Mission Gamma

Lesser Evil, by Robert Simpson

mgamma4I just wanted to thank you for your vote of confidence in me.  But I’m confused about what you said regarding my Starfleet status.  My commission was always supposed to be temporary.  I resigned it when I returned from Cardassia after the war.
Did you?  We must have lost the paperwork.
-Colonel (Commander?) Kira Nerys of DS9 and Admiral L. J. Akaar of Starfleet

Lesser Evil is the grand finale of the Mission Gamma books.  But is it truly grand?

On Bajor, things have gone to hell.  A major figure has just been assassinated, and it looks like someone in the Federation’s to blame.  At a time when Bajor was dead certain to be joining the United Federation of Planets, a bold move has derailed the process.  Needless to say, Kira Nerys is not happy with seeing the bright future that was opening up near the end of the last book go down the toilet.  For that matter, the Federation ambassadors aren’t too thrilled by it, either-and when a cloaking signature is found heading away from the station is detected, a Starfleet ship is dispatched to pursue, with a Bajoran officer (hm, wonder who) tagging along to help.  Ro Laren, on the other hand, isn’t at all certain that all is at it seems; and as chief of station security, she takes it very personally….

In the meantime, the mission in the Gamma Quadrant is reaching conclusion.  The previous books only have touched upon some of the highlights, as chapter one shows that they’ve made a bunch of new friends, some new enemies, and essentially done a pretty good job on fulfilling Starfleet’s charter to explore strange new worlds, and seek out new life and new civilizations.  But the Defiant stumbles upon something that isn’t at all new, and potentially very, very dangerous-and for Commander Elias Vaughn, something very personal-something that overrides his better judgment, but something he can not ignore.

And in a bit of a subplot, Joseph Sisko, father of that famous captain, is recovering physically from a collapse, but emotionally he’s a wreck, dealing with not only the loss of his son, but possibly his grandson as well.  We get to meet Ben Sisko’s sister (I didn’t know he had a sister; I guess I don’t qualify as being a serious Trekkie, I guess!), who seems to have a good head on her shoulders, but can’t figure out what to do about her father.  Luckily, her sister-in-law has a desperate idea that might help.

Of the four Mission Gamma books, this one certainly had the smallest page count; it also was the least impressive.  If this were an episode on television, I’d say this was a filler episode.  The encounter in the Gamma Quadrant seems contrived (even given the way the Orbs affected Vaughn, this stretches coincidence way too far); while I don’t have a problem with certain aspects of it (and I hate having to tip-toe around it, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise), the personal aspect makes little sense to me.  I also have a problem with the way it all turns out in the end.  This isn’t to say that there weren’t good points to it-because it does fill in some gaps in Vaughn’s background, which is good; and I did like the reasoning behind the reasons why the Defiant detected the signal leading to this encounter (although I refer to the personal reasons, not the coincidental nature of it).

On the Alpha Quadrant front; well, I didn’t see this one coming.  My predictions foresaw a certain shadowy organization (although I won’t rule out their involvement completely-they can make a guy paranoid!) behind all this.  However, the explanations create a nice tie between DS9 and the Next Generation-and explain a bit on just what was going on with Shakaar Edon before it all hit the fan in the last book.  Ro gets a chance to show off a bit, with a little help of the local Jem’Hadar soldier (nice to see him being useful again instead of scaring the locals).  I was also happy to see Kira getting a chance to show off a bit too, joining the Starfleet pursuit-especially when certain truths become known, which are setting things up for a very different kind of conflict that won’t necessarily be fought in space.  I’m also a bit cheered to see a little bit of the maverick in Admiral Akaar; “lost the paperwork”, indeed!

While Lesser Evil itself didn’t leave me with the same feeling as the rest of the series had, it did manage to put together a passable story (well, at least in the Alpha Quadrant); and we get to see the return of a number of characters-including the most tortured man in Starfleet, the slimiest character in the Dominion, and the-well, heck, I’ll leave the last couple as a surprise (and no fair peeking at the inside back cover).  It does advance the main storyline of Deep Space Nine, but it didn’t have the same “meat” to it as the other books had.

In closing, the Mission Gamma series seems to be pretty good; while it often seemed that the goings-on at Bajor overshadowed the Defiant mission, it did manage to blend the continuing storyline that fans of DS9 enjoy with the episodic stories that characterized the other Star Trek series.  We got insight on the most mysterious of the current cast, closure on some storylines, movement on the strange relationship between Quark and Ro, and a peek at the potential future for Bajor and the Federation.  All in all, I’d say Mission Gamma was a very respectable series.

So far, the Deep Space Nine relaunch continues to gather steam!

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Cathedral, by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels

mgamma3I don’t deny that I might benefit personally from a last-minute rapprochement between Bajor and Cardassia.  If the price of such a peace is that I throw all of that aside, then I will gladly do it.  I come among you not as a candidate for kai, nor as a representative of any religion.  I am here with one agenda only:  to bring our peoples together without any force or coercion-even the benevolent kind that the Federation would surely bring.
-Vedek Yevir Linjarin

The previous two books had one thing in common with each other:  I felt that the Gamma Quadrant side of the Mission Gamma story wasn’t nearly as engrossing to me as the DS9 side.  Well, Cathedral doesn’t reverse that trend…but it does stop it dead in its tracks.

On the station, we get to see the fallout of the last book’s tragedy.  Even that tragedy, however, is overshadowed by the ceremonies to celebrate Bajor’s entry into the Federation.  But a crisis that’s been hinted at in the last couple of books begins to become a bit more blatant, as an offshoot of the Bajoran Religion (and based heavily on the Book of Ohalu…you remember-the book that indirectly got Kira Attainted?).  However, it is hardly shown as an evil cult like the one with the Pah-wraiths were.  Not only do they try very, very hard to get Kira on board with them, but they also try to convince Vedek Yevir to reverse the Attainder on Kira.  In the meantime, life goes on in the station, as Quark and Ro make some hard decisions about their future, and Taran’atar continues to try to understand this extremely contradictory society.  And Vedek Yevir decides to take upon himself a mission (inspired by a “gift” from Kasidy Yates) that he views as the last, best chance for a mutual peace between Cardassia and Bajor.

Then we have the fun with the Defiant.  Nog, Ezri, and Julian are on a survey mission in a shuttle (which does NOT get blown up!), and they encounter a rather unusual phenomenon-a construct that is half a billion years old, and exists in substantially more than the traditional three dimensions.  They do, however, manage to get a little too close.  And that proves to have unexpected side effects:  for Nog, a wondrous blessing.  For Ezri, an unexpected separation.  And for Julian…a loss of his very self, as his genetic enhancements slowly start to go away.  All this, plus a pair of alien races that refer to the object as a cathedral, and who are most definitely antagonistic toward each other.

Maybe I was in a better mood reading this book, but I felt that the Gamma Quadrant mission easily matched the DS9 segments in Cathedral.  Maybe it’s the fact that nobody really has a handle on what the “cathedral” is; maybe it’s because the aliens genuinely seem alien (possibly because the universal translator doesn’t exactly work too fast in translating the languages here).  Or maybe it’s because this one focuses heavily on the Defiant characters I know best-the ones who we followed on the television show.  But the other characters aren’t shorted too much-Vaughn is still Vaughn, to coin a phrase, trying to deal with a pair of alien races and find a way to deal with the consequences of the shuttle trip; and Shar is dealing with his new problems, as he feels the price of joining this mission may have been too great.  Even so, the big character development on this one belongs to Julian Bashir; once, he wondered what he would have been like had he not been enhanced, which brings to mind a favorite quote from a Star Trek movie…”Be careful what you wish for.”

The characters on the station get to deal with the schism in the Bajoran religion; we don’t get as much a focus on it, as the book tends to cover certain characters each chapter; the ones that do, however, show that there are two major forces here:  Vedek Yevir and Vedek Solis Tendren of the Ohalavaru (who has announced his own candidacy for kai, the religious leader of the Bajoran people).  Tendren, interestingly enough, has a view of the Prophets that actually matched the opinions of their Emissary not so long ago; while Yevir continues to be guided by an encounter with Captain Sisko that he believes set him on a path to become kai himself.  Yevir’s the character that most stood out to me in this book-prior to Cathedral, I viewed him as a religious fanatic, a power-seeking zealot, yet one who was absolutely convinced he was right.  Well, that opinion didn’t change much; but this book makes clear that he also has the well-being of Bajor at heart.  He also has the most impressive scene in this series so far; and given some of the things that’s happened in Mission Gamma, that says a lot.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that First Minister Shakaar’s actions in the last book have not been ignored; and as one reads through this book, one begins to get the sense that not all is right with Shakaar.  Clearly, there is more going on here than meets the eye, and it may not bode well for the future.

Cathedral continues to demonstrate that Deep Space Nine is a place of deep mood swings; the highs are really high, and the lows are really low; and nothing demonstrates that more than the last two pages (how’s that for a teaser?).  I feel that Cathedral is the most balanced book in the Mission Gamma series, and it’s been the only one in which I looked forward to each Gamma Quadrant chapter as much as the DS9 chapter.  It’s a trend I hope to see continued in the finale of this series-although I suspect the events on the station will be a far more engrossing read-and once you’ve finished this one, you’ll understand why!

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This Gray Spirit, by Heather Jarman

mgamma2The Cardassians aren’t our enemies any longer.  They’ve never been your enemy.  Your people served alongside them in the war.
Do you know their minds?
Bajorans aren’t telepaths, if that’s what you’re asking.
Do you have knowledge of their goals-their strategy?
I’m assuming they’re here to meet with the First Minister, but outside that, no, I haven’t tapped into their database or spied on their private discussions.
Then they are your enemy.  The unknown is always the enemy, Lieutenant.
-Lieutenant Ro Laren and Taran’atar, Chief of Security of DS9

You gotta love a book that starts out with an excerpt from Burning Hearts of Qo’noS.  It’s not central to the plot, but I just had to say it.

Mission Gamma continues with This Gray Spirit; it seems that Tennyson’s Ulysses is going to be the continuing inspiration for Mission Gamma, as both books thus far have opened with quotes from that work.  The last book ended on a very high note, having resolved issues both personal and galactic.  But this is DS9, the most edgy of the Treks out there, so as you might guess…things start to get a little out of hand.

There are about four plots moving along on this one; two center on the station, and two in the Gamma Quadrant.  I’ll cover the Defiant situation first; after all, the arc is called “Mission Gamma”.  The situation begins when the Defiant gets walloped by an attack by nanobots that cripple the ship.  It seems that the ship has blundered into a disagreement between a pair of races known as the Yrythny and the Cheka.  It turns out that the Cheka want to genetically engineer a servitor race (hm, that sounds familiar, don’t it?), and the Yrythny chromosomal segments that had jumped their evolution faster than usual (which they call the Turn Key).  The Yrythny aren’t enthused about being lab experiments.  To stir the pot a little more, the Yrythny are having some civil unrest from the two portions of their society:  the Houseborn, who are the “upper crust” so to speak, and the Wanderers, who are seen as flawed-and treated like it.  When Ezri Dax suggests a mediator, she discovers that she has been “volunteered” for the job.

As Ezri tries to find some way to find a middle ground between them, Shar ch’Thane is drawn into the Wanderer’s society; he also hopes to understand the Turn Key as well, in order to help the Andorian people.  Yes, at last, we get the full story (well, almost) behind the plight of the Andorians.  And it actually makes sense.

Speaking of the Andorians….  Back on DS9, the Cardassians come to call.  Well, specifically, Gul Macet (who still rubs many Bajorans the wrong way for looking so much like his more infamous relation, the late Gul Dukat), who has brought a Cardassian ambassador to the station to speak to present something to the Bajoran people…and perhaps resolve their long standing enmity.  That’s enough trouble to begin with; but Shar’s bondmates are also staying at the station, awaiting his return from the Gamma Quadrant; and one of them, Thriss, is giving every indication of being an extremely unstable person….

In some ways, we get the best of both Treks, in a manner of speaking.  The Mission Gamma is very much a Star Trek story, in that the crew of the Defiant is fulfilling the Starfleet charter of “seeking out new life and new civilizations”; and while it’s been seen before, the situation with the Yrythny would fit just fine for the Next Generation or Voyager.  And at the same time, we get the intrigue, politics, and character development that I’ve come to expect from Deep Space Nine.

And, naturally, we get the subplots moving along.  Taran’atar is about as untrusting a fellow as you could ask for, as shown in the above quote.  Quark and Ro actually go on a date (scary enough).  Bashir and Dax’s relationship again hits a bit of a bumpy spot due to his concern about her relying too much on her symbiont’s other memories.  And I especially like the nature of the presentation made by the Cardassians, bringing back memories of a character long gone.  (I was also moderately disturbed by what happens later….)

I admit that the book doesn’t stamp itself on my mind as much as previous DS9 offerings, but the last few chapters (including the epilogue) deliver some serious punches, and keeps the reader on edge waiting for the third book.

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Twilight, by David R. George III

mgamma1The two men who led the expedition across the North American continent on Earth, Merriwether Lewis and William Clark, were sent on a mission to explore an expanse of unknown wilderness, to chart the lands they traveled, to seek out what new life there might be, to befriend the peoples they might encounter, to keep a record of their journey, and to bring that knowledge home.  They called themselves the Corps of Discovery.  Let us therefore, on this stardate, rededicate ourselves to that ideal.
-Commander Elias Vaughn, to the crew of the U.S.S. Defiant

In the beginning days of Deep Space Nine, Commander Benjamin Sisko was given two major tasks; he was to do everything possible to get the planet Bajor ready to join the Federation, and he was to explore the wormhole he discovered for Bajor-or more exactly, the space beyond the wormhole, in the Gamma Quadrant.  Unfortunately, the Dominion War derailed both missions, and was forgotten in the following episodes.

But beginning with Twilight, the Mission Gamma storyline brings both of those goals back into the full picture.  While the first third of the book is setup, the rest of the book goes in two different directions.  On the one hand, the Starfleet personnel (Nog, Shar, Vaughn, Dax, Tenmei, and Bashir) are off on a three-month mission to explore new areas in the Gamma Quadrant, now that the Dominion has chosen to (for now) isolate itself to ponder Odo’s experiences.  Then the other hand features the Bajoran front, with Kira, Ro, Quark, and some others as some very influential people in the Federation stop at DS9 for a semi-secret summit, discussing renewing Bajor’s petition to join the Federation.

First, though, the book wraps up some rather loose ends from the Gateways event; primarily the refugees from Europa Nova and the rather ticked-off Jarada who were really hoping for a benefit from the deal Vaughn had made with them.  Then the book goes off into the preparations being made for the Defiant’s flight through the wormhole, and for the arrival of some unexpected guests.  It’s not far into the mission, though, when the crew of the Defiant are called upon to save a world.

To be honest, the basic plot is kind of stock material; what sets the book apart (and a hallmark of the series to date) is the actions of the characters in it.  In the opening third of the book alone, we get:  more revelations of the troubled relationship between Vaughn and Tenmei; more Taran’atar and his attempts to understand this very different environment; lots more on Shar’s, er, romantic life, the intro of another Starfleet admiral, L. J. Akaar (points to people who figure out just who exactly he is right away; it wasn’t until waaay into the book where I finally remembered), and more!

Things get really moving once the mission is underway.  As I said, I found the Defiant segments kind of “the usual”, although it continued to advance the plots of both Vaughn and Dax (who’s taken quite well to her second-in-command duties).  The Bajor front is what really kept my interest, though.  Kira’s a bit on the defensive, still feeling the emotional impact of her Attainder, not sure if the First Minister Shakaar’s playing straight with her, and dealing with suspicious questioning from Admiral Akaar.  Quark and Ro’s relationship continues, as both come to realize that if Bajor is indeed accepted into the Federation, their lives will be turned upside down; Quark also has a new foil of sorts, as the Orion woman Treir proves to be as cunning as he is in running his bar.  Actually, the truth is that Quark undergoes a number of self-revelations in this book, which I’m looking forward to seeing continue.

The continuing subplots of Deep Space Nine continue to make appearances; another mention of the search for Jake Sisko shows that he has not been forgotten; we discover a secondary mission of Taran’atar that makes perfect sense considering who sent him; Kasidy’s pregnancy proceeds as most do, although she gets hints that the Bajoran religion is about to have a little turmoil.  While these don’t get much page time, they do continue to indicate the ongoing plot of the series, which is something that the television show did fairly well.

While there was a couple things that continue to annoy me (does Vaughn absolutely have to be on a first name basis with every single major player in Starfleet history?), there was far more that pleased me.  While Mission Gamma itself hasn’t drawn me in as of yet, the continuing story of Bajor (and a shocking event at the end of this book) made this book more than worth the time to read…and made me want to read the next one that much more.

(2013 note:  obviously, this book has NO relation to a somewhat more notable work called “Twilight”.)

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