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In His Shadow

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He’d always hear that everyone had a double, someone who looked just like them. It was the sort of topic that made entertaining conversation at parties. Maybe now and then, people did run into the person who looked uncannily like them.

Of course, he (or they, Tom supposed) had to be an overachiever.

But he had never considered how it would feel to be the carbon copy, the shadow.

For eight years, he had believed he was Will Riker, Starfleet officer marooned on Nervala IV due to a transporter accident. He had decided that the crew of the Potemkin had written him off as presumed dead – although he had never given up hope that someone would realize that he was still alive. He’d had to believe, because losing hope meant surrendering to madness. So he had refused to do anything except believe. Will Riker was no quitter.

Then, finally, someone had come to Nervala IV. Only it had been the biggest shock of his life to find himself face to face with…himself.

He had discovered that the reason no one had ever come for him was because no one even knew he existed.

Tom had been surprised at how insufferable the other him was – confident and sure, with a commanding air that suited the first officer of the Enterprise-D. It got under his skin. Will considered him to be a brash gambler, while Tom couldn’t understand how Will had become a play-it-safe sort of guy.

And Deanna – seeing her again, feeling her body against his again, feeling the subtle brush of her mind against his – in that one moment he had been so overjoyed to see her. The thought that he would see her again one day had helped keep him going, so many times.

Yet she hadn’t known him either. And the Will Riker who had returned to the Potemkin had made choices that left Deanna behind.

Of course, when push came to shove, Tom had as well. Staying on the Enterprise was not a viable option. Serving under himself was not going to work, and not just because of the potential for confusion. Tom was grateful for the opportunity to go to another starship where he could resume his career, and he was grateful to Captain Picard for whatever strings he had pulled to make the opportunity happen.

He and Will had parted on good terms, at least. Tom had revealed to Will and Deanna that he had decided to take Thomas – their middle name – as his first name, one small way to stand apart. He’d seen a little relief in Will’s eyes at that announcement. Will had even brought him a parting gift – his trombone. (Their trombone, really.) He had missed it, had missed hearing music and jazz in the time he had been trapped on Nervala IV. There was something comforting about the instrument and the way it fit into his hands. It made him feel for a moment as if he was real.

On his trip to the Gandhi, Tom had read up on Will Riker’s career. He still couldn’t quite wrap his mind around the Borg, or why Will Riker remained on the Enterprise, content to be the second man. The Enterprise was a plum assignment, but was it worth turning down his own command? It was what he – they – had planned for, worked for, wanted more than anything else in life. It wasn’t as if Will had turned it down to stay with the woman he loved.

Kyle Riker – Tom still couldn’t bring himself to call him Dad – had sent a stilted message that Tom had hesitated about responding to. Their correspondence had loosened up a little, but neither of them had suggested meeting up.

The Gandhi was a good place for Tom to spin back up, to learn all the things that Will already knew. He was friendly enough with his fellow crew members, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that people saw him as a novelty, or worse, some sort of scientific freak. He had also turned down at least one invitation from a female crewmember – later he’d overheard her speculating on just how identical they were. Incidents like that made him want to hide away from anyone.

Practicing jazz had become one of his few real pleasures, a way to get lost and forget his troubles. He had finally nailed the Night Bird solo, and sent a message of it to Deanna so she could enjoy it. And yes, he did hope she would show it to Will.

It was ridiculous to be jealous of Will, Tom told himself. It was not his fault that any of this had happened. They were the same person – and yet, they were not. The opportunities that Will had been afforded would not come around again. Tom would have to find – or make – his own opportunities.

He had contemplated getting the transporter chief whose good idea had resulted in his creation alone in a dark hallway, and maybe landing a solid punch or two. But a search of Starfleet records had revealed that the man had been killed aboard the Melbourne at Wolf 359 – the ship Will Riker should have been on.

Tom fantasized occasionally about how it might have worked if Will Riker had been aboard the Melbourne, wondering if it might have been easier to be the only Riker again. But there was no point in wishing for things to be different.

Tom had contemplated some cosmetic changes, something to keep from confusing people, and subjecting himself to inevitable awkward conversations. It wasn’t their fault, but knowing that didn’t make it any easier to deal with it.

Shaving his beard had helped – although he had grown attached to it. At least then people tended to stop and give him a closer look. Tom had become adept at introducing himself first in every situation. His brief flirtation with blond hair had just felt affected. The skin modification he’d tried only made him feel more of a freak, an impostor in his own skin. It was his face – his body – his life, as much as it belonged to Will.

Sometimes he almost wished himself back on Nervala IV. Maybe too many reads of Swiss Family Robinson, but at least there he wouldn’t be an oddity.

He needed to prove himself, needed to separate himself, needed to be himself. Tom Riker, his own man.

So when the call for volunteers for a long-range mapping expedition came up, Tom applied for a position – any position. The mission would take him out to the unknown, to a place where he could be himself.

He had been accepted, and wondered if someone might have pulled more strings in his favor. But he couldn’t wait to see this new ship and this new captain – Shelby, her last name was.

No matter what else it was, it would be a clean start for Thomas Riker. He would be able to escape being Will Riker's shadow.