Captain William Cox came to his senses and awoke flat on his back on the floor of the Engine Chamber. The first thing he saw was the Quantum Temporal Slipstream Drive Core. It was dark, appearing as only just a dark blue column. Quickly checking over all of his extremities, limbs and joints, he immediately discerned that he was unhurt and uninjured.
He sat up and looked around. In the darkness of the chamber he spotted Lessia, Mara, Katherine, Jennifer, and Slaavik. “Everyone all right? Is anyone hurt?” He croaked gruffly, his voice hoarse.
“We need to get to the bridge.” Lessia said. Jennifer nodded. “I concur.” Agreed Slaavik.
The first to step onto the Equinox’s bridge was Jennifer Hansen. She barely got the chance to cry out as she was seized by one arm and yanked to one side.
The rest of the groups surged onto the bridge, only to be stopped dead in their tracks as they were completely surrounded by a horseshoe ring circle of muzzles of firearms pointed at them from all directions. Holding the weapons were men dressed in jet-black military uniforms and armored bodysuit
Then they heard a voice emanating from behind the line of soldiers. “Identify yourself.”
Will hesitated before retrieving his identification badge from his breast pocket. “My name is William Cox.” The ring of soldiers surrounding them parted, and a man stepped forward. Lessia’s eyes went wide, and there was an audible intake of breath from the group. The man before them was tall, with deep blue-green eyes and dark brown hair. Cox stood frozen, rooted to the spot where he stood, as he stared into his own face, his same eyes leering back at him, his mouth creased into snide half-grin on a face that was at once intimately familiar, and entirely alien.
“Who are you, Valogran?” The newcomer demanded.
Will, attempting to hand his doppelgänger his card, which was intercepted by an armed bodyguard, was still struggling to get used to looking himself in the eye. “Captain of the United Federated Star Systems starship E—” But the moment he uttered the word “captain” several of the soldiers restraining his team broke into grating laughter. Even the man across from him smirked. “A Valogran captain?” He huffed derisively. “I see now why your little scheme has failed. Poor background research on the rebellion’s part.” He looked Cox up and down. “A sloppy attempt at impersonating an imperial commander.” He glanced at Slaavik. “And you made no attempt at all to disguise your companion.” As his bodyguard handcuffed Will, his twin strode past him. “You.” His eyes shifted over Cox’s shoulder to Slaavik, being forcefully held back by four of his soldiers. “You are a Valogran.” “I am.” “Is he then your master?” The stranger indicated Cox. “He is my captain. The son of our Queen.” “You’re a half-Valogran hybrid?” He uttered the words with utter disdain, every syllable that left his lips and tongue dripping with disgust that bordered on revulsion. Cox said nothing. “Very well.” Brooks said.
He strutted up to Lessia, standing quietly and unguarded. “And what do we have here?” He reached up to sweep Lessia’s hair away from the side of her neck, his fingers tracing the trail of spots. “You’re Trillaxian.” He said, quietly, as though in awe. “Aren’t you?” Lessia kept her lips in a tight line, but nodded curtly. “Fascinating.” The man’s fingers ran from Lessia’s hairline to the collar of her uniform. “For as long back as I can remember, I have never seen a Trillaxian female…” He turned away back toward Cox. “…Alive.” He amended with a sickening smile.
“What make you think that we are part of this…what did you call it? …Rebellion?” The stranger snorted at the question. “Please.” “We are not traitors, nor spies.” Slaavik stated. “Look at this from my point of view, Captain.” Brooks said to Cox. He counted off his evidence on his fingers. “First, Earth experiences a planet-wide surge of electromagnetic radiation, for the first time in nearly a century and a half, shorting out each and every electronic device on the globe, including our defensive weapons systems.” William recalled his grandmother telling him about the electromagnetic super-storms of the mid-21st century. “Then, there are what our geologists tell us are unprecedented tectonic activity across the earth’s crust.” Cox chanced a glance out the viewer at the planet below them. “Finally, in a blinding flash of light, this ship;” He gestured to the bridge around them, indicating the Equinox; “Your ship, appears from out of nothing in low near-Earth orbit above the planet.” He turned back to Cox and his team. “It will take us a number of weeks for us to get our surface-to-space weapons back online, but your plot to collapse our economy failed, as did your scheme to instill terror in our population.” Cox was very thoroughly lost, thinking that the man who shared his face was ranting incoherently.
“Not that any of it matters now.” The stranger said, to no one in particular. “In any case, I am hereby confiscating this vessel in the name of the Empire.” Cox and his team all jumped as every soldier present simultaneously pounded his chest with a balled fist, with a chorus of shouts of “Terra prime!” which Cox’s education in Latin translated as meaning, “Earth first”. Noting that neither Cox nor any of his crew joined in the chorus, his doppelgänger wheeled on him, stomping up to stand nose to nose with him. “You tell me, “captain”;” He huffed, his breath washing over Cox’s face; “If, as you claim, you are not a member of Rebellion, then why is it you refuse to pledge your fidelity to the empire?” There existed no doubt in Cox’s mind his confusion showed in his expression. His mirror backed away. “We have never even heard of your “Terran Empire”!” Mara protested.
“By the way”; the mirror commander asked; “What is the name of this vessel?” Lessia answered. “The Federation starship USS Equinox.” The imperial officer appeared to perk up at hearing her voice.
“What are you doing here? What is your part in this?” Cox sensed the man’s curiosity to be genuine and so nodded to her to answer. I am Equinox’s Science Officer.” The chuckles from his men were silenced by a glare from their commander. “A Trillaxian scientist.” He shook his head. “Now I have seen everything.” Cox could see Lessia bristle, but she maintained her stoicism. “What is your name, Trillaxian?” “Lieutenant Lessia Odanox.” “You are a Odanox.” He nodded. “Of course you are. You must be.” “Why would you say that?” Lessia was inquisitive. “The Odanox made up the ruling aristocracy of Trillaxia Prime.” “How do you know? What do you mean?” The other’s expression and tone was one filled of supreme arrogance and overbearing avarice. “They were the last to fall.” He grinned sadistically at seeing Lessia’s hands ball into fists, her jaw line set as she gritted her clenched teeth. “And they were the hardest to kill.” The soldiers restraining the Trillaxian wrapped their arms more tightly around her as she launched herself, lunging at their leering captor. “Even their men make poor laborer servants.” He actually winked as he glanced back and forth in between Lessia and Cox. “But their women, however, do make the most excellent wives.”
“Well, as much as I have enjoyed this idle chitchat we do have pressing business with which we must press on.” He nodded to the soldiers training their weapons on Cox and his team, and the black-suited men seized the crew’s wrists behind their backs in vice-like death grips. “William Cox, if that is indeed your real name;” He paused and turned his head to glance back over his shoulder; “Which I doubt;” He shrugged his shoulders in resignation with an overly melodramatized sigh; “I am hereby placing you under arrest for the crime of impersonating an officer of the United Earth Empire.” He gestured for them to follow behind him, and Cox and his team were manhandled roughly into the nearest lift.
Will had long since given up trying in vain, and failing, to argue with the stone-faced security officers that had hustled them roughly into a seek-looking jet-black shuttle pod.
He fell silent as he felt Hansen nudge his shoulder and gesture with her cuffed to the shuttle’s window porthole. He leaned over her lap and looked where she pointed. It was the earth all right, with its deep, pure azure blue oceans. It might have been Cox’s imagination but the oceans looked greener than he had remembered, the land more brown and Savannah-like. When they crested the Northern Hemisphere, they expected to see the now all-too-familiar sight of the glistening crystalline white that was the layer of snow and ice, a kilometer to a mile deep, that entirely covered the overwhelmingly vast majority of the land masses in the plant Earth’s Northern hemisphere. But instead they saw only a grayish haze. Then the cloud layer shifted off to the northwest; and Cox heard everyone on the whole ship chorus with him in a joint collective stunned gasp. The first thought that came to his mind at what he saw shot out of his mouth. “Where are the ice caps?” He asked to no one in particular. The ice sheets that for the past century and a half had reached down to Texas, Florida, Spain, and Portugal were nowhere to be seen. There was, from orbit, no ice visible anywhere North of the Tropic of Cancer or anywhere except the South polar continent of Antarctica itself.
“Come to that;” He heard Hansen say; “Where’s Florida? Indonesia? Philippines? Baja?” All had vanished beneath the sea.
“If I may ask a question.” Slaavik said to the imperial commander, standing at the helm of the shuttlecraft. Cox’s doppelgänger nodded, obviously used to Valograns requesting permission to speak. “What is to happen to us now?” “You’ll be held in a subterranean detention facility”; He indicated the readouts showing their destination; “Until such time as you can be brought before the Supreme Court.” He glanced at Cox with an arrogant white-toothed grin. “The emperor himself will personally preside over your trial, during which you will be given an opportunity to present your story;” He sighed as if bored already with the thought; “And your sentence will be decided upon.” “Sentence?” Slaavik spat, her ordinarily rigid composure disintegrating in that moment. “Your evidence is circumstantial at best! Won’t we even have to be proved guilty?” Then the unasked question occurred to her. “What are we even being charged with?” “High treason against the Empire.” The commander barked before she had even finished speaking, showing how unaccustomed he was to being addressed with such hostility. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, and his voice was calmer when he added: “And sedition against the Emperor.” He looked at Cox with a sadistic smile that gave every member of Will’s team chills. “My father.” Every one of their shoulders slumped visibly as it sank in just how hopeless their predicament was.
The windows of the shuttle were closed as they entered the lower stratosphere below the clouds, plunging the interior of the vessel into pitch-blackness. Therefore Cox felt, more than anything else, when the shuttle landed. He and his crew were, however, still blindfolded with hoods tied around their necks as they were led out of the craft. Cox tried his best to discern from his other senses where on Earth they might be, but he might as well have been on an alien world for all the familiarity his ears and nose noticed. The hoods and their handcuffs were not removed until they were shoved forcefully in the door and onto the floor of a windowless, dank, and chilled prison cell.
Cox struck his head against something cold and metal, and was still dazed, as the door to their cell was slammed shut. Jennifer knelt by his side and helped him sit up. As his vision cleared, he saw that what he had hit was the headboard of a small cot. Slaavik sat on the cot lost deep in thought, the expression in her eyes distant. Looking around as Jennifer inspected the wound on the back of his head, Will for the first time noticed a figure he had not seen on the Equinox’s bridge or in the shuttle. Kathryn Krueloe was huddled in the corner, curled into a fetal position and rocking back and forth. Cox reached up to tap Slaavik on the knee. The Valogran lifted her head, lifting out of her reverie, and looked at him. Will nodded his head to the side in the direction of the woman huddled n the corner. Slaavik nodded in acknowledgement, sighing as she shrugged her shoulders, momentarily shedding her office as Chief of Security and assuming the responsibility as de facto counselor. “Miss Krueloe.” She called and Will was amazed at the transformation effected in her melodious sing-song voice from her customary cold tone. “Is there something wrong?” “Everything’s wrong.” Krueloe replied. Will nodded. It did seem as though they had stepped into some alien world. “I can’t remember anything.” Krueloe continued. Cox sat up, causing his head to pound. “What?” “All my memories are gone.” “What aren’t you remembering?” Lessia asked, calmly. “I tried remembering my childhood, growing up”; She choked up, tears forming in her eyes; “My mother.” “You have no memories of any of them?” Cox asked. “That’s just it;” Krueloe unfurled her legs, rising to her knees before sitting back against the wall; “I have memories of a family, a house, and a childhood.” She looked at their thoroughly confused expressions. “But they’re not mine.” “Explain.” Slaavik again played counselor. “I can put a name to each face, each place;” The tears streamed down her cheeks; “But I don’t recognize them, not one.” She shook her head, closing her eyes and burying her face in her hands. “It’s almost as if…” “…Like you’re remembering somebody else’s life.” Lessia finished for her before she could, nodding understandingly. Cox looked around. “Is anyone else dealing with what she’s describing?” Lessia paused but shook her head. Slaavik merely averted her gaze and said nothing.
Somewhere miles away in the city above them, a teenage girl awoke in a dark room. For a moment she was not certain if she had woken up at all, unsure which was more real: the dream she had been having or the world she woke into. She felt along the wall above her head, fumbling across the bedside table until she found the light switch. The lamp faded on slowly and she blinked s her eyes adjusted, looking around the room. Her first thought was that whoever lived here must be extraordinarily well off. She sat up in the bed and was surprised, as she pulled the sheets up against her chest, to feel her hands instead hit a pair of breasts. She froze, her first reflex being to avoid disturbing whomever their owner might be, and her brain did not register that they belonged to her until she chanced a glance down at her body. Her discovery that she had breasts was on the first revelation of the fact that she was completely and entirely nude in the bed. With wide eyes she turned her head to see clothes; her clothes she knew intuitively; draped over a chair at the bedside and realized all at once that the person who lived in the well-appointed room in which she now found herself was in fact her.
She jumped as she suddenly had the strange but powerful sense that she was not alone and a minute later there was a knock on the door of her bedroom. She barely heard it though, as her head was unexpectedly flooded with a disorganized chaotic jabbering of voices. ‘No’; she realized; ‘It was only one voice. She knew she should respond to the knock. “Who is it?” She called, abruptly closing her mouth tightly upon hearing what sounded like someone else’s voice come out of it. She knew it was her voice, melodious and feminine, but she could not remember ever having heard it before. “Who do you want it to be?” Replied a male voice she was surprised to identify as the one still reverberating in her head. After a moment’s pause: “It’s Jed.” The same corner of her mind that had identified the clothes by her bedside as being hers put a name to the voice: Josiah Fossett. She must have remained silent too long because he felt the need to elaborate. “Your partner.” ‘Her partner?’ She thought, wondering what business she might be in that would earn her such accommodations and involve her having a partner. “Are you still in bed, Cat?” Something clicked, her name coming back to her: Cassandra. The back corner of her brain had put the name Cassandra Harper to her voice when she had just spoken. So then why did she remember that her last name was Hansen? She was further confused by the fact that she could distinctly, if not clearly, hear Josiah’s voice in her mind in spite of the fact that he hadn’t spoken a word in may long minutes. “I got a call.” His voice had a detectable French accent. “We’ve got a job. Get dressed and be ready to go to work.”
Cassandra took another look at the clothes hung beside her bed. They consisted of a jet-black jumpsuit which as she slipped into it without donning any undergarments, as the stack included none, she was surprised to fall was fitted to her body size and shape. She thought for a moment that perhaps her profession might be as some sort of spy or top-secret classified agent, but the suit’s low-cut neckline made her somehow immediately doubt the plausibility of this conclusion, as did the six-inch stiletto heels of the above-the-knee thigh boots.
A young man with the face her mind had matched to the voice stood waiting for her when she opened the door. He smiled as he inspected the hastily thrown-on ensemble. “I sometimes forget that you always preferred to sleep eau natural.” He commented, the tone of his voice leaving no doubt in Cassandra’s mind that he was speaking from firsthand knowledge, and the thought that she had slept with him made Cassandra look at the man in a new and different way. He was tall but slender with short curly reddish-brown hair and a baby-like face naturally denuded of any trace of a beard or mustache in spite of his age, which she guessed to be mid to late-twenties. This last thought prompted her to look down at her own body and she was not unaware of the strangeness of trying to figure out from her physical features how old she might be. The change in her voice combined with the size of her breasts drew her to arrive at the number of eighteen years old and given that she now knew she was no longer a virgin, having evidently been intimate at least once with the man standing in front of her, she silently prayed that she was right. When Cassandra looked up again Jed was already walking away from her down the hall and she hurried, as much as was possible in her high heels, to catch up to him.
“An Imperial security transport shuttle just landed”; He was saying, evidently to her. He turned his head partway around to check she was with him; “Carrying at least half a dozen captured members of the Rebellion;” She was starting to think this was sounding like something out of a twentieth century “science fiction” myth; “Guarded by several dozen Imperial officers.” He glanced down at her cleavage, dispelling any illusion she had entertained about being a covert operative. Instead her earlier feelings approaching excitement and anticipation to see what this new life held for her were replaced by a sickening sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that she knew just what it was she did to earn that lavish suite. “I even heard a rumor;” Jed said; “That this particular detachment was under the personal command of Emperor’s son himself.” Her sick feeling deepened at hearing how excited her companion was growing at the prospect, knowing with stomach-churning certainty that it was not he that would be expected to…interact—with officers. Josiah, she could tell from the patronizing condescension in his tone of voice when he spoke to her, saw himself as the mastermind behind their no doubt marginally legal at best undertakings. She bristled to herself as she walked behind him at the thought that he saw her as little more than a finely honed instrument for his own gratification. ‘It was also clear’; She thought as they emerged into blinding late morning sunlight; ‘from how he made no attempt to disguise his avarice that he was accustomed to her following along with his schemes.’
As her eyes adjusted to the daylight and she looked around them at a city she immediately recognized as Paris, France, she wondered how profoundly troubled the life that the owner of the body in which she now found herself had led might have been to wound her up in such an exploitative business.
“I believe I may have a hypothesis.” Slaavik announced. As they were the first words any of them could remember having heard her speak in hours, since they had first been thrown into the cell, everyone in the room immediately turned their full and undivided attention to the Valogran woman. “It is my belief that we;” She gestured indicating her companions; “Have been somehow thrown into a parallel universe from our own.” On any other day and coming from anyone else’s lips Cox, being the scientist that he was, would have dismissed the concept as delusional imaginings. But given what all of them had experienced in the past couple of hours and his knowledge of the Valogran as someone not prone to hyperbole, Cox was intrigued as he could see the rest of his crew were as well. “We have encountered one doppelgänger of a member of our crew already.” She looked down at him. “That being yours captain. However, from his lack of your facial features;” Cox knew she was referring to his forehead and brow ridges, an inheritance from his mother’s side of his family; “I can conclude that this William has no Valogran ancestry.” “Hence why his officers address him as Commander Brooks.” Krueloe piped up, having recovered from her emotional breakdown. “Precisely.” Slaavik nodded to her. Then to her captain again: “Your Valogran mother adopted your last name when she married your father, which is why he doesn’t share it. He instead inherited one of the two last names that your father was born with prior to meeting your mother.” Cox nodded, knowing his illustrious family’s history well but understanding that her explanation was more for the benefit of his crew than his own. “I harbor no doubts that we will very soon be encountering duplicates of other people we knew. However;” She paused to look around at the group; “I have been able to ascertain that in this world the Federation we knew has either been replaced with this Empire or else never existed to begin with.” All present hung their heads, struck with the great loss, but Slaavik locked eyes with Lessia. “It is also clear to me;” She said meaningfully; “That while the people on this Earth do appear to be familiar with the other species of the Federation;” Cox understood now why she was looking at Lessia, the only other extraterrestrial in the room, as she said this; “This Empire is ruled over by humans who perceive our kind as both inherently inferior and subservient.” As she anticipated she saw the Trillaxian’s spots darken as she bristled angrily and could feel the outrage radiating from Cox as well.
No sooner had she finished speaking than the doors of the cell burst open and the same soldiers that had thrown them in dragged them out, slapping handcuffs back on. This time, however, Cox was no longer confused and so was able to make a concerted effort to prevent the group from becoming separated. His doppelgänger appeared to recognize why Cox was struggling to stay as close as he could to the other members of his crew. “While I am forced to tell you that I admire your attachment to your people, “Captain”; Brooks said. “The Trillaxian is not even one of your own kind.” He indicated Lessia. “And why the human women?” Cox knew he was referring to Krueloe and Hansen. “They’re my responsibility.” Cox answered curtly. “Let me guess.” Brooks seemed to be enjoying this like it was some kind of game. “The Rebellion’s scheme to infiltrate the empire by impersonating Imperial officers;” He eyed Cox’s Federation uniform suspiciously; “Was your idea and these few are the only ones out of your fellow rebels that were devoted enough to you;” He had seen Lessia and Slaavik struggling to stay near their captain; “That you could get them to go along with it.” He looked for any hint of recognition on Cox’s face and found none. “Am I close to the truth?” Cox stayed silent and Brooks turned away from him with a huff. “It doesn’t matter. You can save your storytelling for your tribunal appearance if you wish.” They had emerged from the underground complex and Cox could not help but note the lack of any attempt on Brooks’ men’s part to blindfold them as they had been upon their initial approach as they stepped out onto a bustling city street. Cox was shocked to recognize that they stood in downtown Paris, what had been in the reality they had left hours earlier the headquarters city of the Federation.
Brooks and his men wasted no time in piling Cox and his team into ground transports and they were soon leaving the city limits of Paris. Their destination, Cox soon surmised, was the villa of Chateau Villette, known to him only because it had once belonged to his great, great-grandmother, Roseline Saint Chlaire, during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As a result, he was significantly more nonplussed as they were pulled from the cabs than the other members of his team, who gaped wide-eyed at the mansion, built to mirror the former French royal palace at Versailles. Cox was, however, just as surprised as any of his crew, as they were led inside, to see that the interior of the structure had been completely hollowed out and replaced by one enormous hall, its ceiling rising out of sight high above, the figures that sat behind desks at its far end barely discernible at such a distance.
Cox saw Brooks straighten his uniform, sweeping imaginary dust off his sleeves and adjusting his cuffs as he readied to march them down the hall. He was interrupted by another group of soldiers that came bursting through the opposite door. “Commander!” Their leader hailed Brooks with the salute Cox had seen earlier. Brooks appeared annoyed by the disruption of his triumph. “What is it, Lieutenant?” “Sir, we found these lurking around Versailles.” Cox saw two tall figures appear in the shadows behind the officer. “I wouldn’t bother you with it except they give the same cover story as your detainees.” Brooks strained to distinguish the shadowy forms. “Interesting. Who might they be?” The lieutenant dutifully tugged on the chain cuffing the two figures together. “Valograns sir. A pair of them.” The figures emerged from the shadows and Cox actually laughed out loud, startling his captor, as he saw Juno and her daughter Sarah standing in the hall. He ran forward without a second thought and the two women embraced him. His godmother kissed his forehead ridges and, his hands bound behind his back, he buried his chin onto the shoulder of her daughter. “I have never been happier to see anyone else in my life!” He exclaimed. “We’re pleased to see that you haven’t been harmed, Will.” Sarah comforted him. Cox was abruptly aware of the intimacy of his face burrowed into the side of the neck of the woman he had been raised to think of as a sister and so pulled back. Brooks shook the lieutenant’s hand. “Well done. It is obvious they’re involved together. Thank you. I’ll take them from here.” The man saluted again and was gone. Cox stayed close to his godmother as Juno and Sarah, too, permitted Brooks’ soldiers to bind their hands and they marched as a group down the hall. It made him feel inexplicably better even in this foreign and alien place to be surrounded by friends he trusted.
As they approached he could see now that the bench at the head of the hall consisted of nine desks overseen by an elevated pedestal rising behind them. Seated at the desks were serious-faced no-nonsense men ranging in age from twice again his own age to not much older than he. Slaavik, reflexively taking up her captain’s rear, collided with him as Cox abruptly stopped dead in his tracks and froze in spite of the soldier tugging on his chains. He had just seen the face of the man seated on the pedestal, an in recognizing him he knew at once that Slaavik’s words rung true. “Dad.” He muttered under his breath, his voice barely above a whisper, staring into the intimately familiar eyes of Jarek Brooks-Janney II. A moment later Brooks stepped in front of him, shooting him a reprimanding look before dropping to one knee with a clenched fist to his chest. “Welcome, father.” Cox recalled what his doppelgänger had told him about being the son of the Emperor. ‘Jarek was the Emperor?’ He thought in disbelief, feeling a whole different sense of dread fill him. “Greetings my son.” The Emperor replied formally, nodding. “I understand you have something special for us this afternoon.” Brooks beamed proudly. “Indeed I have, your highness.” He turned to Cox. “This man, obviously made over in an attempt to imitate me, tells us that he is a captain in the rebellion.” There was a chattering of derisive laughter. “A Valogran captain?” Sneered one of the nine men overseeing the proceedings, banging a gavel. “Indeed”. “We have several of his compatriots.” Brooks moved back in the line. “Three Valogran females.” Cox did his best to hide his anger at the look of disgust that crossed the Emperor’s face. In the world hew had come from his own father, Jarek Brooks-Janney II, had fallen in love with and married a Valogran woman, his mother. “This one;” Brooks was saying, indicating Slaavik; “Claims to be her captain’s security officer.” There was rumble of laughter from the spectators. “And these two;” He moved on to Juno and Sarah; “Obviously a mother-daughter pair, appear to have an intimate relationship with him.” Brooks pointed at Cox and as he anticipated a collective gasp went up for his audience. “Who’s the fifth?” The emperor asked. His son beamed with pride and straightened, marching over to push Lessia to stand beside Cox at the front of the hall. “A rarity, and a first before this august body.” He announced. He reached u to sweep Lessia’s hair aside. “A Trillaxian female.” Ther nine judges leaned forward as Lessia’s spots were unveiled and the emperor was forced to pound his own gavel as, even with her wrists bound, Lessia jerked her head away from Brooks’ hand.
“Your highness, honorable justices of the court;” Brooks strode toward the bench; “It is my assertion, as a commander of the empire, that the electromagnetic pulse that shut down Earth’s electronic devices was caused somehow by their vessel.” “What vessel?” The Emperor asked. Brooks pushed a button on the device in his hand, a three-dimensional holographic projection springing from the desk in front of the Emperor, and a moment later a larger version of the same image materialized in the center of the hall. The Emperor reached out and rotated the projection of the Equinox with his fingers. “Have you ever seen this style of starship before?” Brooks shook his head. “It is not of any Imperial design.” The Justices appeared skeptical. “Are you trying to suggest to us that the Rebellion has somehow acquired the technological capability to begin manufacturing its own vessels?” “I believe we would be better off hearing the Rebel “captain” explain himself.” Brooks whirled on Cox, holding up the handheld device, projecting the image directly in front of his doppelgänger’s face. “What is this?” He demanded. “The United Federated Star Systems Timeship USS Equinox” Cox answered calmly, meeting his duplicate’s eyes with his own unwaveringly. He found he could channel all of his fury, hatred and rage into an icy, stony façade that ironically effectively disguised his outrage and frustration. “Timeship?” Brooks laughed and was joined by his father behind him. “What might that mean, precisely?” Cox said nothing, but instead turned to Lessia beside him and nodded. “The Equinox is built with a quantum temporal core in addition to its subspace slipstream drive.” Lessia explained, not making eye contact with their captor but instead keeping her gaze on her captain. “The Rebel “Science officer” speaks!” Brooks exclaimed, smacking his hand down on the justices’ desk for effect. “Now we’ve all not only seen a Trillaxian female but heard one as well. Even with his bound wrists Cox was able to reach out with his fingertips to lay a hand on Lessia’s wrist as he saw the Trillaxian tense with barely suppressed anger at his doppelgänger’s patronizing proclamation. Jarek, however, did not share his son’s revelry. He was eyeing Juno scrupulously, as if trying to maneuver the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into place with his mind. “Do you mean to ell this court;” He intoned, forming his words slowly as Juno returned his study unflinchingly, appearing as at ease as though she were strolling along the banks of the Seine; “That your vessel is capable of time travel?” “In theory;” Lessia hedged; “Hypothetically, yes.” She studied the Emperor and his son. “That is to say, it should have been.” “What do you mean?” The emperor appeared genuinely intrigued by the earnestness his prisoners exhibited in their story, much to the ill-concealed disbelief of his son. “You’ve activated this “quantum core”?” “That is how we came to appear in orbit above your Earth, your majesty.” It was Sarah and Cox looked back in time to see the young woman dip in a courtly curtsy. The Emperor was too fascinated by the woman’s voice, but one of the justices caught on to the subtlety in her words. “What do you mean by “our” Earth? There is only one Planet Earth in this whole galaxy! Explain yourself.” Sarah faltered, unsure whether the truth would help or hurt the case for their innocence, but was rescued from having to come up with a story by Juno, who stepped forward to stand in front of her daughter. “We come from a different world.” “Of course they do!” Brooks erupted, outraged at his father’s entertaining of these criminals. “They’re Valograns!” “A different Earth.” Juno finished, her eyes flashing at the Imperial commander, who appeared to physically whither underneath her heated gaze. “But there exists only one planet Earth.” The justice repeated. “We’ve looked—” “In this universe.” Juno interrupted and the justice closed his mouth, sitting back. “What a preposterous non-sequitur!” Brooks had recovered his bravado but nonetheless made certain to face away from the woman and her daughter. “The universe is everything that exists!” He asserted confidently. “There can be nothing else besides.”
Juno turned to her daughter, who stepped forward. “As you are no doubt aware;” She began humbly, displaying deference to the emperor if not to his son; “A theory of quantum physics popularized in the late twentieth and early 21st centuries held that decisions made and actions taken at various different places and times cause new realities to spring into existence in which all but certain things were the same but where events occurred in a distinctly different way.” The Emperor and his justices nodded, in spite of Brooks who appeared hopeless lost. “It is our belief that our activation of the Equinox’s temporal drive resulted the formation of and alternate reality from our own.” She waved her hand, indicating the Chateau. “This one, in which we now find ourselves.” “You cannot be taking these criminals seriously!” Brooks implored his father, gesturing angrily at Juno. “Now we hear them claiming to be gods. How they talk about creating universes!” Jarek nodded. “I agree it seems implausible on its face.” He turned back to Sarah. “Two objects cannot occupy the same point in space at the same point in time. If what you say was true, your interaction with our universe would result in the mutual annihilation of both of our realities.” The spectators gasped and rumbled at the thought. Sarah thought for a long moment, looking back and forth between Cox and Brooks before replying, choosing her next words with extreme care. “As a theoretical astrophysicist myself;” She ignored Brooks’ derisive scoff; “I can think of only one probability, which is this.” She felt everyone in the room, including her own crew, leaning in to hear her quiet voice. “That, with the exception of those few of us who were present around the core at the moment of its activation;” She indicated her companions; “Your universe has, for all practical intents and purposes, replaced our own.” Even Slaavik appeared taken aback by the implications of this. “In other words your reality has effectively overwritten ours, like a sheet of metal welded onto the top of a motor.” Realizing belatedly that she had lost the Emperor with the analogy, she elaborated. “The outline of the shape of the reality we knew, in this case the planet Earth, its continents, countries and cities, remains intact but the appearance and…texture—of your world, namely the people, institution and history, is dramatically different.”
“This is ludicrous!” Brooks had finally had enough of all this high-minded talk of science he didn’t understand. “You know better than anyone in this hall, your highness;” He addressed his father; “That the Empire has a history that can trace its origins back for hundreds of years, dozens of generations, to the mid-twentieth century.” He could not keep his eyes from Juno as he spoke but now shifted his derision to her daughter. “Our universe was most definitely not created only days ago;” He slid alongside Lessia, his voice a hiss in her ear; “And our illustrious Empire is certainly not the incidental outcome from any technological malfunction.” The Emperor sighed, nodding. “I apologize, doctor…I’m sorry but I never did get your name. “Wells. Sarah Wells. And I prefer to be addressed as “professor” if you don’t mind.” Sarah answered back, growing bolder before adding with another curtsy: “Your highness.” “Very well, Professor Wells;” Jarek continued; “It is obvious that you, all of you, believe that what you are telling us is true.” The team’s hopes were dashed by his next words. “But I am afraid that I have no other alternative but to concur with Commander Brooks.” Cox saw Brooks start to strut arrogantly around the group in a tight circle, like a hyena herding frightened gazelle to pick off the weakest. “The Earth Empire that you are in both can and does, indeed, trace its beginnings to the middle of the twentieth century. Before any standing in this in this room were even born.” He hesitated on this last phrase, his gaze once more fixating on Juno and her daughter.
“By our laws;” One of the justices piped up; “It doesn’t make a difference why one refuses to pledge their allegiance to the Empire. Anyone shown top be negligent in their loyalty is to be considered guilty of the crime of high sedition against the Emperor himself.” He glared at Cox, who was looking around at his companions, not believing his ears. “Not acknowledging the legitimacy of the Empire’s entire existences definitely qualifies as such negligence and more beyond I would say. Wouldn’t you, your Excellency?” The Emperor nodded as he pounded his gavel. “Captain William Cox, Doctor Sarah Wells, Lieutenant Lessia Odanox, Commander Slaavik and company;” He had never asked for any of the others’ names; “You are hereby found guilty as charged by this grand jury of the High Supreme Court of the Unified Empire of Earth;” Cox felt his façade cracking, knowing that the jury were merely spectators and had played no part in their conviction; “On all charges of the crimes of treason and sedition against the Empire and against his Excellency the Emperor Jarek Brooks the Second;” Cox huffed at the Emperor referring to himself in the third person by his own title; “On this date, the first of April of the year two thousand one hundred and ninety-five of the common era.” This caused both Lessia and Sarah to perk up to attention. The year they had left had been 2198. The Emperor stood and the justices dutifully followed suit. “As your sentence you are to be escorted, along with your vessel, by Commander William Brooks;” Cox tried to ignore his doppelgänger’s sneer in his direction; “On board the warship Endeavor, flagship of the Imperial Starfleet, to the Imperial penal colony on the moon Jadzri of the planet Trillaxia Prime.” Cox saw Lessia stiffen at the mention of her species’ home world. “Commander Brooks will then return to Earth with your vessel so that its technology can be replicated by the Empire for our purposes, leaving you stranded on the prison moon top labor excavating and manufacturing the materials needed by the Imperial military for as long as the last of you might live.” Again his gaze was drawn by Juno’s placid expression, which had turned ice-cold, sending visible shivers down the spine of the most powerful human in the galaxy as though it were he stranded on a desolate wasteland in the depths of space. The Emperor banged his gavel again. “This grand jury of the Supreme Court hereby stands adjourned.” The spectators filed out and he waved to his son. “The detainees are dismissed under custody.”
Cox and his team were pile back into the transport, which long minutes later deposited them at what he immediately recognized as, in his universe, the roundabout at the center of which stood the world-famous Arc de Triumph. Without thinking he turned around and looked North to the site where his great-grandmother had erected the towering monument memorializing the more than one billion victims of the global ecological cataclysm that had, nearly a century before he was born, been the impetus behind her founding of the Federation. Instead in its place stood what he identified as one of the destroyed structures out of the ruins of which the memorial had been constructed, the Eiffel Tower. With this reminder that they no longer lived in the world he knew Cox hung his head and rejoined his crew as they were marched south along the course of the river Seine away from the Tower. It was Juno and her daughter who spotted their destination first. The very same shuttle that had brought them down from their ship sat parked in between the two iconic glass pyramids that filled the courtyard of the former royal palace turned world-renowned art museum known to local Parisians as the Louvre. Slaavik concluded that the cell in which they had been held prior to their trial lay somewhere beneath their feet in one of the underground sublevels of the former museum.
“It’s your fault that we missed out on our chance to at Chateau Villette.” Jed derided her good-naturedly as they waited in the shadow of one of the Louvre’s glass pyramids. “You’re the one who led us to Versailles instead.” Cassandra shot back, pricking him the consequences of his determination to take the role as their leader.
“So now you’re responsible for bagging their leader.” Fosset pretended not to acknowledge her provocation. “The Emperor’s son?” Cassandra turned to stare at him. Jed nodded toward the shuttle.
Cassandra watched in silence for a long minute. She could see from this distance and angle the faces of any of the detainees being loaded onto the transport. Nor could she see the face of Imperial commander overseeing the prisoner transfer.
“He’s an officer like any other;” Her reminded her, holding up the bag he carried to smuggle the loot stolen from their victims. His meaning was obvious: to remind her of the luxurious suite she had left behind earlier that morning. He glanced down at her breasts pressed against the glass of the pyramid; “And a man.” Cassandra amazed herself at how much and how quickly she had grown accustomed to what she had discovered she did for a living. When all of the prisoners were piled into the shuttle and all of the imperial soldiers had filed in behind them, Jed indicated for her to make her move. Disgusted by what she was about to do, as she stood Cassandra took a deep breath and relaxed her every muscle, letting her eyes fall closed and her mind go blank.
When she reopened her eyes, she was startled to find that she was already striding out across the courtyard. She looked down at her legs, moving now as though by a will of their own, and then back up at the shuttle looming in front of her. Before she knew it, she was stalking up behind the imperial commander. She startled herself again by reaching out to lay the palms of her hands on his back. “What a lonely life you must lead, Commander.” She heard her voice say, felling her lips and tongue moving, like her legs, of their own volition. “Going home every day to that palatial fortress on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.” She felt herself run her hands over his shoulders and down his chest, her arms wrapping around his neck. “Living every day of your life under constant surveillance by your father, the media in every language filming and broadcasting your every move.” She felt her breasts press themselves into his back. “Just to try to live your life with so little privacy, but so heartbreaking alone, a daily struggle.”
She heard him laugh. “I know that voice.” He said.
She paused, something in his voice striking a chord somewhere deep inside. There was something familiar. She could not put her finger on it until he turned around within her embrace to face her and she gasped, jerking her head back and trying to pull away. “Will?” She blurted before thinking. She caught herself: “I mean, Captain?” She bowed her head, casting her eyes downward.
“Cassandra Harper.” Brooks said, looking her up and down. “In the flesh.” His eyes fixed on her cleavage as he reached up to detach her arms from around his neck. He did not, however, release her from his grasp, his hands like vices around her wrists. “I have to tell you that I expected more from the Empire’s most want con artist.” His words barely registered as she stared in disbelief at the face she had seen early that morning on the bridge of the Equinox. “Although;” His tone smoldered as he twisted her arms behind her back; “The reports of your beauty are greatly understated.” Casey was so mystified by being placed under arrest by the man she knew as a captain of the Federation that she could not even muster revulsion at his lechery.
Then, turning her head to one side, she spotted Jed climbing into the back cargo hold of the shuttle. This reminded her of the world in which she found herself, and she took control of her own body, trying to affect the same tone she had heard coming from her mouth earlier. “Are you going to take me to your father?”
Brooks thought about it for a moment. “He ordered me to bring the rebel vessel back here after I drop the traitors off at their penal moon.” He told her, marching her toward the shuttle. “How much more pleased he will be when I present him with both this “Equinox” of theirs and the most dangerous fugitive in the Empire.”
Casey’s ears perked up at the mention of Cox’s ship. She had concluded that the man shoving her into the cockpit of the shuttle with him was not the William Cox that she knew. Her first thought had been that the captain had undergone some sort of brainwashing, but the foreignness with which he referenced the Equinox convinced her once and for all that this was someone completely different altogether.