Take Your Substance Back
"Captain's log, stardate 47357.2. A race from the Gamma Quadrant calling themselves the Praalg have come through the wormhole with an interesting message. Apparently they have discovered something on one of their colony planets that originated from Bajor. Lt. Dax stated that their initial transmission seemed friendly if somewhat rushed. I can only hope this first contact will be a peaceful one. Sisko out."
Captain Sisko entered ops and saw that the view screen was already showing an image of an alien life form with purple and blue scales and slitted orange eyes. Sisko always had trouble telling the emotion on reptilian faces, and this time was no exception. He schooled his features into what he hoped was a neutral expression to their people and took over for Major Kira, who had been speaking to them before he got there.
"I am Captain Sisko of DS9. To whom am I speaking?" Sisko asked diplomatically.
"I am the Throneman of my vessel, Moraam," The alien replied before nodding to the captain. Sisko only hoped that nod wasn't an offensive gesture. "I must say, I love the gunmetal color of your station. Very utilitarian. My people appreciate simple aesthetics."
"You said you had something from Bajor?" Sisko reminded him.
"Bajor? Oh, yes, the Alpha Quadrant planet," Moraam replied absentmindedly, "Yes, we have a substance from Bajor that you must take back immediately."
"A substance?" Sisko parroted.
"Yes, the substance has been here for two months in our brig," Moraam explained, "The substance attempted to stab Boraalim before it was apprehended."
"Wait, what do you mean it tried to stab you?" Kira asked skeptically, "What exactly did you pick up over there?"
"I told you, a Bajoran substance," Moraam repeated, "We found the Bajoran substance badly injured on an uninhabited planet. We did not know what it was, and we are a naturally inquisitive people, so we took it with us for examination. It was in great distress; covered in ship parts fused to its body. Over time the substance's true form reasserted itself, and we felt that we had gained a friend. Then the Bajoran stabbed Boraalim, and we had to confine it to the brig."
"Bajoran?" Sisko asked, "So when you say substance, you are talking about a Bajoran person?"
"Person? I do not know the word," Moraam replied quizzically, "We have the substance on board, and we insist you take it away from us. It's mind is not stable, and it needs medical care we are unable to provide. We wish no harm to the substance despite its aggression. We do not believe the substance is in control of its actions. Of course, we have little knowledge of the Alpha Quadrant. The Dominion does not like it when our race travels, but we must travel. The urge penetrates us all the way down to the bone."
"Why don't you come on board the station and we can discuss arrangements for the Bajoran citizen?" Sisko offered.
"I cannot do that," Moraam replied apologetically, "We must return home before it is noticed that we left our space. Please, take the Bajoran substance. We cannot care for it."
"Hey," Kira spoke up, "Does this uh, substance, have a name?"
"Yes. It calls itself Kira T'Malor," Moraam replied.
"Kira?" Dax asked in shock, voicing the feelings of the entire room.
"T'Malor..." Kira whispered to herself, in shock for an entirely different reason.
"We will beam the substance to you once you give us a location, Captain Sisko," Moraam said insistently, breaking through the tension in the room for a moment.
"You said the Bajoran was hurt?" Sisko asked for confirmation.
"Affirmative," Moraam replied.
"Then beam them to the coordinates I give you," Sisko ordered, "That is our sickbay. Thank you for bringing this to our attention."
"We are grateful The Dominion did not find our discovery," Moraam said heavily, "They believe in harsh corporal punishment for assault. We however have learned how to remove violent impulses from the brain. Our treatment would not work on the Bajoran substance however. It's mind is far too different from anything we have encountered before. We are beaming the substance to you now."
"Very good," Sisko nodded, and then tapped his comm badge, "Sisko to Dr. Bashir. Prepare for a new patient being beamed directly to sickbay."
"Acknowledged," Bashir replied automatically, then a moment later, "I have her, sir."
"Thank you for your cooperation, Captain Sisko," Moraam said as he nodded his head once again, "We appreciate discovering you. You seem to be made of a fine substance. May our joined existences have peace and discovery."
With those words the transmission was cut, and the Praalg ship went into warp straight into the wormhole. With that distraction out of the way, everyone turned to regard Major Kira, who looked stunned by what had just transpired.
"Major, I would like to speak with you in my office," Sisko said calmly.
"Aye, sir," Kira replied shakily as she tried to clear her head.
The two officers walked to Sisko's office, and once the door was closed both of them sat down across from each other. The calm of the dimly lit office with a window looking out at the stars was a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of ops.
"So, do you know this person; this Kira T'Malor?" Sisko asked pointblank.
"I know the name, but I never actually knew her," Kira replied, "You see sir, T'Malor was my older sister. She was four years older than I was...or at least she would've been."
"Would've been?" Sisko asked.
"Yes sir. T'Malor died when she was two years old," Kira explained, "My family was poor, and food was scarce. My father rarely spoke about T'Malor, but when I was ten I found her earring among a small box of his possessions, and he told me everything. She died of starvation, Captain. The Cardassians had my family boxed in, and they couldn't find food or work. My parents barely survived, and T'Malor wasn't strong because she was just a toddler. Two years after she died I was born, and then my two brothers after that. I can't imagine what my parents went through. At that time she was their only child, and they watched her wither away and die. So you see Captain, that woman in sickbay can't be her."
"Then what are you suggesting, Major?" Sisko asked stoically.
"The most likely explanation is Cardassian spy," Kira reasoned, "We know they've replaced real Bajorans with altered Cardassian look alikes before. They could do it again. I guess a more optimistic theory is that she could be from an alternate dimension where T'Malor lived through the occupation or the occupation didn't happen. She could even be from the mirror universe. Other than that, I don't know."
"Well there's an easy way to put at least one of your theories to rest," Sisko replied, "We need to make a trip to sickbay."
When Sisko and Kira made it to sickbay they saw Dr. Bashir scanning all around the body of a woman close to Kira's age. The woman was conscious, with large brown eyes staring directly up at the ceiling and paying no attention to the medical staff surrounding her like carrion birds. Her eyes looked so much like Major Kira's that it would be hard to believe they weren't related. That wasn't the first thing Kira noticed however. Where T'Malor's trademark ridged Bajoran nose should be, there was only an ugly black and steel prosthetic.
"I've seen this before," Kira whispered to Sisko, "Or at least something like it. The survivors of Gallitep often had pieces of their faces cut off by their Cardassians oppressors. Noses, chins, ears, anything really. I've seen people try to cover the scarred tissue before, but usually not with a prosthetic so...obvious."
"Perhaps she didn't have access to decent cosmetic technology," Sisko softly replied, and then in a louder voice said, "So, Dr. Bashir. I presume our patient is cooperating for you."
"She is, sir," Bashir replied without taking his eyes off his tricorder, "I've never encountered such an odd webbing of cybernetic grafts before."
"Cybernetic?" Kira asked.
"Yes, while all you can clearly see is her artificial nose, there is actually a complicated system of life support functions all over her body," Bashir explained, "Some of them don't even seem like they would be necessary to replace. I'm fairly sure her artificial eye replaced a perfectly healthy eye, given the lack of degradation on the optical nerves connected to it. There have even been positronic implants inserted into her brain."
"Positronic? Like what you did for Vedek Bariel?" Kira pressed.
"Yes, only these don't appear to be of Federation Origin," Bashir elaborated, "The metallic compound isn't typical of Federation medical technology."
"Butchers," Kira hissed.
"Major?" Sisko gave her a questioning look.
"I remember what happened to Bariel," Kira replied, her voice cracking as she spoke, "When Bashir extended his life with a positronic implant. He was more machine than man. He couldn't even feel the same way he used to. I know why he chose to have it done, but ultimately it was more merciful to let him die than let him live like that. The Cardassians probably experimented on T'Malor! Why else would she look like this? Why else would she have her brain sliced up and replaced by machines? What's happened to her?"
"This one can still hear you," A stiff feminine voice suddenly interjected.
Kira and Sisko looked at the patient, and saw that without moving her head her eye was regarding them. Kira managed to look at T'Malor for the first time since entering the room, and saw more than just a missing nose. T'Malor's skin was so pale it almost looked grey, her eyes looked like Kira's only far more listless. Her hair was somewhat long, black, and seemed to be neatly maintained under normal circumstances. Her clothing was a simple black dress covering a simple black bodysuit. Her face held no expression. Kira's heart sank, seeing that this woman already looked dead.
"Who are you?" T'Malor asked.
"I'm Major Kira Nerys," Kira introduced herself, "And this is Captain Sisko, commander of the space station Deep Space 9. How are you feeling?"
"Alert," T'Malor replied without inflection.
Kira sighed heavily. When Bariel had awakened from having his implants installed, he had simply said he felt awake. The symptoms were so similar, and Kira knew that if this was her sister then someone had committed a terrible crime against their family. She only hoped that whoever it was had suffered for this.
"You are Kira Nerys," T'Malor repeated, "This one is called Kira T'Malor. Are we similar?"
"We think you might be my older sister, but Dr. Bashir has to perform a genetic test before we can know for sure," Kira explained, "Do you need anything?"
"No," T'Malor replied, but then backtracked and said, "Well...Yes. Could you...talk to me? It's so quiet."
T'Malor's voice sounded like it stalled whenever she spoke; like a damaged holo-recording. Kira tried to ignore it, but looking at this woman was heartbreaking. Something was very wrong with her, and in that moment Kira forgot all about her theories of Cardassian spies and mirror universe counterparts. All she cared about was trying to remind this poor creature of her Bajoran pagh.
"Well, first of all, you should probably know that our mother and father have both died," Kira informed her, "The occupation took its toll on a lot of people. We had to fight hard to retake our home. When the Cardassians left seven years ago, it was a day of great celebration."
"So Bajor...won?" T'Malor asked in confusion.
"Yes, Bajor won," Kira replied with a genuine smile.
"You broke free...and you are satisfied with the outcome," T'Malor digested this thought for a moment, "This one is free too, but doesn't know how to feel this satisfaction. What this one lost appears to be greater than what has been gained. It is too quiet, and my information is outdated."
"I know about your positronic brain implants," Kira told her, "It's okay. We're going to work through this together. You'll learn how to live again, I promise."
"We are very similar," T'Malor said again, "Unique, but similar. This one is grateful for you, Nerys."
"T'Malor...is it true that you tried to stab a Praalg crewman?" Kira asked despite not really wanting to ask at such a delicate moment, "I have to know your side of the story. Odo will ask you eventually anyway, so I'd like to have something to report to him first. That way maybe he won't be so hard on you in your condition."
"This one was lonely, desperate," T'Malor recalled, "This one was wrong to ignore the resistance. Boraalim did not want to be with T'Malor. It wasn't fair of this one to ask. You can't understand the silence until you have heard the sound, Nerys. Why is this one still alive, when there is only silence?"
"You mean, you tried to initiate a romantic relationship with one of the Praalg?" Dr. Bashir asked.
"Julian, this is private," Kira snapped.
"It was not romantic," T'Malor answered him despite Kira's protests, "This one only wants a unique voice to blend with my own. This one is alone. This one has never been alone, yet for two Bajoran months now this one has been alone. I...I need help."
The last sentence was said with such difficulty that Kira could almost feel T'Malor fighting against something. She still didn't know exactly what happened with the Praalg, but she did know that this woman, big sister or not, was miserable and trying to cope with a situation Kira still didn't fully understand.
"T'Malor, answer me this," Kira said quickly as she squeezed T'Malor's arm, "Did the Cardassians do this to you? These cybernetic experiments?"
"The Cardassians..." T'Malor struggled to remember, and then said, "The Cardassians. This one remembers the Cardassians, and they remember T'Malor. T'Malor's parents were dirty and poor. There was no food, they said. They were all going to starve, they said. The Cardassians wanted slave labor for Cardassia 8. They also wanted medical test subjects. T'Malor was far from mature at that point. Gul Zarschok offered to purchase T'Malor from the Bajoran peasants. They refused. The Gul increased the amount of latinum and added food and seeds as an incentive. They accepted. T'Malor was taken on board the Cardassian ship. T'Malor's crying irritated the Cardassians. Gul Zarschok felt great contempt for the Bajorans. He knew they would sell their child, because he believed Bajorans do not love their children. Bajoran data is limited, but T'Malor believes his assumptions are mistaken. They were desperate. Desperation is a strong feeling."
"That can't be true!" Kira exclaimed crossly, "The Cardassians said our parents sold you to them? That's a lie! They would never do that!"
"It is not a lie," T'Malor replied stoically, "Their thoughts belong to this one now. Their memories, their knowledge, it is all within this one. This one can see the transaction take place clearly and without the interference of the emotion involved. T'Malor was sold."
"You mean their memories were stored inside your positronic implant?" Dr. Bashir inquired.
"Affirmative," T'Malor replied before shutting her eyes and attempting to sleep.
Kira couldn't bring herself to believe that, despite what this woman said. This Kira T'Malor couldn't be her sister. Not if their own parents were willing to sell her. She had to be from another dimension. This had to be a mistake. There was no way Kira Nerys's parents would do this to their own child.