Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Reread — Ascendance

Ascendance
David R. George III
Publication Date: December 2015

Timeline: December 2377-February 2378, December 2385-January 2386; a direct continuation of both of the timelines in Sacraments of Fire

Progress: After Odo’s attempt to link with the potential Changeling being held at Newton Outpost, the creature first breaches its containment area and then the station itself, escaping into space and using gravity to propel itself out of the Larrisint system. Two casualties and six injured scientists result from its flight to freedom, and Odo himself remains in his gelatinous state after the aborted link. Security Chef Selten receives a distinct telepathic impression from the creature that it is driven by a need or purpose, seeking something specific in outer space.

Back in the Ascendants storyline seven years earlier, the crew aboard Deep Space Nine—including the Captain Kira of that time—witnesses the opening and closing of the wormhole in rapid succession as a single ship, another, and then a whole flood of vessels emerge, on a course to Bajor. The lead ship, the Grand Archquester’s vessel, is captained by Iliana Ghemor and contains the Ascendant subspace metaweapon, which she intends to use against Bajor. On the second ship is the Ascendant leader Raiq, who harbors doubts about Iliana’s exact role as the Fire in her religion. As the ships keep emerging from the wormhole we learn that the Ascendant armada totals 13,171 (!) vessels.

DS9 tries to communicate with the Ascendant forces, but to no avail. The station goes to red alert, Kira sends Vaughn, Tenmei, Bowers, Nog and others out on the Defiant, asks for reinforcements, and launches quantum torpedoes. None of these efforts succeed in slowing down Iliana. Yet another large vessel pops out of the wormhole—this time the Even Odds, aboard which is Taran’atar. He is understandably initially confused to be hailed by Kira on DS9, because he last saw Kira entering the wormhole from the other end in the dropship, but figures out that time travel must be involved (the Kira on the dropship is the Kira from our original present that traveled back in time).

As Kira learns more about the rapidly escalating situation, she works with Minister Asarem and Bajor’s ground forces. Sisko and the ancient enemies of the Ascendants, the Eav’oq, also become looped in. Raiq uses a tractor beam to prevent Iliana from launching the metaweapon missile, while the Ascendants decide if they want it used in this manner or saved to fulfill a different part of their prophecy. They opt for the latter, and Iliana reluctantly agrees, on condition that they destroy Bajor through direct bombardment from their ships. Kira manages to establish direct communication with Iliana, but isn’t able to change her mind about annihilating Bajor. Splintering off from the group, Raiq heads towards the wormhole.

Taran’atar figures out a way to take out the entire armada single-handedly, but in order to save Bajoran and Federation lives, everyone else must essentially power down and step aside, which they are nervous about doing. Trusting in Taran’atar, though, they follow through, and his plan works: using the wa, he creates a subspace tear that connects with the metaweapon, leading to an isolytic rending of spacetime that spreads out in a crazy pattern, seeking out warp cores and energy sources, sort of like lightning looking for a connection to the ground. Realizing that the Bajoran moon Endalla is at risk, the Defiant ejects and detonates its warp core, in that way attracting the subspace wave and diverting it from Endalla’s path. Despite this gambit, Endalla still suffers a bleak fate, with its atmosphere stripped and thousands of lives lost. All the Ascendant ships save one—Raiq’s—succumb to the massive subspace extrusion. Kira goes after Raiq, and they both traverse the wormhole. By the time Raiq has made it to the Gamma Quadrant, she has realized that her beliefs have been misplaced, and this crisis leads her to an attempted suicide. Kira, however, is able to beam her out of her vessel before its engine overloads and it explodes. Safely aboard the runabout Yolja, Raiq weeps before Kira.

I’m going to be more concise summarizing the second part of the book. Back in our present, the escaped Changeling-like creature appears to set a course for Bajor, and the Defiant intercepts it. After wrapping itself around the ship, it transforms itself into a duplicate, cloaks, and resumes its course. The crew on DS9 is able to get the life-form’s attention, and it repeats a procedure similar to that with the Defiant, generating a second ersatz starbase. Ro approaches this second starbase, and part of it assembles into the shape of Taran’atar. Not just his appearance, either; his consciousness, she soon determines, is genuinely his, and we finally learn about the being’s nature and origins.

The Ascendant Aniq had loaded a shape-shifting substance into the isolytic weapon, and when it detonated, Taran’atar, along with many other Ascendants, became “fused” in the fire of the explosion. They were absorbed into subspace and eventually surfaced back into regular space, in time chancing and merging with the mass of rock on which they were found by the Nova. They weren’t fully cognizant of what was happening, or what they had been turned into, until Odo linked with them and inadvertently gave them all the information they needed. Their purpose now, in order to fulfill their religion—“within the gaze of the Unnameable, joined to them in a spiritual way, and joined to each other physically”—is to enter the wormhole. When Raiq learns that she is not the last surviving Ascendant after all, she tries, with Ro’s permission, to link with the new mass being, but it doesn’t work. Ro gets Starfleet to approve the gestalt being’s request to enter the wormhole, and once inside it manifests as the planet we glimpsed in “Emissary.”

Odo eventually heals, and decides to return to the Dominion.

Ro promotes Blackmer as a replacement for Cenn Desca, as exec and Bajoran liaison.

And now let me take a step back to talk about Kira for a moment. For my own sake, and in the hope of orienting readers who may not have been around for every installment of this relaunch series, here’s a recap of relevant moments in the Kira storyline that has gotten us this far:

In January 2377, Kira, in a prolonged state of unconsciousness, experiences an epic confrontation with the Ascendants (Warpath). Later in 2377, as seen in The Soul Key, Kira, along with Iliana and Mirror Iliana, have an encounter with the Prophets inside the wormhole. During said encounter, Kira learns that she is “the Hand” of the Prophets (Iliana is “the Fire”), and Kira materializes on DS9. She sets Taran’atar free, and he intercepts a distress call from the Even Odds. Some time later, in the 2380s, Kira leaves DS9, becomes a vedek (Typhon Pact: Rough Beasts of Enpire), and is visited by a post-Emissary Sisko in need of counsel. In 2384 (Typhon Pact: Raise the Dawn), compelled to aid the forces of good, Kira steals the Rubicon, and, inside the wormhole, sets a collision course for the Typhon Pact enemy vessel Vetruvis. Kira’s ship is destroyed.

She then experiences another alternate life, this time as one Keev Anora, and in this reality meets a man called Altek Dans. When she comes to, she discovers that she’s traveled back through time to 2377, where she meets Taran’atar aboard the Even Odds, which he joined up with a result of the Kira native to that time (past Kira) setting him free. So now we’re in late 2377 and we have two Kiras, the one on the Even Odds and the “original” one on DS9. By December 2377, at the end of the events recounted in Sacraments of Fire, Kira is in a dropship, headed towards the wormhole. She has played a key role in inspiring Taran’atar to protect Bajor and fight an imminent attack by the Ascendants, led by Iliana. We learn that Kira’s dropship doesn’t follow Taran’atar out of the wormhole, however.

Her fate remains unclear until the last few pages of Ascendance. In early 2386, Kira reappears from the wormhole “in a small vessel of unknown configuration” and contacts DS9. It’s safe to assume that the wormhole/Prophets have once again acted as a time displacer: our “future” Kira from 2384, who was sent back to 2377 via the wormhole, entered the wormhole in the dropship and re-emerged in 2386.

Behind the lines: Kira’s time travel journey is admittedly a bit convoluted, but fortunately seems consistent across a handful of novels, something for which we should be thankful. Besides invoking the will of the Prophets or other mysterious reasons, though, I’m not sure why the second, time-traveling Kira in 2377 wouldn’t have exited the wormhole back into 2384, her year of origin. She comes out in 2386 instead, the temporal destination of most narrative convenience to get her into our “present” and sync up with a story that has had her missing for two years. I wonder if there will be an in-universe explanation for the perfect timing. 

The time travel aspect of this novel ties back to something I was very pleasantly surprised by. We know in advance, because of all the post-2377 events chronicled in prior books, that the Ascendants are going to lose and that Bajor is going to come out pretty much unscathed. You would think that this would deflate all suspense from the book’s first 140 pages, but amazingly it doesn’t. George juggles all the elements in this section extremely well; scenes carry the plot forward with ceaseless action, character point of view transitions are seamless, and there’s never a lull in the tension. That’s a testament to the author’s craft.

I like the glimpse we get into a deeper Ascendant backstory that goes back to Kirk’s time, too. Based on his reports, Dax ascertains that “the Ascendants sought to annihilate the Bajorans because they falsely worshiped the ‘True.’” It could just be me, but I think the idea of Kirk interacting with Bajor is nifty. We also learn about the tragic fate of Algeron III, which was destroyed as the result of an isolytic subspace weapon that caused the “underlying structure of space to tear,” an effect that then fed off the planet’s active power sources, shredding it in the process.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the Ascendants half of this book, I will say I found Sisko’s role, though by no means inconsequential, dramatically underwhelming. The way his future in defeating the Ascendants seemed to be positioned in Bajor: Fragments and Omens, I expected his involvement to be more extensive. The subsequent farewell scene between Ro and Sisko, on the other hand, was very effective; these two characters are, in their own distinctive ways, bound by Bajor and the fate of its people, and the tone of their interaction struck me as pitch perfect. The sequence depicting Robinson’s departure on its two-year mission was also memorable and pure Trek-sense-of-wonder goodness. It’s still difficult for me to relate to Sisko as a non-Emissary figure, but at least this suggests a bold new beginning to his ongoing adventures.

In general, I confess that I found the “biomimetic” half of the book less involving, and less effectively paced than the Ascendants section. The way these two plots link up was surprising, but also felt convoluted. Still, there were some standout scenes. The shapeshifting creature duplicating the Defiant was riveting. That, and its later duplication of the new DS9, reminded me strongly of the “Silver Blood” encountered by the Voyager crew in the episode “Course: Oblivion.”

Taran’atar’s journey, a long and complicated one, reaches a seemingly definitive resolution in this book, and though I’ll miss him in this series (not something I can say about Desca), I’m satisfied with the outcome. As he himself says: “I have a new purpose. I am fulfilled.” The final scene between Ro and Taran’atar is powerful, and sensitively handled. There’s also a pleasingly circular quality to Taran’atar and the Ascendants becoming the world inside the wormhole that we first glimpsed in the series pilot, their ultimate fate linking up with the very beginning of our overall story.

Another aspect I’d like to praise is the deliberate stage-setting for new characters and refresher on who exactly is part of the senior crew at this point, which I’m going to cite here for reference purposes:

Ro entered the conference room off the Hub and took a seat at the head of the table. Her command crew—but for the notable exception of Colonel Cenn—had already arrived. Along the side of the table to her left sat her chief of security, Lieutenant Commander Jefferson Blackmer; tactical officer, Dalin Zivan Slaine; communications officer, Lieutenant Ren Kalanent Viss; and the second officer, Lieutenant Commander Wheeler Stinson. To her right sat Chief Engineer Miles O’Brien; operations officer and assistant chief engineer, Lieutenant Commander Nog; science officer, Lieutenant Commander John Candlewood; and chief medical officer, Doctor Pascal Boudreaux.

The focus on Stinson was a welcome one, and Ro’s handling of Blackmer’s promotion was tasteful, and believably executed.

In terms of previous Trek continuity, Stinson provides a delightful nugget. After going through a particularly difficult personal time, we learn, Stinson almost walked away from Starfleet Academy, and entertained some self-destructive thoughts. Someone—not an officer, not a counselor—prompted him to reconsider and helped him get his life back on track. Who could it be? “Stinson had never revealed all of that to anybody—not even to the counselors he’d eventually ended up seeing. One man—a gardener on the Academy grounds—seemed to intuit it. The man never mentioned it outright, but he said enough to finally get Stinson to take a hard look at the choices available to him.” That’s right, we get a stealth cameo by Boothby!

Also in cameo mode, though not stealth, is Geordi La Forge, who leaves a recording marked “For Nog,” in which he congratulates Nog on the new starbase—“you’ve got quite a facility here”—and explains that he tried to help with the Vic Fontaine program by making some modifications related to “how the emitter array handles the power.” As holodeck programs go, you know you’re the pick of the litter when Geordi La Forge himself lends a helping hand to restore your functionality.

Not everything in this book clicked for me. Iliana Ghemor’s ultimate defeat is anticlimactic. When the 2377-native Kira learns of the Ascendants, it doesn’t seem to trigger any of her extensive memories from her unconscious other life in Warpath. I’m not sure I buy into the romance between Ro and Altek. Speaking of which, when Altek is brushing up on this time and place, why doesn’t he recognize pictures of Kira and say, “Hey, I know her! That’s Keev Anora!”? Maybe that will be addressed in future books?

This probably leads to my greatest gripe, which is that after many, many pages of speculation and head-scratching, we still have no knowledge of why Altek Dans was brought forward through time (if that’s actually what happened) and what role he plays in anything. There’s also no resolution to the Vic Fontaine subplot, which started to feel stretched thin, or the Morn subplot. Finally, I would have liked more on Endalla and the falsework. This seemed to be set up as a major reveal in the previous book and outside a couple of lines in the Epilogue that feel like an afterthought—“Right now, there are a lot of people on Bajor, and on this starbase, who are having trouble accepting the Ohalavaru actions on Endalla and their claims about the meaning of their discovery”—the story practically doesn’t advance at all on this front, which is disappointing.

As we did last time, let’s end on a light note, though, with some new Rules of Acquisition. I caught three in this book:

  • The 39th Rule: “Don’t tell customers more than they need to know.”
  • The 100th Rule: “When it’s good for business, tell the truth.”
  • The 135th Rule: “Listen to secrets, but never repeat them.”

Memorable beats: Ro: “I’ve never been comfortable with labeling myself. I used to call myself a nonbeliever, and I wore an earring on my left ear to let every Bajoran I met know that. I stopped doing that a few years ago when I realized that it didn’t matter what words I used to describe myself, or that others used to describe me.”

Orb factor: An improvement over the previous installment, but doesn’t completely gel; 8 orbs.

In our next installment: We’ll be back in this space on Wednesday November 11th with Jeffrey Lang’s Force and Motion!

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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