IV. Flowers Among the Weeds
Commander Jenny Roper, Trafalgar’s
chief engineer, looked up from a trunk line at her boss while holding a welding torch. “Captain, remind me never to bad mouth a station engineer again. These people are geniuses. We ought to be whole tomorrow.”
“Can we fight at 100% efficiency?”
“Yes. Phaser One is ready, we are 75% fixed at Phaser Two, assuming we need Phaser Two. We are running out of bodies to run it.”
“One monster at a time Jenny, I’ll be selling my soul at Bona’s office tomorrow.” A com call got her attention. Out of sight and sound of her engineer she took the call, only to come back a few moments later with a smile on her face.
“What did you hear Captain?”
“Maybe another miracle Commander. I‘ll find out shortly.”
One quick shower later Phoebe walked down the docking bay to the station main deck. Waiting patiently stood Captain Eric Lysander, ready to pay his debt. Her first glimpse of him unsettled her, his eyes inspected her with every step. Finally reaching her dinner companion she stuck out her hand in a professional greeting.
“Good evening Captain Lysander, a pleasure to see you alive.” She didn’t get the expected response as he grasped her hand.
“Your ship is a wreck Phoebe, what happened to you?” The worry on his face looked genuine, all the more reason to tread carefully.
“Not as lucky as you I guess.”
“Then let me change your luck. Dinner’s on me. Where to?”
“The Senior Officer’s Mess Captain.”
Lysander frowned. “Really?”
“Not unless you want our beer drinking crew members to think you’re romancing me in the middle of the Starbase. Your call.”
“Lead on Captain.” Eric carried himself as a professional as they walked to a lift, much to Phoebe’s relief they traded small talk.
The lift ride made Eric feel he’d moved to another part of the galaxy, the peaceful one he once knew. The lift doors opened to a fairly small dining room with a set of outside windows offering a view of the station and the stars around it. The mess happened to be empty except for the yeoman responsible for taking care of the diners who showed up.
Showing the ancient courtesy of seating the female first before sitting, Eric received a nod of approval from the yeoman. Quickly reaching the table with a carafe of coffee and water for both of them he announced the menu and left them alone. Now Lysander’s face turned. He had no idea what to say or do next. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence Phoebe started talking.
“You act like this is a first date captain. Do I scare you more than the Jem’Hadar?”
“I’m sorry Phoebe, I was trying to remember where we left off in San Francisco. I didn’t expect to see you out here, and it’s a pleasant surprise. You still haven’t told me about your ship.”
She admired his cover story for being tongue-tied. “Then I’ll make you a deal Captain. As long as we’re here I’ll talk about anything but my ship, the damn Dominion and the war. I’m interested in talking about anything else for a while.”
“You have a deal Captain McKizer. You are more beautiful than the stars outside tonight, let’s start there.” She decided she wanted to talk about her ship instead! After the rocky start the conversation continued for hours, as if they were still walking on the beach in San Francisco. Finally glancing at the chrono on the wall, Phoebe realized her time for talk had ended and she got out of her chair.
“Phoebe, sit for just a minute longer.”
“Make it quick Eric; I have to get back on board.”
Eric took a small box out of his jacket pocket and set it in front of her. “Happy birthday Phoebe, even though it was last week.”
Totally shocked at the box and the words she eyed him warily. “How did you find out?”
Eric grinned “It’s not hard using the starbase computer system. You should tell your family to keep it out of the public domain. If you look hard enough someone will find it. Open the box.”
“What’s in it Eric?”
“Open it and you’ll know. Does the box scare you more then the Jem’Hadar?”
Admitting defeat, she opened the small jewelry box in front of her and discovered the remarkable gift, a cross blessed by the priest at St. Dominic's. Eric smiled as her eyes got big and shock crossed her face as she saw the Rutanium-made necklace reflecting the lights of the mess.
“You told me at The Happy Vulcan
you lost yours. After you left I stopped by the church and the priest told me a jeweler down the street sold them. Goes to the church so he cuts people who serve a deal. I got one for you in case I ran into you again. It’s the least I can do for a friend.”
“Thank you Eric! I can’t believe this. You didn’t spend a fortune on it did you?” She took the necklace out of the box and studied it. “What’s it made out of?”
“Don’t know Phoebe, I bought it months ago. It will look good on you though.” He stood up and clasped the necklace around her neck as she opened her uniform jacket to tuck it in. He didn’t want to tell her the truth; it cost a ton of credits and he didn’t care. He didn’t have anyone else to buy anything for.
Once she straightened her uniform she stood with him and they headed for the lift. Once inside he ordered the lift down to the main deck of the station. Instead; “Computer, belay that. OC3 please 4593. You do have a moment Eric? I need to make a stop there.”
“Sure, what’s ‘OC3’?” The lift quickly moved them to the password-protected office.
“Step outside and find out. It’s easier to show than tell.”
OC3 wasn’t an office; it was an unused optical control room used to help Starfleet Engineering complete the construction of the starbase. As Eric took in the magnificent sight of the universe the clear dome above their heads gave them Phoebe put her arms around him. He enthusiastically responded.
“This is my place to get away from the war Eric. Hostetler’s
XO told me about it before she died. You’re turning into more than a friend Captain Lysander, and I’m not sure what to do about it.”
“How about this to start Phoebe?” Tipping her chin he took a deep drink from her lips under the stars.
“Captain, I know it’s a problem, but Trafalgar
is going out and Captain McKizer needs a weapons crew.”
“How many are needed sir?”
Commodore Bona looked back across the table at Phoebe McKizer, who blurted out “3 officers and 17 enlisted.” Basingna’s
captain tried mightily to hide his irritation. He’d run an Excelsior
-class weapons array from one phaser room before. Her tactical people had to be incompetent at their jobs to demand two fully crewed Phaser rooms.
But he wanted to be charitable about this. Trained people were very valuable commodities these days in Starfleet. Everybody was short-staffed, and he’d already donated engineers and tactical hands to Akkadeck
to make their crews whole.
Phoebe looked as uncomfortable as he sitting in Bona’s office, obviously it wasn’t her idea to raid his crew for replacements. At least the Commodore asked for the transfers from him instead of making a com call and ordering them.
Eric’s ego blew up: If Phoebe’s people were in over their heads anyway, what better place to get help than from people trained by the best?
“I’ll send them over when I get back to Basingna
Commodore. Are the transfers permanent?”
“No captain but don’t expect them back for a while. I’ll let you in on a secret; soon the phony war here will end. Command wants the Dominion ejected from here, and sending us reinforcements to get it done are coming. You got what you wanted Eric, we will find out if you’re right.” At that moment he wanted to brush his teeth with anti-matter.
Walking back to their ships together Phoebe didn’t say a word. He didn’t know what to say anyway. She knew in her bones any offensive against the Dominion would be bloody beyond belief, and the man walking next to her started it. At Trafalgar’s
docking port she turned to Eric with a grim face. “Thank you for the crew people Eric, you have some explaining to do.”
“Bring them back alive Phoebe, and I’ll be happy to explain myself personally. In the meantime how do we communicate?”
“OC3 please 4593. Good day captain.”
Fours hours later a disgruntled Captain McKizer took in a disgruntled Lieutenant Commander Keely and 19 others from a disgruntled Tactical Boss and XO on Basingna
and warped out of the station. Eric still had the words of Commander Leeds ringing in his ears:
“Captain, Keely is the first man off the bench for us. He’s got center seat experience, can run any tactical station, and you had him in the Aux. Why him? We have a dozen senior lieutenants good enough for them.”
“You just said it Phil. He’s exactly what Trafalgar
needs. We have enough quality people we can spare him for a while, with his experience in Excelsior
ships he will fix up their problems and get back here.”
“If he survives serving on that wreck Captain. You know most of these people won’t make it back to us we’re sending out, and now you’re moving some of the best people we have. Losing Keely compromises us. Please sir, don’t kill us to help somebody else live.”
V. Waves of Destruction
Like so many commanding officers in history, Commodore Akili Bona stood in front of a large body of officers and handed out death warrants. Briefing books and computer disks sat on long tables where ship captains could look them over along with the briefing. A large system plot appeared in back of him as he started.
“The goal is simple, free Beelinger an end the production and shipment of Ketracel White. To reach the goal we will destroy their ships and bases in-system, one at a time if necessary. First we destroy the base on planet 10 of the system…”
Fleet Captain Velencie led the attack. His two wings of enhanced Defiants
heading out to the front joined ten New Orleans-class
cruisers newly assigned to the Starbase along with Basingna, Akkadeck, Cheron
and several other cruisers. In a surprise they attacked into the system from a vector opposite the Starbase. Totally unknown to Starfleet the Vorta commanding the system defenses ordered a direct attack on the Starbase with 45 attack ships to try and destroy it. The Starfleet attack went in first and bogged down almost immediately in the defense systems of the large base. In short order six Dominion battle cruisers and 25 more attack/suicide craft responded to the incursion.
The moment the Jem’Hadar left the system Starbase 339 saw them coming, giving a light hour of warning to the defenders. Everything that could fight met them 5 minutes from the base. 31 starships, led by the commodore himself sitting in Trafalgar
tore into the attack ships and turned the attack into a slaughter. Only four Starfleet vessels died.
The attack in-system morphed into a brutal slugfest. Fleet Captain Valencie’s Defiant-class Agular
was second to blow up, but the remaining ships followed his orders; split into three ship elements and pounced on the Jem’Hadar capital ships. The long running fight spread over a significant part of the system, with the New Orleans
cruisers attacking the small ships aggressively only losing two of their own for almost the whole force of attack craft. All six opposing battle cruisers died, taking six more Defiants
with them to eternity. The result: 20% losses for the cruisers and almost half the twenty the engaged Defiants
died just to reach the first objective.
The base died quickly after Basingna
lead the penetration of the station defenses, whetting the appetite of her commander for more than this at the cost of so many lives. Eric argued for a deeper penetration into the system with so little left to oppose them. As he argued, Regal
, the picket ship for the attackers reported two more battle cruisers and two battleships heading their way. “All the better” Eric pushed, “let’s kill them too!” His plea fell on deaf ears, the surviving senior Defiant
captain ordered withdraw to the Starbase. His command had orders for DS9 and the front, not to die at Beelinger.
Eric Lysander couldn’t believe it. Almost 1000 Starfleet crew died for nothing with victory staring them in the face. Killing those ships could gain Starfleet access to the Beelinger III. Even if military necessity demanded the destruction of the planet it would have ended the miserable existence of the Beelie and save thousands of Starfleet lives.
Commodore Bona couldn’t believe the withdraw order either. With the decision of the Defiants
to die around Cardassia instead of fighting at Beelinger, the best chance for victory died. The post-battle meeting in the Commodore’s office started with a bang.
“In my command judgment we had no choice Commodore, many of my ships were damaged and we’d waste more people for no purpose. I—“
“You’re a coward Blaine, that’s why you withdrew.” Eric’s fist banging the table in front of him emphasized the point. Blaine went off like a torpedo exploding.
“You’re an ass Captain Lysander. We’ve been through this already.”
“I’d rather be that then the Ferengi you are Blaine. How many more people will die because of your failure of nerve?” That started the fistfight. Eric considered the black eye Blaine left the starbase with vindication of his position.
“OC3 please 4593”. Eric waited until 0220 Starbase time to make sure he could find an empty lift. Entering the abandoned station he found gold in the form of a message disk. Picking it off the transparent walls of the station he took one breath and started laughing.
“It’s been a long time since someone scented a letter to me Phoebe.” In the midst of a brutal war a senior officer received from another senior officer perfume scented correspondence. Most women stopped doing in the late teens or early 20’s. He loved it. He loved the message the disk had on it more than the smell; she was still alive and hoping to see him soon. He left a disk in the control room for her.
A wing of Galaxy
-class ships made the next appearance at the Starbase. Five fully militarized hulls paid a visit, assigned one task by Admiral Ross personally: To join with Basingna
to rid the system any heavy Dominion ships. In support Bona sent a large force of ships to make a rush for Beelinger III.
Combat was joined in the asteroid belt between planets seven and eight of the system. One Galaxy limped out of the field moments after combat began missing a nacelle; the ship ran into a mine and caught the attention of battlecruiser at the same time. For minutes after the first casualty neither side scored a hit as five large Starfleet vessels plus escorts hunted three battle wagons and two battlecruisers among the rocks.
It was a good plan by the defenders, having mapped the field they knew the places they couldn’t go and tried to lead the Starfleeters into them. In a short time all the Federation ships were damaged, but the quicker Galaxy
ships were fast learners with better sensors. Yamato
ran a battlecruiser right into Basingna’s
waiting weapons array, which quickly dispatched the Dominion ship. The hunt continued on both sides for the next victim.
The next victim became Basingna.
Two Dominion Battleships pulled the same trick on her Eric did moments before. Orbiting a large asteroid to pounce on a battlewagon on an opposite course Basingna
got bounced from behind by another battle wagon. The Dominion ships trashed the port side shields, opened 100 meters of the ship to space and destroyed half the phaser cannons on the ship. Akkadeck
responded to the distress call and with the Galaxy
chased one ship away and killed the other under a hail of fire.
Patching up damage Eric insisted on rejoining the battle. Orders from the fleet captain on Yamoto
running the operation forced his slow and painful withdrawal from the asteroid belt. He didn’t know it, but the battle turned as he tried to save his massively damaged ship. Surprisingly, once the battle wagon attacking Basingna
blew up the remaining heavy Dominion ships tried to withdraw to save themselves for defense of the inner planets. As they left the belt, the strike force joined the three remaining Galaxy
ships in pursuit and killed the Dominion ships before support could reach them.
The defeat ended the life of the Vorta controlling Beelinger. His replacement saw the horrendous losses the aggressive overseer of the Beelinger system cost the Jem’Hadar. He had a different plan, implemented the moment his predecessor bled out on the floor of the battle station overlooking Beelinger III. The new Vorta chose only to defend the White supply. He controlled many attack ships, the inner planet defenses rivaled Chin'toka in depth, and he believed Starfleet couldn’t force the defenses. As long as the White supply existed his only job was to protect it and produce more of it. The Founder had to order other assets to collect it.
retreated Eric got the full picture of the damage his ship suffered. One nacelle trailed sparks behind it as it hung from its pylon. The open hull and weapons damage led to a small explosion in the buried Auxiliary Bridge killing two officers and trashing the station. Exiting the worthless command center Commander Leeds started directing damage control efforts until a plasma conduit blew above his head, killing him and a repair crew.
Most ships couldn’t handle the damage Basingna
took. Luckily because of her construction and the presence of many engineers to work damage control the ship drug itself out of the system gravity well and into the waiting arms of several combatants set aside for towing and SAR. Once safe from battle Eric rushed down to see the damage for himself; there Dr. Moss-Morman gave him the human toll, 207 dead or missing crew. The number made him ill.
tow back to the starbase took over a day. The broken starship could fall apart at any time, working the short-staffed crew to exhaustion keeping the ship and themselves alive. Eric earned a lot of respect that day by being everywhere when his crew needed him. One moment he worked with the repair crews, next he covered issues in engineering, moments later he visited the wounded. A warning from Moss-Morman sent him on a sprint to a weapons station to stand with a crew member as a SAR unit removed his new wife’s corpse from the station. The young crewman’s grief left an indelible impression on his captain.
Finally reaching the starbase Eric ordered off the wounded and non-essential personnel as fast as he could move them. The starbase staff took care of his crew as fast as they came off with food, drink, medical attention and comfort for them as repair specialists swarmed on for repairs. The whole operation worked like a smoothly oiled machine, which it was. Starbase 339 saw so many broken ships and people come their way the station had a well-used protocol for emergency returns.
Eric met the Starbase Chief Engineer at the main hatch to start the inspection. He’d been in this situation before and had every intention of walking step for step with the boss of the repair crews to fight for his ship’s survival. Having been down that same road too many times Captain Qxiille had no intention of hand-to-hand combat with a ship captain today with the damaged Galaxy
“Captain Lysander, I’ll be damned if I have to put up with you telling me how to do my job. Now get the hell out of here.”
“No way Quxi, I have every right to be here. It’s my ship.”
“You’re right Lysander, and if you ever want to fly it again you’ll join your crew dirtside, or my inspection will be a post-mortem
Biting his tongue before he lit up the Silian, Eric walked off his ship into the presence of Trafalgar’s
captain. He could feel Phoebe’s emotions from 5 meters away. She couldn’t hide her feelings from him, though she tried.
“Captain Lysander, Commander Keely sends his regards, told me to tell you if you still had him on board it wouldn’t have happened to you.”
“Well then I want my Talisman back Captain McKizer.” Grabbing his arm she led him to a lift. “Where are we going?”
“I told my new first officer I’d only be gone a minute. He’s mine now and working out well. My first officer blew a gasket, she’s in hospital. My chief engineer didn’t want the position and Stewart is perfect for the job. You trained him well.”
Two stops later the crowd cleared out of the lift, and Phoebe said the magic words “OC3 please 4593.” Surprisingly the tears started flowing from both of them as she wrapped herself around him. He held her tightly before and after they walked onto their private retreat.
Eric flew thought the details of the fight. “I’m in trouble Phoebe, my ship is in pieces and I lost a third of my crew.”
She looked him right in the eye and told him the truth. “You’re not in trouble Eric, you have me, and I wouldn’t know what to do if you weren’t here.” They were the best words he ever heard.
Dread filled Eric walking into Commodore Bona’s office a few days later. Phoebe took Trafalgar
out an hour after she left him on the next mission to pound the Dominion defenses in the system. Repairs to his ship were proceeding slowly. Everyone worked on a repair crew, including himself, to get Basingna
back in the fight. Unwrapping himself from a damaged Jeffers tube he was repairing, he didn’t take the time to clean up before hurrying to Bona’s office.
“Sit down Captain. Wine?” Eric passed as he took a very comfortable seat across from Bona.
“Eric, you’ve done a hell of a job since coming here, but everything’s changed. I have an emergency call from Admiral Ross. It explains a lot that’s going on here. The Founders made the biggest mistake in the history of warfare. Once the Breen Beam stopped working they retreated to Cardassian space to protect their industrial base. Command believes they want to rebuild and rearm to crush us. Instead they handed us the chance to crush them once and for all on a silver platter.
“Everything Ross can get his hands on is going in. Tsushima
has to go now; we are taking your good nacelle and putting it on her. I authorized the work before meeting with you.”
Alert sirens went off in his head “When will our replacement parts show up?”
“When they show up.” Instinctively Eric knew what came next. “Those ships are leaving with full crews Captain.”
“Who is going? Can I take a ship out there?”
“No. You have a ship here to repair. Everything from Trafalgar
on up leaves in 24 hours or less, except Biakl’s cruisers.”
“You want my crew sir?”
“The list is on your terminal right now Captain Look at it this way, you’ve been through hell. You were on the front lines while everything disintegrated. You survived the liberation of DS9, and God knows what else. You fought with great distinction here, take a breath. We’ll need you again.”
“Doesn’t feel that way sir.”
“I know Captain but we all have our duty. This is yours, get moving.”
Gathering his remaining senior staff he ran through the list with them, placing them on ships they wanted to go to before assigning the rest. He hoped nobody noticed the best people he had usually ended up on Trafalgar.
Phoebe whispered the passcode for the last time on the lift. Disk in hand at 0130 station time she planned to quickly leave her last message to Eric. She couldn’t do it any other way. It hurt too badly.
She knew in her soul she wasn’t coming back. Over the years she heard shipmates talk about the ‘death vision’, now she experienced it for herself preparing to leave. What could she do? Duty called. She’d had a good life in Starfleet. The days and discs with Eric brought her more joy than she experienced in years. She hoped leaving her final goodbye on disc could lessen his pain on her death.
The lift door opened and she took one step in before she heard the familiar and comforting voice whisper “Surprise!”
“What are you doing here Eric?” she demanded in her captain’s voice.
“You know as well as I do Phoebe, you’re not sneaking out on me tonight, I thought you knew better than to try. I know where your going, what you’re doing, and I can’t stand being left behind without a goodbye.”
“You’re a jerk Captain Lysander, and I love you anyway.” She didn’t resist as his arms embraced her. He didn’t waste time.
“Phoebe, you’re a gift from God to me I don’t deserve, and it hit me right between the eyes the last few days. I can’t live without you. It’s stupid to say, but promise you’ll come back. Swear it.”
“You know I can’t say that Eric, we’re walking into a deathtrap.”
He ignored her. “Phoebe, when you come back I want to make this permanent.” Alert sirens went off, she couldn’t believe it.
“You know I can’t do that either. I’m going to die Eric, don’t do this to me!” Shoving herself away she called the lift.
That wasn’t acceptable. Jumping in front of her Eric pulled her away from the lift door and made eye contact. Now he used the voice and persona of a command-level officer.
“Don’t you dare leave now Captain McKizer! I’ve walked in your shoes, and you’re dead already if you believe it before you start. Why surrender now? What about that cross made of Rutanium you wear? When did you stop believing?”
He grabbed her lightly by the shoulders to make his point. “I believe in God and in you Phoebe. He’s not taking the gift of you away from me unless you choose to. You’re too important to let you go like this. Now, promise me.”
“You really believe that Eric? You really want me that much?”
“YES! Do I need to spell it out for you?”
“No.” Now he let walk onto the lift. “I believe you Eric. Goodbye.”
Once the doors closed he knew the score. She didn’t believe anything he said. He took his best shot and failed miserably. Taking a lift to an observation deck he watched Trafalgar
join the death march to Cardassia.
Eric reckoned the transit would take two weeks, giving him two weeks to stew over Trafalgar
. Instead he found himself boiling over the next morning. The Commodore intended a mercifully short meeting. “Captain, Qxiille and I made a decision. Merrimack
lost her warp core yesterday and there’s only one place I can get one. We have several other ships needing parts and upgrades. We have one source, your ship. Basingna
is being decommissioned. Your remaining crew transfers to the starbase on a temporary basis until they’re needed somewhere else. I’m sorry captain.”
Eric stood “I request you reconsider…”
“Why not sir? Your engineering department could have us up in days!”
“Because I need every damn ship I have to work now Captain! I just sent everything that has half a chance in hell to survive Cardassia over there and sent what’s left of your crew on the same damn suicide mission. I can put your weapons on other ships here and use them to keep my people alive. I can use your hull metal to patch up a damaged ship and get them back into the fight in hours if needed. Or I can put everything I have into your ship, and have you fly it with half a crew. Now ask me again so I can kick your ass out of my office in style.”
Two bitter hours later Basingna
So what do I do now?
The question haunted Eric for days. His ship rapidly disappeared into other vessels, his crew spread all over space, and Phoebe traveled to her execution while he sat around doing nothing. Being a spare part allowed old habits to return. He stayed out of everyone’s way; walking around the station, working out in the gym and reading reports.
Eating in the mess one evening he overheard a couple of Commodore Bona’s staff officers discussing mutual worries. They noticed the same thing he’d seen in recent reports; morale had sunk badly, with all the problems that came with it. He leaned over and entered their gripe session.
“Well stop complaining and do something about it.”
A lieutenant commander committed a grave error. “What do you suggest sir?”
“It’s almost Christmas Commander, time for a party.”
The Arbazan also involved in the conversation tilted her head at him. “I’ve never heard of this Christmas.”
“Unless you’re a Rommulan puke every culture has something like it. It’s a religious and family celebration in human culture. Joyful, fun, and your staff will enjoy working it. It’s good therapy.” Having started Eric didn’t stop there, and the Arbazan took notes.
As Eric left she told him “We don’t have such a thing. It sounds like a good idea.”
Under the pressure of constant combat, grinding repair schedules and the oppressive fact of life/death in a combat zone, the Starbase staff forgot that humans and most other beings needed an escape. The passivity of the Dominion in-system gave the blockaders the chance to take a breath; their fate would be decided in other places. Working quickly the Starbase staff took a look at Eric’s ideas and got busy.
After his lecture to Bona’s staff members, he retreated even further from others. But circumstances always change in Starfleet service, for him change came the night his food processor in quarters quit working. Deciding another Intel report could wait until his stomach stopped growling, he climbed a ladder up to the mess, hoping for a quiet late evening meal. The mess sounded empty until a voice boomed out:
“Eric Lysander, The Quiet Man himself. You ought to watch the ancient movie and audition for the lead. Sit down.”
“Thank you commodore. Eat here often?”
“Not really, only when I want to talk to hermits. Sorry your food processor died.”
The smirk on Bona’s face got a rise from his guest. “All you had to do is call me sir. I don’t commute daily from the system to work.”
“True, but I’d rather lift a glass in private with a man who cares as much as I do about our lost sheep at Cardassia. Trafalgar
sent me a message an hour ago, ‘We’re going in’.
May God bless ‘em.” Eric joined the toast with enthusiasm.
“You and McKizer make a great couple.”
“It’s as obvious as the transfers you made. It took a while for the rumor mill to start on it, that’s an accomplishment on this station. Our yeoman actually respects other’s privacy, making it hard for stories to start.”
“Thank you for the compliment sir” the yeoman said as he put dinner on the table. “I hope they all make it out alive.”
“So do we Matthew. That decision’s above my pay grade.” After taking a bite Bona got down to business. “Eric, I won’t have you around here for long, once everything ends at Cardassia one way or the other you’ll be in a command seat. Until then I have an assignment for you.”
“Good. It’s at best a 50/50 chance any native survived on Beelander III. If they did they are slaves producing White, and if we win the Jem’Hadar will kill them all. If they survive, I need a first contact officer. You’re my best man.”
“’Best man’ sir? I doubt that. There are dozens of captains here with more experience.”
“Don’t forget Eric, I have your personnel file. You know the hell awaiting them because you went through it. Captain, you are my best man for the job. I’ll release you when Personnel comes a calling, but until then I need you.”
“You have a deal sir, on one condition.”
“When Phoebe comes back here you conduct our wedding.”
Eric offered his hand and Bona took it with a smile. “Deal. You gotta believe captain.”
Belief only gets you so far. Trafalgar’s
last message was the final message coming from Cardassia. Starfleet enforced a news blackout on the battle; even on DS9 nobody knew anything. The appointed leader of Beelinger III’s burial detail spent the time reviewing the Federation database on the planet and tried not to think about anything else. Silence filled subspace for days.
Several days of anxious waiting later Eric attended a senior staff meeting in Bona’s office, on the way he noticed the change. Colored lights showed up along deckways and docking bays. Out of nowhere crew people suited in red and green were passing out information on a series of recreation events planned for the next few weeks. His workouts were hard to finish, the gyms were filling up with people.
Another week passed filled with lots of nothing for him but colored lights. The staff accepted his plans for a First Contact with the Beelie, leaving him simply to wait. The tactical reports of significance were read and digested. Sitting in his quarters one evening the very rare ‘All Hands Call’ echoed through the station. His desk terminal opened up automatically with Commodore Bona talking from behind his desk. Eric ignored it for only a moment.
“Attention all hands in this command. We received the following message 15 minutes ago.” The push of a button on Bona’s desk replaced him with the tired face of Admiral Ross.
“Fellow beings in Starfleet, at great sacrifice of ships and personnel from us and our allies, the Jem’Hadar, Breen and Cardassian forces were utterly destroyed in battle around Cardassia. The Founder in charge of the Dominion military in the Alpha Quadrant surrendered her remaining forces to us unconditionally. She is in Federation custody to stand trial for war crimes.
“Victory was achieved by those of Starfleet who sacrificed their lives so the Alpha Quadrant can live free. We have much to do to win the peace now that we’ve won the war. Ross out.”
Commodore Bona returned to the screen. “The Vorta in charge of the Beelinger System is required to contact us and arrange their withdrawal from our space shortly. Until I receive that communication and the system is clear we are in Condition Red. I will contact you again when the peace comes.”
The Vorta’s call a few minutes later touched off a wild celebration and put Eric back in the center of action, this time to try and salvage the planet of Beelinger III and its living survivors. The first contact, like every first contact, had unique circumstances attached.
It took a week to even get to the planet after wending through the debris and mines left from the defense installations destroyed by the Jem’Hadar. The Beelies welcomed him to the planet with a dozen weapons pointed at him. Two days later the bridges of trust were built personally between Eric and the Prefect of Beelinger when Eric led an honor guard down to the planet to return the body of the Prefect’s son to his father. Instead of hiding with the rest of his family the Prefect’s oldest son, a military officer, volunteered for the suicide mission to nowhere to bring attention to his people. His sacrifice brought Starfleet to Beelinger, and he came home escorted by the man who gave them hope months before.
On returning to the Starbase he immediately headed to the commodore’s office to report on the breakthrough with the Prefect. It had been the best day in weeks for Eric until he saw the grave face of Commodore Bona. The words weren’t needed.
“She’s gone Eric. Trafalgar
’s missing and presumed destroyed. The other surviving ships in her battle group saw her take on a Dominion Battleship to try and save a few severely damaged vessels trying to escape the bastard.” Bona offered him the chance to quit the first contact. Eric refused with a quivering jaw, finished his report, and upon dismissal slowly walked to his quarters and locked the door for two days.
A week later the Prefect visited Starbase 339 to see for himself the ships and people who liberated his planet. Eric led him and his small party of advisors on the tour, starting with the engineering spaces and the docks.
“What is that Captain?” The Prefect’s first question opened an old wound.
“That is the remnant of my ship Prefect. Her name was Basingna,
meaning‘Freedom’ in Andorian.”
“What is Andorian?”
Eric flicked his communicator and made a call. An engineer showed up a moment later. “Prefect, this is Ensign Trell, from the planet Andor, a charter member of the Federation.” The Prefect couldn’t believe his eyes. After a short conversation Eric released the ensign and once out of hearing range the Prefect asked a perfectly normal question:
“Captain, what were those blue tubes on top of his skull?”
“His ears Prefect.” The twitters and noises from the Beelies overwhelmed his translator and Eric just smiled as he waited for them to quiet down.
“I considered you a strange and exotic species Captain Lysander. My people have a lot to learn about the galaxy.”
“We will help you learn prefect, just like we will try and help you save your planet. Commodore Bona wishes to meet you for midday
if you are ready.”
By the time lunch and the tour completed a half-day meeting turned into an all-day event. The Beelie were a very independent race, the idea of a ‘Federation’ conjured up for them an image of slavery or dependence as opposed to a free association of like-minded peoples. Eric’s frank speaking and relationship with the Prefect greatly moved along the process. It ended up being a good day.
As Eric escorted the Prefect back toMerrimack
for the trip home, the Prefect organized a private chat. “I am impressed Captain, your people sacrifice much for us, and not only for your own aims. My people will join your Federation one day, to stand and fight with you so evil as befell us will not befall others.”
“I am gratified to hear it Prefect. I look forward to serving with your people soon. They have a great leader, and I say that whether you join us or not.”
“Yet you act lost in grief today Captain. So many of your fighters emote differences than you.”
Eric tried to deflect the statement or question; he wasn’t sure what it was. “You carry much grief Prefect, it is one reason I respect you so much. You carry your planet on your shoulders and your grief over your son with great strength. If I can help lift your burden I am honored.”
The Prefect made eye contact with him. “No Captain, you misunderstand. You have already done this ‘lifting’ by your message months ago. The message you sent us kept us from a suicidal revolt against our enslavers. We thought we were alone. You told us we were not. You will always be welcomed in our world Captain, even to try and lift your load.”
Eric’s com unit chose that moment to go off. “Excuse me Prefect.” Once he nodded Eric answered the call.
“Commodore Bona. Where are you and what are you doing?”
“I’m escorting the Prefect to Merrimack
sir. We are at Bay 18, Merrimack
is at Bay 37.”
“You’re needed at Bay A immediately. Get the prefect on his way then get over here. Better yet, I’ll authorize an intra-station beaming. Use Transporter Room 5, that’s closest to your location.”
“Aye sir. Lysander out.”
Turning back to the Prefect Eric smiled and acknowledged the words. “We have no idea what tomorrow brings Prefect, but I will return to your world one day after I leave here.”
“Then remember this Captain: We cannot grieve forever, to honor what we have lost we must make the future a good monument to their sacrifice, so all can see its meaning.”
The reminder of the conversation concerned the next visit of Beelie to the station; a military and scientific delegation to consider how to deal with the cleanup of local space around the planet. The nuts-and-bolts discussion promised to bore him to death.
captain met the party at his main hatch. After the traditional bow of parting Captain Ryder tried to be nice: “We’ll take good care of him Captain. Merry Christmas!”
Eric nodded and spoke quietly to himself. “Yeah, Merry freaking Christmas.”