In the last days of the twenty-fourth century, caught in the crossfire of the apocalyptic confrontation between the Bajoran Prophets and the Pah-wraiths, Captain Benjamin Sisko and his crew face what might be the final millennium. On one side, the Pah-wraiths’ new Emissary – Kai Weyoun – promises his followers that when Bajor's two Celestial Temples are restored as one, all beings in the universe will ascend to a new and glorious existence with the True Prophets. On the other side, the scientists of Starfleet predict that when the two Bajoran wormholes merge, they will create a Warp 10 shock wave of infinite destructive power. With the Federation on the brink of collapse, and Starfleet consumed by Admiral Jean-Luc Picard's obsessive quest to build the largest starship ever conceived, Sisko enters the ultimate race against time for the biggest stakes of all – the survival of the universe itself.
Notes: This is one of the darkest and most horrifying Star Trek books I have ever read. The book jacket summary really doesn’t capture the feel. There are scenes and conversations that I found so disturbing, I had to put the book down and do something else for awhile before I could continue. Some of that is, like a lot of the scenarios in DS9, the two sides of the War of the Prophets are less black and white, and more shades of grey. However, the shades of grey on both sides seem to lighten and darken several times over the course of this book.
On the one hand, there’s the new political/religious entity, the Bajoran Ascendancy, headed by Kai Weyoun, the Emissary of the “True Prophets”. Weyoun, who’s one of my favorite DS9 characters, was always kind of creepy, but here he is downright frightening. His newfound faith is unshakable. He’s completely ruthless – he destroyed the Dominion, including the Vorta and all their clones, including his own. His allies, the mysterious Grigari Meld, who are Borg-like but use only biological implants and nanites, are nearly unstoppable. Weyoun’s goal is nothing less than Armaggedon and the destruction of the universe.
On the other side, the remnants of the Federation and Starfleet, which have degenerated considerably. The ships are tattered and run down. Replicators are for high-priority war items, not for food, drink, or clothing. Everything is battered, frayed, stained, and rusty. There is little time for recreation or joy. Their only hope is the Phoenix – the timeship that Admiral Jean-Luc Picard, with the help of Captain Nog, designed and built, meant to travel thousands of years into the past to destroy the Orbs of Jalbador, changing the timeline so that the second wormhole never opens and the war never happens.
There are several times where the DS9 crew come up against what should be major moral dilemmas, that are all handily forgotten or dispensed with. The Federation no longer abides by the Prime Directive, with bloody results – but, after the inital shock, everyone seems to nod and go along with it. Arla Rees, who’s starting to question her atheism, notes that the prophesied date of Weyoun’s apocalypse oddly coincides with the rollover of the calendars of 17 different races. Sisko, a man that has spent years as a religious figure of the Bajorans, and has seen quite a lot of ancient prophecies and visions come true in startling ways, completely dismisses Arla’s observations as illogical, unscientific and full of fallacies!
Like the first book in the series, characterizations are spot-on. Garak’s thoughts and ideas are some of the best. The interactions between Admiral Picard (who has an Alzheimer’s-like disorder)and Captain Nog. Descriptions of people, places and things are highly detailed and easy to imagine – some disturbing ones are too easy. Again, like the first book, when you finish it, you immediately want to read the next book – in this case, because of the apocalyptic setting, it’s less because you want to find out what’s next, and more about if ANYTHING happens next.
Noteworthy moments (again, page numbers are from the omnibus edition and will not match up with the the single edition).
-pg 331 Picard takes on three Romulans with a bat’leth.
-pg 343 The skin under Trill spots have a lot of capillaries, so even superficial injuries bleed a lot.
-pg 347 Klingons have sent “temporal assault teams” into the past, to try and destroy enemy worlds before they became enemies.
- pg 375 Nog doesn’t like Vulcan cuisine because “there are never enough beetles”.
- pg 393 Weyoun, like Eris, is telekinetic.
- pg 398 Garak and Leej Terrell, the Cardiassian scientist from the first book, were once lovers.
- pg 403 The Obsidian Order deemed Grigari technology too dangerous to use.
- pg 401 Worf really likes a visor-commanded phaser/tricorder combo because it would leave both hands free to use a bat’leth.
- pg 416 Odo wonders his deliberately engineered a flaw in his shapeshifting abilities, impeding his ability to look exactly like other races, in order to instill a longing to find his people.
- pg 419 Shortly before the appearance of the red wormhole, the Obsidian Order gave Damar a prototype device that inhibited a Founder’s ability to shapeshift.
- pg 434 Jake had interactive holobooks as a kid that explained the Prime Directive and why it was important.
- pg 449 Thousands of years ago, some Bajoran sects killed heretics by cutting their still-beating hearts out while they watched.
- pg 451 When an Ascendancy crewman says, “Emissary?” both Sisko and Weyoun respond.
- pg 453 Bajor-synchronous orbital mirrors continually redirect light so the sun will never set on the now-excavated holy city of B’hala.
- pg 460 The Borg Collective, in the Treaty of Wolf 359, negotiated by Seven of Nine and “Hugh”, are now official allies of the Federation
- pg. 468 Sisko explains how and why the stardate system is created.
- pg. 479 Project Looking Glass, envisioned by Chancellor Martok, planned to use the Mirror Universe to defeat the Ascendants.
- pg. 501 Dax knows a lot about Ferengi culture because she dated one once.
- pg. 506 Weyoun and Dukat beat hell out of each other
- pg. 526 Odo, being told he isn’t making robes “properly”, is forced to wear actual robes.
- pg. 540 Garak quietly critiques Weyoun’s leadership style and torture technique, while Odo tells him to shut up.
- pg. 558 Admiral Janeway leads a combined Federation-Borg fleet to try and break Grigari lines and use the Guardian of Forever to defeat the Ascendancy
- pg. 562 Nog tells Jake that, if he ever writes about a character based on him, that he has to make sure and give him really crooked teeth, REALLY big lobes, and “put in a scene like in Vulcan Love Slave.”
First up is Gul Madred, from the fantastic two-part TNG episode, Chain of Command. He was the commander of a phantom Cardassian installation on Celtris III. The Cardassians used fabricated radiation signatures to fool the Federation into believing a metagenic weapons laboratory was in operation. In reality, the sole aim of the ruse was to lure Captain Jean-Luc Picard into their clutches.
Ostensibly, the Cardassian plan was for Madred to compel Picard to disclose the Federation’s defense strategy for Minos Korva, a key strategic position along the border between the Federation and the Cardassian Union. But as Picard’s ordeal drags on, it becomes readily apparent that Madred is at least as interested in amusing himself by subjecting Picard to physical and psychological torture as he is in Minos Korva. Madred’s favorite game, in a reference to Orwell’s classic 1984, was to show Picard four lights, and demand he acknowledge that there are, in fact, five lights. Throughout their back and forth, Madred periodically asked Picard how many lights he saw. Steadfastly, Picard insisted that there four lights; in response, Madred would torture him for refusing to “see” the fifth light.
In one of the show’s signature sequences, just before his release, a haggard, exhausted Picard makes a dramatic show of defying Madred one last time, exclaiming “there are four lights!”
Later, back on the Enterprise, Picard admits to Counselor Troi that in the end, not only was he ready to submit to Madred’s demand that he say there were five lights, but that he could actually see five lights. As it so often was, TNG was well ahead of its time. Picard’s revelation leaves us certain that not only was a tortured Picard – a man of the utmost principle and mental fortitude – broken and prepared to betray the truth to gain respite from his suffering, but much beyond that, his mind had warped his very perception of reality to save him from his own determination. In essence, under extreme duress, his mind fabricated a fifth light to save him from himself: prescient commentary on the efficacy of certain interrogation techniques. For inflicting this sort of torture on another sentient being, Gul Madred claims one half of Sci-Fanatics’ #4 spot of Trek villains.
The other half of the two-headed Gul combination could only be held by Gul Dukat. Dukat had served as prefect of the Cardassian space station Terok Nor (later re-named Deep Space Nine) during the waning years of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor. For overseeing the countless atrocities committed against Bajor and its people alone, Dukat could make this list. But his duplicitous conduct went far beyond merely supervising a brutal military occupation.
First and foremost, Dukat almost single handedly delivered the entire Alpha Quadrant to subjugation by the Dominion by secretly negotiating Cardassia’s entry into the Dominion. This development gave the Dominion a critical strategic beachhead into the Alpha Quadrant, prolonging the Dominion War and ultimately costing scores of Cardassians their lives in the inevitable Battle of Cardassia that left much of the Cardassian homeworld a battle-ravaged, charred cinder.
On a more personal level, we learn that Dukat fathered an illegitimate daughter, Ziyal, with a Bajoran woman during the occupation. Too selfish to acknowledge Ziyal’s existence for fear of repercussions to his own ambitions, Dukat instead sends Ziyal and her mother to live in secrecy on a remote world. Ziyal ends up spending years in a Breen slave labor camp. While unaware of her precise fate, Dukat hardly lifts a finger to find out, and when she is finally discovered, he rushes to her…so he can kill her and permanently save himself the embarrassment of having an illegitimate half-Bajoran daughter. Ziyal narrowly escapes death when Major Kira talks Dukat out of his deranged plan. Dukat’s treachery in selling Cardassia out to the Dominion ultimately sets in motion the chain of events that would kill his daughter on Deep Space Nine.
Ziyal’s death completely unhinges him, and in Dukat’s final act, he joins the Cult of the Pah’Wraiths, murderous ancient beings hell-bent on causing death and destruction on Bajor. Dukat single-mindedly tries to free them from their ancient prison in the fire caves. Dukat fails and he ends up imprisoned in the fire caves along with the Pah’Wraiths, seemingly for eternity.
The true villainy of Dukat (and some classical elements of a tragic character) comes from his own lack of self-awareness. He genuinely viewed himself as the hero of his life story: sure, he authorizes summary executions during the Bajoran Occupation, but fewer than his predecessor had! Dukat could never see himself for what he was: a treacherous, back-stabbing villain.
Dukat never used his endless charm, political savvy, or strategic vision to serve anything or anyone but himself, landing him on Sci-Fanatics’ list of Trek’s worst villains. - Matt
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