His eyes flickered open to find Valance bent over him. It didn’t sound like this was her first try to get his attention, and his head was pounding too badly to care about propriety. ‘I’m… Christ. I’m awake.’
‘Alive had been my bigger concern.’ She stood and offered him a hand up, which he took. ‘I don’t know what hit us. I can’t raise anyone on comms.’
The CIC was bathed in dim emergency lighting, and when he staggered to a panel he found it unresponsive. ‘Come on – emergency power my arse, I’m the goddamn CO.’ His lip curled as he jabbed in his command override, authorising a power reallocation to this junction so he could check the ship’s systems.
Valance joined him. ‘Let me try.’
Rourke straightened. ‘Computer? Why are my authorisation codes not working?’
‘Command codes not recognised for USS Endeavour NCC-87507 –’
‘Yes, but…’ Rourke realised why was not going to cut it. ‘Computer, what level of Starfleet access do I have?’
‘Commander Matthew Rourke: Access Level Sigma-3.’
They looked at each other, nonplussed. Valance cocked her head. ‘That’s not starship command access.’
‘No, that’s… I’ve not been on Sigma-grade access since I was Security Investigations. 6, back then.’ The scale went down; he’d never had Sigma-3.
Valance drew a deep breath. ‘Computer, identify my level of Starfleet access?’
‘Commander Karana Valance: Access Level Epsilon-3.’
‘That’s not right,’ Valance said. ‘I’m Epsilon-4 -’
‘Computer, did you say Commander?’ Rourke butted in. ‘Not Lieutenant Commander?’
She put her hands on her hips. ‘What the hell is going on?’
‘Computer, what are the assignments for Commanders Rourke and Valance?’
‘Commander Rourke, Matthew. Deputy Director, Starfleet Investigations Service. Commander Valance, Karana. Commanding Officer, USS Odysseus.’
Rourke let out a low whistle. ‘Neat,’ he breathed. ‘I’ve never dealt with a parallel universe before.’
‘It might not be -’ She paused. ‘Computer, have either of us ever served on the USS Endeavour?’
‘Alright, so we’re in a parallel universe.’ Valance squinted. ‘That doesn’t explain why I can’t communicate with the bridge or why the doors are locked.’
‘If I have Sigma-3 clearance,’ said Rourke, frowning at the controls, ‘I should be able to flag Endeavour’s situation as an Active Incident, which should give me some shipboard authority – yeah.’ He tapped a few commands. ‘No jurisdiction beyond this ship, we’re not in Federation territory, so this has to be a shipboard legal incident…’ But the console blatted at him. ‘Hm. That should have worked.’
Valance’s lips thinned. ‘Computer,’ she said, sounding like she didn’t much want to speak on. ‘Can you show us our current location?’
The holo projector came to life. But instead of the focused map they’d seen dozens of times of their area of the Triangle, what they got was an incomprehensible kaleidoscope of shapes and colours.
‘What the hell -’
‘Nimbus,’ Valance read, somehow picking out labels from the mess of the display. ‘Alpha Centauri. Bajor. Beta Antares.’ She sounded resigned, though Rourke still didn’t understand. ‘The computer thinks we’re occupying about twelve places at once.’
He clicked his tongue. ‘This isn’t one parallel universe.’ The map began to grow brighter; they stepped back and shielded their eyes, but it only shone more and more, blinding. ‘Computer! Damn it, kill the display!’
And as suddenly as it started, it stopped, casting them back into darkness.
Rourke bent over, blinking away spots. ‘Bloody hell.’ And he straightened to find they weren’t in the CIC any more.
‘What’s this?’ Valance turned as visibility returned. Slowly, because they’d been quite blinded, and now they weren’t in absolute dark but in the gentle, atmospheric lighting of a crowded bar in the evening. ‘Where is this?’
His mouth went dry. ‘Oh.’
‘Oh what?’ Valance extended a hand towards a passing waiter – human, respectably dressed. ‘Excuse me -’ And her hand went through him.
This can’t be. He turned on the spot, looking at the view beyond the doors which confirmed it: the bulkheads of a Federation starbase. He turned again, gaze washing over the gathered crowds getting a drink of an evening, seeking a table at a far corner. But it was worse and weirder than he’d expected, because he didn’t just see the woman he’d anticipated and feared seeing sat there. He saw himself.
Valance followed his gaze, and her voice dropped. ‘What is this?’
But he just started for the table. The other him was as he’d expected. Younger. Clean-shaven. In the old uniforms with the gold shoulders and the black stripes, a lieutenant junior grade’s pips on his collar. He’d had the class, at least, to wear just those for the abhorrence that was about to happen.
Rourke didn’t know what he expected to achieve as he stormed through the bar; it was clear nobody could see them, that nobody had reacted to their bewildered arrival – appearance – in Café Rustique, the closest thing to a nice bar on Starbase 242. ‘Don’t do it, you stupid bastard,’ he said anyway as he reached the table with himself. And was utterly ignored.
‘I don’t think anyone can see us,’ Valance said pointlessly as she followed, but her eyes were guarded. ‘What is this?’
‘October 2384, Starbase 242,’ he growled. ‘Let me introduce Lieutenant Junior Grade Matt Rourke, prized dickhead, and his wife Tess Stone. Soon to be ex-wife.’
‘Listen,’ Lieutenant Rourke was saying, hands wrapped around a drink. ‘You’ve not been happy. You’ve not been happy for a while.’
Tess was younger, too, and more beautiful than he remembered. But he remembered that flash of anger in her eyes. ‘Don’t start like that, Matt. Don’t try to put this on me, like you’ve been happy and I’m the problem, or you’re doing me a favour.’
His younger self sat up. ‘I’m not about that. This is both of us.’
‘This,’ said Commander Rourke, the words bitter on his tongue, ‘is me screwing up my life. Because we’ve been living on this station two years, which was a terrible choice for her career but the best way for us to be together. We got married right after I graduated, tried long-distance while I was on the Discovery, and being on 242 was a compromise for us both.’
Valance winced. ‘If you don’t have a family ship, Starfleet marriages are difficult…’
‘And after dragging her here for two years for us to both be miserable, I’m jumping at the chance I just got: a promotion and my own Security Investigations team. And pulling the plug on the whole relationship. The whole marriage.’ Rourke’s lip curled. ‘Cos it’s hard, you see.’ His younger self and Tess were arguing by now, the words washing over him because he’d heard this a hundred times before in his head, over and over.
Valance shifted her weight. ‘Isn’t it better to end a relationship that wasn’t working? You both seem – bitter, angry. What’s the alternative? You make a different compromise for your career?’
‘Yeah,’ said Rourke with a snap. ‘Yeah, I let her take the lead for a bit and I follow her, even if it means not getting an exciting border station post, or not getting my own team. I owed her that much.’ He let out a ragged breath. ‘Or I should have listened more, or talked more. Because what I didn’t know, what she didn’t tell me -’
Except that was the moment Tess opened her mouth and said, ‘Matt, I’m pregnant,’ and his blood went cold.
‘What?’ said both Matt Rourkes in unison.
Valance looked like she wanted to be somewhere else. ‘Why is that… is she not pregnant?’
Commander Rourke worked his jaw for a few long moments. ‘I – she is. But she didn’t tell me. Not then. We split up, started divorce proceedings, she only told me later… told me she didn’t want me to stick around for the kid, but it wouldn’t have been like that.’
Valance looked between all three of them. Lieutenant Rourke was still too gobsmacked to contribute much. ‘So why is she saying this now?’
‘I don’t… I don’t know…’
‘If we were in – are in – if something’s going on with parallel universes,’ said Valance, ‘then is this it? A moment which changed your life? If she’d said this, would you have stayed together and not taken the assignments you’ve taken, and ended up in the Investigations Service by now? A more desk-based career for a man with a family?’
Commander Rourke took a step back from the table, trying to not look at the dawning expression of shocked delight on his younger self’s face. ‘Maybe. But that – but other things would change.’ The Firebrand. That’d all be different, that…
‘I don’t know why or how we’re seeing it,’ Valance said, ‘but the only logical conclusion is we’ve become untethered from our place in time and space and… and our version of these.’
‘Right.’ He turned away, pushing whatever the hell happened to that Lieutenant Rourke away from sight as well as thought. She was right; something dangerous was happening to them, and it was not the time to reflect on his past. That could come when he was alive and home. ‘Are we supposed to fix this?’
‘Set it back to how it should have happened?’ she asked. ‘Maybe. Do we wreck your marriage?’
‘Hell’s teeth, Valance, you just took it to Warp 10 immediately.’
‘I’m thinking aloud,’ she admitted, and tried to knock a glass over. Her hand went through that, as well.
‘You think smashing something is going to break us up?’
‘You don’t seem happy. Getting past the shock of pregnancy might make you two remember you were just about to get a divorce.’
His chest tightened. ‘It’s more complicated than that,’ he insisted. ‘Why don’t we pick over your most terrible and crucial moments?’
Which was when they were again pitched into darkness.
‘Got it.’ Kharth shoved the turbolift hatch open and clambered up, before extending a hand to help Thawn onto the roof beside her.
‘I can’t see a thing.’
‘There’s not much to see,’ said Kharth, grateful for her limited low-light vision. ‘Just a turbolift shaft. Don’t worry, you have to work really hard to fall.’ She looked up at the towering tunnel. ‘Just a couple decks to the bridge. This way.’ Careful, she guided Thawn to the ladder, then led the way up.
‘Total power loss like this is… severe.’
‘It’s best to not think about it,’ said Kharth through gritted teeth as she began to climb.
‘To not – it’s our job to -’
‘Focus right now on getting to the bridge. That’s the place we’ll get answers. Anything else is a distraction where you’ll come up with a thousand worst-case scenarios when you can’t confirm or do anything about any of them.’
‘I guess.’ But Thawn was silent only a moment before she spoke again, more stubborn. ‘But it’s useful to have some hypotheses to bring.’
‘You keep serving on this ship on this mission, Lieutenant, and you’ll learn to compartmentalise.’ You’ll have to.
Thawn didn’t reply, at least, so they were silent for the rest of the climb. Kharth was careful as they reached Deck 1, knowing she’d be twitchy on the bridge if someone made a loud entrance through the turbolift doors, and used the manual override to crank them open only an inch before she called out, ‘It’s okay! It’s Kharth and Thawn, we’re coming in!’
Thawn had to clamber up beside her on the narrow ledge beside the doorway as Kharth cranked it open further, then they both staggered onto the bridge. Kharth stumbled and might have fallen if there hadn’t been a hand at her arm.
‘Are you alright?’ Airex sounded a lot more worried than she thought the situation warranted.
She squinted up at him, slightly roughly shrugging off his hand. ‘We just got stuck in a turbolift in a powercut, we’re fine -’
The tone of Thawn’s voice made Kharth look up, and her jaw dropped when she saw the man standing from the command chair. Not Matthew Rourke. But Leonidas MacCallister. ‘What the hell?’
‘Lieutenants; glad you’re alright,’ said MacCallister, hands clasped together with a warm smile. ‘We’re in a hell of a spot here. Rosara, if you could get to your station and help Engineering get power back online.’
Lindgren turned in her chair at Comms, looking to Airex. ‘Lieutenant? I could do with some assistance modulating this distress call to get through the interference.’
Kharth stared at Airex. ‘Lieutenant?’ Indeed, he was wearing only two pips.
‘Okay.’ MacCallister’s expression set and he walked around the cluster of command chairs towards them. ‘Something’s doubly amiss, isn’t it. Rosara, Saeihr, what’s wrong?’
She’d never met Leo MacCallister before, but at once Kharth understood why he could inspire such loyalty in his pain-in-the-ass crew. Everything was upside-down, but with just a few words it was clear he was taking them seriously and reassuring them all at once. Thawn was still dithering, so she drew a slow breath. ‘Captain MacCallister, this is probably going to sound insane. Who’s the CO of Endeavour?’
MacCallister shifted his feet with a frown. ‘Me.’
‘And I’m your Chief of Security.’
‘Yes. And Rosara’s Chief of Operations.’
‘And that’s Ensign Lindgren,’ she pressed on, pointing accordingly. ‘And that’s… Lieutenant… Airex.’
‘Airex?’ said the tall Trill, squinting. ‘Sae, what’s gotten into you?’
MacCallister folded his arms across his chest. ‘Lieutenant Hargan… give her a moment,’ he said.
The emphasis on name was subtle, but clear, and Kharth thought her heart was going to plough right out of her chest. Her mouth was dry as she turned. ‘…Dav?’
Davir Hargan gave his rueful smile of the uncertain academic, one she’d never seen come close to Airex’s lips. ‘You were expecting someone else?’
‘This is wrong,’ snapped Thawn at last, panic creeping in. ‘Captain, you’re in sickbay on Starbase 157, Lieutenant Commander Davir Airex is our Chief Science Officer, Matthew Rourke is in command of Endeavour…’
‘Alright, Rosara, alright,’ said MacCallister gently, and looked at Davir Hargan. ‘Dav. You observed our quantum signature across multiple decks was fluctuating.’
The science officer blinked, gaze snapping back to MacCallister. ‘Yes, Captain. I – I was just about to purport the possibility of the anomaly being in some way linked to a, or several, quantum or parallel universes.’ He straightened, and Kharth could see his brain running a mile a minute, read his face on this intellectual journey like she couldn’t any more. Not normally. ‘If the ship is submerged in the anomaly and we can’t restore power to some decks, I think it’s possible that different sections of the ship are existing in a different reality, possibly simultaneously.’
‘That could explain,’ said MacCallister, ‘why we can’t recover power to the whole ship. Some of these systems don’t exist in the same reality as each other.’ He looked at Thawn and Kharth. ‘And you, Lieutenants… are from a different quantum reality.’
Kharth nodded slowly, letting it all sink in. ‘Okay,’ she said at last. ‘This is fucked.’
She almost jumped out of her skin as a Jefferies Tube hatch swung open, and onto the bridge clambered a tall human officer she didn’t recognise, red uniform with a commander’s pips.
‘Sorry, Boss, no can do rerouting power from secondary systems,’ he said apologetically to MacCallister.
‘That’s alright, Rob; we’ve got Rosara here to help you out now,’ he said, and only then did he notice the nonplussed expressions of Kharth and Thawn. MacCallister sighed. ‘Commander Robert Templeton, my first officer.’
Templeton looked at them, nonplussed. ‘Okay. Things went strange while I was gone.’ He turned to the tube but, instead of closing it, extended a hand to help another officer out. ‘Sorry, bud, the bridge has gone weird…’
MacCallister sighed again. ‘And this is my Chief Helm Officer, Lieutenant -’
But Thawn went sheet-white as she saw the man Templeton helped out of the tube. ‘…Noah.’
Kharth looked between her and the face she barely recognised from personnel reports she’d barely looked at. ‘Pierce?’ She pinched the bridge of her nose. ‘…fuck.’