UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
Chef’s Personal Log,U.S.S. Cochrane(NCC- 59318) Crewman Bradley S. Cowper, recording Stardate 73968.8*
Commander Drake, the agent from Starfleet Intelligence, has spent the past two days conducting lengthy interviews with every member of the crew who might have witnessed any part of the… incident that resulted in the sudden arrest and removal of Captain T’Vix, First Officer Donovan, and Security Chief Patel at Draken during one of the Cochrane’s routine patrols of the Romulan Neutral Zone boundary. Even I got interviewed for a couple of hours, and I was nowhere near the bridge when whatever was supposed to have happened there happened. After all, I’m just a cook.
It didn’t take long for me to size up this Drake character as an inherently untrustworthy bastard. Commander Donovan probably would have described him as “oleaginous,” but I’ll settle for smarmy, or maybe just oily. Adjectives aside, I don’t trust him any more than I trust those… creatures that Ensign Farquar tells me he somehow unmasked impersonating the captain, Commander Donovan, and Chief Patel. Which is why I’m making this recording on my own personal tricorder rather than on the Cochrane’s computer system. Before he leaves us, Drake will no doubt purge the main computer of any explicit reference to what’s just happened to the top of the Cochrane’s chain of command. That is, if he hasn’t got around to doing it already.
This afternoon, Drake called me in to the temporary Starfleet Intel HQ he’s set up for himself in Captain T’Vix’s ready room. He assured me that I’m above suspicion now, though he won’t tell me exactly why that is. Has he managed to run some sort of medical scan on me without my noticing? He isn’t telling. Still, it was a relief to hear that I’m no longer considered a serious risk of suddenly transforming into a vicious, three-meter-tall praying mantis.
Then the oily bastard told me what he expects me to do next—entirely in my capacity as chef for the officers’ mess, of course. Apparently, Drake is convinced that T’Vix, Donovan, and Patel weren’t the only disguised monsters still trying to blend in among the Cochrane’s senior staff. He suspects that there at least two others, and he hopes an experimental food additive that SI has just developed—to be dispensed discreetly by me—will flush out any remaining infiltrators.
I almost wouldn’t put it past him to give me poison to spike the food with, so that anybody who doesn’t have to rush to sickbay before dessert will stand revealed as an enemy infiltrator.…
JAKE SISKO, DATA ROD #S-13
Kaferia (Tau Ceti IV), just outside the spaceport city of Amber
A man of early middle age greets me at the seafront resort, where a strip of low, modern hospitality structures fronts a wide swatch of fine white sand that borders a preternaturally calm, cerulean ocean. A few families and small children stroll the beach and wade out into the peaceful waters. When I turn my gaze inland past the buildings, I see groves of slender Kaferian apple trees swaying gently in the warm breeze. Although this place is the stuff of holosuite fantasies, I have it on very good authority that it is indeed real. If I had lived this man’s life—that of a soldier who had survived an attempt to beard the Undine/8472 monster in its lair—I suspect I’d be sorely tempted to retire to someplace as peaceful as this.
Speaking with a faint but unmistakable Texas twang, the man introduces himself as Paul Stiles, a former Starfleet ensign turned enlisted private in the MACO (Military Assault Command Organization) during the “hot” part of the Undine War. He tells me he’s now a master sergeant, retired, though a MACO is always a MACO.
Stiles’s handshake is as firm as duranium, and his eyes—or some of the memories lodged inextricably behind them—look every bit as gray and unyielding. His gaze, though superficially warm, only barely conceals a cold, distant cast that reminds me of the million-mile stare I’ve seen in the eyes of Jem’Hadar soldiers. I can’t quite tell whether his smile indicates genuine appreciation for an opportunity to record his combat experiences for posterity, or whether he’s merely eager to get this interview done so he can go back to the business of putting the horrors of the war behind him. After we’ve been speaking for a few minutes I notice that this man often straddles a line between what I call “military briefer mode”—an emotionally unconnected, stick-to-the-facts mode of communicating—and the strained, melancholic silences of a soldier afflicted with survivor’s guilt, a man who believes that he somehow let his fallen comrades down by making it safely home from the field of battle. I’ve encountered a lot of people like this. No matter what their counselors may tell them, no matter how many Christopher Pike Medals of Valor such men and women may receive, they will never measure up in their own uncompromising eyes, simply because they failed to do the impossible.
I notice right away that Sergeant Stiles is quick to scowl at my freely admitted ignorance of military lore, and that he is plainly uncomfortable hearing anything that sounds remotely like hero worship. Recollections of combat sometimes make him shudder visibly, making me wonder if the Undine stalk him in his dreams even now. But he doesn’t quite fit the profile of a chronic post-traumatic stress case, since he frequently dons a warrior’s bluster that fits him like a comfortable pair of running shoes. His boasts might impress a Klingon, though they sometimes make him sound as though he’s really whistling—or perhaps shouting—past the graveyard. But he is also quick to chuckle, and I get the feeling that he does so in response to some private joke rather than to any of my questions. I find that strangely reassuring—it almost makes me overlook the sense of hypervigilance the man radiates.
Almost, but not quite.
You were a junior officer on a path toward a solid Starfleet career when the Undine conflict entered its “hot war” phase.
I was an ensign. A junior tactical officer with pretty good prospects for promotion. I was expected to be career Starfleet. There’s always been a Stiles or three in the service, going back to the Earth-Romulan War. And we were a clan of web-footed wet-navy sailors before that.
So with all that tradition behind you, why did you transfer over to the MACO?
I have relatives who’d disagree with me loudly for saying this, but serving in Starfleet was never an end in itself to the Stiles clan. At least it shouldn’t have been. I always saw it as merely a means of keeping humanity safe from whatever Big Bad might be out there sharpening its claws, getting ready to snuff us out, be it paranoid Xindi or Romulans, or those giant three-legged stick bugs who call themselves the Undine.
But Starfleet was heavily involved in the Undine War from the very beginning, just as it was in those earlier wars with the Xindi and the Romulans.
Mister Sisko, there’s “involved” and then there’s “committed.” Those two concepts don’t overlap as much as you might think in times of war. The difference between them is the same thing that separates the chicken from the pig at an old-fashioned breakfast. You see, the chicken is “involved” with breakfast.
But the pig is “committed.”
That’s it exactly. I wanted to be closer to the real action. Not sitting on the bridge of a ship, launching torpedoes by tapping at some tactile interface.
So you wanted the pig’s greater “commitment” to the cause. But if you play that metaphor out to its conclusion, you’re talking about a level of commitment that nobody can survive. A suicide mission.
As a MACO infantryman, you have to make peace with a truth as old as the Trojan War: you might come back with your shield carrying you instead of the other way around. And that’s assuming that you were lucky enough to come back at all. I’ve lost count of how many of my buddies were either vaporized in space, or buried on some godforsaken nowhereworld after a slash from some Trike’s claws left him full of cooties that ate him from the inside out.
Trike. Kickstand. Three-legged Deano. You know, the Undine.
Every war generates a fair amount of shorthand nomenclature, mostly pejorative, intended for referencing enemies. The Undine War is no exception to the grand military tradition that allowed such monikers as “Jerry,” “Fritz,” and “Victor Charlie” to enter the general lexicon. I understand the impulse. Still, I have to wonder how the many tripeds who served as MACOs during the war—Triexians and Edosians, to name only two species—feel when they hear a slur like “Trike.” But I sense that bringing that up might not endear me to the sergeant.
Of course. You’ve been in closer quarters with the Undine than most Starfleet officers have managed to get.
I suppose I got closer to Deano than even most MACOs did.
Even that might be a bit of an understatement. After all, you’re one of the relatively few humans who’s actually been aboard an Undine starship and lived to talk about it.
I just did what anybody else with the same training would have done: I tried to keep my buddies alive.
I’d like to discuss the boarding operation, if you don’t mind. Can you give me some of the details?
I was serving with a MACO detachment that the U.S.S. Thunderchild was ferrying toward a hot spot just outside of the old Romulan Neutral Zone boundary. The place we were headed for was an asteroid, an airless hunk of rock and metal that the Romulans left honeycombed with mining tunnels. I never learned the Romulan name for the place, but I know it was renamed Chiron Beta Prime after the Earth-Romulan War left it under Earth’s jurisdiction.
So we were training hard throughout the voyage, running environment-suit combat drills in holographic mine simulations throughout every duty shift. Didn’t want to get caught with our cammies down around our ankles, you know?
It’s a good thing you were so vigilant. According to the mission logs, theThunderchildwas nearly a parsec away from its destination when it encountered the spatial anomaly.
That’s right. I heard later that Lieutenant Andex was at tactical when the bogey appeared, and that he reported the anomaly as a graviton ellipse. Most of the guys in the Thunderchild’s MACO unit assumed that Deano had to be hiding either inside the ellipse or right behind it. All the squids on the bridge thought so, too.
It’s shorthand for “Starfleet.” From an old nautical term referring to sailors. Goes back to the days when wet navies landed jarheads on beaches for amphibious assaults. The guys who piloted the boats were the squids. The marines who leaped off the boats to storm the beach were sharks. You know, like in the language of the Maori, where the word for “shark” is mako?
Anyhow, “squid” was our sort of good-natured nickname for the Starfleeters, though it didn’t always fit them all that well. Take Andex, for example. He was from Sauria, and it would have been a lot easier to think of him as a “squid” if his mouth wasn’t a half meter across and bristling with about a hundred steak-knife-sized teeth.
I want to thank you for being so patient with my asking questions that nobody who’d served either in Starfleet or with the MACO would have to ask. And I hope you’ll indulge me with another stupid question: What exactly is a graviton ellipse?
I’m not surprised you don’t know about those. Nobody in the MACO does, and in Starfleet it’s next to nobody. A graviton ellipse is a small volume of normal space—it can range from microscopic size up to the size of a small asteroid, or maybe even bigger—that’s been kicked into high warp speed because it somehow got tucked inside an envelope of gravimetric distortion. GEs mostly travel through subspace, only popping out when their trajectories take them close to an EM hot spot—like a Federation starship on its way to a throwdown with the Kickstands.
Anyway, most everybody aboard expected the Trikes to leap out of the ellipse and down our throats any second. Me, I wasn’t so sure.
Because of something nobody else in my combat unit was thinking about, probably because none of them were part squid the way I was. As dangerous as GEs can be, I knew that they had one redeeming trait: the fact that they’re about as rare as monasteries on Risa. Only a handful of GEs have been documented since a big bastard of one plucked the old Aries IV command module right out of the Martian sky way back in 2032. If Deano really was surfing into our universe on top of that anomaly, then he was damned lucky to have found the perfect wave by sheer accident. Either that, or he was damned smart to have figured out how to re-create the very subspace storm that nearly shut down all human space exploration beyond the Earth-Luna system forever and ever, amen.
Well, we always knew that Deano was a clever bastard. Maybe even a very clever bastard, having built all those elaborate simulation-environments they’d used to train their fake-human infiltrators. He was certainly clever enough to surf in on a convenient spatial anomaly he happened to notice heading toward us through fluidic space and subspace. But was he a clever enough bastard to build both his own board and the wave beneath his three big nasty-scary feet? I was still holding out some hope that he hadn’t gotten quite that clever yet.
The after-action reports of Commander Marta Segusa, theThunderchild’s senior science officer, say that the initial analysis of the spatial anomaly turned out to be wrong. The phenomenon turned out not to be a graviton ellipse at all.
That’s what Major Shea told us once the bridge crew discovered that what we were really dealing with was just a garden-variety subspace rift. I would have been relieved to hear that, but there wasn’t time for that because the rift opened up almost directly in the T-child’s flight path. And it spat out a honking huge Trike bioship so close to us that we almost traded paint jobs.
The Undine ship was hiding inside the anomaly, waiting to ambush theThunderchild?
It sure as hell looked that way. I mean, what are the odds of our two ships crossing paths purely by accident? Look, the word “astronomical” was coined specifically for situations like that one. Space is really, really big, so a haircut’s-breadth near-collision like that couldn’t have been an accident. I figured they must have entered normal space at the exact location and time that they did because they knew we were coming. They were watching us. Somehow they had learned to monitor our universe from safely inside their own, or from inside subspace. And that allowed them to engineer the superluminal almost-crash that collapsed our warp field and knocked out our shields, among other things, in the same slick maneuver. Like I said, Deano is a very clever bastard—for a three-legged alien grasshopper from the darkest pit of hell, that is.
Before you boarded the Undine ship, did you get a good look at it from the outside?
Hell yeah. I saw way more of it than I wanted to, as it turned out, inside and outside. Neither one are sights you ever forget, no matter how much you might want to. I got a good, long look at the thing’s hide—you have to call it that when you see it up close, since it resembles crocodile skin a lot more than it does hull metal—because one of the systems that went down during the near-crash was the transporter. So beaming a combat team inside Deano’s ship simply wasn’t an option. Fortunately, Major Shea and Sergeant Ogilvy had worked out a plan for this very contingency with Captain Hoffman and Lieutenant Andex: we did an old-school boarding, using breach pods.
I’ve had some… unfortunate experiences with escape pods, so I’m familiar enough with those. Can you explain how a breach pod is different?
Sure. A breach pod is really just an escape pod that’s been repurposed to run toward trouble instead of away from it. Instead of abandoning the Thunderchildand the ship that was getting ready to rip her to pieces like a lion dismantling a zebra, we aimed our pods straight at the enemy. That was when I got my closest view of the outside of Deano’s ship—when our pods approached that weird, bumpy hull, latched on with the magneto-mechanical grapplers, and started cutting into the crocodile hide of Deano’s ship.
What was your first impression of the enemy vessel?
That it was actually alive. I mean, it didn’t have a machined look to it. You could tell it wasn’t built in any shipyard. Its hull metal didn’t come from some foundry. It looked more like it was hatched from some enormous alien seedpod, or grown out of a blob of jelly from some colossal beehive. And it sort of… undulated through space like an enormous three-tailed squid with rough, mottled green skin and a mass of writhing, very grabby-looking tendrils streaming from the tip of the bow section. Or maybe that part was the thing’s mouth. I don’t know how else to describe it.
Anyway, when we were making our approach in the breach pods, it was as though we were moving in slow motion. It seemed to take a year to get through the few minutes it took to reach their hull, clamp on, and start cutting our way inside. That part I remember really well, since I was in charge of the cutting phaser. It felt like I was slicing into an impossibly huge pumpkin. It’s funny, because I can remember thinking at the time that there was stuff inside the hull that had to be a hell of a lot scarier than pumpkin seeds.
The worst part of cutting our way in was the way the hull felt when I touched it, even through the environment suit’s gloves. You’d swear the thing had a pulse, or that the ship’s hide was actually recoiling from the cutting beam, the way the tourists here do when the local pollinators start swarming. Of course, I suppose that sensation could have been just a rumbling power conduit or something. But it was damned spooky just the same.
How big would you estimate the Undine ship was?
It was goddamned big. Nearly two hundred meters along the long axis, and maybe forty meters at the beam—if the damned thing had a beam, which I suppose comes down to whether the thing really was a ship or a living creature. Either way, there was a real sense of menace about it. You could feel it in your marrow when you stared at it. It was… malevolent. Sinister, full of hate. That ship, or whatever it was, was an abomination. Wrong as a Vulcan drad band.
But you went inside the thing with the boarding team anyway.
Boo-yah. I was MACO to the bone. A marine. Still am, ’cause there’s no such thing as an “ex-marine.” Semper Fi, Semper Invictus.* We had a job to do, and we went in and did it. When we finished cutting through the hull and our escape pod started to flood with the squishy warm goo the Trikes used for an atmosphere, we weren’t gonna let it slow us down. We just adjusted the breach pods’ force fields to cram the stuff back into the breach in Deano’s hull—and to carry us inside with it.
What did the Undine ship look like on the inside?
Everything was sort of indistinct, since we were trying to move in full environmental suits while carrying our rifles and field packs through “air” that had a viscosity factor like orange marmalade. But I remember stepping into a narrow corridor with shiny, glistening walls and deck that made a wet squish that got you thinking about revisiting your breakfast whenever you moved. It was like we had just been injected out of a giant hypospray into the veins of some alien leviathan.
But mostly I remember the hard surge of adrenaline that struck me like a disruptor bolt when the firefight got started. And it was “game on” from the moment we finished pushing through into the corridor, where we were caught immediately in a crossfire, which must have been coming from at least two groups of Trikes that I couldn’t see yet. Of course, with all the confusion of the battle, and the trouble we had with visibility, we probably lost at least a few to friendly fire.
Why were you having visibility problems? Do the Undine use a different spectrum of visible light than we do?
Deano obviously likes his mood lighting, and the ship’s internal atmosphere really scattered our helmet lights. But if there’s enough light to carry off a romantic dinner, then there’s enough light for a MACO squad to put down a column of Kickstands. No, a lot of our visibility problems came from the e-suits themselves. They’re a necessary evil in a ship that’s designed to keep Deano comfy, but those helmets really cut down on your peripheral vision, which is tough to take in a close-quarters combat situation. That alone can raise the “scary factor” of anything by at least tenfold. Running into Flotter T. Watter III while I was wearing one of those helmets, and under those conditions, would have scared the living piss out of me. And if you have to face something that’s already scary in circumstances like that… well, then you’re just about certain to decorate the inside of your suit with the Brown Cluster Award for Combat Incontinence.
You were lucky you had enough time to get your breach pods into position on the hull before the Undine managed to charge up their ship’s external weaponry and open fire on you.
Damn right, you know? We were already slicing into Deano’s hide when the Trikes finally cleared their tubes. We were literally already on top of them, so they couldn’t hit us with their bio-pulse cannons or particle beams or projectiles without damaging themselves more than we’d already done. Thunderchild wasn’t quite so lucky, though. She took several direct hits before Chief Engineer Thomas could get her shield generators back on line. The T-child was crippled, and she would have been destroyed entirely unless Deano got real distracted, real fast.
Didn’t the Undine have shields of some sort to fend off boarders?
It’s true, Deano usually had some pretty powerful shields up his sleeves. But this one’s shields were down when it came swooping into normal space, as was his weapons array. The squid engineers chalked this up to the cost of this particular type of ambush maneuver, which temporarily disabled both ships, at least to some extent. The Kickstands were evidently gambling that their systems would recover faster than the T-child’s could. The Trikes were right about that, at least in terms of defense.
You mean they hadn’t taken a MACO offense into account.
Well, I wasn’t counting on that at the time, just hoping, and with a pretty fair degree of confidence, even though we all knew already what a tough sonofabitch Deano was. I mean, there was good reason to hope that they’d have real trouble coping with the MACO. After all, we’d heard a lot of thirdhand intel and scuttlebutt about the great lengths the Trikes had gone to in trying to infiltrate Starfleet. But nobody’s ever found any evidence that they’d so much as tried to do that with the MACO.
An absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. Starfleet Command once thought they’d made their ranks infiltration-proof, only to find out the hard way that they were wrong about that. There’s a first time for everything, to coin a cliché.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see, then. But if you ask me, I think Deano might have decided he just couldn’t quite pull off a convincing impersonation of a MACO. Not after receiving the stern talking-to that we delivered that day. Maybe from that time forward he decided to spend his time going after easier targets.
About the combat itself: what kind of tactics were effective against an enemy like the Undine?
The squids used to consider a lot of our tactical plans unorthodox—until they saw them working in the field when standard procedures failed. I’m talking about a number of engagements with the Borg, the first of which left us sadder but wiser. Like Major Shea used to say, good judgment comes from experience—and experience comes from bad judgment. So I guess we have the Borg to thank for the fact that every MACO trooper in our boarding party was carrying energy dampeners and modified TR-116s instead of standard phasers.
Would you mind describing the TR-116?
The TR-116. My sweetheart. It’s a piece of old-school warfare technology. The TR-116 is a rifle that Starfleet developed for use in high-radiation environments that would cripple a phaser. Or against enemies like the Jem’Hadar, or the Borg—a foe with the ability to shield itself from directed-energy weapons. But instead of firing a collimated energy beam, the TR-116 uses an internal chemical explosion to launch metal projectiles, either one at a time or in rapid-fire mode. We called it the T-Rex for short because it was a technological dinosaur. And because it was loud, not to mention scary as hell.
I remember someone going on a killing spree decades ago aboard Deep Space 9 using one of those things.
So you know how effective a weapon like that can be, even in the age of the phaser. The TR-116 can shred nearly any solid enemy with a lethal hail of ballistic micromissiles. It can even fire through most material barriers without so much as scratching the paint on the walls, thanks to its computerized targeting system and the microtransporter built into the barrel.
When we boarded Deano’s ship, we had to soften him up before our T-Rexes could answer his greeting in the manner that etiquette demanded. Major Shea and Sergeant Ogilvy took care of that by launching the energy dampeners down that squishy-soft corridor in both directions. Usually we’d throw the damps like old-style grenades, but the viscous air forced us to launch ’em like mortars, or old-style rocket-propelled ordnance. There was a blinding flash a couple of seconds later, and the energy beams coming at us from both ends of the curving hallway immediately stopped.
That’s when Deano came in close, once he realized his bio-pulse disruptors were out of commission. So we locked, loaded, and split into two back-to-back firing formations as they approached.
We can take a break if you’d like.
No. I’m fine. I’ll just try to avoid going into too many of the gory details about what can happen when Deano has the home-field advantage. Like what happens to the human body after a Trike’s claws slash open his e-suit and lets it fill up with that warm goo they pump their ships full of.
I’ve seen the logs fromVoyager’s early encounters with the Undine. Ensign Harry Kim nearly died after one of the creatures injected him with some sort of enzyme that started consuming him from the inside.
Nearly died. Huh. Deano must have learned something from his scrimmages with the Voyager squids. If the Trikes we fought got their claws on you, you were toast. No “nearly” about it.
Didn’t your TR-116s at least discourage them?
Hell, yeah, even though there was some worry that the goo we were wading through might get past the protective coating on our T-Rexes and foul their firing mechanisms. But they knew right away that we weren’t sending them valentines. We started choppin’ ’em up like confetti the moment we were in position.
The trouble is, Deano doesn’t discourage easily. He kept coming. And coming. And coming. And when they got close enough, those claws would fly at you faster than anything had the right to move. Especially something that spent its life submerged in pressurized jelly.
They fought like demons for every centimeter, and a few of them kept right on gaining ground no matter how many of them we blew to pieces right in front of their eyes. They’d just climb over each other, and all while the corpses and pieces of their dead just seemed to… melt very slowly back into that pile of bread dough they used for a deck. One of them got close enough for me to smell his sweat—if those monsters had sweat glands. But thanks to my helmet, all I could smell was my own reek. To this day, the scent of sweat in a confined space takes me right back to that time and place.…
But you made it through that time and place, and made it back. That says something about you.
Sure. It either says I’m lucky, or that I’ve borrowed every scrap of luck I might have counted on for the rest of this life and the next. Or maybe it says that the universe has a perverse sense of humor. We lost a lot of good marines in that battle. Better men and women than me, and smarter ones, too. People with families at home waiting for them. The major and the sergeant both bought it on that Trike ship, minutes apart. Then O’Neill. Palmieri. Clark.
Not your fault. Snavely was the first to go down.
Were you and Snavely close?
No. Corporal Snavely was insufferable. He always seemed to hold it against me that I’d been through Starfleet Academy and had an officer’s commission before deciding to go jarhead. Thought I was a poseur for insisting on entering the MACO as a noncom instead of an officer, which I could have done if I’d put in the paperwork. Snavely and I used to argue constantly. Not about anything important, you understand. Just… philosophical points. Stuff that seems kind of silly now, after the war.
What kind of philosophical points?
War and peace. Are any of the alien races out there really so different from us that we can never find a way to cope with them other than war? I tended to take the more optimistic Starfleet position in that particular recurring fight. Snavely always toed the more conservative line, which was really nothing more than MACO conventional wisdom, at least for the most part. Snavely was just a bit louder and more obnoxious in talking up that philosophy than most of our fellow MACOs tended to be. It’s not that we MACOs don’t like to talk, or even debate—I mean, I’m letting you talk to me, aren’t I?—but most of us would rather spend our time training than thrashing out some cocktail-party controversy. Or better yet, fighting a real, concrete, flesh-and-blood enemy.
But whatever Snavely and I might have thought about each other didn’t matter at the time. He was a brother in arms, and I hadn’t stopped Deano from getting close enough to grab him. None of us had. We weren’t even able to prevent Deano from carrying off his body. Not to mention some of the others they’d torn to pieces during the fight.…
I know that the MACO are committed to the ideal of never leaving a comrade behind. It must have been extremely difficult for you to be put in a position—
Of failure, you mean.
No. Of being forced to withdraw without being able to pick up any of your fallen comrades.
I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.
Your assault on the Undine vessel can hardly be called a failure. The enemy clearly sustained the biggest losses. And you and others made it back alive, and were decorated for conspicuous bravery.
We just did whatever seemed to make the most sense under the circumstances. There were a few of us left after Deano finally saw the better part of valor and scattered. But we’d taken heavy losses—three quarters of us were already either dead or dying—and we were running low on ammo to boot. Then our corpsman’s tricorder registered an onboard energy spike that could only mean that Deano had activated his autodestruct system. Since we were in no position to secure the Trike ship or prevent the explosion we all knew was coming, it wasn’t hard to be persuaded to withdraw to the breach pods, which were about to become escape pods.
Judging from the after-action reports I’ve read, you were the one who had to do most of the persuading.
Even through those e-suit helmets, I could see a lot of blank, exhausted, and frightened faces. We’d just lost both the major and the sergeant, and everybody else at the top of the chain of command. Somebody had to take charge, or else we’d all have been blown to quarks, just like all the Kickstands who’d managed to run from the teeth of our T-Rexes.
So you left in the same pods you’d arrived in.
Less than a minute before Deano’s ship went up in the biggest fireworks display since the Hobus supernova. Thunderchild, or what was left of her, picked us up a few hours later.
Do you suppose any of the Undine managed to escape from their ship before it blew?
I sure as hell hope not. And not because I’ve let my commitment to fighting Deano lead me into becoming unhinged with hatred for an old foe in an old war that ended years ago—even though for some time afterward I still felt committed to ferreting out every last Kickstand and wringing his bony neck with my bare hands.…
I’m not here to judge your motivations, Sergeant. I’m not a Starfleet counselor.
I just don’t want to leave anybody with the impression that we MACOs are nothing but bloodthirsty, chest-thumping killers. We’re warriors. There’s a big difference between those two things. If you don’t already understand the difference, then I suggest you spend some time hanging around with Nausicaans. Assuming you survive that, move on to the Klingons next. There’s no comparison.
But I’m wandering off, aren’t I? Retirement must finally be turning me into an old man. Now where was I?
I think you might have been about to drill down into your reasons for hoping that none of the Undine survived your engagement with them during the voyage to Chiron Beta Prime.
Right. The reason I still hope to this day that none of those Trikes got out of that ship alive is that I know all about how Deano pulls off his infiltrations. He can do it, and get away with it, because he has a talent for doing near-perfect impersonations. But he can only do that if he has access to the DNA of the person he’s mimicking.
If Deano managed to sneak off that ship, he could have taken the DNA of a bunch of my dead buddies with him. And if that’s what really happened, then there’s no way to stop him from using that DNA to make doppelgängers—very close copies of human beings that are actually pure, distilled Deano, at least under the skin.
But I thought you said you considered the MACO to be infiltration-proof.
And you said there’s a first time for everything. Well, you’re probably right about that. I mean, just because something hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Even now, so long after the end of the war?
When something can give so many people so many nightmares this many years later, you have to ask yourself if the war’s ever going to end—at least while any of us who saw it up close and personal are still on this side of the grass.
Suppose youdobump into one of your MACO buddies who was confirmed to have died in that battle all those years ago. That person would have to be a disguised Undine by definition. Do you think you’re prepared for that?
I don’t know if anybody can ever really be prepared for something like that, Mister Sisko. But if Deano really does try to use DNA from my MACO unit as cover for one of his spies, I’ll rely on my training and do whatever has to be done. That’s what commitment is all about, after all.
Anyhow, if Deano ever actually sends one of his spies-in-human-clothing my way, I only hope he sends me one that looks just like Snavely.
Still carrying a grudge against your old debating nemesis?
Nah. It’s not that. It’s just that I hate having to admit that the bastard seems to have won that running argument we used to have about war and peace. Sharks one, squids zero. It’s a little disappointing, is all.
Maybe deep down you’re really more squid than shark.
Maybe. But Deano taught me that the big bad ocean we all have to swim in is a lot safer for sharks than for squids. The problem is, some fish are so big and nasty that they can gulp ’em both down, squid or shark, in one shot.
I decide to wrap up the interview quickly after Stiles’s final mention of Snavely’s name. That’s because a wicked-looking knife, apparently concealed in Stiles’s sleeve, appears in the retired sergeant’s hand as though conjured by magic. An almost predatory grin slowly spreads across his face as he speaks of the possibility of encountering an Undine replica of one of his fallen comrades. Needless to say, I feel intensely uncomfortable, though I do my level best not to let Stiles know it. I hope my experience writing fiction has made me a convincing enough actor.
Then Stiles thanks me for allowing him to tell his story, says his farewells, and leaves me standing alone except for a few quietly strolling tourists, listening to the distant keening of Kaferian seabirds. I spend an uncountable interval standing in the warm, faintly saline breeze, silently processing what I’ve seen and heard—until it becomes crystal clear to me just what the Long War has cost Paul Stiles.
This protracted twilight struggle has caused him to jettison the long-cherished belief, inculcated during his time in Starfleet and stomped to an ignominious death by his tenure among the MACO, that peace is an achievable goal.
JAKE SISKO, DATA ROD #H-4
Septimus Settlement Observation Tower,
Although none of the constellations that bejewel the black sky look at all familiar to me, I find myself tracing the gaps between the individual stars anyway, my finger brushing the panoramic transparent aluminum window as I connect the distant pinpoints of fire into ad hoc shapes composed of lines and curves. Below the alien starfield, the window reveals a battered, gray moonscape that looks a lot like the vast tracts of still relatively untouched vacuum wilderness that even today encompass most of the surface of Luna back home.
I am thankful for the artificial one-g environment that prevails in this visitors’ center as I cast my eyes upon two other, similarly scarred gray worlds. These bodies are visible as narrow crescents floating just above the horizon, framing the blue-and-garnet planet that has just finished making its ascent above the jagged line of rugged scarps and crater rims in the distance. Heronius II is nearly at full phase, presenting a slightly oblate shape in the brilliance of the twin suns of the Heronius system. Though the planet looks superficially like Earth, its profusion of suns and satellites—not to mention the unfamiliar constellations in its night skies—ensures that there is little chance of confusing this place with the birthplace of humanity.
Despite the alienness of these skies, or perhaps because of it, this system is home to at least a million humans and humanoids. More than a few of Heronius II’s settlers have used this world as a jumping-off point for further explorations of deep space. Exobiologists Magnus and Erin Hansen were two such adventurers, and they number among the few that never made it back to Heronius because of the manifold dangers that dwell in the unexplored reaches that lay beyond these cosmic shores. One of these dangers turned out to be the Borg collective, which forcibly assimilated the Hansens—along with their child, a six-year-old girl named Annika.
After two decades of enslavement by the Borg collective, during which time she lived under the designation of Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix One, Annika Hansen eventually found her way back—both to her humanity and to the world her parents had embraced a lifetime ago. Other than a certain rigidity in her bearing and the gleaming metal filigree that adorns her left brow, the tall, stern, and apparently middle-aged woman with whom I now share this stunning view of Heronius II displays no trace of her twenty-year cybernetic nightmare. Of course, not all scars are immediately visible on the outside. I haven’t exactly been the president of the Borg collective’s fan club since the Battle of Wolf 359, so I’m thankful for that.
We could have met on the planet itself, but Ms. Hansen asked me to speak with her here instead, where our viewpoint seems decidedly Olympian. Or perhaps “Borgian” would be more accurate. I find myself wondering which of the two adjectives is most applicable as our conversation begins.
Many years ago, you famously predicted a wave of new Borg attacks, even as Starfleet was disbanding its Borg Task Force.
I do not always enjoy being proved right. Particularly where the Borg collective is concerned.
Don’t worry. I wasn’t expecting you to gloat.
Gloating is inefficient, as well as inappropriate. However, I suppose an “I told you so” might have been in order.
You left Starfleet over their assessment of the threat posed by the Borg, didn’t you?
Correct. With Starfleet’s Borg Task Force disbanded, I believed I could accomplish more in terms of maintaining the Federation’s readiness to repel Borg incursions by accepting a position at the Daystrom Institute.
During those years, you said very little to the media, either about the Borg or anything else. Did you continue to offer advice to Starfleet concerning the Borg even after you took the Daystrom job?
I did, though the effort turned out to be wasted.
I see. “Assistance is futile.”
How very droll, Mister Sisko. But you are correct. Clearly, Starfleet Command was uninterested at best—until it was very nearly too late. But I thought you had come to discuss the conflict with Species 8472.
Just setting the stage. After all, we wouldn’t have encountered that species if not for the Borg. Let’s go back to the beginning. You were present whenVoyagermade first contact with the Undine—
Other than Admiral Janeway, you’re the only person I’ve interviewed who still refers to them by their Borg designation.
I was Borg for many years. The collective leaves a lasting imprint, even on those who manage to escape it.
The Borg and the Undine were deadly enemies from the time of their first meeting. You were still part of the collective then, weren’t you?
Yes. First contact between the collective and Species 8472 occurred on Stardate 50762. I was still serving as the Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix One at that time.
That must surely give you a unique perspective on the Undine.
I was among the first to witness just how formidable Species 8472 can be against anyone they consider an adversary—even against an enemy as powerful and as determined as the Borg.
Weren’t the Undine the only species ever to successfully resist Borg assimilation?
Species 8472 was the first such species.
You sound as though you expect there to be others.
I would argue that there already is at least one other such species. In my estimation, humanity qualifies as the second. That could change, of course, once the collective returns yet again to renew its efforts to assimilate us. The possibility always exists that they will overwhelm us eventually with sheer numbers, or volume of force.
Well, at least it’s nice to hear that resistance may not beentirelyfutile.
Only unpreparedness and complacency are futile, Mister Sisko. Any other measure, however difficult, is worth considering when confronted with implacable enemies such as the Borg—or Species 8472.
Humanity’s so-called resistance to Borg assimilation—or even to outright destruction by the collective—was actually the cumulative effect of a whole lot of hard-fought, bloody battles. But the Undine’s resistance was another thing entirely. How were they able to thwart Borg assimilation so thoroughly, and so early in their… relationship with the collective?
Species 8472’s natural immune response to Borg nanoprobes is formidable.
“Natural immune response” looks like an understatement to me. The Undine didn’t simply beat the Borg back during that first clash. They wiped out whole fleets of Borg cubes. Millions of drones. Entire Borg planets.
Indeed. Species 8472 handed the collective its first serious defeat in the many millennia of its existence. In fact, they posed a serious existential challenge to the Borg as a race.
That gives us at least a rough idea of how serious the Undine threat was to the Federation. It seems that they posed an even bigger danger to us than the Borg did. Earth escaped Borg assimilation twice, and at a tremendous cost on both occasions. But during the first round of their fight with the Borg, the Undine delivered a near-knockout blow. And yet not even the Undine were able to wipe the Borg out entirely.
Of course not. However, Species 8472 might well have utterly exterminated the collective had the Borg not adopted a technological countermeasure developed aboard Voyager.
You’re referring to Kathryn Janeway’s decision to furnish specially modified nanoprobes to the Borg in exchange forVoyager’s safe passage through their space. Some have called Janeway’s bargain a “deal with the devil” that was ultimately responsible for the Undine deciding to treat us as a Borg ally, and therefore as one of their enemies in our own right. They blame Janeway for the “blowback” that created the deadliest adversary that the Federation has ever faced.
That perspective is both incorrect and foolish. Kathryn Janeway made the best decision possible at the time, given both her responsibility for the safety of her crew and the incomplete nature of the information she possessed. She did not discover until later that the Borg had lied to us about Species 8472 being the instigators of their conflict, when the exact opposite was the truth. The admiral’s critics ought to commend her for being the first human to obtain a truce of any sort with Species 8472. Even if the agreement she struck turned out to be with just a small faction of the 8472 civilization.
Forgive me for noticing, but the notion of Janeway being at fault for putting the Federation in harm’s way vis-à-vis the Undine appears to make you … well, angry.
Anger is irrelevant. I simply do not appreciate the idea.
You also seem to take it personally.
Would it really be inappropriate for me to take such an insult personally? Kathryn Janeway saved me from a waking nightmare. Although it was often a difficult and painful process, she restored my humanity to me. She deserves respect, not ignorant criticism. And she most certainly does not deserve to be blamed for Species 8472’s attacks against the Federation.
That’s probably true. But your anger suggests that you thinksomebodydeserves the blame that’s been directed at Janeway, rightly or wrongly. Who do you think that might be?
I’m not certain I can see the relevance of your question. However, if I were to accept for the sake of argument that blame should be assigned for enabling Species 8472 to become an existential threat to us, then it would be most appropriately directed at the Borg collective.
Which you were still a part of when it started its war against the Undine—a war that eventually spilled over into the Federation’s lap.
Your historical analysis is facile and lacking in detail. But it is also essentially correct.
At the risk of getting too personal, it seems to me that you would sooner blame yourself than your former captain for the escalation of the Undine threat.
Nonsense. “Blame” is irrelevant, Mister Sisko. The universe and the circumstances that arise within it simply are what they are, and we must rise to face them as they are. It is just that simple.
Now, do you have any further relevant questions?
I hope so. I also hope I haven’t offended you.
Offense is irrelevant. The chronometer, however, is not. I have a great deal of work to do, so please get on with your questions.
All right. The ease with which the Undine took down the Borg collective and nearly exterminated it right after the two societies made first contact has always bothered me—as has the Borg’s ability to bounce back from that conflict, as they appear to have done from other “killing blows” they took subsequently.
I have devoted a great deal of study to those very subjects, particularly since the start of my tenure at the Daystrom Institute. However, you must remember that despite its impressive array of capabilities, not even Species 8472 is omnipotent. And neither is the Borg collective.
But the Undine were certainly powerful enough to teach the Borg a valuable lesson about survival. The Federation needs to find out precisely how the Borg managed the trick of not only enduring an Undine onslaught, but also recovering from it.
Be careful what you wish for, Mister Sisko. Humanity may yet have to learn those lessons the hard way, directly from Species 8472 itself. Even Starfleet Command appears to concede that point now, their recent experiences with the Borg having left them sadder but wiser—and more amenable to listening.
Point taken. But what I meant was that maybe the Borg could teach humanity a thing or two about survival should the Undine ever mount another large-scale offensive.
When they mount another large-scale offensive. Not if. But you are otherwise correct. Knowing everything that the Borg collective knows about fighting off Species 8472 would be invaluable to the Federation. I would favor striking such a deal with them should the opportunity arise.
Even at the risk of making another “deal with the devil”?
It is true that there would be a significant risk of the collective reneging on any such deal. The Borg are not known for their willingness to negotiate deals or engage in trade, after all. On those rare occasions when the collective does consent to such agreements, it often as not subjects them to unilateral modification. Dealing with the Borg in any capacity requires extreme vigilance.
But it isn’t out of the question.
Obviously, I cannot speak for the Federation’s policymakers. However, I can say that many Starfleet officers of my acquaintance would certainly be capable of grasping such an opportunity under the appropriate circumstances.
I suppose you might even say that your standing here now speaking with me can be seen as living proof of that.
You might indeed, Mister Sisko. You might indeed.
A smile creases her still supple face as she leaves her final answer hanging in the air between us before bidding me adieu in order to return to her labors—the eternal, never-finished work of a professional watcher. After all, for everything else Annika Hansen may be or may have been—scientist, engineer, and tactical adviser both to Starfleet’s admiralty and to the Federation’s top civilian officials—she is a dedicated seeker after portents of imminent attacks by the most lethal imaginable enemies, as well as opportunities to use the other foes’ tactics against them.
Her obvious sense of ex-drone’s guilt over having helped, however peripherally, to stir up the Undine hornet’s nest in the first place demands that she do no less.
As I mentioned earlier, Annika Hansen could have asked me to meet her for this interview beneath the mild, beneficent skies of Heronius II, rather than from a vantage point some four hundred thousand kilometers above the planet’s surface. But that was not her preference. It’s as though she wishes to keep the planet on which she lived and played as a small child at arm’s length, emotionally speaking, even after the passage of all the intervening decades.
But after having conducted a fairly lengthy conversation with this bluntspoken woman (lengthy by her standards, at least), I decide that her choice of backdrops for this meeting is an artifact neither of Borg detachment nor Olympian arrogance. Her perspective is a perfectly understandable one, especially for someone who has demonstrated as much concern for humanity’s safety and well-being as she has since her liberation from the collective. After all, it’s hard to imagine anyone who’d literally grown up in the thrall of the Borg having anything other than an outsider’s perspective on the human species—just as it is difficult not to look upon an inhabited, M-class world like Heronius II from such a lofty, isolated perch without also experiencing intensely the fragility and vulnerability of life in a cosmos so surfeited with inimical forces.
Whatever her watchfulness against both the Borg and the Undine may have cost Annika Hansen over the years, her unending vigilance still has yet to rob her—thankfully—of that lamentably rare perspective.
* December 20, 2396.
*Semper Fidelis was the official Latin motto of the United States Marine Corps, while Semper Invictus was the Latin phrase similarly adopted by its twenty-second-century successor, the MACO (Military Assault Command Organization), which is still extant today.
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Star Trek Online: The Needs of the Many
Drawn from his exhaustive research and interviews, The Needs of the Many delivers a glimpse of Betar Prize–winning author Jake Sisko’s comprehensive "living history" of this tumultuous era. With collaborator Michael A. Martin, Sisko illuminates an often-poorly-understood time, an age marked indelibly by both fear and courage—not to mention the willingness of multitudes of unsung heroes who became the living embodiment of the ancient Vulcan philosopher Surak’s famous axiom, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."