The Defiant is headed for earth for a combination of R&R and dinner with Admiral Drazman. Odo, Kira and O'Brien stay on board while Sisko, Bashir and Dax beam down to San Francisco, but a convenient teleporter accident intervenes, and the computer says they never materialized where they were supposed to. Turns out that the teleporter has indeed placed them in San Francisco... 2024 San Francisco. And they've been knocked out by the process.
Sisko and Bashir are lying out in the open and are promptly robbed of their combadges. The police arrive to roust them as vagrants, and as they're hustled away, we see that Dax was unnoticed in a nearby stairwell. She lucks out, being discovered by a nice fella named Chris Brynner, who offers to assist her in getting a new ID.
While O'Brien pieces together what happened in orbit, Sisko and Bashir are shoved into a Sanctuary District; the place where the jobless, homeless and general unfit for work types are crowded into. They find the situation rather distressing. Residents of the Districts have been reduced to three categories: "gimmes", those who actually want to work and need help finding jobs; "dims", the homeless and hopeless, often mentally ill but unable to afford the necessary treatments that would allow them to be normal; and "ghosts", those who hadn't "integrated well" into the population, and have become bullies and thugs. Sisko notices the date on a nearby wall display — August 30, 2024, mere days away from the infamous Bell Riots. The San Francisco Sanctuary District will rise up and take hostages to call attention to their plight, led by a man named Gabriel Bell. Hundreds of people will die, including Bell, but the nature of Bell's death — sacrificing himself to save the lives of hostages — will make him a hero, and the incident will set the groundwork for massive social reform. Sisko realizes they can't interfere with such a historically significant event. Bashir isn't happy, but he agrees. Lacking any money or resources, Sisko and Bashir are forced to sleep on the streets.
Meanwhile, Dax finds out that Chris is pretty well off for a 21st century guy. He's head of Brynner Information Systems, and genuinely nice. When she tells him that she arrived with two friends, he helps her deduce that they must have been found by less friendly parties and dragged off to a Sanctuary District. They don't know which one, but Chris has plenty of connections, and he'll help Dax find them.
Back aboard the Defiant, O'Brien has finally discovered that Sisko, Bashir, and Dax were accidentally warped into a different time period, but he does not yet know which one.
Sisko and Bashir conclude that as long as they can avoid the ghosts and stay out of the rioting, they'll be okay. Staying out of it proves hard when a particularly dickheaded ghost robs a man and taunts Bashir and Sisko to do something about it, but they avoid the incitement. After trading their uniforms to get into a building, Bashir helps treat an injured boy. His wounds aren't serious, and their assistance nets them a new friend: his father, Michael Webb, a gimme.
While warming up around a barrel fire, the asshole ghost from before shows up and starts a fight with Bashir and Sisko. A random man (who bears some resemblance to Sisko) intervenes and tries to help, and winds up stabbed for it. Sisko and Bashir attempt to treat his wounds, but they prove fatal. They're left with the man's ID... and it says Gabriel Bell. Bell's death has immediate effects on the timeline. Back in the 24th century, Starfleet is gone, though thanks to some Techno Babble, the Defiant is immune to the changes. Odo, Kira, and O'Brien realize that finding out where Sisko, Bashir, and Dax were sent to is now of utmost importance.
Back in 2024, the riots have begun. B.C., the ghost who killed Bell, has several hostages at gunpoint — the ones Bell is said to have defended. History hinges on those hostages surviving. And Sisko knows what he has to do:
- B.C. I've waited a long time for this and I know I won't be disappointed. Ain't that right, new boy?
- Alien Sea: To Dax and Kira, Earth's blue sea is rather odd.
- Casting Gag: John Lendale Bennett, the real Gabriel Bell, was a stunt and scene double for Avery Brooks.
- Crapsack World: The United States in 2024 has essentially washed its hands of the problems of poverty, unemployment and homelessness, choosing to "warehouse" people suffering from them in Sanctuary Districts instead. Comments also indicate that conditions elsewhere on the planet aren't much better.
- Fish out of Temporal Water: Subverted. Jadzia quickly realizes that she's in the wrong year and immediately plays along.
- Former Teen Rebel: Chris. If the story about the badass Maori tattoo he used to have is any evidence.
- Head-in-the-Sand Management: America of the early 21st century dealt with its social problems by shoving the unemployed and mentally ill into walled districts so they wouldn't have to look at or think about them anymore, rather than try to help them in any meaningful way.
- Mandatory Line: It would've been hard to fit Quark into a story where the characters time travel to the 21st century Earth and have to pretend they're humans of that era, so he only has a couple of plot-irrelevant lines at beginning of the episode, and doesn't appear after that.
- Missed Him by That Much: After Sisko and Bashir are taken away, the camera pans to show that Jadzia was near them in the stairway of the subway entrance.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: The Sanctuary District personnel, though not by choice. They're just so badly underfunded and under-staffed that they can't possibly help everyone who needs it.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Sisko looks at the calendar in the processing center and realizes that he and Bashir have been transported to the day before a riot in which hundreds of people will die.
- Later, after Sisko and Bashir escape from the authorities after a man that saved them from B.C. was stabbed to death, Sisko learns from the victim's ID that the man they just watched die was Gabriel Bell.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Some fans have complained about Julian'd CPR method looking fake (not doing artificial respiration breaths), even though modern CPR requires 30 compressions followed by 2 breaths. Julian only made it to 19 before Sisko drags him away.
- San Dimas Time: When Gabriel Bell is killed in the past, Starfleet disappears in the present, though by rights it should have happened immediately after they traveled into the past (or not at all, given the events of the next episode).
- Shout-Out: The names of the 21st-century characters are all references to The Magnificent Seven (e.g. Chris Brynner).
- Subtext: Sisko and Bashir, who are dark-skinned, are treated with suspicion and taken into custody. Jadzia, who is white, is treated kindly and given assistance. The story never points this out explicitly, but the choice was an intentional one.
- We Hardly Knew Ye: We meet the real Gabriel Bell for a few moments... before he's fatally stabbed trying to protect Bashir.
- Wham Line: At the end of the episode:Sisko: ...The name's Bell. Gabriel Bell.
- What Year Is This?: Sisko asks this after hearing the term "Sanctuary District."
- You Will Be Beethoven: Gabriel Bell is killed because of Sisko and Bashir's presence. When the riots begin, Sisko decides it's his responsibility to take up Bell's name and place to ensure history proceeds as written.
- Or, alternatively, they were in a Stable Time Loop and the real Gabriel Bell was just a decent guy who gave his life to protect strangers while the leader of the revolution was always Sisko working in his name. Current!Sisko studied the riots without any way to know it was his own actions.
- Zeerust: 2024 looks extremely 1990's, and the computers look almost outdated even for then.