Sisko presses the door chime to Bashir’s quarters, PADD in his other hand, and waits. Finally, just as he’s about to press it again, the door slides open.
“Captain,” Bashir says. “Come in,” he adds, though he doesn’t look enthusiastic about the prospect.
Sisko enters anyway. “Care to explain why there’s a resignation letter from you sitting in my inbox?” he asks without preamble, holding up the PADD in demonstration. “I thought the deal you and your family worked out with Legal lets you stay in Starfleet and keep your medical license.”
“It does,” Bashir confirms. “But nothing in it says that you have to keep me here.”
“And, what – you thought I was going to fire you and figured you’d save me the trouble?” Sisko asks, raising his eyebrows.
Bashir doesn’t say anything, but the way he’s avoiding Sisko’s eye is as clear an answer as anything.
“May I?” Sisko asks, gesturing towards a chair. Apparently they need to have what’s sure to be an uncomfortable conversation, and he figures they may as well sit down for it.
Bashir nods and takes the chair across from Sisko. He braces his elbows on his knees, hands clasped together and shoulders bowed.
“So,” Sisko begins, when Bashir shows no sign of wanting to talk, “feel like explaining why you thought I wouldn’t want you here anymore?”
“I’d think that was obvious. I’m genetically engineered,” Bashir answers, his tone even.
“I’m not in the habit of getting rid of perfectly good officers because of something other people did.”
“This isn’t just something that was done to me, it’s who I am!” Bashir insists, his calm façade vanishing abruptly. “My intelligence, my physical abilities, my personality – every part of the Julian Bashir you know is the result of illegal DNA resequencing.”
“So?” Sisko asks, with deliberate nonchalance.
“So?” Bashir repeats incredulously, which is exactly the response Sisko anticipated. “How can you even say that?”
“Some people have above-average intelligence or physical abilities due to the luck of the genetic draw. You have those things because your genes were deliberately resequenced. I don’t deny that the difference is important to you personally, but I’m not convinced it should matter to me.”
“It’s not that simple, Captain, and you know it,” Bashir counters, and now he just sounds tired. “Genetically engineered people aren’t allowed to serve in Starfleet, aren’t allowed to practice medicine, aren’t allowed to hold most positions of authority, and it’s not just because we have an unfair advantage over unaltered people, or because it would incentivize other parents to augment their children. You heard Admiral Bennett: every person like me is potentially a Khan Singh waiting to happen. People don’t trust us with that sort of responsibility.” He sighs, looks at his hands. “Maybe they’re right to, he adds quietly.
“You don’t really believe that.”
“Don’t I? The abilities I have, they’re not just conveniences or parlor tricks. I have nearly perfect memory and recall. Calculations that would take most people specialized software to perform I can do in my head. I can absorb and analyze tremendous amounts of data very quickly. My altered brain physiology even makes me highly resistant to most forms of mental probing. Can you even imagine how effective I’d be as an enemy operative?”
Sisko could, now that the possibility was raised. But there was a fairly obvious flaw in Bashir’s logic.
“I believe the android in Starfleet – Commander Data? – also possesses those abilities. Do you think he ought to be removed from service?”
“Data was programmed with ethical constraints,” Bashir says quietly.
“I trust your ethical constraints.”
This gets Bashir to look at him. “I appreciate that,” he says. “But plenty of people don’t – or won’t, after this gets out.”
“And that would reflect poorly on them, not you. Julian, we all have skills that could be used for ill. What matters is what we choose to do with them.”
“And what did I choose to do, Captain? I chose not to report my parents when I found out what they had done to me. I chose to enroll in the Academy and pursue a career as a doctor, despite knowing that genetically engineered persons are expressly forbidden from doing either. And I chose to lie to you, and everyone else on this station, about who – about what I am, for the past five years.”
Sisko does not, of course, approve of people under his command lying to him, even by omission. But he can’t seriously chastise Bashir for it, given what the consequences of the alternative would’ve been.
“If you had told the truth? Your career options would’ve been radically curtailed. You might have been monitored, even prosecuted. At the very least, you would’ve been, in part, responsible for sending your parents to prison.”
“Don’t you think they deserved it?” Bashir challenges.
“Do you?” Sisko returns. It’s Bashir’s beliefs that are relevant here, not his own.
There’s a short pause. “Yes,” Bashir says, with a certainty at odds with his moment of hesitation. “My parents weren’t motivated by any sort of overarching ideology – they just wanted a child they could brag about to the neighbors, a child they could be proud of. A better child. But that belief, that some people are better and some are worse, and that people who are worse just shouldn’t exist, has been responsible for so much misery. Tens of thousands of forced sterilizations in early 20th century America, the rise of the Third Reich, the Eugenics Wars. What my parents did has to be illegal.”
Sisko lets his head tilt to the side, thinking about what Bashir had just said – and, more importantly, what he hadn’t; Bashir’s eyes narrow slightly at the movement. “What?” he demands.
“You made a very convincing argument for why genetic augmentation, at large, has to be illegal. But that’s not quite the same thing as whether you think your parents should be punished for what they did to you, specifically.”
Bashir drops his head, lacing his fingers together behind it, and stays like that for long, silent moments.
“I don’t know,” he finally says, sounding more tired than Sisko has ever heard. “I want to say yes, of course they should, that all lives are equally precious, that you can’t play God like that, especially not with your children. But…” he trails off with a sigh. “I can’t. Because if you gave me a button that could undo what my parents did to me and turn me into the adult I would’ve been if they’d never taken me to Adigeon Prime, I wouldn’t want to push it. Despite everything I’ve said about the danger of eugenics and valuing all lives equally, when you get right down to it, I do think my life is better because I’m smarter. And how can you blame a parent for improving their child’s life?"
Bashir laughs hollowly. "The irony is that my parents always said I wouldn't be able to understand their decision until I had kids of my own, but I don't trust myself to have kids because I understand what they did all too well. I don't know, really, what I would do if I had a kid like me, and truth be told I don't want to find out."
“I don’t think any of us really know what we’d do in a situation like that until we’re faced with it. I don’t think I can claim with certainty what I would’ve done in your parents’ place,” Sisko admits. He would’ve loved Jake, of course, because how could he not? But beyond that… he’s not sure. It’s not an entirely comfortable realization. “But you wouldn’t do what your parents did,” he tells Bashir.
“And how do you know that?”
“Because what your parents did hurt you,” Sisko says simply.
“Hurt me?” Bashir repeats, incredulously. “Weren’t you listening? I benefited from what they did.”
“I was listening. I heard you say that your parents wanted a child they could be proud of,” Sisko says, allowing anger to bleed into his voice for the first time this conversation. “And at six, they had decided that the only way to get that was to change who you were. Don’t tell me that didn’t hurt.”
For a second, Bashir’s eyes look suspiciously shiny, before he blinks and looks away. He doesn’t say anything.
“Your parents hurt you,” Sisko repeats, quieter this time, “and I’ve never known you to hurt anyone when you could help it.”
“I,” Bashir starts, then stops to clear his throat. “I wanted them to love me unconditionally. I wanted it not to matter to them whether I ever learned to count, or tell the difference between a tree and a house. But is that fair? It matters to me if I can do those things. Would I really be able to not care if my child could do those things? Would any parent?”
It’s a fair question, and not one Sisko has an easy answer to. “I think the question is why it mattered to them,” he says slowly, almost thinking out loud. “Did they think it would curtail your opportunities and experiences? Did they think it would make your life harder, make it more likely people would take advantage of you? Or did they just see all their expectations for you going up in smoke? In other words, were they concerned about you as you, or were they concerned about you as an extension of themselves?”
He pauses, but Bashir doesn’t seem inclined to chime in. “If it was the latter,” Sisko says, and he very much suspects that it was, at least for Bashir’s father, “if they only wanted a child who could live up to their particular expectations, then you’re allowed to be angry with them, separate from however you feel about genetic engineering. They’re your parents. They should love you unconditionally. And if they don’t, it’s their loss.”
He pretends not to notice when Bashir sniffs and quickly swipes at his nose. “Thank you,” Bashir finally says.
Sisko waves off the thanks. “It’s late, so I’ll leave you to the rest of your evening,” he says, standing. “I trust that if your resignation letter mysteriously disappears from my inbox, I won’t receive another copy of it?”
“Yes, sir. I mean, no sir, you won’t,” Bashir says, standing as well.
“Excellent. In that case, I’ll see you at the staff meeting tomorrow morning. Good night, Doctor,” he says, clasping Bashir on the shoulder before heading for the door.
“Good night, Captain,” he hears Bashir say quietly behind him.