Twilight On Earth
The Bulikaya Particle
Location: The Paris house, San Francisco
The rest of the furniture had been moved in, thanks to the extra helping hands, some anti-grav pads and Hera being willing to tell the three Godox children scary stories in the basement to keep them from getting underfoot. Everyone was relaxing, breaking into small groups, when Rita approached Mnhei’sahe with a pair of USS Hera coffee cups, which she had apparently smuggled off the starship, or less likely replicated here.
Waking her out through the kitchen hallway to the back deck, the sun was slowly setting in the distance. It was twilight- when the shadows lengthened and the rays of the sun turned everything they touched golden. On the face of the human girl literally returned back where she started, it looked natural.
“There are a few things I need to say to you, now that we’re no longer in one another’s chain of command. They’re things that are truths that you need to hear, and you need to hear them from me. So, now that I’m no longer first officer, and you’re no longer second officer, cards on the table time, hm?” Rita paused to sip her black coffee, giving Mnhei’sahe Dox a moment to process.
Taking a sip of the coffee, Dox leaned slightly against the railing of the deck looking at the view of the sunlight dancing across the waters of San Francisco bay. The smell of the salt of the sea misting across the cool breeze that she found herself harboring a bit more affection for than she had the last time she had been here in her bitter, academy days.
Pondering Rita’s words, it took her a second longer than normal to work through it to reply, her eyebrow arched and a half grin on her face. “Rita, I’m not…” Dox paused, correcting herself once she remembered she was no longer an active service officer, “I wasn’t ever the second officer. I mean, the other me on the Victory got to that level, but I never did.”
“See, now that’s where you’re wrong.” Rita replied, pointing at Dox with her coffee cup as she leaned against the railing, the sun illuminating her face. “I love Thex- she’s got a good heart and clever hands. But she’s not command material.”
“How often did you hear me walk out of a strategy meeting saying, 'Miss Thex, you’re with me’?” Rita pointed out, pausing just long enough for the truth of the matter to settle in. “Never. But you were always right there. Willing to help, eager to step in and do what needed to be done. Making mistakes, learning from them, getting better every day. I knew it from the moment you walked aboard- you were my second officer. And it was my duty to train you how to be first officer, so that you could learn command. Learning by doing, while under supervision.”
“So while you were never second officer in name, and I don’t believe I ever slipped up and referred to you as such aloud- yes, Dox. You were always my second officer, and you served admirably and ably. For which I thank you wholeheartedly. You rose to every occasion, and went above and beyond more often than not. As your first officer, I was honored by your service as second even if you were never confirmed in the position. But that’s who you are- you did the job without complaint because it was needed and it was asked of you, by me.,” Rita finished, matter-of-factly, then sipped her coffee for that requisite pause.
The young Romulan did indeed pause for a moment, taken aback by Rita’s comments. It was clear that she was a little overwhelmed, as Rita’s words had significant weight for the woman who thought of her now-former Commander as the watermark of just what Starfleet was supposed to be, in spirit if not deed. “I… I honestly am at something of a loss for words, Rita. I mean… that means a lot. More than I can say, really.”
“It’s okay. You get a lifetime to react to them- you don’t owe anything to the here and now,” Rita explained. While she may have chosen the moment on the fly, it was clear this was a conversation she’d been planning to have for a long time- that of the senior officer telling the junior officer all she could not when they served together. “This is quiet time- that’s why I chose now to tell you all of this. We’re not in a crisis, there’s no life or death riding on the line. We’re safe, we’re happy, we’re together, and we’re watching a beautiful sunset over San Francisco. What more need be said?”
At that, Rita grinned at her own follyt. “Except, of course, being me, I have more to say.”
“From before the moment you came aboard and Enalia realized who you were, she had plans for you. It all sounded swell, and the Captain was the one offering, so, of course you took it on. She needed you, so you rose to the occasion- that’s who you are, after all. Accepting a barony, then finding out what that entailed, all while I railed against it, trying to keep you in Starfleet. That couldn’t have been easy for you.” As she spoke, Rita leaned in a bit, making solid eye contact with the dark-eyed Romulan woman of whom she’d grown so fond.
“I pulled you to Starfleet, Enalia pulled you to the Artans.Yet iIn the end, you chose your own path- neither of those choices. For that, more than anything else- for pursuing your own destiny- that is the thing you’ve done, of which I’m most proud of you.” Rita drew herself erect, a confession being something she felt required chin up. “Had you stayed in Starfleet, I would have always wondered if you were doing it for me. If you had gone to the Artans, Enalia would have spoiled you... but I doubt you would have been happy. But this... making a difference with your own people, choosing your own destiny. As your friend, as your mentor, and as someone who’s been rooting for you since day one, I am so, SO proud of you.”
“Thank you, Rita. Really. It may be my own path…” Dox replied, thinking about it for a second. “But the map I’m using to walk it, I’m making from everything I’ve learned from all of you. From your lessons of command, and what I learned with the Artans before handing that over to Doctor t’Liun. Even what I’ve learned from my Grandmother.”
“I couldn’t have come to the decision without you.” Dox said, a little blush in her cheeks as she spoke, “In truth… I don’t know that it would have even occurred to me to try without what you’ve taught me.”
“The universe is not unkind, Dox. It brought me here... saving me and Sonak from a decaying sliver reality that would have just made us fade away. But it brought me here, to this time, to that starship, for a reason. I truly believe it. So that I could make a difference.” Looking out over the bay as the sun sank lower and lower, and the shadows of the dusk grew longer, the lost navigator looked wistful, then directed her gaze at her friend. “Maybe for you. Because you were someone with so much promise, that no one had noticed. I knew there was a lot wrong with Starfleet when I got here, but you... you broke my heart. I had to help you, because if I could turn you around, then there was hope for this universe, for this era.”
“You reaffirmed my faith in the values of Starfleet. That courage, camaraderie and the open hand of friendship will still change worlds, and the face of the universe. There are brave individuals who are just waiting to be called to service, to be shown the way. Look at what you did with your own department. Those three would have washed out somewhere else, but you forged them into a genius department of innovation. You rose to uplift others, but when I first saw you, it was as if you'd been lost between the cracks.” Rita paused for a sip of her coffee and a sniff of the sea air. “I don’t ever want to see an officer like that, left on their own out there in the fleet. Officer, enlisted, civilian... anyone.”
“We have to do better.” Staring out at the shining sea, Rita redirected her gaze once more to Dox, with a wry smile.
“You, Miss Dox, showed me that we can be better, that it’s just as worthwhile an endeavor in this day and age as it was in mine. Leadership, mentoring, and teaching the next generation have always been a hallmark of Starfleet, and they will be again. Ours is a generational story. There's been a Paris in Starfleet since before it was Starfleet. There's been a Rul in the Senate since there WAS a Senate, no?” Rita raised her coffee cup to her friend, her ‘sister from another mister’, one of the lifelong friends who would eventually be family in deed, as well as in the heart. “Point being, I daresay you set my life’s course, Miss Dox. So for that I thank you.
Raising her cup back, Dox nodded and smiled. “Well then, here’s hoping that these paths we’ve helped set each other one bear fruit.”
“But… it’s like you said. We have to do better.” Dox said, a thoughtful expression settling on her face as her voice became a bit more serious. “My grandmother said I was being… audacious and ambitious. My mother thinks I’m being foolish and naive. Setting myself up for failure.”
“I know just how damaged that world is. How broken that culture has become.” Dox added. “I’m not operating under the delusion that I can change things there. But maybe if I work hard enough, if I can show by example, I can change just... one thing. Does that make any sense?”
“Rome wasn’t built in a day. But leading by example... in a culture where truth has become a dirty word, that might just catch on, Mnhei’sahe,” Rita admitted, smiling into the sunset. “Follow your heart while you listen to your head. I never taught you that, yet you learned it all the same, watching me do just that.”
“Which will mean everything to these next generations of officers coming out of the academy.” Dox said, sipping her coffee and turning a bit away from the sunset itself to watch it’s golden light shine against the side of Rita’s family home. The wood-frame Queen Anne Revival-style house with the red slats seemed to glow like fire against the setting sun, almost as much as it’s new owner. “I can imagine the officers that will be born of that influence… and that down the line I will have a far easier time convincing others that Starfleet can live up to the ideals it espouses.”
“Starfleet is a promise, it always has been,” Rita said, in an idealistic statement that would sound like a politician’s campaign promise if not for her innate sincerity. “I think maybe after the Borg and Dominion wars they may have forgotten that, but they’re trying to move to a better place, to course correct. I’m going to help where I can do the most good- shaping those young minds before they get to the fleet. I’ll attend the Academy, but mostly to see if from the inside, to see what these cadets are going through. So that I can find what needs to change, and begin altering their course as I gain the opportunity. Plus I’ll get all the old lady at the Academy jokes, and given that I graduated 142 years ago, that makes me a VERY old lady...”
Laughing lightly at the joke, Dox smiled over to her friend. “And yet biologically, a little younger than I am. A paradox that will make things very interesting there, to be sure.”
“Still… starfleet needs you. It needs that reminder of what it’s supposed to be. A reminder that what it has become is not always a match to the face it tries to present to the universe.” Dox added with a nod. “After all, you saw firsthand how bad the Hera could have been just with a version of you that didn’t have hope. Even on our Hera, we regularly beamed into situations in battle armor. The closed fist versus the open hand. That’s the image of Starfleet that’s beginning to proliferate that I’m going to have to try and convince the Empire isn’t what Starfleet truly is.”
At that, Rita’s brow furrowed, and she frowned. “Regularly? I.... made a lot of effort to NOT spend time in that armor. I have to admit I find it distressing you felt it was a regular occurrence. Damn, now I’m going to have to review my logs... I was making a very conscious and concerted effort there, and it bothers me that I failed.”
“I suppose ‘regularly’ is me overstating it or exaggerating.” Dox said, a bit concerned at her mistake as she replied. “But it felt like it was becoming a default expectation we had to actively decide to not do sometimes. Maybe it was just a result of the more extreme nature of many of our missions. Maybe I’m focusing on how often it seemed you or Sonak or eventually myself had to make a case to not go into situations armored.”
“Poor use of hyperbole on my part… which I’ll have to watch moving forward, considering I’m trying to become involved in diplomacy… but I suppose the point was that you were most regularly the only reason we didn’t always go into a mission armored up. I think without you, it would have been standard operating procedure.”
“Ahhh... okay, that I can accept. Honestly it was hard not to go to it as a default, you know? Full tricorder capabilities in a heads up display, sealed environment, armored, strength enhancement. Of all the advances I encountered in the future the fact that the EVA suits had actually become practical and useful was the one that was hardest for me not to abuse. Particularly with those Bracers of Hera,” Rita commented. Clad in a white jersey tee with red sleeves emblazoned with the Academy logo and the legend, ‘Starfleet Academy Class of 2255’, it was clear Rita was not currently wearing them- a testament to where she was and what she was doing.
“But it was an effort, and I hope that wasn’t the lesson that I taught. Armed and armored troopers are not who one wants to see at first contact negotiations- not if they come in peace. That’s another lesson Starfleet needs to be reminded of I think, and I plan to do just that,” Rita resolved after her admission. “Any other impressions like that one you would care to share?”
“The lesson I took… was that force should always be a last resort.” Dox replied. “And in my own observations, when you arrive dressed for a fight, it sets the tone. When you show up, hand outstretched, it does the same. Although considering the nature of what happened to you on those leaps, I’m certainly glad you had the bracers. They allowed you to have the best of both worlds: the best mission prep possible while presenting the best face of Starfleet possible.”
“Which… while it’s a bit off the point… I did take your advice and talk to Hera before we left the ship.” the redheaded Romulan smiled a bit awkwardly. “She gifted me a pair I have in storage for when I eventually do have to go back to Romulus.”
“Better to have and not need than need and not have,” Rita nodded in agreement. “You don’t have to offer her thanks and praise, but she is looking out for you. I think you and her family are more dear to you than you might imagine, and she’ll be keeping an eye on you as well. Speaking of which, Jablonski transferred. She took a posting at Starfleet Command, so she could be closer to Hera."
"At least she didn’t ask to move into my basement, although I am not discounting the possibility. Another wrinkle of Hera’s presence... a dozen of the Security team requested Earth duty once she left the ship, to stay close.” Rita smiled as she brought up her coffee cup in a gesture of salute. “Got to hand it to them, they were dedicated and devoted, and the best damned Security team in the fleet, and I made sure to tell them so, all of them.”
Having trained with the security team, Dox was extremely happy to hear the news as was evidenced by the broad smile on her face as Rita relayed the news, then launched into the next tidbit.
“Did you hear S’Rina and V’Nus are transferring their commissions to the KDF? They had a chat with me, and there’s some big family dishonor that goes back a generation or so that they are trying to live down. Seems service in Starfleet does not distinguish one, so they are going to transfer their commissions so that they can work on restoring honor to their house name. It’s not Wil’I’Ams, apparently, but Duras?” Rita shrugged, not knowing if the name would mean anything to Dox. In the flurry of activity with the move and all she had yet to have a chance to research it.
“Imirrhlhhse!” Dox exclaimed with a look of genuine shock on her face as she absentmindedly switched to exclamations and expletives in her native tongue. “Duras?! Tlhei dignair'le…”
Observing the expression on Rita’s face, Dox knew an explanation was in order for the time traveler who was seldom up to speed on recent history.
“Sorry. Yeah… That’s an EXTREME family dishonor. The Duras family… betrayed the Klingons to the Romulans at Khitomer, which resulted in an orbital bombardment of the Klingon population living there. It was a massacre. Then they assassinated the former Chancellor of the High Council in a bid to claim the throne, kicked off a civil war that was… also being fed by the Romulans... Fvadt, my people come up a lot in this…”
“I can see why they tried to keep it a secret. There’s… really no family name that’s more shamed in Klingon culture.” Dox added, nodding slightly, thinking back to all their interactions. “And it explained why they preferred being referred to by their first names. I hope they can do something to clear that, for them. They do not deserve to be stained like that at all.”
“No... they were both capable and honorable officers, and I did not know all of that. Well. Looks like they will have their work cut out for them,” Rita shook her head and sighed. “I wrote them both letters of recommendation, for what the word of a Starfleet officer counts with their people. It sounds like they will need an opportunity to redeem themselves, so I hope they get it. I also left an open offer of support from me, so we’ll see if the sisters ever have need to call on their old Chief. I hope... I hope I helped them. Showed them the way. They’re good women, and I believe in them both.”
“The are exceptional, and I have no doubt that you helped them. I hope I did, as well.” Dox added, taking a sip from her mug. “Another impression you made. The security department as a whole. The differences were… night and day from when it was… French and Sexton.”
“HAH!” Rita barked a laugh at that, then explained. “Sorry, I got a message from French this morning. She’s still in Starfleet Psych, and she and her bouncing baby godling are apparently going to be here on Earth for a while, given that she’s unlikely to ever see a starship posting again. Meanwhile, Sexton is on Luna in the penal colony serving seven years rehab for being a psychopath who sent his own men to be murdered. So for what it’s worth, it looks like I have a nemesis here on Earth. We’ll see if her ‘Uncle’ gets her a new posting. I wouldn’t be surprised if she tries to maneuver her way into the Academy to try to mess with me. But that one is a case, all right, and she’s popped back up in my life, at least.”
“Baby godling?” Dox replied with a raised eyebrow, not having been privy to much information that wasn’t a part of French’s official record as her interactions with the Hera’s former Security Chief was virtually nil. “How… did that happen?”
“Ah, when we were transferring Hera to Asgardian custody, we were invited to feast with them, which is basically just a drunken frat party for Norsemen,” Rita explained breezily, having long since grown comfortable with the outrageous circumstances of her life that she tended to relay matter-of-factly. “French started cuddling up to Thor, and that’s when I egged the Baroness into pursuing him. Otherwise it might be French getting married to the Thunder god. Long and short, The Mighty Manwhore took them both to bed, but as the Baroness is a super-soldier, she was the one who could come back for the second, third, fourth and fifth round that night, and Thor was in love.”
Listening, Dox laughed out loud at the story, imagining it in her head.
“Asgardian swimmers are magically potent, so French has since managed to squirt out a little redheaded demigod, who she is apparently raising to know all about his famous father. Which probably means trouble for the Asgardians in the long run, but French is just trouble for me in the meanwhile.” Shrugging broadly, Rita rolled her eyes skyward. “Who knows, maybe I can reform her, hm?”
Shaking her head a bit and chuckling, Dox looked back over to Rita. “If anyone can… between what you did for Hera and my mother... it would be you. Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on if she’s got it out for you.”
“Never underestimate an enemy, isn’t that an old Romulan phrase?” Rita agreed, nodding. “We’ll see. Time will tell, and I am in no rush. Meanwhile, no news of Rendal- think she might just have blown herself up or gotten trapped in another dimension?”
“The full phrase is a bit more cynical. ‘Never underestimate an enemy or overlook a friend, for the latter can become the former with little warning’. So very Romulan.” With the topic shifting from one nemesis to another, Dox looked down at her coffee. “As for Rendal, no news as of yet. The only word I’ve heard so far is that there’s a distinctive lack on news. My grandmother hasn’t mentioned her at all, which seems suspicious on the face of it.”
“Normally, Intel has some rumblings of activity. A sighting here or there that comes through secret channels.” Dox continued, thinking about it. “Making me wonder if her experimenting with artificial quantum singularities might have made her disappear. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind either way, but for the lack of information.”
“But she’s been on my mind a lot, the last couple of weeks.” Dox continued, thinking on her words deeply. “Between my sword training with Enalia and that drive to get some measure of vengeance for my father, she’s… not someone I like thinking about. Though I do it far too much.”
“I’m trying to let go of that anger. After all, thanks to Rei, I got to see him move on. But… the more I thought about this path I’ve put myself on… the more I realized that Rendal is just a symptom of a much larger problem. Perhaps… if I can do this job well… I can affect the system that allows her and the Tal’Shiar to thrive. Maybe even stop the next Dalia Rendal from gaining power and hurting anyone else. I know it’s… ambitious. But… thinking of it in those terms. Of trying to make a difference over seeking revenge. It’s helped.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Mnhei’sahe,” Rita responded. “Anger leads to hatred, and hatred sours the soul. Don’t let her do that to you. Be better.... And from the sound of things, you’re already on your way to doing just that.
“I’m trying.” Dox added with a bit of knitted brows. “And it is getting a bit easier.”
“Now that we’re all caught up, how go your reviews in regard to the Bulikaya debriefings?” Rita asked casually, but for both women there were lingering questions in regard to their actions across the multiverse.
“So far, so good. I’ve had a few meetings where they came up, but nothing even remotely similar to my debriefings from before. The Ethics board hasn’t had any issues with my reports on our Bulukiya leaps.” Dox replied to the topic both women had been a bit concerned about immediately after their leaps through the multiverse. “What about you? Has your… friend... at the Department of Temporal Investigations had anything to say about it?”
“Interestingly enough, I got an email this morning from myself, telling me that Engstrom would be looking me up for an internship. Which is funny, because I had toyed with the idea, but it would be later in my timetable. Apparently I’m not done meddling with space and time just yet. The same email also told me to take a pregnancy test.” Taking in a deep breath, Rita exhaled slowly. “Which should theoretically be impossible without medical intervention, but sleeping under the same roof as the goddess of Motherhood might just change that verdict...”
“Not a bad idea.” Dox said with a bit of a knowing shrug. “After all, even with all the medical intervention we used, Doctor Power’s best estimate was that Mona and I still only had a 30 percent chance of conceiving and now we have triplets on our first try.”
"Hera explained exactly what her aura did, and..." Rita frowned a bit at the admission, then forged ahead with the truth, as she always would. "I fought to keep her on board. As you were the spirit of the ship, she was the soul. When I met her she was angry, embittered, and lashing out defensively. Now... she's in there playing hide and seek with your girls, trying to exhaust them so they'll pass out and give the adults a little peace. Her redemption was the Hera's redemption, to my mind. I saw salvation in both, in both I placed my faith, and that faith was rewarded. I'm glad for all those children... I'm glad we brought Hera with us. Our journey was hers as well, and she deserves a family who cares about her too. We all do... and now we’ll build that family."
“As for the Ethics board, there’s still some debate. But I did what was right, I didn’t pollute the Kathoom culture with advanced technology, and in the end, I think there might be a few quibbling points, but I think they’ll see their way to clear me. It was a thorny ethical dilemma, but I did what was right, and I stand by it. If they try to drum me out, I’ll defend myself at court-martial.” The way that she said it made it abundantly clear that if it got that far, Rita didn’t intend to lose. After all, she'd been to court-martial for the death penalty, been guilty, and still gotten off. It tended to make one a bit cocky about such affairs.
“Besides, we don’t have a ‘Temporal Prime Directive’ yet, and we surely don’t have a Multiverse Prime Directive yet. So I’m pretty sure it’s a can of worms they don’t want to open,” Rita laughed aloud at that, imagining Starfleet trying to regulate such a thing.
“Well, if we ever do have such a thing, I’m sure you and I will have a lot of case files in both, all things considered.” Dox added with a legitimate chuckle. “So, a possible internship? I suppose since a version of you was hot on our potential future grandsons proverbial ‘tail’, it’s a possibility. What do you think about the idea?”
“I’m... curious. I imagine I do have a perspective to lend, and honestly, time travel is fascinating to me, and I think Engstrom and I have come to something of an agreement. So I’ll certainly contact him. If that email is correct, and I am pregnant right now, I can’t enter the Academy just yet. But I might just investigate the internship possibility. Getting in good with the DTI will never be a bad thing. If my plans are going off the rails, as per usual, I’ll plot a new course.” Smiling wryly at the reality of her own statement, Rita cocked her head, then took another sip of his coffee. “I’ll see what the future holds, but I will definitely keep you posted.”
“We’re moving into the future, all of us. Just because our lives are going on different paths, doesn’t mean we’ll lose touch. I’ll be here...” Rita gestured broadly about the yard and house, the home she had returned to after so many decades absent. “On Earth, In San Francisco. We will range and roam, but we’ll still be in touch. I’ll be here, on Earth, when you come back. I’ll be the stability in your life- the constant you can count on, even if I’m no longer your ‘guiding star’.”
“I know you will, Rita.” Dox replied, looking over the horizon as the sun began to dip below the edge of the water. “And you know where I’ll be.”
“Out there making a difference,” Rita replied, saluting with her coffee cup. “You and me both.”