Myriad Universes: Ill Wind Part Three

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Geordi La Forge, Doctor Crusher and Worf are in the holodeck, reviewing security sensor footage. The ship's internal sensors detected the mysterious humanoid figure who we saw creeping through the engineering deck hallways to the shuttlebay in the teaser at the end of issue one, and now the crew is trying to determine who this person was because that's how they got access to the Scherdat ship in order to place a bomb on its hull. Although the figure was too far away to be captured in full detail, Goerdi, Bev and Worf see enough to make some general observations: Although they look humanoid, the outline of the body is odd and unnatural, particularly around the midsection. This is almost certainly a skinsuit disguise of some kind.

Geordi can pick up thermal signatures from the sensor feed through his VISOR. Although he can't yet get much on the figure itself, he can tell it's carrying a plasma bomb, though it hadn't yet been armed (which explains why the ship's sensors didn't immediately detect it as well). Once the figure enters the shuttlebay, Geordi can get more information because the sensors are more sensitive there. That the figure's internal body temperature of 320K confirms it is most certainly not human: Worf asks “Is 320K bad in human terms?”, to which Doctor Crusher responds “It's dead in human terms”. Furthermore, Bev can discern that the figure has no heart and no stomach but does have “a selectively absorptive gut”, a “nondiastolic perfusion system” and six kidneys. Unusual and excessive for a humanoid, but not for the Carrighae. In other words, this person is a Carrig disguised, albeit somewhat clunkily, as a humanoid in order to throw suspicion onto one of the other teams.

Such a breach of the ethics agreement as attempting to murder one of the other teams is an automatic disqualification, so Worf, Geordi and Beverly go to see Captain Picard. Surprisingly, Jean-Luc decides to not do anything at all...At least not until the end of the race. His first explanation is to glibly state that the information must be “properly authenticated” and ensured that it goes through all the necessary channels. Of course, this also means that the Carrighae will have to “sweat and strain like all the rest, assuming that they do sweat”. After everything runs its natural course, Captain Picard will then turn the information over to race officials. When Geordi asks what will happen if the Carrighae win, Captain Picard says “All the better. Just imagine their reaction when they discover what their own dirty trick has done to them. Let them go home and file litigations until they're blue in the face, or whatever color they routinely turn at such times. Starfleet will tell them where to get off, and in short order, too”.

Worf asks if this counts as vengeance or retribution. Jean-Luc insists that it's justice, but that “sometimes it's more of a pleasure serving it than others”. Worf tells the Captain that with a bit more work, he'd make a fine Klingon.

Later, Deanna Troi comes to visit Captain Picard in the ready room. She's still feeling sleepy, but she can manage. She's more interested in talking to him about him, as she can tell the Mestral's words have hit a nerve. He calls her “dangerous” and “powerful”, and wonders if couldn't have stood to be a bit more dangerous himself. Perhaps he's played his life more safe and complacent than he needed to have done, and, if he had made other choices in his past (such as, say, not giving up solar sail yachting when Starfleet asked him to), he might have been able to realise more of his potential as a person. He fears he may have sold out too quickly, and wonders if, at the very least, he could have fought a bit more with Starfleet over principles and freedoms. More than anything else, he finds it disturbing to be confronted with desires and feelings he thought he'd left behind years ago.

Deanna posits, and Jean-Luc agrees, that his real concern is not the thoughts themselves, but the fact he's having them at all. She argues that emotions have cycles, and all people go through periods of certainty as well as those of doubt, and the cycles can be affected by external stimuli, like other people and situations. “At such times,” she says, “the certainties seem stronger, the doubts deeper...” and he finishes her sentence “When in reality, they're no worse than usual”. The two walk back onto the bridge, where Worf has news that the Mestral's tender has successfully been serviced bu the pit crew, and is on its way back to the race course. The Enterprise phones her yacht to deliver the good news, which shes quite relived to hear.

While the Mestral's crew prepares to ride the next flare, back on the Enterprise Doctor Crusher asks Captain Picard to visit her in sickbay. Jean-Luc hands the bridge over to Will and Deanna, the latter of whom is suddenly startled by something. She says she felt something like distress, though not exactly, but she's not sure who it was. It turns out that Deanna is who Doctor Crusher wanted to talk to Captain Picard about, namely those fits of “sleepiness”. Bev ran some scans on her central nervous system, and the EEG results show that something is interfering somehow. In fact, there's a whole other sleep cycle overlapping hers, and there's no indication as of yet where it came from or how it's doing that. Doctor Crusher is particularly concerned because Deanna had trouble sleeping last night, indicating that this second cycle is having an adverse effect on her own. Since Deanna seems to be the only one affected, Captain Picard asks if it could be something she picked up on a previous mission, but Doctor Crusher doesn't think so. Although it doesn't look serious just yet, Bev will keep Jean-Luc updated if she gets any new information.

Back on the Mestral's yacht, the crew is navigating the new solar flare, attempting to overtake the Kelebrek. The Mestral asks for the secondary sail to be held in position for the time being (she'd rather lose some ground then tack too close to the navigation buoy), but when she asks for the hull temperature from her crewman and bodyguard Venant, he brandishes a phaser at her. Rav and the Mestral's other aide Idra attempt to disarm him, and in the struggle Idra is killed. The Mestral dispatches Venant herself after Rav jumps in with his own weapon. Rav expresses relief she's “alright”, but the Mestral vehemently rejects that statement. Her bodyguard from childhood just attempted to kill her: She's far from “alright”, but she'll “deal with it”. The Mestral tells Rav to hold off on reporting; the government would just want to beam them out right away, and the flares would interfere with a transporter lock anyway. Then the Mestral thanks Rav for his “good deed” and asks him to put his phaser away. Instead, he turns it on her.

One of the biggest strengths the Star Trek: The Next Generation comic line has always had over it's televised counterpart is its solid grasp of the series' ideal ensemble structure. While the TV series early on stumbled a bit at times trying to map an Original Series-style triumvirate setup onto the new cast and then, following Michael Piller's arrival, switched to a preference to focusing on one character at a time (typically with deeply mixed results because of prevailing attitudes about conflict and drama), the comics have always committed to what is, for my money the structure Star Trek: The Next Generation was always best suited to: Stories about showing the team working together and pooling their unique talents and skillsets towards attaining a shared goal. The TV show eventually got there, but it took far too long and was still a bit inelegant about it more often than might have been desirable. The comics, by contrast, never lost sight of this and continued to develop upon this structure up to the very end.

If it took Ill Wind perhaps longer than the average DC Star Trek: The Next Generation miniseries to get here with the first two issues predominant focus on Captain Picard, Deanna Troi and guest star the Mestral, it makes up for it in abundance in issue 3 with a lavish half of this book dedicated to Geordi, Worf and Doctor Crusher solving a mystery. Perhaps it's understandable why Diane Duane would default onto this approach, being as she was at the time likely more familiar (and perhaps comfortable) with the Original Series mode of Doing Things. And yet even so her choice of characters is interesting: Ill Wind starts out as an almost Piller-esque “Picard Story”, but parallels him with the imperious Mestral and gives an ample supporting role to Deanna Troi, which is a laudable emphasis on femininity the sausagefest writer's room on the Paramount lot would likely have felt uncomfortable with.

But it's this issue where Duane proves unequivocally that she gets Star Trek: The Next Generation, with the holodeck security cam scene being a great example of teamwork from characters she'd overlooked up until now (Neither Geordi nor Bev even *appear* until issue 3, but Bev in particular is in a *lot* of issue 3). Worf, Geordi and Bev all sound like themselves, or rather, they sound like how we'd hope they'd sound-Bev is professional and snarky, Geordi is easygoing and Worf is polite, stoic and ever-so-slightly unfamiliar with human customs: Manifestly not a brooding, ansgty macho warrior bemoaning his being held back by exasperating girly-men. That lightness of tone pervades the majority of the book, dialing back the cynicism of the first half of the series by renewing our faith in justice and optimism and priming us for the climactic revelations coming next month. The Mestral's in trouble and we still need to know what's up with Deanna, but we know them both well enough by now that we're confidant they can handle whatever it is they're dealing with. The Mestral says she'll “deal with it”, and Captain Picard and Commander Riker said much the same thing about Deanna last time.

Speaking of, the focus Duane gave those characters in the first half of Ill Wind continues here. Captain Picard's “character development”, if you must call it that, is more or less resolved in a really excellent ready room scene with Deanna. The themes about memories, could-have-beens and unfulfilled potential are about as pure Star Trek: The Next Generation as you can get, and fellow travellers will remember Vaka Rangi exploring these from the very beginning of the series. In fact, they're debatably even more pertinent now in 1996 given the cultural climate Ill Wind is coming into. But what also struck me about this scene upon the re-read is how long it's been since I've seen Deanna in this kind of role, that is, as an actual psychologist and counselor to the captain. It's got to be at least since the third season. I'm so used to seeing her as a science officer and latent empath this reads as a bit jarring, even though it's closer to how she was originally envisioned. But it's fitting for the grand, if perhaps temporary, send-off Ill Wind is becoming.

Ill Wind is a slow burn, but all moments of contemplative introspection and reflection must be. Perhaps it is a sign of growing maturity in our media tastes once we start to learn to appreciate such moments.

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