Potens: "Power" (Latin). From Potesse, "To be able".
"existing in possibility: capable of development into actuality."
(Merriam Webster Online Dictionary.)
A middle aged woman in a skirt and jacket of subdued mauve fabric, and with straight blonde hair neatly gathered at the back of her head, held out her hand for Julian to shake. "Hannah Bates." She introduced herself with a narrow smile, and paused a little longer to clasp Professor Roslyn's hand as well. "Are you here for the mission briefing?"
"I believe so," said Roslyn.
"Good," the other woman responded in a clear, efficient, but not unfriendly tone. "Come inside. There's a lot to discuss."
Others had gathered around a table in the corner of the room, which was thick at its base and painted a smooth, light brown. There was seating enough for eight, with a large chair at its head and another positioned diagonally at the adjacent corner. A hefty Bolian in Command-level red had placed one hand firmly on the back of the head chair – although his unmovable bearing gave little room for anyone else to have claimed centre-stage. His lower jaw protruded slightly forward as he smiled at a smaller lieutenant with Bajoran ridges across her nose, whose blue-green undershirt suggested that she must have been either a doctor, a counselor, or a scientist.
Scientist, Bashir guessed from the woman's upright, focused stance. With her hands tightly pressed against the small of her back, she was quick to acknowledge the new arrivals, but still gave them no more than a quick glance. Three others stood in a row by the star-speckled windows, all in tight-fitting Starfleet uniforms. But their conversation was so hushed that it never travelled far beyond their group. Hannah Bates politely separated herself from Roslyn and Bashir. She stood beside a seat at the end of the table and tapped a stack of padds into an even pile.
The invitation, it seemed, had not extended past the senior members of the Enceladus' staff, and Bates, Bashir and Roslyn – the only civilians present. It was not until the Bolian turned to look over his shoulder that Bashir saw the four small metal pips aligned along his collar. He moved his head slightly to survey the scene before him.
"We're all here then?" he confirmed in a deep, rumbling voice pushed forth by the muscles of his belly.
"Not quite." The Bajoran lieutenant looked around her. "I believe we're still waiting for one more person."
The captain shot her a quick glance that was part query and part admonition. Bashir's heartbeat intensified. He looked once at the door, and scolded himself. You were invited. He replayed the reminder secretly in his head. You were invited. You were invited. It doesn't matter who this other person turns out to be. Even if it's him, you were invited.
"He's usually more punctual than this," Bates remarked. "I can only assume that he must be on his way."
"Are you sure?" asked the young Bajoran.
"Well, I suggest that we begin, regardless." The captain settled heavily into the most prominent chair. "Any late arrivals will have to catch up once we…"
The doors slid open.
Bashir clenched both his hands, but was relieved to find that they were by his sides and not plainly visible to every other person in the room. He had hoped that his earlier brief glance at the man in the corridor had been somehow an error. Seeing the pale face of an old acquaintance, with lips drawn slightly back as though with an expression of permanent distaste, he struggled against a sudden urge to flee into the corner and make himself invisible to all.
There were no concealing shadows to be found in the Enceladus' meeting room. Even the floor had lost some measure of its comforting solidity. And the other man's eyes were just as immediately focused on Bashir.
"Ah. Doctor Zimmerman," said the captain. "How good of you to join us."
"My apologies," Lewis Zimmerman responded in his usual nasal tone. "There were some last minute problems to iron out in the latest programme. I must have lost track of time."
Bashir hoped fervently that no-one else could see how tightly controlled and forced his own acknowledging smile had become.
"Shall we begin?" At this suggestion from the captain, who slapped the front of his torso as he spoke, all but one of the gathering took their seats. The Bajoran lieutenant caught her captain's brief glance and travelled to the front of the room.
She stood by a large screen of smooth, reflective black – a familiar sight on starships and other Starfleet conference rooms – and waited for the others to settle. Bashir directed his attention forward even while he noted Zimmerman's face at the edge of his vision. Concentrate, he commanded himself as forcefully as he could manage without it showing on his face.
Yes, the man was part of their team. Yes, it had been his intervention – a little over a year ago – that had sent Julian's life into an unanticipated free-fall. And yes, he could do nothing to escape from the cool hostility that he was sensing from across the table.
So he would focus on the young lieutenant, their mission, and the important information that she had come there to impart.
"I'll start with what we know about the Exeter colonies," she told them with the practised fluency of a pre-arranged lecture. "Thirty years ago, a group of Human colonists set out to terraform an area of approximately two hundred hectares along the coast of one of the Southern continents. Since then, in addition to the initial settlers from Earth, there have been others arriving from the neighbouring colonies and a small number of non-Humans from other planets like Vulcan and Betazed. But the population numbers have always been relatively minimal. At least count there were never more than 2,500 people, although some have suggested developing a larger area to allow for further settlement, or perhaps establishing a second colony in the North."
"At the very least, the war with the Dominion has significantly impaired the movement of settlers and even their ability to expand their existing colonies," Bates added. "Notwithstanding the obvious human cost, without the possibility of a new population influx, the losses sustained from this recent epidemic could have a severe impact on the remaining infrastructure of the Exeter settlements."
She fell silent for a moment, quietly introspective.
"Then if that's true—" Roslyn leaned forward. "There may be no way to save the colony."
"The colony? Probably not," said Bates. "Unfortunately we haven't received any new data since the initial distress call. But from standard projections I would estimate by now that anything up to two thirds of the population could be infected."
"Our instructions were to assess the situation," said the young Bajoran. "But yes, we could be looking at a permanent evacuation here. Assuming that…"
"Assuming that the away team doesn't find a reason to declare the whole planet a quarantine zone." It was Julian Bashir's half-whispered voice that finally broke their silence.
"That's true." The Bajoran woman studied him for a moment. "I know you were there, at Mundara Village. You've seen what such an epidemic can do. You understand the possibilities."
Better than I would have liked to. Bashir sensed that almost every face around him – especially Doctor Zimmerman's – had turned a little harder.
"Naturally, the ideal outcome would be a promise to safeguard individual survivors," the captain assured them in a voice that conveyed very little hope of such an outcome. "The governor on Exeter Five has agreed to set aside a former meeting hall at the centre of New Zeehan for use as a research facility and temporary accommodation. However I would advise you all not to be surprised at anything you find."
Two thirds infected. The truth was, Bashir's own calculations had arrived at the same disheartening conclusion. The available data was scant at best – already too outdated for many standard projections to have much validity. For the first time, he found himself looking more closely at Hannah Bates. The woman appeared so ordinary to his eyes. Intelligent, certainly – but in no way particularly distinctive. Still, however she had reached her estimate, there could be no doubt that Bates was a capable mathematician.
The Bajoran Starfleet officer continued after a moment of hesitation, but little of the earlier reticence showed in the steady efficiency of her voice. "I took the liberty of bringing some original survey reports from when the planet was settled." She paused to select a datapadd from a narrow counter beside the main screen, and illuminated the surface of both with the touch of a single icon.
"As you can see, the main towns are in relatively close proximity to each other. The first colonists concluded that their weather control systems would be more effective if they settled on lower ground, and allowed the climate to feed off the surrounding hills. The terrain is flattest in this area, except for the site of the central town of New Zeehan, right… here. If the records housed in Stellar Cartography are correct, they ought to be approaching the Southern Summer. That means strong winds will be blowing down from higher altitudes, which tend to transplant a lot of soil and other materials from this Northeastern range."
"Are you suggesting some form of airborne carrier?" asked Roslyn. The lieutenant quickly turned towards her.
"This illness does appear to have been largely centred in the valley around New Zeehan," she said.
"The locals are mostly farmers," added Bates. "They were doing some agricultural research in the colonies too – something about the effects of artificial weather systems on crop yield."
"Which is why you suspect an environmental cause," Bashir commented, half to himself.
"Hardly a co-incidence," remarked Lewis Zimmerman in a voice that was drier than a desert wind.
The lieutenant nodded. "Exactly."
While she was not speaking, Hannah Bates' attention followed Bashir throughout the course of their briefing. He guessed that she must have been watching him from the moment that she had learnt his name. The expression in her eyes was always calm – more innocently curious than hungry or hostile – but no less added to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the meeting room. Secretly pausing for a deep inward breath, he tried to calm the threads of agitation as they brushed against the base of his spine.
He coughed dryly. "Are we…?" he began. "Are we likely to encounter any problems from the Dominion or Cardassians? Anything we ought to be aware of?"
"It isn't a Maquis planet if that's what you're asking," Zimmerman responded curtly, with a sneer that was only marginally less than a glare.
Thank you. In case you were wondering, I can still read a star chart. Julian held back the tempting rebuttal.
Another Starfleet officer spoke up in response, glancing as he did at the gathered civilians. "We haven't seen much evidence of recent Dominion activity in the sector, but I can spare a small security contingent to accompany you to the surface. Of course you'll also have the Enceladus in orbit to warn you of any trouble. We'll equip you with two subspace distress beacons in case the colony's transmitters should fail for some reason. Just be aware that we may have to leave at a moment's notice if Starfleet calls us away. You may still end up on your own down there."
Bashir quickly separated from Victoria Roslyn as soon as the meeting was over, but the professor's green eyes showed no reproach. "I need to relay this information to Vijay," she said. "I'll see you this evening."
Julian stood in the now empty corridor, looking upwards at the ceiling and with both hands clenched somewhere by his hips. "All right." He kept his voice to a whisper. "All right."
He turned around and located an open panel. "Computer?" he began – but paused, uncertain of precisely what he was meaning to ask.
One face came to his mind, leading him to the place where his curiosity was strongest. "Computer, where would I find Doctor Hannah Bates?"
"Doctor Bates is on Deck Four, Section Two."
"Thank you," Bashir responded, and instantly felt a little foolish.
The door to Bates' working space was open, leaving an unhindered view of the interior. The scientist stood between two large desks and re-arranged her smooth blonde hair at the back of her head. She fastened a clip around it before she finally glanced at the corridor, and at her visitor now standing in the threshold. "Come in," she greeted him with a subdued but fully welcoming smile.
Bashir entered in one long stride. "I was wondering…" He tapped two fingers on a nearby bench-top. "If you have a moment to spare, might I be allowed to take another look at those orbital scans? You mentioned the possibility of a recent climactic change."
"Actually, it's really just a theory," said Bates. "At least for the moment. I was hoping to conduct a more thorough analysis once we have a chance to gather new data. I can transmit the ship's scans to you on the surface."
"I'd appreciate that." Bashir glanced around him at the well-stocked laboratory. "Am I to understand that you won't be beaming down with us after all, then?"
With the same mild smile, the even-tempered scientist shook her head. "No, I'm not a field specialist." Her voice barely shifted from its level, slightly high-pitched tone. "I was assigned to this mission purely in an advisory capacity."
"Why?" asked Bashir.
"Think of it like this." Bates' answer was accompanied by the same quietly wistful smile. "I've never had any difficulty in analysing raw data. I can see mathematical patterns as clearly as any other person I know. But I have no more than adequate experience in dealing with those who my research is likely to affect."
"I find that hard to believe."
At this, she chuckled softly. "And I find that there is a lot to be gained from knowing where to find my own strengths. Let's just say that your Federation prefers to keep me away from the kind of work that might involve a lot of contact with other people. I thought you'd know a little about what that's like."
"Sorry," added Bates at the sight of her companion's immediate reaction.
"No, I'm sorry." Realising that he had begun to stare, he forced his own thoughts quickly back into focus. "I thought – well, assumed – that you were a Federation citizen."
Bates turned a little so that her clear blue eyes locked a little more closely with Bashir's. "Not by birth, no." She lifted a padd in both of her hands, but did not activate it – almost as if she had been looking for the smooth pressure of something against her fingers. "I didn't even know that there was a 'Federation of Planets' until… It must be seven… yes, seven years ago."
"But you are Human?"
"From the colony of Moab IV."
"I've heard of it," Bashir responded thoughtfully. "Moab IV… If I'm not mistaken, that planet was settled by an isolated group of Human colonists, and it took a few hundred years before the Enterprise encountered your people again. They were… outside the Federation. Isolationists."
And his mind brought forth the final piece of information from a news report that he had only read once, in passing. He stared at the scientist with her calm blue eyes and remarkably ordinary straight blonde hair. "Genetically engineered isolationists," he recalled. "And now I know what those peculiar looks throughout the meeting were about today."
Bates nodded. "It's true," she said. "I grew up in a bubble, where the natural environment outside was as toxic as a Demon World, but inside, it was perfect. An obsessively cultivated paradise. The founders of our colony had laid down rules to control our lives and evolution so completely that…"
Seeming to notice herself holding the padd, she set it down upon the table. Her voice was noticeably quieter than before. "I never saw what an incredible universe there was beyond – well, our gilded cage. And when I did, I found that I could no longer bear to stay inside. I guess we should both be glad that no prohibition extends to the natural sciences."
"I understand," said Bashir. He had been lucky in some small way, having already proven that he could interact with others before they ever realised that they had any cause for doubt. Before his new placement with Victoria Roslyn and her team of researchers, he had also longed to be free from imprisonment, and the constant scrutiny of persistently watchful orderlies.
"So do I." Bates paused, eyes shifting minutely from side to side as though enacting some internal debate, and finally she looked up again. "The truth is, I knew who you were before you joined us on this ship."
It was not an unexpected admission, but no less sudden. "I'm sorry," conceded Hannah Bates. "If it makes you uncomfortable to talk about it…"
"No." Bashir discovered somewhat belatedly that he had been staring, and fiercely shook away some of the runaway thoughts inside his head. "No – it's…"
What? All right? Words caught in his throat.
"Do—?" He finally managed to force his voice once more to the surface. "Do you still have those topographical scans on file?"
"I'll bring them up on the central monitor."
Thin yellow lines crossed over the black of the largest nearby computer screen. Even the reflection of silhouettes within the room vanished in the enhanced blackness of the display. Bashir noted the distance between each altitude marker, which was particularly far in the valley where the towns of Exeter Five were clustered.
Imagine living in such a place. A planet of land, and almost all of it hostile. That valley could be affected by any one of a number of things. Unusual wind patterns, mineral deposits, even a temperature inversion on a winter morning. It's a small population – that should work to our advantage. But there's not a lot of habitable territory to escape to down there.
"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
Bates had stepped back to allow him a better view of the monitor, but was still looking his way.
Turning back to face her, Bashir was surprised to catch himself hesitating. He blinked once, but nodded.
"Do you… regret having chosen to become a doctor?" Bates asked after another momentary pause.
You really have heard of me. Bashir didn't recall having mentioned that particular point. But somehow he did not feel as incensed as he might previously have done. It was only natural for Hannah Bates to be curious, he told himself. They were part of the same team, after all. Or perhaps he felt less guarded around this woman because they seemed to have something in common. Because she had chosen to reveal her genetic status to him. That was no small confidence.
He could not insult her confidence by taking offence. "No," he replied with an emphatic shake of his head. "Of course I don't."
A barely perceptible smile touched the very corner of Bates' lips. "It was what you felt compelled to do," she said knowingly. "And my makers designed me to pursue a career in the sciences. Perhaps, in that respect, we aren't so different."
"Do you really think…?" Bashir stared, sensing the beat of his heart grow stronger than was comfortable. "No. I realise what you must be thinking, but no. At the end of the day, we all have the potential to choose what to do with our lives. That's what makes us who we are. It makes us Human – and I didn't choose to study medicine because of some inbuilt genetic imperative."
The schematic layout of Exeter Five was still in front of his eyes, still barely changed by those five small specks of habitation. "I know – it wasn't a matter of going to medical school for the sake of something to do," he continued. "It was… I was a doctor. While that lasted, it was still a choice."
Nature or nurture, was that what she was asking him? One of the oldest questions of their species – and besides that, where could a man like himself and a woman like Hannah Bates fit into the equation? That had been his own eternal question. What was he, a constructed thing – barely certain that he could even think of himself as his parents' son? In one way, however indirectly, his DNA had indeed limited his available shoices, even as the changes made to him had seemed to bring his potential future into view.
The steady blue eyes of Hannah Bates were watching him in calm anticipation. "I was designed to be a scientist," she repeated. "You could say that my ancestors already knew the career that I would choose, decades before I knew it myself. They knew my temperament, my appearance, and every facet of my character, because they had planned it all. But for all that, they could not have known that I would choose to turn away from their perfect colony. For all that, I do still miss my home."
Bashir glanced sidelong at the fair haired scientist. "Perhaps not so different, then."