Just got finished reading the final chapter of the Vanguard saga, “Storming Heaven”………and what can I say but WOW! A true epic, this final entry in the saga ties up loose ends–mixing political intrigue, suspense and action with a melancholic wistfulness not unlike that present at the end of “Titanic” (a character reflecting back on past events that transpired before a major disaster). If you haven’t hit up iTunes, Amazon or whatever on/offline source you use to procure your reading material yet–do it soon……you won’t be disappointed!
**Now, before I go any continue, I must warn you I’m going to delve into the book and SPOIL much, if not all of it. If you haven’t read it yet, or don’t otherwise like spoilers of this kind – DO NOT PROCEED FURTHER**
“Storming Heaven” picks up right where the previous entry, “What Judgements Come” left off.
Starbase 47’s ex-CO, Commodore Diego Reyes, has endured a long journey. After being court-martialed for permitting the release of classified information via FNS reporter Tim Pennington, he was briefly drawn into the dangerous, shadowy world of Klingon politics before falling in with Ganz–a slimy, unscrupulous Orion player who somehow managed to keep his ship docked at the Starbase. After reluctantly participating in an intelligence gathering operation with the aim of discovering where exactly Ganz located a mysterious Shedai-related artifact, Reyes is quietly sent into exile on the remote world of Caldos II. Here, he’s settled into a quiet life–with a nice cabin in the wilderness and the best whiskey still at his disposal–that is, until Tim Pennington shows up. After a bit of brief banter, Reyes inquires as to what happened after he left the station for the last time.
Cyinically, Pennington replies “I was there until the end, mate. The bitter, bloody end.” The whiskey continues to flow and the two travel back in time 2 years–to mid-late 2268–as Pennington begins answering the question and we the readers are transported back to the familiar environs of Vanguard.
In the beginning 2/3rd’s or so of the novel, we have roughly 5 separate ‘threads’ out there–Vanguard’s world of drama & intrigue; the musings of ex-Federation Ambassador Jentanien and his equally disgraced Klingon counterpart Lugok on Nimbus III; the aforementioned world of shadows, deception and intrigue that is Klingon politics; the Tholians and their conflict; and of course, the Shedai.
On Vanguard, Lieutenant Ming Xiong & Dr. Carol Marcus continue their work towards unlocking the mysteries of the Shedai and all is well……until the scout USS Sagitarius is covertly sent into Tholian space (making use of the data previously acquired by Reyes), to the location where the mysterious, Shedai-related ‘Mirdonyae Artifact’ was found. The Tholians, unaware of this, attempt to destroy the site–which still contains a number of other equally mysterious artifacts. The USS Endeavour, which had been monitoring a Tholian fleet build-up along the border, races to the scene in an attempt to warn the Sagitarius, but arrives too late. Opening fire on the Tholian force manages to buy enough time for both Starfleet vessels to escape intact–but upon their arrival back at the Starbase, they have to deal with both political and scientific fallout.
On Nimbus III, Jentanien and Lugok muse over what has become of their lives after the fallout of the previous novel–the failure of the Paradise City settlement and violent rioting which left their Romulan counterpart dead and ended both their careers in disgrace. It is hear we learn of Gorkon’s suspicions regarding corruption and treachery within the High Council. These two threads come together here and run in parallel until their eventual conclusion in the chambers of the High Council.
The source of corruption and treachery is revealed to be none other than—you guessed it—Duras (presumably the same Duras that was featured in various episodes of ENT, as a first name was never mentioned). Gorkon is no fool and has long been suspicious of Duras–revealing these suspicions to three people…..Lugok, Chang and Kutal. Chang is fiercely loyal, but obviously very hawkish. Kutal, commander of the IKS Zin’za, is both honor and duty bound–suspicious of Gorkon’s claims, relayed through Chang. Before he can act either way, he and his crew are assassinated by Brakk, son of Duras. Brakk had sabotaged the Zin’za and after killing the crew and personally extinguishing Kutal, he sets the battlecruiser’s self-destruct sequence and makes a hasty departure. Maybe I read through the section a bit too fast, but it isn’t entirely made clear how Gorkon learns of this, for seemingly complete information regarding this and Duras’……other dealings makes its way to Lugok, then Jentanien and finally into the hands of Tim Pennington–who predictably uses this information to write a story which is soon published through the FNS. Duras is taken to task in the Great Hall, vowing to Gorkon that “…..this isn’t over.”
On a side note, Duras’ shady dealings with the Romulans is implied to be the impetus behind the shaky Klingon-Romulan alliance–a valid idea to be sure and one that bears further exploration. We also see Gorkon form his first misgivings about Chang, who’s rabid hawkishness stands at odds with Gorkon’s more moderate political leanings and peaceful ambitions overall.
Back on Vanguard, Nogura predictably takes Endeavor CO Khatami to task over her actions in the rescue of the Sagitarius and the resulting political firestorm it created. The firestorm proves to be shortlived however–as both Nogura and Starfleet Command are more concerned with the tactical potential and overall power of the further Shedai artifacts–those concerns and that potential at the very heart of why Operation: Vanguard was conceived. As research progresses, questions start to be raised. Nogura recognizes the legitimacy of the concerns brought to him by Lt. Xiong and Dr. Marcus, but it’s made clear that the ‘brass hats’ at Starfleet aren’t interested in listening–thus, tying Nogura’s hands in political red tape. The testing continues and eventually a breakthrough is made–prompting serious moral questioning by Dr. Marcus. Her sense of morality not abating in the slightest, she and the rest of her civilian science team are removed from their positions with security clearances revoked, and forcibly sent off station.
Testing continues, Xiong’s moral and ethical issues taking a back seat to his sense of duty. Using the technology and knowledge at their disposal, Xiong and his new Starfleet compatriots are soon able to capture the rest of the Shedai–holding them in a unique, fortified containment chamber. This prompts a violent, painful physio-psychic reaction from the Tholians, who are convinced that Starfleet has discovered the very secrets they’ve been trying to destroy and intend to use them maliciously. Within a matter of days, they send a large portion of their fleet across the border to destroy Vanguard. The station, having evacuated its civilian residents, does its best to prepare, but despite being formidably armed, it suffers critical damage. The Endeavor and Sagitarius are likewise damaged severely, with the Buenos Aires (sister ship to the Bombay – destroyed in the first novel, “Harbinger”) destroying itself in a suicide run, in a valiant attempt to save the station. The former two are saved at the last minute by the arrival of the Enterprise, which takes moderate damage while the Endeavor evacuates all remaining personnel.
With the station critically damaged and power quickly failing, Ming arms the auto-destruct sequence installed within his laboratory and is able to collapse the Shedai’s conduits for good. Within short order though, containment soon fails, the imprisoned Shedai begin to escape and he is mortally wounded. With his last breaths, Xiong activates the auto-destruct–consuming the lab, killing every last Shedai and destroying the station in a catastrophic explosion. Many other personnel, including station XO Jon Cooper and recently-retired CMO Dr. Ezekiel Fisher are also killed in the course of the battle.
The Federation and Starfleet go to some lengths to disguise the true nature of what really happened–the Federation Council officially called the attack an intervention on the part of the Tholians, to contain the Shedai after an accident aboard the station. All data concerning the Shedai, subsequent testing and experimentation was removed from the station–being heavily encrypted and transferred to the main computer aboard the Endeavor, before reaching its final resting place at the Federation archives in Aldrin City, Luna (implied by the events in the Typhon Pact novel “Paths of Disharmony”).
With Pennington’s story complete, Reyes boots him out of his cabin–taking him by boat, to the nearest port city. While in transit, he becomes suspicious of Pennington’s motives–why the journalist came to find him and who possibly paid him to do so–but when reaching the shore, the former Commodore finds no one but his old flame Rana Desai standing there waiting. As Pennington walks off, Reyes & Desai sail off into the mist and the story of Vanguard comes to an end……