When Captain Benjamin Sisko, commanding officer of Deep Space 9 and the U.S.S. Defiant, stepped into the Operations Centre after his conversation with Vice Admiral William Ross, his expression suggested that the turn he had taken was not the one he had hoped for.

You should know, in case it wasn't something already in the public domain (which I very much doubt), that Sisko was not simply a Starfleet officer in charge of overseeing and coordinating the activities of Deep Space 9 - formerly the Cardassian mining base known as Terok Nor - and those of the Bajoran sector after the outbreak of the Dominion War, he was also the Emissary of the Prophets for the Bajoran people.

At that time I had been stationed on the base, security division, for a few months already, after my previous assignment, the U.S.S. Europa, had been destroyed during a skirmish against some Jem'Hadar vessels - I still think too few of us were saved, but at least the sacrifice of so many good people was not in vain, as the Klingon outpost we were defending was not destroyed and the Klingons were able to avenge the loss of so many lives.
Mind you, although a lot of time has passed, remembering that specific period of my life is certainly not a walk in the park: I still meet regularly with Counsellors - I have changed several over the years due to my assignments - to make sure that I am still in a condition to continue on active duty. I don't deny that I've still had some relapses, despite no longer being at the levels of those early days - I had been diagnosed with PTSD, as a reaction to what would later be remembered as the Qu'Vat Massacre: the Europa was patrolling a sector of space near the Cardassian border, in constant contact with the Qu'Vat outpost for updates on the presence of enemy forces, when a contact suddenly sent us a distress call: Qu'Vat was under attack. To cut a long story short, we were called into action... and the Europa, despite managing to hold out until a flotilla led by the Defiant arrived, was destroyed in the fighting.

As always happens to me when I recall that event, I tend to get lost. In this context, however, the digression has its reason: after that event, and in spite of the diagnosis I had been given, I was assigned to the Deep Space 9 Security complement, provided by Starfleet in support of the Bajoran Militia forces coordinated by Constable Odo.
According to the psychologist who, at the time, was following me, it could be a substantial help for my recovery, which in any case would not have been at all quick, it would have had its own times and difficulties, mainly, precisely, at the beginning.
My story takes shape starting, roughly, from stardate 51968.5, towards the end of 2374 to be precise, when it was the cusp of what was later to be known as the 'Dominion War'. By then, I had risen to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and my recovery, though still far from seeing its conclusion, was nevertheless well underway, at least according to the therapist who had been following me since I was diagnosed with PTSD.

As I said, on that fateful morning Captain Sisko, after being awarded the Christopher Pike Medal for Valor, had been talking at length with William Ross about the mission to invade Cardassian territory, scheduled for the following morning. As it was bitterly reported, Admiral Ross had turned a deaf ear to Sisko's request not to include him in the mission, following a vision of the Prophets that had foretold a tragedy aboard Deep Space 9 should he find himself on board the Defiant, in the middle of the fighting directing the allied forces.
Despite vehement protests - «The Prophets don’t see me as a Starfleet Officer. They see me as their Emissary.» - Ross had not been particularly accommodating towards her as towards a belief he could not fully understand or accept, causing him to remark: «That's the problem, isn't it? For the past six years, you have tried to be both, and up to now, I have been patient. I have indulged you. I’ve gone out on a limb for you, many times, but this is it.You’ve got to make a decision. You are either the Emissary or a Starfleet Captain. You can’t be both.»
Faced with such an imposition, Captain Sisko had found himself with his back to the wall, with no choice but to promise to be aboard the Defiant the following morning at 0500, as previously agreed.

When we spoke again in the briefing room, late in the afternoon, the annoyance was still clearly visible on his face and in his tone of voice, to such an extent that everyone moved around him at a leisurely pace, fearing what might come of it. The whole thing ended rather quickly, actually, and so it was that the next morning Lieutenant Commander Dax and I found ourselves near the docking hatch leading to the Defiant: Dax had been assigned command of the base in the absence of Captain Sisko and most of the command staff; as head of the Federation security complement, I should also have embarked, holding the position of tactical/security officer, but Constable Odo was preferred in my place and I was left in charge of coordinating the base's security forces - the justification was that it was too premature to put myself in a situation that potentially risked being a reminder of what happened with the Europa.
Nothing to object to, after all, I had not yet fully absorbed the blow, despite all the progress I had managed to make during that period. I don't deny, however, that I had a moment's regret and annoyance at being left behind: I was still convinced that I could do my part well, despite all the history I carried on my shoulders. Clearly, it was not possible for me and I found myself forced onto Deep Space 9. The battles saw our faction come out on top, but it was what happened on the base that made the Defiant's crew bitterly disappointed.


As had often been the case since I had started serving aboard Deep Space 9, that day too, at the end of my shift, I was to meet Lenara at Quark's for a drink and some social chit-chat. I mean Dr. Lenara Kahn, with whom a solid relationship of friendship and mutual trust had been established since we had met, at a less than idyllic time, a few years earlier. Everything would have gone according to plan, too, if it hadn't been for a small, unimportant incident that occurred near the Bajorian Temple on the station, where Dax had headed at the end of her shift and before joining us at the bar.
You must know, indeed, that for some time now, the two Trills - who had married a few months earlier in a very special celebration, recalling elements from various cultures - seemed intent on becoming parents. Major Kira had taken the matter very much to heart, not least because the two women had decided to adopt one of the many orphans still living on Bajor, to such an extent that they had made considerable efforts with the planet's authorities to ensure that they did not place (too many) obstacles in their way. After several months of waiting and bureaucracy, the go-ahead had finally arrived and, before leaving for battle, the Major had informed the Trill of the situation - believe me, I was there a few paces away, exchanging a few words with Worf and Odo while boarding the Defiant... hard not to realise, especially when you're within such a short distance, with a rumble that half would have been enough. Even if you didn't want to, you couldn't help but overhear what they were saying to each other.

«I know it's all because of you, Kira,» had exclaimed, hugging the other woman, Jadzia. The Bajorian had smiled, returning the embrace: «I also prayed so much to the Prophets to help you. I am sure there is also their intervention.»
Parting, Dax had added: «We cannot thank you enough.» At this sentence, the Trill had received a warm exhortation from the Major to go to the Bajoran temple located on the Promenade to light a lamp - among other things, in those days, the temple also housed a relic, a precious Tear of the Prophets: what better occasion?
Dax had always been more a person of science than of faith, but she didn't feel like contradicting the friend who had done so much for them: so, that afternoon, while I joined Lenara at Quark's bar, Jadzia had headed to the temple, intending, a few minutes later, to join us for a drink and to celebrate the news for the second time. The first had taken place in the morning, just between the two of them, and a third time was planned as soon as Defiant, with all her colleagues and friends, had returned.

What were we talking about? Ah, yes, the fateful day when everything went right and wrong at once. Of course. I feel obliged to warn you about a small detail: part of what I'm about to tell you was only told to me afterwards, in fact, when security - after a not inconsiderable scolding from me, to which Constable Odo's scolding was also added - studied the sensor recordings, to understand what on earth had happened and why the alarm had not gone off, warning of intruders on board the base.

Be that as it may, the important thing: the Temple where Dax had headed was immediately opposite Quark’s. The little table where Lenara and I, while waiting for the other woman, had sat was on the Promenade, practically opposite the main entrance to the Temple, which allowed me - paranoid as I was at the time - to be able to monitor the comings and goings of people on the Promenade. Not that I'm any less paranoid now... but I'm most likely paranoid in a different way, all given my new position in the ranks of Starfleet.
Coming back to us, Jadzia shouldn't have taken that long, even if she wanted to respect the deities of another culture. And yet... something didn't sit right with me. There, at the time, I tried not to give too much weight to the matter: it had already happened to me, especially in the early days, to overreact to apparently anomalous situations, which had then turned out to be all in all harmless or, at any rate, not such as to justify such reactions on my part.

But, although I tried hard not to give it any particular weight, the feeling didn't seem to diminish, to go away. It was for that reason, then, that at some point I felt compelled to do something, anything, to get that feeling out of my system. I asked Lenara to wait for me at the table, trying to reassure her that everything was fine and that there was nothing to worry about: knowing me, I was getting nervous for nothing, once again I was getting too carried away by worry and my guilt. In short, the usual things, I've never been particularly good at lying, there's not much I can do about it.
You know when you really, really want to be wrong, that for once if they just think you're exaggerating or hypochondriac it doesn't matter, it's OK? Well, granted that I deeply hate those who call me a hypochondriac without any knowledge of the facts (considering that, believe me, I am anything but a hypochondriac), for once I would have been happy to catch an accusation of that kind.
It was at that very moment that my communicator trilled and the officer on guard in the security office alerted me to the presence of a Cardassian life sign on the station. I quickened my pace; if I had a sixth sense, it would have screamed in my ears to run: only then would I know that something terrible was happening in the temple at that very moment.

I barely had time to enter the main hall of the temple, where the revered Bajoran relic was on display, when I saw Gul Dukat projecting some form of energy at Jadzia Dax, who apparently was only guilty of standing between him and the Orb of the Prophets stored there. I immediately grabbed the phaser I was carrying and ordered the Cardassian to stop, but I must admit that I didn't put much effort into waiting for his reply and fired immediately. Today, years later, I realise that my gesture was crucial in saving Jadzia's life and that of her symbiote, but the consequences to come were still dramatic, and I was unable to catch Dukat who, distracted by my prolonged phaser blast, interrupted what he was doing, leaving Jadzia's body to slump to the ground, but did not stop him from directing his attention and energy immediately afterwards towards the Orb, insensitive to my prolonged fire.

What happened next... was nothing more than a strong, blinding red light, which knocked me out as well and allowed Dukat to escape; Dax and I were rescued by a security team that had arrived in support in the meantime, and we both woke up in the Infirmary. Apart from a vague sense of dizziness and disorientation, probably due to the explosion caused by Dukat in destroying the Orb of Contemplation - which, I discovered, had led to the temporary closure of the Celestial Temple, causing Captain Sisko to black out in the middle of the fight - I was basically fine, so I was quickly discharged.
The same could not be said of Jadzia or Dax: from what I was told, quickly and almost incoherently by a rush nurse, the doctor was trying hard to stabilise both of them, but without any particular success: he needed to transplant the symbiote momentarily, so that he could operate on Jadzia without risking losing either patient. Kahn wandered around the gantry like an animal in a cage, and that's where I found her: she was obviously not allowed access to the innermost area, the one dedicated to surgical procedures, when there were, as in this context, operations in progress.

«They need a compatible host...» It took me a moment to realise that I had uttered those words, as I held Lenara to me, in a desperate attempt to hold her back and not let her see a scene that would surely have been quite traumatising. She stopped struggling against me so suddenly that I looked at her perplexed, not immediately understanding what was wrong: «Lenara? What is it?»
«There is no compatible host, Eva... there are no other Trills aboard the station and the nearest vessel with a Trill on board, the Destiny, is still several hours at warp from the base.»
«You're wrong here... the compatible host is there.» I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of this before: I had read, not long before, a series of now-dated reports compiled following a mission in which the Enterprise-D had been involved.
At the time, the flagship had taken on board a Trill, Ambassador Odan, with the aim of mediating a dispute. There had been a series of cascading mishaps: back then, the nature of Trill culture was even more nebulous than it is today, so of course no one knew that the fictitious 'Ambassador Odan' was, in fact, the symbiote that the Trill carried; the aforementioned Odan had fallen in love with Dr. Crusher, Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise, being reciprocated; following an accident, the host had not come to a happy end, with the result that Commander Riker had found himself forced to house, inside himself, the symbiote in order to continue mediating, at least until a new host arrived to take in the... worm.
I say... if it had been done once, and more or less nothing tragic had happened, do you want it not to be OK again, especially with medical technology vastly superior to what the Crusher had, back in the day? Also, but no less important to consider, Dr. Bashir was the foremost expert on Trill physiology, for obvious reasons... so we were in a league of our own. All of us.

«Okay,» I continued, pulling away from her just enough to force her to look me in the eye, «I need you to stay here, Lenara. Don't make me,» I added, seeing that she was about to protest, «order a security team into the Infirmary to forcibly remove you or ask someone to sedate you.»
«What are you going to do? Eva...?» Kahn had a terrified expression, on her face: at that exact moment, she was in danger of losing the most important person in her life, and having been there before - the Kahn symbiont had provided her with memories of her previous host, Nilani, married to Torias Dax who died during the final test of a new warp engine - she feared reliving that experience. Understandable.
Despite all my best attempts, I don't think my expression could in any way calm her down, but there wasn't much I could do about it and time was beginning to run out: «I don't have time to explain now. Just stay here, please. OK?» I didn't give her time to answer me, but even if she did, I didn't realise it: I left her there, so engrossed in my decision that whoever had spoken to me I probably wouldn't have even heard.

I entered Dr. Bashir's office without too much preamble, determined to bypass the nurse guarding the operating theatre, but there was no need: at that very moment, in fact, the Chief Medical Officer of the base came out of the same door that I would have gladly broken down, still wrapped in the red operating theatre tunic. We stopped in front of each other and his look said it all: if it wasn't too late, it was close.
He was just in time to start talking - «One hour, maybe two, that's all the time that...» - that I practically didn't let him and spoke over him: «Stardate 44822: Enterprise-D's medical reports.»
Now, transplantation into a temporary host body was possible and, as I told you, the host body could be human. The only difficulty, apart from the necessary compatibility of certain blood factors, was that human white blood cells, unlike Trill's, would recognise the symbiont as a parasite and attack it within a day or two, no more. But what Bashir needed wasn't days, it was hours, just a little more than the scant two left for the symbiote, put in stasis, and, more importantly, for Jadzia.

Ah, to be clear: I mistakenly took it for granted, but I was aware that I had those compatible blood values, just like William Riker: my eye had fallen on it when I had read that famous report I mentioned earlier. It was, therefore, a logical decision to take that route: it was the only possible solution to save goats and cabbages.
After overcoming the doctor's initial protests, which all in all were not as fiercely angry as I had anticipated, it took very little time before I found myself on a surgical table with a vertical cut in my belly and a... big worm... ready to enter me. Within less than 40 minutes I found myself being... well, let's say someone different than I had been up to that point.