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Author's Chapter Notes:

Thanks to my beta Dinah. 

“Commander Tucker here.” From the bridge of the Defiant, Charles contacted engineering. “What is our status? Did the warp core sustain any damage?”

 

 

 

He already knew the answer, because the warp core felt off. Somehow, he only had to the feel the vibrations of the core to known something was wrong. And given their turbulent journey through the interphase, the odds were great engineering had sustained some heavy damage.

 

 

 

 “I send you the status report this moment sir,” Kelby, one of his engineers, answered. “As you can see, we can really use your help.”

 

He was already on the way, as Reed stopped him.

 

“We have to pay our prisoners a visit,” he told Charles.

 

As much as he was curious about the other Tucker, he had a more urgent priority.

 

“I am needed in engineering, warp core problems,” he explained.

 

“It will only take a few minutes,” Reed said, his cold eyes close to him.

 

Charles decided that the best way to avoid any further delay was to go with the major and get to engineering as soon as he could.  As he arrived at the brig, the first thing he noticed was the newly arrived couple, standing in a joined holding cell. In the cell next door stood a new version of Reed's favorite toy, an agony chair.

 

The Charles Tucker of that other universe stood close to the other T'Pol, as he arrived with Reed. His eyes went from her face to those awesome legs. His counterpart moved closer to her and gave him a disgruntled look. Then the other Tucker squeezed his eyes and studied him from head to toe. He looked at his marked face, his bad eye and scars, before recognition came.

 

"I am Commander Tucker of the Terran Empire,” Charles introduced himself. “This is a different universe.”

 

After a short explanation, Reed asked “Tucker number two, have you noticed anything about this ship?”

 

His counterpart seemed to be annoyed to be addressed as the other Tucker, but he replied, “Other than this is a technological very advanced ship?” he asked.

 

“Yes, please,” Reed said cheerfully.

 

“For starters, your warp core is off. The vibrations feel different.” Charles had felt the same. It somehow felt good that his counterpart and he shared the same talent.

 

Major Reed looked at Charles triumphantly. “I said so, he's a genius.”

 

“Major,” Charles answered, “I just told you the same thing.”

 

But Reed didn't seem to hear. “Take the female,” he ordered the guards.

 

The holding cell opened and the guards grabbed the Vulcan woman. His counterpart tried to prevent them for taking her and shouted, “Leave her alone!” One of the guards hit him hard on his face and the other Tucker fell down. The guards dragged the other T'Pol to the other holding cell and bound her to the chair.

 

Charles felt a chill coming up his spine. "Sir,” he said strongly to Reed. “This isn't necessary.”

 

Reed gave him a furious glare, but his voice was dead calm. "I have orders from the Empress to return at once when we have finished our mission. Without the warp core functioning, we can't.” Reed walked into the cell, knelt down at the place where the other Tucker tried to stand up and hissed to him “If you don't work with us, see what we do to your love ones."

 

The major nodded to one of the guards, who turned the machine on. T'Pol, chained to the agony chair, cringed and her eyes widened. He heard a muffled sound from the other Tucker. “Stop this,” his counterpart said. “Stop what you're doing. I will do whatever you want.” His eyes were wide in shock and pain. His expression showed burning pain and complete helplessness. It was like the man had tasted the burning agony of the chair, a feeling Charles knew so well.

 

“Major,” Charles said, “If you want his cooperation and to get back on time with the Defiant, you better stop this and get the woman out of the chair.” He waited a second before adding. “Before I will.”

 

To his surprise, Reed grinned. “You Tuckers are all the same,” he said and ordered the guard to stop the process. He turned to the other Tucker. “We don't mess around, Mister Tucker. You do as you're ordered, otherwise both of you will experience a great deal of pain; torture in your universe is like child’s play compared with our ways. Got it?”

 

His counterpart nodded. “Got it, sir.”

 

The machine went silent and T'Pol's double was released from her chains. With difficulty, she stood up and hobbled towards the other cell. Charles stepped forward to help her, then he stopped in his tracks. He shouldn't help her, a mere prisoner.

 

As she passed him, Charles looked at her intently. Her eyes had the same brown-green shade as T'Pol's but they held a warmer, more open look.

 

She was weak.

 

As she entered her holding cell again, the other Tucker was waiting for her, ready to give her his support.

 

Reed seemed very amused by this sight. “So you give me your word that you will work with Commander Tucker to fix our engines and the warp core and help us in any possible way, for the glory of the Empire?” he asked the other Tucker.

 

“I will help you with the engineering work, sir,” his counterpart answered. 

 

“Vulcan,” Reed addressed the woman, “if I notice the slightest attempt at sabotage, I will put you in the agony chair long enough to cook your brains. But if you are as clever as the T'Pol in this universe, we may have some use for you.”

 

Apparently Reed wanted the two to gather all the information he needed before disposing of them, in his own cruel way. Reed turned to the guard. “Jackson, get them some electronic ankle bands and get the other guards to engineering to keep an eye on these two.”

 

“Major,” Charles interjected, “We can place the devices on some security boots, because if they’ll be working in engineering, they will need them. And given the surveillance in engineering and the electronic devices, two guards would be enough.” He hated too many guards in engineering.

 

“All right. Two guards in engineering and the prisoners sleep in the brig,” the major said and finally Charles could go to engineering, with his counterpart, T'Pol's look-a-like and the guards. He gave them their assignments. T'Pol would be working on one of the consoles and he and his counterpart on the warp core.

 


 

"Call me Commander Tucker or Tucker," he said to his counterpart, as they walked towards the core.

 

"Okay," the other Tucker replied, "In that case, you'd better call me Trip."

 

Trip... that had been Charles's nickname when he was young. He hadn't been called Trip since after his father died, when he was eight years old. Mom never called him Trip anymore, only Charles. Not that they’re on speaking terms. He hadn’t been close to his mother since he was nineteen years old and had discovered what a bastard of a husband she had been remarried to.

 

As Trip and he worked together, inspecting the warp core and discussing the options for repairs, Charles realized how great it was to work with a man who understood right away what you wanted. They fixed the warp core in no time and ended up in a short but animated discussion. He pushed a button for a test run and a buzz filled the room.

 

Trips eyes sparkled. "The vibrations are deeper."

 

"My tests showed she can make warp nine," he answered.

 

"Fast and beautiful!"

 

Why was this man so like him?

 

T'Pol, who just finished her work, came by and made a remark, clearly amused. Suddenly he felt his anger rise. They were innocent and so happy together. This universe would eat them alive.

 

He turned to T'Pol. "How did you find the agony booth?"

 

T'Pol's eyes darkened. "It was disturbing."

 

"Disturbing. Such a Vulcan expression for burning agony," he mocked. "It's a small taste of this universe. They will watch you and hurt you. You'd both better wake up, otherwise you'll end up dead. And not in a nice way."

 

"We're aware of this, Tucker,” Trip said calmly. T'Pol just looked at him with her green-brown eyes.

 

His T'Pol would have challenged him, with that impudent spark in her eyes; those pursed lips, her body straight, like she was untouchable and cared about nobody. And he would have wanted to kiss her senseless to show that was all a lie, but instead he would have scoffed at her. A headache began to loom behind his temples and he realized T'Pol wasn't his and she was farther away from him than ever.

 

"I understand we're finished here and we have another job to do.” Trip's calm voice pierced through his thoughts.

 

He turned to Trip. “Yes, the hull plating is damaged due to our turbulent journey through the interphase. We can't fix the hull plating while traveling, but I developed a plan to place isolation plates on the inside for protection and use hologram technology to create a sort of camouflage for the ship. He showed Trip his plan and explained it in more detail.

 

“I don't get it,” Trip said to him. “You’re a Commander, you have brilliant ideas and you outrank Reed. So why is he is charge?”

 

“It’s complicated,” he answered, disliking the question.

 

“When I started working on Enterprise, I thought the captain knew it all,” Trip started to tell. “I questioned myself if I could lead my team. But I found out I have a talent for bringing the crew together as a leader, just like you. And sometimes I did strongly disagree with the captain and said so.”

 

Charles understood what Trip was trying to say and he appreciated it. He hated power games, but Trip was right. He should be more aware of his own importance and power. But his world didn’t function in the same way. “In this universe it matters more who your allies are than what your rank is,” he explained to Trip. “The Empress is the head of the Terran Empire. But the real decisions are made by the Council, a group of ten admirals. Admiral Reed is the most important one. He’s major Reed’s father and Reed is also the favorite of four other admirals. The Empress has agreed with this plan to bring you to this universe with the full support of the Council. I am not sure, but my guess is it was probably their idea as well.”

 

“I see,” Trip responded. “But one thing still isn’t clear to me. This ship is far more technologically advanced than anything I have seen. So why does this council think we are needed in this universe?”

 

It was time to explain the situation of the Defiant to Trip. “I didn't have anything to do with the building of this ship. I just made some adjustments. The ship is from the future, from your universe.”

 

Trip shook its head. “So we have not only parallel universes, but also future universes? This is enough to give me a headache,” he joked.

 

“We found this ship near the interphase,” Charles explained further. “The Defiant gives the Empress and the Council their power. A month ago, two unknown men appeared on the ship and inserted a vicious virus, messing up several systems. The techniques they used led us to your research, Trip. According to the Defiant’s database you will develop some very interesting new technologies. I also noticed some Vulcan influence. Reed dismissed that."

 

"Not any more. Why else would Reed let T'Pol assist us?" Trip replied. "So was it Reed's idea to build the transporter? Who designed it? You did?”

 

He had been a fool, furious at T'Pol, shocked when he saw what they had done. Those empty eyes of T'Pol’s. “Yes,” he replied shortly, not wanting to talk about this. “Let's us get back to the work.”

 

“I have some suggestions, if you’d like to hear them,” Trip answered. Charles eagerly started discussing those ideas with him, as they walked to the area where the work on the hull plating was done. There they worked in relatively silence.

 


 

Working with Trip had somehow helped him relax a bit. He had missed talking to someone about his work, like he used to do with T’Pol in the old days before her Pon Farr.  As they returned to engineering, the subject turned to education and favorite scientists and books. Charles always loved to read. It was his escape from a young age. He saw himself again, a small child, alone, sitting in the corner of his room, his own special safe place, reading a book, drinking in knowledge. It seemed that Trip had the same thirst for science as he had and also been the only genius in his family. Charles knew how lonely that was.

 

“I went to a boarding school for talented children when I was nine,” he told him. “Then I got my degrees in physic, mathematics, warp technology and engineering.”

 

“Favorite scientists?”

 

“Do Henry Archer and Saburou Ishikawa mean anything in your world?”

 

“Oh yes,” Trip's eyes started to gleam. “I know their works by heart. But my favorite is Daniel Salomon, especially his first book.”

 

“Me too!” Charles smiled. “I loved that book. In this universe he has only written one book. They're some issues with the Emperor's science council, so he stopped writing.” His bad eye started to prickle. Automatically he got his eye lotion from his shirt pocket and dripped it his eye.

 

“Does your eye hurt a lot?” Trip asked.

 

He shrugged. “It's nothing.”

 

“Do you mind my asking how you got your injuries?” Trip asked.

 

“I do. Why do you want to know?” Charles replied, feeling annoyed. He never liked talking about his accident. “Is your plan to became my friend, gather as much information as possible and then use me to escape from all of this?”

 

“I’d like to be your friend, Tucker,” Trip answered calmly. He continued more passionately “Because I am curious about a man who is just like me, but grown up in a different world. And yes, I can use any help to enable me and T'Pol to survive in this universe. Can you blame me? I am not totally happy in my universe, but it's mine and I prefer it over this one anytime.”

 

He sounded so sincere that Charles didn't doubt for a moment he spoke the truth. “It was during the Xindi War. Enterprise, the ship I served on as Chief Engineer, was hit by enemy fire,” he started to tell his story. “The damage was near the warp core. If I didn't repair it, the warp core would explode and the ship with it. I had to protect the crew. So I got my protective suit on, sent everybody anyway, sealed the area off and fixed the damage.”

 

He went silent. In his mind he saw T'Pol again, protesting against the fact that he went in alone. Hess agreed with her. They wanted to come with him, but he said no. It was too dangerous.

 

“I thought I made it, but then another bomb hit the area next to the warp core. There's a massive explosion, the whole thing collapsed and I got stuck between the rubble. I was exposed to gamma radiation, enough to let my grandchildren glow in the dark,” he continued. “It felt like I was in flames, in a burning, all consuming fire. And the pain, like I was skinned alive. T'Pol and Hess got me out, got me to sickbay and decontamination. I heard someone scream the whole time, but only when everything was over and the pain ceased, did I realize it was my own voice.”

 

Trip looked at him in shock. “You're a hero,” he said.

 

He smiled weakly at him. “I am only an officer of the Terran Empire,” he replied.

 

 

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