Hopefully all of your questions will be answered satisfactorily by the end of this story.
The lounge wasn’t it usual raucous place. The scant patrons were scattered about, alone or in small groups, eating and drinking quickly and talking little. Many were either going on shift or getting off and all seemed strained.
A somber mood had settled over the entire ship and even penetrated the After Burner. Terrence felt for his crewmen but there was little he could do to lift their moods. He couldn’t dissipate the billowing cloud of doom until they had met the Borg and somehow defeated them.
Starfleet’s track record hadn’t been so good in that regard. Glancing around at his glum compatriots he could only imagine that some feared that if the Enterprise had fallen to these Borg, and the Big D was the flagship, what chance did they possibly have?
He was certainly that’s the question, the doubt, he read in some of their eyes, though all were wise not to express it to him. Glover didn’t do doubt, including his own.
Sisko sat alone at the bar, his hands cradling an untouched drink. The man was staring morosely at the shelves of bottles behind the bar.
Glover took the stool next to him. “How are you holding up Ben?”
It took Sisko a moment to respond. Shaking his head, as if waking from a dream, or likely nightmare, Sisko said, “There have been no reports of Borg activity at Deep Space Nine or in the Bajoran system.”
“That’s good to hear,” Terrence nodded. “How is Jake?”
Sisko’s tension eased slightly, “He is doing well, concerned about me and anxious about these Borg sightings, but who isn’t?”
“I agree,” Glover said before waving the barkeep over to place an order.
“I informed Major Kira about Ensign Gallagher,” the mournful shroud fell back over Sisko’s face. “I have begun putting a letter together for her parents…but the proper words escape me. How can you truly describe such a loss or truly assuage such pain?”
The captain wondered if his old friend was talking about himself as well as Gallagher’s family. Terrence’s heart thudded painfully as hazy memories of a radiant Jennifer Sisko flitted across the surface of his mind. The last time he had seen her was at Gilgo Beach.
The Siskos had first met there and returned to the beach to celebrate their twelfth anniversary. They had invited relatives and several friends to join them, including personnel from the Okinawa and Saratoga. Cal and his wife Gretchen had been there. So had Charlie Reynolds, Quentin Swofford and their better halves.
Terrence barely remembered the random woman he had brought. Even if he was inclined to feel bad about that, old Curzon Dax had done him one better by coming stag and hitting on nearly every female, single or attached, on the beach that wasn’t part of the anniversary party. But knowing the wily Trill there probably were a few members of the party he propositioned as well.
Glover recalled the very last time he had seen Jennifer alive, resplendent in a rainbow sarong and matching bikini top, her smooth brown skin, beguiling ebony eyes, and wide, engaging smile. Benjamin had a protective, loving arm around her shoulders. And how Benjamin had glowed like the sun around her, his love for her strong and assured, their laughter deeper and fuller than an untapped Residic oil well. It was the last time Benjamin had been the optimistic young man Terrence had befriended at the Academy.
“I don’t think you can,” Glover offered. He steeled himself as an image of Jennifer’s stark, black casket was lowered into the ground. Terrence would always feel guilty, perhaps foolishly so, for not being at Wolf 359. Glover had chosen to stay on the Dorna instead of taking a proffered executive officer’s post on the Firebrand.
At that point in his life Terrence wanted nothing less than the captain’s chair. And he had felt, and still did, that taking the slot on Firebrand would’ve been a dead end.
He grimaced at the poor choice of words. The single-nacelled Freedom-class vessel had been one of the thirty-nine pulverized by the Borg. All hands had been lost.
It was doubtful that he could’ve made any change in the outcome for the Firebrand’s crew or prevented Jennifer’s death, to even think so felt wrong, and obscenely self-centered, even to him. However it just illustrated how impotent and powerless he was in the face of such brutal, naked power as possessed by the Borg. And if he felt that way, he could scarcely fathom how Benjamin did. “But you owe it to yourself, and to Ensign Gallagher’s family to try.”
Sisko nodded noncommittally, already being pulled back into the past. “I spoke with Command,” Terrence said, hoping the best way to keep his friend’s attention was not to acknowledge his despair. The DS9 commander didn’t perk up like Glover had expected.
The captain paused to take a sip of the Yridian brandy he had ordered. Normally he chose Arcturian fizz, but these weren’t normal times and he didn’t want to delude himself into thinking differently.
Terrence winced as the bracing amber liquid lit a fire down his throat. Yridian foodstuffs were something of a rage since Captain Ransom had made first contact with them a few years back. Actually it was more like a rediscovery since Federation scientists had thought the Yridians had become extinct.
Glover just hadn’t made the time to indulge in any of their food and drink and since this might be the last time he got to do so ever, he might as well try something new, he morbidly reasoned. It kept with the spirit of exploration that Starfleet was built on.
Downing the rest of the drink he wondered if he would ever get his Ransom moment. It was an incredibly selfish thought, with his grieving friend sitting beside him. Glover mentally chided himself for the momentary bout of self-pity.
Pulling his head out of his own posterior, Terrence plunged onward. “I spoke with Command,” he repeated. “The Kelly is en route to Helophis and should arrive within 36 hours. They have also cobbled together a taskforce to assist us. The Matheson, Banks, and Flynn will be joining us for the hunt, while the Bland is going to DS9 to protect the station, Bajor, and the wormhole.”
“What is their ETA?” Sisko asked, rousing himself from the doldrums.
Terrence sighed, “Being charitable the Banks should reach this sector in twenty hours, with Flynn and Matheson arriving shortly thereafter. Bland won’t be taking up residence at DS9 for at least another 48 hours.” Sisko grimly nodded.
“So it’s just us,” the station commander stated.
“For the foreseeable future, yeah,” Glover said, motioning for a refill. The quick Ktarian barman appeared as if by teleportation to replenish his glass. The man took a quick look at Sisko’s glass and then the man’s morose expression and thought better than to ask if the station commander wanted a replacement.
“You know,” Benjamin chuckled, but there was no mirth in the sound, “The wormhole aliens, the Prophets, had told me that I was rooted in the past, reliving Jennifer’s death on a continuous loop, and it took some convincing but I believed them. And I started trying to make a new life with Jake on Deep Space Nine. The nightmares had faded and the good memories I had of Jennifer had resurfaced, but now, after seeing that cube, it’s ripped the scab off of my delusions.”
“Benjamin, these aren’t the same Borg. The cube that…that destroyed Saratoga self-destructed over Earth,” Terrence said gently.
“It doesn’t matter,” Sisko gripped his full glass so hard Glover was surprised it didn’t shatter. Green liquid splashed over the rim onto Ben’s fingers and then the counter top. “They all share a collective consciousness, they all murdered my wife!”
“Benjamin, you can’t see it that way,” Glover tried. Sisko whipped around in his seat, his nostrils flaring, his eyes blazing like supernovae.
“Then you tell me just how I am supposed to see it Terrence!” Sisko charged. “Your wife wasn’t murdered! Your son’s mother was ripped from him!”
Embarrassed for his friend Glover glanced around the lounge. Most of the Cuffe personnel pretended not to pay attention to Sisko’s outburst.
“And to think Picard had the opportunity to finish the Borg once and for all, when he found that drone in the Argolis Cluster!” Sisko spat. “It was the least he could’ve done.”
Terrence was taken aback by the rage bubbling from his friend. Glover remembered that Sisko had harbored deep resentment against Picard for leading the Borg cube in its assault at Wolf 359. Terrence and others had tried to impress upon him that Picard had been enslaved by the Borg, turned into a monstrosity called Locutus and was not responsible for his actions.
While Sisko had eventually seen the logic of that argument it had taken him a long time for his heart to turn. In fact Benjamin hadn’t started to come around until his first encounter with the mysterious beings inhabiting the Bajoran wormhole shortly after he had assumed command of Deep Space Nine.
From what Ben had told him at the time, it was doubtful that he would ever become chummy with Picard, but that the Prophets had helped him realize the necessity to move on with his life. But now it seemed all that progress had come to naught; that whatever forgiveness Sisko had found for Picard was now in embers.
“For all we know Picard is still tethered to that damned hive!” Sisko pounded his fist against the bar, unable to restrain his frustration.
“The best minds in Starfleet said otherwise,” Terrence offered. Picard had doubtlessly been placed through the wringer to insure that he posed no continuing threat after the destruction of the Borg cube, its demolition he played a key role in. “Picard suffered too Ben.”
“If he truly had agonized, then he would’ve unleashed that invasion program,” Sisko riposted.
“You mean, infect a kid?” Terrence was aghast. In light of the reemergence of the Borg, Starfleet Command had released information about the Enteprise’s encounter with a Borg crash survivor in the Argolis cluster two years ago. Picard had ordered his chief engineer to develop a virus that could spread across the entire collective, via the young Borg’s subspace transceiver link. But then he had changed his mind, his conscience and crew convincing him that such an action amounted to genocide.
Instead they had sought to teach the drone the virtue of individuality. Once they had repaired him, they left him to be collected by another Borg vessel.
“It was right there, in their hands, the key to stopping that scourge from ever returning and Picard let it slip through his fingers!” Sisko shook his head in disgust.
“I can’t speak for him,” Terrence said, “But really Ben, could you have sent that drone back infected with a genocidal virus? We don’t know how many members there are of the collective and we can’t account for the unintended consequences of the Borg’s eradication.”
“So is that why you’ve had your chief engineer create a version of the invasion program?” Sisko shot back.
Glover frowned, feeling a bit defensive. “It’s a last resort,” He admitted. Hwang and Eaves had been working to inoculate the crew with a nano-cocktail containing the program. If any of the crew were assimilated by the Borg the entire collective would be in for a nasty surprise. “And it’s not something I’m proud of or want to do; it’s a necessity.”
“Exactly!” Sisko snapped his fingers. It sounded like a gunshot in the overly quiet lounge. While people were pretending not to pay them heed, Glover knew they were hanging onto every word.
“Hopefully it won’t come to that,” Terrence said, “For all we know the Borg have moved on from this sector.” Sisko looked regretful at the prospect. The man was grieving and he wanted vengeance. Glover couldn’t blame him, but he wasn’t going to let Sisko’s sudden and sad blood lust infect him or his crew. “Maybe they have achieved whatever it was they set out to accomplish,” he pondered, hoping deep down that was the case.
It might rob him his chance for glory against the machines, but Glover didn’t like seeing the ugliness they brought out in his old friend. Sisko’s jaw shifted as if he wanted to rejoin Terrence, but thought better of it. The DS9 commander returned to look at his warm beverage. Glover remembered that his own refill hadn’t been touched, but thirst was no longer what he needed quenched.
He wanted his friend back, he wanted to pull Benjamin away from the precipice, and he didn’t know how. “Ben,” Terrence tried again, “listen…”
“Captain Glover,” Commander Konall interrupted via the lounge’s intercom. Both men glanced up at the voice. Terrence was dreadful, but he noticed that Ben was expectant. “The Zubrin colony has been attacked,” the Klingon said without prompting, “By the Borg.”