DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and is copyright (c) 2003 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Inside Out (Carter #11)
The marketplace of Denarr was controlled chaos as the shopkeepers began to roll up their goods. Christine looked up at the sky; it was swiftly turning the unhealthy black and orange of a full-scale ion storm.
Admiral Young followed her gaze, and frowned as she saw the roiling clouds. "We better get going. Storm like that'll play havoc with the transporters."
Christine nodded, pulling out her communicator. "Spock, Admiral Young's shuttle finally arrived and we are at the coordinates. Can you transport us through this storm?"
"We are assessing that now, Commander."
"There are three more storms behind this one, Captain," Admiral Young said. "Either beam us up now or go on without us. The membership ceremony on Beta Lambda IX starts in 20 hours." She glanced at the sky again. "My preference is that you get us up there, I hate sitting out an ion storm. All that energy makes my skin crawl."
"We believe it is safe to transport. Admiral, Commander, prepare to beam up. Transporter room, energize."
As the transporter took her, Christine closed her eyes, suddenly afraid of beaming up. A moment later, she felt solid ground beneath her feet, opened her eyes, and nearly fell as the room tilted crazily. She felt a hand reach out to steady her, turned to Admiral Young, ready to thank her for the help. But Admiral Young wasn't the one standing next to her. Christine forgot how to breathe.
"Bumpy trip," Kirk said, letting go of her.
"You're dead," was all she could think to say as her knees buckled and he caught her.
"Well, I know we haven't been on the best of terms, but that seems like an overreaction, Chris." Kirk smiled down at her with the old grin that she thought she'd never see again. He looked over at the transport tech. "Tell Captain Spock we're aboard safely. I'm sure he's eager to get underway. He hates to be late for these big ceremonies." He looked back at her. "Can you walk?"
She closed her eyes. "This isn't real, this isn't happening," she whispered forcefully.
"I think I'd better take her to sickbay. Probably a bump on the head."
"Yes, sir." The tech was staring at them both with a confused look.
"Is there a problem, chief?"
"I was told to expect an admiral, sir."
Kirk shrugged. "I go back and forth. You'll just have to make do with a captain this time."
As the tech nodded in a way that said he wasn't completely convinced, Kirk manhandled Christine into the corridor. "This isn't very professional, Commander," he said under his breath. "Carter's first officer loses it in the arms of Star Fleet brass. Unless you're trying to make a scene, I suggest you open your eyes and stop behaving like a five-year old."
Hearing his voice, the impatience tinged with the faintest touch of amusement, convinced her that this wasn't a dream. Okay, if it wasn't a dream, maybe she was dead. She pulled away from him, opened her eyes slowly.
He was watching her. She had felt his arms supporting her, so he wasn't a ghost. Maybe they both were ghosts, she thought desperately. But the transporter tech had seen them.
She heard a familiar voice, turned and saw Spock, followed closely by Kerr, barreling down the corridor to them. "Spock, can you see him?"
It was obvious that he could, but his look held none of the shock she expected. "Jim. What are you doing here? We were told you couldn't make it."
"What do you mean, I couldn't make it? Why wouldn't I make it? I've been dying to see this fancy new ship of yours."
Well, she thought, you got it half right. She looked at Kerr. He met her eyes, gave her a warm smile, a smile that reassured her more than anything else could have. At least one thing was the same. "I was surprised to see him too, Spock. I beamed up with Admiral Young, you spoke with her yourself."
He turned to her. His look was unusually warm, given the state of their recent interactions. "I did not speak with Admiral Young, Christine," he corrected her gently. "Your last transmission from the planet said you were beaming up with Admiral Sylan. Obviously you were confused, though I find it difficult to believe you could mistake Jim for the oldest Vulcan admiral still serving. Have you been injured, a bump on the head perhaps?"
She spoke sooner than she should have and with more heat, "Have I been injured? I'm not the one talking to a dead man as if it's an everyday occurrence."
Kirk turned to her. "That's twice you've said that." He looked at Spock. "You don't think I should be dead?"
Spock shook his head, staring at her with a concerned look. He turned to Kerr. "Will you show Captain Kirk to the guest quarters?"
"Of course," Kerr said. The look that passed between Spock and him confused Christine. Then Kerr said softly, "Get her checked out."
"I plan to." The concern in Spock's voice was a twin to that in Kerr's.
She frowned and edged closer to Kirk. Before he could follow Kerr, she leaned in and said softly, "Does sharing a bottle of Scotch mean anything to you?"
He looked surprised for a moment, then grinned. "Sharing it till we knocked it off the dresser, you mean?" he answered just as quietly.
"Okay, just checking." She turned away and followed Spock down the corridor. She was surprised when he touched her as she walked into the lift, his hand resting on her back. As soon as the doors closed, he turned, leaned in, and kissed her gently but firmly, "Are you all right, Christine?"
"I really don't think I'm the one you should be asking that," she said as she pushed him away. "And I don't think Randall would appreciate that."
Spock looked at her askance. "Why would he mind?"
She rubbed her forehead. Who needed a bump on the head? She was quickly developing the mother of all headaches. "Did someone let the Psi 2000 virus loose again, Spock, because this really isn't funny and I--" She stopped talking as the lift doors opened and Farrell got on.
"Hey, you two," she said casually.
Christine backed up against the wall of the lift. She's not real, she's not real, she repeated to herself, even though the mantra hadn't worked very well the first time.
"Chris?" Farrell touched her gently on the arm. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"She is unwell," Spock said.
"I think I did bump my head," Christine said softly as Farrell got off on the next floor. She found it hard not to stare after her friend. It couldn't be happening, Jim was dead, Farrell was dead. And yet they were here. Or maybe Christine was wherever they were. Somewhere else, some other universe. She'd had enough of other universes when she was stranded on Taillte but it looked like she'd managed to find her way into yet another one. Only with no Stephen to help her find her way around. She wondered if there even was a Penhallon on this ship.
Spock's arm had gone around her. She looked up at him in surprise. "Are we together?"
His eyebrow rose until it disappeared under his bangs. "Yes. Are you suffering from some kind of amnesia?"
She ignored the question. "And Randall's okay with that?"
"Last time I checked, he appeared to be fine."
"When was that? The last time you checked?"
Spock pushed her hair away from her face as if checking for a bump or bruise. "It does not appear to be full amnesia. You clearly remember us all."
"When was the last time?" she said firmly.
"That would be last night. When we were in bed with you. I believe his words were 'I love you' but I was perhaps too involved in the moment to give you the quote exactly."
She started to laugh. She couldn't help it. The sound quickly turned hysterical and she fought for control. "We're all together? You and me and Randall? God, that's so cozy."
"It is an arrangement that suits us." He let go of her as the lift doors opened, was again the proper Star Fleet officer as he walked her to sickbay. "Why did you ask Jim about scotch?"
She looked at him and saw that his jaw was tight. "Well, you know...the past is in the past, of course, but I think it's stupid not to acknowledge what happened."
He turned to her, his look one of complete incomprehension.
"Our past...drinking habits," she fumbled desperately. Obviously in this reality, she hadn't had a relationship with Kirk. Or Spock hadn't had one with him? "You know? You would have read that from him, in a meld, when you were lovers with him and not with Randall and me? You were lovers, right?" She felt like an idiot, her voice sounded overly tentative as if she was trying too hard to appear innocent.
He actually sighed. "Yes, we were lovers, Christine. You know all this. Does your head hurt anywhere?"
She reached out, stopped him before he could lead her into sickbay. "I'm not your Christine." She took a deep breath. "I don't think that's your Jim either. I know it's not mine." She handed him her tricorder. "Doesn't each universe have a certain quantum resonance?"
He nodded, took the instrument from her and began to scan. His eyebrow went up and he pulled out his tricorder. "Spock to Kerr."
"Kerr here," Christine could hear the open affection in Randall's voice and she began to wonder...then quickly headed her ponderings off at the pass. Do not go there, she ordered herself.
"Are you still with Captain Kirk?"
"Stay there. We will join you in his quarters."
And won't that be fun, Christine thought, wondering if maybe she'd ended up in a heaven for good little girls. Or bad ones? She laughed and Spock looked at her. "Sorry," she said, forcing her face into something serious. She knew that the situation wasn't good, that she should be worried. And eventually it would probably hit her. But at the moment, she just thought it was funny. Probably shock, she decided, wondering if maybe she should be checked out in sickbay.
Spock was already halfway down the corridor. He turned and said, "Are you coming?" in such a grouchily affectionate voice that she smiled again.
"Sorry," she mumbled, wondering how many more times she'd have to say that.
Kerr and Kirk both looked up as she and Spock walked in. She realized as she looked at the two of them that while they did physically resemble each other a little, the similarity was more in the way they carried themselves, the intense set of the eyes as they took your measure, the wry grin as each realized she was staring at them.
Spock walked toward Kirk. "You will forgive this, Jim, but I am concerned that perhaps Ambassador Sylan was our expected guest after all. I wonder which of your universes he ended up in. Or if there are more than just our three involved."
Kirk looked at Christine. "Still trying to convince him I'm dead, Chris?" His grin showed he was teasing.
Spock looked over at her, seemed to take in the way she was looking at their former captain. Kerr also seemed to notice. Neither looked pleased.
"How long have you two been on such informal terms?" Kerr asked;
Kirk looked at her, his eyes sparkling. "Oh, we go back a long time."
She had to force back a smile, loving him for his ability to laugh at the situation, even though he had to know as well as she how serious their predicament was.
"How far back?" Kerr asked, and Spock shot him a look. "One of us has to ask."
Kirk's eyes met hers and he furtively pointed to Spock, then to Kerr, mouthing "Both of them?" to her. She glared at him and mouthed back, "Not me." Her stern expression only caused him to grin wickedly at her. Then he looked up at Spock, gave him an innocent look. "So? Am I in the wrong universe?"
"You are. You both are. It must have been the storm."
"Isn't it always?" Kirk beamed at Spock. "Well, now that that's settled, I'd still like to see this ship of yours. Why don't you let Commander Chapel show me around?"
Two sets of eyebrows went up.
"You can't let her back on duty if she doesn't belong here. Too many things she could get wrong." Kirk turned to Chris. "What was your last mission?"
"Ring a bell?" Kirk asked Spock and Kerr. When they shook their heads, he asked her, "What was your first mission?"
Spock shook his head. "We were not assigned to that. Ambassador Ts'its'tsi'nako handled the crisis there."
Christine looked up in surprise. "Nako's not onboard?" So much was different. "Did you have a Psi 2000 outbreak?"
Spock shook his head. "You know Nako?"
"She serves with us. On my Carter...your Carter...you know what I mean."
"What was your first mission?" she asked.
"The landslides," she said, remembering the reports of devastation that she'd read. Omicron Nu had been on the shortlist of planets that the Carter might have been assigned to as its first mission.
"What about me," Kirk said quietly. "I died?"
She looked at him helplessly. Unwilling to tell him, worried that somehow it would change history.
He shook his head, seemingly already ahead of her. "You don't have to tell me. I went, didn't I? To the Enterprise B launch? I died with them?"
"Not with them. You saved the ship." She smiled sadly at him. "Like always."
She could tell by the dark look in his eyes that the news hit him hard, even though his tone was light when he said, "Well, that's okay then."
"No, it wasn't." She glanced over at Spock. "It nearly destroyed you."
He did not answer, just watched them both with hooded eyes.
Kirk stood up, looked at Spock and Kerr. "Shouldn't you two figure out how to get us back?"
No one moved. Finally, Kerr walked over to Christine. He stared at her, as if trying to find some difference between her and his Christine. She stared at him too, making the same assessment. He looked exactly the same, only something in the expression was different and let her know this wasn't her Kerr. She felt a whisper of alarm and tried to analyze what she was feeling. She swallowed hard. No Psi 2000 virus, no murder of Farrell, no exposure of the Section. She looked into his eyes, saw the flicker of a secret still held. A flicker she had never noticed in her own Kerr when she should have, a secret she was perhaps looking for too hard in this Kerr. What if he had made different choices too? What if he'd never joined up with the Section? What if Ren hadn't either?
He touched her cheek briefly. "You're not my Christine."
"No. I'm not."
Kerr looked at Spock. "We have to get our Christine back."
"You also have to get to that ceremony," Christine said. "That's what all our Spock's will have to choose between, whether to divert to the storm to try to recreate the conditions and get us home or to go to the ceremony. How will you know what to do?"
Spock nodded, seeing where she was going. "An excellent question. Spock to Kavall."
"Kavall here, sir."
"Track the storm that just hit Denarr. Project course in relation to our current course to Beta Lambda IX."
"We are on a parallel course for the moment, but the storm will begin to move away."
"Is there a planetary body of some kind inside the storm's path?"
There was a short pause, then Kavall answered, "There is a small asteroid that will lie in the path for a few hours. What do you want it for?"
"To transport to."
"Negligible gravity, no breathable atmosphere. You'd need atmospheric suits with gravity boots. Other than that, nothing unusual. Except for the storm. Its effects are unpredictable."
"Agreed. How much time to intercept?"
"Seven point one four hours."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Lieutenant Sabuti?"
"Set a course for the asteroid?"
"Affirmative. Best speed, Lieutenant Kimble."
"Aye-aye, sir," two voices said in unison.
Christine felt a rush of pride in the crew; she and Spock had chosen well...in any universe.
He seemed to be reading her mind. "They are a fine crew."
She nodded, unable to say anything as the first wave of homesickness hit her. She wanted her Spock back. And her Kerr. Then she looked over at Kirk. His smile was gentle as he watched her. Her world wouldn't have him. She forced herself to look away from him. "Jim's right. I shouldn't be on duty. There are too many things that are different. One of them might prove critical."
Kerr looked at Spock, then over at Kirk. "Fine. But maybe we should talk in the hall first. The three of us." He made an apologetic face, "No offense, sir."
Kirk leaned back on the bed, arms behind his head. "Don't leave on my account. In fact, I'm sort of fascinated with this dynamic. As is Commander Chapel, I think." He grinned at her.
She grinned back. "Scientific interest only."
"Of course," he conceded easily.
Kerr said softly. "This is a private matter."
Kirk smiled, the look barely made it to his eyes. "We're all old friends here. Surely Spock has told you about me?"
Kerr nodded grudgingly, but did not appear eager to share.
"I outrank all of you. Humor me." Kirk grinned at him. "It's a long way to that asteroid, Colonel. I'd love to know." He looked over at Christine. "And I feel like I have some personal interest in this."
Kerr looked at Christine. "You never said anything about this."
Before she could reply, Spock said, "This is not our Christine, Randall."
"I think you would have known if your Christine was with Kirk," Christine said. "In my reality, you saw it in a meld."
Kirk nodded. "In mine, I told you...eventually." He grinned at Christine. "But I think he saw it in a meld too and just didn't say anything."
Spock nodded grudgingly. "I do not believe our Christine is hiding anything from us."
"Our Christine. That 'our' just fascinates me," Kirk said. "How'd that happen?"
"Pon Farr," Christine guessed. "Isn't it always the Pon Farr?"
Kirk laughed and winked at Spock. "It's how we got together. I'm not sure either of us would ever have made the first move if it hadn't happened."
"You are probably right, Jim."
Christine noticed that Kerr had moved closer to Spock. She saw the two of them exchange a look.
Spock saw her watching and said, "It was supposed to be you. We knew that the time of the burning was close. But I had a negotiation to complete. The warring factions on Andremius were close to a ceasefire."
Kerr nodded. "We left you on board. It was too dangerous down there. Just Spock on this one. Spock with me there as his aide."
"A heavily armed aide," she guessed, remembering all the things he had managed to smuggle into Felstrar's Colony.
He grinned at her. "You know me too well."
"I do," she agreed, wondering if his Christine could say the same thing. "So I take it the negotiations broke down?"
Spock nodded. "There was havoc in the capital. Randall deemed it best to hide out in the hills."
"Always a cave," she said with a laugh.
"I think it's a requirement," Kirk agreed. "And then the burning started. Did you even know what it was?" he asked Kerr.
"I knew of it. Certainly didn't have any direct experience with it."
"But you couldn't let him die," Christine said. "You couldn't in my time either. Only you gave me to him."
Spock frowned. "Gave you to me?"
"I was with Randall, not you. You had pushed me away when..." she trailed off, uncomfortable talking about Jim's death when he was right there in front of her.
"When I died," Kirk finished for her. "For the record, Spock, when I die in this universe, I want you to live for me. Not grieve."
Spock didn't answer.
"I can make it an order," Kirk said, gesturing for Kerr to continue. "So how'd she get in the mix?"
"She was trying to get down to us. She knew that it would be starting soon. But by the time the fighting had died down enough for her to beam in, we were going at it fast and furious."
She couldn't decide if he was blushing.
Spock continued the story, "You...our Christine was reluctant to approach us, stayed away and scanned us to make sure that we did not require medical attention."
"We? That I didn't require medical attention, you mean," Kerr looked over at Kirk, who nodded sympathetically.
"I'm guessing you did?" he asked.
"Let's just say that the regenerator she had with her came in handy," Kerr said. "She was afraid Spock would react badly to her presence, so she worked on me quickly. But when she finished, he grabbed her, pulled her between us." He looked over at Spock, a grin on his face. "Then it was my turn to worry that he'd get tired of a third wheel. But we shared her." He turned to Christine. "We shared you."
"Not me. Her." Keep it straight, Christine ordered herself. "And you've kept up this arrangement?"
Spock nodded. "We are discreet."
"Oh come on. There is no way the crew doesn't know about this." Christine rolled her eyes.
"The brass wouldn't take this well," Kirk said.
"There is precedent," Spock said. "They have made such accommodations for other species. Andorians, Deltans, Mindexans."
"And," Kerr said, "We're careful."
Christine suddenly wondered about that. Were they careful? Or was Kerr exactly where the Section wanted him? She suspected there wasn't much they couldn't hush up if they wanted to. And having one of their own in the bed of the Carter's command team would guarantee he knew everything that was happening. She felt a sudden responsibility to the Chapel of that world. Shouldn't she find a way to tell her? Didn't that Chapel have a right to know? But how to do it? Was there anyone she could trust here?
She realized all the men were staring at her. She sighed. "I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by all this. Do you mind if I take a break? Just for a while?" She headed for the door, then stopped, unsure where she should go. "It will look odd if I use guest quarters."
"Use her quarters," Spock said. "I'm sure she is using yours."
"Logical, Captain. As always." She turned to Kirk. "I'll come by in a bit? I'd like to talk?"
"I'd like that too."
As she passed Spock and Kerr, she saw them exchange a disapproving glance. "I'm not your Christine," she said.
"That's easy to lose sight of," Kerr said.
"This is so weird," she said, as she looked at them all. "I'll be in my, uh, her quarters."
Christine hurried to the other Chapel's quarters, hoping she wouldn't run into anyone on the way. She wasn't so lucky. Penhallon saw her in the corridor outside her quarters, shot her a supercilious smile and a mocking "Commander," as he passed. She looked at his departing back and made a snap decision.
He turned around slowly. "Are you addressing me?"
"Yes. I am. I take it I don't do that much, Stephen?"
"Generally not with such informal gusto. And you never call me by my first name." He looked at her in confused surprise. "And why don't you seem to know that? Did you bump your head or something?"
"When did that become such a convenient excuse for things?" She ignored his frown. "Could we talk? In your quarters?"
"You want to talk to me? In my quarters?"
"This is just too bizarre a request to say no to. I'm all agog with curiosity."
"You don't look it," she said softly as she followed him down the hall. "You look more as if you are resigned to a really bad conversation. Am I so terrible?"
He didn't look back as he said, "In a word, yes." He palmed the door open, gestured for her to go in. "Can I offer you a drink?"
"No." She sat down, tried to decide how much to tell him. Finally going with the story everyone seemed to latch onto. "I have had a bump on the head, Stephen. And I'm trying to remember things--I mean, I can remember some things, like your name, but not others, like how you feel about me. And for some reason, when I saw you, I thought 'I can trust him' and here I am, trusting you."
"Rather selective amnesia, isn't it?"
She nodded. When he didn't speak, she said softly, "Please tell me how things are between us. I need to know."
"All right, here's how it is. You despise me and think I'm shallow--a cad or a bounder or one of those archaic terms. I despise you in return and think you are a tightass that needs to lighten up. You don't approve of me, and I find it ironic that you think you can judge me for my sexual excesses."
She made a face. "You know?"
"The crew knows?"
He looked away.
"Does the crew know?"
"No." He saw her smile, sat down in a huff. "I just haven't gotten around to telling them yet. They suspect though."
She leaned forward. "I'm probably going to forget we ever had this conversation. As you say, it's a rather selective amnesia. So what I'm going to ask you, I won't remember the next time you see me. You understand?"
He nodded. "Just ask your question, Commander."
"The Section. Are they working here?"
The bored look disappeared from his face. He looked utterly shocked. Then he tried, and failed, to recover. "I don't know what you mean."
"Yes, you do. I need to know...if you suspected anyone of being from there, who would it be?"
He gave up his pretense. "If there even were such a thing as the Section, the person working for them would be the last person you expect."
"A name. I need a name."
He looked utterly sincere when he said, "I don't have a name, Commander. I haven't heard so much as a whisper." He leaned forward, asked, "Why do you think they're here?"
"I don't. I just heard something from someone. And it got me to wondering. I figured you'd know."
Penhallon leaned back then. "You're acting very different."
"It's the amnesia thing."
"I don't think so. There is no way you could be Chapel the Terrible, as I've privately dubbed her."
"But you'll keep that suspicion to yourself?" she asked.
"Give me one reason I should."
"Because you're a good friend to me. We've been through a lot together."
"In what universe?"
"Exactly," she said happily.
He thought about that for a long time. "Are we lovers?"
She laughed. "No."
"Do we at least want to be?"
"No." She got up. "You should try to win your Chapel over. I mean as a friend," she hastened to add.
He grimaced. "I'll take that under advisement."
"Seriously. You won me over. And we didn't start out on the best foot. She might need a friend someday. Someone that's objective. That can watch out for her."
"You want me to watch out for her?"
Christine nodded. "Do it for me?"
He shook his head. "You're sure we're not lovers?"
"Positive." She thought of their time on Taillte. "We're sort of like brother and sister."
"Oh, joy," he said, but she noticed that he was smiling.
"I've got to go. Thank you."
"I haven't done anything."
She grinned. "Oh but you will. I'm sure of it. It's just a matter of time."
She left him staring after her as she walked back to her doppelganger's quarters. They were very much like her own rooms and she sat down on the couch with relief. She just needed a few minutes to decompress and think. She felt like she owed it to the other Chapel to find out what was going on, to try to protect her. But what if there was nothing to protect her from? Maybe she was overreacting?
Christine rang the chime to Kirk's quarters, heard him say, "Hold on a minute." Then the door opened and he hurried out before she could come in.
"If I have to sit in that room one more minute, I'll go insane. Let's walk."
She led him to the lift. "You want the grand tour?" When he nodded, she wondered how much, if anything, would be different on this version of the Carter. She decided to start with the diplomatic section. She kept up a running monologue about the ship and the missions they'd seen on her, careful to pitch her voice low so that none of the passing crewmen would hear.
They passed Troi, and she felt a pang as he gave her a friendly nod, said, "Sir," in a respectful, almost awed tone, to Kirk.
"He just left us. I miss him."
"Were you involved with him too?" Kirk asked with a teasing grin.
"Amazingly, no." She tried to glare at him, found it impossible. "How long has it been, in your reality, since we've seen each other?"
He considered. "The whale probe, I think."
"Yeah. In mine, too."
"A long time, Chris."
She nodded. "Too long."
He was quiet as she led him through the catering section, but as soon as they were out of the kitchens, he asked her, "So I got a little lost during our discussion earlier. Are you with Spock?"
She shook her head. "I'm with Randall, but..."
"But you helped Spock with his Pon Farr?" He finished for her, no teasing in his voice.
"Helped is such a noble word." She looked away, led him to the lift that would take them down to the conference rooms. "I wanted to. He'd made other arrangements...I shouldn't even have been involved. But there was this cave-in." She made a face.
"Got it. And afterwards, you went back to Kerr?"
"More or less, yeah, that's the story." Leaving out a death, a murder, another death, an infidelity, and a whole lot of misery for all.
He didn't say anything as he followed her on the lift, just studied her, seemed to be waiting for her to continue.
"I...we...that is Spock and I..."
"You cheated on him?" There wasn't much surprise in Kirk's voice and that bothered her.
"Well, it wasn't like I planned it."
He raised his eyebrows.
"It wasn't. We were back on Earth and we were at your memorial in Heroes' Hall and I guess we both got sentimental or something."
"You had sex at my memorial?" From his expression, she thought he was getting a kick out of that idea.
"No." She punched at him playfully and he caught her fist before she could connect. His hand on hers was warm and she looked over at him, her voice dropping as she said, "We had sex in my hotel room later that night."
"Ah," he said, dropping her hand when the lift opened onto deck three. She led him down to the modular conference room, showed him how it expanded. As she ordered the doors to close back up, he said, "You're in love with them both, aren't you?"
"But you chose Kerr?"
"Well 'all of the above' wasn't an option I knew about."
He laughed. "Kind of makes me wonder what it would have been like if I'd chosen that option after V-Ger. Chosen to have both you and Spock."
She turned to look at him, saw that he wasn't kidding. "You wouldn't have."
"What makes you so sure?"
She sighed. "You were too angry at me. I was too ready to give up. Why do you think I left the ship...again?"
"I tried to be--"
"--You weren't unkind to me. I was just miserable. Watching you. Watching him. Knowing I wasn't welcome in your life. Knowing I would never be welcome again. It was hard."
He frowned slightly. "Do you think this really works? This threesome?"
"Maybe here it does. They seem to have skipped some of the sorrows that we've seen in my universe, maybe that'll make it easier. I hope that it works for them. I'd like to think they can all be in love."
She sighed. "They. It can't be we, I just can't see it." She took a deep breath. "The Spock and Randall of my reality...there's so much that's dark between them. Here the Pon Farr brought them together. In my universe, it drove a wedge between them."
"And the wedge's name is Christine Chapel?"
She nodded, didn't realize that she was crying until he reached out, wiped a tear away.
"Are you so unhappy where you are?"
"It's just so complicated. And I don't know how it got that way. It was all so good when it started. Spock and I were in this stupid class and we became close...real friends. Randall was just another person on the ship. A nice one. A fine officer. But just another person. I was so happy, getting to know Spock, falling in love with him. Everything was fine, and then you died, and he pushed me away..."
"And Kerr caught you." Kirk's expression was suspicious. "Convenient. And here he is again. And not that I blame him for choosing you, but why did you choose him?"
She didn't want to tell him about the Section. Didn't want to let him know that Kerr had been directed her way. She'd been an assignment, one that he was to make himself as attractive to as possible. And she'd fallen for him, the Randall Kerr that he'd created. And now she'd fallen all over again for real Kerr. "I guess it's just destiny. Who am I with in your world? Spock?"
She swallowed hard. "You didn't die, and he didn't push me away. And the Pon Farr must have gone off all right."
"Must have. Interesting to think that my decision whether to rehash old glories or not would have this kind of effect on so many other lives." He seemed to be lost in the past for a moment, the he said, ""Do you still have the Saraswati?"
She remembered the statue he had given her. The graceful Indian goddess that had broken her heart every time she had looked at it. "I gave it away."
"It made me too sad to look at her."
He nodded. "I understand. So much sadness."
"I always wondered if somewhere there was a version of us that made it. In some other universe."
He nodded. "Infinite diversity in infinite combination. There's probably a version of us that tried."
"Maybe more than one of them." She looked down. "I've missed you so much. All these years, until now, I didn't even talk about it. I couldn't. I screwed it up so badly. And now I've done the same here, Jim. I love them both, and I keep choosing Randall, but Spock is so hard to resist. I don't know what to do."
He took her in his arms, his voice gentle as he said, "I'm sorry, Chris."
"You're supposed to say it'll be all right," she said pulling away from him.
"I don't know that it will." He lifted her chin, wiped away a makeup smear. "I've gotten good at this over the years. Or maybe I should take it as a bad sign that women cry so frequently around me."
She laughed. "Randall's good at it too."
"Spock'll get you back to him. You know that. He'd move heaven and earth for those he loves. And in every reality, he loves you."
She looked down. "Did you?" she whispered, the words out before she could call them back.
Kirk didn't answer, and she didn't look up, unwilling to see the answer in his eyes.
"Computer?" his voice startled her. "Schedule for this room today?"
"This room is unscheduled."
He put his hand under her chin, gently forced her head up, made her look at him. "Yes. I loved you."
She let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
"We're out of reach of each other, anywhere but here, Chris. I'm dead in your reality. You're with Spock in mine. I'd like to reconnect, even if it's only for a moment." He pulled her close. "Computer, engage privacy locks on order Kirk epsilon five omega."
"Privacy locks engaged."
She shook her head. "We're too old to be making love on the floor." She pushed him away. "And I don't want to cheat anymore." She felt very cold without his arms around her.
"I don't want to cheat either. I'm with someone. Her name is Antonia. She's good for me. We live a quiet life. Peaceful." He moved toward her. "I don't want to hurt her. I just want to say that I'm sorry too. And goodbye." He reached for her and she didn't fight him.
Their lips met and for one long, breathless kiss they were young again and the pain that she'd caused them both was gone. She was back in his arms and it felt right. And it felt just as right when he pulled away. He looked at her with enormous tenderness. "I still wanted you...on the Enterprise, after V-Ger. It was a relief when you left. I could give you up...finally."
"I'm so sorry, for everything. For not telling you the truth."
"The truth is hard."
She shook her head. "It never has been for you."
"Yes, it has." He squeezed her hand, wiped her face again. "Okay, computer, let us out of here."
As the doors opened, she glanced back at the room, where they had been standing. If she tried very hard, she could almost imagine she and Jim were still there, arms entwined, lips touching, bodies crushed against each other. Two people in love that had never fallen apart.
It was a nice thought.
Spock found them in the greenhouse, sitting by the roses and catching up. The look he cast on her was open and easily affectionate and again she wondered how her universe had gone so wrong. "The storm has lost none of its intensity," he said. "We will soon be ready to try to duplicate the conditions." He walked over to the viewscreen. We will beam you to the asteroid. Theoretically, your own universe should attract you while you are being transported, and you'll materialize on the asteroid in your own reality."
"Theoretically," Kirk repeated.
"Assuming there is an asteroid there," Christine said.
"You will be in environmental suits. If there is no asteroid, you will survive in space."
"For a while," Christine clarified. What if it doesn't work?" She saw his look and blanched. "We end up somewhere else? Or dead?
"Maybe we'll just end up staying here?"
"If that happens, we'll never need a fourth for bridge." Kirk winked at her. "Don't worry. Spock'll make it work. All of the Spocks will."
She pushed herself to her feet. "How much time?"
"You will need to get into the suits in an hour," Spock replied. "We are still working on the coordinates and timing."
"Don't want us to run into ourselves coming and going, you mean?"
"Inaccurate but that is the basic premise." His tone was gently chiding. This was obviously a game he played with his Chapel.
She walked over to him, touched his cheek. "Are you happy, Spock? With the way things have worked out for you, for her and Randall?"
He did not bother to protest that happiness was an emotion. "Yes, I am happy. We all are." A hail sounded and he gave her a half smile, said softly, "I must go."
She watched him leave, then looked over at Kirk.
He smiled. "Two out of three ain't bad."
She looked down, hating the fact that she was probably going to make it zero out of three. "When you get back, you need to find out if there's a Kerr in your reality. If he's on the Carter, then you need to do something for me. For your Spock and Chapel."
He nodded, waiting for her to continue.
"You aren't completely sold on Randall are you?"
He shook his head. "Can't tell you why though. He seems like a nice guy. And you seem to love him."
"He's working for a part of Star Fleet that most people don't know exist." She tried to find the best words, the ones that would somehow save the place in Kirk's universe that her Randall was forging for himself on the Carter. "He's a good man, Jim. He'll turn this around. He'll come to believe more in the Carter than in the section of Star Fleet he works for."
"The section of Star Fleet? Interesting choice of words."
"Deliberate choice, Jim. You've been in the upper echelons, you must have heard something."
"It's possible." He held out his hand, uncertainty on his face. "You want me to expose him? Or...?"
"I don't want him ruined. I don't even know if he's working for them in this reality. Or in yours. But if he is, then someone needs to let Spock know. It would be best if it were Randall. He doesn't have to lose their trust."
Kirk sighed. "You want me to confront him when I get back to the Carter in my universe?"
She nodded. "If you need someone you can trust, there's a man on the ship. His name is Penhallon."
"What makes you think he's trustworthy in every reality? I've been to an alternate universe where you couldn't trust anyone...or almost anyone."
"I remember McCoy telling me about that. And hopefully neither of us will wind up there." She smiled. "But I think that in these garden variety universes, you are trustworthy."
"And you are too," he said lightly.
"No. I'm not." She laughed, a small sound of escaping air. "But I'm working on it." She turned for the door, squared her shoulders. "Now, I have the Randall in this reality to deal with."
"What makes you think dealing with him is the right thing to do?"
She shook her head. "Gut feeling? Sense of duty to the doppelChapels throughout the universes? I don't know, but I have to. You can find your way back?"
"No, I'll get horribly lost and you'll have to beam out without me." He grinned. "Aren't there display panels if I need them?"
She nodded. "I'll see you at the transporter, then."
"Behave yourself." His grin ruined the warning. Then his look did turn serious. "And be careful."
She made her way though the corridors to the lift, rode it down one level to Kerr's office.
He looked up when she poked her head in, his smile letting her know he was genuinely happy to see her. "Come in."
She gestured to the door, which he'd set in the open position. "Mind if I close this?"
His grin was evil. "What did you have in mind?"
She tried not to flash back to the time they had made love in his office. "Talk."
"Oh." He didn't look terribly surprised. "Sit down."
She sat. "Do you love her...your Christine?"
"You know I do."
She shook her head. "She might know that you do. I don't."
"Then yes, I do. I love her, I love Spock. I love her and Spock. I never thought I'd feel this close to two people." He looked away for a moment.
"You should tell them the truth, Randall."
His look was uncomprehending. She knew he was a good enough actor to fake that mystification.
"Tell them you work for someone else. Tell them you're tired of the lies and the deceit."
His eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly before he said, "I'm not following you."
She shook her head, knew she was right. "I know what you're doing, Randall. I know you were told to get close to them. But I also know that at your most basic level, you are a good man. One that doesn't like to lie to the people he loves. You have to come clean. When she gets back, you have to tell her, to tell them both."
"If you think you know something, why don't you tell them?"
"It has to come from you. Don't let them find out on their own, Randall. Or you might find your pretty little arrangement is more fragile than you ever imagined." She looked down. "It's possible, if your Chapel is in my reality, that you...he's already told her."
He suddenly looked worried.
"I'd practice some speeches if I were you, Randall. Because judgment day is a bitch."
"Your Randall survived it?"
She thought of all the things that almost happened. "Just barely."
He didn't say anything for a long time. "If I did know what you were talking about, I'd certainly think about your suggestion."
She smiled. "Fair enough. And, hypothetically, if you were working with someone on this, you might want to watch your back."
His look was perplexed, and this time she couldn't tell if he was faking it or not. "If you're working alone, then never mind. But if you're not, the partnership could go sour, Randall. Your partner isn't as enamored of this ship, this mission...of Spock as you are." She saw his eyes narrow, still wasn't sure what it meant. Decided she owed him a name. "Just be careful around Ren."
"Commander Farrell?" His expression was impossible to read.
"She might not be involved at all. Or she might. In my world she was...and she was dangerous. I wouldn't want anything to happen to you." She hastened to add, "For your Chapel's sake."
He stood up, walked around the desk and crouched down. Again he stared at her, as if trying to read her. "Who do you love?"
"You and Spock. Nothing is different there." She reached up, ruffled his hair. "But I chose you, you big lug." He leaned in close as if to kiss her, but she pushed him away. "My big lug would not understand me cheating on him. Even with himself." She grinned. "I've got one more person I have to see. Think about what I said, Randall. I want you three to thrive--it makes me happy to think you might." She kissed him on the cheek, then left him. She did not look back to see if he was watching her walk away.
It took her no time to reach the medical section. Farrell had her door open, and Christine poked her head in. "Bad time?"
Her friend smiled widely as she said, "For you, never? What's up?"
Christine sat down, drinking in the sight of Ren, trying to tell herself that this woman was dangerous, that she had been using Christine for years, and she knew it was true, but she still couldn't feel anything but a bitter joy at seeing her. "You're my best friend, do you know that?"
Farrell frowned slightly. "That's nice to hear. What's wrong? Did Spock do something to you?"
Christine laughed, couldn't help it, just let herself go and laughed. "No, Ren. He didn't do anything bad." She reached over, took her friend's hand. "Those times in emergency ops. They were the best. I've been kind of involved in my own stuff. I know that. I just wanted you to know that I miss you." She blinked back tears.
"Chris?" Farrell stared at her in dismay. "Chris, my god, what's wrong?"
"I've had a bump on the head. On the planet." She fell back on the old excuse, and Farrell seemed to accept that.
Christine stood up. "I've got to go. Got tons to do. Just wanted to see you for a moment. To reconnect." Christine knew this was her chance to confront Farrell, but something told her not to do it. Maybe, in time, if she really were working against them, this Renata would come around like Kerr had. Perhaps she'd start to believe in the Carter's mission. "You're important here, Ren. You make a difference." She wanted to give Farrell a hug but decided it would be awkward, out of character. "Okay. I'm gone."
As she got to the door, she heard Farrell say softly, "I've missed you too, Chris."
Christine turned around, and their eyes met, a look of shared history and perfect understanding passed between them. Christine hoped there weren't lies scattered throughout that understanding.
"Are you ready?" Spock asked. He and Kerr were in the transporter room. Spock was not leaving anything to chance.
The door opened and Kavall walked in.
"Lieutenant?" Spock asked in surprise.
"I've kept the reasons you might want to transport someone in the middle of a storm this dangerous to myself, sir, even when the others were pestering me. But I had to know." She walked up to Christine. "You're not Commander Chapel, are you?"
Christine smiled at her fondly. "I am, Nevara. Just not the one you know."
Kavall nodded, apparently satisfied with the answer because she said, "Godspeed, then," and turned to hand Spock a padd. "I made some last-minute corrections, sir."
"It was good of you to walk them down," he said, and Christine knew it was his way of saying he did not hold her curiosity against her.
When Kavall was gone, Spock nodded to Kerr. "It is time."
As they walked over to get the helmets, she looked over at Kirk. "This is goodbye."
"Hopefully. And not." He smiled. "Be happy, Chris."
"I'll try. You too. With your Antonia."
"I will." He looked back at Spock and Kerr. "There's a very small part of me that hopes this doesn't work."
She grinned. "I know. Me too."
He grinned back, and she found herself charmed as ever by the expression. "I love you," she said.
"I love you too. Good journey."
She couldn't do more than nod quickly as Spock attached the helmet to the envirosuit and started the flow of oxygen. "Are you all right?" he asked her when he finished sealing the suit. She nodded, and followed Kirk up the stairs to the platform.
By the time they got situated, Spock was at the controls, making some final adjustments. "May you find your heart's true home," he said, and Christine felt a pang at the emotion in his voice.
I hope she comes home to you...to you both, she thought. Then the transporter carried her away. She materialized on the asteroid, felt her gravity boots start to adjust to keep her safely pinned to the dry surface. She turned slowly, part of her hoping Kirk would still be there.
"Did it work?" Admiral Young asked.
Christine nodded. "It did." She heard the hail, "It's us, Spock. Beam us back."
The asteroid disappeared and she saw Kerr and Spock in the transporter room. Spock looked satisfied, and somehow sad, and as she felt the strange bond between them flare back into life she wondered how she had failed to notice that it had been missing. She looked away from him, to where Kerr stood. She almost didn't want to know which Chapel they ended up with. The thought of them getting the threesome version was a little frightening.
Kerr held out his hand and she walked off the pad, to him. He undid the helmet, then helped her out of the suit, as Spock did the same for the Admiral. Spock looked over at them. "You may take her back to her quarters, Colonel," he said, and there was a note of resignation that Christine had never heard in his voice. Maybe she'd tell him that there was a universe where they were together. Or maybe not. Maybe that wouldn't help at all.
She followed Kerr out of the transporter room and they walked quickly to her quarters. As soon as the door shut, he pulled her into his arms. Their kiss was long and desperately hungry and in no time they were in the bedroom, clothes entangled around their legs, bodies frantically joining as if they had been separated for days not hours.
"I'm glad to be back," Christine said as she nuzzled Kerr's neck. She realized it was true. It might not be perfect, but this reality was home.
"Must have been strange there," he said cautiously.
"It was." She touched his hair, ran her fingers down his face. "I missed you so much."
He gave her an eyebrow worthy of Spock. "Wasn't I there the whole time?"
"He wasn't you."
He kissed her, a long, slow kiss that left her slightly breathless. "Yeah, I know how that is."
"What was she like?"
"Greedy," he said, then looked embarrassed. "Sorry."
So they'd gotten threesome Chapel. She snuggled closer to him. "Don't be. I can imagine it was sort of a shock to hear about her domestic arrangements."
His voice was wary. "I can imagine it was even more of a shock to find yourself in the middle of them."
"Not in the middle, if you're inferring what I think you are."
He looked away. "It was right there in front of you. Spock and I, there for the taking."
She shook her head. "Not the same. They weren't my Spock and Kerr, they were hers."
"Ah." His hand was running down her back, his nails lightly scratching her back.
She arched slightly, moaned. "God, that's nice."
"So you didn't?" he asked.
"No." She surrendered to his touch for a moment, and the only sounds in the room were her moans of contentment. Then her eyes flew open. "You didn't, did you?"
"Chris? Can you see me in a threesome?"
She grinned. "I did see you in a threesome, remember? You and Spock made a very cute couple." She laughed when he rolled his eyes. "He and Spock," she corrected herself. "He wasn't you and Spock wasn't the Spock that we've lived through all this turmoil with. They hadn't been through the betrayals, the bizarre happenings. Even the deaths."
"The other Christine said that Farrell was alive?"
She nodded. "Still alive. Possibly still causing trouble. They don't know about her and you."
"You didn't tell them?"
She shook her head, "But I did tell him to tell them. I don't know if he will, but I hope so."
He grinned. "I didn't tell her because I knew you'd be bullying him into doing it." He rolled onto his back, pulled her with him so that she was resting on his chest. "You think he will?"
"He's a good man, just like you. I think he'll make the right decision." She looked down, found it hard to say, "Ren wasn't the only one that didn't die though." He was silent for moment, and she prompted him, "Kirk didn't die." She forced herself to meet his eyes. "I mean Jim." She put a lot of emotion into his name. At Kerr's slight frown, she said, "There's something I need to tell you. I should have told you this before, but it didn't seem important. But he was there. On the ship. We had a chance to talk."
"That's good. I remember how hard his death hit you."
"But I never told you why."
Kerr stared at her, waiting for her to get to the point. She felt his body tense.
"Very briefly and a long time ago, he and I were lovers." She didn't look away from his gaze. "It was when Spock went to Gol, to purge his emotions. Jim and I were both in a black place, both looking for someone to share the misery. So we shared that...and a bit more."
"You loved him." She was glad he hadn't made it a question.
"I loved him. And I lost him because I wasn't honest with him. And because by the time I did tell him the truth, he couldn't forgive me. Wouldn't let me back in."
He took a deep breath. "Is that why you forgave me? I didn't expect you to."
"Maybe a little. But mostly I forgave you because I love you. I love you so much, Randall." She was surprised to realize that she was crying, dashed at the tears almost violently.
He was smiling at her, an expression full of tenderness and love. "And you love Spock too. I know that. It occurred to me, as I listened to that other Christine, that all it would take was the word from you and we'd be just like them."
"It wouldn't be the same. I can't see you sharing."
He laughed softly. "I sure as hell don't plan to, but if I had to? That might be a harder thing to rule out." He stroked her hair off her face, looked at her almost sadly. "Is it hard? Knowing you could have what they had?"
She took a slow deep breath as she considered it. "Yes, it's hard." She could tell her answer disappointed him. "But not as hard as it was to see you right in front of me and know that it wasn't you, not the way I needed it to be. What they have, they have because their reality is the way it is. Ours is too different. I'm not sure that we could ever have what they do. I'm not sure we should have it." She looked down. "That didn't make sense."
"Maybe not, but I liked the sound of it," he said as he kissed her. "I love you, Chris. I missed you more than you will ever know."
"I love you too," was all she managed to say before he rolled her under him and proceeded to make her forget all about things that came in three.
Later, as he lay asleep, she wondered about the other Christine Chapels out there. Was there one who had chosen Randall and left the ship, didn't have to worry every day about Spock and what she was doing to him and how much she wanted him too? Was there a Chapel who never made it to the training and so never got the Carter assignment, possibly denying it to Spock as well? Was there a Chapel who ended up with Kirk, happy in that tempestuous union? She remembered the conversation that she'd had with Spock, the night they'd betrayed Randall. Was there really a universe for every choice that could be made? And were there some choices that were made more often? The propensity for her to choose a path that would lead her to the Carter greater, for example, then the number of times she'd choose an alternate path?
As she snuggled closer to Kerr, she decided that quantum physics was a tangle, offering more questions than answers and giving her a headache. It was enough to make her long for a nice simple bump on the head.