“They say you never truly know your character until the threat of death is at your throat, ready to spill all of your blood.” Longfellow sat in his office, his officer’s log open and recording. “Pause log.” He glanced over at his charge nurse, “Too dramatic?”
Asato was working at a console across the room. They’d received word that ten fighters were coming their way, and preparations were underway. She was fine-tuning the nursing roster while her staff completed a final inventory check. She turned to him, “Dying is dramatic, sensei.”
He leaned back in his chair, “I was 13 years old when the Dominion war kicked off. I spent a lot of time watching the news and reading about the battles. It felt like the galaxy was genuinely threatened by something bigger than anything we had seen.”
Hiro thought about his words. There was always something bigger out there. In the days of Kirk, it had been the Romulans or the Klingons. Then it was the Borg. Then the Romulans, Klingons, and now the Dominion again. It felt like something was always coming from out there to threaten them here. “The losses hurt.” She recalled the stories of the Odyssey, of Betezed, and others. “You cannot forget the scars so deep and so recent.”
Henry tapped his log back on, “They say that scars run deep…and that pain remains a reminder of the past…and a warning of the future. We’re to face the Dominion. We’re all feeling…something. Lots of worries, lots of fears, and lots of confusion. ‘Victory is Life’ is ringing in our ears while the stories of the last war remind us of the lengths the enemy will go to prove that motto true. It’s challenging to stay focused in the midst of the threat that’s coming…but we won the last war. And we can win this one. End log.” He looked up and found Hiro nodding approvingly. “Less dramatic, I think.”
“I would have preferred the space monster,” muttered Oscar Reede as he settled into the console in the communications center with his fellow senior-level cadets. They were working to transmit reports to Fourth Fleet Command. The other challenge that had been issued was to work on a plan to jam the Jem’Hadar communications so they couldn’t transmit their reports back to the leading battle group.
Lauren Franks agreed with him as she set her coffee on her console, “I’ve read every report on the Dominion. They are not to be messed with. We barely beat them once…and that was because the Prophets did some jiggery-pokery.” Reede turned, his eyebrows raised, and she laughed quietly, “Mam always said it when things were pushed to the extremes.” She shrugged, “Feels like we’re there.”
Across the room, Lisa James was doing her level best to ignore the conversation. She’d hesitantly taken the Mackenzie assignment because it was a chance to learn something beyond the boring classwork at the Academy. She’d gone from boring to imminent death in a few short days. Her stomach had been in knots most of the day, and she’d downed her share of calming tea through it all. The shift was nearly over when Reede called them together for the last assignment of the night. Her hands trembled, and her eyes searched the screens before her for something to hold onto amid the chaos. Her family insisted on joining Starfleet to find her strength and courage. The first two years had been a welcome respite from the stress and anxiety of her family. Now she’d barely survived her junior year and was seriously concerned she’d die by Dominion without graduating. She pushed her hands to the console and slowly began working on her part in the project. James quietly wished for some good sleep tonight without nightmares, but her hope was diminishing.
“You’ve seen a lot, haven’t you?” Gabriela Castillo sat in the crew mess, Master Chief Henry Wyatt sitting across from her. Both had synthaholic drinks that they were nursing slowly. She’d wandered into the mess an hour ago, her mind needing a place to stop spinning. Wyatt had motioned her over to his table.
He swirled his Moscow Mule slowly, “More than I ever cared to see, to be honest. Nobody’s meant to see so much of history. For whatever reason, it is our curse.” He took a sip, “You’re worried about this?” He could see the worry lines forming on her face every so often as she thought through what was just hours away.
“Who wouldn’t be, Master Chief? I mean…this is some existential crisis crap.” She winced and apologized for her outburst. She felt her face grow warm in embarrassment.
He waved her off, “Don’t apologize for having feelings. That crap is for the Vulcans.” He chuckled at his joke before continuing, “You’re right – I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen the darkness of the galaxy…and I’ve seen the shining goodness of it.” Another sip. “The arc of history bends towards the good, the brave, and the free.”
She rolled her eyes, “But if someone bends it back towards the other side? What if they’re stronger?” Castillo motioned towards the massive windows, “Out here…we’re alone. It feels like it’s Fourth Fleet versus the rest. What if we’re not strong enough to bend history?” She fell back in her chair, having defeated herself.
Wyatt leaned forward, “I can’t tell you if we’ll win or not, Ensign. I can tell you that good is a harder fighter than evil. We don’t run from the fight…we run straight into it. Believe me or dismiss me – that’s your decision…but it’s like you said – I’ve seen a lot. History bears out the goodness of the galaxy.”
“You’re worried.” Captain Walton chided Gul Hasara in the bridge lounge. It was empty save for the two. She felt the crew was taking a deep breath before the plunge into the depths of conflict. She had found Hasara pacing in front of the windows, his eyes staring into the blackness of space and the planet that hung before them.
His stare remained focused on the stars as he replied, “It’s been quite some time since I fought a true enemy, Captain. The Arretans were…an unusual challenge. But they were not the Dominion. Are you not worried?”
She accepted the hard cider synthetic alcohol from the bar and stood beside the Gul. “I’m worried for a crew that’s part new and old. The group that served under Harris…this is going to be a knockdown drag-out fight. It’ll test their resolve. I worry about their emotional wounds opening up again.” She sipped and felt the warmth soothe, “The new crew and the cadets…I remember my first assignment as a senior cadet. I was scared when we ran up against something that wasn’t strictly in my training. I had to adapt what I learned to what I had to do at the moment. I learned the hard way that you’re never really ready to do the hard work. You just have to…learn as you go. It sucks.”
Hasara accepted the white wine from the bartender and earned a scornful glance from Walton. “I believe you humans have a term – from the phaser firing range to a phaser fight?” He sipped at it the drink and relished the taste, “I worry about what comes after the ten fighters.”
They stood in silence, watching the planet and the stars. Both privately wondering if they would survive this new war. Wren down the rest of her drink and set the cup on a nearby table, “There will come a moment before they arrive where each of us will have to accept what is about to happen. Are the Cardassian crews ready for that?”
The Gul drained the dregs from his glass and turned to her, “We can never be sure of each other’s capacity or abilities until they are tested. I wish we had a guarantee of victory, captain.”
She nodded as he walked past her and through the doors to deck 1. She whispered to herself, “I wish that too, Gul.”
“We should never have accepted this station,” Vol growled from the depths of her mind, and she agreed with him. Kiazas sat in her quarters with PADDs all around her. Duty rosters, last-minute process changes, and rewrites of job assignments filled her mind as she worked on the final preparations for what was coming. Vol had been with her since she was old enough to join. He was a wizened veteran of war and battle. He’d had his share of the Dominion in his past host, a male engineer in Starfleet. “I’d rather live out my life in the hills of some warm planet,”
“Yea, I know. You’re old enough for that to work. I’m not.” It had been an imperfect pairing – the old with the new. They had fought each other early in the joining to a point where there was considerable concern it would fail. After a particularly long night of fever dreams and long conversations in her mind, they’d made a tentative truce that had blossomed into total peace. “You think we got a chance?” She asked partially for the small talk to distract her from the visceral fears at the edge of her psyche. She also asked because she trusted Vol.
“If I thought there wasn’t a chance, I’d have convinced you to find a way out of this mess. Self-preservation is a thing.” He huffed at her, subconsciously pushing for an answer. “We have a chance. There is always a chance. Fool’s chance, wild chance, lucky chance, chance in hell…take your pick, kid. Always a chance.”
Kiazas let out a long sigh, “I’ll take those chances, Vol. Thank you.” She returned to her pile of PADDs as the countdown clock on her chrono clicked closer to zero.
“I’ve visited with each department head.” Park accepted the hot tea from her friend and captain, “Everyone is at station keeping and as ready as possible. Kondo has his people resting after a pretty grueling simulator run.”
Wren sat on the couch roughly, “How’d they do?”
The XO handed her a PADD, “Remarkably well. De La Fontaine doesn’t mess around. He put them through some of the heavier drills. None came out crying, so that’s a good thing.”
Walton spat out her tea and groaned as she found her uniform ruined, “Please tell me that’s not your unit of measurement of their success.” She made sure the ready room door was locked and rustled through her closet for a fresh uniform.
Seoyeon cackled at the spit-take and the comment, “I mean…tactical is a tough gig, Wren.” Her friend stripped out of her clothes and glared at her as she threw the soaked clothing in a bin, “OK, OK. Not an official measurement of success. I’ve seen tactical officers…and at least one assistant chief shed tears in the middle and end of training.”
Wren slipped on the fresh uniform and picked up her tea, “Shall we talk about the times you cried with me?” She said it with raised eyebrows as she then sipped lightly from her tea, earning rolled eyes from her XO.
“That was because you yelled at me. Several times.” Park had learned her lesson several times over in the past with Wren. When Walton yelled, the decks moved under you. And not in a good way.
Another sip, “You deserved it. Every single time.” Seoyeon sighed and threw her hands in defeat as Walton moved on, “Given what you’ve seen – are we ready?”
The XO didn’t respond right away. Her mind slipped down the list of each department head and those underneath them. The reports she’d reviewed with each of them had been detailed and exhaustive. There were bright spots in each, but there were worries there, too, as she’d read and talked with them. “I think we’ve got a good command staff who will lead by example. The crew looks to the department heads. They’ll carry the day.”
“And us? Are we ready?” Walton put her tea down on the end table and sat back. “Are you ready?”
Park sat down on the other side of the couch. The first question was coming from her captain,. The second was coming from her friend. “You’re Wren Walton…you’re always ready.” She toasted her with her cup, “I follow your example, captain.”
A beat passed, and Wren pressed, “Are you ready?”
The XO blew her breath out and met Walton’s stare, “I wasn’t sure until I did my meetings. The confidence, courage, and strength of this crew…it’s something to behold, Wren. I walked out of each conversation more confident than before. This crew isn’t perfect, but they desperately want to be.”
Wren nodded, “I’m glad to hear it, Park. I’d hate to have to start kicking your ass again.” She took a sip, “My foot was getting sore.” The two broke up into laughter as the clock on the wall continued to click down. The hours and minutes had passed. The time was nearly upon them.