Myriad Universes: The Deceivers Part 2

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Vaka Rangi Volume 1 is currently 33% off on Smashwords as part of the Eruditorum Press Holiday eBook sale with the coupon RT654, now through January 2, 2017. If you've got an eBook reader, are a fan of Vaka Rangi's take on Star Trek and haven't yet checked out the first volume of the revised version of this project, now might be a good time to do that!

 

The Geordis introduce themselves and exposit to one another. Our Geordi begins by recapping the events of last issue (or at least the parts of it pertaining to his and Deanna's subplot), while Bearded Geordi claims his team was on an urgent mission to intercept a rogue star that had entered the Beta Argotha system on a collision course with its host sun. In their universe (because of course they're from an alternate universe: Why on Earth would you ever suspect otherwise?), Beta Argotha has six planets instead of the five in our version of it, and the sixth is an inhabited world with no spaceflight capabilities and no way to divert the rogue star. On top of that, Bearded Geordi's Enterprise had only *discovered* the Beta Argotha system a few days prior to the events of the story, thus giving them next to no time to react.

There is some technobabble explanations for why Bearded Geordi and his crew couldn't have delivered the necessary payloads via remote control, or contacted their Enterprise for help after they crash-landed, and Bearded Geordi angsts that by the time his ship figures out what happens it will be too late. Unless, he says, our Geordi lets him use our Runabout (which wasn't as badly damaged as the alternate Yutcan) to try and finish the job. In fact, he doesn't say, or even ask: He demands our crew turn over the Yutcan, arguing that the mission must be completed no matter what. Geordi, however, flatly refuses.

Back on the Enterprise (that is, *our* Enterprise), Captain Picard has brought up Gul Erak's charges with Tavorok. The fugitive Romulan naturally (and flippantly) denies them, says he has no idea what the Cardassians are talking about when they say he “committed a heinous crime against them”, and reasserts his claim that what the Cardassians want is access to the dilithium-eating virus he had been working on while in the employ of the Romulan Star Empire. Tavorok is thus certain that the Cardassians are lying, though Captain Picard remains guarded. At that moment, Commander Riker calls him: Another ship has just turned up-A Romulan Warbird. The Enterprise hails the Romulans and, after exchanging the usual pleasantries about the dangers of trespassing in the Neutral Zone, the Romulans request the Enterprise extradite a known criminal currently in their jurisdiction: Namely, Tavorok.

The Romulan Commander says Tavorok is a murderer, though denies Gul Erak's claim that he has committed some atrocity against the Cardassian people. According to the Romulans, Tavorok was indeed a scientist “at the forefront of a number of scientific breakthroughs”, though he dismisses the fugitive's story that his work had anything to do with creating an artificial dilithium virus to be used as a superweapon to cripple Federation starships. Instead, he claims Tavorok apparently snapped and murdered his wife, who also happened to be the daughter of an imperial higher-up, and “duped” the Cardassians into smuggling him over the border by bribing them with Romulan state secrets. The Romulan Commander then turns Captain Picard's accusations around back at him, arguing that he violated the Federation/Romulan Star Empire treaty himself by giving shelter to a known Romulan fugitive.

After all that, Gul Erak calls back. His ship had been kindly listening in on the Romulan Commander's conversation with the Enterprise, and kindly offers to clear up certain “misunderstandings”. He rejects the Romulans' accusation that the Cardassians offered Tavorok passage in exchange for state secrets, and states that in fact he was a Cardassian prisoner, arrested for killing seven hundred Cardassian civilians. Erak says that Tavorok was working on a virus, but it didn't target dilithium crystals: Rather, it was a biological weapon meant to commit genocide on a planetary scale. Erak further claims that Tavorok was doing this with the full behest of the Romulan Star Empire, and that the Romulans were *specifically targeting* the Cardassians in an ostentatious attempt to conquer them and annex their empire. According to this version of events, Tavorok tested the virus on a Cardassian colony, and while it killed seven hundred people, it was only ten percent of the populace, therefore “not enough”. When asked how he knows this by Captain Picard, Erak responds he has spies in the Romulan Star Empire, just as the Federation does.

Unfortunately for the Enterprise, Gul Erak does not have any biological samples to offer to back up his story, the Romulans will not open up their computer database for investigation and Tavorok does not have a specimen of his alleged dilithium-eating virus. So there is absolutely no hard way for the crew to know which party is telling the truth.

In the observation lounge, the senior staff sits around the table debating what to do. Commander Riker thinks Tavorok is lying; concocting a yarn about a dilithium virus so the Enterprise crew will be reluctant to hand him over to the Romulans or the Cardassians. Captain Picard points out that even if that were the case, that still means one of the other two captains is lying too, and the crew has no clues as to which one it is and why they would do that. By contrast, Worf believes Tavorok: To him, it doesn't make sense that the Romulans would develop a bioweapon to attack the Cardassians specifically, as the two empires are at the opposite ends of the quadrant. Or, alternatively, that the Romulans would risk a war by crossing into the Neutral Zone just to go after a murder suspect. Doctor Crusher agrees with Worf, and pulls Occam's Razor-The existence of a dilithium virus, the development of which Tavorok was involved in, would be a very easy and logical explanation for why both the Romulans and Cardassians want him so badly. She also cautions that if there's the slightest chance Tavorok is right it would be unbelievably dangerous to let him go, as it would cast a cloud of doubt and anxiety over every jump to warp. Captain Picard eventually comes to the conclusion that Tavorok must be considered innocent until proven guilty, and the Enterprise itself must mount an independent investigation into the case.

Back on Beta Argotha One, Bearded Geordi is aghast that our Geordi won't give him our USS Yutcan and demands to know why not. Quite simply, it's because Geordi doesn't have any reason to believe he and his crew are no longer in our universe, and there might not be a rogue star in our universe to pose any threat to the Beta Argotha system. That is, there's an equal chance Bearded Geordi's team was sent into our universe as there is that our team was sent into theirs. And if Bearded Geordi were to take the Yutcan and blow up one of the two stars in the sky above them, and if he was wrong about which universe he's in, it will wreak untold devastation. Just as much, in fact, as if they let the rogue star in the other Beta Argotha continue on its course. If they were to wait, they'd be able to tell by observing the two stars' relative motions, but there's no time for that, and Beta Argotha One's unusual method of evolution (as well as Bearded Geordi's crew's unfamiliarity with it) isn't providing any clues.

The two crews agree to go back to work on their Runabouts so that they'll be able to act quickly...So long as they figure out how to act. Once Bearded Geordi's team leaves, Geordi asks Deanna if they were telling the truth, specifically mentioning how far he would go if he felt the stakes were high enough. Deanna assures him that in the other universe, the Beta Argotha system is indeed in grave jeopardy.

Back on the Enterprise, Captain Picard snarks at Tavorok when he makes the astonishingly dumb remark that the captain “look[s] troubled”, expositing that he's sent an away team over to the wrecked Cardassian transport for evidence that will prove one of the stories. While Commander Riker tries to look for evidence that would tell whether or not Tavorok was a prisoner, the Romulan Commander (apparently named Doramas) and Gul Erak are both annoyed at the turn of events, accusing Captain Picard of stalling and trespassing, respectively. Before we are subjected to another back-and-forth round of posturing, Worf announces that yet another ship has warped into the area: A Ferengi Marauder. But it doesn't stay long, immediately coming about and warping away just as soon as it arrives.

As Geordi and Haspan work on the Yutcan's distribution coils, they are suddenly ambushed by Beraded Geordi's party, armed once again. The Bearded one apologises, but declares he is willing to take the risk that he's in the wrong universe and is “making a terrible mistake” if it means accomplishing his mission. Furthermore, he claims he's reprogrammed the Yutcan's computer to neutralize their weapons fire (and there's some technobabble about why Team Beardy's phasers won't also be nullified). He says his gut tells him he's making the right choice and that the ends will justify the means.

This issue features some of my favourite scenes in the story arc, as well as a lot of the most interesting bits of plot escalation. Although it should have been rather obvious from the beginning that Bearded Geordi and his alternate survey team and alternate Runabout USS Yutcan were in truth from an alternate universe, the way the story parallels them with our heroes is a great use of the old sci-fi trope: Much like in “Crossover”, the alternate universe is invoked to draw aspects of our characters and their personalities into different focus then we normally see. Geordi himself even explicitly states this (or as explicitly as you can diegetically get) at one point.

This is particularly striking in the case of Michael Jan Friedman's tenure on DC's comic adaptation: This version of Star Trek: The Next Generation has always been dramatically more utopian and optimistic then the TV show, which by this point has entirely devolved into grimdark realpolitiking. Which makes is incredibly fascinating that the alternate (wrong) Enterprise crew is facing a dire emergency and is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish their mission, even if it means destroying a solar system in another universe. I don't like the fact I seem to keep contrasting the comic and the TV show every single issue, but it's gotten to the point it's so easy and natural a part of the critique as to become unavoidable. I mean, this time we *literally* have an alternate universe Enterprise crew who are *explicitly* in the wrong because of their hardened and jaded ends-justify-the-means cynicism. That Geordi is the team leader in both universes (and that he says he can imagine a reality where he's pushed to the same extremes his counterpart has been) just drives the point home even further, as does the fact Team Beardy is lacking the empathic Deanna Troi (which will become a major plot point next time).

While on the Enterprise (ours, that is), the Tavorok plot starts snowballing to frankly ludicrous levels. I love this, because as each successive starship warps into this same minuscule slice of the Neutral Zone, the story starts to take on more and more the shape of a farce. And yet it never quite devolves into straight self-parody either, because Friedman has his characters treat the situation as seriously as they would any other (some justified snarking from Captain Picard and Commander Riker aside, of course). It's self aware to the degree it can smile at itself (and in particular, the kind of gambit pileup that Star Trek: The Next Generation can occasionally bind itself up in), without sabotaging the audience's investment in the setting, the story or the characters. Which, to me. is just about the exact right note Star Trek: The Next Generation should be hitting going on eight years into its life.

But what's not as immediately obvious here is the way Deanna Troi, and thus empathy, has been subtly centralized in this side of the story too. Just as, frankly, it should be in any Star Trek story. I've already somewhat spoiled the fact Deanna's presence is going to play a big role in the Beta Argotha One plot: She's always been plainly one of Friedman's favourite characters, and, like in many of his best stories to showcase the ship's counselor, he counts on us underestimating her-Deanna is the first person Geordi talks to after his counterpart wanders off, in what some might see as a throwaway scene. But that's going to end up proving vital to resolving the conflict in this half of the plot and, conversely, it's her absence from the Enterprise plot that's messing Captain Picard and the rest of the bridge crew up. Though no-one ever comes out and says it, the Tavorok problem is something the Enterprise crew could have dealt with in about five minutes if Deanna had been there, because she'd immediately be able to tell us which of the three different parties was lying.

Maybe that's the reason, even above and beyond the grimdark stuff, why Bearded Geordi is wrong. Not only is he willing to privilege the lives of his actor network and situated knowledge-space over others, he's also willing to do that alone. Star Trek is supposed to be about teamwork, and you know what they say about spelling “team”. The greatest challenge to true freedom is always learning to shed the ego.

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