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Threading the Needle, Part 1


Location: Library, Joint Base Jarok, Galorndon Core, Reman Neutral Zone
Timeframe: Present Day, HMS Republic Universe

Although the conversation in the commissary had lasted a good half-hour, when Theo, Saal, and Vic returned to the library, John Carter and his Vulcan companion had yet to complete their mind meld. In fact, it took almost another hour before the two roused from their joint trance. While John remained sitting in the mediation booth, rubbing his fingers into his temples, the Vulcan stood up and turned around to face the three men sitting across the room. Smoothing out his mediation robes, the son-of-Surak strode over to the trio as they stood up from their seats to greet him.

“It's good to see you again, Y'lair,” said Doctor Yezbeck with recognition and muted surprise. He had not laid eyes upon his medical colleague in nearly four years. The last time he did, it was just before the Vulcan left on an away mission to fight Kreltans at a Demon Class planet in the Delphi Sector. The mission was led by the USS Republic's chief tactical officer at the time, Commander Matthew Riggs. Y'lair never came back from that mission.

For his part, the alternate-reality Y'lair cautiously raised an eyebrow, replying, “if you say so, doctor. Though, I think it's fair to inform you that we've never actually met before.”

“Understood,” Saal agreed. There had already been far too many confusing and uncomfortable role changes between alternate versions of his associates during this short tenure in an alternate reality. So, the doctor was willing to let sleeping dogs lie and not inquire further.

Theo, on the other hand, was a little more forthright. “What's your story?” he asked directly. “Are you from the HMS Republic too?” It was a legitimate question, since Y'lair was wearing Vulcan meditation robes and not sporting a Starfleet uniform as Vic was.

“John Carter and I came from the mirror universe, as you call it,” Y'lair elucidated. “When he found me, it was a year ago aboard the SS Tranquility. His mind was in chaos, as he appeared to have a split personality.”

In the meditation booth, the mirror universe John Carter finally roused. His one uncovered eye blinked vacuously a few times before he eventually stood up, rubbing the eyepatch over his covered eye, and strode over to the four individuals at the mention of his name. This version of John was imposing; more so than the version from Saal and Theo's universe, and while they shrank slightly at his sinewy approach, neither Vic nor Y'lair seemed affected by his burly demeanor.

“Hello, John,” Vic welcomed him stoically. “How are you feeling?”

“Rested,” he replied calmly, stroking his rough-shaven chin. “How are our guests?” he asked, turning his uncovered eye towards the displaced newcomers from the USS Republic universe.

“We could be better,” Theo/Doug Forrest admitted. “This is a lot to take in.”

“I'll say,” Saal piped up. “There's still many unanswered questions. Like why OUR version of John Carter stayed put in our reality back before Cestus Three when the one in this reality – you – didn't.”

“The John Carter of your reality didn't disappear three years ago because he took my body,” the glowering, coarse version of John replied. Under regular circumstances, the words he spoke could have been dismissed by Theo and Saal as those of a crazy person. However, the situation and discussion they just had with Victor Virtus – the very synthesis of a sane man – were far from normal, and so, Carter's words were accepted as truth, if not fantastical truth. “My katra… my 'soul' so to speak… lived on, but ended up in a body I would never have expected,” he spoke in an unusually loquacious manner. He motioned to his brawny physical form, as if it were separate from his consciousness. “This body I now inhabit was where my mind woke up months later after blinking out in that surgical suite on the HMS Republic. I woke up in a universe totally different from the one I left. Names and faces were familiar, but the way of life and roles everyone filled were totally different. Everyone was sadistic. Violent, greedy, and power hungry.”

It was clear that this version of Jonathan Carter was not the one they knew from the USS Republic universe. Nor did it seem that his outward appearance matched the consciousness that was speaking. On the outside, he bore an ogre-like appearance, battle-worn and evidently honed for conflict and hostility to the extent described. On the inside, however, his calm expression and smooth upper-class demeanor was of a sophisticated nature; almost Vulcan-like in bearing, and possessing a nearly parallel intellectual capacity. So much so, that it suggested Ylair's mind-melding may have bestowed upon him more than just emotional stability. If Theo and Saal hadn't known better, they would have guessed they were talking to a professor from the academy, and not the scientifically benighted “flight jock” they knew and loved from the Galaxy Class USS Republic.

“So, your katra floated along the main quantum reality domain and ended up in the mirror universe?” asked Doctor Yezbeck, putting his newly-acquired quantum-temporal knowledge from Victor Virtus to good use.

Carter nodded affirmatively. “For months, I lived a dual personality in that universe. I had to share consciousness with the katra in this body. Believe me when I say that this outside appearance is fitting to the other guy who shares this body with me. He's a cold-blooded killer and convict, plain and simple. He's an animal. If I hadn't met up with Y'lair in that universe, I might've lived the rest of my life as a dual personality, sharing this body with the psychopathic katra of the John Carter from the mirror universe. Y'lair saved me. He gave me emotional control over the other katra. Together, we've been able to keep THAT consciousness… at bay. THAT John Carter – the original katra of this body – is basically asleep. He isn't aware of his surroundings at the moment. When Y'lair and I first got control over him in the mirror universe, it allowed me to come up with a successful plan get me home.” John looked around the room with his sole functioning ocular organ. “Such as it is…”

“He still needs regular melding to keep that alternate personality under control,” explained Y'lair. “When we left the mirror universe together a year ago, it was with the understanding that I would help the John Carter katra of this reality find peace. We need to find him a new vessel into which I can transfer him. A new body.”

“A new body?” asked Saal with surprise and trepidation. “You don't just drop a seed in the ground and grow a new body! Since you say that OUR John from the USS Republic took YOUR body, what happened to his?”

“Without the mind, the body dies,” Y'lair iterated. “Since the katra of the USS Republic John Carter found it's way to the body of the HMS Republic John Carter, the body of the former likely floated along the quantum reality slipstream for months until it settled somewhere in the mirror universe. Long dead, it was probably deposited somewhere remote, decayed, and turned to dust by now.”

“So there's no where else for you to transfer the katra to?”

“Not at the moment,” Y'lair explained cryptically. “Though we're working on a plan that might be able to 'find' him another body…”

Saal frowned, his medical 'sense-of-rightness' starting to give his brain a red alert. “What do you mean 'find'?”

Y'lair looked towards Victor Virtus and John Carter stoically, as if silently sharing a thought that only they knew.

With a pensive expression, Vic answered Dr. Yezbeck's question. “There's a possibility we could go back in time to your universe and attempt to capture John's body before it disappears and dies.”

There was a moment of silence where the five individuals stood looking at one another, reaching an apex on tenterhooks. Theo and Saal looked at the HMS Republic Vic and mirror universe Y'lair and John Carter with rising anxiety. The latter three seemed to have a veiled plan conceived prior to the arrival of USS Republic universe refugees. That clarity was becoming obvious to the formal Intel agent and his medical cohort. There was only method of time travel they he knew of in this universe that didn't involve a high-warp slingshot around a star: The Guardian of Forever.

“Wait, wait, wait!” Theo Carter finally released the tension with panicked comprehension dawning in his voice. “Talking to the Guardian in YOUR universe is YOUR job, not ours!” It was evident that he assumed the plan was to send him and Saal to the Guardian's planet to activate the ancient device, then travel back time to retrieve the body. A plan he did not relish in the least.

“Alpha Zeta Three is clear across the quadrant from here,” Vic piped in, shaking his head to refute Theo's notion. “Odds are, if we tried to get there, we'd be destroyed by the Xenoborg. Considering we have no idea how the John Carter from the USS Republic universe was able to interact with the Guardian in the first place, it would be a fools errand to even attempt.”

“Great,” Saal replied sourly. “We're glad you agree. So if we're not going to the Guardian of Forever, what's your plan?”

Realizing what he had to say might take a greater amount of convincing, Vic countered with another idea. “I think it's time we talk this over with the admiral,” he declared.

In unison, Saal and Theo both responded “The admiral?”

Though the hour was late, the tactical command center of the Galorndon Core base was its usual beehive of activity, especially considering the dire state of the quadrant's predicament. The entire complex was at a constant state of alert, yet through the tense atmosphere, a lean, almost petite feminine figure stood commandingly in the center of the room. She was contemplative, looking from one large viewer to another, calmly absorbing the information scrolling across the various arrangement of screens around her. Her hair was bright blonde, and tied up into a bun with short trestles feathering down along the crown of her forehead. Her bright blue eyes surveyed the the tactical situation coming in from all monitors, and her Caucasian complexion was accentuated by flush peach cheeks, thin cerise lips, and a small mole on the lower right of her chin. Etched into her face were the seasoned wrinkles of an experienced military officer in her late forties, and the single-pip rear admiral rank on her collar advertised that she was the sole person in charge of room.

“What's the status of the Xenoborg fleet in sector 221-G?” Rear Admiral Elizabeth Shelby asked with a slight Kansas accent.

“No change from last report, admiral,” a Romulan operator replied from the long range sensor console. “The fleet has not yet finished consuming the remnants of the Alphan civilization on Alpha Carinae.”

“We still think they're going to move on to Zeta Gruis from there,” explained a lieutenant in operations gold sitting next to the Romulan. “They shouldn't pose a risk to us.”

“Very good,” the admiral acknowledged. “Maintain yellow alert and silent running. Keep inter-system data traffic to a minimum. Communications, any passive signals from Deep Space Five?”

The communications ensign in science blues over her shoulder shook his head. “Negative, admiral. Not a word.”

“The last of the lifeboat beacons ceased operation about an hour ago,” informed another Romulan operator seated next to the communications ensign. “The Xenoborg fleet from Iota Pavonis finished them off before moving on Starbase 718.”

With an exhalation of futility, Shelby frowned and nodded her head in silent appreciation of the report despite its negative overtones. The furrow in her forehead deepened just before the door to the control room slid open. Through it walked five individuals: Victor Virtus, followed by Y'lair, John Carter, Theo Carter, and Saal Yezbeck.

Upon seeing the man formerly known as Doug Forrest, Shelby's face exploded into jubilance and relief.

“Doug!” she exclaimed, a wash of emotion flooding through her normally stolid face. “Doug! I can't believe it!” In barely-contained exuberance, Shelby ran down the ramp and threw herself onto Theo Carter in a passionate bear hug.

“I knew they didn't get you!” Shelby spoke into Theo's chest in displaced reassurance, much to the chagrin of the man formerly known as Doug Forrest. Beside him, Saal Yezbeck smirked in amusement at the spectacle.

“We sent out sensor probes and listened on comm arrays for days to pick up your signal!” she unloaded on him. “But I knew you weren't gone! I knew we hadn't heard the last of Captain Forrest!”

Surprised into silence, Theo was at a loss, and simply patted her on the back while looking around in embarrassment. While he and Shelby were friends in the USS Republic reality, he hadn't expected their reunion to occur with such open and unrivaled affection.

As she looked up into his eyes, Shelby's smile lessened as she noticed the lack of passion in Theo's eyes. “It isn't you, is it?” she finally realized after a moment, sadness creeping back into her voice. “You're not him? Are you?” Her embrace on Theo loosened, Victor Virtus cleared his throat behind her.

“I'm afraid it's as I told you, admiral,” Vic explained. “Our guests are from an alternate reality, and some events that occurred there may not have occurred here.”

After listening to Vic, Shelby still held onto some hope that the Doug Forrest she knew was still dwelling somewhere inside Theo Carter. “Don't you remember?” she tried to stir a memory in him, gazing into his eyes. “We met when I was first officer of the HMS Chekov. You were part of the team that rescued us after it was destroyed. I proposed to you a month later… We married just before I took command of the HMS Trident… Captain Picard officiated our ceremony…”

The man formerly known as Doug Forrest was speechless. The shock of the idea that he and Shelby were married – let alone by the famous Jean Luc Picard – hit like a photon torpedo. As the admiral looked into his eyes for an answer, Theo stammered a few words before forming a coherent reply.

“Yeah, I remember the rescue, but…” he looked genuinely confused, thinking back to the incident. “You never asked me to marry you… You married Captain Calhoun instead. Remember him? The Xenexian captain of the Excalibur-A? You went to Xenex just so you could go through some sort of prenuptial trial in preparation for the wedding ceremony.”

“Calhoun?” Shelby looked at him quizzically, shaking her head. “I don't remember any Captain Calhoun. There was a Mackenzie Calhoun I was involved with when I was at the academy, but… that was years ago. He and I lost touch.”

Theo, on the other hand, clearly remembered Calhoun. Admiral Nechayev of Starfleet Intelligence assigned the Xenexian to him in a training capacity before doing some field work about ten years ago. When he had heard Calhoun was going to marry Shelby, it secretly broke his heart.

The former intel agent was both confused and touched by her words. He had known Elizabeth Shelby for years in his own quantum reality, and even harbored a secret crush for her the whole time. However, that crush had never materialized into anything more, and he privately blamed Calhoun for it. Nevertheless, he was now facing the ultimate reflection of a “what-could-have-been” situation right before his eyes, and it left him both humbled and troubled on a personal level.

“Liz, you and I never married,” Theo patiently explained, mustering as much tenderness as he dared to show in present company. “We became friends after the Chekov was destroyed, but nothing more. You met up with Calhoun before being assigned to the *USS* Trident, and HE proposed to YOU. You accepted. The last I had heard from you, you had just been promoted to admiral and took command of Space Station Bravo.”

Finally, recognition creeped into her face. Her smile disappeared as did her embrace of Theo, much to his dismay. “I'm sorry, I was mistaken,” she explained, her voice dripping with regret and despair, and just a touch of embarrassment. It seemed like tears were welling in her eyes for a moment, but as quickly as they came, she repressed them back down into her soul.

“We evacuated Bravo Station,” Shelby informed him, now avoiding his gaze. “We'd been setting up this base here for months as an alternate cargo transfer site closer to our allies in the Reman Star Empire. The New Thallonian Protectorate was assisting in providing relief supplies to the Romulans, so we built this place in secret to secure the supply lines in this sector. I had no idea we were going to have to use it as an operational base some day.”

Taking a step back away from Theo, Shelby straightened her uniform before turning to Victor Virtus. “What can I do for you, commander?” she asked, firmly pushing into the background the emotional scene that had just transpired.

For his part, Theo let a hint of remorse glimmer within his eyes. His heart was bleeding deeply from the prospect of a lost love in his own quantum timeline, and it ate away at him.

“I've spent a great deal of time debriefing our guests,” Vic revealed to the admiral. “Doctor Y'lair, John Carter, and myself would like to go over the plan with you in detail before getting your blessing.”

“Yes, of course…” the admiral agreed, motioning towards the door to her adjoining ready room. “Shall we meet in my office?”

“What about us?” Saal exclaimed while Theo attempted to re-acquire glances with Admiral Shelby without success. It was clear she was actively avoiding further eye contact with him, and it left a knot in his stomach.

“Once we've cleared up the details on the plan, we'll involve you,” Vic explained. “For now, please wait out here.”

As the four shuffled into the admiral's office, Saal watched as the door shut, flapping his arms once in futility and annoyance. “Well, that was rude,” he exclaimed before turning back to his friend. “If you ask me, this whole alternate reality is filled with a bunch of killjoys.”

Theo, on the other hand, was in no talking mood, and remained silent. He only stared longingly at the closed door in remorse before somberly finding a place to sit and wait.

Theo “Doug Forrest” Carter and Saal Yezbeck waited outside the conference room for what seemed like hours. They had no idea what the four individuals were discussing behind closed doors. With pent up anxiety, they absorbed the hither-and-thither of the control complex as staff tracked no less than a dozen Xenoborg fleets throughout the vicinity of the Neutral Zone, watching them closely to see if any threatened the Galorndon Core complex. Once, a Yeoman in command red came by to offer them coffee as the morning shift came on watch, which they gratefully accepted. Soon after they finished their drinks, the door to the admiral's office slid open, and Victor Virtus beckoned them to come inside and sit across the table from the other four individuals.

“Gentlemen,” the admiral formally began. “Commander Virtus and myself, along with Y'lair and Commander Carter, have each come to an agreement on the best way to solve our mutual problem.”

“Correction,” Doctor Yezbeck interjected while crossing his arms defiantly. “OUR problem was forced on us against our will.” Regardless of the circumstances, he felt it was important to set the record straight that neither he nor Theo were willing participants in being pulled in to this quantum reality.

“Nevertheless,” Shelby stressed. “It's still a set of problems that need to be solved, and it's important that we focus on how we can solve each of them while also getting you home.”

“Yes, let's talk about that,” Theo spoke for the first time in hours, meeting Shelby's eyes for the first time since she broke contact after her misidentification of him as her husband. His eyes were less tender than before, expressing what only could be considered spurn or scorn.

“Maybe you've heard of the Iconians?” the John Carter asked him.

“No,” Theo shook his head. “Who are they?”

“They're an advanced race of beings that died out nearly 200,000 years ago,” John explained. “We found the remains of their homeworld civilization at coordinates two two seven mark three five nine. That's only a few sectors away.”

“You've been there?” Saal asked.

“Yes,” John nodded. “That's how Y'lair and I got to this reality. As soon as we crossed over from the mirror universe, we found ourselves in an abandoned city here in this universe. It looked to have been devastated by some kind of ancient orbital bombardment, but we didn't have time to do much exploring. We immediately sent out a subspace signal using our communicators, and the HMS Republic picked it up and rescued us.”

“Why did you end up on that planet in particular?” the retired doctor continued asking questions.

“An Iconian transportation device still exists in that abandoned city,” he informed them. “It can transport not only across distances, but also spacetime; similar to the Guardian of Forever except that it doesn't possess its consciousness. Vic and Y'lair have developed a way to operate the gateway remotely by subspace transmitter. Based on how our crossover from the mirror universe occurred, Vic thinks we can use it for quantum-temporal travel by using the HMS Republic's warp field generator from orbit.”

“Of course he does,” Saal replied sourly as he picked up on the endgame, realizing that it would probably involve sending him and Theo on a quantum-temporal excursion that didn't sit comfortably in his stomach. “So what are you wanting from us?”

“I won't lie. Your mission is complex and risky,” the gristly version of John warned. “Y'lair and I will go with you in your ship, back to YOUR universe… to the very moment that the body of YOUR John Carter died aboard the USS Republic. As it fades away in the surgical suite, you need to intercept the phase-out, and beam the body aboard while under cloak. Then, you must heal the body, have Y'lair transfer MY katra into it, then return us back to THIS quantum reality. The HMS Republic timeline should then go back to it's natural course, in parallel with YOUR timeline: I will have never left, the Cestus disaster will have unfolded as it should have, and I'll be able to send OUR Doug Forrest on the mission he was supposed to have gone on, which allowed the Remnant attacks to play out in the way they should have.”

The air in the room became palpable. “Are your out of you MIND?” an incredulous Theo “Doug Forrest” Carter shot back at John and the admiral. “Millions of people died in those attacks!”

“It beats trillions dead, which is what we have now,” said Admiral Shelby defiantly, meeting his gaze with fire in her eyes. “And the Xenoborg will never come into existence.”

“Right,” replied John with no hint of being moved by Theo's outburst. “Those 'millions' you speak of are already dead in the here and now. What we want is to make sure that the rest are still alive when I return in my new body.”

The thought gave Theo pause while Saal spoke up. “Your 'new' body?” scoffed Saal. “And what are we supposed to do with this body this you're in now?” he motioned to the body of the mirror-universe John, his expression at the same level of incredulity as Theo's. “You said that the mirror-universe John is sharing it with you, and that he's an animal! We have no idea what he'll do when when your katra is no longer there to control him!”

“You'll have to beam him and Y'lair back into the quantum slipstream as soon as possible,” Vic explained. “You need to let that 'river' of quantum reality take them back to the 'ocean', as I explained to you earlier. Keep John sedated long enough until he is no longer aboard your vessel, and Y'lair will make sure he gets back to where he belongs.”

“You mean send them back to the mirror universe?”

“Yes,” affirmed John. “That's where this body came from, and that's where it needs to return.”

“If you do these things,” Vic concluded. “All timelines should be restored, and you'll be able to return back to the USS Republic universe at the moment you left.”

Theo and Saal looked at one another, as if exchanging non-verbal thoughts. The two former Starfleet Intel cohorts often knew what each other was thinking back in there operative days. Now was one of those times. The plan was crazy from their point of view, and filled with so many holes that it seemed impossible to fill them all.

“Wait a minute,” interrupted Saal after a moment. “If this Iconian gateway is anywhere near the size of the Guardian of Forever, there's no way a spacecraft bigger than a Type-15 shuttle could get through it.”

“We considered that,” Vic explained. “As I mentioned, we got you here using a micro-singularity that we were tracking through the Reman neutral zone. While it did indeed collapse into a small subspace compression anomaly, it might still be of value to us in this mission. If you fly your ship close enough to the event horizon while maintaining your warp field, the compression anomaly will reduce the physical size of your ship and its occupants to a size large enough to enter the Iconian gateway.”

Theo and Saal nearly fell off their chairs in disbelief.

“Are you out of your MIND?” shouted Saal.

“This is ridiculous!” exclaimed Theo. “You're going to SHRINK US DOWN to fit through the gateway?”

“The calculations are sound,” Y'lair explained as Vic and the admiral exchanged their own glances of ambivalence about convincing the two refugees from another quantum reality. “I've reviewed each equation and operational algorithm. They are sound, and collaborated by multiple models. They WILL work.”

“I'll back that up,” Vic added. “If executed correctly, the subspace compression anomaly poses no danger to you or or vessel. Once we've reduced your volumetric profile, you'll then accompany the HMS Republic to the Iconian homeworld. There, I'll use the warp engines to institute a static warp bubble in direct line between the gateway on the planet surface and the Iconian sun. Meanwhile, you will steer your vessel to the gateway, activate it remotely with the time-warp calculations created by Y'lair and myself, then enter into a quantum slipstream through the gate that sends the Aerosprite backwards in time and space. If calculations hold, it'll be like crossing the transwarp threshold and breaking the warp ten barrier. Per the Theory of Infinite Velocity, you'll exist momentarily in every location of the universe at once.”

“Wait a minute,” beckoned Doctor Yezbeck, his anxiety about the plan unrelenting. “That's only been done once during the Voyager expedition to the Delta Quadrant! I've read the Voyager logs, and that had detrimental health effects on the crew member who did it.”

“We've considered that too,” Y'lair explained. “Your subatomic interspace will be vastly reduced in your compressed condition, and the quantum warp eddies that affected the Voyager crewmember shouldn't affect your miniaturized DNA molecules. Your DNA will be approximately 20 times smaller than normal-sized DNA, and it would be physically impossible for the quantum energy to affect you genetically as it did with the affected Voyager crewmember.”

“If we can exist momentarily anywhere in the universe,” Theo asked. “How are we able to make sure get to the moment when the body John Carter phases out aboard the USS Republic?”

“Yes, and what about beaming him in our compressed condition?” Saal pointed out. “His body will be full size while our transporter pad will be only a few centimeters tall!”

“From ship logs, we know the exact position that the HMS Republic was in at the exact moment that John Carter phased away from this reality three years go,” Y'lair informed them. “Since the event happened in both realities, the USS Republic should be at the same position at the same time too, else the crossover between our two realities would never had happened in the first place. My quantum time warp calculations will send us on a very precise parabolic course through transwarp towards the Delphi sector before reaching perigee and returning us to the Iconian homeworld very shortly afterwards. While we could technically fly to just about any place in the universe, the transwarp window will last only about 30 seconds aboard the Aerosprite, so we can only choose one location before having to return back to the gateway. Therefore, we will accelerate backwards in time to before stardate 57442, then forward through time via the slingshot maneuver.”

“And our size?” insisted Saal.

“Space is relative, but atomic masses will be the same,” Y'lair stated as if it was obvious. “Only the intra-atomic spaces will be reduced. I'll be programming the transporter to assemble matter into our compressed condition inside the Aerosprite, then for beam out, I'll program it to reassemble matter back to full size.”

“I suppose you'll also explain how we're going to shift through quantum realities as well as time travel?” Saal asked, the tone of disbelief still evident.

“The ship's Romulan singularity warp drive will still be active,” Victor Virtus answered, his first-lord-of-the-engines expertise kicking in. “And our static warp bubble above the planet will be in flux. The gravitational ripple caused by the two will change the resonance of your ship's quantum signature, thus accelerating you through different quantum realities while also traveling through time. You'll cycle through multiple different quantum realities within our quantum domain network, and at the same time, months will pass in minutes. Fortunately, you'll be able to manually slow down at specific time intervals by manipulating the output field of the artificial singularity in your Romulan warp drive.”

“Like pinching a water hose,” John explained to the flabbergasted USS Republic universe refugees. “But it'll only last a short time, so you'll have to hurry.”

“Agreed,” Vic affirmed. “It will allow you to slow the time flow down to normal speed, just long enough to initiate transport.”

“With the cloaking device engaged,” Y'lair continued in place of Vic. “You'll start back to where the Galaxy Class USS Republic was on stardate 57442. At the proper moment, you'll slow the time vortex down and beam John Carter's body from the sickbay surgical suite just as it fades away. This will prevent a paradox in your quantum reality, as the body of the HMS Republic John Carter will shortly thereafter return to the USS Republic, with the mind of the USS Republic John Carter still inhabiting it. That timeline will progress untouched. Meanwhile, I will then transfer the lost katra of the HMS Republic John carter out of THIS body,” he pointed to the mirror-universe John Carter, “and place it into the recovered body of the USS Republic John Carter.”

“As the quantum slipstream passes through this reality,” John picked the plan back up from Y'lair. “You will beam the body of the USS Republic John Carter with my katra, back to the HMS Republic universe at a time just before the Cestus Three event. It really doesn't matter when, as long as it happens before Cestus Three. Wherever I am in the alpha quadrant, I'll be able to make my way back to Republic and ensure that Doug Forrest is able to fulfill his mission.”

“Prior to exiting the Iconian gateway in your quantum reality,” Y'lair interjected to finish the plan. “You will have to beam the mirror universe John Carter and myself directly into the main spacetime flow of our quantum domain. If my calculations are correct – and they are – the quantum slipstream will naturally deposit us back into our quantum reality at about the same moment as present day. Everything should then fall back into place in each of the three quantum realities.”

“What about US??” Theo stressed. “Saal and I will still be a pair of shrunken dupes in a toy Romulan spaceship surfing along quantum spacetime somewhere!”

“With your warp drive still engaged,” Vic explained calmly. “Your quantum-temporal trajectory around the Iconian sun will send you back towards the planet. I'll still be aboard the HMS Republic in orbit around the Iconian homeworld, and will be maintaining the static warp bubble to act as a quantum anchor for you. You'll need to keep your Romulan singularity warp field active and move quickly back to the planet in order to re-enter the Iconian gateway… 'Thread the needle' so to speak. If Y'lair's calculations are correct, you'll emerge at the same gateway in YOUR reality instead of ours.”

“…And our size?” Saal was able to ask while a fuming Theo was shaking his head in silence.

“The micro-singularity should still be on its same course through the Neutral Zone in your reality as it is here in our reality,” Vic explained. “We'll give you it's coordinates. Find it. Use your ship's navigational deflector to create a graviton beam, then collapse it into a subspace compression anomaly as we did. You can then take a reverse course along it's event horizon to bring you back to full size.”

“Alternatively,” Y'lair added. “If you fly to a habitable planet or full-sized space vessel, you can use the reprogrammed transporter to beam yourselves back to full size. You'll lose the use of the Aerosprite, but you'll be back to your normal volume. Either way, reassuming your full size is probably the simplest part of this plan.”

With a shake of his head, Saal guffawed at the audacity of the convoluted proposition. Meanwhile, Theo calmly listed off each waypoint, as if to highlight the sheer insanity of it. He stared directly at Shelby with cold eyes while he spoke, while she met his gaze silently but with equally firm resolve.

“Let me see if I got this straight,” he started. “Shrink us down to the size of a mouse… send us backwards in time to another universe… switch out different versions of John Carter without getting noticed… then switch universes AGAIN into THIS universe… drop off one of the John Carters here three years ago… then drop off the OTHER John Carter along with Y'lair into the quantum spacetime abyss… all before getting back to OUR reality in OUR time, while hopefully finding a way to get us back the correct size BY OURSELVES… do I have all of this right?”

His tone made it clear than neither he nor Doctor Yezbeck were convinced that the plan was going to work, regardless of the brainpower in the room stating that it would. In fact, his hostility towards it was building with each word they spoke since walking into the admiral's office. The man formerly known as Doug Forrest was about to stand up and give the most vindictive diatribe to what he saw as the most ill-conceived plan ever devised to right a perceived wrong. However, as he looked back into Elizabeth Shelby's eyes once more, the resolve he saw earlier was no longer there. Instead, it had been replaced with desperation. Not a panicked desperation reflective of a person who had lost all hope, nor worried if someone would or wouldn't take a specific course of action. Rather, it was more of a soul-seeking desperation. She bore the heart-wrenching expression of a person who lost a piece of themselves, and who was trying to speak out to them for the very last time before parting into oblivion.

“Doug…” Shelby tenderly addressed him from across the table, her voice becoming soft and raspy. “You were my husband in this reality. I lost you two weeks ago to the Xenoborg, and I don't want to lose you again. I wouldn't send you on this mission if I didn't think it had a good chance of success. I knew the Doctor Y'lair of this reality – as well as Doctor Virtus here – for a very long time. They're both the smartest people I know on the topic of quantum-temporal physics. If this is going to work – and I think that it will – these are the people you want on your side.”

Theo looked at the two multi-awarded Doctors of Philosophy sitting next to her. Though Y'lair was from a different universe, he had gained the same level of confidence as Victor Virtus did in this universe. He was putting the lives of both himself and Saal into the hands of people he'd known for a long time – yet never met once before today. The John Carter he knew and respected was both here in front of him, yet waiting for them somewhere else in another universe. As for Shelby, he settled his eyes squarely on her. A woman he knew as a friend, yet cared for on a deeper level, was now before him as a symbol of a realized love he never had the courage to profess in his own universe.

“I know you haven't any reason to trust us,” she spoke, her eyes betraying perhaps the purest of all truths. “But know this: I WANT you to get safely back to your reality. Just as much as I need your help to fix OUR reality. I'm asking you to do this – to TRUST us – because I KNOW that you can do it. My husband can do this. Therefore, that means that YOU can too.”

Taking stock of her words, Theo “Doug Forrest” Carter took one last glance towards Saal. For his part, the former USS Republic surgeon looked at him and shook his head while shrugging his shoulders, as if saying “I'll follow your lead kid, but this is the craziest stunt you've ever pulled.”

Turning back to Shelby, he gave the only answer possible given the circumstances.

No sooner did the door to the admiral's office slide open than did the six individuals emerge in single file. John Carter and Y'lair marched away out of the control center with purpose, while Admiral Shelby purposefully strode towards the engineering monitoring station. By the time that Victor Virus, Saal Yezbeck, and Theo Carter came out, two individuals who were seated outside the office stood up in anticipation of their arrival.

“Leon,” Vic greeted the sandy-blond HMS Republic medical officer. Looking towards the frail, thin man in a gray jumpsuit who stood when Leon did, the commander of the Republic greeted him as well. “You must be Captain Stryker. You're looking much better than when Leon admitted you to sickbay.”

“I wasn't quite myself,” the scraggly-bearded, brown-haired former prisoner replied. “I'm afraid I don't remember much until Doctor Cromwell revived me in the Republic's ICU bed.”

“We've been nutritionally reconstituting his metabolism all night,” Leon explained. “He's been doing very well.”

“I had my first hot meal in years,” the liberated captain explained. “Thank you for rescuing me,” he turned to Saal and Theo.

“Don't mention it,” Theo replied. “I'm only sorry it didn't happen sooner.”

“Is this all you came down here for?” Vic asked Leon.

“Well, you said wanted a staff meeting at 0800, but it seems to have been overtaken by events. The Yeoman told me you would be done with the admiral 'momentarily', which was thirty minutes ago.”

“Hmmm,” the Malthusian engineer murmured while glancing at the chronometer on a nearby control station. “I seem to have forgotten to send out an update memo.”

“Don't tell me you forgot what time it was?” Leon chided with a smile.

“Certainly not,” Vic quipped. “I knew exactly how long we would be in the admiral's office. I simply reprioritized the order of events. We still need a staff meeting with the senior officers to discuss our next steps. Gather Lieutenants Pakita and Jarin, and let's meet in the main conference room in fifteen minutes. Where's Shannon?”

“In the base infirmary,” Leon informed him. “She's taking care of the rest of the injured crew. I already called her and told her to meet us here.”

“Shannon?” the frail captain exclaimed with dawning disbelief. His face went ashen, causing Leon to look towards him with concern. “Shannon Harris?”

“Yes,” Leon frowned, pulling out his medical tricorder as Captain Stryker's heartbeat tripled and his expression turned dazed and stunned. “Do you know her?”

He was about to answer when an astonished voice shot across the command center.

“Ted!” reverberated a feminine voice. Across the room by the entrance, a green-eyed scarlet-haired lieutenant commander in medical blue stood gawking at them in stupefaction.

(to be continued)


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