Quark finds Odo in his bar during a particularly quiet time, continuing to oversee the area (and always keeping an eye on himself), so he starts to tell him that he needs to lighten up and have some fun, perhaps in a holosuite. Odo dismisses imagination as a sign that one is not paying attention to one’s real life. Quark offers to create a Shapeshifter “playmate” to intermingle with, at which point Odo declares, “You’re disgusting!“
Seeing Jake Sisko walking toward a holosuite, Odo warns that Quark had better not have created any “playmates” for him. Jake’s program, Quark explains, is one that includes famous baseball players from Earth, such as Tris Speaker, Ted Williams and Buck Bokai. Quark has made it his business to learn about Hew-man customs and traditions because a wise man, he says, can smell profit in the wind. He tells Odo to try it. “I don’t have a sense of smell,” Odo says.
As Quark explains economics to Odo, on the other side of the bar, Dr. Bashir and Lieutenant Dax are having dinner. Julian wants to become romantically involved with her, but Jadzia politely refuses, pointing out that he has eyed several other women as well.
She returns to Ops, where she finds there are elevated thoron emissions in the nearby Denorios belt. Dax and Sisko hypothesize that it is because the amount of traffic around the station is currently elevated.
Meanwhile, O’Brien reads his daughter Molly a bedtime story – “Rumpelstiltskin” – and tucks her in. However, Molly comes back out and claims Rumpelstiltskin is in her room. O’Brien returns with her and finds that Rumpelstiltskin truly has appeared in her room and is sitting on her bed.
O’Brien sends his wife and daughter away, and calls for security. Rumpelstiltskin wonders where the straw is, supposing he will be asked to spin it into gold. He’s not making any threats, nor any other reason he is there. Two security guards arrive at O’Brien’s quarters, but cannot catch Rumpelstiltskin, who disappears, leaving the guards grasping at thin air. O’Brien calls for Sisko, but before the commander can proceed, Jake interrupts him, and shows his father that the baseball player Bokai has followed him home from the holosuite. He also does not appear to know why he is there.
Meanwhile, Dr. Bashir is asleep in his quarters, but he is awakened by the caresses of a very amorous Dax. He resists at first, supposing that she is sick, or that he is hallucinating. But he can’t think of a good answer when Dax asks why he is resisting. He decides to accept his apparent good fortune for a moment, but then believes it to be a prank.
Just then, Sisko calls for all senior officers. Sisko introduces Buck Bokai to the senior staff, pointing out that the former baseball great had been dead for two hundred years, and Rumpelstiltskin, who expresses annoyance that now everyone knows his name. Sisko asks Dax if these puzzling events could be related to the thoron emissions, but she doesn’t seem to know what he is talking about. Then the real Jadzia Dax appears, much to Bashir’s embarrassment.
Bashir examines Bokai, and pronounces that he, and all the new characters, seem to be real. The “fantasy” Jadzia continues to have eyes (and hands) for Bashir, but when she suggests they return to his quarters, the doctor unequivocally rejects her, and she promptly disappears.
Just then Odo contacts Sisko, reporting odd and seemingly random events, such as snow on the Promenade, occurring all over the station, apparently from people’s imaginations. Sisko calls for a yellow alert while Dax determines that there is, in fact, a subspace disruption where anything that falls in disappears. They’ll have to do a full analysis.
Meanwhile, Odo reports that the snow is gone, but a Gunji jackdaw is loose on the Promenade. He shoos him away and goes to Quark’s, announcing to everyone to refrain from using their imaginations. There, Quark has found himself surrounded by beautiful women who are unable to resist him, and he hopes that whatever is going on lasts forever, until Odo points out every one of his customers is winning at dabo. He desperately tries to “wish” them to lose, but he is outnumbered.
Dax and Bashir, with the help of O’Brien, are developing a theory as to the cause, and the remedy. Bashir tries to apologize, but Jadzia says an apology is not necessary; we all have fantasies, she points out, and besides, she was a young man once herself.
But then she comments on the “fantasy” version’s submissive nature. Bashir thought she would let it go, but then the “fantasy” version of herself appears and enters the room, objecting to the description and calling the real Dax a “cold fish.”
As if on cue, the computer finds a match for the kind of phenomenon that is presently occurring on the station in the Hanoli system in the 23rd century – unfortunately, the phenomenon destroyed the entire system.
A probe is launched into the rupture to hopefully better understand the effects of the thoron. While O’Brien is busy working on the solution, he is heckled by Rumpelstiltskin. The Chief tries to ignore what he calls the “figment” – until Rumpelstiltskin mentions Molly, in what could be interpreted in a threatening way. When O’Brien is about to lose his temper, his “figment” disappears. The crew find that the phenomenon is getting larger, pulling in matter from nearby.
While Jadzia and Bashir continue to monitor the probe in search of a solution, Bokai follows Sisko and they briefly discuss baseball and Bokai’s career. Baseball, it seems, simply fell out of favor with the general public – only 300 people were in the stands for the World Series. Bokai expressed deep gratitude for Sisko’s loyalty to the game.
Rumpelstiltskin, Bokai, and “fantasy” Jadzia all discuss in the Replimat what to them seems like a surprising turn of events. “Jadzia” is annoyed and puzzled as to why Bashir would reject her, when he created her in the first place. Rumpelstiltskin wonders why O’Brien would dream up a character who frightens him. They both insists that their plan has been a failure, but Bokai says that he has made a real connection, and “it ain’t over till it’s over.”
The subspace anomaly continues to expand, but the crew of DS9 are unable to find a way to contain it, so they’ve diverted all incoming ships away from the station. They discuss the Hanoli rift, and how a Vulcan vessel attempted to seal it, but ended up destroying the system. O’Brien argues they have better technology, so can perform the same procedure with better control. Sisko then orders Kira to clear all personnel from the pylons as a safety precaution before implementing their plan to seal off the anomaly (which now represents a clear threat to the entire Bajoran system). Odo was supposed to help, but he still has his hands full with Gunji jackdaws (emus) running rampant through the promenade.
As Kira reaches lower pylon one, she is nearly enveloped by a wall of flame, and calls for emergency assistance. She then sees a burning, screaming man running toward her – and she has no escape from the turbolift. Cringing in the corner, Kira expects to be roasted alive. But after a few seconds, she looks up; there is no burning man, and no evidence of a fire.
Sisko calls through her comm badge, asking for her report, but Kira is momentarily too confused to respond. Finally she says “false alarm”, runs a few scans, then proceeds with the evacuation, somewhat nervously.
Meanwhile, Odo is still dealing with the Gunji jackdaws (and numerous other “imaginative” problems) when Quark runs up to him to report two missing persons – a blonde and a brunette, who his imagination had conjured up earlier, but just then, the two ladies appear and resume acting affectionately to Quark. Knowing that all the strange occurrences on the station have been the result of imagination, Quark expresses no surprise when Odo confirms that none of the recent oddities originated in the unimaginative mind of Odo himself. Odo returns to his office and runs a security sweep on the pylons, only to discover that he has wished Quark into a holding cell, confirming to himself that he does have an imagination.
In the Sisko’s quarters, Jake is sitting with his baseball glove, procrastinating on finishing his homework, when he hears the sounds of a baseball park, and Bokai appears, inviting him to play. Jake resists, citing the trouble he’d get into with his father if he didn’t first finish his homework. Suddenly, Benjamin Sisko appears (out of thin air) behind Jake’s back; Jake mutters an excuse as to why he hasn’t completed his homework. His father disappears, and so does Bokai, and Jake starts getting serious about his homework.
The senior staff is still trying to contain a rapidly-growing subspace rift, which is now big enough to be seen on-screen. As Sisko looks it over, Bokai appears next to him. Rumpelstiltskin is seen observing O’Brien, and “fantasy” Jadzia is smiling at Bashir, who (like the rest of the senior staff in Ops) is staring intently at the anomaly.
Kira appears to confirm all pylons have been evacuated and secured. The one hope is a torpedo sent into the anomaly. While the real Jadzia is at her station, the fantasy Jadzia expresses fear at the seriousness of the situation – Bashir told her that if this didn’t work, all life on DS9, real or imaginary, would be ended. She asks him to hold her, which he does, but does not take his eyes off the viewing screen.
O’Brien is ready with the torpedo, and Sisko calls a red alert and orders him to fire. At first, everything seems to be going well, but then it appears that they are not getting a controlled collapse of the anomaly. Despite heroic efforts by the senior staff, the station is hit by something, and Sisko immediately orders damage control.
Fantasy Jadzia is seriously injured, and Bashir attends to her. Although sensors have come back online, it seems inevitable that the station is doomed.
When Sisko asks for suggestions, nobody answers – except Rumpelstiltskin, who claims to be able to solve the problem – for a price. A confused Keiko, holding Molly, suddenly appears, and Rumpelstiltskin says “I always wanted to have a daughter”. O’Brien refuses to agree, and angrily insists that if Rumpelstiltskin can seal the rift, he should do so, before realizing to his own confusion that Rumpelstiltskin is a fictional character from a children’s fairy tale.
At this point, Sisko realizes that everything – including the anomaly, is the product of a wish, or at least an expectation, and as more people believe it exists, its size increases. Sisko orders O’Brien to lower the shields, and believe that there is no subspace rift outside the station. O’Brian complies. As the senior staff present begin understanding, and believing, all readings return to normal, and the “imaginary” characters disappear.
Though almost everything is back to normal, the unusual thoron readings persist. Sisko orders the station go to yellow alert, and asks Jadzia to continue her investigation, “but no speculation!” Sisko then goes to his office, and, soon, Buck Bokai appears, and explaining through baseball metaphors that he is part of an extended mission that followed a Federation ship through the “hole in space.” His people wanted to see what “imagination” is really about in an attempt to learn more about humanoids. “Bokai” departs shortly after suggesting that he and his compatriots might return “next year” to inform Sisko about his species. As he leaves, he tosses Sisko a baseball, leaving the captain to contemplate the events.
- Aside from the aforementioned “Where No One Has Gone Before” (in which The Traveler brings the Enterprise to a remote region of space, where the crew’s imagination becomes reality as well), other episodes with similar premises include TOS: “Shore Leave” and TNG: “Imaginary Friend“. The notion of an exploring race testing the story’s heroes before making direct contact is similar to TOS: “The Corbomite Maneuver“.
- The baseball which Sisko keeps on his desk for the remainder of the series is a memento of this episode, given to him by the alien who impersonated Bokai. The ball went on to have great thematic significance in many future episodes, such as “Call to Arms“, “Sacrifice of Angels“, “Tears of the Prophets“, and “What You Leave Behind“.
- Buck Bokai, who appears in this episode, was first mentioned (although not by name) in TNG: “The Big Goodbye“.
- The title of this episode comes from an old English language proverb that goes, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”
- Odo’s disgust over “intermingling” with a holographic shapeshifter foreshadows his tumultuous relationship with the Great Link and, specifically, the Female Changeling.
- In terms of stardates, the events of this episode occur before the events of “Dax” (stardate: 46910).
- The events in the Hanoli system are noted by Jadzia Dax to have taken place in the mid-23rd century. Miles O’Brien, however, later speaks about the contemporary technology being superior to the one 200 years ago, placing the incident in the 22nd century. The Star Trek Encyclopedia (3rd ed., p. 183) confirms this, placing it around 2169. However, O’Brien’s remark that “The Vulcans were using a primitive device” could indicate that the Vulcans were not using a state-of-the-art device.