Author: Anthony Butler
“With ketchup, please,” Commander Richards said, glancing over his shoulder nervously as he stood at the Sandwich Star stand.
Vleerex, the Flebian who manned the Sandwich Star stand in Ship’s Shoppes, looked at Richards, furrowing his multiple brows. “You can’t put ketchup on a breakfast sandwich, Richards Commander.”
“Why not?” he asked. “It’s a perfectly reasonable request.”
“No, it’s really not,” Vleerex said. “Look, I would love to help you, but we can only put ketchup on the lunch sandwiches. Can I interest you in a turkey panini?”
“No! I want the scrambled egg and cheese sandwich, and I want it with ketchup!”
Vleerex scratched his head. “Don’t you think that’s a little odd?”
“You have ten eyeballs!” Richards snapped.
“Hey, let’s not get personal here,” Vleerex said, holding up his hands. “I just sell the sandwiches. I don’t make the rules. If you want to talk to the manager, she’ll be here in a few…”
“Forget about it. Just give me the sandwich.”
“Whatever you say, mister two-eyes,” Vleerex grumbled, and shoved the wrapped sandwich into Richards’s hand.
Richards sighed and walked off.
“Hey there!” a voice said from behind him.
“Wha?” he turned, and saw Janice Browning jogging toward him.
“I saw you from up on the second level. I waved but I guess you didn’t see me.”
“Yeah…I was busy arguing with the sandwich guy.”
Browning glanced back at Vleerex and his stand, then turned to Richards. “Not that it’s any of my business, Christopher, but you could have a much healthier breakfast at my place.”
“I was in a hurry, so I guess…”
“That’s okay!” Browning said, picking up step next to Richards. “We have a new ‘healthy express menu.’ Pre-wrapped, everything. I recommend the cheese danish and fruit cup.”
“Didn’t you study nutrition at Starfleet Academy?”
“Xenonutrition,” Browning corrected. “Why?”
“No reason,” Richards said. “Sorry, I was just in a hurry.”
“You don’t have to apologize. You can go anywhere you want for breakfast. Heck, you can even go to the ship’s mess, if you’re really feeling antisocial.”
“I’m not feeling antisocial!” Richards snapped, louder than he wanted to. “Like I said, I’m just in a hurry.”
“Obviously,” Browning said, rolling her eyes. “Well it wouldn’t hurt you to stop by every now and then.”
“I thought you said I could go anywhere I wanted.”
“For breakfast,” Browning said. “But I meant…stop by. To talk, you know…catch up.”
“Oh,” Richards said. “Well, I’ve been…”
“Busy,” Browning said, nodding. “I get it.”
“No, it’s not like that,” Richards said, as they came to the double doors to Ship’s Shoppes, which lead out into the Explorer corridor. “I just…you know. It’s weird…”
Browning glanced back at the sandwich stand again. “You were arguing with that guy over the ketchup on your sandwich, weren’t you?”
“You know, if I’d made the sandwich…”
“You’d what?” Richards snapped, turning on Browning. “Make it just the way I like it, like you always did? Then what? You’d talk to me? Get closer to me? Start our relationship back up just so it can crash and burn again? No thanks!”
Browning gaped. “Christopher…”
“And don’t call me that. Everyone calls me Chris.”
“Baxter to Richards,” the comm suddenly chirped.
He tapped his combadge, glaring at Browning. “What?”
“We’re in orbit of Seneca Six, Christopher. J’hana and Tilleran are heading down to the transporter room. Feel like joining them?”
Richards cringed at the use of his full name. “Yeah, I can’t wait. Richards out.”
“We haven’t finished talking!” Browning called after him as he ducked out of the mall.
“Yeah, we really have,” Richards called over his shoulder.
“Remind me what we’re doing down there again,” Richards said as he mounted the transporter pad.
J’hana glanced at him as she checked the settings on her phaser. “You’re in a mood, aren’t you, Commander?”
“Shut up. I was talking to Tilleran.”
Tilleran cocked her head quizzically. “Hmm.”
“Stop reading my mind and tell me why we’re beaming down to this hellhole!” Richards snapped.
“Oh.” Tilleran blinked. “Starfleet has a science station on the surface, to study tectonic activity in the planet’s geothermal layers for terraforming purposes. They stopped transmitting data two days ago.”
“Fascinating,” Richards muttered, as Ensign Yang input the coordinates. “Well, let’s….”
“Sorry I’m late!” Dr. Holly Wilcox said as she dashed into the room, medkit slung over her shoulder. “Dean threw up in my lap.”
“Not like we needed to know that,” J’hana said standoffishly.
“Why do we need a doctor?” Richards asked.
“To install a plumbing system,” Holly muttered, stepping up onto the pad. “What do you think?”
“Of course. People could be hurt. Very important,” Richards said quickly. “Energize, Yang.”
“So why am I here again?” Dr. Wilcox asked, surveying one of the main labs, five minutes later.
Richards sighed, resting his hands on his hips. A half dozen scientists were sprawled unconscious on the floor. “Point taken, Doctor. I’m sorry.”
“Mind if I tend to the dozens of mysteriously unconscious people now?”
“Everything’s operational,” Tilleran said, folding her tricorder closed and walking up next to Richards. “No sign of contamination or environmental failures.”
“There’s something I want you to see in the closet, when you have a moment,” J’hana said. “It’s…security related.”
Tilleran looked from J’hana to Richards, shaking her head. “I’m going to check the next room.”
Richards nodded as his combadge chirped. “Baxter to Richards. What’s up?”
“We’re still trying to figure out what happened,” Richards said.
“Oh, I don’t care about that. I meant that you seemed a little irked earlier. What’s going on?”
“Nothing. Richards out!”
Suddenly Richards heard the familiar transporter chime, and Janice Browning materialized in front of him with a blue twinkle.
“Hey!” Browning said. “We never got to finish our chat.”
“Janice? What the…!” Richards took her by the arm and pulled her into a corner of the lab. “What are you doing here?”
“You stormed out in a huff. I wanted to finish our conversation like two civil people.”
“So you just…beamed down?”
“Ensign Yang loves my quiche, so she was more than happy to help.”
“Damn it, Janice. You’re not Starfleet anymore. You can’t just beam down and join an away team any time you feel like it. Actually, you’re really not supposed to do that even if you’re in Starfleet.”
“Especially if you’re a medical officer!” Holly called out from across the room.
“You be quiet!”
“I’ve found something, if you’re interested in not being an ass anymore,” Holly replied.
Richards walked over. “You’re even snippier than I am this morning.”
“I got thrown up on. What’s your excuse?”
“Touche,” Richards said, as he knelt beside Holly. “So what’s going on here?”
“They’re all in reasonably good health. Their brainwave activity is just…sort of suspended.”
“Some kind of multiphasic energy. A wave of it would have knocked everyone out for a few days, until their neural engrams came back into sync.”
“What could cause something like that?”
“Christopher, we’re not finished!” Browning said, walking up.
“Go back to the Explorer, Janice!” Richards called over his shoulder.
“I don’t know the cause,” Holly said. “But whatever did it was major.”
“Christopher, you’d better come look at this!” Tilleran called from an adjacent room.
“Why is everyone calling me that today?” Richards muttered. “Holly, why don’t you go ahead and beam back to the Explorer with these folks and start treating them.”
“Oh, so I’m not needed anymore?” Holly muttered.
“Not really,” Richards said, and headed off to the next room.
As soon as he passed through the door, Richards stopped in his tracks. In the middle of the room, on a raised dais, a column of blue energy crackled and sizzled.
“I’m guessing this is the source of our energy overload,” Tilleran said, whistling low as she looked at her tricorder.
“What the hell is it?” Richards asked.
“Rip in space time,” Tilleran said, matter-of-factly.
“How’d it form?”
“Well,” Tilleran said. “In layman’s terms, space-time…ripped.”
“A little more detail would be great.”
“Were I to guess, it looks like the scientists here were trying to harness the energy emanating from the tectonic plates below. They weren’t able to contain it properly, though, and it spilled out in a massive multiphasic wave.”
“A wave that’s in several phases at once,” Browning pointed out.
“I knew that,” Richards snapped.
“Sure you did! I’m just trying to help.”
“You shouldn’t even be here.”
“Aw, let her stay,” Tilleran said, then pursed her lips quickly as Richards glared at her.
“How do we shut it down?” Richards asked.
“Actually, that’s the good news,” Tilleran said. She pointed to a large switch at a nearby console. “There’s an emergency ‘off’ switch.”
“Ingenious. Is it really that easy?”
“Yeah. The scientists could have done it themselves if the initial overload hadn’t knocked them all unconscious.”
“So much for the emergency switch,” Browning muttered.
“Just turn it off, then,” Richards said.
“I’d rather run some more tests, get an engineering crew down here, before we do anything hasty.”
“I’m an engineer, and it’s fine,” Richards said. “We need to shut that thing off before it does any more damage to the station or to us.”
“It’s really not hurting anything now. The initial wave of energy has already dissipated. This is more like a leaky faucet…”
Richards glared at Tilleran. “Well, then turn the faucet off. We need to get back to the Explorer.”
“You’re the boss!” Tilleran said, and yanked the switch.
“NOW can we talk?” Browning asked, stepping up next to Richards, as he watched the column of energy fizzle, and start to collapse.
“No!” Richards said. “We’re going to beam back to the ship. Then you’re going back to Space Tastes, and I’m going to my office to write up my report. Got it?”
“Sheesh. Guess so,” Browning said, turning. “Suit yourself.”
Richards tapped his combadge, wishing he could be anywhere but where he was. “Richards to transporter room two. Beam up Doctor Browning and…”
Suddenly two bolts of energy shot out of the dissipating column and wrapped around Browning and Richards. The crackling light enveloped them completely, sizzling in the air.
Tilleran just stared. “Oops.”
J’hana ducked her head in. “Have you seen Commander Richards? I really need him to come to the closet.”
“He…they..Browning and Richards, that is….they both….” Tilleran pointed at the energy column.
“Browning and Richards?” J’hana asked. “Fzzzzzzht. Back together. Say no more. Hells with them both.”
Then Tilleran’s tricorder beeped. Something…or someone…was emerging from the energy field..
“…me up to the ship, to separate decks, if you can…” Richards trailed off, looking around. “This isn’t the Explorer.”
“What clued you in?” Browning said from behind him, arms folded, as she surveyed the darkened laboratory. Much like the lab they’d just left, the floor was littered with unconscious people, though these were somewhat more shabbily dressed.
“Captain, JB, are you all right?” a voice came from the corridor outside the dim room.
“Tilleran?” Richards asked, and bolted for the doorway. He was relieved to at least hear a familiar voice.
He watched Tilleran’s shadow fill the doorway, and when she appeared, he stopped in his tracks, gaping.
The woman that stared back at him looked like Tilleran, at least in the face, but her hair and dress were completely different. Her long, dark hair was braided ornately, festooned with what looked like shards of metal. She wore a sleeveless leather top, and ripped green cargo pants. She snarled at Richards, which caused the large silver ring in her nose to wriggle.
“You’re not the Captain!” she snapped, and charged Richards, snapping the disruptor off her belt.
Before she could fire, Browning kicked out, knocking the disruptor out of her hand.
Richards took that opportunity to grab “Tilleran’s” arms and pin her back against the wall.
“Ooooh darling,” the Betazoid cooed. “Your mind’s full of all manner of vile things. Whoever you are, you’ll be the tastiest mind I’ve crushed in days…”
She looked Richards in the eyes, focusing on him.
Richards, in turn, screamed, falling to his knees.
That gave Browning enough time to lean down, grab the phaser off Richards’s belt and whip it up at Tilleran, firing. The beam hit her square in the chest and she sagged unconscious to the ground.
“Who the hell is she?” Richards asked, shaking his head to clear the massive headache caused by the woman’s brief mind invasion.
“Not our Tilleran,” Browning said, falling to her knees and checking for a pulse. “She’s alive, at least.”
“I’m not sure that’s such a good thing.” Richards glanced around. “So…alternate universe?”
Browning nodded. “Seems so.”
“Make one move and the bitch dies!” someone who looked disturbingly similar to Chris Richards shouted, arm wrapped around Tilleran’s neck, phaser against her head.
“Yeah, dies!” someone who looked much like Janice Browning added, encouragingly.
“I’m not a bitch. I was the nice one in the relationship!” Tilleran protested.
J’hana stood there, phaser raised, staring at the scene with a wry eyebrow raised and twitching antenna. “Richards” was bald; his head was tattooed with all manner of jagged red and black symbols. He wore grey fatigues and a belt of disruptor clips. And he was shockingly…muscular. J’hana tried hard to focus on the situation at hand.
Browning’s duplicate looked even worse. Or, to J’hana’s taste, much better. Her hair a mullet-like pile of kinks and braids. She wore thick- soled black boots, lifting her nearly to Richards’s height. She too was muscled…her face weather-worn, and makeup…and extreme of black eyeshadow and deep purple lipstick. A metal chain wound its way from her bottom lip to her slightly exposed navel.
“Where’s your ship?” the outlandish Richards demanded. “You have a ship in orbit, right?”
“In orbit, right?” the Browning person chimed in.
“I don’t feel compelled to answer your questions,” J’hana said, almost boredly, looking from one to the other. She couldn’t decided which one she’d want to bed first.
“Don’t feel compelled?” the strange man bellowed. “Would you feel more compelled if I vaporized your friend here?”
“No. Actually, less compelled. Because then you’d have nothing to bargain with.”
“So you want to bargain?” the Browning person asked, slinking up to J’hana.
“Not now, JB!” Richards shouted. “Don’t get near her. She may not be like our J’hana.”
“Your J’hana?” J’hana licked her lips. “You mean, there’s one like me back there?” She gestured at the energy field with her phaser. Now that got her to thinking about a romantic tryst with herself. She shivered with delight.
“I don’t feel compelled to answer your questions,” “Richards” sneered.
“Questions!” “Browning” said defiantly.
“Well, now I’m annoyed,” J’hana said, and fired with quick precision, knocking out both dopplegangers.
Suddenly free, Tilleran rubbed her neck, looking at the unconscious pair. “What…WAS that?”
“I don’t know,” J’hana said. “But I’m suddenly horny.”
Tilleran rolled her eyes. “Your libido is out of control, J’hana.”
“A discussion for another time,” J’hana replied. “Meantime, what is that energy thing?”
Tilleran glanced back at the crackling energy column. “My guess, a doorway to some kind of other reality.”
“Fwark. The Happy place?”
The Betazoid glanced back at the unconscious newcomers. “Definitely not.”
“But either way, we’re probably talking about an alternate universe.”
Tilleran sighed. “Yeah.”
“Well let’s go in there and get our people back,” J’hana said, and marched toward the energy column.
“Wait! We don’t know enough about that thing. You can’t just go and…”
Before Tilleran could stop J’hana, the energy column pulsated, then instantly winked out of existence.
“Shart,” J’hana growled. “What now?”
“We need to get these two back to the ship and into a brig before they wake up.”
“Do we really have to act so quickly?” J’hana asked, stepping up to Tilleran, grinning slightly.
“YES!” Tilleran shouted. “Don’t even think of…NO! Don’t think of that!”
“Suit yourself,” J’hana muttered, turning. “J’hana to Explorer. Two normal people and two messed up freaks to beam up.”
“She has a combadge, but I don’t recognize the design,” Browning said, kneeling by the unconscious “Tilleran.”
“Should we tap it?”
“And beam back onto a ship full of people like her?” Browning asked. “No thanks.”
“So we just stay here?”
“And wait to be rescued. Yes.”
Richards shook his head. “We don’t know if this location is secure.’
“And that one is?”
“Let me think.”
“Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“Hold on!” Richards said, raising his hand. “Yes. Janice, take off your clothes.”
Browning cocked her head. “Eh?”
“It’s not like that. Just trust me!”
“Eh?” Baxter asked, looking from Peterman to Tilleran, as if for answers. The trio was standing opposite the brig forcefield, looking in on psychotic, but unconscious, versions of Richards and Browning.
“They’re from an alternate universe, all right,” Tilleran said, studying her tricorder. “However, their quantum signature is different from the happy universe.”
“That’s a relief,” Peterman said.
“You think?” J’hana asked, sitting on the desk at the back of the brig, studying her phaser settings. “Maybe they’re from someplace worse. Hehe.”
“There were reports on Deep Space Nine of an encounter with an alternate universe,,” Tilleran said. “One where the Federation was an evil empire that eventually toppled, and the Klingons and Cardassians created a dark alliance that overtook the galaxy, enslaving humanity and other peaceful races.”
“So you think we’ve got a couple of those?”
“I’ll have to contact someone on Deep Space Nine to get the quantum signatures, but it’s possible.”
“Julian’s still on Deep Space Nine,” Peterman said thoughtfully. “I’ll comm him.”
“No!” Baxter said quickly. “Tilleran can take care of it. I need you to…” He inclined his head toward the pair in the brig. “Study them.”
“What for?” asked Peterman.
“Figure out what they want. Why they switched places with our Browning and Richards, and how we get them back.”
Peterman sighed. “Fine.”
“I want to help,” J’hana said from her perch on the desk.
“We won’t need you for a while,” Baxter said. “Not until it’s time to go over there and kill a bunch of people and get our people back to the normal universe.”
“Fine, then. I’m gonna go get a v’haspant.” And she shuffled out of the brig.
“Must we really persist in calling ours the ‘normal’ universe?” Peterman asked nobody in particular.
As soon as Richards finished beaming aboard, he was struck by how dark the “mirror” ship was. Must dark universes actually be, literally, dark?
Browning, affecting her best evil sneer (which was really more cute than evil) grabbed Richards by the arm and dragged him off the transporter pad in the shadowy transporter room. The architecture looked vaguely Cardassian, but Richards couldn’t tell for sure.
Meanwhile, “evil” Tilleran lay prostrate on the transporter pad, wearing Browning’s off-duty khakis and sweater set, her hair smoothed and straightened, pulled into a conservative ponytail.
Meanwhile, Browning had done her best to look evil…donning Tilleran’s cargo pants and leather vest, and with Richards’s assistance festooning her hair with a knot of evil braids.
It should have been no surprise to Richards that the first person he should see would be an arch, villainous-looking, foul-mooded Howard Sefelt, standing opposite him in the transporter bay, hands clasped behind his back, wearing a knee-length black leather trench coat and black turtleneck-and-pants combo.
He stared at Richards, immediately realizing something was amiss.
“This is not the captain!” he said shrilly.
“No,” Browning said, shoving him against the wall, aiming a disruptor on him. “This p’tak came over from another universe. A much less…nasty one…than ours.”
“Another universe?” Evil-Sefelt asked.
“It’s complicated,” Browning said.
“You two were supposed to go down, steal the technology, and come back. How could you screw that up!”
“Be nasty,” Richards whispered in Browning’s ear.
Browning nodded, sneering at Evil-Sefelt. “I am not in the mood for your insubordinance, you little…subordinate!”
“Obviously our mission was a failure. Not only were you unable to acquire the technology we needed, but you somehow opened up a gateway to another universe and lost our Captain!”
“We lost Tilleran too,” Browning said, pointing to the insensate Betazoid on the transporter pad. “That one’s from the other universe. She got kinda violent so we had to, you know, shoot her.”
“I thought you said they were less nasty than us,” Evil-Sefelt said.
“Just slightly less nasty,” Browning said, thumbing at Richards. “But this guy, whoa is he a prick. He’s almost as bad as our Richards.”
“Laying it on a bit thick,” Richards muttered under his breath.
“Don’t you mean YOUR Richards?” Evil-Sefelt said snidely.
“You married him,” Evil-Sefelt snapped. “Even though I wrestled him and won, that seemingly wasn’t enough to change your mind! New topic! Get these people into the brig.”
“Yes,” Browning said, clapping, as tight-leather clad officers sidled up to grab Richards and Evil-Tilleran. “Off to the brig with them.”
“Don’t go far,” Richards rasped weakly as he was dragged off.
“So,” Browning said, turning to Sefelt. “What’s next?”
“You ask me. You and your husband run the show.” Evil-Sefelt stared at his fingernails. “Apparently.”
“Yes. Right. We run the show. Wait. My husband?”
“I’m in no mood for your flirtation. You made your choice and you’ll have to live with it.” Evil-Sefelt turned toward the door to the transporter room. “To the bridge, then?”
“Yes. Let’s go there,” Browning said, stepping behind Sefelt and following him to the bridge, as she had no idea where the bridge was.
“Thanks, Doctor Bashir,” Lt. Commander Tilleran said, tapping the channel closed, as Counselor Peterman stepped into her office doorway. Outside, through the transparent aluminum windows, she could see a couple of her officers busy working on various projects in Science Lab One.
“So?” Peterman asked, moving over to Tilleran’s desk and sitting down on the corner.
“It’s a match all right,” Tilleran said. “Our mirror-universe doubles are definitely from the so-called dark universe with the Klingon- Cardassian alliance.”
“Creepy, but that’ not what I meant. Did Julian say hello?”
“Did he mention me?”
“No, your name didn’t come up.”
“Damn it all!” Peterman said. “That’s two of my high-profile peers in the last few weeks to blow me off! Why do people keep doing that?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. So how about our two crewmates who are lost in the evil universe?”
“Oh,” Peterman said, blanching. “Yes. Chris and Janice. What are we going to do?”
“Initially, I thought we should try to recreate the conditions of the first experiment that opened up the gateway into the evil universe, but then I realized that first experience rendered everyone in the science lab unconscious.”
“Are they going to be okay?”
“Doctor Wilcox is caring for them in Sickbay now,” Tilleran said. “She did say hi, by the way.”
“Nice! So what do we do?”
“We wait for the evil Richards and Browning to wake up and we talk to them.”
“You’re the psychological expert.”
“Yeah, but you can read their minds, what do you need me for?”
“Because if one of them goes off on me, I won’t know how to calm them down!”
“Fair point. I guess I’m just a little nervous to talk to nasty versions of my friends.”
Just then, for no reason in particular, J’hana walked by, sipping steaming v’haspant. She stopped in Tilleran’s doorway, glared at her, hissed, then walked away.
“I’m actually used to it,” Tilleran muttered.
“The…Eradicator?” Browning asked, wrinkling her nose as she stared at the ship’s dedication plaque on the bridge.
“Yes,” Evil-Sefelt snapped, standing behind Browning. “You have a problem with that? You named it.”
Browning read the quote beneath the ship’s name. “‘If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.’” She looked back at Evil-Sefelt. “Who’s Steven Wright?”
“One of your husband’s favorite authors, apparently.”
Browning surveyed the small bridge. She saw a small ship schematic on one of the aft engineering panels, which confirmed what she and Christopher had suspected…this was a Cardassian vessel. But why was it crewed by a bunch of humans and a Betazoid?
Browning glanced up at the helm, where a crew-cutted Ryan Stuart sat boredly, glaring at the viewscreen. At tactical, Adam Keefler folded his arms and glowered at her.
“What are you looking at?” Evil-Keefler asked.
“Nothing,” Browning said, then steadied herself. “What are YOU looking at?”
“N-nothing, JB. Nothing.” And he went back about his business.
“If you’re done scaring the crew, why don’t we get back to business?”
Evil-Sefelt circled the bridge, hands draped behind his back. “The rebels will detect us if we stay in this sector much longer. We have to send another team down there to retrieve the device.”
“Great idea! I volunteer to go back there!”
“Not so fast,” Evil-Sefelt said. “You and your husband botched the last attempt to grab the technology. And since when are you such an independent thinker anyway?”
“Maybe some time away from my…husband…is doing me good.”
“Regardless, I think I should have a chance at grabbing the technology. What it could mean for our people…”
“Well that’s just like you, isn’t it, Sefelt?” Browning snarled, stepping up toe-to-toe with the cretinous second officer. “Look for a sign of weakness, then grab for the glory!”
“Yes. And what’s wrong with that?” Evil-Sefelt snapped.
“Um, nothing…I like that idea too.” Browning thought a moment, and realized suddenly what she had to do. She sidled up to Evil-Sefelt and brushed a hand on his face. “Howard, sweetie, we’re more alike than you know. Maybe I’ve been backing the wrong…horse…all along. Maybe you’re my man.”
“Don’t trifle with a haughty man’s heart,” Evil-Sefelt said under his breath.
“I want you, Howie…I want you with every evil bone in my dastardly body!” Browning snapped, throwing herself into the part (literally) and leaping at Evil-Sefelt, pushing him up against the wall and kissing him viciously.
“Prepare another landing team!” Evil-Sefelt said giddily, between kisses.
“Hi!” Counselor Peterman said, pulling a chair closer to the forcefield as the evil Browning and Richards stirred awake.
“I’ve put enough neural stimulant in the air recyclers to completely revive them,” Tilleran said, standing behind Peterman. “And oooh boy are they in a nasty mood…”
Evil-Richards leapt to his feet. “What are we doing here?” he demanded.
Peterman held up a calming hand. “Just relax, dear. You’re among friends!”
“The hell I am! You chased me from Corsica to Vansibar Three!”
Evil-Browning yawned and stretched like a cat, sidling over to the field. “Chased all the way. Then bang bang, dead girl!”
“Yeah, I could have sworn I blew up your ship,” Evil-Richards said, shaking his head. “You should be dead.”
“Oh,” Peterman said. “Well, that’s…fine. I’m sure my counterpart was troubled…if she could have sought out help, she might have turned her life around and…”
“Focus!” Tilleran snapped. “Listen, you two: Here’s the deal. You’re in an alternate universe. In this universe, your counterparts aren’t pricks…well, most of us aren’t. Anyway, we need you to cooperate with us so we can send you back to the appropriate universe, and get our people back. Do you understand?”
“This is a trick!” Evil-Richards shouted. “You’re trying to take over my ship!”
“Our ship!” Evil-Browning echoed.
“You won’t manage it. You can’t screw with my head and get away with it. When I’m done with you, you’ll wish you were in the sauna!”
“Sauna?” Peterman asked, scratching her head.
“You don’t want to know,” Tilleran said, steadying herself on Peterman’s chair. “Look, all I want to know is, what brought you to this planet…or your version of it?”
“You know very well…stealing brought us there. We were going to rob the rebels of a valuable technology and sell it back to the Alliance.”
“Rebels…Alliance…” Peterman said. “Are you sure you weren’t just playing Risk?”
“You’re more insolent than I remember,” Evil-Richards said.
“I can’t wait to chop you up!” Evil-Browning said, clapping.
Peterman scooted back in her chair. “Time to bring out the secret weapon.”
“Please don’t,” Tilleran sighed.
Peterman reached behind her and pulled out a large-sized padd. She faced it toward the brig chamber and switched it on. “Here. I thought you’d appreciate some comforting images from home.”
Tilleran covered her face as Peterman cycled through the images, gleaned from Memory Alpha’s databanks…chronicles of the Federation’s various experience with the mirror universe, including those of Captains Kirk and Sisko.
“Look! There’s Emporer Spock getting overthrown. And lookie there! The signing of the Klingon-Cardassian peace treaty. Ooh, and the rebels taking Deep Space Nine. Well, that must’ve been nice for us Terrans, huh?”
“The Terran rebels are fools!” Richards snapped. “They have no idea what it is they’re doing.”
“Come again?” Peterman asked.
“The Alliance protects Terrans. Those of us that behave are rewarded for our decent behavior, and treated well,” Evil-Richards said.
“I eat three times a day!” Evil-Browning cheered.
“The rebellion must fall, so that the Alliance may continue to provide stability and protection to all of us,” Evil-Richards sneered.
“Gods,” Tilleran said, throwing her hands up. “Where have all the decent evil people gone?”
“Hold on…” Evil-Stuart said from the helm. “We’ve got a contact bearing zero-four-zero mark one-one-six!”
“Confirmed,” Evil-Keefler announced. “It’s the Explorer!”
Browning’s eyebrows shot up, and she looked at the viewscreen. Had the Explorer found a way to cut through to this universe and save her? Yay!
As the viewscreen cut to a sensor feed of the approaching ship, however, Browning’s hopes were soon dashed. The ship coming toward them was Defiant-class.
“How did Baxter find us?” Evil-Sefelt said. “We’ve been running silent ever since Faustica Prime!”
“He’s good,” Evil-Keefler said in a low voice.
“He’s dead,” Evil-Sefelt said. “Arm weapons. Come about and take an attack posture.”
“We’re being hailed,” Evil-Keefler announced.
“On screen,” Evil-Sefelt said, waving at the screen.
Browning stepped toward the viewscreen as it switched to a view of a Defiant-class bridge, with Andy Baxter standing in the center, flanked by David Conway, with Zack Ford at the helm.
“Stand down, Imperial Alliance Vessel Eradicator!” Not-so-evil- Baxter said, hands on hips. “You’ve ransacked your last innocent planet!”
Browning gasped. Baxter looked fit, dashing. His hair was high, greased back. His teeth were ultra-white.
Conley looked good too. His eyes didn’t look so…sunken. And he, too, was less paunchy. Even Ford looked like less of an ass.
“Try and stop us, you pompous bufoon!” Evil-Sefelt said, and looked to Browning. “With your permission…”
“Sure,” Browning said. “I mean…no! What are you going to do?”
“Destroy him, of course. We have a superior tactical position. Now is a perfect time to destroy the Explorer!”
“Destroy the Explorer!” the bridge crew chanted, pounding their panels.
“They’re about to open fire!” Evil-Keefler announced.
“Evasive maneuvers,” Browning said, racing to the tactical console. “Get us away from them!”
“Give up and turn yourself in,” Not-so-evil Baxter said. “Don’t be a fool, Sefelt!”
“I’m just sorry your nemesis wasn’t here to witness this,” Evil- Sefelt said, nodding at Evil-Keefler. “Open fire, all weapons!”
“Stop it!” Browning snapped as the Eradicator fired a barrage at the Explorer, causing it to pitch and flip backward, end over end.
“Let me finish this!” Evil-Sefelt said, a wild look in his eyes, as Browning advanced on him, and he pushed her backward. “Let me end him once and for all!”
“STOP THIS INSANITY!” Browning cried, lunging back at Evil- Sefelt.
Evil-Sefelt held Browning at arm’s length and cackled. “Fire, Keefler! More, more! We’ll give his hull to the regent as a lovely gift. Then the Alliance will truly accept us!”
“Their shields are buckling!” Evil-Keefler announced, even as the Eradicator bucked and weaved.
“Take us toward the planet, Moose!” Evil-Sefelt said as Browning flailed at him. “It’s time to see just how bad Captain Courageous wants this kill!”
Browning stopped flailing for a moment and pushed her hair out of her face. “Moose?”
“Yes. That’s Stuart’s nickname. Didn’t you know?”
“I must have missed it,” Browning said, wondering for a moment if her Stuart was also nicknamed “Moose.” Then again, did it really matter?
“The Explorer is pursuing us into the ionosphere!”
“Z-plus five degrees,” Evil-Sefelt announced. “Tractor beams.”
“What are you doing?” Browning demanded.
“Something I should have done long ago. Your husband liked to toy with Baxter. I think part of him, deep down, liked having a nemesis. I think of him more as a nuisance, however, and he needs to be put down. Tractor beams on full, Keefler. Push him down!”
Browning watched helplessly as the Eradicator’s tractors latched onto the Defiant-class Explorer and pushed it downward.
“Now, fire all quantums!” Evil-Sefelt shouted barely-restrained animus.
Eradicator launched a full barrage at the out-maneuvered Explorer, before she could course-correct, and sent her plummeting, engines on fire, toward the surface.
“Eradicator, this is Explorer,” Baxter’s voice came resonating over the conn. “I want it made clear that even though we’re probably going to die, we’ll be doing so for a noble purpose. It’s never foolish to give your life to a cause you believe in, and above all else, the Terran rebellion believes in…ZHHHHHHHHHRT!”
“Andy!” Browning shouted, running toward the viewscreen, recoiling as the “Explorer” slammed into the planet’s surface and exploded.
Sefelt wiped his hands together. “Now then, that’s done. I believe we were about to have sex, were we not?”
“So have we figured out what the device down on Seneca Six actually does?” Baxter asked, looking around the conference table at a confused and weary-looking senior staff.
“The original design specs were that it was supposed to siphon tectonic energy from the planet’s lower geothermal layers and use it to fuel the planetary terraforming project,” Lt. Commander Tilleran said. “To put it in simple terms, at least.”
“Then what went wrong?” Baxter asked, pivoting to Hartley. “And put it in way simpler terms.”
“It went kablooie,” Hartley said. “Thus, your crack in space-time.”
Baxter stared at the ceiling. “Always with the cracks in space-time. You’d think after all these mishaps someone would think to invent a space-time spackle.”
“We could fill the crack with anti-neutrons,” Tilleran said. “But that would likely destroy the gravitational constant of the universe.”
“So let’s not do that,” Baxter said, turning to Peterman. “Dear, what did you learn from your chat with our visitors?”
“That I’m dead,” Peterman said, pulling up her knees and hugging them. “My counterpart over there is dead!”
Baxter shook his head. “Relax, sweetie. I’m sure lots of us are dead over there. It doesn’t sound like a very nice place.”
“I’m not dead,” Tilleran pointed out. “Richards thought I was me. I mean, the other me.”
“So do we have the vaguest idea how to put everybody back where they’re supposed to be?” Baxter asked.
“Well, according to Doctor Bashir, the mirror-universe people used to use a transporter-modification device to travel back and forth between universes. But Starfleet, after several incursion attempts by the mirror universe, finally had all the transporters…including those on the Explorer…upgraded, so they’d be impervious to further incursions.”
“Swell,” Baxter said. “Starfleet does one smart thing, and it comes back to bite us on the ass.”
“We can’t re-start the experiment, either,” Tilleran said. “It’s too risky. The energy release will send our away team into hyperbolic shock just like the scientists we brought back here. Holly still hasn’t been able to bring them around.”
“Sure we can re-start the experiment,” Hartley said, tapping something into a padd. She turned the padd around to show the others at the table. “We just do it from the ship. We use the Explorer’s tractor beam to fuel the energy siphoning device. Then we’ll be able reopen the crack in subspace and wedge it open so that we can use the transporter to get our people out.”
“Sounds almost too easy,” Baxter said sarcastically. “How soon can you guys do that?’
“Couple hours?” Hartley asked, looking at Tilleran, who nodded.
“Good,” Baxter said. “That’ll give me time to head down and introduce myself to our guests.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” Peterman said.
“I don’t think the mirror Richards likes you very much.”
“That’s okay. The one from this universe doesn’t either,” Baxter said. “But I’ll bring J’hana with me just in case. She can handle Richards.”
“There’s no way out of here,” a voice called from the darkness outside Richards’s cell in the Eradicator’s brig. He figured it must have come from one of the other cells.
Richards had been pacing his 6-by-6 cell for the better part of an hour, trying to find a loose panel he could jimmy open and rewire. But so far, no good.
“Who are you?” he asked, approaching the security field. “Let me guess, a version of Larkin with spinning razor-knife attachments.”
“Larkin…I haven’t heard that name in some time. She died bravely.”
“What’s an android?”
Richards sighed. “Then the real Larkin…”
“For a human, she fought well. She almost made it out, but you…the other you…shot her in the back.”
“How did you know her?”
“We both served on the Secondprize. With the rebellion…”
“One of the courier-class raiders.”
“Damn, your voice sounds familiar.”
Richards heard shuffling in the cell opposite his, and suddenly an overhead light came on in the cell, illuminating it and its lone occupant.
The Andorian looked small, defeated. She wore a blase jumpsuit, and was curled in a ball, staring at Richards.
“How do you know my name. Is there…another me…in your universe? Do you know her?”
“You could say that,” Richards said, sitting heavily on the bench in his cell.
“Is she…is she respected?”
“Feared, is more like it.”
“Yeah. What about you?” Richards shifted uncomfortably, finding the conversation suddenly awkward. “I mean, you seem to be doing okay for yourself.”
“I am a permanent guest in the Eradicator’s brig. Chris and JB keep me here for their amusement. I tried to tell Captain Rydell I shouldn’t go on the away team. That he should have sent Hawkins or T’Parief. But he wouldn’t listen. He said I needed to screw up my courage…whatever that meant.”
“It’s courageous to go on living in this brig. The J’hana I know would’ve committed ritual suicide long ago.”
“Brave woman. I’d like to meet her.”
“Oh, I’m sure she’d like to meet you too,” Richards said, taking a deep breath. He knew J’hana’s tastes all to well. This would fulfil many of her most narcissistic fantasies.
“Perhaps, sometime, it will be so.”
“Yeah. Meanwhile, you know any way out of here?”
“As I said, it’s impossible. The Alliance designs their prison cells quite well.”
“Well, I can’t just sit here.”
“Can I recite some poetry for you? I’m quite good at the Terran forms. I especially like the ‘villanelle.’”
“That’s okay, maybe late…”
“‘And you, my father, there on the sad height/Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray….”
“Somebody! Help me!”
Suddenly, Richards really wished his J’hana would show up, phasers firing, and then make violent love to him.
“‘Do not go gentle into that good night./Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’”
Yes. Suddenly that sounded really nice.
“Hey buddy,” Baxter said, munching a banana as he stared across the forcefield at the rabid-looking Evil-Richards, who stalked back and forth in the cell, while Evil-Browning struggled to keep up with him.
“Get out of my sight, you imbecile!” Evil-Richards snapped. “Can’t you see I’m plotting my escape?”
“Imbecile!” JB snapped.
“Yeah, well that’s the problem,” Baxter said. “We can’t just let you escape, seeing as you’d probably gut us all.”
“Gut you all!” JB said eagerly.
“Yeah, that’s disturbing. Look, we’re going to get this resolved soon, and you’ll be back in your own evil universe, doing all the naughty stuff you had planned. That’ll be nice, won’t it?”
Evil-Richards stepped so close to the forcefield that it crackled. “If I could just reach through this forcefield and tear out your voicebox…”
“Sounds like fun,” Baxter said. “Look, can I get you a magazine or something while you wait?”
“DIE! DIE BLEEDING OUT OF EVERY ORIFICE!”
“Okay, no magazine. Maybe later,” Baxter said, backing toward the door. “Try to have some lunch. You can’t rave madly on an empty stomach…ciao!”
“Feel better?” Peterman asked, standing outside the brig doorway, arms folded.
“Huh?” Baxter asked, glancing back at her. “About what?”
“About things between you and Chris? Did getting yelled at by the evil Christopher somehow make you feel like you did your penance?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Baxter said, and headed down the corridor.
“Things haven’t been right with you two since the whole Janice thing. No matter how hard you try to cover it up, you know I’m right.”
“Chris and I are fine. He’s not like you. He doesn’t bring up stuff that happened over a year ago again and again.”
“Nicely deflected,” Peterman said, catching up to Baxter. “But this isn’t about us. You know that.”
“Sorry, then what the hell is it about?”
“It’s about you and Chris. You guys need to be adults and talk this thing out, just like you and I did.”
“You and I talked it out?”
“Oh, I must’ve blocked it out.”
“Oh, look at the time. I have to get to the bridge. Time to screw with Mother Nature again!” Baxter leaned over and kissed Peterman on the forehead. “Later, babe!”
“We think the rebels may have been trying to activate the device to siphon energy into containment units for their fleet, when the device was activated and they were all…knocked out,” Evil-Sefelt said, puffing a cigarette as he lay, naked, on the ruffled bed in what Browning assumed were her quarters.
“Uh-huh,” Browning said, hugging all the sheets around her, curled in a sad little ball. “Could I just have a minute to, um…gather myself?”
“Wasn’t it good?” Evil-Sefelt asked with a bored glance at Browning.
“Yeah, it kinda was, which is what’s disturbing me.”
“You realize it’s over between you and Richards now, right? He doesn’t tolerate disloyalty. So either you put him in the sauna or he’ll put you there. If he comes back from the other universe, that is…”
“Sauna? That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“Haha. You WOULD say that. You’ve sent so many of our best people there…”
“Back to the plan…” Browning said, desperately needing a shower; desperately hoping this universe HAD showers. Well, if they had saunas…
“Oh, yes. So they may have tried to trigger the device. But no matter. We beamed the scientists up for interrogation and elimination. Meanwhile, our science people tell us that the device did extract a large quantity of energy from the planet’s tectonic plates, just as it was designed to. Only problem is, it ripped open a time-space window at the same time…as you discovered when you beamed down.”
“A window we have to reopen if we’re going to get our people back.”
“Slugger already has a plan for that,” Evil-Sefelt said giddily.
“Don’t you hang out with any of our people after-hours? Chief Hartley, of course.”
“Of course. Chief Hartley. What’s her plan?”
“To use the Eradicator’s tractor beam to trigger the device from orbit.”
“Sounds smart,” Browning said.
“Only one small glitch…” Evil-Sefelt said thoughtfully as he puffed his cigarette. “If, by some infinitesimal chance, a ship in the other universe fires a tractor beam at the site at the exact same time, the barriers between universes may collapse altogether, thereby killing us all. Then again, quantum mechanics are so subjective. Let’s give it a go.”
“Do you fear anything, Howie?” Browning asked in disbelief.
Browning shook her head. She’d need Peterman to clear out a whole week in her appointment book, if she ever got out of this.
“So we’re good to go,” Hartley said, leaning on the engineering console on the Explorer’s bridge. “As long as nobody in the other universe fires a tractor beam at the exact same place and time, we’ll be able to do this without destroying the universe.”
“And really…what are the chances of that?” Baxter asked wryly.
“The chances are so slim, it’s not even worth mentioning,” Tilleran said, as she took her station.
“I knew there was a reason I got out of bed this morning,” J’hana said wryly, standing behind her panel. “Although I do recall the promise of killing people…”
“Patience, J’hana,” Baxter said, moving around to the command chair. “Let’s do this thing. Fire up the tractor beam.”
Just then, Peterman stepped out of the turbolift. “Hiya, sweetie. Okay if I join you? I just settled Steffie into her toddlercise class.”
“Sure,” Baxter said. “More the merrier. You ready, Hartley?”
“Just give the word,” Hartley said, poising her hand over the tractor controls.
“I expect no errors, Slugger. Proceed!” Evil-Sefelt said, standing on the bridge of the Eradicator. He and Browning were freshly showered, but because she had to shower with the evil Sefelt, she felt even less clean now than she did before.
Still, if this tractor beam thing worked, her problems were over. Browning folded her arms. “Yeah…proceed…”
The Explorer fired her tractor beam, while at the same time, the Eradicator fired hers. As the tectonic devices at the respective laboratory sites exploded in a massive ball of energy that blew a good size chunk out of each universe’s version of Seneca Six and sent both the Explorer and Eradicator spinning out of control. Meanwhile, each universe’s Megan Hartley stared at the off-the-scale readings and the crumbling space-time barriers, cursing aloud the minute chance that something like this could have happened.
Evil-Browning grabbed Evil-Richards as the Explorer pitched out of control, knocking them against the wall of the brig.
“What’s happening?” Evil-Browning asked.
“I don’t know, but I know who caused it…that goddamn Andy Baxter! I swear to god, my little poison tart…I will KILL THAT MAN!”
“‘I should have loved a thunderbird instead/At least when spring comes they roar back again./I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead./(I think I made you up inside my head.).’”
“SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!” Richards cried, gripping the wall uselessly as the Eradicator spun out of control.
“Sylvia Plath was so misunderstood…” the Not-so-evil-J’hana observed.
“Emergency power to engines! Stabilize!” Baxter called out, crawling across the deck and grabbing the helm station to steady himself.
“No power to the helm, Captain! But thanks for asking!” Lt. Madera asked, her arms and legs wrapped around the helm console.
“How about you, Howie?” Baxter asked, glancing at ops.
“All bodily functions lost, sir!”
“Fabulous,” Baxter said, as the red alert klaxons boomed and the bridge lighting went deep, red and moody. “Somebody get me a status report!”
“Our status is we’re fwarked!” J’hana barked from tactical.
“Be more specific!” Peterman called out, clinging to the railing that surrounded the command chairs.
“We’re fwarked up the ass!” Hartley called out, pounding at the engineering console.
And just as suddenly, all was silent.
The bridge lighting flickered back on.
Baxter grabbed the back of Madera’s seat and hoisted himself up.
“Somebody should spare you the trouble and just install some handlebars back there,” Madera muttered.
“Sensor report. Where are we? Is there still a universe?”
“Very likely, considering we all still exist,” Tilleran said, tapping her console.
“Or do we?” Peterman asked.
“This is no time to get philosophical, honey,” Baxter said, turning to Hartley. “Well?”
“What were the frigging odds!” Hartley snapped. “I would have had better luck winning the Ferengi lottery!”
“Somebody tell me something,” Baxter said, looking around the smokey bridge, at all the murmuring crew.
“There’s another ship out there, bearing oh-five-four mark two- seven-one,” Tilleran said. “Cardassian. Kelden-class. But hold on… its neutrino signature is not quite right… “
“Great!” Baxter snapped. “We’re in the mirror universe! God damn it, we did it now!”
“Be glad we have a universe at all,” Hartley said. She tapped her panel. “Wait a minute. Something’s not right here…”
“Just one thing?” Baxter asked.
“Detecting another ship coming in on an intercept course,” J’hana announced. “And, oddly enough, not detecting Seneca Six at all…”
“I’m about to get really, really cranky here…” Baxter warned.
“I think that’s the least of our problems,” Hartley said, as all the color drained out of her face. “That ship looks to be Ebullient-class. And the only Ebullient-class ship ever built was stolen by…”
“We’re being hailed…” J’hana said.
“On screen…” Baxter said warily.
On the viewscreen, the grand, grinning visage of Travis Dillon appeared, maniacal, bearded, and scarred. Behind his command chair, a huge smiley face logo loomed. “Hey there, it’s the Explorer folks! Am I happy to see you!”
TO BE CONTINUED. . .
Not to be outdone in the disturbing department, the Happys show up to rain terror once more on the Explorer crew. Stuck between a rock and a happy place, what’s Baxter to do but gut it out and try to get these two universes to just make up and get along? One thing’s for sure, nobody’s going to be happy with the way this thing turns out…