When Commander Sisko, Dr. Bashir, and Jadzia Dax attempt to beam down to Earth from the Defiant, something goes wrong and they materialize in San Francisco in the year 2024.
Dax is separated from her crewmates. Luckily, she is found by a passing businessman named Chris Brynner, who escorts her back to his office and takes care of her, believing she had been mugged. He admires the "tattoos" on her face and throat, and compliments the exotic name Jadzia, which he guesses is Dutch.
Meanwhile, Sisko and Bashir are having a harder time. They are awakened by a pair of police officers armed with pump-action shotguns, who believe them to be vagrants and warn them to get off the streets. They find their way to an employment office, which is crowded with unemployed workers and used as a way-station by throngs of people with untreated mental illness and nowhere else to go. Sisko sees the date on the calendar and realizes they have arrived just days before the "Bell Riots", a seminal historical event. They are in a "Sanctuary District", a fenced-off ghetto that is used to contain the poor, the sick, the mentally disabled, and anyone else who cannot support themselves. The Bell Riots happened when tensions rose to the breaking point, the residents of the Sanctuary Districts angry about the loss of their dignity and the inability of the government to provide them the means to honestly support themselves. Dozens will be killed, including a man named Gabriel Bell, the leader of the demonstration. Bell will become a hero because of his self-sacrifice while protecting hostages. As a result of Bell's heroism attitudes to the poor and sick begin to change. Sisko and Bashir want to be out of the city before this happens. That night they sleep in a stairwell, since all the buildings in the Sanctuary District are either full, or guarded by gangs.
Dax is diligently working on locating her crewmates and trying to understand what is going on. Brynner provides her with clothing and currency, and she uses his computer to get an identification card and find information about the era. When she accompanies Brynner to a swank party she visits the upper echelons of society that no one in the Sanctuary Districts can ever hope to see.