The Mestral is stunned, but not for long.
Rav implores that he only wants her “safe” (which the Mestral quite aptly reads as “tame”). He claims he’s trying to protect her from the factions trying to assassinate and usurp her. But the Mestral sees right though his ploy-He’s working for one of the other factions, and they’re trying to use her own feelings of love and loyalty to cloud her judgment. And she can play the same game: Having directly threatened her, Rav must be arrested and tried, and the only way for him to escape sentence is to kill her. Which she knows he won’t do, because he loves her.
The Mestral covertly opens an audio channel to the Enterprise, and, by cleverly rephrasing an exposition recap into a challenge (“You used that phaser on Venant, Rav, but you won’t use it on me…So you may as well put it away”), she manipulates Rav into revealing his plan to the Enterprise crew. He knows he can’t shoot her and that she won’t back down, so he and his co-conspirators are planning to kidnap her and bring her back to Eldalis where she’ll be “mentally reprogrammed”, brainwashed into becoming more placid and obedient. Captain Picard is appalled, and immediately has Doctor Crusher, Commander Riker, Data and a security team beam over to the Mestral’s ship to intervene. The transporter chiefs warn the solar flares will cause problems, but they’ll do their best. On the yacht, the Mestral declare she’ll die before she becomes “a cherished puppet with a lover’s hands on the strings”. Another struggle ensues and it looks like this time Rav might get the upper hand, but then Commander Riker beams in and takes him into custody.
The problem now is that the solar flare activity has picked up enough it’s impossible to transport back to the Enterprise, so Will and Data are going to have to sail out themselves. Rav offers to help pilot, but, as Will pointedly snaps “I’m a little short on blind trust at the moment. You sit down where I can see you and stay away from the controls”. Data begins to start the emergency backup engine, but Rav says it’s broken. Will muses “How would you know? Unless, of course you had something to do with it”. Will and Data are going to have to do it the old fashioned way, but thankfully Captain Picard is an expert and offers to talk them through what they have to do. Just then, the Mestral’s support tender arrives, but Worf observes it’s curiously well-armed. He, Captain Picard and Commander Riker all come to the same conclusion at once: This is the getaway vehicle for Rav and his co-conspirators, timed to arrive just when the star would be flaring such that transporters would be inoperable. Knowing the yachts are so small and fragile they couldn’t survive even one hit, Captain Picard puts the Enterprise between the tender and the sailboat and prepares for battle, while Commander Riker does his best to get out of the way.
Annoyingly, the yacht is having issues with its sails. The sheets won’t retract properly, and both Data and Captain Picard realise this is the work of those very crystalline mast struts the Mestral was worried about in issue 1. If they can’t collapse the sails, the stellar wind will rip the struts clear off of the ship, which would cause a hull breach. Captain Picard tells Data to work at changing the frequency of the crystalline structure in alternate bursts, while the Enterprise prepares to meet the armed tender, which is making another pass. As the Enterprise and the tender volley fire, the impromptu yachtsmen hear a disquieting groan throughout the hull, an indication the struts are about to fail. The Enterprise manages to disable the tender’s port nacelle, and while they can still run under impulse, they won’t be going far. The Enterprise crew has more pressing matters to attend to, and the transporter room manages to pull everyone out of the shuddering lightship at the very last second.
The transporter chiefs say that’s the last time anyone will be able to use the transporter until the solar flares die down, and right now the opposite seems to be happening. The security team arrests Rav, and the Mestral requests to be alone with him for a while. Will and Data leave them and head to the bridge, where the crew watches the star is go absolutely crazy. Strangely though, it doesn’t appear to be going nova, and just then Deanna jumps in: She’s figured it out. Something is “Waking up”. Something in the star itself. As the stellar radiation peaks, the Enterprise moves to bring all the other yachts into the safety of its shields while, as if on cue, something massive undulates and emerges from the core of the star: A titanic, winged beast of pure energy (as Diane Duane’s captions aptly state “Even here…There be Dragons”) that grants a passing glance to the starship Enterprise and all aboard her before departing the galactic plane. The Mestral puts it best when she says “It’s been a fascinating day. We think we know everything the universe has waiting for us, and then something like this happens”.
Security escorts Rav to the brig.
In the observation lounge, Data gives the crew and the Mestral a briefing as to his theories regarding the star dragon. He hypothesizes that it is a member of an extragalactic species that transitions from a matter-based stage of life to an energy-based one by metamorphosing within stars as they undergo fusion reaction. After Captain Picard prompts that one creature implies more, Data says there must have been at least six in their area of space: The six other flare stars of which GC 2006 is one. As GC 2006 was the only blue flare star and all the others are red, Data suggest the creatures who incubated within them hatched a long time ago. Deanna, who had sensed the creature’s presence before anyone else, says she could tell it was sentient, but not on a level any of them could relate to. Commander Riker adds that it was more interested in the Enterprise then its occupants, and Data builds on this by saying the Enterprise‘s warp drive combined with Denanna’s empathic powers may have caused the being to awaken.
Deanna calls it “beautiful” with a warm mind that “felt like an open fire”.
As the crew disperses, Captain Picard asks the Mestral if she will continue the race, as her yacht will be repaired by the next leg. She says she will not, and that this will be her final race. Echoing her words from earlier, she has no “spares” for her crew, or for Rav. Captain Picard says he honours her choice, but the Mestral snaps “Don’t bother. There’s no great virtue in it”. She regrets that had she made this decision earlier, two of her people might not have died, the lives of others would not have been threatened and she wouldn’t have destroyed “the only relationship that mattered” to her. Captain Picard counters that experience is always of value, no matter when one attains it.
The Mestral quotes a saying from her people. “It’s an ill wind that blows no one some good”, referring to the star dragon everyone had the privilege to bear witness to. Captain Picard comments on the synchromysticism of it all, for if the Mestral had not participated in this race the Enterprise would not have been assigned to oversee it and no starship might have come here for years. The Mestral muses on “the eternal symmetries”: “Something born…something dies”. She then asks Jean-Luc if he’d consider picking up yachting again after he retires from Starfleet. He says he might, but that if so, it wouldn’t be for a very long time. Quoting Byron again, the Mestral says she will return to her planet and dedicate her life to her work from now on. She invites Captain Picard to come visit some day, and her star has “a fair wind”. And even if she won’t ride it, he’s welcome to.
Diane Duane’s captions recite Lord Byron’s “So, We’ll Go No More A-Roving”, as the Mestral leaves to return home. Captain Picard watches the racers move on through the windows of the observation lounge, as we pan out to see the Enterprise adrift amongst the stars once more, basked in the light of the star dragon departing for parts unknown.
Why do we travel?
For the Ancient Navigators, the voyage was a matter of spirituality and practicality both. The sea was their country, and knowing it was a matter of survival and subsistence. In times of need, they could reach out to neighbouring islanders for help, or set off to find other islands of their own to settle on. Navigators would come from across the Pacific to the sacred Taputapuatea marae at Raiatea, the centre of the Polynesian world, to share with each other the wayfinding guild’s secrets and their theories about the mythogeneaosophical origins of the universe. And they were bold explorers, using their mindfulness of nature to discover new lands and make friendly contact with other peoples far across the world ocean.
For others, in particular Indo-Europeans, travel has historically been connected with conquest. The great “explorers” of Western lore were military commanders who sought out new lands to conquer and subjugate in order to expand the boundaries of their empires, and to rape and pillage for their own personal glory. Some imperialists, like Chinggis Khan and Hideyoshi Toyotomi, justify their expansionist compulsions with the language of peace: Peace and harmony can only be attained through the extinguishing of dissent and total subservience to a benevolently enlightened central figure. In Western terms, a Philosopher King. In other terms, fascism.
For those caught under the boot of such explorers, travel becomes a means of escape, and of resistance. In the United States, we venerate the Golden Age of Piracy in the 1700s because, while frequently violent and rapacious outlaws, pirates still crafted a way of life out of sticking it to contemporary society that was oftentimes more egalitarian and offered more opportunities to those would would live in oppression by living within the law. US culture’s deep-seated programmatic individualist libertarianism and fundamental hollow artifice allows us to gloss over the more unpalatable aspects of history in order to fabricate an entirely fictitious romantic Golden Age that better suits our egoistic sensibilities. Deep down, we all want to shed all inhibitions and operate on pure, Naked hedonism.
In some of the oldest surviving Indo-European myth cycles, however, travel is instead code for spiritual enlightenment. Celtic “voyage stories” were tales of journeys to an Otherworld, often situated on an island in the ocean far to the west. The hero would discover a path to the Otherworld, and either return to the mortal plane with newfound knowledge, or alternatively fall victim to a morality play about not heeding the advice of the Otherworld inhabitants and attempting to reconstruct their prior life. In Celtic and Germanic tales, the sacred waters leading to the Otherworld imparted wisdom, while Greek and southern Eurasian versions have water washing away grief, guilt and memory.
Thanks to recent discoveries in the freshly transmuted field of comparative mythology, we now know that certain myths and stories common to a variety of human cultures in wildly disparate parts of the world can all trace their lineage back to a handful of ur-myths that have been with human migrants since before they left parts of Africa in the Paleolithic period. One such myth is that of the Dragon: Giant, magnificent serpentine creatures who protect enchanted waters and guard the secrets to enlightened wisdom, for snakes, who shed their skin and are forever “reborn”, are seen to symbolize immortality. So why would there not be Dragons out here among the stars, when the heavens, the Earth and the seas have always been so intertwined? The Ancient Navigators knew as much, which is why the voyaging canoe was the microcosm of the universe and why the sky and the sea always have some relationship with each other. Even Western scientists say “We are all made of Star Stuff”, and it must be so because the stars, burning with the inextinguishable fires of creative life energy, are our ancestresses and Heavenly Mothers: They who give birth to all in the universe.
Nothing ever truly dies, in the way we in the West are inclined to think it does. Even the stars are constantly changing form, transitioning from one form to the next. Eternal Becoming. “Death” is merely the transition period between one form to the next. We are all born of the Universe, and to the Universe we are all destined to return. Here within this stellar nursery is also a cocoon. This is not evolution, teleological or otherwise, but metamorphosis. Transformation. Reawakening.
There is nothing that is not sacred, because all of Nature is sacred. Answers can always be observed in the inner workings of the Universe as seen by calm and patient eyes. We do not get to “choose” our path in life in accordance with our wants and desires. Such infelicities are the work of the mind and the ego, and lead us to self-delusions about the False “I”. Our path is our calling, and that is something we each must find within each of our own shared spirits. It must be discovered. But we can be guided to it if we only listen to what the Universe is telling us. It Waits. It has always waited, just waiting for us to find it within ourselves.