Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Pain of Memory

By Gabrielle Lawson

with the generous help of Jo Burgess

Part Eleven

Sisko left the hospital and returned to the square. There was a shelter there where one could find public transportation. There was a transport waiting, so Sisko stepped in. "Anywhere in particular?" the driver asked. Sisko handed him the card that Mdiglas had given him. The driver nodded and gave Sisko a lopsided smile. "Understandable, considering the uniform."

Sisko let the comment go. He was starting to see that Treitsig's occupation had nothing to do with financing the treatments. He offered a different kind of insurance. Sisko remembered Richard Bashir telling him that they got falsified records for Julian's return to Earth. Treitsig might have been the very one to falsify them.

The driver actually drove him past the landing port where the runabout was docked. Or rather, where it was supposed to be docked. Sisko didn't see it. He leaned forward in his seat. "Stop here," he told the driver.

But the driver didn't obey, and the transport sped on. "Why? Is something wrong?"

"Yes," Sisko replied angrily, "my ship is gone."

The driver actually laughed. "That's why you have this, isn't it?" He was holding up the card.

Sisko leaned back again, not reassured but willing to wait this out. Mdiglas must have called ahead. He hoped Treitsig had something good in mind. The transport stopped in front of a rather plain office building. There was a door on the ground floor and a few windows but no other distinct architectural features. "Latinum?" the driver asked. "Comes out to two slips."

Sisko handed him the money and got out, but the door to the building opened before he could reach it. "Captain Benjamin Sisko of Deep Space Nine!" It was a woman, tall and of the same species as Mdiglas--which Sisko admitted he was unsure of.

"Inheildi Treitsig," Sisko offered in return, hoping he was right.

"At your service," she smiled and curtsied. "Please, walk with me."

They left the transport which sped off without them. Sisko noted they were walking in the direction of the port. "It's a beautiful day," Treitsig noted. "Unusual for this time of year."

"I'm not familiar with the climate," Sisko said, not caring for the small talk. "I assume Doctor Mdiglas told you I was coming."

"I believe you have a problem," she said, in return, neglecting to reply to Sisko's statement. "You can't tell your superiors where you are or how your doctor was cured of his ailments, am I right?"

Sisko nodded. "Doctor Mdiglas thought perhaps you might be of some help."

"It's what I do." She took his arm in hers as if they were two lovers out for a stroll. "See there," she said, pointing up to the sky. Sisko looked and he could just make out a pair of vessels. One was his runabout. The other was Adigeon, if one was to make an educated guess based on the majority of ships in the port. As he watched, the Adigeous ship fired on the runabout.

"What are they doing?" Sisko asked in alarm as another blast ripped into the runabout.

"Providing you with an alibi," Treitsig responded, hugging his arm. "You're at war, are you not?"

Sisko was speechless as he watched the runabout take another hit. It lost altitude; smoke was streaming from the stern. He nodded.

"We don't have the specs for Dominion weaponry, but Cardassian should do, I would think." Treitsig was all business now, and they stopped their stroll. "You were attacked by a lone Cardassian patrol. Your weapons system took a hit, and propulsion, too. You couldn't outrun the patrol, so you diverted your course to the Id'lasi Nebula, which I believe is only fifty thousand kilometers off your official course. The lassine gasses were enough to foil the Cardassian's sensors. You rigged a photon torpedo to fire manually only fifty meters from your port bow." As she spoke the Adigeous ship released a torpedo which exploded very close to the runabout's bow. "The Cardassians apparently fell for the ploy and assumed you were destroyed. But your ship was damaged."

Sisko watched as the Adigeous ship broke off its attack and took the damaged runabout in tow. "I assume the damage was minimal, since I had to fix it myself." The ship and the runabout sped out of sight.

"Not yourself," Treitsig corrected. "There was a slight hull breach. Emergency forcefields were active though, so little of the lassine actually penetrated the hull. But it did so in the aft compartment where Bashir was sleeping, causing an ionic discharge. He was unconscious when you found him, but when he awoke after nearly a day, he was miraculously recovered."

"That's good to hear," Sisko played along. He felt numb though. Seeing the ship torn apart like that wasn't easy. "It took us another two days to repair the ship's propulsion system."

"Well, if you'd had a decent spacedock and an engineering crew," Treitsig explained, "it would only have taken half a day, but you were short-handed and stranded in the nebula. Nevertheless, you were able to repair most of the damage and continued on course without further incident."

"One hopes," Sisko added. There was still another day's flight between the Id'lasi Nebula and the Institute, and Treitsig was right, there was a war on.

"Yes, considering you were unable to repair the damage to the weapons."

Sisko turned her around and looked her directly in the eye. "We're at war. That Cardassian patrol might not be so fictional once I leave here. I need weapons. We'll be defenseless."

Treitsig shrugged. "Well you couldn't fix it from inside the ship."

"There's an EVA suit onboard," Sisko argued. "I went out."

"The lassine would eat right through it." She pulled away from Sisko's grasp and threw an unworried hand up. "I wouldn't worry. You fired the torpedo, didn't you?"

Sisko was impressed with the way she never spoke in what-if's. To her, it happened. "Manually," he admitted, deciding she had the right attitude. He couldn't doubt the story if he didn't want Starfleet to doubt it. "It would be hard to hit a moving target."

"But not impossible," she reminded him. "And you do have a genetically enhanced doctor aboard."

"If all goes as well," Sisko agreed. It was a good story, especially since the ship would corroborate the lie. "Where did they take it?" he asked, pointing to where the runabout had been.

"Id'Lasi," Treitsig answered, turning back to Sisko. "Lassine gas. Ionic discharge, remember?" She waited for his nod. "Good, let's go back to my office. You have some logs to record."

For Sisko the days passed quickly. He had to record log entries to Inheildi Treitsig's demanding satisfaction. He had to sound tired and frustrated and triumphant at different times. He had to convince her in order to hopefully convince his superiors. And he had to memorize every detail of the repair work he had done to get the runabout moving again. Of course, six engineers had actually been at work on the vessel, but he had to memorize two thirds of everything they did. The other third was for Bashir, since he would help repair the ship after the ionic discharge cured him. It was a lot of work and it felt, Sisko thought, like being back at the Academy, cramming for an exam. Luckily, the exam wasn't for several more days.

Treitsig made sure it was a hands-on cramming session, with schematics and holograms and field trips to the damaged runabout, which had been docked again after its run-in with the nebula. Despite her perfectionism, or maybe because of it, Sisko was beginning to like her. She had a love of detail that conveyed sincerity. She seemed truly to want to help her customers and keep them from harm. She could be dangerous, in other lines of work.

Sisko also made time each day to visit Bashir, and it was harder than all the studying. The treatments Bashir was given were painful. Not horrific, Mdiglas had assured him, but even low levels of pain for a long duration could become unendurable. The day before, when Sisko had come, Bashir was staring at the ceiling, clutching the bear to him. His fingers were white with the effort. He was motionless, but his face was pale and his knuckles were white from the grip he held on the stuffed animal. But tonight was different, and it filled Sisko with hope and anguish at the same time.

Bashir was watching him. "P--please," he said. It was slow and halting, but it was a whole word. And then there were more. "Make it stop."

Sisko didn't know how to answer him. He looked to Mdiglas, who was standing off to one side. Mdiglas was silent, so Sisko turned back to Bashir. "Julian, do you understand me?" He spoke slowly, not wanting to bombard Bashir with too much at once. Bashir nodded and then closed his eyes. Sisko knew he was still listening though. "We can't stop yet, Julian. Do you remember being sick?"

"Not sick," Bashir replied, opening his eyes again and meeting Sisko's gaze. The words were still a struggle for him, but he was expressing whole ideas. "I don't know what, but not sick."

Sisko smiled. Bashir understood more than the words. He understood their meanings. "Alright," Sisko agreed, "not sick. But you weren't well. Do you know where you are?"

"Hospital." He looked around and spotted Mdiglas. "I remember you."

Mdiglas smiled. "I helped you when you were a child. I'm helping you again."

"It hurts," Bashir told him.

"I know," Mdiglas replied. "But it is necessary."

"You're getting better, Julian," Sisko said. He touched Bashir's arm, but jerked his hand back quickly. He'd felt a shock. He ignored it for Bashir's sake. "You can last one more day."

"Then home?" Bashir asked. "To DS Nine?"

"Soon." Sisko didn't want to worry him about the Institute just yet. Mdiglas motioned for him to come out in the hall, so Sisko bade Bashir goodnight and followed the doctor out. "How is he?"

"You can see for yourself the improvement," Mdiglas replied, though it wasn't really an answer. Sisko pressed him for more. "Four percent off the norm. He's regained his sense of sight and hearing, and his ability to speak."

"More than that," Sisko interrupted. "He understood."

"On a simple level, yes," Mdiglas agreed. "But he's not normal, remember, he's genetically enhanced and he must be returned to that level. Another day. You'll have at least one more day's journey once you're on your way. He'll continue to improve after we've stopped the treatments. You'll see it."

Sisko glanced back through the window to Julian's room. "I can already see it," he said quietly. "I just wish it was easier on him."

"From the looks of things, it wasn't easy when it happened in the first place," Mdiglas held. "We're not intentionally hurting him."

Sisko sighed. "I know. I'd better get back to Inheildi's. She's not satisfied with my Bashir-recovery log. I think I can be more convincing tonight."

"Think of the improvement," Mdiglas suggested, "not the pain. He didn't feel the discharge and he was unconscious afterward. No pain. Just improvement."

Mdiglas knew the story, too. "Right," Sisko agreed. "Thank you, Doctor. I'll be by to see him tomorrow." Mdiglas nodded and bowed slightly, and Sisko took his leave.

Sisko was there the next evening when the treatments were stopped. Bashir sagged against the bed. His eyes closed and his fingers released their vice-like grip on the teddy bear. But he didn't fall asleep. His eyes opened again and found Mdiglas to his left. "Thank you," he breathed.

"How do you feel, Julian?" Sisko asked.

"It stopped," Bashir said, turning his head to find the captain. "I feel great. Will you tell me now what's going on?" His speech was almost normal now, with barely a lag.

Sisko wasn't sure if he should answer. So he asked another question. "What do you remember?"

"I'll take that as a 'no,'" Bashir sighed. "I remember being here, a long time ago, when I was little. But you probably mean more recently."

Sisko couldn't help but smile. "Yes, more recently."

"I remember waking up one morning and not being able to read," he answered. "And I remember Jake and Chester moving in with me. We couldn't find anything wrong. You wouldn't take me home to Earth."

"I brought you here," Sisko told him. He sounded normal, but there was no way to tell how intelligent he was from just the short conversation. Sisko looked to the doctor for a more objective opinion. "How is he, Doctor Mdiglas?"

"Less than one percent off the norm," Mdiglas reported. "But he still has a way to go."

"Norm for what?" Bashir asked, looking back at Mdiglas.

Mdiglas explained, "For a human. A normal human. Which explains why you still need improvement."

Bashir's forehead creased. "More of what you were doing to me?"

"No," Mdiglas assured him. "That's finished. You'll continue to recover on your own."

"I want to read," Bashir said. He turned to Sisko. "I want to know that I can read."

Sisko looked to Mdiglas, but the doctor shook his head. Sisko didn't have anything on him, but he did have the bag that Jake had packed. He rummaged through it. The pad of paper was there, and Sisko thought he could write something out with one of the pens. But then his hand hit something else, something hard. He lifted it out and found that it was a book. "I wonder why he packed this," Sisko mumbled.

Bashir was smiling when he looked up again. "It's my favorite. A Tale of Two Cities."

"You read that off the cover?" Sisko turned the book so that the cover wasn't showing.

"Yes," Bashir said, still smiling. "I remember how it goes. 'It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.'" Sisko handed him the book, but to his surprise Bashir flipped it open from the back. "Have you read this, Captain?" he asked.

Sisko shook his head. It was a classic, of course, but there were a lot of classics. He'd had to read many of them in school, but teachers couldn't assign all of them. "Is it any good?"

"Here at the end," Bashir told him, "it's the most beautiful thing I've ever read."

"Maybe you can read it to me," Sisko suggested, "for the rest of the trip." Then he remembered that Bashir would have something else to read on the trip. Something he'd have to memorize.

"Rest?" Bashir closed the book. "We're not going back?"

"Not yet." But Sisko still didn't think it was the right time to tell him about the Institute. He wanted to wait until Bashir was recovered enough to understand Inheildi's story and the reason for the lie. There was a lot at stake.

Bashir saved him the dilemma though. He yawned. The treatments had kept him awake. He was tired. Mdiglas ordered him to rest, and Sisko had to leave.

It took Bashir awhile to fall asleep, so he opened the book again and began to read. It was easy now to put the letters together, though Dickens's antiquated dialect was harder to decipher. But for now, he was satisfied to read the words. The ideas would come later. He could feel it. The day before he had heard his own thoughts, voices in his dreams. He was so elated that no nightmare could remain in his head. He'd dream someone else speaking to him and the nightmare would fade. When he could understand Sisko when he was awake, it was a revelation to him. He was getting better. He felt a lot like he had after his first time in this hospital. His mind was opening up, growing. Only this time he didn't have to be afraid of what was happening. He'd been through it before, experienced the results. He was not gaining something new, but regaining what was lost.

But it nagged at him that he still didn't know why he'd lost it. He decided to ask Sisko again when he returned. And this time, he'd demand a straight answer.

By the time he saw Captain Sisko again, however, Julian Bashir was being released from the hospital. Doctor Mdiglas walked him to the door where Sisko was waiting with a transport vehicle. But Bashir stopped in the doorway. "I want to thank you," he told Mdiglas. "Not just for this time."

Mdiglas held out a hand. Julian took it and the two men shook. "You're welcome, Doctor Julian Bashir. I'm proud to see you have put my efforts to good use."

"I try," Bashir replied, smiling. "Thank you."

"You already said that," Mdiglas teased. "Good luck at the Institute."

Bashir's smile fell flat. "The Institute?" That was where Jack and the others were, locked up, stored away.

Sisko stepped forward and touched Julian's arm. "We really have to be going now, Julian."

Bashir didn't even look at him. "Don't patronize me." Still he turned and followed Sisko to the transport. He had questions and Sisko was the one who had the answers. He waited until the transport's door was shut and the driver was given his directions. Then he reached over and activated a panel by the door. A transparent wall went up between he and Sisko and the driver. "Why were you taking me to the Institute?" he demanded.

"Privacy shield?" Sisko asked, in turn, pointing to the panel. "How did you know?"

"I've been here before," Bashir reminded him. "I remembered. Answer the question."

Sisko leaned back in his chair and put on his stern face. It was a familiar one to Bashir, one he used when he had bad news or unpleasant orders to give. "Starfleet ordered it."

"Because of my. . . ." Bashir realized he still didn't know what had happened to him, so he didn't know what to call it.

"Yes," Sisko acknowledged, apparently understanding anyway. "When we couldn't find any way to help you, they ordered you to the Institute."

Bashir could understand it, partly. But he'd expressed his own wishes to O'Brien in case he became incompetent to speak for himself "Why wouldn't they let me go home? Didn't the Chief tell you?"

"He did, and I tried." Sisko steepled his fingers and Bashir knew the news was going to get worse. "Starfleet Command and Starfleet Medical were adamant that you be taken to the Institute."

Bashir tried but he still didn't understand. It was like Sisko was not telling him something. But at the moment, he had other questions. "What happened to me? The truth."

"I can't explain it like Doctor Mdiglas, but your chemistry was changed. You couldn't process thoughts or sensory input."

"How did it change? Was there something wrong with the enhancements?"

"No." Sisko seemed more relaxed now, as if he didn't mind talking about what happened. Only Starfleet's reaction to it seemed to bother him. "It was deliberate."

"On purpose?" Bashir tried to grasp that. Someone had changed him on purpose.

"The Dominion," Sisko supplied even before Bashir could ask who had done it. "You were a test."

"A test?" Bashir realized he was just repeating Sisko but it was a lot to take in. The Dominion attacked him personally but only as a test. "A test for what? How? When did they do it?"

The transport began to slow as they neared the docking port, but Bashir wasn't ready yet. "They captured and cloned Lieutenant Jordan," Sisko explained. The transport had stopped and Bashir could see that Sisko was in a hurry. "You were a test to prove the effectiveness of his infiltration into the crew. We have to go, Julian. Starfleet doesn't know I've taken this little side trip. And they can't know. I'll explain it all in the runabout, I promise."

Bashir deactivated the privacy shield and Sisko paid the driver. They got out together and walked toward the runabout. Bashir could see scorch marks and ragged metal. "Were we attacked?" he asked. "I don't remember being attacked."

"You will," Sisko said, smiling.

Bashir spent three hours going over the papers Sisko gave him. He read them and reread them and Sisko guessed he was trying to memorize them. He still wasn't fully recovered, Sisko realized. He had too many questions still. Fully recovered, Bashir would probably have put most of the pieces back together himself. Sisko only hoped he was able to convince Starfleet of his recovery. If he wasn't "himself" again by the time they arrived, there wouldn't be any chance of getting him out of the Institute once he was in.

"This is how my parents did it," Bashir finally said. "Not this." He indicated the paper. "Not exactly, but something like this."

"I would imagine," Sisko replied. "Your father said he got false records for you."

"Did you make all this up?" Bashir was looking over his notes again. "It's complicated."

Sisko smiled. "No, I had help. Inheildi Treitsig, Private Insurer. She was expensive, but she does good work."

"I can't understand some of this technical stuff," Bashir admitted nervously.

"You will understand it," Sisko assured him. "Give it time. But memorize it anyway. You have to believe that this is what happened. Just as it's written there. The computer and the logs will all back it up. Don't worry."

Bashir still looked worried, and Sisko decided he needed a break, so he changed the subject. "Do you remember dreaming about lightning?"

Bashir looked up from the papers. He stared at Sisko for a moment, his face a blank. And then he remembered. Sisko could see it in his face. "No," he said, and now Sisko was confused. "I remember dreaming about being electrocuted."

"You were," Sisko admitted. "Not electrocuted, really, because you're still alive, but shocked anyway. Jordan sabotaged your quarters on the Defiant. You dreamt it because it was really happening."

"That's how they changed me?"

Sisko nodded. "We wouldn't have known except that Hensing got shocked, too, when he slept in your quarters."

Bashir was quick with his next question. "Did he change?"

Concern for others. Very doctorly, Sisko thought. "Not that I'm aware of. But it only happened to him once."

"And he wasn't genetically enhanced," Bashir deduced. "It might not have affected him in the same way. You said I was the test. Me, specifically."

Sisko nodded. "They see you as a threat."

Bashir looked away, toward the front viewscreen, and he looked very much like he had only three days before when he'd been so different. "Does Starfleet see me as a threat?"

Sisko didn't want to tell him the truth. But he also didn't want to lie, not for Starfleet, not on this. "Maybe," he compromised. "But they won't do anything, not if you're recovered. Your record is too good. You have too many friends. They wouldn't risk it."

Bashir turned and met his gaze. He was recovering every minute, Sisko realized. "That doesn't sound like 'maybe.'" Nuances. He was sharp.

"There are some who apparently don't agree with you remaining in Starfleet," Sisko admitted. "But there are those of us who do. And as long as you're--"

"Not stupid," Julian interjected. "As long as I'm brilliant, they can't do anything without causing too much negative attention. They've lost their excuse."

Sisko smiled, not at what he was saying, but because he was saying it. "You should read those notes again, Julian. I think you understand more than you think you do."

Bashir woke up the next morning and looked at Kukalaka, who had taken up a place on the floor since there was a lack of furniture in the compartment. He smiled, leaving his dreams behind. "You're not Chester," he told the bear, "but you'll do." He picked the bear up and looked for the bag so he could pack it away. But the bag wasn't there. It was in the cockpit. He'd have to carry it out. That gave him a moment's pause. But only a moment. It wasn't like Sisko hadn't seen the bear already. So he changed into the new uniform Sisko had laid out for him and joined Sisko in the cockpit.

"Good morning," the captain called, stretching his arms.

'Morning," Bashir returned.

"No problems so far," Sisko reported. "It's been a smooth trip. We should reach the Institute shortly."

And then we lie to Starfleet, Bashir thought. "I can hardly wait," he said.

Sisko smiled at that. "So what's the story with the bear?"

Bashir gave him a half-smile and found himself embarrassed. "We've been through a lot together, Kukalaka and I," he said, trying to sound nonchalant about it. "Things change, people change, the whole universe changes. But Kukalaka doesn't. I can't remember when I got him, I was so young. But I've kept him all these years, patching and stuffing him when he needed it." His smile faded. "I changed. Kukalaka was there before, and he was there after. He's a constant."

Sisko wasn't smiling anymore either. Perhaps he understood. "You don't sound happy about being enhanced."

Bashir thought for a long moment. "When I was fifteen-years-old, I was . . . I don't know . . . normal, in some respects, I guess. Fifteen isn't easy, you know. Except I was smarter than everyone else. And I was probably too cocky about it." He realized he was babbling a bit, but it wasn't something he talked about a lot. He'd spent most of his life not talking about it. But now things were different, and it was Sisko who had helped him. "I remembered what it was like--what I was like--before the enhancements. I remembered being . . . stupid. Then all of a sudden I wasn't, and I was getting the highest marks in class. I loved it. The other students made fun of me, called me names. You know how kids can be. And when I was fifteen, that's when I found out. I had learned, like everyone else, that genetically enhanced people were dangerous. They were freaks, monsters like Khan. And all of a sudden I was one of them. And all I'd ever done, all I'd thought I had accomplished, it wasn't me. It was the enhancements and I was a freak because of them."

He wasn't looking at Sisko, but he could tell the captain was watching him. He was listening. Bashir continued. "I resented it, and I resented my parents for having it done. I felt guilty. I had cheated. I was unfair. I had taken over this body from that trusting little boy who didn't understand anything. And I had thrown him away. I had usurped his life, replaced him. I didn't understand it then, but my parents meant this as a gift. But to me, it was a burden, a curse and no matter what I did, no matter how good a doctor I was or how many lives I saved, I'd still be a monster inside. There were days, I wished it had never been done.

"These last weeks, when it was all slipping away--or at least I thought it was--I felt I deserved it as punishment for what I was. I thought I could be glad. I was becoming Who I was born to be, who I was meant to be. The curse would be gone, the burden gone, the responsibility gone. But I wasn't glad. When I felt my mind slipping away, I wanted to keep it. I tried so hard to hold on. I didn't want to be that little boy again. I wanted to be me. Julian Bashir, the doctor."

He was quiet again for a long time, waiting to see if Sisko would say anything or just waiting. "I'm really quite fond of my mind," he said finally, looking over at Sisko. "Maybe it's not fair what my parents did. Maybe it's not right for me to appreciate it, but I do. I'm glad I'm not that little boy. I want this mind. Maybe I don't deserve to have it, but I've tried to do good with it. And I'm glad to have it back."

"I'm glad, too," Sisko told him. "And I can't think of anyone who deserves it more."

The computer made some noise, and Sisko looked at the console. Bashir looked out the viewscreen. They were entering a star system. They were there.

Sisko straightened his jacket and looked Bashir over. His uniform was perfect. "You ready?"

"You've got an easier task, you know," Bashir replied. "You'll only be tested on the trip. I'll probably have to take my med school finals over again."

Sisko smiled, and clapped him on the shoulder. "Well, remember the difference between the postganglionic nerve and the preganglionic fiber this time."

Bashir nodded. "Right. Shall we?"

Sisko opened the door and they stepped out. Like at Adigeon, there was a crowd waiting. Doctor Loews was among them. She didn't look happy. At least Bashir had an ally. Ross was there, too, and he didn't look any happier. He stepped forward. He eyed Bashir, his brow furrowed in confusion. There was another admiral behind him, but this one wore blue. Starfleet Medical, Sisko guessed, probably one who wanted to get rid of Bashir. She'd be surprised. Ross leaned forward and spoke quietly. "You're late. We've had ships out looking for you."

"We were attacked," Sisko whispered back.

"It's quite easily explained, Admiral," Bashir interjected. He was still facing front. But he'd obviously heard. "We are at war after all, sir. One runabout traveling this whole distance. The chances of our not running into an enemy vessel were two hundred and sixteen to one."

Sisko tried not to smile. This could almost be fun. Almost. Even Ross had a glimmer in his eye. "Cardassians hit us hard, Admiral" Sisko explained to Ross, speaking loud enough that the others might hear. "We took shelter in the Id'lasi Nebula. It took us awhile to repair the runabout. We couldn't risk a transmission giving our location away. We proceeded as quickly as we could. Doctor Bashir needs medical attention."

"I feel fine, sir," Bashir protested.

"No argument, Doctor," Sisko held firm.

The other admiral moved forward now. "I assure you, Captain, he will receive a thorough examination."

"Good to see you again," Bashir said, gazing at her uniform, "Admiral Fayla. Congratulations on your promotion."

She glowered. "Thank you, Lieutenant."

Bashir held a hand up. "It's Doctor," he corrected, though he didn't sound as confident now.

Fayla seethed, taking in a deep breath and then turning sharply away. "Follow me," she ordered.

Ross looked back at her and then at Sisko. His expression wasn't encouraging. He turned to Bashir. "Good luck," he whispered, "Doctor."

Bashir nodded, took a deep breath of his own, and followed Admiral Fayla into the facility.

Ross watched Bashir go and then turned to Sisko. "Cardassians?"

Sisko nodded. "Perhaps we should discuss it inside," he suggested.

Ross was still whispering when they went in. "I don't know what you did," he said. "But your story had better hold water."

"What story?" Sisko held. "All I have is the truth."

"They'll check the runabout," Ross warned.

"Good," Sisko replied, still calm. "There's only so much the two of us could do from inside."

Ross stopped and gave him a look that said he wasn't buying it. But Sisko knew he could keep it up. It was the truth. Inheildi had taught him that. "In here," Ross said, tilting his head to indicate the administrator's office. He waited for the door to close. "You wouldn't be a clone, would you?" Sisko regarded him closely. Ross was all seriousness now. "Bashir's miraculous recovery would make for a convenient cover for our clone."

"If so," Sisko reasoned, "then we might be expected to drop our defenses in regards to clones infiltrating our ranks." It made sense. It also made an easy out for Starfleet in regards to Bashir.

Ross nodded. "You won't mind then, if we have you tested?"

"Absolutely not." Sisko stood up and walked to the door. There was a security officer just outside. Sisko turned back to Ross. "You'll want to test Bashir as well."

"Of course."


It took Starfleet Medical three more days before they released Bashir. Sisko had taken the time to visit his father in New Orleans. But now, the runabout was docked on the USS Misashi undergoing repairs, and Sisko was on his way home. "How did you do?" Sisko asked Bashir, trying to sound casual. They were seated at a table in the Misashi's Officer's Lounge.

"I think they tested every inch of me," Bashir complained. "I don't want to be touched again for at least a year." He joked, but he played the part well, looking quite glum about it.

"And the medical exams?"

"Just like I'd imagined," he answered. "Finals again."

Sisko couldn't help but tease. "And the preganglionic--"

Bashir cut him off with a hand. "Oh I've got visions of preganglionic fibers running around in my head. I dreamed about them."

Sisko smiled. "So how'd you do?"

Bashir took a sip of his tea. "Confused them. It seems my IQ is a few points higher than before."

Sisko laughed at that. "Those pesky ionic discharges. Gotta watch out for those."

Bashir set down his mug. "Well, I should think that was your fault. I was rather incoherent at the time. You flew us into the nebula."

"It was either that or be shot down by the Cardassians," Sisko argued in his defense. "I have something for you." Bashir didn't say anything, so Sisko handed him the PADD he'd been carrying. "Your transfer papers."

A look of panic passed Bashir's face and he grabbed the PADD. Then he smiled. "They're all going to be surprised to see you," Sisko told him. "I think they're getting used to Doctor Barton."

The End