In which war is hell, even and especially in the future.
We open with Rom singing The Lady is a Tramp as an audition for Vic’s. And Vic turns him down. Nicely – ‘we’re not looking for singers’ rather than ‘you’re terrible.’ It does have me wondering just what ‘difficulty level’ this program is set to. I’d imagine a personal program would be set so that you can excel at anything, regardless of talent. For a more communal program, perhaps it makes sense to be more exacting when other players could be the audience. Bashir is also dropping by to pick up Vic Fontaine’s recordings to cheer up the troops on the frontlines, because they’re embattled long enough to need a USO show.
Sisko, meanwhile, is staring at the casualty lists and lamenting the fact that as the war progresses he can’t study them with the dedication he used to, before getting called out to the Defiant to make the relief trip to the front lines. Quark’s going with, apparently. The Nagus sent him on a fact-finding mission to the front lines. Starfleet sends the Nagus intelligence reports, but they don’t know how to examine like a Ferengi. The Defiant has also run into some opposition on their way through the Chintoka system. They take care of it handily enough, but there’s likely to be more. And Sisko is very unhappy with intrusions onto His Bridge by civilians.
They arrive at AR-558 without further incident of note, and beam down to the Federation lines to find them under overwatch with some itchy trigger fingers. They’re being shot at by Federation phasers, and bit of shouting sorts it out quickly enough, although the commanding officer is none too pleased with the welcome they’ve given out. One of the reasons for this breakdown is that Starfleet Regulations have troops rotated off the front lines after 90 days, and they’ve been on AR-558 sufficiently longer than that- five months. It seems like a fairly short tour.
Also, I really have to wonder why Starfleet has infantry troops on a planet that doesn’t even have a name? If there was a military target there, shouldn’t the Federation just be bombing it from orbit? If there was a civilian strategic point there, shouldn’t the planet have a name, even if it’s just something like ‘Setlek III‘? What’s on AR-558 that the Federation is willing to spend lives to acquire instead of vaporize it?
The answer is a Dominion communications array that Starfleet is trying to decode. Good enough. The Federation currently holds it, and the Dominion don’t want to give them the time. However, I’m thinking Coventry here – if I were running the Dominion, I’d already be working on protocols to switch to on the assumption that the Federation will figure this out, if indeed I didn’t already have some. Therefore, there’s already a limited utility for this thing. As soon as they leave, the Dominion know there’s a good chance the array is compromised regardless.
The garrison is down from 150 to 43 defending this thing, and there are no relief forces coming. So while they’re here, the local garrison is going to squeeze all the help they can from the Defiant crew.
Quark catches up to Nog and they discuss the conditions on the ground. One of the soldiers has necklace hung with tubes of Ketracel White taken from dead Jem’Hadar. Nog finds it impressive. Quark uses this as prompt to teach his nephew one of the lessons about humans that they like to keep hidden – Humans are scary. It’s a great speech, but it implies that other species around the Alpha quadrant would not become… edgier… when subjected to chronic violent stress. Still, Nog finds it more badass than frightening.
One of the soldiers, Vargas, is thankful for some medical aid, but refuses to let Bashir treat his arm. The bandage over it was tied by a soldier Vargas absolutely hated as his last act. These people have been hard at work for far too long, and Bashir delivers this news to Sisko. While they discuss this, a loud bang goes off – someone’s been taken out by an antipersonnel mine that they garrison calls Houdinis.
Houdinis have subspace shifting devices that allow them to fade in and out of interactivity – you can’t sweep for them because most of they time they aren’t in Realspace. They could be anywhere. They could be everywhere – even walking through a corridor you’ve walked through every day isn’t safe. Even standing still isn’t safe. Talk about stressful.
The Defiant is under attack, and a group of Jem’Hadar are going to be incoming very shortly. Sisko makes the snap decision to stay planetside to help defend the array, guilted into it by a snide comment from one of the grunts.
Both sides are jamming the other side’s sensors, plus the Jem’Hadar probably still have those cloaking devices. The good news is that they have Nog’s ears to rely on, but the lieutenant hears them first. They decloak and walk right into the Federation defenses without firing. This is because they’re holograms used to probe the limits of the Federation defenses. The limits of the holo-technology apparently mean they can’t even fake weaponsfire, though. To underscore how terrible this is, someone else gets hit by a Houdini, so Sisko makes a decision to reassign Ezri. Kellin, the other engineer on duty who has studied the sayings of Leonard McCoy, thinks it’s a lost cause because he doesn’t have at least two lifetimes of experience engineering under his belt,the way Dax does.
Quark does not like what the war is doing to his nephew. Quark insists that the Ferengi would have made a successful peace negotiation. Sisko sends Nog out with a scouting party, because his ears are the best scanning equipment they have. Quark doesn’t like that much, either. While out scouting, Ezri manages to get a tricorder up and through the jamming signal, enough to scan out for 100 meters. Next task is to calibrate the tricorder for the mines.
Nog guides the scouting party to the Jem’Hadar staging area, and there are a lot of them. Doing forms with swords, no less, and moving out for a first wave. They probably should have brought some grenades. On the way back, Nog’s ears almost save them from an encounter with Jem’Hadar, but they hit the LT and get Nog in the leg. He gets the respect of one of the grunts, in exchange for his leg.
Once they get back to a hospital, the Federation has prosthetics, but the nature of the weaponsfire means that he might not actually have full use of even a biological replacement. Even now, Nog is upset that he failed, despite assurances to the contrary. And putting on a brave face. He just needs to know that all this is worth it. It’s about now hat Ezri and Kellin have fixed up the tricorders to find the mines. When they send out the pulse, it becomes clear exactly what this force has been dealing with. I imagine that there used to be a lot more mines clustered behind cover, back before the numbers were down to 40.
Sisko’s plan is to relocate the mines to where the Jem’Hadar will be going through, and reprogram them so that they’ll go off from movement, not just ‘whenever they want to.’ One has to wonder if this might be considered payback for the wormhole minefield – the Prophets did say there would be a Price for Sisko demanding their help. I can imagine Weyoun getting really petty and pulling out the plans for a minefield just to mess with Sisko’s head. The irony is not lost on Ezri either, but she’s picking a different starting point.
While Starfleet officers wait for the Jem’hadar to arrive, one of the grunts runs around distributing spare power packs. The troops are nervous. That’s when the music starts – Bashir’s put on some of Vics singing to try to calm the troops before joining the front lines. This is when the mines start going off – the the muted tones of a lounge crooner.
Their battle tactics appear to be ‘scream and charge’ mostly, with a follow-up wave picking off anyone who exposes themselves too much, and otherwise mainly overwhelming the Federation line through mere numbers. Either the Jem’Hadar have suffered some villain decay, or humans are even scarier than Quark initially thought. We can see Quark hearing it all, and saving his nephew from a surprise attacker.
Sisko gets nearly taken out, and only wakes up when the battle is over and the garrison in ruins. There are survivors, and the comms array is still intact, but it’s not a pretty sight. The Verracruz has even arrived with troop and supply replacements. The Verracruz troops are going to have a somewhat easier time, particularly if they can get some better field fortifications, phaser turrets, and so on. It’s a surprisingly powerful moment when the Animal Mother stand-in leaves his knife on the planet. For one of the new recruits to find.
Sisko’s back to his desk, reading casualty reports. They’re back to feeling real to him, all 1730 for this week.