Disclaimer: These characters don't belong to me.
He couldn’t breathe.
His lungs were laboring desperately for air, but there was none to be had. He was going to die here, with a shuttlecraft for a coffin, never seeing his wife and children again. Never seeing Geordi again. Unable to see anything or anyone that mattered to him as he died.
He realized that wasn’t precisely true. He could choose to die looking out at the stars he’d made it his life’s work to explore. He could die looking into the vast depths of space.
With a violent, wrenching effort, he turned his head and gazed out the viewport.
The stars were the last thing he saw before the blackness took him.
Daystrom Soong expected to be dead. It was something of a shock, therefore, to open his eyes and find himself in the Enterprise’s sickbay. A few feet away he saw a familiar, blue-gowned figure. She was facing away from him, studying a computer padd, but there could be no mistaking the red hair spilling over her shoulders. Dr. Crusher, he thought with a surge of relief.
He hadn’t died after all. They must have gotten him out just in time.
“Doctor—“ he whispered. Even to his own ears his voice sounded faint, hoarse, and he realized his throat was sore. Too much gasping for air, probably. He had a hell of a headache, too. Must have slammed his head against something. Good thing his skull was so hard.
Despite the pain, he managed to lift his head slightly and tried again. “Doctor.”
Crusher turned around. “Well,” she said. “You’re awake.”
Day flashed her a rueful grin. “I guess I was lucky,” he said.
“You might say that,” Crusher said. “Then again, you might not.”
What the hell did she mean by that? He didn’t like the way she was watching him, with the kind of cautious look he’d seen her reserve for Romulans and Borg. He got the distinct feeling she had some bad news to impart, like he’d lost a limb or something. Crusher had never had much of a poker face.
His heart rate climbed, and he heard the monitor over his head start beeping. “I thought I was dead.”
“You came pretty close. You were without oxygen longer than we would have liked. I was afraid you had some brain damage.”
“But I don’t. Do I?” He couldn’t see how that was possible, because he felt perfectly normal. Sure, his head felt like it was on fire, but his mind was clear. He knew perfectly well who he was and where he was.
Crusher paused for a long moment. “No. You’ve got a concussion, and you’ve been out for a long time, but you seem to have come through it well enough.”
And yet she still looked at him as if she was trying to bluff with a pair of threes in her hand. There was something else she wasn’t telling him, he was certain. “But?”
“I think you need to talk to the captain.”
“The captain? Beverly, what the hell is going on?”
Crusher turned away from him and hit her combadge. “Captain,” she said to the air. “He’s awake.”
“On my way,” Picard’s crisp tones replied.
Crusher shot Day one last, uneasy look and moved away from him. He tried to sit up and go after her, demand that she explain what was going on, but he couldn’t seem to move his body. At first he thought he’d been paralyzed, and an icy fear gripped him. But in a moment he realized he could feel his legs perfectly well.
He was being restrained by a force field.
Were they afraid he was going to hurt himself when they told him whatever news they had? Good God, had something happened to Tasha or the girls? He felt himself break out in a cold sweat. The monitor beeped, and he forced himself to breathe deeply, to slow his pounding heart.
The doors to sickbay opened, and Picard strode in.
“Captain,” Day gasped. He took another deep breath and forced himself to speak more evenly. He had to be calm. He was second-in-command of this vessel, and hadn’t gotten to that position by panicking. “Captain. What’s going on?”
Picard walked toward him. On his stern face there was an expression of caution, of wariness, that mirrored Crusher’s. He paused at Day’s side.
“Who are you?” he said.
Day felt his mouth drop open. Whatever he’d expected, that wasn’t it. “I beg your pardon?”
“I asked for your name.”
Day felt the universe wobble, then steady, as he began to understand what was going on. Picard was just trying to make sure he knew his name and rank. A typical question to ask someone who’d received a blow or two to the head, although he couldn’t quite work out why Crusher wasn’t the one asking.
“Commander Daystrom Soong, Executive Officer, Enterprise 1701-D,” he said crisply. He gave Picard a wry smile. “May I please get up now, sir?”
“No.” Picard looked down at him and did not return the smile. “My executive officer is Commander William Riker.”
Commander William Riker, the first executive officer of the Enterprise, had died some five years earlier. That’s odd, Day thought. I’m the one who hit his head, and yet he’s the one who’s losing his mind.
Which was, of course, ridiculous. It was impossible to imagine Jean-Luc Picard out of control of his own mind. Picard was the sanest person he’d ever known.
Panic and confusion clawed at his chest, but he struggled for a calm tone. “I’m afraid I don’t understand, sir.”
“I know you don’t, Commander. Tell me about the anomaly you were investigating.”
Did Picard think the anomaly had somehow affected his mind? “Uh...” he said, then forced himself into professional mode. “It appeared to be a spatial anomaly, rather than temporal. Lieutenant Commander Maddox thought it might be a kind of bridge, a gateway, between two...”
His voice trailed off as a horrible suspicion occurred to him. Picard offered a faint smile that held no trace of humor.
“I see you are beginning to understand.”
“No,” Day said faintly. “It can’t be.”
“I’m sorry, Commander. But it appears that you traded places with your counterpart from this universe.”
“You mean I’ve switched universes?”
“I’m afraid so, Commander.”
The panic was back. It slammed into him with the force of a phaser blast, knocking the breath out of him. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. He had responsibilities. His family. Tasha.
He closed his eyes for a long moment, then opened them and stared at Picard. Never in his life had he felt so helpless, and he focused on Picard as if the man were a lifepod, the only thing keeping him from drowning in vacuum. Maybe this wasn’t his Picard, but the firm resolve in those eyes was the same.
He had served under Jean-Luc Picard for five years, and he trusted the man with his life. Somehow, by hook or crook, Picard always managed to escape every disastrous situation he got caught in. If anyone could get Daystrom out of this horrendous mess, Picard could.
“You have to help me,” he said in a harsh whisper. “Please. You have to help me get home.”
“This sounds crazy,” Geordi said, “but Data said he had been dreaming about you and your life.”
Day sat at the conference table in the captain’s ready room. It was late in the evening, around twenty-three hundred, but the senior staff had been assembled the moment he’d been able to get up. Around the table were arrayed Geordi, Picard, and Troi, whose chocolate eyes were wide with Betazoid empathy as she stared at him, doubtless absorbing the bleakness of his thoughts. And a Klingon security officer, of all things, watching him through narrowed, suspicious eyes lest he should suddenly transform into a Borg and start zapping people. A Klingon member of the staff. Who could have imagined such a thing?
And Commander William Riker.
He remembered Riker, of course, but the man had had the misfortune to be killed early in the Enterprise’s mission, and he’d never gotten to know him very well. It hadn’t bothered him much, being promoted in his place. But it was peculiar as hell seeing Riker now, like looking at a ghost.
He wasn’t sure where Tasha was, and found he didn’t want to ask.
“Dreaming about me?” he said dubiously. Data, they had told him, was an android, his counterpart in this universe. Apparently here his father had refused to give up. He’d kept making androids until he succeeded.
And had never bothered to have a real child.
“Yeah. He told me all sorts of details about your life.”
“How can an android dream?”
“Dr. Soong gave him a dream program,” Geordi explained. “For the past couple of days, every time he activated it, he dreamed about you.”
“That’s weird,” Day said. “Because for the past couple of days, I’ve been dreaming about being an android.”
“We think it may be a function of the space we’re traveling through,” Riker said. He had a tendency to puff out his chest when he talked, and Day had rapidly developed the unshakeable opinion that he was a pompous ass. Of course, to be fair, the guy probably wasn’t real comfortable with him, knowing he’d taken his place in his own universe. “The two universes are closer to each other in this region of space.”
“It’s like space is flatter here,” Geordi said, picking up the trail of Riker’s thought. “So we’re closer to our counterparts here. Somehow you and Data were picking up on that fact more easily than the rest of us.”
“Does that have something to do with the fact that he’s a robot?” They’d already explained to him that Data was an android, not a robot, but Day was unimpressed by their logic. He believed in calling a spade a spade, and a man with gears where his brains ought to be was a robot in his book.
Geordi nodded. “I think it has something to do with his dream program, yeah. I think somehow his dream program was affecting you. I just wish I knew more about it.”
“Hasn’t he been a crewmember for several years?”
“His dream program was only recently activated,” Riker interjected. Day noticed the chest puffing out again. The guy had to be part pouter pigeon.
“So you don’t have a clue how it works.”
Geordi sighed. “That’s more or less the case, yeah.”
Day looked at Geordi thoughtfully. His friend looked pretty much the same as he did in his own universe, but he gathered he wasn’t married to Leah here. Probably because he himself had been the one to introduce them, years ago. “You said he was dreaming about me. Were the dreams accurate?”
After a few moments of comparing notes they had established that Data’s dreams had been more than dreams. They had been episodes of Day’s life, beyond any shadow of a doubt. Weird, Day thought with a shiver.
Big Brother had been watching him.
Of course, he was pretty sure he’d been dreaming about Data, too, but his memories were hazy at best. Unlike a machine, he didn’t have laser-sharp memories of his dreams. Lieutenant Commander Data knew a hell of a lot more about him than he knew about Data. It was damned disturbing.
“So do you think he still might be dreaming about me over in the other universe?” he queried.
“It depends. He might not have made it. He could be dead,” Geordi said, looking as unhappy at the thought as Day imagined his Geordi would look under similar circumstances. Evidently he—Data—and Geordi were friends here, too. “But if he’s okay, then yeah, he might. Assuming he thinks to turn on his dream program. It’s voluntary with him. He doesn’t have to dream, or sleep.”
That had to be a big timesaver, Day reflected. He never had enough hours in the day to get everything done. “So can we get a message through to him, do you think?”
“I guess it depends. It seemed like he was dreaming about you in real time. If he happened to have his dream program activated at the same time we were trying to communicate with him, then yeah, I guess maybe we could.”
“What message would we send?” Day asked.
Captain Picard leaned forward. Intensity flared in his hazel eyes. “We would need to tell him to stay here, in this location, until we work out a method to return you to your respective spaces. We don’t dare move out of this region, lest we somehow alter the conditions that allowed the anomaly to arise in the first place. The other Enterprise must stay in this region of space.”
The other Enterprise must stay in this region of space.
Data awoke and stared into his darkened quarters. For approximately four-tenths of a second he processed the dream he had just experienced. Then he spoke into the darkness.
“Computer, tell me the location of Captain Picard.”
The cultured, polite tones of the computer responded. “Captain Picard is in his quarters.”
Probably asleep, Data realized. According to his internal chronometer, it was past twenty-three hundred. His programming did not allow him to awaken superior officers for frivolous reasons. But in his opinion this was not trivial in the least.
“Lieutenant Commander Data to Captain Picard,” he said.
There was what Data perceived as a very long pause, although to a human the less than two seconds that passed would have seemed quite brief. At last the captain’s voice said groggily, “Yes?”
“Captain, I am sorry to disturb you at this hour, but it is important.”
“Can’t it wait until morning?”
At oh-five-hundred, the Enterprise would be leaving to proceed onward to the Klingon colony. Data spoke firmly. “No, sir. It cannot wait.”
Picard sighed audibly. “Very well, Commander. Come to my quarters, please.”
“I have not been entirely honest with you, Captain.”
Data sat in a chair in Picard’s quarters. So far as he could see, this captain was exactly like his own in all particulars. His bookshelves were filled with volumes of Shakespeare, James Joyce, and Toni Morrison, as well as the entire series of Dixon Hill novels. And he was sitting across from Data, clad in black silk pajamas and drinking a beverage that Data’s nasal sensors had instantly identified as tea, Earl Grey, hot.
“I am not precisely surprised to hear that, Commander.”
The dry wit in Picard’s tone was not lost on Data. He went on, “I am aware that no one in this universe is familiar with Soong-type androids. As such, I felt it prudent to keep certain details to myself.”
“And those certain details would be?”
“Although I am an android, I am able to dream,” Data said. “In fact, my dream program was only enabled two-point... approximately three months ago. But for two nights before I came here, I dreamed of this universe, and of Daystrom Soong.”
Picard lifted the cup to his lips and drank. Above the rim of his cup his eyes observed Data with alert interest. “You claim you dreamed of us before you met us, Commander?”
“Yes. And everything I dreamed was accurate. In fact...” Data paused, recalling an old human expression. “You could say my dreams have come true.”
“You are surely aware that sounds a trifle unbelievable, Mr. Data. One might even say... insane.”
“I am indeed aware of that, Captain, which is the reason I chose not to disclose it. I felt it would be difficult enough to make you believe I was sentient, given your lack of prior experience with artificial lifeforms. Adding suspicions that I was unbalanced, or that I had been spying on you somehow, did not seem likely to improve the situation.”
“But something has changed.”
“Yes. I activated my dream program earlier this evening. And I dreamed of Daystrom Soong.”
Picard put the cup down on the table, evidently harder than he had intended. It clattered against the saucer. “Daystrom?” he repeated.
“Yes. I dreamed he was in my own universe.”
Picard stared at him for a long moment. “You believe these dreams are real,” he said at last.
“I am fairly certain of it, sir. Every detail I dreamed of this universe has been verified by my observations.”
“Surely you could be deluded somehow.”
Data frowned as he contemplated the question. “It is impossible to be certain one is not deluded, sir. If I were insane I would be incapable of realizing it. But it does not seem reasonable to proceed from the premise that I am deluded.”
Data lifted his shoulder. “Can you be certain you are not insane, sir? Can you be certain you are really on the Enterprise, and not simply imagining it?”
“I take your point. But I have people who can vouch for me. You are a stranger to us.”
“I understand that you may believe I am deluded, sir. But I think you can understand why I may not proceed from that premise.”
Picard lifted his cup and gazed into it as if attempting to read the future. “Let us assume for now that you are rational, Commander. What, precisely, did you dream?”
“Commander Soong is alive and well, although he was barely removed from the shuttle in time. Like me, his shuttlecraft lost life support, but unlike me, he requires oxygen. He was unconscious for most of a day, due partly to a blow he took to the head. When he awakened, Captain Picard apprised him of the situation, and he joined the senior staff in an attempt to determine how we can be returned to our proper universes.”
“And what conclusions were drawn?”
“We must stay here, sir.”
Picard’s eyebrows drew together. “That is not possible. We have a mission to complete.”
“Nevertheless, sir, that is the message your counterpart wished me to give you. That is precisely what he said.” Data allowed his voice to drop momentarily into an exact imitation of Picard’s clipped tones. “The other Enterprise must stay in this region of space.”
Data reverted to his own mild tenor voice. “Geordi—the Geordi of my universe-- believes that space is... thinner here. That we are somehow closer to the other universe in this region. In all likelihood that is why the anomaly formed here, and it may be impossible for it to form somewhere else, even if we learn how to make it form.”
“Interesting,” Picard said. “Yet Commander Maddox’s readings indicate it could form anywhere in the quadrant.”
Data recalled that Maddox’s readings had indicated that. But given a choice between Maddox’s deductions and Geordi’s, he would side with Geordi any day. He was of the opinion that Maddox possessed all the intellect of a Beridian paper moth. He forbore to say so, however, aware that Starfleet protocol prevented him from making uncomplimentary remarks about other officers, no matter how deserved.
“Perhaps,” he suggested, “the anomaly was stronger in the other universe, making it easier to take readings.”
“I suppose that is possible. Assuming that your crew is correct, what will happen if we leave?”
Data cocked his head. “The other Enterprise will be holding this position in the hopes that we will do likewise. If we leave this area, it is possible we may not cross paths again, and thus we may not be able to make contact with them again. If that happens, I believe the human expression is... you will be stuck with me.”
The Klingons were not happy.
Data could hear the shouting from his quarters, which were naturally just down the hall from where the Klingon delegation was quartered. Most of the shouting was directed at Captain Picard, and much of it was in Klingon. Street Klingon, in fact, which was easily one of the most obscenity-filled dialects in the entire Klingon empire.
It was actually quite remarkable how many curse words the Klingons could manage to crowd into each sentence.
At last a sharp, high voice managed to make itself heard over the baritone bellowing. “Quiet down! That’s enough!”
Data recognized Tasha’s voice. The Klingon voices began jeering and making suggestive comments. He suspected they were unimpressed by a small, slender, female security chief.
There was a thud as one of them was thrown against the wall. The voices immediately took on a more respectful tone.
“Captain,” one of the Klingons said in a more placating tone, “surely you realize the importance of this mission.”
Data noticed the man had switched from the street dialect to High Klingon. Captain Picard might not notice, given that he would be listening to the man’s speech as processed through the universal translator. Picard did speak a few words of Klingon, but not enough to allow him to understand long, rapidly spoken sentences. He would surely notice the lack of obscenities, however. Sure enough, his words were correspondingly conciliatory.
“I do understand,” he said. “But my crew is facing a crisis. We have lost a man. If it were merely that, I might carry out our mission as planned. But there is a danger here, something that we must investigate thoroughly, lest more ships be trapped as we were.”
“Danger!” the Klingon snapped. “You prate of danger! Human fool—“
He shifted dialects again, but before he uttered more than a few words Picard snarled a Klingon word so vile men had been put to death on Kronos for uttering it. It was, perhaps, the most vulgar word in the Klingon language. Roughly translated, it meant coward.
It seemed to have the desired effect. For a moment there was a shocked silence. It took a lot to shock Klingons, Data reflected. But Picard seemed to have managed it.
Then pandemonium broke loose.
Data heard the sound of a phaser being fired, and his automatic responses took over. In this quantum reality he was a guest, with no more authority to involve himself in security matters than any other civilian. But Picard was in danger. And so was Tasha.
The doors slid aside as he went through them at top speed. Picard was surrounded by a small knot of security personnel, all of them holding phasers. But they weren’t firing them any more. Data glanced down the hallway and perceived the reason. The biggest Klingon had Tasha in an unbreakable grip.
And a knife was pressed against her throat.
Read Chapter 6 here.