive crisis using information that was available to the Federation (but highly classified), pointing out that the Tholian Assembly was willing to help them when the Federation wasn’t. They believe that this may cause Andorians to pull out of Starfleet.

Another two-month skip (to October 2382):  Captain Ro catches up with Prynn Tenmei on the Defiant. Commander Jeannette Chao is DS9’s new chief engineer. Ro then catches up with Quark. While at the bar, they learn of Andor’s sudden secession from the UFP. President Bacco travels to Cardassia Prime to persuade Castellan Caran that the Cardassian Union should join the UFP, as the Ferengi Alliance has recently done. Breen scientist Trok is working on adapting Jem’Hadar technology to a new slipstream drive. Meanwhile, Kamemor meets with Spock and asks him to deliver a message to President Bacco.

We jump to February-April 2383: The Tzenkethi attacks an unarmed Argelian freighter delivering humanitarian aid through unclaimed space, only to find themselves in a trap set by Captain Picard. Thirty-five Tzenkethi are detained by the Federation. Sisko, who has accepted a new exploratory mission that will see him take the Robinson back into the Gamma Quadrant for six months, spends some time with Rebecca on the Robinson and on DS9 before they meet up with Kasidy. After Rebecca and Kasidy leave, he visits Vaughn in the infirmary and says goodbye to his old friend. Sela meets with Trok: in order to advance the slipstream project, the Breen need the equipment used to manufacture Jem’Hadar deflector and structural integrity systems. We also learn that Sela was the mastermind behind the UP attack, and is operating behind Kamemor’s back. Meanwhile, the Boslic government hosts a historic meeting involving representatives of both the Federation and the Typhon Pact, and Bacco announces the unilateral, unconditional release of the thirty-five Tzenkethi as a measure of goodwill. Trade agreements are reached. The Ferengi and Breen resolve a long-standing border dispute. And the two rival alliances agree on a double program of cultural exposure through permissible travel in each other’s space, and a joint mission of exploration.

Next, June 2383: Security Chief Jefferson Blackmer, a transfer to the station from the Perseverance about a year earlier, is inspecting the station’s core reactors, when Ro confronts him about his activities. It turns out he’s following a lead based on his suspicions of both Sarina Douglas and Ensign Rahendervakell th’Shant (an Andorian) on the engineering team. Tenmei has a heart-to-heart with Jeannette Chao. Tomalak resigns as proconsul to Kamemor, announcing that he’ll petition to return to the Imperial Fleet, while secretly planning to join forces with the Tal Shiar. On the Breen vessel Ren Fejin, Breen pursues a plan to acquire Dominion technology.

August 2383: Picard visits with Ro and shares that he’s now married to Beverly Crusher, and that they have a son named René, who’s about to turn two. Spock joins the crew of the Enterprise as it sets out on its twin exploratory venture with the Romulan vessel Eletrix, led by Commander T’Jul and liaison Tomalak. Tenmei has a candid exchange with Kira, and resolves to have Vaughn transferred to Bajor before unplugging him from life support. The Ren Fejin reaches its Dominion destination of Overne III. The Enterprise explores a carbon planet and finds evidence that the Eletrix may have already sent one of its shuttles down to the planet’s surface, without disclosing the expedition, which causes Picard to doubt the transparency of his Romulan mission partners.

Sisko, at the end of his six-month mission, visits with the Vahni Vahltupali, and enjoys his latest recorded message from Rebecca and Kasidy. Trok and the Ren Fejin are discovered by the Dominion. The Enterprise receives a distress signal from the Eletrix; Picard wonders if it may be fake, but decides, in the interests of diplomacy, to respond to it as though it were genuine. Ro agrees to visit with Tenmei and others on Bajor at the Vanadwan Monastery to collectively bid Vaughn farewell in a few weeks’ time. Trok is held by the Jem’Hadar and the shapeshifter Laas. The Enterprise discovers what appear to be the crashed remnants of the Eletrix, with no life signs but enough bio-matter to potentially account for the perished crew.

Sisko, on the Defiant, finds out that they haven’t received their regular comm packet from the station. The Cardassian Denison Morad, working for the True Way, consorts with an Andorian who acts as a go-between to Chairwoman Sela, and confirms that certain explosives are aboard DS9. The Enterprise has been having trouble communicating with Starfleet. They decide to send the Defiant, also in the Gamma Quadrant, a message to try and ascertain if their communications are being blocked. Sisko receives Picard’s message and sets a course for the wormhole. T’Jul takes the Jem’Hadar and the shapeshifter captive, and offers them their freedom in return for the tech they needed from Overne III. DS9, aware of a communications issue, increases its alert status. Chao and th’Shant take the Rio Grande out to investigate. The Ren Fejin, its mission accomplished, prepares to travel back home with the cloaked Eletrix.

Kira seeks out Kasidy and convinces her to join her for a meal on the Promenade. Blackmer alerts Ro that a bomb has been discovered on the station. Kira enters the Benny Russell Prophet-enabled reality and learns that she must keep Kasidy from boarding the Xhosa, which she does upon returning to the station. In the wake of the discovery of four explosive devices planted in the station’s reactor core, Ro orders a mass evacuation. The wormhole opens, and then the Ren Fejin emerges, followed by the Defiant, whose multiphase tachyon scan reveals a cloaked Romulan vessel—the Eletrix—which begins to exchange fire with the Defiant. The Ren Fejin and a Tzenkethi maurauder become involved in the battle. The bombs start to go off on DS9, which is unable to eject one of its cores. The wormhole opens again, and Sisko on the Robinson witnesses the destruction of the Xhosa, Kasidy’s ship, followed by the explosion of Ds9.

Behind the lines: This novel’s opening line, “A river of fire flooded the corridor,” is echoed by the following chapter’s first line: “Kasidy Yates watched as a seething sea of fire cascaded toward her.” This early parallelism is symptomatic, for me, of three of this novel’s fundamental shortcomings. In the first place, the repetition is cumbersome: the second instance relates to Kasidy watching a newsfeed of the event described in the previous chapter, in effect asking us readers to revisit, in descriptive detail, something we’ve just gone through. Secondly, the second line is a dramatic cheat: Kasidy isn’t in danger from the fire, as the line strongly suggests. Fool me once, David R. George III, and I’ll soon be desensitized to your antics. And finally, on a macro-level, the fire imagery stayed with me as a reminder of what this book most sorely lacks: heat, passion, energy.

In terms of storytelling craft, this is a significant step down from George’s Rough Beasts of Empire. Whatever gains had been made in that book in terms of the author’s pacing and narrative focus are here undone by his tendency to provide excessive amounts of detail and penchant for trying to make us care about way too many characters at once. Flipping between a multitude of POVs—there are entirely too many crews and associated characters in this book—ends up diluting our investment in all of them. Further, each switch tends to be introduced by a lengthy recap of what happened to a given character in his or her previous POV scene; George spends so much time preparing us for what is about to happen that when something does happen, it almost feels like an afterthought. There are some interesting, and worthy, spectacles the author is eager to deliver, but the proportions of the stage are wrong, with nine-tenths crowded by incident and synopsis, and the magic and fireworks squeezed into the remaining, faraway corner.

The amount of detailed references—sometimes paragraphs-long, sometimes filling up pages—to events not only from the previous relaunch novels but from a plethora of episodes is as mystifying as it is frustrating. Here is one relatively mild example:

After an absence of more than six years, Starfleet would finally resume its exploration of the Gamma Quadrant. Since Elias Vaughn and the Defiant crew had completed a three-month journey of discovery on the other side of the wormhole, numerous events had conspired to prevent a return there: the emergence of the Eav’oq from subspace on Idran and the relocation of that world’s planetary system to the Gamma Quadrant terminus of the Bajoran wormhole; the arrival of the Ascendants, led by the crazed Iliana Ghemor; the Even Odds disaster; the calamity on Endalla; and ultimately, Starfleet’s decimation by the Borg. But with the Cardassian Union and the Ferengi Alliance joining the Federation and the Klingon Empire in the Khitomer Accords, the influx of starships and crews to protect the four powers, coupled with Starfleet’s rebuilding efforts and Cardassia’s recovery from the Dominion War, freed up resources for an increase in the number of exploratory missions.

If the point of this profusion of callbacks is to allow readers who’ve not read any prior novels (or ever watched the show?) to jump in here, then it feels completely disingenuous to stop the story at its most explosive development. Also, ending on a cliffhanger that is supposed to derive at least some of its emotional power from a character’s basic lack of knowledge—while Sisko may believe that Kasidy is on the Xhosa, we know that that is not the case—is, to say the least, unfulfilling.

Further, Sisko’s reaction during his anguish upon thinking Kasidy has died may be psychologically completely understandable, but, as it’s expressed here, undermines his prior choices: “Wanting to take back everything he’d done wrong, all the time he’d wasted.” He’s spent dozens and dozens of pages over the last two books arguing that his choice to step away from Kasidy was in Kasidy’s best interest, and now all of that becomes wasted time? Is he referring to his absence in the wormhole? Did Sisko believe that by removing himself from Kasidy’s everyday life she’d become immune to danger and accident? Surely he’s not that naïve.

Another issue that I had with this ending was its clumsy foretelling all the way back in Chapter 8, which, to be clear, is 284 pages before the actual event occurs. This broadcasting of a major plot development sticks out like an Andorian antenna, but it doesn’t even wiggle in an interesting manner. It feels like a way to force suspense into a narrative that otherwise lacks pull. Part of the problem has to do with the frequent time jumps. Time and again, we skip ahead by two months, which means even more recaps: “Robinson had departed Deep Space 9 more than five months before,” we’re told in Chapter 23, “forging a new path for Starfleet through the Gamma Quadrant. The journey had been productive, with the crew making several first contacts and more than a few discoveries along the way, despite also facing numerous dangers.” It might have been nice to see some of these. This bit of prose wasn’t enough to convince me that Sisko was on his mission aboard the Robinson for six months, or to make me feel the weight of those experiences. I kept being distracted by other developments I’d wish we’d been shown (like Kira spending time on Cardassia) that were similarly compressed into a couple of lines and happened entirely off-page.

Two other gambits that I imagine were meant to generate tension had the opposite effect and drew me out of the story. One was the withholding of obvious POV info (e.g. when Ro shows up with a phaser to find out what Blackmer is up to in Chapter 16, “he all at once knew that somebody else had entered the reactor compartment and stood behind him. He knew it even before he turned and saw a phaser leveled in his direction.” Of course he’d see it was Ro. Conveniently, we’re not told this, and then the scene breaks.) The other is plot contrivance channeled by bizarre character choices. An example of this is Sisko deciding to delay his response to the Enterprise for no apparent reason in Chapter 32. Picard’s message says: “Captain Sisko… if you receive this message, please reply at once and let us know the status of the Robinson crew’s communications with Deep Space Nine. I await your reply.” Pretty clear-cut and urgent-sounding, right? So you’d think Sisko would reply as instructed. But nope. Instead, he begins to record a message, then decides partway through to give the order to take the Robinson to the wormhole, and, as this happens, literally pauses and waits for no reason: “He would complete his message to Captain Picard, but first he waited. Seconds passed, perhaps half a minute, then another.” Oh, David R. George, how you toy with us…

Much of this could be overlooked if we were sufficiently invested in the emotional dynamics of the story. But George here gives in to a bad habit of flatly spelling out his characters’ emotions, creating flow charts out of words that neatly explain and categorize their various mental states. This happens, for example, when Sisko meets up with Kasidy in Chapter 14, or when Tenmei unloads to Kira in Chapter 20. Unfortunately, these sections often read like author’s notes waiting to be converted into fictional narrative.

Dialogue tends to fall into one of two modes: information delivery and melodrama. A prominent example of the latter occurs in the scene in which Kira visits Sisko on Starbase 39-Sierra in Chapter 4. Sisko says angsty things like “Kasidy must hate me by now,” and later “roars” the words “I’m not the Emissary!” In Chapter 7, the exchange between Sarina and Bashir showcases the recurring problem of repetition. “We can be together,” Bashir says, only to emphasize shortly thereafter, “We’re going to stay together,” and in case that wasn’t clear, Sarina closes out the scene by saying, “…as long as we’re together.” The intrusive standalone line in the middle of all this—“The woman of his dreams had arrived”—doesn’t help. Speaking of word choices that make me actively dislike characters, here’s Sisko’s self-victimizing internal musing, from Chapter 2: “Having been forced by circumstances to abandon his wife and young daughter…” In space, no one can hear your violin.

The book’s last hundred pages are its best, as the story gathers up some momentum and begins to bring diverse elements together. Seeing the Romulans get the upper hand on the Jem’Hadar and shapeshifter is intriguing. The Enterprise’s detective work around the Eletrix’s staged crash-landing is neat, and couples nicely with the station’s efforts to get to the bottom of the communications interference. The evacuation of the station and the closing space battle are massive enough to benefit from the book’s large cast, which better renders the momentousness of these events.

There are positives earlier on, too. We get some time with Rebecca, who begins to feel like a person rather than an abstract representation of parental responsibility. George captures Bashir’s voice well. Amidst the countless continuity threads, I appreciated specific touches, as for instance how the events of “Duet” proved formative to Kira’s arc.

Probably the most pleasing element, and the one I felt lent the book its most effective sense of cohesion, was its thematic exploration of characters deciding to move on. Kasidy accepts Sisko’s choice to leave her; Prynn comes to terms with disconnecting Vaughn from life support; Ro finally forgives herself for betraying Picard; Spock realizes it’s time to let his Movement continue without his direct involvement, and so on.

You can see noble storytelling intentions at work here, and many of the criticisms I’ve leveled at this book could have been addressed by an assured editorial hand. Cutting out at least a hundred pages of extraneous material, re-sequencing scenes so that there’s a smoother chronological progression, and condensing the timeline would have done wonders. There are glimmers of excitement here, set pieces suggestive of an epic and enthralling adventure.

Alas, what we have is a hefty novel whose first three-quarters are consistently torpid. And the whole thing ends as it began, in flames.

Memorable beats: An old Romulan aphorism: “A well-fed serpent at home threatens less than a hungry one in the wild.”

Kira to Sisko: “Since when did you shy away from difficult circumstances? Especially when it involved the welfare of someone you love?”

Kira to Kasidy, at a critical moment: “There are still people on the station who need our help.”

Orb factor: Ambitious scope undone by muddled execution; 4 orbs.

In our next installment: We’ll be back in this space on Wednesday, August 5th with David R. George III’s Typhon Pact: Raise the Dawn!

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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