She ignored the many curious looks and double-takes she received as she determinedly strode down Eagle’s corridors.
This ship, after all, was extremely familiar to her, even if she had never set foot on it before in her life. But as it turned out, the alternate version of Eagle mirrored her own in almost every detail.
After learning from Star that it had been Captain Edison who had insisted that she stayed behind, instead of joining the first officer in her perilous mission to retrieve Garla, she had made a bee-line for the transporter room and asked to be beamed over to his ship.
Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she knew it wasn’t the smartest choice to voluntarily surround herself with people from another universe, including taking the chance of running into her own double. She knew she wasn’t violating direct orders in doing so and Starfleet didn’t exactly have clear regulations about interacting with alternate universe counterparts or if it did, she had never bothered to look them up. But this wasn’t like the Temporal Prime Directive which was mandatory reading material for Starfleet officers since none of her actions would have any direct effect on the timeline of her universe.
The looks on the faces of the crewmembers she passed by, however, made it very clear that she didn’t belong here and they reminded her to some degree of the astonished expression on Gene Edison’s face when he had first spotted her.
At the time she hadn’t thought too much about it since his mere presence had completely thrown her for a loop. She had done, she thought, an admirable job to hide it from the rest of the away team, but in truth, seeing the only man she had ever loved and who had practically died in her arms two years earlier, seeing him alive once more, standing just a few meters from her, it had very nearly broken her.
Her rational mind had played catch-up ever since with the emotional side of her brain having concluded—without a shadow of a doubt—that Captain Gene Edison was not the man she had fallen in love with. He was nothing like him. The beard he wore was the least that distinguished him from her Edison. This man was impulsive, careless and irresponsible, that much he had already proven on the alien structure. Worse, considering how he had made decisions and demands which were never his to make, he was also arrogant and overbearing.
She was resolved to set him straight.
The ship’s computer had helpfully advised her that the captain was in his quarters after she had beamed across, and the transporter technician behind the console had done little more than stare at her wide-eyed as she had simply strode off the platform and headed to where she expected the captain’s quarters to be. So far her only true faux pas had been her failure to be given formal permission to come aboard but as far as she was aware, nobody had ever been court-martialed for this kind of offense.
She located the captain’s quarters in the exact same place they were on her Eagle, except that it was Gene Edison’s name that was printed on the doors instead.
She practically punched the annunciator panel.
It didn’t take long for the doors to open and Edison to appear. His uniform jacket hung loose and unzipped and his hair looked slightly ruffled as if he had just woken up. The dark circles around his eyes, however, seemed to make it clear that he had not gotten a lot of sleep lately.
“Laas?” he said, unable to hide his utter astonishment at seeing her standing outside his quarters.
Her boiling anger abated upon seeing his face again. Yes, the full beard took some time getting used to, but other than that, it was impossible to ignore that he looked identical to the Gene she had known. The man she had thought she’d never see again. She felt her knees weaken despite herself and momentarily forgetting what it was she had come here to say.
“What are you doing here?” he said, still sounding as if he was recovering from the shock of seeing her.
Her rational mind once again won out and she recovered from her state of confusion, her eyes aiming razor-sharp daggers. “You have some nerve, you know that?”
Edison looked passed her and down both sides of the corridor, either wondering if she had come alone or if anyone else had witnessed her arrival. “Come in, please,” he said.
Without a second thought, she pushed herself passed him and strode right into his quarters.
Edison did one last sweep of the corridor before he stepped back to let the door panels slide shut again and then turned around to consider her, taking his time to look her up and down.
Laas didn’t appreciate the way he studied her meticulously but then again, took the same liberty herself since she had only seen him wearing a full-body environmental suit on their previous encounter.
It was startling yet again. His general stance, his facial expression, the way his blonde hairline parted slightly over his brow, even that little thing he did with his right eyebrow whenever he had been concerned or confused, she recognized all of it and seeing it again, it suddenly felt very painful, like looking at a reproduction in the holodeck which had faithfully created all physical details with perfect accuracy but had been unable to imbue this facsimile with a soul.
“I’m so glad you came, Laas,” he said as he took a step closer to her.
It was only then that she was beginning to wonder if she hadn’t made a terrible mistake coming here. She wasn’t even sure anymore what she had hoped to achieve. This was hardly the first time she had acted entirely out of anger or frustration, but she had worked hard over the years to find ways to control that aspect of herself. She had thought she had only recently made a breakthrough when she had opened her mind for the first time in her life to the Prophets of Bajor after unexpectedly coming across a temple dedicated to the gods of her homeworld in the last place she would have ever excepted to find one.
She realized that all that hard work was now in real danger of crumbling and come crashing down on top of her.
“I mean, look at you,” he said, still unwilling to take his eyes off her. “Just look at you,” he said again, a smile now beginning to grow on his bearded face. “You look perfect, Laas. Just perfect.”
She slowly shook her head. “I am not the Nora Laas you know.”
“Of course not,” he said, shaking his head slightly now as well. “Of course you are not. I’m sorry, Laas. It’s just so incredible to see you here like this. Just incredible.”
“This entire thing is strange.”
“Yes,” he quickly agreed. “Very strange, indeed. But, I forget my manners. Let me get you something,” he said and headed for the replicator to order beverages.
She took a step to follow him. “That’s all right, I didn’t come here for—“
“Kava juice?” he said, holding out the replicated drink.
She took the glass gingerly from his hand, looking at it as if she had never seen anything like it before. Then he looked up at his expecting face. “Thanks.”
“It’s your favorite,” he said.
It was quickly becoming clear to her that this wasn’t going well, certainly not at all like she had played it out in her head beforehand. She put the drink down on a table and took a deep breath. “You had me taken off an away mission,” she said sharply. “You had no right doing that.”
“I thought your expertise would be better suited to help us continue studying the structure. I know how capable you are, Laas. I wanted the best person for the job,” he said, putting down his glass.
She shook her head. “It wasn’t your call. You are not my commanding officer and you should have no influence over personnel decisions on my ship.”
“You are right.”
“You put my captain into a difficult position by making these demands and I resent that a great deal, especially since it compromised a vital mission which is now underway without my assistance,” she said.
“I am sorry.”
She just glared at him. She wasn’t sure what she had expected him to say. At the very least some sort of justification, maybe even an argument but certainly not outright capitulation. She didn’t know how to work with that. “You are sorry?”
He nodded. “Yes. You are absolutely right, Laas. I was out of line. Maybe—I don’t know what I was thinking—but maybe, subconsciously, I just wanted you out of harm’s way.”
She uttered a little humorless laugh at that. “Out of harm’s way? I’m head of security. Being in harm’s way is my job description. And it’s not as if that alien structure is any safer. We’ve already seen that.”
He nodded slowly, no doubt thinking about his slain officer.
“You are right. On all counts,” he said with a heavy sigh. “I have exhibited poor judgment, I know that now. But I can’t undo what I’ve done. I can only apologize and promise you that I will not overstep like that again.”
She stared back at him blankly, not sure what she was supposed to say to this while at the same time unable to dismiss that he sounded so much like her Edison, it was becoming increasingly difficult to tell him apart.
He took a few gingerly steps towards her. “I will do whatever is in my power to help you and your crew to find a way back home.”
“I owe you that much.”
“The captain will be relieved to hear that.”
“If your Michael Owens is anything like the one I used to know, he’s a great leader and a good man. I’m still trying to fill his shoes and as you can see, not always that successfully.”
“I’m sure you are doing a decent job,” she said, mostly because she felt she needed to say that.
He shook his head. “We both know that’s not true but thank you for saying that. What was my counterpart like?”
She had dreaded this question. He had apparently already deduced that her Edison was no longer around. “He was a pretty good man as well.”
“Did you and he—were you together?”
She turned around to leave, unable to look him in the eyes when speaking about Gene, unable to talk about him with the man who was his double in almost every way.
He reached out for her arm and pulled her back around gently and Laas surprised herself by offering no resistance, glancing back into his hazel colored eyes.
He nodded. “There was something there, wasn’t there?” he said. “Something meaningful.”
She said nothing and she barely even moved when he stepped closer.
She had no idea how it had come to that, but when his lips pressed themselves onto hers, she could have sworn that it was her Gene kissing her again. For a brief moment, it was like what she thought the Celestial Temple would be like, being surrounded by the Prophets who’d love her without question or condition. For a brief moment, she was back with Gene when things had been as good as they had ever been when she had found the one man she believed she could spend the rest of her days with. Before he had been violently ripped away from her and her world.
It was, perhaps fittingly, the foreign sensation of his prickly beard against her face that forced her open again. Still pressed against the familiar shape of his body, she spotted a picture frame sitting on a shelf on the far wall. It was her smiling face that looked back at her from the animated photograph.
She pushed away from Edison and freed herself from his embrace. “What happened to her?”
He followed her glance towards the shelf and then walked over to the frame. “She died,” he said simply as he stared at her alternate version’s face and her short strawberry blond hair rustling slightly in the breeze. “It was my fault. We were on a mission during the Dominion War. There was a shapeshifter.” It was clear he meant to say more but the words didn’t come over his lips and Laas didn’t prompt him to continue, sensing his pain.
“She saved my life,” he finally said and then placed the frame face down onto the shelf.
She struggled to keep tears out of her eyes.
She knew exactly what mission Edison was talking about. It had been the same mission her Gene had been killed. By that same shapeshifter. Of course, in her version, Gene had saved her and it had been she who had been plagued with survivor’s guilt ever since.
He glanced back at her. “It went differently for you, didn’t it?”
She felt a sudden shiver running up her spine as a sense of fear and confusion gripped her. She shook her head and took two steps backward. “This is wrong. This is so terribly wrong.”
“Laas,” he said.
“No, I should never have come here,” she said, turned around and rushed towards the doors.
“Laas, wait,” he called after her.
She was already out of his quarters heading back towards the transporter room in an ever greater hurry, knowing that she had to get off that ship and away from Gene Edison as quickly as she possibly could.