UA7: musubi

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Chapter 55 -past hope

"Husband." T'Lani whispered into the darkness.

"I know. I felt it, too." Vincent responded, then reached to the head of their bed to turn on the lights.

"Do you believe that the timeline has corrected itself? Have we returned to our own space-time?" T'Lani asked slowly.

"I'm not sure yet. But what I can tell you is that I don't have a bunch of different memories this time. I'm not sure what's going on." Vincent said honestly.

"We should contact Commander M'Butu and notify him of this new development." T'Lani said decisively.

"He probably already knows. Let's get dressed and if he doesn't call before we're ready, we'll contact him."

"Yes. That would be an efficient use of our time." T'Lani agreed as she got out of bed.

* * * * *

As Vincent was preparing to dress, he wasn't sure if he should wear his Starfleet or Vulcan uniform. In the end he decided to wear the Vulcan uniform, since Commander M'Butu had told him to wear it at their last meeting.

"Major Winters, Dr. T'Lani, report to conference room one." Sounded over the intercom in their cabin in the synthetic computer voice.

"I guess that proves that it's not just us." Vincent said as he pulled on his boots.

"Apparently not." T'Lani confirmed.

"I'm just glad you're here with me, T'Lani." Vincent said as he stood.

"As am I." T'Lani said as she walked to his side.

* * * * *

"It happened again, didn't it?" Vlad asked as Vincent and T'Lani entered the conference room.

"Yeah. It looks that way." Vincent said frankly.

"My husband believes that we have not returned to our previous dimension." T'Lani said simply.

"Why do you think that?" Vlad asked Vincent curiously.

"I don't know if I can explain it, I guess it's just a feeling." Vincent cautiously responded.

"There is also the fact that, this time, we do not have memories of a conflicting reality." T'Lani helpfully added.

"So, where do you think we are?" Vlad asked curiously.

"Somewhere else." Vincent said simply.

"Major Winters. Why am I not at all surprised to find you included in this?" Chief Morgan asked with a smile as he joined the group.

"Hey! It's not like it's my idea. It just seems like when time and space starts going all wonky, I'm usually around." Vincent said in his defense.

"Well, here we are again." Dr. Perry said as she entered the room with Lieutenant Simms at her side.

"Evelyn, we must stop meeting like this. People will talk." Chief Morgan said teasingly.

As much as Dr. Perry tried to fight it, she couldn't restrain a smile.

"Major Winters, thanks to our past encounters, I've learned to put some credence in your instincts. Do you have any insights that I should know about before I begin my investigation into what's happening to us?" Lieutenant Simms asked seriously.

"No sir. At least, nothing solid. But I'd guess that we're not where we were before, and we're not back to where we started. I can't explain exactly why, but I get the feeling that we're somewhere... else. This time and space has a different... flavor... from anywhere or anywhen that I've ever been before." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"Well, since I don't have temporal-spatial taste buds, I'll be counting on you to let me know if you taste anything else." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

"It's not much more than a feeling that I get, but I'll do my best." Vincent said weakly.

"At least if there is a crisis, we're sure to have adequate medical care with Dr. Perry, Dr. T'Lani and Dr. Stepanov included in our group." Chief Morgan said frankly, diverting some of the attention from Vincent.

"Please don't call me doctor." Vlad said immediately, then explained, "Although I am technically a doctor by virtue of my degree, it is an academic title. To forestall any future misunderstanding, I would prefer to be addressed as 'Nurse' Stepanov."

"As you wish." Chief Morgan said easily, then added more quietly, "But in a crisis situation I'll still appreciate having you here."

"Thank you sir." Vlad responded sincerely.

* * * * *

"Is this everyone?" Commander M'Butu asked in a rush as he stepped off the turbolift with Debbie following closely behind.

After doing a quick headcount, Debbie responded, "Yes sir."

"Good. It looks like we've found ourselves in quite a situation. I'll do my best to tell you what I've discovered, but take anything I say with a grain of salt, since I haven't had time to verify any of it." Commander M'Butu warned.

Furtive glances flashed among the officers, but no one spoke.

"It seems that in this... place... that we've found ourselves in, the Federation is at war. The Romulans, Klingons and a few of the other normally unaligned beings have joined forces with us to help repel our mutual enemy and keep them from gaining a foothold in Federation space." Commander M'Butu said gravely.

"Who is our enemy?" Lieutenant Simms asked cautiously.

"The Tark'Ashi." Commander M'Butu answered simply.

After a moment to consider the response, Lieutenant Simms reluctantly admitted, "I've never heard of them."

"Neither have I. They seem to be from the Beta quadrant, although there's no definitive intelligence establishing that that's where they originated. Their most notable features are that as far as we have been able to determine, they are not at all biological or in any way humanoid. They are electromechanical in form and have advanced artificial intelligence." Commander M'Butu explained cautiously.

"And they're invading us?" Vincent asked thoughtfully.

"The Federation has had no official contact with them. From all that they've been able to deduce from the actions of the Tark'Ashi, they simply want to exterminate the biological lifeforms infesting the Alpha quadrant and use the resources found here to construct others of their own kind." Commander M'Butu said frankly.

"Do you know how or why we're here?" Dr. Perry asked cautiously.

"Lieutenant Patterson?" Commander M'Butu prompted as he turned to face her.

"I've been in contact with Starfleet Command and filled them in on what's happened to us. They had already been contacted by several other people at that point and informed me that they have dispatched the Enterprise to investigate the possibility that a time displacement in the relatively recent past might have caused an alternate timeline to come into being." Debbie explained.

"It's further being speculated that through some mechanism that we have no knowledge of, all those who have experienced travel across time and dimensions have been relocated to this new timestream." Commander M'Butu added.

"So we're trusting that the Enterprise will discover the origin of the time disruption and correct it?" Lieutenant Simms asked cautiously.

"Yes. But we're being considered as a 'backup plan' in case that fails." Commander M'Butu confirmed.

"I have a pretty good idea of where they're going and who they'll be talking to. But what are we supposed to do while they're doing that?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Currently, the Yorktown is part of a fleet of ships patrolling several sectors of space, in hopes of stopping the next Tark'Ashi advance." Commander M'Butu said simply.

"We don't have any memories about this timeline to help us this time. Is there anything we need to know to do our jobs and fit in here?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"In regard to you, there's an easier answer than for the rest. Due to your recent mission away from the Yorktown and your increase in rank, any lapse in knowledge or understanding of recent events might be attributed to that." Commander M'Butu easily explained.

"Do you have any idea what my mission was in this timeline? Because if the situation is as dangerous as it sounds, I kinda doubt that they'd be sending me off to do a scientific study."

"You were sent to train on a Vulcan ship to study their command style and training techniques. It is believed that a new perspective on training may be of benefit to the Yorktown."

"What about my promotion? Did I test at the Starfleet Academy?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Yes and no. The captain gave you a field promotion, but it was contingent on your successful completion of the Starfleet Officer's Exam. I assume that you did that while we were docked at Earth getting refit for this mission."

"Okay, but why am I a Vulcan major now?"

"I don't know any details, only that you were promoted while serving on the Vulcan ship, T'Supek."

"Great. Usually I'm 'honored' for something that wasn't really that big of a deal. This time I'm taking credit for something I don't even remember doing."

"I can think of worse things." Commander M'Butu said honestly.

"What else do we need to know about the enemy so that we can engage in conversation with the crew?" Chief Morgan asked curiously.

"We actually know very little about them. We don't even know what they call themselves, assuming that they have anything resembling personal identities. Be that as it may, Tark'Ashi is what they are called by others who have encountered them and lived to tell about it. All we really know about the Tark'Ashi is that they refuse any attempts at communication and appear to be single-minded in their desire for our extermination."

"What about the Yorktown? Are there any notable differences of which we should be aware?" Dr. Perry asked curiously.

"Our current location is sector HK-23. Fleet Admiral ni'Uva is in command of thIs campaign. Admiral Kincaid is coordinating the Starfleet contingent and Captain Byrne is in command of the ship." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"So the captain is on the ship in this reality?" Vincent asked to verify.

"Yes. But he's only just arrived. I've briefed him on the situation and he's asked that I attend to the dimensionally-displaced members of the crew."

"Does the Starfleet here know about the other time split and all of that stuff?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Yes. Whatever caused... whatever this is that we're in, must have happened after the time split." Commander M'Butu explained.

Vincent glanced at Lieutenant Simms and had a grim expression as he slightly shook his head.

"Do you disagree, Major Winters?" Commander M'Butu asked firmly.

"Yes sir." Vincent said honestly.

"Why?" Commander M'Butu asked, sounding to be more curious than argumentative.

"I don't know if there's already a temporal mechanics term for it, but my logic goes like this: If the time split was able to create a whole new reality for us going forward, who's to say that it didn't create one going backward, too? What we see as a difference, that might appear to lead us to the divergence point might just be a natural part of the newly constructed timeline."

"Temporal mechanics gives me a headache." Lieutenant Simms said wearily.

"Be that as it may, it doesn't matter at the moment. We're here and we need to do our best to deal with what's in front of us. I know that all of us are confident that the Enterprise will take corrective action and return us to our previous timestream, but we also need to accept the possibility that this may end up being our reality." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"At least, until we wake up in the next one." Vincent added sourly.

"I'm recommending that we fulfill our roles in the time and place where we've found ourselves. Do you have another recommendation, Major?" Commander M'Butu asked formally, then added for emphasis, "If you can think of an alternative, I would very much like to be aware of it."

"No sir. I'm just afraid that every time the temporal wind blows that we're going to get shifted to a new reality." Vincent said frankly.

"Even if that's the case, it doesn't change anything. We have to deal with what's in front of us in the here and now." Commander M'Butu said frankly.

"Yes sir. I understand." Vincent said professionally.

"Good." Commander M'Butu said approvingly, then looked around the group as he continued, "It would seem that in this... reality, we did not take on a medical contingent at Vulcan. We just have our own medical crew. We are also carrying a group of Starfleet military specialists, but they are for the most part self-contained in their mission and command structure. We shouldn't have any dealings with them unless we're forced to go into battle."

"What is the chain of command if we go into a battle situation?" Lieutenant Simms asked slowly.

"In that case, the captain will remain in command of the ship, but the ranking military officer will be in command of the mission and have authority to issue orders to the captain within the scope of the military action." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"We're not a war ship. We're not outfitted for a sustained battle." Lieutenant Simms said thoughtfully.

"Every spaceworthy ship with shields and armaments has been called into service to defend the Alpha quadrant. If there's an attack, the Yorktown won't be leading the fleet, but we'll be there to do our part." Commander M'Butu said firmly.

There was a long moment of silence, then Vincent cautiously asked, "What about the thing that we were investigating with Lieutenant Clark? Do we still have to worry about that?"

"Keep your eyes open. Given our current circumstances, I'm not going to make it a priority, but we should keep our eyes open in case something relevant is revealed to us." Commander M'Butu answered slowly.

All those in attendance who weren't already involved, knew better than to ask what they were talking about.

"It's just about time for us to start our day. I need for everyone to either carry a communicator or to be signed in at a workstation. If any of you stumble upon things that you think the rest of us need to know, contact Lieutenant Patterson so that she can disseminate the information." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

Vincent reflexively reached for his communicator on his belt when he realized that he wasn't carrying one. He silently determined that henceforth he wouldn't be going anywhere without it.

"Major Winters, if you have a moment I would like to ask for your clarification on a matter." Lieutenant Simms said quietly.

"I'll do what I can, but honestly, I'm so lost right now, I don't even know what my duty station is." Vincent said honestly.

"You're going to be in Deflector Control today, however your duty shifts are split between Deflector Control and command." Commander M'Butu calmly informed him.

"What about Captain Coal? Was he here in this universe? Why did he leave? Someone's going to ask about that." Vincent quickly asked.

"Yes. Let's just say that his motivations were his own and didn't necessarily align with those of Starfleet."

"Was he as big a jerk as our Captain Coal?" Vincent asked firmly.

"I wasn't able to gather much information in the time since we've been here, but from all that I heard, Captain Coal was a coward and a bully. When put under pressure, he gave unconscionable orders that my counterpart, as well as other members of the bridge crew, refused to carry out." Commander M'Butu said calmly.

"You mutinied?" Vincent asked in shock.

"We mutinied. Apparently, your counterpart, Lieutenant Clark and my counterpart were in conference when the order was given. Whilst my counterpart was attending to the matter of removing a commanding officer from his post, your counterpart took command of the ship. Lieutenant Clark took his station and demonstrated his loyalty, providing an example for the rest of the crew."

"So there's a chance that someone's going to be asking me about that." Vincent muttered anxiously.

"I suppose that while it's possible that some members of the crew might ask you about it, those in authority already know about our dimensional slide and will do their best to shield us from any inquiry into the matter." Commander M'Butu said carefully.

"Dimensional slide? Is that what they're calling it?" Dr. Perry asked curiously.

"It seems so, although I wouldn't attribute too much meaning to that. I have a feeling that they chose that moniker due to a lack of more meaningful and accurate descriptors." Commander M'Butu said frankly.

"I don't care what they call it. All I want to know is how to get back to our last universe and then how to stay there." Vincent said firmly.

"It may not be possible." Commander M'Butu said bluntly.

"Then what's the point of doing anything? If we're just going to keep getting uprooted and plopped down in other people's' lives, over and over, then why should we even try to do anything. Why go out of our way to help people who we'll never see again? Why should we put ourselves out there with friends or families because they'll just get shredded and taken away from us the next time the temporal wind blows." Vincent said imploringly.

"I can see why you would feel that way." Commander M'Butu slowly admitted.

"In one universe Commander Dodds had a husband named Josh. In the next one he had a husband named Ben. I don't even know if he's married in this universe. How many times can you go through something like that before your heart's too broken to take another chance." Vincent said seriously.

"Alright then. I believe I understand the depth of your misgivings. In future exchanges with Starfleet I will be sure to relate the toll the situation is taking on us."

"Is it just me? I mean, am I the only one?" Vincent asked curiously.

After a long silent moment, Commander M'Butu quietly answered, "No Vincent. It's not just you."

* * * * *

After a quiet moment silently communing with his wife, Vincent boarded the nearest turbolift and quietly said, "Engineer's mess'."

He reflexively tested his bond with his wife and was reassured to feel her presence.

With T'Lani being a mental arm's length away, Vincent was able to turn his thoughts toward what they were facing.

By the time the turbolift doors had opened, Vincent had calmed himself and was ready to proceed with renewed resolve.

As he entered the engineer's mess hall and automatically walked toward the foodservice lines he was surprised at the drastic difference from what he was accustomed to.

While the mess hall back home was reasonably well lit and somehow comfortable to him, this new version of the mess hall was darker, less hospitable and quite a bit more 'spartan'.

"I thought for a minute that you weren't going to make it. Late night catching up with T'Lani?" Darin asked as he joined Vincent in the service line.

Vincent once again thought about his total lack of information as to what had happened to his other self in this alternate universe.

Before the silence could become awkward, Vincent finally said, "Yeah. A lot's changed since the last time we saw each other."

"So, have you had enough time? Have you decided yet?" Darin asked hopefully.

"Decided what?" Vincent cautiously asked as he began to place his food selections on his plate.

He absently noted that all the selections had come from the protein processors. He wasn't in a position to speculate about why the ship appeared to be carrying no fresh foods in their stores.

Darin huffed and rolled his eyes before exasperatedly asking, "Will you be the best man at our wedding or not?"

Vincent was shocked by the question, but quickly stammered, "Yeah. Of course. When is it again?"

"We're still not sure. Just as soon as the captain has a few spare minutes, we're going to do it." Darin said seriously.

"What's the rush?" Vincent asked before he could think better of it.

"I love how optimistic you are, and I hope that you're right. I just don't want to take the chance of my last thought being about how I wished that I had married Rad. If we can do this, then no matter what happens to us next, I'll have no regrets."

Vincent couldn't think of any response to that, so he led the way to the table where Joe and the others were already seated.

* * * * *

The first thing that caught Vincent's attention was a stranger at their customary breakfast gathering. The second was the presence of Crewman Davis, whom Vincent briefly worked with once before. The last was the notable absence of Valentine from their group.

//T'Lani, are you someplace where you can check on something for me?//

//I am currently having breakfast and discussing the physical examinations we will be performing later today. Although I could postpone the discussion, I could not do so without potentially raising suspicion or speculation.//

//It's not that important. But when you get the chance, would you see if you can track down where Valentine is? It looks like he's not on the Yorktown in this universe.//

//Although I cannot speculate as to why that is, any difference might be significant. I will inquire of Valaan's current location as soon as I am able.//

"Talking to T'Lani?" Rad asked with a grin.

"Like you wouldn't do the same thing if you two could talk telepathically." Vincent automatically responded.

"That sounds like a 'yes' to me!" Clyde said with a teasing grin at Vincent.

"Cut me some slack. After all the time I spent on the Vulcan ship, I've got to get used to being around humans again." Vincent said frankly, then continued more wistfully, "It was so quiet there... so peaceful."

"I bet." Darin chuckled.

"After what happened yesterday, I can see how being away from humans might seem attractive to you." Joe interjected.

"How did it feel? I mean, I don't know how many people have dreamed about standing up to some blowhard boss and really doing something about it." Rad asked curiously.

"Sorry. I really can't describe it." Vincent said carefully.

"After such an eventful day yesterday, being in Deflector Control is probably going to be a bore for you." Joe said warmly.

"I could do with a little time to do normal things. Excitement on the bridge isn't as much fun as it sounds." Vincent explained.

"I've actually been on the bridge during some excitement. You're right. Rarely is it fun." Joe said with a chuckle under his words.

"What do we have planned for today?" Vincent quickly asked, more than ready to change the subject.

"Thaelan is going to be working on a special project with Roman in Engineering while the rest of us man the stations. There's every indication that the fleet is going to deploy at least some of the support ships to act as a buffer while combat troops are rotated off the frontline so that they can get some downtime." Joe said seriously.

Vincent was relieved when Clyde asked, "What are they going to expect us to do?"

"Hold our ground... so to speak." Joe finished awkwardly.

"So we're just going to try and hold the line until the next combat ship is restaffed and back in position?" Clyde asked to confirm his understanding.

"That's our mission. If we're deployed, we'll call all personnel to battle stations so that we can be sure that we're doing everything in our power to see that the shields hold until we're relieved." Joe said gravely.

"What are the chances that we'll directly confront the Tark'Ashi?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"To be honest, we'll probably never know either way. They don't communicate. They exterminate. Even if we end up firing our weapons, we'll probably never even know if we're fighting a consciousness or an automated system... if there's even a difference when it comes to them." Joe quietly explained.

"Would you rather be part of the fleet evacuating Memory Alpha?" Thaelan asked Vincent in a challenging tone.

"If we were part of that fleet, I'd be proud to do my part to protect the collected wisdom and relics of the known universe. But if you're asking if I'd rather be running away, the answer is 'no'. We probably won't be able to do anything to hurt them, but if we can buy our people one extra minute, it might be the minute that makes a difference in the final outcome. There's no way that I would ever run away from that." Vincent said passionately.

"That's the spirit that I was waiting for. I was afraid that the Vulcans had logic'ed it out of you." Joe said with a teasing grin.

"No chance of that. But don't be surprised if you hear about a Vulcan ship sounding a battle cry on all frequencies when they plunge head-first into battle." Vincent said with a grin.

"If anyone could arrange that, it would probably be you." Rad chuckled.

"I just don't get what good we'll do by being here at all." A crewman at the table said. Since the young man was seated beside Thaelan and seemed to be a comfortable part of their group, Vincent came to the tentative conclusion that this might be the aforementioned 'Roman'.

"You're not supposed to know." Joe said simply, then explained, "Even though no one believes that the Tark'Ashi have operatives amongst us or have any ability to eavesdrop on our conversations, it is simply standard operating procedure not to share every detail of the plan with everyone in the field."

"Do you know?" Roman asked curiously.

"I know what I need to know, nothing more." Joe said firmly.

"So, there is a plan?" Vincent asked to confirm.

"Yes. There is a plan. We're part of it. Whether it works or not, our mission is still the same, that being, to hold the Tark'Ashi at bay until the military ships can restore their pattern of sustained bombardment." Joe said firmly..

Vincent thought about that for a moment, then speculatively said, "Since you called them the 'military' ships, it sounds to me like we're being thought of as something else. Can I know what that is?"

"Scientific." Joe said simply.

Vincent slowly nodded, then cautiously asked, "Do we have some scientific breakthrough on board that is supposed to turn the tide in the war?"

"No." Joe said without emotion, then amended, "At least, not as far as I know."

Vincent nodded once again, confirming that he had heard.

"But during whatever time we are on the front line, sciences will be running a series of tests which we hope will reveal some weakness or suggest some exploit that we haven't attempted as of yet." Joe cautiously added.

"So it's an intelligence gathering mission?" Clyde cautiously asked.

"No. It's a military mission. Just, while we're at it, we're planning to take some specific readings to aid in the effort to devise an effective strategy to use against the Tark'Ashi." Joe stated firmly.

"Okay. I think we get it." Vincent said slowly.

"Good. Because I'm going to need for each and every one of you to be at your best. It's going to take everything that our entire team has to give to help us hold it together and keep the shields up long enough for all of us to survive." Joe said grimly.

//T'Lani, it feels to me like there's something going on here.//

//What assistance may I be to you, Husband?//

//I'm not sure yet. I suppose for right now, I'm going to need someone that I can talk to about all the stuff that's going through my head.//

//Considering our telepathic bond, I would be the logical choice to fulfill that purpose.//

//No. I mean, yeah. I'll talk to you about it too. But what I'm talking about now is that I'm trying to figure out the whole 'temporal mechanics' thing. It's like I can almost see something, but I can't quite get it to come into focus. What I think I really need is a few minutes to talk to someone who really knows about that stuff.//

//All things considered, I believe that Lieutenant Simms might be your best source of information.//

//Didn't he already say that he didn't know about Temporal Mechanics?//

//Yes. But I believe that he is aware enough of the situation that we're in, is sufficiently motivated to make time to aid you in your quest and is well placed to access the personnel files of those who might be more knowledgeable.//

//Thank you, T'Lani. Right this minute I feel like maybe we have what we need to figure this thing out.// Vincent said internally as a slight smile crept onto his face.

"Are you talking to T'Lani again?" Rad asked knowingly.

"Maybe." Vincent answered guiltily, then noticed a familiar person walking near them, away from the food line.

"Liam! Do you want to sit with us?" Vincent asked quickly.

The look that he got from Liam immediately told him of his mistake.

"What?" Liam asked uncertainly.

"I just wasn't sure if you already had someone to sit with and we've got an extra place." Vincent hurried to explain.

"Do I know you?" Liam asked hesitantly, seeming to be teetering on the edge of accepting Vincent's invitation.

"No. I guess you don't. I just heard about you from a friend of a friend at the academy and I've been meaning to introduce myself since I found out that you were on the Yorktown. I'm Vincent, by the way."

"Yeah. I've heard of you. I just don't know why you're talking to me." Liam said honestly.

"I invited you to sit with us. Do or don't. It's up to you." Vincent said firmly.

"Um. Yeah. I don't have anyone else to sit with, so okay. If no one minds." Liam said cautiously as he looked at the people around the table.

"I'm as lost as you are..." Rad said as he looked askance at Vincent, then added more casually, "But sure, sit down and have some food. It's getting close to time to start the shift."

"Thanks." Liam said timidly, then took the vacant seat beside Roman, the other side from Thaelan.

"So, what department are you in?" Joe asked casually.

"Environmental Control." Liam answered before taking a bite of his food.

"Oh, right. We lost quite a few Environmental Control people on our last time out." Joe said gravely.

"That's what I heard when I was posted here. But we seem to have been carefully avoiding the subject in Environmental Control since I arrived." Liam said frankly.

"I can understand that. It's too soon, still too fresh." Joe said sadly.

"Still, I'm glad that you invited me to sit with you. It's really difficult to try and get to know people in an atmosphere like that." Liam quietly explained.

"So, where do you know Liam from?" Darin asked Vincent curiously.

"I don't know. I mean, I don't think we ever actually met before. It must have been while I was at the Starfleet Academy for testing, someone must have told me what a great guy Liam was." Vincent said uncertainly.

"Who would have said that about me?" Liam asked in confusion.

"I don't know. Maybe you have a secret admirer or something." Vincent finished with a chuckle.

"They kept it a pretty good secret, because I don't think anyone ever said anything friendlier than 'Good Morning' to me the whole time that I was there." Liam said honestly.

"It doesn't matter. You're here now and as long as you're not offended by some really boring deflector control talk every now and then, you're welcome to sit with us whenever you want." Vincent said cheerfully.

Liam looked around the table and his focus stopped on Rad as he asked, "Is that alright with the rest of you?"

"Yeah. Sure." Rad immediately answered, then added, "If Vincent says that you'll fit in with us, I'm willing to believe him. He ends up being right about most things."

"You're the one who saved all those people at the Kimber colony, aren't you?" Liam asked Vincent cautiously.

"Yeah." Vincent reluctantly admitted. It seemed that switching universes wouldn't allow him to escape the overblown story of his simple heroic act.

"I never heard what happened to you after that. I just kind of figured that you'd go back to Earth and be on talk shows and giving speeches at schools and stuff like that." Liam said honestly.

"No. Starfleet put the story out so that the public would look at the people who were 'saved' at Kimber, instead of all those that were lost. After that, I just went back to work. I've been given a few special assignments because people might have heard of me, but most of the time I'm just a regular crewman... well, at least I was until I became an ensign."

"And now you're a major... a Vulcan major. I've been meaning to ask, what's up with that?" Clyde asked frankly.

"I think that mostly has to do with me being assigned to work on the bridge. It makes Commander M'Butu's job easier if I've got the rank to do certain things. He'll probably have me using my Vulcan rank, at least until we get the whole Captain Coal thing sorted out." Vincent said speculatively.

"I know you don't want to talk about it, but you've got to give us a hint. Just how bad was it that you had to remove the captain from command?" Clyde asked excitedly.

"Actually, Commander M'Butu made the decisions and took action. All I did was what I thought was right in the situation that I found myself in." Vincent carefully explained, then realized how his words also seemed to apply to his temporal/spatial relocation.

"Before we get too much into that, it's almost time." Joe quickly interjected.

As Vincent was gathering his breakfast dishes, he noticed that even though Liam got a late start, he had been able to finish his meal.

"So, are you okay with sitting with us at breakfast?" Vincent asked as he stood and waited for Liam to be ready.

"Actually, so far it's been the high point of my time on the Yorktown." Liam said frankly.

"You're with us, now. It only gets better from here." Vincent assured him before leading the way to the drop-off window.

* * * * *

//Husband. I spoke briefly with Lieutenant Simms. He will be contacting you shortly, ostensibly to confer with you regarding your observations during the removal of Captain Coal from the bridge.//

//Good. Even though I used the memory techniques that you taught me to be sure I remember, I'm still afraid that I'll lose the thought process that I've got going right now. I'll be ready when he calls for me. Thanks, T'Lani.//

//As time permits, I will continue to attempt to locate my cousin, Valaan.//

//Good. Keep me posted.//

//Be well, Husband.// T'Lani responded before withdrawing from the conscious layer of their shared link.

* * * * *

Vincent was silent as the group took the turbolift down to Deflector Control. Although nothing was said, Vincent could tell that Liam was grateful to be included with them, even when it came to such a small matter as travelling to work together.

When they finally parted company, Vincent was quick to ask, "Which station did you want me on?"

Joe stopped and considered for a moment before responding, "On just about any other day, I'd have you man the main, so that you could get the practical experience. But with the likelihood of us being thrust into a battle scenario, it would probably be better if you manned the second console."

"Don't forget the bridge station and the battle bridge. If there was ever a time when we should have a backup of a backup, this is probably it." Vincent said frankly.

"I was planning on having Thaelan and Roman on the battle bridge and Connie taking over for me here, then taking the bridge station myself. But considering your rank and familiarity with the bridge crew, it might be better for you to man the bridge station while I stay here to coordinate." Joe said thoughtfully as he walked to the main and pressed a few keys.

"I wasn't trying to talk you into anything. I just wanted to remind you that I've learned a few things since I first came aboard." Vincent said quietly, as he casually looked at the reports scrolling up the screen

"Thanks for the reminder. It's easy to think of you as that wide-eyed crewman who walked in here looking as if he was witnessing his dreams coming to life." Joe said with a warm smile of remembrance.

"Well, I've grown into a major who's qualified to run the main. Where would you like for me to work until we're called to battle stations?" Vincent asked seriously.

"For right now, it appears that you'll be going to Lieutenant Simms' office in Security. He would like to have a talk with you." Joe said as he glanced at Vincent with concern.

"Oh yeah. He just has some questions about the thing with Captain Coal. It probably won't take too long." Vincent said easily.

"If they sound 'battle stations' before you get back, I'm going to be expecting you to make your way to the bridge to man the bridge station." Joe said seriously.

"Sure thing. You can count on me." Vincent assured him.

"Go on. You wouldn't want to keep Lieutenant Simms waiting."

"Yes, sir."

* * * * *

When Vincent stepped off the turbolift in the security office, he was surprised to see the bustle of activity.

The room was exactly the same, but the furnishings and the general mood of the place was completely different.

As he walked toward where he remembered Lieutenant Simms office being, he spotted a familiar face and asked, "Is Lieutenant Simms office over here?"

"Did you have some business with us today?" Ensign Barnhill asked firmly with her indomitable gaze fixed on Vincent.

"Lieutenant Simms asked me to come to his office to answer some questions. I just wasn't sure that I remembered where it is. It's been a while." Vincent said frankly.

Ensign Barnhill's gaze seemed to peer directly into Vincent's soul.

"This way." Ensign Barnhill said firmly as she got up from her chair and started leading the way.

Vincent was startled by her abrupt action and couldn't do more than follow in her wake.

* * * * *

"Lieutenant, Major Winters to see you." Ensign Barnhill said from the doorway.

"Thank you Ensign. I'm expecting one more person in this meeting. If you spot anyone else who appears to be out of place, they're probably here to meet with me."

"I'll be sure to watch for them." Ensign Barnhill said before withdrawing from the doorway.

"Have a seat Vincent. I have someone shuttling over to meet with us. He's somewhat renowned for being an expert in temporal mechanics. Hopefully you and he will be able to get on the same wavelength and have a productive discussion." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

"Am I going to be able to talk about where we're from and what's happened so far?" Vincent asked cautiously as he took the seat opposite Lieutenant Simms.

"He's aware of the time split. I know that much. I can't say for sure if he's aware of what's happened to us or not. But I checked his security clearance and either way, there shouldn't be any issue with us talking to him." Lieutenant Simms answered seriously.

"Do you know why they have some temporal mechanics guy out here on the front line? Have they been doing experiments or did they predict this or something?" Vincent asked curiously.

"No. Not that I know of. My understanding is that he came to be here due to other talents that he's equally renowned for." Lieutenant Simms explained.

"Gentlemen, Commander M'Butu mentioned that you were going to have a meeting and I thought that I might sit in, if you have no objection."

"Captain?" Lieutenant Simms asked cautiously.

"You have to admit that I'm taking quite a lot on faith. I thought that it might serve to put my mind at ease to learn a little more about what you and your group are doing." Captain Byrne explained.

"I have no objection if you want to sit in on the meeting. However, my roll isn't much more than that of a facilitator in all of this. I think that it should be up to Major Winters." Lieutenant Simms said honestly.

"I don't mind if you sit in. I just don't know how many answers you're going to get from it. I'm betting that all we're going to end up with is a big long list of questions." Vincent said frankly.

"That's no worry for me. I am far more comfortable with questions than answers, especially when it comes to easy answers." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"Lieutenant Simms?" Ensign Barnhill asked from the doorway, beside Captain Byrne.

"If that's our other guest, please send him in so that we can begin." Lieutenant Simms responded.

While Ensign Barnhill was doing that, Lieutenant Simms silently gestured toward the sitting area at the side of his office where they would have sufficient room for the four of them to sit comfortably.

Vincent and Captain Byrne made their way to the sitting area, then watched as Lieutenant Simms greeted his guest.

"Captain Byrne, Major Winters, it's my pleasure to introduce my good friend Dr. Davessar Myrix." Lieutenant Simms said with a proud smile.

Vincent was surprised to realize that Lieutenant Simms wasn't exaggerating. His inflection and demeanor indicated that their guest was indeed his close friend on a personal level.

"I have to admit that I'm intrigued. Wayland was unusually vague about what we would be discussing" Dr. Myrix said with a smile.

"How sure are you that we can't be overheard?" Vincent asked seriously.

"Records show that a security sweep was done last week. I haven't had time to do one myself." Lieutenant Simms immediately answered.

"It'll have to do." Vincent muttered.

"What's the story, my friend?" Dr. Myrix asked with the beginnings of concern.

"Vincent, do you want to lay it out? That way you can take the discussion in the direction that you need." Lieutenant Simms suggested.

"Yeah. Okay. Before I start, I need for everyone here to swear to secrecy. What I'm telling you isn't for Starfleet, it's to get your advice on what to do next." Vincent cautiously told his companions.

"Such promises are sometimes difficult to keep. While I wouldn't intentionally join into a discussion with you just so that I could later betray you, I also won't swear that I'll remain silent should something of great consequence to the Federation be revealed." Captain Byrne said frankly.

"They probably know all the important stuff anyway. I just wanted to make sure that this wasn't going to get out to the people I work with. If they knew this about me, they probably wouldn't treat me the same." Vincent said in a diminishing voice.

"Perhaps this might be a good time for me to mention that I have no idea what you're talking about." Dr. Myrix said to the group.

Before Lieutenant Simms could apologize, Vincent quickly said, "Yeah. Sorry about that. Me and a few other people on this ship aren't from this timeline. The universe we came from wasn't at war with the Tark'Ashi; in fact, we've never heard of them."

"Is this a relatively recent development?" Dr. Myrix asked cautiously.

"Last night. From the sound of it, anyone from our universe who's ever travelled across time or dimensions, all of a sudden woke up here this morning." Vincent explained.

"But I am aware of heroic actions performed by you. If it wasn't you who did that, who was it?" Dr. Myrix asked cautiously.

"That's one of the things that's bothering me. When this happened before, it was just like some of us woke up remembering things happening in another reality. I've been making sense of it in my own head by saying that the me that I was is still living the life that I was living before I found myself here... or there, in the last place that we were. I never felt like I was taking someone else's place. The universe that we found ourselves in was just beginning, unfolding like a flower into the past and the future." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"But you don't feel that here?" Dr. Myrix prompted.

"No. It's like we've been dropped into other people's lives. From the little bit that I've seen since I woke up, the other me, the one who was here before me, he had friends and a life where people liked and respected him. What happened to him? Does he still exist? Is he living my old life? Or was he ever real at all? Did this reality just wink into existence when the temporal wind blew and all of us who weren't tightly bound to the fabric of the other universe got shifted to our next adventure?" Vincent asked seriously.

"I suppose that before we get too deep into this, I should first investigate what Occam's Razor would suggest, that being the possibility that this young man might be mentally deranged." Dr. Myrix said carefully.

"I don't think there's much of a chance of that." Lieutenant Simms reluctantly said, then forced himself to add, "Everything Vincent is telling you is true. I'm from the same universe that he is."

"So you're not the same person who shared accomodations with me in San Francisco?" Dr. Myrix asked with surprise.

"I remember sharing quarters with you, but what I remember probably isn't exactly the same thing that you remember. That was two dimensional iterations ago. I have two sets of memories about that time in my life. The funny thing is, I doubt that either set recalls exactly the same events that you remember. We've noticed too many variations in the universes to assume that anything in our pasts is exactly the way we remember it." Lieutenant Simms carefully explained.

"How many of you are there?" Dr. Myrix asked cautiously.

"I don't know. We know that there are others, but we haven't been told how many. If it's important, you can contact the Enterprise. We've been using them as a hub for our information gathering on the subject." Lieutenant Simms explained.

"Yes. I remember hearing about that. It seems that a high percentage of their crew were affected by the dimensional disruption." Dr. Myrix slowly added.

"That's right. Since the Enterprise itself journeyed across time and dimension, all of her crew were impacted by the time split, or whatever you want to call it." Lieutenant Simms agreed.

"Was this what you were wanting to talk about?" Dr. Myrix asked Vincent seriously.

"No. The thing that I wanted to talk about was how many coincidences we have stacked on top of each other." Vincent answered frankly.

"Are you suggesting that there's an intelligence at work, guiding these events?" Dr. Myrix asked curiously.

"No. Not anything like that. But it just seems like the way it all came together is a little too convenient. It's like there might be some kind of natural order at work behind the scenes that would make sense of all of this if we knew about it." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"So you're not suggesting that there's some kind of a God at work, orchestrating all of this for his own amusement." Lieutenant Simms asked warily.

"Not exactly. What I'm looking at is more general. It just seems to me that something is causing these events to fall into a logical order and as far as I know, there's no reason for that to happen." Vincent said frankly.

"For example..." Dr. Myrix prompted.

"Well, like us being here at all. By everything I could see, it looked to me like we were heading for the Romulan neutral zone. Now, all of a sudden, we're in sector A-21. I understand that things developed differently in this universe, but why weren't we left hanging in space about halfway between Vulcan and Tellar?"

"It would seem that your current selves replaced your other selves, regardless of where they were located in this universe." Dr. Myrix said speculatively.

"I'm not complaining. Being alive is good. I'd just like to understand how it all works so I can continue on that way." Vincent stated firmly, then before anyone could comment, he continued by asking, "Why are we here now? Why isn't it yesterday or three weeks from Thursday."

"I'm just as happy to find out that there isn't any time travel involved." Lieutenant Simms said honestly.

"I'm still not complaining. But the thing I can't help but ask is 'why now?'. Why are we here, in this place at this time? It feels like all of this has been arranged somehow. I don't know, it's like, we couldn't have shown up yesterday. It'd be too early for us to do whatever we're needed to do." Vincent said with difficulty.

"Perhaps you are presuming too much. There is a possibility that those whom you replaced were needed to conduct some necessary thing in the next iteration of the universe." Dr. Myrix cautiously suggested.

"I guess that could be, except then how does that explain what happened during the time split? I mean, if we pulled a Schrodinger's cat and really did go two directions at once, then why is there another universe all laid out already living their own lives instead of it starting at the point where we entered it?" Vincent asked seriously.

"What makes you so sure that it isn't?" Dr. Myrix asked with genuine curiosity.

"I guess mainly because we've been through this before. We know exactly what it feels like to be in a new universe. It's like walking on new snow, making the first footprints that have ever been there. This place... there's lots of footprints, and they're not mine." Vincent fought to explain.

"I still don't know what it is that you expect me to do to help you." Dr. Myrix quietly admitted.

"You're the expert in this kind of thing. I was hoping that you might be able to help me reason this out. I mean, I've learned the temporal mechanics basics at the Vulcan Academy of Science, but I haven't studied any of the really high level theory and I don't have time to study all the different theories on it." Vincent said seriously.

"Quite a bit of what you've told me is based on your feelings and your sense of this space that you've found yourself in. That being the case, it might be more productive to investigate another approach before investing too much time in trying to decipher the temporal mechanics of the universe." Dr. Myrix carefully suggested.

"What other approach?" Vincent cautiously asked.

"Perhaps we should approach this mystery as something that was done to you rather than something that was done to the universe." Dr. Myrix slowly revealed, closely watching for Vincent's reaction.

"So you're saying that instead of something moving us to a different universe, that something might have happened to all of us to make us think that we're in a new universe?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Maybe not even that so much as some mechanism that we have not identified as of yet might have altered your memories or perceptions to the point that you have reason to question which universe you're in." Dr. Myrix said reasonably.

"Not counting the Tark'Ashi, who don't even exist in our universe as far as I know, there are other things that are different that are too big to be something from my imagination or even a our combined group delusion." Vincent said seriously.

"For example?" Dr. Myrix prompted.

"There's a crewman named Valentine in my department back on my ship, in my reality. As far as I know, he doesn't even exist here. But even if he does, he's not here on the ship. T'Lani is seeing if she can track him down right now."

"That's his wife." Lieutenant Simms interjected.

"Is your wife the same person here as she was in the last universe?" Dr. Myrix asked curiously.

"Yeah. As far as I know, she's the only one of us who jumped from one universe to the next without ever having travelled in time or between dimensions before." Vincent said seriously.

"Do you have any idea why that might be?" Dr. Myrix asked with interest.

"When T'Lani and I sleep, we usually combine ourselves, our consciousnesses, in our marriage bond. When the timelines changed, we were essentially one person so T'Lani was brought along with me instead of me being kept behind with her."

"Of all the things that you've told me so far, there hasn't been much that is verifiable or falsifiable, to test its veracity. But this business with your wife, that might actually give us something to work with. I have no way of knowing for sure at this point, but she might be the key to determining what physical mechanism might have been at play with your group as opposed to the rest of us." Dr. Myrix said thoughtfully.

"If you can figure that out, do you think it will make it so that you can get us back to where we came from?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"To be honest, I just don't know. My initial thought is that whatever force is at work is likely something too vast for beings such as ourselves to affect." Dr. Myrix said regretfully.

"Captain, Admiral Kincaid has just given the word. Standby for deployment orders." Lieutenant Patterson said over the intercom.

"Acknowledged. Call all hands to battle stations. I will be there shortly. Byrne out." Captain Byrne said as he stood.

"Aye Captain." Lieutenant Patterson responded smartly.

"I assume that I should delay my return to my ship." Dr. Myrix said quietly.

"All hands to battle stations. Repeat, all hands to battle stations." Debbie's voice calmly intoned over the intercom.

"Given that we might be called upon to bug out at a moment's notice, that would probably be best. You may join us on the bridge if you wish, so that you can stay abreast of the situation." Captain Byrne suggested, although Vincent thought that it was closer to being a command.

"Thank you Captain, although you need to be aware that I may be called away to speak with Admiral Kincaid or Fleet Admiral ni'Uva at some point, should they require my input on their strategy." Dr. Myrix explained carefully as he followed Captain Byrne out of the room.

"We'll make every accommodation if and when that time comes." Captain Byrne assured him, then looked at Vincent strangely when he noticed him following.

"My battle station is the deflector control station on the bridge." Vincent said quietly.

"For my own peace of mind, please tell me that you have the same rank and training in your native universe." Captain Byrne asked in a cautiously hopeful voice as they boarded the turbolift. Before Vincent could answer, the captain discretely said toward the ceiling of the lift, "Bridge."

"I don't know everything about the Major Winters that you have here, but in my universe I am known in the Federation as the Hero of Kimber. I'm known among Klingons as the Nemesis of Pirates. I was trained to be a bridge officer by the bridge crew of the Yorktown, including being taught personally by our Captain Byrne. For the past two months I have been the third shift duty officer on the Vulcan science vessel, T'Salanade."

"I can vouch for him, Captain. He's proven himself under pressure and is a respected bridge officer." Lieutenant Simms added.

"Is your battle station on the bridge too?" Vincent asked Lieutenant Simms curiously.

"Actually, there will be three members of security on the bridge. In a time of war, we are responsible for the weapons, both the firing of and the maintenance." Lieutenant Simms said frankly.

"I know that I've seen a command structure outlined like that before, I just didn't realize that we were using one on this ship." Vincent said honestly.

"The process might not be familiar to us, but from what I can tell, all the equipment should be exactly the same. You shouldn't have any issue with adapting to this new situation." Lieutenant Simms told him seriously.

Before Vincent could respond, the doors to the turbolift opened on the bridge.

* * * * *

"Captain on the bridge." Lieutenant Clark sternly announced from his place at the helm.

Vincent was surprised by the announcement, but at the same time appreciated the sincere show of respect for their captain.

"Lieutenant Patterson, have we had any further contact from Admiral Kincaid?"

"No sir. Stand to and await further instructions. That is all." Lieutenant Patterson answered efficiently.

Captain Byrne walked directly to the command chair, where Commander M'Butu was standing aside, clearing the way for him.

Lieutenant Simms and Dr. Myrix walked to the bridge security station where two other security officers were already present, conspicuous by the presence of their sidearms.

Vincent went the opposite direction from Lieutenant Simms, around the other side of the bridge and past Chief Morgan to the bridge deflector control station.

"Deflector Control, this is Major Winters on station on the bridge." Vincent said into the intercom.

"Acknowledged." Connie responded professionally.

Before Vincent could respond, Joe's voice came over the dedicated comm, "Leave the operation of the deflector and shields to us. We'll take care of all the mundane details. But we'll be counting on you to immediately carry out the captain's orders. Your station has been given priority override status."

"Understood. Winters out." Vincent said smartly as he began to run through his system checks.

He was happy to find that all the secondary systems were in active standby mode and ready to be activated with the press of one button.

"Captain, Admiral Kincaid will be sending encrypted orders to all the captains simultaneously. Stand by." Lieutenant Patterson announced from her communications station.

"Acknowledged." The captain responded shortly, most of his attention focused on the console in the armrest of his command chair.

* * * * *

The tension on the bridge was nearly a tangible thing, but Vincent felt assured that each and every person surrounding him were bringing their best selves forward. He felt proud to be counted as part of the team and wanted nothing more than to do his absolute best to help them achieve their goal, which as far as Vincent could determine, was to survive.

As Vincent was going through the systems and subsystems, once again checking to confirm that everything was operating at optimum efficiency. Out of the corner of his eye, just for an instant, Vincent saw the frequency reading of 108.11 cycles per millisecond. When he looked back, the actual reading was something else entirely, but just for that fraction of a moment, his brain had interpreted what he saw as a significant image from his past.

The impact of the memory hit him almost like a slap across the face. It was akin to being suddenly jolted out of a deep sleep.

Vincent worked to calm his racing thoughts as the new idea propagated and compounded throughout his conscious mind.

He couldn't tell if he had been frozen for a second or twenty minutes, processing all the permutations of the new idea.

Once he reached a point where he was reasonably certain that there was nothing more that he could do on his own, he discretely turned to look toward the security station.

As expected, he saw that Lieutenant Simms and two of his security officers were on station, making sure that they were prepared to carry out any conceivable order that the captain might give.

Off to the side of them was Dr. Myrix, watching what they were doing with interest.

"Dr. Myrix?" Vincent called across the room, hopefully not causing undue distraction to the others.

Fortunately, Dr. Myrix responded by looking at Vincent inquisitively.

Vincent motioned for Dr. Myrix to 'come here', then glanced at his console to be sure that the shields were still performing as expected.

* * * * *

"Did you need something?" Dr. Myrix asked quietly as he stopped at Vincent's side.

"Yeah. But before I tell you this, I just want for you to understand how important this is to me." Vincent said quietly, keeping his attention focused on his readings.

"What would that be?" Dr. Myrix asked cautiously.

"I'm nine years old. So 'life' on a prison planet probably means more to me than it does most other people." Vincent said carefully.

"I think everyone looks at such things from their own point of view with themselves at the center, but be that as it may, I think I get your meaning. If I'm correct, then you have something that you are prohibited from saying, but might be relevant to our situation." Dr. Myrix said speculatively.

"Yeah. Maybe if I give you just one little bitty hint, it won't exactly be treason." Vincent said reluctantly.

"Perhaps if you give me that hint, I might be able to tell you if it sounds like something worth pursuing." Dr. Myrix cautiously suggested.

"Okay. I hope that I'm wrong. It'd be fine if I was totally wrong about this, but... I don't think I am. I have this crawly feeling right up my spine telling me that this is what caused... everything. All of it."

"If you can just give me the slightest clue about what you're talking about, I'll do my best to keep you from betraying any confidences that you might have promised." Dr. Myrix patiently assured him.

"Maybe it's nothing." Vincent said, although the hollowness of it could clearly be heard under his words.

Dr. Myrix remained silent, waiting for Vincent to work up the resolve to reveal the horrible secret that he was carrying.

After one more quick look over the console to assure him that everything was still in readiness, Vincent turned to look Dr. Myrix in the eyes as he said in nearly a whisper, "Proto-matter."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Ha, notes, he wants notes!

Well, it's nice to see Vincent again. What happened To Valentine?

Fascinating! Oops wrong Vulcan. Live Long And Prosper!

Great chapter, as always!

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher