Star Trek Picard: The Dark Veil
© 2021 James Swallow
When the USS Titan arrives at the Jazari homeworld to return one of their last serving members in Starfleet, they find something of a surprise waiting for them. The planet itself is physically reduced, as if plundered for a massive engineering project — and in orbit, the project itself. A massive colony ship, it carries the entire population of the Jazari people: the neighborhood has gone downhill, thank you, and they’re moving. A catastrophe aboard their vessel draws in both the aide of USS Titan and a Romulan starship lurking across the border, and it seems a rare opportunity for the Federation and Empire to build bridges in the light of the present…unpleasantness (what with Starfleet volunteering to help Romuluans evacuate their doomed star system and then backing out after some androids go postal on Mars, destroying the rescue fleet). However, not everyone aboard the Othryxs supports its commanders’ diplomatic overture. In short order everyone is in peril, and Riker subject to a Romulan tribunal.
As much as I dislike AbramsTrek, KurzTrek, whatever — as long as some of the old Treklit authors are attempting to make something of its miserable premises I’ll give them the old college try. The Dark Veil is proof to me that the talent can still show out, particularly Swallow’s development of the tenative relationship between Captain Riker and his Romulan counterpart, Medaka. Both are at odds with their respective governments on how to handle the other; Riker, like Picard, is woefully disappointed in Starfleet for giving up the Romulan rescue effort (the Grumpy Vulcans are apparently incapable of evacuating themselves, despite their intelligence agency running around with its own ships), and thinks that the conspiracy theories blaming them for the Martian attack are ludicrous. Medaka, for his own part, believes the Federation had the best of intentions, but has allowed fear to take command. He and Riker establish a rapport that allows them to aide the colony ship, but circumstances beyond their control and a Desperate Secret destabilize the situation, ultimately leading to the usual Trek firefight — an outnumbered Titan using the environment and sideways tactics to protect the colony ship against the sudden aggressiveness.
I continue to hold that the premise of Picard is ridiculous, contradictory, and overly bleak. However, Swallow does a good job spinning some of its dross into a captivating story with a genuinely novel society at the heart of it. There are no virtually no connections to the “real” USS Titan series, aside from the re-use of First Officer Christine Vale: she’s something of an anomaly, being the first Treklit character I’ve seen make the jump into the new books.
Silence fell across the room, and in that moment, they were just two captains, two fathers and husbands, two men caught between the bounds of orders and their own codes of honor. Each of them knew that there were larger forces at work around them, political pressures and military strategies being decided on by others light-years distant. But they were the ones on the edge of all this. Riker and the Titan, Medaka and the Othrys, they were lone outposts of their people on a deep and unforgiving ocean. It would be up to them to do better than those distant leaders, and to find common ground where they could. The alternatives led only toward darkness.