Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"The Alpha Ghost, Chapter One: The Arrival"
[Disclaimer: "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" is (TM) and (c) Paramount Pictures, Viacom, and whoever else owns it. The original "Star Trek" concept was created by the late Gene Roddenberry, and the "Deep Space Nine" concept and series was created by Rick Berman and Michael Piller.
This is just a mere fan fiction story written for the amusement of myself and friends, and I'm not making any profit whatsoever off of it. I'm just killing time, really. :)
Okay, okay, I'm getting on with it already...jeez, don't throw a fit!]
The depths of space were decorated with (relatively) tiny balls of light that those who witnessed them had come to know as stars.
Over the countless millennia, untold numbers of beings on untold planets had gazed into the night sky, and wondered what purpose and mysteries the stars held. For each, the stars held a different meaning. Some looked to the stars to pray to the gods and goddesses of their chosen religion. Some used the stars' seemingly immobile positions as guides to chart courses and explore. Some thanked the stars and called them "lucky" when misfortune was somehow averted. Others wondered if their species were truly alone in the universe, and hoped that the answer lay with the stars.
Some were completely indifferent to the gaseous spheres for one reason or another, and that was just fine with them.
It was the late 24th Century (by Human terms), and the ability to travel through space and dodge stars in the process was a fairly common activity. Empires thrived on it. Joyriders cherished it. Warships excelled in it. But a glaring problem was that those capable of interstellar travel, who made their homes on other planets and space colonies...stopped seeing the stars as anything mysterious or unusual. They were just there. Yes, it was true enough that lovers separated by light-years would stare longingly at the star his or her mate lived around, but other than that, those infinite points of light were no big deal. Even trying to feel an emotion or connection to them proved to be an almost impossible task.
That was the problem facing Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, Captain of the Federation Space Station Deep Space Nine.
Or rather, it was one of many problems, but for the moment, it was what he was concentrating on as he stared out of his office's window into the cosmic abyss.
His purpose for engaging in such an activity was to keep his mind off of the rest of his problems, which threatened to overwhelm and sit on him if given half the chance. Problems such as being a Starfleet officer, a space station commander, a father to his son, and last but certainly not least, the "Emissary" to the Bajoran people on behalf of their sacred "Prophets", timeless celestial beings that existed inside of an artificial vortex the Federation called "The Wormhole."
Being the Emissary made him a religious figure, which he reluctantly accepted out of a sense of obligation. He still hadn't gotten used to it.
He held his lucky baseball in his hands, and rolled it around his palms. He always did that when he was in deep concentration. He often found it made his problems clearer, easier to figure out and handle. No such luck today.
A beeping sound startled him. The sound was his office door's visitor signal. Sisko turned away from the window, saw the Station's Chief of Security Odo standing outside the door, cleared his throat, and announced, "Come in."
Odo walked in, his tall stature and down-to-business demeanor immediately pulling Sisko out of his dreary mood. Odo walked with a fluidness that only a gelatinous shapeshifter in human form could accomplish. His facial features were as flat and unexpressive as ever, even though Sisko guessed that by now Odo's shape-changing skills had reached the level where he could easily make his face more humanoid-like. But the present shape of Odo's face allowed little if any emotion to show, and it was advantageous for a security officer to have an unreadable expression. That, and Odo was never a big fan of change anyway. "Our new Science Officer has arrived, Captain," the changeling declared in his customary gravelly voice.
"Ah," Sisko replied, his mood brightening. "Send him in." Sisko secretly hoped that this meeting would put his mind off of the responsibilities for the time being.
Odo nodded to the science officer in question, who was standing in the Operations Platform (dubbed "Ops") outside the captain's office, testing out one of the main computers. 'Interesting,' Sisko thought. 'He hasn't even met with me yet and he's already getting down to business. This may be promising.'
Odo called the young Lieutenant to attention, and the newcomer entered the office with Odo behind him. Sisko dismissed Odo -who went back to his own office- and turned to the new recruit.
"Lieutenant Commander Quentin Roswell," the recruit stated, introducing himself.
"Sit down," the captain ordered, gesturing toward a seat behind Roswell. The Lieutenant took the seat, and Sisko picked up an information pad and went over Roswell's service record. "Let's see...born on Mars Colony...raised near the Utopia Planitia Fleetyards...hmm, I used to work there...graduated Starfleet Academy with honors only a year after entering...served on the U.S.S. Eva for three years, moving to Lieutenant quickly...evidenced major talent in the fields of in Astronomy, Quantum Physics, and Computer Science..." Sisko's voice trailed off when he reached the next paragraph.
"Something wrong, Captain?"
"It says here you were in charge of an away mission last year that resulted in the complete destruction of an important Federation outpost, casualties, and loss of vital information to the Dominion," Sisko reported, slipping back into a foul mood.
Roswell squirmed in his seat slightly and cleared his throat to explain. "It's true, sir...I was in command. We were sent to Watermark Station to pick up some supplies to take to another outpost, but Jem'Hadar soldiers appeared out of nowhere and ambushed us. Two of my officers were killed right away, which left myself, Lt. Preston, and Chief Marsh, the outpost's foreman, to defend ourselves. I gave the order to head for cover, and we did.
"Unfortunately, Jane--er, Lt. Preston and Chief Marsh hid behind fuel containers, and didn't realize their mistake until--" Roswell's voice broke off, the scene replaying in his mind just as it had when it happened...and almost every night since. "Until...one of the Jem'Hadar soldiers fired his weapon at the containers. All I could do was watch as they were incinerated."
Sisko regarded the lieutenant's story while the latter collected himself. Then Sisko continued the story. "You panicked at the sight of that, and fled to safety, leaving the Dominion to take off with the supplies and lay waste to the entire station."
"Yes sir. I regret it. I failed myself and everyone else."
"You made a decision under stress. You made the right decision to hunt for cover when they showed up; it was Preston and Marsh's decision to hide behind the containers."
"And after seeing Marsh and your fiancée die, who in their right mind wouldn't be afraid? But where were you during the Jem'Hadar's siege of the station?"
"I was behind a pylon trying desperately to calm my nerves down. By the time I'd done that, more and more Dominion soldiers had appeared and were taking the place apart brick by brick. I fought a few, but they knocked me out. I woke up in the Eva's sickbay. The rest you know."
"I see," Sisko pondered. "Well, enough of that," he said finally. "That's what counselors are for. Getting back to this profile, I see you have quite an interest in this station."
"Yes sir. During the seven years you've been in command, Deep Space Nine has seen quite a lot of interesting things happen. Plus, the fact that it used to be the Cardassian station Terek Nor and is a meeting place for so many different species makes this the most fascinating place I know of." Roswell took out a few pieces of paper and unfolded them. "Here," he said, handing them to Sisko. "Take a look. I drew this one day during my off-hours."
The drawings were surprisingly accurate blueprints of DS9. They weren't the actual blueprints, but the resemblance was uncanny. "I saw a blueprint of the station once and copied it from memory," Roswell continued, beaming.
"Impressive." Sisko placed the sketches on the table. Roswell had gotten a few details wrong, but only because of different improvements made to the station over the years. "Well, Lieutenant, this evidence alone is enough for me to assign you the post as soon as possible. Welcome to Deep Space Nine. Congratulations, you are our new Science Officer. You start tomorrow at 0800 hours."
Roswell found it a struggle to contain his excitement. "Understood, sir."
They chatted a while longer, after which Roswell was shown to his quarters. He noticed that the setting the lights were on was much lower than he was used to. "Computer? Increase lights 50 percent. Ah, that's better." After unpacking, he decided to check out Quark's bar. He'd heard lots of good things about it (mostly from advertising), and wanted to see if the owner was indeed as shady as he'd heard.
He made a mental note that he was going to have to get used to the station's unusual smell.
The U.S.S. Defiant, the official warship of Deep Space Nine, soared through the emptiness of space on its daily patrol.
No unauthorized ships had shown up thus far, but the day was still young. Colonel Kira Nerys, in command of the Defiant at the moment, surveyed the area on long-range scanners.
Commander Worf, the second-in-command on this excursion, reclined in his chair, his dark Klingon features slightly illuminated by the viewscreen he studied. Worf was the only humanoid Kira knew that could recline in a chair without actually relaxing. 'Prophets, he's worse than me at that,' she thought.
Ensign Nog, a young Ferengi, tried to lighten the rather routine mood by engaging in small talk. He felt like a salesman trying to sell cosmetics to a stone wall. Giving up, he found himself actually looking forward to an encounter with the Dominion just to have something to do. Sure, he tried to keep busy running diagnostic checks on different systems and listening to an almost inaudible beep that accompanied the hum of the ship's engine, but on the whole he couldn't be any more bored if he tried.
His attention shifted back to the system diagnostic. 'Nothing unusual...everything in working order...someone end my misery pleeeease...wha? Wait a sec...is that right?' He checked and double-checked the system logs. 'I just saw this same list a minute ago, and I know it listed an entry made last week. Now it's not here!' He cursed softly in Ferengi and alerted Col. Kira.
"What is it?" she asked, trying not to show her annoyance due to a train of thought unceremoniously interrupted.
"I...I'm not sure. I just did a system diagnostic a minute ago, and it showed a log entry for last week at 1300 hours. I just ran another diag and now it's not here." He was trying not to sound as panicked as he was. He failed spectacularly.
Kira at first didn't take it seriously, but then quickly remembered that there was a war on, and that this could be a possible glitch in security. She checked the document, running through data logs for the past two weeks, and there was no sign of the entry in question. She knew there had to be one because she'd made it herself. She was beginning to share Nog's state of unease. "I'll make a note of it right away, and notify Sisko when we get back to the station," she announced. "Entries don't just vanish from records without a cause and we can't leave anything to chance." Nog, Worf, and another ensign watched as Kira slipped quite effortlessly into her Militant Bajoran Leader Mode.
She pushed a button on her console to make a log entry, but every electronic device on the ship flared simultaneously. The crew beheld a burst of light, color, and sound, then the system went back to normal as if nothing had happened.
"What in the...?" all four bridge officers gaped in unison.
The noise level in Quark's Bar was fairly loud. It was certainly different from what Quentin Roswell was used to, which mainly consisted of starship lounges where patrons conversed in low voices over drinks. Here, however, shouting and arguing weren't uncommon practices. For that matter, neither were fighting nor falling down drunk off of stools. Quentin noticed security guards stationed at different parts of the establishment, and upon further inspection, two of the guards exhibited bruises, apparently from a recent incident.
Quentin wondered if anyone actually got any eating done around here.
After debating on whether to stay or leave and find a lounge where Starfleet officers can eat in peace, he finally decided that since this was originally a Cardassian-run station, he probably wasn't going to find such a place.
He reluctantly walked up to a counter and pushed a touchscreen for assistance. The screen displayed a food menu, at least half of the items on which Quentin had never heard of. After witnessing three arguments, one waitress grope, and a fist-fight, he was finally attended to by a Ferengi. Quentin recognized the Ferengi as Quark, the owner, whose face decorated many an advertisement. In person, though, Quark looked rather harried. Considering the patrons that frequented the bar, Quentin could see why.
"What'll ya have?" Quark asked, his voice almost drowned out by the noise in the room.
"Huh? Oh, an old-fashioned Earth cheeseburger with french fries...but no mustard...and a small Root Beer Float." Growing up on Mars Colony, Quentin had gotten his first taste of 20th Century Earth food at a restaurant near the Fleetyards. He'd been hooked on the food ever since.
Quark's face showed distaste he didn't bother to hide. "Is that all?" he asked.
"Gonna eat it here on the counter, or at a table?"
"Counter, I guess. Doesn't look like there are any empty tables left."
Quark glanced around the room. He had been too busy to notice. "Ah. Well anyway, wait a few moments, so I can replicate your order." The Ferengi trudged off to a Replimat, muttering something about Starfleet Hu-mons and Root Beer Floats.
Roswell glanced down at his attire, a blue shirt and gray pants. 'Starfleet?' he thought. I'm in civilian garb, and he STILL recognizes me as Starfleet?' He hadn't realized it would be that obvious. Judging by this crowd, he wondered if that was a good thing.
He looked around the room, trying to localize on the regular "tok...tok" sound he was hearing. He finally found the source at one corner of the room: two Starfleet officers, still in uniform, were throwing darts at a board. One was tall and thin with black hair and a self-assured expression (probably because he was winning), while the other one was more heavily built with blonde hair and the manner of a manual laborer. Quentin noticed his sleeves were rolled up, as if about to fix a warp engine at any second.
The tall one was standing several feet away from the target, but he was still hitting the bull's eye with amazing accuracy. Either his partner didn't mind or managed to hide his annoyance successfully. Quentin watched with interest, then remembered where he'd seen the tall officer's face before: on a profile he'd read of DS9's personnel before arriving at the station. The tall man was Doctor Julian Bashir, Chief Medical Officer and substitute Science Officer. 'So this is the guy I'm replacing,' Roswell thought. Bashir was reportedly a genetically enhanced human with and extremely high intelligence level. No one knew he was genetically enhanced until a couple of years ago. Before, it was assumed he was just gifted. At any rate, he managed to keep his post after his secret was discovered (even though gene-enhancement was outlawed), and more recently took on the role of Science Officer after Lieutenant Commander Jadzia Dax was killed.
'Great, I get to fill in a post previously occupied by Dax and Bashir,' he mused. 'Talk about hard acts to follow!' Bashir's darts partner was Operations Chief Miles O'Brien. Roswell had often read about how O'Brien had managed to pull off the seemingly impossible task of getting two incompatible technological systems -the station's Cardassian technology and the Federation's equipment- to cooperate. Judging by the bags underneath O'Brien's eyes, it wasn't easy.
Quentin's order arrived, and he was surprised to hear Quark striking up a conversation with him. "So you're the new Science Hu-mon, right?"
"Uh, yeah, that's right." Quentin was set off-guard by "hu-mon", Quark's pronunciation of "human". It added a misanthropic quality to the bartender that set Quentin on edge.
"I hear you're filling in for the doctor, and taking the job Jadzia left vacant."
"That's what they tell me." There was something about the way Quark said "Jadzia" that Quentin couldn't help but pick up on. What was Quark's relation to her? How, then, would Quark treat him? "How do you know all this?" he asked.
"Word gets around in a place like this. I didn't find out your name though..."
"Roswell. Quentin Roswell."
Quark performed a perfect double-take with a half gainer. "Roswell? That name sounds...familiar..." With Quark's luck, he probably owed one of Quentin's relatives money.
"Roswell?" asked another voice behind Quark. The voice belonged to Quark's brother (and Nog's father) Rom, who worked as a station maintenance worker. "Roswell...let's see...wasn't that the name of the place on Earth we crashed at once when we accidentally traveled back in time?"
Quark regarded Rom, recognition crossing his face. "Oh yeah. When we took your son to Starfleet Academy." He turned back to Quentin. "Long story. Are you, by any chance..."
"No connection to the Earth site that I know of," Quentin reported. Then, realizing something: "Wait...'back in time'? 'Crashed?' Hold it...you were the ones that crashed?"
"Whoa. That's interesting."
"Not really. Enjoy your meal...and the Root Beer." Quark trudged off to another part of the bar, once again muttering about Starfleet officers and root beers.
Roswell regarded the odd Ferengi for a moment then gave up and chomped into the cheeseburger. His eyes widened as he discovered the presence of a certain ingredient in the old-fashioned Earth food: 'Mustard!' he thought angrily. 'I specifically told him not to put any mustard in this thing! Great. Just great. I bet he'll make me pay extra for the mustard too!'
His surprise alerted Morn, a large regular patron of the bar. After explaining what he was upset about, Quentin found himself subjected to a very long and detailed (yet nevertheless dull) account of Morn's many brothers and sisters. ______________________________________________________________________
"Okay, let's see...Computer? Put...oh, five soldiers behind the machinery and program them to open fire as soon as the player enters the room. No, wait: on second though, have them wait two seconds before firing. That way the player has time to react."
The computer processed the information and generated five holographic soldiers, complete with firing instructions, behind a large and equally holographic computer terminal. Jake Sisko, the programmer of this HoloSuite game, stepped back to study the results. Besides giving a light-based representation of an image, the HoloSuite also gave the holograms mass and texture by forming solidified force fields around the holo. Thus, the machinery and soldiers seemed as lifelike as possible. Jake could even see the soldiers breathing, their breaths visible due to the cold room temperature.
That was another interesting thing about the room: it had its own variable environmental controls and adjustable gravity net to simulated virtually any kind of climate condition. Jake shivered. It was rather cold in this room, and he thought that maybe he should have anticipated this and dressed warmly. The overhead lights (also holographic) were dim and strobing, panning around the room and giving the scenario an eerie feel. Jake definitely liked what he saw. The environment he had in mind was far inferior to the finished product, mainly because he improved upon his original concept while programming the game.
"Hope Quark enjoys the effort I put into this," Jake muttered to no one in particular. Jake's writing talent was well-known all over the station (and other parts of the Alpha Quadrant, considering his father is Benjamin Sisko, the commanding officer of a strategically-important outpost. Sisko and his son had a fairly high profile), and when Quark hit upon the idea to create his own HoloSuite games instead of ordering them from a catalogue, the opportunistic Ferengi hired Jake to create the storyline. The plot they agreed upon was an Early-22nd Century espionage epic tentatively titled "Dark Op," detailing a famous war of that time period that was almost completely fought with deep-cover spywork.
Unfortunately, Jake and Quark pretty much agreed on nothing else. "No, no, this is all wrong!" Quark had stated time and again upon viewing the progress. "My clients demand more carnage, more suspense, more women--"
"Less plot, less variety, less emotional connections with the characters..." Jake would invariably respond.
"Do you want this job or not?"
"Then stop contradicting me." Quark would leave, and Jake would determine how far off of his original concept the latest corrections would take the game. He would then wonder if the game was worth actually finishing or playing.
He swallowed his pride and summoned Quark to show him the latest scene.
Just as he reached the HoloSuite's comm panel, an unusual sound caused Jake to turn around. Just in front of the simulated machinery, hovering near the ceiling, was an image of a ghost. It was sort of cartoonish, with a large round head, large eyes and mouth, and an ethereal mist hanging on it like a gown. Underneath the ghost image were the words:
"YOU HAVE BEEN HAUNTED..."
The words were replaced a second later by another phrase:
"...BY THE ALPHA GHOST!"
Suddenly, a holographic cloud of ethereal mist and the word "POOF!" replaced the image itself. The word disappeared, and the entire room was enveloped in a flash of light.
Jake found himself in the same HoloSuite room, except this time the room was completely empty except for Jake. He looked around. The entire scenario was gone. Even the room temperature had returned to where it was when he first entered the room. In a panic Jake called up the filename of the simulation, but to no avail. The computer had no record of it.
Jake turned back to the comm panel. "Security...?" Jake summoned when his voice returned.
Chapter Two: "A Question of Security"
"You saw a ghost? In a HoloSuite?"
"Yes, Odo, I saw a ghost. How many times do we have to go over this?"
"Just as many times as it takes until I'm certain you're not just trying to waste my time." Odo's mood was sour, and for good reason. Getting calls from a bar patron who had just seen an unusual image in a HoloSuite was not an activity Odo enjoyed. Even worse, the person declaring this happened to be Captain Sisko's son. That meant that the incident would undoubtedly raise more attention than Odo would like.
Still, Jake wasn't the type to behave this way without a reason. Sure, the young man was clever, and often given to flights of imagination, but that came with the territory of being a young writer. Plus, as far as Odo knew, Jake had never been drunk a day in his life, so if he had seen something out of the ordinary, he saw it while stone sober. This reason alone was the only thing keeping Jake from spending time in a detention cell for wasting Odo's time.
"All right," Odo said finally. "You say that you were programming a hologame that involved a war situation, and that ghosts of any kind were not supposed to be part of the package?"
Jake answered "Yes" through gritted teeth.
"And," Odo continued, in his best 'keep-the-facts-straight' manner, "All of a sudden, a crude hologram of a...ghost appeared in the sim, announced that you were being haunted, and proceeded to disappear, taking all traces of the game with it?"
"That's what I've been saying."
"Fine, I'll check the HoloSuite's records -if Quark sees fit to allow me- to verify your story." He inched closer to Jake and added, "I don't know whether to hope it's a false alarm or a genuine cause for concern. Either way, it's not going to be a pleasant day for either of us."
"You're not sure what's a false alarm?" Sisko asked, entering the bar from the station promenade. "I hear something involving Jake just happened."
Odo brought Sisko up to date on the situation. Benjamin's eyes widened at the mention of the "ghost" vanishing and deleting the game.
"Is there a problem, Captain?" Odo asked.
Sisko informed Odo about what he'd just heard from a message from Colonel Kira.
"Two files mysteriously disappearing without a trace within the same hour? Yes, I'd say it is a cause for a concern," Odo remarked after Sisko finished.
"Ops to Captain Sisko," buzzed a voice on Sisko's commbadge. The voice belonged to a Bajoran tech on duty at Ops. Sisko tapped the badge. "Go ahead."
"A.....'ghost'...has just appeared on the main viewscreen," returned the ensign.
"Oh no," Sisko groaned. "Has it deleted anything?"
"Sir? Uh, no it hasn't." The ensign paused, made a surprised sound, and amended: "Uh, wait, three files are now missing. Orders, sir?"
"Run a full scan on all systems," Sisko ordered. "Find out what was in those deleted files if at all possible. Go to full security alert."
"Acknowledged, sir. Ops out." The alert siren sounded a moment later, and Sisko gathered all of the Starfleet and security officers he could find and told them to report to the briefing room in five minutes. After they left, Sisko was surprised to see Quentin Roswell still in the room, with a confused look on his face.
"So does this mean I'm now on duty, Captain?" Roswell asked.
"Effective immediately," returned Sisko. "I expect to see you in that briefing room in uniform in five minutes, Lieutenant." "Just checking, sir."
From what little Quentin had seen of Sisko, he knew that the captain was even more intimidating than the Eva's commanding officer. Which was saying something.
After Roswell left, Sisko turned to his son. "You'd better come too, Jake. Any information you can provide will be helpful."
"Wait a minute," Quark bellowed. "Roswell didn't pay for the order yet!!!"
Five minutes later, Sisko and Jake entered the Briefing Room, and found it full of personel. They were all standing at attention.
"Be seated," Sisko ordered, and after they did, explained the situation for those present who hadn't yet been informed. "While it's true," he continued, "that two small incidents doesn't seem like much cause for alarm, we must remember that we are at war with the Dominion. That group, besides the Founders and Jem'Hadar, includes the Vorta and Cardassians, both of which are infamous for gathering and making use of vital information. This...'Alpha Ghost' presents a serious security problem that must be eliminated."
"Your duty," he announced directly to all present, "is to find out how the Ghost works, what its purpose is -because I'm sure it's only getting started and testing the waters- and how to put a stop to it. And if it's not too much trouble," he added in a low tone of voice," find who- or whatever's behind it, and put a stop to that as well."
He then assigned team assignments to the crewmembers and sent them on their way. "Oh, and by the way," Sisko put in as the officers headed for the door, "please make sure Lieutenant Roswell here feels welcome on this station. After what happened to the last two potential science officers, I'm sure he'll appreciate it. That's all. Dismissed."
Quentin caught up with O'Brien and and Bashir, since they were to be his teammates. After finishing introductions, Roswell asked them quite puzzeledly, "Um, what did the captain mean by...'what happened to the last two potential science officers'?"
O'Brien and Bashir looked at each other, trying to decide how best to phrase it. "Wellll...." O'Brien began finally, "...it can best be summed up in two words: 'Klingon Days'."
"Ask Odo when you get the chance," said Bashir before dropping the subject and leaving Roswell feeling very confused.
The trio spent the rest of the day running diagnostics and crosschecks, bantering back and forth, exchanging anecdotes, and making runs to the Replimat for coffee and Root Beer.
"So what do you think of the station so far?" O'Brien asked Roswell.
"It's interesting to say the least," the lieutenant answered. "A Cardassian space station run by Federation and Bajoran officers, with civilians of countless species -hey, Bashir, can you hand me that adapter? Thanks- with a bar/casino and a flea market. How many other stations have that? None."
"What about the personnel?" Bashir inquired.
"Well, I haven't met everyone here yet, but from what I've seen you're a neat bunch. I mean, you've lasted, what? Six, seven years? Quite an accomplishment.
Quentin turned to Bashir. "Mind if I ask you something?"
"What's it like being a..."
"It has its moments. I guess I'm used to it. I can barely recall a time when I wasn't five steps ahead of everyone else. Of course, it did take some getting used to. I used to hold back my intelligence in an effort to relate to others. But around ten years old, in my junior year of high school, I decided it wasn't working and to just push myself and see how smart I was. I found I enjoyed testing myself. I admit that I ended up seeming quite arrogant to some."
"Time spent in a Dominion prison, for one. I had lots of time to think back on my youth and analyze everything. I decided being humble wasn't such a bad idea after all." Bashir thought for a moment and raised an eyebrow. "Why do you ask?"
"I'm curious," Quentin explained. "Ever since it was revealed that your intelligence was brought about by eugenics, Starfleet has made a point to study its other geniuses, to see if they've been enhanced. I was one of the people inconvenienced by this new policy. I just wanted to see if enhancement is really worth all the fuss it caused."
"I don't think it's how you became gifted that's important," O'Brien stated. "It's what you do with the gifts you receive that important. Well, anyway, that's my Zen-philosophy for the day. I'm making a coffee run. Anyone want anything?"
They encountered several glitches and equipment failures, but only a small fraction of that appeared to have anything to do with the Ghost virus. In the process, they managed to completely dismantle and put back together three separate computer systems. While O'Brien contributed a large amount of the actual dismantling because he knew the systems the best, Bashir and Roswell devoted most of their time to mapping the systems' layout and reprogramming the computers.
Roswell saw more computer components and infobytes that day than he had ever seen in his life. Given his background and hobbies, most of which involve computers of some sort, that was hard to do. At one point he was half-afraid that if he tried to carry on a normal conversation with a total stranger, his end of it would come out in computer codes.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, O'Brien, Roswell, and Bashir finished their assignment and reported the results to Sisko.
"According to these findings," Bashir began, handing a readout pad to the Captain, "there will be a total systems failure within two hours, and everything will be lost. Without any propulsion capabilities, communication systems, or life support, this station will be dead in the water, so to speak."
"Along with everyone in it," added Roswell, not quite cheerfully.
"Well, there go my weekend plans," O'Brien deadpanned to no applause.
"Is there any way to stop this?" Sisko asked hopefully, already feeling a massive headache coming on.
"Yyyyyes..." Roswell stammered. "But...it involves shutting down the power anyway."
Sisko's eyebrows raced for the ceiling.
"That way," O'Brien explained, "when we turn the power back on and restart the systems, the computer will do an automatic system scan, and the source of the Ghost virus will be detected. Trying to determine the source of the Ghost without restarting is at this point a daunting task due to all of the other information we have to sort through. Shutting down the system will halt the virus' further progress long enough for the restart scan to catch up to it."
Sisko was visibly having trouble with this idea. "So you're saying in order to cure the patient, we have to temporarily kill it?"
"Well, er, yes," Bashir replied. "That's what I thought too, but unfortunately, due to the way the computer systems are set up, it's the only solution."
"The only solution?"
"The only one we were able to arrive at after hours of going through the most complex computers on the station."
Sisko grabbed his lucky baseball off his desk and stood up, rolling the ball around in his customary fashion. "Just what I wanted to hear," he remarked darkly. "All right. I'll inform everyone of this, put it to a consensus, and if no other alternatives are offered, then we proceed with your plan." He stopped pacing and faced the three with a look of pure intimidation. "In the meantime, try and come up with another alternative. I don't like the idea of leaving this station defenseless for any length of time."
"Understood, sir," all three answered in near-unison.
"Dismissed." After they left, Sisko was alerted to a Priority One transmission from the Defiant.
"We were just under attack by Jem'Hadar forces," Kira informed him. "Six Dominion warships. There wasn't enough time to get a message through to you about it until now."
"How many casualties?"
"None. Twelve are wounded, though. And you wouldn't believe how we got out of this one alive."
"They surrounded us, prepared to fire, and proceeded to power down all of their systems."
"They just...stopped. All of their onboard systems just ceased."
"Then all six warships began a countdown sequence to self-destruct. We got the hell out of there."
"I don't believe it."
Chapter Three: The Best Laid Plans..."
If there was ever a threat to the United Federation of Planets (and through the centuries there had been many), it was the Dominion.
While they were both after the same things, such as Peace and Exploration, and they had similar systems in that they were both organizations with several different alien races each as members, their respective methods were diametrically opposite.
The Federation's concept of Peace and Exploration involved coexistence and nonagression, and there were even directives regarding First Contact with new species and Diplomatic Protocol.
The Dominion's idea of Peace and Exploration was one geared toward dominace and hostility, and their mission statement was simple: Bend all to their will, and crush all that oppose. They were, as it happened, quite skilled at both, with massive armies of cloned soldiers at their disposal.
Whereas the Federation had no actual governing race (even though a noticeable percentage of its members were human, the species that had helped found the Federation), The Dominion had a very definite hierarchy. It was ruled by a race of shapeshifters that called themselves, naturally enough, The Founders. As it turned out, they were the same race that Odo descended from, but was unaware of for most of his life. The Founders were worshipped as "gods" by another race called the Vorta, who oversaw most of the Dominion's operations. The Jem'Hadar, the aforementioned cloned soldiers, carried out their orders to destroy while being controlled by a chemical they were addicted to like a drug.
One of the more recent additions to the Dominion were the Cardassians, a race of beings who made built their empire and reputations upon the subjugation of other species, such as the Bajorans. In fact, they had built Terek Nor, or Deep Space Nine as it was now called, as an outpost to oversee the sixty-year oppression of Bajor and its people. They had joined with the Dominion in the hopes of expanding their operations.
So it was on the Cardassian homeworld that two members of the Dominion, a Vorta named Weyoun and a Cardassian named Legate Damar, received the latest news of the war efforts.
Damar took the news rather hard. "WHAT?!" he bellowed at the messenger, who was, all things considered, glad he wad delivering the news via vidcom, instead of in person. "Warships don't just shut down for no reason and explode, especially not Dominion warships! There HAS to be some mistake!"
"Apologies, sir," replied the informant, "but I am just repeating what I've learned."
Damar briefly toyed with the idea of reaching through the viewscreen and snatching the informant by his miserable throat, the laws of physics be damned; but since all that would really result from this would be a terribly mangled hand and a very real threat of electrocution, Damar instead took a deep breath and tried to relax. He gripped the neck of his bottle of canar, a Cardassian alcoholic liquid, so tightly it might very well shatter in his hand if he wasn't careful. "Are there any leads on what could have caused it?" he queried at last.
"None at this time, sir."
"Well KEEP WORKING ON IT!!!"
"You must calm yourself, Damar," Weyoun consoled in his usual tone that was so soothing it was considered by many to be disturbingly creepy. "Outbursts solve nothing, and if The Founders have taught us anything, it's that a calm detachment is the key to handling problems." To the informant, he said benevolently, "Keep us informed on this situation." The commlink was terminated with the touch of the screen, and Weyoun turned to Damar, his eyes full of scorn. "How many times," he asked, "must I tell you to control your temper? It is becoming more of a problem with each passing day." He looked down at Damar's bottle and snatched it out of the Cardassian's hand. "We both know what the cause is," he stated, staring at the bottle, which was two-thirds empty.
"My canar consumption?" Damar asked, more than a little fed up with Weyoun's constant reprimands, and his existence in general.
"Why you persist in drowning yourself with such a pathetic substance will forever be beyond me." The Vorta had an astoundingly high tolerance of chemical toxins, which caused Weyoun to be immune to any affects of alcohol.
"And yet it is Dominion policy to keep Jem'Hadar soldiers addicted to a drug in order to keep them in line. Contradictory, isn't it?"
"There you go again, questioning the will of the Founders. Their decisions are their own and not for us to question, but to carry out."
Weyoun's almost-constant chatter about the Founders never ceased to test Damar's limited patience. He decided to change the subject. "Regarding the incident with the Defiant: what are we going to do about it? At this point we can't tell whether or not it's a design flaw in our warships, a new Federation weapon, or a simple, million-to-one fluke."
"I would hardly call six Dominion warships powering down and self-destructing simultaneously a 'million-to-one fluke'," Weyoun countered, his voice overflowing with venom. "This matter WILL be resolved."
The Vorta waved Damar away. "Leave me now," he ordered, "and take this bottle with you."
Back on DS9, the plan to shut down and restart the station was put to a vote. It proved to be a very unpopular one.
"Have you any idea how long it will take to make the necessary preparations?" Odo asked. He studied Bashir, Roswell, and O'Brien's nervous expressions for a moment and proceeded to answer his own question. "It will take at least an hour to get all of the station's occupants to get ready, two hours to get all of the equipment in order, and five hours for the nearest starship to arrive and help us out. As it stands, we only have one hour before the virus shuts the station down itself. This is the best you can do after hours of studying the problem? I'm disappointed."
"Do you have a better idea?" O'Brien responded, hoping Odo would in fact have a better plan.
"As a matter of fact I do. Vic?" he requested, tapping his commbadge.
"I'm listening," the holographic lounge owner named Vic Fontaine replied.
"What have you been able to uncover about the Alpha Ghost virus?"
"Not much, other than the fact it was created using Ferengi hardware adapted to Federation systems."
This bit of news noticeably shocked everyone in the room. The first to find her voice was Kira, who, along with the rest of the Defiant crew, returned shortly before the meeting. "Ferengi? Are you sure?"
"Hey, have I ever lied to you?" Vic replied. "I'm just statin' what I found out."
"So the Ferengi are behind this?" Sisko asked, pondering the implications.
Quark, who was also present due to the fact that he was the station's civilian community leader, was clearly unsettled. "What are you all lookin' at me like that for? You think I planted the virus?"
Odo wasted no time in answering, "The incident with Jake did happen in your HoloSuite, and we both know how adept you are in breaking into station files and circumventing security protocols."
"So?" Quark shot back. "Circumstantial evidence which doesn't prove anything. Besides, Odo, you of all people should know better than to accuse the nearest Ferengi of something almost all Ferengi are able to do. How do we even know a Ferengi created the virus? Vic himself said that it was Ferengi hardware adapted to Federation technology. It's possible some hu-mon could have purchased the equipment and adapted it, and then created the virus. Any number of scenarios are equally possible."
"He's right," Roswell added. "Considering that the Ferengi have built an empire on the principles of economics and supply and demand, the software could have changed hands any number of times before being used to create the virus. It's a lead, but a small one."
Sisko considered this information briefly. "So what about the Federation angle? Could it be someone within the Federation who's trying to sabotage us? If so, why are they also attacking the Dominion?"
"Could it be a third party?" Odo suggested. "The Maquis, perhaps?"
"Possibly," Kira noted. "I wouldn't put it past them. Then again, there are lots or groups with enough reason to attack both the Federation and the Dominion."
"While we're sitting here debating this," O'Brien pointed out, "the virus is getting closer and closer to its deadline, and acquiring more and more information about us. Why don't we save the speculations for later and concentrate on keeping the virus from--"
The lights went out. The omnipresent engine hum faded to nothing. Vic vanished, since he was a hologram. The gravity nets stooped working, causing the crew to rise steadily upward toward the ceiling.
For a moment, there was dead silence.
The silence was replaced with shocked whispers that grew ever louder. Panic began to spread through the station like a blaze through a house of cards.
The cause was obvious: the Alpha Ghost Virus had decided to shut down the station early.
At least, the cause was obvious to the Starfleet and Bajoran officers. Most of the civilians were completely unaware of the virus' existence, so they had no idea what had caused this malfunction. The Bajoran commoners hoped and prayed that their gods, the celestial Prophets, were not punishing them.
Speculations ran rampant among the various species aboard the station, with the consensus being that the Dominion had found a new way to terrorize the Alpha Quadrant.
The stations resident officers, on the other hand, were handling the situation somewhat better.
"Oh god, I think I'm gonna be sick!" enthused Lieutenant Ezri Dax.
She was not enjoying this one bit, since she happened to be sensitive to motion. It was quite embarrassing, but then again she was used to things not going her way. It was an ongoing theme in her life. For starters, she was the hapless host to Dax, a symbiotic sluglike lifeform that existed in her abdomen.
For centuries, various members of the Trill race had played host to the symbiotic lifeforms. When a host and symbiont are joined, both become one with each other's experiences and personality, effectively creating a new being with the characteristics of both. Dax had seven previous hosts before Ezri. The sixth host, a wise old man named Curzon, was a mentor and friend to Sisko, who playfully called Curzon "Old Man." A bright young woman named Jadzia, the seventh host, served with Sisko on DS9 as a science officer who more recently married Commander Worf. Sisko still called her "Old Man." Soon afterward, she was killed, but the Dax symbiont survived. While being transported by starship to the Trill homeworld, the symbiont experienced critical problems that made it mandatory for it to be placed in a Trill host body. The only Trill on board the starship at the time was a counselor named Ezri Tigen.
While the standard procedure for the symbiotic process required years of preparation on the Trill's part, Ezri had less than a half-hour's notice before being joined. The result was that she found it difficult to sort through the experiences of all of her previous hosts. She would often find herself operating under the impression she was a previous host, or act on a former host's subconsious impulse, only to find out that it didn't agree with Ezri, herself.
It was a struggle for her to sort through all of this and still function as a counselor, but the most noticeable side effect of her joining with the symbiont was the nausea it caused. Ever since she was joined, she'd found little comfort in space travel and could even feel the station rotating. A zero-gravity environment couldn't be a less ideal setting for her.
"Calm down, Old Man," Sisko ordered through gritted teeth. "We'll get through this." He hoped he sounded more confident than he was, because as it happened, he also found weightlessness disconcerting. He turned to O'Brien, who was busy studying his portable scanning device, called a tri-corder. "How much air do we have left?"
"A half-hour's worth, sir, but after that we'll have to tough it out in life-support suits until help arrives. But there's not enough suits for everybody, and we have no way of signaling for help." He made his way over to a power relay and tried to activate one of the ship's backup generators. He wasn't having much luck.
The rest of the crew went to work as well, trying whatever they could think of to get at least some power going. Roswell and the Bajoran officers set up provisional gravity nets that operated under their own power. The best they could manage to generate for any length of time was a third of the station's former gravity output. Bashir quickly moved from person to person, checking vital signs and doling out the appropriate treatments.
Odo, Kira, and Worf, along with most of the station's security officers, kept a constant lookout for any ships that might arrive, whether benevolent or hostile.
Suddenly, a low hum was heard. O'Brien recognized it as belonging to one of the station's impulse engines. Three more just like it quickly followed, and the station began to lurch violently because its slow rotation was interrupted. Ezri was less amused than ever.
Once he got his bearings, Sisko looked out of a window into space. There wasn't much to go by, but he could immediately tell:
"We're moving! And by the looks of it, we're on our way to the wormhole!"
Chapter Four: "Damage Reports"
For such a technologically and sociologically advanced society as the Federation, it seemed to some to be almost comical that they would still refer to a cosmic vortex as a "wormhole." The vortex acted as a shortcut between two distant points in space, shunting travelers from one end to the other and saving them a trip that would often normally require days, months, even years to make the normal way.
The problem was that as a general rule, wormholes were random phenomena, appearing as if by accident in a part of space for a short period of time, then vanishing. As a result, convenient use of the anomaly was often out of the question, as in some cases, the wormholes would appear and disappear before anyone became aware of their presence at all.
An interesting exception to the rule was the Bajoran Wormhole, which had existed in the same location for thousands of years, a reasonable distance away from the humble planet called Bajor. The reason for that was because it was artificial, created by the enigmatic entities the Bajorans had dubbed "The Prophets." Inside the wormhole, the Prophets existed, both outside of linear time and in all time frames simultaneously. They would occasionally send orbs, small pieces of themselves, to Bajor, where the locals based a religion around them. The Bajorans were completely unaware of the wormhole's existence, since it was only visible when an object approached it.
At least, the Bajorans were unaware of the portal's existence until a Starfleet officer named Benjamin Sisko showed up. In very short order he and his fellow officers discovered both the wormhole and confirmed that there were indeed beings that fit the Prophets' description. To the surprise of just about everyone, the Prophets named Sisko their "Emissary", which basically meant he was their mouthpiece to mortal humans.
Sisko's discovery of the wormhole had led to a change in the balance of power in the Alpha Quadrant. Bajoran space was suddenly a sector of great exploration and commerce from both sides of the wormhole, where countless ships every day passed through the area.
As it happened, Deep Space Nine itself was much too large to safely make it through the wormhole, and therein lay the problem, since that's exactly what the station was attempting to do.
The station steadily increased speed, causing the ill-equipped crew inside to brace themselves and clench their teeth.
"MR. O'BRIEN!!" Captain Sisko shouted to the Operations Chief. "IS THERE ANY WAY TO STOP THIS THING?!"
"I'M TRYING, SIR!" O'Brien replied. "BUT GIVEN THIS CRATE'S SPEED, IT'S GOING TO TAKE A LOT MORE POWER THAN WE HAVE!"
The wormhole sensed their approach and opened itself up. It looked interestingly enough like a cross between a giant flower with giant bluish-white energy petals spreading out in full bloom, and an enormous whirlpool. The effect would have been so much more impressive if those viewing it weren't so unbelievably terrified.
Sisko turned to Roswell. "ANY IDEAS, LIEUTENANT?"
Quentin furiously worked a control panel, having gained rudimentary control over Ops a moment ago thanks to O'Brien's improvisations. His eyes darted from one viewscreen readout to another, his brows furrowed in concentration. "WE COULD SEND A MODULATED ELECTROMAGNETIC PULSE INTO THE WORMHOLE," he reported, not bothering to look up. "IF IT'S CALIBRATED CORRECTLY, THE E.M.P. SHOULD TRIGGER AN ENERGY FLARE FROM THE WORMHOLE SUFFICIENT ENOUGH TO HALT OUR PROGRESS."
Roswell programmed the necessary data into the system, and fired an electromagnetic pulse into one of the sides of the expanding portal. The wall of energy responded in kind, sending a burst of magnetism back at the station.
All hands braced for impact. If Roswell's calculations were off by even a single decimal, getting disintegrated might be the least tragic thing to happen to all onboard.
The EM burst struck the station's energy shield with a fury that all inside could feel in their collective marrow.
It was a full minute before anyone dared to look up and check if they were still alive. Another eternity of seconds passed before anyone remembered to breathe. They found themselves in the mouth of the great wormhole, in a stationary position.
The sight that those on the side facing the portal's entrance beheld was incredible: enormous rivers of fluid energy cascaded through the giant tunnel. Electricity sparked at odd intervals in the passage. For all of the religious people aboard the station, it was a sight unmatched in grandeur.
Col. Kira, whose belief in the Prophets rode the line between devotion and skepticism, stood up and walked toward the main viewscreen and placed her hand on it. She'd been through the wormhole at least a hundred times before, but she was usually too preoccupied with piloting a runabout craft on some mission to really appreciate the majesty of it. It was amazing to think this wormhole was artificial, and not a creation of nature. Of course, it was a creation of The Prophets, and that was even more awe-inspiring for her.
For an unknown amount of time no one said anything.
Finally, Sisko nodded toward Roswell, who was too far in shock to appreciate what had just happened. He'd also apparently bitten his tongue. "Nicely done, Lieutenant," Benjamin smiled.
"Er...thank you, thir." Quentin replied.
"Now then," Sisko continued, "Status Report, Mr. O'Brien?"
"All primary systems functioning properly, sir, and our propulsion systems check out."
"Excellent. Turn us around and take us back to our usual coordinates, please." Sisko privately wonder how much of what had just transpired was due to Roswell's quick thinking, and how much of this The Prophets had a hand in.
"So tell me," Odo asked, striding over to Quentin. "What do you plan on doing for an encore?" _______________________________________________________________________
Roswell was in no mood for this.
He'd planned to simply retire to his quarters, crawl into bed, and hibernate for maybe a millennium or three, a good plan even though he was supposed to report for duty at 0800 hours the following morning.
Jake Sisko wasn't helping at all. "Just a brief comment, please?" the young writer pleaded. "You just saved the station from destruction on your first day on the job. Not many people can say that." He held his recorder padd in front of Quentin's nose expectantly, hoping for a good sound bite. "How do you feel about that?"
"Lucky to be alive," Quentin remarked curtly. "Completely exhausted. More than a little annoyed. Any more questions?"
"Err...that's about it," Jake said slowly. He was under the distinct (and correct) impression that he was getting on the Lieutenant's nerves.
"Glad to hear it," Quentin stated. "You might get an interview sometime tomorrow when I have the chance. But right now I have a very urgent appointment with my REM cycle, so any comments, quotes and statements will have to wait. Am I free to go?" Without waiting for a reply, Roswell turned a corner and arrived at his quarters, slipping inside and locking the door as swiftly as possible. 'Reporters,' he thought before getting ready for bed.
For some reason he found it difficult to go to sleep. _______________________________________________________________________
On his way back to the habitat he shared with Nog, Jake ran through his attempted interview with Roswell over and over in his head. 'Not one of my finest moments,' he thought ruefully. 'If Dad finds out I unintentionally annoyed his new science officer, he won't be happy.' Jake entered his quarters and tossed his recorder padd on a couch. After pacing for a while, and putting the leftover portion of a Ferengi pizza (which resembled the Earth kind very little) in cold storage, he sat down at his comm terminal and logged onto the Federation Network, a subspace computer network all of the planets in the Federation had access to.
After checking messages sent to him, he accessed a netsite devoted to the latest news happening in the Federation. An overwhelming 95% of the articles had something to do with the Dominion War, which depressed Jake. He decided to check and see if there were any reports of an "Alpha Ghost". He discovered that three other strategically important Federation outposts and two starships had also been inconvenienced by the virus, and what's more, they had all reported first seeing the Ghost within a half-hour of Jake seeing it.
'Okay, then,' Jake thought, 'let's play a little game.' "Computer?" he announced. "Display information on all four of the following outposts: Deep Space Nine, Deep Space Three, Hedron Station, Maverick Station, the U.S.S. Eva, and the U.S.S. Defiant."
"Such information requires Starfleet authorization."
"Great, just great."
Jake rested his forehead in his hand in defeat, then looked up as his roommate, Ensign Nog, entered the quarters. A sudden burst of inspiration hit Jake. "Hey Nog," he said gleefully. "Mind helping me with something?"
Nog saw the mischievous look on Jake's face and groaned. "What are you getting me into this time?"
Chapter Five: "No Rest"
"Attention Quentin Roswell," the computer voice chirped, "It is 0600 hours. Please wake up and prepare for your day."
"Groooaannn...mumble mumble..." Quentin replied. He wasn't sure when he'd finally gone to sleep, but it seemed like two minutes ago.
Ten minutes later, when he finally woke up enough to trudge out of bed, he grabbed a clean uniform and headed for the sonic shower.
The computer wouldn't cooperate. "Sonic showers have been taken off line," it toned.
"At 23:15:45 last night, a malfunction in the showers was reported. The safety setting on the sonic emitter had been reset. As a result, a civilian attempting to use the shower is in the infirmary after sustaining broken bones. The malfunction applies to all sonic shower facilities on this station. The showers will remain offline until the malfunction is fixed."
"Wonderful." He gave up and washed his face in the bathroom sink. 'I long for the days when showers used water,' he thought.
"Getting slow in your old age, Worf?" taunted an ornery Klingon after blocking an attack from the tactical officer. The Klingon in question, Martok, liked to ask this at least once a day, to keep Worf on his toes, since Martok was at least ten years Worf's senior. Probably twenty.
"No," Worf replied matter-of-factly, "I am merely pacing myself. It is you who is getting slow." He swung his bat'leth, a Klingon bladed weapon, around for another assault, which Martok met with his own bat'leth. The two warriors pushed their weapons against each other, their eyes locking furiously. Neither Klingon was willing to back down, even if this was just a daily training ritual they shared as blood brothers.
Martok only had one good eye left to see out of, but it viewed the world with equal parts raw passion, aged experience, and undeniable honor. "You flatter me greatly," Martok replied through gritted teeth, and pushed harder. There was a newfound determination in Worf's struggle, as if an even stronger force was driving him to victory than usual. Considering that Worf had a perpetual drive toward perfection, this was indeed saying something.
Worf kicked Martok's legs out from under him, causing Martok to land rather hard on his back. "Nicely done, Worf," Martok muttered. "I didn't even see it coming." The old warrior tried to stand up, but his back protested strongly. "Uuurrrgh.... that's going to...hurt..." he noted. "Doctor Bashir will no doubt be pleased to see me for the fourth day in a row." He looked up at Worf, who helped him up. "Where is this new fire coming from?"
Worf regarded the odd question with a raised eyebrow. "New fire?"
"There is a new drive in you I haven't seen in years. In fact, the last time I saw it was when we first met in the Dominion prison, when you fought all those Jem'Hadar soldiers and refused to give in even when honor was satisfied. At that moment I gained infinite respect for you. Surprisingly, that was the last time I witnessed such warrior passion in you...until now."
"Well," Worf responded, pondering Martok's observation, " To be honest I am not sure. I have been set on edge lately, but I have been unable to discern what the cause is."
Martok crossed his arms in thought, and suddenly smirked in inspiration. "Computer," he requested of the HoloSuite. "How long ago was Jadzia Dax's death?"
"Six months, ten days, forty-two seconds, and eighty-one nanoseconds," the computer reported.
"Six months?" Worf repeated. "Has it been that long?"
"How long does it feel?" Martok asked.
"Some days it feels as though it happened yesterday, other days it seems as if it happened a lifetime ago. But I hadn't realized six months have passed."
Martok put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Few Klingons have grieved for lost loved ones as deeply as you have grieved for Jadzia. I have lost many loved ones, but none have affected me as deeply. Your love for her must have been powerful indeed. I find myself envious of that. Never forget who she was, or what she meant to you."
"I know...and I will not. It just seems as if she wasn't important enough to anyone else. Her position in life keeps being replaced by others. First Ezri, who now has the Dax symbiont, then the new human...his name escapes me...who has taken over her post as science officer. Are her shoes so easy to fill?"
"Worf, you know that's not true. No one can replace her. She was...is the most unique and fascinating woman I've ever met. The fact that there are successors to her positions in life should prove that she was very important to those around her. But a successor is not the same as a replacement. Ezri is just as different from Jadzia as Jadzia was from Curzon, and the new science officer...Roswell is his name, I believe...promises to break his own ground from what I've heard. They are merely the next in line. They won't replace her or erase her impact on anyone's life. And yes, it took me years to realize this same thing."
Martok picked up his bat'leth. "I believe you still have another hour before you report for duty," he stated, swinging his weapon in wide arcs. "Let us battle another round."
"What about your back?"
"What about it? It'll still be here when we're through, and this is therapeutic. Besides," he smirked. "This'll give Bashir something to do to fill his morning." He lunged his bat'leth at Worf, whose own weapon met it with a sharp "KLANG!!"
"Problem, Chief?" Roswell asked pleasantly as O'Brien pounded on a length of tubing.
"Hm? No, I'm just trying to get this bloody thing loose," Miles answered gruffly.
"Need any help?"
"No, I'm fine." He hit the tubing again, as well as his thumb. "OW!" O'Brien cursed and shook his throbbing thumb.
"Are you sure you don't want any help?"
"YES, I'M SURE," O'Brien curtly stated through gritted teeth.
"Okay, fine," Roswell conceded. Raising his palms up in surrender and backing away slowly. He turned to Ezri, who was watching the scene with a smirk. "What's with him?" he whispered to her.
"Knowing him?" Ezri guessed, "frustration over the fact that, computer virus or not, this station still has days where it just won't behave for him."
"Oh." Quentin returned to his workstation, checking the latest scans of the wormhole and running a diagnostic.
"Um, Quentin?" Ezri prodded. "What are you doing?"
"Running diagnostics on computer systems and scanning the wormhole."
"I wanted to see if I did any damage to the wormhole when I sent an EMP into it yesterday."
"Why would there be any damage? As I recall you sent it the same kind of energy it runs on."
"True, but every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When the EMP sent an energy wave back at us, it also sent an energy burst in the opposite direction: into the wormhole's energy matrix. Though it seems unlikely, that event very well could have interrupted something in the regular energy flow."
Ezri raised an eyebrow and read the data on Roswell's screen. "You act as if you think it's a distinct possibility."
Roswell turned from his screen to face Ezri. "Well, I'm sure there was a good reason why the virus caused our systems to send us into the wormhole. I doubt the reason was to destroy us, because it could have more easily done that by causing a warp core breach. Granted, whoever designed the virus has a flair for the dramatic, but I'm betting the virus was created with some grand scheme in mind.
"I couldn't sleep last night," he continued, pressing some touchscreen buttons, "so I ran through all the data we have so far on the Ghost's activities. It saved the Defiant from an attack by the Dominion. It deleted a war game Jake created. It deleted assorted files, all of which having to do with war strategy. Then it disabled us for a while in order to gain control of the station, and gave us back Ops control so we could save ourselves. For some reason a scan of the wormhole appeared on my screen, detailing the energy signatures in the wormhole tunnel. It enabled me to send an EMP into the anomaly to halt our progress."
Roswell's speech had gotten the attention of everyone in earshot. "So what are you saying?" Kira asked.
"I'm saying this virus has a purpose, which may include stopping the war."
Sounds of skepticism circulated among the station's senior staff.
"Mind explaining this theory of yours a little more, Mr. Roswell?" Sisko asked, trying to make sense of the statement.
Roswell took a deep breath and pointed to the energy readouts on his screen. "According to the data the sensors are now picking up, the wormhole is restructuring itself. It's beginning to change shape and density. It could be that the virus intended to collapse the wormhole, so the Dominion can't get to the Alpha Quadrant, which only leaves those Dominion operatives already here, which is a relatively small number."
Worf turned the information over in his head. "It seems plausible," he noted, "and an interesting strategy. All of the trouble it had caused us prior to its shutting down the station and gaining control of it could have been a diversionary tactic to keep us from discovering its intent before it was ready to carry out its programming. And stopping the Dominion from sending reinforcements here would be a good way to turn the tide in the Federation's favor."
"So we're looking at a semi-sentient computer virus," Sisko added, "that's programmed to help us win the war, but is not above terrorizing us in order to accomplish that."
"That's about the size of it," Roswell replied. "If anyone has a better explanation, I'd be glad to hear it."
"I'll notify Starfleet right away," Sisko reported, entering his office. "The question now is, 'What is the virus' next move?'"
"Good question," Roswell admitted, then continued sorting through the data, his eyes already stinging from staring at the screen.
As expected, Admiral Ross didn't know what to make of this new information. "So you're saying that this blasted virus is trying to help us?"
"In its own roundabout way, it appears so," Sisko replied, rolling his baseball around in his palms while talking via vidlink with the admiral.
"Hmph. Tell that to the other outposts visited by the virus. They're still trying to get everything back to normal. If the virus shut your station's power down to gain control of it in order to mess with the wormhole, why did it shut down the rest of the outposts' power?"
"Maybe to make sure no one caught onto its plan beforehand," Sisko hypothesized. "Either that, or it had something else in mind for the other bases. In any even, we're working on that and will keep you informed. Have a good day sir. Sisko out."
Sisko terminated the link and tossed the ball in the air a few times. He fully expected the admiral to have difficulty selling anyone on the idea. He himself had a hard time believing it.
He turned when he heard his office door signal. Outside stood Jake, Odo, and Ensign Nog. Sisko granted them permission to enter, and was surprised to say the least at what came next.
"Captain," Odo informed, "these two have come to me with some interesting information they've uncovered."
"What is it?"
"Captain," Nog began, clearing his throat, "Jake and I...searched for information about the virus..."
"You and everyone else on the station," Sisko pointed out. "Go on."
"Well," Nog continued, "we searched through various sources, then went to Odo for help, and found out who created the Alpha Ghost program. As it turns out, the Ferengi software the program was created on...was purchased by a group of computer programmers called Datastream."
Jake looked at Nog and Odo hesitantly, then reported, "a member of that group...is Quentin Roswell."
Sisko almost dropped the ball.
Chapter Six: "Implications"
"You wanted to see me, sir?" Roswell asked, stepping into the captain's office. He saw Odo and a few others there, as well as Sisko's angry glare.
"Yes, sit down," the captain replied, his annoyance evident in his voice. "It's come to my attention that you used to be part of a group called Datastream."
"Yes sir. It's a group of computer programmers, who assist the Federation in developing and upgrading systems," Quentin replied, hoping this conversation wasn't going where he was afraid it was going.
"I see. What kind of systems do you program?"
"All kinds, sir: Ops comms, diagnostics, tactical, it was a fairly wide range."
"And when did you do all this?"
"Last year, on a leave of absence from the Eva. I was informed of a group that needed help, and I figured it would be a good way to take my mind off of the destruction of Watermark Station, my fiancée's death. It was a temporary deal, and only lasted a month. After that, I returned to duty on the Eva."
"I see. And in that time you were part of Datastream, did you by any chance get a hold of Ferengi technology?"
Quentin's eyebrows raised, lending to his overall expression a look of panic. They were onto him.
Sisko leaned forward. "It has come to my attention that you were integral in the creation of this Alpha Ghost virus, and that even after you returned to Starfleet duty, you were in fact manipulating events in order to carry out Datastream's goals. Those goals including the control of events in the Dominion War. My question is, 'Why?'"
Roswell chose his words carefully. "To put an end to the war as quickly, and with as little fatalities, as possible."
"Yes sir. We all know this war has gone on far too long and has caused far too many deaths. I mean, I doubt that there is anyone left in the Alpha Quadrant who hasn't lost a friend or relative in this war. If it continues, we could all be wiped out."
"Agreed. But is creating a virus to attack systems the answer?"
"It's a means to an end."
That was a bad choice of words. Sisko stood up. "But do your pacifistic end justify the means?" he asked rhetorically.
"That depends on the end and the means, sir."
"Let me put it another way: does ending the war justify creating a virus that sabotages Federation efforts?"
"Given the limited amount of resources at Datastream's disposal, it was our best option. Besides, is the Federation protecting its citizens or putting them in the middle of the conflict? Every time the Dominion wants to strike a blow against the Federation, it aims for the civilians."
"So the virus protects the citizens?"
"The virus removes the files dealing with battle plans that would place innocents in danger."
"What about my war sim?" Jake demanded, hoping he wasn't out of line for asking.
"And for that matter," Odo interrogated, "what about the virus' takeover of the station?"
Roswell paused, trying to form a believable response. "That was a new wrinkle to the virus' programming that wasn't part of the package when I first helped create it. I don't know where it came from or who put it there, but I did figure out why. Apparently, the originator of that program put that in to further stop the Dominion's progress, and forgot to inform me of it. Either forgot or couldn't inform me. Either way, that development was just as much a surprise to me as it was to all of you."
Odo crossed his arms in skepticism. "Right," he toned sarcastically. "Tell us another one."
"It's the truth," Roswell pleaded. "That plan was either added after I created the Ghost, or before, and they didn't let me in on it for whatever reason. I would never have agreed to letting the virus loose on the station if I'd known that it was going to end up endangering the lives of everyone aboard."
"How reassuring," Sisko replied, staring into Roswell's eyes with that look of pure intimidation. "I hope for your sake that you're telling the truth and that you did have no knowledge of the extent of the damage the virus caused. But you're still an accessory." He turned to Odo. "Constable," he ordered, "take Mr. Roswell to the Brig."
"Gladly, sir," the changeling security officer acknowledged. He grabbed the lieutenant by the arm, escorted him out, and handed him over to the security detail waiting outside. Odo, the officers, and Roswell marched to a holding cell. Once they reached it, Odo removed Quentin's commbadge, shoved him inside the small room, and activated the security field.
Quentin sat down on the bed and stared at his hands, while Odo walked off, muttering "Another science officer bites the dust."
"You have a visitor," a Bajoran security officer announced hours later.
Roswell looked up from his game of Solitaire Tic-Tac-Toe and replied, "Excellent. Now I have someone to talk to besides my echoes. Let 'em in."
The officer nodded to the visitor, who happened to be Ezri Dax.
"Ah, Ms. Dax," Quentin enthused. "Glad to see you. Sorry I can't offer you any refreshments, but I doubt you're a root beer person anyway. What brings you by?"
Ezri smiled at Quentin's babbling, glad that he managed to keep his sense of humor. "I just wanted to see how you're holding up. The way people are talking about you, it's as if you're a war criminal or something."
"No, I hadn't quite gotten that far. In truth I'm just a guy who just wanted to save lives and end the war as painlessly as possible. I admit creating the virus wasn't a terribly great idea, but I was still in shock over my fiancée's death when I agreed to do it."
"There's a saying that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions."
"So then is the road to heaven paved with bad ones?" Roswell shot back. "There's another saying: 'Evil prevails when good men do nothing.' I got tired of watching the Dominion slaughter people and punching walls because I couldn't do anything to prevent it. Hell, when the Jem'Hadar took Watermark Station, I was in a corner hyperventilating. The realization hit me pretty hard that there wasn't a whole lot I could do. I went back to Mars Colony a complete emotional wreck, unable to even feel my feet touch the floor under me. I was that unsettled.
"Then, at my favorite retro-1990's restaurant bar, I contemplated taking my own life. To this day I'm still not sure how seriously I took the idea at the time. Some guy walked up to me, sat down beside me, and presented me with the opportunity to actually put my intelligence to efficient use in dovetailing the war. In the emotional state I was in, that offer was the best sentence I'd ever heard. I spent the next month at Datastream working on the virus and using the position of Computer Programmer as a cover. Sure, I fixed enough legitimate systems to justify my presence there, but my main concern was making sure the virus did what it was supposed to."
"But it didn't."
"Oh it worked fine when I tested it, but apparently there were changes made to it between the time I went back to Starfleet and the time I downloaded it onto DS9's database. Bottom line: I'm sure Datastream set me up."
"Set you up?"
"I find it odd that the names of the virus' creators could be revealed as easily as they were. Here we have ten of the greatest computer geniuses in the Alpha Quadrant. If they wanted to, they could have made sure that outsiders never uncovered the information. Yet, oddly enough, the names were uncovered. Imagine that. So it's safe to assume that they wanted me to take the fall. I'm willing to bet that the rest of the names on the list are also those set up."
"Maybe," Ezri replied. "We won't know until we do more checking. For what it's worth," she stated, "I believe you. So do Miles, Julian, Odo, and Benjamin. Kira and Nog are undecided, but I doubt you'll ever be able to convince Jake of your innocence. You deleted a project of his, remember?"
"No I didn't. It was just renamed and put in my file. If he opens 'Roswell Holo 29-1', he'll find the game stored there. None of the files the Ghost touched were deleted, just renamed."
"I'll inform Jake of that. Well, it looks like visiting hours are over. Stay out of trouble, okay?"
"I'll do my best, ma'am. Before you go, I have a question: Why do so many of you believe me?"
"Well…because of the way you handled yourself during the virus' takeover of the station. Based on that, you'd make a lousy war criminal."
"I aim t'please, ma'am."
Suddenly they found themselves flooded in red light as the station went into Red Alert. Loud sirens and the computer ordered all of the station's inhabitants to report to battle stations if they were officers, and head for cover if they were civilians.
"Uh-oh, what's going on now?" Roswell wondered aloud as Ezri raced to Ops. He cursed the fact that he was unable to be of any help to anyone. _______________________________________________________________________
"Report," Sisko requested, making his way from a turbolift to his command post.
"Twelve Jem'Hadar warships have just decloaked and surrounded the station," Commander Worf stated, reciting the information from his comm panel.
Sisko clenched his teeth, giving his jaw muscles a thorough workout. His brow furrowed as he beheld the oval viewscreen the sight of several Dominion ships covering every angle of the station. He prayed the shields would stand up against the inevitable barrage, but doubted they would. "Raise shields to full," he commanded, "ready all phasers and photon torpedoes."
Worf did so, and reported, "Captain: the lead ship is hailing us."
'Here we go,' Sisko frowned. "On screen."
The monitor revealed the unhappy visage of Weyoun, the annoying Vorta in charge of overseeing operations in Cardassian/Bajoran space. "Good afternoon, Captain," he greeted cheerfully. Or at least as cheerfully as he could manage considering he had a bone to pick with Sisko. "It's been a while since we've last conversed. How are you feeling?"
Benjamin could think of few activities more irritating than listening to Weyoun's insincere pleasantries. "Like a million bars of gold-pressed latinum," he replied, returning Weyoun's ingratiating tone just to watch the Vorta bristle. "But since I doubt you brought so many of your friends here just to check on my well-being, I'm sure you've stopped by for another reason."
"Indeed I have," Weyoun replied. "Yesterday six of my warships were defeated by the Defiant. The interesting part is, they were completely shut down moments before self-destructing. All evidence suggests the work of a new weapon apparently developed by the Federation, because the six warships were functioning properly. Yet if that were the case, we would have seen it being used against our forces by other ships than just yours. So I thought maybe we could…what's the human expression? …'Put our heads together' and come up with a logical explanation for the incident. What do you think?"
Sisko raised an eyebrow. Was it possible that the Dominion had somehow not found out about the Alpha Ghost? Far be it from him to enlighten them. Also, something was…rather odd about this conversation, but he couldn't quite figure out what it was. Weyoun was obviously hiding something, which was absolutely not surprising. "I think you may be overreacting," he answered finally. Why come all the way over here and ask us for help in solving a systems problem, when you could just as easily round up the necessary information through your sources? And if you're accusing us of using a new weapon against you, why are you being so polite? I mean, aside from pointing so many of your ships at us?"
Weyoun's eyes widened. "I can see taking the diplomatic approach is getting us nowhere," he remarked. He turned to his crew and gave the order to open fire.
Sisko turned to his own crew and gave them a simple nod that brought across the same order.
Reams of phaser fire erupted from the warships, illuminating DS9's force fields while diminishing them. A cascade of photon missiles followed suit, slamming down on the shields like a hailstorm. They were beginning to overload the station's shield generators.
The station shuddered under the impact. "Shields down fifteen percent," Worf called out. He targeted three warships simultaneously and launched an array of torpedoes at them, all of which hit their mark unerringly. The ships exploded in burning flashes, but the nine remaining warbirds circled the station like savage vultures and continued their assault.
The DS9 crew braced themselves as the station rumbled, as if it were in the grip of an earthquake that easily measured an 8 on the Richter Scale. Computer consoles exploded around them. Lighting fixtures were torn loose from their moorings. A few power couplings dislodged themselves and sent sparks shooting in all directions. "Bloody Hell!" O'Brien cursed, watching machinery he'd just fixed coming apart at the seams.
The red alert siren blared on, disrupting the crewmembers' concentrations even more. _______________________________________________________________________
The station's prison cells offered little relief from the violent assault. Roswell his under the bed from the debris falling from the ceiling, but the station's constant shaking caused him to bang his head on the underside of the bed.
He absolutely loathed hiding from a conflict. The last time he did that, the resulting tragedy haunted him forever after. Yet he had to admit his decision to stop hiding and do something about the war was the reason he was in this cell in the first place.
The lighting fixture above him buzzed, threatening to leave the safe confines of the sealing and plummet to the ground. Roswell didn't think too highly of that possibility because he would be electrocuted if that happened. The station shuddered again under the thunderous impact of a missile. One of the supports holding the light up broke, causing the appliance to fall from the ceiling. A wire connecting it to the rest of the station's power supply, however, was still attached to the ceiling, causing the light to swing in a wide arc toward the cell's entrance, where a force field served to keep Roswell interred.
The light fixture crashed against the force field, sending a surge of electricity through the latter. The force field was disrupted, which caused a feedback loop through the entire system.
Suddenly, the Dominion's attack ceased.
The station stopped shaking, and Quentin slowly crawled out from under the bed. "Huh?" was all he could think of to say. _______________________________________________________________________
In Ops, the main viewscreen showed only static. The feedback had caused it to offline.
A full minute of relative silence passed as the crew waited nervously for the attack to resume.
Ezri looked out of the nearest window in an effort to see what was going on. Her double take alerted Kira.
"What is it?" the Bajoran colonel asked.
"There's…nothing out there!" Ezri replied.
"What do you mean, 'there's nothing out there'?
"See for yourself. I should be able to see a least five of the warships from here, but I don't see even one!"
Kira walked over to Ezri and peered out the window for confirmation of Ezri's report…or of her insanity. To her surprise, there were indeed no ships in sight! In fact, the docking ring, which according to Worf and the sensors had suffered heavy damage, was in one piece. 'Was this the Prophets' doing?' she wondered.
The crew gazed through every window they could find, and they all came up with the same answer: not only was the attack over, there appeared to be no signs it'd ever started in the first place!
"Ohhhhkay…" Odo mumbled. "Anyone have an explanation what just happened?"
"I do," a voice behind them announced. The crew turned. It was Roswell. "The explanation is simple: The attack was nothing more than the Ghost Virus playing tricks on our sensors. It altered the station's gyroscopic balance to make us think the station was getting pummeled by the Dominion. Anything the sensors and viewscreen recorded was probably taken from the sensor files. I'm sure the virus caused the equipment to explode for an effect."
Kira marched over to him. "How did you get out of the Brig?" she demanded. And how do you know all of this?"
Roswell backed away slightly. "I got out by simply walking out when the station's power feedbacked on itself and turned off the force field. I figured out what happened by simple deduction. That and I recognize the trick the Ghost just pulled on us. I recognize it because it's a specialty of Rolan Morza, a friend of mine from Datastream. I'm willing to bet he's the guy who added the extra elements into the Ghost's programming, including our unceremonious trip into the wormhole."
"I see," Sisko replied. "Is there anything else you can tell us about Morza?"
"Well," Quentin stated, trying to think of anything else to add, "he conducts his operations from his home on Risa."
"That's a start."
"Hold on," interjected Odo, "we were also hailed by and had spoken to Weyoun via subspace. How was that faked?"
"An uplink from the HoloSuites to the viewscreen, I imagine," Roswell replied.
"Oh, well that clears it right up," Odo answered dryly.
O'Brien, meanwhile, was busy trying to get the station's systems back on line. He was mumbling something about Roswell making life extraordinarily complicated. _______________________________________________________________________
"Starfleet sent a security dispatch to Risa," Sisko reported hours later during a meeting, "but they were unable to find any trace of Morza."
"Terrific," Roswell fumed, arms crossed. "Let me guess: he vanished like a ghost?"
"I doubt it was a hard thing for a computer expert like him to accomplish," Odo stated. "He may not have ever been there in the first place."
"So he's still out there. What does that leave for me?"
"You'll spend at least six months in Starfleet custody," Sisko explained. "During that time, you will use your knowledge of Datastream's methods to create defenses against any computer-related."
"I guess it beats staring at cell walls. And they'll be watching me like a hawk every step of the way."
"So when does this take effect?"
"There's still considerable paperwork," answered Benjamin, leaning back in his chair, "so you'll leave here in two days."
"So what do I do until then?"
"You will serve as my science officer until the transport ship arrives. But we will be watching you, and let it be known that your involvement in Datastream is a blemish that will remain on your record for all time."
Sisko dismissed the meeting, after which all on-duty officers reported to their stations, while Roswell returned to his quarters to change into his uniform. Along the way he spotted O'Brien on his way to fix a turbolift. "Hey Chief," Quentin called, "you remember a reptilian creature from the Gamma Quadrant named Tosk?"
O'Brien stopped. "Yeah…" he said slowly, recalling the creature he had befriended, the first Gamma Quadrant traveler to arrive in the Alpha Quadrant through the wormhole. "I remember him. Why?"
"He says hi."
"He's in exile on a Starfleet colony. He's very old now, since his kind ages more quickly than humans. I met him on a mission back when I served on the Eva. He still talks about you."
"Yeah. He's hiding out from the Dominion, and he wants and end to this war as badly as I do. Next time I see him, I'll tell him you said hi back."
"That'd be great."
"Oh, and Chief?"
"Sorry about all the trouble I caused."
"Ah, don't mention it. It keeps my life interesting." O'Brien paused, and added, "By the way, a word of advice."
"Try and stay out of Quark's today. Odo's having a 'Klingon Day.'"