“The Dominion War hasn't fully started for you yet," future Kira began, "but I remember how sure you were that the conflict was going full scale. You were right, Nerys, and it was as awful and brutal a war as you thought it would be. However, we did win. The armistice was signed in 2375, right here on DS9. The Dominion left the Quadrant, Starfleet got back to business as usual, and we were finally at peace. Or so we thought.
“The way Starfleet won the war was the problem. Starfleet used biological warfare against the Dominion, poisoning the Great Link with a designer virus. Julian was the one to uncover the conspiracy. I can't tell you how, but he managed to get the cure for this virus through some questionable means.”
“I'm supposed to believe that?” Kira interrupted. “I mean, we're talking about Starfleet here. And Julian.”
"Dr. Bashir will surprise all of you one day,” future Kira replied. “And I had a hard time with Starfleet's part in this, too. The virus was created by an unsanctioned division of Starfleet Intelligence called Section 31. The real Starfleet Intelligence denied all knowledge of Section 31 and their activities, but looking back on it, someone had to have known what was going on. We were, however, at war with the Changelings, so Starfleet turned a blind eye. A means to an end, and all of that.”
“Then what's with the jacket?” Kira asked, jutting her chin at the woman's uniform. “Aren't those captain's pips on your neck?”
“I know how it looks, but it gets complicated after the armistice.” Future Kira fingered her collar, a mysterious smile curling her mouth. “Long story, like I said, and a hard one...” Her expression darkened. “There's more about the virus I need to tell you." The woman clasped Kira's hand a little tighter. "Nerys, this is the hardest part. Starfleet uses Odo as the carrier for the virus.”
“It's true. They've betrayed him. He has the virus already, though he won't show symptoms for some time. Section 31 infected Odo when he was on Earth just a few weeks ago.”
“Those bastards! I'll kill them! I can't believe that they—”
The woman raised a hand, cutting her off. “I know, Nerys, but calm down, and listen... Not too long from now, Odo will return to his home planet. The Founders are going to put him on trial. They will find him guilty—again, don't ask me why—and he will infect the Changelings via the Link when they exact his punishment.”
Odo betrayed by Starfleet? Put on trial by his own people? Odo punished? A sputtering, outraged Kira started to speak, but the woman cut her off again.
“Nerys, I know what you're thinking. You can stop it, now that you know. You can warn Odo, he won't go to his people, and they won't get the virus, but you can't do it that way. The disease has to spread, just like this, even if it hurts Odo. If you stop it from happening, the war will go on much longer than it's supposed to, and the Alpha Quadrant will eventually lose. The Dominion is, has always been, stronger than us. What Starfleet allowed to happen is evil, I know that, but the cure for the virus will be the only leverage the Alpha Quadrant will have against the Founders, and they will need that leverage. You can't tell anyone, especially Odo, about the virus. Do you understand?”
Kira crossed her arms over her chest and looked away.
“Nerys, look at me. Do you understand how important this is?”
Gritting her teeth, Kira swung her angry gaze back to fake Aunt Dassi and gave her a terse nod. She would keep her mouth shut, because unfortunately, she did understand. Prophets, she hated temporal mechanics.
“Good. Now we get to why I'm here. Julian's cure is flawed. He won't discover that until two years after the armistice, and the Link relapses. Section 31 managed to deceive Julian. Information about the virus got withheld so Julian's cure would fail. When we learn of the Link's suffering, Julian works tirelessly to fix his mistake, and he does his best, but it's not enough. Julian finds the real cure, but the Link is too far gone by the time it's delivered. They cannot be saved.”
Kira's eyes widened. “Wait, the whole Link dies?”
“The whole Link, Nerys. The entire Changeling race is eradicated.”
Kira shuddered. “That's horrible...”
“Funny how genocide changes your perspective, isn't it?”
“I guess so," Kira replied. "And now I get it...The Jem'Hadar...”
“The Jem'Hadar go insane. Truly, deeply insane. The loss of their gods unleashes a grief so dark they tear apart the universe itself, starting with the Vorta. The Vorta, though just as grieved, know that an unchecked Jem'Hadar army is the last thing the universe needs, and they make a valiant effort to control them, to stop them, but the Vorta are sorely outnumbered. They fail. The Jem'Hadar overthrow the Vorta and take over the Gamma Quadrant. They then maraud their own territory, destroying anything or anyone that has come in contact with Starfleet. And when they are done with their house, they enter ours. They pour themselves through the wormhole like a swarm of locusts, and we can do nothing to stop them.”
The woman paused, and looked away from Kira. She took a deep breath, letting out slowly before resuming. “Nerys, we didn't know just how lucky we were during the war, not then. The wormhole was sealed shut at one point, Sisko saw to it, and the Jem'Hadar trapped on our side were all the support the Founders had. We soon learned that for every one Alpha Quadrant citizen, there were three Jem'Hadar soldiers sitting on the other side of that wormhole, waiting...”
Kira curled a little tighter in her blankets. Three for one. Those odds were definitely not in the Alpha Quadrant's favor.
“And so,” the woman said, “the Alpha Quadrant as you know it was destroyed. Bajor—”
Tears welled in future Kira's eyes and spilled. She stopped talking for a moment, her hand over her mouth as she struggled for control. Kira's own eyes prickled with moisture. She wasn't so sure she wanted to hear about the destruction of Bajor.
Much to Kira's relief, she didn't have to. “I won't tell you about Bajor,” her future self said. “I can't. But there is more, something crucial you must hear.”
"I'm not sure I can hear much more," Kira said.
“I know, but you must...Nerys, Odo returned home after the war. He agreed to rejoin the Link, to take the false cure, and to take his knowledge of being a solid to his people. When the Link gets reinfected, so does he. When the Link dies, so does he. You lose the greatest love of your life, forever.”
“Now I know you're a liar,” Kira snapped, ignoring the painful squeeze in her heart. "Odo isn't the love of my life.”
Future Kira raised her eyes to the ceiling and heaved an exasperated sigh. “Prophets, I forgot how stubborn I am.” Looking back at Kira, she said, “I told you, I haven't got time for games. I know you, remember? I am you. In fact, because I'm you, I know the next thing you're going to ask me for is proof, and I can give it to you...I know about the dream.”
“The dream," Kira repeated. She pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged her arms around them.
“Yes, Nerys, the dream. The one you've never told anyone about. The nightmare you've had since Terok Nor, where you relive that night you shot the chemist. You watch Va'atrick fall to the floor in a dead heap, a smoking hole in the center of his chest that you put there, wearing that awful expression on his face. He was so surprised you'd shot him. It was the first time you'd killed one of your own, the first time you had to kill a Bajoran in the name of the cause, and the guilt ate you alive for years, even if Va'atrick was a collaborator."
"That doesn't prove anything," Kira argued. "That incident became public record two years ago."
"But your dreams sure didn't, did they? What happens next in your dream, Neyrs? What happens after the chemist dies, and you're standing over his body with the phaser in your hand, pagh screaming over what you've done, what you've become?”
Kira went pale. “He comes...”
“Yes, he comes. The one without distinct shape, who takes you away from that chemist's shop with its murdered corpse and takes you someplace safe, someplace clean without guilt and blood and occupation. When he comes, the dream changes, ceases to be a nightmare. It becomes erotic, very much so, and when you wake up and realize that the man filling you, pleasuring you, loving you was just a dream, you are left with an emptiness so black it hollows even your waking heart. You cry and cry when you have this dream, every time.”
Kira kept her silence, struggling not to cry now. Prophets, she hated that dream, but not for the nightmare images it brought forth. Va'atrick wasn't the only recurring nightmare she suffered, but this dream she hated most of all, for exactly what the woman had said. For the impossible joy it filled her with, and for the horrible sense of loss she always woke with afterward.
Kira sniffled softly, and her future self took some pity on her. She softened her gaze, and said, “Nerys, what color are your mystery lover's eyes in that dream?”
“That's right. Blue. Just like the shallows of Y'rava Cove where you and Reon used to play. Blue, like that piece of aquamarine your father smuggled out of the mines for your fifteenth birthday. Blue, like the highest part of the sky where the sun likes to sit on a warm summer day. His eyes are always blue, just like—”
“—Just like Odo's.” Kira sucked in a deep, shaky breath. “Oh, Prophets...”
The woman gave her a small smile. “It took me years to figure out it was Odo in that dream. After I did, the dream finally stopped.”
“What gave it away?”
Future Kira's eyes shimmered with unshed tears, and her smile widened. “The first time I made love with Odo, I knew. With him over me, inside—”
“Stop, that's enough,” Kira said, making a halting gesture. “I believe you, you're me alright, but this is all too much. Time travel, Jem'Hadar, engineered viruses, and now I've been dreaming about making love to Odo?” Kira raked her hands through her hair. “You have to give me a second to take it all in, to think.”
Future Kira reached out and brushed Kira's cheek, her smile gentle and understanding. Seeing that expression on her own face, Kira was painfully but plesantly reminded yet again of her Aunt Dassi, of that second mother she had lost so long ago. Amazing that it took such a strange and far-fetched mirror for Kira to realize how much her father had been right. She was just like her aunt, in more ways than one.
“Trust me, Nerys," future Kira said. "One day, making love to Odo will be all you think about. I do understand, though. I remember what we thought, how we felt about him when we were this age. It is a little out there for you right now, but it's all true. All of these things are your life, Nerys, and what will be, and unless we put things right, you will end up where I did. You will lose everything you love, forever.”