Authors: Dean Wesley Smith,Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Space Opera, #Science Fiction, #Media Tie-In, #Sisko; Benjamin (Fictitious character)
Deep Space Nine
THE CAPTAIN'S TABLE
as recorded by
Dean Wesley Smith and
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
To Mark and Laura Nelson
ON A VAST front spread through the Alpha Quadrant, the battle between the Federation and Dominion waged on, ship by ship, sector by sector. Moving through an unusually empty section of space near the Klingon/Federation border, three Jem'Hadar ships raced to reinforce four other Dominion ships in a losing fight against the Federation starship Defiant and the Klingon battle cruiser Hutlh.
Without warning, and directly in front of the three Jem'Hadar reinforcements, a white line formed in the blackness of space, slowly filling into a large area of mist, as if it were a cloud building before a storm. It had no substance that registered on any instrument, and the three ships entered it, expecting their shields to protect them against the thin anomaly. They were within two minutes of the fight and they had no time to detour around a simple cloud of space debris.
But no ships reappeared on the other side of the thin area of mist.
A few moments later the mist faded and was gone, as quickly as it had come, leaving the space empty and black.
No Jem'Hadar reinforcements arrived at the battle, and the Federation starship Defiant and the Klingon battle cruiser Hutlh fought and destroyed the four Dominion ships, holding the line of the war for one more day.
The disappearance of the three Jem'Hadar reinforcement ships became an unexplained footnote in the records of a long and deadly war.
But sometimes wars are won in the footnotes.
The cool metal handle on the massive wooden door fit into Captain Benjamin Sisko's hand as if it were made for him. The feeling so startled him that he paused and glanced down, opening his hand without taking his fingers off the metal.
The handle's design was Bajoran, shaped almost like another hand reaching out, yet without the delineation of a hand or fingers. It was clearly very old and very well made. The surface was worn smooth, polished by use. Sisko couldn't see anything that attached the handle to the door, almost as if the handle grew from the dark wood.
Above Sisko's head was a carved wooden sign that read simply, THE CAPTAIN'S TABLE. The sign was an extension of the door frame and the letters on the sign were dried and cracked, obviously from the heat of the Bajoran summers. Yet the sign, along with the door and the griplike handle, seemed to reach out to Sisko and pull him in, welcoming him as if he were coming back to a childhood home.
A few weeks before, a captain of a Jibetian freighter had pulled Sisko aside on the Promenade and asked if he knew where a bar called the Captain's Table might be. Sisko had said he'd never heard of the place. Instead, he recommended Quark's.
The Jibetian had simply laughed and said, "If you ever get the chance, have a drink in the Captain's Table. There is no other bar."
Sisko had put the man's suggestion out of his mind until this morning. He was on Bajor because Dr. Bashir had threatened to have Sisko relieved of command if he did not rest. It was impossible to rest in the middle of a war, Sisko had argued, but Bashir was adamant. A Starfleet doctor did have the power to relieve someone of command, and rather than go through that fight, Sisko had agreed to two days on Bajor, two days without meetings, without Starfleet protocol, without decisions.
If he had stayed on the station, he wouldn't have been able to relax. Somehow the staff seemed to believe that Sisko had to decide which replicators remained on-line, which messages should be forwarded through the war zone, which ships would be allowed to dock. He had a competent crew; it was time, Bashir had said, to trust them with the details, and to sleep.
Bashir had wanted Sisko on Bajor for a week. Sisko wanted to stay overnight, and return in less than twenty-four hours. They had compromised on two days.
"Two full days," Bashir had said. "If I hear of you on this station before forty-eight hours are up, I will order you to the infirmary for the remainder of your holiday."
"I'll keep that in mind," Sisko had said, deciding that he'd rather remain on Bajor than subject himself to sickbay for even one hour. Bashir had smiled, knowing that he'd won.
Sisko spent his first day on Bajor in his rented cabin, sitting outside and wondering what the planet would be like when he retired there. If he got a chance to retire there.
By that afternoon, he was restless despite Bashir's worry, Sisko had too much energy to relax. His concerns for the Federation, for the entire quadrant, would not allow him to rest. Not completely. And no matter how much he loved Bajor, it didn't take his mind off the problems he would face when he returned.
He wandered the streets of the nearby village, and had passed this very door more than once. On his third pass, the sign had caught his attention and the Jibetian captain's words had come back to him. Sisko had had his fingers wrapped around the handle before he'd even realized that he'd made a decision.
The door was so massive-looking that Sisko expected it to feel heavy as he pulled it open. Instead it moved easily, almost as if it had no weight at all.
Inside, the coolness and darkness gripped him, pulling him out of the heat of the Bajoran day. Instantly he could feel the sweat on his forehead, where moments before the dryness of the afternoon air had pulled it instantly away. He let the door swing shut slowly behind him, seeming to plunge him into complete darkness. His eyes struggled to adjust from the bright sunlight to the dim light. The coolness now wrapped completely around him like a welcome hand. In the cool air, he was suddenly more thirsty than normal.
Part of his thirst came from the smell. The interior had a soft scent, like the smell of fresh-baked bread long after it had been eaten. Or the scent of coffee just percolating in the morning. Familiar smells. Welcoming smells. Smells that made him think of comfort and of home.
He stood still, with his back to the door, and dim shapes appeared as his eyes adjusted.
Pictures on the walls.
Soon he could tell that he was in a short hallway fashioned out of smooth wood and decorated with images of old water-sailing ships. Only a single indirect light above the ceiling illuminated the small passage. Deeper inside he could hear talking and an occasional laugh. He stepped forward and around a corner.
In front of him was a large yet comfortable-feeling room. The ceiling was low and a stone fireplace filled part of the wall to his left, a small fire doing nothing to take the comfortable coolness from the room. Most of the right wall of the room was filled with a long wooden bar fronted by a dozen or more stools. The surface of the bar looked worn and well used. A tall, thick man stood behind the bar, and at least a dozen patrons from different races sat around some of the tables in small groups.
Sisko stopped in the entrance, giving his eyes time to finish adjusting to the dim light. It was then that he noticed the grand-style piano in the corner to his left. It seemed old and very well used, its surface marred by what looked like hundreds of glass and bottle imprints.
Beside the piano a humanoid sat. He was from no race that Sisko recognized. The humanoid had slits for eyes, lizardlike skin, and four long talons on each hand. Sisko felt no fear or revulsion, but merely a sense of curiosity and a feeling of comfort coming from the creature.
"Welcome, Captain," the large man behind the bar said, smiling and motioning Sisko forward. With one more glance at the unmoving humanoid, Sisko turned and stepped toward the bar.
The bartender wore a white apron with an open-necked gray shirt under it. He had unruly white hair and a smile that seemed to take the dimness out of the air. Sisko liked the man instantly, not exactly knowing why, and not willing to explore why. Sisko was on vacation. It was time he relaxed. He usually knew better than to be lulled into a feeling of safety, and yet here he was. He was conscious of his back, conscious of the people around him, but he wasn't really wary. Not yet. And he wouldn't be unless something made him feel that way.
Sisko stepped between two of the bar stools. To his surprise, he had to look up to meet the gaze of the man behind the bar.
"They call me Cap," the bartender said in a deep, rich voice that seemed to have a touch of laughter floating through it. "Welcome to the Captain's Table. What's your drink of choice?" He wiped his hands on a bar rag, and then waited.
Sisko glanced down the long back bar filled with glasses of all shapes and sizes. Above the glasses were what seemed like hundreds of different bottles of liquor. He couldn't spot a replicator. He had a thousand choices, but at the moment he wanted something to take away the last of the Bajoran heat and dryness.
"Do you have Jibetian ale?"
Cap laughed and nodded. "You'll have to go a great deal more than that to stump this place. We have just about everything. Would you like your ale warm, cold, or lightly salted?"
Sisko had never liked the Jibetian habit of salting their ale. "Cold," he said. "No salt."
Betraying a lightness on his feet that didn't seem natural to a man his size, Cap spun and opened up a cooler under the back bar. A moment later he slid a cold, damp bottle of Jibetian ale into Sisko's hand.
"Thanks," Sisko said, tilting the bottle toward Cap in a small, appreciative salute.
Jibetian ale was the perfect drink for Sisko's mood. It was hard to come by, almost impossible since the start of the war with the Dominion. Quark claimed to have one bottle left in his stock, and the price he placed on it made it seem as if it were the last bottle anywhere in the universe. Sisko had thought he would have to forgo Jibetian ale until the Federation defeated the Dominion.
Almost as if he had read Sisko's mind, Cap said, "I think I got a few more where that came from."
"Excellent," Sisko said. "I wish I had time for more than one."
Cap just smiled as if what Sisko had said had amused him. Then the bartender turned back to cleaning glasses.
Sisko watched him for a moment, then took a drink. The rich, golden taste of the ale relaxed him, draining some of the problems he carried, almost as if they didn't exist. He downed half the bottle before finally forcing himself to stop for a breath. He very seldom drank, so going too fast wasn't the best idea, no matter how good it tasted. And this was real ale, not synthehol. Its effects would be real as well.
Cap was still washing glasses, so Sisko turned and studied the bar. He had half expected, in the middle of the afternoon, to be the only one inside. But that clearly wasn't the case. Five of the ten tables had groups at them, the sounds of their talking filling the low-ceilinged bar with a full background sound. If Sisko focused, he could hear individual conversations, but overall the noise level was not too loud.
The patrons of this bar were an odd mix. A number of humans, a young, almost childlike man from a race Sisko couldn't identify, and a half-dozen other races he had seen on the station. He would have thought this mix normal at Quark's, which had the entire quadrant to draw on. Here, in a small out-of-the-way bar on Bajor, the mix was odd indeed, especially since there were no Bajorans present.
A huge Caxtonian sat at the opposite end of the bar, nursing a drink. The Caxtonian looked as if he never left that stool, which struck Sisko. He had never heard of a Caxtonian ever visiting Bajor. There were a number of strange things about this place, and yet, he still didn't feel uncomfortable. Perhaps that was the strangest of all. He had been on alert ever since the threat to the Alpha Quadrant began; he'd thought he wouldn't relax until the situation was resolved.
Perhaps Bashir was right. Perhaps Sisko had needed this.
He had finished off another quarter of the bottle and was about to ask Cap about some of the customers when behind him a loud, grating voice boomed over the background talking.
"Sisko! You are a long way from your precious station."
As Sisko turned, the mostly empty ale bottle in his hand, he noticed that Cap wasn't smiling quite as much as he had been a moment before.
"I could say the same for you, Sotugh," Sisko said, turning to face the Klingon who stood near a table on the far side of the room. Sisko hadn't seen him a moment before, yet he knew that voice without even seeing its owner. And now he was even more surprised at the patrons of this bar.
Sotugh, head of the House of DachoH, commanded a large percentage of the Klingon fleet under Gowron. He was loyal to the Empire almost to a fault, and made clear his disgust at the current alliance between the Federation and the Klingon Empire against the Dominion. Yet he had fought many brilliant battles in the course of the war. The last time Sisko had heard, Sotugh and his ships were patrolling a sector of the Cardassian border.
"Bah," Sotugh said, waving his hand in disgust at Sisko's comment. He was a large man, even for a Klingon. His graying hair flowed over his clothing which, surprisingly, was not his uniform. Sisko wasn't sure if he'd ever seen Sotugh out of uniform before.