I was still starring with the Chicago White Sox when Uncle Sam sent out the call for men and I quit the great American game to enlist in the greatest game of all the game we are playing against the Kaiser and we will win this game like I have win many a game of baseball because I was to fast for them and used my brains and it will be the same with the Kaiser and America will fight to the drop of the hat and make the world safe for democracy.
This war is a good deal like baseball gentlemen because it is stratejy that wins and no matter how many soldiers a gen. has got he won’t get nowheres without he uses his brains and its the same in baseball and the boys that stays in the big league is the boys that can think and when this war is over I hope to go back and begin where I left off and win a pennant for Charley Comisky the old Roman in the American League.
— Ring Lardner, The Real Dope
I glanced up from my notepad in time to see a baseball shoot through the infield, take a hard bounce in the dirt path between first and second base, and then skitter to a stop deep in right field. A diving catch by the second baseman might have stopped the ball, then a flicker to the first baseman for the out, but this was batting practice and the field was empty except for the batter and his pitching machine on the mound. Baseballs littered the field, and I had watched a number of them drive into the deep outfield, a few even over the fences.
Another ball flew in from the pitching machine, but this time the batter’s swing came too high and the ball sailed over the plate. I shook my head and turned back to my notes from the morning’s interviews.
A few moments later, Crack! The ball sailed over the center field fence and into the bleachers beyond. I applauded the hit. The batter turned and looked hard at me. He fingered a remote hanging around his neck and turned off the pitching machine. “What are you doing up there?” he called out.
I stood, walked down to the edge of the bleachers, and looked past the pitching machine into the outfield. “Nice hitting.”
The batter followed my gaze into the field and shrugged. “Thanks.”
“You have a great swing, one of the best I’ve seen.”
He looked at me sharply. “You’re an offworlder, I can tell by your accent. How many baseball swings have you really seen?”
“Enough to know a good one from a great one.”
A note of disdain crept into his voice. “Spoken by someone who has never played the game.”
I understood his dismissal of my opinion. Baseball was a little-known sport, though one gaining in popularity on frontier worlds the Federation over. How could I, someone who betrayed my Earth origins with every word spoken, claim to know the difference in a swing when the sport hadn’t been played on Earth seriously in three hundred years? Perhaps I hadn’t played the game as he had, but there was every chance that I knew more of the game’s history than he did. I could have told him that, but said instead, “You could be right.”
He smiled thinly. “What brings you to Cestus III, then? Offworlders aren’t known for coming to see our baseball.”
“My name’s Jake Sisko. I’m a reporter with the Federation News Service, here to cover the War Memorial dedication ceremony.”
“That’s two days off, yet.”
“I wanted to get a feel for how the Dominion War affected people here before the ceremony.”
He shrugged. “We survived. Same as everyone else.”
He had a gift for understatement. While no battle took place within a hundred parsecs of Cestus III, she had given many lives in the service of defending the Federation. I knew the colony’s loss statistics, and I doubted there was anyone on Cestus who hadn’t lost a loved one in the conflict.
“How do you feel about the memorial?”
“It won’t bring the dead back.”
“Memorials aren’t for the dead. They’re for the ones left behind, to remember what their loved ones died for.” I fell quiet thinking about my last visit to the Wolf 359 memorial, the closest I would ever come to having a grave for my mother.
“What’s it to you?” the batter asked, his teeth clenched.
I raised my hands in a calming gesture. “I’m sorry, I was just asking.”
“You can take your questions and ask them somewhere else. Ask someone who cares.” He turned and stormed off to one of the dugouts, leaving me alone in the stadium.
As interviews went, even as informal as this one was, it had not been a total disaster. Some residents simply didn’t care to speak of the past. The trauma of the Dominion War, even two years removed, was still too recent for many to dredge up, and the Memorial would be an ever-present reminder of the War and their loss. For every person glad to talk about the past and what the War meant, three people told me to leave them alone, sometimes gently, oftentimes bluntly. What Cestus III experienced defied description. Since the recolonization of the world in the early 24th century Cestus III sent a higher proportion of its children into Starfleet than any other Federation world, but this service had a high cost in the War’s final reckoning. For every four Cestans serving in Starfleet, one became a casualty of the Dominion. The road to victory Admiral Ross, General Martok, and my father walked was paved with the blood of Cestus III.
Keefe’s Place stood two blocks from the New Bedford Stadium. I knew nothing of the restaurant though its very name evoked a sense of belonging and familiarity simply by having such a personal name, much as my grandfather’s restaurant was simply “Sisko’s.” From the outside Keefe’s looked unremarkable, much like similar establishments on a dozen worlds with a wooden sign proclaiming good food and a few open air tables sitting empty on a fenced-off terrace. Inside, however, Keefe’s had character.
I had never been in a baseball-themed restaurant before.
Where to look first? The framed jerseys hanging from the walls? The cabinets of balls, bats, photographs, holographs, the relics of games centuries old? This was more than just a local restaurant. It was a museum, the kind of which had vanished with the destruction of the Baseball Hall of Fame on Earth during the Third World War. The old United States, particularly the states of New York and Pennsylvania, were bombed extensively during the war. For historians of the former “national pastime” an Eastern Coalition attack destroyed much of the history and heritage of the game. But to find that heritage alive here on Cestus III made my assignment worthwhile, for here was a place my father would have enjoyed and been at home.
I barely noticed the woman that walked up to me, engrossed as I was in studying each cabinet. Something vaguely elfin held in her face with cheekbones high and sharp, her eyebrows upswept but not offensively so, perhaps the outward manifestation of Vulcan ancestry a few generations back. Her smile, however, soured my idle supposition, revealing more emotion and warmth than anyone even a few generations removed from Vulcan stoicism would ever show. She had beauty in her face, and I could have spent hours studying her, the awkward wideness of that smile, the lilt of her head, the openness of her face. She had no claim upon perfection, but wanting to judge her perfect would have denied her the beauty she possessed.
“Baseball fan?” she asked with an inclination of her head toward the display case.
“My whole life. My father taught me the game.”
“What do you think? Babe Ruth’s plaque from the Baseball Hall of Fame.” The battered plaque showed pock marks where shrapnel had scored it during the Eastern Coalition’s attack. In spite of the damage, I felt as though I stood in the presence of history.
I turned from studying the cabinet and found her looking at me openly. “You’re an offworlder. It’s rare enough to find one that knows the ancient game.” She held out her hand, and I clasped it. “Claire Keefe.”
“Jake Sisko.” I paused. “‘Keefe’s Place.’ Yours?”
She smiled. “Of course. My grandfather was one of the recolonists and built the restaurant. My father has a business in Cestus City, and my uncles don’t have the passion for baseball that I have, so the family agreed that I was the best person to take over running the restaurant when my grandfather died.”
“It always had a baseball theme, then?”
“Naturally. See this?” She pointed to a battered, faded photograph framed in a nearby display of an ancient baseball team. “The Chicago White Sox of 1919. One of the only two photographs of the team still in existence.”
“That would be the team that threw the World Series? The ‘Black Sox’?”
Claire nodded. “My many-times-great-grandfather pitched for them before the First World War, and when he came back that season he pitched for them again.” She tapped a face in the back row of the picture. “Goofy-looking, isn’t he?”
I bent in and looked closely. “I don’t know. He looks more bored than anything.” I turned and looked at Claire. “Was he one of the players that threw the Series?”
“No, he’d been traded to the Philadelphia Athletics by the time the Series started. If he’d stayed with the White Sox, who could say? Maybe he would have, maybe he wouldn’t. Family legend has it he was a war hero, and I can’t imagine a war hero participating in throwing the Series if he were.”
I shrugged. “War can make people do things they would never consider doing otherwise. I’ve seen that first hand, people gone over the edge because of what they were forced to do to survive.”
“You were in the War?”
I shook my head. “Not really. I was a reporter for the Federation News Service.”
“Still a reporter, covering the Memorial Dedication?”
“More of a freelancer. And yes.”
Claire gave me a warm smile, grabbed me by the arm, and pulled me into the restaurant. “Here, let me show you something you wouldn’t know.”
The back half of the restaurant was devoted to local baseball traditions. Cestus III was one of the few planets that had a league instead of barnstorming teams that went from town to town. Framed on the wall hung a pinstriped jersey of the New Bedford Rockets, the reigning league champions. Next to it hung jerseys of the league’s seven other teams and holographs of players and spectacular plays. In many ways this was more important than the Babe Ruth plaque, the White Sox picture, the autographed baseballs, or the famous bats of centuries past.
One picture stood out for me, a picture of Claire and a Rockets’ ballplayer together at the ballpark. “Who is this?” I asked, tapping the picture.
Claire turned and looked. “Chris Bledsoe, my fiancé.” She paused. “Ex-fiancé, I should say.”
“He plays for the Rockets?”
She gave a weary smile. “Not anymore, not since before the war.”
“What happened? Did he enlist?”
“No, Chris was a reservist. He served six years in Starfleet, then came back to Cestus when his time was done. When the war began he was reactivated.”
“He returned, though?”
She grimaced slightly. “Things weren’t the same between us once he’d come back. I thought it was his injury that came between us, but there was something more, almost as if he didn’t trust me anymore.”
“One afternoon I found a medal for bravery tucked away in a shirt in his dresser, and when I asked him about it he pretended not to hear me.” She looked at me with a piercing gaze. “Why do you ask?”
“I saw him today, at the stadium. He was taking batting practice.”
Claire nodded. “He does that. He’s a groundskeeper for the Rockets now.”
“He has a beautiful swing. It’s a shame he’s not playing.”
“He can’t. League rules.”
“He lost an arm during the war.”
“He never told me, but when he came home he’d been fitted with a replacement.”
“A biosynth,” I said and Claire nodded. I knew what they were. My friend Nog received a biosynth leg after the battle on AR-558.
“League rules say that players can’t have replacement or augmented limbs.” She shrugged. “It’s a fairness issue.”
“How do you mean?”
“An artificial limb could be stronger than a natural limb. Someone with a leg could run faster or jump higher, someone with an arm could hit farther or throw harder. It makes sense when you think about it because nothing would be more unfair for the opposing team than to go against a team that has one or two players who have augmented arms and legs. It’s unfortunate for Chris because he helped lead the Rockets to two pennants before the War, and now all he can do is watch them play.”
A dozen objections came quickly to mind, the foremost among them that biosynth limbs were easily tuned in terms of strength to match the natural limb and would pose no issues of unbalanced gameplay. Unfortunately, humans, even today, even on a baseball diamond, still feared the powers of technology to build a “better” human being—genetic supermen or cyborgs—and it would take more than a baseball player or a war to affect a change in the human psyche.
Two messages awaited me when I returned to the Azerothian Arms. In any other hotel on any other planet I had visited on assignment the messages would have been waiting for my attention on the terminal in my room. But not here. The woman manning the front desk, Mrs. Curtis, handed me handwritten messages when I returned to the hotel. I thanked her and went upstairs. My room contained little more than a bed and a desk, without the comforts of a replicator and a communications terminal. Instead, the first floor contained a snack bar, and outgoing calls were handled by a dumb terminal in the room that required the front desk for an outside connection.
It had been a long day and I needed sleep, but the messages needed taken care of before bed. The first message was from my editor, Simon, and very basic—”How’s the story coming? What’s the angle? Get back to me ASAP.” Just reading it I could hear his angry Irish voice in the back of my mind. The second message was from Starfleet—the Cerberus would be arriving shortly with Admiral Ross to dedicate the Memorial.
I punched open a line to the front desk. As the picture snapped on Mrs. Curtis looked as though I had startled her awake. “What can I do for you?”
“I need a subspace line to Admiral Ross on the USS Cerberus.”
She frowned. “There’s a surcharge for interstellar communications, you know.”
“That’s fine. The FNS covers my expenses anyway.”
“I wanted to be sure you knew.” More likely, she didn’t want to be bothered. “Reason for the call?”
“To schedule an interview.”
In an instant the picture changed to a Starfleet logo and then was replaced by a female Tellarite Starfleet officer. “Mr. Sisko, I am Commander Gervesh, adjunct to Admiral Ross. He is in a meeting at present. May I be of service?”
“I placed a request with the Public Relations Office two weeks ago to schedule an interview with the Admiral when he arrived, but didn’t receive confirmation before my departure for Cestus.”
Gervesh looked off to the side, then back at the viewer. “The Admiral’s visit will be necessarily brief, but I believe he can accommodate one hour over a working breakfast. Would this be acceptable?”
An hour. It would have to do. “That would be fine.”
“Very good. The Cerberus will be making Cestus orbit at 2200 hours.” My wrist chrono was set to local and Starfleet Standard—2200 hours Starfleet worked out to about two hours before dawn. “I’ll make arrangements with the Admiral for a breakfast meeting at 0900 hours local time. Have you any preferences for the venue of the meeting?”
I frowned. “None in particular.”
Gervesh snorted in dismay with a characteristic Tellarite flaring of the nostrils. “I shall contact you, then, with a meeting place convenient to your location.” Abruptly, the connection closed and the screen went dark.
I leaned back in the chair and rubbed my eyes. A dozen interviews still needed to be sifted through for information or story angles. Simon’s advice when I accepted the assignment to Cestus came back to me: “Jake, it’s an important story, the capstone of your war reporting. The son of one of the few genuine heroes the War produced, providing a sense of closure and finding the perspective to give the war meaning. I don’t need to tell you this. You’re the writer, and it’s your piece to do as you will. The expectations from you are there, and that’s what the Federation News Service wants to see. Can you give me that?” Had I already found my angle? As a straight news story the Memorial Dedication sufficed but it lacked a human dimension. What about this ballplayer, Chris Bledsoe? A war hero hiding from public notice, a local hero denied the chance to play the game he loved. Might he be the angle I needed for my story?
I could have pondered these questions all night. I opted for sleep instead.
Gervesh, true to her word, found a restaurant about a kilometer from my hotel for the interview.
“Jake Sisko,” Admiral Ross said as he rose from his table.
I shook his hand. “Admiral Ross. It’s been a long time.”
He nodded. “It has.” He turned to Gervesh. “If you will excuse us, Commander?”
“Of course, sir,” she said as she departed.
“Please, Jake, have a seat.”
“Thank you, Admiral.” I took my reporter’s tools out of my backpack—notepad, an old-fashioned ink pen, a recorder—and set them on the table.
“Pen and paper,” Ross said with some amusement to his voice. “Isn’t a voice recorder enough?”
“For the words, sure. But it lacks nuance, doesn’t capture surface impressions. So I take notes at the same time I record the interview.”
“Interesting.” Ross picked up the coffee in front of him and took a sip.
“If I may, you look tired, Admiral.”
Ross nodded. “It’s the time difference between the Cerberus and the local time. Six hours, roughly. It’s either a very late night or a very early morning for me, I haven’t yet decided which.”
I had to laugh. I had been here nearly a week, and I still hadn’t adjusted to the local time. With my luck, my body clock would have reset itself to the local time the day after the Memorial dedication, by which point I would be on a transport back to Earth.
“Now, what did you want to discuss?” Ross asked.
I asked about the Dominion War and its execution, the Memorial, the Cardassian rebuilding, the return of Voyager from the Delta Quadrant, and the recent Tzenkethi border incident. Ross’ answers were unremarkable and I found no new insights. Conversation flowed well, however, and it came as a mild surprise when Gervesh returned and said, “Admiral, the hour is nearly up.”
Ross nodded. “Thank you, Commander. Unless there’s anything else, Jake…?”
I switched off my recorder and began to stash away my notepad. “Actually, Admiral, there might be.”
“Gervesh, a few more moments?” Gervesh bowed slightly and backed away.
I took out my notebook and began leafing through the pages of notes until I found the page I needed. “Here,” I said, turning the notebook around and pushing it across the table to Admiral Ross.
He looked down at the notepad, a puzzled expression crossing his face. “What am I looking at?”
“Chris Bledsoe. He served in Starfleet during the War and lost an arm in battle, but I don’t know which battle.”
Ross looked up at me. “What sort of information are you looking for?”
“If possible, I’d like to see his service record.”
“There are channels you can go through for that.”
“I know. But those take time.”
“Why is this important to you?”
“Call it a reporter’s hunch.”
Ross sat back and his eyes narrowed as he fell into thought. He took a deep breath then sighed. “Suppose I provide you with the service record. It obviously won’t contain information on classified missions. There might be nothing of practical use to you.”
“I realize that.”
“You cannot cite me as a source on this.”
“I know, Admiral.”
Ross rose and tugged at his uniform jacket. “A courier will drop the file off at your hotel room in one hour. I trust that will be sufficient.”
“Yes, Admiral. Thank you.”
Ross smiled, and we shook hands. “Anyone else, I’d have said ‘no.’ I will see you at the Dedication tomorrow, I presume?”
“Of course, Admiral. I wouldn’t miss it. Covering the Dedication is my assignment, after all.” Sometimes being Ben Sisko’s son had its advantages. Access to one of Starfleet’s top Admirals made this one of those times.
The knocking on my hotel room door startled me. After the interview I returned to my room and worked on arranging my notes, completely oblivious to the passage of time, not realizing an hour had passed.
I opened the door. “Commander Gervesh,” I said.
“The Admiral asked me to convey this to you,” she said, pushing past me and dropping a packet on the desk.
“Thanks.” I took the packet off the desk and looked sharply at Gervesh, who had made herself comfortable on my bed. “You can pass that along to the Admiral.”
“I will, when I’ve returned to the Cerberus.”
I sat at the desk and opened the packet, removing a single file folder. “And that will be…?”
“When you’ve finished reading the file.” She paused, taking in my reaction. “My orders are to allow you to read the file, then return to the Cerberus with it once you’ve finished.”
Once I opened the file and read a few pages I understood the reason for Gervesh’s orders, and I knew I had my story.
Finding Chris Bledsoe took the rest of the morning. The stadium was the obvious place to find him, but the senior groundskeeper, Mr. Trent, told me that this was his day off and he had no idea where he might be. I considered asking Claire but decided against it; I didn’t want to open her old wounds or have her question my reasons.
In the end, I resorted to the local comm network. Fifteen Bledsoes were listed as living in or around New Bedford, none of them named Chris or something remotely close. I ran down the list, calling each name in the hope that someone would know Chris or how to get in touch with him. My fourth call paid off; his aunt Polly accepted my story of being an old friend from Starfleet visiting New Bedford for the dedication and gave me not only his comm channel number but his address as well.
Chris’s apartment was across town, near the docks. In many ways the location reminded me of the neighborhood of my grandfather’s restaurant in New Orleans with all the quaint charms of yesteryear that were so often lost in Earth’s larger cities.
I knocked on the door to Chris’s apartment. The door opened a crack, and I could see someone peering out from within. “Chris Bledsoe?” I asked.
“Yes. What do you want?”
“I’m Jake Sisko. We met at the stadium yesterday. I’d like to talk.”
“I said everything I had to say yesterday.” He began to shut the door.
“Tell me about Gasserrol.”
The door swung open. The room within was dark. “Come in.”
I dropped my backpack on the floor and took a seat in an armchair while Chris closed the door and began to pace about the room. “What do you know about Gasserrol? No one knows about Gasserrol.”
“I know it was a classified mission, that Starfleet sent in a Special Ops team to destroy a Cardassian sensor array. Two ships were destroyed, there were fewer than a dozen survivors, and the survivors spent five weeks on the surface eluding Jem’Hadar patrols until a rescue team was able to reach the planet following the liberation of Betazed. I know you lost an arm in the fighting, and received a Conspicuous Valor citation because of your actions.”
“How do you know about all that?”
“I’m a reporter. It’s what I do.”
“Do you know how I lost my arm?”
His Starfleet file covered much of the Gasserrol mission, but not all of it. “My sources indicate you lost it in battle with the Jem’Hadar.”
“The Jem’Hadar,” he said with a laugh. “Oh, if it weren’t for them I’d still have my arm and I’d still be playing for the Rockets. But they didn’t take my arm from me. My captain did.”
“Your captain…?” I echoed, barely able to comprehend what he had just told me.
“You didn’t know? You knew everything else about Gasserrol.”
“Why haven’t you told anyone about Gasserrol?” I asked, trying to regain the conversational initiative. “It’s clear to me that you haven’t told anyone. I’ve asked around, and all anyone knows is that you were wounded in the war. Not how, and certainly not why. You’re a hero. Every person that survived Gasserrol owes their life to your actions. What happened that you blame your captain for taking your arm?”
Chris sat down on the sofa and leaned back. “I spent my first Starfleet career in Intelligence, and when I was reactivated I was assigned to Special Operations. Intelligence had located a sensor array in the Gasserrol system, Command thought that it was the most vulnerable in the Dominion sensor network, and SpecOps planned a strike against the array. Because of my background in both Intel and SpecOps, I was assigned to the Kearsarge as second in command for the mission. The Kearsarge had an impressive reputation in the fleet and her captain, Sard’yck of Andor, was one of the War’s most decorated officers. The mission itself sounded simple enough—strafe the sensor array with quantum torpedoes while another ship provided covering fire, and then warp out. In principle, very little could go wrong. In execution, the mission was a disaster.”
“The Jem’Hadar attacked both ships. Your ship crashed on the surface.”
Chris nodded. “Intelligence thought there might be two Jem’Hadar cruisers on station, but when we arrived we discovered that there were five. The Byzantium tried to deal with the Jem’Hadar and give us an opening to attack the sensor array, and Sard’yck took the first opportunity he saw to put us on an attack run, but when the Byzantium‘s warp nacelle tumbled across our flightpath we knew our own chances of survival were slim. We never had a chance to fire even one torpedo; we took Jem’Hadar disruptor fire, the helm lost control, and the Kearsarge plunged into the atmosphere. Sard’yck ordered the crew to abandon ship.”
“I heard rumors that the Jem’Hadar destroyed Starfleet escape pods.”
“I’d heard that, too, that the Jem’Hadar targeted the rescue transponders, and the whole way down from the Kearsarge to the surface I wondered. I don’t know if the Jem’Hadar did target transponders that day or not. All I know is that I made it down safely to the surface, as did close to two dozen of the crew. Before landing I thought I saw two other pods land towards the east, and I gathered up what supplies I could, made sure I had a replacement power cell for my phaser rifle, and headed in that direction. Just after daybreak the second day I found a group of twenty survivors, and thankfully, Captain Sard’yck was among the survivors.”
“‘Thankfully’? You blamed him for your injury.”
Chris ignored me. “After a week Sard’yck announced we would be moving camp. I wanted to move upriver into the hills and deeper into the jungle for better cover, but Sard’yck thought we should head east, toward the Kearsarge wreckage in the hope that we might find other survivors and make ourselves more visible when rescue arrived. I thought we’d found all the survivors that we would, but Sard’yck was adamant, and I’d long since learned that once an Andorian’s mind was set there was no changing it. We packed camp and started east toward the Kearsarge. It wasn’t long until trouble began.
“Welsh, one of the engineers, approached me one night. We were on the twelfth day of the march, and he wanted to show me the tricorder he’d recovered from his escape pod. He set it to track the Kearsarge like a homing device, and he showed me a plot of our progress toward the wreck. Our path, though in general toward the Kearsarge, had now deviated somewhat toward the north, meaning if we stayed on our current path we’d miss the wreck by about thirty kilometers. I thanked Welsh for this information and dismissed him. Why would Captain Sard’yck turn us to the north and away from the Kearsarge?”
“Where was the Dominion sensor array in relation to the wreck?” I asked.
“You’re quick—I didn’t work it out for another day. We were on our attack run when the ship went down. It didn’t occur to me that the Kearsarge might’ve gone down near the array. Sard’yck didn’t deny it when I confronted him with my suspicions that night. ‘Of course we’re headed for the array. Our mission was to destroy the array and we have the ability to do so. We have soldiers, we have weapons, we have our duty,’ he said.
“I argued with him, that we didn’t have the manpower or resources to attack and destroy a heavily-defended and shielded array, that any attempt to do so would be tantamount to a suicide mission. Sard’yck didn’t see it that way, he saw it as our duty to attack the array or die trying. I thought about arguing further, but didn’t see the point if his mind was set.
“We continued on for two days, until our advance scout party ran across a Jem’Hadar foot patrol. We stopped for the night and when the scout party didn’t come in we sent out search parties for them, only to find their bodies strung up from trees not far from our path. Morale dropped, but Sard’yck rallied us all by calling on our sense of justice and vengeance—we had lost men to the Jem’Hadar, and it was our duty to hurt them in response. The other survivors, physically and emotionally weary as they all were, welcomed his plan of action.
“From them on each night Captain Sard’yck gathered the survivors together and we discussed our attack strategies well into the night. Despite my misgivings because of our lack of manpower I participated in these planning sessions, hoping to convince the others that an attack on the array would stand no chance of success.” Chris paused and took a deep breath. “Three days later, we attacked the array.”
“We split into two groups and were going to attempt a flanking attack on the array. Sard’yck led one group, I led the other.” He grew quiet and didn’t speak for several moments. “I had twelve men in my group. Six of us escaped the attack. Sard’yck had thirteen, he came away with seven. The Jem’Hadar knew we were there, our phasers were underpowered and almost useless. Those of us that survived that day were fortunate to escape with our lives.”
“Minor. Scrapes and cuts. That’s the thing with phasers and disruptors—you’re either dead or alive, no middle ground. It’s not like fighting Klingons; their bat’leths will maim, but a phaser never will. The survivors regrouped, and that night Sard’yck began planning his second attack on the array.”
“How did the other survivors respond to that?”
Chris shrugged. “We were shaken from the morning’s attack, and I don’t think any of the others could have confronted the captain. With the Jem’Hadar knowing where we were and that we’d survived it was only a matter of time before they came for us all. Sard’yck was persuasive, though; he could have talked these men to their deaths and they’d have followed him. The second attempt would be in two days, and the waiting began.
“The next day Sard’yck and I went for a walk. He knew I had misgivings and decided to talk matters over with me, to bring me around to his way of thinking on attacking the Jem’Hadar. We talked for an hour, and all through it I could think only of the futility of attacking the array. Weren’t the lives of the survivors worth more than the hollow sacrifice they would make attempting to destroy something that they never would? Sard’yck, however, thought that duty and the mission came first.”
Chris paused again. He sighed deeply and continued. “I hit him from behind, hard, pushing him to the ground. And with him down, I began kicking him, punching him in the back. He scrambled away, and I kept at him, but he got up and turned to face me, a look of pure fury and hatred on his face. I should have known better, only Klingons can match Andorians for fury, but I was tired and frustrated, and I was acting on instinct, not reason. He pulled a knife from his belt and began slicing the air with it, and I managed to avoid the knife, but he finally landed a blow and gouged a deep gash in my left arm. I fell to the jungle floor in agony, and as Sard’yck stood over me about to strike, I grabbed at a rock and hurled it at him, hitting him in the face. He staggered, blood pouring from his nose and mouth, and with him disoriented I picked up another stone and smashed it down on his head. Sard’yck was dead.”
Chris’ file indicated that Sard’yck died in the attack on the sensor array. “You went back to the camp…?” I prompted.
Chris nodded. “I was bleeding badly, and we didn’t have first aid supplies. One of the other survivors rigged up a tourniquet for my arm. I was asked what had happened. I said simply, ‘Jem’Hadar.’ They didn’t need to know the truth. I was delirious, I’d lost so much blood, and when I’d regained my strength we abandoned the second attack and headed back toward the Kearsarge as we’d originally intended. I don’t know why the Jem’Hadar didn’t pursue us. Maybe we weren’t worth the effort. We reached the wreck, but there was just a crater in the ground, and we stayed there until the rescue team arrived. We found out later the Dominion took heavy losses elsewhere along the front and pulled ships from adjacent sectors, leaving Gasserrol underdefended, and the second attack on the sensor array proved successful where ours had not.
“Of the survivors, my injuries were the worst, but I think we all carried mental scars from Gasserrol. No one asked what had really happened with Captain Sard’yck, but I think they all suspected.”
“Why does Cestus III have such a strong Starfleet tradition?”
Chris shrugged. “A societal mindset. Our ancestors fought the Gorn to save their homes and they died in doing so.”
“Ancestors?” I asked, a hint of confusion creeping into my voice. Was not the original colony wiped out by the Gorn assault with no survivors?
“It’s how we think of the first colonists, the true pioneers who wanted and tried to make something of our world. We may not be their lineal descendents but we are their spiritual descendents, and as a society we try to honor their memory and their sacrifice.”
“Serving in Starfleet, then, safeguards the Federation and prevents future massacres like the one here a century ago.”
“The past teaches us vigilance. Our ancestors weren’t vigilant, and they paid that price with their lives.”
“But that same vigilance sent so many Cestans into Starfleet with such a horrendous cost in the War. It cost you your arm, your playing career.”
He looked down and away, his eyes focussing on something, someplace light-years away. “I know. And that’s something we’ll all have to live with for a long time. A very long time.”
The pounding on my door woke me from my nap. I’d fallen asleep after I’d returned to the hotel after my interview with Chris.
“Claire,” I said out of surprise. Her eyes were streaked with tears. “What’s wrong?”
She slapped me across the face, hard. “You bastard!” she screamed.
“Chris…” she said, choking out the words. “He’s turned himself in to Starfleet authorities. If he didn’t, you’d have exposed him!”
“I wasn’t, though,” I whispered.
“See for yourself. He left me this message,” she said softly. She slotted a datachip into my desk terminal and the message began to play.
“Claire, I’m sorry, but there’s no other way. I did something very wrong during the War and I’m not the hero you believed I was. I killed my captain because if I hadn’t he would have killed all of us on Gasserrol in a suicide mission, and the survivors from the Kearsarge deserved better. I wanted to tell you so many times, but I never wanted to burden you with my guilt, and I pushed you away. When the reporter showed up at my door he knew about Gasserrol, and it was only a matter of time before he went public. I didn’t want you to learn of it through the news, but I couldn’t bear to tell you. I’m sorry, and I loved you always.”
“I’m sorry, Claire.”
She began to cry again. I moved to comfort her, but she screamed. “Stay away from me!”
“I wasn’t going to expose him.”
“But you knew. You knew!”
She stood in the doorway as if to leave.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Away,” she said wearily.
I went to the door, but she was already gone. I closed the door and returned to my desk. The data terminal could access the local newsfeed, and I switched it on.
“This was the scene earlier today at the Admiralty House in the heart of New Bedford. Former Starfleet officer Lieutenant Commander Chris Bledsoe surrendered himself to Starfleet authorities earlier this afternoon and confessed to the murder of his commanding officer, Captain Sard’yck of Andor. In a statement, he said, ‘In the heat of battle I made a tragic mistake, but I did so in the knowledge that my actions the lives of my crew. I do not expect sympathy for what I have done, and I accept the fate…” I switched off the terminal.
I took out my notepad and started to write.
Keefe’s was packed, nearly every table full and a dozen patrons seated at the bar. A half-dozen people waited at the entrance for seating, and I looked past them into the restaurant, trying to get a better view of the patrons inside, when the host approached me and said, “How many in your party, sir?”
“Don’t mind me,” I said. “I’m looking for someone.”
He gave me a look, and I walked past him into the restaurant. “Sir? Wait…” I ignored him, remembering a piece of advice Quark had given me when Nog and I were both young—”If you look like you belong, people will pay you no mind.”
I strode up to the bar and took a seat on an empty bar stool. “A Cestus City Ale,” I called out. The bartender nodded, grabbed a glass, and began to fill.
Claire stood behind the bar, looking through a ledger. She looked up after hearing my voice, and stared at me. “What do you want?”
“I wanted to talk.”
“I’m sorry about yesterday. I shouldn’t have blamed you.”
“There’s no need to apologize.”
“What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at the Memorial Dedication covering your story?”
“I came to Cestus III to write a story. The Memorial isn’t a story; there are monuments and memorials to the War on a hundred worlds and a thousand stories have been written about them. I came here to write a story about people, even if I didn’t know that when I arrived, and I found that story.”
She gave me a disbelieving look. “What did you write?”
“Here, read it yourself.” I reached into my jacket’s inner pocket and pulled out three handwritten pages and handed them to her.
Claire took the pages lightly, suspiciously, and opened them.
“Read it,” I prodded. She looked to me then back at the papers in her hands. I took a drink from my beer. I made a mental note to tell Quark the next time I saw him that he might want to look into importing Cestus City Ale.
Claire’s eyes tracked across the lines, and I noticed a welling up of tears. “You wrote about Chris.” She smiled slightly, and wiped her eyes with her sleeve.
I shrugged. “Who better?”
“‘The Dominion War made heroes out of ordinary people,” she read aloud. “‘Situations that no training could anticipate became commonplace. Fighting for one’s life with the lives of billions behind the frontlines depending on the outcome became a daily occurrence. One such hero was Chris Bledsoe. A baseball player before the War began, Chris saved the lives of his crewmates when his ship crashed on a Dominion-held world, keeping together the survivors until a rescue mission arrived weeks later. Wounded in the fighting, he returned to his homeworld of Cestus III and lived a quiet life, not dwelling upon the horrors he witnessed firsthand. His career as a ballplayer ended with the loss of his arm, but his love of baseball led him to become a groundskeeper in the same stadium where some of his greatest baseball accomplishments were achieved. This extraordinary hero wanted nothing more than to be an ordinary person.'”
“What do you think?”
“Is the article about him?”
“Some of it. Chris’s story makes a great lead.”
She nodded. “But he’s not a hero. Not after what he did…”
“Chris was a hero. He saved lives. That’s all that matters. Not what he did to save them.”
“But, his message, his confession…? What will your editor say?”
“Simon? He’ll say I missed the real story, that I didn’t go for the scandal or the Dedication, but he’ll run the story in the end.”
“Even the part about Chris being a hero? Even after his confession?”
“If I know Simon, he’ll cut it, but I wanted you to see it, even if no one else will. I stumbled across one of the biggest stories of my career and I didn’t even realize it until I found it, and in the end I couldn’t bring myself to write that story because I might’ve done the same in those circumstances. I wanted to write something that was true.”
“You’re right in the article, he just wanted to be a normal person. Losing his arm took playing baseball away from him. I think all he wanted to do when he went away was come back and play another season. He loved baseball more than anything.”
“More than you?”
“Even more than me,” she said with an air of sadness. “What do you think will happen to him?”
“I’m a writer, not a lawyer, but if he tells his story the way he told it to me, maybe five years at most in the New Zealand prison colony.”
She nodded and looked somewhat relieved.
“Come with me to the baseball game tonight,” I said impulsively.
She looked around. “I can’t. Look how busy we are.”
“And what happens when the game starts?”
“Business dies off then. But after the game business picks back up.”
“Do you mean to tell me that this place can’t manage for a few hours without you?”
She shrugged tightly. “It can’t.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“What would you have me do, leave Roger in charge?”
The barkeeper turned at the sound of his voice, but seeing no one needing a drink he turned back to a customer at the end of the bar.
“It’s my last night on Cestus III, and I’d love to see a baseball game before I go. I’ve never been to a baseball game that wasn’t on a holodeck, and I cannot think of anyone better to accompany me to a baseball game than the person who owns the best baseball museum I’ve ever seen.” I gestured at the displays on the walls.
She laughed. “Isn’t this the only baseball museum you’ve ever seen?”
“I wasn’t going to bring that up, but since you’ve asked, yes, it is.”
“How can I not accept a request like that?” Claire came around the bar and took me by the arm, and together we went out into the evening, the promise of a baseball game connecting me to the past and the spirit of my father in a way I hadn’t experienced in a long time.