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Perceptions Q-liding (Perceptions Colliding)

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Uhura woke with a start, all aches and pains and stiffness. She was in prison. It wasn’t that difficult to figure out, even with how disoriented she was. She stretched and stood, groaning her tired body’s protest. She took the three steps required to cross to the door of her cell and peered out the small opening in the door, hoping for a sign of Kirk or Spock or even the same familiar angry guards who had disappeared as soon as the door slammed behind her.

She had to appreciate the intimidation of a heavy door slamming shut on her freedom. It was something that was lacking in the Federation, where doors slid shut with a barely discernible whoosh.

She missed that whoosh.

“I’ll get you out,” Kirk had promised as she’d been pulled away from their landing party, his eyes the most earnest she’d ever seen them. She wanted to believe him. He was her captain and he’d proven over the course of their mission that he actually cared about the ship and his crew. But she also knew what ‘Fleet politics were like and it was no secret how much pressure he was under to leave the Atascan’s home planet with a signed treaty. She had to wonder just how much she was worth to him—and even how much she was worth to the Federation.

#

There:

She was escorted into a sparse meeting room. The only thing adorning the table she was seated at was a PADD. The only thing adorning the man who stood in front of her was a shiny set of admiral’s stripes.

“Lieutenant Uhura,” Admiral Sterling greeted her tersely. “Given your knowledge of the Atascan’s language and culture Starfleet has chosen you for a covert mission. I assume by your presence here that you accept.”

“Yes sir.”

“The USS River Song lost a piece of equipment when it was shot down by the Atascan military. An essential piece of a communication module containing recordings that must be secured. Its last known coordinates are on that PADD. Starfleet needs you to retrieve it as quietly as possible. I’m sure you’re aware of the situation currently at hand.”

“You mean the war between the Atascans and Perishy?”

Her question goes unanswered. Instead, Admiral Sterling hands her a small device.

“You will not take any recognizable Federation technology with you. Lieutenants Harbert and Freeman have created this modified PADD for you to use. We’ve loaded several files on it for you to use, including a map and a tracking program to assist with your search for the equipment.”

He held up an even smaller device, this one about the same size and shape as a comm badge.

“This will be your only form of communication once you’re planetside. Push the button once you’ve found and obtained the item in question. It will send out a beacon for the Enterprise to intercept and they will then beam you aboard. It only works once, so it is absolutely imperative that you only push the button once you have the equipment in hand.”

She takes the offered communicator. “And if I’m captured?”

“As the beacon will only work one time, I suggest that you refrain from pushing it until you have achieved your task.” He took a moment to glance at the chronometer at his wrist. “I understand you helped to decode the first messages from the Atascans?”

“Yes sir.”

“I only hope you don’t have to use that mastery of their language before Captain Kirk is able to retrieve you, Lieutenant.”

A nervous looking Lieutenant Junior Grade entered. “Your transport is ready, Admiral.”

“Tell them I’ll be there when I’m ready, Theopix.” He turned back to Uhura. “As this is a covert mission, if captured you are not to use your name or insinuate any connection between yourself and the Federation. On that PADD is the personal information for a Perishy who had offered to assist us before she was killed in battle. Is everything understood, Lieutenant?”

“Yes sir.”

#

She fell asleep again. To be fair, there wasn’t much else to do after she had recited the Prime Directive in every language she knew. She was being kept in a grey stone box of a prison cell with no windows, it wasn’t as if there was much to occupy her attention.

When she awoke a small bowl of unidentifiable prison porridge was sitting on the floor, illuminated by what little light was able to slip through the small opening in the bottom of the door. She hadn’t been given any utensils with which to eat it, and tentatively she dipped her fingers into the rough bowl and then moved the gruel-covered digits to her mouth. She grimaced. Whatever it was, it smelled like cat vomit and tasted like clay—silty and somewhat organic.

“Are you really going to eat that?”

She was secretly very proud of the fact that she didn’t physically react to the unexpected commentary on her only choice of meal. She resisted the urge to peer through the food slot to see her mystery visitor. “Are you suggesting I have any other option?”

“There are always options,” the man chided.

Uhura forced down another small scoop of her food while she weighed the pros and cons of answering. When he said she had options, he could simply mean that she had a choice to eat or to not eat. Considering she had no idea when she was going to be released, it wasn’t that hard of a decision to make.

She must have taken too long to reply because the man spoke again.

“Oh come now, what would I get out of starving you?”

She didn’t want to admit that the consideration that her jailers might prefer her dead had already crossed her mind. “I suppose nothing.”

“I always knew you were a bright one. It’s good to know that still holds over here.”

“What do you mean ‘over here’?”

Dismayed to see she had already finished her measly meal and with curiosity over taking her, she set her bowl down and knelt to peer through the opening in the door.

The hall seemed brighter than when she had first been escorted down it, but that was probably only due to the lack of light in her cell. Seated across from her door was a man with brown hair and the most infuriating smile she had ever seen off of Kirk's face. It was clear from the imitation comm badge on his shirt that he was wearing a poor facsimile of an operations division Starfleet uniform. Even though the resemblance between Kirk and this stranger ended with their facial expressions, Uhura couldn’t help but wonder if Kirk had another family member besides his mother in the ‘Fleet. She quickly brushed the idea away. There was no way the two could be related. A similar smirk was certainly not a genetic marker regardless of how similar their expressions were. And that was certainly where the similarities stopped. Even she had to admit Kirk had an undeniable prettiness about him that this stranger lacked. Whatever could be said about the looks of the man in front of her, pretty certainly wasn’t one of them.

“Do you really not know?”

Rather than answering his question, she decided to try to get some kind of information from him. “That isn’t a Starfleet uniform,” she pried.

“It will be. And by the look of these pips, I’m a captain.”

She ignored the first half of his curious statement. “It’s not even the right color.”

The stranger’s face soured. “And how would you know?” he demanded indignantly. “You’re not even wearing a Starfleet uniform.”

Uhura looked down at her vaguely grayish prison clothing. He did have a point there. “I’m a member of Starfleet; I know what the uniform looks like. That isn’t it. Who are you?”

The man grinned. “I’m Q,” he said, as if that were the answer to all of her questions.

“Q what?”

Q bristled visibly. “I hardly see why I should answer any more of your questions when you haven’t answered any of mine.”

“Do you want an apology?” she asked acerbically.

“That would be sufficient, I suppose.”

Uhura resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Well you aren’t getting one.”

“Now that isn’t very nice,” Q chided. “I’m the one who holds the key to your escape. You should watch your tone with me.”

“No, you don’t.”

“And how would you know?”

“You’re quite clearly not an Atascan, you lack the extra heads. And you’re definitely not Starfleet. My guess is that you’re an escaped prisoner stupidly wasting your time heckling me rather than trying to escape.”

“That’s an interesting choice.”

“We’re the first non-Atascans to be welcomed to this planet. The only other visitors who have come here have all been thieves trying to rob the Atascans of their resources. It wasn’t that hard of an answer to reach.”

“And you’re absolutely positive about that?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Like I said, it wasn’t that hard of a conclusion to reach.”

“That’s the funny thing about choices for you people, isn’t it? You think they’re all ingrained in stone once your mind is made up.”

“What are you talking about?”

He ignored her question. “Tell me something, why are you here?”

“Because I’m waiting for my captain to convince the Atascans to release me.”

“You seem pretty content having absolutely no power over the situation.”

“It’s not as if I have a choice. We have to honor Atascan law. Criminals have no voice in their system.” She hated how hollow the words sounded, even as they left her mouth.

“There’s always a choice.”

“But there isn’t. Not for me. Not right now.”

“What if I gave you one?”

“You don’t have that power.”

Q grinned at her and spread his arms. “No power in the ‘verse can stop me.”

“What?”

“Never mind. I should have known you wouldn’t get it. I’m giving you a choice right now: stay here and wait for someone else to let you out, or just give me the word and with no strings attached, I will get you out of that cell.”

“You honestly expect me to trust you?”

“In a word, yes.”

“How do I know I can trust you?”

“What do you want me to do? Pull an apple out of pocket? Give you a mystical cloak? Some sort of pill that can cure your incessant disbelief? You wouldn’t believe anything I told you.”

He was right, of course. Uhura had absolutely no inclination to trust him at all.

The man leaned forward. “What if I told you I could I could get you released from this prison and get you a better meal than that sop that you just ingested?”

“But you can’t.”

He grinned again, and Uhura felt her stomach drop. There was something different about this man, the least of which was just how much glee he seemed to be wringing out of taunting her.

“Don’t worry about thanking me,” he said. “I’ve learned to not expect it from you humans.”

“Wait—what do you mean?”

In the back of her mind, she wondered how he could suddenly be smiling so enigmatically at her when he had just been grinning.

He raised his hand, snapped his fingers, and disappeared.

Uhura jumped back and took a few calming breaths. There was no way he could have dematerialized without some sort of explanation. It had to be some kind of trick.

She moved to peer through the slot in her door again, but he still wasn’t there. He had just vanished right in front of her eyes without any sign of a transport beam. It was impossible.

She turned her head as best she could, trying to see beyond her limited range. It was probably just a trick of some kind. He had to be standing just out of sight waiting for her to do or say something else. As she leaned against the door, it fell open.

#

There:

“You have one week,” Admiral Sterling continued. He glared at Lieutenant Theopix as she stepped back into the room. “After that the Enterprise is to return to its patrol along the Neutral Zone. Good luck, Lieutenant.”

#

Slowly, Uhura stood up and took a few tentative steps into the hall.

The prison was now a far cry from the militaristic stronghold she had originally been brought to. Most of the cell doors stood open and the few prisoners who remained looked more like squatters than hardened criminals.

As she neared the door, a torn poster caught her eye.

“WE DON’T PAY FOR PRISONERS TO EAT?” it read at the top. “ALL CRIMES PUNISHABLE BY DEATH.”

The paint on the walls looked old, as if it had been there for years but she could distinctly remember the walls being pristine when she was first walked down that same hall. Now the paint was peeling.

How long had she been in her cell?

She had thought it was only a week, she had carefully marked out how many days had passed by the number of meals brought to her. Atascans ate two standard meals a day, and she had counted out fourteen unrecognizable dishes of slob that had been delivered to her door. Even if she had only been given one meal a day—and her stomach insisted otherwise—the most time that could have passed was two weeks.

In front of her, she could see two figures standing just outside the threshold, which was suspiciously lacking a door. They didn’t even look at her as she approached. She caught snippets of their conversation as she passed them.

”—and I told D’nna that we would not be able to make it there for second meal because I was going to be stuck here for—”

“You could always just go. Not like I can’t handle it on my own. We both know this is a—”

The fat one made a motion with his sixth finger and then she was out of earshot to hear his partner’s response.

Uhura couldn’t believe she had just walked out of the Atascan prison. The guards hadn’t even tried to stop her. She resisted the urge to look back and kept walking, forcing herself to continue past the sparse and dilapidated buildings lining the road instead of investigating them like she should have.

Finally, she looked back at the now lilliputian prison in the distance.

No one was coming for her. There was no sign of any sort of an alarm. Finally, she looked around, trying to get some sense of direction.

The entire landscape was different. Where there had once been the outline of a bustling city, she could now only make out the stuttered skyline of what appeared to be a metropolis in ruins. To one side of the patchwork road sat the remnants of farm land, a few stubborn crops struggling to push out a meager existence.

The other side of the road looked as if it belonged in a different world.

When the landing party from the Enterprise had first toured this part of the planet the ruling house’s official flower, vivid red aneiru blossoms, had been lined up in the militaristic pattern that made up the ruling power’s family crest. Now, the flowers overtook the field, blooming wildly out of control in a scarlet carpet that stretched lazily to the mountains in the west.

In the distance, a figure stood, staring out over the field.

Whoever it was, ze was clearly not an Atascan and Uhura needed answers. She stepped off the rough road that had led her from the prison and crossed the field.

As she approached, it became clear that this person was a woman, about ten years older than she was and dressed in clothes that were of neither Federation nor Atascan make. She appeared human, and Uhura decided to first try calling out in Federation Standard.

“Hello?”

She didn’t mean for it to sound so feeble. It was meant to be delivered strongly, boldly. Instead, she sounded like a lost little girl.

Which was exactly how she felt.

The woman turned, and Uhura felt her breath catch in her throat. She knew that the phrase, “a sense of deja vu,” existed for a reason but never before had she felt it so strongly.

“Hello.”

Despite the fact that there were no other people in sight, and the fact that she was in a prison uniform, the woman didn’t seem at all surprised to have Uhura amble up beside her and start a conversation.

“Hello,” she repeated. “I think I’m lost. Can you tell me where we are?”

“We’re just outside of Popru.”

“Which way would I go if I wanted to get to Popru?”

“That way,” the woman pointed toward the crumbling ruins Uhura had seen earlier. “Although I don’t know why you’d want to go there.”

Popru. The capital city. She was exactly where she should have been. What had happened to the city?

“Why wouldn’t I want to go there?”

The woman looked at her strangely. “It’s been abandoned for over a year.”

Uhura found herself suddenly struggling to breathe. The city couldn’t be abandoned, couldn’t be in ruins. She had just been there a week ago, touring it with Kirk and Spock—

“Are you alright?”

She forced herself to take the controlled breaths Spock had taught her when they had meditated together. “I’m...fine.”

The woman regarded her with concern. “Sit down. I have some food—well, a dehydrated instameal. It’s not that great, but at least it’s something to chew on.” She bent down and dug through a small satchel that had been mostly hidden by the aneiru. Finally she pulled out two small packages and held one out to Uhura. “It’s just spagbol, but it’s better than nothing. I ran out of water this morning though, so you’ll just have to eat it dry.”

Uhura moved closer to settle next to her before taking the offering. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” The woman sat down next to her, before opening the small pouch. Out of it, she pulled a small wafer. She grimaced as she ate it. “Wonderful, spagbol. All I’ve eaten this week has been spagbol.” She complained before turning to Uhura and holding out a hand for her to shake.. “You can call me Penda. What brings you to this beautiful field of flowers?”

Uhura ate one of the dry spagbol crackers before answering, “I just walked out of prison.”

Penda stared at her. “I thought the Atascans only killed their criminals. What did you do to get yourself thrown into prison?”

Uhura couldn’t stop the burst of laughter that escaped her mouth. “Apparently it’s illegal to not communicate using the proper head movements.”

“But you only have one head.”

“Exactly!”

The two women regarded each other, trying to figure out how the other would somehow convey the complex motions of the Atascans’ three heads with only their one, before succumbing to a fit of laughter.

“What did you do when they told you they were sending you to prison?” Penda asked between fits of giggles.

Uhura wiped her tearing eyes and attempted the straightest face she could. “I apologized.”

“And then what happened?”

“And then I insulted his mother in Romulan.”

Penda gaped at her. “And they didn’t kill you on the spot?”

Uhura shrugged. “They couldn’t understand me. None of them spoke Romulan.”

“You were lucky.” Penda shook her head. “I’ve seen the High General execute people for much less.”

“I wasn’t really thinking,” she admitted. “What brings you to this beautiful field of flowers?” she asked, repeating Penda’s earlier words.

Penda turned away from her. “I’m looking for something.”

Uhura surveyed the overgrown field. “And you think it’s here?”

She shook her head. “I know it’s here. I’ve been looking for it for almost a week. I lost—I lost what I was using to track it yesterday. But it’s here, somewhere. In this field. I just have to find it.”

“Let me help you.”

“You don’t even know what I’m looking for.”

“Describe it,” Uhura insisted. “Tell me what it looks like, and I’ll help you find it. My way of thanking you for the spagbol crackers.”

#

“So what happened here?”

She was hot and dirt caked. She wanted nothing more than to chop off every inch of her hair. They had been combing the field for over an hour already. The tall flora made it difficult to see anything that could be hiding beneath the thick carpet of flowers.

Penda was working several meters away from her, and at first Uhura thought she hadn’t heard the question. She was about to reiterate it when Penda finally spoke.

“A ship crash landed here just over a week ago, killing the entire crew. I was sent to retrieve a piece of the ship.”

Uhura shook her head. “No, I meant...what happened here. To Popru, to Atasca. It wasn’t always like this.”

Penda straightened and looked at her strangely. “Atasca’s been in ruins for decades. Ever since they tried invading Perishy Prime.”

“But what happened?” she pushed.

“The Perishy people fought back.”

#

Two hours and another packet of spagbol crackers later Penda asked her, “What were you doing—before you were arrested?”

“Communications officer on a ship.”

“Did you like that?”

Uhura smiled. “I love it.”

#

Looking back a short while later, Uhura wondered why the answer had come so easily. She had submitted her transfer request not even a day before leaving for this away mission. Her answer hadn’t been an automatic response meant to stop Penda’s probing question. Instead, it felt as if it were the first honest thing she had said in weeks.

“I’m transferring off the ship. I have—there was this guy I was seeing, on my ship. We broke up. I didn’t want to stay onboard and just be known as his ex-girlfriend. So I have to leave.”

“Why?”

Uhura shrugged. “I didn’t want to be defined by my relationship.”

“I thought you said you loved your work.”

“I do, but—”

“Why are you allowing them to derive your worth solely from who you dated? You’re more than that.”

“I am, but—”

“Then prove it.” Penda tossed her a foil packet, and it flew in an easy arc through the air before Uhura caught it. “That’s the last of the spagbol crackers. Let’s hope we find this soon.” She shouldered her bag. “If you’re a communications officer then you should focus on your job instead of who you used to date. Don’t waste energy on something you can’t change.”

She thought about Spock. He had made it unmistakably clear that if he had no intentions of forcing her off the ship if she wanted to stay. In fact, he had been ridiculously polite to her. The breakup had been mutual; it just wasn’t in Spock’s nature to treat her maliciously because of it.

So why had she been waiting for him to lash out at her somehow?

She shook her head, wishing the action would clear out the muck that had accumulated therein over the last few months. “Do you really think we can both serve on the same ship?”

“You said you loved your work.”

“Of course I love it.”

“Then how that can even be a question? There isn’t anything in the universe that could make me want to leave my ship.”

Uhura couldn’t think of a response Penda’s statement, and they fell to working in silence.

#

The first sun was making it’s final crawl toward the western horizon when the white hot blast from an Atascan gun scorched the earth beside her foot.

The pair took off, running away from the quickly approaching Atascan soldiers.

Penda cursed. “They found me.”

“What do you mean they found you?”

“What I’m looking for—they don’t want it found.”

The two ducked behind a rare boulder, jutting out angrily from the delicate plants filling the field.

“What the hell are you looking for?”

“I already told you what it looks like.”

A blast chipped away a piece of the rock by Uhura’s ear and they were off running again.

“I know what it looks like—what does it do?”

“I can’t tell you that!”

“Of course you can’t,” Uhura muttered as another shot disturbed the ground just behind her.

She ducked to avoid a particularly well aimed shot at her head and tripped. She went down hard, the solid impact of the ground knocking the air out of her lungs.

“Having fun?”

She turned her head to stare hard at Q, who was lounging in the dirt beside her looking as if they were in the middle of nothing more than a relaxing picnic.

“Now is not the time,” she said, moving to push herself up.

“But I came all this way to bring you a present,” Q protested. He stretched out a hand.

Reluctantly she turned back towards him.

He was holding a small, beaten up data stick from a communications module. It fit Penda’s description of what they had spent the last several hours looking for perfectly.

“How did I not realize what we were looking for?”

“A thank you would—”

He was cut off by the approaching soldier’s shots.

Uhura grabbed the data stick from Q and took off running, dimly aware of someone snapping their fingers behind her, unable to make herself care enough to look back to see if Q was following.

She could see Penda only a few meters ahead. She could catch up to her, give her the data stick—and then what? There was no where they could go. They were outnumbered and now Penda was turning in a long arc back towards her, running from soldiers approaching from her front.

There were too many soldiers and they were surrounded.

“I found it,” she called out, tossing it to Penda as she stretched out her arms just before feeling the impact from a gun blast.

As she stumbled forward, her eyes followed the path of the data stick as it flew through the air to land a few feet short of where Penda was.

Uhura glanced over her shoulder at the soldiers, still too far away to do anything more to Penda than shoot at her.

By the time she turned back to look at Penda, she had reached the data stick and was surrounded by the glimmer of a transport beam. Of course—she had a ship. She had a ship and a crew and they were beaming Penda back on board now that she had the data stick.

Uhura felt another shot hit her, this time from a much closer range.

And then her world turned black.

#

She woke slowly, all muddled and weighted and stiff. She was in prison—again. That much wasn’t difficult to figure out and the feel of the stonework where it met her hands and face was decidedly Atascan.

She pushed herself up, brain slowly sloshing through all of the words she supposedly knew in an attempt to define everything she felt. As she sat up, her mind focused enough to figure out that she wasn’t alone.

“They were shooting at you.”

Q was seated across from her in the cell, looking just as at ease as he had when they were being shot at in the field.

“No,” she forced out over her cotton-filled mouth. “They’re shooting at us.”

He ignored her correction. “But why are they shooting at you?”

“Because you stole the data stick—”

“I didn’t steal it, I borrowed it.”

She closed her eyes and sent a prayer up to whoever could hear her for patience, before speaking. “I see they caught you. Should have tried running.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody caught me; I let myself in.”

“Of course you did,” she muttered as she studied the wall space above his head.. “This is a different cell.”

“How astute.”

“So where are we?”

He spread his arms, and she tried to imagine his grin as anything but frighteningly triumphant. “This is where they keep all of their prisoners before they execute them.”

What?”

“Don’t worry, they’ll probably just shoot you in your cell. Very convenient for you.” He studied her for a moment, head cocked to one side and blissfully silent. “Although I have to admit, you do have a knack for getting yourself incarcerated. Two different planets in one day.”

Uhura’s gaze moved from the wall to his face. “What do you mean ‘two different planets’?”

“Do you really think that you’re on the same planet that you were before?” Q scoffed at her. “You’re a lot stupider than I would have thought.”

“But this is Atasca. It had the same prison, the same field of aneiru flowers. Penda called it Atasca.”

“And it is.”

“But how can two different planets have the same name and be so similar?”

“Are they, really? They seem quite different to me.” Q shrugged. “At least, as different as any two planets ever look to me.”

“What do you even mean by that?”

He ignored her question. “Tell me, what do you know about other universes?”

Something ticked in the back of her mind, and everything she had seen started to make a little more sense. “We’re in a different universe?”

“I’m disappointed you hadn’t considered it yet. Starfleet’s finest and you thought what—something as basic as time travel?”

“Time travel isn’t basic,” Uhura argued.

“It is for me.” She wondered how it was possible for Q to have so many different facial expressions that all seemed to convey the same point: I am smiling because I am mocking you and your insignificance.

“But who are you?”

She was interrupted by the echo of militaristic steps making their way down the hall outside the cell.

Q stood. “Look at the time, I really must go.”

“You can’t just leave me here.” She rose and started towards him. “The only reason I’m here is because of you.”

“No,” Q said. “The reason you’re here is because you’re a terrible runner.”

“What did you do? You did something, you brought me here somehow. How did you do it?”

“If I told you, it would ruin all the fun.” He leaned towards her. “Now between you and me, I’d lie down and close my eyes and hope those guards are stupid enough to think you’re dead.”

What are you?”

“I’m Q,” he said, as if it were the answer to every question she had ever asked. He smiled, another Cheshire grin aimed at mocking her. “Good bye, Nyota. This has been more fun than I anticipated.”

And then he snapped his fingers and vanished in a flash of light.

The click of boots became clearer as the soldiers approached her cell.

Q’s words echoed in her head. Don’t worry they’ll probably just shoot you in your cell.

Three heavily armed Atascan soldiers stepped in front of the barred door.

“Unnamed rebel,” the tallest one droned. “You will kneel.”

“No,” Uhura insisted, “I won’t.”

She wasn’t going to kneel. She wasn’t going to lie down. She wasn’t going to close her eyes. It didn’t matter where she was. She was a Starfleet officer. She was going to look her executioners in their faces.

All nine of their faces.

There was a part of her mind that was somehow not occupied by the fact that she was staring down three soldiers sent to kill her. It was laughing at every story she had ever heard that involved someone being too scared to blink.

She was terrified. And she definitely needed to blink.

Such a stupid, mundane action that she had never put so much thought into before. Now, it seemed beautiful and impossible.

One of the soldiers moved to unlock the door. Uhura took a deep breath as he fumbled with the keys. It was now or never, she was going to blink for the last time in her life and would possibly never open her eyes again.

It was almost laughable, considering the situation, that she had put so much thought into the simple act of blinking.

She thanked the gods the Atascans still had tumbler-based locks and closed her eyes.

#

Here:

The door creaked open and she opened her eyes.

“Lieutenant Uhura.”

One Atascan soldier stood before her, flanked on either side by Spock and Captain Kirk.

“You have been deemed innocent of the charges by means of physical disability,” the Atascan continued. “The High General apologizes for any inconvenience or dishonor and extends his sympathies for your recent loss.”

The soldier saluted and bowed his third head before turning on his heel, leaving her with Spock and Kirk.

Kirk moved forward. “Uhura—”

She cut him off. “What loss?”

He had the good grace to look sheepish. “We had to twist the truth a little to get you out.”

“We merely informed the Atascans that you while you were born with the disability of only one head, you had not allowed it to deter you from attempting proficiency in any language you may encounter.”

“And that worked?”

Kirk grinned. “Spock can be really persuasive,” he said, glancing at the man in question. The softness in his eyes didn’t pass overlooked.

“Thank you,” she said.

“I wouldn’t leave a member of my crew,” he said more seriously.

“I know, sir. Thank you.” She finally returned his smile. “It’s good to see you—both of you.”

She did know. It had been years since the drunken hick had hit on her in that bar. They had both changed, and any inhibitions she may have had about serving under Kirk had been swept under the rug over the last year.

“I’ll have the Atascans get a room for you. You’re not coming back onto my ship like that, you’ll get her dirty. How did you even get like that?” He glanced into her cell. “This place doesn’t even have dirt in it.”

But that didn’t mean he wasn’t still idiotic.

#

There were only a few hours left until the Enterpriseleft Atasca. The High General had thrown the crew a banquet to apologize for the inconvenience of imprisoning her, and afterward Uhura had been assigned a room for the night. But the thought of sleeping seemed somehow even more outrageous than everything else she had encountered.

She contemplated changing out of her uniform, but it felt strangely comfortable in a way it hadn’t in several months. She loosened her hair from its usual pony tail and brushed it out, wondering how she would look with Penda’s short hair.

Anxiously, she paced the room. She was still trying to make sense of everything, her mind a whirl of vivid red, wind-swept petals and a face that wanted to be familiar. She wondered if Penda had found her ship, had indeed gone back to attempt to free Uhura, or if she was still stuck on that planet. This planet, she reminded herself.

This planet in another universe.

She knew that Nero and his crew had been from a parallel universe, and there were theories that suggested transport between the two could be possible, of course. But she had never given them much consideration. She had always preferred to focus on this universe and everything there was to explore about it before turning her attention to another. But now she knew for a fact that not only did another universe exist, but that it was vastly different from the one she knew. She wondered if there were only two, or if it were possible for other mirror universes to exist.

And then there was Q.

At the banquet the High General had come up to her to personally apologize for her apparently “grievous loss.” As he’d turned away she’d asked him about Q, if he knew what he was.

His faces had immediately darkened.

“That thing is a trickster. My fathers have yet to find a weapon that could fight his whims. Your people would call him a...” His second head made a motion upwards.

Uhura tried guessing at his meaning. The Atascan language had no words for theological concepts, and translating gestures that were learned over a lifetime was difficult for an outsider. “An angel? A god?”

“Yes, that one,” he said, nodding all three of his heads. “A god.” He scowled. “We call him a Great Enemy.”

A god.

It was ridiculous. It was absurd.

It was starting to make perfect sense, and that was more than a little frightening.

“Tribble for your thoughts?”

She whipped around, only to find Q seated in the chair, small ball of fluff seated on his finger, still playing dress up in his incorrect Starfleet uniform.

She added infuriating to the list of words describing him, whatever he was.

“What do you want? Haven’t you already had your fun?”

“I’d hardly call watching you muck about fun.”

“Maybe I wouldn’t have had to muck around if you had just given us the data stick from the beginning. Or,” she added irritably, “let me out of my cell like you said you would.”

“Didn’t I though? I said I would let you out of that cell. I don’t recall ever saying anything about letting you out of each and every other prison cell you might find yourself in. I knew you wouldn’t thank me. You humans are so ungracious.” He set the tribble down on her floor and it immediately began giving birth to another. “Besides, I clearly let you out of that other cell because otherwise you would be dead.”

The High General had called Q a god. He was beginning to seem more like a petulant child looking for a way to cure his own boredom. “If I’m so ungracious why do you keep showing up?”

Q shrugged. “I like to see my little projects to the end.”

“Don’t you have some other lowly mortal to bother? I’m—”

“All you’re doing is pacing around your room. It’s hardly the stuff that stories are written about.”

She raised her voice so that she could be heard over the increased purring of the tribbles. “Okay, fine.” Uhura crossed the room, carefully trying to avoid crushing her newly acquired tribble carpeting to stand in front of the supposedly omnipotent being currently acting as if he were holding court in her room. “That was an alternate universe.”

Q rolled his eyes. “I thought we were past this point.” He scooped up a light colored tribble that had crawled up onto the armrest of the chair.

“Let me finish,” she insisted.

She took a deep breath, steeling herself for the worst possible answer he could give her. “That was an alternate universe. But matter can only inhabit one place at any given time. The fact that I was able to be there—does that mean I don’t exist in that universe?”

His bark of laughter was startling. She was beginning to get the idea that her entire life was nothing more than a joke to him.

“Don’t look so offended. It would be pointless to try explaining to you why your logic doesn’t quite work. Your human brain couldn’t comprehend it.” He smiled at her, and she wondered why he had chosen her as his plaything. “Would you like to see yourself? I can show you.”

“Yes.” She was surprised at how easily the answer came. She had absolutely no reason to trust Q. But the very thought of being able to see who she was in a different universe, as someone completely different, overrode any sense that could have spoken against it.

She tried to ignore the unsettling feeling that crept into her stomach at the tangible glee that crossed his face.

And then he had snapped his fingers and they were—

In the same field of flowers that she had spent the last several hours wandering around.

Infuriated, she turned to him. “Why did you bring me here?”

“I thought you wanted to see what you were up to in this alternate universe?”

“I do. So why are we here?”

“You humans are always so impatient.”

She turned away from him to look at the blossoming aneiru and froze.

Several meters away, Penda was running across the field. She looked exactly the same as she had when Uhura had last seen her—except now she was wearing a Starfleet uniform.

She jumped at the whisper of Q’s breath on her ear.

“I would like to introduce you to Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, communications officer of the Federation starship Enterprise,” he said with the certain amount of relish she was beginning to expect.

“She told me her name was Penda.”

“Well she couldn’t exactly tell you her real name when she was on a covert mission, now could she?”

Penda continued her path across the field, and as she turned to glance behind herself, she caught sight of Uhura and Q. Abruptly, she looked towards her comm badge. As the glimmer of a transport beam overtook her, she glanced back up and met Uhura’s eyes.

And then she was gone.

Uhura turned to look at Q, wanting only to wipe off the unending smirk that was no doubt already gracing his face.

Instead, she caught sight of the ruins of Popru, the same city in which she had been given a sprawling bedroom for the night.

Penda—no, her other self—had said the Atascans were fighting the Perishy. Uhura had heard no mention of any other nearby races either during or after her mission briefing. She thought about an entire race, being wiped out and no one taking any notice.

“What happened?”

Annoyance crossed his face. “Obviously, she completed her mission and was beamed aboard—”

“Not with her. With this place—Atasca. There’s no war here in...” She felt she needed an entirely new vocabulary to properly discuss the two universes in a cognizant manner. “There’s no war on Atasca in my universe.”

“But there was.” Q turned and followed her line of sight to the stuttering landscape struggling to hold itself together. “Parallel universes, but not that different. The only difference between the Atasca you’re familiar with and this one is the fact that the Atascans gained the upper hand early on in the war and were able to end it quickly. The Atascan Empire that you encountered first has known peace for almost one hundred years.”

“The High General called you a ‘Great Enemy.’” She turned away from the crumbling city to look at Q. “He also called you a god.”

“Isn’t that nice of him? I’ll have to pay him a little visit to thank him.” He snapped his fingers and they were back in her room.

She turned to dismally survey the tribbles who had completely overtaken her room. “I don’t get it. Why did she go back?”

Her only answer was the continuous purring of several hundred tribbles. She looked to where Q should have been standing. There was no sign of him.

She tried moving and tripped over the vibrating puffballs around her feet.

She glared at the chair Q had previously occupied. “He could have at least taken the tribbles,” she muttered irritably.

There was a blink of white light and the animals in question disappeared.

“Thanks,” she said. “I think.”

There was a knock at her door, and she gave the empty chair one last look before moving to answer it. She hoped the Atascan High General hadn’t changed his mind.

When she opened the door, she was greeted with one very familiar head rather than three.

“Spock,” she greeted him with a smile.

“I apologize for the interruption, Lieutenant. I heard voices.”

She thought about what she had asked her other self earlier. The entire conversation seemed ridiculous now. It didn’t matter if she and Spock could be friends. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t. “I’m fine. I was just talking to myself.”

He gave a small nod. “The Captain expressed his concern for you when you departed the banquet so abruptly.”

“I’m fine. I just needed to think.” She studied his face. “You and the Captain seemed quite close at the banquet.”

He tensed. “As First Officer it is my duty—”

“Spock,” she interrupted. “You do know that you don’t need my approval if you want to start seeing someone else.”

“Of course,” he said, visibly relaxing.

“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Thank you for checking up on me.”

“It was not a problem.” He started to turn away, but paused to look back at her. “Good night, Nyota.”

#

In a dark, strange room on an alien world, Nyota Uhura laid awake, staring at an unfamiliar ceiling.

She loved what she did. She loved waking up in the morning and putting on her uniform and reporting for duty on the bridge. She loved being part of the crew. She loved that ship.

And she didn’t want to leave it.

She rolled over and groped for her PADD. She keyed up the vidphone function and pulled up her contacts.

The picture on the other end was dark and the voice that answered was gravelly with sleep. “Yeah?”

“Captain?”

There was some rustling and then the light came on and she was face to face with a stubbly and very groggy Captain.

“Uhura.” He cleared his throat. “Everything okay?”

She nodded. “Everything’s fine. I just had a question.”

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m already looking into filing a formal complaint against the Atascans for incar—”

“Not about that.”

“Oh.” He passed a hand over his face. “What do you need to know?”

“I was just wondering if it was too late to rescind my transfer request.”

Kirk gawked at her. “This couldn’t wait until morning?”

She grinned sheepishly. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”

On the small screen in her hand, Kirk shrugged. “Don’t worry about it, I don’t think that ever got submitted to HQ.”

“What?”

He shrugged again. “Yeah, I think Janice might have lost it—”

“It was an electronic file.”

“You know how Jan is. She was probably too busy mooning over Bones. Wasn’t paying attention and accidentally deleted it or something. Between you and me,” he whispered conspiratorially, “she’s not very thorough.”

Uhura laughed at the thought of Janice accidentally deleting anything. “I think she’s a little too busy mooning over you to be bothered with noticing anyone else. But tell her I say thank you.”

Kirk wagged his eyebrows at her. “Can you really blame her?”

“I think you might need to have Doctor McCoy check her eyes. There’s clearly something wrong with them.”

He grinned at her. “I’m wounded.”

She rolled her eyes. “That’s not all you are.”

Stifling a yawn, he asked, “Is that all you needed?”

“Yes, thanks. Sorry for waking you up.”

“Uhura,” he said seriously, “I am your captain. You can come to me whenever you need help. Unless it’s gross, and then you go to Bones. Got it?”

“Yes, sir,” she said, throwing him a lazy salute.

“Good. Now go to sleep and don’t bother me again until the morning or I’ll throw you in the brig once we get back.”

#

Uhura set her PADD down and laid back.

She was going to stay on the Enterprise. She was going to stop forcibly creating tension between herself and Spock.

There were still things she didn’t know—who Q really was, and why that other version of herself had returned to the planet—but the tension was finally draining out of her body and she was more than ready to sleep. Tomorrow she’d be back on the Enterprise and she would figure it out then.