"Children of Time" drives me crazy. It always has, from the first time I saw it in spring 1997. I want to be able to love it, I really do. It's full of wonderful acting and wonderful character moments, especially for Odo and Kira. I should love the episode for that scene in sickbay alone, when Kira first meets Gaia Odo: the warmth and joy in Odo's voice, the tenderness as he reaches up to caress Kira's face, are enough to melt anyone's heart.
I have a problem with this episode, though. I don't buy the central premise that drives the dramatic conflict at the heart of the story. And because of my inability to take the story itself seriously, all of those marvelous character interactions and exquisitely expressed emotions lose a lot of their impact for me.
In fact, whenever I rewatch the episode (and I have, more than once, because despite what I see as its flaws it is full of great moments), I find that I react exactly the same way I did the first time I viewed it. Whenever Worf or someone else solemnly proclaims, "If the Defiant fails to go into the past and crash, this timeline will collapse…and everyone here will cease to exist," I find myself wanting to shout at the people on the TV screen, "That's stupid! They will NOT!"
By now you may be thinking, "Hey, it's a TV show, and a science fiction show at that, and Star Trek on top of that. The writers get to make up whatever rules of nature they want, and if they want time travel to work a certain way, because it creates a compelling ethical dilemma for the characters, then that's the way it works."
Okay, maybe that's all true, to an extent. But it doesn't work for me. Not with this episode.
For me, the situation the writers have set up in "Children of Time" simply doesn't make sense. And because I can't get past my annoyance at what I see as a false dilemma--saving Kira's life will not result in the deaths of the colonists!--I spend a lot of time wanting to reach into the TV screen, grab Yedrin Dax by the shoulders, give him a good shake, and tell him to stop talking nonsense.
I've never had much luck explaining my dissatisfaction with this episode to other DS9 fans. And when I've tried, several of my friends have pointed out, correctly, that without the major dramatic conflict in which the life of Kira is weighed against the continued survival of eight thousand innocent men, women, and children, the story loses its reason for existing. No difficult command decision for Sisko to face, no test of Kira's faith in the Prophets, no terrible moment of truth that forces Gaia Odo to weigh his lifelong commitment to justice against his love for Kira.
My friends also point out that the events of the episode exist as we've been given them by the creators of the show; they're part of the DS9 canon. No matter how much I complain about them, they won't go away, so I might as well shut up and learn to live with them.
And I have learned to reconcile the story of "Children of Time" with my personal conviction that Yedrin Dax (as the primary voice of the writers) was making a huge fuss over nothing. As I said, though, I've had a hard time explaining my reasoning to other people.
So, I thought I'd let someone smarter than me do the explaining. Namely, that genetically enhanced genius, Doctor Julian Bashir.…
All the Time in the World
by Marguerite Krause
He glided above the settlement, feathers warmed by the last rays of the setting sun. With a deft tilt of his wings, he began a slow, circling descent. Dusk was already settling on the buildings below, and lights glowed in windows and doorways open to the mild spring air. Voices drifted upward, the usual murmur of conversation with which humanoids occupied so much of their waking hours, punctuated here and there by a burst of childish chatter or an adult's cheerful laugh.
There was movement in front of the building that was his destination. Widening the pupils of his not-really-hawk's eyes, he focused on the swiftly striding figure. Even in the gray twilight, it was easy to see that Falenn Dax was thoroughly aggravated.
Further evidence, if he had needed it, that he had stumbled onto something important.
He angled his wings to tighten his circle into a downward spiral aimed at the doorway Dax had just left, shedding speed and altitude with practiced ease. Dax had rounded the corner, safely out of sight, before he alighted, but he remained in hawk form for a moment, listening to the receding footsteps and, beyond them, all the routine sounds of the settlement at nightfall. At last, confident that Dax was gone and no one else was approaching, he shifted, flowed upward, shaped the familiar hand, and rapped on the door.
"Unless it's a medical emergency, go away!" a testy voice called from inside.
He cleared his throat and replied, "It could be a matter of life and death."
Rapid footsteps within, and the door jerked open. "Odo! Sorry, I thought you were-- What's wrong?"
Odo held up his hand to calm the man's rising concern. "Forgive me for alarming you, Doctor. To the best of my knowledge, there is no emergency, medical or otherwise."
Julian Bashir scowled at him, white eyebrows bristling. "What's this about a matter of life and death, then?"
"It is. But it's not urgent. May I come in?"
"Yes, yes, I suppose so," Bashir said. He stood aside as Odo entered, then closed the door and gestured him toward the seating area in front of the small fireplace. "Do you know," he continued, as he settled into a cushioned armchair, "I was about to ask you how a life and death matter could be anything other than urgent, but it occurs to me that I already know the answer. Falenn was just here."
"I saw him leave." Odo seated himself across from the doctor. "He seemed…upset."
"Positively livid," Bashir agreed, his initial irritation replaced by amusement. "I told him he's obsessed, and he told me I'm a doddering old fool. Which is not entirely inaccurate. Of course I'm old, and I admit to having been a fool on more than one occasion. But I have never doddered, nor do I intend to start at any time in the foreseeable future."
Odo held his face and body still, hiding the quiver of unease that rippled within him. Despite all his experience, he still wasn't comfortable with humanoid mortality. Given the rigors of the settlement's early years, and its limited medical facilities, Bashir carried his nine-plus decades remarkably well. His hair was pure white but still thick, his skinny body slightly stooped but not yet frail. Yet there was no denying the fact that he was the oldest humanoid on the planet, the last survivor, aside from the Dax symbiont and Odo himself, of the Defiant crew. The only person, other than Dax and Odo, who remembered Deep Space Nine. Who remembered Kira Nerys.
"I do, however, tend to natter incessantly," Bashir continued, his chatty tone in sharp contrast to the shrewd calculation in his eyes. "I'm afraid I'm far too fond of the sound of my own voice. Why don't I stop talking, so that you can tell me why you're here?"
"Dax didn't tell you?"
"Never mind Dax. I know you, Odo. You don't make casual social calls, even on your oldest friend. Something's on your mind."
Odo took a deep breath, gathering his thoughts. "This morning, I was helping Mr. Williamson and his team complete the final operating checks on the new reservoir. Did you know, Doctor, that the reservoir is the largest permanent structure in the entire settlement?"
"When you include all of its valves and pumps and sensor systems, it's also one of the most technologically complex," Bashir said. "An engineering marvel, considering our limited resources. It's a shame that Miles didn't live to see it completed. He and Jadzia devoted years of their lives to finding the best site for it and perfecting their design."
"An admirable accomplishment in every way," Odo agreed. "However, it's the size of the reservoir, and its durability, that interest me most."
Bashir nodded. "Go on."
"Dax and several of the council members came up around midday, to check on our progress. Williamson reviewed all of the tests we had completed, and assured everyone that operating parameters promise to meet or exceed the original design specifications. That led to a lot of self-congratulatory back-slapping, and I almost dismissed Dax's claim as mere bragging. An exaggeration. Yet, when I spoke with Williamson afterward, he insisted it's accurate. But if it is, it makes no sense."
"What, exactly, did Dax say?"
"That the reservoir is virtually indestructible. That it is secure against any natural disaster likely to occur in this region, including the remote possibility of seismic disturbances. That even if some unknown alien explorers appeared in orbit tomorrow, and we decided to leave with them, abandoning the settlement, the reservoir could easily continue to function, untended, for centuries."
Again, Bashir nodded, the expression on his lined face unreadable. "Miles and Jadzia were quite a team. It's no surprise that they would design something as important as the reservoir to last a long time."
Odo leaned forward, elbows on his knees, hands clasped between them. "I have no clear memory of our first weeks on this planet, Doctor. Over the years, I've looked at the sensor data and log entries, listened to people's stories of the crash and their early explorations of this area, but it's all secondhand knowledge. I wasn't able to witness any of it. But you did."
"And you still remember what the survey teams found when we arrived here."
"Which was?" Odo prompted him.
"Nothing at all." Bashir crossed his legs and settled deeper into his chair. "All of our findings were consistent, Odo, from the moment we first achieved orbit through the scientific studies we conducted on our initial visit to the surface, up to and including all of our explorations since the crash. This planet was a pristine wilderness when we arrived, untouched by any detectable sign of sentient life."
Odo pointed at the floor. "No trace of this settlement."
"No buildings, no ruins, not even a hint of buried foundations crumbled to dust. And certainly no trace of that reservoir, to answer your next question."
"Doctor, the Defiant is going to arrive here in a little less than one hundred thirty-seven years. How can they--we--possibly find the pristine wilderness you remember?"
"They can't, and they won't. Their experience will be significantly different than ours was, Odo."
"If their experience is different," Odo said carefully, "they will react differently to the situation. Make different decisions."
"Quite right," Bashir said with a decisive nod.
"The initial survey will proceed differently. Any number of events could occur in different ways."
"Or not occur at all. And if the Defiant doesn't try to leave at exactly the same moment as it did on our voyage, and follow exactly the same course, it won't be caught in that temporal anomaly, and it won't crash. Therefore, it will be able to return to Deep Space Nine." Bashir gave him a bright smile. "You've reasoned it out beautifully, Constable. Well done."
Stung by the doctor's casual cheerfulness, Odo straightened in his chair. "Dax doesn't think so. I tried to talk to him, up at the reservoir. He said the past is unalterable, and the Defiant will always launch at the precise time that results in the crash, no matter what circumstances the crew discover when they arrive. If for any reason they failed to do that, then we--every man, woman, and child in this settlement--would die."
"Nonsense! Don't let him intimidate you, Odo. Falenn isn't half the scientist that Jadzia was, and he is committed to an absurdly simplistic single-universe cosmology. I've tried to explain to him that remnants of Jadzia's guilt over her initial request to survey the planet are clouding his judgment, but he refuses to listen. I may not be an expert on symbiont psychology, but I'm convinced that Dax itself is carrying the burden of the trauma, and the resulting obsession, and will continue to express it from one host to the next."
"Just a moment, Doctor," Odo said, firmly putting a halt to what threatened to be a lengthy digression. "I need to understand this. When the Defiant was thrown into the past, it crashed in an untouched wilderness. But when it arrives again, in the future, it will find this colony. It seems to me that has to change everything that follows… including preventing the Defiant from being thrown back in time. And yet here we are, undeniably in our own past. Doesn't that create an impossible paradox?"
"No, no, no," Bashir objected, shaking his head. "You're making a fundamental error, Odo. You can't rely on linear thinking in circumstances like this. Benjamin used to talk about how hard it was to make the wormhole aliens understand that we corporeal beings are limited to existing within linear time, because the way they experience time is so different from ours. Yet he could communicate with them, because they did have a few things in common. One of which was that all sentient beings seem to find it extremely difficult to think beyond the bounds of their own, personal experience. Difficult," he repeated, "but not impossible." Bashir slowly rubbed his hands together and cocked his head, eyeing Odo thoughtfully. "This can't be the first time you've thought about this subject, Odo. Changing the course of history, I mean."
"No." However, it had been a long time since he had indulged in such wishful thinking. Because of the unusual energy field that surrounded the planet, it had taken Odo weeks after the crash to recover his ability to assume a solid form. While he was confined to a container in a quiet corner of sickbay, struggling to adapt to this new environment, the rest of the crew were laying the foundations for their long-term survival. Countless ideas for repairing or rebuilding the Defiant in order to return to their own time were put forward and then, one by one, abandoned as unworkable.
During those hectic days, Kira died. The choice of her burial spot became one of the earliest decisions made in the establishment of a permanent settlement. By the time Odo took his first unsteady steps onto the surface of the planet, everyone else was looking to the future, intent on putting the double shock of their exile and Kira's tragic death behind them.
Odo had begun a new struggle then, with grief and guilt he could express to no one. As the months and years passed, he grew to suspect that Sisko, Bashir, and Dax had been aware of the depth of his mourning, and the reason behind it. But they never brought up the subject with him, for which he had always been grateful. What was there to say? Kira was gone. All they could do was protect and preserve the crew members who had survived, and their progeny.
Gazing levelly at Bashir, Odo continued, "To be honest, for years I've been expecting some catastrophe to destroy the colony. It seemed the only way to reconcile our being here now with the fact that, two hundred years later, we would find no trace of our existence."
"I think that idea has crossed all of our minds, at one time or another. But that would be the case only if this was an instance of closed-loop time travel. Which, considering the evidence, it most certainly is not."
"We did travel in time. Two hundred years into the past."
"Ah, but you see, you're missing the crucial point. We are not in our own past. We're in the past of a different timeline. Or, to put it another way, an alternate universe."
"That's not what the science logs say. We passed through a temporal anomaly, not a rift between universes."
Bashir waved away his objection. "Mere semantics. On a practical level, it's the same thing."
"I don't see how."
"It's quite simple. Let's look at it from a personal perspective. When you and I were born--and Miles and Jadzia and Worf and all the rest of us, even Dax--this planet was empty of sentient life. Agreed?"
Cautiously, Odo nodded. "As far as we know, yes."
"Growing up in the Alpha Quadrant, of course I had no idea this planet even existed. It didn't become relevant to my life until we arrived here. We did our geological and biosphere surveys, and tried to leave, but were caught in the anomaly. We were thrown back in time, and established a permanent home, here…in a different universe than the one we started from. A different universe," he repeated firmly, forestalling Odo's attempt to interrupt. "Now, during the next hundred years or so, people named Julian Bashir and Benjamin Sisko and all the rest will almost certainly be born in the Alpha Quadrant. And they will go about their lives in complete ignorance of the existence of this planet, just as you and I did for so many years. There's no reason to think that the presence of our little colony, here in the Gamma Quadrant, will have the slightest impact whatsoever on their lives. They will grow up, go to school, join Star Fleet, live and work on DS9. But even if each event in that Julian Bashir's life is exactly identical to mine, down to the smallest, most insignificant detail, he will be living in a different universe than the one I was born in. Because, in his universe, this planet is inhabited, and in yours and mine, it was not."
Odo steepled his fingers in front of his chin. "That's a small difference on which to base the definition of a universe."
"Even the tiniest difference can have significant long-term consequences. You remember that mirror universe we encountered, where the Bajorans and Cardassians were allied against the Humans?"
"I remember hearing about it. I never visited there myself."
Impatiently, Bashir said, "But you do acknowledge that parallel universes exist?" At Odo's nod, he continued, "That particular universe is drastically different from ours, because the paths of our histories diverged so long ago. But if an historian could go back in time, and observe their society mere weeks or months after the point of change, I dare say he would find it virtually impossible to tell that Earth from ours."
Odo sat up straight, squaring his shoulders. "What do you think will happen when the Defiant arrives here?"
"When the Defiant arrives, I've no doubt this universe's Jadzia will be intrigued by the readings from the planet, just as our Jadzia was, and she will convince her Benjamin to stop for a survey mission. As for what happens then, well, there's no predicting, is there? Although I'm increasingly confident that they will find you here to greet them along with, if our population remains healthy and continues to grow at its present rate, somewhere between six and nine thousand of what will seem to be, based on genetic and anecdotal evidence, their own descendants."
"Only 'seem to be,' Doctor?"
"Obviously. Stop and think about it, Odo. They are not us! It may be difficult for you to remember that, one hundred thirty-seven years from now. Up to that point in time, that Miles and that Kira will have lived lives identical to the lives of our Kira and Miles. When you meet them, I'm sure they'll seem just like our old friends. But our friends, the people you first met on DS9 all those years ago, are gone. And, at this moment, that other Miles and Kira have yet to be born."
A terrible hope grew within Odo. "Let's say you're right, Doctor." He rose from his chair and paced restlessly away from the hearth, then back again. "Let's say that our presence here, now, makes this a different universe than the one we were born in. And that the crew of this universe's Defiant will find this colony when they arrive or, at the very least, evidence of humanoid habitation that our Defiant's crew never found. And therefore, when they depart, they won't encounter the temporal anomaly and travel back in time."
"That sums it up nicely, I think."
"But if that happens, this colony will cease to exist."
"Don't be absurd. Why would it do that?"
"The cause and effect relationship seems fairly clear to me."
"Linear thinking!" Bashir snapped. "I've heard enough of it from Dax, I don't want to hear it from you, too. We are here, Odo. We exist. Nothing that anyone does one hundred or two hundred or a thousand years from now can possibly change that."
Odo paused in his pacing, his gaze caught by a holocube on the mantle above the hearth. A slightly younger Bashir gazed back at him, his arm around his wife's shoulders, the smiling couple surrounded by children and grandchildren. "When you visited that mirror universe," he said, turning back to face the doctor, "your actions there may have changed the course of their history."
"Undoubtedly. And if you exert your imagination, you can envision another reality, a mirror to that mirror universe, if you will, in which we did not visit that Terok Nor, and therefore their history followed a different course. The truth is, the possible variations are infinite."
"Infinite universes, existing side by side," Odo said, trying to grasp the concept.
"Side by side, or occupying adjacent temporal planes, or parallel dimensions--there are many ways of putting it but, yes, that's the general idea," Bashir agreed.
Bashir chuckled "The point you must keep in mind is that, under ordinary circumstances, we mere corporeal beings are unaware of the 'clutter,' as you call it. We can experience only our own reality. Without transporter accidents and temporal anomalies and the like, we have no way to cross over into parallel universes or timelines."
"Or return to where we started."
"Exactly. Odo, you and I crash landed on a wilderness planet, and we've lived our lives here. Assuming another Defiant, a different starship than our own, arrives here in one hundred thirty-seven years, its crew will assess the situation and do what they think best-which, I should hope, will mean doing everything in their power to return to their families and jobs back on DS9." The old man shifted in his chair, and his voice softened as he looked up at Odo. "I have every confidence that my counterpart will be able to save the life of his Kira. Just…be careful, Odo."
"Careful? Of what?"
"To your eyes, they may look and act like old friends miraculously returned to life. But remember, they will be on a path different from the one you and I followed. If this other Defiant succeeds in visiting the surface of Gaia, then leaves again without being trapped by the anomaly, it will, to all intents and purposes, enter a new, different universe. In fact, if you're able to watch their departure on sensors, they most likely will reach a point where they simply…vanish. Don't let that alarm you. From their perspective, they'll be perfectly safe and on their way home."
"And if they look back at Gaia, what will their sensors show?"
"No doubt an empty wilderness. They will be living in a universe where the Defiant did not travel back in time and start a colony; therefore, there will be nothing to see."
"Then, in a way, Dax is right. From their perspective, we will cease to exist."
"Dax is not right," Bashir correctly him sharply. "Odo, you and I live in a universe, or a timeline, if you prefer, where the Defiant crashed, and Kira died. Nothing will ever change that. Even if this other Defiant were to arrive and discover this settlement, and then still, somehow, have the misfortune to encounter the anomaly and get thrown into the past, it would not be our past. Any colony they built would be influenced by what they saw and learned during their visit with us, and therefore would evolve differently from our colony. In short, they would be living in yet another alternate universe."
Odo paced restlessly around the small room. "When the Defiant leaves, could they take the colonists with them? Back to the Federation?"
"Remember, there may well be thousands of people living here by then. Far too many for the Defiant to carry."
"But if just a few wanted to go." Odo stopped in front of Bashir's chair. "Or one."
The doctor stared up at him for a long moment. "From a purely scientific standpoint, I see no reason why they couldn't take passengers," he said at last. "Star Fleet's experiences with the mirror universe have proven repeatedly that a person can move from one reality to another with no ill effects. It's even possible for two versions of the same person to exist in the same universe at the same time." He paused.
Odo wasn't fooled by the human's noncommittal expression. "But?" he prompted.
"But, from a social and psychological standpoint, there would be difficulties. A person would want to think carefully before taking such a step. They'd be leaving behind the only home they'd ever known, their family and friends, and for what? To be caught up in the Federation's war with the Dominion?"
"Gaia isn't the only home that Dax and I have known," Odo said quietly.
Bashir gave a slow, thoughtful nod. "The Dax symbiont, certainly, would be better off if it could return to the Trill homeworld. Given the colony's limited gene pool, providing suitable candidates to host the symbiont is likely to become more difficult with each passing generation. As for you…." A faint smile tugged at Bashir's mouth. "Can you imagine the expression on Quark's face if he suddenly learned he had two Constable Odos to deal with?"
Odo found that he had no trouble at all picturing his old rival's face, eyes wide with outrage, strident voice raised in protest. Longing twisted within him, as abrupt and painful as the sickening snap of broken bone he'd experienced so long ago, when he was human. He turned his back on Bashir, took two strides toward the fireplace, and halted, hand closing on the edge of the mantelpiece. He tried to concentrate on the details before him, the grain of the wood he touched, the warm air rising from the hearth. This was what mattered, this was real, the here and now, not memory or might have beens.
Unless…if it was possible….
To walk the decks of DS9 again! To feel the familiar thrum of the station's energy fields, a comforting background to his every night's regeneration and every waking hour for so many years. Most of all, to be with Kira again: to stand beside her in Ops, to hear her voice, to bask in the generous warmth of her smile. To get his life back…would any price be to high to pay for that?
Except that he would not be the one to pay the price, would he?
His imagination was too good. He could easily picture Quark standing behind his bar or Kira walking down the Promenade toward him. Unfortunately, as each scene flashed across his mind's eye, he also saw himself there, in his Bajoran uniform, cautious and alert. The other Odo. This universe's Odo. He couldn't help thinking of the figure as his younger self, though Bashir would insist they were not actually related in any way. It didn't matter. He knew, with utter certainty, how that other Odo would feel, if he woke after the Defiant left Gaia to find an alternate version of himself waiting for him. Because, as soon as the facts of the situation were revealed, the other Odo would know why he had come: to replace him. To claim Kira's love for himself.
To become his own rival? It would be too ironic, the ultimate betrayal. No. He couldn't do it.
He felt a glimmer of understanding of all that Bashir had been trying to explain, with his talk of parallel universes and alternate timelines. An infinite number of Kiras in an infinity of other universes could survive their visit to Gaia and return to DS9 to pursue an infinite number of lives, and that was a good thing. But none of it could have any effect on him. Those would always be, by definition had to be, other lives, not his.
"Odo?" Bashir asked softly.
Closing his eyes briefly, he composed himself, then turned and met the doctor's all-too-perceptive gaze. "Do you think Dax would do it?" he asked, in his best cool, inquisitive constable's tone. "Return to the Alpha Quadrant with the Defiant, for the sake of the symbiont?"
Bashir sighed. "No. Jadzia never forgave herself for the crash, and I'm afraid Dax will pass along that guilt to each of its hosts. It would give its life to protect and nurture this colony; I can't imagine it would ever consider abandoning it. Falenn Dax has adopted the Bajoran belief in destiny; the idea that people of faith are obligated to follow the path laid out for them by the Prophets. As long as the crash and everything that followed was 'meant' to happen, it isn't entirely Jadzia's fault. That's why Falenn was so angry with you at the reservoir, and why he won't discuss multiple-universe cosmology theories with me. He can't accept the idea that any choice made by any individual has the potential to create a different future. If he did, the full burden of Jadzia's choice would land squarely on his shoulders again."
"Destiny. Hummph. Between you and me, Doctor, that sounds like nothing more than a convenient excuse for evading personal responsibility."
With a bark of laughter, Bashir pushed himself to his feet. "Spoken like a true skeptic. Hold onto that attitude, Odo. I have a feeling it may prove helpful, when the Defiant arrives again." He put his hand on Odo's elbow and steered him toward the door. "Not to be rude, but it's late, and an old man like me needs his rest."
"Of course. I didn't mean to…."
"Don't apologize." Bashir gave an irritable wave of his hand, then pushed the door open. "Haven't had such a good argument in weeks. First Dax, then you. It's good mental exercise. We can talk more, if you like. But not tonight."
"I understand. And thank you, Doctor."
"Good night, Odo." Yawning, Bashir gave one final wave and closed his door.
Odo turned away from the house. Darkness and quiet had descended on the settlement. He could hear the waters of the stream chuckling beneath the footbridge at the bottom of the hill, and the distant peeping of frogs. He had to admit it was a pleasant place, as planetary surfaces went. A good location for their community. Over the years, he had watched his friends grow accustomed to their new environment, then comfortable, then happy. For their children and grandchildren, this was their beloved home.
He doubted it would ever feel like home to him.
Odo let his form loosen and flow, shifting into a canine shape. Ears pricked, eyes scanning the shadows, he trotted down the road to make his final patrol for the night. Most of the indigenous predators had learned to avoid the colony, but it never hurt to be sure. Home or not, he protected this place and its people. His responsibility. His choice.
In his humanoid form, he would have snorted. In this form, it came out as a rumbling growl. Maybe he would circle the perimeter twice tonight. Or three times. The local animal population could be restless in the spring. Besides, he had a lot to think about. Only one hundred and thirty-seven years before he saw Kira again.
This time, things would be different.