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"Welcome back, Captain."

Olivia blinked her eyes open to the familiar angle of the bulkheads in Sickbay. Her Sickbay. She turned her head toward the voice and said, "It's very good to be home, Dr. Stanton." She pushed herself up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed, ignoring the renewed pounding in her head and the wave of dizziness that washed over her. Stanton took a step toward her, one hand on her arm, hair falling into his eyes as he looked at his tricorder.

A second voice asked, "Any idea where you were?"

"Another universe. Decidedly different. I'll debrief you later and transmit the data on it to Dr. Bishop." She flicked her eyes up to her First Officer. His relief was easy to read on his face. His neat hair and crimson command uniform was a welcome sight and brought a tired smile to Olivia's face. "What's our situation, Commander Lee?"

"With the exception of your little field trip, everything is nominal. We're making ready to leave orbit from Halkan and proceed to Starbase 10. They're prepared to resupply us and we've arranged to transport some of the participants from the conference on Halkan to the starbase."

"Perfect, I'll…"

"Commander Lee will be overseeing our departure, Captain," Dr. Stanton said. "You're off duty for the next twenty-four hours."

Olivia shook her head. "I'm fine."

"Captain." Lee's voice was soft, deceptive, because she knew there was no arguing with him about this. "You just spontaneously jumped universes twice in the space of an hour. I can take care of your ship for a little while, that's why I'm here. Go get some rest."

She met his gaze for a moment and thought back on the way her double had domineered her ship. Lincoln had been a steady presence in her life since his was assigned duty as her second in command -- a duty which included reporting back to Starfleet Command on her and the other Cortexiphan-treated humans in the crew. He'd never treated her any differently because of her enhanced abilities, and while he didn't hesitate to offer opposing opinions, his loyalty never wavered.

Olivia smiled and nodded. "Aye-aye, Commander."

Lincoln smiled and nodded back at her. "I'll call for you if anything comes up." He gave her a quick salute, turned on his heel and left.

"That was very sensible of you," Dr. Stanton said, the corners of his eyes wrinkling as he smiled.

"I can be sensible."

He held his tricorder's scanner next to her temple and asked, "How are you really?"

"My head is killing me, I'm nauseous from witnessing my double committing genocide, and I could really use a drink."

He frowned at that. "How about a sedative and an escort to your quarters?"

The Sickbay doors slid open and Olivia said, "I think I've got the escort part covered."

Peter Bishop stalked over to her, glaring. He was clutching an Engineering tricorder in one hand so tightly Olivia thought it might shatter.

Stanton pressed a hypospray to her neck and said, "Straight home. I don't want to get a report from Sam that you've fallen asleep in the mess hall. Or the bar. Let me know if your headache doesn't subside in a few hours."

Olivia slid off the bed and swayed on her feet. Bishop's eyes narrowed and she held up a hand toward him. "I'm…"

"Don't even say it." He took her arm and led her from Sickbay. "Come on, before you fall over."

They were in the turbolift before he said, "The ion storm should have had no effect on the transporters."

"It wasn't your fault, Peter."

"The Halkans provided their transporter logs and data, and we compensated for the storms based on their recommendations. They had no recorded events that..."

"Commander Bishop. Stop."

He swallowed hard and stared at the ceiling of the turbolift for a moment. The door whisked open and Olivia stepped out into the corridor. She turned back to look at him.

"Go over the logs but don't obsess over them. If you don't find anything we'll mark it up to my unpredictable nature."

A smile pulled at the corner of his mouth.

"Let me know what you find. Tomorrow. I'm going to go to bed before I fall over." Peter moved to follow her out of the turbolift and she said, "I can make it on my own from here."

Peter nodded and said, "Sleep well, Captain."

Olivia's eyes were heavy by the time she completed the short walk to her quarters. She shed her uniform and placed it into the laundry replicator before she crossed to her bedroom. She pulled on her pajamas and tapped the console on the side table as she lay down.

"Computer, locate Ella."

"Ella Dunham is in the arboretum."

"With Rachel?"

"Rachel Dunham is also in the arboretum."

Olivia smiled. The hum of the engines changed pitch, accompanied by the faint shudder that signaled the transition from impulse to warp. The sound of her ship lulled her to sleep.

*****

The bridge of the William Bell was quiet as the beta shift wrapped up their work. Lincoln had relieved beta's commander, Birger Anthonsen, letting him get an early start on his evening, and had been surprised to see Henry Higgins at the helm. The lieutenant just grinned and said, "Never bet against Ensign Iyer."

Lincoln took his seat in the command chair and said, "I'll keep that in mind. Status, Ensign Thecla?"

"We're in high orbit around Halkan, all systems prepared for departure," Thecla said. Her blue skin and pale hair showed her Andorian heritage, making her one of the few non-humans onboard. She was under nearly as much scrutiny as the enhanced humans, and handled the extra pressure with ease. "Course to Starbase 10 laid in."

"Take us out of orbit, full impulse," Lincoln said.

"Aye, Commander," Higgins said.

On the main display, the planet slid from view as the ship moved, stars and the black backdrop of space filling the screen. Lincoln watched the Bell's position on the readout of the chair's console, and when they were at a safe distance from the planet said, "Take us to warp four, Lieutenant Higgins, on course for Starbase 10."

"Aye, sir. Warp factor four."

Lincoln watched the stars on the main display stretch into thin lines as the ship came up to speed. He tapped a control on the console and the viewscreen changed to display their heading and engineering status. Lincoln winced a little at the reminder then looked up as the turbolift opened to admit the first members of gamma shift. He nodded to Lieutenant Sala and said, "The bridge is yours."

She smiled and saluted. "Thank you, sir. Have a good evening."

*****

A faint smell of burning electronics greeted Lincoln when he entered Engineering. A pair of legs stuck out of a panel that had been removed from beneath one of the main plasma relays.

From a deck below them, Peter Bishop called, "Okay, try it now." His voice echoed around the vertical shaft that was open around the warp core.

A muffled, "It's still overheating," came from inside the panel.

Lincoln addressed the legs. "Everything all right, Ensign James?"

There was a thump and a string of profanity from inside the wall. Lincoln frowned and made a note to remind Peter about the importance of protocol for his subordinates. Below him, Peter shouted, "Go away, we're working here." Lincoln rolled his eyes.

He leaned out into the space around the warp core and looked down. "You know you're supposed to let someone know if there's a problem down here, right?"

"There isn't a problem." Peter tapped at the panel in front of him and called up, "Hit it with the quantum regulator."

"Um. What good is that going to do, sir?" James asked.

"It's the heaviest tool you have."

"Oh." A crack sounded from inside the wall, then, "Temperature dropping, sir."

"Finally." Peter leaned over the deck railing and grinned up at Lincoln. "Nothing to see here."

"If you're done assaulting our ship, may I have a moment?"

Ensign James scrambled backward out of the wall and snapped the panel back in place. He saluted and said, "Commander Lee."

"As you… were, Ensign."

James smiled, a disturbing echo of Peter's grin, and went back to work. Peter clamored up a ladder from the lower deck and said, "I need to check something in the workshop. Walk with me?"

Lincoln fell into step beside him, watching him out of the corner of his eye. Away from the rest of the Engineering crew, Peter's face had sobered, a deep crease forming between his eyes.

"Have you had a chance to look over the logs?" Lincoln asked.

The muscles in Bishop's jaw jumped as he gritted his teeth. "There's nothing in the logs. There's no reason for her to have jumped. Lieutenant Kashner's gone over everything as well."

Lincoln nodded and rested his hand on Peter's arm. "Well, maybe it's something that will show up in one of the environmental scans. Maybe…"

"Maybe there's nothing there and you'll snitch back to Command that she isn't in control of her ability."

Lincoln stepped back and dropped his hand. "I think you know me better than that by now."

Peter glared at him, then dropped his eyes, glaring at the floor instead.

Lincoln sighed. "Peter, I know you're just worried about her, but you don't get to take it out on me. I'm on her side, you know that."

Peter nodded, then slumped against the wall, running one hand over his face. "She's going to do that some day and not be able to get back. She'll jump too far, or jump to a universe where the Bell doesn't exist and she'll die in space."

"That's not going to happen."

The smile that pulled at Peter's lips was bitter. "There's nothing to stop it from happening."

"Nothing other than Olivia herself. If you think something as minor as an alternate universe is going to keep her away from her ship, you don't know her nearly as well as you think you do."

Peter's smile widened. "Point taken."

"Look, Peter…"

"I know, she already told me not to obsess over it."

"Then don't. The transporters weren't at fault, and she made it back safely. There's nothing to report. And there's nothing to beat yourself up over." Lincoln looked down the corridor toward main Engineering, then toward the work room. He stepped close to Peter, hesitating a moment, giving Peter time to turn away before Lincoln kissed him softly.

Peter relaxed, dragging his lips against Lincoln's. He leaned back and frowned. "Is this a thing we do now? I thought we were just in this for the sex."

Lincoln punched his arm and laughed. "You're such an ass."

The grin was back and Peter said, "I'm not complaining, you just caught me off guard."

Lincoln smiled and stepped back. "Get the sensor and transporter logs on the incident to Fayette and let him have a go at it. If nothing else it'll give us a reference point if a similar situation comes up again."

Peter nodded. "Understood."

"Come by later?" Lincoln asked.

"Once it looks like Engineering isn't going to catch fire, sure," Peter said.

Lincoln's eyes widened, then narrowed. "Ass."

Peter grinned.

*****

Olivia woke to the sound of the door to her quarters sliding open. With no accompanying chime, that narrowed the pool of visitors considerably, and she smiled in anticipation.

"Aunt Liv!"

She caught the little girl as she bounced onto the bed.

"Aren't you supposed to be in school?" Olivia asked.

"Mom said I could stop by and see you before school started. You were supposed to come see me when you got back from Halkan."

Olivia smoothed Ella's hair back from her face and cuddled her closer. "I'm sorry, baby girl, something came up."

"It's okay, Aunt Liv, I understand."

Olivia looked at the chronometer display next to her bed and said, "You'd better get going or you'll be late, and if that happens we'll both get in trouble."

Ella laughed. "You can't get in trouble, you're the captain."

"Oh, is that what you think?"

The little girl shrieked with laughter as Olivia tickled her. "Yes!"

"Be sure you tell Commander Lee that sometime."

"Lincoln's funny. I like him."

"I like him, too. Okay, little monster, time for school."

"Awwww," Ella heaved an exaggerated sigh.

Olivia kissed Ella's forehead and swung her off the bed. She followed Ella to the door. "Straight to school. No getting lost."

"Okay, Aunt Liv."

The door slid shut and Olivia stretched her arms over her head. Despite the sedative that Stanton had given her, she'd slept fitfully, half-waking from dreams of the other universe. She considered crawling back into bed, but an unexpected day off was not something to waste.

She frowned and looked around her quarters, feeling like she'd forgotten something. She shrugged after a moment and went to take a shower.

*****

"Good morning, Sam."

"It's mid-afternoon, Captain, but I'll take the greeting in the spirit in which it was given." Sam Weiss smiled at her over the tricorder he was using to program the mess hall food synthesizers.

"Synths offline?"

He nodded. "There was a slight problem earlier. Nothing to be concerned about." He took a microtape from the tricorder and slotted it into a panel on the synthesizer. He put a food card into the synthesizer and moments later a mug of coffee sparkled into existence. "Good as new. So, Captain, breakfast, lunch, or whatever the lovely Lieutenant Farnsworth has created?"

"That's why it actually smells like food in here!" Olivia said.

"Oh, so cruel." Sam held his hand over his heart and staggered a little. He handed the coffee to her. "See if I let you in on the next bowling tournament."

Olivia sipped the coffee, then said, "I'm still pretending that you haven't commandeered part of my ship and constructed a bowling alley."

"I notice that you don't complain that I commandeered part of your ship and set up a bar."

"Priorities, Sam."

Astrid stepped out of the galley, brushing flour from her hands onto her thighs. "How are you feeling?" she asked Olivia.

"I'm fine."

"Olivia."

"I am. Slept like a baby, no headache, no lingering side effects at all." Olivia frowned at the thought that she'd forgotten something, then caught Astrid's expression. "I'm fine."

Astrid reached across the table and squeezed Olivia's hand. "You're a terrible liar, Captain."

"Astrid, I've got to run over to hydroponics to pick up some things," Sam said. "Can you keep an eye on the synthesizer in case… what happened earlier happens again. Just pull the power if it does."

Astrid glanced at the chronometer and said, "Sure. I'll be around until Frank gets off alpha shift. Nothing I like better than spending my day off watching your glitchy synthesizers."

"Excellent. Don't burn the place down."

"When have I ever?"

"First time for everything." He winked at Olivia. "Captain Dunham."

"Bye, Sam." She waited until he was gone before turning back to Astrid. "Someone will tell me if there's a problem with the synthesizers?"

"It was just one of them, and it wasn't a problem. Just… an interesting interpretation of a subroutine."

"Fair enough. I thought you and Frank were taking a break."

Astrid shrugged. "We were. We're done now." She smiled at Olivia then laughed.

Olivia joined her, and said, "You two have the most casual of casual relationships. I don't understand how you do that."

"I don't know. It works for us." Astrid looked down at her tea and said, "Lincoln almost lost it when you disappeared. He was a mess until Nick let him know you were okay."

Olivia rolled her mug between her hands. "I'm sure Peter was, too."

"I don't know how you do that," Astrid said.

"I'm not doing anything with either of them."

Astrid shook her head. "That's what I mean."

A timer chimed in the galley, and Astrid said, "Cookies."

Olivia sighed at the insistent nagging that hummed in the back of her mind. "I'll have to take a rain check on that. I've apparently taken too long to get around to checking in with Nick."

****

The Ship's Counselor's office was near Sickbay, a soothing room that was quiet and radiated a feeling of safety when Nick was there. The door slid open before Olivia could announce herself.

"You could have just called," she said.

Nick smiled, a mischievous expression that reminded her of their childhood. It was infectious, even without the added push of his empathy, and she smiled back at him. He held up his hands. "I'm sorry. I wasn't really trying to push you here, I was just worried about you."

"I know," she said, softly. She reached out and took his hand, eyes fluttering shut at the ghostly touch of his mind over hers.

It was easy to let down her guard down, to let him feel the deep unease that lingered after seeing the mirror Bell with her cruel captain. She shuddered at the thought of the other Nick and his punishment, and let her Nick pull her close, both mentally and physically.

"S'ok, Olive."

She shook her head against his shoulder then turned her face into his neck. "How could that happen?" she whispered.

"We've found unpleasant universes before," he reminded her.

"But not… I wasn't the part that was wrong before."

He rubbed his hand over her back and Olivia relaxed into his embrace, the animal comfort of another body so close to hers. She held herself apart from her crew, by the necessity of her rank but also the nature of her personality. Nick was her constant, her touchstone for as long as she could remember, and his touch calmed her mind like nothing else. She tightened her arms around him and Nick did them same, squeezing her briefly before kissing her cheek.

Olivia pulled away reluctantly and smiled at Nick. "Thank you." She plucked away a long blonde hair that had stuck to his shoulder.

"Ah. Thank you for that," Nick said.

She smiled wryly. "Yeah, well, I don't want Sally setting you on fire."

"Pretty sure I'm not the first one she'd come after."

"Nick, she knows that nothing…"

"She knows. It's just hard for her, that no matter how much I love her, I can't love her more than I love you."

Olivia stared at his feet and asked the question they'd been asking each other their whole lives. "Do you regret what they did to us?"

"Sometimes parts if it. But what we have?" Nick curled his fingers under her chin and raised her head. "Never. You know that."

She felt the surety of his emotion behind the words and smiled.

He nodded toward the door. "Go enjoy the rest of your day off, Captain."

"Will do."

*****

Olivia ended her day how she usually started it, running through the maintenance corridors in the aft levels of the ship. The area wasn't secured or off limits, but it was rarely used for anything other than accessing maintenance hatches around Engineering and the shuttlebays. It felt good to stretch her legs and push her body, far better than the running simulators in the recreation deck.

She rounded a corner, then dodged a white ball that sailed down the corridor.

"Whoa, sorry, Liv."

She regained her balance and said, "Damn, Charlie, aren't you supposed to yell something before you hit one of those things?"

"Didn't expect anyone to be down here this time of night. Good thing you've got such quick reflexes. I'd hate to accidentally brain you with a golf ball."

She trotted the rest of the way to where he stood and leaned against the wall, catching her breath. "Take more than that to stop me."

"Don't I know it." He fiddled with the golf club for a moment then started to ask, "Are you…?"

"I'm fine, although the next person who asks me won't be."

Charlie grinned at her. "Just worried about our Captain."

She pushed back hair that had escaped from its braid and said, "Yeah, I know. But I am okay. It's happened before and it'll happen again." She sighed and pushed herself away from the wall. "G'night, Charlie."

"Liv."

She turned back to him.

"Glad you're okay, kiddo."

Olivia smiled. "Thanks, Charlie."

*****

Olivia eschewed breakfast in her quarters or the officers' mess in favor of visiting the crew's mess, thinking about what Charlie had said the night before. She accepted her crew's well-wishes and enthusiastic greetings before getting coffee from the synthesizer and heading to work.

She paused just outside the door of the turbolift and looked out over the bridge. Her command crew were at their posts, relaxed but alert. Lieutenant Farnsworth and Lieutenant Commander Fayette were leaning over one of the data panels discussing the readouts quietly. Lincoln swiveled the captain's chair toward the turbolift and stood.

"Welcome back, Captain."

"Thank you, Commander. I trust my ship is still in one piece."

"There might be some small parts missing from Engineering, but I've been assured that they weren't important."

She grinned at that and crossed the deck to stand beside the helm position.

"Lieutenant Higgins, how's our heading?"

"Steady as she goes, Captain. We should reach Starbase 10 in two days at our present speed."

"Good. Let me know if anything changes."

Olivia took her place in the captain's chair and looked up at her Science Officer, who offered her several microtapes. "Any idea what happened?"

Brandon Fayette shook his head. "The ion storm interfered with the transporter, but not in a way we've ever seen before. We're still analyzing it."

"Keep me informed."

She stacked the microtapes on the console of her command chair, and looked over the others that Lincoln handed her.

"Duty reports, all ready for your signature, along with my report on the conference."

"Thank you."

"Captain," Lieutenant Farnsworth called from the comm station, "I'm getting an incoming transmission from an unknown vessel. It's a distress call."

"On screen."

"I'm only getting audio. Sending to comm now."

The voice was distorted, barely audible over the interference. "… Require assistance. Repeat… engines malfunctioning… Status… crew…"

"The signal has degraded," Farnsworth said. "I've lost it, Captain."

"Did you get a lock on the source, Ensign Phillips?"

"Aye, Captain, it's coming from a point between systems 5.12 light years away," Simon Phillips said. "We're the closest ship, and the only Federation vessel in the vicinity."

Olivia looked at her second in command. Lincoln nodded slightly, then moved to the command station at the back of the bridge, fingers tapping over the surface. Olivia said, "Lay in a course, maximum warp."

"Yes, sir, warp 8."

"Lee, how long will it take us to reach the source of the signal."

"At this speed, four hours twenty-three minutes."

She lifted her eyes to look at Lincoln, matching his worried expression. "Astrid, keep trying to hail them, try and get specifics. Are we in sensor range?"

"Negative, Captain," Fayette said. "We're still outside of what the long-range sensors can reach."

"Can we divert power to extend them?"

"It's not really an issue of power, Captain, the sensor modules just aren't robust enough to take that kind of beating, even with the multiphase buffers we've installed."

"Let me know as soon as we're in range."

"Acknowledged."

"Commander," she said to Lincoln, "get Medical and Engineering teams on standby."

"Yes, Captain."

"All right, whatever it is, let's be ready for it."

*****

"Captain, we'll be in visual range of the ship in 10 minutes."

"Thank you, Lieutenant Higgins." Olivia tapped the comm link on her console. "Lieutenant Lane to the bridge."

"On my way."

"Lieutenant Farnsworth, anything?"

Astrid turned, saying, "No response to our hails, Captain."

She swiveled her chair to face Fayette, who was bent over the sensor console. "Commander Fayette?"

"The ship doesn't match anything in Starfleet's database. Its hull is an unknown alloy that's also not in our databases. We're not reading any life signs, but there's a lot of interference here."

"Source?"

"Not sure, Captain," Fayette said. "Possibly the ship itself."

Phillips looked over his shoulder. "Visual range, Captain."

"On screen."

It was an oblong design with no obvious warp nacelles, similar to many ships Olivia had seen, not exactly like any of them. The hull had a green cast to it that gave the appearance of sickness.

From the nav station, Phillips said, "No discernible identifiers or markings of any kind, Captain. Not even a name."

The turbolift doors slid open and Lane stepped on to the bridge. He stood at the edge of the upper deck, just within her peripheral vision. After staring at the ship for a moment, he flicked his eyes toward Olivia.

"Nothing, Captain."

She felt the hollowness of the ship, the emptiness that Nick felt. She blinked and pushed him gently out of her mind.

The hum of the engines changed as the Bell dropped out of warp. Olivia stood and stepped behind her helmsman. "Bring us into transporter range, but not any closer than that." Olivia looked over her shoulder toward the comm. "Anything, Lieutenant Farnsworth?"

"Nothing, Captain, the signal has not repeated since we first encountered it and further hails have been unanswered. There's a great deal of subspace interference that might be blocking communications."

"Fayette?"

"Nothing, sir. Our sensors are penetrating the hull now, but I'm not getting any life signs at all."

"Then we're too late," Olivia said.

"Possibly. I'm still seeing some really strange interference with our scans." Fayette leaned over the scope at the science station, frowning. "The energy levels on the ship appear to be minimal. They have life support, but their engines are cold."

Olivia tilted her head. "Cold?"

"Or… nonexistent?"

"Pretty sure ships need engines, Commander Fayette," Lincoln said.

"Yes, there just doesn't seem to be any place for them to be on this particular ship," Fayette said. "The layout isn't really like anything I've seen before."

"Is it an escape pod of some kind?" Lincoln asked. "Maybe it was launched under propulsion expecting to be picked up by another ship."

Fayette shook his head, but said, "Maybe."

"You said life support was online?" Olivia asked.

"Yes," Fayette said.

"Good." Olivia pushed herself from her chair. "I'll take an away team to the ship."

"Captain." Lincoln stepped in front of her, blocking her way to the turbolift. "We have a vessel of unknown origin that may be a potential hazard. I don't think there's anything that warrants your presence on the away team."

"I'm aware of our situation, Commander Lee."

"And since we've had this conversation many many times before, I know you're also aware of Starfleet regulations regarding the captain's participation on away missions." Olivia jutted her chin out and started to speak, but Lincoln interrupted her with, "Captain, don't make me play the 'you just came off medical leave' card."

Olivia sighed at the familiar argument and nodded. "Keep me informed."

"Yes, sir."

Lincoln nodded the Bell's chief of security who was standing at attention at the rear of the bridge. "Francis, you and Jessup are with me." He snapped open his communicator and said, "Dr. Stanton, Ensign Okonkwo, report to the transporter room."

*****

The room they materialized into seemed to be a Bridge, although the viewscreens and computer panels were dark. The ceiling was low, making the space seem oppressive. Lincoln circled slowly and looked around them. "Charlie, see what you can find. Ensign Okonkwo, try to get the computers back online."

Stanton looked up from his tricorder. "Still no life signs, Commander. No sign of anything, really. If there were people on board, they're gone now."

"We'll need to check for escape pods," Lincoln said, "see if we can track them if they were used. Jessup, go with Dr. Stanton and see if you can find any trace of the crew. Look for something resembling a Sickbay -- if they had an emergency, there might be some sign of it there."

Jessup nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Sir?"

"Yes, Ensign?" Lincoln asked, turning to where Okonkwo was peering into the base of one of the computer panels.

"These data circuits are weird, sir. I haven't seen anything like them. It's like…" Okonkwo trailed off, staring at the equipment.

Lincoln crouched next to him. "Like what, Ensign?"

"It's like they aren't meant to be used. Like they're someone's idea of what a computer system should be like, but it's not a real system."

"It's not functional?"

"No. I mean, yes, it's functional, but it shouldn't be, at least not in any way I can figure out."

"Lincoln," Charlie called from across the bridge.

"Keep on it, Akim." Lincoln pushed himself up and said, "Yeah?"

Charlie was looking at a rough diagram on the wall. "Looks like Engineering is here-ish. I don't know, maybe this is a shuttlebay? That might be a good place to look for escape pods."

Lincoln nodded and called over his shoulder. "Ensign, you good here?"

Akim nodded without looking up from the panel.

*****

The hallways were narrow and frequently turned into dead ends. "This is the dumbest ship design I've ever seen," Jessup said after 20 minutes of walking.

"Have we…" Frank looked down one branching corridor, then another. "Have we been here before?"

Amy looked down at her tricorder. "Not according to the map I've been rendering."

"Huh."

"You think we're lost?" she asked.

Frank glanced over at her tricorder and shrugged a little. "You think we're not?"

She gave him a wry smile at that and said, "Left, right, or straight? Pick your poison, doctor."

Frank turned to the left and Amy followed him. The corridor began to curve, angling upward slightly. The doors along the hall refused to open. Frank was beginning to think they should head back when they reached a double-door that opened on a large room. They shined their flashlights into it.

"Hey, beds and stuff in here," Amy said. "I think we found it."

Frank squinted into the gloom at the layout of desks and beds. They seemed almost random. "Yeah, I guess we did."

*****

"So what do you think happened here, boss?" Charlie asked.

Lincoln looked down a cross-corridor, then hurried to catch up with Charlie. "Not sure. There's not really any sign of anything happening. There's nothing laying around, nothing in any of the rooms we've passed. It's like the ship was never deployed or used."

"Maybe the people had time to clear out."

"Maybe."

"Or if there was a problem on the ship, maybe there's an emergency location they gathered in. A designated spot that's safer."

"Hmm. Even if that was the case, the whole crew wouldn't be there. When we sound general quarters, the command crew still has to be at their posts. Someone still has to run the ship. If they did something like that, there should have been signs of someone on the bridge. And if we ever find Engineering, there should be signs of people there."

The deck angled down sharply, then opened into a large round room. In the center was a dark column that extended out of sight above them.

"Ask and you'll receive, I suppose," Charlie said.

"Okay, weird." Lincoln entered the room, stepping over the corner of one of the mattresses that littered the floor.

*****

Frank opened his communicator and said, "Stanton to Okonkwo."

"Akim here."

"Any progress in getting the computers working?"

"Sort of. I've got minimal function here, just don't ask me how."

"We found Sickbay, we think. Any chance of getting it online?"

"Possibly. Get the access panel open and give me a minute to see if I can figure out the power relays."

"Understood."

"Hey," Amy said.

Frank looked up from the desk that had a computer terminal built into it. Despite the number of small screens around the room, there seemed to be only one computer.

"You need me here? I want to have a look around, see what else I can find."

"I'm good."

She held up her communicator and said, "Give a yell if you need me."

"Will do."

"Akim to Dr. Stanton."

"Stanton here."

"Okay, Doctor, I think I can get you minimal power. You have the panel open?"

"Yeah."

"Is there something that looks like an orange box? Pretty tiny?"

"No. Nothing orange. I've got a bunch of green wires and a blue conduit-looking thing."

"Okay, that's the wrong panel. Try the one next to it."

"There isn't one next to it?"

"All of the panels here are in pairs."

Frank looked around. "There's just one panel in the room. Maybe this isn't the main Sickbay, so it doesn't have a full access panel."

"Hell, I don't know. Computers designed by cats would make more sense that this mess. Is there a red thing, sort of round? It'll probably be behind the conduit."

"Um." Frank stretched out on the floor to get a better angle into the panel. "Yeah, I see that."

"Okay, don't touch that, but to one side of it, there's a switch on the cable that it's on. Flip that."

There was a soft whooshing sound, then the hum of fans and electronics. The computer panel lit up with a green glow, scrolling through columns of data his tricorder began to try to interpret.

"Hey. That worked. Thanks."

"No problem, Dr. Stanton."

"Stanton out."

*****

The mattresses were arranged around the central core that Lincoln thought was probably a warp drive, although the configuration seemed wrong. He wished briefly that Peter was there.

"There's a stash of food over here," Charlie said. He nudged a round container with his foot.

"They'd been here a while."

"Nine mattresses." Charlie edged around the room, staying well away of the central engine area. "That can't be the whole crew, the ship's too big."

"We don't even know what kind of ship it is. If it was a freighter or something, maybe not." Lincoln tried one computer panel after another, but they all stayed dark at his touch. "You don't need a lot of people to actually run a ship if it's only going from one port to another."

Charlie nodded. "If it was a freighter, maybe it was hijacked for its cargo."

"Where's the crew? Where's the cargo, for that matter? That diagram didn't have anything that looked big enough to be a cargo hold."

"It had something that looked like shuttlebays."

Lincoln looked at the dark engine and said, "There's nothing to do here until we get the computers back online. Let's go have a look."

****

Akim looked into the relay panel, frowning at one of the smaller conduits. Tiny filaments of luminescent green were snaking through it, stretching out as he watched. He activated his communicator again. "Okonkwo to Stanton." He reached into the panel and adjusted the power relay. The filaments got brighter. He frowned at his communicator. "Dr. Stanton, come in."

He rocked back on his heels and said, "Okonkwo to Commander Lee, I've lost contact with Dr. Stanton."

Akim flipped his communicator over and checked the power. When he was sure it was working correctly he said, "Okonkwo to any member of the away team."

His hand was shaking. "Okonkwo to the Bell."

Akim stared across the alien Bridge and listened to the silence from his communicator. "Fantastic." He drew his phaser and looked around the bridge carefully. He left, heading toward the corridor Charlie and Lincoln had taken earlier. He followed the path that the tricorder indicated they'd taken, trying to move quietly and quickly. He caught movement out of the corner of his eyes as he passed though an intersection and whirled, phaser held in front of him, but there was nothing there.

Before him, the corridor opened up.

"Commander Lee? Lieutenant Commander Francis?"

The room was empty, no sign that they or anyone else had been there. The warp core pulsed with a faint green light. Akim backed away from it until he bumped into one of the control stations around the edge of the room. He jumped.

"Shit." He sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. "Now what?"

*****

An alarm sounded from the science station. Olivia's head snapped up from the microtapes she'd been looking over and she snapped, "Report."

"Subspace interference is fluctuating all over the place," Fayette responded.

"Cause?"

"Unknown."

Fayette crossed from the science station to confer with Farnsworth. Nick dropped into Fayette's chair and swiveled to face the main screen. He was pale, his eyes glazed. Olivia went to him, leaning close. She bent to bring her eyes level with his.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know. Nothing. Everything's fine."

"Nick?"

"An away team in a situation like that shouldn't be perfectly calm. I know your crew is good, Olive, but they should at least be a little nervous or excited. They're not even curious."

"Are they incapacitated?"

"No, they're conscious. I… I don't know. Maybe it's just really boring over there."

Olivia activated her comm. "Commander Lee, what's your status."

"Everything's normal, Captain."

"What have you found?"

"The ship appears to have been abandoned. No signs of her crew. We could use some more personnel from Engineering to help get all systems back online."

Olivia turned her head as Nick stood, forehead creased into a frown. "Understood, Commander. Stand by."

She cut the comm link and said, "Nick, what…"

"That wasn't Lincoln."

Olivia turned to the comm. "Astrid?"

She was frowning. "Nothing about the communication raised any warnings within the aural recognition system."

"But?" Olivia prompted.

Astrid hesitated, looking at Nick before looking back to Olivia. "I know what the computer says, but that wasn't Commander Lee. He sounded wrong."

"Transporter room."

"Yes, Captain?"

"Kashner, get them out of there."

"Aye, Captain."

Olivia watched Nick while she waited. He was chewing on his fingernails.

"Captain." Kashner's voice was higher pitched than normal. "I can't get a lock on them."

"Higgins, you're with me, shuttlebay one."

"That would not be advisable, Captain," Fayette said. "There's a significant amount of magnetic interference coming from the other ship. And, um, it doesn't seem to have any exterior openings. At least nothing you could land a shuttlecraft in."

She whirled to face Fayette. "What is that thing?"

The comm link sounded and before she could acknowledge it Peter demanded, "What the hell is going on up there?"

"We've lost contact with the away team."

"We've lost contact with the engines."

"What?"

"They're still online. Power readings are normal, but they're not responding."

"The interference must be some kind of dampening field," Fayette said.

"Counter it."

"I… I'll try, captain."

Olivia activated the comm. "Command crew, meet in the captain's conference room in 10 minutes."

Nick touched her hand and she felt a shivering burst of fear. "Olive, we have to get them out of there."

She started at the image of the ship on the viewscreen. "We will."

*****

Frank watched the translated data scroll by on his tricorder's screen out of the corner of his eyes as he tried to make sense of the menus on the computer terminal. He pushed his hair off his forehead and wished Akim could get the environmental controls back online. A blip in the data stood out and he picked up the tricorder, frowning.

He grabbed it off the terminal and hurried to the door, looking down the hall.

"Amy?"

Her voice was distant, coming from a point beyond where he could see. "Yeah. This way."

The hall twisted, obscuring his vision and leaving him feeling claustrophobic. The stale recycled-air scent of the ship was replaced with the stench of rotting food. He looked into one of the side rooms and then wrinkled his nose at the meal that was rotting on the table. He hurried past it and caught sight of Jessup ahead of him.

"Hey, something weird's going on here."

"No shit?" Amy made a face. "Sorry. This place is starting to give me the creeps."

Frank nodded in agreement, then angled his tricorder so she could see the screen. "This is the data I pulled from the computer in Sickbay. It isn't real."

She looked over his shoulder and squinted at it. "What do you mean?"

"It's dummy data I use when we're running diagnostics on the Bell's medical sequences. It's just stuff I made up."

"Why did you have that data on your tricorder?"

"I didn't."

"Well, how did it get there. Has the Bell tied into this ship's computer and… somehow the data got mixed up?"

"I really don't see how."

"Let's find out." Amy flipped her communicator open. "Jessup to Fayette."

She and Frank watched each other in the silence that followed. Amy shook her head. "I guess that doesn't really surprise me."

"Head back to the bridge?"

"Yeah." She took off the way they had come and Frank followed. He almost ran into her when she stopped abruptly.

"Is this the way you came?" she asked.

Frank flicked his eyes to her tricorder. "I thought you were rendering a map."

"I was. But it's wrong. It's showing a door here."

"That went into the mess hall. I saw that when I was looking for you. We've got to be in the wrong place -- we'd be able to smell it if we were close to the mess hall."

"Smell what?"

"I thought you said you saw it."

"I did. There wasn't anything there."

"A full meal was set out but it was rotting, like it had been left for weeks."

Jessup shook her head slowly. "There wasn't any food in the mess hall."

"We need to find the others."

"No argument here."

*****

Lincoln stared at the hanger. The spaces where the escape pods should have been were empty.

"Guess that answers that question," Charlie said.

Lincoln circled the room, then said, "Let's get back to the bridge and see if Akim's made any progress with the computers."

Akim jolted to his feet when Lincoln and Charlie came back on the bridge.

"Where have you been?"

"Engineering and the shuttlebay. What's wrong, Ensign?"

Akim held up his communicator. "No comm."

Lincoln flipped his open and said, "Lee to the Bell." He looked up at Akim and asked, "Any idea what's causing it?"

"I can't get the sensors to come online, if there are any sensors. Sir, I'm not sure this ship was ever meant to be flown. I think it's maybe a training dummy or something."

"That makes as much sense as any theory we've come up with," Lincoln said.

Charlie shook his head. "Doesn't explain the mattresses."

Akim looked up sharply. "Mattresses?"

Lincoln said, "The ones in Engineering."

"What mattresses in Engineering?"

"The… ones in Engineering." He frowned at Akim in confusion. "They were all over, like the crew'd been holed up there for a while. How did you miss them?"

"Commander, are we talking about the same Engineering here? It was pristine. There was nothing there, not even any tools were left out."

Charlie and Lincoln looked at each other, then back at Akim.

Stanton and Jessup entered from the hallway, and Jessup said, "Sir, we've got a problem."

"Yeah, understatement," Akim muttered.

"The data in Sickbay was dummy data from the Bell. There's no way it could have gotten here. Amy and I also saw some conflicting things."

"Conflicting like the mattresses in engineering," Lincoln said.

"We need to get out of here," Akim said.

"We could see if the escape pods are functional," Jessup suggested. "The Bell would see that and pick us up."

"The escaped pods had all been ejected," Charlie said.

Jessup shook her head. "The escape pods were intact. We walked by them when we came back from Sickbay." She looked to Frank for confirmation and he nodded.

"Is that what you expected to find?" Lincoln asked.

Jessup frowned. "What?"

"We were talking about it," Lincoln said to Charlie, "about how the crew would have tried to escape if something was wrong."

Jessup shook her head. "We didn't say anything, but I wouldn't have expected the crew to abandon the ship. There's not anything wrong with it."

"Everything is wrong with it," Akim insisted.

Frank held the scanner from his tricorder toward Jessup.

"I"m not hallucinating," she insisted.

"Your neural function is normal," Frank said.

"See. I'm not hallucinating."

"I don't think any of us are," Lincoln said. "I think something is showing us what it thinks we want to see." He looked at Frank. "Any ideas on how that's possible?"

Frank snapped the scanner back into his tricorder. "I don't know."

"Akim, we need to signal the Bell in any way possible," Lincoln said.

He was nodding when Dunham's voice crackled over the ship's comm.

"Commander Lee, this is Captain Dunham, we're using the alien ship's comm system due to heavy interference."

"Captain, our comm is down here as well," Lincoln replied. "Are the transporters able to get through the interference? We're requesting evac."

"Negative, Commander Lee. Our readings indicate the that the warp core of the alien ship is becoming unstable. We're moving the Bell to a safe distance."

"You're… what?" Lincoln's voice rose. "The engines aren't even online."

"I'm sorry Commander, the safety of the Bell is paramount. It was a pleasure serving with you. Dunham out."

Lincoln stared blankly at the dark viewscreen for a moment, then said, "What the hell?"

"That did not just happen," Jessup said and the others chimed in, the volume of their protests increasing until Lincoln whistled sharply.

"Enough. I don't know what's going on over there, but I know Captain Dunham wouldn't abandon us. We've all been seeing things that don't make any sense. Let's get back to Engineering and see what's going on with the engines and try and get communications back up."

The deck of the ship trembled under their feet, pitching them sideways. Charlie's head slammed into the edge of one of the consoles and he slumped to the deck. Stanton scrambled after him.

Akim crouched in front of the open panel. "Let me try and divert as much power as I can to Engineering." He reached into the panel. Light flickered inside the panel, the crackled out like lightning. The explosion threw him across the room.

"Frank!" Lincoln called, going after Akim.

Charlie waved Frank away and the doctor helped Lincoln lay Akim out on the deck.

"Sir," Jessup said, pointing across the bridge.

Green light slithered over the viewscreen, like an aurora.

"Help me with Akim. Charlie, you good to move?"

"Never better."

Lincoln and Frank got their arms under Akim's and hoisted him to his feet. Amy had her arm around Charlie and they staggered toward Engineering.

*****

Olivia looked around the table in the conference room at the grim faces of her crew. She kept her voice steady. "Options."

Ensign James glanced at Kashner before saying, "I can break through the interference, but it won't last long and it won't be wide-spread. Without knowing where they are on the ship, I don't think we can get a lock on them in time."

"We can't use their transponders?"

Kashner shook his head. "We'll have milliseconds, probably less, Captain. We'd need to have them pinpointed before Ensign James breaks the interference."

"And you're sure you can do that? Transport them in such a small window?"

"Yes, Captain, but I don't see what good it will do."

She looked at Kashner. "Nick can use his link to me to pinpoint my location at distance without sensors. Can you use that to get a lock on me and extrapolate to the others?"

"Yeah, but…"

"Lieutenant, you passed your transporter competency test by moving your target around the deflector shield, rather than through it?"

Kashner flushed but met her gaze. "Yes, sir."

"We're going to do that, just on a slightly larger scale."

Kashner's brows knit together and he frowned. Ensign James started nodding. Commander Bishop was glaring and shaking his head.

"You," James said. "We could do that with you, using one of the other universes as leverage."

Kashner started tapping at his data panel.

"No," Peter said. "Absolutely not."

"Give me another option in the next 30 seconds and we'll discuss it. Ensign James, I'll need help with the landing."

"I can do that." He leaned in and looked at the calculations Kashner was working on. "We can use the annular confinement beam to give you an anchor point on the ship, like we did on Lya III. It doesn't have to be precise like a transporter lock, you'll compensate naturally when you come back over so you don't land in a bulkhead or something."

Kashner's eyes widened and he swallowed hard.

"Commander Fayette," Olivia asked, "do you have enough data to generate a schematic of the ship?"

"Some areas will be blank, but I think we can give you enough to work from."

"Show me."

He tapped at his panel and an image came up on the display. Olivia dragged her finger over the screen and rotated the three-dimensional image, committing it to memory. She noted the position of her away team and nodded. She looked up. "How soon?"

"Um," Kashner said. He looked from Olivia to Peter, then swallowed hard at the murderous expression on Bishop's face. "This is probably a bad idea. Captain, I mean. Sir, maybe we should try something else."

She smiled. "You can do this. Nick will show you my location and you'll get us out of there. Ensign James?"

"We're ready, Captain. Grab the other universe and just pull yourself back with the ACB. That'll put you down on the other ship."

"Let's do it."

"No. You can't." Peter grabbed her arm. "Olivia, this is crazy. You are going to get yourself killed."

She brought her hand up between them. "I'm assuming that you haven't come up with anything better and we're out of time for discussion. Get out of my way, Commander Bishop. If this doesn't work, get the ship to safety. That's an order."

He stared at her, jaw clenched. He nodded grudgingly.

"No matter what happens, that ship is still going to be a threat. You have command of the Bell. I want my ship moving when I get back."

The tension slipped from his face, just a little and he, said, "Yes, sir."

*****

Olivia forced her thoughts into stillness, feeling only the familiar hum of her ship beneath her feet, the dazzling amount of energy it took to keep her afloat. Olivia closed her eyes and reached, finding a familiar grasp in a nearby universe. She felt the energy of the ACB catch her and she pulled on the universe, feeling the world slide away from her. There was a moment of dizziness when she was not quite in the other universe, but not quite in hers, either. She swung herself back, holding the deck of the other ship in her focus, letting the beam act as a beacon. The world came jarringly back beneath her feet. When she opened her eyes, it was to a dark, hazy corridor of the other ship.

She drew her phaser and tilted her head, listening for any indication of her crew or whatever threatened them. She reached along her link to Nick, passing the assurance that she'd arrived in one piece.

The corridor she was in was narrow, the rough walls closing in at odd angles. It was nothing like the images her away team had transmitted. It curved out of sight in either direction with no doors or intersections in sight. The mental image she had of the deck layout might as well have been from a different ship. She fumbled in her pocket for a hypospray and pressed it to her neck, almost sighing in relief as the headache subsided.

She dropped it to the deck and flipped her communicator open. "Away team, come in." There was only silence, both from the comm, and from the ship around her. She tried again with, "Lincoln, can you hear me?", and then just to be sure, "Bell, come in." The silence was eerie.

Lost, she thought.

Nick's thoughts brushed against her mind, Forward. Down.

She looked behind her, then started moving along the corridor. She'd gone a few meters when the ship shuddered under her feet. Behind her, something crashed.

She turned, phaser leveled, but nothing was there.

Faster Nick though in her mind, and Olivia sprinted forward, following his direction.

*****

She rounded a corner and skidded to a stop at the sight of the away team huddled at the dead-end of the corridor. Frank was crouched over Akim, holding his tricorder over his burned face. Charlie was slumped against the wall, the side of his face and part of his uniform covered in blood. Lincoln and Amy stood in front of the other three, phasers raised and aimed at her. Olivia held her hand up, pointing her own phaser at the ceiling.

She took a step toward them and Lincoln snarled, "Stay back."

"Lincoln?"

The expression on his face changed, confusion replacing the anger. He lowered his arm like the phaser was too heavy to hold up any longer.

"Captain?"

She nodded. "It's me. I'm going to put this on the ground." She slowly lowered her arm, noting how Jessup's eyes tracked her movement.

"You said you were leaving us."

"No. No, that wasn't me."

Jessup took a step forward. "You abandoned us!"

"The Bell is still here. Something is interfering with communications and the transporters, but we're going to get you home now."

"If the transporters are out, how did you get here?" Jessup turned to Lee. "She's lying."

Behind her, Stanton said, "Captain, if you've got a way to get us home, this would be a good time to use it."

Found them. Hurry, she thought, pushing toward Nick along their connection. "I'm not lying. The ship is doing something, it's interfering with our communications. It made us hear you saying that everything was okay over here, and I'm guessing that it did the same to you."

The ship shook, tossing her against the side of the corridor. Jessup was knocked to her knees, phaser tumbling from her grasp. She dove toward it, brought up short by a roar of sound in the corridor behind them.

"Come on, Nick, any time now," Olivia muttered. The hallway shuddered again, and the roar seemed closer, tinged with the sound of twisting metal.

"What the hell is that?" Lincoln asked.

"Really don't want to find out."

Around them, the air crackled and filled with the smell of ozone. There was a whine and Olivia's vision blurred as the transporter beam caught her.

*****

The piercing klaxons of the red alert were the first thing Olivia was aware of when she materialized in the transporter room. Her vision blurred from the pain of her headache and she leaned heavily on her arms, bracing herself against the deck of her ship. A hand brushed her hair away from her neck and pressed a hypospray to her skin.

The medical team descended on them, helping them to their feet and half-carrying them to Sickbay. Olivia shrugged out of the nurse's grasp and headed toward the turbolift to the bridge. Dr. Heath caught her arm.

"You need to come to Sickbay, Captain."

"That thing is still out there. I need to make sure my ship is safe."

"Olivia, he's right," Stanton called from the open door of the turbolift.

The ship lurched beneath their feet and the comm link chimed. "Captain to the bridge."

She grabbed Heath's communicator and said, "On my way." She said over her shoulder, "I'll stop by Sickbay later if that thing hasn't killed us by then."

Lincoln stopped in the doorway to the turbolift, then turned to follow her.

Heath called after them, "Any other patients you want to steal?"

*****

"Report."

"Weapons systems at full power, but the dampening field is still preventing maneuvering," Higgins said. "Engineering is working to block the field and get us moving again."

"Captain. The ship…" Fayette trailed off for a moment, staring at the main display, "isn't a ship anymore."

The hulking shape on the viewscreen had lost its smooth contours, spreading feathery appendages out from a central oblong body.

"What the hell is it?" Olivia demanded.

"It appears to be a metallic-organic hybrid," Fayette said.

"We were in that?" she asked.

"Um. Yes, Captain."

Nick's voice was quiet. "It's alive, Olive."

She crossed to Nick's side, touching her fingers to the back of his hand. "Is is sentient?"

He shook his head, just slightly. "It's aware, but I'm not sure to what extent. It's angry. It's… hungry."

"That's what it was doing? Trying to feed on us?"

Nick swayed on his feet. Olivia caught his arm and held him still. "It's old." His voice dropped to a whisper. "It's so old."

"Nick." She pushed against their connection and felt the enormity of the creature in his mind, the drag of its presence over Nick's thoughts. She moved between them, using her mind as a barrier between him and the creature. He blinked slowly, then his eyes came back into focus, locked on hers.

"It's going to kill us."

Olivia shook her head and said, "No." She eased Nick down into her chair and turned to her science officer. "Options."

"We're getting clear readings of it now," Fayette said. "Without significant modifications our phasers will have no effect on it."

"Photon torpedos?"

He looked into his scope for a moment, then said, "Minimal effect. They'll probably just make it angry. Angrier."

"Better options," she demanded.

Fayette shook his head. "I…"

"Captain," Ensign Phillips said, "It's turning."

She hit the comm link on her console. "Engineering, options."

"Push the damn thing away with a tractor beam and buy me some more time. Fayette, get down here." There was a burst of static and the sound of something crashing to the deck. Peter's voice went distant, swearing, then came back louder. "Bring Lincoln with you."

Olivia nodded. "Go." She left Nick's side to stand behind navigation. "Will that work?"

"The tractor beam? Possibly," said Ensign Phillips. He looked over his shoulder and said, "Captain, I can try communicating with it, see if I can get it to understand we don't want to harm it."

"No," Nick said, his voice strained. Olivia and Simon both turned to look at him. "No, there's nothing there but hunger. There's no reason, no intelligence." His voice turned sad and he slumped back into the chair. "Simon, don't."

Olivia met Simon's eyes and shook her head. "Better not. I'm sorry, Simon, I know you'd rather find another way. Engage the tractor beam. Keep it at a distance. Henry, can you compensate for the dampening field?"

"No, Captain, the maneuvering thrusters are not responding."

"Can we go to warp?"

"No, sir."

"Astrid, send a distress signal on all channels. Advise extreme caution to any ship that responds."

"Aye, Captain, I'll try, but I'm not sure anything is getting through."

"Do your best."

The comm signal sounded and Lincoln's voice said, "Engineering to the bridge."

"Go ahead."

"Uh, Captain, Commander Bishop has modified a photon torpedo to discharge a massive burst of plasma. He believes it will be able to damage the creature enough for our phasers to penetrate the outer layer. We're in the process of moving it to the superstructure for firing."

Peter's voice cut into Lincoln's comm. "Liv, we'll have to be close to it, and it's going to sap our available energy pretty badly. We'll have enough for the phaser banks and primary systems, but not much else."

"Shields?"

"They'll be minimal," Peter said. "Could get ugly."

"This is the only way?" she asked.

There was a long pause, then Lincoln said, "Yeah, this is it."

"Okay. Let me know when it's ready to fire." She activated the shipwide comm. "This is the captain. We are preparing to engage a hostile life form, please report to designated safe zones and take all precautions. Damage control teams, stand by. Captain out."

Olivia rose and stood behind her navigator. She took a slow, steady breath and said, "Ensign Phillips, reduce the tractor beam and close on the creature."

"Aye, Captain."

"Lee to the Bridge."

"Go ahead, Commander."

"The modified torpedo is ready for launch."

"How close do we need to be?" Olivia asked over the comm.

The ship started to shake and Phillips said, "Captain, much closer and the blast from the torpedo will significantly damage the ship."

Peter's voice came through the comm. "Guess this'll have to do."

Olivia nodded and said, "Fire."

The torpedo followed its course slowly, seeming to drift toward the creature. It was larger than a photon torpedo, a whirling cloud of red energy surrounding the core. As it approached the creature, the energy seemed to increase, sparking out like crimson lightning. It struck the surface, and for a moment nothing happened, until red light burst over the viewscreen as it detonated.

Nick screamed.

The pain that lashed over their connection staggered Olivia. She held herself up with the back of her chair and said, "Lock phasers on to the point of impact and fire." She tried to focus her mind, to keep Nick away. The pain was white, all consuming. Nick's eyes rolled back in his head and he went limp. Astrid caught him and eased him to the deck.

Olivia dropped to her knees, free of the pain, and said, "Report."

"The creature is drifting. All energy signatures are gone. It's dead, Captain."

She reached above her and fumbled until she got the comm activated. "Medical team to the bridge."

Stanton caught her arm and helped her to her feet. "Already here, Captain." Lincoln entered from the turbolift, Peter on his heels.

"Nick…"

"We'll take care of him."

Olivia nodded her thanks to Stanton and turned to the comm. "What's our communications status?"

"Communications are open, Captain," Astrid said. "Transmitting to Starbase 10."

Olivia started at the drifting carcass. Lincoln stood beside her. "What are you thinking?"

She huffed out a breath and smiled a little. "That Walter would love to get his hands on it."

Fayette said, "It's disintegrating rapidly, Captain. We don't have the power to get a containment field around it."

"Get whatever data you can from the sensors, then." She sank into her chair and looked up at Lincoln.

"You look like hell, sir."

She blinked, then grinned. She looked over her shoulder to where Peter was leaning over the engineering station. "How's my ship."

"We're still flying, aren't we?"

"That we are."

*****

The Sickbay lights were dimmed for gamma shift, quiet save for the muted sounds of the monitors. The beds were mostly empty, the few crew members still there sleeping soundly. Dr. Stanton looked up from his desk in the outer office and gave her a weary smile. Olivia leaned against the doorway.

"How is he?"

"Resting. I brought him out of sedation about an hour ago. His neural function is normal, well, normal for him. He's going to be fine, Captain."

The flickers of emotions she'd gotten from Nick had already indicated that, but it was nice to have it confirmed. "Thank you, Dr. Stanton. How are you recovering?"

"I'm on the mend, as is everyone else. Akim's burns are healing well and he should be discharged in a few days."

"Good to hear. Can I see Nick?"

"Yes, of course." He hesitated a moment then said, "Sally's with him."

"Oh." She nodded. "Thank you."

Olivia crossed the room, making enough noise to not startle the woman slumped in a chair by Nick's bed. Sally's expression was carefully neutral when she looked up.

"How are you holding up, Ensign Clark?"

"I'm okay, Captain. Tired. Worried."

"Dr. Stanton says he'll be fine."

Sally nodded, looking unconvinced. She opened her mouth to say something, then snapped it closed and turned to watch Nick as he slept.

Nick looked paler than usual, dark circles stark under his closed eyes. Olivia wanted to crawl onto the bed and curl around him while he slept, but she settled for resting her hand on Nick's ankle, reaching along their connection to feel the calming weight of his sleeping mind.

"Try and get some rest, Ensign," Olivia said as she turned to leave.

Sally nodded without looking at her. "Yes, Captain."

*****

"Why aren't you sleeping?"

Olivia looked up from the damage report she'd been reviewing on her PADD. The bar was illuminated by the ancient sign Sam had hung over the bowling lanes. He'd enlisted Peter to get it working again when he first brought it aboard. Lincoln's face was washed blue by the light. Olivia gestured to her PADD.

"Reports wait for no one."

"Try telling that to Bishop." He sat next to her and looked at the bottle of amber liquid on the bar. "Is that a good idea?"

Olivia lifted one shoulder in a shrug and took a sip from her glass. The taste of the whisky was sharp and smoky, from Sam's private, non-synthehol stash. She smiled at the flavor and the accompanying burn when she swallowed. "I think I've earned it."

"No argument here."

"We'll have to stay on a little longer than we'd planned at Starbase 10 as a result of some of the damage," Olivia said. "That torpedo did a number on the launch tube. Buy, hey, I'm not the only one that's earned a little something. Some leave time will be good for the crew."

"Provided we get there without any more trouble."

Olivia tossed back the rest of her drink and grinned at him. "I suppose a miracle could happen."