His comm beeped, and he ended the log. Sure enough, it was the specialist, summoning him to the sickbay. This, the greeting of the Hybrids, always seemed to fall to him.
He must have looked very grim indeed as he made his way there; the crewmen in the corridors all hastily turned away from him. A certain pair of Ensigns Lee and Tormouss, whom he knew to be very chatty, fell dead silent at his passing.
He would have needed that stance, too, to order to ward the Chief Medical Officer away when he arrived, but he had already made himself scarce. Taddus needed his gaze only for the eye scanner in the corner, which registered him as allowed before opening a door well concealed within the sickbay’s walls.
Dr. Masssssss didn’t looked over as he came in; he was focused on the monitor from which the Hybrid’s stats were displayed. She herself was in dry hibernation, hooked up to the wall, already clad in the Starfleet uniform of the time period she was to go back to. It was only the second look Taddus had gotten of her. She was luckier than many a Hybrid in terms of aesthetics, her sharp Cardassian-shaped bones and Trill spots blending well into the gnarled brown of her Hydillian forearms and hands. He recalled her genetic make-up: 32.7% Cardassian, 31.9% Hydillian, 29.9% Trill, the rest whatever odds and ends could be made to work with that makeup-largely Klingon, apparently, but among all the various DNA samples that had gone into the petri dish was that of a mixed race individual descended from the one and only James Kirk. Dr. Masssssss has nicknamed her Jamie, and they might very well use that for her name.
“All systems a go?” he asked.
“She’s in perfect health, Commander,” replied the biologist. “Ready to talk to her?”
“Ready. Wake her up.”
A series of beeps, and Taddus took his eyes up to the girl’s eyelids, so as to have eye contact with her as soon as she was conscious. She blinked herself awake as her breather detached, and he saw the usual confusion that hybrids in hibernation experienced before remembering who they were and this happened all the time with them.
“Good day,” he said to her. “I am first officer of this ship, and I will be directing you today.”
“What is my task?” she asked.
“You are to go back to the year 2375, Stardate 52146.4. You will be in the city of New Orleans, on Earth. Captain Benjamin Sisko, commander of the space station Deep Space 9 by the Gamma Quadrant Wormhole, is on indefinite leave due to a crisis of confidence, and is staying at his father’s home in New Orleans, where a Bajoran cult extremist named Fala Rutti will try to assassinate him. You will warn him of this assassination attempt and they should apprehend Fala before he gets anywhere near his target. If all goes well, you will shortly after be appointed to their senior staff as their new Strategic Operations Officer. Then you will wait until further instructions.”
That all this would be accomplished Taddus didn’t even have to doubt. The records already had Fala being apprehended, as was quite common for events cause by a time traveler in the short time period after their arrival, and while the appointment records for Deep Space 9 were actually incomplete, he did have enough information on the manpower difficulties the station had experienced at the time that he was fairly certain that once one of them did the work at Starfleet Command neither acting commander Colonel Kira nor Captain Sisko would object to having her there.
“I understand,” she said. “Makes sense; they’d been training me for a position they called that.”
“Glad to hear it,” he said. “They’ll be ready to send you back in about forty minutes. Are you hungry?” Sometimes hybrids were when they came out of hibernation, and Taddus had discovered that if there was time before they were sent back, it was useful to start building rapport during that period.
“Yes, I am,” she replied.
“Come along, then,” he said. “Do you have any preferred foods?”
She did not, so in the main part of the sickbay, he ordered the soup he knew had the most potassium of all those on offer, and she ate looking grateful. He noticed how often she rubbed her hands when her spoon was down, and asked, “Sensation problems in your hands?”
“Not too bad,” she said. “Just tend to get numb when I’m in hibernation.”
“How much have you been in hibernation?” Taddus asked, partly to be friendly, but also because it might be useful to know.
“Only for travel, sometimes,” she replied. “And generating, I suppose, but I was told I grew very quickly. But my first few months we had a banditta after one of our scientists, so there was a bit of running. Less after that.” Bandittas were the common term for the assailants that attacked ships in timefluxes, where the Wells was, and where most Hydilian hybrids were developed. There seemed to be an alarmingly large number of them for some reason, though no one had yet uncovered any evidence of them being organized together.
“Sounds rough,” said Taddus.
“During my first two years I had nightmares,” she agreed. “I needed counseling for it in the end. But I’m okay now.”
The doctor still wasn’t appearing; he clearly wasn’t going to. It would be best, Taddus thought, to keep her away from the rest of the crew until he took her to be transported; this would be much easier if she was just someone they’d heard talked about and never actually met. So he ordered a pair of drinks from the replicator-warm, sweet-tasting, and non-intoxicating, and as she accepted and drank with disturbingly little hesitation, he sat down, and was pleased when she did the same. “Have you ever been on a planet?” he asked her.
Her answer was about what he expected: “Once, late in my second year. They took me down to Cardassia Prime, to this mountain ridge, where it was very cold and no one has lived there for much of its history. It was a very vast and wide place. They said I might or might not go there for my mission.”
That sounded like someone had gone back having heard of her mission to arrange this visit for her. That actually was not a good thing; this was the kind of mission where it was better she not know what awaited her. “What did you see, exactly?” he asked her. “Did you meet with any of the locals?”
“No locals in the area,” she answered, which he was glad for; it helped if she had no outside contact. She didn’t sound disappointed by that, either, as she went on to describe what she’d seen instead, how she’d never seen anything huge like mountains, or a sky with anything other than stars, or landscapes such as had been visible from the peaks, except from very, very far up above. He ended up learning she really wanted to learn how to swim, and she had told her companions that when they had found a stream, but it had been way too fast-running a one to consider it there. Unfortunately he didn’t see how her mission was likely to provide her with an opportunity.
“Bajor is a beautiful planet, isn’t it?” she asked. “That’s the only other thing they told me about my mission, that I might go there, too.”
“It is now,” he said, “though remember you are going back to less than a decade after its occupation by the old Cardassian Empire ended, so don’t expect it to look as it would in our current time, even if you find yourself on the planet, which you might not get around to, of course.”
“I hope I do, though,” she said. “Maybe I’ll have some time free after my mission.” Taddus did not respond to that, instead lapsing into silence. He watched her sip up the last of her soup and put the bowl aside. “That’s much better. I always feel better after eating. Sometimes I wonder if I’m still existing, really, before I eat.” That Taddus has nothing to say to either, but she continued chattering on, almost as if she sensed the discomfort in the silence, even though they weren’t touching, which Hydilians needed to do to sense emotions. “I need to remember the name of this soup. Next time I’m going to request it.”
Taddus hastily rose. “Perhaps we should make our way to the Transit Room. They may want to read you for the calculations.”
The Transit Room was technically a transporter room, but it was generally called the Transit Room to avoid confusion, especially since people trying to do normal beaming from it typically ended up dead if they were lucky. The transportation done there, through time as well as through space, required expert work and even then a little bit of luck, not to mention so much power the Wells would have to lower all systems by 5% while their hybrid was being transported. When the two of them arrived there, they found Lieutenants Moi and Klargi, their two specialists, poring over the two huge displays that filled most of the room. Also there was Special Agent Five, which made Taddus glad; he no doubt brought his companion’s new identity.
He greeted her with it: “Lieutenant Commander Jamie Thale. You will find her your life history here.” He gave her a chitten; in her enlarged fingers it looked so tiny Taddus, very unusually for him, was struck by the wonder of how much information was no doubt in such a spec of metal. “Usual origin story; I’m sure they’ve told you about that already.”
“Thank you,” she said to him, carefully putting the chitten away in her belt. Mildly surprising; hybrids often had the ability to plug it directly into their heads. “Are we ready to go, sirs?”
“Almost,” said Lieutenant Moi, and indeed, he had taken up position by the main control panel. “You should take your position, so we can do the projection.”
Once Commander Thale was on the pad, she has to stay completely still until she was transported, and when she went straight through it Taddus assumed all talk was done; if only because she was discouraged even from moving her mouth too much. But this apparently did not stop Five from walking as close as he was allowed and saying to her, “Remember, your mission is more important than you may ever realize. I hope you are aware we only do this for the most critical of causes.”
Taddus wished he could believe that, but he wasn’t really sure. He had seen many of these missions happen, and while information was always on a need to know basis and that usually didn’t include any reasons, there had been too many where there didn’t even seem to be any probable cause at all, leaving him to wonder if some very powerful person merely wanted history changed. At least this wasn’t one of those, though; with the location being Deep Space 9 during the Dominion War, he didn’t have to know exactly what she was supposed to be involved with to be sure it was important. Or at least, he hoped it was for more reasons than was usual.
Commander Thale was more fortunate, perhaps, in that with her limited experience she had no such doubts. Or maybe unfortunate, though Taddus might be the only one on board who knew that yet; even Five might not have yet been told. With none of these ideas, and with no fear either, she acknowledged his words with her eyes and held herself high and ramrod straight.
“Ready,” said Lieutenant Moi.
“Send her back,” Taddus ordered. “Good luck, Commander,” he added as the process started, and he thought her mouth actually perked up a touch before she started to dissolve into the unique dark steel glimmer that shrouded those beamed through both space and time simultaneously.
A moment or so after the last of her vanished, Lieutenant Klargi said, “Fully resolved without complications; I can confirm with 99% certainty she is at her destination.”
“Come with me up to the bridge,” Taddus said to Five. “We’ll probably mostly contact her from the Ready Room. It might be a bit of time before we can-for us, I mean.”
It was once again raining, but even as Jake stared at the thick water sluicing the windows, he thought maybe he’d go out anyway, if he could only find an umbrella. He was starting to think his grandfather was hiding them from him.
So when the old man himself came in, Jake opened his mouth to ask for an umbrella, but first his grandfather said, “The two of us need to talk about how long we’re going to let her work alone.”
“We might need to be careful because of her as well as him,” Jake noted. “I think she’s a little uncomfortable about coming here, especially since I’ve actually read about this, and Trill hosts are supposed to have a lot more divide between their different lives than even Jadzia Dax did, and you can even get exiled from Trill society for too much ‘reassocation,’ though they described that as romantic, so that might only be a problem with Commander Worf.”
“Do you think she’ll only want to stay around for so long?” his grandfather asked, and Jake shrugged. He’d wondered about that already, of course, but now had no real idea.
“I never knew that, you know,” his grandfather said softly. “Jadzia never said anything about that. Do you think she was risking serious trouble, associating with all of us?”
“It never sounded like it,” said Jake. “Or at least, I hope she wasn’t.”
In any case, he couldn’t help thinking, her seeing him should be fine. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more he hoped she didn’t run away, but at least let him get to know her a bit, because he knew he hadn’t known either of her hosts well enough to be in danger of getting to know her for anyone besides her.
Just then they heard another knock on the door, and looked at each other in confusion. “Were you expecting anyone else?” Jake asked.
“No, were you?”
“No.” They hesitated.
The knocking came again, louder, and then a female voice called, “Please let me in! It’s important!”
“Very often in such cases it isn’t,” his grandfather muttered, but he nonetheless went and opened the door. “Or worse.”
Jake thought the Starfleet-uniformed female at the door might have been mixed race, except that she clearly had traits from more than two races: Cardassian ridges, Trill spots, and hands that belonged to neither race, though Jake wasn’t sure what race they belonged to. If there had been a fourth race he could identify, he might think she was the product of two mixed-race parents, though maybe the fourth race was Terran or some similar race whose features became subsumed easily, but that wasn’t the kind of child who was conceived easily. He thought sadly of his dad mentioning Jadzia Dax had been at the Temple to thank the Prophets, just in case they’d helped with the success of her operation to be able to conceive by Commander Worf.
But startling as even the sight of her was, that was nothing compared to when she said, “Has someone just come to see Captain Benjamin Sisko?”
“What is it any business of yours?” asked her father.
“I’m here to prevent him from being assassinated,” she answered in the same terse voice she’d asked the question.
“Sounds like a good answer to me,” said Jake, already turning to run in there and seize that Trill, wondering now if she really had anything to do with the Dax symbiont.
“Wait.” His grandfather’s voice was so insistent it actually stopped him. “What do you know about my son?”
“He is about to be targeted by a Bajoran named Fala Rutti who proclaims religious allegiance with the Pah-wraiths,” was the answer, which made Jake relax, the relief almost crushing him.
“Well there’s a Trill who’s just come to see him,” said his grandfather, “but we haven’t seen any Bajorans in these parts for ages. Now how do you know about this planned assassination?”
“When I was trying to contact someone else, my communication signal got mixed up with one going between two members of the conspiracy and I heard their conversation. I do not know the exact time they will attempt to strike, but it sounded like it would be sometime within a handful of days. I would advise he not be alone during the next week, and you keep an eye out for any Bajorans that do appear in this area.”
“Have you gone to law enforcements?” Jake was pretty sure she hadn’t been done speaking, but his grandfather very clearly didn’t care. “Anyone who might help out?”
“I have not had the chance to do so yet. I did not know when this assassination attempt might take place, so I did not know if there was time to go to anyone who would not be on the immediate scene.” Why wasn’t she using contractions? She seemed rather weird, really. But somehow Jake still found himself believing her.
“I’ll contact them, then,” said his grandfather. “Stay here.”
When he was gone she went to the window, but there wasn’t much to see through the rain. Jake found himself thinking out loud, “I don’t think an assassin would come through the front. I think the back’s more likely. That’s often where dad ends up in the evening anyway.”
“But he wouldn’t be there right now,” said the female, and she left the window and tried to go to the back where their first visitor was still with Jake’s father. Jake grabbed her arm to stop her, and she halted, but remained facing in that direction. “Did you have any Bajoran customers this morning?” she asked. “Are you sure they aren’t hiding in the kitchen?”
“I can’t remember any,” said Jake, though uneasily he thought if he hadn’t waited this Fala Rutti’s table he might have escaped his notice. But he couldn’t have snuck into the kitchen, he reminded himself. His grandfather would’ve almost certainly have noticed...he thought.
But it turned out not to matter, when a moment later Joseph Sisko emerged with his son and Ezri Dax, both of them looking pretty disturbed. “I’ve called the police,” he said. “They’ll want to talk to you, m’am.”
Was it just Jake’s imagination, or did the strange woman’s face show a split second of panic, before she nodded and said, “I don’t have much more to tell them than I’ve just told you, but very well.”
“Meanwhile,’ his grandfather continued, “let’s get you out of here, Ben. I would assume this assassin is relying on being able to get at you here in the restaurant, so we’ll make sure he can’t. We’ll go down to storage.”
“But what if he has snuck in there?” asked Dax. “Maybe I’d better go with him.”
It was understandable, Jake guessed, that his grandfather had the paranoid reaction to that, saying harshly, “There’s no need for that, Ensign Dax; when he is on his guard my son is perfectly capable to taking care of himself, and you ought to know that.”
That was maybe a little too mean of his, and it caused Jake to say, “You should stay with us here in the restaurant, though. The more people around, the better, I think.”
No one else objected to this, and so after Jake’s father left the other four of them sat down to wait. Jake ended up with Dax at the same table. Initially she looked out at the window and not at him, and normally, he might have let her just do that. But for one thing, she might now know more than he did about how his own father was doing, and he really couldn’t just let that be. For another, he really wanted to know how she was doing, especially if there was any chance he could help.
So he said, “How are things going?”
She sighed softly, and she had a too small smile when she turned her head. “For me or for Ben?”
“I don’t know about either of us,” she shrugged. “Also, I don’t know how much I should tell you about what we talked about. Given I’m a counselor by profession, our conversations could almost be automatically confidential, even if I’m not formally counseling him.”
“You’re a counselor?” Jake asked. He wasn’t sure why that threw him as much as it did, especially considering her blue collar. But he supposed he’d just associated that with Jadzia Dax having been a science person. She’s her own person, he reminded himself harshly. And she should especially be treated as such considering she’s got a slug in her she didn’t ask for and didn’t train for and has probably threatened her ability to stay her own person.
At least she didn’t seem offended thought, on the contrary she laughed a little and said, “Yeah, a little ironic at the moment, huh? You know, I wasn’t at all like this before. I had it all together. But I lay down on the operating table one person and I woke up a completely different person-well, I should say eight different people.”
“It’s fine,” Jake said hastily. “I understand. And I really do hope dad can help you, even if he is still having problems of his own right now. And hey,” he added, and on impulse reached out his hand across the table, “if I can be of any help either, just ask.”
“Thanks,” she said, and reached her own hand out to take his.
But when their fingers touched, suddenly the universe around Jake seemed to flash out into white light, and she and the restaurant dropped away:
He was in a desert, he had no idea where. Opposite him stood a black human woman, one he simultaneously thought he’d never seen before and looked vaguely familiar to him, dressed in white. She was looking at him very gravely. “The Emissary has turned his back on Bajor,” she said.
“He didn’t mean to!” Jake protested. “He had his orders and he had to obey them.” Then he thought about it for a moment, and continued, “Look, are you the Prophets? If you are, you need to go back to the Bajorans, because they didn’t do anything wrong, and they really need you.”
“We cannot go back to them as things are now,” said the Prophet-woman. “We need the Sisko to help. The Sisko...” As she spoke, she raised her hands, and touched the edges of Jake’s face, and looked down so tenderly at him, though he could’ve sworn a moment ago she had been shorter than him. “The Sisko can free us.”
“Okay,” said Jake. “How? You know, if you told dad what to do to fix things, I’m pretty sure he’d do it. In fact, why haven’t you appeared to him already, if it’s just a case of doing something, and not having to figure out what, huh?”
He was getting more pissed off with every word, until she moved her hands away to put them up. “Peace,” she said. “You must come here.”
“Here?” asked Jake. “Where’s ‘here’? I’m afraid I can’t identify a desert planet just by standing on it. And why me specifically? I’m not the Emissary.”
But all she did was turn around and walk off, though she beckoned after herself. Jake found himself stepping forward to follow...
“Jake! Jake! Hello?” He was back in the restaurant, and Dax was frantically waving her hands in front of him. Her exclamations were followed by others, and Jake looked from face to anxious face, before turning back to an anxious Trill.
“Did Jadzia Dax ever have a vision of the Prophets?” he asked. “I mean, she had orbs in her lab, right?”
“She did have a vision when she looked into one of the orbs, yes,” said Dax, before she abruptly drifted off for a second, before finishing, “But it, um, didn’t have the Prophets in it; it was just a flashback to her own life.” It sounded like she really didn’t want to go into details; Jake wondered just what had been in that flashback. But Dax was continuing, “Why, did you just have one?”
“I did,” said Jake. “I was in a desert. There was this woman; I didn’t recognize her, which was weird, because I think the Prophets are supposed to look like people you know and see regularly, not someone you might have seen once in a photograph or something.” Then he remembered she probably knew that already, but never mind. “She said...she said dad had turned his back on Bajor, but then she said he could fix things, and then she said we had to go the desert, and, well,” he felt doubt creep in before he could say what he had to say next, wondering if maybe he’d been taking her words the wrong way. “She made it sound like I had to go there, though I guess dad should go too. Except we can’t, because when I asked where we were she didn’t tell me.”
“Maybe you should go downstairs and tell him about it?” Dax suggested, and that sounded like a good idea.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Benjamin Sisko was growing restless, more so by the minute. Not good, he knew, since they really had no idea when this assassin was going to strike, and it was possible he could be on lockdown for days, if not longer.
Ironic, he thought. All this summer, hoping, somewhere within him, that the listlessness would go away and he would want to get up and head back for Deep Space 9, or maybe just for Starfleet and space in general, and he hadn’t had any such feelings. Until now, when he was suddenly beset by an urge to act, just when he couldn’t.
It didn’t help that his instincts as a captain had suddenly kicked back in as well, and were telling him there was something off about this whole thing, and specifically about the woman who had delivered the warning. On the surface her story was not implausible, and while her lack of panic was unnerving, considering her running here without calling the authorities first had to be the kind of immediate reaction to events that was almost on impulse, she was a Starfleet officer, and keeping calm in such situations was a paramount thing officers had to learn. But somehow it still felt to him like she was holding something back.
There didn’t seem to be much he himself could do at the moment, though. He tried to keep himself busy by trying to put the storage room in order, grabbing a loose rag to dust. He was bent over one of the crates, trying not to cough, when something on the floor caught his eye.
It was a photograph of his father when he was young, and with him was a mysterious woman. She looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t recall seeing her in any specific pictures. He found himself just standing and staring, trying to figure that out.
It was in this state that his son found him when he hurried in, yelling, “Dad, I think I just had a vision from the Prophets!”
In his shock Ben dropped the photo, which fluttered to the ground. “Are you sure?” he asked, but then he saw Jake was looking down at what he had just dropped, transfixed. “Jake?”
“The woman…” he murmured, awed. “That woman was in the vision. Who is she?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen her before.”
“Seen who?” His father came walking in. When he saw where Jake was looking, he looked himself.
His eyes flew wide in horror and rage, and a moment later he had snatched the photo up. “Where’d you get this?” he demanded.
“Found it here just now,” said Ben. “Who’s the woman, dad?”
But his father, his voice still shaking with anger, said, “No one at all, you hear me? She’s no one at all.” And he had turned and fled before either son or grandson could ask him anything else.