All Roads Lead to Rome
The Bulikaya Particle
Location: Dox and Mona's Crew Quarters, Deck 8
Sitting in her quarters, Lieutenant Commander Mnhei’sahe Dox was off duty for the remainder of the day. A few of the ship's crew members were relieved of duty for 24 hours after their exposure to a wave of exotic, inter-dimensional anomalies known as Bulukiya particles. Partly for medical check up and writing reports, but also just because the experience had been more than a little traumatic.
The exposure was, in part, her fault. She had been given the data crystal with the means to create the bizarre particles by Liviana McCray, the time-traveling granddaughter of the deceased Admiral, Charybdis MacGreggor months ago for safekeeping. And it was that crystal that drew a temporal terrorist to her quarters on the Hera to steal it and unleash the technology on the crew when his device was activated.
The terrorist in question was an arrogant, petulant man with a proverbial axe to grind with the crew of the Hera. A crew that wouldn’t meet him for another lifetime. He introduced himself by the unlikely name… of Declan Dox.
Her grandson. Actually, in point of fact, her AND Rita Paris’ grandson.
Of everyone that had vanished, he had never returned. He had mentioned something about mapping the multiverse before he vanished, and his future-tech likely gave him significant control of his movements across space and time. But none of that was making Dox feel any better.
Not only had she been entrusted with the data that she had now LOST, but because of that, her best friends might have been killed. It was a sobering reality that she was doing her level best to learn to live with. Though even that guilt had taken a back seat to what her mind was the most focused on, sitting in her quarters alone with too much time to think. There, her mind was on her journeys.
Twelve leaps in total was what she had experienced. Twelve times, she was pulled out of one reality and deposited into a different one. Each time, appearing somewhere near a version of her native to that dimension. The first was only thirty seconds long, and each successive leap lasted twice the length of the last one leaving her in her final dimension for just over seventeen hours in total.
It was that last leap that weighed on her at the moment, though it was not the only one. In her hand, she held a strange souvenir of that reality: a Starfleet badge from the year 2286. The badge given to her by the young Captain Charybdis MacGregor of the Starship Victory. The Constitution Refit class ship she first learned about from the decidedly elderly MacGregor in THIS reality 10 months ago.
The rule of the particles was that you only traveled across dimensions, not time. But there was a unique loophole in that wherever you ended up was where a version of you was the same age as you were during your leaps. And THIS version of Mnhei’sahe Dox was one that had been trapped over a hundred and eleven years in her own past. Forced by circumstances beyond her control to live out her life in that long ago time, unable to return to her own future due to accidentally undoing her own future.
Imagining what she had to have felt, Dox was humbled that her counterpart hadn’t simply survived, but had THRIVED as the helmsman and Second Officer of the Victory. Removed from Mona, Rita and the world she so coveted in the here and now, a version of herself found a new home and somehow, found a purpose and happiness. Obviously, it meant she too could have done so, but inexplicably, she had her doubts.
Fingering the smooth metal of the delta in her hand, she wished she wasn’t alone to wrestle with the uncomfortable thought dancing in her mind at the moment. But Mona was required in the R&D department, and her mother was watching the children there as well.
The couple had spent the night together after Dox had returned and relayed her tale. She had first told Rita in a somewhat informal briefing before Mona had come back to their shared quarters for a long night of talking, tears and a lot of emotional explosions. The experience had been more than she could process, and just trying had been a roller coaster for the anxiety-ridden woman.
The morning was spent with a few hours in sickbay. She and the others that had been affected had been cleared by medical AND science as modern medical science had purged all remaining remnants of the foreign particles from their bodies, ensuring that the mysterious sickness that had affected those who had been exposed to the particles on the Victory in that past would not happen in the present on the Hera.
A full and detailed debriefing had occurred and she had told as many relevant details of her leaps as was required and spent much of the afternoon writing her official reports. And in retelling the tales over and over, patterns that she had noticed became clearer. Thoughts that she had been denying became louder. That, and the inescapable connection between the overwhelming majority of the realities that she had visited began to lead her down a road to a conclusion she was struggling to accept.
In one reality, she was an Artan Baroness, but on a Romulan ship with a Romulan crew under her command. In another, she was in hiding on Earth from the Tal’Shiar. Then, she saw the life she could have lead had she never left the Romulan colony world of her birth. In the reality where the original Declan Dox had raised her as his daughter, that version of her had betrayed Declan to return to Romulus. She saw the life she would have lived had she went with her Grandmother to train to replace her as a Senator, then saw the cruel counterpart where she was a slave of Dalia Rendal. She was an idyllic life born and raised in an intact family on Romulus, and the nightmare of living on that world’s streets, on the run as a criminal and eventually, a terrorist.
Then there was the Victory. The ONLY reality where she had embraced Starfleet, and even still, she served under a Romulan captain with intentions of helping Charybdis fulfill her purpose of saving the Romulan Star Empire.
Out of twelve leaps, only three didn’t end with the world of her people. In a very real sense, all roads led to Romulus.
Putting the badge down on the table, Dox got up and walked over from the living room to her and Mona’s bedroom as she all but whispered to the room, “Lights. Twenty five percent, thank you.”
As ordered, the lights gently raised just a bit as she went into their bedroom and opened the door to the closet they shared and looked inside. Staring silently for a moment, she reached in and pulled out a long, silver metal case. Turning to put the case on the edge of their circular, nest-like bed, Dox clicked open the fasteners of the case and pondered what was inside.
Slowly, she pulled out its contents: a sword. In a polished, black maithewood sheath with ancient Vulcan script on it, was the weapon known as the Sword of S’Task. The curved metal blade forged millenia ago by the Vulcan swordmaster, S'harien. As a child, her mother had told her the tale of this blade and how it came to represent all the Romulan people could be, and all that they had fallen from being.
The sword was one of a bundle of three that Surak… the founder of the Vulcan way of Logic… gave to his former friend and one-time pupil, S’Task, to take with him as S’Task led eighty thousand pilgrims from Vulcan to found what would eventually become the hearthworlds of ch’Rihan and ch’Havran: Romulus and Remus.
All but one of the swords had been lost to time over the centuries, but this one remained. And on Romulus, thanks to a trick of temporal manipulation, it still sat upon S’Task’s now empty chair in the Romulan Senate. THIS sword was a temporal copy. The same sword from a different timeline and reality, plucked from the Empty Chair by Charybdis MacGregor before THAT Romulus had been destroyed by a supernova that had been prevented in the reality Dox called home.
On her deathbed. Charybdis entrusted this sword to Dox as a reminder of what their people once were… and what they could be again. And as Dox slowly pulled the shining, silver blade from its sheath and looked into her own eyes, reflecting back at her, a thought began to take root in her mind.
Romulus was broken. Thanks to the Bulukiya particles, she had seen just how broken on more than a few levels. She wasn’t under any delusions that she could save that world she had only barely set foot on once before, but for months now she had been struggling with a dawning realization. An idea that she had been trying to ignore. An idea that her last conversation with her Grandmother brought into stark relief.
“How long did you think you could keep avoiding this?” Dox whispered to herself in Romulan, standing in the dim light of her quarters on the ship she loved. The ship she thought of as home. The ship she knew, deep down, she was hiding on. But any such decisions weren’t simply hers alone to make. She was a part of a family. She had a wife and they had three children that needed both of their mothers. She had to talk to Mona.
As if on cue, the door to the main living chamber hissed open and even from the bedroom, Dox didn’t have to wonder. She could hear that familiar, gentle brushing sound that came off of Mona’s plush, colorful plumage. She could smell that delicate fragrance of Miradonian wildflowers that the brilliant inventor misted herself with in the mornings. Dox knew her wife’s presence as surely as she knew anything. And Mona knew what something was on her wife's mind without asking.
As the brightly plumed avian came up alongside her mate, her plumage floofed up as a chill went through her at the sight of the silver blade. “I sense much on your mind, my Minay. I take it some of those thoughts involve the sword of S’Task? My thoughts are that it looks similar to the sword of Others on Miradon.”
“The sword of Others?” Dox asked, curious. There were many unusual connections she had discovered between the histories of Romulus and Miradon, and raised an eyebrow as she re-sheathed the sword and set it down in the case on the foot of their bed.
Mona nodded as she kept her eyes on the sword. “Miradonian blades are traditionally short, light, and aerodynamic to mimic our feathers. In the Capital Square Garten Museum there’s a sword very similar to that one said to have come from the Others, or Visitors from long ago. The people of Altha'donar.”
“Who knows. Two of the swords have been lost to time.” Dox said with a half-grin. “But...yes. I have a lot on my mind and the sword is… I suppose a symbol of it all.”
Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Dox let out a long sigh. “I keep thinking about what I just went through. All those different versions of me that were out there. It’s not something I know how to not think about. Seeing so many different paths my life could have taken.”
“I’m… afraid, Mona.” She admitted with a nod to her bond-mate.
The brightly plumed Miradonian just smiled, took a seat with her love, and pulled Dox’s hands into her own. “Then I’ll share a bit of ancient Miradonisn wisdom with you that I believe to be true across all worlds, galaxies, realities...”
“When two hearts beat together, they have nothing to fear. In fact, when they beat together strong enough, even the gods should be afraid of their strength.” Mona squeezed her bond-mate’s hands tenderly. “Now tell me how I may help so that the beating of our hearts may vanquish the fear in yours and send it fleeing to those that hunt us.”
With a light smile, Dox closed her eyes for a moment. “I saw… twelve different ways my life could have gone, but for a single decision made different at some point. Some… not even my OWN decisions, really. How one little change made things so… incredibly different.”
“Only in… a small handful was I happy. But… in so many of them, I was back there. On ch’Rihan.” Dox said, defaulting to the real name of the planet the rest of the galaxy called Romulus. It was something she usually only said with Mona or her Mother, and it was clear to Mona that Dox was upset.
In her voice, there was that little wobble that came as her accent leaked out a bit more than not, something that had happened ever since her captivity all those months ago. “Some by choice... others… not so much. But… no matter if I was there by choice or not… even in that… nightmare where I was Rendal’s… apprentice… Even under those circumstances, there was a throughline I can’t stop thinking about.”
As soon as the initial tests were done, while Mnhei’sahe had been in quarantine, she told Mona some of the details of what she had experienced, but not everything. “Even there… my loyalties taken from me by that… machine. My free will bent to hers... and I was apparently still trying to make things better there.”
“You can’t stop being yourself,” Mona replied with a loving smile and no doubt in her words. “No machine or reprogramming will ever change that about you. You’re a good person deep down, you know. Full of love and kindness. Even in realities where you don’t show it, it’s there. I can feel it.”
“Welllll… that one kicked my ass.” Dox chuckled awkwardly as she grinned. “But… the point, really, was that so many of these versions of me… they all were working to make ch’Rihan better in some way. Even the terrorist.”
“And I look at that sword… and I think about my Grandmother’s request.” Dox said, referring to the holocall she had had with the Romulan Senator a few weeks ago. “And I realize that… I’ve been avoiding thinking about it. So scared that she’ll try and take me again that I’m not thinking about it from the other side. Not thinking about what I could do.”
“Those girls, Mona.” Dox said with a nod. “My entire life, that planet has been denied to me. It may be denied to THEM as well… but… that should be their choice eventually, shouldn’t it? If I could do something to make things better there… and it’s a very real possibility… shouldn’t I at least try? Try… and stop hiding here hoping the choice will just… go away”
Mona smiled that bright, loving smile of hers and reached up to stroke her love’s cheek lightly. “This is why I love you more and more with each passing day. You always worry about making the galaxy a better place not just for our generation but for the next and those after.”
“So what’s the plan, my Minay? You’re a Starfleet officer so you have that training going for you. You’re trained in combat, piloting, command, and first contact but less so in diplomacy.” The brightly plumed Miradonian pondered her own query for a moment before continuing. “Starfleet would frown on you going to ch’Rihan by yourself without propper training and background and so would I.”
“No…” Dox said, sighing. “But… If I contacted Starfleet… and submitted myself for ambassadorial training. I’m already doing part of the job with the Reunification colonies and the Romulan Senate has acknowledged me as such. And… really... it was harder convincing Starfleet Intel to let me come back to the Hera after my debriefing. Half the Admiralty wanted me to consider this even then. A few wanted to make it an order, but the Captain and Admiral Meowlth were fighting to keep that from happening.”
“Meanwhile... I just wanted to come home and get back to my life here on the Hera.” Dox added, looking at Mona with a hint of melancholy in her eyes. “But… it really never has, has it? I've spent as much time off-ship as I have on it it seems."
Mona nodded solemnly as she assessed the words Dox was saying. She was also receiving them through their bond and seeing the truth of them with her Miradonian eyes, but none of that made any of it any easier to process.
After a few more moments, she nodded again, her heart once more in line with what her wife needed of her. “Then I will do everything I can to support you in this. Our hearts are one. Our minds are one. We will work towards a better ch’Rihan.”
She then raised a finger, one eyebrow raised. “However, I feel that we should be prepared to spend the... Gifting holiday? With the crew.”
‘That would be… nice.” Dox thought, the slightest of smiles cracking her melancholy as she sat there on their bed, alone as her mother was watching the children for a bit. The idea reminded her that Mona was likely the easiest to convince of this. “Mother. She’s… not going to understand this. And I’ll still have to talk to Rita and the Captain before I truly decide anything. For all I know… this is all… impossible.”
“She will likely be the hardest to convince and the last to go along with it,” Mona replied more thoughtfully. “But with the two of us as one, nothing is impossible. We’ll take it one step at a time.”
There was a long, extremely pregnant pause as Dox looked over to the shelf where she placed the couple of mementos of the alternate timelines she had visited. Of them all, only one still had Mona in her life, and it seemed that misery had replaced her loving bond-mate as a constant companion in so many. But there was also hope in some of those worlds. The happy farmgirl who never left the colony of her birth. The girl who was born into a family that had never been broken by circumstances. Dox’s mind went through all of that again as she thought.
Then, her thoughts went from herself to the woman at her side, willing to commit to this insane idea simply because it was important to her. ”What I’m thinking… it’s not fair to you. What about the R&D department? You’ve… built so much here?”
“You saw how bond-mates on Miradon worked together. Every moment apart is a moment we are less than our whole.” Mona chuckled softly and ran one finger over Dox’s ear. “I know this may sound cheesy, but being Miradonian, I will never bat an eye at dedicating my life to yours. Our life goals are as one. Besides, I think Gavarus and Ila have enough to work on from me for at least... I’d say six years?”
Miradonian dedication to their partners was something that Dox wasn’t sure she would even truly understand as well as Mona did, in spite of the strength of their bond. Or, perhaps, it was simply guilt trying to break down her emotional resolve, which she was particularly good at Nevertheless, she leaned over against Mona, taking strength from her bond-mate’s love.
“I… don’t know how we’re going to do this… but… it’s been something that on some level I’ve begun to feel was… almost inevitable. For a long time now.” Dox admitted as she ran a finger over her ear. “But… knowing that I’m never alone… it means… so much to me. Even with our bond, I don’t know if I can ever express this enough.”
“Well...” Mona began, a grin spreading across her face. “I’ve been learning some meditation techniques to help deepen our bond so that we can share our senses now and then like we did for that moment on Miradon. If you feel up to it, that is.”
There was a long moment of silence in the room as Dox simply placed her hand on Mona’s and squeezed a bit harder than normal. It was clear even without their bond that the redheaded Romulan was feeling a bit more adrift than normal. A bit more… disconnected from her life, as spending almost 35 hours removed from her own reality, lost in different ones, has caused her to reevaluate her life. “I’d… like that. I… think I need that.”
“Then I’ll begin. Breathe with me and open your mind to me,” Mona replied as she began her breathing exercises and reached out with her mind to meet her bond-mate’s, aligning their minds as the texts she was given instructed her to.
In that moment, as Dox began to relax, it had become clear just how closed off she had allowed herself to become over the last few weeks, as her mental defenses seemed to be almost perpetually erected. So much so, that even with Mona, she had to consciously lower them to fully let her bond-mate back in.
Mona had been trying to restore their bond since Dox had returned from her interdimensional hops and with all the barriers in the way, she had a hard time until now to get more than the barest of the bond going again even when they were touching. With Dox’s mental defenses finally lowered for her though, she was finally able to restore their bond to at least what it was before and begin building upon it.
It took them several minutes, but soon, they were able to calmly see each other through each other’s eyes, their minds blurring together as their senses formed an amalgamation of sorts similar to how it did when they arrived back on Miradon.
Their hopes, their dreams... Those too started flowing between them. It was much like it had been in the aeries of Mona’s homeworld when, in the act of giving birth to their three daughters, their bond became more heightened than it had ever been, and the two women became one.
Sitting on the bed that was their shared nest, their breathing slowly began to sync up. Dox’s rapid, Romulan heartbeat slowed while Mona’s speed up slightly to meet in the middle. Dox’s naturally hot skin cooled a bit until both women’s physiologies seemed to find a perfect median. And within their minds, there ceased to be individual thoughts or feelings as much as a flowing like a river between two eddies.
Slowly, Dox looked up to see both Mona and herself through both sets of eyes in one brilliant panorama of light and color that only Miradonian eyes could see. The room was no longer dim, but instead swirled with light and color. Heat and breath bounced off of surfaces in brilliant, warm golds and reds. The bed took on a cool, purple, and Mona herself seemed to shine like a star with a veritable rainbow of light that wrapped itself around Dox, permeating both women and visualizing the renewed strength of their bond.
As Mnhei’sahe opened her mouth, it seemed as if Mona’s voice came forth, speaking in perfect Miradonian. Across from her, Mnhei’sahe voice came from Mona, speaking in Romulan. But the words were identical, shared across each woman, speaking as one. “What was two is restored. What was two is one in mind…”
Then, Mona’s hands reached over and began to unfasten Dox’s uniform top. “...and flesh.”