As I looked over the assembled crew, I took in a deep breath. Despite having faced dozens of alien races over the decades, I was overcome with nervousness. At that moment, I almost wished to have confronted the Borg instead. Taking in a deep breath, I walked out to the podium and began my speech.
“Ladies and gentlemen; comrades in arms. It has been an honor to serve aboard this fine ship with you as your captain. We have served here together for many years and have come to know the Enterprise as home. But as you well know, we have been thrust into a war in which our very freedom is at stake. I share with you the fear, the despair of the coming storm. The road ahead will be arduous, but never forget what we are fighting for. Never let the enemy take away your freedom. As I speak, we are traveling to the Chin’toka system. There is no guarantee that we will survive, but while we do, remember that we fight for the Federation. All I ask of you is that if we die, we go in the spirit of the crews whose proud legacy we now carry. I pray for a day where war is no longer necessary, so that our children may not know the sorrows of it. And like a thousand other commanders on a thousand other battlefields, I pray for the dawn.”
Trying to maintain my composure and holding back the tears in my eyes, my voice trembling as I said it, I issued by far the most solemn and despairing order in my entire career as a captain: “All hands, Red Alert. Man your battle stations.”
Contrary to the bustling that I had expected to take place after I issued the order, there was an unnerving sense of quiet as I made my way to the bar in Ten Forward where Guinan waited most days. The serenity of the corridor as it snaked throughout the deck was lost to the silent flashes of red and the omnipresence of an inevitable and looming death. Oddly, that Data hadn’t appeared beside me as I walked perturbed me. Normally that walking bucket of bolts and computer chips would have found me by now.
The sight when I entered Ten Forward was not one of sorrow or despair, but rather one of festivity. Will turned and rose his glass champagne. “To Captain Jean- Luc Picard, the best captain and friend anyone could ask for. May we follow him to hell and back.”
A chorus of “Hear, Hears!” broke out among the crew. Even Guinan joined in, raising her mug in a gesture of a salute. Deanna appeared behind me, and, pulling me aside, asked if I wanted anything to drink to calm down my shaking nerves. “Tea, Earl Grey, hot please,” I responded, half yelling over the din. As she went to go get it, Dr. Crusher asked me to say a few words to calm everyone. Always one to sooth others, I obliged.
“Time… time is a companion that goes with us on a journey. It reminds us to cherish each moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we have lived. I have been grateful to have shared in so many memories with all of you, and I would never change any of them. If we are to lose this fight, may we meet again on greener pastures. But for now, let us enjoy ourselves.”
Among the chorus of songs and laughter, I asked Will where Data was. “Oh, him? He’s going over the battle plans with Worf and Captain Sisko right now. Apparently Data saw flaws in his plans,” Will said, laughing at the same time.
“Really? And what ‘problems’ did he see?” I inquired, amused.
“Data said, and I quote, ‘There appears to be a lack of adequate defense for our ships. We’re going to be outflanked in Sectors A and B.’”
Sighing and shaking my head in faux dismay, I asked Will, “Doesn’t he know not to anger a Klingon?”
“For all of the knowledge he has, and there’s a lot of it, he hasn’t thought to remember it. Just as the Borg keep forgetting our will to live.”
“Will, please don’t bring them up. I still have nightmares of my assimilation.” Despite my best efforts to hide it, the worry that crept over my face betrayed my feelings about the approaching inevitability of battle. This was going to be the last fight for many of our ships and their crews, but to keep morale up; the captains had to keep up a steadfast appearance. I felt sorry for those on the Enterprise who had left their families behind for what would most likely be the last time; their lives soon to be extinguished, never allowed to see their children grow up. But for the first time in my life, serenity washed over me, smothering the grim realities of life.
“Captain Tanis has a message for you, sir,” an ensign reported.
“I’ll take it in my Ready Room,” I said, a little curtly, I might add. In an instant, I apologized to her and asked her name. She could not have been more than twenty six, and must have been recently assigned to the Enterprise. Her eyes, though hopeful on the surface, swam with worry about the coming battle.
“Charlotte, sir,” she replied, standing at attention.
“No need to be so stiff right now. Have some fun. This is the perfect chance to relax before the battle.”
She took a more relaxed posture, but still she fidgeted a little. “ I know, sir. But I can’t keep worrying about what will happen to my family if I die.”
“Listen, Charlotte,” I replied, lowering my voice a little. “Everyone aboard the Enterprise has that on their minds right now. I worry that I’ll fail in the battle and cause needless deaths. But it’s the little things like this party that calm our nerves. Go call your family and tell them you love them no matter what, that they are what keeps you going. Don’t worry about what if, instead think about what you will try to do. Do your best to survive. If you need to, stop fighting for the Federation or Starfleet; instead focus on fighting for them. Survive.”
Her eyes brightened with true hope and joy for a bit. “Thank you, sir. I won’t let you down,” she said, surprising me with a hug.
“After this battle, I’ll recommend you for special leave Ensign. If you’d like, you and your family can vacation at my home in La Barre, France. I’m not there enough lately, so it needs the occasional human touch. Now, if you will excuse me. I must take this message. And pardon for wasting your time.”
I turned away from her and walked over to will as he was setting down his trombone.
“Number One,” I asked Will, “can you keep this party going? I have a message I must take.”
“Yes, Captain. Give Tanis my condolences on his son.”
When I got to my Ready Room, Jacob Tanis, an old friend from the Academy, was on-screen, waiting. The events of the past few months had weighed heavily on him. His already graying hair had turned completely white and receded. His once jovial expression had turned grim, wrinkles creasing across his face and making his eyes seem more sunken than they already were. It appeared as if he had not eaten anything in weeks.
“Jean- Luc, congratulations on the new ship. I didn’t think they’d have you participating, considering that it’s new,” he said in a raspy voice.
“Thanks, Tanis. Actually, I volunteered. This is the perfect chance for Enterprise to prove her worth. I’m surprised they let you join. I thought you were still teaching at Starfleet.”
“Let’s just say, once I saw your name come up, I couldn’t resist.”
I pondered over memories of the Academy, how back then there were many more of us, all eager to follow in the footsteps of the notorious Captain Kirk. Back then we were all young, hopeful, and ready to sacrifice ourselves for the Federation if needed. Now most of us have either died or retired, and the time for our sacrifice is at hand. I thought for a brief moment that maybe it was time to pass the torch, to let the youth of now make history.
“Care for a toast?” I asked, eager to share in a drink with him.
“Sure. The old motto, then?”
I agreed, and in unison, we recited our class motto, “Recordamini prioris, in praesenti futuri certaminis.” Remember the past, live in the present, fight for the future. The oath we all took the day we graduated rang clear in my mind as I spoke those words. It reminded me how all of Starfleet at one point swore the same oath, how it must flash to them every time they make decisions. Yet at the same time, it reminded me of my- our- duty to protect no matter the cost.
Just as we had finished our toast, the link cut out; instead being replaced with Admiral Ross’ insignia and voice: “We are approaching the Chin’toka system. All hands, prepare for war.”
The klaxons started blaring, and I knew that it was the same on every other ship. So, it has begun. I sighed, and headed to the bridge.