Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Pain of Memory

By Gabrielle Lawson

with the generous help of Jo Burgess

Part Two

Two Weeks Later

"Well, Doctor," Captain Sisko said as O'Brien and Bashir entered the room. "Sleep well?" They were the first to arrive.

Bashir blushed but apparently couldn't find a good answer. "Yes, sir."

Sisko felt a little guilty. He'd only meant it as a teasing remark, but Bashir had taken it as a sort of rebuke. "That wasn't a criticism." Bashir hadn't complained in the last couple of weeks, but it was obvious to everyone that he was exhausted. The casualties that had been trickling in from other ships had kept him busy, while the rest of the crew had been able to enjoy the lull in Dominion activity around the station. His eyes had taken on a shadowed look, he yawned almost uncontrollably, and he had occasionally snapped at his nurses. He had been quiet, too, not offering his usual insights into the briefings and happenings of the war. That, however, was not so unusual anymore. But Sisko had even noted the way his eyes had almost crossed during one of the briefings the week before. To his credit-and O'Brien's elbow-he kept them open, but Sisko could tell he was drained. "Take a seat, gentlemen."

Worf and Nog were the next to enter, though Kira and Odo weren't far behind. Ezri Dax was the last. She yawned and took her seat. "We just got a new mission," Sisko told everyone, opening the briefing. "At 0600 hours this morning, the Vesmir reported sighting a lone Cardassian ship patrolling the Badlands," Sisko began. He pressed some controls and a map appeared on the viewscreen at one end of the room. "They picked up some unusual readings from their sensors as well." Sisko handed a PADD to O'Brien, who let Nog, who was at the briefing by virtue of his being the Defiant's helmsman, look on with him.

"Galor-class, by the looks of it," Nog concluded.

"Except the energy output from their impulse engines are all wrong," O'Brien added.

"The Vesmir's science officer concurred," Sisko agreed. "But they didn't have long to ponder the situation. The Cardassian ship exploded at 0610, taking the Vesmir with it."

Bashir shook his head, looking at the viewscreen. "But they were nowhere near that ship," Bashir stated. "They were at the limits of the Vesmir's long-range sensors. Even a warp core breach wouldn't have hit them."

Sisko nodded, relieved to see that Bashir was still on top of the game. "Which is why we're discussing the Vesmir this morning."

"Vesmir," Ezri repeated. "Isn't that a private ship?"

Sisko nodded. "From Nova Czeska colony."

"So what were they doing all the way out by the Badlands?" Kira asked. Nova Czeska was an old Earth colony, well within the Federation borders.

"Nova Czeska is the only Federation planet with permission to trade with the Gidari homeworld," Sisko explained. He'd had to do his homework this morning. He'd asked the same questions. The Gidari were a secretive race whom some mistakenly termed xenophobic. The Gidari weren't afraid of other races, and they certainly didn't want to be isolated from them. They enjoyed trade almost as much as Ferengi, but they deemed themselves quite superior to any other sentient lifeforms they'd come in contact with. They didn't care to be polluted by other cultures or to have their own culture open to examination by others. At least that was the best interpretation Starfleet had yet put on their behavior. And Sisko, having had only one experience with the Gidari in all his years in Starfleet, had found no reason yet to disagree.

"They have to run a preset, meandering, course," he continued, "no deviations. Our best estimate of the location of the Gidari homeworld puts them 6 days out from Bajor at warp 7. It would have taken the Vesmir twice that long. But it also means it put them within sensor range of the Badlands and our doomed Cardassian friends."

"How many Czechs were on the Vesmir, Captain?" Bashir asked, biting back another yawn.

Sisko forgot the Cardassian ship and took a moment to remember the Vesmir's loss. "New Prague reports a crew manifest of 58, Doctor, under Captain Neumannova. She trained with me at the Academy. Anthropology and Astrophysics. Couldn't help but remember such a combination. She resigned from the fleet at the request of New Prague when they got the Gidari contract." But there was a war on and time for reminiscing was scarce. "New Prague wants to know why their ship was destroyed. And Starfleet wants to know why the Cardassian ship exploded. So we're the logical choice to investigate."

"Shouldn't take long," O'Brien commented dryly. "There's not much left of either of them."

O'Brien was right. The investigation had taken no more than three hours but had still to offer up any answers. The Vesmir left the sensors little to work with beyond their earlier transmission. There were no survivors, and there weren't even any large fragments of the ship. There was even less of the Cardassians, though their debris field still gave off odd sensor readings. Worf was given the task of deciphering them.

The Defiant returned nearly empty-handed to the station, with no explanation to offer the Czechs or Starfleet. Starfleet did have information to offer, however. Action near the Klingon border. It was far enough away from DS9 that the Defiant was not ordered to join the battle. The station was close enough though, that the casualties would still be coming their way. Sisko sighed and relayed the information to Bashir.

"Good morning," Sisko said, welcoming his officers to the next morning's briefing.

"Where's Julian?" O'Brien asked as he surveyed the room.

Kira answered his question. "Working. The Venture docked at 0300 with casualties. Their medical staff was glad for the help. I'm sure their engineering crew would be, too."

O'Brien nodded. It would be a busy day. "Where were they when they were hit?" he asked. "Things have been relatively quiet around here."

"Near the Klingon border," Kira supplied. "With the fighting there, we were the safest port to come to."

"How bad was it?" The Chief was trying to make mental notes on how many engineers he could spare.

"Shouldn't take you more than a week, Chief," Sisko broke in. "In the meantime, we still have a Cardassian ship to think about. Anything there, Mr. Worf?"

"Nothing in our records matches the sensor readings from the debris," Worf replied. He put the readings up on the main viewscreen in the room.

"But some of those readings are vaguely familiar," Dax jumped in.

"To you, but not to the computer?" Kira didn't understand. She didn't see anything familiar there.

"Well, the computer might have thought it familiar a few years ago, before certain records were purged." Odo added, looking both angry and proud, like he'd solved the mystery already but wasn't thrilled with the solution.

"Gidari," Ezri exclaimed. They all remembered the Gidari's last visit. They were not the most polite of people.

Odo shot her a sideways look. But then he continued. "The records were purged at their request." His tone on the last word indicated that it hadn't been a simple request. In fact, the Gidari had ordered the records purged to protect their overzealous secrecy.

Kira nodded, remembering now. "We had one of their knives."

Odo explained, "When Dax scanned it for DNA traces, the metal was also scanned. It had the same sort of sensor spikes as the debris."

O'Brien stood up and walked to the screen, taking a closer look. He remembered the knife, and how Dax had been fascinated by the readings she got from it, hoping it was a clue to the Gidari or their homeworld. "About the only thing I can tell you definitively about the knife is that the metal had been exposed to massive amounts of ultraviolet and infrared radiation. And that's all I can definitively say about the debris from the Cardassian ship." He returned to his seat.

"So they were carrying something Gidari," Sisko worked out. "They were within sensor range of the Vesmir."

"Could the Gidari have infiltrated the Cardassian ship?" Kira posed.

"Not likely," Odo answered, though he didn't elaborate.

Dax agreed. "They wouldn't fit in. The Gidari never go anywhere unnoticed. The hoods make them conspicuous, and Julian said they were blue under the hoods."

"So are Bolians," Kira countered. "Besides, if Bashir can make Odo or you into Klingons, why couldn't they do Cardassians?"

Sisko thought about it but still rejected the idea. "It's possible, but they'd probably never lower themselves to either the deception or the target species. In Gidari eyes, they're all inferior. But let's not belabor the point. Let's assume the Cardassians or their Dominion allies brought a Gidari substance on board. How did they get it, and what was it supposed to do?"

"Could they have taken it from the Vesmir?" Worf suggested.

O'Brien shook his head. "Too far. Their last known positions were as close as those two ships ever got."

Kira had been pensive for the last few moments. "The Gidari were able to get through all of our defenses. They beamed through our shields and broke out of our tractor beam with little effort."

"I remember," Ezri said.

O'Brien remembered, too. They all did. "Fortunately for us, they weren't overtly hostile at the time."

"The Dominion could use technology like that," Kira finished.

"Those were my thoughts," Sisko admitted.

"Then we were lucky they blew up," O'Brien decided.

Julian Bashir finally returned to the station at 1230 hours. His stomach had been growling for the last five hours and was growing more insistent every minute. He could have eaten on the Venture, but the critical patients were in good hands and today was Wednesday. Bashir had lunch with Garak on Wednesdays.

"You look terrible," Garak said in greeting as Bashir neared the table at the Replimat.

Bashir dropped himself into the waiting chair. "Thank you for noticing."

"Really, Doctor, you must insist on getting more sleep," Garak scolded. "Your health is as important as any on this station. Shall I order for you?"

"That would be very helpful," Julian decided. "Thank you." While Garak got up to go to the replicator, Bashir rubbed his tired eyes. He was tempted to call off lunch altogether and catch a nap, but his stomach was still empty. He'd had no breakfast.

"A busy morning, I take it." Garak had returned with a light but nutritious and filling meal. A Bajoran meal, in fact, with Tarkalian tea.

Bashir removed his hand. "My eyelids hurt," he sighed. "Yes, very busy. They had lost seven people before they reached the station. We lost four more while I was there."

Garak looked up surreptitiously from his food. "Yes, the Cardassians are touting the 'victory' over the Venture back home."

Bashir knew that tone. He ignored his stomach, forgot his eyelids, and focused all of his attention on the clothier across the table. "Really?"

"Oh, yes. The valiant crew of the Enirak is being honored for their heroic sacrifice." Garak waved his hand with a flourish as he spoke. "It appears the crippling blow they delivered to the Venture was also their last. The ship was lost with all hands."

That didn't fit, and Garak knew it. Some of the patients had talked, and the staff had filled him in on the rest. The Venture had been attacked by a Dominion vessel. There were no Cardassian ships in the area.

"I'm sure," Garak added, "Captain Sisko will want to fill you in on this morning's briefing which you missed. After you finish eating, of course."

Bashir ate quickly, drawing a scolding glance from Garak, but he ignored it. Duty first. He listened politely as Garak continued his thoughts from their previous lunch about the latest book he wanted to recommend. "After I finish the last one," Bashir promised. "I'm sorry, Garak, but I really must run." His tray was now empty.

Garak nodded his understanding, and Bashir excused himself from the table. He returned his tray to the replicator and turned to leave. His path to exit took him right by Garak's table again. Garak caught his arm. "Fifty-seven souls. It really is a tragedy."

His arm released, Bashir continued out the door. He found Sisko in his office in Ops.

"How are the patients, Doctor?" Sisko asked in greeting.

"Eleven dead," Bashir answered, still standing in front of Sisko's desk. "Fourteen stable but critical, and thirty-three lesser injuries. It's been a very busy morning."

"I can see that." Sisko gestured for Bashir to sit. "Do you think they can do without you for the rest of the day?"

Bashir hesitated to sit. "Why?" he asked, alarmed. "What's happened?"

Sisko chuckled. "Sit down. Nothing's happened. I just think you need a break. You look terrible."

The alarm faded and Bashir sat. "So I've been told. I had lunch with Mr. Garak today."

Sisko leaned back in his chair, a knowing and slightly amused look crossed his face. "More literature?"

"Of course," Bashir remarked. "But I think he also related the name of our mysterious Cardassian ship."

Doctor Bashir had gladly accepted the captain's advice and had taken the rest of the day off, spending most of it in bed asleep. He returned to the Venture the next morning, hoping to see that all the patients were doing well. He was greeted by a tired, but cheerful Dr. Marin as she led Bashir to the patients. "Good to see you again," she said. "I can't thank you enough for your help yesterday."

Bashir smiled. "It's what I do. I was glad to help."

Marin smiled, too. "I've downgraded all but two of the patients to stable," she reported. "Hansen and Jarofana are still critical, but I'm optimistic." As she talked she led Bashir over to the biobeds where the two critical patients were. She handed him a PADD.

Bashir looked over the PADD as Marin ran through the readings on the biobeds. "Jarofana, you'll remember, was our burn victim," she said as she neared the last bed.

"Fifty-five percent third degree, I believe," Bashir answered, nodding.

"Fluids have helped, along with the synthetic skin," Marin continued. "But we're having a bit more trouble fighting the infection. We've got her on corophizine. But we'll gladly take suggestions."

Bashir checked the readings on the bed. Marin's prognosis was logical and corophizine was a sufficient antibiotic. "Sounds good," he said. "She'll need cosmetic surgery once she recovers sufficiently."

Marin just nodded. "If she recovers sufficiently. We'll keep her and Hansen under close observation."

"I hope they both do well," Bashir commented sincerely. "But it looks like you have things well in hand for now."

Marin nodded, putting the PADD way. "And since we've got repairs," Marin added, "we should be here a little while. That will give us all time to rest up a bit. Thank you again for your help, Doctor."

The Venture remained for two more days, and when she left, O'Brien breathed a sigh of relief. The war had increased his workload three-fold, but it had also kept him so busy that routine repairs and maintenance went undone. Now that the Dominion had backed off from this sector-for whatever reasons they had done so-the maintenance and repair schedule was enough to keep a crew four times as large as O'Brien's engineering staff occupied. The Venture had only added to that.

But now the Venture was gone, the Defiant was docked, and all but two of the runabouts were out on maneuvers. All of which left only the station to deal with, and that was still a very large job. But, for now, it was the job of the night shift. For the Chief of Operations, the day was over. He'd already reserved a holosuite from Quark so he headed for the bar. O'Brien knew he'd meet Julian there, if he hadn't gotten tied up with patients in the Infirmary.

Quark's was crowded, which was no surprise. Martok's ship had docked the day before, so there were several Klingons in view. He didn't really have to see them though. They had a distinct smell to them when too many were in a relatively small area. A Tarkalian eyed O'Brien suspiciously from the bar, but O'Brien ignored him. He remembered the man as the one Molly had attacked. But the man had not given him any trouble since, so O'Brien didn't seek any out.

Bashir was already there, at the end of the bar. As O'Brien approached, he threw one of the darts he held in his hands. O'Brien, noting how close Bashir was standing to the board-the standard distance- expected to see the dart fly effortlessly into the bull's-eye. But it didn't happen. The dart barely made it onto the board at all. It landed less than two inches from the outside of the board. There was another dart already on the board, just to the right of center, perhaps an inch and a half off its mark. Bashir didn't seem to notice that anyone was watching and threw the last of his darts. This one was better, just clearing the outer edge of the bull's-eye. Not a bad shot for a normal person. But Bashir wasn't normal. O'Brien had been making him shoot from farther back since he found out that Julian's genetic enhancements had also improved his hand- eye coordination. At the standard distance, Bashir normally couldn't miss.

"Something wrong?" O'Brien asked, startling the doctor as he returned from the board. "Or are you planning on hustling someone?" His mouth turned up in a grin.

"Oh, hi," Bashir said in greeting. After a moment, he smiled, too. "I was just practicing. Feel like a game."

"From the looks of things, you don't," O'Brien joked. "Besides, we have a reservation. What's it to be tonight? The Alamo? Falcon versus Bashir?"

Bashir shook his head, as they each took a seat on a bar stool. "Oh, not that."

Quark met them at their seats. "Synthale," O'Brien ordered. He instantly forgot the Ferengi and turned back to Bashir. "Why not? I thought you liked those. Felix writes them just for you."

Bashir looked down at his own drink on the bar and shook his head again. "I just don't."

"You haven't," O'Brien said, "not since. . . . Well, you know. You could use the practice."

Bashir let his drink fall back onto the bar. "But it's not real, Miles. Those programs are set up to give me every advantage."

"Only when your adversaries are holograms," O'Brien countered. "I don't give you every advantage. Besides, you still have to think them out, outsmart the program."

"I don't think it will help me when the time comes." He took a long drink. "I'd rather do something a little more relaxing."

"And losing at darts is more relaxing?" O'Brien asked. "You didn't look so relaxed a minute ago when you nearly missed the board. And you were standing close. What was that all about?"

"I don't know. Aim was off?"

O'Brien studied his friend. A lot had happened to Bashir over the years, but he'd rarely ever been so dull. "You know what I think?"

"What do you think?"

"I think the war is getting to you." He set his drink down hard on the bar as if to punctuate his thought. "You keep too much inside, Julian." Bashir put his own drink down and faced him with a look of wide-eyed wonder. O'Brien felt more confident. He'd gotten to him. "Bad things happen to you, and you don't talk about them. You go on as if everything's the same. But it's not. If you don't do something about it little by little, it will eventually wear you down. And right now, you look worn down."

Bashir turned back to his drink without saying anything. Not that he didn't try. He actually opened his mouth, but no words came out. He closed it again. O'Brien grinned on the inside. Bashir was speechless. "Maybe," O'Brien went on, not really knowing if he was pushing too far or not, "you got so good at keeping certain things a secret that you got used to keeping everything in. You need to relieve some stress, my friend."

Bashir shrugged, non-committal. "What do you suggest?"

"I hate to do it," O'Brien said, smiling, "but seeing as you're my friend and all, I suggest a game or two of racquetball."

Bashir smiled. "You're sure your ego can take that? I'll win."

Now O'Brien shrugged as he finished off his synthale. "Maybe not. We haven't played for several years now. You might at least be out of practice."

Bashir laughed. "Alright. I need to go back to my court and change. I'll meet you in, say, fifteen minutes."

O'Brien wasn't sure he heard that right. "What?"

Bashir finished his own drink and slid off the barstool. "I said I'd have to go to my quarters and change."

"See, you are stressed." O'Brien stepped down, too.

"What did you think I said?" Julian asked as they both headed for the door, threading their way through the crowd.

Julian Bashir raised his arm to touch a control on the viewscreen above his desk. His arm ached a bit when he did so, but he didn't mind. It hurt less than the day before or even the one before that. It was a good pain, the reminder of a good workout. He felt healthier for it. He let a chuckle slip past him. Chief O'Brien felt worse. He'd lost each of the three games they'd played last night, though not without putting up a good fight. As with darts, Bashir's game was down. O'Brien had been able to get in several shots that Julian should have been able to counter with ease. The more equal competition between them, then, had made the contest harder, but also more satisfying. And it appeared to have the desired effect. By the time they had called it a night, Bashir was exhausted. He slept deeply and dreamlessly that night, and he awoke still feeling relaxed, if a bit sore.


The voice had come from behind him, and it was a familiar voice. He turned to face the door. "Garak, hello," he said, rising from his chair. "Is something wrong?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing," Garak said.

"What do you mean?"

"Lunch, Doctor," Garak replied. "You are planning on eating, I hope."

Today? Julian thought. He quickly ran through the days in his head. Had it been a week already? "Today's Wednesday," he realized aloud. "I'm sorry, I've lost track of the time."

"Or rather the days," the Cardassian interjected with a small smile. "Shall we?"

"Of course," Bashir said, but he turned back to his desk. "Just let me save my work."

"You'd think there wasn't a war on," Garak commented as they left the Infirmary.

Bashir stepped around a Ventralen woman and tried not to bump into her companion. "People need to eat, Garak."

"All at the same time?" Garak was nearly pushed into a wall. "You'd think they'd go in shifts."

"The soldiers do," Bashir replied. "Not everyone here is in the military."

They were lucky to find a table at the Replimat, but only because they found Kira and Odo there just about to leave. "So tell me, Doctor," Garak said, as they sat down, "have you heard any more about our mysterious Cardassian ship?"

"I could ask you the same thing." Bashir started to take a bit of his food and then looked down in confusion at his plate. "I ordered this?"

Garak peered across the table at the plate too. "Yes, you did. Is there a problem, Doctor?"

Bashir met Garak's gaze. He didn't remember ordering pasta. "No," he said, "no problem." He ate it anyway. How else could it have gotten on his plate?

"To answer your question," Garak went on, taking a bit of his food. "No, I have heard nothing."

Bashir nodded, eating his food as well. "Me neither."

"On to other things then." Garak reached under the table. "I've been reading," he said, as he straightened again, "another piece of your 'classic' human literature."

Bashir smiled, taking interest. "Oh, which one?" It was always a welcome change from the Cardassian books Garak was always throwing at him.

"Dickens," Garak answered. "A Tale of Two Cities." He then took his hands from under the table in order to place the book beside his plate. A real book, on paper.

Bashir's smile widened. He picked up the book and flipped it open. It was one of his favorites-even if only for the last two pages. Well, and that first paragraph. "What do you think of it?"

Garak set his fork down and leaned forward. "Do you really want to know?"

Bashir's shoulders involuntarily slumped. "You don't like it."

"Oh, it has some beautiful language," Garak replied, smiling slightly. "I'll give you that. Especially at the beginning and at the end. The middle, I'm afraid, is somewhat more of a chore."

Bashir nodded. He agreed-so far. "But . . . ," he said, giving Garak the opening he knew the other man wanted.

"But," Garak took it up, "there's more to literature than beautiful language. Language matters little when what one says is drivel."

"Drivel?" Bashir could understand some criticism of the book, but he couldn't see calling it drivel.

"Well really, Doctor, if you break it down, language is all it has. The characters are anything but realistic. The plot is fanciful, and the ending is a farce."

"A farce?" Bashir repeated, feeling the word stab into his heart.

"Shall we start with the woman?" Garak asked. "Have you ever met such a woman? I've seen badly written holograms with more life than Lucie Manette."

"Okay," Bashir admitted, "she's not entirely three-dimensional. But you have to understand the era in which it was written. And it was written by a man. Women weren't considered equal then."

"Hardly an excuse," Garak argued, "for a writer of fiction. Besides, there are male characters as well. What of Sydney Carton?"

"You didn't think he was three-dimensional?" Bashir challenged. "He's probably the best developed character in there."

"A sad fact, but true," Garak gave, punctuating his statement with his fork. "But what a waste! He is intelligent, more so than that charlatan who claims to be an attorney. Carton does all the work and lets the other man take credit. For what? I tell you, he was bent on self-destruction from the beginning."

"That might have been Dickens's point," Bashir tried, "that his-" He paused, since the word he was just about to say seemed to have disappeared from his tongue. It was Carton's calling, what he was supposed to do, what his whole life was leading towards, inevitable. But the word just wasn't there. Garak was waiting for him to finish the sentence though. "His-"

"Destiny?" Garak supplied, eyeing him curiously.

Destiny. "Yes, his destiny was to give himself."

"To die in sacrifice is not an unworthy destiny," Garak countered. "But for what does he sacrifice? Not the state. Not his people or his family. But his rival."

"No, not his rival," Bashir shook his head. "His love. He loved Lucie, but she loved Charles. He gave himself to save her from the sorrow of losing her husband. It was the one thing he could do in his whole life to make theirs better."

"It's a pointless death," Garak held. "And the entire last two pages were merely conjecture, never coming to pass. He died, never knowing what effect it could have had."

Bashir opened his mouth to continue the debate-he felt the book deserved it-but he really couldn't think of another answer to Garak's criticism. It was conjecture. Carton was not offered paper to write his thoughts. All the thoughts that Dickens recorded were conjecture. But, of course, the whole book was conjecture. A work of fiction. "I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it, Garak. I think it's a beautiful story."

"You would," Garak said, derisively. "You have an air of self- sacrifice about you."

Bashir didn't know how to take that. He'd never thought of himself as particularly self-sacrificial. "I thought Cardassians valued sacrifice," he said, hoping to turn the conversation away from himself.

"Sacrifice with a purpose," Garak corrected. "There's a difference."

They finished the lunch amiably, and said their good-byes until next week and their next shared lunch. Having rescued the book from Garak, Julian Bashir had carried it back to the Infirmary with a firm plan to put Mr. Shoggath away in favor of the good Mr. Dickens once his shift was over. But until then, he had work to do. Reports, mostly. Paperwork. Boring, but necessary in the long run. Most of it was so familiar from the last six years that he could nearly do it from rote, looking up only a few facts and figures to fit the current data. Other reports merely needed a summary of his logs. That, too, was not too difficult. He'd be done in time for dinner.

O'Brien stuck his head in the door at 2000 hours. "Still at it?" he asked. "You should have been an engineer. Less paperwork."

"Not really," Bashir answered without turning. "You're a department head. You still have paperwork."

O'Brien stepped into the Infirmary and stopped just behind Bashir. "You gonna be long? I thought we could get in a game of darts."

"Not racquetball?" Bashir said, still working.

"I don't think I could handle losing again. This time, it's your turn. Darts."

Bashir squinted at the screen in front of him and sighed, finally seeing the problem. He'd included Mratinis's name but entered the same treatment as he had for Lidlin, which explained the leftover information detailing the treatment of plasma burns and lacerations. Mratinis had been too close to an exploding console. Lidlin had only had tendinitis. "I would Miles," he replied, "but these reports have to be out by tomorrow." This was the third such careless mistake he'd found. Now he worried about his other reports. He'd have to go over them all again.

"Stress again," O'Brien warned.

Bashir nodded, agreeing. "Yeah, but it doesn't change the deadline. How about a game tomorrow night? No more paperwork for at least another week." He finished repairing the damage to his summary of Mratinis's treatment and opened the previous report.

"Okay, then," O'Brien said. "Tomorrow night, if I have to drag you out of here."

"Agreed." O'Brien left, and Bashir spent the next three hours on the reports, regretting the fact that he'd have no time left to deal with Dickens this evening. He was already beginning to yawn uncontrollably. He decided to just grab something quick from the replicator when he got back to his quarters and then go to bed.

The Habitat Ring was nearly deserted when he arrived. It was late and most people were tucked inside their quarters already. Bashir felt a little dizzy for a moment as the identical corridors passed by him. They all looked alike. He actually passed his own corridor before he realized he'd missed it and turned back. Once inside, he set the book he was carrying on the table next to Kukalaka and took himself straight into the bedroom.

The book was there for him in the morning, and since he was up early-which was odd in itself-he decided to take advantage of the extra half hour. There it was: that first paragraph. Or rather, the first sentence, since that was the whole paragraph. It was one long, run-on, brilliant sentence. The best of times, the worst of times. . . . He knew the feeling. His time on Deep Space Nine had been the best time of his life thus far. It had also been the worst. He was beginning to believe very much in contradictions. Dickens knew well of their existence, their truth.

It was the next two paragraphs on the first page that began to bother him. The language, though English, was well over half a millennium old, but even still, he'd always been able to read past the barrier of the antiquated syntax. Well, not always, but that was like another time, another Julian Bashir, and he'd never tried Dickens then. But now, he found himself rereading the sentences, unable to take them in the first time through. What was it Dickens was saying about Cock-lane? First a ghost and then a brood of chickens telling prophesies? It made little sense, and he had to read it over again. When the half-hour was up, he hadn't even been able to turn the page.

He closed the book slowly and placed it back on the table. There was a briefing to go to, as usual. He didn't want to be late. But just as the door opened for him, he turned back. He picked up the book and turned it over in his hands, flipping to the back. Conjecture? Yes, of course it was, for Sydney Carton did not have pen or paper to write that day. But it was as clear for him today as the first day he read it, staying up all night because he couldn't stop turning the pages. "'It is a far, far better thing I do,'" he read aloud, "'than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.'" He smiled and sighed. He could go to work now.

He arrived with the others at the wardroom. Good, he thought, I'm not late. Sisko's face was grim, as usual. More bad news, Bashir decided.

"The Nathaniel Greene was lost with all hands," Sisko announced.

"Just once," complained O'Brien, "can't we have some good news to open a briefing?"

"I wish we could," Sisko replied. "Nova Czeska has called as well. Starfleet Intelligence, too. They want some answers on the Vesmir's demise."

"I have found something," Worf commented. "I'm just not sure what it is yet."

"Figure it out, Commander," Sisko told. "I'll stall them as long as I can. I don't think we have enough evidence or resources to solve the whole riddle, but we need to give Intelligence something they can work with. Get things started and then turn it over to them. We've got enough to do around here." He turned his attention to his Chief of Operations next. "How are the repairs on the Venture?"

"Done, sir," the Chief replied. "At least that's good news. She's as good as new. They can leave anytime they're ready."

"Well, not entirely good," Sisko said. "The Defiant needs to be ready to go, too."

"Where will we be going?" Worf asked.

"Convoy duty. But not for a couple of days. The convoy is still assembling. It will hit our sector in three days. Enjoy the downtime while it lasts, folks."

"The Defiant will be ready, Captain," O'Brien assured him. "No need to worry about that."

"Good to hear," Sisko sighed. "That's all I have this morning."

Bashir used to enjoy the daily briefings among the senior staff. It was a relaxing way to start the day. But then the war had come. Then Sloan and Section 31 had come. And since then, briefings were better the shorter they were. It wasn't just the bad news from the front, the nearly daily list of ships lost or crippled. It was the captain. Bashir just didn't like to be in his presence too long anymore. There was a time when he admired Sisko, but that was before he'd ordered Bashir to hand over eighty-five liters of biomemetic gel. He still had occasional nightmarish daydreams thinking what someone might have done with those eighty-five liters. Something about Sisko had changed when he gave those orders. And something had changed in Bashir when he was forced to carry them out.

And, he had to admit, he'd probably not forgiven the captain for taking his little vacation in New Orleans after Jadzia died. Every night he went to sleep wondering if he'd wake up in his own quarters. He could disappear one day, simply gone from the face of the galaxy and Sisko wouldn't even care. He'd ordered it after all. Bashir was supposed to go along with Sloan when Section 31 came back for him. It went against everything he believed in. But Sisko had ordered it. And then he'd run off, leaving him and the war behind. Bashir had felt that Sisko owed him. Sisko should be here when he disappeared. He deserved to feel guilty when he didn't return.

That was what he was thinking when he rose from his chair and turned to leave. "Doctor," Sisko said, stopping him.

Bashir turned and waited for the door to close behind the others. Sisko stood up and opened his mouth but he didn't say anything. He was trying. Bashir was listening, waiting, hoping. "Never mind," Sisko said. He sat down. "Sorry to keep you."

"Not a problem, sir," Bashir said, not meaning it. "I don't have any patients scheduled this morning anyway." He turned again.

"Oh," Sisko added, "you have some reports due today, I think."

"Finished them last night," Bashir reported. "Though it seems I've forgotten to bring them along. I'll have them sent right up. Anything else, sir?"

"No," Sisko replied. "No, I suppose not."

It proved to be a slow morning, which left Bashir time to try and decide whether or not he should go on the convoy mission. There was always the chance that the convoy could be attacked. But there was also the chance that nothing would go wrong and he'd be needed here on the station. Captain Sisko hadn't said anything either way. He had almost two days to decide, however, so he put those thoughts on hold before he took his lunch.

He found a patient waiting for him after he returned. Jabara filled him in. "Sore throat, slight fever," she said. "He looks a bit swollen."

Bashir nodded confidently and went in to examine the patient. Crewman Swenson smiled at him weakly.

"How long have you been sore?" Bashir asked, touching the sides of Swenson's neck.

"Started yesterday," he answered, his voice hoarse. "I thought it would just go away."

Bashir nodded. "Open up," he said. Swenson obeyed and Bashir peered into the man's throat. It was bright red in color, with swollen pockets on either side. And, for some reason, Bashir froze. His mind froze in an odd loop. The symptoms were familiar-he'd seen them before-but he couldn't think what the problem was. He knew it should be easy, but his mind just wouldn't surrender the answer.

Trying not to show the rising panic he felt, he ran a couple more tests with the tricorder. Then he politely excused himself and retired to his office. Using the tricorder readings and the symptoms he'd noted, he looked up the diagnosis. The computer found two entries that closely matched the symptoms. They were a tight match, but Bashir was able to decide the correct one on his own. He blushed in embarrassment. Tonsilitis. So simple. And yet, until it had been reduced to a multiple choice question, he'd been unable to come up with it himself. He panicked again, worrying that he'd have to operate. He looked at his hands. They shook ever so slightly. He forced himself to look at the readings again and checked the computer for it's prognosis. Then he sighed, taking a deep breath. Antibiotics would be fine.

"Thank God for computers," he breathed, trying to calm himself. There was no need to alarm the patient. He waited two more minutes for his face to cool down and then checked his reflection. Normal enough. He could see worry behind his eyes, but he knew the others wouldn't. He'd become quite adept at hiding such things.

As he left his office, he gathered the antibiotics and hypospray needed to treat Crewman Swenson. "Sorry to keep you waiting," he apologized on entering the room again. "You've got a mild case of tonsilitis. Nothing to worry about, but it'll get you a day off work."

Swenson smiled. "Aw," he said, "that's a shame."

Bashir returned the smile and pressed the hypospray to Swenson's neck. "Come back in the morning for another dose, and you'll be right as rain."

"Thanks, Doc." Swenson got up from the biobed and headed for the door.

Bashir accompanied him and clapped him on the shoulder. "My pleasure. Go easy on the voice."

After he was gone, Bashir called Jabara over. "It's a slow day," he said, smiling and trying to appear natural. "Why don't you take the rest of the afternoon off."

"Someone should be here," she started to protest.

He held up a hand. "I'll be here," he assured her. "I promise to call if anything should happen. You deserve the break."

She still eyed him with playful suspicion. "Why are you being so generous?"

"I'm a very nice guy," he said, "and you should take advantage of it while it lasts."

"You'll call?" She still wasn't sure.

He held up both hands in submission. "I give you my word."

"Alright," she finally said. "But I'll be back in two minutes if you need me."

"Go," he ordered, more firmly, but still with the smile.

She went, but threw another look at him over her shoulder before she left. As soon as she was out of sight, Bashir's smile faded. He backed into the examination room and closed the door behind him. He touched a few controls so that no one could disturb him without warning. Then he laid himself down on the biobed. Using the tricorder and the controls above his head, he began running tests.

Chief Miles O'Brien rounded the last turn before the Infirmary came into view. It was conveniently located almost directly across from Quark's, so they wouldn't have far to go for their game. The Infirmary was quiet and dark when he entered. Bashir's light was on in his office though, so O'Brien knocked on the doorframe and stuck his head in. "More reports?" he asked.

Bashir looked up quickly, as if he'd been startled, but then softened his expression. He touched the control on the display he was using and it went dark. "No," he answered. "Finished them last night. What can I do for you, Miles?"

"Do?" O'Brien shook his head. Julian had been acting a little off lately. But he couldn't place it beyond ascribing it to stress and the war and every other normal reaction someone might have to the events of late. "You promised me a darts game, remember?"

"I did?" Bashir looked genuinely confused. Then it fell away. "I did. Last night."

"Something wrong?" O'Brien asked. "You wouldn't be a changeling again, would you?"

Bashir's eyes narrowed in annoyance. "I've never been a changeling," he asserted, standing. "I've been a prisoner while a changeling was being me. There's a difference."

"Easy," O'Brien backed up a bit. "I was just testing you. You wanna play darts or not? If you're not up to it, it's okay. I'll live."

Bashir sighed and shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said. "I don't mean to lose my temper. I just get tired of that. I wasn't here. It wasn't me. While everyone here was having a grand time, I was rotting in a Jem'Hadar isolation cell. You'd think having me impersonated by a changeling would be a memorable event."

"It was for me," O'Brien admitted, deciding Bashir wasn't in the mood for teasing.

"People still ask me if I remember this or that," Bashir explained.

O'Brien nodded, not wanting the details. "I can see how that would get old after a month or two, and it's been over a year."

Bashir sighed again, letting his eyes drift back to the now deactivated console. "Stress." His mouth turned up in a half-smile. He looked up. "I don't suppose you'd let me beat you at darts."

O'Brien smiled, too, glad for the change of subject. "Not a chance!"

Bashir laughed and started towards the door. He stopped though and reached back to retrieve a data rod from the computer. "Ready."

After two rounds of thoroughly awful shots on Bashir's part, O'Brien had agreed to let him step up a few paces. It hadn't helped much. Miles had beat him every game. Bashir joked and smiled throughout, not wanting to worry his friend when he wasn't even sure why he should be so worried himself. Still, he was relieved when they called it a night and he could return to his quarters. Once there, he had activated his computer and accessed the data on the rod he'd saved from the Infirmary. It contained the results from the three hours of tests he'd run on himself- every test he could think of. There was one overriding result from them all: Normal. He was normal. Nothing was physically wrong with him.

PADDs cluttered his desk and the table in front of the couch. He scrolled through several files on the computer's display. There were anatomy files and physiology files, psychology and neurology. He compared the test results with the files, trying to find some difference. The files, once welcoming and ordered, seemed distant and chaotic to him. A jumble of facts and figures that he had to concentrate on to understand.

Maybe there was a test he forgot, something else he could do. He read the files one by one, line by line, word for word, searching for the one thing that would provide the answer. But nothing did. Six hours later, he had still come out normal. There was nothing wrong with him.

But something was wrong. He could feel it. He had sensed it when he'd been unable to read Dickens that morning. He'd been forced to face it when Swenson had come in with tonsilitis. The darts game only helped to confirm it. Something was very wrong. Something even the diagnostic computers of the Infirmary couldn't detect. And he only had one idea what it could be.

He remembered things. Things from long ago. Things from before he was enhanced. He was remembering those things more often lately. Mainly because the things that were happening to him were beginning to feel familiar. "Computer," he said, "activate personal log, Julian Bashir, Chief Medical Officer, Deep Space Nine. New entry."

"Beginning new entry," the computer intoned.

"Last year," he began, speaking as if speaking to himself, "when Jack and the others had come for a visit, I had thought myself fortunate in comparison. My parents had found a competent doctor, one who hadn't made a mistake. I hadn't suffered the side effects of the others. I was normal, even if enhanced.

"It appears now that that hypothesis was premature. I have been having trouble lately, with small things. My short term memory appears affected. I have more trouble distinguishing the different sections and levels of the station. My sense of direction is not what it used to be, and I couldn't read Dickens this morning."

He was silent for a moment, but then he continued. "Somewhere in the back of my mind, I've always wondered if the enhancements would come undone. If they could come undone. What would become of me? Would I become the man I was born to be before the enhancements were done? I guess now I'll get to find out.

"I found out about the enhancements when I was fifteen. Not an easy time in anyone's life. Harder still to find out you're a monster. I've resented it, hated it, and loved it at the same time. I could do things, know things, understand things which were previously beyond me. My parents could be proud of me. I could be proud of myself. But I was never unaware of what I was. Never comfortable with it. There were times that I wished it away."

He turned away, but didn't end the log. "Now it seems to be happening. And I want them. I want to keep the enhancements. I want to keep my mind. The enhancements made it better, but I filled it. I've filled it with facts and medical knowledge. I've filled it with ideas and literature. I've filled it with memories and with friends. And I don't want to lose any of them. I can't imagine not being Doctor Bashir, not wearing this uniform, not debating with Garak, not reading books and journals, not trying to figure out the mysteries." He sighed. "I remember it though. I remember it and I don't want to go back there." He straightened. "End log."