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Dox's Final Leap: Victory - Part 5 of 12

Posted on Sun Aug 16th, 2020 @ 8:38pm by Commander Rita Paris & Lieutenant Commander Mnhei'sahe Dox
Edited on on Wed Aug 19th, 2020 @ 9:53pm

Mission: The Bulikaya Particle
Location: The Multiverse, the USS Victory
Timeline: 2397, 2286

“So that’s my plan, Admiral. I figure those ships have a few days at best... we’re in the area and while I will admit that my staff have not as yet concocted any plans, we’ve got eighteen hours to come up with ideas. And we’re a clever and inventive lot, I think you’ll find.” Charybdis chatted amiably with the admiral, hand parked atop her ‘baby bump’.

“That sounds like a darned fine idea Captain, and it’s admirable that your first instinct isn’t to go charging after the dangerous probe... instead you ask permission to go help a fleetmate. By all means, go ahead. And when are you due again?” The grandfatherly smiling face on the other end asked solicitously.

“Hard to say for certain Admiral, they tend to make such decisions on their own,” Char chuckled and smiled gently before speaking again in a soothing tone. “Three months, give or take. Thirteen months is a long time to be pregnant, but I’ve made it through ten months... now just comes the waddling backache, swollen ankles part. With a little luck I’ll be able to secure some assignments for my senior staff and take a few days off on Earth... I want their father to be able to see his firstborn.”

The admiral’s eyes flickered to one side, obviously noticing another message.

“I’ll let you go Admiral Cartwright... thank you again for the mission permission. Dismissed, sir?” Char asked, leaning in to the monitor. The Starfleet admiral nodded and looked grateful for a second.

“Good luck, Captain...” she could tell that he was struggling to remember how to pronounce her name, so she smiled and nodded.

“Thank you sir. Charybdis out,” she finished and ended the call.

As the call ended, the Dox from the future kept her face completely impassive, as she stood at parade rest to the side of the very pregnant Captain. The redheaded Romulan knew full well that the Admiral whom Char had just been speaking with would be one of the co-conspirators in the assassination of the Klingon Chancelor, Gorkon, in a few years from this point in history. But if she said anything that Char might act upon, it would risk the delicate peace that eventually formed between the Federation and the Klingon empire. Silently and internally, the young pilot realized that time travel was quite a pain in the ass, even in an alternate timeline.

“Oh well ain’t you clever, slick?” the snap-up monitor that was a component of her ‘workbench’ was still dark... the call had ended and the Starfleet logo was onscreen as the standard ‘end call’ sign. Yet the voice issuing forth was quite familiar to the lady captain of the Victory, if not to her unusual guest.

“Admiral Jones?” Charybdis asked cheerfully, looking directly at one of the spy cameras he had in the room with a grin before looking back at the monitor. “What a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you, sir?”

“See, you wanted somethin and you weren’t quite sure I’d go for it. So you went around me. Now I know what you’re gonna say,” he rushed the words, cutting her off before she could protest and explain. He still had not made monitor contact as Charybdis tapped out a message on a nearby PDD to Andurean.

= ADM Jones on audio my lab. Genuine? And how did he bypass you? =

“Lookit you, typin when ya oughta be listenin,” he muttered, then continued before she could start talking. He was getting good at cutting her off, after nearly a year of practice. “You know damn well you shoulda run this through me first. What was the plan? Catch the old family man and play on his sympathies? You buckin for a favor from the admiralty sometime soon, lady?”

“Admiral, if I were going to seek a favor...” the alien captain began to reply, but he cut her off mid-sentence. “I don’t care what yer game is lady. I don’t like you playin it on my clock, is all.”

“I don’t work for you, Admiral,” Charybdis stated flatly. “You installed yourself into my chain of command because you have grown so accustomed to having me at your beck and call, but I do not, as stated by you in our initial agreement, nor by Starfleet rules and regulations, work for you. I work for the United Federation of Planets. I take orders from Starfleet.”

“Oooooh, feisty today huh?” came a dry chuckle of a response when the starship captain cut him off. It had been a year... while she was not as practiced as he at cutting one another off, she’d had plenty of time to listen.

“Admiral, I do not work for you yet you reap the benefit of my labors and I have yet to in any way genuinely disappoint you, nor give you anything less than my best efforts, consideration and cooperation. Why do you feel the need to belittle me and my crew, our efforts and...”

“Yeah yeah yeah, I heard it all before. Okay hotshot, pop quiz. You really wanna make a case for my manners? Out of anything you might pressure me for and apply what leverage you think you can bring to bear, this is where you’re gonna draw the line and make a stand? You want me to be nicer to you and your traveling freakshow out there?”

“No, Admiral,” Captain Charybdis replied gently. “This is not a fight. It is a request, sir. I hold you in nothing but the highest esteem and respect. I will admit that I do not like you, sir... but I do respect you, your judgment and your experience. And I appreciate the training and experience that you offer me, and the chance that you took on me. I was a gamble, and I still am. I recognize that.”

“You’re pretty good at them speeches... you are just darned fond of your own voice, lady,” came the reply. Chary couldn’t help but smile.

“I am, sir. I very much am fond of hearing myself talk. I suspect that while I have followed in my mother’s footsteps to the stars, eventually I may just follow my father’s path and pursue politics. Do you think I have the right stuff for it?”

“See, couldn’t just leave it at a quip... nope, you hadda go and pontificate a bit after that. Somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ll be boring the hell outta some council or senate someday. Yeah, I’ll be sure to bear that in mind, ace. Meanwhile, you got plans to make for that rescue mission huh? And how you gonna make sure the same thing happened to the Saratoga don’t happen to you?” came the voice from the workbench.

From the information they had the probe had passed on, but no sense in passing up a good wisecrack, Chary reasoned. “We’ll sneak up on it, sir.”

“Heh. Yeah, funny. Awright, go bail out Alexander. It’ll make great press, so try to get along with her, wouldya? And if you turn it into a firefight somehow, make sure you win. We got an understanding about going over my head?”

“We didn’t have a disagreement, Admiral,” Char responded evenly. “Have a little faith and trust, Jones. I haven’t crossed you yet, nor do I plan to. You’re still my biggest fan, after all. Relax, sir. What we do in the next twenty-four hours in three months time they’ll be teaching at the Academy as ship-to-ship rescue protocol.”

“That’ll be the day...” came a muttered reply, and Char had the distinct impression that the conversation was over. But if she knew the old spook, he was still listening. She paused long enough to ensure that he was through speaking, then she spoke softly and carefully.

“You can play this however you like sir, obviously. But I want my crew to get their due, and I’m determined on that point. That’s going to be the line that I draw, and the fight that I’ll pick. In case you were wondering.”

Rising with a bit less energy than the day before, the captain of the Victory eyed the silent visitor that, despite the uniform, Jones had not asked about at all- which was uncharacteristic of the salty admiral.

At Starfleet Command, Rear Admiral Tommy Lee Jones steepled his fingers and smiled. She had indeed been a gamble, and she remained one. And she was most certainly a wild card. But she was playing the game, and she was succeeding... damned if she wasn’t succeeding.

Pointy-eared bitch might just be worth a damn, if she survived.

“There you have it, Miss Dox. Dealing with the admiralty at Starfleet Intelligence in the year 2286. Not much different than 2265, let me tell you,” The distended Captain blew an errant lock of hair out of her face. “Not dissimilar to your time, I suppose.”

“Depends on the Admiral. I’ve been… interviewed and debriefed by a few that were a bit like him. Others were better examples of the ideals of Starfleet. Others, I’m not sure about at all.” Dox said, matter of factly, as she nodded and allowed just a bit of a smile sneak out. “Except for you. You, I trusted. Wholeheartedly.”

That visibly took the woman aback, and she shook her head. “That, I have difficulty understanding. All right, out with it, Dox. You’re going to give yourself a tumor if you don’t tell me or warn me or whatever it is you feel that you have to do here. So it seems you were saved from a public confessional to a private one. So... go ahead. As much as I would like to believe I am above using foreknowledge to change the future, it seems I am not. So, out with it.”

Easing herself back down in her chair, for a few seconds Dox could see just how weary the woman was- physically, emotionally and spiritually. The entire pregnancy had been spent in space, on duty, far from the man whose touch had wrought them, and still trying to manage her duties. She missed her athleticism, but more missed mere agency over her own form. Everything was uncomfortable, her hormones were raging and if one part didn’t hurt another did, or the children would get in a fight in the womb.

Just as quickly, she concealed it with a smirk and that cool exterior she preferred... but Dox had still seen it, all the same.

“When I was talking with her, with your Mnhei’sahe, she told me about what happened when she arrived here. That she was partially responsible for altering her own timeline, to where she didn’t have any idea if the future she would have returned to would have even resembled what she left. What I returned to.” Dox said, folding her hands behind her back and starting to pace a bit as she talked. It was the exact same way that Char was used to talking with her own Dox, which was amusing to say the least.

“But this reality… it’s already divergent for me. What I say or do will change things, but there’s already a me here that does that every day just by existing. As such, I suppose I shouldn’t be all that concerned about the future, but Starfleet training dies hard, I suppose.” the redheaded Romulan said, circling the topic for a moment before she stopped in front of Charybdis. “So, yes. I know you. It was only for a day, but it was… very important to me. You trusted me with the weight of your life and… well… a lot more. But, I don’t quite know how to tell you what you need to know to understand.”

“She told me that you got in through my mental defenses so easily because she had let you in after you met. So… that means you said something to make her trust you too. I know that you’re good at that, so…” Dox relaxed her posture, and her defenses. “See for yourself.”

The eyebrow rose slowly, but the eyes beneath them focused, and she could feel Charybdis’ mind coming for her, like a hungry animal, sliding in and around her mental defenses until she was racing through Dox’s memories, seeking the touchstones where an alternate future self had met with Mnhei’sahe Dox, and told her life’s story.

Which her counterpart in another reality reviewed at high speed, then with a gasp, withdrew. Her breathing was labored and rapid, and her eyes were wide.It was clear that she was struggling with the enormity of what she had just learned. Her journey to the future, the Sword of S’task, her last days on Romulus, the death of her homeworld which had been averted, her life’s work brought to ruin.

But far, far more than that, she had heard the sorrow and pain in her own aged voice, lamenting the loss of her mentor, her Eshhuur... and all those brilliant, colorful souls that surrounded his orbit. Tears filled her eyes as she brought her fist to her lip and focused on restraining the overwhelming wave of grief she felt at the knowledge that she now possessed.

While Char had moved deftly through Mnhei’sahe’s mind, the memories were relived by both women and the emotions that came up through the process were powerful as the young pilot from another future staggered back slightly, putting her arm out on the bulkhead to her side to steady herself.

“I’m… I’m sorry, Char. I’m so sorry. If I thought I could have just… told you… I would have.” Mnhei’sahe said, wiping tears from her face as she regained her composure, forgetting the formality of rank as she spoke. “But… you’re right. Everything I’ve seen in these leaps… has to be for a reason more than just myself. And… if my memories can help you. Help you save the others. Help yourself... then you had to know. It… I owe you at least that.”

Despite the tears, a smile peeked out from beneath it all. “Miss Dox, please.... Sit down. Sit down, and lets you and I calm ourselves. Because if we leave my lab looking like a pair of weepy teenagers, it will ruin my fine reputation.” Rubbing a hand across her forehead, Char turned back and forth in her chair. “Spotty. Spotty’s illness will mutate and destroy them all, because Siivas will act to save the ship, and the thoroughly ungrateful planet Vulcan. Which would never know of their sacrifice. Well.”

“That... will not come to pass. I will not have it,” Charybdis said with first denial, then conviction as she began to plan. “I will not. I’ll... warn Siivas to be prepared for the Bulukiya interaction, yes... perhaps. Backup plan to transfer Spotty to a medical station for isolation. As for the supernova... it was, then it wasn’t? Explain.”

“That… I’m not really sure that I CAN explain.” Dox said as she sat, hands folded between her legs. “The… specifics of that I had nothing to do with. I only learned that it was a thing that had been averted after getting a certain level of clearance on the Hera. All I really know is that something having to do with the interdimensional nature of my Commander. Rita Paris, and Sonak… they came from a different timeline. A universe apart and over a hundred and thirty years into the past, but with foreknowledge of the Hobus supernova. Then… with that knowledge… well, it goes into details I honestly don’t know about.”

“But… what I do know… is that all of this is mutable. Nothing is set in stone in this timeline, so, if you can save them, then I’m glad.”

“I will,” Charybdis said with quiet resolve, and in that moment, Dox could see the starship captain in there, even if she was wrestling a beachball under her uniform. “You’ve given me a great gift, Mnhei’sahe Dox, and I owe you a great debt of gratitude for it. What can I offer you in return for the honor upon me which you have bestowed, the gift that you have granted me? Ask, and if it is mine to give, it is yours.”

“You’ve already given me so much, Char.” Dox said, wiping her cheeks, no longer seeing any difference from the elderly woman she thought of as a surrogate grandmother and the young and vital Romulan Captain sitting before her. In her mind now, it was simply Char and she smiled for the chance to speak to her again, even under these unusual circumstances. “But maybe the greatest gift you imparted was the advice you gave me the… the last time we talked. You… you told me to remember to be there for…”

In mid-sentence, Dox stopped. A dark thought came to her mind as she realized that she did have something to ask for.

“Don’t… don’t tell her. Don’t tell the other me. Don’t tell her that Mona was pregnant.” Dox said, thinking of the fact that her counterpart had found unexpected happiness here and knew that this information would crush her. “That’s all I could say. All I could really ask. If she knew about the children… I know how I would react. What it would do to me.”

“Because… what you told me was to always remember that those children will need me. Like yours will need you.” Dox said, remembering her last talk with Char, when the spirit of the departed woman visited her at the birth of her children. “They won’t need the savior of Romulus. They’ll need their Mother. You told me to remember that… so... I guess turnabout is fair play.”

There was a light chuckle as she said it, taking a breath and composing herself, before asking a question. “She’s… happy here. I can see it. She still has all the pain I hold in me, but she’s… dealing with it better here. And… I want her to stay happy.”

“You have it on my honor... tattered and soiled as it is,” Charybdis admitted, “she will never know of such things. She’s a fine officer, and a good friend. I do have plans for Romulus, and I am rather counting on her to rescue me from them. But that’s... later. Here and now... I am glad to have her aboard, and count myself fortunate. Knowing what I know now...”

Those sharply angled brows knitted together. “I also count myself fortunate to have encountered you. If I have a fighting chance, I have to take it. I can’t... lose all of them. Not Sickbay. Not all of them. It would burn the heart out of the Victory, and...” in that moment, Charybdis struck upon a realization. “That’s why she tried her plan. That’s why she risked it all, because her heart was gone, and she had nothing left to lose, or so I would imagine. I love Raine, but this starship is my home, and my family. To lose so many of them, all at once...”

Pursing her lips, the mind of the captain raced, when it made another connection. “In the morning, I’ll take you to see a marvel of 23rd century engineering you’ll appreciate, which our Miss Dox didn’t show you on your tour. But that’s tomorrow.” Rising stiffly from the chair, Charybdis inhaled sharply, then her expression set in one of determination. Grimacing for a second, she waved off the offered hand.

“I’m fine. It’s... difficult. Iron and copper blood do not mix well, and Vulcanoid genealogy will win out, but it is still a struggle. In the meanwhile, Miss Dox? You are exhausted. I’m ordering you to get a shower, a hot meal, eight hours sleep, then come see me in the morning. Understood?”

It was clear to the Romulan redhead that the captain of a starship of the past had much of the future to consider, and that while she prescribed all these things for her guest, it was quite likely she herself would not follow suit. Heavy is the head that wears the laurel, as the Romulan proverb went.

“Aye, Captain.” Dox replied with a nod and a light smile. She knew better than to try to tell Char to get rest herself, but she also suspected that there was at least one person on this crew that might be able to talk the beleaguered Captain into resting: herself. During the link when Char had been in Dox’s mind, that connection went both ways and the dimensional traveler had sensed that what Char had confirmed was true. The cagey Captain did, in fact, trust her counterpart in this time.

“Captain…” Dox said, “Before I go… I did have a question. Something that your Dox said.”

“She said that when she was still in custody of Starfleet, that you came to talk to her. That you two talked for a long time.” Dox said, running a finger over the tip of an ear as she spoke, “She said that you gave her a rather impressive speech. One that played a big part in her choice to stay here, in this time. What did you say to her?”

The smile that spread across the face of the Cheshire Captain was one the visiting Romulan officer had not seen. It was one of genuine fondness, of a recollection which clearly made her feel warm and sentimental.

“Admiral Jones had, of course, been called in, as she knew too much to be a fraud, and when a Romulan officer- a redhead, no less, which was unheard of- was in Starfleet custody, this was relevant to his interests. He interrogated her, found her to be cooperative to a point, then intractable. That was when he realized she was indeed a genuine Starfleet officer, despite her ‘negative attitude toward authority’.”

“Which is when he called me in. Blindsiding me, of course, but he suspected I would come to the truth. So I came to Starfleet Command- which is always SUCH a good time for me. I sat down, and I started with ‘Jolan tru’. Nice, simple and direct. She knew my secret and we got it out in the open, and for the first hour, we spoke exclusively in Romulan, knowing it would drive Jones insane as the translators struggled to adapt to our dialects and fluidity. After all, they don’t have a lot of Romulan language to work from, and not like the entire planet speaks one dialect.” That smile was a bit more smug and self-assured now- a bit more familiar.

“So I told her my story, and how I had come to choose Starfleet...” Charybdis explained, waving absently at the visiting Dox. “The tale you already know, it seems- my trials and challenges. What I believed, and what I felt was important. We talked about my childhood in the Duatha province, of growing up watching a heroine of the Star Empire as a role model, and what that resulted in for me. I didn’t ask her a single question until the second hour. By then, she knew me- all of it. The good and the bad, the brave and the broken, the lies and the shreds of truth.”

“Of course, she was dubious. But I AM a Tal’Shiar trained operative, so that truth was already there. At that time, I had not fired on the Star Empire, and I was not yet fully an outlaw and war criminal, but it was clear that I was a rebel. In the second hour I asked about her past, her childhood, seeking clues that I could use to connect the dots. But as you know, being raised on a smuggling freighter meant that her tale was unverifiable. So instead, we talked. Back and forth, for hours, getting to know one another, feeling one another out. I took her for a walk around Command, both of us tourists- I was more familiar with the world of 20 years earlier, she was more familiar with a world 100 years later.”

“In the end, it came down to landmarks, and the same was true with us. We looked for ways to trust one another. I could not verify her story, even if she let me in telepathically. She could not verify that this was not all some elaborate ruse on the part of the Tal’Shiar, although I clearly knew too much to be a ploy by Starfleet. So, she had to make a choice, one of trust. Do you know what her answer was when I framed the issue thusly for her?” those sharp eyebrows rose in question, rather than challenge. She genuinely wanted to see if this Dox would arrive at the same conclusion.

The entire time Char has been speaking, Dox absorbed it all. She didn’t have the hardest of times putting herself in her counterparts shoes, all things considered, and imagined what she would have thought about Char’s stories then.

That version of Dox had been lost before her kidnapping at the hands of the Tal’Shiar. Before meeting her grandmother or learning the true meaning of her family’s reach on Romulus. Before she had ever even set foot on that world with its turquoise skies and lavender tipped trees. And as she really thought about what Char was asking, she put herself back in those proverbial shoes and remembered who she had been before all that had happened. Before not just the physical punishment at the hands of Dalia Rendal, but before she had almost given up herself to the tutelage of Verelan t’Rul.

Even now, she thought back on her grandmother with a mix of emotions. There was anger and resentment, but also longing... and that desire to belong. That need to belong, that had been denied her so much of her life. So much so that she spent the last few years clinging to any and every responsibility put before her just to have that sense of meaning and value.

“She’s me. Or, at least, she was. She would have looked at you and seen... not just parts of herself, but enough that she longed to understand more. That link to a world she… and I… still long to understand. And she would have seen all the things I can still see in you, that are so much like the friends and mentors we made on the Hera and...” Dox said, working it out in her own head, coming to a realization that she had refused to make across all of her meetings with the cagey Romulan Captain. “She would have chosen to trust you. Hesitantly. Not wholeheartedly at first. But…”

“But she would have… wanted to trust you.” Dox said, looking at Char in a way she had refused to accept up until this moment. Looking in the eyes of a woman that she realized came to represent what she had always wanted her mother to be like. “She would have needed to trust you. To BELIEVE in you.”

Expression softening, as did her tone, Charybdis nodded. “Yes... all true. She was very much alone, cut off from everyone and everything she had ever known. She was vulnerable, while trying so hard to be brave. Jones, despite his outward antagonism, is at heart still a good man. In her, he saw a genuine Starfleet officer, who would never be allowed to serve. He knew I was her only chance, and as someone who also didn’t fit in, she would gravitate to me if I offered a shred of compassion.”

“Imagine my delight and surprise when I learned just how dedicated an officer she was, and so... idealistic.” That brought about a wry smile, and a shake of the head. “I never knew this Rita Paris of yours, but I owe her a debt... although perhaps having her derail my counterpart’s destiny may have repaid that, come to think of it,” Char chuckled. “But she taught you... her... what Starfleet stands for, and she prepared you both for command. I inherited a fine officer from her, and a good friend. We’re a little close in age to have a relationship of mother daughter but... at the time, I could certainly see it. After all, no one tends to guess my actual age anyway. The wonders of inscrutable Vulcanoid genealogy.”

Pausing at that, the renegade Romulan, who actually did look like a woman in her early 20s, now that Dox really studied her- although the dark circles under her eyes and the seeming permanent crimp in the right corner of her mouth were signs of her ongoing strains and struggles. Those nebulous violet eyes peered at the visiting Dox. “You mentioned your own mother... it seemed our Dox had a very difficult relationship with her. I assume the same of you? I know, I know, telepathy. But I don’t go snooping when I don’t need to, and Siivas is still trying to teach me how to be a polite telepathic invader...”

“Difficult, but steadily getting better.” Dox said, eyebrow raised as she shook her head and smirked a bit. She still didn’t like people getting into her head, but with Char it was different. Or, at least, she understood her a bit more. “But since you heard that and it’s out there… I can’t say if your Dox has those same feelings. After all, she never met the version of you that I did first. The version that was very much old enough to be more than a mother. But… even here and now, when she looks at you, I can very much imagine that she sees a woman she wants to be like. A big sister, at least, to look up to and keep an eye on at the same time.”

“I’m glad you two found each other here. Maybe there was a guiding hand pushing her to a place she needed to be here.” Dox said, thinking about it for a moment as she pondered the cosmic realities she was privy to. “There is such a thing as fate, and it seems to like when things make sense. Her… here with you... makes sense. She… fits here. Maybe more than I do back on the Hera.”

There was the faintest hint of melancholy in Dox’s voice as she spoke, but she did her level best to put it away. “I don’t know how much of my other journeys that you saw but… only a few went in any way well. The rest… have been like nightmares of one shade or another. Versions of me where fate decided to break me in different ways, usually in direct proportion to my own desires. I saw more than a few counterparts that got to see what it would be like if I had gotten to return to Romulus, and… most were things I partly wish I hadn’t seen. It’s… not easy to see that you truly can be shattered.”

“Something I suspect you know fairly well, having done this yourself, I imagine.” Dox finished. “But here… it’s good to see a version of myself that… almost feels like a reward. Where, for all she had to go through, she put her trust out there, took a leap of faith and was finally met with people who were willing to catch her, and help her back up.”

“There was one reality I encountered where I had lost a critical battle, and the Victory had been captured,” Charybdis admitted, seeking a frame of reference. “She was kept as a harem girl by a wealthy man, who indulged her desire for scientific invention while ensuring she was safe from harm. She was chubby and curvaceous and very unabashed. I could not conceive of how she could possibly be happy, but she countered- no one sought to harm her. No one insulted her. The Star Empire was far away and unable to reach her, and the only responsibilities she had were those of pleasure, which were easy enough to indulge. So, she posed to me, who was truly the slave, and who wore it better?"

”I do not necessarily believe in fate, nor destiny, although Siivas certainly does. Perhaps I have seen too much chaos in my life to believe such a thing, or perhaps I am simply too cynical. Perhaps I refuse to ascribe such agency to the universe, for if so, it seems unduly cruel at times. But I believe we make our own choices, forge our own paths, and that we have no destiny save that which we forge for ourselves.” Eyeing Dox meaningfully, the curious captain opened her hands in a gesture not dissimilar to one Rita was fond of- the open hands of surrender.

“If the Dox here seems happier, perhaps she made choices based on different factors? Perhaps she found more purpose. I can’t know,” Charybdis admitted, which seemed less the truth than an evasion. “But you do have a unique opportunity to ask her directly. I suspect you are both given to 06:00 runs around the outer ring of Deck 6 every day, so perhaps you might meet her there and ask?”

“Heh.” Dox chuckled nervously. “Yes. I still run a few times a week, particularly when I have the time. Other times, I spar. We have two Klingon sisters in security who are… very different from Qurka. Totally different kind of sparring, there. But, yes. I…”

Pausing for a moment, Dox hesitantly admitted, “We’ve not really… gotten along. Which is distressing in and of itself, seeing as how of all the alternate versions of myself I’ve met, she is essentially the most like myself as I am. I suppose I should at least try and make right while I have the chance.”

“Why is it that you suspect you two don’t get along? Is it because you are too busy judging one another’s choices to actually see the inherent value of the lives you lead?” It was a shot in the dark- presumably- but a good one.

Looking at the dark-haired Romulan Starfleet Captain, Dox almost wanted to protest that what was said wasn’t true, but she knew better. “Essentially, I think so. Or… more that I know I at least was judging her, and I think she was looking at me and suddenly second-guessing all of her choices all over again.”

Pausing for a moment, the exhausted officer failed to stifle a yawn. “Which… we do need to talk about, I suppose. I… don’t want to leave here having damaged her life.”

“I did make it an order, Miss Dox. Which means I suspect you will do your best.” Levering back off the worktable she had been leaning against, Charybdis reached overhead and cat stretched. And for a moment, with the angle and Dox’s placement, she could see past the swollen pregnancy and see the woman lugging it all around. Muscular yet curvaceous, much in the same manner as Qurka Qurg. Under ordinary circumstances, she would likely be extraordinarily athletic. But not with twins growing inside her as she chased across the universe to render aid to stricken comrades.

Relaxing from the stretch, Captain Charybdis's face became somewhat earnest, and honest. “Bear in mind, all of the self-loathing you two shoved down that you haven’t managed to jettison yet thus far in life still makes you dislike yourself just as much. The voices of self-worth just get louder as you learn to listen to them. So when you see her, remember- she has trouble liking herself, too.”

“Goodnight, Miss Dox,” the mistress and commander of the Victory dismissed her guest, as one would an officer under her command. It was, in fact, something she was rather accustomed to saying by this point, as she and the redheaded Romulan second officer often talked into the night together, ending only when she dismissed the young officer whose future was bright. They talked of the past and of the future, and of their adventures together. They slipped in and out of their native Rihan when they did, because it was usually just the two of them, or with T’vyn, who also spoke the language, though with a stilted Ra'tleihfi accent. A little extra polished, and spoken like politicians tended to in the capital city.

Spending time talking, as sisters did.

To the visiting Dox, it did seem to be a strangely familiar ritual, for the first time. But she smiled, recognizing it for what it, was and was glad for it. “Good night, Captain. And thank you again.”

To Be Continued…


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