Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Sacraments of Fire
Captain Ro Laren stood in the four-pad transporter room adjoining the Hub, the disc-shaped command complex that crowned Deep Space 9. She stared at the stranger who had just materialized there. Ro’s chief engineer, Miles O’Brien, hadn’t beamed the man onto DS9, though, but had transported aboard an hourglass-shaped object that glowed green and looked like an Orb of the Prophets. It exited from the wormhole moments earlier, and sensors detected a life-form within it. Once brought aboard, it vanished in a brilliant flash of white light, leaving a Bajoran man standing in its place. “Who are you?” Ro asked.
“My name,” the man said, “is Altek Dans.”
The name meant nothing to Ro. She glanced to one side, to her security chief, Lieutenant Commander Jefferson Blackmer. He carried a phaser in one hand, a precaution the captain had ordered before allowing the Orb on board. Ro nodded her head toward the room’s lone freestanding console, where O’Brien had stationed himself to operate the transporter. Following the captain’s unspoken command, Blackmer quickly crossed the compartment. After handing his weapon off to the chief engineer, he took a position beside him and began working a secondary panel on the console.
As she heard the feedback chirps of the security chief’s efforts, Ro introduced herself to the stranger, giving her rank and name. She saw no hint of recognition in the man’s expression. When he did not respond to her, she scrutinized him. The ridges at the top of his nose identified him as Bajoran, but such characteristics could be faked, and so she would have him examined in Sector General for confirmation. Perhaps a head taller than Ro, he had dark hair, straight and cut short, and dark eyes. A bronze complexion showcased his chiseled features, while several days’ growth of beard did nearly as much to hide them. He wore grimy, disheveled clothes—heavy black pants and a black, long-sleeved sweater—and well-worn hiking boots. Dirt covered his hands and smudged his face. More than anything, he looked as though he had lived at least the prior few days outdoors.
“Are you sky?” the man asked abruptly. He spoke Bajoran, but with a peculiar patois that Ro couldn’t place. It raised her suspicions, thinking that perhaps he had learned the language offworld.
Offworld, like on Ab-Tzenketh, Ro thought, not without bitterness. Five days earlier, at a ceremony intended to inaugurate the new starbase and to help sow peace in the region, the captain and most of her crew had witnessed the ruthless assassination of Federation President Nanietta Bacco. Initially, a Bajoran national—Enkar Sirsy, chief of staff for the first minister—had been implicated in the monstrous crime, but just the day before, additional evidence had cleared her and pointed instead to Tzenkethi involvement.
“Am I . . . sky, did you ask?” The question made no sense, and Ro wondered if she’d correctly understood the oddly accented words.
The man looked away from her and around the transporter room. He wore a mien of confusion, perhaps even of disorientation, and he began to exhibit signs of agitation. When he eventually peered back at the captain, he blurted, “I’m not ice.” The avowal seemed as absurd to Ro as his question.
Suddenly, the man started forward, toward the two steps that led down from the front of the raised platform. Ro quickly raised her hand, palm out. “I wouldn’t,” she said sharply, and the man stopped at once. “We’ve erected a level-one containment field around the transporter.”
“I don’t . . . I don’t know what that means,” the man said.
“It means that there’s a force field surrounding the platform you’re standing on,” Ro said.
The man shook his head as though confused. “Where am I?” he asked. “How did you bring me here?”
Before Ro could reply, Blackmer spoke up from the console. “Captain, I can’t find any record, in any of our databases, of an Altek Dans.”
“Well, Mister ‘Altek’?” Ro said. “Would you care to tell us your real name, as well as where you’re from and what you’re doing here?” The captain could not help thinking that the wormhole connected to the Gamma Quadrant—home to the Dominion, an interstellar power that had waged a long and brutal war against the Federation and other Alpha Quadrant nations. Occurring so soon after the assassination, and only a day before Deep Space 9’s ten thousand civilian residents would begin to arrive, the unexpected appearance of an unknown individual on the starbase gave Ro serious concerns.
“I’ve told you my name,” the man said. “I’m from Joradell, and I have no idea how or why you’ve brought me here—or even where here is.”
“Is Joradell a planet in the Gamma Quadrant?” Ro asked. “Is it part of the Dominion?” The investigation into the murder of President Bacco had not uncovered any connection with the Founders, but the captain wouldn’t exclude any possibilities, especially regarding present or historic enemies of the Federation.
“Joradell isn’t a planet,” the man said. “It’s an Aleiran city on Bajor.”
“I was born and raised on Bajor, and I’ve never heard of any such city,” Ro said. “Why don’t you drop the pretense and—”
“Captain!” Blackmer called out, racing back up beside her. Ro saw that he had taken his phaser back from O’Brien. “Automatic sensors didn’t issue any alerts, but I performed a manual scan. It revealed that the man is carrying a projectile weapon.”
The information distressed Ro. President Bacco had been killed with such a weapon. “Chief,” she asked O’Brien, “can you disarm him?”
“Isolating the weapon now,” the engineer said, his thick fingers marching across the transporter console.
“Beam it into the bunker,” Ro ordered. Officially designated the Explosive Device Containment Chamber, the compartment, located in an outer section at the base of Deep Space 9’s main sphere, provided a secure environment into which potentially dangerous objects could be placed. Physically reinforced bulkheads and triply redundant containment fields separated the chamber from the rest of the starbase, and a sophisticated transporter system could automatically redirect the force of any detonations out into the vacuum of space.
“Aye, sir,” O’Brien said. As he operated his controls, Ro heard a muffled, high-pitched hum. The man, obviously hearing it too, seemed to concentrate for a few moments on the sound, then quickly reached to the back of his hip—to where, Ro assumed, he carried his weapon. His hand came away empty.
Ro paced forward until she stood just in front of the steps leading up to the transporter platform. On her face, she could feel the tingle of the charged air between her and the unseen containment field. “Mister Altek, or whatever your actual name is, I am placing you under arrest for illegally bringing a weapon onto this starbase. You will be detained pending our investigation and the filing of formal charges against you.”
“Starbase?” the man said. “I don’t . . . I didn’t—”
“Chief,” Ro said, “transport our guest to the stockade.”
“Aye.” In just seconds, strands of white light formed above the platform, joined an instant later by equally bright motes. As they expanded to envelop the man, his face grew panicked. After a moment, he faded from view.
Ro turned to face her security chief. “I want him under constant surveillance.”
“I understand, Captain.”
The entire incident troubled Ro, but something more specific gnawed at her. “Why didn’t the firearm show up on automated scans?” she wanted to know. After a projectile weapon had been employed in the assassination of the Federation president, the captain, in consultation with Blackmer, had decided to order the sensor protocols within the starbase modified to include monitoring for such arms, despite their antiquation and rare usage.
“I need to verify this,” the security chief said, “but I believe it’s because our visitor’s weapon was far more primitive than . . .” He didn’t finish his statement, but he didn’t need to; Ro understood that he meant to compare the firearm just brought aboard to the one that had ended President Bacco’s life.
The captain nodded. “Have your security team conduct an examination of the weapon, and then work with Nog to adjust the internal sensors accordingly.” Lieutenant Commander Nog functioned as both DS9’s chief of operations and its assistant chief engineer. “I want to know when a weapon of any kind is brought aboard this base.”
“In the meantime, execute a deeper search for information about our visitor, and then interrogate him,” Ro said. “I want to know who he is, and how and why he traveled out of the wormhole in an Orb.”
“So do I,” Blackmer agreed, his seriousness of purpose evident in the set of his jaw.
“Chief,” Ro said, addressing O’Brien. “Inspect the weapon in the bunker. Let’s make sure it’s not more than it appears to be. Also, try to determine its point of origin.”
O’Brien acknowledged his orders, and Ro headed out of the transporter room, her two officers falling in behind her. She commanded a shining new state-of-the-art starbase, constructed by the Core of Engineers and outfitted by Tactical in such a way as to render it as impregnable as Starfleet technology allowed, and yet Ro felt less secure at that moment than she had on the old station—despite the fact that rogue elements of the Typhon Pact had, just two years previously, reduced the original Deep Space 9 to dust.
COLONEL CENN DESCA, DS9’s first officer and its official liaison to the Bajoran government, stood up from his exec’s chair as the captain exited the transporter room with Chief O’Brien and Lieutenant Commander Blackmer. He expected Vedek Kira to follow behind them, but the doors closed once the three officers entered the Hub. The two men headed for their dedicated workstations, which perched on the raised, outer level of the control center. All of the Hub’s primary consoles faced inward and overlooked the Well, the lower, inner section that housed the situation table. As O’Brien sat down at the primary engineering panel and Blackmer took his position at security, Ro addressed the command crew.
“The Orb did carry a passenger,” she announced, “but it wasn’t Kira Nerys.”
As the captain described what had occurred in the transporter room and spoke about the Bajoran man who had appeared there, Cenn listened, but he also tried to organize his thoughts, which all at once began to spin. Cenn felt as though he’d taken a fist in his gut. The emotion didn’t compare to the despair he’d suffered when the Celestial Temple had originally collapsed and trapped Vedek Kira within it, but the moment still struck him like a loss.
If the Prophets chose to send somebody back to Bajor, he asked himself, why wouldn’t They have decided on Nerys? When the Celestial Temple had gyred back open that day for the first time in two years—rewarding Cenn’s faith that it eventually would—he had almost been unable to control his elation. When an Orb of the Prophets then appeared exiting it, and sensors revealed that it contained a life-form within, he knew as surely as he had ever known anything that Kira had returned. While many people believed that she had died inside the wormhole when a starship battle within had caused it to fall in on itself, the Vedek Assembly considered her missing and presumed to be in the hands of the Prophets. Cenn could not have agreed more with the position of the vedeks.
But then where is she? he thought, frustrated. Cenn had served under Kira during her two-plus years as commander of Deep Space 9. After she resigned her commission and left the station to become an acolyte in the Bajoran religion, they stayed in touch with each other. While Cenn traveled to Bajor to visit family and friends as often as his duty permitted, Kira only rarely made trips to DS9, but their bond nevertheless grew during that period. They shared a great deal through their common faith. Cenn had been raised by devout parents who had, early in his life, imparted to him the gift of devotion to the Prophets, and he had never strayed from that piety. Kira had likewise grown up as a faithful adherent of the Bajoran religion, but it had taken her joining the clergy to prompt the friendship between her and Cenn to fully flourish. Over time, they bonded strongly over their many theological discussions, examining their beliefs and posing deep questions to themselves and to each other.
Cenn missed those times, and he missed Nerys. He could tell himself that he wanted her to come back to Bajor for her own sake, but how could her existence improve from walking with the Prophets? No, Cenn had to admit that he hoped for Kira’s return out of his own self-interest. That seemed like a poor reason for him to question the ways of the Prophets, and he chastised himself for it.
The captain finished her briefing about the unknown man the Orb had deposited on the starbase. She crossed the width of the Hub’s outer ring, to where Lieutenant Ren Kalanent Viss and Ensign Vendora deGrom worked at adjoining consoles. Until recently, deGrom’s dockmaster station had been configured at a secondary position on the outer bulkhead of the control center, but because of Deep Space 9’s fully operational status, the impending influx of ten thousand new residents, and an expected increase in maintenance and shipping traffic, the sciences panel had been swapped out for it.
“Kalanent, contact Admiral Akaar’s office,” Ro said to Viss at communications. “I need to speak with him, in real time, as soon as he’s available. Report to follow.” In the aftermath of the assassination, Starfleet’s resources had been reorganized to permit undelayed communication between Deep Space 9, in the Bajoran system, and Starfleet Command, on Earth.
“Right away, Captain,” Viss said. Her words always sounded slightly off to Cenn, the heavy translation required of her underwater speech rendered somewhat mechanical by the helmet of her aquatic-environment suit.
As the Alonis woman operated her console, Ro made her way around the Hub, past one of the four sets of turbolift doors that served the control center. When she passed the command and exec’s chairs to her left, she said, “You’re with me, Desca.” Then, back over her shoulder, she added, “John, you’re in command.” The starbase’s primary science officer, Lieutenant Commander John Candlewood, rose from his peripheral station.
Cenn followed the captain into her office. Inside, Ro moved behind her desk, which sat in the center of a long bulkhead to the left. Cenn took one of the two chairs opposite her.
“What’s your view of all this, Desca?” Ro asked. A large circular sculpture, composed primarily of curved metal rods, hung on the bulkhead behind her. Cenn had been told that the artist intended the piece as a modern, planar interpretation of Deep Space 9 itself, but he’d never really been able to see it.
“Honestly, I thought the Orb was carrying Vedek Kira,” he said. “But we can’t always see or understand the paths the Prophets lay out for us.”
“That’s just it,” Ro said, shaking her head slowly. “I’m not convinced this has anything to do with the Prophets.”
Cenn felt his brow crease involuntarily, and he forced himself to flatten his expression. “Begging the captain’s pardon, but I’m not sure why you think that,” he said. “The wormhole just opened up after being gone for two years—two years during which Federation scientists couldn’t find any readings at all that it even still existed. And when it finally reappeared today, it expelled an Orb. How can any of that not have to do with the Prophets?”
“I don’t know,” Ro said. “It’s just a feeling I have.”
Cenn certainly appreciated the value of intuition, even in the face of contradictory evidence, but the idea that the Prophets hadn’t been involved in the renewal of the Celestial Temple, or in the subsequent discharge of the Orb, seemed unlikely in the extreme. “Sir, I know that you’re a nonbeliever. Could that possibly be shading your thinking in this case?”
“Oh, Desca,” Ro said, pushing herself up from her chair. “I’m not really interested in labels. Why do I need to classify how I think and what I feel?” She paced away from the desk toward the far side of her office.
Cenn had heard such arguments many times before, often from people who had previously professed or even demonstrated their disbelief. He always found it sad, as well as strangely ironic. Such individuals denied the divinity of the Prophets, but they had so little conviction in their own disbelief that they scorned any attempt to brand them as atheists. He would never tell Ro Laren, but he felt genuinely sorry for her. Not only did she deny herself the joy and comfort that would come from putting her faith in the Prophets, but in at least one important way, she lacked faith in herself.
The captain stopped at the outer bulkhead, in front of the rounded rectangular port there, which looked straight out into space, but also provided a view from on high of DS9’s sphere and the x-ring that circled it at its equator. Ro brought her hands up to her hips and peered outward. She didn’t say anything for a moment, and Cenn worried that he had offended her by questioning her thought processes. He considered apologizing, but then, still facing the port, the captain said, “It’s not that I’m a nonbeliever, and it’s not that I’m a believer.” She rounded on her heel and walked back over to Cenn. “I don’t dispute that there are beings who reside within the wormhole, or that they have some ability to manipulate it. We know that the Orbs exist and can have effects on people, and it’s undeniable that the Prophets have had an influence on, and maybe even have interfered with, Bajoran society.”
Cenn bristled internally at Ro’s words, but he consciously maintained an even façade. “I would use the word guide rather than interfere, Captain, but everything you’re saying is true,” he told her. “To my way of thinking, though, your statements minimize the importance of the Prophets to the Bajoran people.”
“I’m sorry, Desca,” Ro said, propping herself against the corner of the desk. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I don’t underestimate the impact that the Prophets have had on Bajor, both directly and indirectly. I just don’t know that alien beings who insert themselves, uninvited, into the affairs of another species deserve to be accorded the mantle of divinity.”
“Well, first of all, I’d argue that many Bajorans, including me, have not only invited the Prophets into our lives, but would welcome Them even if we hadn’t,” Cenn said. “And second, I’ve heard the contention many times about the Prophets being merely an alien race. It’s a particularly popular claim among the Starfleet personnel who’ve been stationed at Bajor and Deep Space Nine since the end of the Occupation.” He shrugged. “It doesn’t offend me. I just think it’s an uninformed opinion, or a shortsighted one. I’ve not only seen the Orbs, I’ve experienced them. I’ve read prophecies that were recorded long ago by scribes who have been dead for centuries, or even millennia, and that have been borne out in my lifetime. I’ve seen the arrival of the Emissary, and I’ve witnessed the majesty of the Celestial Temple.”
“I know that,” Ro said quietly.
“You might try to characterize all of that as simply the actions of advanced alien beings,” Cenn said, “but it’s not as though the Prophets manufactured the Orbs in an assembly plant, or constructed the wormhole out of thermocrete and duranium, or inspired the penning of prophecies after they had already come true. What They’ve been to the Bajoran people and what They’ve done—” Cenn held his open hands up, as though encompassing the vast history of the Prophets. “—is absolutely nothing short of divine.”
The captain actually managed a smile. “Your passion is compelling.”
“I infer that as a compliment.”
“I meant it that way,” Ro said. “I’m envious of your certainty, and of what your beliefs obviously bring you.” She shoved off from the edge of her desk and moved back behind it. “But I haven’t made myself clear,” she said as she sat back down. “What I believe or don’t believe with regards to the Prophets is immaterial in this case. I’m not saying that They couldn’t have reopened the wormhole, or ejected an Orb from it with a passenger aboard. But President Bacco was killed here only five days ago with a projectile weapon, and the first person we arrested for the crime was a Bajoran woman. Now, we have a Bajoran man mysteriously appear on the starbase—a man we can find no record of in any of our databases—and he’s carrying a similar type of firearm.”
“I don’t see the connection,” Cenn said. “The evidence Doctor Bashir found yesterday exonerated Enkar Sirsy. We know that it wasn’t Bajorans who plotted to kill the president, but Tzenkethi.”
“That’s the way the situation looks right now, but we’re not that sure of our facts,” Ro said. “Just because Enkar was cleared and the Tzenkethi implicated, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Bajoran complicity.”
“And you’re concerned about a potential link between this Altek Dans and the assassination,” Cenn said, more statement than question.
Ro nodded. “Something doesn’t feel right about him.”
“I trust your instincts about people, Captain,” Cenn said, “but are you suggesting that the Prophets sent this man here as part of the plot to murder President Bacco?” He couldn’t believe that he needed to ask such a question. As much as he endeavored to remain outwardly calm in matters relating to his faith, he couldn’t keep notes of shock and disapprobation from coloring his tone.
“No, no, not at all,” Ro said quickly. “But the wormhole doesn’t open only into the Alpha Quadrant.”
Cenn tried to follow the captain’s train of thought. “Are you implying Dominion involvement? That they . . . what? Created a false version of an Orb and found a means of conveying somebody aboard it?”
“If Altek Dans is actually a Founder . . .” Ro’s voice trailed off. She remained quiet for a moment, then said, “It doesn’t make sense, does it?”
“I don’t think so,” Cenn agreed. “I mean, it’s certainly straightforward enough to determine whether or not Altek Dans is a Changeling, but we’ve had no trouble from the Dominion since the end of the war. It seems improbable for them to have had a hand in reopening the wormhole and creating a false Orb, all for the purpose of placing one of their people on the new starbase.” Something else occurred to Cenn. “Regardless, how could the Founders have played any role in the assassination when, until today, the wormhole had been closed for two years? The Dominion is seventy thousand light-years away, and they don’t have slipstream drive, so they couldn’t have traveled here.”
“You’re right,” Ro said. “But there’s still something about that man that troubles me—something even more than his sudden appearance from the wormhole, or the lack of any information about him, or the firearm he carried. He seems . . . different. Even the words he used, the accent he spoke with, didn’t seem quite right.”
Cenn recalled another incident related to the Celestial Temple from a dozen or so years earlier, although it hadn’t involved an Orb. “Do you know about Akorem Laan?” he asked the captain.
“The name sounds familiar,” Ro said. “Was he a famous writer?”
“A poet,” Cenn clarified. “Actually, he’s considered one of the great classical Bajoran poets. He lived two centuries ago, but one day, he sailed out of the wormhole in his lightship and docked at Deep Space Nine.”
“What?” Ro asked. “Why don’t I know about this?”
“It happened before either of us served here,” Cenn said. He did a quick calculation in his head. “It was thirteen years ago.”
The captain looked off to one side, as though gazing into her own past. “Thirteen years ago, I was living on Galion,” she said.
Cenn knew that, at that time, the planet Galion had fallen within the Demilitarized Zone established by a treaty between the Federation and the Cardassians. If he recalled correctly, many of the Maquis leadership—and apparently Ro Laren—had settled there. He also remembered that, during the Dominion War, Jem’Hadar forces had wiped out most of Galion’s population. All of which suggested why Ro might not have learned about the lightship that had traveled out of both the wormhole and Bajor’s past.
“Akorem’s ship had been caught and damaged in an ion storm two hundred years ago, and he’d suffered a serious injury,” Cenn explained. “He thought that he would die, but then his vessel fell into the Celestial Temple. The Prophets healed his wounds and returned him to the Bajoran system, but two centuries after he’d been lost.”
Cenn saw recognition on the captain’s face. “This was the man who thought that he was the Emissary, not Captain Sisko,” she said.
“That’s right,” Cenn said. “He believed that the Prophets sent him forward in time not only to function as Their Emissary, but also to reinstitute the D’jarras.” The Bajoran caste system had been abandoned during the Occupation and never reinstituted. “Captain Sisko stepped aside as Emissary for Akorem, but when Bajor tried to return to the D’jarras—my family was supposed to farm—it quickly became apparent that it wouldn’t work. Captain Sisko and Akorem traveled back into the wormhole together. The Prophets confirmed that They had chosen the captain as Their Emissary, and that They’d sent the poet as a means of reassuring the captain of that position.”
“What about Akorem?”
“According to Captain Sisko, the Prophets returned him to his own era,” Cenn said, “though without any memories of the time he’d spent in the Celestial Temple or in the future.”
“Are you saying that the situation with Altek Dans reminds you of what happened with Akorem?” Ro wanted to know.
“It does,” Cenn said. “People knew Akorem because of his legacy, and because he lived just two centuries ago. But what if Altek Dans isn’t a name out of the history books? Or what if he comes from much further back in the past?” The idea thrilled Cenn. “Depending on when and where he originated, he could provide a trove of information about unknown Bajoran history.”
“Perhaps,” Ro said. “But we also have to ask why the wormhole aliens would have sent him here.”
“It is difficult to know the minds of the Prophets,” Cenn said. “I would simply counsel you that it is enough to trust Them.”
Cenn could see the difficulty the captain—a nonbeliever, despite her protestations otherwise—would have with such a perspective. “Desca, the Bajoran man carried a weapon similar to the one used to kill President Bacco.”
“Similar enough to get Jeff’s attention, and my own,” Ro said. “It’s a projectile weapon.”
Cenn understood why the captain would be slow to accept Altek’s possession of such a firearm as a coincidence. Before long, she would be charged with the responsibility for nearly thirteen thousand lives—ten thousand civilian residents and twenty-five hundred crew members. Not only that, but the president of the Federation had been assassinated on a starbase under Captain Ro’s command.
“If Altek is from Bajor’s past,” Cenn said quietly, “then it might make sense that he’d be carrying that type of weapon.”
“It might,” Ro said, though she sounded less than convinced. “It is imperative that we find out before we have to release him.”
“How are you holding him now?” Cenn asked.
“I took him into custody for illegally bringing a weapon onto the starbase,” Ro said. “It’s the thinnest of pretexts, considering that he didn’t actually board Deep Space Nine of his own volition.”
“Which means that, since we can’t actually charge him with a crime, we can’t hold him for more than three days.” Federation law prescribed such procedures quite clearly.
“No, we can’t,” Ro said. “Desca, I want you to coordinate with Jeff on this. He’ll interrogate—”
The tones of the ship’s comm system interrupted the captain. “Viss to Captain Ro,” said the voice of DS9’s communications officer.
“Ro here. Go ahead.”
“Captain, Admiral Akaar will be available to speak with you in forty minutes,” Viss said.
“Very good,” Ro acknowledged. “Confirm the meeting and open a comm channel at the appropriate time.”
“Ro out.” To Cenn, she said, “Jeff will interrogate the man, as well as oversee a thorough search of all available records to see if we can confirm or establish his true identity. I know you have significant knowledge about Bajor’s historical past, so do what you can to help.”
“Yes, sir.” Understanding that the discussion had come to an end, Cenn stood up from his chair. As he started toward the door, the captain called after him.
“Desca, be broad in interpreting whatever information you find,” she said. “If there’s even the slightest possibility that this man poses a threat to this starbase or the people on it, I can’t let him go.”
Commander Gregory Desjardins of the Judge Advocate General’s office would have something to say about that, Cenn knew, but he took the captain’s point. “I’ll do my best,” he told her. Then he continued on through the doors and back out into the Hub.