In the pilot episode of Deep Space Nine, the base commander, Commander Benjamin Sisko, while aboard a shuttle, get’s pulled into a wormhole just a short distance from the station. Unknown to all, the wormhole is inhabited by an alien species. Since they live forever, they have no concept of time. Whenever a ship enters the wormhole, one of their number ceases to exist. The episode has two very interesting points: letting go, and explaining linear existence to aliens.
While inside the wormhole, the aliens accesses Sisko’s memory and in so doing, forces Ben to relive the death of his wife, Jennifer. The flames all around, his son unconscious, his hands badly burned, Sisko cradles the dead form of his wife.
One of the aliens takes the form of Jennifer, and inquires, “Linear time? What is this?” Sisko replies, “My species lives in one point in time. And once we move beyond that point, it becomes the past. The future… all that is still to come… does not exist yet for us…” The alien Jennifer, uncomprehending, asks, “Does not exist yet?” “That is the nature of a linear existence,” Sisko replies.
The alien Jennifer looks down at the dead body of Sisko’s wife and says, “Jennifer.” With a soft voice, Sisko answers, “Yes, that was her name.” The alien Jennifer volunteers, “She is part of your existence.” Sisko simply says, “She is part of my past. She’s no longer alive.” The alien Jennifer says, “But she is part of your existence.” Sisko explains, “Yes, she was a most important part of my existence. But I lost her some time ago.” With the reference to time, the alien Jennifer asks, “‘Lost?’ What is this?” Trying to explain the concept of time to a timeless species, Sisko tries, “In a linear existence, we can’t go back to the past to get something we left behind… so it’s lost…”
Still uncomprehending, the alien Jennifer, is incredulous, “It is inconceivable that any species could exist in such a manner… you are deceiving us…” Sisko, alarmed, “No, this is the truth…This day… this park… it was almost… fifteen years ago. Far in the past. It was a very important day to me… a day that shaped every day that followed. That is the essence of a linear existence… each day affects the next…”
The alien inquires, “This is your existence…” Sisko in a sad voice continues, “Yes. But… it is difficult to return here… more difficult than any other memory…” “Why?” the alien asks.
And this is hard for him, analyzing the death of his wife, standing by the flames that killed her… impossible to stay detached from the emotions this raises…Sisko, tries to explain, “Because this was the day… I lost Jennifer…And I don’t want to be here…” “Then why do you exist here?” the alien inquires. Sisko is puzzled, “I… I don’t understand…” To this, the alien simply says, “You exist here.” Sisko looks at her… feeling miserable, confused… but before any further explanations can be attempted…something startling occurs… the images freeze and begin to melt away… Sisko asks, “What’s wrong… what’s happening?”
But like an optical version of film getting caught in a projector and burning, the effect continues, accompanied by an eerie shrill sound we’ve never heard before. As it completely MELTS away… heartbeat… breathing… The shrill alien sound grows louder as… stronger heartbeat… heavier breathing… the shrill sound growing… The shrill sound ends abruptly. Stronger heartbeat… heavier breathing… Worried, Sisko raises his voice, “Talk to me. Are you still there? What just happened?”
An alien takes the form of Ben’s son, Jake and replies, “More of your kind.”
Sisko asks, “Another ship… in the wormhole?”
“‘Wormhole?’ What is this?”, the alien Jake asks.
Sisko replies, “It is how we describe the kind of passage that brought me here…”
“It is terminated,” the alien Jake replies.
“Terminated?”, Sisko inquires.
“Our existence is disrupted whenever one of you enters the passage…” the alien Jake explains, “Your linear nature is inherently destructive. You have no regard for the consequences of your acts.” Sisko rebuffs, “That’s not true. We’re aware that every choice we make has a consequence…”
“But you claim you do not know what it will be…” the alien Jake says. “We don’t…” Sisko confirms.
“Then how can you take responsibility for your actions?” the alien Jake inquires. Sisko replies, “We use past experience to help guide us. For Jennifer and me, all the experiences in our lives prepared us for the day we met on the beach… helped us recognize that we had a future together. When we married, we accepted all the consequences of that act, whatever they might be… including the consequence of you.” Sisko referring to Jake.
“Me?” the alien Jake asks, puzzled. “My son, Jake”, Sisko replies.
Sisko finds himself holding his child in his hands for the first time… as a Starfleet doctor and nurses, all aliens, tend to Jennifer in bed… who looks up in her post labor flush.
The alien Jake witnesses the birth of Jake from Sisko’s memory and seeks confirmation, “The child with Jennifer.” Sisko confirms, “Yes.”
The alien Jake contemplates, “Linear… procreation… ?” Sisko replies, “Yes. Jake is the continuation of our family.”
The scene around them dissolves, changing into a baseball field. The sound of children playing in the background. There’s a Catcher’s mitt… as a bat swings and misses a ball as it pops into the glove. The view turns to find the alien Jake as the catcher… and a batter stands in front of him, both dressed in Chicago Cubs uniforms of the early 1920s…
The alien disgustedly states, “Aggressive. Adversarial.”
Sisko is standing on a pitcher’s mound, wearing a Cubs cap circa 1923… and his Starfleet uniform… in the background, the rest of the Cubs’ team works out… playing catch, hitting fungos, fielding… a few spectators and reporters in straw hats mill about.
Sisko tries to explain baseball, “Competition. For fun. It’s a game… that Jake and I play… on the Holodeck… it’s called baseball.”
And Jake alien stands out of his crouch and as he takes off the mask and looks at it curiously… and then looks around at the environment… joining Sisko on the mound…
The alien JAKE asks, “Baseball? What is this?” Unable to restrain his grin, Sisko says, “I was afraid you’d ask that… How the hell do you explain baseball to an alien?” He takes a deep breath, “Well, here goes…I throw the ball to you… and this other player stands between us with a bat, a stick… and he… he tries to hit the ball in between these two white lines…”
The alien Jake blinks with confusion. Sisko pauses… regroups… getting another idea… his delivery growing with confidence as he continues, “The rules aren’t important… what’s important is — it’s linear. Every time you throw this ball a hundred different things can happen in the game…he might swing and miss, he might hit it…the point is you never know…you try to anticipate, set a strategy for all the possibilities as best you can…but in the end it all comes down to throwing one pitch after another…and seeing what happens. With each new consequence, the game begins to take shape…”
An alien Batter (grasping the meaning), “And you have no idea what that shape is until it is completed?”
Sisko grins, “That’s right. In fact, the game wouldn’t be worth playing if we knew what was going to happen.”
The alien Jake (flabbergasted) asks, “You value your ignorance of what is to come?”
Sisko, acknowledges, driving home his point: “That may be the most important thing to understand about humans. It is the unknown that defines our existence. We are constantly searching… not just for answers to our questions… but for new questions. We are explorers… we explore our lives day by day…and we explore the galaxy, trying to expand the boundaries of our knowledge. And that is why I’m here. Not to conquer you either with weapons or with ideas. But to co-exist and learn.”
The alien Jake studies him curiously for a beat…
Sisko waits hopefully for a response… reacts as he looks down at his hands, bloody and burned as they were on the Saratoga. The scene shifts to his quarters on the Saratoga… his quarters in flames… his wife dead… his son unconscious… standing with the Tactical Officer…
An alien takes the form of the Saratoga’s Tactical Officer. It asks, “If all you say is true… why do you exist here?”
Sisko reacts, confused and…as before… Sisko and the Tactical Officer alien…the fire and smoke billowing up around them…
Pained, Sisko asks, “What is the point of bringing me back again to this?”
The alien Jennifer and alien Jake are there standing by Jennifer’s dead body and Jake’s unconscious body still on the floor…
The alien Jake deadpan states, “We do not bring you here.” The alien Jennifer rejoins, “You bring us here.” The alien Tactical Officer echoes, “You exist here.”
Sisko blinks, not entirely understanding… but is impatient to be done with it, irritable says, “Then give me the power to lead you somewhere else.”
Another alien appears taking the form of another familiar figure, Opaka, and says, “We cannot give you what you deny yourself.”
Sisko reacts, looks at her… as she says the familiar words, “Look for solutions from within, Commander.”
Sisko sees himself asking the Tactical Officer, “Just help me get her free…” Sisko turns to see –THE SAME SETTING and a replay of the actual events (as we did with the picnic in the park)… Sisko and the alien versions of Jake, Jennifer, Opaka and the Tactical Officer watch the Sisko memory and the duplicate Tactical Officer sadly tells Sisko, “She’s gone… there’s nothing we can do.”
In the scene’s backgroud, the computer’s voice is heard: “Warning. Damage to warp core. Containment failure in two minutes.”
The Sisko memory takes his dead wife’s hand and others the Tactical Officer, “You go ahead, Lieutenant. Take the boy.” The security man (from the memory) enter and the Tactical Officer gives Jake to him… The real Sisko watches, his eyes glued to the horror, his mouth dry as cotton…in cracking voice, “I was ready to die with her…”
The alien Tactical Officer tilts its head at the unfamiliar reference, “Die? What is this?”
And it is the alien Jennifer who answers… as understanding begins to grow, “The termination of their linear existence.” She stares at Sisko. As she studies him and sees his pain… and then reaches out and places it on his shoulder with comfort… he reacts to the touch of her hand and looks into her eyes… and they aren’t so alien anymore… it is the first overt physical contact they have made with him… a link… an understanding… she looks back at the scene —
The Tactical Officer says, “Now, sir.” As the Tactical Officer lifts him by the shoulder… He continues to pull him out of the room. The memory Sisko angrily replies, “Dammit… we can’t leave her here…”
As the real Sisko watches, he begins to make a realization, “I’ve never left this ship…”
The alien Jennifer, volunteers, “You exist here.” Sisko confirms, “I… exist here.”
In the scene, the Tactical Officer leads Sisko out… the real Sisko steps slowly forward and moves to his dead wife taking the place of his double… picks up her hand…turns to the aliens and says, “I don’t know if you can understand. I see her like this every time I close my eyes… in the darkness in the blink of an eye, she’s there… like this…”
The alien Jennifer sympathetically says, “None of your past experiences helped prepare you for this consequence…”
Sisko shakes his head, slowly. In a soft voice, “And I’ve never figured out how to live without her.”
The alien Jennifer, with understanding, “So you choose to exist here.”
He nods, unable to speak… she moves closer and says, “It is not linear.”
And of course it is so simple in its truth… Sisko finally admits to himself, “No. It’s not… linear.”
Sisko gently places down the hand of his dead wife… and as he accepts that this is really the end of their life together, tears roll down his cheeks, and he begins to truly grieve his loss. After a beat, he stands, turns… and Jennifer alien is no longer there.
He understands, exchanges a meaningful look with the remaining three aliens (Tactical officer, Opaka, and Jake). In this moment, two species have finally come to understand one another… to learn from one another… it is the end to the conflict… and the beginning of a shared future. There is something of a compassionate smile from Jake alien that seals it… and as Sisko returns his smile with an appreciation for what they’ve done…thoughtful, showing the impact of what has occurred… as before.
Whenever we suffer a loss, we are inadvertently drawn to relive the moment…like an eerie instant replay. In doing so, we get trapped in a moment in the past, and part of us gets left behind…unable to let go and move forward….like shackles binding our feet. Life is a series of episodes, telling the story of our life. When we fail to let go of a particular event, we get trapped in a replayed episode. With each replay, we relive the pain, the loss, the anguish. Each replay, wasted time…unable to open a new episode that might have been full of discovery, excitement, joy, adventure, new places, new acquaintances, new friends, new loves…yes, even new pains, new heartbreaks, new a loss… but life is like that. Unless we accept that the good and the bad is part of our existence, we will suffer endless replayed episode. Each moment is a lesson to be learned. Strangely, most of the lessons we learn are learned from sad experiences…from losses. Accept that, learn the lesson, and move on.