Feb 13

Behind the scenes of Star Trek: Lambda Paz and “Revenge A Dish Best Served Cold”

For years, I had considered what had become of those who had survived the Dominion’s extermination of the Maquis. With the Dominion War on the horizon, the DS9 episode “Blaze of Glory” was understandably meant as a means of bringing an end to that story arc and never addressing it again on DS9. The aftermath was addressed to a very small degree on Voyager, when the ship had briefly made contact with the Federation from sixty-thousand light years away. But even then, almost nothing was made out of it outside of Chakotay learning the news, B’Elanna Torres’s emotional rut, and the efforts of the fanatical Teero Anaydis to resurrect the Maquis four years after it was defeated. But what about the survivors back in the Alpha Quadrant?

The novelization of the Voyager series finale, which contained scenes that took place after the episode’s final scene, established the Maquis survivors had received full pardons and offers to serve in Starfleet to augment their fighting force in the Dominion War. Surely many of the Maquis would seek retribution against the Dominion. But who is to say that all Maquis would be so forgiving? Many of them felt abandoned when the Federation signed a treaty with the Cardassians ceding territory to them. The Federation citizens residing there were given the choice but to relocate or stay and live under Cardassian rule. And that is what drove the premise of “Revenge A Dish Best Served Cold“. On one side, Limis Vircona wanted to get back at the Dominion for murdering thousands of her colleagues. And the other, her former husband Hasin Arnit sought vengeance not only against the Dominion, but the Federation for turning a blind eye to the plight of colonists in the former Demilitarized Zone and to the Dominion’s mass slaughter.

But before proceeding further on this particular story, a little general background into the series as a whole. I wanted to go against Earth-centric naming conventions of Starfleet ships. Granted, there were a few ships in the Trek canon here and there–the Gorkon, the Surak, the T’Kumbra, the Sitak–but none of them were central to any particular series. I wanted to go with Derna at first since this was a Luna-class ship, hence named after a moon, with a Bajoran captain. I then chose Lambda Paz, one of the moons of planet Pentarus II, as depicted in the TNG episode “Final Mission”. While that name is an amalgamation of a Greek letter and the Spanish word for “peace”–ironic considering that it’s a ship of war–it is still the name of a non-Sol system celestial body.

Because this ship’s consists of Starfleet veterans and former members of the Maquis, the potential for conflict is great, so one of my goals was to make up for where Voyager went wrong. After Voyager’s first two seasons, very little philosophical conflict existed between the Starfleet vets and the Maquis. And even that manifested mostly through secondary characters from Seska’s collusion with the Kazon to Mike Jonas’s secret communiques.

Moving onto the “pilot episode”, the Klingon proverb first spoken by Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan seems appropriate for this particular story considering the mood of the lead character. Limis Vircona only wants to settle the score. She has very little interest in serving Starfleet or saving the Federation after her experiences have made her very cynical. She initially refuses Benjamin Sisko’s offer to command a starship until he points out that the alternative is to stay in the Jaros II prison facility wallowing in her own self-pity. And in keeping with a line forever associated with the late Ricardo Montalban, the story also focuses on the Vulcan axiom first stated in TWOK: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”

In keeping with how Deep Space Nine’s pilot episode kicked off, this fan-fiction spinoff of DS9 begins twenty-three years before the outbreak of the Dominion War, during the Occupation of Bajor. An adolescent Limis Vircona carries out an attack on a Cardassian mining facility. That she was a teenager at the time is consistent with Kira Nerys having joined the Shakaar Resitance when she was twelve. With Limis, I pushed things a little further. We can infer that she is sixteen in this sequence based on AdAstra’s one big taboo since she had sold sexual favors to a high-ranking Cardassian in order to hack into a military database prior to carrying out this operation. And she had taken up prostitution at a much younger age, but that is never depicted in any great detail. We see here, though, how the Bajorans are willing to take extraordinary measures to survive the Occupation.

The operation is a success and many Bajoran slaves are freed, but at a heavy price. One of Limis’s colleagues who had infiltrated the compound was savagely beaten by a Cardassian overseer. He dies the next day, as we learn later in the story. Afterwards, Limis laments to her lover Hasin Arnit that she may have sacrificed too much in the cause of one day freeing Bajor, such as her childhoold. She and Arnit then agree to a night of passionate bliss before the returning to fighting the Cardassians tomorrow.

Fast forward fifteen years to the one of the final battles of the Federation-Cardassian wars. The two powers have been in conflict off and on for forty years and recent battles have resulted in one stalemate after another. If Starfleet cannot achieve a decisive victory, then the Federation may have to withdraw from that region of space. The Cardassians have a new weapon at their disposal: automated drones run by an artificial intelligence. Nicknamed dreadnoughts, just like the automated weapon drone in the Voyager episode of that title, these drones run kamikaze maneuvers at enemy ships. But like the forcefields protecting the automated weapon platforms at Chintoka, this artificial intelligence’s glaring weakness is that it is controlled by a central source.

The Federation fleet is commanded by Edward Jellico from TNG’s “Chain of Command”, illustrating his experience in fighting against and negotiating with the Cardassians. And the officers serving under him carry a resolute “get it done” mentality. Ronnie Kozar and his second-in-command on the USS Horatio Nelson, Mandel Morrison, work feverishly to try to exploit the enemy’s weakness. And here we see one of the first instances of poking fun of a Star Trek plot cliche. During this sequence, the captain orders a bold plan to save his ship and he doesn’t want to hear what the risks are.  That decisive victory is achieved and the rest is history.

Completing the flashback prologue, we see events just prior to “Blaze of Glory” from the point of view of the Maquis survivors. Michael Eddington’s wife Rebecca Sullivan is among them, as is Limis and Erhlich Tarlazzi, a Vulcanoid Rigelian. They manage to outrun pursuing Dominion ships and land on Athos Four in the Badlands. From there, Rebecca sends her coded transmission to her husband. Many more lives are lost before Sisko and Eddington come to the group’s rescue. Despite knowing of the necessity of ensuring the survival of key Maquis leaders, seeing so many deaths takes its toll on Rebecca, especially the death of her husband. But Limis assures her that she can still mourn this loss.

This final scene further illustrates the mixed emotions of individuals constantly on the run. As the last survivors of the Maquis, this group of people needs to stay focused on the tasks ahead, but even a close personal loss is emotionally taxing. And more is to come with the Dominion War on the horizon.

Moving on to the main body of “Revenge A Dish Best Served Cold”. The Federation and the Klingon Empire are now one month into the Dominion War. While the Dominion has suffered major setbacks due to the destruction of the Toros Three shipyards and the mining of the Bajoran wormhole, the Federation is also faced with personnel shortages.

Just as the pilot episode of Deep Space 9 featured The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the first season featured various TNG recurring characters, “Revenge…” depicts numerous DS9 characters. The opening scene of the “present day” sees Captain Benjamin Sisko in a meeting with three familiar Starfleet admirals. Admiral William Ross plays back a recording from behind enemy lines about a Jem’Hadar breeding facility. Former Cairo captain Edward Jellico, now a lower-half rear admiral, and Fleet Admiral Nechayev doubt the authenticity of the transmission. Sisko is in agreement, but feels a need to continue to kick the enemy while it is down.

The other topic of discussion at this meeting is the assignment of Maquis survivors to augment the crews of newly commissioned ships. Jellico immediately suggests Ronnie Kozar for command of the USS Lambda Paz. Citing the need for “scrappy players in the field”–one more of his baseball analogies used throughout the course of DS9–Sisko suggests Limis Vircona. He had witnessed how she had led the surviving members of Michael Eddington’s cell through escaping the Dominion’s mass slaughter. Ross and Jellico are adamantly against that idea. Nechayev even points out Sisko’s legendary determination to bring Eddington to justice. Sisko reiterates that Eddington had betrayed Starfleet. In fact, he had also resented his long-time friend Cal Hudson for doing the same. Beyond that, his attitude about the Maquis was not so black-and-white. There was his speech that started with, “Just because a group of people come from the Federation, that does not mean they are saints.” And at the end of “The Maquis, Part II”, Gul Dukat wanted to fire the killing shot at Cal’s ship, but Sisko stopped him.

But putting aside Limis’s affiliation with the Maquis, giving her starship command over the more experienced Kozar is still highly controversial and could bear some similarity to James Kirk making captain right out of the Academy in the Abrams-verse. The inner-workings behind such a decision will remain a mystery for some time, much like the reasoning behind placing Jeffrey Sinclair, a lowly Commander and career fighter pilot, in charge of such a high-profile outpost as Babylon 5.

The first chapter closes with Hasin Arnit manning a communications relay station and redirecting Starfleet communications traffic to station Deep Space 9, now once again designated Terok Nor under Cardassian and Dominion control. This sequence drops a hint he is possibly a double agent. I had planned to have additional scenes indicating this possibility, such as his activation of a command transponder coinciding with the Lambda Paz appearing on Jem’Hadar sensors. However, those were removed in favor of clues to another suspect sending out unauthorized subspace communications.

Chapter Two kicks off on the bridge of the USS Lambda Paz with Kozar, Morrison, and chief engineer Charles “Chaz” Logan (TNG episode: “The Arsenal of Freedom”) scrambling to get the ship launched in twenty-four hours. Here, we see the usual personality clash between a CO and the engineer, almost mirroring needing to get the Enterprise ready to launch within twelve hours of Kirk taking back his ship even though Scotty says it is next to impossible. This same scene employs yet another parallel to TMP when Kozar receives a call from Admiral Jellico. Jellico informs him on the eve of his first starship command, Kozar has been relegated to serving as first officer in favor of a relative newcomer. The catch though is that Jellico gives Kozar special autonomy to relieve Limis Vircona of command if deemed necessary without the benefit of regulations regarding relieving a captain of command, which we do see exercised later on in “Moral Dilemma”.

Meanwhile, Sisko pays Limis a visit at the Jaros II prison facility (where Ro Laren did her time before her debut appearance on TNG). A little backstory on this planet is given to show how it is symbolic of the Federation paradigm that even the worst criminals can be rehabilitated. That her “prison cell” resembles crew quarters on a starship only serve to remind Limis that she would not be so merciful to a Cardassian or Jem’Hadar. Sisko relays Starfleet’s offer and even shows her former spouse’s transmission. This visit is almost reminiscent of when Sisko visited Eddington in prison, as well as Eddington’s initial disinterest in his wife’s SOS. Sisko goes as far to point that the alternative is to stay in prison wallowing in self-pity. Put that way, Limis agrees on the condition that her friends Erhlich Tarlazzi and Rebecca Sullivan are part of the crew. Sisko then ferries the three them to the Lambda Paz via a runabout. The ship is Luna-class according to Sisko, even though that class of ship is not commissioned until after the war in the Pocket Books novel-verse. But this class of ship was initially constructed for exploration of the Gamma Quadrant. The project was put on hold because of the growing Dominion threat, and the existing ships were reallocated towards the war effort.

A very rushed change of command ceremony takes on the bridge to kick off Chapter Three. While the Lambda Paz is in final preparation for departure, the USS Defiant comes to Hasin Arnit’s rescue. This scene, as well as those depicting Dukat, Weyoun, and Damar on Terok Nor, is a symbolic “passing of the torch” much like the pilot episodes of TNG, DS9, and Voyager, as well as Star Trek: Generations and Leonard Nimoy reprising his role as Spock for the last time in Star Trek XI. Throughout the Defiant’s battle with the Jem’Hadar, Arnit seems determined to prevent anyone from beaming him off his shuttle, even his rescuers. Miles O’Brien ultimately decides to beam aboard anything organic, hence materializing Arnit fully nude. Of course, this is the one and only time such an emergency procedure will ever be used. It simply borrows a page from the Terminator movie franchise, where the time portals cannot transport any inorganic material other than SkyNet’s cyborgs. And that was how Kyle Reese made his first appearance in the “present day” (1984 in the case of the first movie).

Chapter Four is devoted to introducing the last of the main characters, as well as expanding on a few of those characters already depicted. First off, Logan gives Tarlazzi and Sullivan a tour of the engineering section. Logan is a full Commander because he also headed construction of the Luna-class starships. And before that, he was part of the Galaxy-class construction team, which earned him a brief stint as chief engineer of the Enterprise-D. Lieutenant Shinar sh’Aqba, an Andorian woman first seen in the prologue, also holds the position of chief engineer, in keeping with the practice of having more senior officers in key engineering positions on a new class of starship. This provides an in-universe explanation to the revolving door of guest actors who served as chief engineers during TNG’s first season before Geordi LaForge held the position for the duration of the series. Tarlazzi seems to get a perverse pleasure out of finding fault with various technical innovations just to get under Logan’s skin until Rebecca reminds him of how possessive Starfleet engineers are, even regarding their ships as if they were their children. She even cites Miles O’Brien’s reaction to Eddington having gutted the Defiant in “Our Man Bashir”.

I had initially intended for Rebecca Sullivan to be part of the engineering crew, and that is still the case. But then I decided that she wouldn’t get enough action if she was exclusively in engineering. In this story and later ones, she becomes the gamma-shift helm officer and a shuttle pilot, perhaps to explain Geordi LaForge doing shifts in engineering, even in Season 1 when he was the helmsman.

During the crash course in the engineering section, Morrison is showing Limis various key facilities with the tour ending in the sickbay. Doctor Aurellan Markalis is attending to several patients with minor injuries. Despite having her hands full, she apologizes for not being at the change of command ceremony. From here, this is where we first see how much of a socially awkward person she is, even possessing the mannerisms of Rain Man and Jerry Espenson (the latter being a character on Boston Legal whose quirks were said to be a misrepresentation of Asperger’s syndrome), which are later retconned out. She is described as an attractive young blonde to go against the nerdy-looking Plain Jane stereotype. She is not afraid to speak her mind, even about the EMH Mark II (played by Andy Dick in the Voyager episode “Message in a Bottle”). While he is advertised as having a better bedside manner than the Mark I (or as Markalis derisively calls him, “The Zimmerman”), he can be just as rude as the Mark I as illustrated by how the Mark II greets his new captain. “What the hell are you doing in my sickbay? I am programmed to identify every member of this crew. You are not one of them.”– also reminiscent of the first words Odo spoke to Sisko: “Who the hell are you?”

The tour comes to an abrupt end when Limis is summoned to the bridge with the Lambda Paz having rendezvoused with the Defiant. And so we’ve established all the main characters and the central story premise. I’ll be providing additional commentary on this and other stories in later entries.

 

Feb 11

The common themes of science fiction: There may be hope for us yet…

In the universe of “Babylon 5”, Doctor Stephen Franklin practiced a religious philosophy known as “Foundationism“, which came up shortly after humanity made contact with alien life for the first time. Put simply, this philosophy seeks to “get back at the roots of all the Earth religions, past the doctrines to the core of each belief system to find out what they have in common and proposes that they have a lot more in common than most would have thought.” In applying a similar process, when we look past the differences in various science fiction franchises– i.e. the alien species, the futuristic technology, the major players in the astro-political scene, etc.– we see a few common themes. For this and future postings, I will illustrate the overarching similarities in the universes of “Star Trek”, “Babylon 5”, and “Stargate”.

First off, these sci-fi franchises illustrate in their own ways the strong potential of humanity to be greater than what it is. Even in Gene Rodenberry’s utopian universe of “Star Trek”, humanity is still a long way from true enlightenment. In the words of the Metron at the end of “Arena”, “You are still half-savage.” We can’t say exactly what this level of enlightenment we may achieve thousands or perhaps millions of years from now entails. In the meantime, humanity has superior races such as the Metrons, the Organians, and the Preservers to watch over us to make sure we don’t destroy ourselves and other alien races. That much was clear when the Metrons came between the USS Enterprise and the Gorn warship that destroyed the Cestus Three colony and when the Organians called off a war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire in “Errand of Mercy”. “The Paradise Syndrome” further established the existence of an ancient race known as the Preservers, charged with preserving lesser cultures on the verge of extinction. Perhaps these aliens were the ones that raised Gary Seven, whose mission in “Assignment: Earth” was to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. Gary Seven was also a central figure in The Eugenics Wars novel trilogy. His initial role in the story was to end Project Chrysalis, which already bred Khan Noonien Singh and other genetically-engineered superhumans. Who knows how many other human proxies of the Preservers were out there, but countless possibilities are left to the imaginations of various novel and fan-fiction authors. But the Preservers seem to want to prevent humanity from advancing too far before it’s ready.

The Vorlons of the “Babylon 5” universe had similar motives. They are a mysterious alien race millions of years superior to the various humanoid species featured throughout that series. They have seen the potential in humans to become something far greater than what it is today. And that is in a futuristic world where humanity has not reached the same level of social and political unity as in the “Star Trek” universe, where all the problems of poverty, war, and disease have not been solved. The Earth military is far more paranoid and cynical than Rodenberry’s Starfleet or United Federation of Planets, and so a lot of its brass feels that Earth needs to get a hold on as much superior alien technology once belonging to long dead races as possible in order to gain any kind of advantage over its peers. Thankfully, the Vorlons and The Great Machine, the last remnants of a race that once inhabited the planet the space station orbits, are around to counter that human obsession. At the end of the episode, “A Voice in the Wilderness“, the Great Machine’s new humanoid central processing unit proclaimed, “This planet belongs to no one. It belongs only to itself, and to the future.” The Vorlons took a similar stance at the end of “Deathwalker” when Earth’s government sought to harness the notorious Dilgar war criminal Jha’Dur‘s anti-aging serum. But for one person to achieve immortality, another life would have to be sacrificed. That was to be her final act of vengeance for her race’s defeat and eventual extinction, stating, “You will fall upon one another like wolves… Not like us? You will become us.” Of course, the Vorlons destroyed Deathwalker’s ship as it was bound for Earth, and Ambassador Kosh proclaimed, “You are not ready for immortality.”. The Vorlons, however, did see humanity as one day achieving their level of superiority in another million years. But until then, they have made sure humanity and its peers don’t go anywhere their great empire even after they had departed the Milky Way galaxy for higher planes of existence.

The Vorlons or Preservers of the universe of “Stargate” are known as the Asgard. They are a benevolent race that have anointed themselves guardians of the Milky Way galaxy, which even gave rise to Norse mythology. At the conclusion of the episode “The Fifth Race“, in which Colonel Jack O’Neill accidentally had the entire database of a race known only at the time as the Ancients into his brain, the Asgard reveal their belief that humanity is on a path towards becoming the “Fifth Great Race”. Some time in the distant past, the Asgard were part of the Alliance of Four Great Races, composed the four most advanced known alien races. This dissolved when one of the four, the so-called Ancients ascended to a higher plane of existence. Earth would take a giant leap towards becoming that fifth “great race” in “Stargate:SG-1″‘s series finale. The Asgard, knowing their race’s extinction was inevitable and preparing for a mass suicide, chose to leave all its advanced technology to Earth’s Stargate Command. And this is with humanity in a much more precarious position than Earth of the B5 universe. Because the “Stargate” and all of its spinoff series takes place in “present day” Earth and all these interplanetary expeditions are conducted in secret. While the terrorist organization known as the Trust dissolved during the course of SG-1, who is to say other similar organization will not try to get their hands on this advanced technology? And not just those originating in the United States, but in Russia, China, or other emerging superpowers such as Iran. In any case, the Asgard had to have thought long and hard about this decision, and so they entrust Stargate Command to use these technological advances wisely.

In any case, these three sci-fi franchises address a potential for greatness in the human species, a greatness is not yet achieved as the only known sentient species. But that future for humanity, even in Gene Roddenberry’s utopian viewpoint, is at least a million years way. In the words of Q in the TNG episode “HIde & Q”: “Yes, the human compulsion (to explore and learn, as Riker put it). And unfortunately for us, it is a power which will grow stronger century after century, aeon after aeon… Perhaps in a future that you cannot yet conceive, even beyond us.”  That’s provided we don’t destroy ourselves along the way.

Stay tuned for more postings about the commonalities of various sci-fi franchises. Up next: The mysteries of the universe.

Feb 08

Why Starbase G-6?

Starbase G-6 was referenced in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Hide and Q” Prior to the beginning of the episode, the Enterprise-D dropped off Counselor Troi at Starbase G-6, and from there, she traveled home to Betazed. In my fan-fiction of Star Trek: Lambda Paz, the USS Lambda Paz and the Seventh Fleet have been operating out of Starbase G-6 ever since the Dominion invasion of Betazed. And from there, the Seventh Fleet has conducted the Kalandra Campaign, one of the major operations during the war’s second year.