Myriad Universes: Blood & Honor
Returning from an exploratory mission in the Gamma Quadrant, Jadzia Dax informs us through a Science Officer’s Log that her team has discovered something unique: A mysterious blue glowing artefact of unknown origin. Also on her team aboard the runabout USS Orinoco are her erstwhile travelling companion Doctor Julian Bashir, and an operations division ensign called Jamie. Before they can dock, however, Julian gets an urgent call from Commander Sisko that he’s needed in the infirmary to tend to a medical emergency. Before he can even acknowledge, however, he’s beamed there directly from the runabout cockpit.
A Lieutenant Jayakar has been unfortunately killed in some sort horrible malfunction. She was escorting a diplomatic party from the Romulan Star Empire led by an Ambassador Jannek when something seemed to go wrong with one of they airlocks. Jannek himself is on hand to offer his condolences, and urges diligence to Commander Sisko in determining whether it really was an accident, or whether the Lieutenant was murdered. Odo reports that mechanical failure seems like the obvious initial culprit, but he would never accuse Chief O’Brien of negligence, and is far more inclined to point the finger at deliberate sabotage. There’s an obvious tension with the Romulan party present, but before Jannek can excuse himself Dax and Jamie arrive. We get the by-now stock Trill joke (which Jadzia even lampshades), wherein she tries to catch up with an old friend who doesn’t recognise her at first. Jannek, however, seems far more interested in Jamie: He compliments the wisdom in her assignment to Deep Space 9, and expresses a desire to get to know her better, a fact which leaves her and Doctor Bashir somewhat taken aback.
Some time later, Commander Sisko escorts Jannek to the floor of the Bajoran Provisional Government. The Ambassador is interested in opening up formal diplomatic relations with Bajor, but the Bajorans are suspicions. Not of the Romulans themselves, necessarily, but because the Romulans have dealt with the Cardassians in the past. Jannek contends that the Romulan Star Empire seeks to work with anyone who “shares its interests”, but it’s clear he’s going to have some work to do in swaying them. Back on the station, Jadzia, Julian and Jamie are running tests on the artefact in the lab when one of Jannek’s aides comes in suffering from abdominal pain. Turns out he had an allergic reaction to something he ate, namely some Klingon gagh.
After returning from their meeting with the Provisional Government, Jannek and Sisko are talking about Federation history, which is something the Ambassador is deeply interested in. He says Commander Sisko reminds him of the great Starfleet hero James T. Kirk, but Ben can’t see how, feeling that he and Kirk are really almost polar opposites, specifically mentioning how important family is to him, which he contrasts with Kirk’s desire to never be anywhere other than a starship bridge. Sisko does say that both he and Kirk are both “a product of our times”, and Jannek says he is as well. Unlike his father, who was a commander in the Imperial military, he chose instead to be a diplomat and work for peace through negotiation. After Commander Sisko leaves for the night, Jannek’s aide comes in to deliver a report.
The aide tells Jannek about the artefact Dax’s team found in the Gamma Quadrant and explains that she’s examining it with Doctor Bashir and Ensign Jamie, whose full name is revealed to us as Jamie Samantha Kirk. Also, the artefact may be a new kind of life form, as it’s radiating a massive amount of energy. Jannek has heard all he needs though, and dismisses his aid. As he leaves, we see that a vase on Jannek’s table is actually Odo in disguise, and that he’s been eavesdropping on the two Romulans. Odo then goes to see Quark to ask him, in his usual way, whether or not he knows anything about the artefact. After some light and friendly threats, Quark confesses that he has had offers for it, but from Bajorans. Quark stresses that he doesn’t know anything about the artefact or what it is though (except that it’s probably valuable), as his contacts wouldn’t tell him anything when he asked. Odo leaves the bar, but immediately gets an alarm indicating a breach in the infirmary.
There’s been another goldshirt death, this time some guy named Winters, and there’s a massive energy discharge from the infirmary. Odo and Sisko go to investigate, and they see an intruder getting zapped hardcore by the artefact. Odo warns the Commander it’s too dangerous for them to go in themselves, but then the energy levels return to normal, and the two are left wondering what the artefact is and why it’s suddenly become so important. Sisko and Odo have a brief conversation about intrinsic value before they discover another death: One of the Romulan aides, namely, the one who Doctor Bashir treated earlier and who reported on the artefact to Ambassador Jannek. Commander Sisko questions Jannek about the incident. Although Sisko is suspicious, Jannek is honest with him, saying his aide was acting under his orders, but only to find out anything that could help with the negotiations with the Bajorans.
Later, Commander Sisko asks Major Kira what she thinks of things. Jannek knew about the attempted theft of the artefact, but Ben can’t figure out if this means he was the one behind it or not. Kira says she’s been talking with Odo, and they both think the Bajorans are involved: Because the artefact is from the Gamma Quadrant, and many Bajorans see anything connected with the Wormhole to be the WIll of the Prophets, a fundamentalist sect might be trying to secure it for their own aims. The question is, if they are, are they also connected to the Romulans? Just then, Odo comes in and says he saw Ambassador Jannek at Quark’s Bar sharing a date with Jamie Kirk, although he dryly admits “I may not be comfortable with humanoid rituals, but I don’t believe his intentions are of the romantic kind”. Commander Sisko tells Odo to keep watch, but not to take any rash action.
At the Bar, Jamie is still stunned by Jannek’s interest in her. The Ambassador says he’s trying to get to know the people of Starfleet better, but Kirk protests there must be more important people he could be talking to than her. Jannek responds that they in truth have a lot in common, but while that may be so, Jamie has another appointment and has to leave, though she’s open to continuing their conversation later. It turns out Jamie, along with Jadzia Dax and Doctor Bashir, are taking the Orinoco to a safe distance away from Deep Space 9 so that they can conduct safer tests on the artefact. They don’t get very far when suddenly a pair of armed Bajorans jumps out of the storage bays and commandeers the ship, saying something about a “chalice” and affording it “the respect it deserves”. It doesn’t take long for Ops to notice this, and that the ship is diverting to Bajor. Sisko, Kira and Miles O’Brien go after it in the Rio Grande, but before they can leave Ambassador Jannek requests to come along to prove his innocence once and for all.
Thankfully, Dax thought to activate a homing signal and the rescue team finds the Orinoco fairly quickly. It’s Ambassador Jannek who picks up the trail, and leads Sisko, Kira and O’Brien to a secluded valley where Dax, Bashir and Kirk are being guarded by a group of armed Bajoran militants who have put the artefact on some kind of pedestal. And not just any Bajoran militants, but the Circle, who have reformed in order to weaponize the artefact, which they believe is an Ark of the Covenant-style Divine Superweapon that will “Strike down the disbelievers” while protecting the “chosen ones”. However things go pretty badly for them once they activate it, as the power of the Chalice winds up snuffing out the the Circle’s own members, and leaving Jannek and the Deep Space 9 team alive. Dax and Bashir try to revive them, but then the Chalice transforms into a new shape: That of a humanoid figure.
The figure identifies itself as Ayelborne, last of the Organians. Ayelborne promises to revive all of the fallen, and recaps “Errand of Mercy”, that Original Series episode where the Organians prevented a war between the humans and the Klingons. Ayelborne is about to leave this plane of being, but before he does, he wants to do the same for the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire. It is revealed that Jannek is the son of the Romulan Commander Captain James Kirk battled to the death in “Balance of Terror”, and Jamie Kirk, is, of course, a descendant of Kirk himself. Jannek explains that, among Romulans, vengeance is passed down generation to generation until it is extracted, but Jannek wanted to buck that trend, and sought out Captain Kirk’s descendant so that they could work together for peace instead, for his father had said that he and James Kirk could have been friends in another reality. And with that, Jamie Kirk accepts a position as Ambassador Jannek’s official liaison to the Federation, with a sly hint that “an old family friend” of both of theirs is happy.
“Blood & Honor” is the result of a somewhat experimental period in Malibu’s history. It’s the first in a “Celebrity” side series that, while it only lasted two issues, featured actual Star Trek actors writing their own Star Trek stories to explore parts of their character they weren’t given the chance to on television. If you couldn’t tell given the plot, this issue was written by Mark Lenard, who played both Spock’s father Ambassador Sarek and, more relevantly, the Romulan Commander from “Balance of Terror”. Although it was, realistically speaking, always only ever going to be Malibu that would take a chance on a project like this, it does lead to the interesting end product of a story about peace with the Romulan Star Empire, with an explicit nod to Spock’s reunification movement, being done on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine instead of on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is where you might be inclined to assume it would be a better fit.
That said, however, “Blood & Honor” is a far better fit for this side of the galaxy then it might seem to be at first glance. We’re skipping ahead a bit in our narrative to May 1995 (and we’ll jump back a few months to January next time) simply because I happen to think placing this story here makes a cleaner arc to my planned end-point, so you’ll notice the character designs Leonard Kirk uses are based on early Dominion War designs (and Commander Sisko is altogether more gruff and brusque then I would like him, but that could simply be due to Mark Lenard’s comparative unfamiliarity with his character too), though the story itself is very much a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine one. There’s The Circle, of course, which links it directly to the previous incarnation, but this also a story very much about peace and not war. The overt connection to not only “Balance of Terror”, but “Errand of Mercy” and “Unification” certainly gives “Blood & Honor” a whiff of fanwank about it, but I’m inclined to forgive it for a couple reasons: One, these are all stories that had a massive impact on not just Trekkie fandom but pop culture more broadly, so a general audience could reasonably be expected to be familiar with them (and if they’re not, there’s enough naturalistic exposition that it conveys the required backstory elegantly).
Secondly, “Balance of Terror” was arguably the best damn thing the Original Series ever fucking did and something Star Trek has, broadly speaking, utterly fucking failed to properly interact with in the 29 years since. The one exception being, of course, Hearts and Minds. And now maybe it’s more clear why Star Trek: Deep Space Nine doing a story about the Romulans and “Balance of Terror” makes sense.
“Blood & Honor” is nothing less then the natural end-point of the Romulan mythology that has existed since “Balance of Terror” and was troublesomely complicated by “The Neutral Zone” and “The Enemy”. The series has picked up Jadzia Dax’s challenge to the Romulans in Hearts and Minds that they have lost their honour and integrity and decided to respond to it head on. It’s a testament to how important it was for the series to do this and to the immense cultural gravity of “Balance of Terror”, not to mention the author himself, that Mark Lenard chose to use his opportunity to pen a Star Trek story to address this instead of doing something with Spock and Sarek instead, which I’m sure almost every Star Trek fan would have expected him to. Although it does strike me as I write this that you could very easily read Ambassador Jannek as a combination of the Romulan Commander and Sarek, which probably says something in and of itself.
But give or take “Balance of Terror” and Hearts and Minds, and “Blood & Honor” is on its own level a story that’s very much at home on Deep Space 9. If you think about the kind of diegetic role a place like the station would play, one could certainly imagine it being somewhere diplomatic parties would go to hold gatherings and whatnot. Indeed, we even saw some of that in “The Forsaken” and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine The Next Generation. It certainly makes more sense for ambassadors to be paying a visit to Deep Space 9 then to ask a a notional exploration ship like Captain Picard’s Enterprise to ferry them about, and the Bajorans provide an important third party who needs to be convinced of the good intentions of diplomatic representatives from galactic powers like the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire, as we see in this story.
It must be said though there are a few quirks and eccentricities with this book. As important as it is, it’s very clearly Jamie and Jannek’s story that’s front and centre here, to the point the regular cast are pushed aside a bit. A certain type of Star Trek fan will probably resent this, and hell, I’m not 100% onboard with it either. But this is a more nuanced nitpick that deserves a more empathetic reading than the raising of the dread “M.S.” phrase. What this has is the shape of a proper Next Generation-era Star Trek story (speaking of, I love the touch of both Jannek and Jamie Kirk being part of their own respective “Next Generations”, and the flagging of the contrast between James Kirk and Benjamin Sisko): The character development should go to the guest stars-That’s the only way Star Trek’s brand of utopianism can accommodate drama of the sort Westerners understand. The tricky bit is striking the balance between keeping the dramatic stuff on the non-regulars while still making sure the regulars play an important role in fostering that. In this kind of setup the regulars are best employed as mentor and role model figures, and nobody here really gets the opportunity to be that: Not even Jadzia Dax who, for various reasons, one would very much like to see her be.
In fact, I have to confess the writing for the regulars is bit wanting across the board. Jannek is as good as one would expect and Jamie Kirk is adorable, but it’s clear Mark Lenard doesn’t have a great grasp on the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine characters, though that’s perhaps understandable. Dax is probably the biggest miss from my perspective and I already mentioned Sisko’s odd gruffness, and while we could possibly blame the Dominion War for that it is worth noting Sisko here is a bit reminiscent of Captain Picard or Jim Kirk, if you caught them in a grouchy mood on a bad day. Another obvious Original Series throwback that’s even less desirable are the redshirt deaths, or in this case the goldshirt ones. Bad form, there. Elsewhere, Lenard doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with characters like Major Kira, and I don’t think Chief O’Brien even gets a line. On the other hand, Odo is quite proactive and gets a number of opportunities to display his trademark snark, oddly muted in Lenard’s hands as it may be.
(Putting Lenard’s script aside for the moment, the art in this issue is also not the greatest I’ve ever seen from this book. That said, I do super dig how Kirk models the USS Orinoco after its Playmates Toys incarnation, weird upside-down cockpit and all.)
But even this is all being way too harsh on this story. I’m inclined to be far more forgiving to Mark Lenard then I am Mike W. Barr, who was actually the head writer on this book for like a year and had an even worse ear for his own characters and employed way more egregious pulp serial stalling tactics. Of course Mark Lenard would be most comfortable writing for Ambassador Jannek, why would we expect otherwise? The important thing here is the heart of what Lenard wrote, because a Star Trek story in summer, 1995 echoing Hearts and Minds‘ themes of peace and reconciliation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s own broader themes of healing, was sadly an outlier. The fact that it’s about peace with the Romulans and bringing an end to an unnatural and unneeded conflict that reaches all the way back to “Balance of Terror” is an added bonus, but the fact it’s about peace at all is its most important legacy. Because in 1995 that’s getting harder and harder to find.
It is worth asking ourselves what kind of peace we’re promised at the story’s “Beginning”. Jannek is, of course, a diplomat, and seems altogether more interested in going through official diplomatic channels to resolve conflict, even as he himself likens diplomacy to hunting and stalking prey. This would be a peace for those in the halls of power, the liberal dream that representative democracy is the cure for all the world’s ills. This is, we should already know, a dangerously misguided fallacy. Many years ago, long before I ever thought of starting this project, I tried to rewatch Babylon 5 for the first time since the 1990s, and I couldn’t get through it at all. Even then I was repulsed by how unrealistic the fantasy it was trying to sell was, even before I looked more closely at all the other ugly political implications of that series. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine should not be trying to be Babylon 5 in the first place, but these are ideas we should keep in mind.
This, more than anything else, marks “Blood & Honor” as being very much a product of its time. Its heart is in the right place, but maybe its mind isn’t quite there yet. We are about to bid farewell to Starbase Deep Space 9, its life tragically cut short in its prime. As we prepare to say our goodbyes, we must think seriously about what it’s come to stand for over these past two years. Because it has to mean more than the dream of entitled white liberalism.
As in all things, it’s best to go back to the beginning to find the answer.
March 22, 2017 @ 11:57 am
I’d definitely agree with you that “Balance of Terror” is best episode of TOS Trek.
March 24, 2017 @ 9:30 am
You know, whatever problems the execution might have had, this conceptually sounds like a far superior follow-up to Balance of Terror generally and the Romulan Commander personally than anything to come out of IDWs Romulans series, Organians and all. Actually – I don’t know if it plays out like this in context – but the idea of the Organians acting not by switching everyone’s spaceships to simmer but by contriving circumstances to bring the right people together at the right time sounds like a really excellent way to play them. A rather kinder brand of intervention than god-like pronouncements from on high, which is how they generally seem to get used whenever they turn up in other media (though it has been years since I watched Errand of Mercy so I’m no longer sure if that was how they were originally presented).
Also speaking on a conceptual level, Deep Space Nine should always have been a place where that kind of intersecting of interesting people was front and centre to the everyday goings-on. That exists in the main cast by virtue of them not being anything like the all-Starfleet crews we’ve dealt with before, but of course DS9 is explicitly a way-station. Unlike B5 (and I know you’ve talked about this before), which is set up as a destination in itself, DS9 is about connecting different stages of people’s journeys. So it makes perfect sense that it would be the place the great-granddaughter of Jim Kirk could run into the son of the man who could have been his friend. Heh. And that it would be last stopping place for the last of the Organians too. A way-station for gods and mortals alike. I like that notion and the older I get, the more I wish they’d played that angle up far more than they did. It would have been great to see it continue to deal positively with the ‘lost luggage and lost souls’ aspects on such a setting.
Was this issue collected in trade? I’d like to track it down and I have a better record stumbling across Star Trek collections than I do individual issues.
Also, I’ve been wondering for a while – are you intending to cover any of the ‘expanded universe’ novels? I am genuinely unsure where they fit within the greater history of Star Trek and I really would not expect (or want!) you to struggle through the large amounts of, um, dross that came out of the official fan-fic channels. But I find myself wondering about your take on, in particular, Diane Duane’s Romulan series (which I am aware of) and her TNG Dark Mirror novel (which I have actually read).
March 25, 2017 @ 12:59 am
I hope I didn’t shortsell Blood & Honor too much: It’s always been one of my favourite Star Trek comics, which is why I covered it.
Your reading of the Organians is bang-on how Ayelbourne acts in the story (Jannek himself even flags this). I also really like your interpretation of DS9, which is very similar to my own. You touched on a level of nuance in the story I utterly failed to.
I’m unaware of a trade paperback release of this story, but it, and every other pre-IDW Star Trek comic ever published, was made available on a DVD-ROM from Gitcorp sometime around 2008-9 thereabouts when the first reboot movie came out, which is how I have it (well…I also have a near-complete print run of Malibu’s DS9 series, but that’s beside the point). I don’t know if that DVD is still available, but I highly recommend it if it is.
March 25, 2017 @ 1:54 am
In regard to the books,
I haven’t decided about them yet. They weren’t a part of my personal journey with Star Trek and I haven’t been too keen on how a lot of them approached…let’s say “world-building”.
Diane Duane for sure is going to get a mention, and sooner rather than later. Her Romulan stuff is great, though probably beyond the scope of this project.
March 25, 2017 @ 12:49 pm
Heh. Nice to have spotted nuance from a remove! You’ve certainly sold me on this story — and I recall you (or a commenter) mentioning that DVD before . . . thank you! It’s unavailable on Amazon UK but I shall definitely have to see if I can scare up a copy.
Thanks for clarifying about the book series. I rather suspected that might be the case. I’d say my experience with Star Trek is probably shaped more by the novels than the comics. I was really in the wrong place at the wrong time to follow the comics when I was younger, so instead it was the odd second-hand novel. For a while, I actively sought out the post-TNG and post-DS9 stuff but then everything descended into Apocalypse:Borg and I lost all interest. I found the post-DS9 novels generally to bethe best of the bunch, though, albeit in a way that, looking back, was always going to dive off a precipice at some point.
I’m glad to hear that Duane will come up. I recall now that I have read one of the Romulan books and the bit that sticks with me is the description of the Enterprise’s recreation deck, which was a glorious bit of technicolour world-building. That seems to be the trend though all her world: she really ran with the strange new life aspects of Star Trek and took it in some lovely directions.
I was listening to an interview from a couple of years ago (https://www.womenatwarp.com/episode-20-book-club-diane-duane/) which I found interesting for where it touched on how she approached writing Star Trek stories – namely that if she was going to write one, it had to be one that would only properly work as a Star Trek story. There’s probably a loose comparison to make to Mark Lenard’s writing here, actually — this is a story that sounds like it could only exist within the framework Star Trek as a whole provides, although in this case I suppose the conditions that result in that dependence are slightly more obvious.
March 26, 2017 @ 1:20 am
Most people’s Star Trek experience is shaped more by the novels than the comics I should think. Which is why I’ve chosen to focus almost exclusively on the comics and practically ignore the novels. 🙂
I did follow some of the post-DS9 books though, as I was missing DS9 and they were getting rave reviews. I…didn’t much care for them, TBH. Practically all the books in the Pocket line I read seemed completely consumed by fanwank to the degree it seemed there was no point to them beyond that, which really hampered my enjoyment of them.
If “Apocalypse: Borg” refers to Star Trek: Destiny, however, I have to confess I found that to be one of the more interesting efforts I saw from Pocket Books. I admired them having the chutzpah to actually kill off the Borg and force Star Trek to move beyond them, and I chuckled a bit when I saw the reboot film series actually canonized it, along with Enterprise.
March 27, 2017 @ 10:10 pm
(Correcting screen name spelling)
Actually I was thinking more of the books that preceded Destiny more than the conclusion. I didn’t have the will power to stick around long enough to reach the end of that plot thread! I think that I just generally had a hard time getting on with any of the ‘and nothing will ever be the same again’ plots Pocket put out because they all seemed to be retreading the same kind of war on the Federation arcs.
Even when they moved beyond the Borg, it seems they kept wanting to have an evil empire to define the Federation against and to drive it into battle with. Which feels like some premier grade point missing.
March 27, 2017 @ 4:24 pm
I reread “Blood & Honor” a few weeks ago, after the series on the TNG/DS9 crossover mini-series. I hadn’t remembered much beyond the broad strokes, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
This is what I wrote on TrekBBS about it after reading it:
The special written by Marc Lenard was something that I wish someone, somewhere, would have followed up on. It focuses on two characters — a Romulan ambassador, who happens to be the son of the Romulan Commander from “Balance of Terror,” who has been sent to Bajor to open diplomatic relations between the Empire and Bajor, and Ensign Jamie Samantha Kirk, a recent Academy grad assigned to DS9 who is descended from James Tiberius Kirk in some fashion. The story’s not bad (it’s typical early DS9 — a visitor, in this case Romulan Ambassador Jannek, arrives at the station, and a mystery follows in his wake that the DS9 characters have to unravel), but the dialogue is sometimes clunky and lacks subtlety. It’s the kind of thing you read now, think about where DS9 went, and go, “I really wonder what happened to those characters and what role they might have played in the unfolding galactic crisis.”