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[Age of Mouldwarp]  

Benjamin's Lament
“…The twig on the branch, the branch on the limb, the limb on the bough, the bough on the tree-”

The man on the right was abruptly cut off in his warbling by the man on the left. The man on the left was meditating, or at least attempting to, in his seat, and they were both seated at barstools in the habitat ring of a space station that was doing its own meditating. It was humming, at any rate, humming and spinning, spinning along with all the other objects in that particular region of space and humming to the tune of all the mechanics needed to keep it in space and its inhabitants alive. Not quite meditating, then, but given the right frame of mind, any resident might have mistaken it for such.

The man on the left was, invariably, humming. He held his wrists rested on the bar top, thumbs and pointer fingers united, a glass of Saurian brandy untouched between the hands. The man on the right did not have a glass, but he was attempting to ingratiate and ingrain himself to the atmosphere he’d presumed beforehand that he was likely to find. Perhaps it was the wrong hour. The man on the left had lost his concentration and had snapped ever slightly at his companion.

“Look, before we go I would like to find myself in the proper mindset,” he started, “so I would greatly appreciate it if you would…stop that singing. For the moment.”

The man on the right looked taken aback. “I apologize. I hadn’t anticipated the need for a mindset. I’ll be more cooperative in the future.” He smirked slightly before he went on, “Please state the nature of that alcoholic beverage.”

“Funny, Pocrates,” the man on the left replied, a wry grin spreading across his face. “To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what it’s made of. It’s tastes good, and it helps soothe me. That’s all I need to know.”

“Being a hologram, I wouldn’t know the pleasures of synthale,’ Pocrates said. “That is synthale, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid it’s the pure stuff,” the man on the right revealed. “Besides, I doubt that the synthoholic version would work the same way. Anyway, I’ve never cared to find out.”

The barkeep, a Ferengi, came by at that moment. “Don’t tell me the drink isn’t to your liking?”

“Doug here hasn’t met a drink that hasn’t been to his liking, as far as I’ve known him,” Pocrates suggested.

“It’s fine,” Doug said for himself. “I just haven’t gotten around to it.”

“Perhaps you’d like something to go with it?” the Ferengi offered. “I’ve gotten another supply of yamok sauce, if you’re interested.”

“No thanks,” Doug said.

“Well, you’d better do something soon. I’m losing customers to you two. Between your friend’s singing and your humming. Agh!” The Ferengi charged off, visibly frustrated.

Pocrates flashed an amused grin. “Ferengi are certainly unique in the galaxy. I’ve seen enough of it to know.”

“That you have,” Doug agreed. “You certainly qualify as a unique being yourself, but at least you’ve decided on a name to help disguise that a bit now.”

“‘Pocrates’ is only temporary. I decided I needed something to distinguish myself in the Alpha Quadrant, after spending my foundling years among all the same group of people. Now I’m here and I intend to thrive.”

“And thriving you are,” Doug remarked.

“Are you surprised?”

“I suppose not,” Doug said, taking his glass in hand at last. “Nothing wrong with it.”

“When does the transport depart for the wormhole?” Pocrates inquired, fidgety now that he was feeling self-conscious.

“In about a half-hour by my clock. Don’t worry; we have plenty of time. I’m packed and you’re…packed.”

“My mobile emitter being in place is hardly what I’d call being packed, but I understand your meaning,” Pocrates quipped. “But as long as we’re on that subject, perhaps we could pay a quick visit to the holosuites. I’ve heard great things about a lounge singer that is supposed to be as autonomous as I am. Only, without the emitter,” he added, motioning with his head to his left arm, where a small metallic patch resided.

“A lounge singer? No good could possibly come from that,” Doug laughed. “Probably wouldn’t be enough time, knowing you. Still, I suppose,” and with that he finished what was left of his brandy and they climbed the stairs to the second level of the bar.

With barely enough time to retrieve Doug’s duffel bag, the pair raced to the docking platform and shrugged the alluring lounge man out of their minds. It was a crowded Bajoran transport, packed with more than a dozen pilgrims, mostly Bajoran, who like Doug and Pocrates were on their way to Benjamin’s Lament, a remote planet in the Gamma Quadrant, which was now open to visitors after the brief embargo imposed by suspicious minds and finally lifted nearly four years ago. Doug noted a trio of Trill he decided he would need avoid for the most part as well as a Vulcan and a Lurian, who seemed to be dressed as the conductor of the escapade, since he (or she) was the most formally attired. Well, besides that Vedek, who was accompanied by a servant, and the Vulcan, who was dressed typically in impeccable robes that rivaled the Vedek’s.

Off the transport lifted, away from the triple-tiered, circular station to the stars beyond it, where it was seemingly met with a cosmic mouth-of-sorts, which opened wide and shut with equal promptness around the ship. That was the wormhole Pocrates had spoke of. To the Bajorans, who lived on a nearby world, it was the home of their gods, the Prophets.

“My name is Yen,” the Lurian suddenly announced, “and I will be your guide for this tour of the planet called Benjamin’s Lament.” All attention was now directed at her. “I hate to do this, but my superiors insist upon it. Roll call. Vedek Laoka?” A nod. “Kolnar?” Another nod, from Laoka’s assistant. “Loren Tal? Chiro Balys? Hadila Kanz? Lakuu Vidin? Pav Uncor?” A succession of nods from the remaining Bajorans. “Oden Shan? Nalani Gez? Lesbek Onsel?” Nods from the Trill contingent. “Sorak?” The Vulcan nodded. “Pocrates? Douglas Velar?” The remaining two acknowledged Yen and they were now free to move on in the proceedings, which went on nearly until they reached the planet. Doug grew the most impatient, but he tried to not show it. The Saurian brandy was making it a bit difficult.

We are all dead.

The first time hearing it was always jarring, Yen had explained. On the jungle world of Benjamin’s Lament, it was either the gloom of the sinuous vegetation that grew at all quarters or the voice that floated among it that echoed the same bewailing - even in the deep voice in which it was whispered the phrase had an unmistakable tinge of sadness about it, which haunted the already haunting curiosity - statement every few minutes or so. One tended to look upward when it occurred, but that was never much good. It was neither up nor down, but rather ingrained in the very movement of the wind. This way and that, lightly, threateningly in its nonplus manner.

According to Yen, after Benjamin Sisko’s departure from Bajor four years earlier in a shroud of mystery, scholars had poured through mounds of ancient prophesies, to learn if there was anything more to the story of the Emissary. Most of it was given to debate, much as that which had accompanied the humble Starfleet religious figure during his life, but one article had caught the eye of a Vedek, a friend of Laoka’s from his days in the monastery. It had been a scroll gnarled by the passage of untold centuries, but the spindly words upon it spoke of the Emissary as returning to his flock when it was in need of him. Debated as that was, it did not prevent the first visit to this world within eighteen months of Benjamin Sisko’s ascent to the Temple. The meaning of his visit here and when it had occurred were lost the moment the voice was heard, and it became the sole reason for an endless stream of pilgrims.

Theories emerged as to the origins of Benjamin’s Lament, which evolved to include linear possibilities when evidence surfaced to disprove visits any earlier than the eighteen months after the Return to the Temple. Many heads grew quite heated over it all, and its legend slowly spread. A Vulcan coming to visit meant that perhaps it was even gaining credibility.

We are all dead.

Velar and Pocrates quickly found an excuse to separate from the pack. Doug was finding it stifling among so many, and Pocrates could never long stay from the center of attention in large groups, so naturally the break was needed.

“You have to admit that it is quite a tall tale,” Pocrates said. “I’ve been far in my travels but I’ve never encountered as zealot a religious spirit as these Bajorans.”

Doug coughed. “What brings you here then? Curiosity?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Pocrates replied. “I’ve been studying a great deal about human religions since I’ve arrived home. Imagine my surprise when I learned that a human had obtained deity status from an alien species. I found one paper, by a Bruce Maddox, which shed some revealing light on the subject.”

“Oh?” Doug said.

“You are no doubt familiar with the Dominion,” Pocrates began. “It seems that the Dominion’s foot soldiers, the Jem’Hadar, were bred to be addicted to a drug called Ketracel-White, which replaced the need for any other manner of refreshment. The catch was that the Jem’Hadar would die without it, but a blip once surfaced in this forced servitude in the form of a commander called Goran’Agar-”

“I’m familiar with him,” Doug stated. “Get to the interesting part.”

“After he was left stranded, it was assumed that he either was killed in his attempt to finish off his troop or accomplished it and died of natural causes years later,” Pocrates stated. “But a Starfleet survey of the planet several years later found no traces of him whatsoever. Only the mock lab remained. This survey immediately preceded the Bajoran expedition to the world, and Maddox postulates that the Bajorans may even have been tipped off by the survey itself. Starfleet didn’t report any strange voices, but…here we are.”

We are all dead.

“Are you saying that this is some sort of ruse?” Doug asked, unbelieving.

“All I’m saying is that there are things that have not been explained. For all we know, the survey may have triggered the voice to begin in the first place,” Pocrates postulated.

“That’s why we have faith,” Doug remarked.

“Forgive me if I don’t associate faith with nonlinear beings that inhabit a galactic subway,” Pocrates quipped. “No offense.”

“I never said that I shared Bajoran beliefs,” Doug said. “That doesn’t mean that I can’t draw from them. They’re all linked, you know.”

“Of course,” Pocrates said. “What have you decided for your interpretation of the words?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Doug sighed. “I’ve read any number of meanings. But I know something that would put a spin on it, even for you. What it comes from, and whose voice it is."

“You mean to say…” Pocrates started.

“It isn’t Ben Sisko’s voice,” Doug said, “but Goran’Agar’s. He’s reciting a Jem’Hadar oath, which always precedes entrance to the battlefield.”

“But wouldn’t Bajorans know the Emissary’s voice?” Pocrates prodded.

“Not necessarily,” Doug said. “If you’ve ever heard a Jem’Hadar’s voice, you would understand where the confusion would arise from.”

“I'm a doctor, not a myth-buster,” Pocrates sighed.

We are all dead.

The Sisko does not know time now. There is no ‘now’ for him other than every moment, and every moment is now. Now he has something disturbing his thoughts, something that a friend of his, two actually, once experienced, when ‘once’ denoted something meaningful. An incident. He knows of loneliness because he has a son, and when he was linear loneliness was chief on his mind when it came to his son. He had always tried to avoid it, and so did his son. A planet sat alone, with a man alone on it, or he would soon be. In linear terms the man was already alone, but The Sisko could see him at a time when he was not, but the pain of loneliness was already heavy on him.

The Sisko saw all times. He saw the man throughout his life as if stretched across a banquet table. The man needed consoling, and The Sisko was in the mood. Strange as it was, he was both inside and out of linear time, and he felt that he should utilize this at the moment the man was both feeling lonely and surrounded by companions to alleviate him. It was a strange sensation to know this was possible.

We are all dead.

Velar and Pocrates found themselves in the freshest part of the jungle, where the vines grew greenest and the trees looked freshest. It was the spot where a lab had once been, a lab that been removed. The others would no doubt visit it soon enough.

characters and story © copyright Sean "Waterloo" McKenna 2001-2002; Star Trek copyright Paramount