by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens
"Second star to the right..."
She was lost. Surrounded by the precariously stacked, cast-off debris of an antique alien city. Beneath unfamiliar stars and a single bloated moon. Her feet swelling from the stored daytime heat of the sand and gravel she had crossed, from the endless walking, from the ridiculously contorted shoes Julian had insisted she wear. It was enough to make a person say End program and go back to her quarters and --
"No," Ezri Dax said aloud.
She was many things. Many to the power of nine, she thought. But she wasn't a quitter. Well, Tobin was a bit of a quitter when it came to dealing with Raifi. And Audrid always believed she could have done more to save Jayvin. And Torias...well, okay, Ezri reluctantly admitted to herself, Torias wouldn't have gotten lost in the first place. But there was that time when...
"Aggh," she said to break the relentlessly unpredictable connective thread of interaction and reflection that stitched together all the lives she had lived, that at least a part of her had lived. "I'm doing it again."
She sighed, breathing in the night's cool desert air, shivering as she hugged her sleeveless arms to her chest. The tiny disks of reflective plastic sewn to the fabric of the long, midnight-blue gown she wore -- almost wore -- scratched the flesh of her arms. Across her exposed back, there was only a chill breeze on far too much bare skin. One more time she wondered why she kept letting Julian talk her into these bizarre historical costumes and adventures from Earth's past.
She shook her head determinedly, as if that's all it would take to clear more than three centuries' worth of cobwebs, then put her hands on her hips and, with renewed resolve, looked about the graveyard of oddly angled broken glass and twisted metal. She deliberately ignored the dainty, indigo-sequined evening bag dangling from her wrist. Somehow, its triviality seemed especially inappropriate, considering the seriousness of her situation.
"Okay...," she addressed herself firmly. She looked up at a towering construction of colored glass tubes and wire and metal to her side. In the soft light of the full moon, she could see it formed a caricature of a humanoid male with a vacant grin and narrow mustache, wearing a circular black hat with a disklike brim, one hand held up in an eternal wave of greeting -- or a warning to go no farther. "...I saw you from the front gate," she said to the impassive giant, "and you were on my...left." Ezri peered into the dark labyrinth of other twisted tangles of glass and metal, thin rods and shafts jumbled and interlocked in what Jadzia might recognize as enormous metallic crystals grown at random. "So the gate should be somewhere in that direction...on my right." She gazed above the ragged black silhouettes that formed a fractal horizon of debris in that direction, but the desert air was so clear she could detect no distant glow of the blazing lights of the city she sought. The stars were as stark and bright in every direction. The space between them as impenetrably black. Wherever she was, wherever she had to go, her surroundings were offering no clue as to what her direction should be.
"I just have to..." Ezri faltered, having utterly failed to convince herself of her logic. "...go straight down there and...ugh, why do I even pretend I know what I'm doing?"
She kicked viciously at the gravel beneath her, sending up a pale cloud of dust in the moonlight, at the same time thoroughly wedging a small, sharp stone under her cramped and crushed-together toes.
"Aggh," she said again as she hopped awkwardly on one foot, trying to twist off the open-toed shoe to free the stone.
But hopping on gravel in a high-heeled shoe was next to impossible. And when confounded by the long tight gown she wore, not even all of Emony's gymnastic skills could come to Ezri's rescue.
With a strangled cry of frustrated rage, Ezri toppled backward, braced herself for the impact of sharp gravel along her bare back --
-- then gasped in surprise as a pair of strong hands caught her and gallantly restored her to her feet.
"Julian?!" she said as she spun around to face her rescuer, arms already reaching out to embrace him.
But the blinding smile that greeted her didn't belong to the chief medical officer of Deep Space 9. "Sorry to disappoint ya, doll." It was Vic Fontaine. A holographic simulation of a quintessential Las Vegas nightclub singer from Earth, circa 1962 A.C.E. He gave her a wink.
Ezri dropped her arms. Vic smiled as if he could sense the change in her mood.
"I was going to ask what a broad like you's doing in a dump like this," Vic said, "but I think I get the picture. The boyfriend's a big no-show, am I right, or am I right?"
Ezri shifted uncomfortably on the gravel, one foot still in bondage to its shoe, the other resting uncomfortably on the rough stones. "Actually, Julian doesn't know I came up here."
Vic shot her a sideways look. "What? You two lovebirds have a spat?"
Ezri shook her head, almost lost her balance again. "No. We had a date, down on the Strip...." She waved her hand around, vaguely trying to indicate the direction of Las Vegas, three simulated kilometers in...some direction or another from here, but gave up. She had no idea where the city was anymore. "But he got called into emergency surgery."
"Son of a gun," Vic said. "Hasn't been a lot of that since the Big One."
Ezri nodded. The station had been quiet in the past few weeks since the Dominion War had finally ended. Life had been almost normal, or at least it appeared to be when filtered through Jadzia's memories. Ezri herself had been on the station for just less than a year, and only knew it in its wartime state of operations. And in the aftermath of war.
But even Ezri knew the end of the war hadn't brought total peace to the station. Colonel Kira was still brooding over Odo's departure, and was stubbornly refusing most of Ezri's offers to provide counselling. Instead, as the new commander of the station, she seemed to be sublimating all her frustrated emotions into convoluted plans to catch Quark red-handed at something -- anything illegal, or even questionable. But at least all that attention had given Quark a new purpose in life. Except for those two weeks when the Ferengi barkeep had fled into hiding on Bajor after some bio-acceleration concoction he had peddled had succeeded in growing hair on every part of Morn's body except the prune-faced alien's head, Quark had been the station's sole source of excitement.
There'd be more excitement to come soon, though, Ezri knew. What with Kasidy Yates expecting Captain Sisko's baby and half the religious leaders on Bajor debating the significance of that birth in light of the mysterious rash of new visions being experienced by those who used the Orbs. On top of that, the Cardassian reconstruction effort was finally hitting its stride and even Bajor was contributing supplies and personnel to restore that battered world, making DS9's loading docks work at full capacity, twenty-six hours a day. And --
"You're shivering," Vic said.
Ezri came out of her reverie as the hologram wrapped his black sports jacket around her bare shoulders. "I did it again," she said crossly.
"Ya gotta give me more than that to go on, doll."
"Rambling," Ezri said. "It's...I think one thought, and that makes me think of another, and it's not as if I only have one lifetime of memories to remember, I've got eight, so...so everything I think reminds me of something else, and the next thing I know..." Ezri paused, distracted by a sudden recollection of how Curzon had once had a similar conversation with Ben Sisko at Utopia Planitia. It was late at night, after Sisko's shift was over. Curzon had added healthy dollops of Saurian brandy to the raktajino. "I hate raktajino," Ezri said to Vic's bafflement. But Jadzia had enjoyed the beverage. Which made Ezri remember one night when Jadzia and Sisko had been talking late at Quark's, after Sisko's shift was over...."Aghh!"
"Don't tell me," Vic said kindly. "Rambling."
"Especially when I'm upset."
"Such as, when a certain young doctor gets called off for emergency surgery on a Saturday night."
Ezri studied the hologram, suddenly confused. "It's not Saturday...is it?"
Vic shrugged with a patient grin. "Hey, doll. It's not Saturday, this isn't Las Vegas, and it's sure not 1962. There's a holosuite wall not ten feet in front of you. But why spoil a beeyootiful evening with cold hard facts?" He offered her his arm. "C'mon, you look like you need to take a load off."
Ezri had no idea what the hologram meant by that, but she took his arm, using her free hand to keep his jacket tightly closed around her throat. "I don't think I can walk much farther on this gravel," she warned him.
"Then why don't you walk over there," Vic said. Ezri looked where he was pointing and saw an expanse of grass edging the gravel right beside her. She set her shoeless foot upon it. It was soft, springy, and impossible to miss. But somehow, she had. Impossible, she thought. Unless...
"Did you do that?" Ezri asked.
Vic guided her toward what appeared to be a large shoe, maybe two meters tall at the heel. In the moonlight, it had a metallic, silvery shimmer. "Do what?"
"The grass. Aren't all the simulation parameters set at the factory, or something?"
"Hey, doll, do I look like a parameter?"
Ezri didn't believe it, but she felt embarrassed because she might just have insulted a hologram. Somewhere, deep within her, Tobin had memories of the earliest versions of what would become holosuite technology -- the bulky encounter suits, the crude sensory helmets, the exceedingly clumsy feedback gloves. Four lifetimes later, Joran had found a disturbing new application for the emerging technology. But for all the memories of holographic environments shared by Ezri's predecessors, each recollection carried with it the clear-cut knowledge that such artificially constructed environments w...
--This text refers to the