Chapter 7 - Trying Times For All Of Us

"Ah! The lovely Mrs. Klinger! Welcome to my little dress shop!" Despite himself, Elim Garak liked Soon-Lee. Granted, she was exactly the kind of person whom he would have used in times past, to get what he needed. But that didn't mean he didn't like her. In her eyes he saw a wonder even as regarded his run-down garment store. Besides, he knew that Dukat would absolutely hate her. Anyone he knew Dukat would hate, he liked. Finally, she was a woman well out of place. That reminded him of Ziyal. That caused Garak no end of pain.That pain reminded him he was still alive.

"I am just looking around, Mr. Garak. You have so many lovely things, here." Soon-Lee had never gone into a dress shop where the clerks didn't shift nervously, and where sleeping security guards didn't suddenly spring to life. She knew it was because she was not born American. River Bend, Missouri, was not a hateful place. But both she and Max noted different tones when people spoke to them. Somehow, even Max wasn't white enough for them. In sillier moments, she even wondered if these people thought Colonel Potter's hair was white enough. Not that anyone would ever dare tell him that it wasn't. But Soon-Lee was often very upset at what people would dare say to her. This she kept to herself, for it would only get Max in trouble for defending her.

But here, in the dream-world of Deep Space Nine, she was accepted. With so many strange people around, she wasn't even noticed. She knew it was a dream, for reasons of her acceptance, and many others. For example, the helmet-headed man called Worf actually did bring the little girl Molly a toy, and she hugged him like he was the first man she ever saw. Which in fact, he was. Worf's wife, Jadzia, who had the odd skin-markings, was also very nice. Soon-Lee found out all about the woman she had replaced from Jadzia Dax.

Her great - granddaughter had fought robot-men, evil demons, dog-faced soldiers, and, when she had gotten sick, asked another woman - a Major like Margaret Houlihan - to have her baby for her. All this indicated that this was a dream. That's why she tried to seduce the handsome Miles O'Brien, by disrobing so often. She'd feel horrible if he really were her great-grandson- in-law, but he was a character out of a dream. Max would certainly understand. He often talked in his sleep about a woman named Rita. But she had Max when he was awake, and she thought that counted more.

"I think I know why you're here! I'll go get it!" Before Soon-Lee could object, Garak ran off to the backroom. There he would fetch an object that he had been weeks in restoring. As he left, Soon-Lee remembered the last bit of evidence that determined this was a dream-world. The station was run by a black man. In the real world, any Negro man who spoke, walked, and acted like the powerful, handsome Benjamin Sisko would be utterly destroyed. Soon-Lee knew that her mind was somehow seeing Colonel Potter as a black man. She didn't know why, but a lot of the whys and wherefores of both dreams and real life confused the young woman no end. She couldn't tell why a man like Sisko couldn't be in charge outside of her dream. She simply knew that he couldn't. Certain things just were. She was utterly confused by how long this dream was taking. When Garak came back out, however, confusion turned to stark terror.

"Chief, we're trying! Please understand that the Orb of Time has done this before, and its always been for a reason, one that serves the Will Of The Prophets!" Miles O'Brien wasn't impressed with what Major Kira's argument.

"All I know, Major, is that neither Keiko nor I worship your precious wormhole aliens. So I don't care if she's needed to keep Adam and Eve from Original Sin! I just want her back, now! Mrs. Klinger is an exceptionally wonderful person, but I assume that her husband wants her back, too." Based on what Keiko had often said about the subject of incest, Miles knew that Max Klinger was just as frustrated as him right now-relatively speaking.

"WORMHOLE ALIENS! Oh, that's terrific, Miles! Just dismiss the faith of an entire world, simply because you're not getting....."

"MAJOR! That's enough! Firstly, Chief O'Brien is justified in feeling upset. I personally asked that the Orb Of Time never be brought on board again. Both as the CO of this station and as The Emissary Of The Prophets! I know its importance. But a major figure in Federation history nearly died in his prime because that Orb came into the wrong hands! Finally, may I ask, why the government of Bajor finds it convienent to ask many things of The Emissary with full expectation that they will be carried out, but my requests on such matters are routinely ignored!?"

Ever since the switch between Keiko O'Brien and Soon-Lee had taken place, Kira Nerys had been catching hell. From Sisko-The Captain. From Sisko-The Emissary. From Starfleet Temporal Authority. From the Vedek Council. From her former boyfriend, now head of Bajor's government. From her current boyfriend, fearful that the Orb could compromise station security. From Kai Winn, worried that the switch was a bad omen, and could hurt the faithful. But The Kai, she expected it from. But she was hoping for a bit of understanding from the Chief. She was getting none. Captain Sisko had just crossed the line.

"I -- DON'T -- KNOW -- WHY -- SIR!" With that, she punched the table.

"Major, right now, you should be thankful that Bajor isn't in the Federation! If you had spoken to me that way in Starfleet, it would not have gone well for you. Add to that, having the Orb leave Bajor for any reason is plain foolishness in a war zone! We are at War with the Dominion, remember? Think what the Founders could do with that Orb! Speaking of Founders, where is the Constable?"

By now, Kira had resolved to accept her fate, and calmed down a bit. "I don't know where Odo is, Sir. I apologize for my tone." Her head was resting on her arm. She was obviously tired and had a headache she would talk to Julian about afterwards.

"As to why your requests are routinely ignored, please remember the woman through whom all such requests go. You know her. The word "Emissary" catches in her throat when she says it to you. Kind of like the word "Kai" catches in mine, when I say it to her. Finally, Chief-for the last time-I am sorry that Keiko is missing. But she is definitely alive, if you'll let me explain."

"I still don't care for your tone of voice, Major-but, in light of all the pressure you've been under, I'm happy to let it go."

Despite Bashir's quiet urgings to calm himself, Miles spoke again. "Forgive me, sir, but I am not ready to let it go. I realize, Nerys, that you did not intend any of this. I'm sorry that the pressure has made me so damned irritable. But between Q, the Prophets, the enemies of The Prophets, and God only knows who else, I am sick of these cosmic beings playing lab rat with us. Even in the name of Faith. I mean, I risked my wife's life to stop the Prophets from being slaughtered! Doesn't that earn us any points?"

Ready to explain the position of her beliefs, Kira stepped carefully. "Chief, " she began, "It may be precisely because you helped them that the Prophets are doing this. It maybe their idea...Of a reward".

Garak wondered what he had done to offend Soon-Lee. He only knew that she had run out in a blind panic. He held up what he had shown her, and regarded it. "There's nothing wrong with you, little dress. You're in remarkable shape for something over 400 years old, taken from a time capsule, no less. Especially with what Worf did to you. Strange that he was angry, and that nice little woman is so upset. I thought this dress was the ancestral attire of Mr. Klinger. Oh, well." With that, Elim Garak carefully put away the last remaining piece of the once enormous Klinger collection. He admired the workmanship, and knew quite well that not every man could wear a dress like this and look good in it. Morn certainly couldn't get away with it, though Garak had tried with all his might to find him something.

Jake Sisko saw Soon-Lee Klinger sitting alone, looking dazed. He was struck both by the oft-commented resemblance to Keiko O'Brien, and by the opportunity to interview a real mid-20th Century resident. As his friend Nog and their new acquaintance Alexander Rozehnko of the House Of Martok watched, he slowly approached her.

"Mrs. Klinger-Soon-Lee-Hi, I'm Jake Sisko, a reporter, and we're all fascinated by events in the 20th Century. Before we begin, could you just describe yourself for me?" Her response was brief, to the point, and on the verge of hysteria.

"I am nothing but a faithless, shameful, wanton slut!"

In tears, she fled, running into Jadzia Dax down the corridor. Jake stared in stunned silence. His two friends spoke in a whisper. Alexander said "His method of questioning leaves something to be desired." Nog nodded, then said, "Tell me about it."

As Jadzia tried to reach the staff meeting while at the same time calming a sobbing Soon-Lee, at the meeting, Kira attempted to explain the history of the Orb Of Time. When she was through, Miles was a bit calmer, but still had his questions.

"So, Nerys, you're saying that the Orb will shift people around as needed, for something as big as stopping a war, or as small as a lost family recipe. And they always return?"

Kira now felt on surer footing. "50 known instances, Chief. Always safe and sound, and better for the experience. We will get Keiko back. I swear on both my Fathers' graves." Kira would have sworn on the Prophets, but she wasn't quite as sure as she let on. The long-term proved the benefits of the time shift, but the short-term could be hellish indeed.

With proof of that, in walked Jadzia Dax. Soon-Lee ran over to Miles, hugged him, and got down on her knees. "Oh, Miles! Can you and my many-times Great-Granddaughter forgive me? I thought this was all a dream. That is why paraded my naked body in front of you!" Miles didn't need to look to see everyone at the table staring at him. At least the dream part explained Soon-Lee's behavior-that, and Julian's little joke that was now a pronounced limp the Doctor would live with for a few days-and like it.

"There, There, Kiddo. Soon-Lee, what convinced you this wasn't all a dream?" Miles finally felt safe around his wife's ancestor. With the sexual tension gone, he could help her to calm down.

"That nice Mr. Garak showed me one of Max's dresses. The one he buried in the time capsule. I've seen that dress in dreams before, but I always get the color wrong. Here, it is correct. This is all real! Miles, please forgive me!"

Miles responded by kissing her on the forehead. "Soon-Lee Klinger, I can honestly say I see so much of what I love in my Keiko in you, it floors me. Max Klinger is one hell of a lucky guy, and I am going to tell him that when I bring you back to him. Just one thing, "Grandma". Please don't let me see anymore of you than I should. Family love can be taken a bit far!" Miles was smiling, and so was Soon-Lee.

"I promise you will never see my birthday suit again. Besides, your quarters are cold! Waitaminute! You will see my body again! My granddaughter looks just like me even down to my..." Miles gestured to cut her off, just as the men leaned forward, some unwittingly.

Whispering, Julian Bashir spoke to Worf. "Did I hear her say that the dress belonged to her husband? That isn't mentioned in the files!"

Worf responded, "Not every man can look good in that kind of dress. It takes a certain sort." Julian just stared at Worf, after that. He then felt a sharp, painful kick to his injured leg.

Soon-Lee apologized. "Oh, Doctor, Sorry! I am so clumsy! You know me.." She leaned closer, "I can't even adjust bathrobe filter!" With that, she left with a much calmer looking Miles. Kira wrote down material on the ritual neccesary to activate the Orb, and he remembered she wanted to ask him something. For now, though, only one thought swam through his head. "The same LEG! Aaahh!" He would keep in mind to avoid little Molly.

Sitting in his office, a few hours later, Sisko did not treasure the thought of time travel. Too close, too many times. He'd have to have Dax remove her Trill markings, and have Chief O'Brien pretend to be his superior, in that era. No sense drawing attention. Then Major Kira walked in. She merely said, "Captain, I'm going with you!" Before Captain Sisko could object, he noted that Kira had had her face surgically altered to look Terran.

"Major, I once asked you to do this, and you wouldn't. Pride, you said. Why now?" Kira didn't hesitate.

"Captain, in the final analysis, I put Keiko in this position. I should go along with you to extract her. So long as no one on Bajor finds out, I'll be fine. I owe her, and not just for this. She entrusted me with her child's life! That induces a debt that..."

Sisko surrendered. "All right, Major, I'll allow this. But for this assignment, you ARE Starfleet! That means you take orders from me, and not the Will Of The Prophets! Am I understood?" Kira nodded that he was. Then, Odo entered.

"Please forgive my missing the meeting, Captain. I had the oddest dream, about a Star, and a Birth, it was....Why are you both staring at me?" Odo was not in his usual uniform. He had formed from himself a white-yellow sun hat, and was wearing 20th Century Army Fatigues. Add to that, he was wearing a Catholic priest's collar. For some reason he was unaware of this. They all, however, heard Soon-Lee Klinger in the distance, saying, "Molly, why is the man with the odd face dressed like Father Mulcahy?" The little girl responded, "Oh, Grandma, that's just Odo. He's nice, but silly!" Odo looked at himself, then commented, "From the mouths of babes...."

Almost 2400 years before Odo was dressed like him, the real Francis Mulcahy was presenting incense to the Holy Family in Bethlehem. Joyful to his heart of hearts, but nervous as he could be, he gently turned down Mary's offer to hold the infant Jesus. Overwhelmed, he retreated from the manger as he saw the Little Drummer Boy approach. The tears of joy still flowed freely.

"Oh, my the soldiers! I should tell Joseph..." He stopped, unable to speak, and remembering that, even if he could form words, his Aramaic was terribly rusty. Suddenly, the realization kicked in that being back here, he could do as much damage as good. He would regret not holding the Child, but he doubted his shaking hands and sweaty palms would help the young Lord sleep. He looked up. "Thank You. I don't know if I deserve this...Strike that, for I know I don't deserve this. I have no words. There are no words." Then, once again using the forms of the 4077th, the Prophets Of Bajor appeared.

"The Priest has seen the Promise. Would he see the Rising?" Father Mulcahy's answer shocked both himself and the Prophets.

"No, Please. I don't think I could bear any more. Besides, the...Rising, as you call it, is actually more important to my beliefs than that which you call the Promise. The Rising must remain a matter of faith. If I see it, I don't have to believe in it any more. Let it remain a mystery. As it was meant to be."

Francis Mulcahy was torn, but felt he made the right decision. Still, "If anyone had told me I would be tempted with the possibility of seeing the Stone pulled away that First Easter, and refuse it, I'm---not quite sure what I would have told them." He stopped. "Probably what I told poor Keiko O'Brien. Heh. The woman speaks the truth, that's what you tried to tell me."

"The Priest is done, here. He considers himself in our debt." Now, they were shifting between his friends so fast, he couldn't tell who was speaking. "We ask the Priest, will your friends help you?"

Mulcahy's response was immediate. "My friends will always help me--no matter what!" He then saw only Hawkeye, Margaret, Trapper, and Charles. The images responded as one. "Then help you they shall. The crossing needs balance."

With that, Father Mulcahy found himself back in the hospital chapel. He then did two things : Gave thanks to God for his vision, and determined to apologize to the woman he now knew for certain was indeed Keiko O'Brien. As he moved to leave, though, his eye was caught by what seemed to be a wire leading from the confessional.

In the 24th Century, the ritual was complete. Kira's research indicated that the orb would send them back, along with Soon-Lee, to 1956, somewhere outside of River Bend, away from prying eyes. Captain Sisko, Major Kira, an increasingly anxious Chief O'Brien and Doctor Bashir, all in mid-20th Century garb, all vanished in a flash of light. Two problems were immediately noticed by Worf and Dax. One was that Soon-Lee did not go with them. She was still there. The 2nd problem: Four strangers appeared in their friends' places. One of them, wearing a loud shirt, took one look at Worf and said "What is this, a Halloween party? I wish someone had sent out the invites!"

Worf responded, "I can assure you, Sir, that this is no Halloween party. I am Lieutanant Commander Worf, and this is my wife, Jadzia Dax. You are...?"

The man responded. "Well, not that I have any idea what the hell's going on, but this is Margaret Houlihan, Charles Emerson Winchester---The Third, and lastly but not leastly, Trapper John McIntyre. Oh, and that tolerant lady waving at me seems to be Soon-Lee Klinger. Myself, I'm Hawkeye Pierce, and are you absolutely sure this isn't Halloween? Beej? You out there? You set this up?" Worf merely sighed, and Jadzia with him.

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