Dorothy knocked on her mother's door. "Mum? You in?"
"Dorothy!" Mum popped out of the kitchen and unlatched the door. "How nice to see you!"
"Thought I'd drop in for tea, that's all," said Dorothy as they hugged. "Shall I put it on?"
"You know me better," said Mum, showing Dorothy into the parlor. "Show up earlier if you want to do it yourself."
"Shall I pour?"
"Be my guest. How's Alex?"
"Impressed the boss yesterday. I told you he was on the fast track."
"Yes you did." Mum was smiling. In fact, Mum had been smiling since she arrived.
"All right. What is it?"
"What is what?"
"You're bursting with something. Out with it, arright?" Dorothy finished pouring and sat.
"Well ..." Was Mum blushing? "I've met someone."
"Ace," said the Doctor.
Dorothy looked up. "Doctor? What are you doing here? I never met you any more."
Mum looked up. "Who's your friend, Dorothy?"
"Ace," said the Doctor. "This is an illusion."
"No," said Ace. "No, it can't be."
"We've gone into the Nexus," the Doctor intoned calmly. "You must remember. We're looking for someone."
"No," said Ace.
"It's an illusion, a siren, a lotus. The Nexus immobilizes you with that which your heart desires most."
"NO!" Ace bellowed, leaping to her feet and turning on the Doctor. She seized a knife from the table - forgetting it was a harmless butter knife - and took a swipe at the Doctor that he parried with his umbrella by just a flick of his wrist. "That's not what this is!!"
"Dorothy ..." said the monster.
"This is not my heart's desire!" Ace shouted. "It's not!"
"Ace," said the Doctor.
"It's not!" Ace cried.
"Come away, Ace," said the Doctor.
"It's not," Ace sobbed, dropping her arms and falling into the Doctor's. "Is it?"
"This is an illusion," the Doctor repeated.
After awhile it was all gone, and they were standing on a quiet forest trail somewhere. Ace wiped her eyes, and looked up at him. "What did you see, Doctor?"
She rarely saw the Doctor looking wistful. "I was chief of temporal control on Gallifrey. You were a recruited operative, as was Mel, and Peri, and all my past TARDIS companions. A long line of everybody.
"There was nothing for us to do but search-and-rescue. It was a universe with no more evil in it than flooded homes and lost children and cats stuck in trees."
He sighed, and let it go. "Come along, Ace. We've got work to do."
Ace left his arms reluctantly. From ahead on the trail came the sound of wood-chopping.
Commander Sisko strode out onto the bridge of Defiant. Somehow having a ship had brought home to him that he was a Starfleet commanding officer - a captain in all that matters - in a way that running the station never had. "What's the news?"
Kira handed him a padd and then told him what it said. "The Alliance has moved their fleet out from Forrester's World. It'll be at Terek Nor in less than two days."
Sisko slapped his commbadge. "Mr. Tuvok is to be sent to the bridge. Major, does this mean we've broken an Alliance code?"
Kira shrugged. "No, it doesn't. This was sent in clear. I guess they don't think they have anyone listening to be afraid of."
"Well, let's teach them the error of their ways. Mr. Tuvok," Sisko turned to the mirror universe native arriving on the bridge, "there's been a change of plans. I'm taking Defiant back to Terek Nor to wait for the Alliance fleet which is now en route there. I'm going to ask you to continue on to your rendezvous with your ... kirk, in your own shuttle. With your permission, I'll send one of my officers with you."
"Agreed," said Tuvok.
"Major, go with him. No better backup for his story than a Kira Nerys who isn't the Intendent. The Doctor has those coordinates, and he and his special passenger -" Tuvok still didn't know who that was going to be. "- will still meet you there."
"After you, Major," said Tuvok.
Kira led Tuvok to the turbolift, but turned back at the door. "Commander ... unless we can persuade the resistance leaders to help, it'll be just Defiant against that fleet. And there's not much time."
"Then you'd better be persuasive. On your way."
The old man's head spun at a call from the top of the ridge. A slender figure on horseback was waving hello.
"The day we met," he murmured.
"An illusion from the past," said the Doctor. "You've left her already. It's always mattered too much to you that you make a difference."
"I could have made a difference to her."
"Making a difference to only one person was never enough for you."
The old man looked down from atop his mount. The Doctor, Ace and the TARDIS stood waiting for him. The Doctor had on his Time Lord face - Merlyn goading Arthur on to history. But after Salisbury? "Eighty years, you said. Three more Enterprises, each with its own captain, you said. What difference could I still make?"
Next to the Doctor, Ace started struggling not to smile. The sorceror's apprentice. And Nimue was one of the ladies on the barge to Avalon, whence the fallen warrior was to return in the hour of his land's greatest need.
"You wouldn't believe," she answered him.
Kira and Tuvok had agreed it would be best if she disembarked from his shuttle with her hands in the air. They were meeting on a barren, uninhabited asteroid that nevertheless contrived to have a breathable-enough atmosphere. Tuvok had landed his shuttle some fifty yards from the other already arrived, which was a different model but in the same state of quasi-repair. There were two scruffily-dressed people walking toward them from it, meeting them halfway. Kira didn't assume that this was the only ship nor these the only people around.
"Well, Tuvok," said the Vulcan's kirk. "You've brought us a prize."
"Yes, but not what you're thinking." Kira lowered her arms.
"She is from the other side," said Tuvok. "She is an ally."
"The other side, eh?" She looked Kira over, giving Kira a chance to assess her back. As the Doctor had suspected, Tuvok's kirk was this universe's Kathryn Janeway.
Kira had seen Janeway briefly at DS9 just before USS Voyager had gone missing in the Badlands earlier in the year. This Janeway had her hair bobbed short and didn't look like she ever smiled. With her was a big Terran who had what looked like a tatoo from an Alliance prison camp on his left forehead. He was - something Kira had read once said it best - not a tame lion.
"You're here because you want something," said Janeway, not troubling to make it a question.
"The Alliance is on the verge of invading the Federation," Kira said, matching Janeway's hard brevity. "That's bad for us in the short term and bad for you in the long term. Tuvok says your organization could coordinate several resistance groups to help stop the invasion."
"Maybe. What kind of time frame are we talking about?"
"The invasion fleet will be to its crossover point at Terek Nor in 38.3 hours," said Tuvok.
"What?" said Janeway. Undoubtedly Tuvok had chosen to reveal this fact himself because, if Kira had said it, Janeway would have spit in her face. "How big a fleet?"
"Approximately a dozen, including at least three heavy cruisers, according to the intelligence acquired by O'Brien," Tuvok continued.
"The entire sector fleet?" asked the lion. "What do you think we can rally against that in a day and a half?"
"I have seen Commander Sisko's Federation ship," said Tuvok. "It would not require the assistance of the equivalent of more than eight light destroyers to neutralize even such an Alliance fleet."
"Chakotay is right," said Janeway. "Even if what Tuvok says is true, there's no way I can gather half that much firepower in that time!"
"Maybe you can't," said Kira. She snuck a look at her timepiece. "But we think there's someone who can, with your help."
"Who?" Janeway demanded.
"I'd rather not say yet," said Kira, "until we're sure we have him."
"The new Time Lord," said Tuvok, not entirely hiding a displeasure that mirrored Janeway's, "has gone in search of this mystery personage, and was to meet us here."
Janeway nodded with affected geniality - then snarled, "He has until my business is done. And he's your ride," she added, punctuating each of the last two words with a poke in the air at Kira.
"No problem," said Kira, meeting her eyes, for she had heard the start of the distinctive sonic disturbance that accompanied the TARDIS's displacement of the air where it materialized. It was landing equidistant from both shuttles but about twenty-five yards from the four watchers, as if to form an isosceles right triangle with the shuttles defining the hypotenuse. Kira saw it took the resistance fighters down a notch to have the TARDIS materialize here without any warning from the lookouts they must have posted, especially as innocuously dilapidated as it looked in its disguise as some kind of four-hundred-year-old public comm. They were going to be wary - and probably ill-tempered - with its passengers.
The Doctor got out of the TARDIS, then Ace, then a third person. Kira breathed a quiet sigh of relief; they'd got him.
Kira had never heard of the man until her first crossover, Starfleet rep or not. But for two years she had been exec to a commanding officer who was the foretold messiah of her planet's religion. She had learned to set her feelings aside, most of the time, to get her job done - but she instantly recognized the looks on Janeway's and Chakotay's faces when they saw who was approaching, swiftly taking the lead among the three TARDIS travelers.
"It's impossible," said Janeway.
"The way he moves," said Chakotay. "It's him."
He walked up to them casually, though if he was the man Bashir had described to Kira he couldn't be unaware how they were looking at him - no one could. He smiled boyishly (Kira hadn't any idea how old he was), stuck out his hand to Janeway (having instantly recognized her as the leader here, no doubt), and said, "James T. Kirk."
END OF CHAPTER 4
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