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“Are you all right?” Icheb’s concerned voice startled Maren out of her thoughts.  She looked up from her PADD, where she had been deeply absorbed in reading some logs from the mysterious comm buoy they’d found that afternoon – specifically, logs that appeared to be her own ... only not.  The Maren O’Connor who had written these logs was living a completely different life.

As best Icheb and T’Pring had been able to reason, despite looking exactly like one of their own, the buoy was from an entirely different universe – possibly having been sucked through a vortex or window in spacetime.  It was labeled with their ship’s name and registry, bore the Federation logo, and was protected with the same encryption protocols as the buoys they had been dropping behind them like breadcrumbs since they departed Federation space for the Delta Quadrant.  But at the quantum level, it resonated at a different frequency – giving them the first hint of a scientific explanation for the disturbing data it contained.

“I’m okay,” she told Icheb, rubbing her eyes. “Just reading some of these logs.” She glanced down at the baby sleeping soundly in the sling across her chest.  It was sad to think there was a universe in which she didn’t exist.

Icheb frowned.  “Captain Oyugo requested we not read our counterparts’ logs.”

Maren shot him a skeptical look.  “Like you didn’t.”

Icheb looked briefly uncomfortable, but admitted, “Yes, I did.”

“Then you know how bad it is.”  She looked up at Icheb in distress.  “You’re dying.  We’re not married; we’re at each other’s throats.  The whole quadrant is in shambles and you’re considering genocide.  I don’t recognize this universe at all, but I do recognize us.  I mean, she thinks like me, writes like me. The way she describes you is so familiar ... Icheb, is this what we would be? If we ever faced this kind of hardship, would we turn on each other? Would you turn away from me?

“Enough.” The conviction behind the order was enough to shut Maren up immediately. She looked up at her husband and a chill went down her spine.  He wore a tortured expression, one she’d never seen before, but one the other Maren had described at length in her writings.  “I want you to stop reading those logs immediately,” he said, in a tone that left little room for debate.  “They only get worse.”

Maren sighed, feeling guilty for questioning him.  “You’re right,” she said.  “I’m sorry.  I just – ”

“I know,” Icheb said, cutting her off.  He walked across the room and planted a kiss on top of her head.  “I wish I hadn’t read them at all.”

The look on his face was still haunted, and Maren wondered exactly how bad things were in this alternate universe.  As he headed toward the bedroom to change out of his uniform, he stopped just short of the door and turned back toward her.  “I would never leave you, Maren,” he said solemnly.  “Never.”



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