TTN: “Empathy” Notes

Mirror Universe Shards and ShadowsContains spoilers for story

My first impulse was to follow Diane Duane’s lead (from the novel Dark Mirror) and do a scary/sexy dominatrix version of Deanna Troi.  I’ve enjoyed exploring Deanna at different stages of her career in Orion’s Hounds, The Buried Age, and “Friends With the Sparrows,” so naturally I was intrigued by the idea of exploring her Mirror self.  Then I remembered that, in the book continuity, the Terran Empire had wiped out every known telepathic species including Betazoids.  Okay, I thought; maybe somehow a few Betazoids survived, and Deanna is an angry Alliance agent who hates humans for what they did to her species and battles with Riker.

But I decided to go a different route.  After all, it would be tough to top Diane Duane, and the latter version of Deanna would’ve been too much like Intendant B’Elanna from Keith R.A. DeCandido’s The Mirror-Scaled Serpent.  Besides, I’ve done so much with Deanna that it was time to vary things up a little.  So I decided to do a story about the absence of Deanna Troi, and more broadly, the absence of what she represents — empathy.  Instead of celebrating her by showing her in action, I would do so by showing the cost of her nonexistence.  The story fell into place quickly once I thought of that, with the battle over the fate of the empathic Irriol and the clash of Jaza’s empathy with the inherent cruelty of Alliance society paralleling the sad, doomed lives of Will Riker and Ian Troi in the absence of Deanna.  This let me do a more detailed exploration of the Irriol biosphere that I’d created as backstory for Orilly Malar in Orion’s Hounds.

However, it turned out that another author in the anthology, Rudy Josephs, had decided to do a story called “The Sacred Chalice,” revolving around a small band of Betazoid survivors including Lwaxana and Deanna Troi.  Whoops!  Fortunately, it didn’t require any major changes in “Empathy.”  The story is implicitly about the absence of Deanna from its characters’ lives, and though it would’ve been thematically more potent if she never existed, it still works — and is perhaps more ironically sad — if she and Riker simply never met.

The other major idea that went into “Empathy” was a desire to subvert the usual expectations.  When Marco suggested I could include Jaza Najem (Titan‘s Bajoran science officer in the first four novels) as a villainous Alliance character, I immediately had the contrary thought: surely not everyone in the Alliance is a bad guy.  With Riker as the cold, unfeeling killer working for the rebels, it would be interesting to make loyal Alliance scientist Jaza the protagonist and examine the question of what could motivate a decent person to go along with the tyranny of the Alliance.  This allowed me to make a commentary on the moral compromises that the Bush administration made in the name of fighting terrorism — though hopefully that’s no longer as relevant as it was when I wrote the story.

Christine Vale was also a subversion of expectations — some slaves are happier being slaves.  It’s a sad irony that Jaza’s kindness toward Christine made her comfortable with her enslavement.  It’s also ironic that the master and slave versions of the characters are able to embrace a love that their counterparts who were colleagues and equals chose to turn away from.  But that’s because Commander Vale’s priority is her career.  Mirror Christine’s career is to be Jaza’s lover.  And as we see later in the story, she’s not a passive victim or a lovestruck fool, but has made a calculated, pragmatic choice to embrace the life path which gives her and her potential children the best opportunities within a strictly limited existence.  So she’s not as different from her counterpart as it might initially seem.  Except that she still has her natural hair color.  (Ironically, the one character here sporting the classic “evil goatee” look is Jaza himself, the good guy of the story.)

Meanwhile, Dr. Ree is pretty much the same character in both universes, with much the same personality and values.  The fun thing about Ree is that he’s a charming, nurturing character with a very dangerous yet non-malicious streak to his psychology.  The difference between Regular and Mirror Ree is merely one of emphasis, or perhaps of context.

Governor Khegh was seen in Titan: Taking Wing and The Red King as General Khegh.  He’s equally gluttonous and crass in both timelines, though he shows a more sadistic streak here.  His Elaysian torture victim is implicitly Melora Pazlar, Titan‘s stellar cartographer.  Melora endures some pretty horrible treatment here, but it served to illustrate just how brutal and depraved Alliance society could get, as a contrast for Jaza’s decency and an illustration of how flawed his rationalizations for that society truly were.  At least Jaza saves her at the end.

The Alliance program of capturing and exploiting psi-capable species was established in the Mirror Universe: Obsidian Alliances short novel The Mirror-Scaled Serpent.

Aili Lavena is Titan‘s chief pilot, and is heavily featured in my novel Titan: Over a Torrent Sea.  Since this story is set in 2376, we get to see her in her amphibious phase, shortly before she transformed into the pure-aquatic being of the TTN novels.  She can breathe air at this point, but still needs a moisture suit to keep her skin from drying.  Her four breasts at this stage are roughly three times the size they appear on the OaTS cover.

Since Riker is without Deanna, I made him a man without love or empathy in his soul.  That leaves only Riker’s ambition and aggression.  While Commander Riker deferred his ambitions for sixteen years in order to serve where he was happy and surrounded by friends, this Riker craves advancement above all else and is frustrated not to get it.

Ian Troi is here as something of a stand-in for Deanna, since the story is built around TTN characters.  He’s also a kind of surrogate Picard, about the same age and similar in personality, to illustrate how differently this Riker views authority.  (And of course the spaceship Deanna is a more obvious stand-in, with Mirror Riker’s covetousness for it a dark reflection of his counterpart’s love for his wife.)  In the original concept, I assumed the Troi family was long dead, so I called this character Ian Andrew and intended to be ambiguous about whether that was his full name (since many Terran slaves might’ve lost their family names generations before).  When I learned of “The Sacred Chalice,” in which Lwaxana and Ian had married and borne children, it let me use the Troi name, which works much better.

It’s an absurd contrivance having all these characters from the Titan crew just happening to converge under wholly different circumstances, but it’s an established conceit of the Mirror Universe.  I choose to assume that there’s some sort of quantum probability resonance between different quantum copies of the same individual, so that their wavefunctions tend to follow similar worldlines or some such handwave.

Speaking of established conceits of the MU, I just had to include a little girl-on-girl action.  And it’s in character for Lavena; she’s pretty much omnisexual in the main timeline, and her somewhat hedonistic personality in both timelines made it easy for Vale to manipulate her.  It’s in character for Mirror Vale because she’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish her mission.

The secret nature of Vulcan telepathy was established in MU: Glass Empires: The Sorrows of Empire, and is a key thread in the evolving MU novel continuity, featured in several other stories in this anthology.  Tuvok’s backstory here is based on what we learned of him in The Mirror-Scaled Serpent; Tuvok’s thought on p. 375 about the unreliability of aggressive Terrans like Riker is an implicit reference to the “badass” version of Harry Kim from TMSS.  The discussion on p. 380 about the “legend” of Vulcan telepathy is meant to address the seeming inconsistency of why the Alliance would be unaware of its existence when many in the Terran Empire would presumably have known.  Emperor Spock’s use of the “magical” Tantalus field serves as a red herring; the Alliance confuses it with the tales of Vulcan psi powers and is thus content to dismiss it as exaggeration and superstition.

Killing off canon characters is also an established MU convention, and I may have embraced it a bit too much here.  But I felt that was necessary to show the cost of an absence of empathy.  I seriously considered revising it so that at least Dr. Ree would survive — since Ree is totally cool — but in that case, the project could’ve continued and the resistance mission would’ve been a failure.

The fate of Orilly Malar’s sister Jerel (named here for the first time) is an ironic contrast to the main timeline, wherein Orilly violated her people’s taboos in order to save her sister from being killed by a predator called a voliro, no doubt a relative of the felinoid navoliro here.

I’m not sure the timing of the story really allows enough room for Riker to perform the implied acts upon Christine Vale before he returns to the ship, even with the qualification that he had to rush.  Also, I fear Riker’s demise may be a bit too heavy-handed a way of driving home the theme — it’s his lack of feeling for the ship Deanna, his inability to connect with it and its needs, that causes him to pilot it to destruction.  But it did let me make an ironic reference to Riker’s “I plan to live forever” line from Generations — though again, that might be a bit too heavy-handed.  But then, the Mirror Universe is all about being broad.

My favorite parallel comes at the end, where Tuvok gets to be Kirk to Jaza’s Mirror Spock, to persuade him that one man can summon the future and begin a revolution from within.  I don’t know if this will be followed up on in future MU fiction, but it would be really cool if it were.

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