Declassified is an anthology of 4 novellas exploring key moments of the Vanguard story.
Dayton Ward's "Almost Tomorrow" is the first of the bunch, taking place before Harbinger. It details the start of Reyes and Desai's relationship, Jetanien's efforts at diplomacy, Sandesjo's being discovered as a spy and her relationship with T'Prynn, and the first troubles with the Klingons due to Sandesjo's leaked information.
This story works well on all levels. I enjoyed this chronologically first glimpse of the Sagittarius-crew ingeniously dealing with the Klingons. In this context it, of course, fits that the crew consists of a geniuses - sometimes I'd wish that there were a few more ordinary people on the ships who perhaps rise to an extraordinary situation because I'm a bit tired of people thinking of solutions out of the sky. Just think of Voyager's constant "but perhaps if we..." (insert technobabble) discussions during red alert, we will die in 5 seconds situations. That just got ridiculous over time. And I feel a bit reminded of that here - on the other hand it works because the crew are meant to be good and out of the box-thinkers.
Of course, I especially enjoyed the relationship aspect of this story. First of all, how Reyes and Desai met which couldn't be more ordinary, I suppose... which again works in this context. They are just two people falling in love, and I like the simplicity of that even though the circumstances couldn't be any less simple. And then there's T'Prynn who gets into a much deeper relationship with Sandesjo due to Sten's influence. Those bits and pieces about the beginnings here are essential to my understanding the impact Sandesjo's loss had on T'Prynn. Jetanien wonders why T'Prynn hasn't told Reyes of Sandesjo's being a spy yet - and actually right now I'm not quite sure whether she ever told him... 8/10
Kevin Dilmore's "Hard News" (taking place between Reaping the Whirlwind and Open Secrets) sheds some much needed light on Pennington's motivation to join T'Prynn on her journey to Vulcan. Fisher's advice at the end can be translated into the old proverb "to save one person is as if you save the whole world" which puts an entirely new spin on Pennington - especially in the light of what led him there... the disappearance (aka murder) of a young colleague on the look-out for another potentially world-changing story.
As I'm not too fond of first person PoV it took me a while to get into this story but it left me very contemplative - and of course, I appreciated how it ties in with events in Open Secrets. 7.5/10
Marco Palmieri's "The Ruins of Noble Men" (set right after the final chapter of Precipice when Reyes was revealed to be on the Orion ship) starts a bit on the wrong foot with me. He specifically states that Reyes and Desai's relationship was terminated when Reyes left the station for Earth - I went back to Open Secrets and the last scene between those two on Vanguard and couldn't find any evidence of that. Moreover, Desai says she'd be there when Reyes got out of prison. Honestly, I guess if the relationship had been terminated Desai's ambivalence about Reyes' survival and his being aboard Ganz's ship would make more sense - so, was this a short-notice change?
Apart from that, this story deals with turning points in Reyes and Desai's careers.
9 years previously, Reyes was captain of the Dauntless in conflict with the Klingons under Gorkon's command who dealt Reyes a devastating blow months before, killing his then first officer. Gorkon then came to the aid of a Federation mining outpost in distress - but offered his help only in exchange for the surrender of the colony, a bargain to which the colonists feel honor-bound to adhere even after Reyes' arrival. Gannon, his first officer, stayed Reyes' hand when he was all for removing the Klingons by force against the colonists' wishes - she introduced him to the Klingon mindset after having been taught by the longterm Federation ambassador to the Klingons. But at the end, Reyes has a better grasp on Klingon honour and motivation and comes to a grudging understanding with Gorkon. Which, of course, ties in with why Gorkon would choose Reyes for his purposes 9 years later...
This part doesn't only shed light on Reyes (oh, I wish we'd see more of his command prior to Vanguard *g*), but it also emphasizes the bonds between him, Fisher, the late Captain Gannon of the Bombay, the first casualty back in Harbinger. And this again ties nicely into the second part of this story which deals with Desai and Fisher investigating the suspicious death of a Vanguard officer on a colony which is scheduled for evacuation because Starfleet can no longer maintain its patrol there - something the colonists refuse and Desai is tasked to again try to persuade them to leave. Amidst all that and Reyes' uncertain future on the Orion ship, Desai faces serious doubts about Starfleet's orders, their future plans, and her role in it all. Right now, I'm still a bit ambiguous about her leaving Vanguard - on the one hand, good for her to leave while she can when her conscience no longer agrees with the decision-making there. On the other hand, it feels a bit like running away - she feels as though she has failed Reyes, and can't continue on this path.
Both parts are two sides of the same medal - at the end of Reyes' story there's hope that perhaps the divide between humans and Klingons can be overcome in the future. Desai still has to find that hope within herself that what separates her from Reyes, not only physically but also her perceived failures, can be bridged.
Frankly, Desai's part doesn't work quite as well as Reyes' because of the underlying situation on the colony. Why won't the colonists leave? Because there are reptiles with similar spawning cycles as salmons here (they live deep in the planet's oceans, only surfacing to wander up the rivers and die when their offspring suck up all their blood and crawl out of the split open bodies of the dead mother-creatures). They are described as near-sapient, and that their blood is kind of a miracle fluid. The colonists want to remain to protect this creature, or rather to prevent others from killing them in order to get the blood. The solution proposed by Desai in the end works because they achieve their goal *and* the patrols don't stop, meaning they are more or less protected on the planet. But what if Desai hadn't thought of that option? Wouldn't the presence of the colonists without Starfleet protection attracted the attention of other species even more than an empty planet would? And who says that other species such as Klingons would have investigated the reptiles... I mean it's not as though the Klingons really give a damn about indigenous creatures after all... That leaves me with a bit of an ambivalent feeling even though the Reyes part of the story is quite strong. 6.5/10
David Mack's "The Stars Look Down" follows Quinn and Bridy Mac on their in the end disastrous mission to explore the reemergence of the Jinoteur-wave pattern and prevent Klingons from getting any information first. I don't really like those mercenary Han Solo with a tragic spin-like types. Having said that, Quinn really has some bad luck and gets crushed every time things are looking up just a little bit. It's unfortunate that Bridy Mac remains bland up until the end - on the other hand, despite these two characters not being my favourites I was moved by the ending... the hell, I got teary-eyed to be quite honest.
And what about the Apostate? Will the Tholians' aversion to him ever be addressed (in contrast to Starfleet's point of view of him being the one "reasonable" Shedai)? What about the weapon - how will its loss influence future events? What about the Tkon? And what will the Klingons' reaction to losing 5 ships be? And how long can Ganz contain himself and his urge to kill off Reyes? 8.5/10
The events in this story are again a game changer. Where will the Vanguard-saga go from here?