DS9: S3E11: “Past Tense: Part 1”

In which I love time travel stories but hate when they’re this relevant to current events. 

The Defiant, primary means of power projection in the Bajoran sector and out into the Gamma Quadrant, is out for a joyride to Earth, where they’ll attend a symposium on the Dominion situation. I guess that’s legit, especially if none of the senior staff will be there to unlock it if they took a courier ship. Ben is going to visit his sister in Portland, but didn’t bring Jake back. O’Brien is going to stay away from the formal dinner because he’s Enlisted and proud of it. Nor do Kira or Odo feel like attending a dinner hosted by Droning Drazman. Starfleet seems to have a lot of those types.

I wonder what the formula that relates expected ship occupancy to number of transporter pads.

I wonder what the formula that relates expected ship occupancy to number of transporter pads.

Quark is hailing on an emergency channel. The Nagus has asked Quark to relay his role in making contact with the Dominion, and that his cousin is currently in jail. You know, in case Sisko thinks of any reason he might owe the Nagus a favor. With that done, Sisko, Dax, and Bashir beam down on the tiny transporter pad. Just as they beam down, O’Brien registers a power fluctuation on the confinement beam, and even after correcting for it, Sisko and the others have simply vanished.

Sisko, meanwhile, is asleep on concrete and being rudely awakened by a man with a rifle and jackboots. Not a phaser rifle, mind you. Actually, it’s a shotgun, I stand corrected. This is definitely a different time period. Both by the title, the clothing, and the concerns these militarized police have about ‘anarchists.’ And the requirement for ID, and never having heard of Starfleet, and their communicators being stolen. Ben and Bashir have touched down in a Sanctuary District back in 2024 (8 years or one two-term presidency from the publication of this post). Dax, meanwhile, was transported into a slightly more sheltered subway and has not had her communicator stolen nor been rounded up and taken away. It’s a good thing the one who gets to keep her future-tech is the science officer. Then again, I’m sure Sisko or Bashir took Advanced Time Travel Survivalism back at the academy, because everyone knows that sooner or later you’ll be stuck in a primitive society and have to engineer your way out of it with a spool of copper wire and a montage.

Dax is, in fact, found by an upstanding-looking man in a business suit who assumes she’s been robbed and in distress, and offers to help her out in ordering some replacement ID. “Meanwhile” if such a term can be said to apply, O’Brien and Kira don’t have a friendly leather-faced militiaman to ask what the year is, so they have to go about this the long way. I’ll do my best to summarize their portion of the plot this episode, and let you know if anything deviates: Something went wrong with the transporters. It was an extremely rare phenomenon passing through the beam at the exact right time. Chroniton particles. They’re in the past. Rejigger the deflector dish. Starfleet doesn’t exist any more but we’re insulated from the effects of whatever Sisko changed. Send some information from the database back in time to them so they can fix it. Hey look Starfleet exists again exactly as we left it except that Admiral isn’t boring anymore. Beam them back up. End-of-episode stinger.

Like I said, I’ll let you know if anything on the Defiant deviates from that pattern. So far I’m right. As a point of order, the chroniton particle buildup is a consequence of the cloaking device. So it’s possible it’s not that much of a coincidence.

Hey look, it's leathery-world-weary cop and fresh-faced-rookie-with-sympathy.

Hey look, it’s leathery-world-weary cop and fresh-faced-rookie-with-sympathy.

Bashir confirms they’re in San Francisco, meaning that the temporal displacement was coupled with Earth’s gravity well. This makes as much sense as anything when it comes to time travel. The Sanctuary District is basically a slum. Bashir is the stand-in for the audience, so that Sisko, a history buff, can explain what this nonsense is. Sanctuary districts popped up so that poor people who don’t have criminal records (those weren’t allowed the privilege of living in a slum) could get some refuge from capitalism. Sounds like a great idea, really, until you remember that politicians can score cheap political points by defunding Sanctuary districts because the people in them are lazy good-for-nothing drains on the system.

Jadzia has managed to order new ID (presumably by hacking the system) in an office that reminds me quite a bit of the office from Assignment: Earth. Another time travel story to a period depicting one of humanity’s great mistakes. One thing to note is that Jadzia’s savior used to have tattoos, but had to get them removed once he hit the business world. I’m going to try to keep count of the predictions that are obviously wrong because it’s going to distract me from the ones that aren’t obviously wrong yet.

Chris Brynner, as it turns out, is kind of a big deal. He runs ultraGoogle and wants to help Jadzia. He might be infatuated, he might also just be a good guy. Meanwhile, Sisko is getting fingerprinted and ID’d, and what’s notable is that the company that provides this service does so via microtransactions. I mean, the cop gets a government discount, but this is definitely Shadowrun territory. Sisko’s not in the system, which is clearly a problem. There’s protocol for this, but protocol is not what Vin the Surly Cop wants to follow.

Briefly checking in with the Defiant… On track so far.

"Picard killed my wife and crew and then gave my my mission overview, but it is only now in this very moment that I truly comprehend rage."

“Picard killed my wife and crew and then gave my my mission overview, but it is only now in this very moment that I truly comprehend rage.”

Sisko’s first visit to the DMV is going exactly how you’d expect. He’s also trying to remember something, and the date triggers it. There’s an event called the Bell Riots, set to occur in early September, 2024, less than a week from when they are now. It’s a takeover by the sanctuary residents complete with government hostages, and ends in a government assault on the district and hundreds of casualties. And they’re not allowed to prevent it because of Starfleet Temporal Displacement Policy. They’ve finally gotten one, it seems. The good news is that a sanctuary resident named Gabriel Bell protects the hostages, gets killed in the process, and changes the system basically overnight and leading to a concerted effort to fix all the social problems we’ve been dealing with for a century. So there’s another obviously false prediction – the attention span of the American public. I make myself sad sometimes.

Sisko and Bashir’s caseworker tells us all about the distinction between Dims and Gimmes. Dims are people who ought to be in mental health facilities but aren’t because there aren’t enough and they’re poorly funded. Gimmes are people looking for work and shelter and other basic necessities of survival. They’re also confined to the Sanctuary district. The district attempts to perform job placement services, but that’s not going to happen. The buildings are all communal so they can stay anywhere that isn’t held by a gang. But hey, they get ration cards!

Dax is being increasingly set up by Chris, who’s gotten her a room in a hotel for the week, invites her to dinner, and has had his assistant check around the hospitals and morgues for her friends. They’re not there, which means they’re wandering the streets of the district looking for a building that isn’t overcrowded because the district is used as a dumping ground for basically anyone. Bashir is focused on how there’s medical treatment that could fix many of the Dims, but Sisko points out that the problem here is like when you have a dozen things to do and your brain shuts down rather than doing one thing at a time. The social problems are too enormous and society can’t deal with it, so they’re shoveling all the laundry into the closet and pretending that means the chore has been accomplished.

Why, he looks like a fine fellow, the sort you'd bring home to meet father.

Why, he looks like a fine fellow, the sort you’d bring home to meet father.

Also note Bashir’s speech here, which is totally not foreshadowing at all, when he decries the ability of humanity and the Federation to bury its head in the sand if something truly big and scary happens. Sisko gives us some bravado, and then immediately jumps in to stop Bashir from saving someone from a gang of toughs led by this well-spoken gentleman.  He suggests they be on their way, but wishes them the absolute best.

Checking in with the Defiant again… they can beam through time a few times, but not enough for a certainty of finding anyone.

Back on Earth, Bashir and Sisko found a basement apartment to sleep outside of, and Bashir casually mentions that nobody’s started systematically replacing the beds on the station yet. After two and a half years they’re still using the Cardassian beds that everyone hates. What, are all the beds bolted to the floor? And can’t they cut them out? Literally nobody likes them, except maybe Garak. Cut them out, beam them back into constituent matter, and replace them with human beds. It shouldn’t be that difficult.

Sisko and Bashir want to try to get up to a roof to see what there is to be seen, and bargain away their uniforms for roof access and some local clothing. They also meet a guy caring for his wounded son, and Sisko can’t stop Bashir from trying to help. They make enough of a friend to get some info from a local, who tries to tell them about the realities of the district. He’s an organizer, trying to get people to band together. Temporal Prime Directive forbids them from getting involved, though.

Jadzia is attending a fancy party where the 1-percenters (or Capital District Residents, if you prefer) are complaining about missing their vacations because of millennials protesting the tanking economy and increasingly sparse middle class. Good thing that sort of nonsense doesn’t happen in America! Jadzia can’t help but interject, which lets her unlock the dialogue tree that teaches her about the Sanctuary districts, and how anyone without ID gets shoved into one. Chris knew about this and somehow didn’t bother thinking about it. But now that he has, he’s willing to help.

You know, I'm no doctor, but I think you ought to try to stop up the wound before squeezing all the blood out of him.

You know, I’m no doctor, but I think you ought to try to stop up the wound before squeezing all the blood out of him.

Bashir gets accosted by our friend in the hat, and a fight ensues and oh my god he’s using the patented James T. Kirk Double Fist Strike. Sisko’s using some more conventionally effective elbow strikes and punches, but I swear they must teach Kirkfighting at the Academy. It’s not going well for our heroes when a very intense looking black man steps in to help and gets himself super stabbed. The police finally show up only to chase down Sisko and Bashir ineffectively, but Sisko has some bad news. He got the dead guy’s ID, and it was Gabriel Bell. So much for temporal integrity.

If Bell is dead, it might be that nobody saves the hostages, which means that the national outrage over the Waco situation in the Sanctuary District won’t happen, which means that instead of Star Trek we’ll go all the way to the Hunger Games, complete with stupid-looking hats. Sisko now has an alternate plan – save the hostages himself.

On the Defiant, Kira and O’Brien are getting ready to explore the past but oh wait what’s this Starfleet is gone because of changes to the past? How totally unexpected! And while everything is going exactly according to plan, this does afford us another insight into some of the mechantics of time travel. Because everyone on the Defiant has experienced events in a linear fashion, including Odo being in the middle of a call ‘when’ the past changed. Presumably the Defiant was insulated by the chroniton buildup in the hull, but this means that from the perspective of an omniscient observer native to the new timeline, the Defiant showed up in orbit a few hours ago, exchanged radio traffic with a nonexistent source, and only just now stopped. Because from that perspective, Earth hasn’t changed suddenly at all, but the Defiant only caught up with the changes when they’d experienced the same amount of subjective time as their away team.

This may be read as weak support for the Many-Worlds hypothesis, otherwise known as Worf’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Goo, Very Bad Day. Rather than altering The Timeline (caps intended), the Defiant has slid into the wake of an Everett-branching event. This makes the temporal dynamics slightly less funky and slides this phenomenon into a known (if poorly-understood) magisterium. You may have to trust me on this.

In this timeline, there are no Earth orbital facilities, no extraterrestrial Human objects, and the Romulans are at Alpha Centauri, which is way too close to Earth. And back on the planet, Sisko and Bashir join up with the friend they made. The locals have all noticed that there’s been none of the promised work-placement programs, so they’re planning a peaceful rally, with an emphasis on the children and families. Jadzia has also found out where they’re hiding, and challenges some of One-Percenter Chris’ assumptions about the Sanctuaries, but it may be too late. Tensions have broken, a guard is being beaten up, and Sisko just barely manages to stop the crowd from beating him to death with a stolen shotgun. Our friend that hat-man thinks he’s in charge of the riot, by dint of also having a shotgun, so now Sisko gets to try to manage him upwards, and takes on the name Gabriel bell. We get a To Be Continued, but the implication is obvious. Sisko’s prepared to die to try to repair the timeline.

I wonder if it’s against the Starfleet Temporal Displacement Policy to make sure Bashir registers a message with a legal service that will have Sisko take the shuttle ‘next time around’ as it were.

Did we miss something awesome?