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Rules of Engagement

Production no.: 490
Teleplay by: Ronald D. Moore
Story by: Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Directed by: LeVar Burton
Stardate: 49665.3 
First satellite airdate: April 6, 1996
Ron Canada ................
Deborah Strang ...........
Christopher Michael .....
Admiral T'Lara
Helm Officer

Worf has a nightmare about running through corridors of a Defiant manned by dead officers, and fighting Klingon warriors who turn into the corpses of Klingon children. He wakes up with a scream; he is in a holding cell, four hours before a hearing.

The hearing begins, presided over by Admiral T'Lara, a Vulcan. Worf sits with Sisko, who is defending him, and on the opposite side is Ch'Pok, an advocate for the Klingon empire, which has requested that Worf be extradited for trial on charges of murder. "The Klingon Empire makes the following allegations against Lieutenant Commander Worf," Ch'Pok says. "That on Stardate 49648, while commanding the starship Defiant, he knowingly fired upon and destroyed a Klingon civilian transport ship near the Pentath system. That as a result of this action, four hundred forty-one Klingon civilians were killed. It is my intention to prove that Mr. Worf was grossly negligent in his command of the Defiant. That his lust for combat overrode his good judgment. I ask only that he be returned to us, to face the judgment of his own people. Thank you."

Sisko makes his rebuttal. The Defiant happened to be under attack by two Klingon warships at the time, and the transport suddenly decloaked in front of the ship. Worf gave the order to fire because he believed it was another warship. "We intend to show that the destruction of the transport was a tragic, but unavoidable, accident." T'Lara ends this session.

Sisko asks Odo to find out everything he can about the captain of the transport, in hopes that he can prove the man saw the battle and recklessly decided to join it. Ch'Pok appears and gives Sisko his list of witnesses. He also says quite frankly that when Worf is extradited, the Empire will use the Federation's embarrassment to its advantage. "Any move we make against you will be seen as a legitimate response to an outrageous slaughter." Sisko reminds him that they are searching for the truth. "The truth must be won," says Ch'Pok. "I'll see you on the battlefield."

At the next session, Ch'Pok says he believes Worf's reports and the Defiant's sensor logs. "We Klingons are not concerned with matters of fact and circumstance. What matters to us is what was in Worf's heart when he gave the order to fire. Was he just a Starfleet officer doing his duty? Or was he a Klingon warrior reveling in the battle? That is why I am here. Because if he was a Klingon lost in the bloodlust of combat, only we can judge him, not you." "We can't put a man's heart on trial," objects Sisko. "It's a subjective issue that cannot be reasoned in a court of law. I ask that the advocate be limited to arguing the evidence in this case." But T'Lara decides that Worf's motive is relevant, and tells Ch'Pok to call his first witness.

Dax testifies that Worf does have the predatory instincts of any Klingon, but she says that he restrains them. She speaks of their holosuite exercises. "I'm no fool. I can see the killer instinct in his eyes, and I know he can kill me if he wants to. But that look always goes away. He knows when to stop." Ch'Pok proposes to introduce into evidence files he got from Worf's personal database; Sisko objects that there has been no search order, and T'Lara agrees that evidence acquired without that or Worf's permission can't be admitted. Ch'Pok asks Worf if he can enter the files into evidence, "or do you have something to hide?" Goaded by Ch'Pok's challenge, against Sisko's advice, Worf gives permission.

Ch'Pok questions Dax about Worf's holosuite program in which he re-enacts a famous Klingon battle, and gets her to admit that in the role Worf plays, he orders everyone killed, including civilians. "Of course he does," says Ch'Pok. "And why? Because he is a Klingon warrior. He doesn't have the same moral code as a Starfleet officer. He is one of us. A killer, a predator among sheep!" Sisko objects; it's sustained, and Ch'Pok asks his last question of Dax, who admits that the last time Worf used the program was the day before the mission.

Ch'Pok calls Sisko next, and asks how he described the mission to Worf. In a flashback, Sisko briefs Worf on the mission, which is to escort a convoy of medical supplies and relief workers to a Cardassian colony stricken by plague. Testifying, Sisko affirms that he was not worried about Worf jumping at the chance for battle, and that his instructions to Worf were clear, not to seek combat.

The next witness is Quark, who has trouble deciding which Dabo girl was talking to either Bashir or Morn at the time that Worf came into the bar and conversed with him about the mission. Quark asked him what would happen if the Klingons went after the convoy, and Worf replied, "I hope they do." "Well, it would appear Commander Worf's hopes were answered," Ch'Pok says in triumph.

Sisko asks Odo what he's got on the transport captain. It turns out the captain was not the sort who would have decided to suddenly take on the Defiant. Also, it's quite possible from the transport's flight plan that only a slight navigational error would have put it in the vicinity of the combat. The one question is why he dropped his cloak in front of the Defiant. Though he knows he's grasping at straws, Sisko asks Odo to look into the ship's passengers; it's possible that someone aboard with a grudge against Worf or the Federation could have seized control.

O'Brien testifies about the battle, and the moment when he detected a tachyon surge ahead, indicating a ship decloaking. Worf gave the order to fire, and they only found out as it exploded that it was a civilian ship. O'Brien says he stands by Worf's decision, and there is no question in his mind about his motives. Ch'Pok asks if O'Brien agrees with the decision; O'Brien answers that it's not his place to question a commander's judgment. So Ch'Pok, establishing that O'Brien is an expert in starship combat, has him theorize as to what he would have done if he had been in command of the Defiant. O'Brien is forced to admit that no, he wouldn't have fired. "But that's just my opinion now, after the fact. I wasn't in command that day. Things look a lot different when you're sitting in that chair." "I'm sure they do," says Ch'Pok.

Sisko is joined in the replimat by Ch'Pok, who understands that Sisko will put Worf on the stand this afternoon. He suggests that Sisko concede; he'll make sure Worf isn't put to death, and will even defend him. Sisko guesses from this attempt that Ch'Pok is worried about what Worf will say. "I'm not worried," Ch'Pok counters, "but you should be."

As the next session is about to commence, Odo gives Sisko some bad news. None of the passengers on the transport had any connection to Worf or any motive for seizing control of the ship. But he's not giving up. "I appreciate that," says Sisko. "But I get the feeling that at this point, the only one who can help Worf is Worf."

Worf's description of the battle agrees with O'Brien's. He admits he was excited, but says he doesn't allow personal feelings to interfere with duty or his judgment. He knew the convoy would pass through civilian shipping lanes, but believed the chances of a civilian vessel decloaking during the battle were remote, and he decided beforehand that he would not hesitate to fire on any decloaking ship. Sisko asks if, under the same circumstances, Worf would do it again, and Worf says yes.

Ch'Pok's response is to establish Worf's feelings about his outcast status in the Empire. He begins pushing Worf's buttons about having been raised by humans, and wearing their uniform. Isn't Worf a traitor in his heart? If not, how could he fire on his own people? Why isn't he glad about destroying a ship filled with his enemies and their children? "There is nothing honorable about killing those who cannot defend themselves," Worf says, and Ch'Pok asks, "Are you telling me that you would never attack a defenseless opponent?" He goes on, piling on the pressure, and Worf becomes quite infuriated, despite the attempts of Sisko and T'Lara to cool things down. Ch'Pok taunts that Worf would love to prove his strength and courage in the eyes of other Klingons. T'Lara threatens to hold them both in contempt.

"I apologize, Worf," Ch'Pok says. "Actually, I pity you. But the person I pity most is Alexander. Because one day he will come to you and ask, 'Father, who am I?' And you will have to tell him that he is the son of a small, frightened man who destroyed a ship full of children just to prove his own courage." Ignoring Sisko's attempt to stop him, Worf explodes and strikes Ch'Pok down. "I thought you told me you'd never attack an unarmed man," Ch'Pok remarks, his point made. "Perhaps you should have said, 'Not unless I get angry. Not unless I have something to prove.' I rest my case."

As T'Lara is deliberating, Odo comes to Sisko's office and hands him a PADD, telling him, "Good news." Soon afterwards, the hearing reconvenes, Sisko having interrupted the deliberations to present new evidence. He asks to have Ch'Pok evaluate the evidence as an expert witness on the Klingon Empire. "Care to step onto my battlefield?" he challenges Ch'Pok, who takes up the gauntlet.

Sisko has Ch'Pok establish the attitude of the Klingon Empire toward the Federation. Can he imagine any circumstances in which the empire would try to deceive the Federation? Sisko gives Ch'Pok the PADD, which Ch'Pok recognizes as a list of passengers killed aboard the transport. Then Sisko speaks a bit about the people on that list, a random group of people with nothing in common except that fate happened to lead them to board a doomed ship. "Fate is a human concept," says Ch'Pok. "They simply boarded the wrong ship at the wrong time." "And then they did it again," Sisko says.

He explains that three months ago a Klingon transport crashed in the mountains of Galorda Prime. Miraculously, although it was assumed everyone was killed, they all survived. The names of the survivors are there on the PADD -- they are identical to the list of people killed in the Defiant incident. Sisko harps on the coincidence that all these people somehow survived the crash only to board the same ship together with the same captain and crew, only to have that ship be destroyed too.

Ch'Pok is stunned but stonefaced. "I am not an expert on luck." "No," Sisko says. "You are an expert on the Klingon Empire. So tell me, isn't it possible that there were no civilians on the transport Worf destroyed? Isn't it possible that the ship he saw was sending out false sensor images, and that this whole affair was staged, so that the only Klingon officer in Starfleet would be accused of a massacre, and the Federation would be forced to stop escorting the convoys? Tell me, Advocate, isn't it possible?" And Ch'Pok is forced to answer, "Yes."

With the hearing over, Sisko enters Worf's quarters on the Defiant to tell him O'Brien and Bashir are throwing him a party in Quark's. Worf was aware of it. He admits that Ch'Pok was right, that he did have something to prove. "I did not realize it until I stood there looking down at him, blood trickling from his mouth. In that moment, I remember thinking, 'Finally'. He had given me what I really wanted, a reason to attack him. And I had the same feeling when the Klingon ships first attacked -- 'Finally. A chance for vengeance.' I should not have accepted the mission." Sisko agrees that that was his first mistake, and asks what the second was. Worf replies that when the ship decloaked, he should have checked the target before firing.

"You're damned right, you should've checked," says Sisko. "You knew there were civilian ships in the area. You fired at something you hadn't identified. You made a military decision to protect your ship and crew. But you're a Starfleet officer, Worf. We don't put civilians at risk, or even potentially at risk, to save ourselves. Sometimes that means we lose the battle, and sometimes our lives. But if you can't make that choice, then you can't wear that uniform." He tells Worf he was lucky this time; Worf says he doesn't feel lucky.

"And that's why despite everything that's happened, you're going to make a helluva captain someday," Sisko says, and urges Worf to come to the party. It's for the others more than for Worf. "Part of being a captain is knowing when to smile. Make the troops happy. Even when it's the last thing in the world you want to do. Because they're your troops, and you have to take care of them." "Life is a great deal more complicated in this red uniform," Worf remarks. Sisko smiles. "Wait until you get four pips on that collar. You'll wish you had gone into botany." The two of them leave to go to the party.

  • When Bradley Thompson and David Weddle pitched this story (during the third season), it was about Sisko.