Sisko had been sitting at his desk for a while, trying to catch up on messages he would have preferred not to see at all, when Worf entered his office with yet more unwelcome news.
“A large vessel of unknown origin has appeared on long-range sensors, and it’s on a direct course to Deep Space Nine. When I attempted to search the database, the computer returned a message that information about this species was restricted.”
That made no sense whatsoever, Sisko thought. Classified information didn’t normally extend to the simple identification of an alien ship. He brought up the sensor data on his desk console: a huge ship, considerably larger than the station itself, and definitely nothing he’d ever seen before.
He gave the computer his authorization code, and it obediently produced the results of the database search. Which turned out to be even farther from anything Sisko had ever seen or expected to see. As he finished, Sisko could scarcely believe what he’d just read. He turned his attention back to Worf, still standing in front of the desk.
“Worf, are you familiar with the history of Earth’s Third World War? In particular, how it began.”
Although he had to be surprised by the abrupt change of subject, the Klingon officer answered promptly. “Yes, sir. I spent much of my childhood on Earth, as you know. World War Three was started by fascists who launched simultaneous attacks on Earth’s major cities from orbital platforms. After many decades of peace, Earth’s nations were unprepared for such an assault, and the destruction was colossal. The fascists were defeated, however, when the world’s remaining military forces joined together to oppose them.”
“That’s the way I learned it in school, too.” Sisko’s gaze drifted down to the baseball on his desk for just a moment before he went on. His own voice sounded unreal in his ears. “Worf, there never was a World War Three. Although some fascist groups did exist, they didn’t have the technology or the resources to mount such a thorough and coordinated assault.”
“The cities were destroyed.” Worf’s deep voice held no trace of doubt. “I have seen what remains of the ruins with my own eyes.”
“Yes. But not by human fascists.” Sisko again brought up the sensor image of the approaching alien ship on his computer screen. “By one of these.”
Sisko had never seen his tactical officer rendered speechless before. This unprecedented situation lasted for all of twenty seconds until Worf started sputtering a variety of outraged protests.
“That makes no sense. The backward human society of three centuries ago would not have been able to survive an attack by a more advanced race. And why would all of Earth’s national governments conspire to invent a story of a war that never happened?”
“Political expediency, you might say.” Sisko decided to answer Worf’s second question first. “Earth was in chaos, with several national capitols destroyed and millions of casualties. There was quite enough panic without trying to explain an alien attack to a population that believed itself to be alone in the universe. And with every country’s armed forces decimated, the threat from well-armed fascist groups calling themselves patriotic militia was very real. So the national governments invented the story of an attack from orbital platforms as a justification for imposing martial law, seizing all weapons, and disbanding the fascist groups. Crude, but under the circumstances, effective.”
“Ah.” Worf had seen enough of both Federation and Klingon politics so that no further explanation was necessary. After a moment, he said, “Tell me how Earth’s warriors gave battle to this enemy. The tale must be a great saga, indeed.”
“We’re not going to have time for more than the quick and dirty version, I’m afraid.” Sisko brought up the tactical data. “Here’s what I’m thinking . . .”
Khvassaq, Exalted Warlord of the Rak’hai’zuraj, observed his ship’s sensor readings with satisfaction. The strange shape-shifters had spoken truly when they told his people of a world rich in natural resources, guarded only by a few inferior ships and an unimpressive space station. Soon another conquest would be complete.
The name Rak’hai’zuraj translated into English, rather roughly, as Insatiable Horde Devouring All. For several millennia their great ships had traversed the galaxy, taking what resources they needed from the planets they encountered. By the time the Horde moved on from a planet, there wasn’t much left alive. And that was just the way Khvassaq liked it.
Even the name of the planet, Bajor, sounded like a tasty snack.
“Deep Space Nine won’t last ten minutes against that.” Kira Nerys, still looking down at the screen, spat out her assessment of the situation as if the words burned her mouth. “And the people of Bajor won’t survive the day.”
“Worf and I concur.” Sisko’s hard tone was resolute. “That’s why we have to intercept them before they get here.”
“With what? The Defiant?” Kira lifted her head and stared at Sisko incredulously. “That’s pointless suicide. One ship couldn’t come close to doing any damage to that monster out there. And there’s no time to call for reinforcements, even if they could be spared from the front. Which they can’t, not with the latest string of Dominion victories.”
Touching his finger to the screen, Worf bared his jagged teeth in wolfish anticipation. “But look at what lies along their course.”
Kira glanced down again. After a moment, she returned his fierce grin.
Opaka wrapped her gray shawl more tightly around her shoulders as she stared into the fire, seeing no portents in its cheerless embers. She felt like an old woman, shivering in the cabin’s chill as the rain drummed steadily against the thatched roof. No comfort was to be had in the knowledge that she was not in fact aging and would never die.
She turned away from the fire, thinking of heaven and hell, and concluding as usual that the concepts were far too subjective and relative to be of any practical application. Especially in a place like this.
Across the room, a dark figure in a Starfleet uniform materialized suddenly: the first visitor she’d had in over a year. Well, it was good to know that her existence hadn’t been completely forgotten. She straightened her posture and gave him a nod. “Emissary.”
He returned the greeting. “It’s good to see you’re looking so well, Kai Opaka.”
“I am no longer Kai,” she corrected, feeling an absurd desire to laugh. “And I am always well. Except when the local barbarians are hacking off my limbs, which, as you can see, always grow back quite nicely.”
Sisko winced at that. “I had hoped that some of the people here would have become more amenable to your teachings by now.”
“Unfortunately not. There’s nothing in the Bajoran prophecies that describes an existence like this. I’ve begun to study the life of Christ. His crucifixion is a ghastly, brutal, alien story, but the warring tribes around here definitely seem to respond to it.”
“I wish you the best of luck with your flock, Reverend.” A corner of Sisko’s mouth turned up in a wry smile. “For now, though, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to ask you to beat a few of your plowshares back into swords. Just for a short time.”
Opaka wondered whether the Emissary could see the bleakness in her answering smile.
“I have all of eternity.”
Worf felt almost like a gnat declaring war on an elephant as the Defiant approached the huge alien warship, which continued along an unchanged course. Evidently, the aliens considered the small Federation vessel to be no threat. As he completed his tactical scans, Worf noted that there weren’t even any exterior weapons on the enemy ship. In all probability, they’d never encountered enough resistance to have much of a need to defend themselves. That would be consistent with the information he’d read about their powerful shielding, heavily armed intermediate ships, and overwhelming numbers of small fighter craft.
Sisko sent a terse communication to the alien vessel. “You are approaching Bajoran space. Identify yourselves.”
A long moment passed. Just as Worf had begun to think there would be no reply, the viewscreen came to life with the dour visage of the enemy leader, staring disdainfully from his dark, oversized eyes.
“We are the Insatiable Horde. We devour all. Those in our path have two choices. Flee or die.”
And the viewscreen abruptly went dark again.
Sisko, with no apparent surprise, glanced from the helmsman to Worf. “Proceed as planned, gentlemen.”
That was the command Worf had been waiting for. He targeted a nearby component of the warship’s propulsion system — it didn’t much matter which one — and fired the Defiant’s forward phasers at one-third power. As expected, that had no effect whatsoever on the monstrous and very well-shielded ship.
As he waited for the enemy’s response, Worf had to restrain himself from drumming his fingers impatiently on his console. Battle was glorious, but waiting for it — well, that was another matter altogether. Then a triangular portal opened on the side of the huge ship, and a swarm of small fighters emerged, heading straight toward the Defiant.
Worf fired a few more shots at the smaller attackers, deliberately ineffectual, before the Defiant turned to flee at sublight speed toward the nearby planetary system. The enemy ships, apparently emboldened by the Defiant’s display of weakness, returned fire while continuing to pursue.
The Defiant shuddered slightly as several of the pursuers’ shots proved accurate. Worf surveyed his tactical panel with satisfaction; the small ships’ energy weapons were even less powerful than the low setting he’d been using for the Defiant’s phasers, and shield capacity was still close to maximum. Evidently, the Horde’s technology hadn’t improved much in the past three hundred years.
This was going to be almost too easy.
A blue curve filled the viewscreen as the Defiant decelerated into a stationary orbit on the far side of the planet. In this position, the alien mother ship’s sensors and communications would be almost entirely blocked. Presumably it would deduce some of what was going on when it abruptly lost communication with its fighter craft, but by then the damage would be done.
“Fire at will, Mr. Worf.”
Two phaser blasts proved sufficient to take out the shields on the nearest enemy craft, and a third shot transformed it into a clump of floating space debris. Like spearing fish in a barrel, Worf thought, briefly wondering whether the humans from whom he’d learned that expression had ever really engaged in such unsporting behavior.
Within minutes, the Horde’s overconfident fighter pilots had all but one of their craft reduced to orbiting rubble. The Defiant’s shields were still at better than fifty percent of capacity. The last enemy ship, seized by a tractor beam as soon as its shields failed, was drawn into the Defiant’s shuttle bay with barely two meters’ clearance at its widest point. By the time it was brought aboard, O’Brien had already transported the alien pilot to the brig.
According to the historical records, one nuclear warhead fired from a captured fighter vessel inside the mother ship during the Horde’s attack on Earth had been sufficient to destroy the ship. The military forces of Earth at that time hadn’t possessed antimatter bombs, an unfortunate lack that was not shared by the Defiant’s crew. They would have gotten a much better fireworks show with antimatter, Worf thought, with fond memories of the Fourth of July celebrations at Starfleet Academy. Regrettably, he was still stationed on the bridge, which precluded him from assisting as the small alien ship was packed full of almost every explosive device he’d been able to find in Deep Space Nine’s armory.
Khvassaq cast a vicious glare toward his viewscreen as only one of his fighter ships emerged from the planetary system in which their adversary had concealed itself. Only one, and the vessel had plainly suffered significant damage. No communications were being received from the pilot. Probably too afraid to utter a word after his cowardly retreat, Khvassaq thought in disgust. After all, when had the Horde ever fled from the puny weapons of inferior species?
The automated docking system began drawing the small craft into the mother ship. Khvassaq furiously entered commands into his console, overriding the usual docking sequence in order to direct the fighter ship to dock at his own port, where he planned to personally tear every tentacle from the coward’s body in front of all his senior officers.
Looking through the observation port above the docking platform, he was surprised to discover that the pilot’s seat in the fighter was empty. That was the very last thing Khvassaq saw.
The few survivors of the blast, still in disbelief at their defeat, considered it fortunate that a sparsely inhabited planet with significant resources was to be found in the nearby system. There they could regroup, build a new mother ship, and eventually seek their revenge.
On the planet’s surface, the warriors looked up into the sky as the bright trails of alien spacecraft descended toward them. They had already made preparations for the arrival of these invaders. Although their fate of making war against one another for eternity gave them no qualms, they had to admit that killing the same old enemies had gotten a bit boring. Waiting in gleeful anticipation, they savored the prospect of having new foes to kill, slowly and painfully, again and again.
Opaka, watching from her cabin, reminded herself that the prophets often worked in mysterious ways.