As a junior member of the Federation’s diplomatic service, Gail Armstrong was frequently called upon to escort alien dignitaries who wished to visit Earth’s landmark sites. She had taken Klingons to see ancient battlefields, shown medieval universities to Vulcans, and arranged for Ferengi diplomats to tour bustling commercial plazas.
She expected that Bajor’s newly appointed Ambassador Cymra would ask to be shown historic cathedrals and mosques, given the Bajorans’ intense spirituality, and perhaps the birthplace of the Emissary. As to this, however, she was mistaken. The ambassador, a diminutive elderly woman whose intricately patterned earring dangled below her close-cropped white hair, wanted only to see one New York building not often visited by extraterrestrial tourists.
The twin towers of the Galactic Trade Center, rising nearly two hundred stories above Manhattan, had dominated the New York skyline for over three centuries. It no longer came close to being the tallest skyscraper on Earth, however, and other sites held more interest for those fascinated with commerce. The Ferengi, who accorded no value to history, hadn’t even bothered to look at it.
But then, Gail thought, unusual requests from aliens were nothing new, and this one seemed simple enough. She promptly scheduled a tour of the building and accompanied the ambassador, who had seemed quite anxious to make the trip, to New York the next morning.
Despite Ambassador Cymra’s evident interest in the site, though, it was plain that her attention had begun to wander as a voluble Andorian tour guide expounded at great length on various facets of Earth’s economy. When the ambassador, staring fixedly at a blank wall behind the Andorian’s left shoulder, made no response to a direct question from the tour guide, Gail tentatively ventured, “Ambassador?”
“I can hear them.” The older woman’s voice was soft, almost inaudible. “The voices of the spirits who dwell here.”
Gail, who knew that Bajorans often professed to hear otherworldly voices, wasn’t particularly surprised. A bit of an inconvenience, perhaps; but after all, every species had quirks of one sort or another. She gave the ambassador a polite smile and replied, “I understand.”
“No, I don’t believe you do.” Ambassador Cymra’s voice grew sharp as she gave the Andorian a curt nod and abruptly turned to leave. Gail, trailing along behind, wondered what she might have said wrong.
“I’m sorry, Ambassador, I didn’t mean to give offense.”
The exasperated sigh seemed out of all proportion to such a small woman. “Young people. It’s the same from one world to the next. None of you know your history.”
“I’ve taken several courses . . .”
“Courses.” The Bajoran snorted in contempt. “It’s sadly obvious that you have no idea of what happened here. I’m going to fill in a gap in your woeful education by explaining it to you. First of all, has anyone ever told you why Bajor’s prophets chose Earth as the birthplace of the Emissary?”
“No, ma’am,” Gail answered meekly, not about to hazard a guess at that.
“The Emissary’s purpose was to defeat the pah-wraiths, the spirits of evil, in the last battle.” The ambassador’s tone deepened, taking on the sing-song quality of a storyteller reciting an ancient saga. “Now, the pah-wraiths weren’t unique to Bajor. Their kind can be found throughout the galaxy, wherever wars are fought, for they draw sustenance from hatred and other negative energies. In the ancient tales of Earth, they have long been known as demons.”
Although she’d never believed in such things, Gail listened politely to the ambassador. A faint hum of machinery could be heard as the lift descended.
“For most of Earth’s history, its soil was fertile ground for the pah-wraiths, with endless wars, slavery, and other abominations. By the turn of the third millennium, however, the planet was largely at peace. So the pah-wraiths devised what they thought was a clever plan to start a global war. They possessed the leaders of a small band of zealots, perverted their religion into an ideology of destruction, and incited them to destroy a civilian office tower on this very site in a vile act of terrorism. In so doing, the pah-wraiths hoped to provoke atrocities in retaliation such as would plunge Earth into a Third World War from which civilization would never recover.”
The doors opened silently, and Gail walked out into the lobby, still following the older woman.
“But they failed. Earth’s Third World War became a campaign in which all nations came together to put an end to the terror, to ensure that evil would never again have a place to hide. And eventually the pah-wraiths, deprived of the hatred and violence on which they fed, simply withered away and perished. The Galactic Trade Center was built on this once-stained ground as a proud symbol of the world’s resolve to conquer evil.”
The crisp September air touched Gail’s face as she stepped out of the building and, for the first time, really saw the memorial that she’d just walked past earlier, without even noticing.
“And that is why the Emissary had to be human. Because your race had already proven that it could vanquish its demons.” The Bajoran ambassador was weeping openly now, her tears falling beside the memorial. “You can’t understand what it meant to us, during all those years in the Cardassian labor camps, to know that this building, this symbol, still stood, this place where evil was defeated. To know that it could be done.”
The ambassador brushed the back of a wrinkled hand across her damp eyes and whispered, “Thank you,” as she gazed into the pale stone face of the statue in the center of the memorial. She reached up to touch the firefighter’s smooth cheek, still immaculately preserved and maintained after almost four hundred years.
“Rest in peace.”