Come Together - Part 3 of 3
The Bulikaya Particle
Location: Dox's Crew Quarters, Deck 8
“I got to see what I would have been like had Sonak never found me. It was... grim. I was a short fuse, wandering around in the black pearlescent armor. French and Sexton were still aboard and running the ship. It was... I’m tempted to say it was the mirror universe, but it wasn’t.. It was just me crawled into a bottle and angry and bitter and alone. But... you saved us, actually. The local version, shuffling around on the flight deck. I called you and damned if even that version of you didn’t come save my behind,” Rita grinned at the memory of the twitchy yet cool counterpart of that universe.
“Might have given her the idea to send the message in a bottle, so who knows? There, you were still Melanie, which really gave me a look at how far you’ve come. You really are an amazing woman, Mnhei’sahe. I feel privileged to have gotten to know you, I truly do.” As she did in all things, Rita spoke simply from her heart, the truth as she saw it. Which some might say she saw with a certain clarity, lent by the forces which shaped her in a golden age long ago.
The smile on Dox’s face was genuine, but with the slightest hint of something else behind it as she replied. “Thank you. I’m… glad I was able to help you there. That sounds like a difficult experience on a few levels. Though, I can say with a good degree of certainty that… more than privileged, which I most certainly am… your impact on me and my life has been… tremendous.”
“Because without you there… my 11th leap was… not an ideal scenario.” Dox added, that hint of something else becoming a bit of melancholy.
“Ohhh...” Rita smiled, obviously moved by Dox’s words. “Well, there’s an old song that says ‘like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes a sun, because I knew you, I have been changed for good’. It’s a song about friendship, and I think it applies to both of us. We’ve both been good for each other. That’s how it’s supposed to be. But alright, so tell me about this 11th leap. Where did you end up this time... for what, eight hours?”
“Eight hours, yes.” Dox replied, sighing slightly. “Eight long ours in this case.”
“I appeared in what turned out to be a maintenance access tunnel beneath the city of Iuruth on Romulus. Basically, a sewer. And the version of me that I met… well… that held me at disruptor point for a good while… had been living there for months.” Dox continued, leaning over a bit to work through the details. “Living there as a terrorist.”
“She had been on Romulus ever since the kidnapping. Stuck there after just barely getting away from Rendal on that platform where you and the crew came to rescue us. Except… in that reality, you never came. Nobody did.” Dox said, looking up and pursing her lips. “My Mother was still there in that Scorpion like she was in our timeline, but she was shot down and killed, and in the chaos, the other me escaped by leaping into the river below that landing platform.”
“In the escape, she killed t’Suil and did her best to survive in hiding for as long as she could. The Tal’Shiar locked down off-planet communication and were hunting for her. Every escape attempt she made ended in someone getting killed trying to help her. It was… SHE was… extremely damaged for the experience.”
“Sounds terrifying. Did you find a way to help her?” Rita asked, looking for a bright spot.
Looking down at the badge on her chest, Dox nodded. “This is actually the commbadge from the version of me that got stuck in the past. One of the only things she had left from her time here on the Hera. She gave it to me when I was leaving the Victory, because I had given MINE to the woman living in those tunnels.”
“With a sub space transponder, it’s a way to call for help.” Dox said, looking back up at Rita. “And hopefully a reminder to not let go of what hope she had left.”
“Good for you... it feels a bit better to hope that we made a difference, right?” Rita nodded, sipping her tea.
“I like to think I did, for her. For all of these, really. I’m not a fan of coincidences. I’m something of a believer in a fate of a sort, and I don’t believe we went to all these places not to make some kind of a difference. To put right what once went wrong. And I believe we did.” Dox replied quietly but confidently as she looked out the windows at the infinity beyond.
“I’d like to think so. I did what I could where I was, and so did you. We can only hope we made a difference for the better, right? Which brings me to my last jump- Kathoom. Like I mentioned, Sonak never found me, became the central figure of a religion and then the religion hoarded the water and resources and oppressed the people. So I led a peaceful revolt and tried to get a more equal governing body established. Official report. It was... sobering. I saw how the best of ideas could end in tragedy. I actually have her logs, in her wrist comm. Assuming it still works, I haven’t quite worked up the nerve to start watching them.”
“I can understand. It’s the closest you’ll likely get to being able to ask that version of you what happened, having lived out the rest of her life there.” It was a heavy concept to be sure, but one that seemed to draw a strange parallel between their experiences that Dox considered for a moment before continuing. “Messages in a bottle from a version of yourself long dead? Watching the passage of time like that… is an intimidating concept on a number of levels.”
“You said time moved differently there. The three months you spent there the first time was only a few seconds here which was a year ago, roughly.” Dox said, constructing the question from the bits of information she had for what Rita had already said. “From their perspective, how long had it been since you had been there last?”
“Hard to say. The church basically abolished science and learning, and the civilization had been stagnant for centuries, likely for thousands of years. The tomb she was in was pretty ancient, but I got out of it with the least amount of damage that I could, and gave the location to the kid I met... B’Jen.”
At that, the well-traveled woman looked a bit wistful. “In all my travels, it really has been about making friends wherever I ended up. That really has been Starfleet’s mission to me, and I feel like I’ve accomplished it out here, you know? I won’t put it into the official report but...” Rita sat up a bit straighter and regarded Dox levelly. “I’m proud of what I did down there. I changed a society, an entire world, and I didn’t have to harm a single person. No violence necessary, just words, and doing the right thing. I’m... not sure if I’m going to get a pass on the Prime Directive on this one, but I know I did the right thing.”
Thinking about the situation, Dox smiled at the fact that Rita did what Rita always did: what she knew in her heart was right . It felt good to know that no matter what, Rita was always Rita. That consistency was what made her the compass that Dox always tried to follow in her own decisions, and it was a truly positive moment for the redheaded Romulan.
But it was that influence that also inspired her to always want to help if she could, and Dox bit her bottom lip as she ran through her studies and her knowledge of the prime directive for a moment. “Hold on a second, I need to check something that I remember from my Ethics classes.”
Getting up and going over to her nightstand where she kept a PaDD, Dox called up some data and scrolled through it before finding what she had vaguely remembered. “Okay.. I’m not a legal expert, but I was thinking about legal precedence and some subsection written into the Prime Directive that might be relevant.”
“The version of you that made these initial changes, while YOU, is an alternate you. So, you can’t be held responsible for her actions. She is legally considered a different person. And even though Admiral Meowlth likely covered for what you did on Kathoom the first time, it still does set a precedent that you’ve been cleared, but that’s not the main point.”
“Okay, here we are. I thought I remembered this: “Directive One. Suborder 25, paragraph 9: Starfleet officers are prohibited from directly intervening in the natural outcome of any internally motivated political or military conflict, even if non-intervention would result in the extinction of an entire species or the end of all life on a planet or star system.” Dox recited the rule on the PaDD in front of her.
“Law is all ABOUT semantics. What you did, to me, fulfills that heart of what Starfleet is supposed to be all about. First and foremost, beyond exploration, we’re out here to help. But it’s in the SPECIFIC wording that I think we will have a position. It says two key things here. We can’t interfere in the ‘NATURAL outcome’ of and ‘INTERNALLY motivated’ political military conflict, etcetera.” Dox finished, a little enthusiastically.
“What happened on Kathoom WASN’T the natural evolution of that society. It was artificially influenced by a Starfleet officer. That it was YOU is negated by the fact that it was an alternate you. Different person. And as such, it wasn’t an INTERNALLY motivated situation. Because it originated from that other Rita, that makes the scenario an EXTERNALLY motivated situation.” Dox raised a finger to punctuate her point.
“AND… I had to look it up quickly… but Captain James Kirk of the Enterprise set a number of precedents that work in your favor. Chief among them, the actions of the Enterprise in righting the incident on…” Dox glanced at her PaDD, not having anything resembling total recall in this topic that was in no way her speciality, but one she was showing a clever aptitude for in the moment. “Planet Ekos.”
"A Federation Cultural Observer instituted a dangerous, old Earth political structure that led to a Fascist government. Kirk was determined to be in the right to UNDO that damage by a Federation Ethics Committee." Dox finished, handing the PaDD to Rita, a little awkwardly as she ramped down her energy a little and blushed slightly.
“Well... thanks for that, I guess,” Rita laughed. “Leave it to Jim Kirk to save my ass again. I think you may just have a point there, Miss Dox. Alright, so where did you end up? This last leap is the one where you ended up in the, what, the twenty-two eighties? Nineties? At least you didn’t end up in the seventies...”
“No, no. Eighty-six.” Dox said with a smile and a nod. “On the U.S.S. Victory, where a version of me ended up after her version of the Mudd mission went bad.”
Some of this, she had said earlier but was summarizing a bit to catch herself and Rita back up. “According to her, in her version of events, Mudd didn’t get the drop on HER with an agony disk, he got the drop on Sonak. After he took off for his ship, it was her that caught up with him. But while they were struggling on his ship, it took off on auto-pilot and made it’s high-warp slingshot maneuver around Sol and into time warp.”
Relaying the story, Dox picked up the Starfleet badge she had been gifted from the Victory and lightly fidgeted with it as she continued. “She knocked him out, but couldn’t get control of the ship and had no idea what his preset destination was, and so made the decision to dig under the console and hard-reboot the controls to manual. It dropped the ship out of time warp, largely out of control heading towards Earth. She got it back under control just enough to make a controlled crash at Starfleet Headquarters. She just wouldn’t know she stopped the ship a century too soon until later.”
“They were pulled out and arrested by security, but Mudd’s ship exploded, killing six people.” Dox nodded grimly as she continued. “This is why she ended up staying.”
Changing course slightly, Dox looked up at Rita and raised an eyebrow. “Do you remember that story I told you… about the cadet at the academy who had gone out with me just to check off ‘Romulan girl’ off his alien sex checklist? The one that I ended up getting into a fight with and putting in the infirmary, which then led to my academic suspension for just long enough to end up pushing my graduation back a year?”
“Uh huh, I most definitely do recall that,” Rita replied, sipping her tea. “I actually went back and read the incident report. What exactly did he say to set you off?”
“I was dealing with what he was saying. All the kind of things I was used to hearing about my ‘filthy blood’ and coming from a race of liars. I was more angry for all the other women he was taking advantage of and I confronted him on it.” Dox said with a slight smirk as she blushed slightly. “Whaaaaaat… got me in trouble is that he grabbed me and raised a hand to try and hit me. Hence… infirmary.”
“Interesting. Funny how much of that never made it into the incident report. I swear, the Academy these days really, really bothers me,” Rita shook her head, frowning. “But yes, I recall the incident and the cadet in question.”
“So… when the other version of me woke up in the infirmary at Starfleet and was interrogated by an Intel Admiral, she found out that one of the six people killed was a very young, still unmarried woman that she recognized by name to be the cadet in question’s great grandmother.” Dox said, taking a sip of the tea Rita had brought over. “That led to the realization that she had inadvertently caused a ripple that would have left her entire future in the air. Without him, she wouldn’t have had the black mark I had on my academic record. She would have graduated a year earlier with a much different senior year. Even though the option to be put into cryosleep was out there, she would have had no idea what she would have woken up to.”
“So… after consideration and meeting Charybdis and discovering the first Romulan to serve in Starfleet was offering her an opportunity to make a difference in that time, she decided to take it. As frightening as the idea of trying to start over in another time with complete strangers was frightening… but the idea of going to sleep and waking up to a world where you might have even less of a place was even worse to her” Dox said looking down at the badge again. “We… didn’t get along at first, but the crew and Char went out of their way to get us to talk. For her, it was a way to get some degree of closure on her life here.”
“In reality… while the ship was called on a rescue mission to assist the U.S.S Saratoga that had been rendered powerless by the signals of an alien probe… the trip was actually fairly calm.” Dox said, streamlining the extraneous details. “For me… it was extremely strange, and more than a little uncomfortable.”
There was now that slightly melancholy edge to Dox’s voice that Rita knew well when the redheaded Romulan was getting introspective. “Getting to meet Charybdis as a young woman, in contrast to the version I had met here. The version whose life had its share of regrets for decisions that this young Char hadn’t yet made.”
There was a pregnant pause as Dox ran a finger nervously over her ear as she chuckled. “Which is where we come to the part of the story where I join you in quite probably having to explain myself to the Starfleet Board of Ethics.”
“Considering that there’s a version of me living out her life one hundred and eleven years in the past of a different timeline, a walking, talking temporal paradox, that’s problematic enough, but like I said about that other Rita, not something I can be held responsible for.” Dox added, a little anxiously. “However… me letting Charybdis read my mind so that I could warn her about the impending death of her medical crew and that her children would grow up resenting her career choices… THAT Starfleet might take issue with.”
“Which… in truth… didn’t stop me from doing it. And honestly… I do not regret it for an instant.” she said, looking at Rita with a slight matter of fact expression, confident in her decision to try and put right what had gone wrong in her other friend’s life.
“The timeline was already altered by the other version of you’s presence there. Further alterations, to save lives and set right what once went wrong? I don’t think you did a darn thing wrong, Mnhei’sahe,” Rita replied without hesitation, or a trace of irony. While she was quick to point out her own culpability, she was just as quick to jump to the defense for her shipmate..
Nodding, Dox smiled with slightly pursed lips again as she thumbed the badge in her hands. She believed what she said about having done the right thing, but Rita Paris was very much the woman’s moral compass, so that validation was more important than anything Starfleet would have to say. “Thank you. That, as always, means a lot.”
“That's why she gave me this. For… ‘admirable and honorable service to my temporarily assigned duty station’. I can only hope that what I said helped.” Dox added with a nod. “And that the other me will remain happy there.”
“That’s all we can ever do, Dox- do our best and hope we made a positive difference,” Rita replied, thinking back to her own Kathoom adventure. “It’s not like there’s a guidebook out there that prepares you for ‘what to do if you are thrown back in time and encounter an alternate reality version of yourself living in a past you could avert tragedy in’ or ‘find out you’ve become the central figure of a religion on a world where the religion is the oppressive force’. Although maybe there should be...”
“So… for the better part of a day, I mostly just got the grand tour. I got to meet her new friends and walk around for real in one of the classes of ship that I love to fly in the simulators now. And… see people that she had somehow become friends with, while I had known of them through the elderly Char’s stories.” DOs said, reminiscing slightly. “Their junior comms officer was a woman named Tivri, actually. An earlier clone of Thex’s line, which was extremely bizarre.”
“Was she also.... You know what, nevermind. I suspect if we start looking at female Andorian officers throughout history we’re liable to find a little Thex here and there,” Rita sighed, shaking her head. “So overall, what was your takeaway from your sojourn to the past? You’ve always had a romance for the golden age, which I certainly understand. But it seems to have affected you most of all. So what’s the perspective that you gained, the lesson learned?”
“It’s hard to say, in this case.” Dox added with a bit of knitted eyebrows. “My interest in that period and it’s ships certainly seemed to make acclimating to living there a bit easier for her. It was the only leap, other than the disastrous second leap, where I was actively in Starfleet.”
“Even still… she and Char had plans for trying to make changes to Romulus. To try and repair some of the cultural damage made over the centuries, which feeds back into my thinking that there was some guiding hand in both my leaps… and maybe in my other self being there.”
Putting down the badge on the table, Dox put a finger to her lip and thought for a moment. “According to the ship’s CMO, a Deltan doctor named Siivas Mackenzie, that version of me fits into a… prophecy of some sort involving Charybdis restoring the honor of the Romulan people. That me is supposed to play a key part and…”
As Dox spoke, her eyebrow raised slightly as a memory sparked a bit of surprise. “And… Siivas. He told me that he had met you years earlier. He knew who you were. He met you on… a beach on Risa and tried to impart some of his philosophy to you.”
“Wait... Siivas? Bald little fellow, red eyebrows... OHMYGOSH, yes!!!” Rita’s eyes lit up as she made the connection. “I met him on a shore leave on Risa, we were both on the beach at dawn to greet the sunrise. I was limbering up for a beach run, and we spoke a few minutes while he waited for his boyfriend to show up, a surprisingly handsome Orion gentleman. But yes, I remember,” the bright blue eyes of the lost navigator were alight as she spoke.
“That was where I learned the philosophy that guided my life... the one I taught you, that helped me rehabilitate Hera, the one that basically set my personal philosophy. He taught me to ‘be better’, nice and simply. And it has echoed through my life, which is... wow.” Pausing to absorb all of that, Rita shook her head. “FAR too close for coincidence. Especially dimensions removed. I could ask Sonak, but the odds against you meeting the man in the past who shaped my philosophy in the future are astronomical... yet a version of you ended up there under his tutelage all the same. No wonder she was well-adjusted. He was... quite a fellow.”
“He was. As such… knowing that he died badly in this timeline and how much it devastated Char… Captain MacGregor… I couldn’t not let her know everything I could.” Dox said, slightly somber for a second before returning to a more even keel. “And she IS pretty well-adjusted. She was, all-in-all, happy. She took the lessons you taught her and figured out how to make a life in a very different time. As a result, I got to see that in some ways, I’m more capable than I give myself credit for when it comes to change, which is one takeaway from the whole thing.”
“Outstanding!” Rita declared. “We have to follow our hearts, and we have to do what’s right. I just laid out that philosophy for an entire world, which has likely advanced dozens of years from when I spoke those words. All we can do is our best Mnhei’sahe, and it sounds like you did just that.”
“It’s the purpose of our mission, you know. Or at least it was, back in the day. We explored strange new worlds, sought out new life and new civilizations, because we were boldly going where no human had been before.We reached out to the stars, to find others who could share our vision, of a Federation of worlds living together for mutual benefit and harmony. While they don’t like to admit it,” Rita admitted, “Starfleet was always about the human connection.”
“We went to the stars to see what was there, yes- but to connect with others and make that human connection,” Rolling her eyes, Rita waved her hand breezily. “I know, humancentric and arrogant, but that’s what it was all about. These days, I’ve found the more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s still about reaching out and making that connection. Because in doing so, we elevate others, and uplift ourselves in the process. That’s what you did on that mission, and you should be proud of yourself.”
At that, Dox’s smile widened a bit more. Regardless of how far she may have come, praise from Rita meant the world to the anxious, often uncertain young officer. To Mnhei’sahe Dox, Rita Paris WAS Starfleet, and most everyone else was, at best, playing a part. “Thank you. I really do appreciate that. I did my best to help wherever I could out there. Seeing all those versions of myself. Seeing all those different paths. It’s… a lot to try and process.”
“Which… even though I got some rest on the Victory… I could really use a solid sleep to try and reset myself. Get out of this uniform and… oh.” Dox interrupted herself, with a bit of a grin as she reached for the flap of her uniform tunic. “You of all people will appreciate this.”
Pulling the top open, instead of her standard black undershirt, she was wearing the black jogging t-shirt she had been given during her last leap. On her chest, in the same typeface as the t-shirt’s that said ‘HERA’ that she wore when jogging with Rita, was the word ‘VICTORY’ in gold letters. “One last souvenir.”
“Hah! Oh, that’s classic, good for you. I also brought back a souvenir, although one that I have some trepidation about.” Into Rita’s hand appeared a comm unit, identical to the one that she wore upon her left wrist in her EVA armor. Save that this one looked considerably older, chipped, scuffed and worn, with microfractures in the golden outer enamel that made it look quite aged.
“This is the wrist comm of the Rita Paris who never left Kathoom. If it were me, I would have recorded my log entries onto it over the years, and I am reasonably certain that’s what she did. I... haven’t watched any of them. I don’t know that I want to. Living out her entire life there on Kathoom, without Sonak... I can only imagine. Truthfully, I don’t think I’m emotionally equipped to deal with that level of loneliness and unhappiness over the span of years. I think I’ll turn it over to the Starfleet archivists to review and catalogue. I won’t let her story go untold, but... I don’t think I need to be the one to tell it.”
Looking down at the comm unit for a moment, Dox thought hard on Rita’s words, understanding the idea all too well. Rita often joked that she wasn’t the superwoman that Dox thought she was. But in truth, most of the reasons that Dox so admired the woman sitting next to her had to do with her impossible strength and unending compassion that all fell on very human and very mortal shoulders. Rita Paris inspired her because she wasn’t an invulnerable superwoman, but she still tried harder than anyone to always be better. However, Dox knew better than most just how fragile the seemingly unbreakable woman could be. She had held Rita in her arms when her friend needed it and comforted pain she rarely let others see.
In that moment, Dox could see pain behind her friend’s eyes, and hear doubt, and even fear in her voice. “I understand. You saw a version of yourself that lost Sonak and had fallen from grace. But you also told me that you helped her get back up. It’s possible that the woman on those recordings was impossibly lonely and unhappy.”
“The woman I met on the Hera felt abandoned. Nobody ever came to rescue her in that past. She no longer had the piece of Mona inside her to keep her warm and cling to. That energy faded after only a couple of weeks, she said.” Dox added, changing course slightly for a second. “But… in spite of all that, she was still trying to be better. To make happiness and find hope in that past. She was even seeing someone and trying to let love in again. And, well, neither of us learned that from out mothers, Rita.”
“So….” Dox swung back around a little to her earlier train of thought. “Right now, it may be too raw to process. To hard to think about. But… it’s possible that the you who found herself stuck there on Kathoom found a reason to keep going. She might have even found purpose and even happiness over time.”
“Nothing is impossible, after all.” She finished with a smile, putting her hand on the shoulder of the impossible navigator from another time and universe.
“Maybe so... maybe so,” Rita admitted quietly, eyeing the comm unit, lost in thought for a few seconds. Then she looked up, refocused once more as she rose from the couch.
“I’d best let Mona know you’re back, so I doubt you’ll get much sleep. But I’m... deeply relieved you made it back, Mnhei’sahe. I’d hate to have to start hunting you through the multiverse just to get you back to the Hera.” While Rita Paris said it as a joke, there was no doubt in either woman’s mind that had Dox not reappeared, Rita Paris would be suiting up to somehow, impossibly, find her, somewhere in the infinite possibilities of alternate realities.
Neither woman had any doubt she wouldn’t come back empty-handed, either.
“I’m glad to be back as well. And VERY glad everyone else made it back.” Dox said, the weariness in her voice beginning to become more apparent. “As tired as I am… I can’t wait to see her and the girls. All things considered, it feels like a lifetime since I’ve seen them. Twelve lifetimes, really.”
Rita chuckled, “Amen to that.”