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"Doctor Bashir. The time is oh-five-hundred."
At least he wasn't alone.
"Right..." Oh, how he hated the garlicky voice of that computer in the morning.
The light hurt his eyes.
"Julian...we have to get up."
A much nicer voice. Julian Bashir shifted his arm to cuddle mode as Ezri Dax maneuvered herself closer. "Are you sure?" he asked.
"It's a big day," she told him. There was a faint dose of fearful anticipation in her voice. A week ago, he wouldn't have noticed it, but things changed here every day lately.
"It was a big night," he countered. "It cleared up a lot of questions."
She turned her pixie-like face up to him. A childlike face, framed in boyish short-clipped black hair, a permanent flicker of uncertainty always passing through it.
"Such as?" she asked.
He brushed his hand along the trail of melanin spots on the side of her face, the subtle markings that identified her as one of the most elegantly unique creatures of the known galaxy. "How far those spots go down, for one thing."
She smiled, but not without a sparkle of embarrassment. "I suppose you're going to want to tell Miles."
"Why would I do that?"
"Because you tell him everything?"
Without saying that today they'd all have other things on their minds, Bashir pushed away the rush of possible answers -- she was right, he did tell Miles O'Brien everything -- and how did she know that about the two men already? She was wrong, and he knew when things between a man and a woman, or a man and a Trill, or a somebody and a somebody else were better kept private.
Rather than blurting what he was thinking -- my God, you're so young! -- he admitted, "True, but this time, I'll make an exception."
"Good." Ezri murmured. She didn't believe him, he was sure of that. "Now, we really should get up. We don't want the Defiant leaving without us."
"You know," Bashir mentioned, "I've never gone into battle with someone I've slept with."
She smiled. "There's a first time for everything."
Not making any move to get up, Bashir added, "Now that we're finally together, it'd be a shame if anything happened to one of us."
Another twist came into her expression, and she didn't say any more, but Bashir picked up her thoughts as if he had suddenly become clairvoyant. She had been so lonely, so unsure of herself since having seven lifetimes of memories thrust upon her from another person, and another and another...her own identity had abruptly been put on hold, and she was now responsible for a cache of thoughts and knowledge that she hadn't absorbed. Not all Trill prepared all their lives to have a squirmy receptacle thrust into their bodies and then take over their existence. She was, as far as anyone knew, the only Trill never to be prepared for joining. That made her very special.
Bashir tried to empathize, but how could he? He was one man, inside one body, with one lifetime to worry about. Yet he admired and pitied Ezri Dax in the same moment, and he questioned his own reasons for wanting the comfort of her touch in these troubled times in deep space.
"Let's make a pact," she said. "We both come home alive. "
A handshake -- simple, but potent.
He took the hand. "You've got yourself a deal!"
She smiled. "I'm going to hold you to that!"
No, no, this wouldn't do. He leaned toward her, and she met his kiss thankfully, with welcome in her eyes. But then it was over, and before anything else could set in they had rolled out of bed on opposite sides and might as well have landed at opposite ends of a football field.
Ezri drew her uniform on very quickly, as if the blankets had been her protector and now she couldn't be unprotected. And Bashir, ridiculously, had yanked on his trousers quite faster than usual -- now how was that a way for a grown man and physician to behave? As if he were dressing in front of a...all right, she was very young, never mind that she was three hundred years old.
The medical wonder of Trilldom struck him again -- certainly this girl was no three hundred years old, yet the eight accumulated lifetimes and those of eight hosts all stored within her unprepared mind reached back all those centuries, racking her with confusions he could only guess toward. Sixteen lives bottled up inside that girl over there, who yet was pitiful in her isolation.
As were they all, upon this turning wonder. As were they all....
"Miles! You're late! You have to report in fifteen minutes."
Oh, yes, the joy and fulfillment of having his family with him finally! If only there weren't a war. Every beginning of watch was like this now -- the laughter of his children, the humming of his wife, the clatter of family life -- and he knew too well how quickly that paradise could crash and bum. He'd seen it before, the war coming out of nowhere to Deep Space Nine and rushing the station with all the complex agonies and strife caught UP in those three little letters...w, a, r....
Thank the Lord the baby couldn't spell yet. But Molly could, and she understood.
That caused pain to Miles O'Brien, as he stepped from his bedroom, pretending there was no care in the universe that could shatter him today. It was only for the children. He couldn't fool Keiko.
"Now, remember," he told his wife as she turned to him while feeding the baby, "Kirayoshi has his checkup tomorrow morning at oh-nine-hundred."
She nodded, and he felt silly for having pretended she didn't remember. By reminding her, he was also putting a spotlight on the fact that he wouldn't be here tomorrow He was leaving, and asking her to go on with family life as if nothing were wrong, nothing were happening.
"I've already confirmed the appointment with Nurse Bandee," she said courageously. "One more bite...."
"And try to get some rest," O'Brien pressed on, "and don't stay up too late writing that paper on whatever those trees are called -- "
"They're called Arfillian blossoms and they're not trees, they're shrubs."
He sighed. "All right...anyway, be sure to get some sleep and...oh, yeah, and -- "
"Miles," Keiko scolded gently, "stop worrying. We're going to be fine."
Fine, she said so easily. Back here on the station, tryIng to play house on the edge of a war zone, living in a pretty little cottage made of alien metal, just barely managing to keep out the inhospitableness of space with bulkheads that could be so easily ruptured by enemy fire. Just a few light-years from the front -- was this a place to raise a family? He had thought being together would make up for all the risks, for the tortures of knowing where he would be for the coming days.
He'd been wrong.
"I know," he said anyway, and leaned over for a kiss.
"Just you be careful," Keiko told him.
"I always am -- Molly, don't touch that!"
His daughter recalled her hand just before it would've violated the sacred space around the model he and Bashir had so lovingly built. Then she realized her hand had come away with one of the miniature US Army soldiers. Quickly she reassigned the soldier within the Alamo walls.
Only as his little girl's ivory hand dipped over the adobe stone partition did O'Brien realize how very large the model had grown. Now taking up a significant portion of the room, the Alamo seemed very real and consequential to him, its soldiers like shipmates. He and Julian had committed many hours to this historical problem of siege and conflict, supply and isolation. One needn't be a scholar to see the symbolism, and how close he felt to those trapped men and women, struggling to hold out against impossible odds --
"I let you play with my toys, " Molly complained.
"It's not a toy," he insisted. "It's a model."
Keiko's doll-like eyes teased him as she continued feeding the baby. "Then maybe it belongs in a museum."
O'Brien glanced at her, suddenly embarrassed that the Alamo had sucked away such a large portion of their living quarters. Did seem to have taken over, didn't it?
"I suppose I could give it to Julian...."
"Sounds good to me," Keiko instantly said. "Speaking of Julian, have you told him about Starfleet's offer yet?"
"I haven't had time," he stalled.
Molly wedged her way between them. "I knew it!"
O'Brien looked down. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"We're not going back to Earth," his daughter told him bluntly, "that's what it means."
"Of course we are." O'Brien said to her. "Daddy's going to teach at the Academy...as soon as the war's over."
Molly's big brown eyes batted at him. "Then why haven't you told Julian?"
As O'Brien groaned, Keiko smiled. "Out of the mouths of babes."
Guilt grazed O'Brien's sense of honor and duty. "I'll tell him...when I think he's ready to hear it." To get himself out of this, he ducked down to kiss Kirayoshi's plump little face. "I love you. Be a good boy, now. And you," he said, turning again to Molly, "listen to Mommy while I'm gone."
"I always listen to Mommy."
As his daughter pranced away, Miles O'Brien found his wife in his arms, a rather more poignant gesture than his little girl's farewell. He felt ghastly about Molly's not knowing where he was going today, that this wasn't an ordinary patrol or your average mission away from the station. Was she old enough to know the truth about where he was going? Should he pay her the respect of telling her? What did the men tell their daughters as they left for Normandy Beach? Protect them with soft deceptions, or give them the honor of knowing what their fathers were setting off to do? Tell them it was nothing, or that it was more important than anything ever before?
Should he spare the little girl, or should he think of the woman she would be someday, a woman who deserved to be proud, to remember a significant and poetic moment of farewell with her father, who might never return?
Why wasn't he wise enough to know what to do?
Keiko held him tightly, not in a kind of goodbye, but in a kind of sorrowful pledge. Every parting was the last, just in case, and every kiss a promise.
"Just you be careful," she murmured.
"I always am."
He always said that, or something like that. An extra squeeze -- the sure sign that he could no longer fool her or assure her away from the cold bitter truths of Starfleet service in these dangerous days. She knew too well how quickly, how permanently, things could change on, and around, and because of...Deep Space Nine.
"It's doing wonders for my head. Except it's my stomach that's bothering me."
"Well, if it helps, morning sickness usually ends after the first trimester."
"That's three months! I don't think I'm going to make it!"
"You'll make it."
That's an order.
Oh, better not add that part. Still, it so often did the trick -- once a commander, always a commander. Don't say it, don't say it....
Orders came much better from his low-pitched and decidedly unfeminine voice. How could he rumble out a comfort without sounding like a foghorn in the distance? He could no more make her feel better than create wind in space.
Always a commander, but it had been twenty-odd years since Benjamin Sisko had last become a father. Twenty very odd years, one might say. Tending a deep space station in upheaval, in a war zone, with cloaked enemies spinning around at arm's length was nothing to tending a woman in the first grip of motherhood. He'd completely forgotten the whole idea, having had absolutely no plan of getting himself into this all over again.
Still, he found himself working too hard to press down a grin. Couldn't let Kasidy think he was laughing at her discomfort. For her, this feeling represented no real live baby, not yet anyway, for she had never experienced the wonder of new life in her arms. For Kasidy Yates, this was little more than a recollection of spacesickness, so long ago conquered. For Ben Sisko, though, it was a tiny beacon of hope and joy in a very bleak void. He longed for the cry of his child, the wonderment in tiny searching eyes, and as any soldier understands, something more in his life to fight for instead of fight against.
She lay her head on his shoulder. "Promise me something, Ben," she moaned. "Promise you'll come back to us."
Yet they both knew the power of that promise wasn't in his control.
Suddenly her eyes shot wide, her face flushed, and she bolted to her feet, rushing for the head like a phaser shot. The door panel slid open, barely fast enough, then hissed shut behind her in time to spare Sisko the joyous sounds of impending motherhood.
"I don't believe it...." she said slowly.
"I said I promise," he insisted.
"It's not that -- "
He wanted to help her, to change things on her behalf -- but he'd learned long ago he couldn't take a hit for anyone in his crew, and there were certainly things he couldn't do for the woman he loved. Men since time immemorial had been unable to do much, no matter what technology they concocted for the advancement of life's qualities.
The main door chime spared his having to go over there and mutter comforting sounds into the bulkhead.
"Come in," he called.
The door opened and his first claim to empathy wraithed in, yawning and rubbing his eyes.
"Glad I caught you." Jake Sisko humbled to the replicator, apparently thinking about coffee, then changed his mind and didn't order anything. "I figured I'd walk you to the Defiant."
Sisko stood up. "I'd like that."
Through the bulkhead she answered for herself with a trumpeting moan.
"That answer your question?" Sisko said as the head panel opened again and the light of his life staggered back to the couch.
"Reports of my death," Kasidy complained, "have been greatly exaggerated. But not by much."
Jake frowned. "Isn't there something you can take to make you feel better?"
Sisko shook his head and waved a quick hand, not wanting that subject opened up again. He'd been bitten often enough on that suggestion. "She doesn't believe in taking medication unless it's absolutely necessary."
When Kasidy groaned again, Jake shook his head. "Sounds necessary to me...."
"If you're going to go." Kasidy snarled, "then go. Waiting for you to leave only makes me feel worse."
Sisko moved to gaze down at her, determined by proximity if nothing else to show her that he was trying to be supportive. "You're sure I can't get you anything?"
But she was gone again -- back to the head. Zoom. Hiss. Clack. Heave.
Despite his amusement, Sisko's pride as he turned to his son got the better of him, and he grinned. "I think she's sure."
"Times like this," Jake commented, "make me glad I'm a man."
"Me too," Sisko admitted as they went out the door side by side. "Damn it, now I feel guilty about it. Well, I suppose that Mother Nature in her wisdom put the better individuals in charge of...of..."
"The hard part?" Jake leered sidelong at him. "Are you saying men are wimps?"
"No, but I do feel bad lately."
"Well...about getting a good night's sleep, for one thing."
"Why should that make you feel bad?"
"First of all, because it's hard for Kasidy to get one. She keeps tossing and turning. And that excuse for a goodbye...she was doing everything she could to avoid a real goodbye. She thinks they're bad luck."
"She told you that?"
"Not in so many -- "
"And what else?" Jake interrupted. "What've you got to feel guilty about? You're in charge of a primary outpost in the middle of a center of action. Most military men would grovel to get a position like yours! All the news networks are constantly buzzing about activity at and around Deep Space Nine! The comings, and goings, the ships in and out, the changes of control over areas of space around here -- Dad, WTYX on Devona Four actually has a DS9 update twice a day!"
"Hm. There's not that much news coming out of here, I hope." Sisko drawled. "After all, we do have our strategic and tactical secrets to keep. There's a limit to the 'people's right to know.'"
"I don't think so," Jake countered. "Freedom of the press is -- "
"Not going to be the first topic of this day, of all days, thank you very much. I already tell you too much, if you get my meaning."
"And I've put my position as the commander's son before the people's right to know. I understand the importance of secrecy too, you know." Jake shrugged. "It's still no reason to feel guilty. Getting a good night's sleep, I mean."
"That's not really it." Sisko admitted. "The station's on constant alert status, permanent yellow alert, every Starfleet crewman required to be ready to report to battle stations in three minutes or less, and every one of us, including the illustrious commander, required to get rest on pain of siccing Dr. Bashir on you with a sedative. Did I give that order? What was I thinking?"
"You were thinking." Jake said instantly, "that everyone in uniform on this station is just like you -- wanting to stand three watches in a row because you can't get work off your mind and you know the Dominion or the Jem'Hadar or the Cardassians or somebody's going to come out of the darkness at us at any given time. And you also know that the longer the quiet, the louder the attack. You know they're not just sitting out there quietly contemplating the stars. They're building up for assault."
Sisko drilled him with a glare. "Who told you that?"
"Nobody. I just know how you think."
"Hm...that's what I get for being such an open and forthcoming fellow."
"Got myself into this." Sisko miserated. "Now even I can't come back to my office after my watch without breaking my own order and setting a bad example. And even today, of all days, I have to keep up a sense of order and not come out of that door one minute early. I've been up for two hours."
"When everything breaks loose." Jake said, "you'll be glad your crew is rested."
"I know, I know. But weeks of making every morning seem normal -- it takes its own kind of toll. I see it in their faces. He nodded as two young officers passed by, offering their commander a curt good-morning. "They're not fooled by the illusion of normalcy. It's like we're all lying to each other a little more every day, Jake. They know this can't go on, but no one knows when it'll break. The tension's growing. I know how to fight a battle...but there's nothing I can do to hurry an incoming tidal wave that I really hope never gets here. Here we are in the middle of a war, suffering from actually not having enough to do, hour by hour. It's like the Alamo, waiting to be attacked, unable to prepare any more, and knowing it's coming."
"The Alamo," Jake droned. "You've been listening to Miles and Julian, haven't you?"
Sisko gazed down the long curve of the Promenade, and noticed that the clutter of activity wasn't as noisy as usual. "The irony of their little project hasn't been lost on me, let's just admit."
"It's only their way of..."
"Coping, I know. That's what I mean. They can't do any more to get ready for what we have to face, and we have no idea when we'll have to face the next wave. A war of intrigue is a lot harder to fight than a war of battles. Unfortunately, we've settled into the intrigue stage. There are fewer casualties, but the price is still high. We're being eaten by millimeters instead of in gulps. Look at them, Jake...trying to live their lives as if nothing's wrong. As if sector-wide communications blackouts happen every day."
"They're brave," his son attempted as they passed the shops, rounding the bend toward Quark's bar.
"They're lying to themselves." Sisko reminded. "And to each other. There's nothing normal here, certainly not today. They can't even write home to their relatives about it. We're under a general alert -- no private communiques, no advances to the news service, and not even a DS9 update. Not today, and maybe never again!"
He stopped walking, and took his son's arm. "I don't want you to see me off. I want to say goodbye right here."
Jake seemed briefly insulted, then instantly knew better. "Why?"
Sisko paused. "Finally the Cardassians and the Jem'Hadar are going to have to face all of us -- together -- rather than just the Klingons in a single growly line. This is the kind of thing that makes history, Jake. I'd rather you remember me here, the way we lived together. Just in case history gets a little too personal."
Determined to keep this on a higher plane, Sisko reached for his son's hand and clasped it firmly, but not tightly. "Take care of my family and my station. I'll be back if I'm lucky, but dying doesn't mean you lost. Understand? Don't follow me."
"You're up early today."
As Quark plunked a drink in front of him, Worf pretended it was an ordinary morning. The only other customer in the pub besides himself was Morn, over there in his giant slug mode, sitting alone as always, his big shapeless paw around a mug of klapri drippings.
Here at the bar, Worf stewed over his drink, but said only, "I am always up early."
In his periphery he saw Quark lean closer, pretending he could keep a secret. "It's a good day to die." the Ferengi barkeep whispered.
Worf felt fury bum in his eyes. "Every day is a good day to die."
"But some days are better," Quark baited, "than others. Like today, for instance. The day the Federation-KlingonRomulan Alliance launches its invasion of Cardassia. The final push in the long struggle to rid the Alpha Quadrant of the Dominion...and save my bar in the process."
Though he fought to mask his anger, Worf knew his withholding was in itself a giveaway.
But how could the Ferengi know?
"Who told you that?" he demanded.
Quark nodded toward the mulchy figure of Mom. "He did."
"Mom? And how does he know?"
"He's friends with Admiral Ross. Or maybe Sisko told him while they were having dinner. I don't know how he knows! He just knows."
Worf slugged his drink. "I have to go."
Without another glance at the clever and annoying Quark, Worf wheeled full about and beat it for the door. The gulp of bloodwine had galvanized him for what was to come, on this very important day they were all trying so hard to make appear ordinary. Yet his stomach rebelled as he headed for the airlock.
He was grateful for solitude, but in this proximity -- a space station that seemed large upon approach and quickly showed itself for the small town it was -- soon caved to Odo's appearance.
The shapeshifter floated into being at Worf's side before the Klingon had even noticed someone was walking with him.
"Mind if I walk with you, Commander?" Odo asked, as if reading his thoughts.
"Not at all," Worf accepted. "Captain Sisko informed me you were joining us on our mission." He paused, then offered a morsel of empathy. "I hope that when we reach Cardassia we find Colonel Kira alive and well."
"So do I, Commander," the shapeshifter said with unmasked fear. "So do I. Everyone's taking the blackout with great courage," he added. "I find it disconcerting -- the waves are full of normal chatter, but it's all a lie."
"It is a tactical disguise. We have filled our communications channels with recordings. The enemy would notice a total blackout. Our assault would sacrifice its surprise, Constable."
"Yes, but it's surreal to monitor the channels and hear people talking whom I perfectly well know aren't even on the station, and others whom I know are boarding ships to join the Allied Fleet. As the security officer, I still have to listen. It's like...hearing ghosts."
Worf winced, then hoped the constable was not Watching at that instant. Ghosts haunted his every moment, the dead of his past constantly with him. His father, his shipmates, his fellow warriors, his wife -- ghosts all.
Today they would create many more.
The two men fell to silence. It was a relief Worf found himself instinctively leading the way, with Odo a step behind him, as they came through the airlock and boarded the muscular deep-space endurance battleship that had been the other half of their existence for so long.
The Defiant. Latest descendant of a line of proud fighting ships of the same name, leading back into the past of Starfleet, and even farther back to the planetary service from which Starfleet had grown. Not so graceful as a heavy cruiser nor so crude as a fighter, this new Defiant, like those before her, was something in the middle -- built exclusively for the hard punches of close combat, without labs or comforts. The essence of minimalism and survival, she had more weaponry ordnance than any other provision, even more than food and engine power. She knew her purpose. Today she would fly her finest.
Ben Sisko stood on the upper level, surveying his bridge thoughtfully, absorbing the newness of this ship, the updates and fresh technology that his tough old ship hadn't possessed. It was time to put some scratches in her hull. Finally, the allied powers would make a singular strike!
Months of preparation, secret coordinations, meetings, councils of war, spies, trickery, subterfuge -- finally! An assault fleet was moving laterally across Deep Space Nine, gathering strength as it flowed, plucking grains of sand which it would soon fling at the enemy. Even now, before they'd left the docking pylon, Defiant's forward screen bristled with a thousand ships passing by in loose coordination-Federation starships, Klingon cruisers, Romulan war wings, combat support tenders and picket ships, supply freighters and medical packets -- vessels from all over the plagued quadrant swarmed together before him. A grain of sand is nothing, but together they make a mighty stone. But beneath his pride in this moment, Sisko feared where the crack might appear.
Oh, well, that was the adventure, wasn't it?
Silently he counted the crew. Worf, O'Brien, Bashir, Ezri Dax, all at their posts. Nog at the helm, Odo standing beside the command chair. They were pretending to be powering up the ship, but it was already powered up. They were waiting for him really.
"All right, people." he began. All eyes turned to him. "What do you say we end this war?"
O'Brien couldn't quite muster a smile. "Sounds good to me."
"To me too. I have something very important for you to keep in mind for the time to come. We've been out here at Deep Space Nine for many years, usually on our own, depending only on each other and no one else. We've become a family, and I appreciate that very much. Today something different is happening. We aren't on our own anymore. We aren't the spearhead of the final frontier. Today we have to do something even more important -- we have to remember what it means to be part of a fleet, one of many. The goal isn't to be heroes today. The goal is to be one strong muscle in a much bigger body. We have to work together with a lot of strangers to take back our quadrant. That's not easy for people who've had to be pioneers as long as we have. We're used to defending out own fort, all by ourselves. Today, that land of spirit will not only get us killed but might ruin a good effort. I'm counting on all of you to have the humility and courage to let others be the heroes for a change. We all think we have that in us, but when the moment comes, it's hard to do. I know you're all grownup enough to understand what I'm saying. Today, I want to be proud of you for something that might not make headlines. I promise you, though...it'll matter."
For a moment his words had no effect. Then he started to notice a subtle change. Worf's posture eased a little. Odo gazed at him more kindly. Bashir was smiling. O'Brien closed his eyes briefly. Nog seemed less afraid. Ezri's eyes shined with embarrassing affection, as if he'd given them a charm they could put in their pockets. Yes, they understood.
He drew a sustaining breath and stepped down to the command deck. Odo offered a nod of encouragement. Sisko almost paused, but managed not to. He couldn't absorb -- never had -- the idea that by looking at Odo's homogeneous face he was actually looking at the very face of the Dominion, the eyes of his enemy.
Without breaking stride he slid into his chair and swiveled to face the forward screen.
"Docking clamps released," Nog reported, without waiting for an order.
"Ensign," Sisko began, "I believe you know the way to Cardassia."
The young Ferengi gingerly touched his helm. "If I get lost, I'll just follow the ship in front of me."
With a hum of confidence, the Defiant smoothly swain out toward the crowded spacelane. There she fell into formation with the largest combined invasion fleet ever amassed in the Alpha Quadrant.
And out there, far before them, the enemy would soon awaken.
Copyright © 1999 by Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.