This week, the Library Computer continues its look at the six ‘what if?’ tales of alternate history featured in the two new ‘Myriad Universes’ anthologies. Forget "Space Seed", and prepare to enter a universe where Khan reigns supreme as we look at James Swallow’s Seeds of Dissent, the third and final story in the "Infinity’s Prism" Anthology. Once again we have a review, author interview and exclusive excerpt.
REVIEW – STAR TREK MYRIAD UNIVERSES: INFINITY’S PRISM
Part 3: Seeds of Dissent by James Swallow
Imagine, for a moment, Khan Noonien Singh as ruler of the known universe. Well, his progeny haven’t quite made it there in the late twenty-fourth century, but it certainly isn’t for a lack of trying. To put it simply, Khan won. And that’s where Seeds of Dissent begins, and then takes the reader to an alternative Deep Space Nine universe on board the Warship Defiance commanded by the genetically enhanced Princeps Julian Bashir.
In reading Seeds of Dissent, one gets the feeling that they are reading the novelization of an episode instead of a story that has been somewhat abbreviated for the format of the anthology. Swallow doesn’t get over ambitious with the amount of material he’s including, and refuses to allow the story to get bogged down for comic relief.
While I found some of the parallels to the Deep Space Nine series we know to have been somewhat unoriginal (i.e., Defiance vs. Defiant; D9 vs. DS9), Swallow manages to stay close to the universe we know while, at the same time, steadfastly refusing to regurgitate old dialogue from existent interactions between individuals. While O’Brien, Bashir, Ezri Dax, Kira, Dukat, Sisko, and other familiar faces are present… they aren’t your in-universe characters. Only Kira comes close to mimicking her ‘true’ self in this tale. It’s a good thing too, because Swallow is able to effectively use the dynamic he creates from page one; but his work with the DS9 crew isn’t even the high point.
Swallow’s treatment and exposition of the history of the Eugenics Wars – the successful Eugenics Wars – is perfect, and his take on the Botany Bay adventure is a far more effective and meaningful piece of writing than even the outstanding TOS episode from which it draws its inspiration.
with – James Swallow
TrekMovie: Your story, Seeds of Dissent, rewrites centuries of ‘in-universe’ history leading up to the events of the book. What led you to consider the tale of a victorious Khan?
James Swallow: When you think of alternative history tales, the two examples that people often use to illustrate the idea are ‘What if the Roman Empire never fell?’ and ‘What if the Nazis won World War II?’ I wanted to take those concepts and show them through the lens of the Star Trek universe – and who better to be a galaxy-spanning dictator at the head of a ruthless empire than Khan Noonian Singh? As soon as I hit on the idea of that, the story fell into place naturally, and the core concept of an "inside-out" version of the classic TV episode ‘Space Seed’ was right there for me. Tying the plotline to the character of Julian Bashir, who, like Khan, was genetically-enhanced in the ‘true’ Star Trek history was a great fit, and the storyline gave me the chance to draw in characters from all across the mythos.
TM: Did you always have a clear idea of the journey you wanted the tale to take, or did you make significant revisions along the way?
JS: Seeds of Dissent mirrors ‘Space Seed’ in that a threat from the past upsets the status quo in the present, but I wanted to take the plotline a step further, with the idea that the threat was much bigger than just a group of time-lost refugees. The danger to the status quo of Khan’s empire is the one that all dictators fear – the truth. With that theme, I had the basic arc of the story at the very start, although at first I set the events during an alternate version of the original series era. It was editor Marco Palmieri who suggested pushing it back to become an alternate take on Deep Space Nine‘s milieu instead, and his instincts were dead-on; the change made the story much stronger.
TM: Looking back at the writing process, was there a particular character you particularly wanted to place in a unique situation through your story?
JS: I did enjoy casting an alternate reality version of Kira Nerys and Skrain Dukat as a pair of dissident lovers! It was fun to warp the personas of all the characters who turn up in the story, especially Julian and Ezri, who carry the burden of a lot of the action. But I think my favorite scene is the ‘student and mentor’ meeting between Bashir and Khan…
James Swallow has recently completed work on "Nightfall", a Stargate: Atlantis novel. He has new Star Trek projects in the works, and has been working on new audio dramas for Doctor Who, Stargate, and Blake’s 7. Regular updates are available on his blog and website.
STAR TREK MYRIAD UNIVERSES: INFINITY’S PRISM
Seeds of Dissent by James Swallow
Julian chose the short sword and clipped the scabbard to the molecular adhesion pads on the back of his torso armor, securing his assault phaser in a holster at his right hip. He went without a helmet, instead fixing a communicator monocle-headset over his eye; it was not good battle practice, as O’Brien often reminded him, but the tactician was inclined to be rule-bound, and Bashir knew that there was something to be said about letting an enemy see your face. A man of the rank of princeps should not go about concealed behind the blank mask of blast armor; his face should be known—known and respected.
He joined O’Brien and the rest of the boarding party at the teleport pad. The other officer gave him a curt nod and signaled the controller. A silent blaze of seething red enveloped them; Defiance’s interior reformed into the dank, smoke-choked corridor of the rebel transport, and they were aboard.
Julian turned to give O’Brien his orders, and something moved at the corner of his eye. With a guttural cry, a figure threw itself off an overhead gantry and fell at him. Bashir registered the keen silver shape of a naked dagger in his attacker’s hand, the accelerated neural pathways of his mind processing the threat in a fraction of a second, reflex turning him to defend against it. He pivoted on his heel and his hands shot out to block the attack; one snared the forearm that held the knife, the other clamped about a throat of soft flesh, cutting off his assailant’s war cry in mid-voice. Julian let the man’s momentum do the work for him, distantly registering the nasal ridges that identified his target as a Bajoran, spinning him about. He felt bones in the attacker’s wrist snap like twigs under his vicelike grip, and heard the man gasp for air through a strangled throat. Bashir let go and the Bajoran tumbled headlong into a stanchion, striking his head with a dull cracking noise. Julian turned away, his enemy dismissed, knowing that the man would never rise again.
O’Brien and the rest of the men in the optio’s cohort were quickly dispatching other rebels foolish enough to try and engage them in hand-to-hand combat. Bashir watched the tactician slay a Cardassian with a single downward slash of his bat’leth. The gray-faced alien wailed and dropped to the deck, slumping into a pool of himself. Bashir’s second-in-command had taken the curved weapon from the body of a Klingon he had killed in single combat many years ago, in a duel on the surface of Ixion. Julian considered the weapon to be crude and inelegant, but it was certainly quite lethal and it had its uses—rather like the Klingons themselves.
The kills were fast and efficient, just as the princeps expected. He gave a grim nod of approval. “Any sign of Kira?”
“Negative,” said the optio, and his face soured. “It is possible she may not be on board.”
“We shall see,” he began, “Leave it with me. Take men and move to the engine core. You will not allow them to scuttle the ship.”
“Aye, Lord,” The tactical officer barked out orders in the clipped snarls of battle language and ran aft, with black-armored troopers at his heels.
Bashir paused, surveying the chamber. The craft seemed old but well-maintained, and he frowned at the thought. The rebels were supposed to be poorly equipped, lacking in support and materiel; but even a cursory look at this ship revealed otherwise. For all the assurances that the Bajoran government was giving Quadrant Command, someone among them was still helping the rebels prosecute their guerrilla war. Sisko will not be pleased, he mused, filing away his impressions for later dictation into the mission report his commander would demand.
“Lord?” Tiber, the squad leader, beckoned him over to where an olive-skinned Bajoran male lay panting on the deck. The man’s face was darkening with a bruise where a blow to the head had put him down. “This one is still alive.”
Bashir bent at the knee and put his face close to the rebel’s, examining the contusion. “That is unsightly. You may have a concussion. You should probably have a doctor look at it.” He reached out and took the front of the Bajoran’s tunic in his fist, and without any effort, he lifted him off the deck until his boots dangled in the air. The princeps studied him coldly. “Understand me,” he began, “you are going to die here unless you answer my questions.”
The Bajoran made a gasping noise.
“Where is Kira Nerys?”
“She’s not…here,” he managed. “Gone…”
Bashir looked into the Bajoran’s eyes, his gaze hard and steady. “You are lying to me.” It was a skill he had honed throughout the years, a talent that many said ran strong in the men of his bloodline; there was nothing preternatural about it, nothing beyond the physical, but to those who had never seen it before, one might have thought Bashir possessed some measure of psychic ability, like a Vulcan or a Betazoid. It was nothing so distastefully alien as that, though. Julian Bashir had simply mastered the ability to read a face, to see it like the page of a book. He could see the difference between a falsehood and a truth, and he had never encountered a time when he had been wrong. It was a useful tool.
The Bajoran seemed to know it; he swallowed hard and blinked.
“I will ask you once more,” Bashir told him, “and if you lie to me again, I will choke the life from you.”
The injured man nodded weakly.
O’Brien reported in that the nadion pulse had done its work; not a single rebel was found alive on the drive decks, and with the application of a few carefully aimed phaser bolts, the warp core’s control conduits were severed from the rest of the ship’s systems, ensuring that power would never be restored. Lights flickered as the craft switched over to emergency battery stores, and almost immediately the temperature began to fall. Faint vapor puffed from Bashir’s mouth with each breath, but the chill was a distant, unimportant distraction. It would take some time before the vessel’s interior reached subzero temperatures low enough to affect the Defiance boarding party; but the same could not be said for the rebels. For a moment, he considered simply waiting them out. The Cardassians among them would succumb first, of course. Being from a hot and arid environment, the gray-skinned aliens loathed the chill of space; and after them, the Bajorans would follow their allies into the grip of hypothermia.
But why delay the inevitable? There was too much risk of a premature fatality, and there was one particular rebel aboard this ship whose death had already been ordained, to take place in surroundings much more public than these.
Predictably, he found his target in the escape pod gallery, attempting to bleed power from a disruptor pistol into the stalled ejection mechanism. He was slightly disappointed that she chose to flee over a confrontation, but then again her kind were of a lower order. It was wrong to expect them to show human courage.
There were others with her, and they leapt to the woman’s defense. The narrow gantry had little room to fight along it, but the short sword made easy work in the circumstances. Those he didn’t kill, Bashir sent spinning away with open cuts that steamed in the icy air.
The woman, Kira, abandoned her stillborn escape plan and struck him across the head with the butt of the spent disruptor, at last in the desperation of the moment exhibiting some sort of strength of character—not that it did her any good. In return, Bashir hammered her away with the brass eagle-head pommel of his sword and spun the still-bloody blade about to rest its tip on her throat.
“Nerys!” One of the wounded Cardassians cried out in stark terror, stumbling to his feet.
Bashir drew his pistol with a sweep of his free hand, aimed at the alien, and hesitated with his finger on the trigger. The lined brow of the male seemed familiar, and in an instant he had drawn an identity up from the depths of his eidetic memory. “Skrain Dukat,” he said carefully. “Now this is an interesting happenstance. Lord-Commander Sisko will be pleased. Two birds with one stone.”
The woman spat something in gutter Bajoran, her eyes burning with raw hatred. Beneath all the dirt and fury, she might have been attractive under other circumstances.
Troopers emerged from behind the Cardassian and forced him to his knees at Kira’s side. Bashir drew back the sword slightly and Dukat pulled the woman to him, ignoring the thin runnels of blood darkening his arm from the deep wound on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Skrain,” she managed, her breathing labored, her bitter face turning to him.
“It’s all right, my love,” replied Dukat, cradling her gently, his eyes wet. “We’re still together.”
Bashir sheathed his sword. “Touching,” he offered, and glanced at O’Brien as he arrived. “Take all the survivors back to Defiance for interrogation and processing.”
“Aye, Lord. Shall I put these two in stasis tanks?”
Julian smiled thinly. “We are not barbarians, Optio. Give the lovers adjoining cells in the brig.”
"Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism" is available for preorder at Amazon
(ships July 22nd)
About Myriad Universe
Over the years, several alternate universe tales have been told in various forms of Trek media, but Myraid Universes, the new anthology series from Pocket Books goes beyond the well-known ‘Mirror Universe’ and instead farms other potential historical aberrations. The two new large sized trade paperback anthologies ("Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism" due in July and "Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions" due in August) contain three novella-length stories a piece. Each story is set in a different Trek era (and different Trek universe).
MORE FROM INFINITY’S PRISM:
Part 1: Review + Interview + Excerpt of "A Less Perfect Union"
COMING NEXT WEEK
The Library Computer takes a one-week break from Myriad Universes to see if Christopher L. Bennett’s new Next Generation novel "Greater Than the Sum" is up to the challenge of rescuing the TNG re-launch from oblivion. Don’t worry, though, in two weeks, our Myriad Universes overview will continue as we get to know Thelin, the Andorian first officer of the USS Enterprise (TAS: Yesteryear) and see how well he fits the center seat of the Enterprise in a universe where Spock didn’t survive the Kas-Wan Ritual.