Bashir and Garak are having their typical lunch together on the promenade. And Bashir is a tad grumpy. As Garak finds out, the good doctor is turning the dreaded 3-0. Garak doesn't see what the problem is, since Cardassian culture sees growing old as a sign of power. Bashir tells Garak that he simply doesn't like being reminded that he is getting older.
In the middle of their discussion, a clearly nervous Quark approaches with a menacing Lethean named Altovar. He's looking to purchase some bio-mimetic gel...which is a restricted substance that's banned from purchase. When Bashir informs him of this, Altovar storms off.
Returning to sick-bay, Bashir finds him rummaging through his stuff. When he tries to stop him, he gets a psychic shock to the noggin and passes out on the spot.
Waking up (and noticing his hair seems to have grayed slightly) Bashir finds the station void of life. He can't contact anyone and the computer appears to be down. Wandering the vacant station, he finds Quark cowering behind his bar. And some mysterious figure in the shadows trashing the place.
The Ferengi bolts from the scene, and Bashir is left alone again. Heading for the security office, he finds Garak hiding out as well. The suspicious Cardassian notices Bashir hair is even grayer than before. And now he's hearing faint voices in his head.
Heading down a random corridor, the lights begin to go out one by one. Heading for the nearest turbolift, Bashir just escapes from Altovar, courtesy of a swift kick to the face.
But things seem up as he finds Dax, Kira, O'Brien and Odo huddled in the wardroom...and they're all acting very out of character. O'Brien is cowardly, Odo is more paranoid than usual, etc. And Bashir appears to have aged 30 years.
Heading off to try at least to get communications up and running, it just gets weirder. The group hear Dax and Sisko discussing Bashir. One scan later, and the truth comes out. Altovar's attack put Bashir in a coma. And he's slowly dying.
Turns out the foursome are representations of various aspects of his personality. And just like that, Altovar appears out of nowhere and drags Dax off. Bashir goes to bang on the door...
and finds himself playing tennis on the promenade with Garak. In his 80's by now, Bashir heads off with Garak to try and fix his brain by fixing the station. Stumbling into a random corridor, Bashir finds a throng of injured people...and Sisko. Who represents his professionalism.
Not 10 seconds later, Altovar literally drags Sisko away through the wall. And a quick search finds Kira and Odo dead as well. Though Odo advises him to head for ops to fix this before he croaks.
After a bizarre scene at Quark's(Who is quickly dispatched by Altovar) Bashir fills out the stereotypical old man injury. A broken hip. Garak helps him up and heads for ops...where Bashir finds a surprise birthday party waiting for him.
And tennis balls in the computer. Through all this, Bashir finally questions Garak on what he represents...turns out he doesn't represent anything. He's Altovar in disguise. After getting a talking-to from him, Bashir heads for sick-bay. Ops may be the center of the station, but sick-bay is where Bashir's world is.
One quick computer fix up later and Altovar is gone and Bashir awakens no worse for the wear. He learns from his experience of aging so rapidly in his mind that turning 30 is not so bad after all.
- And You Were There: Members of DS9 appear as various aspects of Bashir's personality, though it turns out that Garak is actually Altovar in disguise. The real Garak's reaction to being cast as the villain by Bashir's subconscious is humorously typical of him.Garak: To think, after all this time, all our lunches together... you still don't trust me. There's hope for you yet, Doctor.
- Birthday Hater: Bashir doesn't mind birthdays in general, but he's not thrilled about reaching the big 3-0.
- Bottle Episode: Bashir's mind conveniently looks just like the existing Deep Space Nine set and cast, with only one new alien character to design.
- Continuity Nod: Altovar accuses Bashir of intentionally making up the whole 'confused the preganglionic fiber for a postganglionic nerve' so he would be second rather than first in his class. Writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe included this line because his wife, who was studying to become a vet, had repeatedly pointed out that no one in the medical field would mix them up.
- Dark World: The entire space station during Bashir's coma is this. It's scarily similar to the Chzo Mythos.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: In Cardassian mystery novels, the suspects are always guilty. According to Garak, the challenge is determining who's guilty of what.
- Garak is the only "crewmember" to readily accept the idea that he isn't real and is just a representation of an aspect of Bashir's mind, and reminds him of this fact a few times. This is because he's not Garak, he's Altovar in disguise.
- Though not written at the time, this episode ties into nicely to Bashir's secret genetic engineering (it even makes sense that this is what allowed him to survive a usually-fatal telepathic attack) and his fear of being discovered. This episode is also the first mention that the medical school exam question that Bashir got wrong that prevented him from becoming valedictorian was answered wrong deliberately (since it is the equivalent of an engineering major confusing a wrench with a screwdriver).
- Happy Birthday to You!: Played straight as the woman waiting in Ops sings this to Bashir upon entering.
- The Hero's Birthday: It's Bashir's 30th, and he's not happy about it.
- I'm Melting!: Odo dissolves in a puddle while Bashir is trying to get to Ops.
- Journey to the Center of the Mind: And a screwy journey at that.
- Battle in the Center of the Mind: Bashir works out how to turn the situation against his enemy, by moving to Sickbay, which is his domain.
- Paper Tiger: Mental!Altovar is an unstoppable juggernaut ripping apart the station and killing its crew at will. Real Altovar bumbles into an alarm and is caught within seconds.
- Rapid Aging: Bashir appears to go through this, though it turns out that it's the weakening of his life signs that's causing the aging inside his mind.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Mental!Altovar gives one to Bashir at the climax, accusing him of giving up every shot he's had at getting what he wants, namely his chance to be a pro tennis player, his chance to be valedictorian of his class, and his chance at a relationship with Jadzia.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: However, Bashir rallies and responds that while he did want those things, he doesn't regret getting what he got instead of them (his career as a doctor, the DS9 posting, Jadzia's friendship) and he's entirely happy with his life as it is.
- Shock and Awe: Altovar gives Bashir a telepathic mental shock that puts him in a coma.
- Swiss Cheese Security: Averted. Altovar was actually captured moments after he shocked Bashir.
- Trash the Set: Quark's Bar when Bashir first looks through the station to find out what's gone wrong. Later on, as Bashir finds out that the station is really his mind, the bar appears to be reset to its original appearance, though most of it is still unlit.