Nor the Battle to the Strong
Production no.: 502
Teleplay by: René Echevarria
Story by: Brice R. Parker
Directed by: Kim Friedman
Stardate: not given
First satellite airdate: October 19, 1996
Andrew Kavovit ................
Karen Austin .....................
Mark Holton ......................
Lisa Lord ...........................
Jeb Brown .........................
Danny Goldring ..................
Elle Alexander ...................
Greg "Christopher" Smith ....
Jake and Bashir are on their way back to DS9 from a medical conference, which Jake attended as part of his research for a profile he is writing of Bashir. As the doctor chatters to him about prion replication and protein anomalies, Jake is wondering how to get out of the assignment. "Who cares about anomalies?" he thinks (in a voice-over). "People want stories about things they can relate to -- life and death, good and evil."
Suddenly there is an urgent beep from the com system. They are receiving a distress call from a Federation colony on Ajilon Prime, which is under attack by the Klingons. "So much for the ceasefire," Jake observes. The colony's message also states that they are running short of doctors and medical supplies. "What are we waiting for? Let's go," says Jake, but Bashir is hesitant to put him in danger. "I've been on the station when it was under attack plenty of times," Jake argues. "I can handle myself. I'm a Sisko. There are lives at stake. Those people need you." Finally, Bashir sets course for the colony, and Jake settles back in triumph. "Surgery under fire," he thinks happily to himself, already writing the story in his head. "Now we're talking."
On DS9, Kira samples a decaffeinated raktajino which Quark has created for her at O'Brien's behest -- the Chief doesn't want his son born with a caffeine habit. Unfortunately, the stuff tastes awful. Into the ensuing conversation comes Sisko, who has just been notified by Bashir about answering the distress call. The latest report from Ajilon Prime says that Klingon ground troops have captured two settlements; half the colonists are still trapped on the planet, with no ships available to evacuate them. The starship Farragut is on the way, but will take two days to get there. Sisko is naturally worried about his son.
Bashir decides to land the runabout, since they can't leave it in orbit with Klingons around, and the makeshift underground hospital they're headed to is surrounded by magnesite-bearing rock. "Jake, things could get a little rough down there," Bashir warns. "They've got a lot of wounded." "I'll be all right," Jake declares.
They enter the cavern to find a scene of utter chaos, with harried doctors and nurses conducting triage as more wounded keep arriving. The head medic, Dr. Kalandra, immediately presses Bashir into service. Jake, not quite sure what to do with himself, sees a man die in front of him because Kalandra deems him too far gone to be saved. At the same time a Starfleet ensign limps in calling for help; he says he's taken a disruptor blast to the foot while stepping over a Klingon he thought was dead. But Bashir recognizes the burn as having come from a phaser. The truth becomes clear -- the man shot himself in the foot to get away from the battle. "You weren't there," the ensign says desperately to Jake. "You don't know what it's like." As he describes the battle, and the fear that led him to his act, he is overcome by emotion. "Oh God, what did I do to myself?"
Jake tries to calm himself by writing, but an orderly, Kirby, calls him over to help get a patient onto a stretcher. The patient grips Jake's shirt, leaving it bloody. Jake goes on to spend several hours helping Kirby, moving patients about and taking the dead to the morgue, until finally, the waves of wounded stop coming.
Sisko has a talk with Odo, who has injured himself while trying to catch a couple of crooks (it seems he forgot for a moment that he couldn't shapeshift). "'Solid'," the ex-Changeling muses ruefully. "I wonder why my people use that term. Humanoid bodies are so fragile." This only serves to remind Sisko of the situation Jake is in. "Seems just yesterday he was five years old, clinging to me because he'd just scraped his knee, and I was the only one in the world who could make it better. I remember sometimes getting up in the middle of the night and slipping into his room, just to make sure he was all right. And I'd sit and watch him sleep, and I'd think to myself that no matter what, I wasn't going to let anything bad happen to this child. Now he's a sector away, in a war zone, and there's nothing I can do to protect him." Odo tries to be helpful, though he has zero experience with parenthood. "I never realized how stressful it is to be a parent," he admits. "I have to say, I don't think it's for me." Sisko smiles. "That's your choice. But you don't know what you're missing." Just then, Dax comes in with word that the Farragut has been destroyed by the Klingons. Sisko jumps into action. They will leave for Ajilon Prime as soon as the Defiant is ready.
Jake sits down to eat with Bashir, who tells him, "You handled yourself well today. I'm impressed." But when Bashir makes a joke about opening up the food like a patient, Jake can't help but get sick in delayed reaction to all he has seen. A bit later, and feeling better, Jake talks to Bashir about the ensign who shot himself. He can't understand how that can happen to trained soldiers who have passed tests and spent hundreds of hours in battle simulations. "Simulations can't prepare you for the real thing," Bashir says. "Nothing can." "Some people say that you don't know what you're really made of until you've been in battle," Jake says. Bashir tells him, "Let me tell you, Jake, there are many situations in life which test a person's character. Thankfully, most of them don't involve death and destruction."
Bashir then goes to speak with Kalandra, who compliments him on a procedure he performed. She asks him the latest news about Starfleet's counteroffensive against the Klingons; one of the lead ships is the one on which her husband is serving as science officer. Bashir tries to lend her some comfort.
Meanwhile, Jake has recovered enough to eat; Kirby keeps him company. The orderly tells him about the Farragut's destruction, and the grim situation on the planet. The defenders can't beam troops anywhere due to Klingon transport scramblers; the Klingons have also been shooting down hoppers; and it looks as if the settlement will be taken in two days. "At least we don't have to worry about them in here," says Jake, trying to convince himself, but Kirby tells him casually, "Don't be so sure. Medical personnel are fair game as far as Klingons are concerned. They'll even kill wounded, right in their beds -- think they're giving them an honorable death." He doesn't notice how troubled Jake is by this.
That night, Jake tries to get some sleep, but all he can think about is how close the Klingons are. "I've been on the station when it was under attack plenty of times," he thinks to himself as he lays in his bunk. "But somehow the danger never seemed as real as it does here. Maybe it's because I spent all day seeing firsthand what the Klingons are capable of. Or maybe it's because for the first time in my life, my father's not here to protect me." That reality hits particularly hard when the power goes out; the Klingons have taken out the reactor. All the portable generators in the settlement are being used to keep the shields up. Bashir, though, gets the idea to use the generator from the runabout. He and Jake volunteer to go get it.
On the way there, they have to dodge explosions as the area is shelled by the Klingons. Jake is utterly terrified; nothing in his life has prepared him for this. Bashir is attempting to lead him forward when he is hit by shrapnel, and goes down. Jake can't take any more. He leaves Bashir lying there, and runs back the way he came, in a mindless panic.
Some way away, not paying any attention to where he's going, Jake trips and falls over a dead Klingon. He looks around in horror at the scene of what was obviously a big battle; the field is littered with corpses. Jake runs again, scrambles up a hill, and skids down the other side, only to be knocked down by a rifle butt. The blow came from a human Starfleet soldier named Burke, who is lying nearby, a gaping wound in his abdomen. For a moment, they stare at each other; then Burke directs Jake to get him a hypo from the medkit a few feet away. "Sit me up," he demands. "Do it! I'm not going to die with my face in the dirt."
Jake obeys, and Burke explains that he thought Jake was a Klingon. He asks for news of Klingon patrols. Jake hasn't seen them, or anyone from Starfleet either. "I was outside when the shelling started," he tells the wounded man. "I guess I got lost looking for cover." "Lucky me," says Burke. "I could use the company." He lets Jake have his water. "Probably would've leaked out of me anyway. Don't let me fall over," he says fiercely. "I want to go out looking up at the sky, not the ground." Jake agrees.
Burke asks if he's seen a crashed hopper; getting a negative answer, he smiles. "They made it." He means his platoon, who were under heavy fire from the Klingons until a hopper came to get them. Burke stayed behind to cover the retreat of his comrades. Jake, struck by the contrast of his own actions against this man's courage, frantically looks for some way to save him and redeem himself. "I have to do something. I've got to try...That way this'll all make sense. Maybe I ran for a reason, so I could find you and save your life." He confesses to having fled the explosions, leaving Bashir to an unknown fate. "And now you think bringing me back is going to make everything all right," Burke guesses. "Sorry, kid." He starts to cough up blood. "Life doesn't work like that." And he dies before Jake's eyes. Appalled, Jake backs away and runs again.
The Defiant is on its way, and Sisko is occupying himself with busy work. Dax, who isn't fooled for a moment, relates the story of how one of her previous hosts, Audrid, nursed her daughter Neema through a severe illness, and read to the comatose little girl just to feel she was doing something. Neema pulled through. "I was hoping you were going to say that," says Sisko. "Because if this story had an unhappy ending, I would have never forgiven you."
Jake makes his way back to the medical cavern, where he explains to Kirby that he was knocked out. To his great relief, he learns that Bashir made it back in one piece. Not only that, but Bashir actually managed to handle the generator by himself. Kirby says word is that the Klingons are massing to attack the compound. He suggests that Jake visit Bashir; Jake is reluctant, fearing what Bashir will think of him, but can't refuse. So he goes in to the intensive care ward, where Bashir is astonished and overjoyed to see him. "Jake! Oh, thank God!" Bashir has been thinking Jake was dead, and blaming himself. "I am so sorry," he tells Jake, who tries to reassure him that it's all right. "No, it isn't," Bashir insists. "I should never have brought you here in the first place. Now we're stuck here, the Klingons are massing to attack -- what was I thinking?" "Forget it, okay?" Jake snaps. "What's done is done."
"I couldn't stand hearing him apologize to me like that," Jake relates in his voiceover. "Not after what I'd done to him...I keep turning it over in my head -- the shelling, losing sight of Bashir, running -- and I keep trying to make sense of it all, to justify what I did. But when it comes down to it, there's only one explanation. I'm a coward. Part of me wishes Bashir had seen me run away and told everyone the truth. They deserve to know what I am. They should know they can't count on me. That if the Klingons attack, I'll run and hide just like I did before."
The next day, a nurse has Jake take some food to a patient -- the ensign who shot himself in the foot. "Maybe I'll get a job as a cutter," the ensign reflects. "Could be interesting work." He means splitting asteroids open for a mining team, he explains. "You've got to have good aim. And no matter what else you can say about me, you can't say that I don't have good aim. If I hadn't hit my foot just right, I would've taken my whole leg off." He smiles bleakly as he contemplates what he did. "It's funny. One minute, your life's moving along just like you always thought it would. And the next, you do something that changes everything, that makes you realize you're not who you thought you were." Somehow, none of the training he went through in the Academy prepared him for the reality of battle.
"All you can think about is getting away from the explosions," Jake says, half to himself, earning himself a startled look from the ensign, who takes a little comfort in the realization that someone understands. "You know something, you're the first person I've met since I've been here that hasn't made me feel like I'm taking up valuable bed space. The way everyone looks at me -- I can't stand it." Jake offers that perhaps the ensign can redeem himself through counseling instead of having to go through a court martial. "I won't go," says the ensign firmly. "I don't deserve to be in Starfleet. Therapy won't change what I did. Nothing will. I just wish I'd aimed that phaser a little higher."
Jake is in the bunkroom/mess hall later as the medics are discussing the latest news: the Klingons are still advancing. Kirby and the others wonder with gallows humor whether it's preferable to be vaporized by a disruptor or hacked to bits by a bat'leth. When Kirby good-naturedly tries to include Jake in the conversation, Jake blows up. "Cut it out!..You think this is some joke. It's not. People are dying! It's all so stupid. This whole stupid war is such a waste. In ten years, nobody's going to remember what anybody did here...Maybe you saved a hopper full of people. Maybe you shot yourself in the foot. No one's going to remember!"
Bashir takes Jake out to a tunnel to cool him down. "Look, I know you're scared. We all are." Jake, struggling with emotion, mutters that that's not it. Bashir is concerned. He can see that something is eating at the young man. "Ever since you came back here, you've been walking around looking miserable." "Leave me alone," Jake lashes out, and finally Bashir agrees. "All right. If that's what you want. But if you want to talk, you know where to find me." When Bashir leaves, Jake slides down a wall and begins to sob.
He wakes up there sometime later, having cried himself to sleep. Explosions are rocking the caverns. Jake rushes back to the compound, where Kalandra is organizing the medics to evacuate. A hopper will be waiting outside one of the tunnels to take them and the patients to another base; a security detail is on the way to defend their retreat. The medics go to start preparing, but Jake stays where he is, paralyzed with dread.
The security detail arrives, consisting of a mere two officers, which was all that could be spared. The evacuation begins while Jake crouches under a table, until a girder falls next to him, and he moves down a corridor, where one of the security guards hustles him after the others. The Klingons are coming.
Jake is hurrying through the tunnel when behind him, the guard is shot dead by a disruptor, his rifle falling to the floor. Two Klingons appear at that moment. The other guard fires back while Jake dives for cover. After a flurry of shots, the second guard is dead as well. When the Klingons turn their attention to him, Jake, in utter panic, snatches up the first guard's rifle and fires it wildly, his shots hitting the rock wall surrounding the enemy. Boulders are jolted loose from the ceiling and start raining down on the Klingons, who are forced to retreat back down the passage.
Jake blacks out, and wakes to see his father and Bashir looking down at him. Bashir had come back for Jake when he realized he wasn't on the hopper. Sisko tells his son that the ceasefire has been reinstated, and the Klingons are pulling out. "Sealing the entrance way was a risky thing to do. You nearly brought the whole ceiling down on yourself," Sisko observes. Bashir adds, "We never would have gotten all those patients out alive if you hadn't done it. You're a hero."
"More than anything, I wanted to believe what he was saying," Jake relates, as part of the story he has written later about the whole event. "But the truth is, I was just as scared in the hospital as I'd been when we went for the generator. So scared that all I could think about was doing whatever it took to stay alive. Once that meant running away, and once it meant picking up a phaser. The battle of Ajilon Prime will probably be remembered as a pointless skirmish, but I'll always remember it as something more -- as the place I learned that the line between courage and cowardice is a lot thinner than most people believe."
His father reads the story as Jake watches. (Jake has also given a copy of it to Bashir.) "Anyone who's been in battle would recognize himself in this," Sisko comments. "Most of us wouldn't care to admit it. It takes courage to look inside yourself, and even more courage to write it for other people to see. I'm proud of you, son." He embraces his son tightly, and Jake smiles, finally beginning to feel as if he can put the whole experience behind him.
The original title of this episode was "Portrait of a Life". The final title is from a line in Ecclesiastes 9.11: "I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all." Brice Parker's pitch had been for an episode set in a Cardassian hospital, with Jake having misunderstandings with the mostly female staff; but the makeup for that many actors and extras, especially so soon after "Apocalypse Rising", would have cost too much. Location filming took place in Bronson Canyon. The character of Burke was originally a Klingon warrior, blinded in the battle.