"Wake up, Sleeping Beauty."
The voice sounded familiar, but Olivia's head was pounding too much to immediately place it. She took a long, painful breath and opened her eyes. The light wasn't bright enough to blind, even with the migraine throbbing in her temples. She took in as many details as she could without turning her head, reviewing the last moments she could remember clearly.
She'd been beaming up from a standard diplomatic conference on Halkan. Peter swore that the ion storm in the atmosphere of the planet wouldn't interfere with the transporter, and during the multiple-day mission it hadn't...until, apparently, the very last trip.
Out of the corner of her eye she could see the bars of a jail cell. All cells looked essentially the same, but Olivia instinctively knew the dimensions of this one. The wall curved around a bulkhead, smooth and cool to the touch, and the air had that particular starship quality. Not unexpectedly, her phaser and tricorder were nowhere in sight.
Olivia sat up, swinging her legs around to rest on the floor, already knowing who she'd see.
Her own face stared back at her through the bars. The other Olivia Dunham was dressed in a leather uniform with a deep V-neck, her hair dyed a vibrant red. A dangerous-looking knife hung at her side.
Another alternate universe, then. And another her. Not the first encounter Olivia'd had with this kind of thing, but it always paid to tread cautiously. She stood carefully, gathering her balance, and placed her hands behind her back at parade rest.
"Captain Olivia Dunham, USS William Bell."
The other Olivia smirked. "Same. Only here it's the ISS, Imperial Star Ship. Relax, we're not so formal around here." Her eyes were watchful, but her expression remained friendly. "And since neither of us are doing the 'what the hell, it's another me!' thing, I guess we're both familiar with parallel universes."
"Not my first encounter," Olivia agreed. "What are the terms of my parole?"
Captain Dunham blinked. "You seriously need to unclench." She reached over to touch a control on the wall and the bars slid aside. "C'mon, let's take a walk."
"Strongly recommend against that, Captain," a voice Olivia would know anywhere drawled from the doorway. Charlie Francis--this universe's version of him--stepped into the room. "I wouldn't want you wandering around my ship if I was in charge."
Dunham flirtatiously tilted her head at him. "Are you saying you're scared of me?"
"Hell, yes. Captain." Francis lowered his eyes. The scar on his face shifted, curling down his cheek. Olivia thought back to her Charlie's encounter with the alien parasite that'd nearly killed him, and suppressed a shudder. If the insignia on his uniform held equivalent between universes, he was also this ship's Chief of Security. The leather pants, she had to admit, looked good on him.
Dunham straightened up. "Well, you're not in charge," she said, her voice a whipcrack. "Remember that."
Francis shrugged, his eyes still on the floor. "I'm not the one you have to look out for."
"No, you're not," Dunham murmured, her tone shifting instantly. "Faithful, loyal Charlie." Her head snapped up, turning back to Olivia. "I'm forgetting my manners. This is Lieutenant Commander Francis. But he probably already looks familiar to you, huh?"
"Our personnel seem equivalent," Olivia agreed, relying on formality to keep herself from reacting. Her Charlie would never drop his eyes like that, he'd never been afraid of her. Matters on this ship were clearly different, and she'd need to be wary until she understood the shape of it.
Francis spoke again without looking up. "I'm continuing to monitor the Halkan situation, Captain. No change."
"Carry on," Dunham said, sounding disappointed. She crooked her fingers toward Olivia. "Let's go. We'll stop by Sickbay first. We did a scan when you...dropped in..." she grinned, "and I want to make sure you're not going to fall over on me. Well, not that way."
Her headache was subsiding to a dull roar and Olivia had a lot of practice ignoring that kind of pain. Ignoring the innuendo seemed to be the safest option, too. "I'm feeling much better," she protested, not too strongly.
"Yeah, still, we're going." It wasn't a request. Olivia had the distinct feeling this woman didn't make many requests. Orders seemed more her speed.
"My equipment?" she asked, not really expecting its return.
"Safely stowed." Dunham glanced at her sideways and added, "We're dealing with a situation at the moment. Once that's resolved, we'll see about tuning the transporter frequency to get you home. With all your stuff."
Olivia nodded, a little surprised. They must have had more than a few universe-breaches here; Dunham sounded confident about the likelihood of sending her home. Still, Olivia felt more thankful than ever for her private recourse.
As they walked through the familiar/unfamiliar corridors, Olivia noted the differences in decorations and colors, the leather and weapons on the officers, the downcast eyes as Captain Dunham passed by.
Her alternate spotted a crewman down a side hallway and beckoned him over. "Mr. Lane is our...morale officer." Dunham smirked at what was clearly a private joke. She reached out and trailed a finger over the blond man's cheek. "He keeps the crew happy, don't you, Nick? Or else."
"Yes, Olive," he said, his manner entirely submissive, but Dunham's hand whipped around to grab the back of his head and yank at his hair, pulling his head back and exposing his neck.
"It's 'Captain' in front of guests," she hissed. "Report to my quarters at 1800 hours for discipline."
"Yes, Captain." Lane's voice held a mixture of fear and...anticipation? His tight pants did nothing to conceal his physical reaction to the order.
Olivia did her best to hide her own reaction to the exchange but Dunham caught her out. "Problem?"
She replied cautiously, "On my side, Nick Lane and I are...old friends. We were in the same program at school."
Dunham smiled widely. "Same here!" She waved Lane away with a flutter of her fingers and watched him go, leering. "I really do adore him. He's the only one allowed to call me 'Olive.' Only in private, of course, but sometimes he forgets."
Sickbay looked nearly identical to Olivia's ship's station. Dr. Stanton looked up as they entered. "I was just about to call you, Captain."
"Of course you were." Dunham smiled at him fondly, but Olivia was swiftly growing to distrust that expression. "How's our guest check out?"
Stanton nodded respectfully toward Olivia. "I've gone over the test results, and there doesn't seem to be any physical or neurological damage from the transporter malfunction. How's your head?"
"Better," Olivia said, surprised to realize it was true.
He nodded. "I gave you a long-acting pain suppressor, set to activate once you woke up. I figured you'd have a headache, at least."
"Thank you, I--" Olivia started, but Dunham interrupted.
"Any anomalies? Any significant differences between us other than the hair and lack of a sense of humor?"
Stanton hesitated, but another voice from farther back in the room spoke up. "Yes. This Olivia Dunham has an unidentified substance in her blood. Very intriguing chemical structure. I've never seen anything like it."
Brandon Fayette stepped forward, his eyes fixed on her with a cold, dispassionate intensity Olivia had never seen on the face of her own Science Officer. "I'd like permission to run further tests, Captain. Physical blood and tissue samples. Perhaps some exploratory--"
"Lieutenant Commander Fayette!" Dunham's voice held a flat rebuke. "Captain Dunham is our guest, not one of your lab animals. Run your tests on the data you have. Dismissed!"
He winced and faded back toward the labs at the rear of the medical bay. Dunham leaned over to whisper in Olivia's ear. "You wouldn't like his tests. Brandon doesn't believe in anesthetic."
This time she couldn't contain the shudder. "I appreciate the intercession."
Dunham gave her a sharp glance. "Any idea what he was talking about?"
Olivia's mind was racing, considering her options. "Some differentiation between the universes, probably," she said evenly. "An environmental variation."
"Sounds likely," Dunham agreed easily enough, but her eyes looked unconvinced.
Fayette's comments confirmed Olivia's initial speculation: the crewmembers on this side had never been part of the Cortexiphan project. Kirk's Enterprise might be the most widely heralded ship on her side, but the Bell carried a very particular contingent of Starfleet officers. Olivia had fought for and won the opportunity to take her unique crew out into the galaxy, using their powers in the pursuit of Federation ideals.
Olivia's own abilities would allow her to return to her universe, once her head was clear enough to concentrate. Thanks to Stanton's aid, that'd be possible sooner rather than later. But the medical scans might be a concern, if Fayette figured out a way to retro-engineer the Cortexiphan. She'd need to retrieve or destroy them before she jumped back.
She turned to her alternate. "Captain, I'm sure you have better things to do than babysit me."
Dunham sighed. "True. Not as much fun, but true. Still, you'll understand if I don't leave you unsupervised."
"I wouldn't either," Olivia agreed, and they shared an identically wry smile.
"Right. Let's go to the Bridge." In the turbolift, Dunham spoke into the air. "Situation?"
The voice of the computer answered and Olivia fought to keep her face from showing a reaction. It was still recognizably that of Nina Sharp, but as cold and malicious as a synthesized voice could be. "Lieutenant Farnsworth and Commander Lee are conversing about the quality of provisions in the mess hall. Navigator Phillips is eavesdropping. Helmsman Higgins is attending to his station."
"At least someone's doing his job." Dunham shrugged at Olivia's raised eyebrow. "Gotta keep tabs on the crew, make sure no one's plotting insurrection." The lift stopped and she strode into the command center as if she owned it, snapping out, "Report!"
The captain's chair swiveled around and Lincoln Lee stepped smoothly to his feet. "Phaser bombardment of the Halkan planet continues, Captain. They still show no interest in cooperating."
"Not unexpected." Dunham heaved a sigh. "I suppose we can hope they come to their senses before they're all wiped out."
Olivia watched, horrified, as the arc of destruction flashed across the screen. The Halkans were complete pacifists. They would never fight back or allow the Empire access to their planet's dilithium. While they lived.
Dunham saw her expression. "Well, I guess I don't have to ask how things are different on your side." She settled into the chair, Lee standing at her side. "This really is a shame. Astrid, keep transmitting the terms of surrender, maybe they'll come around. Commander Lee, take our guest down to the mess, would you? Use that famous charm to convince her we're not complete monsters." Her smile turned sharp. "Maybe you can get her opinion on the food."
Over at her station, Lieutenant Farnsworth blanched and turned quickly to her board. Lee took the indication that his commanding officer had been spying on him in stride. "Happy to."
This other Lincoln carried himself with an air of overt confidence, a contrast to Olivia's First Officer's quiet assurance. He ushered her back toward the turbolift and Olivia went gladly, not wanting to witness any more of the phaser assault.
Lee spoke quietly once they were out of the lift. "I'm sorry about that. Our captain likes to show off her...conquests."
"Including you?" Olivia snapped before she could stop herself.
He took the indictment with equanimity, shrugging. "Liv never had to seduce me to earn my devotion. To my eternal regret, she knew that from the start."
Olivia stared at him. Kirk, she knew, would probably burst out some kind of moralizing speech to try to convince Lee to switch sides, or at least reconsider his worldview. That man had no respect for the Prime Directive.
Granted, she'd also been known to violate the directive a time or two, when she felt there was no other choice. She'd try to find a way to save the Halkans before she left, of course. But her own universe would potentially be threatened if these people learned how to access Cortexiphan abilities and that had to be her highest priority.
Lee raised an eyebrow to her stare. "This must all be very different than where you're from, by your expression."
"I'm...sorry," she managed, and dragged her eyes away.
He huffed a laugh. "Now I know how different you are. Liv never apologizes for anything."
They finished the trip in silence. "I'm really not very hungry," Olivia said as Lee inserted a card into the food synthesizer.
He ignored her comment. "You have that in common, at least. She barely eats unless someone makes her. Used to be Frank, but...." he shrugged.
They sat at one of the long tables, the windows thankfully facing away from the planet. Olivia hadn't been lying, but the smell of tomato soup and grilled cheese made her stomach growl and she pulled the tray toward her. "You know me pretty well."
"I should, after these last few years," Lee said quietly. "Listen, Captain Dunham--"
She kept her attention on her soup. She'd need the calories. "Olivia, please."
Lee shook his head. "Formality is safer. Captain, our Empire isn't...kind to cultures that don't fall in line. It's also extraordinarily protective of those that do. And we need that dilithium to keep our planets safe."
"So the cost is worth it?"
He looked away. "Of course not. I wish I could do something to help the Halkans, but our directives are clear."
Maybe Kirk had a point. Dammit. "Commander Lee--"
"Wait." He touched a sequence of points on his ear cuff before nodding. "Now we're shielded from eavesdropping. Talk fast."
Like her own First Officer, this Lincoln anticipated her at every turn. "Find a logical reason to spare the Halkans and make it stick. Push 'til it gives."
He glanced into her eyes, troubled, and looked away again. "I'll...do my best."
"She'll listen to you," Olivia said, trying to make him hear. "She-- she always cares what you think, even when you think she doesn't."
He turned back, clearly startled, but she needed to move on before his cone of silence ran out. "One more thing. Medical scans were taken of me when I came aboard. They need to be destroyed."
Lee sucked in a sharp breath. "That's...complicated. I'm assuming you have good reason that you're not at liberty to share. Okay, once we adjust the transporter--"
"No," she said. "Now."
He looked at her, a thousand obvious questions on his face, and touched his ear cuff again. "Captain, are you all right? You look pale."
"I-- no, I'm fine," she said, catching his intent, grateful for his quickness. And his willingness to obey, no matter how discomforting the circumstance.
"I'm taking you back to Sickbay," he said with authority, because in any universe he knew better than to take "fine" for an answer. Even a fictional one.
Olivia grumbled but got up. As they headed toward Sickbay and her imminent departure, she finally voiced the question that'd been on her mind since she arrived in this universe. "We didn't get to Engineering on the tour. Is-- is Peter Bishop your Chief Engineer?"
Lee frowned. "Bishop, like the Science Director? No, Carla Warren's our chief."
She nodded and smiled, strangely relieved. Peter always claimed he was singular, in any universe. She'd have to tell him he was right. And she hadn't really wanted to see a distorted version of him in any case.
They stepped into Sickbay and Olivia quickly glanced around. Stanton was nowhere in sight, and she was glad for that; on her side he was one of the kindest men she'd ever known, and she'd have felt bad about assaulting his alternate.
Lee spoke quietly. "We're shielded here. Frank takes doctor-patient confidentiality very seriously."
Relieved, she turned to him. "The scans?"
"They'll be on Fayette's tricorder. He doesn't trust anyone with the projects he's working on." Lee's lip curled in disgust.
"So none of my data is on the central computer?"
Lee frowned. "No. What--"
"Thank you. I'm sorry, Commander," Olivia whispered, and reached out with her mind.
Her mental "grip" found his carotid artery and squeezed briefly. Lee gasped and fell without another sound. Olivia caught him before he hit the floor, checking to make sure his breathing and heartbeat were even. She eased him down with regret. He'd be fine in a few minutes, and by then she'd be gone.
She made her way toward the rear laboratory. Fayette's back was toward her, probably a foolish position on this ship. For a moment she considered a more aggressive assault, but she needed to leave before Stanton returned or Lee woke up. She knocked Fayette out in the same way, not bothering to catch him, already stepping forward to find her stolen scans.
Her phaser and tricorder sat on a table to the side, and she gathered them up. She'd been resigned to leaving them behind--the weapons technology seemed equivalent to what they had here and her tricorder held no information that might compromise her universe. But the fewer traces she left here, the better.
Fayette's tricorder rested on the desk where he'd been working, along with his personal datapad. Olivia brushed her fingers over both pieces of equipment, using her electrokinesis to scramble and melt the delicate circuitry. She'd have taken them back with her, but jumping universes was difficult enough without accounting for additional mass, no matter how slight. As a final precaution, Olivia unholstered her phaser and melted both gadgets into slag.
She heard the Sickbay door slide open and Stanton exclaim at finding Lee on the ground. He'd take a moment to make sure the man wasn't seriously hurt and that was all the time she needed.
Olivia composed her mind, recalling the mantra Walter Bishop had taught her. Allow the universe to pass right through you and she did, feeling the deck beneath her feet slide away, trusting that her ship would be there to catch her.