She hadn’t slept very well that night, or really any night since they had arrived in this alternate universe even though she was not usually prone to insomnia.
She hadn’t complained and taken pains to avoid allowing her tiredness to show since she knew that people—even sometimes those who knew her—tended to assume that she was delicate, or even worse, fragile and somebody who needed to be sheltered and protected. That she was far too inexperienced, innocent, and vulnerable to be a senior officer on a Starfleet ship of the line.
Considering her peaceful upbringing and her young appearance mostly due to her people’s inherent genetic profile some may have been forgiven to judge her solely on what they could see.
But DeMara Deen was more than the proverbial pretty face. She had to be in order to survive in Starfleet during one of the most volatile decades in its existence. And it hadn’t been easy for her to reconcile the life she had come to know on her idyllic homeworld with essentially becoming a soldier fighting in a war to protect her adopted home.
She had lost a few nights of sleep after Gene Edison had been killed some years earlier, this had been a hard blow for her and shattered some of that innocence she had still clung to, making her realize, perhaps for the first time, that her life had been forever changed.
Her toughest lesson had come a few months ago when a man she had once known at the Academy—who had been her first real romantic companion—had been senselessly killed only shortly after they had unexpectedly rekindled that passion they had known so many years earlier.
She had not slept well after that.
Nor had she found restful sleep after she had returned to Earth to be reunited with a long-time family friend, only to learn that she could no longer truly understand her own people’s isolationism and their total dedication to pacificism even in the face of an undeniably dark and hostile universe set on chaos and destruction.
And yet, none of those factors were on her mind when she had repeatedly failed to get more than a few hours of slumber over the last couple of nights. It had been one single person who had remained at the forefront of her thoughts ever since she’d encountered her. Somebody she’d never have imagined she’d ever meet in person in this manner.
But not exactly herself rather than some alternate version of her who looked like her, spoke like her and except for some very minor physical differences seemed to be identical to her in every way. Except for—and this had become very obvious to her only shortly after first meeting her double—she did not think like her at all.
DeMara had thought that she had done an admirable job to stay entirely professional and not to show any outward signs of her discomfort around her counterpart. She certainly thought she had handled it better than Nora Laas had after encountering Edison’s doppelganger, although properly not nearly as well as Xylion meeting his alternate version. Either way, the encounter had still profoundly affected her.
So when she stepped into the science lab after another night spent tossing and turning in her bed and she found Captain Edison along with his first officer Xylion and also the other DeMara already in attendance, she decided that she had to confront the matter head-on instead of spending any more long evenings alone with her anxiety.
The timing seemed right. The two Xylions were quietly talking to each other, no doubt discussing possible theories on the Prism artifact which had been secured underneath a forcefield in the lab. Bensu was standing alongside Louise Hopkins who was instructing a few junior engineering officers on final adjustments to the equipment and the captain, along with his father and Jarik who were all due to attend this meeting hadn’t arrived yet. Captain Edison seemed somewhat preoccupied with his thoughts and staring at the doors, appearing almost disappointed when she had entered.
Her counterpart was standing by herself, carefully considering the unremarkable Exhibitor under its forcefield dome.
DeMara stepped up to her and once more was struck by the uncanny resemblance but also how very different she looked with her hair so short, it was very nearly a buzz cut. She had never sported such a look herself, had never even considered ridding herself of her shoulder-long blonde locks, being quite fond of them.
“Do you have a minute?”
The other DeMara looked up and offered her a smile which she thought looked somewhat disingenuous. “Certainly. I’ve been looking forward to a chance to speak to you. I didn’t think you were interested.”
The two women stepped into a corner of the science lab for some added privacy and DeMara gave her a surprised expression. “What makes you say that?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I suppose just the look in your eyes.”
“You’re telling me you weren’t surprised to see another you?” DeMara said.
“Of course, I was,” she said and then glanced right into her purple eyes. “I recognized that look. Not that different from the look you have in those eyes right now. It makes sense that I would, since they are my eyes, too.”
“And what does that look tell you?”
The other DeMara glanced away for a brief moment as if unsure if she should say what was on her mind.
“Please, speak freely. After all, we are the same.”
She shook her head. “That’s just it, I don’t think we are. I suspect we are very different from each other. I mean, yes, we clearly look the same. I can tell in your universe you were cursed by that same aura—the glow, as people like to call it—as I have.”
“Cursed? I like to think of it as a gift.”
The other woman uttered a little laugh but it held little bemusement. “Somehow I am not surprised you’d think that way.”
“Because everything about you practically screams out virtuous saint. The way you wear that ridiculously impractical long hair, the way you speak, the way others around you seem to perceive you.”
DeMara did her best to not take offense by those words. It had been a long time since somebody had successfully hurt her feelings but it wasn’t very often you were admonished by your mirror image.
“I don’t mean to upset you,” her double said when she seemed to sense her thoughts. “You asked me to speak freely.”
“I guess I didn’t expect you to be quite that free.”
“I don’t see myself as a saint. But there is nothing wrong with using my gift—or curse, if you insist—to make life better for the people I care about.”
“And tell me, how often has this gift of yours been abused? How often have the people you cared about asked you to use your so-called gift to suit their needs? To mollify an enemy or give them some sort of advantage?”
DeMara had no immediate response to this. It was true that those kinds of things happened. That Michael would ask her to intercede in certain affairs. Her aura had a calming effect on most people and occasionally such talent came in handy when having to face hostile individuals. But she had never considered it an abuse of her powers before.
“You’re still a lieutenant,” the other DeMara carried on. “Assuming your universe works like mine, I’m guessing by the department color of your shirt that you work in operations,” she said and continued when she received a nod in affirmation. She briefly glanced towards where the two Xylion’s were talking. “With your talents, you should be further ahead in your career by now and be at least a chief science officer, maybe a chief engineer.”
“Progressing my career has never been my priority.”
Her alternate crossed her arms in front of her chest, giving her a little smirk. “So you’re telling me you wouldn’t want to be heading your own science team? Perhaps we are more different than I thought after all.”
In truth, of course, DeMara had always wanted to work in the sciences. That had been her educational background before joining the Academy and what she had been working towards back on Tenaria. She had specialized in astrophysics at the Academy and her first assignment upon graduation had been as a science specialist. She had only ever switched to operations when Michael had suggested the idea after the position became available on the Columbia, the ship on which they had both served.
When Columbia had been lost and Michael had been offered Eagle, she had made the case to become his science officer but Starfleet had balked at the idea of giving somebody so young and inexperienced such a high-ranking position on a ship of the line.
Alternate DeMara was reading her like an open book. “You didn’t insist on it, did you? Why? Because you didn’t feel as if it was your place? Because you didn’t want to upset the order of things? That position was yours to take, but you didn’t fight for things because you are not a fighter.”
“You’re wrong about that,” DeMara said. “I fought in the Dominion War. I had to kill people and as painful of an experience as that was, I understood it was necessary. That it remains necessary to protect my ship, my crew and the Federation itself.”
She shook her head. “I’m not talking about picking up a weapon and defending yourself. I’m talking about fighting for what you want and you deserve. I would never have made science officer if I hadn’t taken it.”
“And how did you do that?”
She smirked again and briefly glanced towards Edison who seemed oblivious to her at present. “I said it’s a curse but if you know how to use it right, it can open doors for you.”
DeMara felt disgusted by the implication.
“Oh don’t give me that self-righteous look. You remind me a lot of myself when I was younger. And you know what I learned then?”
“I’m dying to find out,” she said, sounding perhaps a bit more sarcastic than she had intended.
It just made her counterpart grin before her features hardened. “Everybody loves a saint but it’s the sinners who get the last laugh. Let me give you a little bit of free advice I wish I could have learned sooner in my own life. Toughen up and stop trying to be everybody’s best friend. Start looking out for yourself and take what you deserve.”
DeMara had no idea how to respond to that.
The doors to the science lab opened to allow Michael to enter, followed by his father and Jarik.
“Nice chat,” said the other woman and then turned to rejoin her captain.
DeMara looked after her for a moment, belatedly realizing how wrong she had been about her alternate version. They had absolutely nothing in common.
What she was less sure about was if this was a good or a bad thing.
While Michael approached the Exhibitor at the center of the science lab, Louise came over to join her. “I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to this,” she said, keeping her voice low. “I mean, how weird is it to have Gene Edison here? How about two Xylions? How about two of you? It makes me wonder if they have a version of me over on that other Eagle.”
DeMara was keeping her eyes on her counterpart across the room. “Trust me, you don’t want to find out.”