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Caught Between Worlds

Caught Between Worlds
2000 hours (8:00 pm)

Considering what the station had endured during the last ten days, everything seemed to be unbelievably calm, as though it had shot through space at max warp and instantly reversed engines.  Life moved on as though nothing had happened.  Personnel relaxed, families enjoyed evenings on the commerce deck, stores, restaurants, and bars became more lively—some perhaps too lively.   

As usual, Captain Chirakis kept her rhythm, wandering around CnC at the same persistent pace.  CnC personnel became weary—especially night watch—and placed bets on her movements (under the table of course).  Was the captain aware?  Of course. Did she care?  No.  In fact, every so often she would stealthily toss in her own bet and, to the surprise and perhaps the embarrassment of those on watch, she would occasionally win.

But tonight was not a night for frivolity.  USS Missouri had just bid farewell to 37 of their best. Her thoughts were heavy with that and the memory of the last ten days.  In honor of the 37 who had passed, she wore formal dress, heavy with ribbons that she seldom wore, nor did she care to.  She would change after midnight, but not before.

Bravo watch had just relieved Delta.  Delta had rendered their commanding officer due respect upon exit, wondering—again—if their commanding officer ever slept.  The answer is yes, she did.  Once in a while.  But not tonight.

At the change of watch, Kirel nodded in greeting, acknowledged the Officer in Charge, then turned to lean against the window that hovered above the commerce deck. Patrons continued to wander the deck below, but her thoughts were elsewhere: with the Missouri, the families of the lost, and the pain they must endure.  

Soon, the soft tread of Lt Garand’s regulation boots on the decking brought her thoughts back to the present.  A deep inhale was followed by a slow sigh as she pushed away from the window. “You have something for me, Lieutenant?” she said, crossing her arms as she turned slowly to face him.

“Yes, Captain,” he replied quietly, his expression more serious than usual, not exactly the norm for Lt Garand, second in command of security.

“My office, Lieutenant,” she said, moving in that direction.

The door closed behind them and locked, interior lights faded to blue, and muted silence gave them privacy.

“Proceed, Lieutenant,” she continued, engaging the main screen. Security’s surveillance footage began as usual: some from science, some from engineering, and some from….

“The medical complex, Lieutenant?” 

“Yes, ma’am.  Commander Korjata took notes in medical. He said he was taking an audit?  Then he scanned Dr Davis’s door….”  Garand stopped at the captain's expression of incredulity. 

“He scanned Doctor Davis’s… door? For what reason?”

“No idea, ma’am," Garand replied, staring at the screen.  "Engineering checked the entire area only a week ago.”

After a moment of thought she said, “Proceed.”

“He was distracted, definitely not acting normal, always looking around for something.  Then he looked up at the ceiling the way he did a few days ago.  He muttered something about... ‘doing it any time now’.  But this…” Garand changed the screen to the conversation with Dr Davis, Aegis’s counselor.

“I am not Nijil tr’Korjata,” he began quietly and sincerely.  “At the DNA level I am, and the doctor’s scans will show that. Some months ago an associate and I were to combine our research, go from theory to….”

Dr Davis raised her hand to cut him off. “Nijil.  My office please.”

The doctor’s door closed and confidentiality reigned.

Crossing her arms, Kirel stared at the screen for a moment before asking, “Is there anything before that?”

“No, ma’am.  He just becomes more awkward every day.  Like he's in another world. I guess you'd call it detached from reality?  It’s more than strange, Captain.  He could become dangerous.”

After several minutes of staring at the screen, she asked,  “You have operatives watching him?” 

“Yes, ma’am. Except when he’s in his quarters with his family.” 

After deep, extended concentration Kirel blanked the screen.  “Put Black Eagle on him… carefully... and quietly," she said, turning to face him.  “Keep surveillance open.  Do not involve anyone outside your priority team. Is that clear, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, Captain.”

*   *   *   *   *

Th'Prani'Liloo. Her friends just called her Prani. Now, centuries later, she had no friends. The people on Sky Harbor Aegis were overwhelmingly friendly, but until a short time ago no one knew she was here. The prime danger in this experiment is being trapped on the future end of the wormhole, and it's exactly what occurred. Worse still, she was not herself, at least to these new people. Essentially the life of Nijil was stolen from him. She no more wanted to take this from him than have him live her life in the past. The implications on the timeline, once an afterthought, grew more dire as time moved on. In all likelihood she would have to deceive everyone for the rest of her life. Maybe Nijil could fix things. He certainly could not make things worse, right?

Occupying Nijil's body at first was extremely disorienting. Organs and structure were basically the same. The gender was unexpectedly male. The odds always remained 50/50, but she had hoped another woman would be on the other end of the experiment. In a cosmic stroke of luck she switched with a fellow engineer. He had access to similar equipment and technology. After a few jumps, her time on the station was filled with wonders her people only theorized. The paths her people and this Federation took bore some similarities as well as differences. Scientists here had no method to generate a wormhole, precise or not. The mind transference technology, while similar to the matter transportation devices, medical science here only just walked that path. Overall, being Nijil proved to be a very enlightening experience. 

However, this time the switch went wrong. More precisely, it didn't happen on schedule. Prani walking around as Nijil succeded just as it had forty-six times before, but there was no return trip on the forty-seventh. "I'm an engineer, not an actor, no matter how good a show I put on," Prani thought. Thoughts of the experiment going too far crossed and double-crossed her mind. What was it? The cooking? Wait, the braids? He'd not likely know how to do that for his daughter, at least not typically. In the end the pressure of lying to these people just got to her. It was not in her nature and keeping something as big as "hey, I'm not your bondmate," proved to be a burden too heavy to carry.

Why was she not in a cell yet? Not as if she could take a shuttle home. Home is here, more or less, just the wrong time. A time so distant that the stars were the same, but those orbiting around them were new. One thing nagging in the back of her mind brought her a chuckle each time she watched the station's occupants: her people would tower over most everyone here.

Which made her smile getting to know the shortest person in this future she knew, Annisha. She had no children of her own, but would take the spry Rihan girl in an instant. She could not undergo the transference since her mind was still developing. Her associate back in her time mentioned unforeseen consequences at such a trial.

Prani peered into the distance to see a cluster of armed security making their way to her, but no one came. She looked down at her chest. It was the communication device tracking her movements. The scan of the translator embedded in this Rihan's skull showed it lacked tracking capabilities. No matter, it has been very fast at learning her language, no doubt helped by the computer processing the broadcast from her people. The technology was so pervasive the surely different accent did not tip anyone off.

Some minutes passed and she grew increasingly hungry, no doubt his mate and daughter would not wait much longer either. The less stressful path may have been just pretending to be their engineer until it became second nature. Would that have meant she was no longer Prani? How deep does the body and mind connection go before you are someone else?

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