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She hadn’t even noticed Alex Clancy approach her table or hear him speak to her, that’s how focused she had been on her thoughts while poking what was left of the hasperat souffl on the plate in front of her.

“Come again?” she said, looking up at him from where she was sitting in the upper section of The Nest, Eagle’s largest crew lounge spread out over the forward most sections of deck nine and ten.

Nora Laas had met Alex Clancy properly for the first time a bit over a year earlier when the assistant counselor had been assigned to work on a homicide case with her. She had been furious at first that Commander Star had forced her to work with him, believing it to be a petty move designed to undermine her investigation or, at the very least, spy on the progress of a case which Star had lobbied hard to lead herself.

Laas had been surprised when she had realized, over the course of their investigation, that she and Alex worked well together and—while she had never admitted it openly—had started to take a likening to the dashing young counselor.

In a brief moment of weakness on her part, that attraction had very nearly turned physical before she had quickly shut things down. But that awkward episode on an early morning in the ship’s gym had not stopped her from ultimately befriending Clancy and they had remained close ever since.

“I was wondering if this seat’s taken,” he said.

She looked down at the empty chair as if seeing it for the first time, then she nodded and returned her focus on the remainder of her lunch. “Knock yourself out.”

He placed his tray on the table, took a seat and started to munch on his green and red, leafy salad. “So, this is kind of weird, isn’t it?” He said while happily chewing his food.

She looked up at him with a quizzical look.

Clancy used his fork to indicate their surroundings. “All this alternate universe stuff.”

She nodded slowly and then returned to poke her hasperat.

“There is some rampant speculation onboard about who has an alter ego on the other Eagle and what they might be like,” Clancy continued.

Laas just uttered a little grunt to that.

“Do you know if you have one?”

She looked up again. “Huh?”

“A doppelganger? Another you.”

She shrugged. “I’m dead here.”

“I see,” he said and then put down his fork.

“You see what?”

“She was not you, Laas.”

This time when she made eye contact again, she outright glared at him. “Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Try to psychoanalyze me over lunch.”

He shook his head. “I’m not trying to. But something is obviously bothering you. And I mean more than usual.”

“Well, I can tell you right now that it’s not the fact that the woman known as Nora Laas in this universe died while saving this universe’s Gene Edison who went on to become the captain of his Eagle,” she said and then, finally fed up with the leftovers of her lunch, dropped her fork onto the plate and pushed it away from her.

“Okay.” He went back to eating his salad but spoke up again after a few seconds. “I hear that the other Edison is currently onboard along with his version of Xylion and Lieutenant Deen.”

She nodded without looking at him.

“I wouldn’t mind meeting Edison. I never had a chance to do so when he was alive and from everything I’ve ever heard, he was a good man.”

“You said it yourself, they are not the same.”

He nodded and shoved another fork full of salad into his mouth. “From what I hear they’re having a big meeting down in the science lab,” he said and then continued when Laas gave him a dark look, as if not appreciating that he was aware of matters which were clearly outside of his purview. “You have three people who are the spitting image of our own running around on the ship. That’s the kind of news you can’t keep contained on Eagle.”

“Perhaps you should concern yourself more with your work and less with the gossip grapevine,” she said, sounding perhaps a little sharper than she had intended.

He took it in good spirits, shrugged and munched on his lunch. “Perhaps.”

“Besides, Gene is hardly the spitting image of our version. There’s the beard, of course, but there are other things, which are very different. There are lots of subtle variances between our universes. Their Eagle may look like this one but I could sense how it’s nothing like ours. I could practically smell it in the air.”

At that, he stopped chewing. “You went over there?”

Laas felt she had said too much.

“You met him, didn’t you?”

“Was difficult not to,” she said quickly. “He practically insisted on joining the away team to the Ring.”

He shook his head slightly. “No, I mean you went to see him on his ship.”

She uttered a little sigh.

“And that’s why you are projecting your feelings so openly. Even somebody without a counselor’s license could tell you are confused and frustrated.”

She shot him another glare but it softened after only a few moments. “Of course, I’m frustrated. This is the man I was in love with. Who died saving my life years ago and whom I was only just about starting to truly get over. And now here he is, alive and well, the same but different. And to make matters even worse, he and I—or he and her—they were in love as well before she died. How is any of this not supposed to confuse the hells out of me?”

Laas took a deep breath and noticed that Alex was just sitting there, watching her vent as he continued to eat his salad in silence. It was odd. She had felt this conflicted ever since she had first laid eyes on Captain Edison, and more so after confronting him in his quarters, but vocalizing her feelings out loud to Alex had actually felt surprisingly good. It hadn’t changed anything, of course, but hearing her say the words, it was almost beginning to make sense. In that twisted and perverse way the universe seemed to work on an almost constant basis.

“So that’s why you’re here instead of in that meeting,” he said. “Giving the man a wide berth, as it were.”

It was starting to annoy her how calm he was about the whole thing. Intellectually, she understood that as a counselor, he had been trained to behave this way, but right now it came across like smugness. Besides, she didn’t want a counselor. “Didn’t I just warn you about the psychology stuff?”

“We’re just having a conversation among friends,” he said, sounding almost defensively.

She leaned over the table a bit. “Doesn’t feel like it too me. And who knows, maybe you have your own personal reasons for not wanting me to be close to Gene.”

She couldn’t tell if he looked hurt or angry by that accusation. Perhaps it was both and he was just doing a pretty good job hiding it. She knew she had aimed pretty low but when she got angry, she had a tendency to hit below the beltline.

“I’m speechless,” he finally said. Her accusation had caused him to lose his appetite all of a sudden.

Laas smiled mirthlessly in triumph. “Well, somebody hand me a medal, then. I managed to make Counselor Alex Clancy shut up for once,” she said, stood and left the Nest.

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