Outer space is mostly space. Endless cold stretches of empty space, faintly crackling with radiation, the dim echo of the cosmos’ birth.
Into this stillness, a disturbance came. Black against black, a bulk drew itself up, hovering just beyond the limits of sight. It shifted its course and then was gone. Space was as empty as before, as empty as it had always been. It seemed that nothing had passed this way.
“I’ve got another one,” Julian Bashir said. “What do you call a Gul who is always late for his appointments?”***
“Hmm, that should be easy,” Miles O’Brien replied. “Let’s see, it’s a….”
“A tardy Cardie!” Jadzia Dax yelled.
“Groan,” O’Brien said. “Julian, that’s worse than your last one.”
“I’ve got one!” Dax exclaimed. “What do you call someone who is both petulant and logical?”
“A sulking Vulcan,” O’Brien said. “Now it’s my turn. What do you call Dax when she’s being too loud again?”
“O’Brien, don’t you dare!” Dax said with a grin.
Worf’s deep voice said, “A shrill Trill.”
“Worf!” Dax cried. “I can’t believe you said that.”
“It is the correct answer, is it not?” Worf replied.
“Just for that, you have to come up with one now,” Dax said.
Worf scowled. “I do not participate in childish games.”
“Too late,” Bashir said. “You answered the question, so now you have to give us a riddle.”
Worf frowned. “What do you call Dr. Bashir when he is getting on your nerves?”
“Normal!” O’Brien said. “We give up, Worf. What’s the answer?”
“An annoying doctor.”
“Worf!” Dax said. “That doesn’t rhyme! It’s supposed to rhyme.”
“It rhymes in Klingon.”
“Prove it,” the Trill challenged.
Worf turned off his Universal Translator, and spoke a short Klingon phrase.
“Worf!” Dax chided. “That doesn’t mean annoying doctor.”
Worf smiled slightly. “There is no precise word for ‘annoying’ in the Klingon language. The closest approximation is a term that also means ‘dead.’”
As the banter continued, Captain Benjamin Sisko stretched his legs. His gaze wandered around the Defiant’s bridge and ended at the viewscreen, which showed the same sight as it had for the past 20 hours. A few stars, and a lot of empty space.
Contrary to popular belief, working in Starfleet was not always an exciting adventure. Often, it was just plain dull. The Defiant was several hours away from home, with nothing for the crew to do but try to alleviate the boredom. There was little chance of immediate danger out here, and the long-range sensors would warn them in any case. And as long as his crew played their rhyming game, he didn’t have to worry about them starting that song again. The one Garak had taught them, about a thousand bottles of kanar….
Garak probably learned that song as a torture device when he was in the Obsidian Order, Sisko thought ruefully.
“Somebody think of a word that rhymes with ‘Klingon!’” Dax demanded. Then her attention was drawn to her console. “This is strange. I’m picking up a transponder signal. No, now it’s gone.”
“A sensor ghost?” Sisko asked.
“I don’t know,” Dax replied. “Maybe it’s a glitch in the system.”
“I’ll check it out when we get back to DS9,” O’Brien said.
Dax analyzed the signal. “It must have been a glitch. It looked like a Federation signature. But according to this, the transponder signal was in the Y band. No Federation vessel uses that frequency.”
Bashir leaned back in his chair and looked at the ceiling. “Transponder signal in the Y band. Why does that ring a bell?”
O’Brien grinned. “Maybe something you learned in one of those ‘engineering extension courses’ you took?
“No,” Bashir mused. “It was something odd I heard once. Wait! Now I remember!”
O’Brien turned. “Well? Don’t keep us in suspense! I want to hear Dr. Bashir’s engineering wisdom.”
“You’ll all just laugh at me,” Bashir said.
“So how is that different from usual?” Dax replied.
“Ha ha. Well, you asked for it. The transponder signal in the Y band comes from the infamous Flying Dutchman.”
No one spoke for a moment. Then Dax and O’Brien started laughing.
“The Flying Dutchman!” O’Brien said in disbelief. “I haven’t heard about that in years.”
Worf was annoyed. “What are you talking about? Have you all developed space psychosis?”
“It’s just a silly legend,” Dax explained. She pointed at the viewscreen. “Supposedly, there’s a lost ‘ghost ship’ out there somewhere. It’s been rumored for years, decades even. When Curzon was an instructor at the Academy, he loved scaring cadets with that story. The Flying Dutchman hides in nebulae and attacks when you least suspect it. The only warning is a strange transponder signal on an unused frequency in the Y band…booga booga.”
Ensign Nog, who until this point had been as silent as a Hupyrian, was mortified. “The Y band? That was just a legend? Strickland told me it was real – and that it would be on the final exam! When I get back to the Academy, I’m going to have a talk with her.”
“Don’t feel bad, Nog,” O’Brien said. “It happens to everyone. When I first joined Starfleet, a lieutenant on the Rutledge tried to convince me that the legend was true. Turns out he had a bet with some other officers that I’d fall for it.”
“Such tales are pure foolishness,” Worf said.
“Well then,” O’Brien replied, “What about the Klingon legends of the demon who appears from a wall of fire to drag unworthy warriors down to the torments of ‘Klingon hell’?”
“That is different. All those stories are true.”
Nog was still miffed. “Why is it called a ‘Flying Dutchman’ anyway?”
Sisko chimed in. “The Flying Dutchman was an ancient Earth legend about a vessel that was condemned to sail forever and never find a port. Centuries ago, stories like that were pretty common – death ships piloted by a ghostly crew that would bring pestilence to any vessel unlucky enough to see it, that sort of thing.”
O’Brien chuckled. “Just a merry way to pass the time during a boring sea voyage, right?”
Dax’s attention snapped back to her console. “I’m picking the signal up again. Same frequency!”
“Come on Dax, stop kidding around,” Bashir said.
“I’m not kidding,” Dax said, alarmed. “Something is out there.”
The whole crew was alert for danger. “Ensign, what are you reading on the scans?” Sisko said.
“Nothing!” Nog squeaked. “There’s nothing out there. Not even neutrino emissions!”
Sisko pondered the empty viewscreen. “Well, I’m not going to waste my time with ghosts. Unless there’s some reason to think this signal is an indication of danger, there’s no reason to investigate it further. Ensign, change heading to….”
As though sensing the Defiant’s immanent departure, the vessel before them made itself known. As it de-cloaked, a small ship, about the Defiant’s size, appeared on the viewscreen. It was badly scarred and damaged, and its configuration matched no known vessel type. But there were clues to its identity. One nacelle bore a partially obliterated registry number, NCC-45… and the vessel’s name, in Federation standard: Kestrel. On the pock-marked nose were the remains of something that could have been a yellow Starfleet shield insignia.
“Dax, check that name against the Starfleet database,” Sisko said.
Dax quickly inputted the name. “No Federation vessel on record with the name, Kestrel.”
“They’re hailing us, Captain!” Nog said, in a panicked tone. “What should I do?”
“Open a channel, of course. This isn’t a ghost ship, Ensign. From the look of things, they need our help.”
Nog complied. “Channel open, Sir.”
“This is Captain Benjamin Sisko of the USS Defiant,” he said. “Please identify yourself. Do want any assistance?”
On the viewscreen an image appeared: a young woman with short blond hair wearing a uniform of a color somewhere between silver and black. The insignia on her uniform was unfamiliar, but Sisko thought he could detect a resemblance to his own Starfleet combadge. The woman was unmistakably human.
“I am Captain Kendra of the… USS Kestrel,” the woman said, stiffly. “We…I mean, I…” She was obviously nervous for some reason. She composed herself and began again. “This is very complicated. I need to beam over to your ship and explain.”
Sisko was perplexed. “Certainly. But am I right in assuming that the Kestrel is a Starfleet vessel? We have no record….”
Kendra smiled. “I don’t expect you do, Captain. But yes, I suppose you could say we are from Starfleet.”
“I hate temporal mechanics!” O’Brien muttered.***
Standing beside him, Bashir whispered. “Patience, Miles. Captain Kendra is doing everything in her power to make sure the timeline isn’t disrupted. With any luck, we can get out of this without anymore run-ins with temporal mechanics.”
Bashir and O’Brien were waiting for the necessary modifications to be made to the Defiant’s transporters, so that they could be beamed over to the Kestrel. In addition to Captain Kendra, two engineers from the mystery ship had come on board.
The Kestrel’s chief engineer looked even younger than Kendra. O’Brien had asked him if he needed help, but the young man had simply shook his head and proceeded with the modifications. Evidently, the Kestrel was made of some alloy that blocked the beams of “primitive” 24th-century transporters.
Captain Sisko had briefed Bashir and O’Brien on their assignments. It would be tricky. They had to care for the crew and engines of a 26th-century Starfleet vessel, without seeing or hearing anything that might result in contamination of their timeline.
Kendra’s story was stunning. Before she had even been born, the 26th -century Starfleet exploratory vessel, the USS Kestrel, had been trapped in a time eddy and sucked back into the mid-24th Century. It was equipped with a phasing cloak, and fearing that their presence might somehow change history, the crew had immediately cloaked their vessel.
For years, the crew had tried to find a way back to their own timeline. Nothing had worked. Children were born on the ship – Kendra among them – and grew to adulthood. After hiding from the galaxy for decades, the Kestrel finally needed help. The ships’ quantum engines were damaged, and some of the crewmembers required the attention of a doctor.
“I don’t understand,” Dax said. “Why didn’t the Kestrel crew simply give up and find a planet to settle on?”
“Our parents would never have done that,” Kendra replied. “They were afraid that even colonizing a planet would contaminate the timeline. Avoiding contamination was like a mania for them."
Worf nodded in approval. “They are to be commended for such dedication.”
“I’ll say,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think I could be that conscientious.”
“They had good cause to be conscientious,” Kendra added. “This part of the 24th century is a very pivotal time. Key events are happening now. They did not want to take the risk of causing disastrous changes in our timeline.”
Nog was intrigued. “Are you talking about the Dominion War?”
“I really can’t say anything that might change the past – I mean, your future,” Kendra replied.
“But just the fact that you’re here means the Federation wins,” Nog said hopefully. “Right?”
Kendra just smiled at the young Ferengi.
“Nog, everyone, listen,” Sisko said. “I’ve promised Captain Kendra we would respect her wish that the timeline be affected as little as possible. That means we can’t ask her any questions about our future. And anyone who beams over to the Kestrel will have to restrain their curiosity and just focus on their jobs.”
“Restraining their curiosity” was easier said than done. Bashir and O’Brien couldn’t help being interested in everything they saw aboard the Kestrel.***
The transporter room, of course, was their first destination. It looked cramped but functional.
When they stepped into the corridor, they realized that the whole ship looked like the transporter room – spartan, utilitarian. Instead of the sleek, new look common to Starfleet vessels, the Kestrel was a patchwork. Most of the corridor panels had been removed. O’Brien marveled briefly at the spaghetti-like tangle of the exposed conduits.
“They’ve been keeping this crate together with spit and shoestrings!” O’Brien whispered.
They split up in the corridor. Kendra led Bashir in one direction, towards the crewmembers who needed medical help. O’Brien went the other way, following the engineers.
“What kind of medical attention does the crew need?” Bashir asked. “It’s not an emergency, I hope.”
“No,” Kendra said. “You’ll see when we get there.” She walked very quickly, and Bashir found it difficult to keep pace.
“Will I be working with the ship’s doctor?” Bashir asked. “Don’t worry, I won’t ask about anything I shouldn’t know. It would hardly be fair for me to take credit for some 26th-century breakthrough that someone else is supposed to discover.”
“We do not have a ship’s doctor.”
“What?” Bashir said, shocked. “Then the crew definitely needs medical checkups. I’d like to start with the older crewmembers. Some of them must be quite elderly by now, and without regular medical treatment….”
“The older crewmembers are who I am taking you to see.”
Kendra stopped at a door and punched in an access code. The door opened, revealing a long, narrow room lined on both sides with stasis units. The metallic pods each contained a single person, whose face was visible through a small window.
“Are you familiar with this technology?” Kendra asked.
“I think so,” Bashir said. He examined one of the units. It had a vital-signs monitor just below the window. Despite some differences from the stasis units he was familiar with, he managed to read the monitors.
Bashir began checking each unit. The people all appeared to be in their 50s and 60s, with no serious signs of disease.
“The stasis units are functioning properly,” Bashir said. Kendra appeared to be relieved. But it was hard to tell. She was a difficult woman to read.
“Why are these crew members in the units?” Bashir asked. “Are they ill or injured? If so, it would be better to remove them from stasis and treat their….”
“That is not why they are here,” Kendra said quickly. “I…didn’t want to say this before, but I suppose I must, now. The people in stasis are the parents of myself, and the other crewmembers who are now running the Kestrel. Until recently, our parents commanded the ship, as they have always done. But a few days ago we…we mutinied against them.”
Kendra watched Bashir warily. “You don’t disapprove?” she asked.
“I’m not sure if I’m qualified to judge this situation!” Bashir replied. “I don’t think I’ve seen any Starfleet regulations covering mutinous time-travelers! If you’re worried about being punished by Starfleet for your actions… Why don’t you explain the rest of it, and we’ll tell Captain Sisko. He’s a reasonable man.”
“Thank you for being so understanding. We just could not stand it any longer. Remaining locked away on this vessel, living in a phantom state, hiding from our own people. Our parents had done everything possible to return to our own time. It was absurd to continue like that, just because of Starfleet’s temporal non-interference policy. Perhaps we were meant to go back in time!”
“Hmm,” Bashir said. “Temporal Investigations frowns on that line of reasoning. But I can certainly sympathize with your frustration.”
“We just want to find an out-of-the way planet and live out our lives in peace. We’ve already identified a perfect planet to colonize. Once we’re settled there, we’ll wake up our parents. We won’t introduce any of our technology into this timeline. But we don’t want our descendants to have to stay on this ship until the actual 26th century catches up with us!”
“That all sounds perfectly reasonable to me,” Bashir said.
“It does?” Kendra replied, as though she hadn’t expected her story to be met with sympathy.
“Certainly. Your parents may be angry when they come out of stasis, but I don’t think anyone else would criticize your actions. It’s natural for you to want to get out of this tin can and find a planet to live on. After all, you’re only human!”
Kendra looked very relieved. “I would like to return to the Defiant and tell Captain Sisko this story. I regret having hidden the truth from him.”
“Don’t worry, Captain,” Bashir said. “You’ve done the best you could, under very trying circumstances. But before we leave, are you sure I can’t do some routine tests on the crew?”
Kendra shook her head, “no.”
“Well, at least let me look at the children!”
Kendra gave Bashir a perplexed look. “The children are the crew, now.”
“No, not the adult children. I mean your children.”
Kendra continued to look confused.
“You said ‘your descendents.’ Those are the children I mean. You know, little children.” Bashir waved his hand near his knees to indicate a small child. Kendra looked at him blankly.
Bashir tried again. “I thought that there would be a third generation here?”
Kendra finally understood his meaning. “No, there are no small children. There is barely room enough for us all now.”
Bashir smiled. “Yes, it does look cramped. I see. Well, when you’ve found your planet, you’ll be able to start families then.”
As Kendra led Bashir back to the transporter room, he thought, What bizarre lives these people have led.
O’Brien and the young engineer entered the room. A few other people – O’Brien assumed they were more engineering staff – greeted them with nods. The engines themselves were not in sight, but a low throbbing pulse that permeated the room revealed their presence not far away.***
“I don’t think I got your name,” O’Brien said to his companion. “I’m Miles O’Brien.”
“Michaels,” the young man said.
“Michaels,” O’Brien echoed. “Is that your first name or your last name?”
“It is…my name. Michaels. Just Michaels.”
O’Brien was nonplussed. Don’t they have first names in the 26th century? he thought.
Michaels explained the problem to O’Brien. The chief couldn’t imagine how he could help repair 26th-century engines, but he quickly realized the solution was elementary. The warp field coils were mis-aligned, which threw off the quantum decay rate of the subspace bubble that the coils generated. That’s why the Kestrel couldn’t go to warp. O’Brien explained some principles of quantum physics to the engineering crew, and the coils were fixed.
None of the engineering staff understand basic quantum physics! O’Brien thought. How have they been able to manage until now?
With the problem solved, Michaels lost no time steering O’Brien out of the engineering room. They were soon retracing their steps to the transporter. O’Brien was irritated at not even receiving so much as a “thank you,” but said nothing. The Kestrel crew was a strange bunch.
At a junction, O’Brien glimpsed something down the corridor and did a double-take.
“Are those polaron cannons?” O’Brien asked. “Okay, I know I’m not supposed to notice anything like that.”
“Why should that be unusual?” Michaels asked. “They’re commonplace in our century.”
“That may be so. But in this century, only the Dominion uses polaron cannons, and we’re at war with them.”
Michaels thought about this. “Oh yes, that’s right. There was a war during this time.”
O’Brien couldn’t help asking. “But the war ended, right? You’re at peace now.”
“Yes, the war ended,” Michaels repeated, in his strange, sing-songy way. “That’s how we got the polaron cannons. We are at peace with the Dominion. There have been technology transfers.”
O’Brien chuckled. “Starfleet officers rubbing shoulders with Jem’Hadar and Vorta? That’s a strange image!”
“Why do you find that strange?”
“Oh, don’t mind me!” O’Brien said. “I must seem like a regular fossil to you. You know, I went back in time once, to the 23rd century. The Federation was at war with the Klingons. Now that was strange, I’ll tell you! The idea of being enemies with Klingons. I mean, Worf is one of my best friends.”
“Worf?” Michaels asked.
“The big guy you met in the transporter room on the Defiant.”
“Which one was he?”
“The Klingon! There was only one Klingon in the transporter room! Don’t you know what a Klingon looks like? You don’t think Julian’s a Klingon do you?”
Michaels paused, then nodded. “Oh. The Klingon, right, of course.”
“So!” Dax said. “How was your trip to the 26th century?”***
Bashir and O’Brien had returned to the Defiant, and were describing their adventure. “Weird,” O’Brien said, with a frown. “It was weird. In the first place, for a small scout ship operating during peacetime, the Kestrel sure seems armed to the teeth. Do you know they have polaron cannons? Michaels says they got them from the Dominion!”
Sisko wasn’t surprised at this. “Captain Kendra told me that in her century, the Federation and the Dominion are at peace.”
“I cannot believe the Dominion could peacefully coexist with anyone!” Worf said, emphatically.
Worf reminded O’Brien of something else. “And another thing – that Michaels fellow didn’t seem to know Worf was a Klingon! Even if the Klingons have sealed their borders, he should know what a Klingon looks like from a history book!”
“I noticed odd things, too,” Bashir added. “They have no ship’s doctor, yet Kendra wouldn’t allow medical exams of any of her crew. Did you know they mutinied against their parents and put them all in stasis?
“Kendra just told me about that,” Sisko said. “Can’t say that I blame her.”
“Well, I don’t either,” Bashir said. “It must have been very tough on them, growing up on that ship. When I asked Kendra whether I could at least examine the small children onboard, she said there weren’t any.”
“That is strange,” Dax said.
“Kendra had a good explanation,” Bashir replied. “The ship is too small for families. But that’s not what was strange. It seemed like she didn’t understand, when I asked her about ‘children,’ that I was talking about little kids.”
“And that’s another thing,” O’Brien said. “Captain Kendra. Has she told anyone her first name? Has she got a first name? ‘Michaels’ didn’t seem to have one! The guy was just weird. Just his mannerisms or something.”
“You’re right!” Bashir interjected. “That’s the impression I got from Kendra as well. There is something odd about the way she behaves. And why did she want me to check the stasis units at all? I suppose, since it’s their parents, they were just concerned the units were running correctly. But the units weren’t visibly malfunctioning. There was no particular reason that they should have been concerned.”
“That’s just what I thought about their so-called engineering problem!” O’Brien said. “It was something a cadet at the Academy could have solved.”
“Are we absolutely sure they are who they say they are?” Dax asked.
“I scanned the ship,” Nog said. “Nothing but human life signs onboard.”
“Listen, people,” Sisko said. “Any of this could have a good explanation. I’m sure that if someone from two centuries ago stumbled across us, we’d seem pretty odd to them, too.”
“And they’ve just mutinied against their superior officers, who also happen to be their parents,” Dax added.
O’Brien reluctantly agreed. “They’ve been cooped up on the Kestrel for their entire lives. I suppose that could explain their strange behavior.”
“It goes without saying that they’ve been under considerable strain,” Sisko said. “All of us should stay alert for any danger. But so far, Kendra hasn’t done anything suspicious. She seems to be conscientiously trying to avoid contaminating the timeline. If Kendra wasn’t trustworthy, why would she have dropped the Kestrel’s cloak and asked for our help?”
“You’re right,” Bashir said. “I guess we should be a little more sensitive to their situation. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been for them, being raised on a claustrophobic vessel like that. Their mannerisms are probably just a product of their upbringing.”
Sisko nodded. “But it’s also a good idea to keep an eye out for anything suspicious. In the meantime, I’ll contact Admiral Ross, to let him know about this.”
“It’s not exactly by the book, Ben,” Admiral Ross said over the comlink.***
Sisko frowned. I doubt the book has been written that could cover this situation, he thought. There was a universe of difference between desk admirals like Ross, and captains like Sisko, who were confronted by novel situations as a matter of course.
“But their request seems reasonable,” Sisko responded. “The planet they want to colonize is Class M, in the Kiraddi system. It’s never been explored by Starfleet.”
Ross called up information of Kiraddi on his monitor. “Very far out of the way. Not the kind of place most people would want to colonize.”
“Its remoteness is what makes it ideal for the Kestrel crew,” Sisko replied. “They don’t want to take any chances of timeline contamination.”
“Then there shouldn’t be a problem,” Ross decided. “Help them settle there and then report back to me. Unless the Kestrel crew wants further contact with the Federation, we’ll consider the matter closed. “
Bashir went over the data once again. Everything seemed to check out fine, but his instincts kept telling him that something about the Kestrel scenario didn’t make sense.***
The Defiant was on its was to the Kiraddi system, escorting the Kestrel there at the specific request of Captain Kendra. Her reasons for needing an escort were vague, but Sisko had been happy to comply. Bashir was happy as well – it would take them a few days to get to the Kiraddi system, and he wanted as much time as possible to decipher this riddle. If there was anything to decipher at all.
After persistent badgering, Bashir finally had convinced Kendra to send her crewmembers to Bashir’s sickbay for tests - including blood screening.
Bashir honestly did need to check the crew’s blood for illnesses or other health risks. He drew the blood himself, to ensure that the samples could not be switched without his knowledge. He wanted to set his own mind at ease that the crewmembers weren’t a bunch of changelings from the future. He didn’t want to insult Kendra by making such an accusation directly, and fortunately, none of the crew seemed annoyed by Bashir’s procedure. Evidently, blood screenings weren’t something that 26th century humans needed to worry about.
The doctor found everyone in good health, and just as human as they appeared. He ran every test he could think of, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Until he got to the genetic scans.
As science officer, Dax consulted with Bashir on the results. She peered in confusion at the analyses of the crewmembers’ DNA.
“When you called me here to look at these samples, I wondered if you were just trying to be a flirt, as usual,” Dax said, with a mixture of amusement and annoyance. “So, unless you tell me what it is we’re supposed to be looking at, I’d suggest you start flirting, pronto.”
“It’s just a gut instinct,” Bashir replied. “There’s something odd about these results, but it’s not something the computer can identify.”
Dax gave him a look. “If the computer can’t tell what’s wrong, what chance do we have? This all looks like perfectly normal human DNA. Of course, the samples have the usual amount of variation from one another. But you’d expect to see a wide range of….”
Bashir’s eyes lit up. “That’s it! The variation! Jadzia, none of the crewmembers are related to any other!”
“Hmm. Well, maybe they’re all only children. None of them have siblings.”
Bashir pondered this. “Possible, but not likely. When I looked over the stasis units, I didn’t exactly count them, but there couldn’t have been more than 40 or 50 of them.”
“So, let’s say there are 50 of them, and there are equal numbers of men and women. That means at most there would be 25 pairs of parents to produce children with no siblings or half-siblings. So there could be no more than 25 only children. Yet there are 45 crewmembers! That means there should have been at least 90 parents.”
“Maybe there were 90 originally. Some of them could have died years ago.”
“But look at the Kestrel,” Bashir said. “It’s no bigger than the Defiant. There’s no way a ship that small would need a crew of 90.”
“Well, supposing you’re right, what does it mean?”
“I don’t know, exactly. But we have two more days until we reach the Kiraddi system. I’m going to use that time to check Kendra’s story out.”
Bashir halfway expected Kendra to refuse his request to re-examine the stasis units. To his surprise, she agreed readily. Especially after the doctor said it was her mother’s unit he wanted to examine.***
Kendra hovered anxiously by the door as the doctor found her mother’s stasis unit. Bashir started to wonder if he was being too paranoid. Kendra certainly was acting just like someone who was concerned about the welfare of her mother.
When Bashir wiped the condensation off the stasis unit’s window, he felt doubly ashamed at having doubted Kendra. The woman in the unit appeared to be in her sixties, the right age to be Kendra’s mother. And the family resemblance was unmistakable.
But I’m here, Bashir thought. I may as well take the sample.
Bashir extracted an air sample from the unit, placed it in an analyzer and announced the result. “Looks like I was worrying about nothing. The air sample reads normal.”
Three hours later, the air sample was sitting on the desk of Sisko’s ready room. Behind the desk was Sisko. To one side, Bashir. As Kendra entered the room, she looked from Sisko to Bashir to the air sample, and then back to Sisko.***
“You said you needed to talk with me,” Kendra said in a toneless voice.
“Yes,” Sisko replied, “Sit down, please. Doctor Bashir took this….”
“The air sample from my mother’s stasis unit,” Kendra said, looking worried. “You said there was nothing wrong with it!”
“There wasn’t anything wrong,” Bashir said, fumbling for words. “Not with the air, anyway.”
“The doctor never was concerned with the air,” Sisko explained. “He shouldn’t have done this analysis without your permission, but…the air sample contained microscopic skin and hair particles. Doctor Bashir analyzed them and discovered something strange about your mother’s DNA.”
Kendra set her jaw. “Of course. That her DNA and mine are the same.”
“So, are you her clone?” Bashir asked.
“There’s no other explanation, is there?” Kendra said. “We’re all clones of the original crew, although we do think of them as our ‘parents.’ There are 45 crewmembers in stasis and 45 crewmembers on the Kestrel. It was silly to think I could have hidden this forever.”
“Then why did you try to hide it?” Sisko said.
Kendra sighed. “Because you would have wanted an explanation. Human cloning has been illegal in the Federation ever since its founding – since before its founding, in fact. You’d never believe me if I said it was perfectly legal in my time.”
Sisko nodded. “I admit, it would be hard to understand how attitudes on something so fundamental could change in two centuries.”
“Kendra, it isn’t our place to judge you,” Bashir said. “We just want to feel we can trust you. We just want to know….”
Kendra stood up abruptly. “You just want to know the truth, is that it? I was trying to spare you the truth, but since you have to know, here it is. We are from Starfleet – or what we know as Starfleet. Our parents did come here accidentally from the 26th century. They did try to return to their own time, and failed. When they realized they might die before succeeding in making it back, they created clones to carry on their efforts.”
Bashir fidgeted in his chair. “If you don’t mind my asking….”
“Why didn’t they simply reproduce in the ‘usual’ way?” Kendra said. “Because they couldn’t. Your examination of our DNA wasn’t deep enough, doctor. The human species has undergone some changes. It’s no longer possible for humans to reproduce in the ‘natural’ way. After all, the Vorta wouldn’t like that very much, would they? It would make it far too difficult to control the human population.”
Sisko and Bashir said in unison: “The Vorta?”
Kendra put her hands on the desk and leaned towards Sisko. “You’re so interested in the truth, so here it is. The Federation did not win the war with the Dominion, Captain. It was a hot and cold struggle for a hundred years. At various times, the Federation assumed it had won, but always made the same mistake. It left some of the Founders alive. The Federation never had the guts to wipe them out, once and for all.
“Eventually the Dominion took over the whole quadrant. The human race was preserved as genetically-altered servants of the Dominion, and like other Dominion subjects, we reproduce only by cloning. They even preserved Starfleet, Captain. Isn’t that funny? They thought its organizational structure was very useful.”
Sisko shook his head in disbelief. “I can’t believe that! I could understand the Dominion gaining some territory, but for the Federation to be defeated so completely – it’s not possible.”
“Believe me, it happened. Will happen. It took Vorta scientists decades
to develop a way to genetically engineer humans and other Federation races
so that they would serve the Dominion. It’s difficult to control someone’s
behavior so completely through their genes, but it’s not impossible. Once
they knew how, the effects were devastating.
“Whole starship crews were genetically changed; you can imagine the kind of chaos that resulted when one Starfleet crew never knew whether to trust any other Starfleet vessel that came within hailing range. Federation scientists came up with counter-measures, so that they could revert captured crews to their original genetic makeup.
“Ironically, this just made the situation worse. Some loyal Starfleet vessels refused to fire on ships with genetically altered crews. They tried to capture the ships, and were destroyed themselves. The Dominion took full advantage of the carnage. The Federation’s defeat was sudden and total.”
Sisko was silent for a moment as he absorbed Kendra’s stunning story. “You’re the genetics expert here, Doctor,” he said finally. “What do you think about all this?”
“It could happen,” Bashir said softly. “We don’t know much about the Dominion’s genetic engineering abilities, but the kind of complete control that the Founders have over the Vorta and Jem’Hadar couldn’t just be the result of social conditioning.”
Sisko turned to Kendra. “I take it that you’re warning us about our
possible future? Then why did you mutiny against your parents?”
Kendra’s voice was more acid than before. “Our parents were loyal to the Dominion. They didn’t want their masters to lose a valuable piece of property – the Kestrel – which is the only reason why they created us clones. But that was their mistake. They weren’t geneticists, and their ‘children’ were defective. We weren’t as loyal to the Dominion as our elders were. As we grew up and learned our history, we decided that we had to change the timeline. To let the Federation win.”
“We know how to avert this tragedy, Captain,” Kendra continued. “We studied the historical records of the Dominion War. We’ve pinpointed a time and place where we could change history. So we mutinied, and revealed ourselves to the first Federation vessel we came across.
“The key is Kiraddi system. We don’t want to set up a colony there. We have a different goal in mind. A powerful weapon is being developed at secret Dominion base in the Kiraddi system, a weapon that will ensure their eventual victory. We have to destroy that base. It’s not well defended because they don’t think anyone knows about it. The combined firepower of the Kestrel and the Defiant is more than sufficient to finish the job.”
Kendra finished talking. No one spoke.
“This is why I didn’t want to tell you the truth!” Kendra cried. “You don’t believe me! You don’t trust me! Why can’t you understand how crucial this….”
Sisko put up his hand. “I’m not sure whether to believe you or not, Kendra. But as long as there’s a possibility that you’re telling the truth, it’s my duty to find out.”
The Defiant crew had assembled in the mess hall, the only place big enough for all of them. After Sisko’s description of his meeting with Kendra, there were a few moments of silence.***
“All this, for nothing!” Nog squeaked. “I can’t believe that the Dominion is going to win!”
“I can’t believe it, either,” O’Brien said, stubbornly. “Because I don’t believe it. There’s no such thing as predestination.”
“The Chief is right,” Sisko added. “If there’s a Dominion base in Kiraddi, then of course we’ll destroy it – regardless of whether it will ‘change history’ or not.”
“Then why do you look worried?” Dax asked.
“Kendra’s story still doesn’t make sense. There’s no evidence of a Dominion base in that system. Kiraddi is nowhere near Dominion-held space. Why would they build their base there?”
“I guess we’ll find out when we get there,” Bashir said.
The fifth planet from the Kiraddi star was a dense jungle shrouded in perpetual fog. When the away team beamed down, it was all they could do to keep from stumbling over their own feet.***
Kendra led the way, with a palm beacon. Sisko, O’Brien, and two security officers followed.
O’Brien kept muttering about something. After a moment, he whispered to Sisko, “Sir, come over here. I need to speak with you.”
Sisko and O’Brien huddled. “There was something wrong with the transporter,” the Chief said. “It didn’t – well, it didn’t feel right.”
“But we’re all in one piece,” Sisko replied.
“With all due respect, Sir, you haven’t got 22 years of experience operating transporters, like I have. When I was on the Enterprise, I could tell when something was wrong just by the sound of the materialization beam. Let me have my staff run a full diagnostic before we transport back.”
After an hour, Kendra had found nothing on the planet. Sisko and the rest were losing their patience. Then the news came in from Bashir.
“We have a big problem,” the doctor said over the comlink. “Miles was right. The transporter was sabotaged, and the bio-filter doesn’t work. I’ll have to beam you into a stasis field in sickbay.”
“That would be a good idea, Doctor,” Sisko said, glaring at Kendra. “There’s obviously no Dominion base on this planet, and I have a feeling that you will find that we’ve been infected with something.”
On the other side of the stasis field, Bashir injected the hypospray into Sisko’s arm.***
“That should do it,” the doctor said. “I’ll lower the stasis field now.”
“Are you absolutely sure it’s safe?” Sisko asked. “You said the virus was deadly.”
“It certainly was. And you hadn’t realized right away what happened, it might have been too late for all of you. I’ve never seen a virus like this one. It progresses through the body so rapidly that, within a few hours after exposure, it can’t be eradicated without killing the host.”
“Then we’re lucky you caught it when you did. Would it have killed us quickly, then?”
“No, that’s the interesting part. It probably would have taken years to kill you. And you would have had no symptoms. I suppose you see the implications of this….”
“I do. We would have brought the virus back on board. Everyone here would have been infected. Then everyone on DS9.”
“And DS9 is a transport hub for the entire quadrant,” Bashir said. “It would have been a devastating plague. Probably would have wiped out the human race.”
Sisko stood on the other side of the security field as he questioned Kendra. Two guards were nearby, in case anyone from the Kestrel tried to rescue their captain.***
“Why did you send us to a planet where there was obviously nothing to find?” Sisko asked.
Kendra glanced up from where she was sitting. “There was something to find, and you found it.”
“The virus. And what was that supposed to accomplish?”
“The eradication of all humans, of course.”
Sisko didn’t expect her admission to be so blunt, but he masked his shock. “So you are working for the Dominion.”
“No! The last thing the Dominion wants is for the human species to die. We’re far too useful to them.”
Kendra got up and paced around. “Other than the part about the Dominion base, everything I told you was the truth. We studied the history databanks, ran countless simulations, but the result was always the same. There is no way to prevent the Dominion from eventually defeating the Federation.”
“But we did stumble across historical data on the Kiraddi system. In my timeline, the virus was discovered in the late 25th century, after the Dominion had conquered the whole quadrant. Humans started to die from it, but Vorta scientists quickly engineered them immunity.”
“That’s why you weren’t infected,” Sisko said. “Dr. Bashir couldn’t understand why. But if you want to help the Federation, why did you try….”
“The Federation is lost, Captain! But we can still save the rest of the galaxy. The Dominion didn’t just defeat the Federation. In my time, it’s taken over the entire Alpha Quadrant, plus vast sections of the Beta and Delta Quadrants as well. And it’s all because of us. Humans.
“When the Vorta scientists genetically engineered humans, they created the ultimate weapon. As obedient and ruthless as the Jem’Hadar, but far more intelligent, creative, and flexible in their thinking. With us, the Dominion was unbeatable. The Jem’Hadar were replaced by human crews, and star systems fell by the score. Not even the Borg could fight a genetically-altered Starfleet crew. In my century, the human race is much worse than the Jem'Hadar ever was. If you knew the atrocities our species has committed, you wouldn't want that guilt on your conscience.”
Sisko shook his head. “How can I believe this story? It’s just another of your lies.”
“Think about it, Captain! I was willing to wipe out an entire species – my species – to achieve my goal. Think of the ruthlessness, the lack of conscience, required to do that! And remember, I’m just a defective clone. I’m nothing compared with 26th century humans. You’ve got to believe me. This is no fairy tale. It’s true!”
“Even if it is true, there’s no reason why this timeline should follow the same path as yours.”
“But it will happen! Captain, if you care about the trillions of innocent beings who live in this galaxy, you have to beam back down to the planet and voluntarily infect yourself with the virus. Otherwise, you are condemning their descendents to brutal oppression and slavery.”
“I’m sure you realize that I’m not going to do any such thing.”
Kendra sat back down and put out her hands. “Then take a good, hard look at your future.”
Sisko turned to say something to one of the guards. Then, to his horror, Kendra vanished in a transporter beam.
“Sisko to O’Brien,” he said, slapping his combadge. “What happened?”
“The dampening field had no effect, Captain! Their technology is too much more advanced that ours.”
Sisko returned to the bridge just in time to get Kendra’s parting message.***
“I’m sorry you wouldn’t cooperate,” she said over the viewscreen. “But it doesn’t really matter. There is one last thing I didn’t tell you. We mutinied when we did because our parents finally discovered a time eddy that would return us to the 26th century. The eddy allows transport between any two time periods.”
Kendra paused and looked down, as though unsure of herself. Then she finished what she had to say, with no trace of hesitation or remorse.
“So I’m going to take the Kestrel back to an earlier era in the 24th century. Perhaps before you were even born. I am a patient woman, and I have all the time in the galaxy. Eventually, we will succeed, and the threat our species poses to the galaxy will be eradicated. Goodbye.”