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Old February 16 2006, 10:48 PM   #3
The Haunting
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Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

December 2005

Death Watch By Starkers

I wish it didn’t have to be like this, he thought.

But it did, and he knew it did. On the view screen in front of him was the planet. It was nothing special, just another blue/green sphere like so many other M-Class planets, and it orbited a fairly uninteresting star. Nothing of importance, nothing of note, except for what was about to happen, then the planet would go down in the history books…

As a footnote, a statistical entry, nothing more.

The raktajino by his side had gone cold without him touching a drop, his mouth was dry but he couldn’t take his eyes off the planet.

It wasn’t the first time for him- the third in fact- but nonetheless there was something…he struggled for the right word, historic seemed crass but it would have to do, something historic about this, his first time as a Captain. No one else to blame this time, no shying away from his own culpability by thinking that the Captain should have done something, anything.

Sisko sighed. The Defiant had been in orbit around Belthess 2 for three hours, they wouldn’t be here much longer. The bridge was as quiet as a tomb, each of his crew was alone with their own thoughts now, each of them dealing with this in a different way.

Kira was in her cabin, praying. When she’d said she hoped the Emissary didn’t mind his stomach had clenched. Of course he hadn’t minded, the only thing he minded was that dammed word.

Bashir had argued of course, demanded that Sisko do something even though the young Doctor knew as well as anyone that nothing could be done. Sisko hoped the fire in Julian’s eyes, the passion in his heart, would never fade.

But it would, you only had to look at O’Brien to see that. The two men were more alike than either would ever admit, both dedicated to fixing what was broken, both tinkerers. But, while Bashir raged against the inevitable, O’Brien faced it pragmatically, grim resignation in his veteran eyes.

And then there was Worf, Worf who’d managed to surprise his Captain. He hadn’t been with them long, not long enough to know well, but still Sisko hadn’t expected him to be so emotional. Of course with the big Klingon it was hard to tell, but Sisko had seen a hint of turmoil in the warrior’s eyes. This bothered him, and Sisko wondered why? Perhaps because it wasn’t very honourable…maybe when this was over he’d ask. Then again maybe he wouldn’t, this wasn’t the kind of mission anyone in Starfleet tended to talk about.

‘Sixty seconds to impact,’ said Dax.

He winced at the dispassionate tone of her voice. She’d approached this from the outset with clinical detachment that would have put a Vulcan to shame. Sometimes it disturbed him how cold she could be. He guessed multiple lifetimes could do that to you. In spite of that he knew she would be the only one he’d talk to about this, after.

‘Forty seconds,’

He gripped the arms of his chair. I ought to be able to do something. I’m the Captain of one of the most powerful ships in the Federation; I’ve got some of the best minds in Starfleet right here on my bridge. I ought to be able to do something!

But he couldn’t. They’d talked about it, run endless simulations through the computers, but all came up the same. It had been moot anyway, because his orders wouldn’t have allowed him to do anything even if one of their harebrained schemes had been viable. Except maybe he could have bent the rules, maybe he could have told Starfleet to shove their orders.

‘Twenty seconds,’

Be honest, Ben, you could do something if you wanted to. So you can’t stop what’s going to happen, no one short of a Q could, but you could still save some of them. He’d done the math; in the time they’d been here they could have beamed at least fifty of them up to Defiant. Not enough for a viable colony though, he told himself; clutching at straws.

No, don’t hide behind ifs and maybes, Ben, as much as the non-interference directive tears your heart in two you believe in it. And that’s why you’re going to sit here and do nothing.

‘Ten seconds.’

Damn it woman, show some emotion.

They’d all seen the Belthessians- their race didn’t even have their own name yet, just the afterthought of the Cardassian who’d discovered this world- their scans giving a superb overhead shot of one of their villages. In human terms they were little beyond cavemen. Though already they’d mastered fire, already they had tools and wore furs. Who knew where they’d be in a few million…

‘Impact.’

On the screen nothing happened. Everything happened.

Berthold rays were invisible, ghost particles that were nonetheless real enough to be deadly to all forms of carbon based life. The cloud that had just shrouded the planet, the cloud they’d only detected two days ago, contained a concentration of berthold rays more powerful than any yet discovered. He consoled himself that at least it would be swift.

‘It’s over,’ said Dax. ‘They’re all gone,’

Now she let a little pain creep into her voice. Though no amount of pain could do justice to what they had just borne witness too. Over one hundred and seventy thousand sentient beings, a civilisation in the making, snuffed out as easily as a candle.

And all we did was watch.

Heavy footsteps sounded behind him, someone had to get off the bridge quickly, anger resonating though the bulkheads with every step, a death knell for a race.

He knew it was Bashir.

Worf muttered an obscenity under his breath that the universal translator had the good manners not to translate. Sisko looked over at O’Brien. He looked older, sadder than he had ever seen him. But then he forced a tiny smile. ‘We couldn’t do anything,’ he said ‘But at least we were with them, someone was with them, at the end.’

Sisko turned back to the now dead planet, wondering if that mattered at all, wondering at the random nature of the universe, wondering if some alien ship had sat above Earth as a meteor crashed down and consigned the dinosaurs to extinction.

“If someone had stopped that we wouldn’t be here now.”

He knew the line off by heart, the very first thing the lecturers taught you about the Prime Directive. The words hadn’t sounded so hollow in a lecture hall though.

He felt he should say something, a eulogy, an apology, anything to give this meaning.

Instead he closed his eyes. He wanted to go home, he wanted to see Jake, to wrap his arms around his son and never let go. ‘Chief, drop a warning buoy, Dax, set a course back to DS9, maximum warp.’

‘Course laid in, Benjamin,’

He opened his eyes and looked again at the graveyard before him. ‘Engage.’

I wish it didn’t have to be like this.
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