Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Reread — I, The Constable

I, The Constable
Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann
Publication Date: November 2017

Timeline: late January 2386, following The Long Mirage

Progress: Quark learns that his uncle Frin has died, and Frin owned a number of taverns on Ferenginar. Quark reasons that, as the nearest male relative of Frin’s, these establishments should go to him (“Wives serve, brothers inherit’—that’s the 139th Rule”), but under Grand Nagus Rom the Rule has been amended under the Bill of Opportunities: brothers still inherit, but after wives and children. That doesn’t stop Quark from heading back to the homeworld to look into Frin’s marital situation and try and claim some of the action. Then he goes MIA, however, and Captain Ro asks Odo, who’s been spending much of his downtime reading hard-boiled noir fiction, to locate Quark.

Odo dutifully travels to Ferenginar and discovers that Frin had three wives. Each wife, it turns out, entrusted a financial manager named Hilt to help run their shared of the inherited businesses. Odo’s sleuthing reveals that Hilt has been killed, possibly in the same altercation in which Quark was kidnapped. Meanwhile, Rom contacts Quirk, the chief of security for the capital region, to assist with the search. Odo and Quirk take different approaches—Quirk’s rather leisurely—but share a common objective: find Quark.

Not surprisingly, Odo’s abilities, both in shapeshifting and detection, give him a significant edge, and he gets to Quark first. Wife Number Two, Yrena, working with her less-than-brilliant sons Bakke and Rascoe, devised an elaborate plan for a new casino on Ferenginar, using money funneled from accounts belonging to Frin via Hilt. Quirk acts with no sense of urgency when Odo reports back with Quark’s location, so Rom ends up attempting his own rescue attempt, in which he manages to get taken as a hostage. In the end Odo and Quirk get him released and free Quark as well; Yrena is arrested.

Throughout this adventure, Odo writes Kira, still on Bajor, a series of personal letters, and by the end of the story they are planning to meet up.

Behind the lines: This is the third e-novella by Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann, following the thoroughly entertaining Lust’s Latinum Lost (and Found) and the brilliantly structured Rules of Accusation. Besides the Ferengi-centric aesthetic, the other main vibe is the authors’ affectionate homage to writers like Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett. I was particularly excited when this literary element was introduced (in fact, I wish the narrative voice itself had been more reminiscent of one of the above-mentioned writers), and I loved seeing Odo integrate his knowledge of the hard-boiled genre in his approach to finding Quark. He uses terms like “perps,” “tossed” (“The place was a mess, resembling what one of O’Brien’s detectives might have called ‘tossed’”), and most amusingly, “goons” (much to Rom’s confusion: “What if Odo hasn’t captured all of those goons yet, and what if I run into one of them? he worried. And what is a goon, anyway?”). The title of the novella itself is likely a reference to the first Mickey Spillane novel, I, The Jury, which was explicitly referenced by Odo in the episode “Profit and Loss.” Odo tells Kira in epistolary form that he lives in “a more complicated universe than Mike Hammer, or Philip Marlowe, or Sam Spade,” which may be true, but this narrative cherry-picks the tastiest ingredients of those worlds and merges them seamlessly with a classic DS9 yarn.

Block and Erdmann have a sure hand when it comes to worldbuilding, and shining a noir-ish light on Ferengi society is more than just a convenient dramatic ploy, because it deepens our understanding of these aliens by revealing, for instance, seedier parts of Ferenginar we haven’t seen before. There’s also the ongoing question of cultural expectations. The practice of polygamy, for example, is addressed explicitly in a way that feels consistent with what we already know about Ferengi’s commerce-centric values:

“…bigamy per se isn’t illegal on Ferenginar,” Rom stated, “since there’s always some way to skirt traditional prohibitions—if one is good enough at contracts, that is. See this document? Frin has defined each of his three marital contracts as “a limited partnership, with all the expected duties and responsibilities of what is otherwise defined as a spouse, but with ultimate recompense apportioned by the ultimate number of participants in said partnership.”

A masterful example of attention to detail occurs later, when we learn that Antarean sausage “consisting primarily of ground Antarean tree beetles encased in targ intestine, was so dense it could be sharpened and used as a spear (which is why it had been a favorite Klingon field ration for decades).” Throwaway lines are often the best part of the backdrop in these e-novellas, adding a consistently comical texture.

In terms of continuity, it won’t be surprising to readers of these reviews or Block and Erdmann’s previous work to learn that there are many references to prior events, most of them rooted in the actual television series rather than in the expanded litverse. The seed of this caper, in fact, may be found in the episode “Civil Defense,” in which Quark laments: “A lifetime of plotting and scheming, wheeling and dealing—and what has it got me? One measly little bar. My uncle Frin owns thirty…” There’s also a nice callback to “The House of Quark”: “..you seem to be forgetting about the Klingon that Quark killed in the bar on the old station.” And we get at least one reference to Rules of Accusation, which for me elicits happy memories: “‘She’s still mad at him,’ confided Nog. ‘He wouldn’t give her a sneak peek at the Sacred Scroll during the embassy dedication. Right, Morn?’”

As far as character development is concerned, I welcomed the chance to spend time with Odo, here. His voice is accurately captured throughout, and feels particularly authentic in his letters to Kira, enriched in those passages by the expression of more intimate and vulnerable thoughts than the story allows for externally. These also provide a nice balance to the “rougher” sensibility of the noir genre being evoked. At times I did feel like Odo was a little overpowered for the plot obstacles he faced, but that’s a minor point. The story concludes on a fine grace note, with Kira having finished her retreat and Odo planning on “spending a quiet day in the Bajoran countryside” with her. The Odo-Kira story is one I’d sure like to see continued, but if that doesn’t happen, this is a beautifully hopeful end point.

Other supporting characters, like O’Brien, are well handled, and most importantly, the Ferengi voices are all skillfully rendered. Quark can’t really be counted as a protagonist here, but he does resurface in the narrative a little before the midway point (Chapter 10). The way that Block and Erdmann manage this is by letting us see extrapolated scenes of what happened to Quark as imagined by Odo at each stage of his investigation. A neat way to bring the character into the story before he’s eventually found and rescued, sure, but it does mean a number of scenes are essentially “inside Odo’s head.” My only gripe in the character arena is Rom. While I appreciate his contribution to the plot, both through the initial amended Rule of Acquisition and later by his well-intended involvement in Quark’s extraction, he feels a little too meek and silly, overall, to be believably reconciled with the genius Rom we’ve seen on screen.

I recently re-watched the TNG episode “The Big Goodbye”, and in a way I, The Constable feels like its literary equivalent, with Odo in the lead, and sans the holodeck. Star Trek has paid tribute to other literary realms before—The Case of the Colonist’s Corpse by Bob Ingersoll and Tony Isabella, subtitled “A Sam Cogley Mystery,” is clearly an Original Series homage to Perry Mason, and Dean Wesley Smith’s novel A Hard Rain, with its gorgeous cover, runs with the Dixon Hill conceit—but this may be the most successful outing in the way it balances each storytelling aspect. Because much of this tale unfolds on Ferenginar, it also ends up working as a wonderful complement, in addition to the two preceding works in the novella series, to Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Ferenginar: Satisfaction Is Not Guaranteed.

Memorable beats: Odo to Kira: “Thank you for saving my bucket all these years. It is good to have something familiar here on the new station.”

O’Brien: “This place is as charged with chaotic energy as the atmosphere of Galorndon Core.”

Odo: “I regret to say, madam, I don’t eat.”

Quirk: “‘Looks like his excuse to take a sick day was valid,’ Quirk said, getting to his feet and studying the instrument. ‘He was shot last night.’”

O’Brien: “Greedy people. Seedy neighborhoods. Murder. Kidnapping. A femme fatale masterminding the whole operation. Sounds a lot like a caper to me.”

Odo: “You’re getting soft, Quark.”

Orb factor: This dynamic writing duo diverts us again; 8 orbs.

In our next installment: We’ll be back in this space on Wednesday, February 24th with the concluding work in the DS9 relaunch series, David R. George III’s Original Sin!

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.

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