Justin M. Howe 2600 words
The Stars Are Not As Far As You Think
Justin M. Howe
"Computer, erase that entire personal log." Sisko said, deleting the last remaining evidence of his crime.
Benny Russell, hands shaking, removed the last sheet of paper from his typewriter. He planned to crumple up the story and throw it away. What had he done to Sisko's universe? His precious fantasy seemed to be crumbling all around him. But then, real life was crumbling too, wasn't it? Benny saw himself as a prisoner of war. It was an old war that had come to a climax in his life the night Jimmy died. Shot in the street over a crowbar, his ancestry, and someone else's ignorance. Benny had never in his life felt completely helpless, but as the two officers pulled him away from Jimmy's bullet-ridden body, he knew there was absolutely nothing he could do to prevent such senseless loss of life. Ben Sisko, however, had a choice, and as carefully as he thought he was in bending the rules, his actions still resulted in death.
Benny made another move to destroy this latest piece of the Deep Space Nine saga and stopped himself. No,he thought, Ben said he could live with it, and so can I!But could he?
Captain Benjamin Sisko stood in front of the mirror, absent-mindedly fiddling with the pips on his collar. He had done what he had to do. He had dragged someone else into war. The Romulans could very likely tip the scales in the Alpha Quadrant's favor. All it had cost was the life of one Romulan senator, one criminal, and the self respect of one Starfleet officer. Garak had called it a bargain, Sisko called it a travesty. A travesty that he could live with.
The sound of his door chime roused him from his reverie.
The doorknob turned and the door swung open, revealing the severe countenance of Nurse Jens. "Mr. Russell?"
"Yes?" Benny answered timidly.
"You have visitors in the common room."
"Visitors?" Benny asked.
"Come with me please." Jens said, without any further explanation. With apprehension and dread, he did so.
The doors to the wardroom slid aside with a hydraulic hiss as Sisko approached. This "welcome to the fight" party in the Romulans' honor was one of the more solemn occasions Sisko had ever been a part of. The room was filled with people talking and shaking hands, but the realities of war were visible in all their faces.
Along the walls, the display screens were glowing with tactical displays of the fifteen bases recently struck by the Romulans along the Cardassian border. One screen however, displayed the current casualty list, which now included a few Romulans. Sisko thought of the two casualties who didn't realize they were even in the war. He knew they could never be added to any casualty list. To the rest of the Federation, their deaths remained results of mysterious accidents. He turned and saw his senior officers and best friends sitting around a table. He decided to join them.
The dread and apprehension left Benny at the sight of his old friends from Amazing Tales sitting around a table at the end of the common room. At his approach, Jules stood and thrust out a hand, "Well, you're looking well."
"We all miss you, Benny." Kay said, giving Benny a warm hug.
"I've missed you too," Benny said, "All of you."
"It's great to see you, Benny." Albert said. "How are they, um, you know…"
"Treating me here?" Benny finished, letting Albert off the hook. His other friends smiled warmly and nodded. Except for Herbert, who scowled at the thought of his friend being mistreated.
"Not too bad." Benny noticed Herb's expression soften slightly. "They've allowed me to keep my typewriter. They say that exploring my fantasies isn't necessarily unhealthy," his voice took a more serious, darker tone, "as long as it stays fantasy."
Herb leaned forward, His scowl returned. "This isn't right Benny and you know it!"
"Of course I do, but that won't change a thing! I am a black man with his head too full of dreams! It's always gotten me into trouble. I should have known this was coming. Heh, who am I kidding, even that knowledge wouldn't have stopped me. I have to get these stories out and damn the consequences! These stories are needed. They have a purpose." Benny hung his head. "But they're locked up in here with me."
Everyone glanced at each other with nervous anticipation. Benny didn't notice as he said, "Maybe Jimmy was right. The only way my people will get to space will be to shine shoes and clean toilets. The only people who would buy my stories are locked in here."
Kay leaned over and placed a gentle hand on Sisko's forearm. "Hey, you don't believe that and neither do we." Benny looked at his friends who nodded in agreement.
"I just wish there were more of you out there." Benny said.
"Well maybe there will be." Kay reached down, picked up her handbag, and set it on the table. In an attempt to lighten the mood, she said, "We brought you a gift." From the handbag she removed a small, wrapped, rectangular object, which she handed over to Benny. He turned it over in his hands. A book? Books were his passion, but this gift was bittersweet to a man who couldn't join the party.
"Well, old chap," Jules said, teeth clinched around his unlit pipe, "Aren't you going to open it?"
Benny laughed in anticipation. "Okay, okay, I just hope it isn't a copy of Don Quixote!" he said with a laugh, and tore into the package. His breath caught in his throat when a familiar Roy Rittenhouse illustration of an even more familiar space station emerged. Along the top of the paperback's cover was the title: Deep Space Nine. Along the bottom read, "The original novella and six short stories set on the edge of the final frontier! By Benny Russell"
Ben Sisko read the PADD that his first officer, Major Kira Nerys had handed him. Their new Romulan allies had hit six more bases in Cardassian territory and showed no signs of stopping. "I wouldn't have thought it, but it looks like the Romulans are gonna be good to have around!" Kira said, that mischievous fire glowing in her eyes.
"It certainly looks like we're on the right path, doesn't it?" Sisko answered, rubbing his temple.
"Sir, are you alright?" Dr. Bashir asked.
"I'm fine," Sisko said, shrugging the doctor off, "I'm just tired."
"Are you sure? We could go down to the infirmary if you'd-"
Sisko suddenly grabbed his head, the PADD clattering to the deck.
Benny suddenly dropped his copy of Deep Space Nine and grabbed his head. Before his vision gave way to darkness, he heard Jules mention something about an infirmary…
When Sisko awoke, he was in his quarters, in the dark. He must have fallen asleep. Did he dream the party? "Computer, what time is it?"
"The time is 25:20" the computer answered.
He had missed the party. Sisko wondered why no one had come looking for him when he didn't show. He leaned forward and rubbed his bald scalp. He probably would go to the infirmary to see about this headache.
Sisko looked back up and noticed a pair of eyeglasses lying on the table. He looked around, trying to see who could have left such an antique in his quarters. Then he noticed a shadowed figure in the chair across from him. The shadow appeared to be asleep. Sisko got up and walked over to the man. "Computer, lights." He said softly, so as not to wake him.
It seemed incredible, but the man looked exactly like Benjamin Sisko. Such things were uncommon but not unheard of in the twenty-fourth century. Deep Space Nine had once been visited by Thomas Riker, who was a duplicate of Commander William Riker of the Enterprise. Sisko rarely used a transporter, however, and wasn't aware of being involved in any accidents when he did. Then he noticed the way the man was dressed: he wore a plain white shirt and white pants that looked like something you might see in twentieth century Earth. Realization flooded over Sisko like an icy wave.
Placing a hand on the man's shoulder, Sisko gently shook him awake. The man blinked a few times. When he looked up and saw Sisko, he grabbed his glasses from the table, tried to put them on upside-down, corrected them, and jumped out of his chair, all in one motion. He frantically looked around the alien surroundings. "Where?" He looked at Sisko. "Who?"
Sisko stood up straight and flashed the man his most charming grin. "I am Captain Benjamin Sisko of the Federation space station Deep Space Nine. You must be Benny Russell."
When Benny awoke, he found himself lying on Sisko's couch. The captain must have put him there. He must have fainted. "You okay?" Sisko asked him from the chair Benny had occupied a few moments before.
"I-I think so." Benny said as he sat up.
"Can I get you anything?" Sisko asked, rising. "Water, Coffee?"
Benny knew what he wanted, "Raktajino?"
Sisko couldn't help but laugh as he strode to the replicator. "Two raktajinos, hot." The drinks coalesced and Sisko brought one to Benny and returned to his chair. Benny eyed the steaming mug in his hand. "You know, you drink this stuff so much, it made me want to try it." He raised the mug to his lips and took a small sip. Benny whistled. "This is stronger than Cassie's brew!" he said, setting the mug on the table.
Sisko laughed, "The Klingons don't do anything halfway. Would you like some kava?"
"No! No, it's good just the way it is." Benny said, getting to his feet. "Deep. Space. Nine…" he savored each word as he roamed around the room, taking everything in. "How did I get here?"
"I was going to ask you that very same question."
"I'm afraid I don't have many answers."
Sisko sank in his chair. "I haven't had many answers lately either."
Benny turned to face him. "What's wrong? You look like you have the weight of the entire Alpha Quadrant on your shoulders."
"You sound like my father."
Benny gave him a sideways grin. "Tell me what's troubling you; I might be able to help."
Sisko couldn't suppress the anger he'd been holding back. "Haven't you done enough?"
Benny got very quiet. "You know, Ben, when I wrote that business with the Romulans, I couldn't believe it myself."
Sisko stood. "The Romulans?" He spit the word. Sisko stared at Benny in disbelief. "This is not about the Romulans and you know it! But it does have to do with the Dominion and this damned war! This is a war that you created and I'm left to stop. Why can't you write a treaty, so Starfleet can get back to exploring space rather than blowing it up?" Tears welled up in Sisko's eyes, so he went no farther, ignoring the single tear that ran down his cheek.
Benny collapsed into a chair, stricken. Benny thought about his writing. He thought when Benjamin Sisko came out of his head and into his typewriter, the stories had written themselves. He thought about the Preacher. "Ben, I used to think the way you do." Ben turned back to listen to Benny. "I thought I created you, but your adventures came to me too easy. You have been such a terrific force in my life that in some ways I feel like you created me." Silence filled the room as Benny stood and approached Ben. "Ben, listen to me. I have celebrated every one of your victories. I have mourned all of the losses. Don't think for one second I don't know what you're going through."
"Jimmy…" Sisko muttered.
"I knew he was a good kid. Every time I thought I could get him to come around, he'd go right back to his foolish ways." Benny looked Ben straight in the eye, tears now streaming freely down his face. "I tried to save him, Ben. I tried to show him and others like him that there could be a better future for us. We will get to space, and we won't have to ride at the back of the rocket! Because human beings are worth more than that!" Sisko now let his tears flow as well. It was hard to comprehend that the pain and suffering that Benny Russell endured originated from the same planet as Ben Sisko. "'The paths of the Prophets can often lead to misery and pain.' You can't save them all, Ben. But you can serve the greater good. Believe it or not, you have served the greater good. The Dominion stands against everything the Federation stands for. If you hadn't done what you did, the Dominion would have eventually conquered and enslaved the Romulan Star Empire along with the rest of the Alpha Quadrant. You knew that and you reacted. No one will hold that against you."
Sisko let Benny's words sink in. "Thank you, Benny."
Benny gave him a warm smile. "It's nothing you didn't already know." He patted Sisko on the shoulder. "Before I go, I wanted you to know my friends got my stories published."
Sisko brightened. "That's wonderful!"
"It's a small run, but maybe a few people will read it. We've both won battles. All we can hope is that we can win the war. Just remember if you ever feel that you bear this burden alone; I'm right there with you, every step of the way... And don't forget about your friends right here on the station!" Benny started to fade away.
Sisko extended a hand. "Thanks again."
Benny took it, "Give 'em hell, Ben." he said just before he faded completely away.
Sisko's eyes opened to the sight of Julian Bashir doing a cranial scan. "I can't understand it!" Julian complained.
"How long was I out this time, Doc?"
"Only a few minutes, and then the condition was gone."
"That's still a good thing, isn't it, Doctor?"
"You do seem perfectly healthy, but in this instance, I would love to find out more about these synaptic potentials you've been experiencing. Let me run a few more scans."
"Save them for another time." Sisko said as he hopped down off of the biobed. Sisko left Julian, bewildered, in the infirmary.
In the corridor, he tapped his com badge. "Sisko to Dax."
"Can you meet me at my ready room, old man? I have something I want to get off my chest."
"On my way."
Jack tossed and turned in the room next to Benny. He had just awoken from a nightmare that he was tiedto a giant typewriter by a costumed super-villain. He banged on the wall. "Hey you! Can't it wait until morning?"
Apparently it couldn't. It was bad enough Benny had to tell them all his stories during the day, but now he had to keep them up all night with the clack-clack-clacking of his typewriter? He was sure that he could do something about this...maybe the right complaint to Dr. Wycoff...