3rd April 2631
By the time the door opened, Ba’el had stood and taken a step forward, his hand held out in greeting. He smiled slightly at the sight of Captain Robau ducking in order to clear the low hanging frame.
Straightening up, Robau smiled at Ba’el, then looked around the elaborate wardroom, taking in the long sixteen person table, surrounded by comfortable looking chairs, the holographic fireplace on the far wall, and a handful of holo-paintings showing landscapes from Romulus, Earth and Cardassia. His smile widened as he met Ba’el’s appraising gaze and took his hand.
“Captain Sarine, good to see you again. It has been a while.”
Ba’el grasped Robau’s hand in a firm shake. “Good to see you too, Captain Robau.”
“I don’t think we need to stand on ceremony. You can call me Ted.”
“Ted. You can call me Captain.”
Robau frowned for a moment, then relaxed as Sarine chuckled softly. “You had me going there for a moment, Captain.”
“Bay,” Ba’el replied, holding up his hands. “Please call me Bay.”
The other captain nodded, the fireplace casting darker shadows over his closely shaven head. He glanced around again. “I was under the impression this was a collegial meal for all of the captains.”
“It is,” Ba’el confirmed, indicating with one outstretched arm for the other captain to join him at the table. “But I wanted a chance to talk to you alone first, since – contrary to all the other captains – we’ve both encountered the Laurentii before.”
“That makes sense,” Robau acquiesced, pulling out a chair and sitting down. Ba'el turned away for a moment to hide a smile, reminded of his confrontation with Robau in the Benjamin Sisko’s ready room. Then he killed the smile, returning back to the case at hand.
"I have to admit, my own memories of those days are a bit misty," Ba'el went on, sitting down as well. "Everything after I caught that bug is hazy."
That was an understatement. Catching the unknown disease on the day he arrived had almost been a disaster. According to the Laurentii medics who had cared for him, it had been touch-and-go as to whether he would survive. Fever, chills, vomiting, hallucinations… Ba’el could not remember ever having been that ill before or since.
Robau was nodding. "I remember. You were still pretty out of it by the time you came back aboard the Sisko. None of us could believe that you had been able to get anything accomplished in that state. And yet somehow you'd gotten the job done."
That part Ba'el did remember. He had forced himself out of bed despite the fever, had made the Laurentii show him the weapon and then had sat with them, hour after hour, until they had made the thing work properly. It had taken all of his strength and willpower not to collapse, but he had managed it. Working together, they had found a way to weaponise the chemical compound that the Laurentii had developed, and had even been able to create a bio-mechanical torpedo casing that could safely deliver it to the Founder's planet.
"Do you remember anything else?" Ba'el asked after a moment. "I hate going into something so unprepared, so anything would help. Any detail, any transmission, any sensor scan?"
Robau thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. "No. We spent all six days running full scans on the whole station and the surrounding space, but --"
"You mean four,” Ba’el interrupted.
"You said six days. We were only on Onyx Station for four."
Robau shook his head. "No, six. You were on the station for six days."
Ba'el felt his heart rate increase, all of a sudden. He remembered suddenly an expression his mother used to use, something about a penny dropping. That was what this felt like. Like someone shining a light in a cupboard he had locked. He forced a smile. "No I can remember that much - we arrived on the 12th and I fell ill that night. I spent one day unconscious with fever, then two days working with the Laurentii. I beamed back to the Sisko
on the 16th."
Shaking his head, Robau smiled as if hoping to reassure him. "You were really out of it, Bay. You must have gotten confused."
Ba'el shook his own head vigorously. "No. I wasn't confused. I can remember that much. I can remember that Laurentii priest telling me that I had been out for a day. Hell, Prin confirmed it." He looked at Robau. "I could believe that I had lost a day, but Prin? She wasn't ill, she didn't catch the fever."
Robau had started to frown now. "You're sure about this? Perhaps we could--"
Before he could say anything else, the door chime chirped. Ba'el hesitated for a moment, then sighed. "I would like to look into this a little bit more, if you wouldn't mind? Do you still have the sensor logs from that time?" Robau nodded. "They're date marked?"
Ba'el nodded. "Alright, I need you to send them to me. And I'll talk with Prin, see if she can remember."
Robau assayed a reassuring smile. "I'm sure it's just a misunderstanding."
"Yes. A misunderstanding."
As they both started towards the door, though, Ba'el could not smother the nervous feeling that had begun to grow in the middle of his gut. If his memories were correct and Robau's were as well... What had happened to those missing two days?
The question haunted Ba'el throughout the meal, but he tried not to show it.
All four captains had accepted his invitation, along with ambassadors Benjamani and Qwert. They sat around the large table in the wardroom, alone apart from a number of ensigns and cadets serving as waiters and who stood at attention along the walls. After introductions had been made, the meal had begun.
As well as Robau representing the Benjamin Sisko
, Ba'el was playing host to Captain Olivia Rhodes of the USS Highland
, Captain Trog of the Tiberius
and Captain L'vok of the Gorkon
. All three had come alone, and had seemed impressed by the size and splendor of the Restoration-class ship. The meal had proceeded relatively well, each captain sharing stories from the war in which they had all fought, and enjoying a couple of glasses of Romulan ale.
The only exception had been Captain Rhodes of the Highland
. She had seemed tense all throughout dinner, barely taking part in the conversations and story-telling. Ba'el could see that the other captains had picked up on it, the Ferengi captain Trog especially casting nervous looks at the human woman every few moments.
What the hell is going on?
The other exception had been Ambassador Benjamani, but Ba'el had expected that. The older ambassador had been even colder with him than usual ever since he had verbally slapped her down during their rescue of the freighter just before Redemption
’s launch. Ba'el had hoped that the fact they were finally on their way to Laurentii space would have mollified her somewhat, but instead she seemed even more angry at him than before.
By the time they reached dessert, the atmosphere had become almost untenable. Ambassador Qwert had been the last person to attempt to begin some form of conversation, but no one except Captain Trog had been that interested in hearing about the latest rise and fall of Slugocola, one of the few Ferengi businesses to survive the Occupation and subsequent rebellion. An uneasy silence had fallen over the table, leaving Ba'el much too much time to think about Robau’s revelations.
Ba'el was about to suggest that they retire for the evening, when Benjamani spoke up.
"Captain Rhodes? I notice you haven't said very much tonight. No old war stories to share with us?"
As if drawn magnetically, every eye in the room settled on the female captain. She stiffened, her eyes flashing as she glared at the older woman. "No," she said through thin lips.
"Oh come on, captain. I have read the files of every member of this mission and I know for a fact that you fought with honor during the Rebellion. Where were you stationed again?"
Rhodes cast a dark glance at Ba'el, then turned back to Benjamani. "Bajor."
Oh, by the Ancestors...
Ba'el felt his stomach lurch in protest. He wanted to groan out loud. Why hadn't he realised? Why hadn't he looked into each of these captains first?
"Bajor," Benjamani went on. "How interesting. Where exactly?"
"My posting was to Deep Space Nine. Before it was destroyed."
"Of course." Benjamani looked over at Ba'el, a grim smile on her face. "A tragedy. Almost as tragic as the Scouring of Bajor." Opening her eyes wide, Benjamani looked back at Rhodes. "I hope... Oh dear, I hope you weren't there when it happened."
Rhodes shook her head curtly. "No. No I wasn't."
Ba'el realised he had been holding his breath. He was about to let it out, when the human woman went on. "My husband was. And my daughter."
He felt as though someone had swiped his legs out from under him. He tried to take a breath, but it felt as though there were weights pressing down on his chest. He could only stare at Rhodes - who refused to meet his gaze - her last words echoing in his head.
Husband. Daughter. Bajor. Blessed ancestors, why? Why her? Why now?
In all the years since the end of the war, he had never met someone who had been there, on the planet, when the destruction of the wormhole erupted in a storm of charged particles, destroying the Deep Space Nine station and irradiating one whole side of the planet Bajor. He had seen the pictures, after he recovered from the loss of Elera and Torvol. But never anyone who had been there. Never anyone who had lost someone.
Before he could do or say anything, his comm badge chirped.
"Dax to Captain Sarine."
He raised a hand anyway, then paused as he realised that he was shaking. Everyone was looking at him, everyone except Rhodes. Benjamani had a look of mock horror on her face, as though she couldn't believe what she had just done. Bitch
, Ba'el thought.
Raising his hand all the way, he pressed the comm badge, hard.
"Sarine here. I'm in the middle of something here, Lieutenant, so--"
"I'm sorry to disturb you," the Ops officer said, his voice coming out in a rush. "I am sorry but... I need to talk to you. Now."
The unspoken 'please' was obvious. Closing his eyes, Sarine nodded. "Very well, Lieutenant-Commander. Meet me in my ready room. Sarine out."
The comm line cut and Ba'el sat there for a moment, looking at the gathered officers, all of whom were still staring at him with a mixture of unease, pain and even anger. He shook his head.
"As you heard, I am needed on the bridge. I would like all of you to make yourselves and your command crews available for a teleconference over subspace tomorrow morning to coordinate our arrangements for departure. Thank you for a lovely evening."
With a lump in his throat and a sick feeling in his gut, he turned and walked out.