Captain's log, stardate 50049.3. We're conducting a mineral survey of Torga IV, an uninhabited planet in the Gamma Quadrant believed to contain vast deposits of cormaline. Our mission is to determine the feasibility of establishing a mining operation on the planet's surface.

U.S.S. Defiant - en route to Deep Space 9

Finally aboard the Defiant, after spending three days of hell on Torga IV and losing five good officers and one of the reinforcing runabouts to Deep Space 9, Captain Sisko was sitting in the spartan warship mess provided by Starfleet Command, staring into space. On the small table in front of him was a metal cup with the Starfleet logo on it, sealed, and an active PADD, mostly empty, where he intended to write the report requested of him by his superiors.

The sound of sliding doors in the room attracted the attention of the officer, who looked up and found himself facing Jadzia Dax, Deep Space 9's chief science officer and Defiant pilot, and his old friend. As a united Trill, Jadzia housed within her a symbiote, Dax, who had cohabited with eight other individuals before being united with her. The symbiont's previous host, Curzon, had been a renowned ambassador, prized for his skills and talents, who had met a young Benjamin Sisko and taken him under his wing, forging a strong bond of friendship, which had also established and developed with Jadzia herself.

Trill sat across from him, her face undecided between smiling reassuringly at the man in front of her or maintaining a more serious air, even in view of what had happened in those days: «What did Starfleet have to say about our prize?»
«They are pleased,» Sisko replied simply, not seeming intent on adding much more. Dax was undeterred, deciding to prod his friend further: «That's all? Just pleased?»
The man in front of her shrugged: «Very pleased. They're giving us all medals.» Puffing, the scientist observed acidly: «I'll add it to my collection.»

For a moment, the two remained silent, then the Captain resumed speaking: «Starfleet Command is waiting for my official report, but every time I try to get it started, I find myself staring at the casualty list and reading the same five names over and over again. T'Lor, Rooney, Bertram, Hoya, Muniz.»
Dax fully understood the feeling she sensed in the words of the man in front of her: the grief for the loss of people with whom one had worked, in one way or another, closely; individuals entrusted to the responsibility of their superior officers, who should have done everything to prevent anything from happening to them, allowing them to always return safely to their families, to their homes. Those five names would forever remain in the memory of Benjamin Sisko, who would never forgive himself for their demise, no matter how much he would try to justify it to himself, his subordinates and the families to whom he would be forced to break the news.

«t may sound cruel, but we both know that ship out there was worth it. Those five deaths may save five thousand lives, or maybe even five million,» the Trill woman tried to cheer him up, knowing full well that Sisko could not claim three hundred years of experience to rely on, unlike her.
«And if I had to make the same trade all over again, I would. But five people are dead. Fine men and women who deserved a lot more than to die on some lonely planet fifty thousand light years away from home. When you were at the Academy, was Professor Somak teaching?»
Dax barely nodded: «Moral and ethical issues of command.» She remembered it well, she herself had attended and passed the course, but she was well aware of how theory and reality were distinctly two different things in practice.
«I remember her favourite speech. Always maintain emotional distance between yourself and those under your command,» the man said bitterly, an unhappy expression on his face.

Dax merely commented with: «It's good advice.»
«And I try to follow it,» Sisko continued. «But it's a lot more complicated outside of the classroom. Did you know that Jake and Muniz have the same birthday? That I performed the ceremony at Hoya's wedding? And Rooney, he could play the trumpet. I heard him at Quark's once and he had the people dancing in the aisles.»
Dax nodded: she remembered, she was there on that occasion, and told him so. But he also said: «And you know something else I remember about him? How proud he was to wear his uniform. And how proud he was to serve under you. The same as Hoya, T'Lor, Bertram and Muniz. They chose a life in Starfleet. They knew the risks and they died fighting for something that they believed in.»
«That doesn't make it any easier,» Sisko told her bitterly.
«Maybe nothing should,» she pointed out to him, before getting up and leaving him alone in the mess hall, staring for a moment at the closed doors behind him. When he returned his gaze to the PADD resting on the table in front of him, a new grimace distorted his face for a moment.

Deep Space 9 - Sciences Lab

Doctor Lenara Kahn was in one of the largest science labs on the base, the same one that had been destroyed almost a year earlier during the surprise attack conducted by some rebel Jem'Hadar against DS9. On that occasion, the Trill scientist had found herself a prisoner despite herself: her expertise and research on wormholes had been considered indispensable to understanding how the Iconian gateways worked (one of which had been found on Vandros IV). The timely intervention of the U.S.S. Europa had allowed not only for the scientist to return in one piece aboard Deep Space 9, but also to resolve a small internal matter within the Dominion, despite some minor misunderstandings with the group of Jem'Hadar they had found themselves helping.

Now, as then, staying in the quarters she shared with her companion was perceived with discomfort and distress, even though she had become well integrated into everyday life on the station and had also begun to forge deep friendships with civilians and military personnel serving or working on the base. Julian Bashir and Kira Nerys were among those with whom Lenara had formed the closest bonds on DS9, along with the Cardassian Garak and the O'Brien family. Worf, the Klingon in charge of Strategic Operations, had for a time been rather short-tempered, particularly towards her, for no apparent reason. With time, however, his behaviour had gradually changed and, behind the façade of a ruthless Klingon warrior, he had shown a heart and passion, coming to define himself, if not a friend of the couple, at least a “good neighbour”.

Despite the Dominion War, despite the exile from his home planet, Trillius Prime, despite the constant anxieties caused by being practically at the front line, and despite the fact that Jadzia was so often deployed in first-person confrontations, Kahn did not regret the choice she had made. As in all couples, quarrels had taken their due place, in some cases fierce, in others terribly composed and dignified. Old and new issues were intertwined with each other in an almost inextricable manner, although it was still the new issues that held sway the most, especially in view of the fact that they were two completely different individuals from their previous hosts, Nilani and Torias. But more importantly, they were both able to grow as individuals and as a couple precisely because of these quarrels and the good times they found themselves having and, all in all, the quarrels were not so frequent or so tragic as to obscure the positive emotions they felt for each other.

At that particular moment, to be honest, Lenara was not at all interested in quarrelling with the other woman, whom she had not seen for about ten days now because of the last mission she, Captain Sisko, Chief O'Brien and Commander Worf had accomplished in the Gamma Quadrant. Of course, she was trying hard to ensure that her worries did not take over and affect her or even adversely affect her companion, who had no choice but to comply with the orders given by her superiors: it was her duty to be fighting for a just cause. But in spite of all her attempts, she was fully aware of how Dax's absence, clearly due to the war clashes, weighed heavily on her. She looked forward to being able to embrace her again, especially after what had transpired over the last few days.
The Defiant had left Deep Space 9 in some haste, roughly a week earlier, to head at maximum warp speed towards the Gamma Quadrant, following a distress call from the away team. Lenara had been made aware of the situation immediately and, like her, Keiko O'Brien and Jake Sisko had been informed of what had happened and the time it would take for the Defiant to arrive in planetary orbit, beam survivors aboard and return to base.

She tried to turn her attention back to the analyses and studies she was still carrying out since she had set foot on the base with a small team of scientists, including her brother and another colleague from the Trill Institute of Science, but she just could not focus on the data in front of her. The complement of scientists, both civilian and non-civilian, on the station had given her important technical support and expertise, speeding up work that would otherwise never have seen a concrete conclusion. She was confident that, with a few more years of hard work, a further attempt at creating a stable artificial tunnel would be possible.

«Lenara...» Dr. Bashir's voice jolted her, a series of PADDs fell thunderously to the floor beside the immense work table where Kahn had set up a makeshift desk of sorts, where she could read the mass of material yet to be skimmed.
«I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you.» The man was embarrassed, he hadn't intended to catch the woman off guard, especially well aware of how much she was always on her toes and, more importantly, how she was at that particular moment. «I came to tell you that the Defiant contacted Deep Space 9 a few minutes ago, they will be docking shortly. I'm on my way to greet them,» he added, pointing to the medical kit slung over one shoulder, «a medical team is already on its way. I thought you wanted to...»
«Let's not waste time, Julian,» Lenara almost snarled, getting up abruptly and grabbing him by the arm, pulling him along, oblivious to the PADDs evenly spread out on the ground, «let's not waste time here in pointless conversations.»

Bashir found himself dragged, despite himself, towards the laboratory exit, one hand clasped around the medical kit he was carrying. «Lenara, slow down a moment...» he found himself trying to say, but to no avail: the Trill did not seem willing to listen to anything other than the need to get to the docking hatch from where the survivors of the mission on Torga IV would emerge as quickly as possible.
It was only moments later that Bashir managed to restrain Lenara and gain a modicum of control over the situation, enough to tell her where the Defiant would be allowed to dock at the station. After that, he almost had to run to keep up with her.

Deep Space 9 - Airlock

When Bashir and Kahn arrived at their destination, the medical team was already on site, along with Keiko O'Brien and Constable Odo, the Changeling Chief of Security of Deep Space 9. Just a week earlier, coinciding with the Defiant's hasty departure for the Gamma Quadrant, the Constable had found himself forced to detain the doctor and Quark, the Ferengi owner of the renowned Quark's Bar (located on the Promenade), in DS9's cells for a few days, because Bashir, in an attempt to find a way to improve Major Kira's situation, had asked Quark to provide him with regalian fleaspiders, from whose venom he could synthesise a drug to improve circulation.
Of course, Quark couldn't help but smuggle in some not-so-legal merchandise as well, fundamentally compromising the good intentions of the doctor, who found himself suffering the consequences and unable to actively participate in the rescue mission led by the Major hermself.

«Doctors,» greeted, with a polite, dry nod, the Constable, always of few words. Odo had recently been made completely solid by the Great Link, after being tried for the murder of another Changeling, in self-defence and protection of colleagues and friends aboard Deep Space 9. Obviously, the Constable's action had not been looked upon favourably by his people, who had sooner or later resolved the matter, condemning him to an existence that was limiting, to say the least. It had taken quite a while before he was able to accept his new situation, but eventually, with some time and the constant presence of friends and colleagues (and an undercover mission on Qo'noS), he had managed to take the first step towards such self-acceptance.

The two of them barely had time to respond, just as briefly, to the greeting, when with a soft, barely audible hiss, the circular, notched docking hatch, so characteristic of the base's Cardassian architecture, opened, allowing the Defiant's crew and their precious cargo to board Deep Space 9.
Sisko, Kira and Dax were chatting amongst themselves, but as soon as they stepped aboard the base, Jadzia broke away from the trio to head immediately towards Lenara, who wasted no time and immediately threw her arms around her neck, with a sigh of relief, the tension finally leaving both of them; behind the trio had also appeared Worf and O'Brien, the latter being welcomed just as warmly by his wife.
Bashir and the medical team, meanwhile, busied themselves with checking the condition of the other team members in a quick but careful check-up, to ensure that there were no injuries serious enough to require immediate intervention in the Sickbay.
None of them, even Jadzia and her symbiote, had sustained injuries of any severity, but federal protocol still dictated a further, more thorough check in the Infirmary, where the medical equipment was sufficiently advanced to detect anything that might have escaped an initial check.

«I'd say further routine medical checks can wait a few more hours, Doctor,» Sisko observed sternly, turning to Bashir. The trip back aboard the Defiant had done nothing to improve the mood that had accompanied the Federation officer since he had been beamed aboard and set a course for the station. The doctor, sensing the mood under his captain's feet, merely nodded, then motioned to his staff to clear the area and follow him to Sickbay, leaving behind his colleagues and the civilians who still crowded the access to the Defiant.

Sisko cast a quick glance towards Dax before walking away: he still wanted to talk with her about the events of the last few days, but seeing her in Lenara's arms, talking softly with the other woman, he realised it was not the time, so he silently walked back to his own quarters, heedless of the puzzled looks from Kira and Worf. He felt a strong desire to embrace his son and could not shake the thought that five years earlier, when he had decided to take him with him to Deep Space 9, he had made a colossal mistake: not only had he brought a civilian to a military installation that would later prove to be a focal point of a bloody war, but that civilian was his dearest affection. It was a weight like a boulder on his shoulders already burdened with endless responsibilities, due to his position and rank and the situation that, in time, had arisen following his first contact with the Dominion, the main power in the Gamma Quadrant.

A few moments later, the others also headed off to different destinations: Kira and Worf to Ops (after all, activities on Deep Space 9 never stopped, especially during wartime), and the O'Brien family and Jadzia and Lenara to their respective quarters in the same section of the station. Each with their own burdens on their shoulders... Probably of all of them, those who seemed to have the least trouble coping seemed to be the O'Briens. Their years together on the Enterprise-D had broken the family in well, and even if their relationship seemed a little belligerent from time to time, they always managed to support each other, knowing that they were there for each other in the lighter moments as well as the heavier ones.
The same did not seem to be the case for Jadzia and Lenara who, despite the centuries of experience of their symbionts, were suffering more and more every day from the forced distance that was imposed in certain military situations, and this was affecting their relationship badly.