Come Together - Part 1 of 3
The Bulikaya Particle
Location: Dox's Crew Quarters, Deck 8
The sensation was uniquely different from the other leaps. This time, the Bulukiya particles that had been built up within the body of Lieutenant Commander Mnhei’sahe Dox that had been moving her across the multiverse to encounter one version of herself after another, were finally spent.
As the familiar blue flash of incandescent light faded, Dox could feel them pull from her this one last time, and as reality began to coalesce around her, she could feel their absence. Unlike the past 12 leaps, they were no longer building back up in her system. It was over, and she was home.
And it was strangely dark.
Standing for a moment, Dox blinked a few times to get her bearings. Just a few seconds ago, she had been standing on a completely different starship one hundred and eleven years in the past. Her hands were closed around two of the strange mementos she had brought back with her from the even stranger adventures. She was in her quarters, standing exactly where she had been when her and Rita Paris’ grandson from the future unleashed the Bulukiya particles and sent them all careening into an ever-increasingly bizarre series of elseworlds and what-if dimensions. But the room seemed empty. The decorations of the birthday party that had been held here were gone, and the chamber that she shared with her bond-mate, Mona Gonadie, was cleaned up and normal.
The lights were low and it didn’t appear that anyone was there. By her best estimate, she had been gone for some 36 to 37 hours, but didn’t know if that time had elapsed here on the Hera, but as she looked around, it was clear, that some time had passed. On some level, she began to worry if she truly was home, or if she was in yet another reality that just looked like her familiar quarters on the Hera.
The question of that, and if she was alone, was quickly answered by the sound of a gentle snore from just behind her.
Jerking defensively, Dox was startled by the unexpected sound, but relaxed quickly enough when she identified the source of the sound, Seated on her comfy couch in the living room, her face propped up on one hand, was Commander Rita Paris.
The golden-clad officer had been standing right next to Dox when she had vanished, and she half expected her to reappear at the same time and place. But it would appear that Rita had been here long enough to fall asleep, which was making Dox more than a little worried that she wasn’t quite home yet.
“Computer, slowly raise the lights to 25 percent, please?” Dox asked, a question in her tone, before the lights began to raise gently.
“Uh… Rita? Rita, are you okay?” the redheaded Romulan asked in a somewhat delicate tone.
Starting awake, the buxom bombshell looked startled for all of a second, then a broad smile split her face as she leapt off the couch to engulf the smaller woman in a fierce hug. “You have NO idea how worried I’ve been about you!!!”
Returning the hug, Dox kept her hands balled to keep a hold on the gifts she had been given, but nonetheless less squeezed tight to the woman she considered a sister, taking a long breath as she did. “I’m… I’m okay. I’m okay Rita. I’ve been worried about all of you as well. What’s… where is everyone? Did everyone make it back? Am I the last?”
The questions were a bit frenetic, as Dox worked to calm herself down. It was clear to Rita that, even before their embrace, that the anxious aviatrix had been crying before she had come back from a bit of green around the edges of her shiny eyes.
“Yeah... everyone made it home safely. Mine was a little off because of relative time flows, but you know me.... If there’s a rule of physics I’ll find a way to break it.” Pulling back a bit, Paris studied the face of the young Romulan woman, and one eyebrows rose slightly. “What’s wrong.... What did you see?”
Realizing that her somewhat raw, emotional state was clearly on display, Dox brought a hand up and rubbed her eyes dry with a thumb and smiled a bit awkwardly. “I saw… a lot, really. Arguably… too much. But this… this last one was… well. Emotional. Not really… bad, though. Good, in its own strange way, really.”
Thinking about it a little, the entire experience was hard to sum up, but if there was literally anyone in all of space and time that would understand, it was Rita Paris. Holding out her left hand, Dox opened it up to show Rita the Starfleet badge that she had been given by Charybdis McGregor on the Victory. The Starfleet badge that hadn’t been used on a uniform in well over a century.
“I... don’t think I recognize that one,” the pretty pilot’s brows came together in concern, then she recalled where she had seen it- on the breast of the statue of James T. Kirk at Arlington. “Wait... that was... wasn’t that the maroon monster delta? After the minidress era and Dentists In Space, wasn’t this the Starfleet delta for decades?”
“The better part of… I believe seven decades, yes.” Dox replied looking down at the badge in her hand.
“I suppose… you weren’t the only one to break the rules a bit.” Dox said with an awkward chuckle. “We weren’t supposed to move in time… but… there was a version of me out there… well… doing their very best impression of you.”
“She… she got lost. Stuck in the past, during the Mudd mission. One Hundred and Eleven years in the past.” Dox continued, filling in just the slightest bit of the details of what had been her last 18 hours.
“Great Hera, was she alright? Did they have her in prison? Are YOU all right?” Taking Dox by the arm, the first officer guided her to sit down, her concern for the woman plainly evident. Apparently whatever trials and tribulations the Starfleet siren may have encountered were swept aside to focus on the sensitive junior officer for whom she had been maintaining a vigil for hours, determined to be here when she arrived. She was only mildly chagrined that she’d fallen asleep- but then, it had been a very long few days.
Following Rita’s lead, Dox sat on the couch and placed the vintage badge on the table and opened her other hand. In it, the modern ‘twin tower’ delta design that had been given to her there as well. She took that badge and put it on her uniform in place and took a breath.
“She’s fine. I’M fine. Actually… as strange as it is to say so… she’s… doing good. She’s not in prison, she’s on a SHIP. A Constitution class… the Refit model. She’s… made a life for herself there. She made Second Officer before me, actually. Heh.” Dox said with the hint of a smile. “Her CAPTAIN gave me this.”
“As… impossible as it should be… it was Charybdis MacGregor. The Admiral that I told you about when we were on Earth for those debriefings. The SAME woman who’s granddaughter gave me that data crystal.” Dox looked up at Rita with a slightly overwhelmed expression. “Tossed back in time, a different me ended up getting to continue her career in Starfleet on an intel ship… with the same woman that she never met, but that I did. It’s… a lot to process.”
“That all sounds a bit too convenient to be coincidental... or is that just me being paranoid?” Rita mused, then those brows lowered. “You were gone a long time, Mnhei’sahe. Thirty seven hours and some change. You were in for the full dozen leaps. I had faith you’d survive, but...are you all right? Come on, it’s just you and me here. R&D have kept Mona distracted and they’re not due back for an hour or so. For now, just us, off the record. Or would you like some time to process it all?”
“Physically, I’m fine.” Dox said, hanging her head a bit as she reached into the pocket of her pants and pulled out a small, folded paper. “I mean… I got knocked around a bit. One version of me… well… two actually… knocked me out cold. But the last leap was on the Ship, so I got some rest and they gave me a basic exam. But…”
With her voice cracking on her last word, Dox handed Rita the paper and a tear came down her face. “I… saw a lot of different versions of me. Of ways that my life could have gone. And… a lot of them were bad. But some of them… one in particular… I can’t get out of my head.”
Unfolding the paper, it was an older-style printed photograph. The kind that Rita knew Dox preferred to 3-D images or holograms. And on it, was a family photo of smiling faces. Dox’s Grandmother, her mother Jaeih, a young black haired girl with a rounded face very much like Mnhei’sahe’s, and a man that Rita didn’t immediately recognize.
Closing her eyes, a few more tears came out as Dox spoke, her voice a bit broke. “I… I met him, Rita. In a place where my Mother never left Romulus. Where a different version of me grew up there. I… I met my father.” As she said the word, she looked back up at her friend, her eyes sad, but with a purse-lipped smile.
Silently enveloping her friend in a hug, Rita let her cry it out, soothing her hair and making shooshing noises. Dox had only met her father twice, and only once when she knew it was him- only to watch Dalia Rendal execute him. Soothing her, Rita spoke in hushed tones.
“You got to speak to your father... was he... kind?” Rita, unfortunately, knew all about lousy father figures, and she braced for what answer might come.
Taking another long breath, Dox composed herself. In spite of her rest on the Victory, the events of the last 37 plus hours were clearly beginning to catch up with her. For just a second, her only reply was a somewhat delicate nod before she finally spoke. “He was… everything I ever imagined. If he hadn’t given me this… I would have thought I was dreaming. He was… a good man.”
The sense of relief that washed over Paris was palpable, as she relaxed a bit, and fished a hankie out of her cavernous cleavage to hand over to Dox. “Good... I’m glad you got that chance to meet him, and see him... for who he should have been, the man he was.”
“Thank you.” Taking the hanky, Dox calmed down and wiped her eyes. They young pilot knew a good deal about Rita’s horrible relationship with her own father, and her hesitation in asking if Dox’s father was kind spoke volumes to the Romulan woman. “What about you, Rita? You said you got back earlier somehow? What happened to you? You were right next to me, you should have been gone just as long as I was?”
“Ah... well, you know me...” Rita waved airily. “I ended up back on Kathoom- that pocket dimension I ended up in for a few months when the Vulcans decided that beaming me ship to ship at warp 9.2 would be fine? Well, time flows differently there, so I spent the time, but I ended up back here long before you. I’ve been keeping Mona and the kids busy in the meanwhile to keep them from worrying about you.”
“So... what else did you see?” Rita asked, with a note of caution in her voice. “What path not chosen did you experience? I only knocked myself out once, so you got one over on me...?
Raising an eyebrow, Dox looked at Rita quizzically. “I appreciate you looking after them while I was gone. It was… uncomfortable. In no other reality did those girls exist. And… I was only with Mona in one timeline and… that was not a particularly good one.”
“But, you said you were gone just as long as I was? What happened on Kathoom?” Dox asked with a more serious expression, genuinely concerned.
At that, in a markedly uncharacteristic move, Rita Paris looked bashful and self-effacing. “Well, apparently her Sonak never rescued her, so.... She lived out the rest of her life there, trying to build a better society. Which wasn’t exactly what I found when I arrived, so I... kinda led a peaceful societal revolution and did my best to fix what was wrong, and help them back on the path of a better system of governance.”
Rolling her eyes to the overhead, Rita sighed. “I’m not sure if I am going to get by the Starfleet Board of Ethics on this one, but I’ll submit my logs and let them judge me. But... I think I did it right. As well as one can be expected when you show up and they think you’re a living god and the church is an oppressive organization hoarding all the resources in your name.”
“So… a version of you ended up getting worshiped as a god and you worked to fix it?” Dox said, only a little surprised by the unusual nature of Rita’s adventure.
“I neither confirmed nor denied my divinity. I may have performed a few ‘miracles’ but I introduced myself very clearly and identified myself as a Starfleet officer, but... uuuugh. Computer?” Rita asked the overhead. “Please record this conversation as the first informal briefing for the Bulikaya affair.”
=^= Of course, Commander. =^= the computer replied, before Rita launched in.
“I’m being an idiot,” Rita shook her head with a wry expression. “I’m treating you like you’re some china doll that I have to handle with kid gloves, and we’re past all of that. All right, in order, let’s recount.”
“Leap 1... wormhole! I was still being held by the Prophets, the Bajoran wormhole aliens. And when I popped up and they had two ‘Lost Navigators’ they were super excited, and they tried to keep me there. But the particles decayed and in trying to hold me there they kind of tore me apart. So they wound back time because time is immaterial to them blah blah blah, and they reconstituted me, then let me go.” Sitting back, Rite held her hands palms upward toward Dox.
Nodding, Dox sat up a little straighter, being able to recount what had happened in a more structured way. It was comforting in a strange way as she replied. “My first leap. I was on the bridge of a… T’Varo class Romulan ship, but Artan run. My counterpart was a Baroness and in command of the ship. They were running a mission of some sort against Romulan Warbirds before I vanished.”
”Not a real surprise at least one career with the Artans, Enalia’s been after you since she read Mona’s first report. Leap two,” Rita began, then blushed deeply. “Oh, Hera help me, we were all still on Talos IV.... the forbidden planet, death sentence, yadda yadda? Me and Sonak and Michael Stuart and Ronald Tracey and Vina, all in a very... open and intense sexual relationship. It was equal parts arousing, alarming and alienating. Yours?”
Rita squirmed a bit in her seat after the recollection, trying to cover it as just readjusting herself on the couch.
Smiling a bit, Dox wasn’t quite sure she had ever seen Rita quite this exact shade of embarrassed, but she had no intention of saying anything to make her friend feel any more uncomfortable. “Two. I was on Earth. Ohio, I think.”
Rubbing an ear just a bit, Dox continued. “Not the same house I spent my teenage years in, but close. There was a version of me that never went into Starfleet. Still looked human, but thought I was a Tal’Shiar assassin because they apparently had been coming for her for a while. Apparently had already killed my Mother at some point. I was only there a minute, but she came about a centimeter from disrupting my head off.”
“Yikes! Well, know that feeling too,” Rita nodded with a guilty expression. “Alright, Jump three, what was... uuuugh. It was the Worldship- Log’yarm/// had kept us all as pets, fed us until we were immobile and dumbed us down to children. It was hellish. I... couldn’t do anything about it. That one’ll haunt me a bit. You?”
Leaning back slightly on the couch, Dox sighed for a moment. “Yeah. Haunted I get. So… number three.”
Looking out the curved windows into space, Dox’s voice dropped just a bit. “She was here, on the Hera. She was a version of me that never recovered from letting those men die in the Brig. She never found out that the fusion between Schwein and Death had caused a corruption of the aura that had affected her. She was on the flight deck, with her hand on the purge button.”
“She was about to commit suicide. Blow herself into space. She had been demoted. Broken. And….” Dox paused as she looked down at the ground. “And she thought that I was Death. And… I only had a minute, so I let her believe it so that I could try and tell her that what happened wasn’t entirely her fault. That she had been affected. I… have no idea if I helped or not.”
“You did what you could... that’s all anyone could ask. I hope she’s alright out there,” the compassionate commander reached over to stroke the arm of the returned traveler. “Okay, so, four, which one was... oh, Planet Hera. Meroset 347, I’d been turned to a statue, no idea what happened to Asa. I know Herapolis surprisingly well, so I evaded and was going to get away clean, then out of habit I thanked Hera, and she caught me. Tore through my mind looking for how I could be a worshipper who wasn’t afraid of her. She knew me, then she let me go. I don’t know if I got through to her, but... hey, I reached our Hera. So there’s always hope.” That one was... scary, but not necessarily bad, you know? Okay, four to you.”
“If she went through your mind… saw how you feel about her… then there’s more than hope, there.” Dox said, working up a light smile before pursing her lips. Dipping her head a bit, she whispered under her breath. ”Hope?”
“My… uh… fourth leap. It was… different. I appeared in a medical facility on… where was it… Europa. The moon. The other me was sedated and there was nobody else around.” Dox said, nervously fidgeting just a bit before re-composing herself again. “Then, before I knew it, I passed out and reappeared on what I thought was the Hera, but it was really inside of her mind.”
“She was a version of me that… didn’t go to Sonak and ask him to help train her mental defenses. This version of me… she took HERA’S offer to have herself… awakened. She had her nascent mental abilities completely opened hoping it would help her stop GAIA.” Dox said, looking over to Rita and shaking her head. “Instead, she ended up reabsorbing that shard of Gaia… and with those abilities getting stronger and stronger, she panicked. She… pulled Mona into her mind and killed her by accident.”
On the couch beside her, Rita blanched, and put her hand on Dox’s arm to squeeze it gently.
Closing her eyes, Dox took a breath and continued. “Inside her mind, she interrogated me, trying to figure out if I was real or just a hallucination. She… was completely broken. They kept her sedated on Europa so her mind couldn’t pull anyone in. Doctor Power and Kodria were there to help take care of her since they were hologrpahic, but… inside her mind. Mona was still there. Still alive, in her mind. She had buried Mona as deep as she could out of guilt… but I… helped her awaken Mona before she let me out of her mindscape.”
“I… think I helped her.” Dox said, looking down at her feet for a second before looking back up. “But… I was only there a few minutes, but in her head, it felt like about an hour.”
“Wow. That one is.... sobering. There but for the grace of god indeed, huh?” Rita tried to frame the experience, but it wasn’t anything to be judged now. This was far more important for them both to get it out and recount what they’d seen. “How are you coping with that one?”
“All things considered, in this case it was more but for the grace of the god of Kathoom that I listened to, here.” Dox replied with a slightly awkward smile. “But… yeah. It’s… one of a lot of what happened I’m trying to process and not really having the easiest time with, really.”
“Seeing all of these ways my life could have gone so differently. It’s...humbling.” Dox finished. “How are you doing with it all?”
“Well, for starters- please don’t call me that. Not even in jest. Finding yourself as the central figure of a religion was... deeply uncomfortable. Every action I took, every word I said was liable to become scripture before someone else came along and turned it to their own purpose. But you do what you can with what you have where you are, right?” Rita shrugged, then took a deep breath as she looked to the overhead.
While Rita was looking up, Dox bit her bottom lip a bit, embarrassed at having inadvertently upset Rita, but letting her continue.
“Jump... five now, that would be- ah. The Exeter had gone to investigate the Great Barrier at the edge of the galaxy, and I had become empowered, like Gary Mitchell. Except I hadn’t become an asshole. I was relaxing on the beach on Risa waiting for a tutor in omnipotence, who shoved me along a little quicker than I was supposed to. I guess being omnipotent means never having to put up with unwanted company.” Rita judiciously did not draw the ‘goddess’ parallel, somewhat awkwardly realizing it in the moment.
LIstening, Dox nodded. She had noticed not just that parallel but the fact that two stories in a row where each of them had become bizarrely empowered. “In that last leap, Charybdis said that she suspected that the Bulukiya Particles moved those exposed to them with a purpose. Sometimes… that Idea was hard not to think of through all of this.”
“A lot of this seemed like it was trying to show me… specific things.” Dox said, standing up and starting to pace a little as she was wont to do. Then, looking up, she continued. “Five. Leap five.”
“This one. This was the first good one, really. I was… on a farm. A beautiful farm on Mol Krunchi. I was… I was just a farm girl there. A little thicker. Black hair and no freckles, but I was basically happy there. My mother… she had decided to stay there. No… no smuggling. No DNA modification.” Dox finally smiled a real and unguarded smile as she looked at Rita, recounting one of the few directly positive leaps. “She was restless. She wanted to go exploring. But she also had a girlfriend she didn’t have the nerve to tell her Jaeih about. I don’t know what happened… but I hope she did. She was genuinely… happy. It was… wonderful to see, really.”
“Awwww! A farm girl dreaming of exploring the stars? It does sound rather wistfully romantic. I hope you lent her the courage she needed,” Rita grinned, glad to hear of a positive tale. “So, leap 6, I... ended up on the Constitution, which meant I was still trapped as a ghost on the ship. I stole a tricorder and hammered out the calculations as best I could recall them, and I was plugging it in and rerouting power when Security dragged me away. I didn’t get to save her, but... maybe, right?” In Rita’s eyes there was that need to believe that maybe she might have saved that poor doomed ghost of a girl, the lost navigator of the Constitution.
“Fvadt…” Dox said, muttering ‘damn’ in Romulan, shaking her head and grinning a bit. “So, both of us have a lot of these that end in us hoping we did something, don’t they?”
“I hope they found her.” Dox added, nodding. “That couldn’t have been easy for you. I’m sorry.”
“Yeah... but the universe is not unkind, you know?” Rita perked up with her usual optimism, that seemingly unshakable belief that the universe somehow had a conscience. “And like your friend said, maybe it was sending us where we needed to go. What was your sixth leap?”
“The Forager.” Dox replied, sitting back down on the couch. “I appeared right in the cargo bay of the kreldanni smuggling ship I grew up on. And there I was still altered to appear human, and of all people, it wasn’t my mother there with me. It was Declan. The Real one.”
Retelling this tale, it was clear it was a very open wound for Dox still as her tone got a bit gruffer and her anger was showing through at the memory. “She was still a smuggler WITH him. But, it turned out that she had recently found out the truth about who her real father was. And, that apparently, my Mother had been caught and killed by Naussican bounty hunters sixteen years or so prior, because Declan had sold her out for a portion of the reward. It was one con on top of the other. It was… they deserved each other.”
“Yeeeesh, that’s. Wow. You feel for her, with a lifetime of bad choices and no one to turn to, she’d feel so trapped,” Rita hypothesized, imaging the alternate Dox’s mindset. “Well, my seventh leap was far less grim that that. I was out of Starfleet, if I’d ever been in. Married to Will Decker for years, with kids, still living under my father’s roof. I popped up at the party where they were going to announce that Will was going to be promoted to captain, and take command of the refit for Enterprise. I don’t know if you know Commander Will Decker’s history...”
“Will... Decker?” Dox pondered. “The Enterprise… The Commander who was lost in what was called the… V’Ger incident?” Dox said, raising a brow slightly. “I remember reading about it in the academy. He… vanished or something, which now considering our own service records, tells me there was more to it?”
“All I know is he was lost along with his ex-girlfriend, a Deltan girl. A navigator of my acquaintance. Kind of a bitch, honestly,” Rita added in an uncharacteristic snide remark, which spoke volumes about the person in question. “Long and short, tried to warn Rita Decker- oh, and you would not believe how skinny she was! I think she was living on a vitamin a day. At any rate, I wandered the party, got hit on by my own brother, saw my father, but... I didn’t want to ruin her party more than I already had and make a scene with the old man. She’d carry on the Decker legacy for Matt, and her life would be fine. They’re another Starfleet legacy, like the Paris’ and the Yakamuras and the Patels...””
There was a pause, and as Rita spoke the words, tears came to her eyes. “It was... It was really nice seeing the old house again, though. I got to watch the sunset from the backyard I grew up in, and it was... it was like coming home, you know?”
"All things considered, I… actually do." Dox said, smiling more broadly, happy to hear the story. The memory was clearly a mostly positive one, which was another nice break in the tone that Dox followed up with a light grin. "So, when you say 'skinny', how skinny is that?"
“Like if O’Dell were my height. No, seriously, I kid you not! Just tiny little arms, she was light as a bird, I swear! Living with my father likely kept her bulimic. Still a decent pair of cupcakes on her, though,” Rita admitted with a smirk that turned into a laugh. “Alright, your turn. Lucky 7, where did you end up?”
Letting herself chuckle, Dox thought about her next leap, and how to classify it. She was still not 100% sure if it was bad or good. Perhaps, like who she talked to there, it was more complicated than that. "Ahh, 7. It was a hodgepodge space station called, of all things, the World ship bar and grill."
"Yes, that worldship." Dox added. "The me I met there was a… very, very angry woman. She througly laid me out, actually. Laid me out because she thought I was some kind of dream made manifest by the God of Stories, Anansi."
As she said the name she had spent the last two years being afraid of, she chuckled slightly at how easily it came to her now. "That version of me… she gave him Mona's sensory helmet. She took off, though I think she was Artan as well from the patch on her jacket. But he was there. The whole thing was… some kind of construct. A perfect fantasy life he gave her as a reward. The helmet… it gave him power over DREAMS as well and he made her dreams come true, but she was miserable for it."
"I really didn't get to talk to her much, but he and I… well… I think I have a better understanding of him now." Dox finished, nodding as she did. "I think… somehow… he was the same version I met. He remembered our specific encounter, as if there might only be ONE version of him that crosses realities."
"All in all… I'm glad to have made some peace with that. What about your next one?"
“That’s huge, Dox! I know how much he got to you, and you were...” Rita paused to fish for an appropriate phrasing, “very serious about mental defenses afterward. Sonak doesn’t teach and tell, but... anyway, I’m glad to hear you found some peace with him.”
To Be Continued…