Mirror
by Scribe

Main Characters: Seven, OFCs

Summary: Chris Larabee is faced with an unimaginable situation when a 17 year old Adam Larabee arrives from the Mirror Universe. Sent to this strange world against his will, Adam comes face to face with a version of the father he never knew while being pursued by an enemy with a familiar face.

Ninth story in the Star Trek: Maverick series Follows Planet Fall.


Prologue: Born Human

He was seventeen years old and he did not know a day in his life when he wasn't paying for the sin of being born human.

He knew why this was of course. The history of the Alpha Quadrant was a long and bloody one. Humankind had ruled the quadrant for three hundred years, fueled by a mad lust for conquest that began with the slaughter of the first aliens to land on Earth, followed by the theft of their technology. Highly adaptable, humans went forth into the galaxy and succeeded in conquering every civilized world they encountered by laying waste to their cities with tri-cobalt weapons.

For three centuries, the Terran Empire ruled the Alpha Quadrant and were on the verge of invading the isolated Romulan Empire, when an interdimensional event involving a James T Kirk from an alternate dimension, changed everything. Kirk, who came from a dimension where mankind were explorers, not conquerors, left an indelible impression on the Vulcan Spock, who would rise to become the next leader of the Empire. Once installed, Spock embarked on a crusade of benevolence, believing the Empire could sustain itself by being kinder.

He was wrong.

The weakness was soon exploited, and the Terran Empire fell to the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance and the Terrans were held accountable for centuries of conquest and savagery. In the years that followed, every human born, suffered the sins of their forebears as they were completely subjugated by conquerors, determined the species would never rise up again to be a threat.

Eventually, the conquerors became as brutal as the regime they overthrew and soon the Alpha Quadrant was embroiled in another war. This time, the Terrans led the way, uniting other races seeking freedom, the way Kirk envisioned. They fought long and hard and were poised on the verge of victory when it was snatched away by the Romulans.

Never recovering from the near invasion of their territories by the Terran Empire, the Romulans had been in quiet preparation while watching the chaos taking place beyond their borders. Patient and deliberate as only Romulans could be, they emerged from the Beta Quadrant, with a fleet of Scimitar class warbirds, armed with cloaking technology and smashing the entire line of Terran defenses all the way to Earth. Efficient and ruthless, the Romulans did not possess the impulsiveness of the Klingons or the sadism of the Cardassians, sweeping through the Alpha Quadrant, unmatched.

Of course, the Terrans continued to fight. They didn't know how to do anything else. Even when the odds were insurmountable and the outcome of almost every encounter with a warbird was a fatal one. Like this one was.

Standing next to his mother, on the bridge of the ISS Clarion, with the Defiant-class starship presently falling apart around their ears, they stared through the still functioning view screen at the warbird in front of them. In comparison to the Clarion, the Romulan ship was more than just large, it was gargantuan. The notion the Clarion ever had a chance of outrunning or outgunning the ship called the Firebrand, seemed ludicrous in the face of reality.

Sparks danced over the floor from live wires dangling from broken panels in the ceiling. Half the displays across the consoles were burnt out and the scent of smoke and charred flesh was thick in the air. The internal lights were flickering and the red glow of emergency klaxons across the bridge heightened the sense of doom felt by everyone present. His mother hadn't wanted him to serve on this ship but at seventeen, he was a man and he didn't know a world where he wasn't at her side.

"They want our surrender," the Bajoran navigator Wellan Casine, whom everyone called Casey for short, gave her report to her commander, with her hair disheveled and a smear of blood across her face. She relayed the message quietly, knowing what the response would be.

"We can't be taken alive," Chanu, the Clarion's First Officer stated firmly, showing not an ounce of fear, even though what he was talking about was a death sentence for all of them. "If he gets his hands on us, you know what will happen. He'll take us apart and learn everything we know about the Rebellion."

Commander Mary Travis knew this. She also knew there were too few rebels and ships left to allow such a breach in security. If they broke under interrogation, the movement would never survive the repercussions. Looking at the ship ahead, she knew they were done as soon as the Firebrand targeted them. Sweeping her gaze across the faces of her bridge crew, those who had fought and stood by her, through numerous battles, she wished she could deliver them from this battle and felt her heart ache, when they stared back at her in forgiveness.

"Do it," she looked at Chanu. "Set the self-destruct for three minutes. I'll be back in two."

"Yes," he nodded, knowing what she intended with the boy.

"Adam, come with me," Mary said to her son, the child she had not birthed but was hers in every way that mattered. She wished he had been born into a world that knew more than war and slavery. He was the child of her best friend Sarah, who died bringing him into the world because they were trapped in a prison, where no one had given a damn if another human was being born. Mary had been at Sarah's side, trying to help her deliver the child when their Cardassian jailer decided Sarah didn't deserve medical help because of the baby's father.

After Sarah died, Mary had escaped, smuggling the newborn out of that vile place. Together, they had found a home with the rebellion, where the boy grew up knowing nothing but how to fight and stay alive. When they were on the verge of defeating the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance, she had thought she could finally give him a home and a life not dipped in blood and violence.

But the Romulans ended that hope once and for all.

"Where are we going?" Adam asked puzzled when they arrived at the transporter room. Did she expect to send him somewhere? They were light years away from Lysia and the only ship in transporter range was the Firebrand, the personal ship of the enemy that would surely deliver them an agonizing death if any of them were caught alive.

"You are leaving," Mary said firmly, going to the transporter controls and producing from her jacket, a handheld cylindrical device he did not recognize.

"Mom, are you crazy?" Adam balked at the suggestion, not simply because he had no idea where she thought she was sending him, but if they were going to die, he wanted to do it at her side. "I'm not leaving you."

Mary wasn't listening. Instead, she activated the device which seemed to glow briefly as she waved it over the transporter controls. If Adam wasn't so preoccupied with the insane notion, she intended sending him away, he would have noticed the resonance frequency of the transporter's hum as it initialized, was unlike anything he'd heard before.

"Get on the transporter pad," she handed him the device.

"Why?" He demanded, looking at the object with puzzlement. He'd never seen this particular tech before and he was familiar with quite a bit of the technology used by the Rebellion, from weapons to equipment. "There's nowhere to go!"

"Adam!" Mary snapped, using the voice he was compelled to obey, even though he'd fought in battles, had spilled more than his share of Klingon and Cardassian blood and was a man in every sense of the word. "I need you to get on the transporter pad now. There isn't much time."

"Time for what? Mom, I'm not going anywhere without you!"

Adam couldn't understand where she thought she was sending him, but he knew he wasn't going without her! Time was running out for both of them, not just for the ship but for their lives. He could accept dying if he was with her. Adam knew he was born to another, but Mary was the only mother he knew. She was more than that, she was mother, father, teacher and commander, the person whom he admired more than anyone else in the world. He didn't know how to go on without her.

"Adam, listen to me," Mary took his face in her hands and stared at those incredible blue eyes of his, which Mary knew weren't Sarah's even if everything else about him was. "I love you more than anything in this world and if you could stay here, there's nothing I would do to keep that from happening, but you know what's about to happen."

He did, but what she asked of him was still unimaginable.

"I don't care! I want to stay with you!" His voice started to break, beginning to grasp she was about to force him into something from which there was no coming back. It felt more final than this ship blowing up and taking everyone with it if such a thing were possible.

"I do care," Mary swallowed, her own eyes filling with tears as she fought the anguish ripping her insides apart. Even though he was almost a man, to her, he was always going to be that baby she held tight to her breast, while running through the tunnels to escape from those bastard Cardassians. "You are the best thing in my life and I have been so proud of you, but I need you to do this for me. I need you to get on the transporter pad, right now."

Adam stared into her blue-grey eyes and knew he could not refuse her anything. Tears in his eyes, he had no idea where she was sending him. All he knew was that she'd asked. Josiah's words echoed in his head, reminding Adam, a man should always treat his mother right. So that was what he would do, even if what she was asking seemed insane. Yet as he stepped onto the transporter platform, a sixth sense told him once he was gone, he was never going to see her again.

Once he was there, Mary hugged her son, holding him tight in her embrace, as she remembered the little boy he had been, who always looked at her with complete trust and belief. She needed him to trust her now because while she was sending him into the unknown, it was a better place for him. It was a place where humans could live without being hunted or enslaved. He was smart, resourceful and could fight like a demon because she and the Rebellion had forged him that way. It gave her faith that wherever he landed in that other world, he would be more than capable of taking care of himself.

"Mom! Please don't send me away." He pleaded, not wanting to go, not wanting to lose her and he knew he would if he left. Adam wanted to hold on tight forever because she was his ma and he loved her more than anything. However, he also knew that when it came to his life, she would do anything. Like the she-wolf protecting her cub, her love for him was powerful and fierce and if it meant, breaking both their hearts to save him, she would do it without hesitation. She was Commander Mary Travis, one of the greatest heroes of the Rebellion and when she decided on a course, nothing would change her mind. Not even him.

"I love you, Adam Larabee, never forget it."

With that, she let him go and stepped away from the transporter pad. They stared at each other for one more minute, where it sank into his consciousness, they were each going somewhere, neither could follow, that the gossamer strands connecting them were being cut.

Mary stared back at her son, her strong beautiful son who had always been the best part of her life. On that dark day, when Sarah's blood was draining into the dirt, when her friend cradled the boy she named Adam for the first few minutes of his life, she'd thanked Mary for promising to keep him safe when it was Mary who should have given Sarah thanks, for giving her this wonderful boy who gave her life meeting and a reason to fight.

And today, the willingness to die well.

"Computer, initiate transport."

"MOM!" Adam shouted as the words left her lips before everything he knew disappeared in a shimmer of gold.

Chapter One: Shore Leave

EARTH

It was quite possibly the best vacation Chris Larabee had enjoyed since the family trips he had taken with Sarah and Adam. While he wished it had not come at the expense of his ship, currently undergoing a major refit after its most recent mission in the Kurlan system, he had to admit, the four weeks on Earth was exactly what he needed to recharge after a year out in the Frontier. It was sobering to remember, the last time he was on his homeworld, he was just about to embark on his new command.

Thinking back to those last few days on Earth, Chris couldn't help but smile remembering what a ruckus he'd made about being assigned a Protocol Officer. Of course, Chris was completely unaware of the woman whom he'd been so against joining his ship, would be the best thing that happened to him since meeting Sarah. Mary Travis had walked through the doors of his Ready Room and left it with Chris Larabee's heart in her hands.

As he sat on the porch of the Tanner Ranch in the heat, watching the sunset with Mary dozing lightly against his shoulder, Chris had to admit that even though there were a few remaining wounds left behind in the wake of losing Sarah and Adam, for the most part, he was content. The last month with Mary and Billy had been the happiest he'd been in a long time and had even evolved their relationship to the point where full intimacy was in reach.

Staring into the glorious sunset, the sky was a canvas of deep amber, patterned with streaks of white clouds and remaining blue sky. As the ranch sat sitting on a mostly flat patch of land almost a hundred acres across, Chris could see the descent of the sun into the horizon, while relishing the dry breeze against his skin. They hadn't intended to spend the entire trip here, but the atmosphere had been so relaxing and the company so enjoyable, it became hard to say no when Vin Tanner extended the invitation to stay.

The ranch was in Real County, Texas and the house was a five-bedroom single story dwelling, constructed of river rock and slate for the roof. The interior of the house was very much in the style of the environment, with the walls painted in desert colors. The furniture was composed of comfortable natural looking pieces, crafted from wood with soft, suede upholstery and there was a fireplace. Even though Vin did not spend much time here, it appeared the helmsman had paid a local woman to come in once a month to keep up the place.

While they were here, they had taken advantage of the property's natural features which included hilltops used as lookouts by Native Americans in the past, with great riding and hiking trails through woods with live oak, wild cherry, juniper, and cedar elm trees. Since hunting was no longer practiced anywhere on Earth, there was an abundance of natural fauna roaming the place. Vin had been able to show a delighted Billy, deer, turkeys, ducks and hogs.

The property also boasted a large creek that produced several deep blue holes perfect for swimming and kayaking, which of course fed into Chris and Vin's liking for adventure sports. Furthermore, the creek was full of perch, bass and catfish so Chris, Vin and Billy could go fishing when Mary and Alex took themselves to the city to meet Mary's mother, Adelaide Sheridan.

The clip-clop of horses approaching the house made Chris shift his gaze from the sunset to see Vin and Alex returning home from their evening ride. A small smile stole across his face when he saw his very capable Science Officer, clinging to Vin as they rode double on a chestnut gelding, that didn't look very different from the holodeck horse Vin rode in the Magnificent Seven holo-program. Although the property had its own stable, Vin didn't feel right keeping horses when he was rarely on Earth. The horse he was riding was a loan from a nearby livery stable and was one of four they'd rented during their stay.

Both were dressed in jeans, with Vin wearing a slouch hat he replicated in the likeness of the one he wore as the tracker on the holodeck while Alex's own was Spanish in design and suited her well. It pleased Chris to see how happy Vin and Alex were, especially since they had come from such wounded places when they first met. Finding each other had healed them both and it was never more apparent than when Chris saw them like this.

Next to him, Mary stirred at the sound of hoofbeats and she raised her head, her blue-grey eyes returning to clarity as she awoke. "Oh, they back already?"

Mary had dozed off when Vin and Alex had first set out for their ride and seeing the sunset in the distance, realized she must have been sleeping for a while on this porch seat with Chris. Nuzzling up to him a bit more now she was awake, Mary smiled languidly when she felt Chris's arm pulling her a little closer.

"Yeah," Chris nodded. "You dozed off a bit and since you were so tired spending the day doing nothing, I thought I'd let you sleep." He winked at her playfully.

"Oh, you're so funny," she nudged him in the ribs.

It had been such a restful vacation, Mary was frankly surprised how much she enjoyed spending time at the ranch Vin had been so fond of visiting on the Maverick's holodeck. The program did not do justice to the reality of the big sky and the glorious landscape with its delicious Texas heat. It reminded her of the harsh beauty of Vulcan and was glad she and Chris accepted the helmsman's invitation to visit. Billy had even made friends with some of the local kids and was off on a camping trip which delighted Mary to no end, aware of how difficult it was for him to make friends.

"I can't believe we're going to have to head back already," she sighed, aware they had another two days here before they would have to catch a ride on the USS Titan, on route to the Typhon Expanse.

It had been wonderful spending the last month with Chris as a couple, far away from the scrutiny of the Maverick where they were forced to maintain a professional distance as the Captain and the Protocol Officer. Of course, she knew part of the reason that distance existed was because she had been a widow when she first arrived on the Maverick, mourning the death of Billy's father Syan. Although she had not told Chris yet, she was ready to move on and take their relationship to the next level. He had been so patient with her, she didn't want him to have to wait any longer.

"It went by fast," Chris agreed but he could not deny wanting to get back to the Maverick, eager to see what shape his ship was in after a month's repairs. It would be another month before they were close to leaving spacedock but as Captain, he needed to oversee some of the work undertaken to the starship. "Did you have a good time though?" He asked her, planting a soft kiss on her lips.

"The best," Mary beamed with pleasure before adding with a wry smile. "But you're itching to get back to the ship. I can see it in your eyes."

"I won't say itching," Chris tried to protest, but even as he spoke, he could feel guilt bleeding into him because she was right. "I may be interested in seeing what shape the Maverick is in."

"Please," Mary laughed, knowing him all too well. "I know about you, starship Captains, none of you can stand to be away from your ships for too long. I am wise to your ways."

"You do huh?" Chris pulled her to him and caught her soft lips in a deep, searching kiss. Their intimacies during this trip had risen a notch and Chris felt a yearning for her, that was becoming acute. They had kissed before, but in the last month, the exchanges had become more intense, edging toward lusty. He had a feeling their relationship was changing, and he was pleased she was finally ready to take the next step.

"We interrupting?" Vin exercised his impeccable timing as he and Alex walked up the front path, after seeing their horse to the stable for the night.

Chris pulled away from Mary and flashed her a little warm look of affection before he glanced at Vin, "Always, but we'll live."

"Have a good ride?" Mary asked the two, letting the warmth of his kiss fade into the rest of her.

"Always," Alex winked, enjoying her rides with Vin where he delighted in showing her all the beautiful sights along the trails crisscrossing the ranch. On the holodeck, they had been impressive but paled in comparison to the splendor of reality. "You guys ready for dinner? I thought we'd replicate ourselves a nice Texan barbecue."

"Sounds good to me," Chris approved, his stomach starting to rumble at the thought. Even though the steaks would be produced by the replicator in the house, Vin had an old-fashioned Texas barbecue in the back of the house where he would cook the meat on a fire. Chris suspected Vin's fondness for the practice had nothing to do with his Texan upbringing and more to do with the way he'd subsisted when he was marooned alone on that forgotten world.

"Sounds good woman," Vin said to Alex, a look of mischief crossing his face "Now get in there and make my supper."

The Vulcan exchanged an amused smirk at Chris who personally thought he was taking his life, not to mention his manhood in his hands, by making such a statement to a wife who had a Klingon upbringing. Then again, judging by the grass stains and dirt on their clothes, Chris had a fairly good idea what the two had gotten up to during their ride, so Alex might be in a forgiving mood.

"Sure," Alex smiled sweetly at Vin, "and what would you like for your last meal?"

"You wouldn't kill me," Vin drew her to him in an embrace. "You love me too much."

"Sure, throw that back in my face," Alex replied before planting a gentle kiss on his lips. Her skin was still tingling from their lusty interlude when they'd paused during their ride at a nice secluded spot with a great view of the creek and made love under the evening sun overhead. "I'm only doing this because you have two days left where you can order me around. Once we get to the Maverick, your ass is mine, Lieutenant."

"Ouch," Chris laughed as he watched the two and once again, felt pleased for them both. In the last year, he had been at risk losing both in various calamities and seeing them so happy together right now, made him grateful they'd weathered those storms to reach this place in their lives.

"Yes ma'am," Vin winked at her before facing his guests once again, inordinately pleased at not only having Alex here but also Chris and Mary. One of the most painful memories in his life had been the day he was returned to this ranch after his rescue from the world he and his foster parents had been marooned on for twelve years. His mother had talked so much about the place, it felt profoundly cruel neither she nor his foster father had survived to show it to him. This time, Vin finally had the homecoming he'd always wanted, in the company of the people he cared for the most, to whom he could show the beauty of this place.

"Shouldn't take me long to fire up the barbecue," Vin explained to Chris and Mary.

"I'll give you a hand," Chris offered, starting to disengage himself from Mary to stand up. "Might as leave the womenfolk to the cooking while we real men make fire." He flashed Mary a smirk.

Mary rolled her eyes as she stood up to follow Alex into the house but couldn't help adding.

"Just try not to behave too much like Neanderthals."

******

It wasn't Quark's Bar, but Ezra Standish liked the place nonetheless.

When Ezra had returned to Deep Space Five after his shore leave with Julia Pemberton, on Bajor, he was pleasantly surprised to find one of the new establishments on the space station to be the Candle Wick Tavern, run by its Betazoid owner, the charming Miss Luisa Perekin, Miss Perekin, a true entrepreneur, had not only made the place a popular watering hole by providing a wide range of entertainments, not just from libations, but recreational activities that included, gambling, billiards and four holo suites.

Abandoned by Julia the minute she arrived on the station for the repairs on the Maverick, Ezra had been happily investigating the place (for security reasons of course), since his duties in comparison to Julia's were light in the Maverick's current condition. Ezra had to confess to being mildly impressed as he explored the various gaming tables presided over by a bevy of beautiful women of all species, who enticed punters to games of chance that included poker, blackjack, dom-jot and tongo. Aside from the card games and there were tables for roulette, Dabo and even billiards.

Since it opened, the place had become a popular hotspot for visitors to Deep Space Five and Ezra had no doubt it would be just as entertaining to the crew of the Maverick when they returned to the station. As he sat at the bar, indulging in a glass of Romulan ale, no longer contraband in light of the Empire's recent troubles, he had to admit, he could see why the Captain and Counsellor Sanchez liked it so much.

The main bar was a circular affair, framed with stools all around and held court by three bartenders, whose ability to mix cocktails could not be questioned. Occasionally, they performed minor feats of dexterity by juggling bottles (mostly for the tourists), before returning to their primary function of serving drinks. The decor was colorful, with the bar area offering the most illumination, allowing its radiance to thin as it stretched into the rest of the place for the sake of privacy.

"I see my little place meets with your approval," the stunning redhead that was Luisa, greeted Ezra as she sauntered over to him, dress in an equally stunning black gown, with long gloves and bared shoulders. No doubt, she probably attracted as much attention as the girls at the gambling tables but there was no doubt, she was the owner of the place. One could tell just by how she carried herself.

"I cannot tell a lie, Miss Luisa," Ezra smiled at the woman as he sat with his back facing the bar, so he could observe the patrons who came in every species and color, partaking of the many pleasures to be afforded in the establishment. "I am impressed."

"Coming from a professional like yourself, I am gratified." She said knowingly. As a Betazoid, she could read every thought in his head and knew his view of this place was favorable since he compared it against the one owned by his mother in Risa. "I'm surprised you're not at the gaming tables."

"Oh, I shall make my way there soon enough," Ezra flashed her a dimpled grin, "I can never stay too far away from games of chance for too long. However, I do enjoy observing the crowds and I sense," he gave her a look, "that this is not a chance meeting. You sought me out, Miss Luisa."

"Your reputation as a wily investigator is well earned, I see," she replied, not at all offended at having been caught out. In fact, when a Betazoid was taken unawares, it was such a nice surprise. It was pity Mr Standish was so thoroughly in love with the lovely engineer of the Maverick because Luisa could find herself easily attracted to the man.

Que Sera Sera, she sighed.

"What do you make of that young man over there?" She glanced in the direction of a patron sitting by himself in the corner, nursing a drink and observing everyone in silent contemplation.

"For starters," Ezra remarked studying the boy. "Is he old enough to be served that Jovian sunspot?"

"Yes," she nodded without hesitation and with a tone in her voice that indicated, she was absolutely correct on this point. "He had definitely earned the right to be served a drink."

Ezra raised a brow at that but went back to his observations. He was a human teenager, no more than eighteen, Ezra estimated. With dark hair and well-chiseled features, it was the eyes that drew the most attention. They were an icy blue, with a stare that could draw blood if so desired. There was something disturbingly familiar about them and Ezra knew instinctively, would hit him like a ton of bricks when he realized why. The sidearm strapped to the kid's thigh was of a design Ezra had never seen before and he prided himself as Chief of Security to know them all. It wasn't just the weapon, but also the boy's clothes. They might have been military but of what planet, Ezra could not say.

Ezra noticed he sat with his back to the wall at a table that allowed him a view preventing anyone from sneaking up on him. He studied everything, especially who was coming through the door and for one absurd moment, Ezra was reminded of how Vin Tanner behaved when he was playing the part of the tracker in the Magnificent Seven holo-program.

"Who is he?" Ezra finally asked.

"I think you need to ask him that," Luisa said enigmatically. "I do not normally read the thoughts of my patrons but something about him begged the effort. I see images in his head that are confusing, not just to me but to him too. He is extremely conflicted, and he is totally alone. More alone than anyone has ever been. I think you need to speak to him, Commander Standish. He needs help."

Ezra stared at the woman and saw she was perfectly serious. True, he did not know Miss Luisa, but he had a sense of her, and this was not a woman who involved herself in the affairs of others normally, but this boy had moved her, and Ezra had to admit, he was intrigued.

"Alright," Ezra pushed himself off the bar stool and started towards the boy, keeping his approach casual because something told him, it would be unwise to surprise the young man. Fortunately, Ezra was in civilian clothing, wearing a plain silk shirt and dark pants, with his combadge, tucked away in his pocket, out of sight.

Something curious happened when the boy saw him. The kid's expression flashed relief for a brief second as if he recognized Ezra as something familiar, if not someone he trusted.

"Figures, you'd be here," the boy sighed when Ezra reached his table.

The Security Chief tried to hide his surprise but recovered with the skill of an expert in covert infiltration. "And pray tell how you know that?"

The young man uttered a short laugh. "In this place?" He looked around the establishment, "Where else would you be but, in a place, that runs games and probably cons as well. I suppose you do favors for a price too?"

Now Ezra was starting to get confused. It sounded like the young man knew him, but it was a very skewed version of him. "I have been known to help out a friend when they need it."

"Right," the boy snorted with utter derision. "I'm surprised Lexie isn't here working the customers."

"Lexie?" Ezra stared and began to understand what Luisa was alluding too. "As is in Alex?"

"Yeah Lexie," the boy rolled his eyes. "Your main piece of ass or is that different here too?"

The idea of Alexandra Styles, the Maverick's Science Officer, working as a courtesan in a place like this was beyond Ezra's ability to process. Not to mention the fact Alex being his paramour. True, like every man on the ship, they'd all entertained thoughts about Alex when she first came on board. Who didn't? But it became very clear, she had eyes for only one person and that was the Vulcan this boy reminded him so much of.

"Young man, who do you think I am?"

For the first time, the boy's confident manner wavered as it dawned on him everything that left his mouth in the last few seconds, was wrong. "You're Ezra Standish. You own this place, right? I mean, it's just the kind of place you would own."

Ezra supposed he might if he had chosen to follow in Maude's footsteps, but he never wished too. He had wanted something more than living in smoky gambling halls, rolling over hapless marks for their latinum. While some aspects of that former life remained in his predilections for games of chance and running bets, it was a past time, not a career.

"May I sit?" He asked the boy, who now seemed very much his age, like a teenager trying hard to get a grip of where he was.

"Sure," he kicked out a chair for Ezra.

"Permit me to introduce myself properly," Ezra said lowering himself into the chair across the boy. "My name is Lt. Commander Ezra Standish, Chief Security Officer of the USS Maverick."

Disbelief flooded his face and the kid actually laughed. "You're kidding me? You're a security chief?"

Ezra did not know if he ought to be offended or not.

"And you are?"

The boy paused a moment, trying to decide whether he ought to give out his name. Then again, what did it matter? He was nobody in this strange place his mother had sent him. For a week, he'd wandered the space station after arriving here, trying to understand how he could be in a place where there was no war, where Klingons, Vulcans, Cardassians and humans got along without trying to kill each other. If you needed food, you could simply replicate it from the communal food processors, which may not have the variety he saw in cafes and restaurants but was free.

When he tried to trade the only thing of value he had for lodgings, his father's wedding band worn on a gold chain, they explained he didn't need to do that. He was human and being human, he was a Federation citizen, afforded its protection, including shelter.

"Adam," he said quietly. "Adam Larabee."

Chapter Two: Confirmation

It was rare when Ezra Standish found himself so shocked he was literally robbed of speech.

Staring at the young man across the table with nothing less than stupefied shock, his first reaction was to take the boy to task about making such an outrageous claim. Then Ezra remembered what had struck him when Luisa had first called the teenager to his attention. The eyes. How many times had Ezra been on the receiving end of the infamous Larabee glare to not recognize those eyes?

Because the association was too impossible, he told himself immediately.

"What?" Adam stared at the man, somewhat surprised he was able to see through Ezra's impenetrable poker face. The Ezra Standish he knew, allowed no one to see past the cool gambler's facade. Perhaps, the fact Adam could see through it now was proof of how displaced he was.

"How old are you?" Ezra found himself asking, still trying to decide if this was a deception but then Luisa was a Betazoid. She had sent him here because she genuinely believed the boy needed his help. Of course, there was a way to prove this potential imposter's claim but before Ezra took that step, he had a few more questions. Actually, quite a few questions.

"Seventeen," Adam replied stiffly, wondering what his age had to do with anything. As it was, he was trying to understand why this version of Ezra Standish was staring at him with such incredulity.

"Seventeen?" Ezra exclaimed and once again, was faced with another impossibility. This couldn't be Adam Larabee. Someone was playing a trick on the Captain, a rather cruel trick that Ezra would be happy to punish by taking the sadistic bastard apart. Adam had been six years old when he and Sarah Larabee died in that shuttle accident five years ago. Even if the child had miraculously survived, which Ezra knew for a fact was untrue since the bodies were recovered, he would be eleven, not a teenager on the verge of becoming a man.

"Is there a problem?" Adam stared at him.

"You cannot be Adam Larabee," Ezra stated finally. "Adam Larabee is dead."

Adam fell back into his seat and understood the reason for the man's shock. He supposed if he was seeing Ezra Standish's double in front of him, it stood to reason there might also be a version of him in this strange place. A version who was now dead.

This was just too much.

Until he saw this man who looked like Ezra Standish and was a Security Chief of a starship no less, there had been an unreality to this situation. For the last week, it felt as if he were stumbling through a dream and would eventually wake up to find himself in his bunk on the Clarion, with his mom still alive. She would tell him he was dreaming and give him her reassuring smile that always made him better, whether he was seven or seventeen.

Mom always knew how to make him feel better. She would always tell him no matter how bad things were, someday, there would be an end to it. Except there was no end and she was now gone. Not just her, but Chanu, Casey, Josiah and all his friends. He was alone in this bizarre place and he wished he wasn't. He would have rather died with the rest of the Clarion and his mother then be alone like this.

"I shouldn't be here," Adam whispered. "I should never have let her send me here."

The admission was filled with such profound sorrow Ezra found it difficult to labor the point that Adam Larabee was dead. The young man in front of him appeared so lost, Luisa's plea for Ezra to help him, surfaced in the Security Chief's mind. There was no way this was Chris Larabee's son, Ezra had decided but there was a mystery here, he was determined to solve.

"Her?" Ezra asked, prompting him into speaking to gain more information so he could understand this young man's situation

"My mom," Adam replied, choosing to speak because he needed to. For the last week, he had been alone, recognizing nothing and no one and Ezra was the first familiar face he encountered.

"I should have died with her and the others. She was all I had, all I ever had. When I was little, I was terrified, she would get hurt. She was always leading some mission against the Cardies or the Klingons. As soon as I was old enough, I made her take me. She didn't want to, but I made her. If she was going to fight, then I was going to be there with her. As long as we were together, I didn't care if we died. She shouldn't have sent me here."

Listening to him disturbed Ezra. As impossible as all this was, he was convinced this wasn't a deception on the part of this young man because no one was that good an actor.

"Your mother is Sarah?" Ezra ventured to guess.

"Sarah died having me," Adam explained, feeling little connection to the woman he had no memory of. He supposed if this Ezra knew an Adam Larabee who lived and died in this crazy place, then it was logical he would know about Sarah too. "Mary was my mom. She smuggled me out of the camps when Sarah died and raised me."

Mary? Camps? Ezra's eyes widened, wondering what dystopian hell this boy had come from when all of a sudden, the answer came to him like a bolt of lightning. Camps. Cardassians, Klingons, doppelgangers...suddenly, it all fell into place in Ezra's mind.

When Alexandra Styles had first come on board the Maverick, Ezra was curious about what had happened to her during her captivity with the Cardassians. His investigations led him to review the mission logs of Deep Space Nine where Alex was stationed at the time. One of the logs he encountered was deemed classified, requiring command level authorization of Captain or higher to access. Naturally, Ezra had taken this as a personal challenge and hacked the system to peruse the restricted material.

The log revealed Captain Benjamin Sisko's experience with an alternate dimension where the Federation did not exist, and the Alpha Quadrant was ruled by a Klingon-Cardassian Alliance. During the encounter, Sisko reported meeting alternate versions of people he knew including himself, who were fighting to overthrow oppression by leading a rebellion against the Alliance. If this boy had come from that world, then it was very possible, he was indeed Adam Larabee. It would explain how an alternate version of Mary Travis, could have raised him.

"What about your father?" Ezra was compelled to ask. The boy's attachment to his mother was very reminiscent of his own feelings towards Maude when he was younger before experience taught him it was best to always have a dozen star systems between them for the sake of his sanity. However, in his youth, Maude had been his world because there was no one else and he suspected, the same might have been the case for Adam.

"Never met him," Adam shrugged, confirming Ezra's unspoken thought. "He died before I was born. Mom told me he was killed in a Klingon attack."

Ezra eased back into his chair, wondering how he was going to deal with this. Even if this boy wasn't the child his captain had lost, Ezra knew exactly how the man was going to react to the existence of this Adam. While Ezra couldn't prevent the emotional turmoil, Chris Larabee was undoubtedly going to endure once this was brought to him, the Security Chief was going to make sure he eased Chris's burden by having the answers to his captain's questions.

"You said your mother sent you here," Ezra questioned. "How?

"She used some type of device on the transporter before she sent me through," Adam dug into his jacket pocket and produced the odd device his mom had given him in their last moments together on the Clarion. He didn't understand why but supposed she might have done it to ensure the Romulans didn't get their hands on the tech, in the event the self-destruct failed, and they were captured alive. The horror of that was more than he could stand, and Adam tried not to linger on the possibility his mom was alive in the hands of the enemy and he was trapped here, unable to help her.

Placing the device on the table, he wondered if this version of Ezra might know how to use the thing to get him back to where he belonged.

"May I?" Ezra asked, staring at the device intrigued by what it was because he did not recognize it at all.

"Go ahead," Adam shrugged indifferently. "I don't know what it is."

Picking up the hand-sized cylindrical device, he studied it for a moment and saw some elements that might be related to a transporter remote, but the rest of it seemed alien to him.

"Fortunately," he said with a little smile as he continued to study it, "I do know an engineer."

******

With Nathan Jackson and Rain still vacationing on Trill, Ezra could not rely on the doctor to conduct the genetic testing he needed to confirm Adam's identity. While he was convinced the results of any DNA testing would prove conclusively the boy was indeed the genetic pairing of Chris and Sarah Larabee, Ezra preferred his conjectures to be proven by real data. Ezra had developed a friendship with Dr Katherine Pulaski, the CMO of DS5 over the last year, during the occasions when he had to deal with over indulgent Maverick crew members, who injured themselves during shore leave.

"Why are we doing this?" Adam asked Ezra, seeing no value in this trip to the station's medical facilities. As it was, he was trying to decide whether he was insane or not for trusting Ezra Standish, a man he knew from his world, to be an amoral opportunist who collected favors and was reputed to have sold out his own mother to the Cardassians.

"Because I may have some idea of where you have originated from and if you wish to return, we will need proof to gain the assistance of those who can help you do that." Ezra noting that despite Adam's maturity, he still had the impatience of youth. In truth, Ezra knew when Chris Larabee learned of Adam's existence, he would want to see proof of their relationship and it would confirm Ezra's belief this young man was indeed from an alternate universe.

"Everything is so new here," Adam remarked as he entered the place and took note of the state-of-the-art technology. Everything in this world seemed to gleam with newness that seemed alien to him. "Back home, stuff is old and scavenged, mostly from Klingon-Cardassian discards. We retrofit any tech we can get our hands on."

"We try to keep everything up to date here," Katherine Pulaski had emerged from her office at the sight of the new arrivals and caught the tail end of Adam's statement. It was mid-afternoon and with the exception of one Bolian, who was getting a cut looked at by one of her nurses at the treatment end of the room, it was a relatively quiet day.

"Hello there Ezra, who's your friend?"

"Hello Katherine," Ezra greeted the doctor who sometimes came on board the Maverick to participate in his Friday night poker games when the ship was in port. "It is good to see you again. This is Adam. We seem to be having some difficulty locating his family who may be Starfleet personnel. I wondered if you could conduct a DNA test for me."

" You need a better poker face Ezra," Katherine remarked, having played enough games of chance to see there was more than that going on but had the sense not to pry. She was familiar enough with the Security Chief to know he would not make such requests lightly. If he was coming to her instead of waiting for Nathan Jackson to return from shore leave, then this was important.

"I am simply lulling you into a fall sense of security," Ezra quipped, wondering if he knew he had intentionally allowed her to see through his mask, to understand the importance of what he was asking, not to mention the need for discretion.

Adam snorted as if once again, this was the kind of behavior to be expected from him. It made Ezra almost curious to know what this other Ezra Standish was like in the alternate universe.

"Well the kid's got you pegged," Katherine smiled at Adam. "Come this way," she led him to one of the empty beds in the room. "This won't take long."

"I'll be back shortly," Ezra told Adam as he retreated toward the Sick Bay doors. "I've got someone to meet."

"I'm not going anywhere," Adam shrugged. The brief vulnerability he displayed earlier was all but now scabbed over and once again, the young resistance fighter who had never known a day of peace was back again. The pain was buried away from everyone's eyes. In that way at least, he was like Chris Larabee.

******

Chief Engineer Julia Pemberton was not eager to leave the other great love of her life so soon after returning to it. Of course, she never told Ezra Standish this because he was a man and they could be so jealous about the stupidest things. Once she mentioned she found Buck Wilmington cute, (well he was, she wasn't blind for goodness sake!), and Ezra had gone into conniptions about it, so she had no idea how he'd take her love affair with the Maverick. She couldn't help it, the Maverick was the first ship she served as Chief Engineer, and you always remembered your first.

Still, when Ezra asked her to meet him on DS5, she was unable to refuse him. Julia knew he was staying around the station even though there was little for him to do, just so he could be with her while she conducted repairs on the Maverick. For such a cynical, jaded man, he could be downright romantic and sweet. Besides, there was something about his voice when he made the request that sounded important, so she allowed herself a break of a few hours, to beam over to see him.

Materializing on the same deck as Sick Bay, where he told her he would be, Julia hoped he had not gotten hurt because if he was, she would have expected to have been told immediately. That was in the relationship rules Julia read in a recent article, in some Earther magazine �How to know if your Relationship is in Trouble.'

"Ezra!" She sighted him first along the busy promenade a little further down the ways from Sick Bay. He was still in civilian clothes and all his limbs were intact, so she guessed he didn't need the services of a doctor after all.

"Julia," Ezra broke into a dimpled smile, unable to keep himself from beaming whenever he saw the titian-haired goddess that ruled his world, with her charming disposition and peaches and cream skin.

They met each other with a quick affectionate kiss before Ezra wrapped an arm around her waist, not caring if she was in a Starfleet uniform and they were being observed by passers-by for their little display.

"I'm sorry to pull you from your duties, my dear," he said leading her back towards Sick Bay, "but I have encountered a situation and I need your expertise."

"Well when you sweet talk me like that, how can I refuse?" She winked, glad to have taken the time to catch up with him, even for a little while.

"My dear, I will shower you in gossamer kisses and a thousand and one delights when you finish for the day," he smiled at her, always in awe how her delightful smile could aim sunshine into his cynical soul. "However, for now, I was wondering if you could take a look at this."

He produced the device Adam had entrusted him with and handed it to Julia. The Chief Engineer studied it, her brow furrowing in that utterly endearing way, Ezra found, when she encountered something challenging. "Where did it come from?"

"I acquired it from a young man who claims it was used on the transporter controls, prior to beam out. I believed it might have changed the parameters of the transport somehow."

Julia's eyes widened at that and she looked at Ezra. "Change the parameters of transport? To what end?" The idea was horrifying. Playing around with pattern configuration was courting catastrophe. If Transporter Chief Rain ever caught anyone doing that, they would earn a one-way transport to the Captain's Ready Room, in the nude no less, to explain themselves.

A threat the Captain had ordered Rain to stop making, Julia was told.

Ezra stiffened, uncertain whether or not to tell Julia what he suspected but then supposed she could not make her evaluation of the device without all the information. "Dimensional transport."

Julia shot him a look. "Dimensional transport?"

At that revelation, her eyes returned to the tech and her scrutiny of it deepened as he led her towards the doors of Sick Bay, which were now in sight. For a few minutes, she said nothing, turning it about in her hands, opening the casing and studying the intricate circuitry within. He suspected by the time they stepped through the doors, she would have an answer.

She did not disappoint

"If I'm not mistaken," she said as they paused a moment before entering the facility. "This device contains an interphasic quantum converter, specifically designed to modify the frequency of annular confinement beams. If I didn't know better, I'd say it resembled the C'Kaia's phase cloaks, but this is more refined. Some of the circuitry is burnt out though."

"So, in other words, if one were to utilize such a device on a standard transporter, it may be able to alter the annular confinement beam to send someone out of dimensional phase?"

"Yes," Julia nodded, "potentially."

"Charming," Ezra shook his head as the doors to Sick Bay opened and they stepped through.

No sooner than they had entered the room, Katherine crossed the floor to greet them. Adam was occupied watching the nurse treating the Bolian, seemingly fascinated by the tools she was using to repair the alien's luminescent skin.

"What the hell is going on?" She demanded, her eyes blazing with disbelief and some annoyance. No doubt, she had just arrived at the conclusion Ezra was expecting her to reach, about Adam's origins. "These results are impossible Chief."

"What's going on?" Julia asked.

"Ezra here asked me to do a DNA test on that young man over there," Katherine regarded Adam. "I did as you asked, I ran a search in our medical database and it came back with a 100 per cent match with your Captain and his dead wife."

Julia's jaw dropped open in astonishment. "That's impossible. The captain had only one child."

"He did and that young man over is a 100% match for Adam Larabee."

"Oh my God," Julia turned to the teenager who glanced their way briefly, as if expecting their shock and like Ezra, Julia was struck by those icy blue eyes. "How is that possible?"

"There's no possibility of error?" Ezra asked. "Gene manipulation or some attempt at deception?" You are absolutely certain?" It was a moot point, but Ezra felt compelled to ask.

Katherine bristled, about to ask Ezra who did he think he was dealing with before she calmed herself, realizing he had to ask. She had enough experience with Security Chiefs in the past to know their habits.

"I ran his sample against Captain Larabee's and what was on record for his wife, independent of the existing DNA sample for Adam Larabee when he passed away five years ago. They are both identical. In every way possible, that young man over there is Chris Larabee's son. Now, will you tell me how this is possible?"

"Katherine, I cannot confirm for certain how," Ezra replied quietly, realizing his course was clear, no matter how much this was going to affect Chris Larabee. "But before I do anything else, I need to tell the Captain."

God only knew how the man was going to take it.

******

It had been a good night.

They had dinner outside on the back patio of the house where the barbecue was situated, just two couples enjoying a starry night, with a view of the night sky that was rare when one was planetside. Light pollution tended to take the glitter off the stars, Chris found but in Texas, on this ranch far from the nearest big town, they were afforded a view of the sky, normally seen only from the bridge of a starship.

Chris climbed into bed, enjoying a nice little buzz from the bottle of single malt whiskey he and Vin had shared, once the girls had turned in for the night. Tomorrow, Billy would be back from camping and he and Vin had promised to take him for a last ride throughout the property before they had to head back to the Maverick. As much as both men would have liked to have gotten pissed down drunk with a great bottle of whiskey, they knew from experience, the hangover would be brutal the next day. Especially without Nathan around to prescribe them a quick fix remedy.

A nice breeze was blowing through the open window and Chris lay on his side, falling asleep to the sway of the curtains when suddenly, he heard Vin's voice through the door.

"Pard, you got a call. It sounds important."

Chris got out of bed quickly, assuming it was Starfleet with some important information about the Maverick and immediately regretted it. Single malt whiskey was not to be trifled with and he swayed a little when he stood up too quickly. Grabbing his pants, Chris tried to slip on the garment without tripping over himself as he walked across the wooden floor, wondering if something had happened to the Maverick or one of his crew. In any case, by the time he reached the door, he was fully alert, even if his clarity was swimming upstream against the whiskey.

Vin was in a similar state of dress, clad only in the bottom half of his sweats. He looked in slightly better condition than Chris, and the human cursed a thousand ills on his best friend for his Vulcan constitution.

"It's Ezra," Vin stated as they headed towards the study, where the ranch's com station was located.

"Yeah," Vin rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. "Apparently, he patched through from DS5 using Starfleet's priority com channels, instead of just standard subspace. What do you think it is?"

"I have no idea," Chris said genuinely mystified. "I mean if it's the ship, Starfleet Command would have contacted me right away."

"That's what I figured."

A short time later, Chris found himself in front of the small view screen on the com station, facing Ezra Standish who apparently was still at Deep Space Five. Vin had withdrawn to give him some privacy and Chris was bracing himself for some terrible news regarding one of his crew. Someone has died or worse. The possibilities flashed in his mind.

"Ezra," Chris said, staring at the man across subspace. Even through the screen, Ezra's expression seemed grave. What the hell had happened?

"Captain," Ezra began slowly. "I am sorry to bother you on your furlough, but I encountered something today I feel I must in good conscience tell you."

"Ezra," Chris stiffened, having no patience with the man's verbosity right now. "It's in the middle of the night, I've drunk too much, and you've used a priority channel to get my attention. What the hell is it?"

Ezra told him.

Chris was on a ship back to Deep Space Five within the hour.

Chapter Three: Meetings

Chris couldn't stop staring at him.

The boy was sitting by himself at a table in Four Corners, drinking in the sight of Deep Space Five, while nursing a mug of something hot with tendrils of steam rising into the air. For a stretch of time that could have been an eternity, for all Chris Larabee knew, he simply stood there staring at the young man, trying to calm the pounding beat of his heart.

Time slowed around the Captain of the Maverick, with the voices offering him greeting and those engaged in conversation elsewhere, bleeding out of his consciousness. They became distant white noise he barely noticed because there was only one thing he could see with his icy blue eyes. Memories he tried so hard to suppress these five years, created fissures in the walls of his control, threatening to spill forth in a deluge that would break him in half.

Keeping them confined in the fortress inside him was the only way he knew how to survive, to be able to live with the anguish of losing his family. Even then the pain changed him forever. It rewrote his being from that terrible day, leaving him scarred, no matter how much he thought he might have moved on. All it took was a little snippet of memory, a moment between him and Sarah, something Adam liked to do, or the way the light sometimes caught a woman's dark hair and it would bring it all back again. The despair and the anguish of knowing they were gone.

Even after Ezra Standish finally revealed the reason for his call, Chris hadn't been ready to believe his Chief of Security. It all seemed too incredible. Of course, he knew about the existence of the alternate universe. A wealth of information had become available to him when he achieved the rank of Captain and Chris had poured over the logs of his forebears and contemporaries with interest. He knew about the other dimension James Kirk and Benjamin Sisko travelled to, where they encountered alternate versions of themselves, in a twisted and cruel reality. Reading those logs and revisiting them on route to Deep Space Five hadn't changed how fantastic the tale was, even with what Chris was facing.

None of it felt real to him because confirmation could only come one way in this matter. He had to see the boy for himself and now that he had, all he could see was Sarah.

Chris could see her in the line of the boy's jaw, the cut of his cheekbones, the curve of his mouth and even in the color of his hair. Chris remembered the nights making love to Sarah, running his fingers through those dark brown locks. Not to mention, the first time he held Adam in his hands, this tiny pink thing that changed his entire world, he had seen everything beautiful in her in that small, innocent face.

The only thing Adam had inherited from him was, of course, the eyes. The same eyes staring through the window right now.

This wasn't Adam, Chris told himself.

He wasn't so enamored by the idea of having his son back, he could make that mistake. His Adam was dead. He died with Sarah on that shuttle five years ago. Yet seeing this version of Adam, made his heart ached with emotion because he was still Adam. Through some miracle of infinite dimensions, Adam was here, alive and it didn't matter one goddamn bit to Chris Larabee if he was not the child he buried.

This was still his son.

******

It had taken two days for Chris to get back to DS5 from Earth. Sensing the precarious state of his best friend's mind, Vin Tanner offered to return with him, ignoring any protestations with a shrug of his shoulders and his usual stoic determination. With Billy away on his camping trip, Mary could not make the journey with him and in truth, Chris wasn't sure he wanted her to. He knew his state of mind right now and while Vin was more than capable of tolerating him at his surliest best, Chris didn't want to inflict that on Mary. In the end, they agreed she would return home on the USS Titan with Alex, as planned.

He had left barely noticing her warm kiss because his mind was gripped in utter shock and turmoil.

Telling Ezra to keep the boy within reach, he authorized the Security Chief to invite Adam on board the Maverick. While the ship was still in need of major structural repairs after its engagement with four Romulan warbirds a month earlier, she was more than capable of providing comfortable accommodation to a teenager as well as her crew.

In trying to reach DS5, Chris learned that the USS Lexington was bringing emergency relief supplies to the Romulan refugee center of Aurillac, along the former Neutral Zone. It would be travelling there at Warp 9 and would reach its destination in less than two days. Captained by Frank Riley, an old acquaintance from his first posting in Betazed, Chris secured passage for himself and Vin to leave Earth within an hour of Ezra's message. Riley had been happy to give them a lift and upon realizing the reason for the urgency, loaned them the use of one of his roundabouts when the Lexington reached Aurillac.

Upon arriving on the Maverick, Chris gave himself just enough time to grab a shower and a fresh uniform before he went to find Adam.

******

"Enjoying the view?"

The boy looked up from the hot chocolate he was drinking and appeared startled at the sight of him when Chris finally summed up the nerve to approach. Once again, Chris felt his heart clench so hard in his chest, it almost made his head swim. Pulling himself together, Chris resolved to use the same poker face he wore when he was facing Dominion fleets and Romulan dictators. This situation could be as overwhelming for the boy as it was for him and Chris knew he had to handle it delicately.

"Yeah," Adam recovered quickly once he realized who he was talking to. "I can see why you'd put a bar here."

Chris saw something flash in his eyes but made no comment on it, choosing instead to stick to the script he set himself for this meeting, keeping things casual for the moment. "It's the best view in the house."

It stung the boy didn't recognize him in the slightest, before Chris reminded himself, this version of Adam had never met his father. In his world, it was Chris Larabee who left him, not the other way around. Knowing any version of Adam Larabee raised without a father, filled Chris with a sense of outrage he kept carefully hidden.

"I've never been on a ship with a bar," Adam replied, trying not to stare and chose instead to steal glances from his cup of hot chocolate. Noticing the man had not simply sat down uninvited, Adam was grateful for the respect given to his privacy and felt a little bit more comfortable in his presence. "Would you like to sit down?"

"Thank you," Chris lowered himself into the chair across from Adam, maintaining his attempt to appear relaxed when he felt anything but that. Christ, he needed a drink for this. Flagging down a passing server, Chris ordered himself a drink and made it clear he wanted a glass of whiskey that was not some synthehol substitute. For this meeting, he needed the real thing.

"You're Adam," he stated once the server headed back to the bar.

"That's me," he shrugged like any other teenager, "and you're the Captain."

"Yes," Chris was taken back at that, aware for Adam, Starfleet and everything around him, was new. "How did you know?"

"You got more things on your collar than anyone else I've seen on this ship since coming aboard," Adam said with a little smile. "Besides, I know how a commanding officer sounds."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Chris returned his smile with one of his own. "You're right, I'm the Captain. Welcome aboard the Maverick."

Chris noted the boy staring at him a little strangely at the introduction but said nothing. How much had Ezra told him? The Security Chief had assured Chris he revealed nothing about Chris's relationship to Adam, preferring to leave that to the Captain to deal with himself.

"This ship is pretty amazing," Adam complimented, letting his gaze run over the ceiling and then across the breadth of Four Corners. "I've never seen one this big that wasn't a Rommie warbird. Even when we were fighting the Cardies and Klingons, their battlecruisers weren't this size. Then again, next to our ship, everything was bigger. My mom's ship," he faltered for a moment, feeling a surge of pain, remembering she was gone and the longing for her, especially now was acute. Unaware he was displaying the same trait as the man across him, Adam crushed the pain away and continued speaking. "My mom's ship was a lot smaller, but we could hide better that way."

His mom, who was not Sarah but Mary. Chris's mind still reeled at that. Once again, Chris was glad Mary had chosen not to accompany him back to DS5. For a boy who just lost his mother, seeing Mary was going to be a gut punch and Chris wanted to prepare him for that meeting well before she arrived here. Still, he had to wonder about this other Mary Travis, how she had come to raise Sarah's child and still manage to command a ship.

"That's true," he agreed, struggling to stay neutral. "You spend much time on ships?"

"Yeah," Adam nodded, "since I joined the Resistance when I was fourteen."

Fourteen? This boy had been a resistance fighter since he was fourteen? Chris felt somewhat horrified by this and wanted to ask the Mary who raised Adam what she was thinking when he realized this Adam's world was a far more savage place than the one he now found himself. He had grown up in a place where the Alpha Quadrant was dominated by a Klingon-Cardassian Alliance, two races not known for their compassion or mercy, where humans were to be quarantined like pestilence.

"You served?" He asked, affording Adam the proper respect of a fellow soldier. No doubt Adam spoke about their enemies because he'd been there on the line and to Chris's mind, sounded a little like JD, now the polish of Starfleet Academy had dulled from the Ensign.

"Sort of. You gotta learn how to do everything when you're in the Resistance. At first, I mostly worked the navigation station, but my friend JD, before he joined the air wing group, taught me how to pilot, so I sometimes sit at the helm when I'm needed."

Chris blinked in surprise. "JD?"

"Yeah," Adam nodded. "He's a few years older than me but we grew up together at our camp in Ceti Alpha. When he was old enough to join the fighting, he served on mom's ship at the helm." The captain's surprise was puzzling, considering JD was just one of those people he was never going to see again.

Chris shook his head, trying to wrap his mind around the incongruities of an alternate universe but chose not to comment, allowing Adam to continue.

"My mom says my dad used to be a pilot too. I never met him because he died before I was born. He must have been good at it because he still pissed off the Cardies even after he was killed. It's why they hunted my real mother and locked her up in the Terran camp on Sol."

For the first time, Adam met his gaze directly and Chris felt his gut churn, suspecting he might not be a stranger to the boy after all.

Adam reached past the collar of his shirt, to pull into view, a length of dark cord that could have been leather, with a gold band threaded through it. "This was his. It's all I've got left of any of them."

Suddenly, Chris saw the cool mask Adam had been trying to maintain, waver and the pain revealed was grief Chris knew all too well. It took every ounce of willpower he possessed, not to hug Adam and tell him everything was going to be okay, He wasn't alone. That somehow in this impossible situation, they had found each other.

"I'm sorry," Chris offered weakly.

"It's okay," Adam shrugged, wiping away the moisture he felt in his eyes with one hand, before returning his attention to the ring he was holding up for Chris to see. "Maybe you should try it on for size, Captain Larabee."

Somehow Chris wasn't surprised by the revelation and asked quietly, "You know?"

"It wasn't hard to figure out," Adam shrugged his shoulders, very much like the teenager he was. "The way the doctor was freaking out and how the Chief reacted to me the first time we met, I figured something was up. When he invited me on this ship, I guessed there was more going on, and the first time, I introduced myself, I saw the reaction of the crew. From there, it didn't take long to get them to start talking."

He paused a moment to catch his breath before he spoke again. "I'm not your son."

"I know," Chris nodded. "And I'm not your father."

Although secretly, Chris wanted very much to be. No matter what he told himself, no matter how insane it was, he wanted this boy in his life. He wanted to keep this Adam close, now more than ever after hearing this boy's life experiences.

"This is messed up," Adam declared, uncertain of what to feel or do for that matter. "Until today, I didn't even know what my dad looked like. There were no pictures. Mom told me what she knew, which wasn't much. I only know you...I mean he, fought with the Resistance and was killed. Now you're here and I finally know what he looks like, how he sounded and it's not the same."

Chris could share his sentiments. "I know how you feel," he said glad when the drink finally came, and the server retreated again. "My son died when he was six years old. I lost him and my wife in a shuttle accident." Even now, saying the words felt like sour bile in his throat. "There isn't a day that goes by when I don't miss them. Losing them both just about killed me and now here you are, Adam in every way, but you're a teenager, not a child. I'm going to be honest, I know about as much as you at how to deal with this situation."

Adam had so many questions, even if this man wasn't his father. This Chris Larabee was also a soldier, who from what he'd learned from the crew over the past two days, was a hell of a commander. Was he that different than the Chris Larabee who died fighting the Klingons and Cardassians? It led Adam to another question. Did his mom know this man was here? Is that why she was so insistent on sending him here? So, he'd finally have a father for the first time in his life?

"My mom sent me here, just before our ship blew up," Adam said to Chris. "She set the self-destruct and told me that she wanted me to come here, to get a better life."

That part Chris understood. If faced with death, his last act would be to ensure the safety of his family if they had been alive. He would have risked sending them to a universe which would have seemed utopian in comparison to the one where humanity had to fight for its very survival.

"We know that some people on your side, have crossed over," Chris explained, recalling the reports he read about the alternate dimension, not just the classified material Ezra managed to hack that Chris intended on having a long talk with him about later, but also the log reports of James Kirk and his encounter with the ISS Enterprise. How Kirk in typical fashion, had interfered enough to set off the sequence of events, leading to the future Adam had grown up in.

"Your mom used a multidimensional transporter device. Judging by what Julia said, she configured it to make sure it was a one-way trip. You said the ship was under attack?"

Adam nodded, thinking about the relentless chase by the scimitar class warbird, which resulted in stripping away every defense the Clarion had to avoid capture. "By the Firebrand. His ship."

The word �his' was spoken with such coldness and hatred, Chris suddenly understood why the Larabee glare made people flinch when he saw Adam employ it the same purpose towards this unknown enemy.

"His ship?" Chris had to ask after seeing the venom in the boy's gaze. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Vin and Ezra stepping into Four Corners, no doubt here to seek him out and offer moral support if necessary.

"Yeah, the Commander of the Tal Shiar," Adam explained bitterly. "He was responsible for hunting us down. We've lost a lot of ships because of him and we have standing orders for self-destruct if there was ever a chance of being captured by him."

That sounded extreme, Chris thought but then again, the Tal Shiar when it existed, had ruthless and efficient forms of interrogation, guarantee to extract information from its victims. A rebel organization relying on secret informants, safe houses and installations, could not risk having that information exposed.

"We had the Tal Shiar here too," Chris replied. "They were brutal bastards."

"No, the order wasn't for the Tal Shiar," Adam clarified. "It was for the Commander himself. He's telepathic. He can go into your head and just rip out what he wants."

"Romulans aren't telepathic," Chris puzzled at that. True, when they left Vulcan during the Time of Awakening, there were some among them who were telepathic but there was a horrifying story, that the new Romulan society abhorred the trait and killed anyone exhibiting it. Eventually, it was bred out of the race entirely.

"The Commander of the Tal Shiar isn't Romulan," Chris heard Adam say as he waved Ezra and Vin over to their table. "He's Vulcan. Intelligence reports claim the Romulans found him on a planet on the Rim when he was just a kid. His parents crashed their ship there and died, leaving him alone. Supposedly, he was found by some Romulan big shot who took him back to Romulus and raised him as his own."

Chris suddenly realized this story sounded oddly familiar...

"Captain," Ezra greeted when he and Vin reached their table. "I see you have met our young Mr Larabee."

Chris never got a chance to answer because the instant the boy laid eyes on Vin, he jumped to his feet and went for the sidearm Chris didn't even know he had and aimed it at Vin.

"ADAM! STOP!" Chris shouted as he saw Adam prepared to shoot Vin Tanner at point blank range. The young man's eyes were wide with nothing less than terror.

Vin found himself staring down the barrel of a weapon, bewildered by the extreme response, looking to Chris for an explanation. Around them, the rest of the crew jumped to their feet, reacting to the situation with audible gasps of shock and putting in a call to the limited security forces on board the Maverick at this time.

"IT'S HIM!" Adam's response to that face was so instinctive, there was no time to examine the logic of the situation. All he knew was he had the drop on the son of a bitch and he was going to put the man down before he harmed anyone else.

"Who?" Ezra asked blankly, wondering what it was the boy was seeing that warranted the look of pure terror he was seeing.

"Kid take it easy," Vin tried to diffuse the situation and make the young man understand this was a case of mistaken identity.

"The hell I will!" Adam snapped, and all three men thought instinctively, even from an alternate universe, this was definitely Chris Larabee's son.

"Adam stop," Chris placed himself in between the barrel of the weapon and Vin. "Calm down," he used the same tone talking down new ensigns with panic attacks. "This isn't who you think"

"Who does he think I am?" Vin had to ask, not liking it one-bit Chris had stepped in front of him like that.

"You're Svinak! You're the head of the Tal Shiar! You're the reason my mom blew the ship, so they wouldn't get captured! You're the reason why they're all DEAD!"

******

Ezra, how the hell could you let him keep that weapon?" Chris demanded a short time later in his Ready Room.

"Captain," Ezra gave him a look. "Do you honestly think I would allow that young man on board with a weapon? I made certain the firing crystal was deactivated during transport to the Maverick. I would not in good conscience allow a teenager loose with a gun on the ship. Besides, he has displayed no aberrant behavior since coming on board. Furthermore, he seems much attached to his belongings from the other dimension. I suppose if Counsellor Sanchez were here, he would claim such items are a security blanket. I had no wish to take that from him when he is traumatized enough about finding himself displaced."

"I'm sorry Ezra," Chris apologized, feeling a little guilty because he should have known better. Ezra was too good at his job to not neutralize any potential danger. "His reaction took me a little by surprise. He was so damn scared."

"Can't say I blame him," Vin spoke up, trying to wrap his brain around the idea that in a different universe, there was a version of him who was evil incarnate. "I ain't too thrilled to know there's another me who turns people's brains into Swiss cheese."

"Nicely put, Lieutenant Tanner," Ezra winced at the description. "However, if he is correct and your counterpart in his universe is the head of the Tal Shiar, with full command of his Vulcan telepathic abilities and Romulan ruthlessness, he has good reason to fear."

"Precisely," Chris nodded. "It's no wonder why all the Resistance ships have a self-destruct order to avoid getting captured by him. If they get captured alive..."

"This Svinak will use the ability to meld as quite a useful interrogation tool," Ezra concluded.

"I don't consider mind raping anyone a useful tool Ezra," Vin growled, wondering if this counterpart knew what an act of violation, he was committing by employing his abilities that way. Even if Vin was not following Surak's disciplines, he found it offensive to think his counterpart would be so amoral.

"Take it easy Vin," Chris sighed, understanding his revulsion. "Look, Adam's been through a lot. He's lost his mother, all his friends and the only world he's ever known because of this �other' you. I'm sure once he figures out that you're Vin Tanner and not this Svinak, he'll calm down."

At least Chris hoped he would.

Chapter Four: Svinak

"Adam?"

Chris called out when he entered Adam's assigned quarters after the altercation in Four Corners, a short time later. Adam was in front of the computer workstation, eyes fixed on whatever information he was scrolling through, giving Chris a brief glance upon his entry. The glow of the screen flashed dully against his smooth skin and the light allowed Chris to see he had been crying a little. Chris's heart sank at that, wishing he knew the boy well enough to offer comfort but could not. Right now, they were both ciphers to each other, connected by an interdimensional breach.

"I'm sorry," Adam apologized, unable to meet Chris's gaze from the shame of what he had almost done. Since meeting Ezra Standish, Adam was offered nothing but friendship and kindness, all of which he repaid by behaving like a terrified kid. Worst of all, in front of the man who was this world's version of the father he never knew. "I didn't mean to lose my head like that."

"It's okay," Chris assured him, seeing his embarrassment. "Considering what you told me about this Svinak, I understand, and Vin does too."

Adam stiffened at the mention of Vin, unable to process how Svinak of the Tal Shiar could exist in this world and be so far removed from the soulless creature, whose hunt for Resistance members had seen their numbers virtually decimated.

"Why is he here?" Adam couldn't help but ask, fighting the hostility in his voice. "Why isn't he with other Vulcans or on a Vulcan ship?" As it was, Adam remembered how Vin Tanner had looked, now that he was calmer. The man wore his hair long, wore the same uniform as his ... the Captain, he decided for now. "Why does he look human?"

"Vin was raised by humans," Chris explained approaching the desk cautiously, the way one might approach a nervous animal. "His history is pretty similar to what you told me about this Svinak being found by Romulans. In Vin's case, he was found by humans. On the way back from that crashed ship, they themselves were marooned on an uninhabited planet for twelve years. He's been raised human, there's no Vulcan in him at all. As it stands, we just got back from his family ranch in Texas."

Adam looked at Chris blankly. "I don't know where that is."

"Texas," Chris blinked. "On Earth."

"Oh," Adam looked away from the screen and shrugged, absorbing what Chris had mentioned about Vin. Is that all it took to make the difference, for Vin Tanner to keep from becoming a monster, being raised by humans? It boggled the mind. "I've never been to Earth."

Once again, Chris bristled at the life this boy had led, having no connection to the planet of his birth, with the milestones of his life measured by how quickly he could join the fight or acquire some new skill for the purpose. Had he even gone to school? Played a game of catch or simply been allowed to be a child? No fourteen-year-old had any business being on a starship in a time of war. Chris thought of that other world and wondered if James Kirk had done a kindness by offering Spock his advice or had he doomed his entire species? If Mary were here, she would be quoting the Prime Directive to him by now and reminding him how even the best of intentions could cause events to go horrifically wrong.

"Maybe we can go," Chris offered. "We don't have to stay on the ship. I have time."

It was true, he did. It would be another month before the Maverick could leave DS5's space dock and if Chris summoned Buck from the seven levels of debauchery the man was enjoying on Risa, his old friend would be here in a second to cover his absence. Especially if Buck knew the reason for it.

Adam shook his head and met Chris's eyes. "I don't belong here, Captain."

Yes, you do, Chris thought silently. You belong with me, where I can take care of you. I can give you what I couldn't give Adam.

More than anything Chris wished Josiah was here. The Counsellor was at present visiting with his daughters in Sol and was not due back for another week. Josiah would know what to say. Hell, even Buck would know. Chris was never good with this sort of thing, but he just knew he had to reach Adam because he couldn't stand to see the profound loss on the kid's face. It felt as sharp as when he used to see Adam cry from a scraped knee after a fall. Except the wounds now were so deep, he was seventeen years too late to do anything about them.

"Adam, I know it's hard being here," Chris tried to reach him anyway. "Everything here must seem bizarre, almost overwhelming in comparison to where you came from but you're not alone in this. I'm here and I'll help you get through this. You said your mother sent you here because she wanted something better for you. She was right, you can have a good life here. In fact, you can do anything you want here."

"I feel wrong," Adam confessed, looking up at Chris with an anguished expression, the pain deepening at the mention of his mother. "I don't understand how anything works. People I think are enemies, aren't any more. Your friend Vin," Adam paused, unable to even bring himself to say the man's name without thinking about Svinak. "I was going to kill him. I still want to kill him because all I see is Svinak."

"Yeah he's not too thrilled about that either," Chris agreed, scratching the back of his neck. "I know this doesn't mean anything to you, but Vin is someone I trust with my life. He's saved my ass more times than I can remember and has been a good and loyal friend for as long as I've known him."

"I understand," Adam nodded, even if the whole thing felt insane to him. "But this just proves my point I don't belong here. I could end up hurting someone because of what I remember from where I came from. This time it was Vin, the next time it could be someone else. You don't need me to mess things up for you."

Chris closed the distance then, unable to stand seeing Adam twisting into knots without doing anything about it. Looking down at the teenager, still sitting at the desk, reading about Zefram Cochran's first meeting with the Vulcans. Reaching out, he placed a hand on Adam's cheek. The teenager flinched a little at the contact, uncertain at how to take the gesture but didn't pull away. At that moment, Chris saw all the calluses he acquired during his young life falling away and beneath it all was a frightened boy, revealing his fear and loneliness.

"Listen to me," Chris said firmly. "I know I'm not your father, but I won't lie, I feel like I am and because of that, I won't let anything happen to you. I promise you, Adam, you are not alone here. You will never be alone here; do you hear me? Not ever."

With a deep breath, he gave Adam something else, something more tangible than the promises made by a stranger he just met today. Chris hoped Mary understood the position he was about to place her in, but he knew the woman he loved and believed it was an action she would have approved if she were here right now.

"Adam, Mary Travis is alive here."

The reaction was immediate. "Mom's here?"

Chris sighed and repeated himself because this part needed to be made clear before all else. "No, Mary Travis is here. She's the protocol officer on this ship."

"Oh," Adam's expression was crestfallen as it dawned on him what Chris was saying. "She won't know me."

"No, she won't." Chris would not lie to him about that, but Chris couldn't imagine Mary not being able to open her heart to Adam, not when she saw how much pain he was in. Her capacity for love and kindness left Chris in awe and sometimes wondered how she managed to remain that way after years of being a Vulcan wife. If the Mary Travis who raised Adam was anything like her, Chris could understand why Adam was so devastated by the loss. "But I know her pretty well and I think she'll be pleased to meet you. Trust me when I say, the both of us will be here for you Adam."

And with that, Adam shed the loneliness he kept at bay since he arrived in this world because shock and unfamiliarity of all things around him, kept it from him. For the first time, he had a sense maybe things could work out and felt the connection to the man who promised to make it happen.

******

THE MIRROR UNIVERSE

"If there is anything I abhor more than weakness, it is inconsistency."

Mary Travis said nothing as she knelt on the floor of the interrogation room on board the Firebrand, her face unrecognizable after enduring the brutality of her interrogators. She could, barely able to see through the swelling around her eyes to make out his face clearly. Her creamy skin was discolored and broken, with lines of red, blue, and purple running smears and streaks in uneven patches across her cheeks and jaw.

Her silence hid the self-loathing she felt at this moment, cursing herself and the situation she and her crew presently found themselves by being outwitted by the Firebrand's commander. She had underestimated him, and he was making her pay for the mistake dearly. Since the day he had been installed as the Commander of the Tal Shiar, he had proven himself to be the bane of the Resistance. Not even the Klingon Regent and the Intendant of Bajor had been able to cause the damage this Vulcan managed to do.

When he demanded their surrender, Mary thought there was time to set the self-destruct and sent Adam to the other universe safely. However, he was astute enough to suspect she might make such an attempt with no other course left and with their shields down, what was to stop him from transporting her crew off the Clarion? Even while she was transporting Adam safely away, the bastard was beaming her crew right off her ship, leaving her last.

Now they were all on board the Firebrand, having been subjected to torture and the mind rape this Vulcan had no hesitation in committing. Mary knew his interrogation tactics well enough from the few spies who survived long enough to report his treatment of prisoners. The physical abuse was simply to weaken you because once they broke your body, he would go to work on the mind. It was why she was finally brought before him after a week of being tortured.

Because now he was ready to deal with her.

"When we scanned your ship prior to transport, we detected twenty-six life signs but there are only twenty-five prisoners." He spoke as he circled her, like a lion about to pounce as she was forced to kneel in the center of the interrogation room, with Romulan troopers flanking the doors and keeping a watchful eye on her. "Since your transporters do not have the range to reach the nearest star system which is Lysia, and we've conducted a thorough scan of the entire ship to know there isn't one of you hiding in the shadows, I must conclude either you vaporized your missing crewmen or you sent them on, utilizing a method of transportation unknown to us."

Oh God. The horror of what he was saying impacted on her like a physical blow as the full measure of her failure became apparent. This wasn't just a case of him getting his hands-on Resistance secrets, it was much worse than that. If he entered her mind and searched her memories, he wasn't just going to learn about the Resistance, he was going to learn about that other world she sent Adam. Worse yet, he might tell his Romulan masters about it and God only knew what would happen then.

When she and Buck planned this months ago, it had been so clear. Buck Wilmington loved Adam as much as she did. Chris Larabee had been his best friend and he promised to look after his widow and child, an oath he failed to keep because Sarah had been arrested before he could reach her. Buck and the Resistance had broken into that Cardassian prison to rescue Sarah, only to arrive too late to save the woman. In the end, all he could do was get Mary and little Adam out. It was Buck, who brought them to Ceti Alpha and hidden them in the Mutara Nebula.

For obvious reasons, he kept Adam at arm's length because the leader of the Terran Resistance could not have weaknesses. It was why she and Buck had kept their love affair hidden because if anyone knew he loved her, or for that matter Adam, it was a weakness that could be easily exploited. They kept it a secret while fighting the Klingons and Cardassians and thought they saw an end in sight until the Romulans arrived and those hopes became ashes.

It was at that point Mary knew she did not want Adam to spend his whole life trying to shake off the chains of Romulan oppression. The two of them decided to send Adam across to the other world, where there was safety and a chance of a future. There was tech to get him there, it just took time finding it. If Svinak learned about the Multidimensional transporter device, he could cross over to that world.

Out of sheer desperation, Mary leapt to her feet, while he was behind her and slammed into his body with her shoulder, hard enough to send him sprawling. Despite her hands being tied in front of her, she threw a kick, intending to land it on his sternum with enough force to do damage. She expected she would land no more than one or two strikes at the most, but it should be enough to prompt them into attacking. It was a desperate move and she expected to feel the burst of a disruptor to end everything in a surge of pain, but nothing happened.

Instead, he was on his feet faster than she anticipated and fully prepared for her attack when she came at him. An adept of Suus Mahna, an ancient form of Vulcan martial arts, he caught her leg when she kicked out. Clamping his hand around her ankle and twisting hard, Mary spun in mid-air before she was brought down hard against the steel deck. Pain radiated through her body and she uttered a soft groan as she lay against the floor, wishing to die.

He dropped to his haunches next to her and regarded her with amusement. "That was a commendable effort, Commander Travis. Unfortunately for you, my men know the penalties for disobeying my orders and they are very familiar with the one I have given about killing any of my prisoners before I have finished my interrogation."

Letting out a sob of frustration, Mary knew what was coming and was powerless to stop him.

Grabbing her by the back of her head, he fairly lifted her off the ground with one hand, forcing her to her feet. Fingers digging into her golden hair, he made her look into his face. Mary had never seen him this close before and thought absurdly how young he looked, even handsome. Unlike most Vulcans, his eyes weren't indigo but cobalt blue. They stared at her like icicle points. This was a face that could charm and yet did nothing but terrify her.

"You bastard," she hissed when she felt him press his fingertips to her cheek and her temple. Mary tried to pull back, but he was four times stronger than her and it was an exercise in futility. "Get your hands off me!"

"The more you struggle," he spoke in that too soft voice of his, "the more it will hurt. You will not stop what is going to happen Commander Travis, but you can make it easier on yourself if you do not resist."

"Go to hell!" She spat at him in fury but even as that final morsel of defiance surfaced, she could feel the cold tendrils seeping into her mind. Clamping her eyes shut, she tried to think of anything she could to distract him. She thought of that sun-kissed beach on Altair, where she'd run through the surf in her bare feet, her hair trailing behind her in a shimmer of gold, while her parents ran after her, laughing. It was the best memory of her childhood and she focused her thoughts singularly on it, clinging to every detail so he would get nothing else from her.

"How endearing," she heard his voice in her ear, or was it in her mind? "You are attempting to block me."

It was really, Svinak of Vulcan thought with a smile. They all tried to block him out when he performed the meld, but it never worked. They simply did not have the tools to do so and while some might have developed enough discipline to keep their thoughts ordered, it was never enough. His mental abilities, developing since childhood, usually smashed through such shields with ease. Having been taught to master his telepathic abilities from a slave who was a former Vulcan Master, he was able to navigate her primitive human brain with ease.

All he needed to do to shrug off her pathetic attempts to block him was to simply stimulate the pain receptors in her brain. Turning the cold tendrils swirling through her mind into jagged splinters of glass, he was satisfied when she started screaming. With the pain capturing her utmost attention, he was able to ride the stream of memory fragments to find the information he needed. It was a journey he had undertaken so many times before that his expertise in ferreting out the knowledge needed was surgical.

The most potent memories were of a child, not her own he realized, but the bond was still as strong. He saw the cherished memories of first steps taken, a smile from a crib, small fingers grasping her hand and knew this was what she was protecting so fiercely. There were other memories as well, almost as useful. He saw Wilmington and that made him smile with satisfaction. Wilmington and Mary were lovers. He had not known this. Svinak felt their bodies tangled in lusty heat, the brush of lips against the skin and the ecstasy of completion. He took a moment to enjoy the sensations, for he wasn't made entirely of stone, before moving onto the business at hand, finding the memory she was guarding so closely and was most terrified of him reaching.

Her fear surrounded it like a wall but Svinak had no trouble obliterating it and with it, most of her mind. The screaming stopped, and he felt the dull, curtain of catatonia descending over her mind like the final act of a play. With her psyche crumbling around him, he reached his prize and found it was worth her sanity to acquire.

A boy standing on a transporter pad while she was holding a device over the controls. What was it? Focusing on the device led to the memories around it and he more images flashed. She was seated across a familiar face, surrounded by colored light and people laughing, playing cards with the whirl of a Dabo wheel behind them. She was paying him in latinum, in exchange for an exchange of goods and services. The device had come from him, with the gold tooth and the dimpled smile of greed satiated. Svinak knew the face...Standish. The memory returned to the transporter once more and the device hovered over the controls, with numbers flashing across the panel, revealing configuration data.

Distantly, he heard Wilmington speaking.

"He'll be safe over there. If anything happens to us, he will live. He'll be away from the Romulans and the Resistance."

"I know Buck," she was weeping. "I don't want him to spend his whole life fighting to survive, I can't stand to see it any more. I want him safe."

And there it was, the truth the Resistance had managed to conceal quite spectacularly, now splayed open like a book. What he learned staggered him, the possibilities of infinite existences in infinite combination. The dark curtain over her mind was descending even faster now but it no longer mattered, he had found what he needed. Retreating from her mind, he was aware of the damage, but it was of little importance. One couldn't extract the information he required without some consequences. It was why Vulcans did not like to meld with other races, not because of their own discomfort but because it could be extremely unpleasant and dangerous for the undisciplined mind.

When he pulled out of her psyche and released her, she was no longer struggling. She stood before, upright only because her brain could give her body no other instruction. The cornea of her right eye was filling up with blood, but it was nothing he had not seen before. Its power to fascinate him or register it was no more. Frequency had made him apathetic to the final part of this interrogation process.

Her blue-grey eyes no longer saw him as he looked into her face. In fact, he doubted they saw anything at all. She was a beautiful woman, he had to admit and could almost understand Wilmington's affection. The memory of their lovemaking lingered in Svinak's mind and he wondered what it was like to lose himself in another person like that. Then he realized, he could never stand to be so weak.

Taking her face in his hands, Svinak had too much to do to waste any more time with the woman. Without a second thought, he performed the Tal-Shaya. Bone snapped quickly and sharply, causing her body to go limp in his hands. When he let go of her, she collapsed on the floor, the life gone from her for good.

"Centurion," Svinak turned away from the dead form of Mary Travis at his feet. "Dispose of that, preferably somewhere the Resistance will find it."

"You wish them to retrieve the body?" The Centurion stared at him in surprise.

"Yes," Svinak said heading towards the door. "Consider it a gift for the leader of the Resistance. I'm sure Wilmington will appreciate it."

"And the other prisoners?"

We have no need of them," the Vulcan threw him a look as to why it was even necessary for him to say it. "Space them."

Chapter Five: The Wyld Card

THE MIRROR UNIVERSE

The minute the Firebrand decloaked above Jericho, Ezra Standish, �honest' businessman and proprietor of the Wyld Card Saloon, knew there was trouble.

Jericho, a space station originally constructed by the Terran Empire in the Typhon Expanse and later abandoned by the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance due to its remote location, was one of the few human controlled enclaves in the Alpha Quadrant. Since assuming control of the entire territory, the Romulans had little interest in the aging space station and had allowed it to continue operation since it had become something of an oasis in this secluded sector of space.

During the war between the Resistance and the Alliance, Jericho had become a home to those with no loyalty to either side, cementing the foundation for its reputation as neutral ground. Refugees led by a young doctor, who only wanted a place to treat his patients, without fear of violence and reprisals, soon chose to remain with their physician installed as leader. Eventually, Jericho evolved from a hospital into a community. People started to build their lives here and as their numbers grew, became ripe for opportunity, which was why Ezra Standish had chosen Jericho to establish the Wyld Card Saloon.

By the time the Firebrand appeared over Jericho on this day, the Wyld Card was one of the favorite hotspots in Jericho and the sector. Travelers who paused at this locality found a reason to visit the place and those making long space voyages, chose to dock at Jericho to let off some steam in the establishment. Developing a friendship with the young doctor who was now a little older, and was more administrator, Ezra ensured he was able to maintain his operations, by making healthy donations to Jericho's coffers that went a long way to maintaining the upkeep of the station.

In exchange, the Wyld Card was able to host a bevy of beauties who manned the numerous gaming tables, performed exotic dances and for a percentage, offer their services to lonely travelers seeking comfort in the night. While he had sometimes been called a whoremaster because of it, Ezra ensured the ladies were well protected from their rowdier customers and treated them like business partners, not property. His own mother had gotten by in such a manner, so he could never treat any woman the way men in similar positions might do. Ezra also knew Administrator Jackson would never tolerate the women being mistreated in any shape or form.

The Wyld Card was also the place where liquor ran freely, business could be negotiated in back rooms and people could come to forget their troubles. Ezra was also someone who knew how to get anything. Aside from being a galaxy class gambler, he also had the reputation to acquire difficult to obtain objects, be it the ancient Mona Lisa, Kahless's ceremonial dagger or even tech that was illegal and contraband. If it was out there, Ezra could get it.

However, the real trade of the Wyld Card was in its owner's ability to grant favors. Ezra collected favors like some men collected coins. Using his vast network of contacts, Ezra could get you that job you wanted in maintenance, because the head of personnel had a gambling debt that could be afforded some easement in exchange for the favor. In turn, a year down the line, that same maintenance worker might be inclined to offer some intelligence of a lucrative business opportunity. And so it went.

When the Firebrand decloaked over Jericho, Ezra's main concern had been for Administrator Nathan Jackson. The man was so damn idealistic and compassionate, Ezra was sometimes required to act behind the scenes to save the man from himself. Their improbable friendship due to their diametrically opposing views was a mystery to most in the beginning but it had endured. Once a week, they'd meet to play chess over a glass of Saurian brandy and argue ideologies.

Nathan Jackson was the closest Ezra had to a friend.

Except the Firebrand's commander hadn't gone to the Administrator's office, his destination was the Wyld Card.

When Commander Svinak of the Tal Shiar, entered the bar, accompanied by a dozen Romulan troopers, Ezra decided his notion of being in trouble, would need swift re-evaluation. There was no one in the Alpha Quadrant who did not know the Vulcan by reputation. Ezra, who'd managed to stay alive and free of official entanglements, knew never to get into the crosshairs of the Tal Shiar's leader.

As soon as Svinak entered the establishment, customers who recognized him immediately vacated the premises. Even the dancers on the stage, froze as the music lowered and gamblers at the table folded to make a quick exit. As an island formed around the Vulcan and his entourage, they crossed the carpeted floor of the lobby and entered the bar, to the table he occupied during the evening. As Ezra prepared to receive him, he fortified his poker face because this was a man who could tear it off him with little or no effort.

Lexie who sighted the Vulcan's arrival glided over to his table, concern on her face. Clad in a scandalously cut red dress which revealed her bronzed skin, the shape of her gloriously rounded breasts and perfect figure, she was a sight to behold with her lustrous black hair framing her face. Ezra suspected she hoped to use her charms to perhaps run interference with the Vulcan since there were very few men who could resist her when she set her mind to it.

"Commander Svinak," Ezra greeted with a dimpled smile and open arms as if they were long lost friends, not the mouse greeting the Tyrannosaurus Rex. "It is an honor to welcome you to the Wyld Card. What can I get you and your men?"

"I will have Romulan Ale. My men do not need anything," Svinak replied, perfectly aware of what position he occupied in this power paradigm and could afford to be magnanimous. He took note of the woman sitting beside Standish for a moment and had to confess, she was extraordinarily beautiful. He wondered momentarily how she had ended up playing whore to this place.

Ezra quickly gestured for a drink to be brought before regarding Svinak. "Do sit down."

Allowing Standish to believe he was in control of the situation, Svinak lowered into the seat opposite him and once again, noticed the brown eyes staring at him, with a mixture of fear and interest. He ignored it.

Ezra saw the interest Svinak was paying to Lexie and supposed even a Vulcan wasn't immune to her beauty, especially when he was more Romulan and did not practice the Vulcan discipline of repression. He wondered if he could use that to his advantage. After all, Lexie and Ezra might share a bed, but there was no love involved and enticing Svinak would be a feather in her cap if she could achieve it. Giving her a quick glance, Ezra gave her the silent prompt to do what she did best. While she did not reply, they had played this game long enough for her to grasp his intention.

"So, to what do I owe this visit?" He continued to play the suave, charming bar owner for as long as possible.

Svinak leaned into the plush loveseat and steepled his fingers beneath his lips before responding. "Mr Standish, I am going to ask you a question and if I am not satisfied with your answer, when I leave this place, you will be a drooling idiot. Do we understand each other?"

A surge of anger bubbled inside Ezra and he almost reacted with his typical acerbic wit until his senses returned to him and anger was replaced by fear because he knew from numerous sources it was not an idle threat. Being left a drooling idiot was what happened to Svinak's luckier victims. The more unfortunate ones did not survive the encounter.

"I understand."

"Come now gentlemen," Lexie stood up from next to Ezra and slid into the seat Svinak was occupying, her arm sliding over his shoulder, leaning close so her breath touched the pointed tip of his ear. "You're in charge here, Commander. No one doubts that. Ezra may be an opportunistic schemer, but he understands the situation. Can't we all play nice?"

The Vulcan regarded her with a hint of amusement, taking in the scent of her perfume, the full lips, those liquid brown eyes and found her quite pleasing. He slid an arm around her waist and pulled her close, making sure her body was pressed against his. Lexie smiled at her success to entice him and continued to ply him with her sexuality.

Ezra hid his surprise at the Vulcan's reaction to Lexie but did not comment on it. "I am at your disposal."

"Good," the Vulcan replied, supremely confident. "You acquired a multidimensional transporter device for Mary Travis."

Ezra managed to maintain his poker face but inwardly, he was shaken. He realized as soon as the statement was made the only other person who knew of the transaction between himself and the Resistance commander, was Mary Travis herself. If Svinak was here, then Mary was either dead or imprisoned. From what he knew of this Vulcan's reputation, he doubted it was the latter. Most likely, she had been drained of every iota of information before her end, leading Svinak straight to him.

There was only one way to respond to the statement.

"Yes," he answered, holding his composure as if he did nothing wrong. "The lady commissioned me to find the device and I acquired it for her as requested. It was a simple business transaction, nothing more. I have no affiliations or interest in working with the Resistance."

Besides him, Ezra saw an odd look come over Lexie's face. Her expression was almost dreamy, and she let out a breathless sigh next to Svinak, brushing her lips against his ear and nuzzling up to the Vulcan like they were lovers already. While Ezra was accustomed to her using her charms in this way, he was surprised to see the Vulcan doing nothing to discourage her.

If Svinak saw his puzzlement, the Tal Shiar Commander did not react. "And how did you managed to acquire such a formidable piece of technology? I must confess, we on Romulus had no idea the Terrans had breached the dimensional barriers and it was of particular surprise to me, in the Tal Shiar. Once again, I remind you before you respond, to consider your answer of monumental importance to your continued existence."

"I have contacts who have access to the work of a former Terran scientist named Jennifer Sisko. She was the inventor of the device and they acquired one for me..."

"That's not true..." Lexie muttered nuzzling Svinak's cheek.

Ezra could only stare in shock at Lexie's betrayal until he realized what the Vulcan had done. The son of a bitch had established a meld when he had made contact with Lexie's skin, using her to gauge whether Ezra was telling the truth! In fact, as he stared into her eyes, Ezra saw the intelligence and spirit so much a part of her, was absent.

Svinak glanced at Lexie, seeming to drink her in a bit longer before facing Ezra again. "Would you rather me take the information out of your head?"

"I misspoke," Ezra cleared his throat, realizing just how calculated this Vulcan was and moved to damage control to salvage his freedom and possibly his life. "I acquired the plans for the device which I sold to her."

"That's better," Svinak was now running a finger along Lexie's shoulder. "Now you will give me those plans and do not insult my intelligence by telling me you gave her the only copy, because we both know, you are not that stupid."

"He always makes backups." Lexie breathed into Svinak's cheek.

"The lady is correct," he said quietly, unable to believe how badly the idea of enticing Svinak had backfired. "I always take precautions. If I provide you with the plans, what guarantee do I have there will be no repercussions?"

"None I suppose," Svinak turned his attention to Lexie, who was lavishing all kinds of kittenish behavior on him. This was largely because he had activated all the pleasure centers in her brain, drawing her will to him like current. "However, I'll let you know after I return her to you."

"Return?" Ezra stared at Lexie, feeling his stomach lurch because he understood what Svinak had planned for her.

"Yes, I think I would like to spend some time alone with this young lady and let her tell me what's on her mind and if I learn that you have compromised the Romulan Empire in any way," he stared at Ezra with eyes like points of obsidian. "There will not be enough favors in the Alpha Quadrant to keep me from having you disintegrated."

"Why not simply meld with me?" Ezra hissed, hating Lexie's mind being violated this way.

Svinak shrugged, "Because you might prove useful to me later and I may damage her in the process. Still, it is what you hoped isn't it? That I would spend time alone with her? Isn't that right Alexandra?" He smiled at Lexie.

Lexie nodded, the sensations rippling through her in warm waves, making her soft and pliant. "Anything you want."

After all, she thought through the fog in her head, he has such nice eyes.

******

A day later, while the Firebrand still hovered above the space of Jericho, Svinak was roused from the sheets by the soft trill of an incoming message at the com station, within his quarters.

Glancing briefly to his side, the woman Lexie lay asleep, her naked body lay in the tangle of sheets, as her dark hair cascaded across the golden skin of her back. How much pleasure he had been able to take from her had surprised him, he thought as he pushed himself off the bed and went to answer the incoming communication

Not bothering to be clothed because the view screen would only reveal his face, he sat down and tapped the screen.

"Report," he said promptly, expecting nothing less than that for this intrusion. The face of Engineer Anikal appeared on the screen. She stared at him with her typically severe Romulan expression, although he detected a trace of confidence in her features that told him she had managed to accomplish the task he set her after returning from his meeting with Standish. Providing her with the plans to the multidimensional transporter, he had charged her to unlock its secrets and create him a prototype.

While he suspected the Senate would not be eager to cross over into an alternate dimension to find new enemies, especially when they had yet to consolidate their power in the Alpha Quadrant, Svinak had a more specific reason for making the journey. Adam Larabee was in that other dimension and thanks to the meld with Mary Travis, Svinak had the exact location of where she had sent him. Retrieving him was within reach and with his acquisition, the means of putting an end to the Resistance once and for all.

For the last eighteen years, the Resistance had rallied under one man, and one man only. Buck Wilmington.

Wilmington was not only a seasoned and brilliant guerrilla fighter, who was one of the Resistance's leaders during the wars with Klingon-Cardassian Alliance but transitioned into the supreme commander of the Terran Resistance during the Romulan conquest of the Alpha Quadrant. Possessing charisma and genius, a deadly combination, he also engendered unswerving loyalty in those who followed him. Romulans who were by their nature, a practical if a somewhat ruthless lot, had no idea how to deal with an enemy willing to risk dozens to save one, as if the axiom, the needs of the many outweighing the few meant nothing.

And it was not simply in the Terrans did he command this loyalty, since the Romulan invasion, the man had managed to rally other races to the cause, uniting most of the Alpha Quadrant races including unbelievably, the Klingons. Only the Cardassians being a naturally untrustworthy race, who quickly allied themselves with Romulus to keep some semblance of power, had remained immune.

Romulan efforts to put down the movement had been problematic. Resistance members did not break easily during interrogation and most of them were perfectly willing to die to take their secrets to the grave. The time taken for torture meant Wilmington had time to make the information when finally extracted, obsolete. Threats to execute innocents did little to move the Resistance nor incur the resentment of the populace as hoped.

Of course, it all changed when Svinak took charge of the hunt.

Using the meld, subjects of interrogation could hide nothing from him and with full mastery of his Vulcan mental abilities, he was able to rip the intelligence right of their minds in a matter of minutes, allowing the Tal Shiar to make use of actionable intelligence quickly before the information could be made obsolete. Most of the time, the Resistance enclaves were obliterated from orbit before they even knew that one of their own had been captured.

In less than a year, Svinak had swept through the ranks of the Resistance and brought the movement to its knees. While he could have used Travis as leverage against Wilmington upon learning of their sexual relationship, Svinak preferred to end the threat of her once and for all. He intended to dismantle the Resistance by killing all its leaders and ensuring the group never recovered to pose a danger to the Empire again.

However, it was for nothing if they did not capture Wilmington.

Until learning who Mary Travis' son was to the man, there had been no way to draw him out. Adam Larabee, no doubt the child of Christopher Larabee, a Resistance member and childhood friend of Wilmington's who died years before, was the key. If Wilmington had gone to such pains to protect the boy, as to send him to another dimension, then Svinak suspected having the boy in custody would be enough to force Wilmington's hand. Svinak needed Adam for bait.

"Commander, it is done," Anikal replied. "We have created the device based on the specifications you provided."

"And it works?" Svinak stared at her. "With the configuration coordinates, I provided you with?"

"Yes," she nodded. "We have conducted several tests. We had one of our legionnaires simply transport to the location of those coordinates and then back immediately. It appears to be a cargo hold of a space station. We conducted a scan and detected the signature of a multiphasic annular confinement beam. We were not detected. I do not think the security systems on the station is equipped to detect that particular type of transport."

"Good," Svinak nodded. Stealth was not something he was accustomed to employing but capturing Adam Larabee would require it. "How many can we send through at once?"

"As many as can be fitted onto our transport pad." She announced proudly.

"Excellent work Centurion. Inform Centurion Tomalak on the bridge, I want a strike team ready to go in two hours."

"Yes Commander," She nodded.

With that, Svinak terminated the transmission and stood up from the com station before returning to his bed where the woman still slept, oblivious to his conversation with Anikal. He climbed onto the mattress and quickly turned her over. Her eyes flew open as she saw him straddling her, clarity returning to her as she realized where she was.

"You son of a bitc...." She started to hiss but never had the chance to complete the sentence.

Pressing his fingers against her cheek and temple, he entered her mind once more, stimulating the centers of pleasure in her brain that made her protests die in her throat, to be replaced by a low, languid moan of need. Since she had come on board, he had taken from her everything she knew about Standish, enough so that Svinak now had access to a good deal of the man's associates and accomplices, an entire network of information at his disposal. Once he had extracted the information from her mind, he took her body just as easily.

As she drew him to her once more, Svinak decided he could indulge himself a bit more before he returned her to Standish.

Chapter Six: Collison

"How's he doing?" Vin asked Chris a day after his volatile first meeting with Adam in Four Corners.

The Captain and the Officer of the Con were presently in Transporter Room Two, awaiting the USS Titan to beam Mary, Alex and Billy to the Maverick after their journey from Earth.

"Well I set him straight about not shooting you," Chris remarked with a little smile.

"Thanks, Pard," Vin gave him a look. "Much appreciated."

"I think he'll be okay," Chris sighed, not knowing anything for certain. "He's removed from everything he's ever known and from what I can tell, his whole life has been a fight for survival. I think part of the problem is getting used to the idea he doesn't have to do that anymore and no one's hunting him here."

Vin could empathize with Adam on that score. He recalled his years trapped on that rustic world beyond Federation space for twelve years, relying on his wits to survive. It wasn't so bad when his foster parents were alive but after they succumbed to the treacherous environment, he spent five years alone before being rescued and returned to Earth. After what he had been through, the safety of Earth had been a shock.

"I reckon I know he feels. When I got to the ranch after years alone on that planet, civilization took a long time getting used to. It was awful weird knowing I was in a place I didn't have to go hunting to eat or listen for something wanting to do the same to me. It can be a hell of a shock if you've known nothing else."

Chris couldn't argue with that and felt the same wave of admiration for Vin Tanner as the first time he'd read the man's jacket on board the Rutherford. At the time, Chris couldn't fathom how anyone could have survived on that harsh, savage planet, stranded and alone. Let alone a child. He wondered if Vin had survived because of his Vulcan heritage. Would he have fared so well in that jungle if he had been human?

"I wish Josiah were here," Chris confessed. "He'd know how to deal with this in a minute."

"Yeah," Vin agreed, "the man does know how to talk people off the ledge when they're in trouble." He knew this from personal experience, remembering how much Josiah had helped him since coming on board the Maverick. Aside from being a good friend, Josiah had done his level best to ensure Vin wasn't completely disconnected from his race by encouraging him to reach out to Mary, who understood Vulcan disciplines and practices due to her marriage to Syan.

Thanks to Josiah and Mary, Vin had someone to turn to, whenever his Vulcan heritage crept up on him and bit him on the ass. "So, what do you plan to do, Chris? You gonna keep him on the ship with you?"

If Chris had anything to do with it, absolutely, the Captain thought silently.

"I would like to. I know he's not the son I buried five years ago," Chris said quietly. "But he feels like mine and I can't abandon him. He's so alone and even though he's been a freedom fighter since he was goddamn fourteen and seen more combat than most, I can see how scared he is. He's used to having friends and family around him and a mother who was everything to him. Losing her is still a raw wound."

Once again, Vin could relate, thinking of the Earth woman who held him in her arms and told him no matter what his ears looked like, he was her son. He could appreciate Adam's devastation at losing the mother who had been his entire world.

"Which ain't going to be helped when he gets a look at Mary," Vin pointed out.

"Don't I know it?" Chris sighed. "I'm still not sure how she's going to react."

Vin didn't answer but he knew Mary Travis well. She'd been his guide in all things Vulcan and to teach him, they had touched each other's mind. While her reaction was impossible to predict to such an unusual situation, Vin suspected no matter what, she would still be kind. She had reached out to him when he needed her most and Vin couldn't imagine she wouldn't do the same for Adam.

"Well me and Alex can take Billy to DS5 for the afternoon so you two can figure things out. Ezra's been talking about this new bar, so we thought we'd check it out."

"Thanks," Chris said gratefully, "although I wouldn't tell Mary you're taking her eight-year-old son to a bar. Some mothers tend to get a bit ornery about things like that." The captain flashed him a smirk.

Before Vin could respond, the familiar sound of transporters hummed through the air and both officers saw the customary shimmer of gold that coalesced into three silhouettes on the transporter pad. Within seconds, the vague, glittery shapes had transformed into the welcomed forms of Mary, Alex and Billy.

Until the transport was complete, Chris did not realize how much he missed her. His heart surged in familiar warmth at the sight of the Protocol Officer, pleased to see her again especially after how abruptly he left Earth. They had shared such a great shore leave together, it was a rude awakening back to reality. Nevertheless, seeing her now, also filled him with regret because he was in such an emotional turmoil after Ezra's message, he barely gave her thought. While Adam's appearance could be considered mitigating circumstances, Chris didn't feel justified in using that as an excuse either.

"Now you're a sight for sore eyes," Chris said to Mary affectionately when she stepped off the transporter pad with Billy's hand in hers.

"You're just saying that because you missed me," Mary smiled as Chris leaned forward and planted, a warm, searching kiss on her lips.

"I did," he admitted, not about to lie, despite the emotional roller coaster of the last few days. "I missed you both. How are you doing Billy?" Chris smiled at the Vulcan child who had filled the void in his heart since they strayed into each other's orbit.

"Good Captain," Billy smiled. "Captain Riker took me skiing in Alaska."

"On the holodeck," Mary explained affectionately. "When Deanna and I were catching up."

"Hey Captain," Alex greeted before she stepped off the transporter pad and went to Vin, whom she didn't realize she would miss so much, even though they were only apart for days. They hadn't slept apart since their marriage and Alex couldn't believe how much it ached not having him next to her when she woke up.

"Hello Cowboy," she smiled, meeting Vin's lips in a deep kiss as he pulled him close to her to return her affection.

"Hey Darlin'," he said back, feeling a similar emotion to his captain's feeling towards Mary, for Alex. Once he was alone and because of her, he would never be again.

"Miss me?" She asked.

"Always," he grinned before turning back to the Captain and Mary. "Hey Billy, me and Alex are going to the station later. Want to come?"

Billy broke into a smile because next to his mother and Chris, Vin Tanner was his favorite person on the Maverick. "Can I?" He looked up at Mary.

Mary met Chris's eyes and realized there was an ulterior motive to the invitation, so she responded accordingly. "Of course," she smiled at her son.

"Awesome!" Billy said happily.

"Come on pardner," Vin extended his hand towards the boy. "Let's go take a look at the bridge and see if they've fixed it right."

Smart enough to guess his mother and the Captain might need a moment alone, Billy nodded and took the helmsman's hand and the three promptly left the transporter room, but not before Chris gave Vin a look of gratitude. The Officer of the Conn merely gave him that faint smile in return before leaving them to it.

When they were alone, Chris drew Mary to him and they kissed each other with the heat they had become so familiar with during the last month, now that they were moving into a more intense relationship from their mutual affection of the last year. Chris delighted in the taste and scent of her, feeling euphoric whenever she returned it because he knew then they were finally at the same place.

"I'm sorry I left the way I did," he said when he pulled away and met those blue-grey eyes with the power to stop his heart. "I was just..."

"Chris no," she pressed her finger to his lips and stopped him right there. Even before he kissed her, Mary could feel the emotions radiating off him and knew just how much turmoil he was presently suffering. "I understand completely. You don't have to explain anything. God, if I ever found myself in the same position..."

She didn't even want to imagine it. The idea of anything happening to Billy was too terrible. "So, it's really Adam?"

"Well it's Adam from an alternate universe," Chris explained. "But, in every way that matters, he's my son. Right down to a perfect DNA match from five years ago." He did not need to elaborate what he meant by that.

"Oh my God Chris," she touched his face. She couldn't even begin to imagine what he was feeling.

Taking a deep breath, he knew he had to tell her the rest because the instant Adam saw her, Chris knew how the boy was going to react and if Mary was caught by surprise, the effects were going to be devastating.

"Mary," he sighed looking at her. "We need to talk."

******

Mary asked Chris to let her do this alone.

She heard Chris tell his tale, listening in shock as Chris related to her the details of Adam's life in that other reality. How another version of Mary Travis had raised her best friend Sarah's little boy as her own and was the only mother Adam ever knew. After a year with Josiah Sanchez, Mary had learned a few things about how to give comfort and believed she could help this boy, not just for Chris's sake but also for that other Mary who loved this Adam enough to die for him.

She activated the door panel, making the request to be let in, not announcing herself.

"Come in," she heard him beckon as the door slid open for her.

She took two steps in and saw him seated behind the computer terminal in his quarters. He had only to look up and see her before his eyes widened. Joy ran across his face, propelling him out of the chair and across the room.

"MOM!" He started to call out and was within inches of Mary before the words caught in his throat and the burst of unbridled happiness, shrunk back into him, drawing the light from his face.

Mary's heart broke when she saw his advance halted abruptly, his gaze dropping to the floor, to hide the anguish when he realized she was not his mother. Even briefly, the pain in his eyes, so much like Chris's, was so acute she felt it stab at her own heart. At that moment, she didn't care whether or not she was his mother, Mary wanted to draw him into an embrace, to hold him to her the way she would hold Billy because no son should feel so devastated.

"You're not my mother," he whispered and turned away. Mary had no doubt it was to hide the tears in his eyes and she made the journey to him instead.

"No, I'm not," she said honestly, placing a hand on his shoulder. "But I'm here if you need me."

"Why? You don't even know me." He didn't look at her, his voice soft and whether or not he knew it, Mary thought he sounded so much like Chris, there was no doubt that Adam was Chris Larabee's son. Maybe not the captain she loved but definitely a Chris Larabee from somewhere.

"I know you've lost your mother and you're hurting," Mary said kindly. "If my son was out there alone and in pain, I know I would want someone to be there for him. To help him."

"You have a son?" He looked at her and she saw those eyes moistened with emotion. Mary had only ever seen Chris's eyes look like that once. When he returned from Fury 361, excoriated from the loss of so many lives because of his reckless actions. She had never seen him so disconsolate. Just like this boy was right now.

"Billy," she nodded. "He's eight years old."

Adam took in the sight of this woman, who looked so soft and kind, just like his mother except she didn't have the hard edge to her that came from commanding a ship and fighting for the Resistance. But her eyes, her blue-grey eyes, held the same compassion and the same warmth.

He broke then because seeing her was worse than finding out a version of his father lived in this universe. Without saying another word, he went to her, burying his face in the crook of her shoulder and sobbing. The dam of grief at his loss finally burst and being able to take comfort in this woman's arms, even if she wasn't his mother, was something he could not resist.

As he wept against her shoulder, Mary could only wrap her arms around him and hold him, letting him vent his pain. And while she knew he wasn't her son, Mary took him into her heart anyway.

******

Arriving a few hours earlier, Svinak found himself fascinated by the differences between this world and the one he left behind, as he experienced it through the microcosm of the space station called Deep Space Nine. As planned when he was on the Firebrand, he and the strike team making the crossing with him, attired themselves in civilian clothing, based on the report from the team member Anikal had sent to test the device and arrived at the designated location without incident. Emerging from the remote location in the maintenance sections of the station, they entered the main thoroughfare and blended in with the rest of the visitors to the station.

What struck the Vulcan most, was the sheer number of alien species he saw present. While some races he recognized easily enough, humans, Klingons, Tellerites, Andorians, the others were a complete mystery to him. All of them seemed to be perfectly at ease existing in each other's presence, completely oblivious to him as he stared at them in a mixture of wonder and curiosity. In some ways, he was reminded of Jericho Station, which achieved success by being neutral ground. There were even Vulcans offering him nods of greeting as they walked by, prompting him to do the same to avoid suspicion.

Not to mention, having other Vulcans regard him with anything than disdain was also a new experience for Svinak, whose Romulan upbringing and employ of his mental abilities, made him a pariah among his people.

As if to prove the point, Svinak melded with a helpless bystander, without leaving any permanent harm other than a few minutes of lost time, because he had many questions and no time to waste because he still had a mission to carry out. His victim, a barfly at a local tavern, was easy enough to read and revealed to Svinak, this space station came under the authority of something called the United Federation of Planets. Through the meld, he gained a quick understanding of this Federation and determined it was an alliance of worlds, working towards mutual benefit through understanding and cooperation.

It was beyond him any system of government could be founded under such naive principles.

It reeked of weakness and worse yet, easily subject to corruption and disorganization. The result of giving everyone a voice, was ultimately you ended up with noise where no one could hear each other, and nothing ever got done. How this Federation could operate with any efficiency was a mystery to Svinak. Yet they must have succeeded because through the meld, he learned the Federation was more than a hundred member worlds, possessing a formidable fleet of warships and territories encompassing a third of the quadrant, with alliances with the Klingon Empire, the Gorn and even the Tholians.

What he learned about the Romulan Empire was disturbing however and promised himself when he returned home, to investigate the status of the Hobus Star and ensure the same fate did not befall his home, that had unfortunately decimated the Romulans of this universe.

Once he was confidently able to move about the station, Svinak returned his attention to the business at hand. He was here for a reason. Adam Larabee was somewhere on this station and the Resistance and Buck Wilmington still needed to be dealt with. When time permitted, he would come back to this world and conduct a more in-depth study. With his strike team moving throughout the station, searching for the boy, Svinak decided to meld with one of these �Starfleet' officers who represented the military arm of the Federation, might expedite matters.

He was searching for a suitable candidate when he saw them.

At first, Svinak could only gape as he watched from his concealed location, the man moving across the promenade, arm coiled around the waist of a woman, while holding the hand of young Vulcan child no more than eight years of age. While he was aware the nature of an alternate universe meant there was a possibility of encountering his counterpart in this dimension, he never imagined the differences between them to be so stark.

The mirror version of himself looked human.

The idea was so appalling, Svinak could barely stomach it and yet there his other self was, wearing his dark hair so long, it concealed his ears and made him look like a Terran. If not for the slight tinge of copper colored blood under his skin, there would be nothing to give away his Vulcan origins. His eyebrows were left to grow wild like a human's, not sculpted the way Vulcans and Romulans preferred. His clothes made him look like a worker in the field, with pants of coarse blue fabric, a plain dark shirt and work boots.

The child whose hand he was holding was definitely Vulcan and by the way, they were smiling at each other, Svinak wondered if they were father and son. The idea that his counterpart might have fathered a child, especially at his age for they were both young for Vulcans, fascinated Svinak as he watched the two together. Furthermore, their relationship was devoid of Vulcan rigidity and once again, appeared more human. Affection and regard radiated from their faces, appearing so unlike Vulcans, it was clear neither had any disciplines of emotional control.

However, it was nowhere as shocking as seeing the woman.

For a minute, Svinak wondered if a cosmic deity was having some amusement at his expense. The woman was the same one he bedded back on the Firebrand, the one called Lexie who had tried to seduce him, only to be affronted when he took the seduction out of her hands. Before she was taken out of his sight, she had accused him of rape even though he knew from her mind, she was attracted to him and would have bedded him anyway if she had a free mind. He preferred his method. Less cuddling.

Svinak saw nothing so complicated between the woman walking with his other self. They held each other like true lovers, with his arm coiled around her waist and their eyes basking in each other. The woman, unlike her counterpart, was dressed demurely in a full body suit of soft, comfortable fabric of blue that accentuated her shape but maintained her modesty. Even her hair, styled and teased in her other iteration was worn loose and natural, bouncing about her shoulders in a lustrous shimmer.

She was looking at his other self in nothing less than love, and it surprised Svinak how much it stabbed at him, that anyone could look at him, even an alternate version of him, that way.

When they paused in the middle of the promenade, she pulled away from man and child, intending to enter what appeared to be a dress store. They parted with a kiss and as she lingered in front of the store, he noted the communication device worn by these Starfleet officers, attached to her clothing beneath the collarbone. He hadn't seen one on his counterpart. Did he serve this Federation too?

It didn't matter, Svinak waited until his other self and the child disappeared around the corner before he stepped out of his hiding place and went after her.

Chapter Seven: Trapped

It had taken Alexandra Styles a long time to return to the world.

Four years ago, when she left Starfleet Medical after her ordeal with the Cardassians, she was barely able to function. Unable to face her fianc� or her father because the shame of having them know her violation was too much too bear, she ran from her life into the arms of Kellien, the Klingon woman who raised her.

The six months she hid on Qo'noS was more therapeutic than a thousand counsellors because the Klingon attitude to trauma was to simply get on with it. Kellien's perseverance to ensure she did not withdraw into herself helped Alex rebuild her shattered psyche and kept her from taking the easy path to suicide. Her determination to save her human daughter from herself had made the Klingon matron force Alex to not shrink from her pain but to use it. To take every scar, fear and memory and build it into armor to fortify her spirit, and to make her strong.

As her mind strengthened, so did her body. She travelled with Kellien to Corvix, the main Klingon combat training ground for its warriors, to meet Karva, an old friend of Kellien's who a Dahar Master was. As a favor to the old widow, he agreed to train Alex, even though she suspected in the beginning, he was skeptical of whether she would be able to endure the harsh training regimen. Alex did not care, she only wanted to be trained and though she was nowhere a master, by the time she returned to Starfleet, she was able to hold her own against a Klingon warrior.

At Starfleet, she signed up for enhanced tactical and combat training and coupled with the time spent with a Dahar master, Alex was more than capable of defending herself with lethal prowess. In rebuilding her spirit and reaching the decision to return to active duty, Alex had decided one thing, no one was ever taking her alive again.

Yet for all her training, what could not be hurdled by punches and kicks, was her inability to connect to people. In developing her tough demeanor, she realized it became difficult to relate to others. While she could feel empathy for them, pride refused to allow herself to take advantage of theirs by revealing the truth. Telling them meant having to relive it again and Alex couldn't bear it.

Worse yet, during the first two years before arriving on the Maverick, she flinched every time a man paid her more interest than he should. While it was terribly unfair to assume all men were rapists, for a time she could do nothing but imagine the worst, her gut twisting into such tight knots, she almost retched from the horror of it. Eventually, she learned how to work with them, but for a time, anything more made her skin crawl.

Her response to this was to build more layers over herself until the invisible armor around her heart and mind was virtually invulnerable and nothing penetrated. Not pain, not fear, not even the shame because she buried it in a deep pit inside herself, where it would never see the light of day while she had conscious thought. While it might have ruled during her sleep, when she was awake, she kept it subjugated with merciless control.

Except the armor kept her from feeling anything at all.

To protect herself, she had inadvertently severed all connections to her heart and knew behind her back, people said mean things about her aloofness and mercurial demeanor. Yes, she knew they called her the ice queen and other such colorful and even more derogatory statements. Alex shrugged off these insults, caring little for them because she was safe behind the fortress, she built around herself.

Until one day, while seated in the darkness of Four Corners, she saw someone whose pain mirrored hers so deeply in his cobalt colored eyes, it penetrated the walls of her heart without Alex even realizing it.

Vin Tanner had loved her from the start, even when he didn't understand what it was, he was feeling, he loved her. At the core of her, Alex felt it too, even though she was terrified of admitting such a thing was remotely possible. Love at first sight seemed like such an antiquated concept in the 24th century, it was too unbelievable to her to accept it. Yet, little by little, he opened her heart and finally, she couldn't imagine her world without him.

When Gul Lemar, her rapist came on board the Maverick and the terrible truth of what happened to her was finally exposed, Vin took her intense shame and crushed it underfoot. To him, she was still everything he cared for. No matter how sullied she thought she was, to Vin she was still extraordinary. By the end of it, he showed her it was okay to let people in because when she dared to do it, they could surprise her.

Her friends on the Maverick, from the Captain she would die for to the First Officer who wrapped his arms around her like a big brother, and the sisters she found in Mary and Julia, they rallied around her and showed her she was not alone. There was no shame in what happened, just admiration for her courage to endure.

And then the Pon Farr happened.

Until then, her love for Vin Tanner had been an unspoken thing. The idea of losing him, of never being able to share the stars as they sat across each other by the observation deck window or ride double with him into the sunset in their holodeck world, or even have him hold her while she slept was unimaginable. She watched him deconstruct before her eyes, turn savage and yet through the madness of Pon Farr, the only thing he had wanted, until it had driven him damn near mad, was still her. What she told the Captain when she proposed to face Vin in combat to kill the blood fever inside him, was true. If he died, she wouldn't want to go on living either. A life without him was unimaginable.

Fighting for him had saved her and what came then was the sweetest conclusion to it all, because when they came together, at last, it was nothing short of bliss. It wasn't just the meeting of flesh but the mental bond, which ensured neither would be alone again. The love she was so terrified of acknowledging, with his help had become a shield against the darkness and the pain, allowing her to finally heal.

Now, as she browsed through a store, admiring the silk nightdress she'd spied in the window, surrounded by people and chattering voices, she realized this was something she would not have been able to manage before coming to the Maverick. People no longer bothered her and indulging herself wasn't a sin of weakness she would have to pay. Taking the garment, she admired the cool touch of the fabric as she went to try it on.

She was in the middle of starting to undress in the changing room when suddenly she heard the rustle of curtains behind her and swung around, to curse a blue streak at the intruder, when she froze.

Alex found herself staring into cobalt colored eyes that didn't belong to her husband.

It wasn't just the fact he was dressed like a Romulan, with hair cut to suit, it was in the eyes. Vin Tanner had the most expressive blue eyes she had ever seen and this man who was standing in front of her, who looked like her husband, didn't.

"Who the hell..."

Catching her by surprise, he was pressed up against her before she even had a chance to finish the sentence. He clamped his hand over her mouth, silencing the indignant demand before it could leave her lips. His fingers pressed against her temple and cheekbone, splaying across her face like that damn alien spore on Fury 361 wanted to do.

The warmth that spread through her was one Alex was more than familiar with by now. She'd been married to a Vulcan for almost three months and knew what a meld was. Except what was invading her mind wasn't an exploration of her soul but nothing short of mind rape. She could feel him drawing her life and memories out of her head like he was drinking down cool water.

"GET OFF ME!" She reacted, shoving him away.

Svinak stumbled back, surprised by her ability to repel him and realized then, he wasn't dealing with her helpless counterpart. This one understood melds, no doubt from her bond with his counterpart. Was it possible they were actually mated? Now that the idea was in his head, he was even more determined to meld with her.

"How interesting," he remarked before closing in again and though she threw a punch at him, he caught her fist, spinning her around and slamming Alex hard against the mirror, her face pressed against the glass. Pinning her arm around her back, with every intention of breaking it if she gave him any more trouble, his quadrupled strength allowed him to connect to her again.

This time when he entered her mind, he held nothing back.

Slicing through her defenses easily, he marveled at the will that still fought him even as he crumbled the middling mental shields her bond with his �other self' had created. Svinak realized she knew who he was, not exactly who but she had an idea from where he had come. If she did, then she had to know the boy Larabee. It did not take long for Svinak to reach the memory, despite her attempt to fight him. The boy was on the ship...the Maverick...Adam was on the Maverick.

Alex tried to fight but the pain in her mind was beyond belief, it felt like icicles and yet she was still determined to fight him from his violation of her mind. The idea of being mind raped, just as her flesh had been, caused a surge of fury to bubble up inside her. Mary had taught her something about shields, knowing Vin couldn't. It was necessary for there to be some walls in her mind, to keep each other's thoughts from overwhelming one another, especially when their emotional tethers were so strong. Using what little she knew, Alex marshalled up her mental strength to fight.

Annoyed at the attempt to block him, Svinak decided he needed to keep her mind distracted, in fact, he needed her out of the way for a while because now that he had taken what he required from her, he knew how to get to the ship and retrieve Adam Larabee. Searching her mind for a construct in which to trap her in, he found what he needed almost immediately. It was hidden within a vault in her mind, deep at the bottom of a black pit. What was in there? He wondered. What could possibly warrant such defenses?

Whatever it was, he put her in it.

******

The scream that tore through Vin Tanner's mind was so powerful, he almost doubled over from the shock of it.

One minute he was talking to Josiah Sanchez near the entrance to the Candle Wick Bar, the next thing he knew, he was barely able to remain on his feet, as a cry of anguish and naked fear reached for him through the darkness from a place of utter desperation.

"Vin, what is it?" Josiah's thick fingers were wrapped around his arm, trying to keep him from falling as Vin clutched his forehead, his eyes clamped shut in a vain effort to shield himself from the unexpected psychic assault.

Still grimacing from the pain, Vin opened his eyes and stared at Josiah, whom Vin had encountered on the way to the bar, shortly after the Counsellor had arrived on board the station from the newly docked USS Potemkin.

Opting for the shorter journey back to the DS5 on the Potemkin, instead of the less direct route he'd have to take a few days later, Josiah had left Jupiter Station after a good visit with both his daughters. Even though his youngest was a little disappointed that he was leaving a little earlier, she understood this desire for a comfortable trip back to Lysian space.

Vin didn't answer Josiah because as soon as he heard the scream, he knew immediately it belonged to Alex. The sheer terror and anguish behind it was instantly familiar. Once, during the first few weeks of their meeting, he inadvertently touched her mind in a fit of anger. Until that meld, he never understood just how terrible the wound she carried had been. Even then, he had been fortunate enough to pull away before he experienced the full brunt of it. Just that brief contact had been enough to tell him the extent of her despair.

"It's Alex!" Vin exclaimed when he could finally form the words to speak. He was clutching his forehead in a grimace, still trying to dispel the pain that lanced through his mind like a jagged splinter. "Something's happened to Alex!"

"Where is she?" Josiah asked immediately, understanding now the source of this psychic assault. Vin and Alex were bonded telepathically. Whatever terrible thing was happening to her, Vin as her mate would feel it immediately.

"I left her at one of the stores on the promenade," Vin said hastily, trying to dispel the discomfort in his skull so he could think clearly. "Josiah I gotta find her..."

"Go," Josiah cut him off before he could finish. "I'll take care of Billy. Go find her."

"Thanks," Vin offered the man a hasty nod of gratitude before he was pulling away from them, breaking into a run across the hallway, with enough urgency in his face to ensure people in his path, immediately stepped aside for him.

As he ran down the promenade, his Vulcan memory remembering exactly where he left her, he could feel her agony and horror, even if the pain of the initial psychic burst had waned.

"Tanner to Maverick, Ezra come in." He said tapping his combadge.

"Mr Tanner, what can I do for you?" Ezra's voice was heard as he approached the store in question and saw people hurrying out of the establishment, a concerned expression on their faces. The Andorian who ran the place had emerged through the front door as well, seeking the crowd of faces for someone in particular.

"Ezra, are you able to scan for Alex?" Vin asked noticing the commotion in the store and then saying hastily. "Never mind."

Vin hurried to the shop and approached the Andorian, who appeared quite distressed if the twitching of his blue antenna were any indication. The portly middle-aged man, scanned Vin dubiously at first until he saw the Starfleet combadge.

"What's wrong?" He demanded, having a terrible suspicion the cause of the Andorian's troubles might be Alex.

"There's a human female inside," he tugged Vin's arm and led him into the place. "She's in a bad way."

"Bad way?" Vin brushed past him and ran down the aisle, flanked by mannequins and racks of clothing, to where he could hear someone weeping uncontrollably. Not just weeping he realized as his stomach hollowed, begging and pleading in desperation. He reached the changing rooms where a few bystanders were watching the scene but not daring to intervene, expecting station security for medical to arrive and deal with the situation.

He found her on the floor of the changing room, lying on her side, in a foetal position, shaking and sobbing almost hysterically. The sight of her shocked him to the core because Vin had never seen her in such a state. She was the strongest woman he knew and seeing her exposed like a raw nerve as she was whimpering stilted words that made sense only to him, drove a lance of agony through his heart.

"Please no more...just stop...no more...I won't fight...I'll do what you want...just stop."

Jesus Christ, Vin sucked in his breath, understanding in an instant where she was.

Kneeling on the floor next to her, Vin fought the emotions welling in his own eyes at her tortured mental state. So, lost in her private hell, Alex barely registered his presence as he pressed his fingertips to her temple and her cheekbone, taking the journey into her mind, he'd sworn never to invade.

When she agreed to marry him and understood what the meld would mean for both, she had asked only one thing of him, to never go into that place where she hid the memories of what happened to her in that prison. As much as she loved him, she couldn't bear for him to see what happened to her in that hell.

But now she was trapped there. Somehow, she was back in that place and if he had any chance of recovering her sanity, he had to go in and find her.

Entering her mind, he was immediately surrounded in darkness. Her intellect, her memories of him, her life before that one terrible place in time, it was all caught in the thick sludge of encroaching catatonia. He knew if he did not bring her out of it now, he would never do so. Vin was not a skilled Vulcan master, but he knew her, and whoever had done to this to her, had found the perfect trap for her mind.

When he found Alex, she was exactly where he expected her to be.

She was on her knees, naked and bleeding. They surrounded her like wolves, preparing to feast. Her beautiful hair hung around her in damp strands, her legs were tied at the ankles and she knelt in utter subservience to the men present. The room stank of sweat, semen and everything rank Vin could imagine. She was staring them with so many bruises he couldn't even begin to count. Her eyes were swollen, her lips broken and the look of utter defeat in her eyes was more than he could stand.

In this room, they didn't just break her, they had shattered her.

Finally, he understood why she never wanted him to see this because seeing it would fill him with uncontrollable rage. Knowing what these phantoms had done to his Alex, even if the event was years in the past and the man responsible for most of her agony was dead, changed nothing. Vin felt the rage bubble up inside him and before he knew it, his fists were clenched, and his jaw ticked with outrage. Furious at the harm inflicted upon the woman he loved, he rushed into the memory, preparing to rip it to shreds so he could take her out of this place.

If he had to go through the Cardassians in a visceral display of violence, he was more than prepared. Not since the Pon Farr had he felt this overwhelming need to hurt another. He reached Lemar first, the architect of her pain and snapped his neck before the Cardassian even knew he was there. Vin stepped back and turn to the others, more than willing to vent the full torrent of his fury upon these men who dared to harm his mate. He snapped bones, broke bodies in half, pulverized flesh until he was covered in as much blood as she, and when it was done, his heart sank because she was still cowering, too terrified to believe she had been delivered.

What had it been like for her four years ago, to know there was no salvation, that she would have to endure their brutality for six months. Suddenly, he understood more deeply than ever, why she had been the way she was when they first met.

Approaching her slowly, Vin knelt down and felt his heart clench in his chest because she couldn't even look at him. She kept her eyes to the ground and when he lifted her chin, she didn't dare to protest. All he was to her right now, was another man waiting to brutalize her.

"Darlin'," he took her hands, lifted her up and started to undo the bindings around her wrists. "It's me, it's Vin. This isn't real Alex. None of it."

She blinked, uncertain because everything around her swirled in perfect imitation of what she had gone through. Everything except him. When her hands became free, her confusion deepened, because this was unfamiliar. This was not the way she had freed herself.

"Darlin, you are not here. Neither of us are. We're still on DS5, this is just a dream." Taking her hand in his, he held it tight, trying to will his strength into her and focused hard to share his mind with hers so she could understand, how vitally important she was to his life. "Please, come back to me. Let's leave this place and go back to the ranch so we can take that ride by the creek."

Slowly, she began to blink, looking about her furtively and saw the bodies of the animals who had hurt her, as well as her hands being freed. He was right, this wasn't how it went. There had been no salvation, no escape. Meeting his eyes, she stared into those pools of blue that first touched her heart so long ago and began to remember him.

"Vin?"

******

Vin! Mr Tanner, come in!"

Vin severed the connection between them and saw the walls of the changing room appear around them. He blinked and saw Alex in his arms, very much awake and sobbing desperately into his shoulder. Together, they had left that terrible place in her mind and once she latched onto his memories, and his recollection of their life together forced the darkness to recede and return to that place inside of her.

"What Ezra?" Vin demanded, tapping his combadge, just to silence the Chief Security officer up, because he needed to deal with his traumatized wife.

"Mr Tanner, Alex is on board the Maverick."

"What?" Vin exclaimed. "No, she ain't, she's right..."

At that point, Vin realized her combadge was gone.

******

Adam was feeling better. He still didn't know what to do but talking to Mary had helped. No, she wasn't his mother, but she listened the same anyway, allowing him to expunge the grief in his heart at the loss of all the people in his life. When he was done, she kissed him on the forehead and told him everything would be alright because even if she wasn't his mom, she and Chris weren't going anywhere. They would be there for him.

He thought about Chris Larabee, his father but not his father and wasn't sure what to do with that either. Adam had a sense the Captain of the Maverick wanted to be a father to him but the idea of having one was so alien to Adam, he wasn't sure how to take it. When he was little, he had wanted to know his father, but Mary had never met him, so she couldn't tell him very much.

Chris Larabee wasn't his father, but they shared the same blood and the way he looked at Adam, told the young man, this Captain of the Maverick understood him.

When he heard the chime of the door, he didn't think twice. "Come in."

The person who stepped in made Adam's heart freeze in his chest. His mind reeled at the impossibility of it, but he knew even as the fear threatened to choke him, what he was seeing was real.

"Hello Adam," Svinak greeted with a smile. "I've come to take you home."

Chapter Eight: Council of War

When Vin Tanner had asked Ezra Standish to scan for Alex's location, the Security Chief of the Maverick knew immediately something was wrong.

Even after Vin had told him never mind, Ezra's sharp investigator's mind recognized a situation on the cusp of becoming critical and conducted the scan anyway. He had been on the bridge at the time, configuring the newly repaired tactical and security station with new protocols and some customized programs specifically for his suspicious mind. It did not take him long to determine from her com badge signal, she was on the Maverick and tried to put down Vin's request to having lost track of her at the station.

It was a simple enough matter for Alex to return to the ship without Vin knowing since the Maverick was still running with a skeleton crew and the transporter rooms were unmanned at this time. With the bulk of the Maverick's one thousand occupants due to arrive sporadically over the next few days as the ship returned to full operational status, it was a waste of manpower. Especially when all it took to return to the ship, was a quick request to one of the engineers to do the deed from Engineering.

Except for his genetics which may possibly include a small part bloodhound, refused to surrender the scent of trouble once detected. When his patience gave out waiting for Vin to check in again and give him a reason for the request, Ezra decided to raise Vin himself until he got an answer. It came after a few seconds and when he heard Vin's voice, Ezra knew immediately his instincts weren't wrong.

Someone had assaulted Alex with a psychic attack and then stolen her com badge.

Once those truths coalesced in his brain, the reason why screamed in Ezra's reptilian brain. After the last three days, hearing about alternate universes, an enemy with no compunctions using telepathic abilities for interrogation and the theft of a com badge, the picture formed by the mosaic of those pieces was too much for him to discount. Ezra knew he was playing against extremely high odds of being right, but his gut told him otherwise.

"Computer, what is Lieutenant Tanner's location at present?"

Ezra was almost afraid of the answer.

"Lieutenant Tanner is currently on Deck 2." Then just as quickly, the computer updated the information. "Lieutenant Tanner is no longer on the ship."

Ezra's stomach sank, a terrible feeling coming over him at what this meant. "Computer, locate Adam Larabee."

"Adam Larabee is no longer on board the Maverick."

******

By the time Chris Larabee arrived at Adam's quarters, it was already too late.

Making his way there as soon as Ezra had raised the alarm, Chris activated the door panel to the room the boy had been occupying since his arrival on board the Maverick. With him was Mary and as he stepped into the room, heard Ezra's footsteps pounding down the hallway, from the direction of the turbo lift. The tension running through Chris was like a piano wire pulled tight, ready to snap at any moment and as he surveyed the room and saw the violence inside, he knew Adam was gone.

The kid had put up a good fight, if the shattered glass table, with its fragments scattered across the carpeted floor and upended chair, was any indication. There was no blood, at least none Chris could see but then again, if the point was to retrieve Adam, there wouldn't be. Mary stood next to him and he heard her gasp. Her hand was covering her mouth as she took in the same sight as him, with dismay.

"He's gone," Chris said through gritted teeth. "That son of a bitch took him."

"Svinak?" Mary stared at him, having been told of Adam's reaction to Vin when they had met in Four Corners. "How is that possible? How could he even find him here?"

"I am afraid I have an idea Captain," Ezra said breathlessly as he reached the doorway and entered the room, his normally unreadable expression showing his clear unhappiness at allowing this to happen. He should have configured the sensors to scan for unusual transporter patterns. Hadn't he learned his lesson when the C'Kaia beamed the Captain directly off the bridge? "He used Lt. Commander Styles' com badge and contacted the ship to transport him on board."

"What?" Chris almost roared. "How the hell did he get Alex's combadge?"

"I cannot be entirely certain of my facts, but I believe he may have arrived on the station in the same way as young Adam. I cannot say what mechanism led him to Lt. Tanner and Lt. Commander Styles, but for whatever reason, he melded with Alex, probably because it was easier to draw information from her than it would be from Vin."

"Vin would be able to block him," Mary agreed. "Alex knows something about shields, but she wouldn't stand a chance against someone with full Vulcan mental abilities. Is Alex alright?"

"I am not certain, but I do not believe so," Ezra frowned. "Mr Tanner contacted the bridge a short time asking me to locate Alex. He was able to find her on the station but from the sound of his voice, I think Alex may have been hurt."

"They were both on DS5 with Billy," Chris stated, recalling the helmsman's attempt to give him and Mary some privacy to discuss Adam's situation. All it had done, was to put them in the way of Svinak, Chris cursed under his breath.

"I conducted a scan and detected Commander Styles' com badge signal on the ship and surmised he must have attacked her and then acquired enough knowledge to dupe his way on board using her com badge."

"How could he have just transported on board...oh." Mary started to say before she realized how herself.

"Exactly," Chris nodded. "All he had to do, was impersonate Vin and Engineering would have transported him without thinking twice. After all, if Adam has the same DNA match as my Adam, then the same would apply to this Svinak and Vin."

"And now he's got Adam," Mary's face showed her frustration and worry for the young man. She only met Adam a short time ago, but her heart had gone out to him in the brief time they had spent together. Mary was glad to have been there for him when he shared his tears of grief for his lost mother. Even if he understood Mary wasn't the woman he lost, being able to take comfort in her arms had been just what he needed. When Mary promised to be there for him, she had meant it. Now it felt as if she failed in her promise by allowing him to be abducted by the person, he feared the most.

What she felt was a splinter in comparison to what was running through Chris Larabee's mind at present. Not since learning Sarah and Adam's death was murder, not an accident, had Chris felt such rage. Yes, he knew the Adam Larabee transported off his ship wasn't his son but during the past three days, Chris and Adam were slowly beginning to acknowledge that was what their relationship could be. Each of them had a void left by loss and recognized that emptiness could be filled.

What Chris had told Mary earlier was the truth, this Adam Larabee may not be his Adam, but he was still Chris's flesh and blood. That Svinak had invaded his ship and stolen his child, provoked an almighty fury in the Captain of the Maverick that would not be satiated until he killed the son of a bitch and got Adam back.

For now, however, Chris channeled that rage into acting constructively because if he was to rescue Adam, he had to approach this calmly. Adam had been taken right out of this universe, which meant a number of considerable hurdles had to be crossed to retrieve him. He couldn't do that without help.

"Captain to Lt. Tanner," he tapped his combadge. "Vin, what's your status?"

It took a second or two for Vin to answer but soon the Vulcan's drawl was heard throughout the room.

"I'm waiting to transport back to the ship Chris." To anyone else, Vin's voice might have exuded its typically laconic tone, but Chris knew better. The Vulcan was anxious. "Someone messed up Alex real bad. I can't get her to talk yet, but they made her relive what happened to her in that Cardassian prison."

Chris's jaw tightened, feeling his rage ratchet up another notch at that news as he heard Mary gasped in shock next to him and Ezra cursing under his breath at the cruelty of it. Having been the only person, whom Alex had told what happened during her incarceration, Chris knew just what horrors she would have faced.

"Vin, we have a situation that may relate to Alex," Chris said quietly. "Report in when you're on board the ship."

Chris would prefer to be faced to face with Vin when he made the revelation about Svinak. The attack on Alex would have enraged Vin enough as it was, without Vin learning his evil counterpart was responsible for the deed.

******

A short time later, Chris found himself at the head of the long table normally occupied by his senior staff, in the briefing room. Mary was at her usual place next to him, with Ezra, Vin and Julia doing the same. Josiah was absent because he was with Alex, helping her recover from her ordeal while Vin attended this unexpected council of war.

There was no doubt in Chris's mind what he was going to do, even before he entered his room, but he recognized he needed his senior staff's input to figure out how he was going to carry out his plan.

He was going to get his son.

The idea of Adam returning to that violent life, if he even made it that far by the time Svinak was done with him, was an outcome Chris simply could not accept. He was already plagued by all the terrible things that could happen to the boy on the other side of the veil and it was nothing Chris could live with if it came to pass.

As Mary sat next to Chris, she knew without his having to say it, he was going to go after Adam, no matter what the consequences. She could see it in his eyes and when she exchanged a glance with Ezra, she could see he knew it too. Nor could she blame Chris. If she were to lose Billy and have the chance at getting him back again, she would be embarking on the course Chris was undoubtedly intending to take. Even without reading his emotions, Mary knew Chris's bond to Adam was strong. He loved the boy, whether or not he admitted to anyone here, he would move heaven and earth to get him back, like any father.

"How's Alex?" Julia asked, worry etched in her lovely features as she stared at Vin, whose stoic expression seemed even more imperceptible than usual as if he was reinforcing the unflappable mask because the emotions being held back was a maelstrom about to burst.

"Shaken," Vin replied. He was still dressed in civilian clothing because he had come straight here after leaving Alex in Josiah's company, answering the Captain's summons about the connectivity of Alex's attack with something else that had obviously taken place on board the Maverick. "But I think she'll come out it soon enough. When I left, she was starting to talk about it with Josiah. I think she'll be okay."

Still, her improved condition did nothing to alleviate the utter fury coursing through him like the heat of the sand fire storms of his Vulcan homeworld. Finding Alex in that horrific place in her mind, seeing for himself what she had endured and realizing someone had intentionally inserted her back into that hell, incensed him beyond belief. Whoever had done this to Alex would be answering for it with their lives when Vin caught up to them.

"She's stronger now than she was back then," Mary spoke up, offering him comfort because Vin's rage like Chris's was radiating off him so clearly, she could sense it from across the table. "She'll get through this."

Vin nodded mutely before he regarded the others at the table. "So, what the hell is going on?"

The sharpness of his voice startled Julia and made Mary flinch before she turned to Chris. The Captain sat in his chair, saying nothing for the moment, his expression stony. His blue eyes were dark with silent contemplation, soaked in anger.

"As you indicated while you were on DS5," Ezra spoke up, assuming the role either Buck or Alex would have taken if they had been present. "Someone stole Commander Styles' com badge. They did so to gain access to the Maverick and abduct Adam."

"Abduct Adam?" Vin burst out and understood the hollowed look he was seeing in Chris's eyes, now that he had calmed down enough to look. "Wait, how is that possible?"

It wasn't enough to simply have a com badge, Ezra had a dozen safety protocols in place about identity verification to prevent a stranger from simply beaming on board the Maverick.

Before Ezra could answer, Chris spoke. "Vin, it was Svinak."

Vin leaned back into his chair at that news, that unflappable expression still in place but they all saw the flash of understanding in his blue eyes. Taking a deep breath to reinforce his stoic facade, his hands on the table clenched into fists for a second before he relaxed his hands and pressed his fingers against the cool table again.

"Well, that explains that," his words were spoken with deadly calm and only Chris recognized how affected Vin was by that revelation. "The son of a bitch went into her head and trapped her in that Cardassian prison, so she couldn't warn us he was coming."

"That's what we're thinking," Chris agreed, sharing Vin's outrage. Alex wasn't just an officer under his command, she was his friend and knowing someone placed her in that hell to further their agenda, filled him with a rage almost equal to Vin's. "I'm guessing the minute Alex spotted him, she would have recognized him for what he was. If that's the case, then he would have realized she might know where Adam was and how to get on board the Maverick to reach him."

"And all he had to do was pretend to be me and asked to be transported on board," Vin concluded.

Vin had always felt grateful for being found by the Tanners, who raised him as their son with love and kindness but until now he realized how easily it could have gone wrong. If he had fallen into the hands of anyone else, he might have turned into the monster this Svinak obviously was.

"We believe so," Ezra replied. "He came on board and found Adam."

"Could he still be in this dimension?" Mary asked hopefully. "Could he have just snatched Adam and headed back to the station?"

"I doubt it," Chris said grimly, wishing it were the case, but his gut told him otherwise. "So far everything I've heard about this Svinak leads me to believe, if he got his hands-on Adam, he'd want to take him back as soon as possible."

"The Captain is correct," Ezra spoke up. "I conducted a scan of Adam's room before this meeting and detected unusual energy signatures. Julia?" He looked to the Engineer to explain better.

She nodded and took up the narration. "Captain, they were the kind generated by a modified annular beam transmission. It matches the frequency settings on the multidimensional transporter device Adam brought from the other side."

"So, they're both gone," Vin swore under his breath and knew what this meant to Chris. "We're going after him, right?" Without having to hear Chris say it, he knew what was going on in his best friend's mind, that the man was going to retrieve Adam one way or another. Just as Vin knew in no uncertain terms, was Chris making the journey into that other world alone.

Chris met Vin's eyes and once again felt that sense of destiny linking them together, the one that told Chris no matter what, Vin would always be at his side, watching his back.

"Yeah," he nodded. "We're getting him back."

"Do you know where he could have been taken on the other side?" Mary asked because right now, they didn't seem to have any idea of where to start searching, even if they were able to cross over.

"I believe I may know where we might begin our search," Ezra spoke up.

"We?" Chris stared at him. "Ezra, this is off the books. I don't expect you to come with me on this. If anything went wrong, it could be a one-way trip."

Chris tried not to look at Mary as he said that, but it was the truth. Any number of things could happen in the alternate dimension. Adam's description of it hadn't been at all flattering. As determined as he was to bring Adam back, he had to recognize the danger.

Ezra tried not to be offended but understood Chris was trying to spare him from an uncertain fate. Glancing at Julia, he saw her emerald colored eyes filled with concern but also understanding. His friendship and loyalty to his Captain were too strong for Ezra to allow Chris to embark on this crusade without his assistance.

"Captain," Ezra started to say and then paused a moment before resuming. "Chris, I cannot in good conscience allow you to undertake such a hazardous venture without my presence. If you should get into trouble, you may need more than Mr Tanner's help to escape it. I am coming with you and with all due respect, as this mission is off the books as you say, you cannot stop me."

Chris couldn't argue with that and responded with a grateful nod, "Alright Ezra, where do we begin our search."

Ezra flashed him a dimpled smile back and then resumed speaking. "Young master Adam and I had a chance to converse about the other dimension while we were waiting for you to return to the Maverick and it seems that I have a counterpart on the other side, who barters in information. I believe we may be able to use him to contact the Resistance. They may know how to reach Svinak."

"It's a place to start," Chris agreed. "Where is he?"

"According to Master Adam, he runs an establishment on Jericho Station in the Typhon Expanse."

"Jericho Station?" Chris asked, aware there had been a station of that name built in the emptiness between the Setisar system and the Typhon Expanse, abandoned later when the Lysians had offered the Federation the use of the station that was currently known as DS5.

"The same," Ezra confirmed.

"So now we just have to figure out how to get there," Vin declared.

"I think I can help you out there," Julia spoke up, not at all happy at Ezra making this trip but understanding why he had to. If he was going to do this, at least she could ensure he arrived there safely. "I took apart the multidimensional transporter device to determine how it works. The circuitry was fried but I do believe I understand the design and may be able to configure it to our own technology to work. It will take a few hours though."

Waiting even a minute felt too long because God only knew what Svinak was doing to Adam while the young man was in his clutches, but Chris had to acknowledge there was no other choice. The technology was unknown to them and they would be travelling into a hostile dimension they were unfamiliar with. Ezra and Vin were willing to follow him into the maelstrom, he wasn't going to risk their lives with impatience. "Take the time you need to get it working again," he told Julia.

"The device is beyond repairing Captain," Julia stated, "but what I can do, is use the design and configure the shield emitter and the phasers in one of our runabouts, to create a rift in subspace set to the frequency of the other universe, to allow you passage through to the alternate dimension."

"You can do this?" Chris stared at her, once again feeling that same surge of warmth for the young woman who had managed to hold his ship together, no matter what the calamity.

"Yes," Julia nodded, knowing what this meant to her captain. "I can do it."

"Thank you, Julia," Chris said with affection. Having a runabout at their disposal in the alternate universe would significantly improve their chances of survival, not to mention provide them with a way to get them to Jericho Station and anywhere else they needed to track Adam.

"Chris, I'm coming with you," Mary announced, bracing herself for the protests.

Chris shot her a look. "Mary, no. You need to be here with Billy. We have no idea what's waiting there for us, it could be extremely dangerous."

"I agree," Ezra threw in. The fewer people they risked on this mission the better.

"Chris, Ezra," she gave both men a hard stare, the one she used when she was dealing with warring parties at the negotiation table who were holding things up with petulance. "I gave Adam my word I was going to be there for him. I meant it. If you're going after him, then so am I."

And with that, the decision was made because Chris had a feeling nothing, he said to her, would convince her otherwise.

"Alright then," he sighed. "As soon as you're done Julia, we're going to get Adam."

Chapter Nine: Crossing

After the loss of the Midkiff and Perlman during the engagement being referred to by Starfleet Command and the Maverick's log as the Battle of Loren III, the Maverick's time at DS5 was seen as an opportunity to upgrade the ship's armaments and systems. This included the addition of three replacement runabouts, each possessing the ability to reach Warp 8, with an additional transporter pad and a healthy complement of quantum and photon torpedoes along with its own phaser array. Named after the waterways of New Mexico, the Danube-class Cimarron, Sumner and Corrizo were slightly larger than their predecessors.

Julia selected the Cimarron for the Captain's trip to the alternate universe, applying the multidimensional transporter design to the craft's shield emitters to generate the atomic frequency needed to permit the ship to pass through the dimensional barrier. It took her a better part of ten hours to get the work done and though Chris was eager to make the crossing, the Captain kept his impatience under control because these preparations could mean the difference between life or death. He also knew Julia wanted to ensure they would be able to get back safely once they retrieved Adam.

In the meantime, while Julia worked on the Cimarron, Ezra busied himself preparing an inventory of all the equipment they would take with them to the other side. The Security Chief tried to think of contingencies for anything going wrong, from armaments to the currency they might need for barter. Since they were entering a place where Starfleet credits meant nothing, he dipped into his stockpile of poker winnings over the years to select what items might be attractive for trade. He also ensured the arsenal on board included an assortment of stun, sonic and plasma grenades to accompany their phasers and phase rifles.

As Chris and Mary entered the hangar bay, they spied Ezra carrying a portable generator and healthy supply of ration packs before disappearing through the runabout doors.

"Mary are you sure about this?" Chris found himself asking again as he stared at her, even though she was dressed and ready to go. She was clad in a figure-hugging cream-colored bodysuit, with a wrap around her neck that could double as a cloak when needed, with matching boots. For his part, Chris was wearing a long dark coat, not unlike the one favored by the Man in Black, over his light blue shirt and dark trousers. It was just generic enough to let him blend in with a universe that seemed quite lawless.

While he wasn't averse to her joining him, he wasn't blind to the risks either. If she was trapped with him on the other side, Billy would be left alone. Chris had no wish to leave the boy an orphan because of him.

"Yes Chris," she said firmly, understanding his concerns. She'd left Billy with Josiah with every intention of seeing her son again but something inside her couldn't let Chris do this alone. Not just because of her feelings for him, but because she'd promised that seventeen-year-old boy she would be there for him and it was a promise she intended to keep. "I don't know if you can understand this, but I promised Adam I'd be there for him and I meant it. I'm not doing this just for him though, I'm doing it for this other Mary Travis. Chris, she died to save his life. I can't help but feel I need to look after him for her."

Chris nodded in understanding and marveled at how deeply Adam had touched both their lives in the short time he had been here. They had to get him back, they just had to. The idea of leaving him to die in Svinak's hands was more than he could stand. He lost one son already and despite the dangers of travelling to the alternate dimension, he was not going to lose another.

Taking her face in his hands, Chris leaned forward and caught her mouth in a soft kiss of gratitude. Not for the first time, he was reminded of why he loved her so much and how easily she captured his heart from the minute he saw her.

"Okay," he nodded, showing her his acceptance of her reasons and putting an end to this discussion as far as he was concerned.

"I don't want to hear it!"

Both Chris and Mary were startled by that sharply delivered statement when the doors to the main shuttle bay slid open and striding through was Alexandra Styles, closely followed by Vin Tanner. Alex was wearing a cropped red jacket over a white sleeveless t-shirt, dark pants and high spaceman's boots. The belt around her waist held the scabbard sheathing a Klingon ceremonial dagger, he was sure. By the looks of her, she was a woman who had every intention of making a trip across dimensions whether or not her Vulcan husband liked it.

Vin who was similarly dressed for travelling in his jeans, the bomber jacket Alex had bought him at Christmas and a dark red striped shirt, wore a look of annoyance and exasperation. "Darlin', you ought to be resting after what happened. You're still...

"Pissed Vin. That's what I am, pissed and don't Darlin' me!" She paused and glared at him, so he would understand just how strongly she felt about this. "After what that twisted fuck did to me, I am going and when we catch up to him, I'm going to show him a whole new way of getting into someone's head." She patted her knife just to emphasize the point.

Chris and Mary exchanged a glance, deciding Vin was fighting a losing battle whether he knew it or not. As her Captain, Chris could order Alex not to go but somehow, he doubted it would do any good. The one issue where she would tolerate no interference or meddling was her ordeal by the Cardassian. What Svinak had done to Alex was exceptionally cruel and Chris understood her need to get some payback. Besides if anything went wrong on the other side with their return home, Alex's formidable expertise as a science officer might prove useful.

"Alex," Vin sighed and then noticed the Captain giving him a look telling him, he was not going to convince her. In the end, Vin had to concede the point because as much as he worried for her, he didn't want to be separated from her either, especially if they were trapped on the other side. "Darlin' I just want you to be safe."

"I'll be safe if we're together," she said clutching his hand. "Besides, I'll go crazy waiting for all of you to come back." She glanced at the Captain and Mary to indicate she included them in this statement. "Captain, you're going into hostile territory, you need all the help you can get. I promise I won't disembowel the bastard until we get Adam first."

She said that with such a straight face neither Chris nor Mary could tell if she was joking. Only Vin knew for sure.

"Thank you," Chris said with a faint smile but had to ask. "Are you okay though, really?"

"I'm fine," she said seriously, not just for the Captain's benefit but for Mary and to a degree Vin as well. "He caught me off guard and next time, if he tries it again, I'm going to know it's just in my head." She reached for Vin's hand and squeezed in a gesture of conciliation. She knew he was only worried about her, but she had to face Svinak, or else he'll be one of those loose ends dangling in her mind like Lemar had been for three years.

"Alright," Julia Pemberton emerged from the main hatch of the Cimarron with Ezra following close behind. "She's as ready as she's going to be."

"Commander," Ezra said with surprise when he saw Alex. "You are joining us?"

"Someone has to know how the multidimensional transporter works," Alex said with a smile. "I've been studying the schematics for the last hour or two, I've grasped the science behind it and how the device is meant to function."

"Julia," Chris turned to the Engineer. "I've sent a message to Buck on Risa. He should be back by tomorrow. After he stops yelling, tell him we're going to be back in three days if we can. If we're not back, we will try to send word somehow."

"Yes Captain," Julia nodded, wishing she could go but she needed to remain here. If anything went wrong, she knew being on the Maverick would put her in the best place to help them. "If you need to communicate, use the emitter on the Cimarron to open a subspace window to transmit your message."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Chris said and drew away, so Julia could have a moment with Ezra. He gestured for the others to board the runabout to give the couple a bit of privacy.

Once they were gone, Ezra turned to Julia. "I am certain we will not be gone long. As soon as we retrieve Adam, we will return immediately." He tried to reassure her even though he knew perfectly well she was aware of what awaited them on the other side.

"You better," Julia tried to hide her worry. "We've already got past our first relationship milestone and I want us to move into the next."

"Sex?" Ezra stared at her puzzled, reminding himself when he got back, he was finding this damn magazine info band she kept getting her relationship advice from. They were a greater menace than the Borg.

"No!" Julia exclaimed exasperatedly. "I mean Huxley!"

"Oh yes," Ezra rolled his eyes, remembering the kitten they had gotten together three months ago and supposed he ought to get the infernal creature, destroyer of all fabrics, stainer of rugs, from the animal boarding station he had left it during their sojourn on Bajor. "Huxley. So, pray to tell what is our next hurdle? Goldfish?"

Julia made a face. "Moving in together."

Ezra thought he hid his panic quite well. "Well we shall discuss it when I return," he flashed her a dimpled smile and kissed her on the lips, savoring the taste of her lips before hastily withdrawing. "But I must depart, we cannot delay much longer."

"Ezra?" Julia stared at him through narrowed eyes, aware he was in retreat.

"We will talk about this when I get back," he assured her and strode towards the hatch. "I promise."

"I'll bet," she glared at his back.

Ezra got into the cockpit of the runabout and saw Vin Tanner at the helm. Walking over to Vin, Ezra hissed quietly. "Lt. Tanner, we need to leave right now."

******

THE MIRROR UNIVERSE

She stood behind him, staring at his back in the quiet confines of medical.

He had not spoken a word in the last ten minutes, nor acknowledged her presence.

She wanted to be there for him, but she did not know how. While her heart ached for him, she did not have the words to make him feel better. It was not in her DNA to offer comfort. Their relationship pivoted on a very different dynamic than the one he shared with the woman lying on the examination table.

Their relationship was a more than professional, less than lovers. More than friends, less than family. They existed in that unique space occupied by soldiers in the battlefield, where survival and the cause lowered all boundaries, except those dedicated to those two things. She offered him alternatives, protected him when the better angels of his nature wanted to make decisions from the heart, not the mind.

As brilliant a commander as he was, his heart had always been his biggest failing and she who was his first officer and second in command, had made it her business to protect it at all cost. Even she knew a heart like this was a precious thing. Its capacity for hope and kindness was the glue that held together the Resistance. In their darkest hours, his words had rallied them when it was too easy to surrender to despair.

She only wished she could have protected him from what he was enduring now but this anguish was beyond her, beyond anything. Julia Pemberton prayed it did not break him.

For her part, her friend Mary Travis was dead, and she did the only thing she knew how to do when she felt pain. She turned it into anger. Anger had served Commander Julia Pemberton of the Resistance well. She had seen friends, family and lovers die all too often over the years. The only way to not go insane with grief is to take the rage and turn it into something constructive, to harden her heart to protect those with kinder dispositions from themselves.

"We should say something," The Master at Arms, Josiah Sanchez said quietly in her ear.

"What?" She asked the big man who stood almost a full head taller over her. Next to him she always felt tiny but then imposing was the nature of him. Beneath his gruff exterior was kindness but they shared the same cynicism their commander did not.

"Anything, something, I don't know," he conceded defeat after a while. "Being talky isn't my thing. Point me at something to shoot at and I'm your guy."

"Okay, okay," Julia stopped him from going any further. "I don't think he can handle your brand of tact right now."

"I'm always tactful," he said unsmiling. "I just say it with a blaster."

Julia rolled her eyes and decided she would have to intrude. There was too much to do considering what had happened. "Just get back to Command and continue with the redeployment strategy. We need to make sure everything that bastard took from her is absolutely useless to him."

In truth, ever since the Clarion went dark a week ago, they had suspected the worst and planned for it. The only way they had been able to combat the effects of Svinak's deadly mind rape was to conduct daily check-ins with Command. The instant a ship or cell didn't report in as required, they assumed the worst and began shifting their pieces on the chess board to stay one step ahead of the Tal Shiar commander.

"Good luck with that," Josiah said dubiously. "We're bound to lose some people because of this."

"I know," she couldn't argue with him. "But right now, damage control is all we've got."

"Right," he nodded before turning to leave her to deal with their leader's broken heart. Josiah had a feeling he had the easier of the two tasks.

Buck Wilmington felt numb.

Of course, he always knew this was possible. One could not fight a guerrilla war for the last twenty years and not expect people to die. He had known it and accepted it as a fact of life, but there was a part of him that hoped perhaps when it came to her, the depth of their love would somehow protect them. He knew he was foolish, but even after all these years, after all the death he'd seen and the men and women he had sent to die for the sake of the cause, there was still an optimist in him.

Chris had told him once his heart was too big for his own good.

Looking into her face, battered and bruised, he still thought she was lovely. It remained despite the brutality, and as his fingers brushed her face and her golden hair, he thought he might die from the sheer agony of it. It wasn't fair, it just wasn't and yet how many other men had lost their women during this bloody conflict that never seemed to end. Blinking, the tears splashed on her cool cheek and he wiped his eyes hastily, trying to get himself under control.

From the moment he'd broken into that Cardassian prison, determined to find Sarah only to realize he had been too late and was instead confronted by this terrified young woman, prepared to die protecting Chris's son like her own, Buck had loved her. How could he not? Even when she was uncertain of who he was and completely unable to defend herself, her fierce determination to protect the baby stood out.

Hell, she wouldn't even leave with him until he was able to convince her, he wasn't some Cardassian agent. Only when he explained to her Chris Larabee had been his best friend, did she finally understand and follow him. He brought her to the Resistance camp in the Mutara Nebula, provided her with a place to raise Adam and for the next seventeen years, watched her evolve from scared civilian, to mother lioness and finally a commander in the resistance, always in awe. In between stealing fragments of time where it was permissible, to love each other, always aware it could all end without warning.

He had prayed it would be her that survived because of the two, he expected to die first. He never wanted to be the one left standing because right now, he just wanted to die with her.

"Commander," Julia said softly, touching his arm. "I am so sorry."

"I know," he said quietly. "I suppose we were always on borrowed time. I should have known better than to forget that. I got lazy, forgot how things were. As soon as the Clarion didn't check in, I just had this awful feeling this was coming but I didn't want to face it. I should have been prepared for it." His voice cracked, and he fell silent, composing himself.

"You couldn't be prepared for this Com... Buck," she said gently. "No one could."

"He wanted me to find her like this," Buck whispered softly, feeling grief turning into a ball of hate, becoming red hot in his stomach. "After the meld, he must have known what we were...." Buck sucked in his breath.

Julia knew this already but let him speak and once again cursed under her breath at that bastard Vulcan who was deserving of the most painful death she could imagine.

"It's time," Buck said quietly. "I swore we would never do it, but after this..."

Julia stiffened perfectly aware of the scenario they had often discussed but never enacted because the price was too high, but she felt the shift in him, the result of more pain than anyone ought to endure. "Are you sure?"

"We have to," Buck said calmly, "we can't keep going this way. We've tried to fight this war clean, to not become like them and I thought I could deal with anything," he brushed his fingers against Mary's hair and felt his heart break anew. "Anything but this."

Julia nodded, aware how far he had been pushed to take this action. At the heart of him, was a soldier who still believed in honor. He'd been forced to erode much of it away in the last twenty years and to see the last of his high-minded principles finally disintegrating, made Julia mourn for it too.

Suddenly, Julia's communicator hummed on her belt and with irritation, she snatched it free and held it to her mouth, furious at the interruption. "Pemberton here, what the hell is it?"

It was Josiah. "We've got a problem." His voice was grave.

Both Buck and Julia exchanged glances. "What is it, Josiah?" Buck demanded.

"Svinak's got Adam."

******

Inside the cockpit of the Cimarron, Chris had taken the seat for Ops next to Vin, who was naturally at the Conn. Alex took up her customary station at the Sciences, while Mary, who had once shown enough engineering skill to rescue him from the C'Kaia, was manning Engineering. Ezra, as usual, took tactical. Chris had to admit, Julia's idea of incorporating the multidimensional transporter into a runabout was a stroke of genius. No matter what happened over there, they wouldn't be at the mercy of strangers for their safety.

Vin flew the small craft out of the main hangar bay, taking the craft away from the Maverick and the station before hitting full impulse to take them out of the system before they could hit warp. As the approached the edge of the Lysian system, Chris felt the need to speak before they made the crossing.

"Before we go any further," Chris swept his gaze over the faces of his command staff who were more than just his comrades but his friends. "If anyone has any second thoughts about this and wishes to back out, I'll understand. Getting Adam back is my problem, not yours and I won't hold it against anyone who wishes turn back."

"Shut up and sit down pard," Vin drawled, pretty confident he was speaking for everyone. "We're going."

"Nicely put Mr Tanner," Ezra rolled his eyes from his seat behind them. "I would have put it more eloquently, but I believe, I am in agreement with our Officer of Con." He met the Captain's gaze.

"I'm obligated by marriage to agree with everything Vin says now," Alex smirked, drawing a bit of laughter from everyone. Chris was glad to see she was getting her sense of humor back after what happened to her on DS5.

"Chris," Mary looked at him. "We're with you."

Chris nodded and let out a sigh before turning to Vin. "Alright then, let's do this."

Chapter Ten: Jericho

When they crossed over from one dimension to another, Chris wasn't certain what he was expecting. Considering the enormity of what they were embarking on, the dimensional walls seemed wafer thin when they activated the modified emitter on the Cimarron and ripped open subspace. There was little more than a burst of light and color, not unlike the effect of the ship entering high warp, before they were through. After the light that swallowed them whole diminished and they were able to blink its brilliance out of their eyes, they were once again in normal space.

In a different universe.

Even though the stars seemed familiar and their present location was exactly what it been prior to the crossing, Chris knew they had left the Federation and the world they knew, far behind. All it took to confirm this was Alex's scan of the Lysian system. There was no trace of DS5 and Lysia, ravaged almost two years ago by the Borg was whole, without any of the calamity that left billions dead and most of its cities gouged off the face of the planet. Even more convincing, the Hobus star was still intact and with it, the Romulan Star Empire.

With all doubts to the contrary put to rest, Vin set course for the Typhon Expanse and Jericho Station to begin the search for Adam.

From their current location, the journey to Jericho took only a matter of hours with the runabout travelling at Warp 7. With Ezra and Alex working in concert to ensure their flight kept them beyond the range of any ships, Chris decided that it was best they limited their interactions with the residents of this universe.

In the meantime, Mary listened to the chatter on subspace, finding it to be a mess of overlapping frequencies, evidence of an unregulated communications system. This was mostly due to the lack of official communication bands, allowing private and commercial transmissions to become lost among each other unless one knew the exact frequency to listen to.

It was the Wild West, Chris thought absurdly.

"So that's it," Mary exclaimed as she leaned forward in her seat and took in the sight of the space station beyond the Cimarron's cockpit window.

Jericho Station, according to the intelligence Ezra had gained from Adam, was one of the few stations in the alternate universe controlled by humans, or as they were known here, Terrans. It certainly had the aesthetic of a space station designed by earl Federation engineers. Shaped like a horseshoe, the space along its inside curves was occupied by a spherical hub, connected to the rest of the construct with several walkways. Protruding from the top of the hub was a length of the tower, most likely the main operations center of the station. While it was slightly smaller than DS5, it was no less impressive.

"It almost looks like one of our early starbases," Chris commented, studying the station as Vin began to reduce speed as they approached it. "We should be in range of their sensors by now," he glanced over his shoulder. "Alex, hail them. We're going to need permission to dock."

"Aye Captain," Alex answered, accessing the comms array from her station. "Jericho Station, this is the private ship Cimarron, requesting permission to dock."

"I hope they don't take any more than a passing interest in our ship, Chris," Mary remarked. "We are something of an unknown."

"I would not concern yourself too much, Lt. Travis," Ezra spoke up before Chris could. "From what Adam told me, this station is meant to be neutral ground. They would be anticipating all kinds of travelers to take advantage of their hospitality without careful scrutiny."

A burst of static preceded a response to Alex's hail and they all fell silent to listen.

"Cimarron," a disembodied voice spoke over them. "Please disengage engines and prepare to follow docking procedures."

"We are disengaging engines and awaiting further instructions," Alex replied.

Vin glanced at Chris who gave him a slight nod of permission before he faced the controls once more. "Okay," he said preparing to shut down the engines. "Here we go."

*****

As anticipated, they encountered little difficulty docking the runabout at Jericho Station. Once within proximity of its tractor beam, the ship was guided to the nearest docking port after a cursory scan to ensure they were not carrying anything capable of posing a threat to the station or its inhabitants. Prior to their approach to the station, Chris had instructed Ezra to erect a thoron field over the complement of photon and quantum torpedoes in the Cimarron's weapons array. Aside from concealing their defensive capability, Chris was not allowing further contamination of this universe from their side of it.

Prior to docking, station administration had requested a manifest of the Cimarron of all passengers on board the craft. Aware they had counterparts in this reality, Chris used the surname of his ancestor from the Sulaco, calling himself Chris Hicks, while Alex simply adopted her married surname. Mary took on her mother's professional surname, Sheridan and Ezra who was in the greatest danger of discovery, since it was his doppelganger they were coming here to meet, assumed the identity of Harcourt Mudd. The name belonged to an old con artist Maude had known in her youth.

Upon entering Jericho Station, Chris found it to be no less lively than DS5. According to the station directory, most of the businesses, including the Wyld Card bar, Adam had described was in the hub while the horseshoe ring surrounding it, was designated accommodation areas. Once again, Chris was struck with the similarities in its layout, to some of the older starbases. It appeared before its collapse, Terran technology was remarkably similar to the Federation's.

Although they were strangers in a new land, it was easy to become lost once they entered the Hub. The station pulsed with life, with races of every kind going about their business, whether it was to frequent the numerous cafes and restaurants, wafting with the aromas of exotic food or enjoying the entertainments at the numerous taverns and bars. Aside from the established shops, vendors sold their wares from pop kiosks along the walkway while others solicited customers carrying their stock on their persons. It was a cosmopolitan environment of sights, smells, and sounds.

From this place, it was difficult to imagine there was a conflict being waged by the Resistance and the Romulan Empire.

Vin however, did note a few people staring at him in puzzlement as he walked by, trying to discern what exactly he was. Although the tinge of greenish pallor gave him away as either a Romulan or Vulcan, it was his human appearance that was causing interest. He supposed he could not blame them for their confusion. Even in his own universe, his appearance had given people reason for pause. They never knew what to make of him.

He supposed if there was any consolation to be had, in knowing an evil version of yourself existed, it was finally having it confirmed that his name was indeed Svinak. He knew his birth parents had called him something like it, which he had been unable to articulate to his foster parents with any clarity and in the end, they just called him Vin.

"I wish they would quit staring at me," Vin grumbled, brushing past another man who was gaping at him wide-eyed in surprise. There had been more than a few people doing a double take at the sight of him.

"They are probably unsettled by your resemblance to this Svinak," Ezra offered from beneath the Fedora he was wearing to obscure his features since his counterpart was a staple fixture in these parts.

"I agree," Chris remarked. "Judging by Adam's reaction to you in Four Corners, they're terrified of him and probably want to get out of your crosshairs, just in case."

"Jesus Christ," Vin shook his head in disbelief. He was accustomed to people shying away from him because he was so different but being afraid like this, made his stomach hollow in disgust.

"Well that might work to our favor," Chris suggested. "It will keep people out of our business."

Alex shuddered at the thought. She was trying to remain neutral when it came to the subject of Svinak. She was accustomed to being able to compartmentalize her emotions when it came to Vin. After the whole business of the Pon Farr, Alex had learned to distinguish between the monster caught in the grip of the blood fever to the man she loved. She was forcing herself to do the same with Svinak, who wore her husband's face but was a monster in every other way.

"Or it might get them to talk," she glanced at Vin, feeling profane for even making the suggestion.

"Exactly," Ezra agreed with her and saw Vin stiffen at the idea. It was a card he would prefer not to play but if they were in a tight situation, may need to be.

"It doesn't seem so different from any Federation space station," Mary remarked looking around. "Everybody seems to be getting along. Even the humans."

"From what Adam told us, it's one of the few human controlled places in the galaxy," Chris explained. "According to Adam, the human race is still paying for what it did to the rest of the galaxy for three hundred years as the Terran Empire."

"Terran Empire," Mary shuddered at the idea the Federation, whose principles were her life's work, could be so twisted was unimaginable. "It sounds so wrong."

"I know what you mean," Chris shared her disgust. Becoming a starship captain was his dream, not just because he wanted to explore space but because it meant defending an idea greater than himself. One that brought light to billions of people across the Alpha Quadrant. He didn't think he could have served in this Terran Empire who ruled in a brutality.

"Oh Ezra," Vin called out as they reached what appeared to be a small plaza. "I think this might be the place Adam was talking about."

Ezra could only gape at the establishment in front of them. Aside from the fact that it was undoubtedly the largest bar on the whole station, the neon sign flashing over the main doors, read the name Wyld Card and seemed to promise a thousand and one delights through its open doors. Loud, percussive music pounded against its inside walls like a heartbeat, while providing glimpses of patrons at gambling tables and the bar, adorned by beautiful women in scandalous clothing.

"Thank God we didn't bring Buck," Alex said staring at the place in a mixture of fascinated horror and disgust. "If we lost him in there, we would never see him again."

"Come on," Chris took the lead and headed towards the doors. He didn't care if Ezra's alter ego oversaw Sodom and Gomorrah, he was here to find Adam. "We're here for a reason."

"Right," Vin nodded and fell into stride with Chris, unwilling to let the Captain get too far ahead of them. They all knew Chris was filled with worry for Adam and riding that high on emotion, might cause the man to make an error in judgement. None of them wanted to see a repeat of Chris's behavior during their mission on Fury 361.

Ezra held back, aware his appearance might complicate the situation, allowing Mary and Alex to proceed into the place in front of him. While the idea of owning a saloon, like the character he played on the Magnificent Seven holo-program, was attractive, he could never imagine owning a place as vulgar or garish as this. While he could see himself owning an establishment that might host games of chance, the idea of peddling in human flesh made him sick to the stomach.

It was a perception that remained unchanged when he stepped inside the place and caught sight of the stage at the other side of the premises, away from the gaming tables. A leggy beauty held the attention of the mostly male audience, dancing to the pounding music they were able to hear from the outside of the bar, wearing high heels, and little else. Ezra made a cursory scan of the numerous tables and booths, trying to see if he could locate his alter-ego in this odious place.

Ezra spotted him immediately.

The Ezra Standish who ran this establishment was watching the performance in rapt attention. He was impeccably dressed in a dark blue suit of embroidered material, with a hip length coat and a high mandarin collar. Everything about him exuded wealth and Ezra supposed, with the number of patrons in this place, business was good enough to warrant it. There were thick chunky rings on his fingers and his hair was slightly longer than Ezra's, but everything about him was exactly the same. It was disconcerting.

"Cap..." Ezra opened his mouth to speak and then remembered they were operating covertly in this dimension. "Chris," he tapped the com badge hidden beneath his own dark coat. "I've found him."

*****

Thanks to the performance of the dancer on stage, no one paid attention to them as they approached the table occupied by the owner of the Wyld Card. The music was louder this way and to ensure they were heard, everyone was using the com badges to speak over the sound of the music.

It was only when they were closer, did Chris get a glimpse of the woman dancing on the stage. He had to blink twice at the sight of Alexandra Styles or rather her alter-ego in this universe, dancing on stage, wearing clear heels, dressed in a sequined costume that was little more than a G-string bikini, doing things to a feather boa that was practically indecent.

"Goddamn," Chris whispered under his breath and was once again very glad Buck was not here. The amusement his old friend would take at the Science Officer's expense would only end with Buck being pushed out of an airlock. Still, despite the situation, Chris could not help smirk at the thought of how Alex was going to react to seeing her counterpart's performance.

"What?" Vin asked and saw the reflection of light against the dancer's lovely features, before his blue eyes flashed in recognition and his jaw dropped. That was Alex up there. No, not Alex, he corrected himself immediately and threw a glance over his shoulder to see where his Alex was. She and Mary were weaving through the tables of leering men, with Ezra following closely. The Security Chief was looking down, trying not to make eye contact with everyone so they would not see his face.

Staring at the stage again, he took in the sight of the woman who was not his Alex, not with her heavily made-up face and her body exposed for God and everyone to see. She was barely wearing anything, and her skin seemed to gleam lustrously with some kind of glitter product. When she tossed the top half of her costume into the audience, Vin had to fight the urge to leap up on the stage to haul her out of the limelight just on principle.

He also wondered what his chances of survival were if he suggested to Alex, she should come to bed wearing a boa.

"What the fu...."

Not good, Vin decided upon hearing her indignant cry of horror.

"Oh, My God," Mary exclaimed just as stunned as she stared wide-eyed at Alex's other self, dancing topless on a stage, much to the adulation of the crowd who were now cheering even louder.

"Why Commander," Ezra's voice followed soon after. "I had no idea you were so...OW!"

"Alright, alright," Chris broke in, trying not to smirk at the look of utter outrage Alex was wearing on her face, not to mention the fact that despite her coloring, he knew she was blushing furiously.

Ezra was wearing a grin as he rubbed his shoulder where Alex had jabbed him, probably feeling vindicated he was not the only one in this universe with an unsavory life. He wondered if it was worth his life, trying to capture the performance on his tricorder for later viewing and decided by the look of horror on Alex's face, it was probably not a good idea.

For his part, Chris kept his eyes averted from the stage after his initial viewing. If he wanted to ever look at his science officer without picturing her naked except for a gold G-string, he needed to limit his viewing of her in that costume. "Everyone, focus."

"Oh, I can't look," Alex kept her eyes on the floor, wanting the ground to open up and swallow her up. Even though the woman on the stage was someone completely different, Alex could not imagine in any reality, being driven to take up exotic dancing as a career.

"It ain't that bad," Vin tried to comfort her. "At least, she ain't no murdering psychic monster." He pointed out, putting things in perspective. He was fighting hard not to smirk because he suspected he would get the same treatment as Ezra if he made any remark about how nice her skin would look glittering.

Chris shook his head, taking Mary's hand because he was reluctant to have her stray too far from this place, seeing how women were regarded here. He continued towards the man who owned this establishment. Once Ezra pointed him out to them, he was easy enough to find and his private booth placed him in an optimum view to watch the performance, but also be afforded with some measure of privacy.

No sooner than they came into sight of him, the man's familiar eyes widened in recognition and he stood up abruptly, the shock on his face apparent. However, Chris realized it was not him that this other Ezra Standish was staring at, it was Mary. At that moment, Chris realized he knew the Mary Travis who was mother to Adam.

"Mary?" He emerged from the booth to meet her.

Mary shook her head and leaned forward to say quietly in his ear. "Not the one you know."

He stared at her for a moment, before Chris saw the light of understanding flood his eyes and he nodded. "Perhaps, we ought to find a more discreet place to talk."

*****

"I need a drink," the owner of the Wyld Card stated after introductions were made within the privacy of his office, away from the noise and the prying eyes of patrons in the bar. Considering the faces worn by them, it was a prudent course of action. While his and Lexie's alternate versions were more curiosities than anything else, Mary Travis and Svinak's were another matter entirely. He had given one of his staff instructions to summon Nathan Jackson here as soon as possible. The administrator needed to know the potential danger of having an alternate version of Mary Travis on his station.

"I concur," Ezra agreed wholeheartedly, empathizing with the man's difficulties, particularly when facing Vin Tanner and Mary Travis. While he seemed to grasp the concept the alternate universe and the understanding that Mary and him, were not of his realm, Ezra could see his difficulty where Vin was concerned.

Standish poured himself a drink and lowered himself into the chair behind his desk. He was still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that while he and his counterpart shared certain characteristics, they were such a stark contrast, he was frankly astonished. This man who called himself Security Chief Standish was military. Never in Standish's entire life had he ever considered a military career and could not imagine what circumstances could force him to choose that as a career path. He could never be foolish enough to align himself with a cause. It was a sure-fire way to get oneself killed.

Then there was the Vulcan.

Except he did not look Vulcan but rather Terran. Standish was unable to believe geography could have changed Svinak from being one of the most ruthless men in the Alpha Quadrant to a somewhat soft-spoken young man who sounded like he had come from Texas and was married if that wedding band around his finger was any indication. Standish, like his counterpart, was an observer of people and everything about this Vin Tanner was such a contrast to Svinak it staggered the mind.

"I am still trying to believe a mere trick of geography, has made you what you are as opposed to the version of yourself we have been so unfortunate to know." He said to Vin.

Vin bristled, still finding it unbelievable that the alternate version of himself in this universe was so completely amoral. Never in Vin's worst nightmares, even when he feared the effect of the Pon Farr, had Vin ever imagine such darkness could inhabit any part of him.

"Trust me," Vin shrugged. "This ain't fun for me either. That son of a bitch came across to our universe and hurt my wife. When I get my hands on him, I plan on teaching him a lesson in humility he ain't likely to forget any time soon."

"Your wife," Standish looked over his shoulder at Alex, who was studying his office in interest, once again trying to reconcile what he knew of Lexie's relationship with Svinak to the idea of these two individuals being married. Considering what Svinak had done to Lexie on board the Firebrand." I'm afraid his relationship with Lexie, is nowhere that cordial."

"Alright enough," Chris said impatiently, tired of all of this because he wanted to get on with their search for Adam. "Adam believed you had connections. Can you get us in touch with the Resistance? We need help if we're going to get Adam and get the hell back to our universe."

"Get him back?" Standish snorted. "You cannot be serious. Svinak does not let anyone go and he has plans for your Adam."

Standish wondered who this man was because the others seemed to defer to him, even though they called him by name. He reeked of military discipline and rank. If anything, he commanded them the same way Svinak had commanded his Romulan entourage during their visit to the Wyld Card.

"I don't give a damn what those plans are," Chris snapped. "I am going to find Adam."

Mary stepped forward, understanding Chris's impatience but it was clear this man would not respond to his natural abrasiveness. "Mr Standish, he's just a boy and the Mary from this universe died to save his life. We owe it to her to see him safe."

"I owe her nothing," Standish declared and immediately recognized the contempt behind the eyes of his counterpart, even though like him, the man maintained a perfect poker face. Something about his disdain, made Standish flinch. Groaning inwardly, he let out a sigh, hating it when emotion moved him. There was no profit in it and it was likely to bring him a world of hurt. However, a part of him also wanted to make Svinak pay for what he had done to Lexie and if helping these strangers on their suicide mission, caused the Vulcan a skerrick of trouble, it was worth it.

"I can get you in touch with the resistance but from what my contacts tell me, Svinak intends to use the boy as bait."

"Bait?" Chris exclaimed. "Why?"

"He is attempting to draw out the leader of the Resistance and he believes Adam is the key to doing that. He will be kept on Svinak's ship, the Firebrand. It is a Romulan warbird and unless you have a battlecruiser, you will not even get close."

"Why would he need Adam to draw out the leader of the Resistance?" Vin had to ask and found Standish unable to meet his gaze when he asked the question. The man still saw Svinak, making Vin doubly determined to kill this bastard.

"I am uncertain," Standish confessed. "I am only aware that Svinak believes Adam is the key to getting Wilmington."

"Wilmington?" Chris blurted out. "As in Buck Wilmington?"

"Yes," Standish nodded, realizing they knew who Buck Wilmington was, or rather a version of him. "In this universe, Buck Wilmington is the leader of the Terran Resistance."

"Well that makes sense," Alex spoke up, understanding the situation better than Standish with that revelation. "Captain, if this Buck had the same relationship with the Chris Larabee of this universe, then it stands to reason why he would sacrifice himself for Adam."

"Yeah," Chris nodded, thinking about his oldest friend and remembered how much Buck had loved his young son. At the time of Sarah and Adam's death, Chris had been too wrapped up in his own grief to realize that Buck was also in mourning. He had lost a friend and a child he loved like his own. If his other self-had the same friendship with the Buck Wilmington of this universe, Chris had no difficulty believing Buck would sacrifice himself for Adam without a second thought.

Suddenly the doors slid open, allowing the noise of the music outside to invade the room for a moment as Nathan Jackson, administrator of Jericho Station entered. The man had taken no more than two steps when he froze.

Great, Vin thought to himself. Someone else who was shit scared of him,

Except Nathan wasn't staring at him, he was staring at the Captain of the Maverick like he was seeing a ghost.

"Chris? Is that you?"

Chapter Eleven: Childhood

Authors Note: I'm placing an * against the name of certain characters who might be in the same space as their mirror universe counterparts to avoid confusion :)

MIRROR UNIVERSE

You could get through just about anything when you had friends.

When he was just eight years old, trapped in a Cardassian mine after watching his parents die of Symbalene Blood Burn, Nathan was forced to believe it. Although he was born in the slave camps like most Terrans, he never considered his life to be a misery. It was just the way things were. Being Terran meant being a slave, even though he knew his parents came from a time before the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance when being Terran meant more than just being fodder for the work camps. There was a time being Terran meant being free.

Nathan couldn't imagine what free meant when he had never known it, to understand there was a difference. All he knew, was while his parents lived, everything would be okay. Of course, the realities of slavery soon showed him the fragility of such hope. After they were taken from him, the terrible misery of a slave existence, which they somehow managed to keep away from him with their light and love, swallowed Nathan up whole in a sharp dose of cruel reality.

Taken away from the camp where he was born, Nathan found himself on Janus IV, a world rich in precious ore and minerals. Before the Alliance was chased off-world by its Horta inhabitants, the planet was a treasure trove of precious ore and minerals. Prior to that awakening, the planet's dense core made it impossible to reach the ore with machinery and as a result, Janus could only be mined using the bizarre network of tunnels running through the planet like catacombs. Never to allow such hurdles to keep them from what they wanted, the Cardassians found the perfect workforce to mine the narrow tunnels, thin fissures and crevices without significant blasting. Children.

Nathan arrived at Janus IV within a week of his parents' death, deeply traumatized by having to watch them die in front of him. So deep was his state of shock, his mind barely registered the back-breaking toil his body was forced to endure. With no appetite to eat and convinced death was the only way to see his parents again, Nathan ignored the scant rations provided to him even though the demanding work of the day, insisted on it. While all the children in the camp were malnourished in one form or another, Nathan quickly became emaciated, with none of their Cardassian jailors caring enough to investigate.

The only one who was paying attention was a blond boy with icy blue eyes.

Chris Larabee was two years older and Nathan had seen him around the mines, with his taller friend Buck Wilmington. Both had been in the Janus IV camp longer than most and like everyone else, were orphans. Chris was even younger than Nathan when he has designated an orphan and spent most of his life being shunted from one camp to another. By the time he was ten, he was a seasoned mine worker.

Unknown to Nathan at the time, Chris had been observing him since his arrival at Janus and recognized how perilously close he was to dying. Deciding anyone strong-willed enough to make his death happen, was someone capable of surviving the mines. All it required was someone to care enough to step in and change his mind.

It was Chris who explained to Nathan, he was allowing the last piece of his parents to die by this roundabout method of suicide. Once he was gone, there would be no trace of them left, no one to remember the memory of his mother's sweet embrace or the songs she crooned to him at bedtime, not even the smile his father always gave him at the end of the day's toil. Chris revealed he had no such memories of his own because he was too young when his parents died, but he would live on such memories if he had them.

If Nathan allowed himself to starve to death, it would be like his parents dying all over again and this time it wouldn't be Symbalene Blood Fever that was the cause, it would be him.

Delivered so plainly and without effort to assuage his wounded sensibilities, the argument worked, and Nathan emerged from his stupor of grief to realize from that day onwards, he wasn't alone. He had become the third member of a tightly knit bond of friendship. It was a friendship thicker than blood, allowing him to survive the next five years until they found the opportunity to escape. When they left Janus IV, it was not just he and Buck who escaped, there were other children too. Chris just had a knack of bringing people together and it was he who began the fledgling Resistance movement, that ultimately toppled the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance.

Of course, Chris himself never saw that victory. He'd died at the age of twenty, with the enemy thinking they'd ridden themselves of an agitator when in fact, they created a martyr.

*****

The last time Nathan Jackson saw Chris Larabee, was the day he and Buck Wilmington buried him on that lonely hill on Nimbus III. With Sarah on Alpha Centauri, awaiting her new husband's return, Buck and Nathan were the closest people their leader had to family and felt it their responsibility to ensure he received a proper burial. Nathan remembered looking into Buck's eyes and seeing the big man's tears, knowing instinctively, Buck was going to step in for Chris. By then, Nathan was already apprenticing with an elderly Terran doctor named William Styles and was done with the fighting.

Meeting each other's gazes across that plot of freshly moved dirt, they knew then and there they would go their separate ways. Since they were children, they were seldom apart but Chris's death had broken the chains that bound them together. Without him, they were fractured pieces cast adrift. Of course, they would see each other over the years, a friendship that strong could never be discarded completely but their triad was missing its vital component. The void it left behind was more than either of them could overcome and almost felt wrong trying to maintain without Chris.

Seeing this man in front of him, wearing Chris Larabee's face, the childhood friend who saved his life so long ago in that camp on Janus IV, whom Nathan would have gratefully died in his place was more than he could stand. Of course, this man wasn't the Chris Larabee he knew. He couldn't be, even if the resemblance was uncanny. Still, he couldn't help but react the way he did when he first laid eyes on him.

"Chris? Is that you?"

"No," Chris answered automatically. He had to. This wasn't the CMO of the Maverick, this was the Nathan Jackson of this reality, but Chris was forced to speak when he saw the emotion in the man's eyes. The hope there was so blinding, so steeped in loss, Chris recognized it immediately. It was the same look Chris wore in his own eyes when he saw Adam for the first time, days ago. It was the surge of emotion that came from realizing something precious was within reach again, after losing it so painfully. "I'm not your Chris Larabee, I'm sorry."

And just like that, it was gone. Chris saw Nathan blink, forcing away that instant of warm hope, only to be doused with cold reality again. Everyone who saw the exchange felt the same sadness and wondered who Chris Larabee had been to the Nathan Jackson of this world, for it was not the same relationship one felt for one's Captain, this had been deeper.

It was Standish who spoke. "Nathan, this is not your friend, not the one you know. He's from Kirk's Universe."

"What?" Nathan stared at the gambler, trying to process. Kirk's Universe. Of course, he knew of the alternate reality and the contamination that changed their universe so irrevocably. The only standing order to survive the Terran Empire and the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance that followed, was the immediate execution of anyone making the crossing from that universe. After the damage caused by James Kirk, no one wanted to see a repeat of that crime. Staring at the man in front of him, Nathan realized Ezra* was correct, this wasn't the Chris Larabee of his past. The man was his age and that alone cemented how this could not be.

Still seeing Chris, or rather what Chris could have been, still cut through Nathan like a knife and he turned away for a second, needing to compose himself before he could face the stranger once more. When Nathan finally got a hold of himself, his eyes scanned the faces before him, raising a brow at a man who looked exactly like Standish but was not him. This version was leaner, more disciplined. There was none of the weariness and resignation, he saw in Standish's eyes. This man had hope.

Beside him was Mary Travis, and despite his shock at seeing the woman alive and well, Nathan knew this wasn't the commander of the Clarion. He had never met Mary Travis personally, but the news of her death had reached him, because he felt his heart ache for Buck when he learned of it. Lexie was there too but she was different. He saw the muscle tone of her body, the hard edge in her eyes. She was not the soft thing that danced on stage and was accustomed to luxuries. This was a creature of combat.

None of it however, was as jarring as seeing the man who wore Svinak's face. Nathan immediately tensed and if he were armed, he would have gone for his weapon. Staring at those eyes, Nathan felt his heart immediately starting to pound.

"I ain't him," Vin spoke up immediately, guessing what was in Nathan's mind the minute he recognized him. "I know we look alike but I'm from the other side and I am not that murdering bastard."

His speech made Nathan do a double take, trying to process how Svinak's counterpart could not only look so human but sound it as well. Instead, he turned to Standish. "You better be right about this," Nathan eyed Vin with open hostility. "If you're wrong, we're both dead."

"I ain't Svinak. My name is Vin," Vin introduced himself, "and I promise you, if I run into the son of a bitch, I intend to kill him, make no mistake on that."

"You wouldn't be alone," Nathan hissed, black hatred in his eyes aimed at Vin even if it wasn't logical. "Do you know what you...that son of a bitch did?" He shot Standish a look. "He killed Mary! He killed her and left her for Buck to find! He knew Buck was in love with her and he left her there!"

Chris's eyes widened at that statement, not only because the Buck Wilmington of this universe had loved Mary Travis, but because the woman didn't die as Adam believed but survived long after the boy left. Jesus Christ, how was Adam going to take that news? The kid felt guilty enough about leaving his mother behind. Knowing he had left her to be tortured and murdered by Svinak would play havoc with the boy's heart.

Furthermore, even though the woman wasn't his Mary, she had raised Adam like her own child and sacrificed everything to see him safe. The Captain of the Maverick felt a swell of outrage, hearing she was murdered and then discarded like rubbish. If there was any solace in this, it was knowing with each heinous act committed by the Commander of the Tal Shiar, it was becoming easier it was to kill him.

"Oh my God," Mary exclaimed, thinking the same thing. She thought about how guilty Adam had been to have left his mother. To hear such news made her heart ache for him. No doubt with Adam in Svinak's power, the Vulcan commander would have little hesitation in revealing that news to the boy in the most brutal way possible. Suddenly, she felt the same fierce desire to protect Adam as her counterpart in this universe. They had to get him back. They had to take him away from all this pain.

Mary stepped forward, more than accustomed to navigating through heated emotions to bring some semblance of order to the room.

"Mr Jackson," she spoke up kindly. "Your Mary sent Adam to our side for a better life and we," she glanced at Chris, "intend to see he has it, but we need to get to the Resistance. Svinak came across to our reality and took him. We need your help to get him back."

If anything could slice through his doubt and fears, it was the idea of Chris Larabee's son being in danger. The loyalty for his childhood friend was still as strong as the day they'd met and there was nothing Nathan wouldn't do to prove it. He stared at the woman who was wearing the face of Mary Travis, unable to imagine how Buck was going to react seeing his long-time love. Nathan knew exactly how, he would bury it deep because that's all he had been doing since assuming the leadership of the Resistance, burying it because as a commander, he couldn't afford to show weakness.

"All right," Nathan let out a deep breath, dispelling all the reservations he had about this bizarre situation. Chris Larabee's boy was in trouble. Nothing else mattered beyond that. "What do you need from me?"

*****

Less than a day later, the Cimarron was holding position at the coordinates provided by the Resistance once Nathan Jackson had gotten in contact with them

Shortly after their meeting with Nathan, the administrator of Jericho Station sent a message to the Resistance, he knew would make its way to Buck Wilmington because of their childhood friendship. Years ago, when he had first been elected Jericho's governor, Buck had told Nathan he could best serve the cause, by not serving it. Jericho functioned best as a place of neutrality and keeping it in one piece was vital to their information network. Thus, while Nathan knew how to contact the Resistance and occasionally received news from them, he knew nothing else about the movement's details.

The response to his message returned almost immediately, with instructions to head for a set of coordinates deep within the Typhon Expanse. This made perfect sense to Chris because the Typhon Expanse was a mixture of superheated gases and plasma storms. It played havoc with sensors and provided ships with some measure of cloak from long-range scanning. As a rendezvous point, there was none better, as it was more than adequate for preventing any Romulan patrol from detecting the runabout or the Resistance ship they were here to meet.

Despite Standish's advice to the contrary, Nathan insisted on accompanying them to the meeting. The healer made the compelling argument if he wasn't present, the Resistance was liable to kill Vin on sight. Although Chris was reluctant to let the man risk himself for them, he realized Nathan was correct on this point. He had no idea how the Resistance would react to them, let alone imagine how they would respond to Vin Tanner when they saw him. For the first time since entering this dimension, Chris wondered if Vin accompanying them on this mission had been prudent. The risks to the Vulcan was extreme due to his counterpart's actions.

"Well this is it," Vin stated, easing back into his seat once they arrived at the coordinates and Vin had placed the runabout in a holding pattern.

Beyond the cockpit window, there was little to see except the clouds of swirling pink and lavender gases, spiked by spidery tendrils of current generated by plasma storms. In this place, there were no stars, by which to navigate and the ship relied entirely on instrumentation to traverse its confines. Ships had been known to become lost in the area, wandering the maelstrom in circles until life support and power finally gave out.

"Alex, see if you can scan the area," Chris instructed the Science Officer from his seat next to Vin. He peered through the window and could see nothing ahead but the thick canopy of gases that seemed like wraiths trying to find a way through the hull.

"I'll do what I can Captain," Alex answered promptly, "but I'm not hopeful we'll pick up anything. There's simply too much interference from the radiation outside."

"Do what you can anyway," Chris replied and turned to Nathan who was presently seated in the only unoccupied station in the cockpit. "So, I take it you knew Chris Larabee from way back?" He asked, somewhat curious to who his counterpart had been during his short life. Adam knew nothing about his father and as much as the Captain of the Maverick would like to be that for him, it would be a disservice to the Chris Larabee who died, for his son to not know something about the man who sired him.

"Yes," Nathan nodded, still trying to come to grips with the fact the man in front of him was not his childhood friend. "We met when we were kids in Janus IV."

"Janus IV?" Ezra exclaimed. "You do not mean the Horta homeworld?"

In their universe, the Horta was one of the few non-carbon-based life forms known to exist. Their curious biology required them to die out every 50,000 years, with only a single female left alive to nurture the eggs that generation left behind. Capable of superheating their skin, the Horta moved through rock as humans moved through the air. The network of tunnels used by Federation miners who landed on Janus IV was the result of their movement through their natural environment.

"That's what it is now," Nathan explained, "but when we were there, the Horta hadn't woken up and the ore still needed mining. Unfortunately, the tunnels were too narrow for adults to fit so they used children."

"Oh God," Mary exclaimed in horror, unable to imagine such cruelty.

"Makes sense," Chris shrugged, even though he was just as disgusted by the idea as Mary. Still, nothing about this universe was capable of shocking him, not after what Adam told him and what he was seeing for himself. "Children would be small enough to fit in the tunnels left behind by the Horta. Even back in our world, mining Janus IV was problematic until the Horta woke up. That's how we started trading with them."

"Captain!" Ezra spoke up immediately, interrupting the conversation. "We have a ship approaching."

Chris faced forward immediately and tried to see through the gaseous clouds beyond the cockpit for any sign of the craft. Meanwhile, Alex's fingers were flying across her station, trying to gain some readings from the limited sensor function.

"Get our shields up Ezra," Chris ordered, not about to risk their lives if the ship did not belong to the Resistance. Chris had no intention of tangling with another Romulan warbird if he could avoid it.

"Done, Captain," Ezra said automatically, noting Nathan's amused expression as he did so. The Security Chief realized the man was still having trouble imagining the friend he knew wearing a uniform in any reality.

When the ship emerged, everyone save Nathan Jackson felt their jaw drop in astonishment. There was no need for sensors when every one of the Maverick's crew recognized the ship appearing through the gaseous mists, on slow approach. The design was known to all of them. From the familiar curve of the saucer section to the twin nacelles of the primary and secondary hull. The ship may have been eighty years old but there was no doubt in their minds what it was.

"Jesus Christ," Vin exclaimed, once again making Nathan shake his head at the strangeness of the persona of the Vulcan the other dimension persona. "Is that what I think it is?"

"Yeah," Chris nodded, still staring at the starship through the cockpit. "Constitution class. I think she might be one of the original twelve starships."

The Constitution Class heavy cruisers, one of which was the starship Enterprise, were constructed in the latter half of the 23rd century, for exploration and protection. In their day, these were the most advanced starships in existence, captained by some of the most celebrated Captains who helped forge the Federation into what it was today.

"Captain," Alex spoke up. "I've just run her registry numbers through the database. She is the USS Defiant."

"Defiant?" Ezra stared at her, knowing the history of the ship quite well. "Was she not lost in Tholian space about 80 years ago?"

"Tholian space?" Mary stared at them. "What's a Federation starship doing in Tholian space and how did it get here?"

"She was answering a distress call," Chris explained, recalling the history of the ship from his studies back at the Academy. "Somehow when she arrived there, she became trapped in a spatial interphase phenomenon and disappeared through it to parts unknown. It was assumed she was destroyed but I guess it might have been possible she was simply pushed through to this dimension. Alex?" He looked at his Science Officer for confirmation.

"It would make sense," Alex spoke up from her station. "Spatial interphase is theorized to be some form of dimensional overlap where the barriers keeping one dimension from the other are weakened. If the Defiant was caught in interphase, it is possible she slipped through a soft spot."

"So that's one of yours?" Nathan asked, unaware the Resistance had such ships in their arsenal. He knew that a hundred years ago, the Terran Empire had fleets of ships, but those days were long gone.

"Yes," Ezra nodded. "An older model, but definitely one of ours."

A soft trilling noise emanating from her workstation made Alex look up at them. "Captain, we are being hailed." She announced, cutting off any further discussion about the nature of the Defiant's existence in this universe.

"Let's hear it."

Alex turned back to her console and put the message through on an open frequency, so they would all hear it.

"This is the Defiant, identify yourself." The voice demanded rather imperiously, and Ezra's brow knotted, trying to place it.

"This is the Cimarron, carrying Jericho Administrator Nathan Jackson," Alex replied, deciding it was the safest answer.

There was a momentary pause before the voice responded again. "Lower your shields and prepare for our tractor beam. We will bring you on board our ship. Fail to comply and we will obliterate you from the sky."

"Real friendly," Vin drawled unhappily but knowing from the look on Chris's face, they were going to comply no matter how much the Captain hated the idea. Right now, they were supplicants in this universe and to get Adam back, they would need help.

"Considering what they've been through, I don't blame them," Chris remarked, recalling what Adam told them about the way Svinak had been devastating their numbers. He could understand the Resistance's need to be cautious. For all they knew, Nathan could have been coerced by Svinak to arrange this meeting. Under the same circumstances, he would have been similarly wary.

"Tell them we will comply," Chris answered, bracing himself for the inevitable protest from Ezra.

"Captain, is that a wise idea?" The Security Chief asked, not at all liking the possibility of placing themselves at the mercy of the Resistance, even if they try to enlist their aid to find Adam.

"Probably not,' Chris shrugged, "but we don't have a choice. If we want their help, we're going to have to take the chance."

Chris just hoped it didn't get them all killed.

Chapter Twelve: Gloves Off

Chris honestly did not know what to expect when the tractor beam brought the Cimarron into the Defiant's hangar bay.

As it was, they were all uneasy at having to give up control of the runabout to a potentially hostile force, especially after the threat of obliteration if they did not comply. In the end, there was little choice but to submit to the demands of the Resistance, because Chris needed their help to retrieve Adam. While Vin took the engines offline, Ezra performed a similar action by lowering the shields. Neither man was particularly thrilled at following this order nor could Chris hardly blame them.

Upon setting down the runabout on the floor of the shuttle bay hangar, Chris expected a welcoming committee to be awaiting them the minute they emerged from the ship. It was agreed Vin should remain on the Cimarron until Nathan could explain his presence since the sight of him by the Resistance would likely produce an extreme response. In light of Svinak's actions in the last few days, the Resistance had every reason to wish him dead and their emotions may be raw enough to not make the distinction if they saw Vin Tanner.

Since he and Buck Wilmington were childhood friends, it was Nathan who emerged first, with Chris following. Stepping unto the hangar bay, Chris observed it was practically minuscule in comparison to the Maverick's own hangar. Of course, the hangar was devoid of the four shuttle crafts that made up the complement of a Constitution Class starship. Accompanying Chris as he stepped onto the deck, was Ezra, who was not about to let his Captain enter a dangerous situation without being at his side. Even though it was likely to cause some dissent, Ezra insisted on being armed when he did it.

Meanwhile, Mary and Alex opted to remain on board. Considering the nature of her counterpart's relationship with Buck Wilmington and the fact the lady had died only days ago, Mary felt they needed to ease the Commander of the Resistance into the idea of her presence among them. She couldn't imagine anything worse than for him to see her, while still nursing the raw wounds of grief. In fact, Mary didn't think anything Chris told the man, would lessen the impact of the encounter.

Alex on the other hand chose to wait with Vin until explanations could be made about his presence. They had not had a chance to speak about Svinak since this all began, and Alex suspected, they would need to once Adam was rescued and they were safely back on the Maverick in their home dimension. So far, she was riding on a wave of anger at Svinak's violation of her mind, but she and Vin were long due for a conversation regarding what he had seen in her mind. Alex had never wanted him to touch the part of her holding the memories of her ordeal with the Cardassians.

As expected, Chris was correct in believing they would be greeted as soon as they left the runabout. Nathan explained in his message to the Resistance, the nature of the visitors he was bringing to them, without going into too much detail. Chris wondered how much Commander Mary Travis had told them about her plans for Adam. Did they know one of their own intended on such a drastic course to save her son? Not for the first time since hearing about her from Adam, Chris wished he could have met the woman.

Standing a short distance away from the landing pad where the Cimarron was berthed, was this dimension's version of Buck Wilmington, Julia Pemberton, and Josiah Sanchez. Also, in attendance were a handful of resistance troops, carrying phase rifles, poised for trouble if the occupants of the Cimarron were hostile or if this was some Romulan trick. Clad in uniforms of mostly black combat fatigues, with only stripes along the collar to indicate rank, Chris could not deny they looked quite intimidating.

While Chris expected the stripes on Buck's uniform to reveal his rank in the Resistance, he was mildly surprised to see the same on Julia, which implied she was almost as highly placed. Perhaps even Buck's first officer. Shifting his attention to Josiah next to them, Chris couldn't even begin to guess the man's role on the ship, but judging by the weapon he carried, he was most certainly not a Counsellor in this reality.

Buck bore the same physical similarities with the First Officer of the Maverick until one looked into his eyes. What Chris saw in them, was a man slowly bleeding to death from a thousand cuts. His eyes were so haunted, Chris felt disturbed just looking at him. He was so accustomed to seeing Buck as the happy go, lucky rogue, who knew no fear when he was wading knee deep in your business, that seeing this man who was carrying the hopes of an oppressed galaxy on his shoulders, was jarring. The sadness in this Buck Wilmington's eyes was so profound, Chris wished there was something he could do to remove that pain.

Standing beside Buck, almost protectively, was Julia Pemberton. Unlike Buck who was staring at him in a mixture of wonder and emotion, Julia's eyes were hard like duranium. She reminded Chris of how Alex had stood by him when the Maverick's bridge was overrun by Jem'Hadar, determined to defend her Captain to the death. He suspected this version of Julia would kill a thousand Romulans before they got anywhere near her commander. Glancing at Ezra, Chris saw the security chief watching the woman wearing the face of his lover with similar fascination.

However, it was Josiah who made them both stare. The weapon he was carrying did not look like a phase rifle but more like a miniature cannon. With close-cropped hair, almost to the scalp, there was an ugly scar that started from his hairline and ended in the middle of his cheek, broken by the eyepatch over his eye. Josiah's bulk had always been imposing, which he blunted by his gentle Counsellor's persona. However, the man who stood before them now used the bulk to its full effect and he looked formidable indeed. Chris was reminded of a junkyard dog, grizzled and mean, barely held back by his leash as he studied the two men before him. The menace in his eyes was clear.

"It's good to see you, Nathan," Buck broke the silence, giving his old friend a slight nod of affection before his eyes shifted back to Chris, still unable to stop staring at him. A multitude of memories and emotion ran through Buck as he saw the version of Chris, who hadn't died in his arms, who didn't make him promise to keep Sarah and his unborn child safe. Jesus, the man never even knew he had a son, Buck thought bitterly. It ached to see this man, because twenty years after the fact, Buck still missed his old friend.

"It's good to see you, Buck," Nathan said with a smile, understanding completely the sentiments Buck was feeling being faced with this alternate version of Chris Larabee. He had felt it himself when first sighting the man. "As you can see, I brought some friends."

Just like that, Buck's eyes hardened, draining of all the memories and emotional currents running through him at the sight of Chris Larabee's alternate universe counterpart. Inhaling deeply, he assumed the role of Resistance commander once more.

"Captain Larabee," he surprised Chris by saying. "Welcome to the other side."

"Thank you," Chris replied, making the same adjustment in his thinking because this was not the best friend who dragged him out of his self-destructive course when Sarah and Adam died, no matter how much that haunted expression the man was wearing bothered him. "This is my Security Chief Ezra Standish."

Before Ezra could utter a word in greeting, Julia's voice cut in abruptly.

"He's armed," she pointed out, staring at Ezra with clear suspicion. "He needs to give up his weapon right now."

Ezra recoiled at the cold stare she was giving him, suddenly revisited by the memory of the Accran incident, where Julia's body was taken over by an alien entity. He was unaccustomed to seeing such an icy gleam in the woman's eyes. Even if she possessed the same copper colored hair and emerald green eyes, Ezra suspected this woman probably did not read magazine articles about relationships, whistled tunes to the Sound of Music while she was working on her warp core, or made her lover buy a cat to cement their future cohabitation.

"I assure you, I mean no harm, but I will not surrender my weapon," he stated firmly.

His response did not impress Julia, who knew Ezra Standish as a scheming, mercenary opportunist, and the idea he was holding a weapon in proximity of her commander, did not sit well with the second in command of the Resistance. Turning to Buck, she reminded promptly. "The last time these people showed up on our doorstep, they contaminated our history for the next eighty years. We shouldn't place them in a position to do it again."

She wasn't wrong, Chris thought but he wasn't interested in making any sweeping social changes while he was here, he was here to get Adam.

"That's not going to happen," Chris countered automatically and stared at Buck earnestly. "The only reason we're here is to get Adam. He was taken from us and I'm here to get him back."

"Adam is not your son!" Julia bristled at the way this man was talking about Adam as if Mary Travis wasn't the one who raised the boy and died for him. Who did he think he was, just coming here and laying claim to Adam. "You're in no position to dictate terms."

"And he gives up the weapon or I take it from him," Josiah added his voice to the conversation, growling with threat as he gave Ezra a warning glare.

"I would like to see you make the attempt Sir," Ezra retaliated in kind, even though his poker face was hiding just how unsettling it was to hear such threats from Josiah, one of the kindest men he knew. Then again, the startling differences in this version's behavior made it very easy for Ezra to distinguish him from the Josiah he knew.

"Alright, alright," Nathan spoke up, playing the role of mediator to stop this display of posturing from both sides before it escalated out of control. "Let's just calm down."

"Commander," Chris spoke up, giving Nathan a silent nod of thanks before he turned to Buck. "We both care about Adam, we need to work together to get him back."

For a minute Buck Wilmington said nothing, staring at the man who was the Chris Larabee of another universe. He thought of his best friend, the one who was a brother to him when life was new and hope abounded. It had never felt the same after Chris* died, and Buck had tried so hard to walk in the man's shoes, always feeling as if he were lacking. Even now, twenty years after the fact, even though this was a completely different person, the desire to always have Chris's* back burned fierce inside him.

"Stand down Josiah," Buck said with a sigh, deciding Nathan was right. Everyone needed to calm down. Besides, the presence of this man and his entourage was not exactly a surprise to Buck.

"Commander," Julia opened her mouth to protest but the glare Buck shot her and Josiah respectively, could have matched the Larabee glare for its intensity and its demand to be obeyed, Ezra thought to himself. Julia fell silent, glaring at them through narrowed eyes while Josiah merely grumbled, like a volcano god forced into dormancy.

"I know he isn't my son but in every way that matters, he might as well be" Chris restated his position for everyone's benefit. "But you and Mary Travis sent him to the other side to find me, didn't you?" Until Buck had addressed him as Captain, Chris hadn't been sure but now it made sense. After all, it wasn't by accident Adam suddenly appeared on Lysia. Chris was convinced he was sent to DS5 because they knew that's where he would be.

"We did," Buck nodded and saw the surprise filling Julia's emerald eyes.

"You sent Adam to him on purpose?" Julia shot Chris a glare before turning to Buck for an explanation.

"It was Mary's idea," Buck explained quietly, recalling the conversation when Mary had first floated the idea. They had lost the Purgatory, captained by Raphael Castille, to the Firebrand. "With the numbers we've been losing lately, Mary didn't want Adam to die and neither did I. We made a promise," Buck looked at Nathan and then at Chris, "to my friend twenty years ago, we would look after his wife and child, we promised him that before he died."

Chris glanced at Nathan and saw the healer nodding in agreement to this point, as Nathan's eyes clouded over in sadness at the memory.

"I didn't get there in time to save Sarah," Buck continued to speak, "but I was sure as hell not going to let anything happen to Adam. Mary went over to your side after she got her hands on the multidimensional transporter and found out you were alive, and you had lost your family. She thought," he faltered a moment, composing himself because the pain of losing the woman he loved was so fresh, he was still bleeding inside from it. "She thought if you found him, that you would want him."

"An elegant solution," Ezra remarked, thinking how right she had been. From the moment Chris Larabee had met Adam, his attachment to the boy was obvious. It was almost reaching the levels of Chris's love for the child he buried five years ago.

"She was right," Chris said quietly, wishing he was able to thank the woman for the miracle she had delivered to him. Yes, Adam was not the son he had lost but everything he saw in the boy was Sarah and that was like having a little piece of both of them back again. "I do want him. I want to take care of him and give him a better life but Svinak came across to our side and stole him. I need your help to get him back."

"Well that's not going to be hard," Julia said bitterly, "Svinak has proposed an exchange. The Commander's life for Adam, or else the Vulcan bastard is going to execute him."

*****

A short time later, they were all seated around a table in what was the conference room in the Defiant.

As expected, Vin's presence once the Vulcan was revealed to the crew of the Defiant, was received with hostility and aggression. Fortunately, Buck, who was already open to the reality of alternate versions of people, was able to get his people under control and ordered his crew to mind their manners, even if he limited Vin's presence on board his ship to those already present in the hangar bay. Fortunately, it became easier for them to accept Vin's differences when the Vulcan exhibited such Terran mannerisms and speech, it took only five minutes in his company to see he was nothing like the Commander of the Tal Shiar.

It was Mary, Buck had most difficulty dealing with. Even though Chris gave him some warning of her presence on board the Cimarron, there was no preventing the man's anguish when he saw a living, breathing version of the woman he had loved for the last seventeen years, whose death was only days in the past. Once again, Chris wished Mary had chosen to remain on the Maverick because even if this Buck Wilmington was a stranger to him, Chris would have spared him the pain of seeing her.

Despite herself, Mary felt profoundly affected seeing Buck's pain and wished she could offer him some comfort, except she knew it would do more harm than good. She wasn't his Mary. The woman Buck Wilmington loved, whom Mary admired even more now that she learned what Commander Travis had done for both Chris and Adam, was gone. That woman was murdered by Svinak and all Mary was to him now, was a painful reminder of that loss.

"I can't stop wanting to shoot you," Josiah remarked, glaring at Vin. The old warrior, who had lost too many friends of late because of Svinak, eyed Vin with a mixture of distaste and fascination. "It's too goddamn strange."

"What are you complaining about?" Alex seated next to Vin, came immediately to her husband's defense. "Our Josiah gave me away at our wedding."

The idea that his counterpart might have taken such an active part in the ceremony left the grizzled Master of Arms with such a priceless expression of stunned horror, Vin almost kissed Alex in gratitude. A few titters of laughter rippled through the room and the comment served to cut through the tension and bring home the Vulcan was most certainly not Svinak.

"Alright let's focus," Julia snapped in her no-nonsense tone, taking the lead because she knew Buck was having trouble trying to maintain his composure with the other Mary Travis in the room. "As goddamn strange as all this is, we still have a problem to deal with. Commander," she turned to Buck. "You are not turning yourself over to Svinak. I don't care if you're my superior or not. Under no circumstances are we entertaining that possibility."

As she said that, she threw Chris a quick glance and dared him to say otherwise.

Chris who was still trying to wrap his head around the fact the woman in front of them was not the cheerful, optimistic Chief Engineer who always was first on the stage during open mike night on the Maverick and once suggested, an all Hawaiian theme on the bridge, spoke up in agreement. "She's right. You can't sacrifice yourself, Commander."

As much as Chris loathed to say those words, the truth was, this Buck Wilmington had a responsibility to more than just one man's child. As a starship Captain, Chris understood more than anyone, the personal sacrifices one had to make for the good of the crew.

"I'm not letting him harm Adam," Buck stated firmly. "Mary* died to save him and I won't let her sacrifice be for nothing." Buck kept his eyes averted away from Mary who was seated next to Chris, unable to make eye contact. "Even if we decided to fight, there's no way we can reach him. Svinak will almost certainly be keeping him on the Firebrand. We have no ships capable of taking on a Romulan warbird of that size. If Adam wasn't on board, we might have stood a chance of killing the bastard with a suicide run but since he is, we don't stand a chance."

Chris could see Buck's dilemma. From all accounts, thanks to Svinak's meld abilities, the Romulans had managed to decimate the Resistance fleet by making lightning strikes on targets gleaned from his brutal interrogations. It astonished him how much damage one rogue Vulcan had been able to do and as much as Chris hated to take such extreme actions, it appeared that Svinak needed to be taken off the board if the Resistance would ever have any chance of freedom.

For a long moment, Chris did not speak, his fingers were steepled together under his chin as he considered how to attack the problem. While the Defiant's crew waited impatiently for him to speak, the Maverick contingent knew they were about to see the forming ingenuity of the Larabee hat trick.

"I think we need to seriously start using all the knowledge we have at our disposal, to fix the mess in this dimension is in because of Kirk."

Buck did not respond, sitting up a little straighter in his chair because he suspected Chris was not talking to him, Julia, Josiah or Nathan but rather his own people.

"Chris, are you talking about violating General Order 1? The Prime directive?' She looked at him a little shock. Then again, as she thought about it further, she had to ask herself if the Prime Directive really apply here. This was not another star system or developing world. As brutal as the Terran Empire was, it had not caused the all-out war and enslavement that caused millions to die since Kirk's entry into this dimension. It was no wonder the Terrans had instituted a kill order on travelers from the other side.

"We're not here as Starfleet Officers," Alex countered. "We're here as private citizens and frankly, I'm not fond of seeing the entire quadrant fall to the Romulans and the Cardassians." Looking to the Maverick's crew, she made eye contact with Ezra and Vin, to speak on their behalf. "Whatever you intend Captain, we're behind you."

"What are you guys talking about?" Nathan finally blurted.

Chris flashed Alex a smile of thanks before facing Buck. "You are not giving yourself up. Your First Officer is correct about that," he looked at Julia and gave her a slight nod to show her he understood her sentiments perfectly and he was not about to endanger their movement for his own selfish reasons especially now, he had a plan.

"What do you have in mind pard?" VIN asked, seeing that familiar expression on his Captain's face that straddled the line between insanity and genius.

"Well," Chris said with the Larabee sneer, "it's time to take the gloves off."

Chapter Thirteen: Conversations

Even though he was surrounded by the walls of his cell on board the Firebrand, Adam was somewhere else entirely.

He was on a beach in Pacifica and it was the best day of his life. They were walking hand in hand, with ocean rushing around their ankles. At first, the grains of sand under the soles of his feet felt alien and the need to run away when the white foam swirled around his small feet was overwhelming. Yet he felt her hand tighten around his and the fear slowly bled away with her assurances she would not let anything happen to him. All he had to do was to look up and see that gentle smile and laughing blue-grey eyes to know it was the truth. As long as he held her hand, he knew she would protect him, she would make every bad thing go away.

It was his six birthday and she wanted to take him somewhere special because it was important, she said with complete seriousness, everyone enjoyed a day on the beach, even if it was for just once in their lives. Adam hadn't really cared if he was with her. On this day, she wasn't a Resistance fighter, today she was just his mom, and he adored every moment he spent with her, committing the details to memory. In the years to come, when his heart ached from the pains of life, he would return in his mind, to this little piece of heaven she gave him, and let it comfort him.

He would remember her laugh, how the kite she taught him to fly, sailed in the clouds, with its vibrant colors seeming impossibly bright against the blue sky. He would remember the iridescent loveliness of the seashell she placed in his small palm, where she told him to always look for the beauty in things because it was there if you were just willing to see it. Once upon a time, she was trapped in a dark, terrible place only to be given something so precious and beautiful, it changed her life forever.

When Adam left the Clarion to be transported to that space station in the alternate dimension, he left with the knowledge, she died within minutes of his departure. In the face of capture by the Romulans, he took comfort in the small consolation at knowing for Mary Travis, the end had come quickly. At least she did not suffer.

Except it was a lie, a bit of delusion he fed himself to feel better about her death because the truth was nothing like the reality. Not only had she survived his departure, but she was also captured. For a whole week, while he was trying to understand where he was, his mother was being brutalized and tortured. When Svinak had finished with her, he had killed her without a second thought and then dumped her body like it was salvage to be found.

When told, Adam had said nothing, refusing to allow the Vulcan the satisfaction of seeing his anguish but later in his cell, he had wept for her again, feeling the grief assuaged after week on the other side, become fresh and raw once more. Strangely enough, he kept wishing the Captain was here because it felt like he would understand how Adam felt. Logically, he knew Chris Larabee of the Maverick, wasn't his father but when Adam was weeping for Mary with renewed grief, he wanted nothing more than to be in the man's presence.

It was pure insanity but at that moment, Adam wanted his father.

The door to his cell slid open and Adam sat up immediately. The room was not very big, just large enough for a bed and a privy. Its walls were grey, and the length of light fixture positioned in the center of the ceiling was illuminated too brightly for Adam's liking. It made it difficult to sleep but then Adam guessed, that was the intended purpose. The Romulans even without Svinak's interrogation techniques, knew how to make you sweat.

So far, he escaped the violation his mother endured in the last minutes of her life and wondered why Svinak had so far spared him. From everything Adam had heard about the man, it was somewhat surprising he wasn't tortured. Was it his turn now? Adam wondered as the Vulcan stepped into the cell alone. It filled him with chagrin Svinak didn't even consider him enough of a threat to have guards with him when he entered. Why would Svinak consider him a danger, Adam thought bitterly, he had been barely able to put up a fight when the Vulcan abducted him off the Maverick?

"How are you this morning?" Svinak said pleasantly, aware the boy was still stinging from the news of how Mary Travis met her end. It wasn't in Svinak's nature to be cruel, but he wasn't about to lie either. Perhaps if the young man understood the futility of resisting, he might live longer for it.

Adam didn't speak but his answer was a hateful glare at the enemy.

"I gather you are still upset over your mother's death," Svinak shrugged, not about to let the boy's silence bother him. "This is war, Adam. People die. You best accustomed yourself to that piece of reality if you choose to continue fighting with the Resistance."

Adam bristled, wondering what the Vulcan wanted. Was he here just to gloat? "What do you want?" Adam demanded, breaking his silence so Svinak would get on with it and this exchange could be ended, sooner rather than later.

"I thought you would be happy to know that your liberation is at hand."

Adam stared at him in suspicion. "What does that mean? I get an execution date?" He was perfectly aware freedom for a Resistance member meant death. The Romulans did not let anyone go. Fear gripped him this might be the case that his whole life would end so soon after meeting Chris Larabee, but he was also a member of the Resistance and death had always been a reality of his life.

"Oh I have no doubt, you will meet that end," Svinak retorted. "But it won't be today. No, I need you alive. You are just a tool Adam, a means to an end. Thanks to you, I am about to get what I want. Commander Wilmington has kindly offered to give himself up in exchange for your life."

"NO!" Adam stood up horrified by the notion. The Resistance needed Buck Wilmington! It did not need Adam Larabee. He was more than prepared to die for the cause when faced with that choice. "I don't want that! I rather die here!"

"The choice is not up to you," Svinak replied, unimpressed by the display from the boy as if he had any say in the matter. "Consider yourself fortunate, Wilmington's stipulation for surrender included my desisting in any effort to interrogate you. I'm sure I'll get the chance again since I can't imagine you'll be returning to the other universe anytime soon."

Adam smoldered in hatred, knowing he was right. He had no idea how his mother had managed to send him across to the other side, or if there would be anyone willing to help him after Buck Wilmington's life was sacrificed for him. People would hate him and the only person who might love him, probably had no idea where he was.

Looking up at Svinak, Adam could only hiss. "I'm going to kill you for what you did to my mom. I don't know how, but I will."

Svinak smiled at that. "You may try boy, you may try."

*****

"Are you sure about this?" Buck Wilmington asked as he stared through the view screen on the bridge of the Defiant and saw the distant purple cloud, sparking with energy grow larger on approach.

Alexandra Styles stood at one of the unmanned consoles on the bridge, her fingers flying over its controls, trying to navigate the ancient tech while programming the information she needed to relay to the engineering deck. Raising her eyes to him briefly, she found his manner jarring in comparison to the smiling, big man she knew on the Maverick, who had ended up being one of her best friends, despite an initially rocky start.

"Absolutely," she said confidently. "I'm sending your engineering team, the proper intermix ratio for the anti-matter field of your warp core. This ought to bring your speed up to at least warp 8. I've also recalibrated your helm control flight program to compensate for the spatial discontinuity. It will give you an easier ride when you get in there."

Buck gave the woman a little smile. "You know the last time I was in Jericho, I managed to catch your act." Of course, he knew this wasn't the woman performing at the Wyld Card, but it was surreal seeing her standing on his bridge, making modifications from memory, to improve the functioning of his ship.

"You're not my commander, I can shoot you," Alex said not looking up from the console.

Buck laughed softly, her deadpan response reminded Buck of Julia who at the moment was off the bridge, refusing to allow Commander Standish to go anywhere by himself on the Maverick. His first officer had not been happy to allow the man access their quantum torpedoes, no matter how necessary the action was.

"We've never spent much time in this part of space. The Bajorans signed a nonaggression pact with the Klingon Cardassian Alliance, so it was never safe territory for us." Buck explained.

"I can understand that," Alex straightened up. "On our side, they were annexed by Cardassia and they had a pretty rough time of it for a century. I guess for your side, it was better to bend than break."

"I suppose," he said quietly, thinking of whether or not that would have worked for the Terrans. Enslavement was all they knew for a generation. After a century of subjugation, they were done being anyone's creature. "So, these coordinates in the Denorios Belt, they lead to a wormhole?"

"Yes," Alex nodded. "It's a stable wormhole through to the Gamma Quadrant. Once we put the plan into effect, you should be able to use it to escape the Firebrand. If everything you told us about this Scimitar class warbird tracks, she'll take you apart like an egg even after we get in a few lucky shots."

"Thanks to that son of a bitch, most of our better ships were destroyed," Buck frowned. "Sorry," he said after a moment, feeling the need to considering who her husband was.

Alex looked up at him in puzzlement before she realized why he apologized. "Trust me, Commander, if we run into Svinak, Vin will kill him." Alex had no illusions of that. What her mate had seen in her head had outraged him down to his heated Vulcan core and knowing Svinak had placed her in that hell, to begin with, had inspired his fury.

"Sounds awfully personal," Buck remarked, noticing something in the way she said those words that made him pay attention. What on Earth had Svinak done on the other side to provoke such rage in his alternate version?

"What he did, was personal," Alex said coldly. "Vin doesn't take kindly to that sort of thing. Neither do I. If Vin doesn't kill him, I will."

"I know the feeling," Buck said quietly, thinking of Mary. He wanted to kill Svinak too. Until realizing Adam was taken, he had been more than prepared to.

Alex softened, seeing the pain in his eyes at the loss of Adam's mother. "I'm sorry for your loss Commander," she said kindly. "I don't know your Mary Travis, but she sounded like an amazing woman."

"Thank you," Buck said grateful for the kindness but so accustomed to loss by now, he knew how to compartmentalize it. At a proper time, he would mourn her. Right now, he had a job to do.\

"I met her when she was eighteen years old, in that Cardassian camp. She was scared out of her mind, caring for this newborn. I broke into the place to get Sarah, but I was too late and when I realized Adam had been born, I had to do some fast talking before she'd even believe I was there to help. Took some convincing before she'd even follow me out of the place. Once we were out, I got them to our base in the Mutara Nebula."

Alex knew the region. It was a dense cloud of high energy particles that made it impossible to scan and was extremely large. Nestled within it, was the Minshara Class Ceti Alpha star system, making it a good hiding place for rebels on the run. Alex could understand why the Resistance might choose that as their secret safe house.

"She raised Adam on her own, but she was never comfortable with him joining the cause and to be fair, neither was I. I promised Chris* I would keep his family safe, having Adam on the front lines wasn't my first choice. Now, look at where she is."

Alex left her station and approached the man's command chair. Even though this wasn't the Buck Wilmington she knew, she felt warmly towards him anyway. Alex ached inwardly for him, at the pain he must be suffering, having to go on when he should have been given time to grieve for the woman he loved. "We'll get him back, Sir. The Captain won't settle for anything less."

Buck managed a smile, "it's good to see that Chris Larabee is a hard-nosed son of a bitch in any reality."

Alex smiled, thinking of her Captain who once called a Cardassian fleet, insects, and who outwitted the race who created the Borg, to say nothing of the fact that he took on a Dominion fleet and saved them all. Time and time again, Chris Larabee had proved himself an excellent commander. Yet it was the fact he had once stood by her when she was about to make the worst decision of her life and showed her a better way that gave him her undying loyalty.

"You have no idea." She replied.

*****

"Absolutely not!" Mary glared at Chris angrily as they stood on the deck of the hangar bay where the Cimarron was docked. "Chris!"

Chris Larabee sighed, expecting this protest from her and hesitating using his rank to get his way, not when he was convinced, he might still get her to see reason, using the right argument. Her blue-grey eyes were almost dark from outrage, Mary stared at him with fists clenched and spine straightened as if she would fight him all the way to the Delta Quadrant. Of course, she believed he had an ulterior motive for his request yet even if he did, the reason for it was still sound.

"Mary," Chris drew in his breath. "If the Defiant is forced to go through the wormhole, they need to know what's on the other side. We have no idea whether the Dominion exists over there, but if they do, the Defiant will need the information."

"Why can't we download our data onto their computers?" Mary retaliated, convinced he was doing this out of some foolish need to protect her.

"Because our information could be wrong! We have no idea what the Dominion might be like on this side," Chris countered promptly, ready for the argument. "You've negotiated with them face to face. If anyone knows how to handle them, it's you. With any luck, it won't even come to that. Back on our side, the Dominion didn't interfere with us until we started getting too deep into their territory. It may be the case here, but it's better to be safe than sorry."

Mary bristled with annoyance, mostly because she knew he was right, but she was also convinced he was trying to protect her and that made his request hard to swallow. "Chris, I told you I would be there for Adam, and I intend to be."

"Mary," Chris said firmly. "This needs to be done. The plan won't work if the Defiant is destroyed. Adam is a soldier. He'll never forgive himself if anything happens to the Resistance while trying to rescue him."

What Chris did not want to say, was that he didn't want Svinak to have a chance to murder another Mary Travis, but making that revelation was to ensure his Mary would insist on joining their rescue attempt. If she were to accompany them on this rescue to the Firebrand, Chris knew his ability to make decisions would be clouded, as it was, he was trying to think of this as just another rescue mission, not one involving another version of his son.

Furthermore, while Alex, Vin and Ezra were more than capable of defending themselves on a ship full of Romulans, he couldn't say the same for Mary. She had some training in Vulcan martial art, but she wasn't accustomed to combat and he would not risk her life in such a dangerous mission. He knew he was being selfish but after seeing what Buck* was going through, having lost his Mary*, Chris was more than willing to admit, he didn't want to know that same pain. He had already lost Sarah, he couldn't bear losing Mary too.

"Alright Chris," Mary said unhappily, not liking the idea but understanding his reasoning. Perhaps she even saw through his veiled attempts at strategy and guessed his fears for his ability to function might lay at the heart of this request. In either case, she would do as he asked because he was right. If the Defiant did go through the wormhole, something no one in the Alpha Quadrant of this universe had done yet, they needed to know what might be on the other side.

They had all agreed to ignore the Prime Directive because it was clear the contamination made by James Kirk had caused more deaths than the great Captain ever intended to save. As much as Mary loathed breaking it, being told the human race had been enslaved along any of the worlds supporting the Terran Empire for the last eighty years, left her stunned. The Vulcans were reviled by both sides because they were the ones who pushed the Empire into its peaceful stance, bringing about its collapse.

Adam was the product of that contamination. He had never known either of his parents because both had died before he had even been alive for an hour. At fourteen years of age, he was called into service to fight the might of the Romulan Star Empire, and now he had lost his mother too. Mary did not want to think of another child enduring this kind of life. She certainly knew she would never want Billy to suffer such an existence.

"Thank you, Mary," Chris said gratefully, now that it was settled and hoped she remained as safe on the Defiant when the shooting started.

*****

There was something about the way Ezra Standish was staring at her that made Julia's natural suspicion deepen even more than usual.

Ever since he emerged from their shuttle, she noted how he glanced her way, as if she was something fascinating. It occurred to her then, he might be reacting to her the way he did because he knew her counterpart on the other side. Unlike the Commander and Mary, Julia held no grand illusions about Kirk's universe. It was supposed to be a Utopia where everyone got along and Terrans weren't hunted. Perhaps not, but Julia was never one to assume everything was perfect on face value. No doubt, Kirk's universe probably had its share of problems too.

They were at present in the torpedo bay where Ezra was recalibrating the quantum torpedoes they had transferred over to the Defiant from the runabout, for use against the Firebrand when they made their rendezvous a few short times. Julia who had met his counterpart, the amoral owner of the Wyle Card Inn at Jericho still found it hard to imagine there was a version of the man who was a highly skilled chief of security.

"So, tell me about her," Julia finally asked as she watched him work, hunched over the torpedo sitting on its conveyor.

Ezra looked up from the open panel of the torpedo, his fingers still holding the tools needed for the recalibration of the torpedo yield intensity. "Who?"

"Come on," she gave him a look of skepticism. "This other me you so obviously know."

Ezra could not help but smile at her deduction. This version of Julia was hard and cynical, with qualities more familiar to himself than his Julia. While they looked the same, except this version wore her hair in a severe bun and whose emerald green eyes, stared at you like the cut of the stone, instead of the verdant lushness of grass.

"I confess I am guilty of knowing your counterpart in my dimension and she is very different. In my world, she is the Chief Engineer of our ship."

Julia raised a brow at that. It sparked a memory from her childhood where her mother who was an engineer, as much as one could be, in a slave camp. Ellie Pemberton had been a technician responsible for maintaining the machinery in the dilithium mine they were assigned to. She had died when Julia was ten, having come down with fever, and not considered valuable enough to save.

"Engineer? I never thought of going that route. I wonder if I would have been any good at it," she mused. She supposed she might have inherited some skills from her dead mother. "I was always in combat."

"In this world, I do not blame you," Ezra said, feeling a little bit of sadness at knowing she was never allowed to find her passion, having it become extinguished by the world she was born into. "The Julia I know loved to build things, take it apart, learn how it works, or make it better. She lives in the light and knows no other way."

"You and she are involved?" Julia guessed by the affection he could not conceal despite his somewhat practiced poker face.

"Yes," Ezra replied, hoping it didn't make it uncomfortable for her. "She made me buy her a cat as a prelude to our eventual cohabitation." He couldn't help but flash the woman in front of him a dimpled smile, suspecting she would wrinkle her nose in disgust.

"We used to eat those," Julia said with a straight face.

Ezra stared at her before he realized she was joking. "It's nice to know you have a sense of humor. I was worried this universe had removed all your better qualities."

Julia laughed. "It hasn't but you have me intrigued, I may have to look up your counterpart again when I get to Jericho Station again, provided we survive the next 12 hours."

"Commander Pemberton," Ezra frowned. "You are a ray of sunshine."

Chapter Fourteen: Echoes

Chris waited inside the runabout Cimarron hating this entire situation.

In this dimension, at this moment, an alternate version of Buck Wilmington, his oldest friend, was about to enter a life and death struggle with an alternate version of Vin Tanner, his best friend. The whole thing felt surreal. In his own reality, the Captain of the Maverick remembered getting drunk at Vin's bachelor party in the simulated setting of the burlesque parlor Buck programmed for the event. How they were all so wasted, they missed duty and when the girls found them...there was a lot of explaining to do.

Trying to imagine these two men, whom he cared for so greatly, ready to kill each other when in another reality, they were almost brothers, was hard for Chris to comprehend. If anything made him wish to get Adam and leave this place for good, it was this fact more than any other. Chris had no wish to remain in a universe where the seven were nothing to each other and the friendships forged meant even less. As it stood, it was likely one of them could die today and Chris hated having wished for one instead of the other.

"We're approaching the rendezvous deadline," Chris heard Buck over his com badge. "Better get ready."

Chris stared at the open doors of the shuttle bay, through the cockpit window for a few seconds, contemplating what he would do in the enemy's position, weighing up all the factors in their present situation. He wasn't on the Maverick, but he was a starship captain, accustomed to beating the odds. He had done so by considering all the possibilities and by knowing his enemy.

From everything, he knew about the Commander of the Tal Shiar, the son of a bitch was crafty and that meant he would never enter a situation at a disadvantage. Furthermore, Chris had a pretty good idea that a Vulcan not above mind rape, wouldn't be above double-crossing the Resistance. After all, his end game had been achieved. Buck Wilmington was in the open and he was in a ship that was utterly no match for a warbird. Why play by the rules when Svinak didn't need to? Romulans knew how to exploit a situation.

"Commander," Chris spoke with the same demeanor he used when defending his ship against enemy fleets and rogue queens. "Deploy the torpedo now."

Buck's reaction was immediate. "Why?"

"Because," Chris glanced at Vin who was next to him at the conn, preparing the runabout for launch, understood immediately. "He's in a warbird and he can cloak. He'll get here early to see if you have reinforcements, especially hiding in the Belt."

There was silence for a moment before the Resistance commander responded. "Yeah, that would be just like the bastard too. Just like I'm sure he doesn't plan on honoring this exchange."

"That's why we've got our back up plan," Chris replied promptly. "As soon as we move into position, you get the Defiant to the Belt. We'll meet you at the coordinates agreed upon."

"And if you don't?" Buck asked because this rescue mission was not going to be easy, not in the slightest.

The question hung in the air and Chris swept his gaze across the runabout at the comrades who braved this journey with him to retrieve Adam. He hoped to bring them all home, but he couldn't lie to them about just how dangerous this mission was.

"Then I expect you to send Mary home," Chris said coolly. "She's got a son waiting for her. I don't intend to leave him an orphan."

"You have my word," Buck said quietly.

"Thank you," he said, hoping Mary would understand when the time came.

*****

Mary entered the bridge of the Defiant, aware this wasn't her ship, but she couldn't sit in the sidelines while Chris and the others embarked upon their plan. She'd agreed to stay behind reluctantly but if she was going to be sequestered away, with no idea of what was happening, she would surely go mad. Besides, she told herself as she stepped onto the bridge, she needed to be present when the Defiant entered the Belt. She was the only person on board who knew what was waiting for them. Mary only hoped, her presence didn't prove too painful for Buck Wilmington. Seeing her wearing the face of the woman he loved would be disconcerting enough, not to mention painful.

Julia Pemberton was of the same mind when she saw Mary stepping onto the bridge from the turbo lift. The second in command of the Resistance knew exactly how Mary's presence would affect her commander and wanted to spare him.

"You shouldn't be on the bridge," Julia declared, being the first to spot Mary. "If Svinak sees you..."

Buck cast a quick glance at the woman, who looked so like his Mary but wasn't. Yes, it was painful to see her but not because she looked like Mary*, but because she didn't look like the woman he loved, even if they shared the same features. His Mary was someone who had crawled through the tunnels with him, whose hands were callused from hard work in the camps and later, handling weapons. There were lines on his Mary's face, scars he'd charted with his fingers during their lovemaking. This woman was devoid of all the experiences they shared together.

"It's fine," Buck spoke up, aware that for this Mary, it was difficult to remain behind. It gave him some measure of comfort, knowing she loved Chris Larabee because if they did get Adam back, the boy would have in some small way, both parents. He gave Mary a little smile of assurance before adding, "she can take that station over there and stay out of sight."

"Thank you," Mary said gratefully, seeing the empathy in his eyes that was so much of Buck Wilmington's DNA, whatever universe he occupied. In any case, she intended to remain as unobtrusive as possible, to not exacerbate his discomfort with her presence. She had a part to play in this mission and she needed to focus on that, or else she would descend into panic, worrying about Chris and the others.

Inwardly, she knew why he had requested her to remain behind, despite all his claims about her lending support to the Defiant when they made their run into the Belt. Chris wanted her to get home to Billy if anything went wrong and as annoyed as that made her, Mary couldn't deny she did not wish her son to be left alone either.

"Captain Larabee believes Svinak is already here," Julia announced, resigning herself to the woman's presence on the bridge. If the Commander decided he could handle it, then Julia would take him at his word. For her part, Julia remained at her tactical station, continuing to scan the area, in search of the subspace echo Chief Standish told her to seek out. It would help her to determine if there was a cloaked ship in the area.

Once again, she marveled at his acumen in comparison to his counterpart in this dimension. Julia only knew of Ezra Standish, owner of the Wyld Card by reputation, and nothing she heard could lead her to believe he could be anything like his counterpart from Kirk's dimension. Pity. She rather liked the Chief.

"If he is on a warbird, I think Chris is right," Mary stated to no one.

"I agree," Buck answered, though Mary noticed he was trying not to make eye contact and took no offence, aware of why he had trouble looking directly at her.

"We last encountered four of them on our side," Mary explained. "They violated our space and destroyed one of our survey ships. They were shadowing us the minute we answered the call but fortunately, we were able to detect them by searching for subspace echoes."

"Yes, your Chief Standish advised me of that," Julia replied and continued scanning.

Mary studied the faces on the bridge and found it odd to see an officer of the conn who wasn't Vin Tanner. In his place, was a Ferengi, not much older than JD. Hiding her surprise because she knew the dynamics of this universe was different from her own, Mary never imagined the Ferengi fighting for any cause that did not involve money. Then again, even in her own universe, there was a Ferengi serving in Starfleet. The navigator was slightly older, an Asian man who did a double take when he saw her before facing front again. Obviously, he'd met the Mary Travis of this universe.

"Echo detected!" Julia declared suddenly. "It's emanating dead ahead, 5000 kilometers off our starboard bow. It's repeating every 0.2 seconds."

"That's it, he's here." Buck shot Mary a look before tapping the communications panel on the side of his chair. "Captain Larabee, we've detected the echo."

"Acknowledged."

Mary heard Chris's voice and wanted very much to speak to him but held back. There was no opportunity for them to be making farewells now, not when time was of such an essence. Instead, she made a silent wish for him and her friends' safety.

"Julia, deploy the Level 6 torpedo," Buck ordered as soon as he heard Chris Larabee's response. He had no wish to give the warbird time to attack.

On the view screen in front of them, the origin of the echo was a benign view of empty space. Stars blinked back at them in puzzlement but offered no more revelation than that. A low whine filled the air and Mary looked around her to see the yellow alert warnings flashing across displays, indicating to the Defiant's crew, they were about to enter a combat situation. Even though she was not a part of this crew, she shared their sentiments when they tensed and prepared for the battle they were on the cusp of waging.

"Torpedo away!"

Even as Julia made the announcement, all eyes were fixed on the viewscreen, watching the amber orb of energy that was the modified quantum torpedo hurtling towards that empty bit of space, that seemed no different than the others.

"Fire another torpedo as soon as she becomes visible," Mary heard Buck order once more.

No sooner than those words left his lips, the screen showed the detonation of the first torpedo, worked on so carefully by the Maverick's security chief. It flared brightly across darkened space, but instead of brilliant white light, it traced the outline of a ship against the black. The Romulan warbird, cackled into existence, the greenish hull appearing in and out of view with the blink of an eye. Its exposure was brief, but it was more than enough for the Defiant to act.

"FIRE!"

"Firing torpedoes!" Came Julia's reply and Mary saw another orb of amber hurtling towards the warbird, even as the ship was crackling with energy. The Protocol officer could only imagine Svinak's confusion as his ship's cloaking system started to fail, making the Firebrand visible for all to see.

The second torpedo struck a mere ten seconds after the first and while it had made the ship visible for targeting, the latest one had far more devastating effects. With the cloak engaged, the warbird's shields were lowered and while the Defiant's intent was not to destroy the ship since Adam was still on board and they had to retrieve him, the second torpedo had a more insidious purpose when it struck.

Across the primary hull of the decloaked warbird, spidery webs of energy spread across the formidable emerald colored ship. Mary could see the minor explosions rippling across the tritanium plating, no doubt leaving havoc in its wake. Like the rest of the Defiant's crew, Mary was realistic. The scimitar class ship was enormous, dwarfing the constitution class starship easily, however, the purpose had never been to destroy the ship, merely to fry its sensor array.

"Direct hit! Julia said elatedly.

"Shields up!" Buck ordered and then just as quickly, issued a further order to the officer of the conn. "Nog, get us out of here!"

Mary's stomach clenched, knowing when the Defiant headed to the Denorios Belt, the Cimarron would not be making the journey.

*****

"Launch."

That one-word order from Chris Larabee was all Vin Tanner needed to engage the main engines on the Cimarron and send the runabout blasting off the Defiant's hangar deck towards the cackling outline of the Firebrand, exposed by the Level 6 torpedo Ezra had doctored. The warbird had materialized over the starboard bow of the Defiant, giving the crew of the Cimarron the opening, they needed to proceed towards the unmasked ship.

"Thoron field emitter activated Captain," Ezra announced dutifully, his hands moving across the console, generating the field that would keep the enemy from detecting them once they arrived at their destination. "As far as the Romulans are concerned, we are nothing but flotsam in space."

Beneath them, they could feel the heave of the runabout floor as the craft lifted off the launch pad smoothly before proceeding to the outer doors of the hangar bay.

"Vin," Alex spoke as the walls of the hangar disappeared around them to be replaced by the emptiness of space. "I've fed in the coordinates of our landing site to the conn. If you can get her under the left wing, there's a maintenance hatch we can dock with over the tractor beam emitter."

"Got it Darlin," he said not looking at her, focused on the flying the small craft. Taking the Cimarron to maximum acceleration quickly, they needed to cross the distance between the Defiant and the Firebrand as quickly as possible. At present, the warbird was still reeling from the effect of the Level 6 torpedo and with the launch of a second torpedo, it wouldn't be long before the Firebrand raised its shields. The Cimarron needed to be in position before that happened.

"Jesus," Chris whispered under his breath at the sight of the torpedo detonating against the hull of the Firebrand.

The sheer size of the craft and its tritanium plating prevented the ship from being obliterated, which would have been the case if the Firebrand was a normal D'deridex-class warbird, with its shields lowered. Of course, they never intended on destroying the ship. Chris had instructed the Commander of the Defiant to target his torpedo at the bow of the Firebrand because it was where most Romulan warbirds kept their sensor array. As he watched the hull go up in the concentrated explosion, plasma fire and clouds of white smoke flared against the darkened sky, given life briefly before the vacuum of space snuffed them out quickly.

Chris smiled faintly, knowing what effect this would have on the Firebrand. She was now blind.

Meanwhile, Vin ignored the destruction, his concentration fixed on narrowing the gap between the Cimarron and the wounded warbird. In comparison to the enormous, dreadnought sized warship, the runabout felt like an inconsequential piece of space debris which served to aid their covert approach to the ship. There was enough junk drifting about the Firebrand for the Cimarron to use to its advantage.

"Captain," Ezra announced from his station. "She is raising shields and preparing to power up her disruptor banks. I dare say the Defiant may be about to suffer some consequences for that volley."

"We expected that," Chris said unsurprised by the report.

Even as he studied the ship through the cockpit window, he could see the Defiant's engines firing in readiness to leave the area. There was never any intention for the Constitution class starship to remain and fight. In such a battle, the Resistance ship would be at a decided disadvantage and the movement could not afford to lose a starship, even one as dated as the Defiant. Besides, the Defiant had achieved what they intended to do with the torpedo attack, now it was up to the crew of the Cimarron to complete the rest of the plan.

"Here we go."

Vin finally reached the warbird, approaching it from port. Slipping through the ship's defenses before the shields could be raised, the small craft slowed down and sailed into the space between the two sections making up the warbird's port wing. With sensors disabled on the larger ship, proximity detectors would be oblivious to the intrusion by the smaller ship.

"Vin, you better engage clamps soon. The Defiant's about to leave."

Without glancing at his operations console, Chris could tell the starship was preparing to hit full impulse, from just looking at her through the cockpit window. As planned, once the torpedo payload was delivered, the Defiant had been instructed to head for the Denorios Belt to escape the Firebrand. Once that happened, the warbird would be in motion.

"Way ahead of you Pard," Vin replied without looking up at Chris. He could feel the subtle vibrations that moved soundlessly through space, resonating through the hull of the smaller ship. The Vulcan had enough experience to know when a ship was about to accelerate. Performing a sharp spin in mid-air, Vin directed the Cimarron to descend unto the inside hull of the warbird's lower left wing. A dull thud echoed through the runabout as it touched down, above the location Alex had fed into the conn, prior to their departure from the Defiant.

"Magnetic clamps activated." He announced, once again evidenced by a sudden shudder against the underside of the craft. No sooner than the clamps were locked, the warbird surged forward in a burst of acceleration, causing the runabout to lurch forward with the movement.

Chris activated the inertial dampeners, putting an end to the teeth chattering rattle the ship was experiencing as it hitched a ride on the warbird.

"The thoron field is stable," Ezra reported. "They have no idea we are here."

"Good," Chris said with approval. "I doubt that's going to last for very long, but let's maintain our cover for as long as we can."

Alex was already by the access hatch on the floor of the runabout, next to the transporter pad. Getting to her knees, she activated the panel and the doors slid open, revealing the maintenance hatch she had directed Vin to dock with. Scanning the hatch with her tricorder, she took note of the readings before turning to Chris.

"I'm not detecting any Romulan life signs below us," Alex informed dutifully. "We're good to go."

"Alright," Chris rose to his feet from the ops station as Ezra started handing out phase rifles. "Let's go get Adam."

*****

"Follow them!" Svinak fairly roared at the officer at the helm of the Firebrand.

Around him, the bridge was still recovering from the power surge caused by the torpedo attack. A thin layer of smoke was drifting through the air, exuding from the ruined remains of a console that exploded when the cloaking field had been penetrated so ingeniously. At the foot of the ruined station, was the officer who bore the brunt of the blast when it exploded, sending glass and energy through his body. Next to his dead form, another crewman was attempting to extinguish the small fire still burning through the jagged hole of the ruined console. The rest of the Firebrand's bridge crew were hunched over their stations, trying frantically to restore sensors.

"Yes Commander," the helm officer answered nervously as they watched the Defiant accelerating towards the Belt, widening the gap between the ships. No sooner than he responded, the Firebrand surged forward in pursuit, determined to regain the lost ground created by the torpedo attack.

"Wilmington must have known we were going to take his ship," Centurion Averal said standing next to Svinak's command chair.

"That was always a possibility," Svinak growled, unprepared to underestimate Wilmington on that point. "What I want to know is how they detected us? That first torpedo was meant to decloak us, nothing more. Furthermore, how were they able to detect our location in the first place to be able to launch it?"

"I cannot say," Averal answered, similarly bewildered by all this. While they were aware the Terrans could cloak their smaller ships, to date the Terrans had exhibited no ability to detect a cloaked ship. "As far as we know, they have no technological expertise to do this."

"No matter," Svinak said tempering his emotions. Unlike Romulans who were accustomed through centuries of genetics to be comfortable with their hotter emotions. Vulcans, on the other hand, used logic to control it. A Vulcan who did not have Surak's teachings would feel fury that would make most Romulans run for cover. "We can still outrun and outgun them. We're taking that ship. Entering the Denorios Belt is not going to change that."

"Commander," the Centurion cleared his throat. "That is a highly charged plasma field. They've already disabled our sensors, we will not be able to detect them in there."

Svinak bristled in annoyance and turned to Averal with a hard stare. "I am assuming our shields have not miraculously been disabled? We still have them?"

The Centurion nodded, detecting the menace in the man's voice and told himself to tread carefully. "Yes, we do. The damage they inflicted was directed at our sensors."

"Most likely so we cannot detect them when they enter the Belt," Svinak concluded. "No doubt they intend to engage us in there, to even the odds."

"Do they think they can retrieve the boy that way?" The Centurion, unable to believe the Terrans possessed the audacity to think even under such circumstances, they would be able to take the Firebrand. At the very most, the battle would be a stalemate.

"Possibly," Svinak replied but now that the Centurion had asked the question, something was nagging at him, though the Commander of the Tal Shiar couldn't imagine what that might be.

"Commander, we're entering the Belt now," the Firebrand's navigator announced.

"Follow them in, then I want you to unleash a continuous barrage of disruptor fire."

"Commander," the Centurion stared at him in shock. "That's extremely dangerous, we could ignite the plasma particles."

"We will, but our shields will protect us will it not?" Svinak glared at the Centurion for daring to question him as if he hadn't already given this due consideration.

"Yes, it will," the Centurion answered, realizing what the Commander intended. "We should survive it."

"We will but I guarantee you, that constitution class relic will not."

Chapter Fifteen: The Celestial Temple

Even by Federation standards, Mary had to admit the scimitar class warbird in the view screen before the bridge of the Defiant, was impressive. She was almost a dreadnought, Mary thought. She supposed the Commander of the Tal Shiar deserved no less. Like the rest of the Maverick's crew in this dimension, she still had difficulty believing a difference of upbringing could create such contrast between Vin Tanner and Svinak.

"The Firebrand is in pursuit!" Julia announced to no one's surprise, from tactical.

"Hell, we knew that was coming," Buck displayed the same calm, Mary noticed in Chris's face when he was facing enemies when he was taking the center seat on the Maverick. "Nog, stay ahead of them!"

"Yes Commander," Nog replied. "I'm increasing power to the engines."

"Can we outrun them?" Mary asked, unaware of what speed these old constitution class ships were capable of achieving. She couldn't imagine it could outrun the Romulan ship behind them.

"No," Buck said simply, maintaining eye contact with the view screen, as the Defiant approached the purple cloud of plasma energy that was the Denorios Belt. "But it doesn't matter, speed's not going to do them much good when we go in there."

No sooner than he made the statement, the ship was enveloped by the gaseous clouds of purple, making up the charged plasma field of the Belt. Their scanner would now be of little use to them as the plasma field played havoc with their sensor array. Fortunately, they were moving through this phenomenon using instrumentation only, relying on coordinates provided to them by the visitors from Kirk's universe. Klaxons were screaming in protest and Mary saw tendrils of energy flaring across the wide expanse, like lightning bolts.

"Adjusting our shield polarity to compensate for the external environment," one of the officers, whose name Mary believed was Wo Chin, declared from the navigation station next to the helm. He was a young man in his twenties with a strong chin and intelligent dark eyes.

"The Firebrand is charging weapons!" Julia exclaimed. "Commander, she's going to fire disruptors in here!"

"Son of a bitch!" Buck cursed, aware of what that could do to his ship. If Svinak couldn't catch him alive, the Commander of the Tal Shiar was perfectly content with obliterating him and his ship. "Nog, increase speed, get us to Captain Larabee's coordinates right now. Bearing 23 at Mark 217."

"Already on it Sir!" the Ferengi pilot replied quickly, his fingers tapping the display on his console to comply with the order, with near lightning speed that might have impressed Vin Tanner, Mary thought.

"You'll need to modify your flight program to compensate for spatial discontinuities," Mary advised. She had been trying to remain quiet not to distract the Commander, but now they were enacting their plan, she had no choice but to make herself heard. "It will help make the ride smoother."

Buck glanced at her and said with a little smile. "Julia, you heard the lady."

Mary smiled back at him, wishing her presence here didn't hurt him so much because he deserved time to mourn, not be faced with such emotional conflict at a time like this. She had no doubt like the Buck Wilmington she knew, this one had the heart of a red giant. The loyalty he commanded in his people was proof of that.

"Making those adjustments now!" Julia hollered back as the first explosions from the ignited plasma particles began to ripple through the hull from behind. They were still ahead of the blast area but not by much and the Defiant shook with each fresh explosion. Mary was reminded of the Maverick's battle with the Vrihan. Even if space was a vacuum, she could feel the ship's shuddering through her bones.

"We're approaching those coordinates, range 3100 kilometers and closing!" Wo Chin announced.

"How are our shields?" Buck asked Julia, concerned what effect the barrage the Firebrand was unleashing on the plasma field was doing to his ship. He was not blind to how unmatched they were, but then again, after spending most of his adult life fighting an enemy with superior forces, he was accustomed to being the underdog.

"It's holding because we're staying ahead of them," Julia replied. "But it's taking all our power to maintain shield integrity.

"Commander," Wo Chin declared, looking over his shoulder with some measure of confusion. "I'm, reading unusually high proton counts and a 400% increase in external wave intensities."

For the first time, Buck looked to Mary. "Is that what I think it is?"

"Yes," Mary replied, trying to be heard over the groans the ship was making amidst the Firebrand's bombardment. "The Bajorans call it the Celestial Temple. Head straight for it."

On the viewscreen, the clouds began to dissipate and though there was still enough of it to play havoc with their sensors, the Defiant was still able to avoid bursts of plasma being ignited by the Firebrand. Suddenly, without warning, an explosion of white light appeared before them, like the birth of a newborn star. Everyone was transfixed as space itself began to dissolve in a vortex of color. It swirled in front of them, revealing the currents of neutrinos and quantum energy. It was almost beautiful.

"Oh my God," Mary heard Julia exclaim.

"It's a wormhole," Wo Chin said to no one in particular, awe exuding from his voice.

"Take us through," Buck said with a little smile, glad to see Captain Larabee's gamble had paid off.

"Yes, Sir!" Nog replied throwing a look at Buck and revealing the grin on his face.

Mary could not help but smile hearing the eagerness in the Ferengi's voice to fly into the unknown in front of them. Despite all the years of warfare these people had been forced to endure since the fall of the Terran Empire, it was nice to know the spirit of exploration existed in them.

Entering the maw of the wormhole, the Defiant was quickly surrounded by the same dazzling display of color and brilliance they had when the phenomenon appeared in front of them. Thanks to the adjustments made to compensate for spatial discontinuity, their journey through the wormhole was nowhere as turbulent as it had been when Benjamin Sisko first discovered its existence years before.

Behind them, although no one on the Defiant saw this, the vortex closed as suddenly as it appeared, leaving only empty space where a starship had been.

*****

"Where are they?" Svinak demanded as he stared at the viewscreen before him, switching perspectives in quick succession to give him an alternate view of the space surrounding them, in search of a quarry that had mysteriously vanished. A moment ago, they could see vaguely the Defiant through the gaseous plasma cloud in the Belt. Now there was nothing except the swirling cloud of obscuring plasma, revealing no sign of the Defiant.

"They're gone," the Centurion looked up from his station, baffled. "One minute they were there and then they were gone! Unfortunately, even if our sensors weren't disabled, we are unable to scan for them. Perhaps firing disruptors destroyed them as you had intended," he said to the Vulcan, hoping that would appease the Commander.

"Even if they were destroyed, there would be significant debris. That's a starship, not a shuttle!" Svinak barked.

His instincts on this whole situation told him something wasn't right. The nagging feeling that crept up his spine had taken firm grip now and he knew at the core of him, he was missing something. Having hunted his prey for some time now, nothing about Wilmington's actions in this entire situation felt right. The man knew what was at stake if the conditions of the exchange were not met. Adam Larabee's life would be forfeit.

Yet, not only had Wilmington ignored the exchange, he had the audacity to attack the Firebrand in a ship so old, it had no chance of victory. If sacrificing the boy was his intention, then why bother showing to this meeting at all?

Svinak eased back into his command chair and focused his concentration on every aspect of their engagement with the starship since the first torpedo was struck. The first torpedo had decloaked them, the second had disabled their sensors. There was no doubt the torpedo strike on their sensor array had been deliberate. Why the sensors? There were far more logical targets if they wished to cripple the ship. In fact, with quantum torpedoes deployed, the Defiant had been in the position to do considerable damage to the Firebrand.

Svinak didn't think Wilmington would squander the opportunity. Disabling the sensors seemed like such a redundant gesture when the Denorios Belt would render them blind anyway. Unless... Svinak's mind started to journey down an extremely unpalatable possibility.

Was there something else the Defiant didn't want them to see?

It hit Svinak with a burst of clarity. The Vulcan jumped out of his chair. "Centurion! Sound intruder alert and have a security team meet me in the brig! They're attempting to rescue the boy!"

*****

Beyond the walls of the hull, they could hear the low rumble of disruptors firing. It shuddered through the wall in bursts of explosive sound, causing minor tremors to pass through the tritanium hull into the rest of the ship. Descending through the mouth of the maintenance hatch, the crew of the Cimarron, climbed down the short set of rungs of the ladder descending in the engineering deck of the Firebrand.

"They are firing disruptors," Ezra observed, commenting on the weapons discharge they could hear through the hull of the ship. "Surely they do not think they are able to target the Defiant without sensors?"

"They're not trying to target the Defiant," Chris answered automatically, "they're trying to ignite the plasma particles to overload her shields. Svinak knows the warbird's shields can take the blast, a constitution class ship will not."

Trying not to think about Mary, Chris was certain Commander Wilmington was astute enough to get the Defiant to the rendezvous point before that happened. Instead, he concentrated on what they had to do next.

"Vin, you take point." He ordered as they paused for a moment in the middle of the empty corridor, along with the section of engineering containing the tractor beam emitter. "If they see you first, it might confuse them enough to give us a few seconds."

"Right," Vin nodded in understanding. Wearing the face of the Tal Shiar commander, even if he looked like he'd gone Terran was worth a few seconds of distraction.

"I shall take up our rear Captain," Ezra volunteered, his sea-green eyes scanning the area with usual hawkish observation.

Alex was scanning them all with her tricorder, her expression while tense, did not display undue concern and she appeared satisfied by what she was seeing on the display. "The adjustments I've made to our com badges seem to be working Captain," she said looking up at Chris. "We're all currently displaying Romulan life signs."

"Good," Chris nodded, pleased by her suggestion to make the modification at the onset of the mission. In the event they were discovered, it would make it difficult for the enemy to detect their life signs if they were reading Romulan, like everyone else on board. "Can you locate Adam?"

"Yes," Alex nodded, already scanning for it because she anticipated the Captain's next question. "He's twenty decks up in the brig."

Chris's jaw tightened at that, thinking of Adam...no his son, who was he kidding? Chris had stopped thinking of him as anything else the minute he laid eyes on the boy and saw Sarah reflected in his face. It didn't matter he wasn't the Adam he buried, the boy was his flesh and blood nonetheless and nothing anyone would say would ever convince him of that.

As the tractor emitter was not a key area of the ship, it was not a high trafficked area. They could make it to the turbo lift without encountering anyone. Of course, it helped, Alex was monitoring the tricorder every step of the way, to ensure they had plenty of time to hide before anyone discovered them. The instant they reached the brig however, that would change. Flanking each side of the lift doors, as they waited for it to open, it did so a few seconds later, without depositing anyone onto the deck.

"So far so good," Vin, ever the optimist, stepped inside first and waited for the others to join them.

The ride up twenty decks, took the same amount of time as it would on a galaxy class ship. When the doors slid open, Vin and Ezra stepped in front of the open doorway and were confronted with at least three Romulan crewmen along the corridor. Without offering them any warning, the two Starfleet officers opened fire. One of the Romulans tried to reach a nearby communications panel, but Vin dropped him before he could even set his hands on them.

"It is fortunate we disabled their sensors," Ezra remarked as Vin waited for Chris to join him, with Ezra retreating to the rear of the group behind Alex once again.

"No kidding," Alex agreed. "The alert would be screaming by now after that display."

Chris had wanted the sensors disabled prior to their arrival on board the Firebrand, not only because it would keep the ship from tracking the Defiant, but also because it would disrupt internal warning systems, such as the one they would have triggered by discharging their phasers on board.

"Should we attempt to hide the bodies?" Alex inquired as they hurried up the corridor.

"No time," Chris dismissed the idea. "We could run into more people that way."

"The Captain is correct," Ezra replied, his eyes scanning the area behind him to ensure they were not caught off guard from behind.

Reaching a corner, Vin gestured at them to hold position as he peered around it to see what was there. There were two guards positioned at the entrance to the brig, the normal procedure when guarding a prisoner of importance in the brig. No doubt, there would be more of them inside the room.

"How many Alex?" Chris whispered.

"I'm reading two Romulan signatures and one..." she met her captain's eyes. "One human."

"Cover me," Vin said stepping out into the corridor.

Immediately, the two Romulan officers standing at the entrance to the brig turned in his direction. Armed with disruptors, they were about to go for their weapons until realizing the face in front of them, belonged to the master of the Firebrand. As the confusion crossed their faces, their reach for their weapons paused for but a second, but it was enough. Chris and Ezra took advantage of the pause and fired, sending amber streaks of energy that flew past Vin and struck both officers in quick succession. They collapsed without uttering a sound, their puzzlement at Vin's presence still on their faces as they slipped into unconsciousness.

"That pretty face of yours," Alex said as she emerged down the corridor to join Vin. "Gets you out of trouble all the time."

"You know it Darlin'," he winked at her as Chris and Ezra joined them at the door.

"Alright," Chris said quickly. "Ezra, you and I will go in. Alex, you and Vin stay out here. This is the brig so there won't be many alternate entries out of this deck. Once they discover the bodies in the hallway, the entire ship is going to come down on us."

"We got your back pard," Vin nodded.

Chris and Ezra readied their weapons as Chris signaled Alex to activate the door panel. The door slid open and the two men stepped inside the brig. One Romulan appeared to be at a monitoring station while another was at the door to the cell. They jumped to their feet at the sight of the two humans, with the Romulan at the station reaching towards the console, no doubt to alert the bridge. Ezra pulled the trigger on his phaser before he managed to give them away.

The second slammed into the wall he was standing against when Chris fired at him. This Romulan managed to draw his weapon but Chris had to credit his time on the holodeck playing the Man in Black for giving him the edge. Simulated gunfights had allowed him to become a fast draw. No sooner, then he had collapsed, Chris hurried to the door he had been guarding and activated the panel along the wall next to it.

Entering the room without hesitation or before Ezra could warn him to take caution, Chris stepped into the small cell and saw Adam sitting up on his bunk, alert and aware something was happening outside his cell.

For a second, Adam could only stare at the man, unable to believe he was here. A short time ago, he was contemplating a future where his only goal would be to murder Svinak. With mom gone and no way to get back to the dimension Svinak stole him from, what else was there left for him? He had been lamenting the cruelty of finally meeting the man who was a version of the father he never knew, who didn't care about that little technicality, only seeing Adam as flesh and blood.

While it was nowhere as painful as losing his mother, it left Adam wounded nonetheless.

Except the Captain of the Maverick was here. He had crossed the dimensional barriers to come for Adam like a father would do for a son. The emotion that filled the boy was so intense, it was a salve to the ragged wound left by his mother's death. When Chris Larabee promised to be there for Adam, it hadn't been just words. He had meant it and now he was here, on board the Firebrand

"You came," Adam said in quiet awe. "You came for me."

Chris smiled faintly and didn't give a damn if logic said otherwise, he answered from the heart. "You're my son. Of course, I was going to come after you."

And it was true. Adam was his son, perhaps not the same one he buried and would always be a part of him, as Sarah was, but nevertheless still his flesh and blood. When he realized the teenager had been stolen away, the fury that filled him was not the rage of a Captain having one of his own abducted off his ship, it was the fire of a father losing his child.

Adam's eyes misted over, and he nodded, accepting it and accepting him.

"Captain," Ezra prompted, not wanting to interrupt the moment but the truth was, they had no time to spare. They needed to get off this deck immediately before their presence was discovered if it was not already.

"Right," Chris nodded, needing no further reminders. "Adam, come on. We've got to go."

"Yes Sir," Adam answered and followed Chris out as they emerged from the cell to the monitoring station where the two Romulans remained unconscious to the world. Adam's own training kicked in as he dropped to his knees next to one of his warders and immediately retrieved a disruptor.

"Chris!" Vin's voice called from outside the brig! "Hurry, we're going to have company!"

Chris exchanged a look with Adam and Ezra before they emerged to see Vin firing at a Romulan approaching around the corridor, with Alex covering him. Klaxons had started screaming throughout the ship, indicating intruder alert.

"I guess, they know we're here," Alex grumbled. "Now the fun really starts."

*****

Mary had never been through the wormhole herself, although she had seen it from the observation ring of Deep Space Nine. She could not help but feel the same awe as the rest of the Defiant's bridge crew as the ship moved through the eddies of neutrinos, ionized hydrogen, waves of theta-band radiation, held together by fragile quantum level fluctuations.

The whole trip took less than a minute and just as suddenly, the sky opened once more and this time, they were returned to the comforting safety of space, its canvas of stars twinkling in welcome to the new arrivals.

Turning to Buck, Mary said with a smile. "Welcome to the Gamma Quadrant."

"Commander!" Julia exclaimed. "I am detecting a ship on an intercept course."

Buck stared at Mary. "We invite anyone else to this party?"

Mary tensed, perfectly aware of who could be on the ship approaching them. "Not that I am aware of, but I hoped we weren't going to be here long enough for the Dominion to detect us."

"The Dominion?" Buck stared at her with concern. "I take it they are people we don't want to meet?"

"Commander," Julia looked at him. "They're hailing us."

"Well, they're not shooting at us," Buck sighed. "I suppose that's a good sign."

When the ship came into view, Mary's stomach hollowed because what she was looking at was a Jem'Hadar battleship. The size of it was comparable to that of the Firebrand and Mary wondered if they didn't just deliver the Defiant from one enemy, to face another as equally dangerous.

"This is Commander Buck Wilmington of the Terran Alliance," Buck said responding to the hail. After all, the Defiant was the trespasser. "We've just come through a wormhole from the Alpha Quadrant."

"They're responding," Julia informed dutifully.

Suddenly the viewscreen showed the bridge of the Jem'Hadar battleship, except seated in the command chair was no Jem'Hadar or Vorta. It was a Founder. Mary rose to her feet in astonishment, recognizing the changeling occupying the command seat.

"Odo?"

The changeling stared at her in surprise. "Yes, I am Commander Odo of the Commonwealth of Free Planets, welcome to the Gamma Quadrant."

Chapter Sixteen: V'tosh ka'tur

The instant the klaxons sounded, both Vin and Alex knew they were about to have company. Taking up position at the corner leading to the corridor that would end with the turbo lift, Vin raised his phase rifle in readiness to shoot while Chris retrieved Adam. A little further along the opposite wall, Alex was similarly positioned, her own rifle poised and ready to fire. Although both were bridge officers, both had spent enough time in the holodeck fighting side by side in imaginary battles to be prepared for a real-life situation.

The instant the turbo lift doors opened, a trio of Romulan legionnaires emerged. Vin and Alex opened fire immediately, not wasting time with warning shots. Vin took out the first, while Alex dispatched the second. The third managed to pull out his disruptor long enough to squeeze off a shot that impacted on the wall in front of Alex, who retreated to avoid being hit. The disruptor blast left a dark, charred blemish against the metal finish.

As always, Vin reacted strongly to anyone taking shots at his mate and fired his rifle at the remaining Romulan, hitting the enemy square in the chest. With their weapons set to kill, the Romulan flew backwards and slammed into the wall before landing face first on the floor. With the turbo lift clear, Vin looked over his shoulder to see Chris, Ezra, and Adam, who appeared unhurt, emerging from the brig and hurrying towards them.

"Coast is clear for now," VIN told Chris, even though the klaxons indicated it would change soon enough.

"Not for long," Chris replied. "Ezra, it's time. Take Adam with you."

"Captain," Ezra stared at him, unhappy to be ordered to leave without his Captain. "I strongly disagree with this course of action." It should be the captain who was going first, not him.

"What?" Adam asked, looking at Chris. "I'm not going without you." The boy stared at Chris in outright disdain at that idea.

"Ezra, if anything goes wrong, you need to figure out how to get us out of here, so get to it!" Chris barked as they emerged from the corridor and headed towards the turbo lift.

Ezra frowned, not liking the idea at all but perfectly aware the Captain was correct. Besides, their primary goal was the safe delivery of Adam from this prison and until he was off the Firebrand, that task remained unfulfilled.

"Rest assured young man," Ezra said still staring at Chris, as he wrapped a hand around the boy's forearm. "We are going nowhere without the Captain."

With that, he tapped his combadge. "Computer, activate site to site transport on my com signal."

"I'll see you soon," Chris assured Adam, who was about to demand what was going on when suddenly, the hum of a transporter beam was heard, and the boy's eyes widened in understanding. There was no chance for Adam to protest because he was soon engulfed by the golden shimmer of a transporter beam that would take him and Ezra straight to the runabout. Once inside the runabout, Ezra could transport them safely off the Firebrand. After Ezra and Adam were gone, Chris turned back to Vin and Alex.

"Alright, let's get the hell out of here," he said as they resumed their journey down the corridor towards the turbo lift.

They were halfway there when a door slid open and a Romulan appeared in the corridor, obviously having lain in wait until the time was right to strike. The Romulan barreled into Alex who was closest, using enough strength to slam her into the opposite wall, forcing the rifle to drop from her hands. She uttered a soft cry as she was pinned and was about to strike when Vin reached for the enemy and yanked him back with one hand and spun him around. Wasting no time, Vin dropped both hands on the Romulan's neck and twisted sharply. A sickly squelch of bone was heard before Vin dropped him to the floor without a word. His neck was twisted at an odd angle.

"Stop playing with your food and let's go," Chris ordered, having been accustomed to seeing Vin display such brute force on numerous occasions before this. The Captain of the Maverick activated the turbo lift and took up flanking position in case anyone emerged from it.

"Are you alright?" Vin asked Alex, as she picked up her rifle.

"Yeah," she winced, unhappy at being caught by surprise. "I'm okay," she gave him a reassuring smile before she joined him as they hurried to the Captain.

The turbo lift doors slid open but instead of being empty, it was filled with at least five Romulan legionnaires. Leading them was Svinak.

For a second, Chris did not react, struck with the shock at finding himself face to face with the Commander of the Tal Shiar. He had thought seeing this dimension's version of Buck Wilmington was jarring but it was nothing in comparison to laying his eyes on Svinak. For the first time, Chris could well understand why Adam had reacted so strongly to Vin. If not for the hair, which for some odd reason was dyed black, most likely to appear more Romulan, they were identical, down to the cobalt colored eyes.

The pause was just long enough for Svinak to stop him from firing his weapon. The Commander of the Tal Shiar barreled into him, sending them both sprawling backwards as Alex and Vin opened fire on the enemy emerging from the turbo lift. While three of them had the benefit of cover inside the lift, the first two died as soon as Svinak attacked Chris, giving the two Starfleet officers an unobstructed line of fire.

Meanwhile, Svinak had shoved Chris into a wall, one hand keeping him pinned while the other snatched the phase rifle out of his hand and tossed it away. Like all Vulcans, Svinak was using his Vulcan strength to his advantage. However, Chris was not about to let him draw his own disruptor and brought the elbow down on the man's face, making sure the joint connected with Svinak's nose, causing the Vulcan to reel. Green blood spurted from a broken nose and Svinak loosened his grip on Chris.

"Chris!" Vin saw his best friend going hand to hand with his counterpart and knew Chris couldn't last long against the Vulcan, whose strength far exceeded a human's and Svinak had more than just that in his arsenal.

"GO!" Alex shouted at him. "I'll take care of this!" She ordered and faced the turbo lift again. The Romulans were pinned in by the barrage she and Vin were laying down to keep them from emerging, but they could not maintain this for long. As Vin tried to weave through the barrage of disruptor fire being aimed at him, Alex laid down continuous fire to provide him with enough cover to reach Chris.

Chris took a step forward, intending to deliver another punch after breaking Svinak's nose, hoping it would be enough to bring the Vulcan down. Being four times stronger than a human, Chris knew what advantage he had would be brief. Sure, as hell, Chris knew, that in a fight with Vin, the Officer of the Conn, wouldn't even break a sweat. Throwing a punch, his fist never connected with Svinak's jaw because the Vulcan recovered quickly.

Catching Chris's fist with one hand, Svinak clenched his own and Chris felt the pain of bone starting to snap. Chris tried to throw another punch with his free hand, but Svinak caught it too and shoved Chris against the wall hard.

"Captain Larabee I presume," Svinak said with a sneer. "You are a long way from home."

"Well so were you when you came on board my ship," Chris grunted, ignoring the pain as Svinak closed in on him.

"You had something that belonged to me," Svinak said coldly. "I merely came to retrieve it."

"That something was my son!" Chris hissed, his fury bubbling at the way Svinak described Adam as if he hadn't just destroyed the boy's world by taking his mother from him. Before Svinak could reach him, however, he was yanked back by the collar and dragged forcibly away. The Commander of the Tal Shiar barely had time to react when he was head-butted so hard, he went sprawling along the corridor.

"It's okay Pard," Vin glanced at Chris before turning to Svinak. "I've got this."

Considering what Svinak did to Alex, Chris had no doubt of that, however, they didn't have much time before those reinforcements arrived. He didn't want Vin's desire for his pound of flesh, to get in the way of them getting off the Firebrand alive. "Don't waste too much time with him Vin, we need to get off this ship."

Vin's eyes were dark when he answered, "This won't take long."

*****

We've got to get them out of there!" Adam nearly shouted when he materialized on the transporter pad inside the Cimarron, ignoring the fact they were suddenly on another ship, only that the Captain... his father, was still on the Firebrand.

"Calm yourself," Ezra said patiently, maintaining as always, his poker face, even though the situation was critical. "I have every intention of retrieving the Captain, Commander Styles, and Lieutenant Tanner. Now sit down somewhere, I've got work to do."

Hurrying to the transporter controls, Ezra was about to lock on to the Captain's com badge signal when Alex's science station emitted a shrill sound of alert. The Security Chief stiffened immediately with Adam's eyes following the sound to the station where it originated. Ezra turned to see Adam quickly sliding into Alex's seat and began scanning the console.

"What is it?"

"I'm not sure," Adam studied the screen, his brow furrowing. "It seems that they're getting ready to perform a baryon sweep."

Without saying another word, Ezra left the transporter controls and immediately slipped into Vin Tanner's seat at helm control.

"What are you doing?" Adam demanded, watching Ezra's hands flying over the controls in an all too familiar fashion. "Are you taking off? You said you weren't going to leave them!" The boy exclaimed horrified.

"Adam," Ezra said not looking up from the controls as he disengaged the magnetic clamps. "The warbird's sensors are damaged but the Romulans are astute enough to be aware we could have only arrived on board their ship by two means. One, by having a ship in close proximity to them, which requires a transport through that plasma field outside, which is rather perilous. Or secondly, by a vessel docked covertly against their hull."

The magnetic clamps detached with a dull thud and Ezra immediately fired the thrusters, lifting the runabout off the hull of the Firebrand. "They are conducting a baryon sweep so it will destabilize any warp particles along their hull. If our runabout remains in this position, our anti-matter core will destabilize, and we will be unable to take off. I must get the runabout in the air before the hull is swept."

Adam let out a sigh, once again reminding himself this was not the Ezra Standish he knew. This man was the Chief of Security for the Maverick who was probably just as dedicated as the Josiah Sanchez* he knew. "I'm sorry." He apologized. "What do we do?"

"Fortunately, the Firebrand seems to be holding position," Ezra replied, "no doubt because they have no idea where the Defiant has gone. So, I am going to circle around and allow the sweep to be conducted before taking up our former position."

"Can my dad afford to wait? Adam asked, the word slipped past his lips without his meaning to do so and he felt somewhat embarrassed referring to Captain Larabee that way, even though every fiber of his being felt it to be right. After the man had come for him, Adam couldn't think of any other way.

Ezra smiled, wondering if Adam knew just how much hearing it would have meant to Chris Larabee.

"Not indefinitely," Ezra said as he piloted the runabout away from the Firebrand. "But rest assured, we will not leave him or the rest of our party to languish for long."

*****

Meanwhile, Alex was maintaining her barrage against the Romulans in the lift, aware they were probably calling for reinforcements to attack them from a different direction on the deck. Unable to look at her tricorder to see where such an attack might originate, she was mindful of being blindsided. When she saw the Captain take up position in the space Vin formerly occupied, she let out a sigh of relief.

"Captain, we need to get off this deck before they send reinforcements. I need to check the tricorder!" Until Ezra was able to transport them off the ship, they still had to stay ahead of the enemy.

Understanding what she needed of him, Chris aimed his phase rifle at the lift and started firing, allowing Alex to lower her own weapon to conduct a quick scan.

As anticipated, Alex detected the approach of at least a half dozen Romulan life signs closing in from a service stairway on the other side of the deck. "Captain, we're going to have company soon!" She shouted at Chris. "We have to get off this deck."

Chris thought quickly. After a second, he adjusted his aim away from the enemy and focused instead on the door panel and fired. The controls of the turbo lift were obliterated with one well-aimed shot and before the rain of sparks even landed on the deck, the doors slid to a close, trapping the Romulans inside.

"Find us another way out of here Alex!" Chris ordered, now they had a moment to breathe and he could go see where Vin was.

After hearing about Svinak from Adam and the rest of the people in this dimension, not to mention after what he had done to Alex, Vin wasn't sure how he'd react seeing Svinak face to face.

*****

Here was a picture of himself, if he had been raised Vulcan. Technically, Svinak was raised Romulan, but the differences were slight in his opinion. Both races subscribed to an alien way of thinking he couldn't possibly imagine. If he had been found by anyone other than the Tanners, could he have become something like this creature in front of him? Callous and cold without any empathy? A murderer with no moral compass, with a ruthlessness to achieve his own ends, no matter what the cost?

After this, Vin would never again regret being disconnected from his people because this, this monster is what he could have become.

Still disorientated from the headbutt, Svinak couldn't keep Vin from throwing a one-two punch across his jaw before he realized who he was fighting. When he did, his reaction was swift, and he lashed out, blocking the third punch before it connected and threw a forward kick that sent Vin back a few steps. When he swung again, Vin ducked and rolled across the floor, getting to his feet behind Svinak and throwing a sidekick that slammed his counterpart into the wall.

"That's for my wife," Vin hissed, remembering what state Alex had been in, nearly destroyed by being trapped in that terrible place in her mind. This bastard had made her relive that nightmare and for that, Vin was going to make him bleed.

"You're weak!" Svinak spat green blood on the floor, wiping his lips. "Copulating with that... that...Terran. Defiled and sullied as she is."

Vin saw red and for a few seconds, they went at each other, blow for blow, with Svinak being at a disadvantage because he wasn't fighting someone who was adhering to any known discipline. Instead, he was facing an opponent who not only embraced his rage and anger but also channeled it into combat, fighting opponents ranging from Klingon warriors to alien xenomorphs with his bare hands. When Vin flung Svinak against the wall once more, prepared to put his fist through the man's face in a crippling blow, Svinak ducked and scrambled away, panting hard as he tried to buy himself more time.

"Look at you," Svinak raised his eyes to Vin, his distaste plain. "So human."

"Thank Christ for that," Vin moved in, glaring at him. "Better human than a murdering son of a bitch like you. We may not be raised Vulcan but there's things you just don't do!" He was affronted to his Vulcan core by Svinak's use of forcible melds for interrogation. It was nothing less than rape.

"I do not give an Erebus damn about Vulcan," Svinak snapped. "Vulcan has done nothing for me! They made my parents..." he stared at Vin. "Our parents, exiles, because of V'tosh ka'tur!"

V'tosh ka'tur. Vin stared at Svinak for a second because that word evoked a memory so potent, it staggered Vin how clear it was. A face flashed in his memory, a face who was smiling at him when he said those words. Even more jarring was the realisation how much like him that face resembled.

It took but a second for Svinak to realize the reason for his sudden pause.

"You don't know do you?" Svinak sneered. "You don't know your parents were disciples of V'tosh Ka'tur. Did it never occur to you what they were doing near the Rim, so far from Vulcan? They were exiled like we are, because Svianek and T'Lara were V'tosh ka'tur, Vulcans without logic."

Svianek and T'Lara. His eyes widened. Were those his parents' names? When he was little, he had tried to tell the Tanners, but he had been too young to say it properly and so their names were lost in time. However, what Svinak was saying had a ring of familiarity to it that was rearing its head from a place deep inside of him.

Taking advantage of his counterpart's distraction, Svinak threw a kick before Vin was ready for it and it struck him across the jaw. The pain was considerable, but one who had gone through the Pon Farr in recent months was accustomed to it and though he went sprawling, he also knew how to roll. In a matter of seconds, Vin was on his knees, seeing Svinak about to throw a kick to his face. Vin caught the man's foot before it connected and shoved him backwards. The Tal Shiar Commander staggered backwards for a few feet, giving Vin time to get upright.

However, before he could do anything else, a blast struck Svinak in the side. Vin turned sharply to the direction the bolt of phaser energy had come from and saw Chris standing there, appearing unrepentant at stepping in to put an end to this battle.

"We've got to go."

"You should have killed him," Alex joined them, still wanting to kill the bastard but understood why Chris couldn't do it. Looking at the unconscious form of the Vulcan, and then meeting Vin's gaze, she realized she didn't want to kill this man and have his death on her conscience. Not when he looked so much like Vin. The last thing she needed was to see this bastard in her dreams wearing her husband's face. She had all too many ghosts there already.

Still, he did have some payback coming. Without uttering another word, Alex threw a well-placed kick that connected with Svinak's unconscious face. If his jaw wasn't broken before, it certainly was now.

"If anyone deserves to kill him, it should be Commander Wilmington," Chris said firmly. After what this Vulcan had taken from the man, Chris would not rob him of the satisfaction. God only knew when Ezra finally learned the truth about Sarah and Adam's death, there was no corner of the universe the guilty would be able to hide, where Chris wouldn't find them. He would not take that vindication from Buck Wilmington when it was time for this Vulcan to pay for Mary Travis's death. *

"We have to go," Alex said studying her tricorder. "There's a service hatch on the other side of this deck, we should be able to make our way to the aft turbo lift from..."

"Captain," Ezra Standish's voice came through Chris's com badge.

"Ezra, we could use a beam out about now. We're about to have company." Chris replied, never more grateful than to hear the man's voice at that moment. As he spoke to Ezra, Chris noticed Vin staring at Svinak with an unfathomable expression on his face. If Chris did not know better, he would have thought his best friend seemed almost pensive. What had Svinak said to him?

"Standby for transport Captain," Ezra replied. "I apologise for the delay, I was forced to uncouple the Cimarron from the Firebrand. The Romulans suspected we might have an alternate way of leaving the ship and attempted to run a baryon sweep."

"Acknowledged," Chris nodded, understanding what that would have done to the Cimarron.

"Ezra, beam the Captain and Alex first," Vin said after tapping his com badge.

"Just wait a minute..." Alex started to say when Vin shot her a look that silenced her immediately. It was not often he exerted himself, but instinct told her that to argue with him right now, was not a good idea. There was something in his cobalt colored eyes that warned her against it.

"You heard him," Chris said firmly, understanding Vin wouldn't make the request lightly. Besides, the transporter was only capable of taking two at a time anyway.

"Aye Captain," Ezra replied. "Standby for transport."

"Don't be long cowboy," Alex said quietly as the transporter started to hum around them.

"I ain't gonna do anything stupid Darlin'," he gave her a little smile as an apology for how harsh he was with her a moment ago. "I'll be right along with Chris."

"Make sure you do," Chris said firmly as the shimmer of the transporter surrounded him.

Vin watched long enough to see them disappear before he went to Svinak's unconscious form and placed a finger under his temple and at his cheekbone.

"My mind to your mind," he said quietly, even though the Vulcan did not hear. It was a simple message he was going to implant in the man's mind, but for his sake, Vin hoped Svinak of the Tal Shiar listened.

Cross over again to our universe, and the next time, I will kill you.

Epilogue: In Here

When the Cimarron emerged through the Bajoran wormhole, they were immediately confronted by the sight of the Defiant facing a Dominion battlecruiser.

At least they thought it was a battlecruiser.

While certain elements of it resembled the warships, Starfleet battled over the skies of Cardassia Prime less than a year ago, there were subtle differences. For starters, when Ezra scanned the ship, there were no life sign readings for either the Jem'Hadar or the Vorta. In fact, the readings Ezra did detect, indicate a wide range of Gamma Quadrant aliens on board, from the Dosi to the Tosk. Secondly, the Defiant was facing the cruiser, without shields raised and neither ship charging weapons. If anything, the two ships seemed to be regarding each other in greeting.

"The Defiant's hailing us," Alex announced staring at Chris with bewilderment.

"Put it through," Chris nodded at her.

"I suppose it is a positive sign that no one is discharging weapons," Ezra remarked, continuing to scan the ship, finding the comparisons between this ship and the Jem'Hadar cruisers from their own universe fascinating. A theory was forming in the Security Chief's mind about what this might mean, but reserved judgement for the moment.

"I would," Chris replied, having no desire to replace their escape from one dangerous situation for another.

As it was, they had made good their escape from the Firebrand without incident once Vin returned to the Cimarron and reclaimed the conn. Fortunately, the Firebrand did not offer any pursuit and Chris suspected it had more to do with Svinak's incapacitated state than the warbird's disabled sensors. Taking advantage of the Firebrand's difficulties, they reached the coordinates for the wormhole without detection, which was just as well because Chris had no desire for the Romulans to learn about the passageway to the Gamma Quadrant.

Neither Chris nor Adam had a chance to exchange any more than a few words since their return to the Cimarron but the air between them was heavy with unspoken emotions. Before they left this dimension, Chris knew he and Adam needed to have a serious talk. Although it gutted Chris to admit it, there was every chance Adam may wish to remain here instead of returning to the Maverick. After all, this was his home. However, while Chris wanted the boy with him, he could not force Adam to make the crossing if Adam felt inclined to stay.

Chris also noticed Vin's manner was more stoic than usual since he returned to the runabout. Normally, Chris had an uncanny ability to figure out what was going on in the helmsman's head but on this occasion, Vin seemed especially imperceptible. Even Alex noticed it, though she didn't voice it and probably decided it was a discussion best held behind closed doors between husband and wife. Whatever was bothering Vin, Chris was almost certain it had to do with Vin's exchange with Svinak when they faced each other. Once they weren't faced with a Dominion ship that may or may not blow them out of the sky, Chris made a mental note to ask him about it.

"Captain Larabee," Buck Wilmington's voice greeted over the runabout's comms, interrupting his ruminations. "Glad to see you all made it back in one piece. Is Adam with you?"

Chris exchanged a little smile with Adam, before replying. "He's right here and he's fine. We all are," Chris added for Mary's benefit. No doubt, she was listening in closely and he felt a wave of longing to see the beautiful protocol officer who had been more patient with him than she ought to be about this whole affair. When they returned to the Maverick, Chris made a mental note to thank her for her support in a more personal gesture. "It looks like you have company."

"Yeah," Buck replied and though Chris could not see his face, he knew the big man was smiling. "I'll let Mary tell you about it. Meanwhile, the main hangar is waiting for you to dock."

Chris exchanged a glance with Ezra and the rest of his crew. "Acknowledged Defiant."

"Chris," Mary's calm voice filled the cockpit and both Chris and Adam smiled involuntarily for entirely different reasons. Chris didn't realize how much he missed her voice or having her by his side during this mission. "I'm glad you're all back safe." While her tone was measured, only Chris could tell how happy she was at their safe return.

"What's happening Mary?" Chris asked as Vin took the Cimarron towards the main shuttle bay of the Defiant. "That is a Dominion ship, right?" He asked for confirmation because something about that battlecruiser didn't feel right and he wanted answers.

"Well it appears in this dimension," Mary explained. "There is no Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant."

"No Dominion?" Ezra exclaimed. "But that is a Jem'Hadar battlecruiser out there."

"No," Mary corrected, amusement in her voice. "That is a High Guard starship for the Commonwealth of Free Planets."

"Commonwealth?" Even Vin looked up at that in surprise.

"Of course!" Alex exclaimed, her formidable intellect already grasping the possibilities of how such a development could have come about. "Captain, if Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development holds, it's very possible, the same factors that made Earth become the center of the Terran Empire might have happened to the Dominion. Remember, the Dominion was around for almost 2000 years before we stumbled upon them. If the Founders chose to bring order to their quadrant using mutual cooperation instead of conquest, this could be the result."

"So, they're good guys now?" Vin stared at her, supposing it was not that far-fetched. Just look at the differences between himself and Svinak. All it had taken was Svinak's fosterage by Romulans instead of humans. A similar situation might have been all it took to change the Dominion.

"I am taking their lack of hostility as a good sign," Ezra remarked, understanding now the different life sign readings he was detecting from the High Guard ship. What need did the Dominion or rather the Commonwealth, have for a genetically engineered race of warriors like the Jem'Hadar or even the Vorta for that matter, if they had citizens willing to join their cause?

"Who are they?" Adam asked, completely baffled by the conversation, since this dimension had no idea of the wormhole and the Dominion.

Chris stared at the ship hanging against the dark canvas of space, looming larger and larger in the cockpit as the Cimarron prepared to land on the Defiant.

"I think," Chris said with a little smile. "I think they're us."

*****

When the Cimarron set down on the hangar deck of the Defiant and the main hatch slid open, Chris emerged to see Mary waiting for them. He noticed none of the Defiant's crew was present and supposed Buck Wilmington wished to give Mary some privacy to greet her friends, not to mention spare himself the pain of seeing the facsimile of his former love, displaying affection to his dead best friend. Especially when his wounds were still so raw.

"Chris!" Mary greeted him with a warm embrace and Chris didn't stand on ceremony when he returned her grateful hug with a deep kiss of greeting, that made Adam stare somewhat.

"Sorry Adam," Chris regarded the boy who was probably finding this all a little surreal. "Mary and I are ..."

"It's okay," Adam stopped them from trying to explain, somewhat expecting it by how Mary had spoken about Chris when she first sought him out in the Maverick. "I figured something was up."

"How are you," Mary came to him and repeated the same hug. "Are you alright?" She touched his cheek and found her affection for this young man having deepened, since learning he had been taken by Svinak. "Are you hurt?"

Once again, Adam wrestled with how she made him feel. She wasn't his mother, he knew that, but her ability to make him feel a little less raw by the comfort she offered could not be ignored. The concern in her eyes felt real and her empathy for his pain made the loss of his mother a little easier to bear.

"No, I'm okay," he shook his head and then remembered what had hurt most about his captivity. "But Svinak told me he killed my mom," Adam admitted quietly.

Bastard, Chris swore under his breath, even though they all suspected Svinak cruel enough to inflict such news on Adam before this.

"Oh Adam," Mary embraced the teenager again, remembering how he'd wept in her arms when they were on board the Maverick, thinking he'd purged himself of the anguish, only to have Svinak revisit it upon him again. "I'm so sorry you had to go through that."

"If it makes you feel any better," Alex stated as she and Vin emerged from the runabout. "I think I broke his jaw."

"I wanted to kill him," Adam said darkly, trying not to look at Vin as he said those words. It was still taking him some getting used to, seeing Vin Tanner wearing Svinak's face but the man had followed Chris Larabee into this dimension to save his life. Adam knew in time, he would be able to hurdle the difficulties he had regarding the Vulcan.

"If he comes across to our side again, I will kill him" Vin spoke with a tone of menace that made everyone who knew him shuddered a little.

"So, pray to tell Mary," Ezra replied, eager to leave the subject of Svinak behind for the moment. As it stood, Ezra wasn't eager to remain in this dimension any longer than necessary. Now that they had Adam, they needed to seriously consider returning home to their own universe. "What is the situation with the behemoth outside?"

Deciding Ezra's effort to change the subject was a good idea, she brushed Adam's cheek once more before disengaging from the young man, flashing the friends who'd returned safely a smile of gratitude. "Well, it appears, on this side, the Dominion... I mean the High Guard, is based on the same principles as the Federation. Their charter is much like ours, promoting cooperation among member races. The Commander of the Ascent, that's the ship next to us, is Odo."

"The Odo?" Ezra's eyes widened in surprise, remembering the Changeling who was the well-respected Security Chief of Deep Space Nine, who ultimately became responsible for the peaceful end of the Dominion War.

"Yes," Mary nodded, "the Founders in this dimension never cloned Jem'Hadar or Vorta to run the High Guard. In fact, they seem very open to offering the Resistance help in exchange for future membership."

"Well," Ezra replied. "I think it is safe to say this may be the start of a beautiful relationship."

*****

Perfectly aware of how his presence would be perceived by the crew of the Defiant, even after his participation in the rescue of Adam Larabee, Vin remained out of sight in the Cimarron. Vin knew the Captain was eager to leave this dimension and head back home as soon as possible, so he busied himself by running a diagnostic on the runabout's systems before they made the crossing. In truth, it was the best place for Vin to be right now. There were too many thoughts in his head, thoughts he couldn't quite process.

Ezra who was on board, was conducting similar checks at the tactical station, noted Vin's distant expression, staring through the cockpit window of the Cimarron into the space outside the hangar bay doors. Vin had been sitting in silence for some time now and Ezra who found such instances disturbing finally decided to investigate.

"Vin," Ezra asked, taking the empty seat at the operation station. "Are you alright?"

Vin looked up at Ezra after a few seconds of silence, before he realized Ezra had actually spoken to him. He had been so lost in his head, he hadn't even heard the man speak. "Sorry Ezra, I'm just a little distracted."

"After the last few days," Ezra sighed. "I can appreciate why."

It wasn't every day a man was allowed to see a darker version of oneself. Ezra was somewhat grateful that the version of Ezra Standish in this reality was a man he could imagine becoming if he had chosen to follow Maude on plans for him. Vin's view through the dark mirror, however, was something no one should ever have to see.

"No, it's not that," Vin quickly corrected, aware Ezra probably thought he was shaken by his encounter with Svinak. "I'm not thinking about that son of a bitch at all. After facing him, I ain't got no problem with the fact he looks like me. All we got in common is where we started from, but he's been twisted up into something awful who is nothing like what I am. What I got in my life, he'll never understand. If anything, I feel sorry for him."

Vin thought about his life on the Maverick, the best friend he had with Chris Larabee, the camaraderie with the rest of the seven he served with, not to mention the joy of being with Alex, who was his soulmate. Svinak would never have any of that and worse yet, he would never understand he was missing anything, to begin with.

Ezra smiled, thinking how much Vin had grown since coming on board the Maverick. He was a far cry from the painfully shy Vulcan who was too afraid to talk to anyone or make himself heard. The Chief was also glad he was not too disturbed by Svinak, even if something was clearly on his mind.

"Then what is troubling you?" Ezra asked gently, relaxing enough in his tone to shed his own tendency to play interrogator, thanks to his role as a Security Chief.

Vin stared at Ezra, wondering if he ought to confide in the man, instead of Alex. At present, his wife was on the bridge of the Defiant. The Captain had wanted all data regarding the Gamma Quadrant made available to the Resistance, so they would have some idea of the races they would be encountering. Then again, she was still recovering from what Svinak had done to her and Vin didn't want to burden Alex unnecessarily just yet. There would be plenty of time to disclose what was on his mind when they got home, in the privacy of their quarters.

Besides, Vin remembered how Ezra had offered good counsel when Vin had been uncertain and confused during the onset of Pon Farr. He had listened kindly and said the words that helped Vin understand his situation. While he probably couldn't help Vin with his current problem, Ezra's ability to listen often provided its own clarity.

"When I was fighting, Svinak told me my parents were V'tosh ka'tur."

"What does that mean?" Ezra asked, never having heard the reference before. Then again, his knowledge about Vulcan culture was limited. Since meeting Vin, he had begun a delayed study, but it was not enough for him to recognize the term.

"It means Vulcan's without logic," Vin explained, having called up the information when he returned to the Cimarron on the library computer. "When I was found and brought to Earth, the authorities tried to find my family but because there was no record of the ship, there was no way to trace them. I didn't even remember my parents' name anymore, so I was no help there either."

Sadness filled him at that moment. Sadness and shame. No matter what, he should have at least been able to remember that much about his parents.

"When we were fighting, Svinak said his parents were exiled because they were V'tosh ka'tur."

"You believe it might be the same for your parents?"

Ezra guessed, understanding why Vin was so distracted now. From what Ezra knew of Vin's past from his service record, Vin had not been able to identify his parents, an understandable situation since he was only five when they died. The ship that crash landed on that forgotten world on the Rim, the Seleya's Heart, had travelled without a flight plan, so there were no records of it. Was the gap due to Vin's family being ostracized by Vulcan society?

"I think so," Vin explained. "The thing is Ezra, I remember hearing the words V'tosh ka'tur being said to me, so yeah, I think it could be the same for my Vulcan parents too. That's not all, Svinak told me their names. With all his mental training, he was probably able to access the memory. He knew their names Ezra and if their names are the same as my parents..."

"You can find out who they are," Ezra concluded and understood what a watershed this was for Vin. "Do you wish to?"

Vin had been pondering the question ever since he returned to the Cimarron. A part of him craved the knowledge, another part of him was frightened of what he might find. He was finally comfortable with himself and his life. Did he want to ruin that by uncovering secrets in his past?

"I don't know Ezra," Vin said honestly. "I got used to being me without having any connection to them but as much as I loved my human parents, I gotta remember my Vulcan ones didn't choose to die and leave me alone. It feels like I ought to at least try and find out who they were."

"I offer my assistance, Mr Tanner," Ezra said kindly.

"Thank you, Ezra, "I appreciate it," Vin said with a little smile, knowing it was help he wouldn't refuse if he decided to pursue this. Ezra was one of the finest investigators in the fleet, if there was a truth to be found, he would find it.

"What are friends for Mr Tanner," Ezra patted his arm, "What are friends for?"

*****

When Adam learned his mother's body was still on board, the Defiant, he insisted on seeing her.

Buck had been reluctant to allow the boy access to the empty shell that was Mary Travis, especially after what Svinak had done to her under torture. The Commander of the Defiant would have preferred to spare the boy the anguish of seeing the terrible injuries inflicted on his mother's once lovely features but nothing he said would convince Adam otherwise. Even Chris had made a half-hearted attempt to talk Adam out of it, but in the end, the kid insisted, and the decision was taken out of both their hands.

Despite Chris's offer to accompany Adam to undertake the painful duty, a part of him was grateful when Adam insisted on doing it alone. Having faced the horror of losing Sarah years before, he had no wish to do it again, even if the woman lying in the Sick Bay morgue was not really his Mary. No matter what his mind told himself, his connection to the beautiful Protocol Officer was too strong to bear the ordeal. He wondered if Adam had suspected as much when he refused Chris's offer.

In any case, the boy wanted to say goodbye to his mother and Chris could appreciate that.

So now, Chris found himself standing in the corridor outside Sick Bay, facing Buck Wilmington who had accompanied them there but would go no further than that. Considering Chris's own feelings about viewing a body of Mary Travis, he could appreciate Buck's desire to spare himself further anguish by repeated viewings of her lifeless husk. Especially when what remained bore no resemblance to the vital woman, he'd loved for so many years.

"I'm sorry about Mary*," Chris found himself saying because it was hard to look at Buck and see him so wounded. Even if he was a totally different Buck Wilmington than the one who was presently on route to the Maverick, the essence of the man remained the same whatever the universe. He still had the same big heart always worn on his sleeve and boundless compassion. There was a part of Chris who wanted to protect that heart, even though there were times it was Chris himself who caused it more hurt than any other person.

Right now, his apology felt hollow in the face of the man's loss and Chris recognized the hurt Buck was hiding behind his eyes because he had seen the same agony in the mirror for so many years. Words and platitudes did nothing to assuage the pain. Five years after Sarah's death, it still felt raw in his heart despite his love for Mary. He wouldn't insult this man's intelligence by making the claim time would heal all wounds. He knew from experience, it didn't.

"I didn't know her," Chris said instead, "but she must have been something."

And she was, that much Chris could attest. From what he had been told, the Mary Travis of this world was a young woman who readily accepted the responsibility of a child, not hers and loved him so much, the boy was devastated by the loss. Not only had she loved him, but she had also prepared him to survive in this harsh world and her last act, was to give him the father he'd never known, in a world where he'd never have to struggle to survive.

"She was," Buck spoke, closing his eyes, thinking of his Mary, of the woman he loved for nearly seventeen years, whose void in his heart would never be filled. Raising his eyes to the man who wore the face of his best friend, Buck remembered the Chris Larabee of his childhood, whose work he tried so hard to continue, at a personal cost that had never seem as high as it had been since he was faced with Mary's body. "We were together for a long time. Since I broke her out that prison when Adam was a baby. Christ, she was goddamn amazing."

He fell silent for a second, unable to speak as the emotion choked him, and for a few seconds, both men said nothing. Chris allowed him the time to compose himself, not trying to offer him comfort for his agony because Chris knew it wouldn't help.

After a moment, Buck met Chris's blue eyes and managed a little smile. "It's good to see you again Chris. You're not the friend I buried but I've missed seeing him."

Buck's eyes were so heavy with sorrow, Chris found it difficult to look at him. Was this what his own Buck went through with him when he was suffering his worst pains after Sarah and Adam's passing? How had the man endured it? And worst yet, how could Chris be so oblivious to how much it hurt Buck to watch him this way? Once he got back to the Maverick, Chris resolved to thank Buck again for always being there, no matter how much of a pain in the ass he was being.

"If he were here, I think he would thank you for everything you did for his family," Chris replied. "Not just for looking out for his son but carrying on this fight."

"I wish I could have done better," Buck sighed. "Maybe if the High Guard helps us, we have a chance."

"I hope so," Chris said with a little smile. "The Odo I know from our side was a pretty straight arrow. If he's the same here, you can trust him."

"I think so too," Buck nodded in agreement. "They want to help us, but they want to know the Resistance speaks for more than just the Terrans, so we're going to work something out."

There was a hint of optimism in his voice and Chris hoped it would prove justified in the days to come. This dimension had shed too much blood already. There needed to be an end to the war and suffering, not just for the Terrans but also for the whole of the Alpha Quadrant.

"Chris," Buck said, finally broaching the one subject they had been avoiding. "You need to take Adam with you."

Chris exhaled loudly. "I would take him with me in a minute Buck, but I don't know if that's what he wants. This is his home," Chris swept his gaze over more than just the Defiant.

"This is no one's home," Buck retaliated with more intensity than Chris was accustomed to seeing on that face. "Until we drive the Romulans out, with, or without the High Guard, it's a place where young men die too early. I'm not going to have him go the way his father did. I made a promise to my best friend and the woman who raised him to keep him safe. I wasn't there to save her but I sure as hell am not going to let her last hope for him die with her."

"I came to this dimension to get him because I want him with me," Chris said firmly. "I lost my son when he was five years old, but this Adam feels like mine and I don't care where he came from. I look into his face and I see my wife. I see everything good we made together. This whole situation is insane but maybe that's all we get in this life. If he wants to come home with me, I would have him in a minute, but I won't make that choice for him."

"You don't have to," Adam said stepping out of Sick Bay long just in time to hear Chris's words to Commander Wilmington. Both men fell silent at his appearance.

There were tears on his cheeks from where he had wept his last for his mother. Even as he stared into her bruised and battered face, she was beautiful to him. She always would be. Until the day he died, he would always remember the beautiful woman who held his hand as they walked along the beach, collecting seashells.

"Commander," Adam looked at Buck. "Do you think I could have a minute alone with the Captain?"

"Sure, kid." Buck met his gaze and saw something in Adam's eyes that told him Mary* might just get her way after all. Giving Chris a nod, he left them in the corridor, disappearing around the corner to the turbo lift that was at the other end of the deck.

Once they were alone in the hallway, they stared at each other not speaking for what felt like an eternity. So many things needed to be said between them, all of it mired with thick emotion. Chris stared at this boy, who was Sarah in every way, looking back at him with the same icy blue eyes.

Even though Adam was a soldier and a freedom fighter, on the cusp of becoming a man, he was still a frightened teenager whose longing for the mother he lost was etched in every corner of his face. Chris felt his heart ache for the boy, understanding how strong that bond had been and how devastated Adam must feel having lost it. More than anything, Chris wanted to be the remedy to all that pain because Adam could be the same for him.

"Did you mean it?" Adam asked finally. "Did you mean it when you said I was your son?"

"I did," Chris admitted it readily. "I know it's crazy, but I think your mother understood what we could be to each other. It's why she sent you to me. I can't promise you that everything will be perfect Adam. It's going to take time for us to get used to each other, but I want you, not just as a substitute for the son I lost. No one will ever replace him, but you are my flesh and blood too, and I see you as nothing else but that."

Adam absorbed, thinking about what his mother wanted. In their last moments together, she had managed to give him the gift of a father, something he'd always craved but never spoke out loud. Yet like all mothers, she just knew what he needed and made it possible anyway.

"I know you're not my father," Adam raised his eyes to the Captain of the Maverick and saw familiarity. "But you feel like it, in here." He tapped his chest. "When Svinak brought me back and I thought I wouldn't see you again, it hurt."

"It hurt me too," Chris replied, trying not to let the emotion show in his face but it was so naked in Adam's eyes, it crumbled his resolved. Crossing the corridor to the boy, Chris put his hands-on Adam's shoulder and made the young man look at him.

"Come home with me to the Maverick, Adam," Chris said earnestly. "I want you in my life because even if you aren't the son I lost, you feel like mine and I feel it in here too," Chris repeated Adam's gesture a moment ago, tapping his chest as surely as the boy had touched his heart the minute Chris laid eyes on him. "Come home with me, be my son and I promise you, I'll be the father you need."

With that, Chris embraced Adam for the first time, and it was less than a second later, Adam was hugging him back.

"Okay dad," Adam whispered, saying the words to the man he'd been longing to have the captain hear since Adam realized Chris Larabee had crossed the dimensions just to find him.

And with those words, Chris realized for the first time in five years, he was ready to let the past go. He would always love Sarah and Adam. He would long for them every day of his life. Their murderer still awaited justice and he would not rest until that account was paid but today was the first time he really felt as if he was starting to heal.

With Mary and Billy, and the miracle that brought this boy into his life, Chris Larabee had a family again. A man could only be so lucky twice in one lifetime.

This time, he would not waste it.

THE END

Next story: Fountain

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