EARTH, NEW ORLEANS
Sisko responded to Potter's dismissal of his self-pity.
"Sherm--please leave. I don't need one of your colorful aphorisms. My problems may in fact amount to Mule Muffins, as you put it. But they are my problems, and I alone can solve them--in solitude."
The wily older man shifted gears.
"Ok--no advice. I hate folks telling me to cheer up. I never get off the canvas til I'm good and ready, anyhow."
Ben nodded appreciatively.
"I'm sorry, Sherm--and thank you for understanding."
Potter continued to shuck clams.
"Ben--if you're not up for a pep-rally, howzabout a story. Its about a friend of mine--and no, that friend is not myself, you, Jake, Joe, or anybody in my or your circles of really close friends. Its about a fellow CO, name of Bob Hogan."
Sisko sat back down, and continued to shuck clams. He acquiesced to the yarn - spinning of his ancestor.
"So long as it doesn't contain a moral. My father has told me so many stories, with so many morals, that my moral morale is in a mired morass."
Potter did a double-take, to see if Hawkeye Pierce was about. He then began his story.
"Colonel Robert Hogan was in charge of a hush-hush OSS Operation inside Germany during The Big One. Using tunnels and caves dating back to the Neanderthal era, he and his men had free run of a POW camp. Of course, it didn't hurt that the staff were all boobs, and that the local SS and Generals were so very impressed with themselves. Using those unique circumstances plus their own talents--they helped to send captured POW's back home. The irony being--the camp they were staying in was always recorded as having a negligible escape record. Their efforts helped the Allied war effort in the best possible way--by putting soldiers back behind tanks and rifles, gunners back at their batteries, and pilots back in their cockpits."
Sherman paused, and saw Ben nod.
"Go on. Were they ever captured?"
Potter smiled inside, knowing that Sisko had not yet caught on to his scheme.
"Nope. Many a close call, mind you. But when US Tanks came rolling in, Hogan's Heroes had already disabled most of the remaining German war machine in their area. Phone lines cut, radios slagged. Where our boys needed a bridge, it stayed up. Where the Nazis needed a bridge, it went up. They were, to coin a phrase, awesome. Then they went back to England, heroes to all, watching the newsreels of themselves. Ben, they were one and all outraged at what they saw."
Ben shook his head.
"Were the newsreels that inaccurate?"
"No, they were dead on. What they were outraged by was a part of the Nazi war effort they had not known about. No one had, outside of Germany. Hell, many inside Germany were shocked to find out."
Sisko did the arithmetic.
"The Holocaust. Sherm, I wish I could tell you that was the last time it happened--or even that it never happened on so large a relative scale again. But it did. From Hitler's madness and evil, dictators and thugs across creation have drawn inspiration, and...."
Something caught Ben's attention.
"Why didn't Allied Command inform Hogan of the death-camps? If he and his men were that talented, then he might have been able to liberate......"
Potter sat sadly still.
"Ben, Eisenhower's people said that with Hogan's mile-a-second mind, he could have had half those camps freed. But then, what to do with all those folks, many of whom could barely move? No real way to rescue em' while they were travelling in Fortress Europa."
Ben Sisko remembered his devil-deal with Garak, that brought the Romulans into the Dominion War. A disgusting choice that gave all of the Alpha Quadrant much-needed breathing room. So he chose to dispute Sherman's account.
"They could have found a way. Had Hogan free one camp at a time. At least that would have saved some of those poor people."
"And then what? After each camp, the Germans would grow wilier--they always did. No, Supreme Allied Command made the determination that the best use of Hogan's Heroes was to free the POW's, as they were doing. Any other use would have rendered them quickly ineffective, and harmed the very people they were trying to help. An ugly choice. But it was wartime--when ugly choices get made."
Sisko was still not buying.
"The lives of millions of people, Sherm. That makes it a hard balance to put on your world's ledger. Tell me--did Bob Hogan ever accept that explanation?"
"No. Even blamed himself for a time. That's the kind of man he is. Never accepting what he's done as enough. Then one day, I reminded him of a simple fact. Ben, a soldier can only act on the information his superiors give him. If they are secretive--or talk in riddles--then a man can only make the best choice possible. Bob didn't care much for my words, then. But he says they helped him a month or so later, when they kicked in."
Sisko managed a light smile.
"Remind me to have The Padre time-nap you, next time I play Poker with Doctor Bashir."
Potter's smile was not so light.
"So long as you return the favor with me and Pierce--its a deal."
A long month still lay ahead for Captain Benjamin Sisko. But that very night, after his talk with retired Colonel Sherman T. Potter of River Bend, Missouri, 1957 vintage--he began to dream of a desert-- and a quest. For now, though, he saw a dangerous sky above him--and he had clams to shuck.
Inside the restaurant, Potter spoke with Joseph Sisko, also his descendant, and a man in whom Sherman's facial features were somewhat in evidence.
"Thanks for talking to Francis, Joe. I never imagined a man like Ben could be laid so low. I just wish I knew if I helped him any. But sometimes, a man just doesn't want any help."
"But we both know, Sherm--that's when a man usually most desperately needs that help. Besides--I think you might have finally started him on the road back. I don't cherish sending him off to war, mind you. Then again, I never wanted him to join Starfleet to begin with."
Potter asked the obvious question.
"Kind of. But really, its a family matter."
On a small com-screen, Joseph pulled up an image. Sherman was confused.
"Joe--you just said you didn't care for Starfleet. But this is a picture of you in as ornate a uniform as this son of a vampire ever laid spectacles on."
"Son of a--? Never mind. Sherman, that man in the picture was my grandfather, Starfleet Grand Admiral Brock Cartwright. He nearly brought the Federation low, with his schemes. Made a devil's deal with the Klingons and Romulans, looking to start a war. Part of me fears Ben dying on me like poor, sweet Jennifer did. Part of me fears him taking Brock's path. Hell, I was nearly named after the bastard. I wish to God Almighty he weren't needed. But he is. We need him to send Dukat and his shapeshifting buddies straight to Hell. And God help me, because I never thought I'd come to think that way."
Sherman nodded, while Joseph cooked some ham on the grill.
"War is Hell, Joe. And we end up spending a lot more time there and taking a lot more of it with us than we'd ever like."
As Sherm ate with Joseph and Jake, he began to wonder where his time-ride was.