Come Together - Part 2 of 3
The Bulikaya Particle
Location: Dox's Crew Quarters, Deck 8
“My eighth jump I was still in San Francisco... but at the Starfleet graveyard. Apparently in this reality, enough of me made it back to the transporter pad for them to have something to bury.” Rita visibly shuddered at the thought. She’d seen the footage of what had happened to Sonak in this reality, and had a very good idea what had happened to her counterpart there. Here in an informal briefing in the living room of the woman Rita considered the ship’s second officer in spite of her actual position, she could let a frailty show and react honestly, stoicism aside.
Turning a bit on the couch, Dox knew quite well Rita's fully justified fears of transporters. There was palpable trauma there, and it showed. Placing her hand on top of her friend's, Dox squeezed Rita's hand gently but firmly and gave her a moment.
“Long and short, I called my brother Albert, told him enough big sister dirt that he had to believe it was me, and I left the channel open when I confronted the old man.” Drawing herself erect, Rita preened a bit. “You would have been proud of me. I manhandled him, I slapped him like he owed me money and I got him to confess... not just to my murder, but to mom’s as well. I mean, I figured it out, but... to hear him admit it...”
"Validated a lifetime of questioning?" Dox added, a hint of a question in the statement and a smile for Rita's moment of pride. "Not just the question of what happened, but… questions about yourself. 'Am I strong enough to say what I've always wished I could? If I had the chance to face him, could I?' I'm glad you had the opportunity to face those demons, inside and out."
“I did... and yes, it did give some closure. Who knows, maybe I got through to Albert, and he’ll not turn out to be another Paris family turd,” Rita chuckled, but in her heart she did hope she had helped her brother, long dead and gone in this reality.
"It… really does feel like there was a guiding hand in all this?" Dox added, thinking about the encounters seriously for a moment. "It… says something that in more than one reality each, we ended up someplace where meeting ourselves wasn't the point. Where we got to face our fears and doubts and come to grips with that all and get some measure of… closure. One way or another."
“I would definitely say the particle’s choices of universes is far from random,” Rita agreed, having had time to give this some thought while she waited for the last crew member to return from her dimensional odyssey. “The versions of ourselves we encountered or the lives we visited all seemed to be directed by some form of intelligence, or at least a plan of some sort. I mean, in no universe did we encounter slight variations of our own lives. In all cases they were widely divergent from the timeline we know. So it does definitely bear investigating... or at least it would if our thief of time and space hadn’t made off with the only sample of the particle.”
"Indeed." Dox replied with a bit of a sigh. "Part of me expected him to come back here, but with his tech and foreknowledge, I imagine he might have been able to navigate HIS leaps. He indicated something to that effect."
"That I'm still having trouble with." Dox admitted with a bit of reservation. "That he's OUR Grandson. And that he would do something like this."
That gave Rita pause, and she considered her answer before speaking. “I imagine... if our lives were to continue, and our careers were to continue as they are... imagine trying to live up to that family dynasty? Imagine the pressure he must have been under, as a child of both of our legacies? We cast long shadows now, Mnhei’sahe. Imagine how much longer they are liable to be by the time we have grandchildren? Look at your relationship with YOUR grandmother, and how influential she is on you and your choices?”
“I suspect this may be adolescence meeting brilliance and fearlessness and who knows what else. But, if it’s any consolation, apparently I’m already on the job... well, future me at least, chasing him down through time and space, So we’ll have to count on me being good enough to catch him in my old age,” Rita smirked. The concept that her future self had arrived after her local self had disappeared was amusing to her, as somehow it seemed oddly fitting, giving the unpredictable nature of her adventurous life.
Having only just arrived back, however, Dox's initial reply was a raised eyebrow and a generally perplexed expression. "Future you? Was… that another leap of yours?"
“No.... apparently after we all vanished an older version of me showed up. You can review the security footage, but it looks like I haven’t forgotten how to work an EVA suit, and honestly, I was kind of impressed how well I’ve held up forty odd years later,” Rita chuckled. “Scared the dickens out of Kodria and Maica...”
"I will… absolutely have to watch that. Sounds like things didn't get any less interesting while we were gone." Dox said, chuckling a bit herself as her mind went back to the birth of her children and the unexpected appearance of a Rita Paris from the future in an EVA suit. A Rita that had asked Dox to not mention the incident to this Rita, which was something the red-headed Romulan had no intention of going back on.
As such, she went back to the subject of Declan. "What's worse… is that we don't know what about us, or legacies or behavior that lead to his actions here. We go into temporal paradox territory where if we try and react, that could be what causes it eventually. So… who's next?"
“Ahhhh... I covered roughing up my dear old dad the murderer, so I think that’s seventh... no, eigth leap to you,” Rita recounted, rising to head for the replicator to get them some drinks and a snack.
"Right." Dox replied as she ran the leaps through her head to remember where she was before remembering and pausing for a moment. Rather than launching into the specifics of her last leap, Dox took a breath and looked down for a moment, at that picture of her Romulan family. Of the image of her grandmother, smiling from another universe.
"So… last year… when I was on that ship for over a month. On the Warbird… for those first two or so weeks, before Rendal revealed her plan and took over the ship, when it was just my Grandmother doing everything she could to convince me to follow her…" as Dox spoke, she trailed off for a moment, shitting her eyes to center herself.
"While I did eventually pull back and stop… for a while… I was letting her get into my head." The anxious young woman sheepishly admitted. "I… she was giving me what I'd always wanted. Family. A mother's approval. The promise of a place I was always meant to be where I would belong. She told me stories of the family I had on Romulus and what could have been mine."
"And… I don't like admitting it, Rita… but for those first few weeks before my Mother reminded me of who I was… I… began to want to take her up on her offer." It was a difficult admission, even having said so to the gilded Commander before. "I went along at first, just to bide my time and either stall long enough to either be rescued or find a way to escape, but I was trying to play her game and I was losing. Hard."
Looking back up at Rita, Dox nodded lightly as she continued. "THIS version of me… she did."
"We were on Romulus. In my Grandmother's office. The one we saw in the holo-communications. And… the version of me I met there was a woman who accepted my Grandmother's offer." Dox said, nervously as if the alternate versions choices reflected upon her. "She willingly defected and was training to succeed Verelan in the Senate."
"Being there, I got to see exactly what I would have had to give up to go there and live that life." Dox said, pondering the fate she had only narrowly avoided. "she… was becoming what Verelan wanted her to be. She dyed her hair black. She was going to be married off to Verelan's Centurion. And she was becoming very good at playing the Romulan game."
"It was… very much a wake up call in a lot of ways." Dox said, nodding a bit as she sat up a bit straighter.
“How so?” Rita returned with a pair of mugs of tea, and a plate of pizza rolls, of all things.
Taking one of the offered mugs, Dox took a sip and considered her response. “It was a very large reminder that if I try to deal with my grandmother on her terms… like she wants with that proposed visit to Romulus… it will very likely end in some way in her favor and very against my own.”
“I need to… rethink a lot of things about that relationship. I… still want to be able to help. But seeing just how much control she had over that version of me really showed me that I need to find a better way. ” Dox added with a bit of a smile as she eyed the small wrapped snack before picking one up and giving it a sniff before smiling and trying one.
“Mmmm. Like a tiny little Pizza. These are good, thanks.”
“It’s earth kid’s food, but they seemed appropriate,” Rita admitted. “Well.... clearly you want a relationship with her, but it definitely needs to be on your own terms... I have to say, all of these ‘leaps’ all seemed to show me something, good or bad. To be frank, they’ve got me re-examining my priorities myself. Am I really doing the best thing possible running around the galaxy in a miniskirt stomping out brush fires and mentoring junior officers? Or should I be doing more?”
Taking another of the pizza rolls, Dox nodded. “Something about… literally 12 different perspectives does make one rethink things. What we do here is important. We’ve literally saved planets. Systems. But yes. I’m wondering much the same after all of this. It’s… a lot to process.”
“For both of us.” Dox added, grabbing a napkin and wiping her mouth off. “So… what about your next leap?”
“Let’s see, leap number nine was... the Exeter, in 2270,” Rita recounted, a sad smile settling onto her face. “I’d never been lost on Aijon Prime, so Sonak and I were still serving with Stuart on the Exeter. That one was... interesting. When I was the plucky gal sidekick to the two heroes, I was a different person, and it was... interesting to see. And I got to see Michael again... not naked, fortunately- and that was nice. Seeing the old girl was certainly nostalgic, and... who knows. Maybe I gave them a chance to save themselves, with the pocket universe collapse and all that.”
“It did show me how far I’ve come from that plucky gal sidekick, though. She was pretty threatened by me, and Stuart...” Rita shook her head with a wry grin. “I’d forgotten how hot-headed Michael could be. I think he never fully forgave Sonak for wooing me... not that he did much wooing, mind you, I was fascinated by the Kolinahr. But seeing them all together, standing outside the situation, I could see it. Poor Michael... not the best of captains, not the best of men, but he tried, and as long as we were there to help him, he did all right. I hope their universe doesn’t collapse.”
“I can’t pretend to understand the science of it, but considering the raw number of alternate timelines we’ve just moved through and the ones we do know about like the Mirror universe, that all seem to be stable, I would have to imagine that it’s a possibility.” Dox said, looking over at Rita and smiling. “So, I hope that whatever happens, that they do figure it out. I’m glad you got to see them again, though. Them, and the ship you remembered as it was. I’m really very glad for that, Rita.”
“Yeah.... it was... bittersweet. I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye to Michael,” Rita admitted, “not again.” The anachronistic astronaut was silent for a moment before she changed course and redirected. “Okay, leap number nine for you?”
“Number nine.” Dox said, rubbing a finger over her ear as she didn’t have to think about the leap in question. “Number nine… was on Rendal’s ship. There I got to meet the version of me that did get broken by the Neural Extraction Converter. The version of me that Rendal remade into her perfect, twisted… apprentice. Her Sub-Commander.”
“Ewwwwwww... okay, that really has to be pretty horrible. And long by that point. Oh my... alright, go on.” The concern was evident on the compassionate commander’s face as her fellow starfarer relayed her tale.
“THAT was the one that just… kicked my ass. I appeared in her ready room before she showed up, and went through her computer. I got to see the recording she sent to Starfleet, defecting. Then, she showed up. We talked for a few minutes, but as soon as I tried to move, she knocked me out.” Dox told the story a bit more plainly than she had the others, but her anxiety at recounting it was high.
“When I woke up, I was strapped to that kreldanni machine again. Her AND Rendal standing over me, trying to find out not only how I arrived there but how I had escaped in my reality.” Continuing, Dox began to wring her wrists a bit and purse her lips. “And… when I refused to answer her, she decided that even if I was going to vanish, she could still run me through her machine and send back another… loyal apprentice.”
“That woman really is a menace. I’m going to have to throw her at a sun or something one of these days. No,” Rita snapped her fingers, “Black hole. Gotta be positive. Anyway, so... did you resist it again?”
“My head was still ringing from having been knocked out. I had no idea how long I had been out and so, didn’t know how long I had left before I would leap again, and I was exhausted.” Taking a breath, Dox realized she was starting to let her anxiety ramp up as she took a moment to calm down before looking back to Rita. “The other me… her apprentice plugged me in and turned it on. But… on the ship the first time, I had been meditating on Sonak’s techniques for almost a full day to prepare myself. THIS time… I was completely unprepared.”
“It was painful in a way that’s hard to describe as the pressure came around my head. It was like… infinite gravity pressing in from all directions. I tried to put up my defenses, but… if the Bulukiya Particles hadn’t pulled me away at the last second, I don’t know what would have happened, Rita.”
Scooching over on the couch, the blonde bombshell silently took the redheaded Romulan renegade in a hug, and held her for a moment.
There was a shudder that ran through Dox as she shrunk just a bit in Rita’s arms. She had just barely escaped the potential fate that still haunted her nightmares, and recalling the memory recalled the emotions that had come with it that she had been unable to process as it was happening. But here, in the arms of her chosen sister, she could take off the proverbial uniform for just a moment.
But for the sound of her raspy breathing as she calmed herself back down, the room was silent for a moment.
“We’ll have the Kolinahr give you a once-over to see if there was any tampering, just to be sure, okay?” Rita said softly as she set Dox back upright and mopped at her tear-streaked cheek.
“Thank you. I believe that the particles extracted me before they were able to begin the overlay process.” Dox said, reclaiming her center and taking a breath. “Also, when I was on the Victory, Charybdis also went into my mind at once point, and if there was anything even remotely Tal’Shiar in there, it would have stuck out to her, I’m sure.”
“But… ultimately… I still really really would very much like to kill her, so I don’t feel like I’ve been brainwashed.” Dox finished with a bit of a forced, ‘fake it until you make it’ chuckle.
“Or bring her to justice. Show her there’s a better way. Or you could ironically brainwash her into being a good person- wouldn’t that be a revenge to savor?” Leave it to Rita to think of a fate worse than death for a hated enemy being set upon a better path in life.
“So, leap ten,” the lost navigator interjected, abruptly changing the subject so as not to invite further discussion of the subject, and to move on to something more positive. Which didn’t exactly work.
“When I appeared in 2395, I was in deep space, in the Beta quadrant. That’s where I appeared.” Pulling back her sleeve to reveal the bracers of Hera that she wore, Rita nodded. “Deep space, no starship around. If not for my EVA deployment capability, I’d be dead, frozen solid. Hera be praised, right? Saved my bacon again.”
A few doors down in the VIP quarters, the goddess in question nodded and smiled, then returned to packing some of her books in travel containers for moving.
“I think I was out there for about four hours. The other me, the energy being, likely discorporated without anything around to prevent the stellar eddies from breaking her apart. But just in case, I set my wrist comm adrift with a message and instructions on how to reconstitute her, if they ever found it. So... who knows, right?” Rita smiled and shrugged. “Message in a bottle.”
Smiling a bit, Dox nodded approvingly. “It’s… not unlike how Sonak found his way to you, here, really. There’s a certain… poetry to that in a way.”
Changing the tone slightly, Dox smirked as she raised her eyebrow at the bracers of the sun and moon of Rita’s wrists. “And It’s a good thing you rarely take those off. I’m a bit envious. A pair of those would have come in handy more than a few times for my leaps.”
“They’re available, you know- in the ship’s armory. If you want a pair you just sign them out. Some of the women don’t wear them because they dislike the religious overtones. Some of them distrust the science we don’t understand. I tried fitting a pair on O’Dell and they don’t come that small,” Rita chuckled. “But if you want to wear a pair... Hera decides whom they work for, and I’m pretty sure she trusts you with the responsibility. I know I do.”
“Well… I’ll think about that. Maybe ask Hera.” Dox said with a slight shrug and a grin. “I’ve got the Asgardian ones… but I feel like Loki might have had something to do with them, so I don’t really trust them. That’s not a problem in the least with Hera.”
“So… we’re on ten, correct?” Dox added with a bit of a smirk.
Ticking off the jumps on her fingers, Rita counted them off. “Wormhole, Talos IV, Worldship, Planet Hera, Risa Rita, Constitution, Rita Decker, Daddy and Albert, Exeter, space, the final frontier...” Rita held up her hands with her fingers splayed. That’s ten. These are hard to keep in order.”
“Excellent, thank you. Okay… this leap… leap 10… is where this came from.” Dox said with a much broader smile as she gently touched the alternate family photo on the coffee table next to them. “Which began… unusually. Remember, I was strapped to a table with that machine trying to rewrite my brain, and suddenly I’m in what turned out to be the Rul family home on Romulus. BUT, I’m horizontal, a meter and a half off the floor.”
“So, I appeared and immediately fell flat on my back.” Dox said with a laugh at the somewhat ridiculous recollection of the leap that was one of the only truly happy leaps. “I got up and hid in one of the rooms when my other self came into the hallway. Like I said, I was on Romulus. In my family’s home that I only ever saw when I mind melded with Verelan. The version of me that was there was…”
Puffing up her cheeks a bit, Dox mimed being a bit rounder than she actually was. “She was… a little more rotund than me, but looked more like the farmgirl. Short, black hair. No freckles. This version of me had been born and raised on Romulus. My parents never had the falling out and my Mother never was put in a position to betray the Star Empire. They named her Okhala there. My Mother had told me it was what my father always wanted to name me, which means the element of fire in Romulan.”
That got her a look from under the inclined brows of the earth girl. “Fire? You? Really?” Shaking her head, Rita Paris waved dismissively. “I’m rude, go on, tell me the story.”
Laughing a bit at the exceedingly ‘on-the-nose’ assessment of the appropriateness of the name, Dox shook her head. “No, not rude at all. No worries.”
“I honestly hoped that I could have hid my way through the entire leap. As much as I wanted to meet them all, I also was worried that me showing up would cause problems for them, so when my Father and Grandmother came home from the Senate, I hid in the closet of his study.”
Going into a bit more detail as the memory was much more positive, and one she wanted to share with her friend, Dox continued a bit enthusiastically. “Turns out, she… the other me… was secretly helping organize rallies for reunification. She got in trouble for it and my father sat her down for a while to talk to her about it while I hid in the closet and just watched.”
“Never in a million years did I think watching someone get chastised would have made me so happy, but… it was just… amazing, Rita.” Dox said, a little bit of wetness forming in her eyes as she smiled. This time, however, Dox stayed composed as the smile on her face turned a little awkward. “When he was done, he sent her off and he just worked. He just sat at his desk for, I think, another hour, and I just stood in the closet watching him. Absorbing every movement. Every twitch and affectation. Just… enjoying the moment. Not wanting it to end.”
“He… pretended to leave… to draw me out of the closet. He had heard me earlier and assumed I was a spy to confront me.” Dox said, pursing her lips a bit. “It took a little doing, but I convinced him of how I could be who I am. His daughter, but different. Eventually, he believed me and we talked for a bit. We just… talked.”
“I told him everything I could about my life, and he just sat and listened to me for at least another hour.” It was a simple statement, but Dox said it with the awe of a child describing a great discovery before sniffling again. “Ahhh… just when I think I’m done crying. I’m sorry.”
Hopping up from the couch, Rita returned after a few seconds with a roll of paper towels from the replicator. “Here, the quicker picker upper is best for moments like this... no, keep the roll... well, give me one, jeez...”
Smiling at Rita, Dox nodded as she was wont to do and continued. “When I felt the particles beginning to build up again, he… he gave me the picture to remember them. He… he told me he was proud of me. He… he told me he loved me.” At which point, Dox’s ability to contain her emotions had once again gotten the better of her, but this time in an overwhelmingly positive way.
“Oh.... oh, Mnhei’sahe, that’s... Sonak says that there are events that are entirely unlikely in the universe, yet simultaneously occur with starling regularity. Getting to meet your father... the man he was meant to be, in your family home, and you convinced him!” Poking Dox in the arm, Rita’s eyes were wide and her grin open and laughing. “Not that shy little lieutenant who couldn’t give an order, but convinced her father from another dimension that your intentions were good, that you come in peace and that you truly were impossibly related... I am SO proud of you right now! WOOOO!”
Rita Paris went up high for a high five before realizing that it might not still be a culturally relevant gesture.
Smiling, the gesture cracked some of the emotional tension and Dox let out a fairly deep and throaty laugh as she unexpectedly returned the high five. “Ha… I actually know this one for a change.”
Running on less sleep than not and having been steeped in one emotionally charged experience after another for over 37 hours, both women were a bit loopy and the moment left the both of them laughing for a little bit. It was both much needed and felt very overdue.
After a minute, Dox caught her breath and wiped her face dry with one of the paper towels. “Thank you, though. I really appreciate that. I do. It means a lot to hear.”
Looking at the picture, Dox’s smile had not yet faded as she ran her fingers through her hair, thinking about the memory for a moment. Then, turning back to Rita, she continued. “So… what was your next leap?”
To Be Continued…