Alternate Timeline: What if Julian Bashir had not been allowed to remain in Starfleet?
Note: The following narrative begins several weeks after the AU story, "Dust of Life", and roughly parallel to season six episode, "You are Cordially Invited". It will reference some previously introduced elements, but whether you wish to read this story first or last is entirely up to you.
I do not own Star Trek. If I did, I would be writing full time and living in a big house by the sea. …And Dukat would never have shacked up with Kai Winn. Yeuch.
On with the story.
"I thought Doctor Bell said it wasn't a good idea for you to be reading those things."
Julian remained fixed in his chair - with so little movement that he might as well have been a stone. Still positioned in front of the display, he continued to stare at the shifting names in front of him. But perhaps Corinna had a point. He'd been watching that screen for so long already that he'd barely even noticed the dull pain creeping along his legs and into his eyes.
He did not respond immediately to Corinna's entry - nor to her gentle admonition. But it was quickly apparent that she had made no further active endeavours to stop her cousin's persistent ritual. He'd already broken through her last three attempts to encrypt the official transmissions. Each understood as well as the other that even if she forced him away from the console, there were plenty of other corners to hide in. He could find the same information in any one of those places - and he was certainly determined enough to keep on searching.
"You know as well as I do." Julian sighed, but maintained his focus on the smoothly ascending list. He noted a slight shift in the air as Corinna moved to stand behind him. "As long as Starfleet keeps posting these things, I'm going to keep on reading them."
The casualty reports continued to scroll relentlessly up the screen, multiple columns burning into his memory until his head ached with the accumulating pressure of them all. There was always the occasional one he recognised. A classmate from medical school. Or an old friend that he hadn't seen since childhood. Occasionally, even a passing acquaintance from his early days on Deep Space Nine.
Whenever he saw another of these familiar names, he would whisper it aloud, as if to bring substance to a life hidden just beyond the marks on his cousin's computer screen.
But you always knew it was inevitable. You knew that these people were doomed - known it for years. And if not them, then it would almost certainly have been somebody else. It was all a matter of numbers. He'd seen the rapid advance of war in the close of every day, years before the fighting had begun - and for an even longer time before he'd been prepared to admit to the suspicions in his heart.
And where were you? he demanded of himself. Where were you when the station was taken, and reclaimed? Even now - with your friends still fighting their battles? Light years from the frontline and even further from those who could have used his help. Distant, detached - reduced to sitting in front of consoles, and futilely watching the parade of endless, faceless names.
Still, nobody had ever ordered him not to keep watch.
Like so many before it, this Friday evening vigil ended in a slow outward breath as he released the fretful tension from across his back and shoulders. "I have no choice," Julian half whispered, momentarily closing his eyes. "It's far from pleasant to be reading all these names, especially knowing what they mean. But it would be even worse not to. You can understand that, can't you?"
Finally, he turned around.
With a sigh, Corinna brushed away a strand of her own long, tangled hair. "I would try to convince you otherwise, if I thought it would do any good."
"I won't stop you from trying," replied her cousin.
This time, a shake of Corinna's head was accompanied by a quietly melancholy smile. "Good night, Julian."
"Night," he responded, but without a doubt that his watchful companion had noticed his distraction.
There were already anxious murmurs about the first signs of imminent conflict. But others persisted in claiming that he ought not to concern himself with what the rumours were saying. After all, they said, the approach of war would have little effect on the course of his life. But those people had forgotten, and failed to hear when he tried to tell them. Regardless of all the constant attempts at reassurance, regardless of how little he could do to change anything, those defending the Bajoran sector were still his friends.
Word reached him on the day before he was set to leave. The Dominion had taken Deep Space Nine. But what could he have done anyway? those same voices had demanded of him. There were those responsible for deciding the course of war, but they no longer had any use for him. He was far too weary to think up a challenge as to why they should.
A shuttle arrived with the very next dawn - a sleek grey vessel with barely a mark across its surface. It was set to take Julian Bashir, along with several others, on a journey away from the source of the fighting. Watching through a dark, circular portal, he wondered if anyone had thought to learn the name of every star that would pass them by on their lengthy journey, and smiled sadly. A year or two ago, he might have found reason to try and find out for himself.
"Earth…" he muttered, barely a sound forcing its way through a sudden constriction at the base of his throat. He felt the noticeable weight of past days return, and asked himself what his parents would think, if they knew how much the ways of the universe still escaped his understanding. Like this sudden, urgent need to return to the last place he would ever have expected to find himself again. What was it - some kind of inbuilt homing instinct? Already, it was far too stubborn in its refusal to release him from its hold.
His was a basic enough cabin, simply furnished with a bed, table, chair, and a lone sculpture set onto an inward facing shelf upon the opposite wall. Doubtless its subtle curvature - slightly reminiscent of leaves - was supposed to make passengers feel at ease. But once Bashir had taken note of every shape along its edge, the presence of this pointless block of wood seemed only to augment his sense of cagey agitation.
In yet another corner, a replicator waited, illuminated edges seeming to watch the room like the eye of a hungry Cyclops. Suppose I ought to eat something, he told himself, staring at the constantly gleaming surface until he suddenly noticed that he'd been counting the seconds as they passed.
Thirty five, thirty six, thirty seven…
But he wasn't hungry, was he? He was tired, and ached to his core with the weight of broken ideals. He was sure that he should have wanted to eat, but no amount of willpower could force his appetite to come. Perhaps later. Curling onto the narrow bunk that had been attached to the wall of his quarters, Julian wrapped both arms around himself, and stayed in that same position for many times longer than he'd intended - too weary even to move as sleep proved to be as elusive as hunger.
Why bother? Really. What's the point?
He ignored the persistent question at first, wanting nothing more than to push away every thought in his head, curl the sheets around him like a web around a fly, and surrender to the darkness. It was a fruitless endeavour, but he held to the hope that he might just sleep away the days of travelling - and with still more luck, every day afterward.
The shuttle cabin was warm and comfortable - an even twenty five degrees in every corner. But he could not stop his imagination from wandering to the absolute chill of the universe outside. He sensed it waiting just beyond the outer hull, as if to spite the constant artificial comfort. Caught outside the shuttle's protective shield, without the security of an environmental suit, Julian's blood would boil like anyone else's, he would asphyxiate, and his body would be caught in an endless drifting somersault between the stars.
In the scheduled "daylight" hours - when not holed up in his narrow quarters like a vole in its den - he would wander like a ghost about the corridors, acknowledging other passengers with a nod and a weakly patched-together smile, and only occasionally forcing himself to muster the energy for a conversation.
Nights were still longer. As he lay on his back in the blanketing darkness, he would fill his thoughts with wishes and wonder if the time had finally come, if this was the night when he would finally find the sleep he so constantly sought. But luck was deceptive, he reminded himself in one of these nightly bouts of insomnia, and good fortune was growing increasingly difficult to hold onto. He might as well have been chasing after his own forgotten dreams.
The shuttle drew closer to the end of its journey, and Julian noticed his thoughts turn increasingly towards their destination. Now gazing through the windows at the uninterrupted starscape, he tried to imagine what he might find once his feet connected with Terran soil.
And he realised on one particularly quiet afternoon, with few people around to interrupt his thoughts, that he had very little idea of the answer.
He had not seen Corinna since they were children - not since that week when she was twelve, and he was ten, and she and her family had come to visit his on Invernia II. It had come as a surprise to hear from her again - even more so to hear her unexpected offer of a place to stay as soon as he arrived on Earth.
She spoke with a strikingly unusual accent - a lasting consequence of all the time spent moving around, especially in her childhood and early teens. But she had still not entirely managed to shake away the legacy of her earliest years in Scotland. And that was where she'd come back to just days after her wedding day - to the antiquated wooden cottage she'd dreamed of sharing with her husband, Liam.
With another warm, familial smile, the tall, slender woman clasped Julian's shoulder, and quietly withdrew. Her footfalls were silent as she crossed to the exit, and the door slid closed behind her with a smooth, breezy hiss.
Julian Bashir was alone. Or at least, he hoped that he was. But he could see no further evidence that he was being observed. Glancing warily around him, he paused momentarily to bring his hands into view.
They were cold and unsteady, numb at the fingertips, and he was unable to stop their persistent shaking. Three days had passed since the first time he'd noticed. But now Julian remained seated for a long time after Corinna was gone, and clenched them tightly, one against the other. For today at least, he was glad that there was no longer anyone around to see.