Myriad Universes: Hearts and Minds Part 2: On the Edge of Armageddon

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There is no time to process what has just happened. No time to even be shocked about it. Not only has the dust not cleared from the explosion onboard the runabout that killed Tal Berel, but it actually hasn't even finished exploding yet before Kol immediately blames Marok for assassinating the ambassador. An indignant Marok fires back, demanding Kol explain why he feels the Cardassian Empire would have any reason to destroy a Federation runabout and murder a mediator. Kol threatens to kill Marok where he stands, to which the Cardassian diplomat basically says “bring it” before Commander Sisko intervenes, breaking up the fight and imploring the delegations to stand down until an official investigation can be launched.

But Kol is not having it, demanding Sisko and the Federation back the Klingons because of their treaty arrangements. But for his part, Marok tries to manipulate Sisko into siding with the Cardassians, claiming that the Cardassians and the Federation have always been “brothers in spirit”, and transparently threatening him with Gul Dukat's presence, claiming that he “would hate to see him get a chance to sit down in his old chair again”. Meanwhile in Quark's, it's after hours, but the titular Ferengi lets Maura in anyway, and that's before she reveals she has a case full of gold-pressed latinum, plus more on her ship, that she's willing to give him if he sells her the bar and leaves Deep Space 9 for good.

In the Gamma Quardrant, Jadzia Dax, Doctor Bashir and Koleth have arrived in orbit around Keltara, the last planet the K'Tang was known to have visited before being destroyed. They beam down to what looks like a frozen wasteland, but then Bashir gets attacked by a giant purple snow beast and is saved by a member of the survey team the K'Tang left behind. Koleth and Dax fill the landing party in on the situation, but the commander is adamant that the Cardassians would never dare make war with the Klingons. Koleth tells the commander that he had privileged access to the K'Tang's distress beacon, which claimed that while the Cardassians attacked them, their weapon and defense systems had already been sabotaged prior to their opening volley. Dax is irritated that Koleth didn't find it necessary to share that information with her and Bashir, his nominal commanding officer and crewmate, but before she can reprimand him the commander of the away team begins to mount a defense of his team, the surviving K'Tang crew. Dax reassures the commander that in no way is she accusing him or his crew, but rather wanted to ask if he knew where the K'Tang was scheduled to go after leaving Keltara, as Captain Krek never filed a proper flight plan. The commander points them to Caldonia 3, the best place to restock and get information on this side of the wormhole.

Back on Deep Space 9, Commander Sisko expresses his concerns to Admiral Kernwill, who apologises before putting him in charge of negotiations onboard the station. Sisko protests, but Kernwill implores him to do what he can to hold things together until the Enterprise, which is three days away if it travels nonstop at max warp, can get there. As Kernwill signs off, Sisko confides in Kira, who offers him what support she can offer. Sisko asks for prayer. At the bar, Quark agrees to meet Maura again over dinner, but before he does he conspires with Rom to steal the gold-pressed latinum from Maura's ship before the deal can go down. Quark tries to wine and dine Maura, but her partner Delgar interrupts them. He comes bearing Rom, who he of course caught. Meanwhile, Odo and Miles O'Brien are trying to discern the cause of the explosion that killed Tal Berel, but haven't come up with anything. The Chief suggests Odo try a different approach, looking at when and where the ship exploded instead, offering the possibility that the bomb was motion-sensitive, possibly triggered by someone in the local sector. Odo decides to do what he always does when he's at a dead end: Go probe Quark for information.
 
But the barkeep doesn't know anything, and has his own problems to deal with. Odo catches the tail end of Quark's altercation with Maura and Delgar, and presses the Ferengi, but he's not ready to divulge anything...yet. Back at the other end of the galaxy, Dax and Bashir are making small talk about their next destination, Caldonia 3, “a world of cutthroats and mercenaries”, according to Jadzia. The doctor again tries to pick her up, and is again shot down. So he decides to go talk to Koleth instead, who is meditating in preparation for the battle he is confidant is coming soon. What follows is a truly brilliant scene where the young upstart displays a flash of his looming maturation, questioning Koleth's eagerness for war, contrasting the Klingon's perspective with his own, a healer charged with tending to those who survive in spite of everything. But soon enough the Rio Grande reaches Caldonia 3, and Dax summons them to the cockpit to beam down. Back on the station, Marok chastises Dukat for his rashness, before they're both assaulted by a group of Klingons on the promenade. Marok's aide is violently attacked, but the brawl is broken up by DS9 security, led by Major Kira. Dukat comments on the irony, but Kira snaps at him to not push his luck. As Sisko orders the negotiation teams to settle down and think of the future, Dax and her party scope out the local pub.
 
Dax makes contact with a Ferengi trader named Zemel, who is very eager to help her after Koleth threatens him. Though he met the K'Tang crew when they came to Caldonia 3, he doesn't know where their ship was going after that. But he points her and her team in the direction of one Mavok Bev Nareen, a mutual acquaintance who Krek met with before leaving. Back on the station, Sisko is reading the teachings of Ambassador Sarek, hoping they might be of some help to him after an eighteen hour day of “just getting the Cardassians and the Klingons to agree to disagree”. Again, Kira drops by, ostensibly to update the commander on Odo's investigation (there's not much to report), and also to say that guard around Marok and Dukat has been doubled. But before she leaves, she makes conversation about what Ben's reading, and gently encourages him to get some rest.
 
Dax and Bashir find Mavok Bev Nareen, who is apparently the closest thing to a brothel owner Star Trek: Deep Space Nine can get away with. He says the K'Tang crew stopped by for what Krek “called a non-essential”, and he also sold them Romulan Ale. He also seems well aware that ship was destroyed. When Dax asks him if he knows why, he claims it's because they travelled to an area of space called The Abyss, supposedly the actual land of the dead. The Abyss is said to be guarded by a monstrous, space-going bird released from the hand of the god Bahal after he was betrayed by Varook, his comrade-in-arms. It is said Bahal's Bird guards The Abyss to this day, and will destroy anyone who dares trespass. At that very moment on the station, Maura accosts Quark in his bed, threatening to kill him if he doesn't sell her the bar immediately.
 
In some ways, this is a story I should perhaps not be reviewing. The only standards I have to judge Hearts and Minds by are its own, because this is the story from which I got the standards I judge Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from in the first place. It was “On the Edge of Armageddon” that defined my idea of what Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was, so, tautologically, “On the Edge of Armageddon” is everything I think Star Trek: Deep Space Nine should be. This is a truism, and it's perhaps not fair to re-examine it in that context.
 
So you'll perhaps forgive me when I say this issue is fucking fantastic. It is, in point of fact, absolutely perfect in my opinion. Most things I revisit for this kind of work end up disappointing me after a period of time. Hearts and Minds, and this issue in particular, is every bit as good now as I thought it was in 1994. Maybe the fact I've come back to this more than any other Star Trek story save “A Matter of Honor” means I don't have the proper distance from it anymore. It's one of those things I can recite word-for-word from memory, putting it in an elite category above and beyond basically every other Star Trek story and among things like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Garfield & Friends. On the other hand, doesn't the fact I *have* re-read Hearts and Minds enough that I can recite it from memory give you a slight indication of how good it might be?
 
I have a crystal-clear memory of the first time I read this story. It was sometime during the summer of 1994, obviously, and I was visiting my grandmother's house. She always tried to get me things to indulge my interests, but she also had a rather changeable grasp on and understanding of what my interests actually *were*. So, like most people, she conflated my “liking Star Trek: The Next Generation” with “being a Trekkie and thus liking everything that had the Star Trek brand slapped on it”. Which is, in hindsight, an understandable mistake to make as I have since learned that apparently no other person on the planet shares my actual set of interests or came to them in a manner that was remotely similar to the way I did. Either way, on this particular day she had gotten me two Star Trek comic books: This one, and Hearts and Minds issue 4. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I didn't particularly like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine yet, but through no fault of the show as I hadn't gotten the opportunity to give it a really fair chance, nor was I confidant in my ability to articulate that to her, so I politely sat at her minibar and read them.
 
I started very much liking it right then and there.
 
A huge part of this was due to the characters. This was my first concrete introduction to the cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and I couldn't have gotten a better one. They are not recognisably the same characters from the show. They are far and away better than the characters from the show. Every player is given equal focus and they each have distinctive and memorable voices that draw on the archetypes the TV show laid down, but expand upon them by leaps and bounds. It helps that the story is immediately engrossing (every single line in this book is an instant classic, and I actually had to stop myself from quoting the entire thing), but it wouldn't be as gripping as it is if the cast weren't so stellar.
 
Commander Sisko, for instance, is a reluctant hero: As he tells Admiral Kernwill, his job is “administrative, not ambassadorial”, but he's been forced to play mediator in the absence of Tal Berel and Captain Picard. And while this theme will continue to develop as the series progresses, it's the latter comparison that really hits home. This is only maybe the second acknowledgment of Star Trek: The Next Generation to date, but the mere mention of it, and the implicit understanding that it's very much part of this universe too (which will come back in force at the end of the year), is a powerful evocation that sticks in the back of your mind as you follow along with the story.
 
Then you've got Odo, surly and snarky as ever, and Kira, who isn't as big a part of the action this month, except for that one unforgettable character defining scene with Dukat and Marok on the Promenade. I also really like Doctor Bashir, whose obvious youth belies a more tempered wisdom beginning to develop that's beyond his years. Great things are in store for him, as his scene with Koleth on the Rio Grande proves. Even the guest cast is unforgettable: Hearts and Minds established Kor, Marok, Maura and Koleth for me as important members of the world of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on par with the likes of Sisko, Kira, Odo and Dax.
 
Speaking of Dax, she's the immediate standout this month: Right out of the gate, it's obvious to everyone that Jadzia is a natural born leader. Were this Star Trek: The Next Generation, she would be playing Captain Picard's role, not Commander Sisko, and the way both of them are set up as counterparts on the opposite ends of the Wormhole is striking. She is equal parts authoritative and humble, peerlessly competent, yet fun-loving and flirty. “On the Edge of Armageddon” is possibly her greatest showcase in all of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, its only real competition being Hearts and Minds' own concluding chapter.
 
I mentioned the world of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine earlier, and nowhere else is that brought to life as vividly or as imaginatively as it is here. The universe feels sprawling, with a massive war threatening to destabilize the Alpha Quadrant, while the equally vast Gamma Quadrant is full of unfamiliar alien worlds and customs with as much history and culture as anything we know, but existing apart from us. In just this issue alone we get Keltara, an ice planet complete with strange arctic fauna [by the way, no offense to him of course, but I always appreciated how it was Bashir who got menaced by the fuzzy purple snow beast (of which there are even multiple distinct individuals!) because he would be the one to get himself into a situation like that], and Caldonia 3, a kind of outer space frontier town (an actual one! Not like what Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Brandon Tartikoff pretended DS9 was to sell it!), and pretty soon we'll be getting The Abyss, whose legend of Bahal's Bird is one of the most singularly captivating and poetic bits of lore Star Trek ever did.
 
Perhaps you could say it's taken a little bit to get going, but “On the Edge of Armageddon” has finally proved that Hearts and Minds is going to be an unequivocal masterpiece. It hooked me back then, and I continue to be rendered speechless by its breadth, scope, passion and artistry every time I re-read it. Star Trek is on top of the world right now, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has now conclusively proven that it has every right to be part of this moment. The fact that this only came as part of Malibu's tie-in comic line is maybe concerning, but that's for us to worry about another day. For now, let's just revel at the fact we're at the peak, and it's good to be at the top. If you're not paying attention to Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in Summer, 1994, you're not paying attention to Summer, 1994. This is debatably the biggest pop culture event of its age, outshone only by things like the return of Project A-ko, which Malibu Comics also had a hand in. If only I knew what happens next.

To Be Continued

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