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Shipwrecked

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Sooooooooooo... Let's say that the first season of ST Discovery left me quite unsatisfied and grumpy in spite of its many qualities. So I had to write to let some steam off. Here's the result of my crazy ramblings. Many, many thanks to FirstDraft who supported the project and made it readable.

 

Terran Empire - ISS Charon - 2256

Everything went as planned. The Charon is almost theirs. The Emperor troops offer little to no resistance. Lorca shares a cruel, playful grin with Landry--his ever faithful commander and partner in crime. Shiny armors and constant treachery don’t make for good soldiers. Years--decades in their case--of endless fighting in all the corners of the Quadrant do.

Michael and her men should have taken the throne room by now.

Victory is theirs.

Yet, as they follow yet another undefended corridor, the pressure in his chest becomes unbearable. It isn’t the adrenalin from the fight or the near victory. It is something else entirely.

When he and Landry step into the throne room,  he knows.

They have lost.

They are lost.

Unknown Space - 2259 - 18 months after the armistice

“What’s happened to the death wish today, Starfleet?””

Even after two years of hostile collaboration, Mudd’s precious accent and permanent babbling was a sure way to make your ears bleed, or make you want to throw the man out of the nearest air lock. Lorca suppressed a long suffering groan as the communication door closed behind him with a heavy thud.

So much for discretion .

“C’mon, Lorca. You can usually pilot through asteroids fields on a hangover without even breaking a sweat, and now your heart rate is through the roof. What are you not telling me?”

“Didn’t know you cared,” Lorca snapped back out of habit. “And my so-called death wish has made you rich, by the way.”

To be honest, Mudd had a point… almost. Flying through a Klingon blockade to bring supplies to an isolated colony, fighting said Klingons off the colony, smuggling tech from a Romulan wreckage under their noses, scavenging around an unknown system plagued by gravity storm and other bizarre occurrences - Lorca had made a habit of pushing his luck further and further ever since he had comeback . Yet he would rather become a eunuch than admit such a thing to his irksome companion. Besides, it was rather untrue nowadays. Today was just routine.

Today should just be routine.

“Well, just sayin’ - I have a bad feeling about this and clearly you must have, too.”

Lorca checked his monitor--100bpm, a bit fast indeed--before analyzing the composition of  the internal atmosphere--78% N2, 21% O2, 1% other, like Earth. This station was definitely inhabited, which wasn’t good news at all. As far he knew, he was the only person alive in this universe with the knowledge of this system. The Federation hadn’t reached these confines of the Quadrant yet, and even among the Terran Empire fleet… Those in the know were dead or hopefully stuck in another universe.

He removed his mask with a worried sigh, unable to suppress his gut feeling of upcoming dread. Mudd was right on one point. Something was up. The presence of what looked like a Starfleet shuttle on the other side of the module was even more worrying. As a precaution, Lorca had docked his own spacecraft at a respectable distance. Maybe they just should turn heels and find another scavenging playground. There were plenty of unknown systems outside the borders of the Federation that Lorca had already explored, mapped, pacified in his own universe.

“We’re here now. Best case scenario, I scare the competition away and we keep our monopoly on this gold mine. Worst case scenario, we get out of dodge with whatever we’ve got, which will be plenty.”

The dramatic and long-suffering sigh in his ear told Lorca that he had won the argument, for now. When stuck, always appeal to Mudd’s greediness.

“Be quick. Would hate to lose my favorite golden goose. You still owe me, Starfleet .”

“Going silent now,” was Lorca’s only reply as he stepped into another darkened room, flashlight in one hand, phaser ready in the other, kill mode activated.

Under his body suit, he could feel the goosebumps on his skin, and some cold sweat too. He was walking into a mess, he knew it yet couldn’t stop himself. She was there. It made no sense, she couldn’t be there, but the feeling of deja-vu was overwhelming.

It was the Charon all over again.

With the notable exception that now, he was all alone, no faithful soldiers by his side, all dead because of him. No Michael to join forces with. No hope, and only this ever growing feeling of dread.

Lorca checked yet another room. Over the five months since their last visit to the area, someone had built this space station outside the known universe, in complete secrecy. He stopped to observe the tech around him, a strange mix of Federation, Vulcan, Romulan and Klingon, not unlike what the Resistance did back home . Strategically, it was a great location. Not too far from the Federation territory yet in uncharted space. As in his own universe, the planet below them seemed an absolute no-go zone if the space debris rings that surrounded it were anything to go by. And the same debris were an endless field of resources and highly developed tech.

It was the kind of place Lorca would have chosen had he wanted to try and carve a kingdom for himself in this Quadrant. The kind of place she would choose if she had traveled to this universe.

But it was impossible.

Michael would never have. Or would she?

Lorca fought the bile rising in his throat and clenched his phaser tighter in his right hand as his left opened the next door.

Glowing red lights greeted him in the darkness and he stepped back precipitously. The first hit landed on the door frame, melting the metal. The second hit missed his head by an inch. There was no third hit as Lorca used his flashlight to blind his opponents before firing. The red lights fell to the floor.

Good .

Blue lights appeared in his peripheral vision. He turned around and found himself facing a phaser.

No immediate hit.

Starfleet.

Shit.

“Gabriel?” Lorca’s eyes widened when the person holding the phaser spoke in disbelief, a hint of hope in her tone.

Of all the people in the fucking universe.

Lorca lowered his own phaser and light.

“Not the one you’re probably hoping for, Admiral,” he replied with an awkward grimace.

One of the people accompanying Cornwell went to barricade the door from where their attackers had appeared and switched the lights on. The Admiral had yet to lower her phaser. Lorca looked around only to face more familiar, exhausted, panicked faces.

People he thought he would never meet again.

Tilly hurriedly tended to a Klingon’s wounds--the prisoner they had made when they’d rescued Cornwell from the Ship of the Dead--while Saru and Rhys secured the room Lorca had just exited. Their movements were a bit anarchic and lacked fluidity, but he could recognize some remnants of the training he had forced upon them when they’d been his crew.

Cornwell finally lowered her phaser and let herself slide down against the wall. She didn’t seem injured but he knew all too well this look of utter defeat.

It had been the first thing he’d seen on Michael’s face when he’d stepped into the throne room.

Not again.

“Where’s Georgiou?”

Where is Michael? He wanted to scream.

-/-

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This wasn’t the plan. It was a nightmare.

Focusing on her task with trembling hands, heavy droplets of sweat sliding down her brow, Michael tried hard to ignore the gut-wrenching sight of Ash’s corpse lying lifelessly on her right, his brown eyes still open, as if surprised by the suddenness of his demise. One moment he was there with the rest of them, scanning the room for their foe. Seconds later, he was down on his knees and Michael could only watch as Georgiou’s blade sliced his throat open and L’Rell charged at her with terrifying fury. After months of hunting, theheteroclite association between Klingons and Starfleet had finally cornered Georgiou in this remote and unknown place.

Or so they’d thought.

The hunter had become the hunted. They had walked into a spider’s web,  and now Georgiou was playing with them before going for the kill.

Like on the Charon, Michael hadn’t been able to move a single limb as the former Emperor gleefully claimed a life in front of her. That flash of a silver blade, the splatter of blood, the smell of it... She’d kept her eyes open, locked on Georgiou, but it was something else she was seeing, someone else… Him.  Tilly had to tackle her to the ground when the shooting started.

Cornwell ordered a retreat to the shuttle but Michael couldn’t hear anything but the roar of rage in her ears, and felt nothing but a a sudden and overwhelming thirst for vengeance.

T’Kuvma had paid for her captain’s death.

The Emperor would pay for Ash’s.

Rarely before had she fought with so much frenzy. Georgiou could barely keep up with Michael’s hits and kicks. But even as she’d been losing this fight she’d kept the upper hand…

Michael swallowed and considered the mechanism in front of her. One mistake and they were all done. Stardust among the space debris around this planet, lost in deep space. On her right, Ash was still looking at her in bewilderment. In her head, Georgiou’s taunt resounded painfully.

Make your choice, daughter who isn’t my daughter. Your vengeance or your people’s lives?

Because of a sudden gravitational storm, the Discovery’d had to fly away from their position and was now unable to beam them back. Their only hope was their shuttle. But if the bomb went off… There was no way that they could fly far enough not to be caught in the blast and storming debris.

So Michael had made the logical choice. As long as her shipmates on Discovery, and   Sarek, the Admiral and L’Rell stayed alive, they would have another shot at catching the Emperor and saving the armistice with the Klingon Empire.

She had let Georgiou flee, ignored her provocations and started to work.

But don’t you want to know?

The woman’s twisted grin was sickening as she uttered one last sadistic provocation, her back to the door, ready to step away, victorious.

Michael refused to listen, focusing on dismounting a large panel instead. Of course, she wanted to know, but now wasn’t the time. Besides, the documents she and Saru had unearthed from Lorca’s former personal study had already told them plenty.

They had brought the wrong Terran back from the other universe. And there was nothing they could do about it except stopping Georgiou once and for all. Michael had failed but others would finish the job, she knew it.

“I already know. Lorca didn’t steal your daughter from you. Your own actions and decisions pushed them away from you.” Michael leveled an icy stare at Georgiou. “Whatever happened, your daughter’s blood is on your hands.”

Michael couldn’t stop her nemesis from escaping, but she could still bite. Georgiou’s smile froze. She turned heels abruptly without a word before walking away, the sound of the sliding, metallic door deafening in the otherwise silent room.

Small victory.

And now, Michael was contemplating her next move. She was almost done. Luckily enough, most of the mechanism was made out of Vulcan and Federation tech, so it had been easy to dismantle it.

So far.

“Tilly, do you copy? Have you reached the shuttle yet?”

For the third time, Michael  tried to contact the rest of the team. Were they safe? What had happened?

After much pondering, she decided that the alimentation was definitely the blue wire. It was the logical conclusion. If she believed the timer, there was little less than three minutes left.

“Tilly, do you copy?” she asked for the fourth time.

“... mostly… we… shuttle… safe…”

The words were disjointed, almost drowned into static, but Michael sighed in relief.

“... come back…”

She shook her head and cut the wire. The timer stopped but the room around her started to shake and crumble. Of course Georgiou would have planted a trap within a trap.

Your vengeance or your people’s lives.

Your life in exchange for your people’s lives.

Tilly’s voice resounded again in her comm link, weaker and weaker as the shuttle escaped.

“...orca… for you…”

-/-

“Mudd, hope you got the hell away from here,” Lorca barked into the coms. The spacecraft was nearly uncontrollable. The collapse of the module had thrown the space debris around it into a frenzy, creating a storm of deadly metal missiles.Luckily, the Starfleet shuttle had managed to fly away to safety. He had found Michael knocked unconscious under a collapsed panel, Tyler - or Voq, or whatever he was - lying in his own blood. No Georgiou, of course.

Running back to his spacecraft with Michael on his shoulders had been the easy part. Trying to escape from flying wreckage in the middle of a gravity storm was trickier.

“Of course I did,” Mudd answered after a while.

“Better keep going, unless you want an extensive chat with those nice Starfleet folks..”

“They did this??”

The disbelief in his voice was deafening.

“Nah. Somebody else. You might want to stay low for a bit, they might want their property back.”“Gotcha, space cowboy, try to come back in one piece.”

Easier said than done .

Especially when someone starts firing at you, and you can’t even work out where from.

Bitch .

Escaping from the mycelial network only to die in this cursed place was almost laughable. Lorca struggled to evade the hits as much as he could, using the debris as cover and trying to find a way out, the engines straining against the planet’s gravity pull.

Until one of them collapsed after a shuddering strike.

Two options. Struggle on where they were until the spacecraft exploded under Georgiou’s fire, or emergency landing on an unknown planet.

Mudd was right. This had been a terrible idea.

Lorca contemplated the unconscious body by his side. Or was it? What were the odds of meeting again? He couldn’t save his Michael, but he could make sure this one survived. He adjusted her spacesuit before attending to his.

Death by Emperor, or land on an unknown planet the Terran fleet called the Bermuda Triangle.

Charybdis and Scylla.

After a few deep, calming breath, Lorca stopped fighting against gravity and changed course.

“Boldly go where no man has gone before, isn’t that right?” he whispered to Michael, still blissfully unconscious.

-/-

The unexpected sound of waves crashing against rocks woke her up. Wearily, Michael cracked one eye open, then another. Instead of cold, hard steel, she was facing a blinding sunrise. Blinking rapidly, she let her sight adjust to the light before observing her surroundings. She was laying on an ashen, rocky beach. A bundle of cloth had been placed under her head. A dull pain radiated from her right leg, which had been bundled into a rather archaic splint. Turning her head carefully, she could see the smoking carcass of a spacecraft not far from the shore. It was a cloudless day, wherever she was, and she could just make out the last stars of the night disappearing from a paling, moonless sky.

Biting her lips, she tried to sit up but gave up almost instantly. More than the pain, the feeling that she weighed a ton knocked her back down, her heart racing as if she had run a marathon.

What the hell?

An exhausted, loud grunt made her turn to the shore again. There a man emerged from the water, dragging a makeshift raft behind him, visibly struggling with it but nonetheless choosing to remain waist-deep into the water.

Taking a deep breath, Michael tried to sit up again. She succeeded, but the effort left her breathless for a few seconds. A broken leg and a concussion would weaken herbut not that much. She took in her immediate surrounding a bit more closely. Her Starfleet-issued helmet was lying on her left, next to another spacesuit. Next to that: emergency food rations, Medical supplies, electronics, weapons. The man was clearly salvaging everything he could from the wreck, but  what he’d managed so far wasn’t heavy enough to necessitate the help of a raft to carry it. As he walked closer, Michael noticed that the equipment he was struggling with now couldn’t weigh more than twenty pounds at most. Yet, once he’d reached her spot, he stumbled with exhaustion before regaining his footing and starting to unload the raft, one small piece of equipment after another.

Experimentally, Michael grabbed a tiny pebble under her hand. It was heavy. Far heavier than an object that size should be. Thrice what its weight would be on Earth.

“Awake at last?”

Michael gasped at the all-too familiar voice. Logic dictated that it couldn’t be him, and yet - the scar on his heaving, naked chest, the groan of pain as he protected his eyes against the sunlight -  but also logic dictated it had to be.

Speechless, she could only watch as he helped to improve her position by resting her back against a nearby rock.

“How’s the leg? I don’t have the top notch tech we had on Discovery , so it might take longer to heal. And yeah, gravity’s a bitch. I wouldn’t try to walk for a good week.”

Michael nodded.

Lorca rummaged through the supplies before sitting heavily down next to her, leaning back against the same rock. She accepted the half energy bar he handed her. Like before, his fingers held the innocuous piece of food longer than they should have.

“Rationing already started, I see.” Of all the things she could have said, Michael had found her voice again to comment flatly on their already precarious situation.

She observed Lorca as he took a hungry bite of his half ration. He looked exhausted, as if he had just stepped out of an agony chamber.

“You should be eating more. You’ve clearly expanded more energy than I have.”

Without waiting for his reply, she divided her own ration and gave him a third, her raised eyebrow leaving no room for any argument.

Lorca accepted it without any resistance and gulped it down.

In front of them, the waves kept their rhythm on and off the shore. Behind them,  the rising sun, still low on the horizon, cast long shadows. Above them, Ash’s body floated among the space debris and Georgiou had escaped, sowing even more destruction in her wake.

There are no second chances .

These had been the Emperor’s biting words back on Qo’noS.

Michael looked at her unlikely companion, fast asleep now, and shook her head.

As long as we’re alive, there’s always another chance .

That’s what her captain would have replied.

Chapter Text

Terran Empire, ISS Charon, 2256

The pain radiating from Lorca’s lower back, where one of the Emperor’s guards viciously maintains the agonizer at its highest level, is unbearable. His legs are useless and his vision is getting more blurry by the second. His pride and fury and hatred are the only thing stopping him from passing out.

Lorca can only watch helplessly  as Georgiou orders her guards to throw his men through the gaping hatch and into the burning spore reactor. One after the other, they’re tossed away into nothingness, devoured by the invention of the man who betrayed them all.

None gives the Emperor the satisfaction of a pitiful, pathetic death. No screaming. No pleading. Only silent defiance.

These are his people. In spite of the agony, Lorca’s chest swell with pride at his soldiers’ bravery.

Let’s show those heavenborn scums what us earthworms are really made of.

Then it’s Culber’s turn.

His oldest companion with Landry. His friends. The ones who survived through it all, from the hellish streets of Terra-11 to this monstrous golden room. Facing them, standing by the Emperor’s side, Stamets doesn’t blink an eye as his lover--a great soldier that the despicable weasel chose to betray to protect his goddamn status and research--shrugs out from the guards’ grasp and willingly makes the ultimate step to his death after a last salute.

And through it all, Michael’s eyes never leave him.

They tried.

They failed.

They’ll meet on the other side. Hopefully, Valhalla is more than a figment of the ancients’ fantasies.

They’ll have a good time there for sure.

 

Unknown planet, unknown system, 2259

Commander Michael Burnham’s log - Day 15

For the second night in a row, I haven’t dreamt  of Ash’s death. The uncontrollable rage and pain I’ve been feeling is getting more and more subdued as time goes by.  As perilous as our current situation is, it has helped me regain focus and balance. I can think logically again, and there is no logic in thirsting for a vengeance that is outside of my grasp for now.

There’s no logic in thirsting for vengeance at all. I can’t let Georgiou turn me into this person.

My leg is now perfectly healed, even if the high gravity still makes it difficult to walk properly or without a limp. Hopefully, this will improve further soon and I’ll be able to help Lorca more. He never complains, has adapted to the gravity quite easily--and I’m sure it’s not the first time he’s got stranded on an unknown planet as his surviving skills are impressive--but his efforts are taking their toll on his body, his right knee especially. He rubs it more and more when he thinks I’m not looking.

For now, I have to content myself with careful exploration and identification of a proper source of food, as our stock of rations won’t last forever. Water isn’t a problem since we discovered a coastal river within walking distance. Carrying water supplies isn’t easy but it’s manageable. Lorca found fish quite easily, but the specimen are huge and particularly heavy. Catching just one is a terrible struggle, and since we don’t have any means to preserve what we don’t eat, the  cost far outweighs the benefits for now. We need salt, and a way to collect it from the sea water.

Like the days before, our attempts at contacting Starfleet remain fruitless. The belt of debris might be serving as a barrier. I tried to reach out to Sarek, in vain. He was on the Discovery when we went after the Emperor. We should be able to connect through is katra. He felt my distress during the Binary Stars battle. Why can’t he hear me now?

Until we find a way around this particular problem, we need to plan a more permanent  and sustainable settlement. In that regard, the caves I located south of our current position look promising, if they’re not occupied by local fauna, or population. If that’s the case, I don’t look forward to the unavoidable disagreement we’ll have on the topic.

Michael concluded her entry log, suddenly conscious of the utter futility of her efforts. They were lost on an unknown planet, with little chance of being ever rescued. The probability that anybody would listen to her log was very low, if not nonexistent. Starfleet wouldn’t know of any misconduct and violation of the Prime Directive and other Federation laws.

She could already hear Lorca’s arguments  about the necessity of survival, and she could already imagine her own stubborn replies. It wouldn’t be pretty.

An unidentified yellowish fruit the size of a plum came into her field of vision--lost as she was in her musings, Michael hadn’t heard Lorca walking back to their camp. And, of course, he’d noticed it.

“You should pay more attention to our surroundings, Burnham. We might not be alone.”

Ever since she’d woken up on the pebbled beach, it was always Burnham, as if they were back on Discovery, as if they had never traveled to his universe. She had to wonder - was it his way to differentiate her from his Michael?

“You can eat it. Already analyzed it and tasted it. Far from exquisite, but it’s food. It grows on the bushes near the cave you located.”

MIchael took a bite and suppressed a disgusted frown. The taste was indeed bland, and the texture quite floury. The aftertaste was sour. However, Lorca was right, it was food. Beggars couldn’t be choosers.

Before she could ask any more about the cave, Lorca walked away again without another word.

They’d been working great together for the past two weeks, finding their old routine back, when they barely needed words to convey their thoughts and strategies on board of Discovery. This silent familiarity was as reassuring as it was unsettling. They worked, they helped each other, they looked after each other. They survived, together, day after day.

But they never talked.

-/-

Lorca resisted the temptation to look at Michael as he struggled with the improvised alambic that should provide them with salt. He’d watched people build this kind of stuff as a child before he got snatched and forcefully enrolled in the Imperial army. He knew the theory.

Building it from scratch was another thing entirely.

Meanwhile, Michael was busy analyzing the various samples that he’d brought back over the last couple of days. The portable tester she had put together was helpful with the rare fruits he walked across, but roots and mushrooms needed a more thorough analysis if they didn’t want to die from poisoning.

As usual, they worked in silence.

It was easier this way. They couldn’t afford to revisit the events of the Charon. Some things were better left buried. His betrayal. The death of his people at the hands of Discovery.

Tyler.

Georgiou.

Far too  many ghosts for two people stranded on a hostile planet.

This Michael was a woman of few words anyway, and more than once he’d felt like an over talkative fool around her back on Discovery.

A frustrated sigh made him look up, though, and he gave into temptation just in time to see Michael toss one of the mushrooms she was sampling in a rather atypical outburst.

Lorca scratched his growing beard and smiled. All this Vulcan education didn’t totally kill the human in her. He’d loved witnessing these little unguarded moments so much back on Discovery. In any universe, Michael Burnham hated to be wrong, and her stubborn expression--clenched jaw, dark eyes, chin lifted in a defiant posture--when confronted to a puzzling problem was always a sight for sore eyes.

How many times had he provoked his Michael gratuitously, challenged her for fun,  just to see this expression appear on her face? Even if she knew he was doing it on purpose, she always charged, like a furious little bull.

“Not good?” he asked aloud from his own station, eager to chase the memories away, even if it meant he had to break the protective silence.

“Well, if you’re immune to a phalloid-like variety, I suppose they’re edible.”

She tossed another mushroom, more forcefully this time.

“I found some roots that should be helpful as medicine though. Alkaloids, disinfecting properties… But no progress on the food front.”

Her voice sounded defeated. That was no good.

“What is wrong with this planet? The climate is temperate. The air is almost the same as on Earth. There’s water in abundance. There should be more life. It isn’t logical, Lorca.” The words came out from Michael’s mouth in a quick staccato rhythm.

Lorca grimaced as he stood up to join her. They needed a break. Both of them. They were going nowhere with on the food front, and collecting salt from sea water would take hours.

The sun was still high on the horizon. They had a good couple of hours before sunset.

“I think I saw something that looks like oysters or mussels around the rocks up north. Why don’t we check it out?”

As he spoke, he almost put a comforting hand on her shoulder before restraining himself.

Uninvited, memories of the feeling of her skin under his fingers bubbled up to the surface. He quickly drowned them again, deep underwater where they belonged.

“We’ll bring clear water on our way back. Come on, Burnham. You need to stretch your legs.”

Without waiting for her reply, Lorca straightened up and started to gear up. Backpack. Phaser. Whatever he could carry on this accursed planet without breaking his already aching back and joints.

Wordlessly, Michael had joined him, leaning on her improvised crutch more heavily than necessary under normal circumstances.

They started to walk. Michael was leading the way, to set the pace.

In a normal world, it would have been a nice walk. The salty breeze gently caressed their skin. The sunlight was less biting at this hour of the day. The sound of the waves was soothing. The temperature was ideal. Not too hot. Not too cold.

And yet, something was missing.

They stopped their progression to accommodate Michael’s still healing leg. She turned to face the sea and the late afternoon sun. Eyes closed, she let the breeze caress her tilted face, evoking deep buried memories of another Michael, on another beach, far away.

That was when it hit him. The sound of seagulls or cormorant or any kind of birds. This was what was missing.

More than ever, Lorca couldn’t shake the feeling that they were the only living souls on a planet-wide graveyard. Michael was right. Such a planet should be full of life.

As a matter of fact, it was even more dead than his own homeworld.

-/-

Commander Michael Burnham’s log - Day 20

After three days, we are finally settled in our new location. The cave is nearer to the source of clear water and other shellfish than the crash site. Even if the weather has been constantly sunny with very few clouds, it’s reassuring to have shelter at last. If the stronger, colder wind that started yesterday is any indication, we moved just in time.

Even if my leg is still slightly painful when I exert myself too much, I can say that I’m back to full mobility now. Maybe I can convince Lorca to let me do my share of the heavy lifting.

I’m starting to worry about my companion’s state of mind. I know from experience that he can survive any situation, but he’s been more subdued for the last two days. I don’t know what happened during his last gathering trip on the coast but that shook him.

But he won’t talk. About anything.

I’ll leave him be for now.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log - Day 22

Lorca still won’t talk. We don’t have much time for this now anyway. Yesterday’s storm damaged a good part of our equipment when our cave was flooded by an underground stream we didn’t notice.

Our reserve of newly salted fish is now but a memory.

For the first time since we crashed, we can’t even try to contact Starfleet.  Even if I’ve known for a while now that our attempts are in all likelihood quite futile, the simple fact that we simply can’t even try is properly terrifying. I can’t help but feel utterly trapped.

We have to salvage as much as we can. And grit our teeth.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log - Day 25

Another storm. A gravity storm. We woke up glued to the roof of the cave. We spent most of the day crawling in a world suddenly turned upside down.

Lorca hurt his ribs badly when the gravity came back to normal, as he put himself between me and the ground.

The roots I identified earlier proved to be efficient medicine, which is positive. However, our work is now at a standstill again.

I shudder at the thought of what could have happened to us had this kind of event occurred before we settled in this cave.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log - Day 28

Gravity storm, again. Shorter this time. In spite of his injuries, Lorca insisted that we secured our possessions. He’s pushing himself too hard--punishing himself?--but I have to admit he was right.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log - Day 29

Another one. Left shoulder in agony. Probably dislocated. No choice. Lorca unconscious with fever. His head might have hit a rock.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log - Day 30

No storm.

Ash. Again. Blood.

My captain. The emperor.

No sleep.

-/-

Lorca frowned as he examined Michael’s shoulder, biting back his anger at the sight of the dislocated joint.

“So, when did you plan to tell me this little secret of yours?”

He knew his tone was harsher than necessary, uncalled for even, but he still couldn’t believe that she’d spent the last three days in such a state as she let him recover from his own injuries.

It didn’t work like that, for fuck’s sake.

He slipped out his belt and handed it to her.

“You might want to bite down. It’s going to hurt.”

Silently, he took a deep breath, more for his own sake than hers, and positioned his slightly trembling hands on her elbow and wrist, ignoring the pain radiating from his own broken ribs. The last few days had really taken their toll on both their bodies and morale.

“Ready?”

He waited for her nod.

“Okay. Let’s go.”

To her credit, Michael didn’t utter a single sound. Usually, he admired this quality of her. Some other times, her stoicism could be infuriating.

This was one of those times.

Without another word, he secured her arm into a makeshift slide and placed the healing device on her shoulder.

“You should be good to go within a couple of days, if this fucking planet let us rest properly.”

Biting back a moan of pain, he started to gear up. The latest storm had spilled their reserve of clear water. And they needed more food.

Her voice was almost inaudible when she spoke.

“There’s only one healing device.”

For some reason, her tone was accusatory, vindictive almost.

“I know that. It’s my healing device, from my defunct spaceship.” The snapping reply was out of his mouth before he could think about it.

“Your ribs aren’t properly healed yet, you can’t…”

“I can and I will. High tolerance to pain, remember? Agony booth, rings a bell?”

For the love of every incarnation of divinity in the history of both universes, he didn’t just say that.

Oh Gabriel, you could never keep your trap shut...

“I remember far too vividly.” In spite of her condition, her words were cutting like blades. “I remember trusting you. I remember your betrayal.”

And Pandora’s box exploded to his face. Lorca could only watch as Michael stood up with a grimace and stumbled in his direction in the dim light that came from the entry. The cave, as large as it was, felt like a trap, its wall dangerously closing on him.

“We trusted you, Lorca. We were proud to serve under your command. And you lied to us.”

Michael’s voice got louder with each step she took in his direction.

“You lied to me.”

We would have helped you to go back home. That’s what Starfleet is.

Like on the Charon, Lorca couldn’t do anything but take in her sharp, angry words. Instinctively, he braced himself against a blade that would tear its way across his chest.

The stabbing pain never came. Instead, Michael went on, more softly this time.

“You helped me, and then… you took it all from me again.,” she said, shaking her head. “Why?”

She was in his personal space now, and he still couldn’t move a limb, wordlessly glued to the spot.

“What was I in your grand scheme?” Her voice was suddenly louder, furious again. “A bait for the Emperor? A replacement? Did you think you could groom me into submission, charm me with notions of destiny like you did before with your Michael?”

-/-

The last words escaped Michael’s mouth in spite of her. She’d read the files Lorca had left behind on Discovery. She knew that the situation was far more complicated than what Georgiou’d said on the Charon. She’d realized how easily she’d been manipulated by the Emperor.

She knew that she was unfair.

Yet, in her anger and frustration, it was that overwhelming feeling of betrayal that dominated everything.

“So that’s what she told you. And you believed her.”

She almost didn’t hear his chilling answer. He stood against the light pouring into the cave and she could only guess his dark silhouette. He took a step in her direction, reducing the space between them even more, towering over her with all his height, forcing her to step back.

“How could you…” His voice was barely above a whisper. Somehow, his silent, contained fury was more frightening than anything she witnessed on the Charon. She still stood her ground.

“I had no reason not to. I’d just found out what a good liar you were, and how far you were prepared to take your lies.”

“I had warned you!” he growled.

“The man I thought was my rightful captain did!” Michael stepped in his direction again, their faces barely separated by an inch or two. “Not the man who clearly would stop at nothing to get a throne. Your words lost any value to me,” she hissed. She felt it again now, that hollowing out in the pit of her stomach, that sensation of utter emptiness in her soul, as fresh here and now as it had been there and then.

“So you decided to stick with Georgiou? Wonderful idea. Look where it fucking led us!” he snapped back, with a disdainful sneer that only fueled her own anger. But she had lost her momentum, and now she was the one unable to utter a word as Lorca lashed out at her in a painful roar.

“I loved Michael! for fuck’s sake. She was the one who wanted Georgiou dead, to avenge her parents. I followed her. My people followed her, and we lost everything. For months, I had to stop myself from gutting your Stamets for my Stamets’ crimes every fucking day. You know why I didn’t tell you anything? Because the moment I brought Tyler back on our ship, you only had ears for his woes. Maybe I should have come and pitifully scratched at your door, like he did.”

Michael’s eyes widened furiously at such a low blow.

“Don’t you dare drag him into this,” she spat, suddenly regaining her footing.

“And why shouldn’t I? What about his betrayal, huh? For the record, I never tried to kill you. Never touched a single hair of anybody on our ship, either.”

She shook her head. She couldn’t let him know how close to the truth he actually was. He could never know that she had only ever been able to be Ash’s tether because she’d been able to anchor herself to Lorca. Discovering Ash’s secret had been traumatic, but realizing the extent of her captain’s lies had shattered her still fragile world.

“The moment Tyler’s true nature was revealed, I knew you wouldn’t be able to hear me out, not so soon after. I could have talked earlier, of course. But, to be honest, I quite enjoyed being captain of the Discovery. It was a pipe dream, but it was nice as long as it lasted.” His voice was suddenly soft as he stepped back to lean into the left wall of the cave. He started to play absently with a screwdriver that he left earlier on the food crate. “I should have backed off. But I couldn’t. And the moment I set my eyes on Georgiou again, I couldn’t help myself. I wanted blood.”

All his anger had vanished, as suddenly as it had appeared.

“But I thought  you would understand.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Hell, you understood a fucking tardigrade that slaughtered everyone on the Glenn. You could have heard a brute like me. Maybe...”

Michael took a step back and leant into the wall opposite so she could face Lorca, her right fingers feeling her left elbow that Lorca’s hands had manipulated with infinite care moments earlier.

“But I didn’t. I couldn’t.” She barely could look at him. “The moment Georgiou appeared, I couldn’t help myself, either. I let her poison me.”

“So you did.”

“We let our ghosts devour us that day, didn’t we?”

To this day, she couldn’t fathom how easily she had tricked Lorca into believing she was joining him. Welcome home, Michael. Who had he said those words to? Maybe Lorca didn’t have a proper answer himself. Who had she saved and brought back to Discovery? Michael herself didn’t dare question this particular action of hers too much.

“So we did.” In spite of the dim light, Michael could see the sadness and regret in Lorca’s eyes as he stared at her.

They remained solidly entrenched in their own space, finding comfort in the cave walls they were leaning into, unable to break eye contact until Lorca tore himself from his spot.

“I’d better get going. We still need water and food. You get some rest.”

His tone left no room for discussion, and Michael didn’t have any energy left to fight him on that point.

The past was the past. They couldn’t undo it, as much as they wanted to. Whatever had happened on the Charon didn’t matter now. Right now they had far more pressing matters.

Like surviving another day.

Finding a way out of this hell.

Starting anew.

Michael sat down heavily, the movement causing agony to her shoulder, before lying down with a frustrated groan. She would kill for a proper mattress. And she would kill some more for a day with normal gravity. She rolled on her uninjured side to find a more comfortable position and curled up under her blanket, softly cradling her left arm.

Sleep claimed her by surprise.

 

Chapter Text

 USS Discovery, unknown system, 2259

A cave. Filtering daylight. Bits of equipment here and there. Two people arguing loudly, inches from each other.

Michael.

Alive.

Sarek sat up with a start and contemplated his surrounding. His cabin on the Discovery. The crick in his neck indicated that he’d fallen asleep in his vain quest to break through the debris barrier again.

Until now, his many attempts to reach out to Michael through their shared katra had remained fruitless.

But this was different. This was proof. They were alive. Both of them.

Sarek checked the time before opening a direct channel to the captain’s quarters. He didn’t wait for Saru’s greeting or any kind of invitation to speak.

“Captain, Michael is alive and on that planet. So is Gabriel Lorca. We need to notify Starfleet and devise a plan.”

Unknown planet, unknown system, 2259

Commander Michael Burnham’s log - Day 35

Things are getting... better.

My shoulder is almost healed.  Although it isn’t as efficient as the equipment I got used to in Starfleet, Lorca’s gear is a lifesaver  considering the toll the local environment takes on our bodies.

More importantly, we’re talking, at last. Our argument  is still fresh in my mind and in the air between us--but there’s been a noticeable shift. At times, it almost feels like we’re back on Discovery, working side by side to find a solution to a particularly tricky problem.

This new balance is fragile, but we’re getting there, step by step.

I still worry about Lorca’s health. He seems out of breath more often than not. I can’t help but wonder about what we found alongside his files back on Discovery.

If I’m right--and I’d love nothing more than being wrong in this case--our situation might become even more precarious in the future.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log - Day 37

I never was really enthusiastic about celebratory drinks. Even back on the Shenzhou, I found it difficult to fully grasp the importance of these moments of supposed bonding.

I always felt like an outsider.

Today though, I have to admit that Mudd’s bad whiskey - that Lorca somehow salvaged from our crash - tastes really good.

Like victory.

We accurately predicted an upcoming gravity storm for the first time and managed to secure our belongings without getting hurt in the process.

A small but decisive step towards our long-term survival.

The whiskey that Lorca sips like water brings tears to my eyes. My mind is foggier than I’m comfortable with, but I still ask for more.

The beverage is objectively awful, but it tastes like hope.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log - Day 39

New storm. New victory.

With a system of cables, harnesses and nets combined with the jetpacks from our space suits, we were able to surf through the storm on the shore and catch the kind of fish and shellfish that we couldn’t even dare to bring home under normal circumstances.

The local version of lobster is a nice change from our regular fare.

Flying again after so many weeks of constant struggling against gravity was deeply satisfying.

The spectacle of the sea literally turned upside down was… breathtaking.

In spite of the precarity of our situation, I am most grateful for this moment. This is what Starfleet is about. New places. New worlds. Invention. Innovation.

New experiences, like grilled lobster, flambéed with Mudd’s whiskey.

Like Lorca laughing openly, as if he was having fun, in a way I never witnessed before.

I know that trials await us, but I need to treasure these moments. Today was a great day, and it’s good enough.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log - Day 42

For the first time since we’ve crashed on this planet, Lorca has decided to take a break. I know it isn’t for my sake. My various injuries are fully healed now, and I can finally take my full share of the heavy lifting, so to speak. Until today, Lorca has been constantly pushing his limits but his ashen complexion, the shortness of breath and the sudden lack of stamina are symptoms that I can’t ignore anymore.

It’s not simply exhaustion catching up with him at last.

It’s the nanomachines.

First developed  to help asteroid miners  cope with their workload by increasing their endurance and tolerance to pain, they’ve been forbidden in the Federation for nearly twenty years - except that recent scandals have revealed that they are still used in different sports across the Quadrant. Reports about the Klingon war showed that some Starfleet pilots used them as well.

Did Lorca start to use them when he first came to our universe? Is it an older problem?

Somehow, I can perfectly imagine the Terran Empire dosing up its soldiers so that they can compete with the alien races they’re so keen on dominating everywhere in their Quadrant.

Lorca is sleeping now. Tomorrow, I’ll confront him, whether he’s ready to talk or not.

-/-

Lorca woke up suddenly, to darkness. The first thing he felt was the intense pain in his left side radiating from his chest to his fingers.

Damn.

It was far sooner than he expected. The efforts required just to walk around on this fucking rock had accelerated his metabolism and now it felt like it was about to stall. It wasn’t the first time he’d found himself stranded on some God-forsaken planet--and Terran pilots like him always made sure that they carried enough doses to last six months on their own if needed.

The first heart attack had occurred twenty days ago. Each dose, which was supposed to last a month at least, was clearly burning  through his system faster than that. He was screwed if they didn’t find a way to get the hell out of here soon.

“Burnham…” he uttered through gritted teeth, his right arm reaching blindly for Michael, only to find her gone. “Burnham,” he repeated, fighting the rising panic. He knew this attack wouldn’t be fatal--the first one was always a painful but simple warning--but even after nearly forty years of using the Nanos, the anguish provoked by the programmed collapse of his own body was unbearable. “Burnham…” He could already see the all too familiar black veil engulfing his senses in the dark cavern.

“I’m here, Lorca -”

The familiar  feeling of a syringe piercing his clothes and skin, right into his heart. Adrenaline. In a distant corner of his brain, he remembered how Mudd had insisted that they add this particular item to the medical supplies of the ship. It wouldn’t do to lose a most reliable and regular customer like Lorca…

“Lorca, stay with me!”

Warm hands pressed on his chest, massaging his heart forcefully, reducing the agonizing pain, although bruising a rib or two in the process.

“Open your fucking eyes, you bastard…”

A mouth on his mouth, breathing life back into his aching lungs.

Lorca’s eyes snapped open. He could only guess Michael’s panicked expression in the darkness.

He felt weak.

Weak and relieved.

He wouldn’t have died, no, but being revived was always preferable to collapsing on his own and waking up hours later: the disorientation that followed the latter was agony, too. Michael’s hands stopped moving, but he could feel them there on his chest, trembling. Was she worried? Afraid for him? He should thank her.

“You fucking bastard.”

There were tears in her voice. This Michael never swore. He hated causing her that kind of pain.

A brute like him didn’t deserve these tears.

“Not a bastard. Parents... married… True Earthborn...” was all he could utter though.

-/-

Michael’s eyes widened as she tried to process his incoherent mumblings and her own reaction to the current situation. She considered her still trembling hands that remained glued to Lorca’s chest, while her own heartbeats and breathing returned to a more normal pace. As her companion’s status had worsened the day before, she’d decided to watch him overnight, dreading the unavoidable outcome. She’d rummaged through their things until she found the box where Lorca hid his doses and some adrenalin. Then she’d kept vigil over her sleeping companion, spying for the first alarming sign, ready to act.

When Lorca’s body had gone rigid, her own limbs and hands had moved on their own.

Under her fingers, Lorca’s heart finally resumed a more regular rhythm. Only then did Michael find the energy to lift her hands from their spot and sit up. Fighting against unwanted tears, she reached for a lamp and turned it on. Cold light replaced the darkness, allowing her to observe Lorca. His face was very pale, almost sickly. Combined with his rough stubble--he still shaved every week, cursing after the cold water and lack of soap but stubbornly sticking to his ritual--it made him look older, exhausted. Encouragingly enough, his eyes were more and more focused.

Wordlessly, she helped him to rise so he could sit with his back to the cave wall and sip some water. Instinctively, her other hand caressed his shoulders in a soothing motion, cradling his head as he leant heavily against the rock. The brief contact with his hair sparked unwanted memories and made her retreat. Satisfied that Lorca seemed comfortable, she stood up, anxious to find something to do - anything. Mechanically, she processed to boil some water. Some of the plants they’d found over the past few weeks made excellent infusions.

“You’re not surprised,” Lorca said softly, breaking the deafening silence in the cave.

Michael focused her attention on the simmering water.

“No,” she flatly replied, not turning around. The repetitive, daily ritual chased away the last remnant of panic. Instead, bitter anger started to suffocate her.

“You found my stuff on Discovery.”

“Yes, we did. The files. The drugs.” Everything. Too late.

Michael heard him struggle to get on his feet. He shouldn’t be doing that. Not after what he’d gone through moments ago. Then again, he had been able to stage a coup after days in an agony chamber. The painkillers she had administered him couldn’t explain everything.

Cheating death looked like a daily occurrence for him.

“Look, Burnham. I should have…” Lorca was struggling for words, and not because of his condition. Apologies didn’t come easily to him.

Decency is a weakness.

“I should… I didn’t know how…”

Michael focused her attention on the mugs in which the herbs were infusing.

“I didn’t want to worry you,” he admitted pitifully behind her, close enough to touch her.

“No, I think it’s habit with you. Keeping everything to yourself. Refusing to ask for help.”

Decency is a weakness. It can get you killed.

What kind of world gave birth to such a person?

Profound sadness replaced the anger now. Michael turned around and offered a steamy mug to Lorca. Their eyes locked.

“When did you start taking them?”

Why did you start? Why would you do that to your body? For strength? For glory?

She expected him to retreat, to run for cover, to find refuge in a defensive insult. However, for once, he never broke eye contact.

“Never did. Informed consent is considered a rather outdated concept in the Empire.”

Another side-step. Michael stared at him angrily as he turned around and sat down heavily against the wall again. She was so tired of his avoidance tactics.

“Lorca…” she started, ready to push for straight answers at last.

“Conscripted when I was sixteen. I entered what they called the elite program when I was seventeen. They dosed me up while they were shaving my hair. Unlike many, I survived and this got me a shiny ticket to battle before I’d turned twenty. Then I survived some more.”

Michael didn’t know what hurt her more: the harsh, horrifying reality behind his words or his dispassionate, fatalistic tone, as if all he’d gone through was normal. Because of course it was, to him, from that world.

No wonder he had put Stamets through so much pain and grief back on Discovery, no wonder he had pushed his crew to their very limits all the time. That was all he’d known.

Michael joined him, sliding down the wall to sit down by his side, shoulder to shoulder.

“How much time do we have?”

How much time do we have to escape from this wretched place? How much time do I have until I have to watch you die again?

“Couple of months. Three months if I pace myself.”

Michael’s hands started shaking again. Awkwardly, she put her mug down and steepled them together as Sarek had taught her , legs crossed, in a fruitless attempt at self-control. She was so focused that she didn’t feel Lorca move and put his own mug down. She only saw his bigger hand engulf her fingers. His touch was so reassuring, like before. As painful as it was, she embraced the memory this time.

“I guess you’re tired of hearing promises people can’t keep…”

I’ll protect you. Nothing will stand in the way of that.

You’re not alone, Michael. We will survive this place together.

Ash. Lorca. They had promised a lot. Then they had let her down just as much.

“I’ll last as long as I possibly can and meanwhile, we’ll figure something out. Deal?”

Michael threaded her fingers through his where they lay on her lap, refusing to let him go.

“Deal.”

USS Discovery, Unknown system, 2259

“Ensign Tilly shall remain with you as you requested.”

Sarek looked at Saru as they walked to the transportation room, their hurried footsteps the only sound in the otherwise silent corridor. Starfleet had proven reluctant to pursue the search for Michael any longer - quite logically, given their depleted resources and the fact that peace talks between the Klingon Empire and the Federation were set to start in less than two months. With Emperor Georgiou still at large and creating havoc around the Quadrant, the USS Discovery was needed to respond to any threat that may arise and Ensign Tilly was one of the key engineers working on Stamets’ spore drive system.

Getting Starfleet to relent had been no small feat on Saru’s part.

“I thank you for that, Captain. Ensign Tilly is a precious asset, but she knows Michael best.”

Saru stopped in front of the door. Behind it, Tilly and Harry Mudd were waiting for Sarek.

“Is that why you requested this smuggler’s presence as well?” The disdain in the Kelpian’s voice was evident in spite of his ever cautious attitude.

“Mr Mudd is one of the few persons in this universe with an actual knowledge of this system. Another one is Emperor Georgiou. The last one is Gabriel Lorca, currently stranded on that planet. Logic dictates Mr Mudd’s presence with us.”

Sarek looked up at the Kelpian, who nodded thoughtfully in return. His lingering frown showed that he wasn’t quite convinced yet. Still, he opened the door in a final form of agreement.

“It may be logical, but I am not convinced it is sensible. I look forward to being proven wrong - in the meantime, I will pray for your success.” It was Sarek’s turn to nod solemnly as he stepped on the platform and waited for the familiar transporting beam.

As illogical as they were, prayers would be much needed indeed. In the current state of things, saving Michael and her companion would indeed be little short of a miracle.

 

Chapter Text

Terran Empire, ISS Buran, 2251

Lorca considers the woman pacing furiously in his spartan private quarters. Even if it’s the place where he spends most of his life, he’s never felt the need to make himself at home. What was the point of settling on a ship that could be blown to pieces during the next mission for the eternal glory of the Empire? He tries not to cringe when her steps lead her to the unmade bed that Ava vacated moments before when the feared captain of the Shenzhou burst in, unannounced. When she was still a junior officer on the Buran, Michael had never hid her contempt for his womanising.

Two years before, he had watched her leave the Buran for her first command before she had even turned twenty-five.

A girl, really.

Two years later, he’s facing a hardened warrior whose hands will soon be as bloody as his.

A soldier.

A butcher.

“Did you know?” Her words come out cold as steel.

He owes her the truth.

“I suspected.”

“You never received the orders to rescue Doctari Alpha. The Buran was the only ship who came.”

“There were no such orders, indeed.”

For the first time in forever, he feels powerless in front of such cold fury. He would have prefered to see Michael break everything in his room. That, he could have dealt with.

He opens his mouth but no sound comes out. She doesn’t need his answer anyway. She knows everything.

“She sacrificed us, all of us.” The venom in Michael’s voice is chilling.

An unavoidable sacrifice for the sake of the Empire. The well-needed pretext to destroy the Klingons once and for all.

Lorca remembers the Emperor’s words far too well.

Ignoring his orders that sent him to put an end to the growing agitation in a remote mining colony in the Andorian system, Lorca had decided to remain in the Doctari Alpha area after rumors of a coming Klingon attack reached his ears. The Buran fought ferociously when the Klingons came, up in space, down on the ground. They couldn’t save everybody, of course. But the casualties could have been worse.

So much worse.

That was when he met Michael for the first time, a terrified girl pointing a trembling phaser at him after having killed the Klingons who were devouring her family dinner.

Much to his surprise, the Emperor overlooked his disobedience, welcomed the survivors of the attack with open arms, rewarded Lorca and his men for their bravery and turned the little girl into a political symbol, the incarnation of the Terran spirit fighting against barbary.

The survivor that embodies our values of strength and bravery makes the perfect heir, Gabriel.

“I’m going to kill her.”

Lorca knows she will try.

And he knows she will fail.

The idea is unbearable.

“Please, Michael, think…” Once upon a time, she would have listened to him. But not now, not anymore.

“Or I’ll die trying,” she says, as though she can read his mind. “Miraculous survivor. Adopted daughter. Youngest captain. I’m nothing but a glorified trophy for her to parade around.”

A girl had left the Buran. A woman has returned. Bloody-handed. Lonely. Delusioned. Old before her time. Angry beyond reason.

A vengeance-seeking monster.

“I hear them talking behind my back all the time. The upstart, that’s what they say. The Emperor’s pet project. Nobody will…”

His body moves before he can think about it.

Stop it.

His lips are on hers, expressing a desire he doesn’t even know he harbored. His hands cup her jaw.

“I’d care.”

He braces himself for her slap or a stabbing pain in his guts. Nobody touches the princess without her leave.

He’s dead meat.

For all her hatred, Michael’s still the Emperor’s daughter. Heavenborn.

He’s the Emperor’s right hand, but he has no lands or titles. Never an admiral. Never a governor.

Earthborn. Earthworm.

The rejection never comes. Worse, she kisses him back.

He is lost.

Their hands are trembling as they frantically tear their uniforms up, their lips constantly reaching for hasty, angry kisses.

They are lost.

Unknown planet, Unknown system, 2259

The light of dawn was unforgiving as it filtered through the cavern, eliciting a painful groan from Lorca. Blinking rapidly, he looked around his surroundings, confused as the old memory faded away with the last remnants of sleep.

Michael. The Empire.

He hadn’t dreamt about her in a very long time. Ever since he’d come back from the mycelial network, the other Michael had been the one haunting him.

As if on cue, his still sleeping companion moved a bit closer, seeking his warmth, her head on his shoulder. The weather was getting chillier, especially at nights, which had prompted the most recent modification of their sleeping arrangements.

He straightened up, careful not to wake Michael up as he positioned her head back on her pillow. As much as he enjoyed their newfound proximity, the local gravity affected the most innocuous aspects of daily life, like sharing a sleeping mat. Lorca rubbed his limp arm to restore the blood flow before settling back on the mat, his side flush with Michael’s sleeping body.

Ever since the heart attack, Michael had accompanied him step by step as he’d fought to postpone the next nano injection until the very last minute. She’d watched him like a hawk for ten days, monitoring his condition, supporting him, even teaching him Vulcan exercises to help him save his strength… Of course, he’d protested loudly and dragged his feet but Michael could be incredibly pig-headed once her mind was set. And she had set her mind set on saving his sorry ass, whether he liked her methods or not.

So he had to learn Vulcan breathing techniques and meditation.

Captain Lorca, one of the most feared warriors in the Terran Empire, sitting cross-legged in a cave and meditating, like some weird mystic.  It was laughable.

He had complied nonetheless.

With a bit of luck, these efforts would make a real difference in the end.

The notion of letting somebody see him in his most vulnerable state was properly frightening. Apart from Landry, who had suffered from the same condition, nobody in the Empire knew about his biggest weakness, which was also the source of his strength.

Not even Michael.

Nano users didn’t let their guard down. Doing so was a death sentence. The gods knew that the very assholes who dosed him up made sure to hammer the mantra into his brain.

Trust no one and you’ll survive.

Terran philosophy at its finest. Or ugliest.

But there was something about the other Michael that made him lower his guard in her presence. There was something that pushed him to want to trust her. He resisted, of course, he still rebelled against it--you couldn’t go against decades of mistrust and fearjust like that. And this irresistible need to trust her had cost him everything on the Charon once before. But, in the end, on this wretched planet in the middle of nowhere, he was still willing to put his life into her hands.

Last night, he couldn’t even lift a finger--full blown Icarus withdrawal was a bitch, really--and Michael’d had him at her mercy again. Yet he had let sleep and exhaustion claim him without fear, confident that she would give him the injection as planned.

Opening his eyes the next morning Lorca watched Michael as she slept soundly, her usual serious expression relaxed for once. He had really put her through hell these past few days. She deserved the rest.

Outside, the unforgiving light announced the first sunny day in a long time.

Now that he was back to his normal state again, a day of hard work was ahead of him. Collecting food and water. Exploring.

Going back to his routine.

Survive.

Escape.

They needed to work some more on the space drone they had started to salvage from his ship. Once they managed to find a way to adapt it to atmospheric flight, they would be able to have a better knowledge of their surroundings with minimal risks and effort. The planet couldn’t be entirely deserted. Finding local population and tech was their absolute priority.

Michael snuggled closer, burying her face into his chest with a tired yawn.

Or maybe they could stay just like that for the time being. Take the day off. Nobody was watching anyway.

Lorca put his arm around her waist, tucked Michael’s head under his chin and relaxed, his eyes closing again. This was nice, after days of anguished struggle with nano withdrawal.

Sighing contently, he let himself enjoy the warmth, the comfort, the feeling of her hair against his chin, of her legs brushing his, the slight arousal that came with the contact.

He felt alive.

He felt… content.

That was unusual.

He liked it.

-/-

Michael woke up to the sound of soft snoring above her head. Ruefully, she disentangled herself from his embrace and rubbed her aching side. The arm on her waist felt like a ton. She grimaced as she shifted her position, the usual comfortable Starfleet-issued sleeping mat--she didn’t want to know where Lorca and Mudd found this kind of equipment--was rendered useless by the gravity. Its high density, intelligent foam was designed to reproduce the effects of a proper mattress, but on this planet, it was little more than a paper-thin bad futon. Each passing morning, she felt like an aging lady struggling with her multiple chronic pains in her back and joints.

“Yeah, I know. Once we’re back to civilization, I’ll have some quality time with a proper mattress and pillow. A week, at least,” Lorca muttered sleepily. Her movements must have woken him.

“Don’t forget proper food,” Michael quipped as she settled again on her pillow, facing her companion.

He looked so much better now. Well-rested. Not as pale as before. Younger, in spite of the salt and pepper stubble growing on his cheeks. Shaving hadn’t been a priority since the heart-attack.

“Should I feel insulted or what?” Lorca shot back with a lazy half-smile, raising a teasing eyebrow. His eyes shone with rarely seen mischief.

A good night sleep and a nano injection had done wonders to this man.

“Let’s say that our current conditions make it quite difficult to properly assess the quality of your cooking,” Michael teased back.

“Then I’ll have to treat you to a proper three-courses meal once we get back to civilization. Real cooking, not the bland stuff that comes out of replicators.”

Michael swallowed, suddenly uneasy. His expression was painfully reminiscent of the silent adoration that had formed on his face back on the Charon when she’d told him she would stay by his side.

When she alluded to a future with him.

These moments of comfortable familiarity had become more and more frequent these past few days. Lorca really didn’t do things halfway. Whatever it was - fighting Klingons, staging a coup, letting her in - he always went overboard. Since the heart-attack, he’d gone from secretive and distant to trusting and open, as if all his defenses had crumbled at once. In response, Michael had found more and more comfort in his presence by her side. Even at his lowest, she knew she could lean on him and find the strength to forge ahead.

Like before.

More than before.

Lorca had been back in her life for two months now, and the place he’d carved for himself in it was far bigger than the first time. Sleeping by his side, waking up in his embrace, bantering with him, all these things were still a recent development. Yet, it felt natural. Normal. As if they’d skipped past everything that she found so difficult to navigate through--courtship, tentative first steps, heated declaration of undying love--everything that was still so painful after Ash Tyler. Instead, they seemed to have reached the stage she always craved for--familiarity, domesticity, comfort, peace--everything that was ripped from her when the Klingons attacked her settlement.

It was frightening.

Even more so when she still wasn’t sure who Lorca actually saw when he smiled at her with that uncharacteristic puppy dog-look, or held her close at night.

She wanted to know but she was scared to at the same time. Right here, right now, everything felt right and perfect, and she needed it to be enough. The truth had rarely set her free; more often than not, it had left her more alone than she thought she could bear.Back on the Charon, discovering that she’d been barely more than a replacement had deeply, deeply hurt. For once, Michael had thought that she’d found someone who would stand resolutely and without any reservation in her corner. Thanks to the trust and support of her then captain, she’d been able to rebuild herself piece by piece.

“You okay?” The was the slightest hint of worry in Lorca’s voice. And again, the same look, the expression that she’d fought hard to forget and that haunted her dreams months after the events on the Charon, filling her with bitter regrets.

“Who am I to you?”

The whispered words were out before she could stop herself.

“Right now, who are you looking at?”

Michael bit her lips. She certainly didn’t want to repeat their previous fight. They had far more pressing priorities. They should start to get up and put their exploration plans in motion. There was no time to waste with these personal emotional considerations.

Their common survival was at stake.

In response, Lorca rolled on his back with a deep sigh, drawing her with him, inviting her to rest her head on his chest, his fingers stroking her shoulder ever so slightly.

His touch had always been gentle. Here, on this planet. On the Shenzhou. Even when he’d parried her angry blows on the Charon.

At first, Michael thought this was yet another of his evading tactics. His voice when he started speaking again startled her.

“To be honest, when I first got you on board of Discovery, I wanted to find her again. When I first saw you in my ready room, I only saw her. It was like seeing a ghost.”

As if to soften the blow, he wrapped her shoulders in a tight embrace.

“It didn’t take long to see the differences, though. I even resented you for them. You were her and you weren’t her at the same time. The way you talked. Your take on life. Your humanity. Even the way you smelled. This was... unsettling. Then I started to enjoy these differences. More than I thought possible. I started to like your company, the moments I could share with you.  And I felt guilty.”

Lorca released a shaky breath. Revisiting these times was painful for both of them. But they needed to. Whatever was burgeoning between them came from a place of strong, deep feelings; it needed equally strong and deep foundations or it would come crashing down on them. They couldn’t afford lies.

“I enjoyed these times as well,” she whispered into Lorca’s chest, her subtle way to encourage him to go on.

“So I put you at arm’s length. Tyler made that real easy...”

Even after all this time, venom still filled Lorca’s voice. He didn’t even try to be the better man. If the memory of Ash didn’t hurt so much, Michael would have snorted at the irony of the Terran impostor dissing the Klingon spy.

“As much I didn’t like it, I was in more familiar territory. I focused on going back home. The pain, the jealousy, the lies, this I could deal with… And the very moment I saw you in that uniform, acting exactly as she would have done, I lost it, there’s no other way to put it.”

In an unconscious gesture, Michael flexed the hand that had gripped his hair when she’d proudly exhibited her prisoner to a stunned Connor, the new captain of the ISS Shenzhou. Back then, she’d barely noticed Lorca’s response to her gesture--she was far more worried that she might have overstepped her boundaries while trying to project an image of cruel authority.

“What did you want with me?” Her voice was weaker than she liked.

Lorca didn’t answer at once. Instead, he brought her closer and started to nuzzle her hair.

“The hell if I know,” she heard him admit at last with a sigh.

Michael disentangled herself from Lorca’s embrace and straightened up to observe him in the dim light of the cave. The sad honesty on his face was a painful sight.

“That was then,” she managed to utter. “Who am I now?” she asked again, never breaking eye contact.

That expression of quiet adoration returned to his face.

She braced herself for the heartache that his next words, if he ever replied, would bring.

Michael the Vulcan…” he whispered as he straightened up as well. “No confusion there anymore.” He raised his hand to cup her jaw, more tender than ever.

Michael had to stop herself from leaning into his touch.

“How do you know?” she pressed on.

Lorca looked down for a second, as if gathering his thoughts, or his strength

“Michael and I, we loved each other… but we knew there was no future for us beyond war and death. Not in a world like ours. Our love was full of anger, pain, secrecy, selfishness, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way. For years, I lived with this constant fear of being discovered, of losing her. We killed to keep our secret. It was us against the rest of the universe. Then, when the Emperor found out…”

“You rebelled,” Michael finished for him. “You sought vengeance.” She remembered what he’d suggested about the other Michael’s parents during their fight.

Lorca nodded silently before speaking again, resting his forehead against hers.

“With you, on the other hand, on Discovery, I felt… content. Even on this wretched planet, even if I don’t make it out of here, being able to have a glimpse at what a life with you could be... It’s more than I deserve after all I did in my life.”

Michael tore herself from his grasp to restore some distance between them.

“Michael never knew about the extent of my nano addiction,” Lorca sought her eyes. “But you… who are you to me? You’re someone I trust with my life. With everything. And let me tell you, that is something I have never had with anybody ever, in any universe.”

Before she knew it, Michael’s hands had cupped his face and her mouth hungrily claimed his.

Terran Empire, ISS Charon, 2256

Culber’s act of defiance spoils the Emperor’s enjoyment. In spite of the pain in his lower back, Lorca’s lips form a defiant grin. Always trust little Huey to be a pain in the ass. From the other side of the trapdoor, Michael returns his smile.

But their petty triumph is short-lived as Georgiou doesn’t waste time in finding another way to fuck with them.

She turns to Michael, giving her “one last chance to redeem herself”. Of course, she would make her rebellious daughter kill her lover with her own hands. The Emperor enjoys sadistic lessons like that.

When Michael grasps the weapon that one of the guards hands to her--Georgiou remains safely behind her invisible shield, of course she does--Lorca lowers his head. He knows what it does and he braces himself for the shot that would burn him into ashes, from the inside.

But the shot never comes. Instead, Michael turns back from him and shoots the guards. Lorca watches helplessly, in what seems like slow-motion, as his lover throws her imperial badge at Georgiou, finally voicing her deep-buried hatred. In spite of his efforts, his legs are still useless, and he can’t join Michael. She turns back one last time, mouthing a silent goodbye before reaching for her belt buckle.

I’m going to kill her… Or I’ll die trying.

He’s thrown backwards, hard. When he stands up on shaky legs, the throne room is covered in dust and blood. Georgiou stands paralyzed behind her now non-existent shield, Michael’s imperial badge at her feet.

Where Michael stood seconds before, there only remains a smoking star-shaped black stain.

Lorca’s limbs act on their own. He grabs a phaser and takes aim.

He misses once, twice, thrice.

He usually never misses.

His hands are trembling and his vision is getting blurry. The nanos are failing him, fast.

Landry pushes him away, out of the throne room, screaming into his ear. He doesn’t hear anything as she makes sure he can escape and keep on fighting. All he sees is Georgiou kneeling to retrieve Michael’s badge.

He’ll kill her even if it’s the last thing he does with his wretched life.





Chapter Text

Unknown planet, Unknown system, 2259

Commander Michael Burnham’s log, Day 55

I don’t think there’s been a time in my life when I’ve felt the present urge to reveal so much about myself. As far as I recall, I was always more of an observer than other children. I remember how my mother used to tease me on Doctari Alpha each time she found me lost in contemplation of the stars above. The distant and unknown horizons absorbed me completely, so much that I forgot to value what I had by my side.

Now, the dam I didn’t even know existed has broken and I talk as if my life depended on it. And it is quite safe to say that it’s the same experience for Gabriel.

After we finally aired everything that still stood between us, we talked almost non-stop for two days.

Our respective lives couldn’t be more different--we’re coming from different universes after all.

However, we understand each other. When you forget about our diverging circumstances, our experiences are in fact quite similar.

One, a human being raised on Vulcan after her parents’ death and the loss of the place she called home.

The other, an Argentinian (or close enough) boy uprooted and transferred to Atlanta-Terra 11.

A Human-Vulcan cultural hybrid trying to belong in the human world of Starfleet.

An Earthborn soldier rising through the ranks, trying to fit in a world of Heavenborn nobility.

A Mutineer struggling to find her place again on a new ship.

A Terran imposter in a universe he doesn’t know how to navigate.

Both outsiders, all the time.

We have almost nothing in common--space is the only home I know, while he hates space and longs for Earth. Yet we truly understand what the other means when we talk about how unsettling it is to live in a world whose rules we don’t quite master.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log, Day 56

When the Klingons killed my parents, I ran away from the pain and severed myself from the outside world even more. A Vulcan education is the perfect finishing school for self-denial, and the more efforts I made to fit among the Vulcans, the less energy I had left to deal with my memories.

I buried everything and almost forgot. When I met the Klingons again at the Binary Stars, it all came back to me . The idea of losing the ones I held dearest--the Shenzhou crew, my captain, my mentor--was unbearable and I only thought of protecting them. I realize now that the scared little girl took over the commander that day.

It wasn’t about my supposed ability to think ahead, as Gabriel told me on Discovery. It was about my inability to deal with the prospect of losing another family. In the end, I lost everything.

I buried the pain even deeper.

Fed on it.

I unload everything on Gabriel, and he lets me talk, again and again. He lets me cry. And I can tell he’s terribly uncomfortable in these moments--Terrans don’t reveal their weaknesses, they exploit others’ weaknesses, they don’t comfort one another.

He’s trying, though.

It’s all that matters.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log, Day 57

Gabriel’s lack of knowledge of some of the most basic theory we learn at Starfleet Academy is astounding.

His general disdain for the scientific preoccupations of the crew on Discovery suddenly takes on another meaning. As a pilot who rose from the ranks, he never received the same training as a normal Imperial officer, let alone a Starfleet one. His calling a Gormagander a fish wasn’t simple disinterest, it was proper ignorance. Like an analphabet who disguises their inability to read behind general lack of interest for books, Gabriel managed to hide his shortcomings on a scientific ship behind gruff impatience  and desire to turn Discovery into a proper warship.

In retrospect, it’s a wonder we didn’t realise that something was wrong until the very last moment.

On the other hand, his ability to build literally anything from scratch once you’ve explained the theory to him is impressive. I suppose that is the kind of skill one has to develop in a salvaging kind of society.

The Federation vanquished poverty and hunger. Replicators produce everything we need. We tend to take these things for granted.

We should not.

Observing Gabriel as he gives a new life and purpose to damaged equipment, I realize that I need to learn as much as he does.

The work on the drone is almost done. We’ll be able to test it in a couple of days. We just need to decide where to send it.

-/-

“So, what do you think?” Lorca tried not to look too much as he helped Michael to step out of the water. The wet fabric of her standard issue Starfleet T-shirt left nothing to the imagination - not that he had anything left to imagine after the last couple of days. But still, they were supposed to be working and he couldn’t let his mind wander too much.

Out of nowhere, Landry’s ever disdainful assessment of his character rang in his ears.

Gabe, you really should stop thinking with your dick. It’ll get you killed one of these days.

In the end, it had got her killed, faithful as ever, and this was something he would have to carry to the end of his days.

Thankfully for him, Michael’s mind tended to fixate on more practical things. “Given the development of the sediments, algae and fauna, I’d say these ruins are at least three centuries old. But I can’t be sure because I can’t evaluate the impact of the gravity.”

He had more or less the same interpretation. Before conscription, he’d spent many hours under water as a salvage worker around Terra 11 and where Florida used to be, and what he’d seen then was very similar to the ruins he recently found while looking for edible sea life . A less empirical and more educated evaluation was needed, though.

“Could you do something with the electronics down here?” Her voice was hopeful. A tad too much. There was a limit to what he could do.

He shook his head in defeat.

“Not enough equipment up there to do anything. I’m not a miracle worker.”

Just the son of a head mechanic in the Imperial fleet.

“Besides, we won’t find much here. I think the ruins correspond to the outskirt of the city. There are traces of the former riverbed underwater, so I suppose that what remains of its urban centre is in the middle of the bay. Out of reach for us.”

Michael had changed into one of his spare T-shirts he’d carried aboard his ship. Pity. This one was far too oversized for his taste.

The look on her face as she took careful steps on the pebbled beach to join him was priceless, though.

Tenderfoot.

He didn’t dare voice the thought, silenced as he was by the challenge of her raised eyebrow. Instead, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders. It was a nice day. A bit chilly - the sun wasn’t as biting as before, casting an almost winter-like light on the bay. The more he thought about it, the more it reminded him of the south of Argentina, or maybe photos of Norway he’d studied on Discovery as he tried to familiarize himself with a whole new world.

Sharp cliff, pebbled beach, low green vegetation contrasting with the grey stones. It could be a nice place if it wasn’t for the gravity problem and the impossibility of an escape.

“If there was a proper city there in the past, it means that this crazy gravity isn’t natural. If we’re lucky, there might be another city upstream, in ruins or not.”

Inhabited or not.

“Why upstream?” she asked.

“Well, that’s what people did on Terra. Sea levels don't rise overnight. First, life becomes untenable… then people move away.”

“It’s what happened in Argentina, in your world?” Michael’s arm circled his waist as she pressed on. For some reason, her curiosity never bothered him, on the contrary. Back in the Empire, he never talked about home.

Here, he seemed unable to shut up.

“Yeah, people abandoned the coast and the Plata basin little by little, and sought refuge in the cities near the mountains. Refugees came over from Uruguay and Brazil, too.”

And the area collapsed, deprived of its coastal infrastructures and resources. Entire countries became nothing but a fading page in history books, and their people’s memories.

“You think that’s what they did here, too?”

“Well, if whatever phenomenon caused this gravitational fuckery didn’t kill them all before, it would be reasonable to think so.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Lorca found himself unable to resist to mirror her hopeful smile with one of his own.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log, Day 62

We had to postpone the first real flight of the drone because of another gravity storm. As we were confined to our cave again, Gabriel made some serious progress on the cartography of the area thanks to the images filmed during the test flights. If his education in basic physics and other sciences is almost alarmingly lacking, his cartography skills are second to none, as he demonstrated when he mapped a way to another universe back on Discovery.

So now we know our exact position on a planet that is slightly smaller than Earth, that we are in the middle of a sub-arctic region. This means that Gabriel’s addiction isn’t the only reason why we need to find a way out fast.

Winter is coming, and we don’t have the equipment to live through that.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log, Day 63

Gravity storm hasn’t stopped yet. We’ve spent the day glued to the roof of the cave. For the first time since we landed, Gabriel asked about Discovery and its crew. I can tell it is a question he’s been wanting to ask for a long time.

I told him about the waltzing of the captains. Captain Pienaar, who was a greenhorn who beneficiated from the leadership vacuum created by the war. He didn’t have the shoulders for the job. Captain Tigh, old and old-school, who wanted to establish “proper discipline” on the ship, and how I found myself containing a mutiny when he tried to control access to alcohol. Captain Fowlett was a good captain, but rather unfortunately plagued by a nasty allergy to Stamets’ spores. When you’re the captain of a ship harboring a whole plantations of space plants and mushrooms, it is rather bad luck. The poor woman had to be evacuated to a medical facility before she completed her first month onboard of Discovery.

Of course, Tilly started to tell me of this 20th century book about a school of wizards. “The chair is jinxed,” she said. Strangely enough, Gabriel understood the reference. Apparently, he’s well versed into old human culture, more than I am.

I told him more about Tilly, who’s growing into a fine young officer, about Stamets still struggling with his grief, about Saru who’s the only one we recognize as our captain.

I told him of the files we found along his stash of nanomachines. The map he had drawn comparing his Earth to ours. His comments on our history compared to his. Everything he did in the secrecy of his study in order to fit in, and which had revealed more about him than anything he had said or done during his time on Discovery.

I told him about the bridge crew who still train with his simulations when they think nobody is looking and who downloaded his space maps, turning the navigation system of Discovery into the best in the Federation.

I told him about our anger at him, and the regrets that slowly and surely replaced it.

I told him we missed him.

He doesn’t believe me, for now.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log, Day 64

Another slow day. Gravity is still chaotic. We can’t risk flying the drone.

We talk. Of home. Of the place in San Francisco I never bothered to really move into, much to Captain Georgiou’s dismay.

I remember that her invitation to Malaysia hadn’t been totally innocent. She’d tried to show me how important it was to have a place called home when you spend so much time in space.

I couldn’t understand then. Space was my home. Shenzhou was my home. I didn’t need more.

Gabriel talks about the house he put all his savings into, in Cuzco, one of the few Earhtborn sanctuaries, where the Heavenborns aren’t welcome. Hearing him talking about money is strange. It sounds so archaic.

Useless.

However, as he tells me about the view of the mountains from his balcony, about his strolls around the ancient ruins of the former lords of the land, about his need to feel solid ground under his feet, I understand my captain better now.

And when Gabriel wrestles my pad out of my hands, he reminds me that I need to live properly in the present.

-/-

Michael wasn’t ready to let sleep claim her yet.

By her side, she could feel the comforting warmth radiating from Gabriel’s naked body. Her own skin was still electrified from the sensation of his lips on her skin. Even if he knew already a lot about what her body liked,he was always careful to find out what she, Michael the Vulcan, enjoyed the most. And his expression of surprised wonder when she discovered her very own way to please him warmed her heart.

Filled her with more confidence.

Naturally, the gravity didn’t make it easy to be intimate but they still managed to make it work well enough. More than well enough, as far as she was concerned, even if it remained a bit awkward at times and clearly frustrated him, too.

Of course, she wanted more. She wanted to properly  feel his weight on her without him fearing to crush her. She ached to gather him in her arms, have him bury his face in her neck.

She wanted him closer, far closer than they already were.

A real bed with a comfortable mattress and fresh sheets would be nice, too.

That would have to wait, though.

Instead, she stole these little moments before turning the lights off, watched his relaxed features as he slept, caressed his skin with a feather touch, careful not to wake him up.

Her eyes closed once, twice, and she couldn’t resist anymore. With a contended yawn, Michael turned the light off and let sleep claim her.

Vulcan starship, Unknown universe, 2259

“So, no news yet?”

Amanda couldn’t hide how worried she was, even through a simple voice call. At times like these, Sarek almost envied her ability to express feelings so freely.

“I am afraid not,” he shook his head, before remembering she couldn’t see him.

“But you’re still searching?”

But the real question was: “You’re not giving up on her, are you?”

Logic dictated that Michael be declared missing in action. Her (and Lorca’s) chances of survival on this unknown planet were slim at best. At the same time, logic also dictated that they should try as long as possible. They needed Michael for the fight against Georgiou. They needed her to maintain the too fragile peace with L’Rell. Everything else outside of logic pressed him to continue, too. He was not entirely certain that he could blame the influence of his human wife for that.

“Yes, we are. We know they are down there, alive. We will keep trying to rescue them until all possible attempts are exhausted.”

“Sarek?” There was a pause on the line. “Please, stay safe.”

“I shall endeavour to do so.”

Sarek closed the call. For a second, he let his shoulders fall. He’d left the USS Discovery along with Ensign Tilly and Harry Mudd more than twenty days ago, and he had yet to make contact with Michael again.

Or course, the team of Vulcan scientists sent to assist him had gathered a lot of information about this planet. As far as they could tell, it was currently uninhabited following a cataclysmic event in the past. The composition of the debris belt suggested the existence of an advanced civilization. The fact that Harry Mudd and Lorca had been able to scavenge technology useful to their own level of development was another clear indication of that fact.

But as hard as they tried, and Ensign Tilly worked around the clock, they couldn’t seem to communicate with the surface.

With a tired sigh, Sarek got up from his chair and settled down on the ground, his legs crossed, his back straightened, his hands joined. Little by little, he cleared his thoughts and focused on his katra, searching for the part of him that remained with Michael when he had saved her life. To wish Michael to find herself in distress so he could connect with her had been disconcerting at first. but since more than distress was likely if she was not found soon, he had made his peace with that.

When he opened his eyes again, he was back on board of Discovery and knew instantly he had finally succeeded. The human saying “be careful what you wish for” came to the forefront of his mind, but with a calming breath, he took in his surroundings. The usually busy corridors were deserted, darkened for the night shift. It was so easy to lose any notion of day and night when you were deep in space.

Everything was quiet.

Everybody was asleep.

Cautiously, Sarek walked down the corridors in search of Michael. He had to be careful not to disturb the reminiscence - he had reacted poorly when Michael had intruded on one of his biggest moment of shame. He couldn’t risk a similar reaction on her part. The stakes were too high.

It didn’t take him long to notice light filtering under a single door. If he remembered right, this was where Lorca’s personal study used to be.

Frowning, Sarek walked closer. He leant against the door, hoping to hear something, anything, in vain. However, before he could consider his next step, he was literally swallowed by the door. The next thing he knew, he was standing in the study, his back to a rather unsettling display of weapons.

Michael and Lorca were seated face to face, sipping what Sarek identified as maté - Amanda was fond of the beverage and had passed on the taste to Michael and Spock. Between them stood a game of 3D-chess. Both their uniform vests had been abandoned in favor of their less formal dark T-shirts.

“Goddammit, Burnham, we don’t have all night. Make your fucking  move.”

Sarek’s lips twitched in the semblance of a smile. Lorca’s voice sounded… exasperated, a common feeling that many people - with the exception of Vulcans, naturally - felt when going against Michael at a game of 3D-chess.

“With all due respect, Captain, you agreed that we weren’t playing bullet or rapid chess tonight.”

“And I’m regretting my decision already…”

As if to prove his point, Lorca stretched lazily with a yawn.

“That’s because you’re losing. Now let me think, if you will.”

“Did this Vulcan-raised woman forget an old human proverb about unhatched eggs?”

Michael glanced up at Lorca, a look of both serious intent and amusement on her face. “Your strategy is transparent, Captain. You won’t rush me.”

Lorca grinned at her, and Sarek recognised his expression instantly. It was one he had come to know early on in his acquaintance with Amanda: what love and devotion looks like on a human face. “Can’t blame a guy for trying. Chess is a wargame, y’know.”

Michael shook her head, seemingly unaware of the way Lorca was looking at her,  but rarely witnessed peaceful and unguarded smile on her face told Sarek everything he needed to know

Then a sword burst through Lorca’s chest where he sat, and Michael screamed as red blood splattered on her face.

Everything around him exploded at once.

When he got his bearings back, there was chaos everywhere around him. The acrid smell of dust and powder burnt his eyes and throat. Michael was fighting with Lorca, furiously aiming blows and strikes but he never went beyond parrying her attacks.

That was the Terran’s mistake. Michael bested him at last and pointed her phaser at him, voice and body trembling with rage and disappointment.

With pain.

Neither of them saw Georgiou stand up and grab her abandoned sword.

Neither of them saw the treacherous blow coming.

Sarek watched motionless as Lorca tried to reach Michael, as Michael stepped away.

The Vulcan suddenly felt the world around him grow dull and cold and numb. She had severed herself from her feelings, and it was as though she had cut off a limb.

And then -.

They were back in Lorca’s old study. Back on Discovery. Michael stood there, her commander’s insignia back on her uniform, cradling one of the maté cups in her hands. On the table, The chess game was gone, replaced by vials of nanomachines.

On the other side of the room, incongruously, Gabriel Lorca was lying on what looked like the roof of a cave, sound asleep, a blanket covering his clear lack of clothing. There was no mistaking the look on her face now, either.

She looked up to meet Sarek’s eyes. Her own were red with unshed tears.

“I found him, Sarek. I can’t lose him again.”.”

It was a girl’s voice again, full of pain and fear.

Sarek put a hand on her shoulder and gently turned her back towards him. “And you won’t have to,” he said, bringing his fingers to her face.

Unknown planet, Unknown system, 2259

“So… you talked with Sarek…” Lorca struggled to hide his incredulity, even after what he had witnessed when Michael was able to sense her adoptive father’s distress across the universe. “How? I thought you had to be dying or somethin’?”

“I don’t know, either. And for once, I don’t care.”

He found that hard to believe, but she was right. It didn’t matter. “And they’re up there, and they’re sending us supplies and techs?”

“Yes.” Michael’s voice and expression were so hopeful as she kept looking up at the sky that he kept his reservations for himself. Okay, so he could believe that she’d communicated somehow with Sarek - he’d seen her do it before. However, contrary to Michael who had been unconscious when they’d landed, and unlike the Vulcans who remained safely in orbit, he’d had a first hand experience of what an atmospheric entry was like on this planet.

A complete nightmare.

So many things could go wrong.

At the same time, some supplies would raise their odds of surviving dramatically.

So he sat down besides Michael, wrapped his arm around her shoulders and looked up, too. Good thing that this day was a cloudy one.

First, they heard an explosion, very similar to an orbit bombing. He knew what it sounded like. This was one of Georgiou’s favorite past-times. He’d commanded a few of them as her right-hand man.

Then a white container tore its way through the clouds, its fall controlled by a good dozen jet engines.

Trust the Vulcans to find a solution to any problem.

Michael was on her feet before he could react. She turned around before running to the container with a mischievous smile.

“O ye, of little faith?”

Well, if he could, he certainly would light a candle or two on the altar of Aurora and burn some incense. But this universe didn’t share the same divinities as his.

Instead, Lorca stood up and joined Michael, who was already inspecting the contents of the container.

A solar-powered replicator. Rations. Fresh clothes. Clothes for winter. Gravity belts. Vulcan tech. Various tools.

Suddenly, daily survival didn’t look so complicated anymore. From now on, these matters wouldn’t distract them from their main goal anymore. Survival was a sure thing now, and escaping seemed in their reachat last.

Doses of nanomachines. Bless Harry Mudd. The man hadn’t forgotten Lorca’s personal tech and weapons, either. Even his music and the poison Mudd called whiskey.

Michael waved at Lorca and showed him the 3D-chessboard sitting in one corner of the container with a mischievous wink. He shook his head with a grin of his own. To be honest, he was far more interested in other, less cerebral kind of distractions in her company, but he wouldn’t mind a game or two, like before.

Of course, the container itself was an habitable module stuffed with medical kits, soap and more hygiene stuff. And a sonic shower. All the comfort of civilization.

Screw the candles. At this point, he’d need to dedicate a whole sheep to the gods, like the ancients used to do.

If you have to be stranded on an unknown planet, make sure to do so in the company of Vulcan ambassador Sarek’s daughter.

They had even found a way to include a microlight aircraft.

“The Lords of old be praised.” The words of relief were out of his mouth before he could stop them.

Oblivious to his slip up, Michael gave him the pad she’d started reading.

So we tried to gather everything we thought you might need. We hope we didn’t forget anything as it is quite difficult to communicate with you two. Now that we located you, we’ll try to find a way to beam you up, but the interferences don’t make it easy to have a proper signal on the surface, and we don’t want to transport only parts of you. We’re going to put a communication satellite into orbit. Hopefully, that’ll do the trick. But the debris belt is a pain, so I might take a while. We’ll use the frequency included on this pad. So you can reach out from time to time, it would be better if you managed to find a higher location, on some mountain. It might be easier for us to find you and bring you home.

Don’t give up. We’re here. Even Mudd. Who’s annoying, and worried, even if he hides it. Saru and Stamets are asking for daily reports. The bridge crew, too. And Admiral Cornwell. So hang on in there.

Then we’ll go back to Discovery. All of us.

Lorca didn’t need to check the signature. This verbal diarrhea could only have one author. Images of a red head who should be anywhere but on a warship came back to his mind. He had grown fond of this kid, despite himself.

The same went for the entire crew, really. He had lied to them. He had put them through hell.

He had enjoyed being their captain, more than he should have. He had meant it, back on the Charon. He was proud of them all. They had turned their back on him and it was only natural. They had followed their own path.

The path they chose for themselves.

How could he not be proud of them?

Michael’s hand on his shoulder startled him.

“I told you I wasn’t the only one missing you.”

She took the pad from his hands. He never noticed they were trembling. He let her grasp one of them and pull him with her.

“Now let’s go and clean up, both of us. I heard you grumbling at the lack of soap for far too long.”












 

 

Chapter Text

Unknown planet, Unknown system, 2259

Commander Michael Burnham’s log, Day 68

Although we were tired all the time, we hadn’t realized just how exhausting it was to live on this planet until Sarek sent us the habitable module. Once we had cleaned up properly for the first time in weeks and anchored the module solidly to the ground, we literally collapsed and slept for three days straight, barely registering the drawback of separate bunks.

Waking up in the morning fully rested is a sensation I was starting to forget altogether.

Spending the day without joints pain is a relief.

Living under normal conditions of gravity is a blessing.

The likelihood of our survival having gone up dramatically, we decided to treat ourselves to an entire week of vacation.

We know that Sarek and Tilly are up there, working on a solution to bring us back.

We’re not alone. We can rest.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log, Day 70

Nightmare. About Ash.

About the last angry words we exchanged before going after Georgiou.

About L’Rell and the child who will now never know their father.

It hurt so much to hear him say your Federation, your rules, your side… Ash had embraced the Klingon’s cause fully. He still acted as  liaison between the Federation and L’Rell, but he made it very clear where his loyalties were. I called him on his behavior - proper peace couldn’t be reached if both sides kept on making each other entirely responsible for the war. I appealed to our days on Discovery. How we worked together to save the ship from Mudd’s time loop.

I talked about everything we went through together, the good and the bad. He believed in the Federation then. Part of him did at the very least. He couldn’t throw that away. Not just like that.

He threw my on-off affair with Captain Pike at my face. He made it clear that he had moved on from our past on Discovery, yet he seemed to have unfinished business about those  days.  His voice was bitter, he called me a hypocrite.

“You talk about what we shared - but you moved on pretty fast, didn’t you? Then again - Christopher Pike, huh? Older man, Captain. Dark hair and blue eyes. Maybe you didn’t move on at all - just backwards.”

Gabriel’s name was never uttered, but he was the proverbial elephant in the room.

How to explain something I barely understood myself?  How it took everything I had to claw my way out of the pit of self-loathing that the Battle of the Binary Star had thrown me into? How I needed to cling to him as much as he needed to cling to me? My life barely made any sense to me any more - I should have known I could never help him make sense out of his. Gabriel was the one pulling me up, but I could barely keep Ash afloat. Maybe Ash already knew what I know only now: I was always going to fall in love with Gabriel. Probably already was.  

I was unable to offer a proper reply.

Hours later, Georgiou took his life because of me. Because she wanted to hurt me.

We’ll never be able to make our peace.

This I’ll have to learn to  live with.

I can’t take this miraculous second chance with Gabriel for granted. Never.

-/-

For the fifth time in five days, Lorca blessed the technology that made it possible to equip this module with a shower that could endlessly recycle water. Abundance of hot water made him a very happy man. He was still fit, but he wasn’t getting any younger. Decades of wars and nanos had taken their toll on his body.

Painkillers were all well and good but nothing beat being able to wash away his aches and pains like this. Over the years it was often the only gentle touch in his life. He let a groan of appreciation escape from his lips when he finally managed to get rid of the stubborn crick in his neck - a constant reminder every morning of his first face to face encounter with a Romulan thirty years ago. Now, if only he could find a way to do the same with the dull throbbing in his upper back, where Georgiou’s blade had pierced through his body, it would be perfect.

Bitch.

With the twinge came the memories, always.

Next time they crossed paths, he would twist her neck once and for all, crack it slowly between his fingers to make sure the last thing she ever felt would be pain.. He owed them that much.

He owed her that much.

Then he could move on with his life, at last.

He never noticed that Michael had joined him under the shower until he felt her hands working the knots in his back, her fingers lingering on the scar between his shoulder blades more than usual.

Her lips replaced her fingers, which traveled down his back and over his hips to settle on his lower abdomen.

There was a sudden urgency to Michael’s caresses that reminded him of days long gone.

“What’s up with you today?” he asked softly as he watched, mesmerized, her fingers wrapping around him.

Her only reply was grasping his sides to make him turn around. Her eyes were red with unshed tears as her fingers traced the scar on his chest.

He took her chin between his own fingers.

“Not going anywhere, okay? I’m worse than a cockroach, you just can’t get rid of me…”

A smile at last, albeit a small one.

Then Michael’s lips were on his, and her legs wrapped around his waist eagerly when he lifted her as if she weighed nothing - maybe the only good side effect of this planet.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log, Day 73

I have a hard time controlling my emotions these days. It’s  unsettling territory. Is it because I cut myself from them for so long that I don’t know how to deal with them?

I know the likely biological explanation. Running late this month.  My last birth control shot was three months ago and is meant to last six months - under normal circumstances. It wouldn’t be surprising if the effects of this planet on Gabriel’s metabolism had a similar one on mine.

I started to imagine… things that don’t scare me as much as they should. Things I have never wanted before.

But running late is all it was. Blood is life, and sometimes it isn’t. Hormonal fluctuations and their impact on mood are to be expected. That feeling of loss, however, is purely self-inflicted. I let emotions trump common sense, let alone logic. You don’t need to be Vulcan to know you should check you are actually pregnant before you imagine you are.

I wish I could find the strength to talk to Gabriel. I regularly catch him looking at me when he thinks I’m not paying attention, like he did on Discovery when he worried about me. I wish I could express myself, but I don’t find the words.

It’s one of those times when I feel a prisoner of my Vulcan education.

-/-

They were playing 3D-chess, just like old times. But Lorca was winning far too easily for his taste. Michael’d been… distracted lately.

After a week of doing nothing, they were fully rested now, or as much as they could be in their current situation. They’d decided to rise the gravity progressively in the module so that the transition with the outside world wouldn’t be too difficult should their anti-g belts malfunction. They’d started to fly their drone again, continuing their exploration of the southern lands.

However, Michael seemed to be simply going through the motions, a bit like she had when he had first met her on Discovery. She looked… dispirited, and he couldn’t begin to imagine why.

When she made an obvious move that even a twelve years-old could beat, Lorca knew it was high time to press for answers. Instead of playing his turn, he switched the board off and, straightening on his stool, he searched for her eyes.

“Care to tell me what’s going on?”

Unconsciously, his voice found old intonations he hadn’t used since they’d left Discovery. The voice of a captain.

In response, a defiant and familiar expression formed on her face.

All of a sudden, they were in his ready room again. Captain and mutineer.

It was a fugitive moment, thankfully. He was about to apologize when Michael broke down, which was far more terrifying than her stubborn defiance.

Lorca stood up and joined her on her bunk, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.

“You know you can lean on me, right?”

The gods knew she’d had her share of heavy lifting on this planet. Michael always displayed so much quiet strength that it was unsettling to see her like that. In some way, he could understand why Tyler, or whatever the creature was, clung to her with so much desperation. Hadn’t she been onboard of Discovery, the Klingon spy would have revealed his ugly face far earlier. Then again, if she hadn’t been on his ship, Stamets’ spore drive would have remained a simple theory, and the USS Discovery would never have become a target for the Klingons.

Michael was a force to reckon with. She had literally carried him through the worst part of his nano addiction, and she would have done it again if they hadn’t received supplies when they did.

This moment of vulnerability was overdue.

Lorca brought her closer to him, brushing her temple with a feather kiss.

“We never talked about what happened up there. Is it about... Tyler?” Lorca cringed at his own intonation. He wasn’t sure he was successful in hiding his jealousy.

Michael shook her head.

Now he was sure he was absolutely unsuccessful in masking his relief.

“It’s nothing, it’s ridiculous,” Michael relaxed in his embrace and started talking at last. He could hear her swallow before she spoke again. “I was late.”

Lorca froze.

“It was just that. Just late. Nothing to worry about.”

It didn’t stop the feeling of panic from constricting his throat and oppressing his chest. But there was something else mixed with the panic. Something like sadness. He didn’t do sadness, usually.

Gimme a whole fleet of Andorians to turn into dust anytime.

It was his turn to swallow, hard.

“Okay.”

Commander Michael Burnham’s log, Day 74

 I feel better.

We needed the down time. But at the same time, neither of us is used to spending entire days doing nothing

I know I’m not good at it.

Inactivity brings unwanted contemplation, which leads to useless turmoil.

I need to focus again. Go back to work.

Commander Michael Burnham’s log, Day 81

We’ve progressed a lot. As Tilly said, we need to find a higher location to make their job easier. We’ve flown the drone along the river and identified some ruins. That’s a start. Now we need to get the aircraft in the air.

The man who can build anything out of nothing is stomped by Vulcan tech, if his frustrated expression is any indication.

I’d go and help him, if only he would turn his music down. I’ve had my fill of songs braying  that demons are a girl’s best friend or chanting the exploits of pirates eager to insert anchors into unspeakable places of the human body. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, the Vulcans say, but Gabriel’s taste in music is nothing short of horrific.

Our first flight might be postponed a couple of days.

But our spirits are high again. Neither of us can deny our excitement at the idea of finally discovering new places after almost three months stuck in the same location.

It’s liberating.

Intoxicating.

Soon, Tilly will find a way to reach us. Soon we’ll be out of here.

-/-

Understanding how the Vulcan aircraft worked had been a bit tricky and even frustrating at times, but it was worth the effort. Under them, the landscape changed rapidly as they glided through the scattered clouds, heading south along the river. A forest of small, sturdy trees occupied the west bank. Vestiges of an ancient farming settlement could be seen on the east bank. Soon, they would reach the ruins by the southern mountain range they had discovered thanks to the drone.

It was nice to be able to fly again.It was even nicer to hear Michael telling him about the shenanigans on board of Discovery with a cheerful voice - well, Michael’s subdued version of cheerful.

“So Lieutenant Kovacs is working on a new molecule that should help veterans to deal with the trauma from the war. She identified a side-effect of Stamets’ spores on neurotransmitters, and started working to extract the active molecule. She was processing the gas she’d obtained into liquid, and she  totally underestimated the propagation factor in an artificial atmosphere. The gas went all around the ship… And its main side-effect was a compulsion to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...”

Lorca couldn’t stop a dismissive snort. He’d never hid his impatience - when he was generous - or even his contempt - when he wasn’t feeling so generous - towards the bunch of crazy scientists that had surrounded him on Discovery.

And Lieutenant Kovacs used to be one of the worst offenders in his book. The woman was beyond brilliant, even he could agree. But her place was in a lab, preferably alone, on planetary ground and with many escape routes.  

Not on a fucking ship in the middle of space. And certainly not with a whole crew around her.

“You used to give me the worst looks when I had to deal with her,” he replied with a grin of his own. “Now you get it.”

“Well, Saru did say that, actually, your assessment of her was quite right.” Michael’s smile was almost mischievous.

“Poor Saru… Such an admission must have cost him a lot.” Lorca could visualize the Kelpien’s reluctance perfectly.

“You have no idea… On the other hand, Tilly and Stamets joked a lot about what would have happened had you been there instead of Captain Pienaar…” she went on.

Well, that was quite easy to imagine...

I am Captain Gabriel Lorca of the Terran Empire Starfleet. Head of the Praetorian guard. You’re a bunch of whining, molly-coddled, second rate losers. I hate your guts. And I need this ship to come back to my universe and cut off the Emperor’s head. So you’ll help me, whether you like it or not. If you don’t like it, I’ll kill you - except for Michael. Meanwhile, I’ll distract myself by slaughtering Klingons, and finishing the war you started and aren’t even able to win because you spend so much time worrying about space fish.

That would have gone well.

Lorca cleared his throat.

“So… what truth bombs did you drop? Not that you ever kept your thoughts to yourself that much…” The idea of watching Michael lose her usual Vulcan-like control was more than entertaining.

“Well, there was Rhys declaring his flame for Tilly...”

Lorca snorted again. Michael was copying his avoidance techniques, and he was having none of it.

“Hardly a deep-buried secret… What about you?”

“Well… I might have told Captain Pienaar what I actually thought about him, in public.” She had the decency to look slightly ashamed.

“Ever the mutineer, uh?”

“The man wasn’t ready for the job, that’s all.”

“You regret it?” he asked, briefly turning around to look at her. The unrepentant smile on her face was the only answer he needed.

Lorca grinned back. He could imagine the scene on the bridge as if he were there.

Saru’s threat ganglias working overtime. Owosekun’s big, stunned, rounded eyes. Rhys trying to find cover behind his console. Detmer’s discreet but approving smirk. Bryce looking like he hoped for a hull breach to suck him into space. Airiam being Airiam and focusing on her tasks.

And poor Captain Pienaar getting the dressing down of the century.

Truly, Lorca could kill to go back in time and witness the scene with his own eyes and ears.

The sudden loss of all controls on the aircraft brought him violently back to the present violently.

“Is Vulcan aerospace engineering  supposed to dramatically fail in perfect weather conditions?”

Michael shook her head as she tried to diagnose the sudden loss of all electronics. Lorca took a look around. There were no threatening clouds around them, nothing that could explain an electromagnetic event. Since they’d landed on this wretched planet, the most bizarre thing they had witnessed were the gravity storms, and those had never affected their electronics so far.

“Then we’ve been hit by an EMP device, which means…”

Michael finished his unspoken thought in her typical Vulcan-like tone.

“That we just met the inhabitants of this planet…”

Lorca gritted his teeth as he tried his best to make the aircraft glide down instead of falling like a brick.

“Shoot first, ask questions later - it’s like I’ve gone home.”

Land came closer and closer, faster than he liked. If only they could just slip between the grove on their left and the mountain range on their right...

-/-

Michael woke up to a battlefield.

Last thing she remembered was the quickly approaching trees just before they had  crashed.

Somehow, Gabriel had managed to drag her out the aircraft and carry her to shelter. She did a quick mental check-up. Other than the agonizing pain on the side of her head and the accompanying dizziness - all signs of some form of concussion - she was in one piece.

Maybe not for long.

A nearby explosion made her duck her head before she could scan her surrounding to assess the situation.

Their position looked strong. A group of rocks sheltered them from whoever their assailants were. Behind them, a small cliff protected them against a sneak attack from behind. They had the high ground, and the path to their position made the assailants vulnerable.

By her side, Gabriel was crouched behind the rocks, returning fire with a heavy weapon that she was sure wasn’t part of their equipment.

It didn’t take long to notice the original owners of said weapon. As Michael struggled to turn around and have a better look, her feet made contact with a helmeted head that started rolling.

It was the Charon all over again, as she witnessed the chaos that followed Gabriel Lorca. Nausea hit before Michael noticed that the dismembered body was entirely robotic.

It didn’t do much to reassure her. Humans or robots, she wasn’t sure it made a difference to Gabriel when he held a weapon in his hands. All he saw was a bunch of enemies that he needed to eliminate. There's a beast in every man, and it stirs when you put a sword in his hand. These words from ancient fiction surely did fit Gabriel like a glove.

Between their position and the trees , more smoking carcasses lay on the ground.

This was a complete disaster.

Michael shifted her position again to settle against the rock, her back to the fighting, She wouldn’t be of much help anyway. The world started spinning around her whenever she moved too quickly.

Gabriel mirrored her sitting position and discarded his now-fuming weapon with a contemptuous grimace.

“Fucking junk.”

His face was terrifyingly familiar, covered with blood and dust, his blue eyes wild.

But his voice when he finally noticed her was as soft as it usually was these days when he talked to her.

“You okay?”

He didn’t seem convinced by her positive nod.

“For what it’s worth, I did try the universal translator first, y’know…”

Michael raised a dubious eyebrow. Again, she wasn’t sure a translator would prove productive in Gabriel’s hands, especially if he was being shot at, which was presently the case. Maybe it was the concussion, but she had a hard time imagining him saying “We come in peace” in a way that wouldn’t be perceived as hostile.

Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hatred, and hatred leads to violence. That is the universal order of things.

More than ever, Averroes’ words were painfully accurate. Michael herself had let the cycle of mindless violence drown her. Even if Starfleet had pardoned and rehabilitated her, she had left a part of her soul at the Binary Star.

Sense a threat?

Eliminate the threat...

This was certainly what Gabriel’s instincts screamed him to do, all the time.

What was done was done. Whatever had happened while she was unconscious, their situation now was more than precarious. Their immediate priority was surviving this disastrous first contact. If she was in their assailants shoes, and knew the topography of the place, she would definitely distract them with heavy fire from the front and try to come down the cliff. With a trembling hand, Michael unsheathed her phaser and decided to cover their rear.

However, in spite of her watchful attention, she didn’t see  the sniper aiming at them from a cloaked aircraft until it was almost too late. Her limbs moved on their own and she jumped to push Gabriel out of the way. The rocks that sheltered them vanished into dust. A second hit disintegrated the ground besides them, leaving a gaping hole where they had been sitting seconds ago. They rolled down, ending their trajectory  against another  rock, Michael’s smaller frame uselessly sheltering Gabriel’s bigger body from the sniper.

There was no third hit, thankfully.

Instead, their assailants - all of them - stopped moving, as if conflicted.

Gabriel seized the chance they’d been given and shoved Michael aside to aim at the sky. The cloaking technology wasn’t as effective as the Klingons’, and once you knew where to look, it was easy to notice the shimmering distortion against their surroundings.

At once, the robots started progressing from the trees again and an ominous red light appeared in the sky.

What if..?

Michael acted quickly. Gabriel stiffened then collapsed to the ground under her fingers, and she positioned herself resolutely between him and the sniper. The red light disappeared.

Carefully, she knelt down to retrieve the universal translator from Gabriel’s jacket.

“We have to believe us. We come in peace. I am Starfleet Commander Michael Burnham from the United Federation of Planets. We need to talk.”

Commander Michael Burnham’s log, Day 84

Gabriel is still unconscious. I hate that I had to do that to him, but my options were limited.

Somehow, I persuaded our assailants to stop their attack. I spoke. They listened. They didn’t answer, but their actions were less… aggressive. They brought us to the ruins we wanted to explore. In some ironic way, we’re right where we wanted to be.

The main problem is that we’re miles away from our supplies. Thankfully, the gravity belts seem to function properly. I checked Gabriel’ jacket. He brought some nano doses  with him. If our aircraft isn’t totally destroyed, we have rations and equipment there, too.

We should be alright.

If our hosts don’t decide to get rid of us.

For now, I have to rely  on the fact that they won’t attack me. Something in their programming stops them from doing so. It took me a while to persuade them that harming Gabriel would be akin to harming me. As long as they consider that he is somewhat an extension of my person, he should be safe.

My next step is working out  why they won’t attack me.

Gabriel and I are different in so many ways. Our sex, the color of our skin, the nanos in his system… it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that these robots are somehow sensitive to quantum signature and attacked because they felt he wasn’t from this universe.

As long as I can’t properly discuss with our esteemed hosts, I can’t really go beyond these conjectures.

-/-

Lorca woke up with a groan. His left shoulder, where Michael had inflicted her Vulcan nerve pinch, hurt like hell. Other than that, he was in one piece, in the middle of what looks like a former science lab. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he started to make out broken glass on the floor, shattered equipment, and  dust covered stools and tables.

He was alone.

Where was Michael?

He jumped to his feet and reached for the phaser her wore in his belt. It was gone. Whoever had brought him there had done their homework.  He scanned his immediate surroundings for anything that could serve as a makeshift weapon.

Even a screwdriver would be better than his bare hands against those fucking toasters. Maybe a tin-opener...

After a few minutes of a fruitless search , he decided to dismantle what was left of an overturned table. One of its metal  legs would make a good club.

Better than nothing.

Now he could search for Michael. If these machines had done  anything to her, he would destroy every single one of them.

Why in hell did she stop him when he had the fucking cloaked aircraft in his crosshairs?

Sometimes, he couldn’t get her.

When he overheard her voice, calm as ever, relief flooded him. His fingers relaxed their grip on his makeshift club . He stepped  closer. She was alone, her back to him. She was talking to a computer screen.

Had she found a way to contact Sarek?

“I see your companion doesn’t share your view.”

Not Sarek. The voice was cold, metallic. Artificial.

Michael abruptly turned around on her stool, ordering him to drop his weapon with a raised eyebrow and sharp nod.

For a second, their will battled through furious glares.

Lorca swallowed once, twice, then, releasing a shaky breath, he opened his fingers. His weapon dropped to the floor with a loud cling.

Michael motioned him to come closer and turned back to the screen.

“Now he does.”

Actually he didn’t, but he didn’t have any other choices.

“We have to preserve life.”

The pattern of speech was dull and monotone. Some form of artificial intelligence? What kind of hell was this planet?

“So that’s why you can’t hurt me? Because I can bring life?”

Lorca blinked furiously. Was that why Michael stopped him? How did she notice that in the middle of the chaos?

“Correct.”

“I have to repeat myself. You realize that hurting my companion is akin to harming me?”

“Need to process.”

“No, you don’t. It’s the only logical conclusion.” Michael’s voice sounded exactly like Sarek’s right now. Calm. To the point. Bringing you exactly where she wanted through pure rational thinking.

“Correct. You cannot  stay. Intruders are not tolerated.”

“Then bring us back to our camp and we’ll never come  back near you again.”

Lorca agreed vehemently with her offer. The farther from these machines, the better.

“We cannot. We cannot  leave our post.”

Come on now…

They couldn’t be there, but the machines wouldn’t help them go back where they’d come  from. What kind of fuckery was that?

He watched Michael as she pinched her nose. She must have felt his growing frustration. Again, she turned around and reached for his hand, pressing it reassuringly.

With a heavy sigh, Lorca searched for a stool and sat behind Michael, his hand resting on the small of her back. For now, he would let her lead the dance.

“I understand you need to protect this planet. Again, we have friends in orbit. They know we’re here. If they can’t contact us, they’ll conclude something happened to us, and they’ll come, in great numbers. And they’ll jeopardize what you are tasked to protect.”

Lorca’s eyes widened at that. He was sure he had read one or two stupid rules forbidding such Federation intrusion where it was no welcome. But, hey, the AI probably  didn’t know that .

Gutsy gamble.

“Help us return home, and you’ll accomplish your mission. Don’t, and you’ll fail your programming.”

It was a long shot. But Michael made it sound evidently logical. The only rational conclusion.

“Need more processing.”

Lorca could feel the tension in Michael’s back under his fingers. He started to massage it in a soothing motion.

“Correct.”

All of a sudden, the tension disappeared and Michael leaned back into his touch.

“You’ll help us?”

“Correct. You will build the equipment you need here, then you will go. You are not to leave this building and its immediate vicinity. We will bring your supply back to you then destroy your aircraft.”

In other words, they were their prisoners. That was fine. You could escape a prison. You couldn’t escape being dead.  At least not any more times than Lorca already had.



Chapter Text

Unknown system, Unknown planet, 2259

Commander Michael Burnham’s log, Day 86

We’ve spent the last two days trying to make sense out of the radio system our esteemed hosts gave us access to. After the rather disastrous first contact, a truce has been decided and so far, a form of modus vivendi has been respected.

Gabriel is behaving himself, staying away from the machines as much as he can. He obviously knows his limitations when it comes to dealing with anything alien and possibly hostile.

No one can get rid of decades of training and centuries of prejudice just like that, let alone in such a stressful environment.

He managed to captain a Starfleet vessel before, of course, but that was in a time of war, something he knew how to navigate. And when he returned, it was to the fringe of the Alpha Quadrant, where the Federation’s rule of law and values are a distant notion. What alien species he would have met - Andorians, Tellerites, Klingons, Orionites and so much more - would have had one thing in common with him: the rejection of authority and the subsequent familiarity with violence. It was probably the best world for a Terran to blend in, even better than the ongoing war with the Klingons.

In a way, mending the gap between us was the easy part. As much as he has become dear to me, Gabriel is still a wolf in a sheep’s clothing, a Terran far from home. Making sure that he  finds his place in the Federation might prove more complicated if we want a life together.

I know I want this, even if I also realize I’m not ready to give up space yet.

His intolerance to bright light and his ability to live in the darkness - I noticed very early on that he often put the lights on in our cave for my benefit only - are a constant reminder of this inherent difference.

Our eyes and our minds don’t contemplate the same world. We simply don’t see the universe in the same way.

The trick is to find a middle ground.

-/-

Lorca frowned in concentration as he sorted what was definitely uselessjunk from what could help them repair the radio system, and hopefully make contact with Tilly. Between their rations and the fruits that the toasters let them collect around the edifice where they were confined most of the time, their survival was assured. Strangely enough, the gravity wasn’t as bad as it was where they crashed. Of course, they were given no explanation, but he wasn’t complaining about this unexpected respite. There was no working heating system, but the building insulation was simply spectacular. In spite of the colder weather outside, the temperature inside was perfect.

What kind of civilization reached such a degree of advanced technology and simply vanished into dust?

Even the mighty can fall; you’re never far from the bottom.

He snorted as he tossed aside another rust covered bolt that would never fasten anything. He could write an entire book on this topic.

Rise and fall.

From seizing the throne to falling into a burning sun as a new, moronic Icarus…

“By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask for quite some time…”

Michael’s voice made him look up, and forget all about unwanted memories. Lorca smiled. Even with her exhausted expression - she’d spent most of the day trying to understand how the radio system was supposed to work - she was a sight for sore eyes, especially when she stretched like a cat to get rid of the crick in her neck.

Man, she was really something. He still couldn’t believe how she managed to talk their way out of what was truly a desperate situation.

Just when he thought he couldn’t admire her more, she still found a way…

“Shoot.”

“You always talk about destiny. You refer to gods all the time, using plural… Are you...?” She trailed on, as if unsure how to phrase her question.

So she had noticed. Back on Discovery, he had been very careful to censor himself, to avoid a fatal slip up. Here, well, things had been significantly different.

Lorca pondered his answer for a short moment while selecting cables that should work alright.

“Well, we Terrans have been polytheists for quite a while now, and when you’re up there, fighting countless battles, the more protection you can get, the better… That’s what we do.”

Michael didn’t reply right away, processing his answer with a pensive frown.

“Don’t you have the same religions as us?”

Amused, Lorca shook his head at this typical curiosity.

“We used to… Then the old gods became more fashionable.” He remained vague on purpose. They didn’t have time for a history lesson about the collapse of his world in the 21st century.

Michael accepted his answer. Of course, her raised eyebrow told him that more question would come later. Instead, she teased him as she turned her attention back to the radio system she was working on.

“So, which are your gods, Gabriel? Ares? Hercules? Thor?”

“Athena never disappointed,” he admitted with a smile. “Aurora and Artemis neither.”,

“So, goddesses then. Why am I not surprised?” she chuckled.

Lorca suppressed a frustrated groan when he noticed he was holding not one cable but the ends of two distinct cables.

“Well, I’m also partial to Asclepius if you…”

He stopped mid-sentence, stunned.

Michael didn’t notice his abrupt his silence and kept on pressing him for answers, curious as ever.

“Asclepius? How conservative. And here I was, imagining you sacrificing to Dionysus or Aphrodite…”When she turned around again to look at him, Lorca saw her teasing smile freeze.

So he wasn’t imagining things.

“I see that you’re starting to understand quite well how this Gabriel Lorca functions, my dear Commander Burnham of Starfleet.”

Lorca dropped the cables he was trying to untangle and jumped to his feet. He knew from experience that resistance was futile with that fucking bastard. Nonetheless, he drew his phaser, set it to kill mode and fired, out of habit. Bullseye. The apparition dissolved into thin air, leaving behind a white toga lined with geometrical red patterns.

“What the hell, Gabe?” Michael had jumped to her feet, too. The weight of her judging glare made Lorca remember he wasn’t in his universe anymore.

The blue light on the phaser she was pointing at him, probably ready to stifle another violent outburst on his part, reminded him of their darker hours, just before…

Lorca sighed, switched the setting to stun mode again and held his hands up in a pacifying gesture.

“Sorry ‘bout that. Don’t worry. It always comes back.”

Michael didn’t reply. Instead, he could see in her concerned frown that she was seriously considering stunning him.

“Yes, Gabe, what the hell?” It reappeared as if on cue, picking up the toga and draping it around its shoulders in a dramatic fashion.

“That was not nice, my friend, not nice at all. And I’m awfully hurt. How come you’ve never mentioned me to this remarkable lady? After all we’ve been through together?”

That voice. As grating as ever. Lorca gritted his teeth.

“Gabriel, who is this man?”

It turned around and focused on Michael, making a point of ignoring Lorca.

“Just the one who’s saved your obtuse companion’s pitiful existence, my dear commander. On more than one occasion, if I may say so. My name is Q.”

Terran Empire, ISS Charon, 2255

The warm and oily water is a balm for his aching muscles and joints. The feeling of Michael’s skin against his chest soothes him in ways that still amaze  him after years of secret encounters. Lorca inhales deeply the fresh eucalyptus scent emanating from the water and settles more comfortably in the decadent bathtub, enjoying the friction of her ass against his groin.  

A groan of appreciation escapes his lips.

They shouldn’t be there, doing this. Not in the middle of the day. Somebody will notice their absence at some point. Lorca doesn’t care.

It’s been too long.

It’s been a little bit over a week since the Buran escaped from their Cardassian captors and reemerged from the fucking future only to find themselves in the middle of yet another acrimonious battle between the Imperial Forces and the Rebellion.

The uncertain battle became a sure victory. Lorca and his crew went from missing in action to heroes and were welcomed again on the Charon after nearly six months of silence.

Naturally, the rats and snakes who coveted his position and prestige were less than happy to see him back in the picture. He could hear them snarl in the shadows as he made his way to the Emperor.

Michael, on the other hand… She almost betrayed their secret the moment their eyes met again in the middle of the throne room.

If she didn’t then, she surely did when she grabbed his arm and led him to her quarters, ordering her Kelpien slave not to let anybody in, even the Emperor. Michael’s kisses were frantic as she pushed him violently to her bed.

Where were you? She hissed again and again, marking him with her teeth and nails, fucking him into the mattress.

I saw the future.

Michael didn’t laugh.

Instead she listened to him, intently. Even then, he still didn’t speak a word about the weasel whose only pleasure in life was seemingly being an irritating pebble in Lorca’s shoe. A genuine pain in the ass.

.And now she brings up the topic again.

“We could kill him” she muses, her feet caressing his calf underwater.

“Pardon?” Lorca is too far gone. The hot water, the essence oil, Michael’s body against his, he just wants to close his eyes and let himself enjoy the moment - erase the memory of human slaves in a Cardassian mine.

“This Spock, we could kill him.”

He knows her enough. She won’t drop the subject and let him rest before a decision is made.

“Should be easy enough to locate him.

“But that wouldn’t solve the problem in its entirety, would it?”

Lorca knows what Michael is saying, what she considers to be “the problem.”  Even if he once managed to convince Michael not to go and seek vengeance, the urge is still there, simmering just under the surface.

To be honest, he’s been growing tired of the Emperor’s headless politics for quite a while now.

Too many soldiers sacrificed for naught.

Spock or no Spock, the Empire is doomed anyway.

“I never realized that grieving for you in secret would be so painful, Gabe.”

Michael’s voice sounds… tiny.

“I’m tired of hiding.”

“And I’m sick of fighting a losing war.”

And just like that, it’s decided. They won’t hide anymore.

Michael will make a fine Emperor.

Unknown system, Unknown planet, 2259

Michael was at a loss for words as she looked back and forth between Gabriel and the man calling himself Q. What kind of name was that anyway? Then she realised he probably wasn’t even a corporal being, so it was as good a name as any.

And Gabriel - Gabriel had shot this Q without blinking, without thinking. Moments before, they had been working and bantering in their now usual comfortable routine. Then Q appeared, and Gabriel was back to violence and killing.

She certainly had seen her share of weirdness during her years as a Starfleet officer. After all, she was a commander on a ship that traveled thanks to mushrooms. She had gone to another universe and back, she had been caught in a time loop… all of this courtesy of Gabriel. Even on the Shenzhou, fantastic beasts and other cosmic anomalies had been an exciting part of her daily life. The memory of her captain freezing under a ton of blankets in her ready room would remain engraved in her memory forever : keeping the ship temperature under 12 degrees had been the only way they’d found to get rid of an infestation of space rodents in the central heating system of the Shenzhou. After a little more than a year on board, Michael had discovered a most human side of her captain, who decidedly didn’t agree with temperatures below 20 degrees.

However, beings  that  appeared out of nowhere claiming to save  people’s lives  weren’t part of her range of experience. Obviously, it was part of Gabriel’s. And if this Q had really saved his life more than once, the fact that Gabriel’s spontaneous reaction was to try and shoot him dead wasn’t reassuring at all.

“I beg your pardon?”

Finally, she found her voice again.

“Oh come on, Commander! Don’t tell me you thought this guy cheated ‘death by raging sun’ all by himself?” Q rolled his eyes in a dramatic way as he gestured to Gabriel, using his toga for added effect.  

Michael froze again. How could this man possibly know?

“Granted, Captain Lorca of the Terran Empire is a tough cookie, luckier and more stubborn than most, even smarter sometimes...” Q went on, totally oblivious of her growing confusion. “Anyway, in spite of all his misgivings - and he has tons of them - I happen to like the guy.”

The verbal diarrhea was getting irksome. A glance at Gabriel showed that Q had the same effect on him. It didn’t excuse his previous behavior but Michael had to admit that she was half tempted to see for herself if the intruder could be stunned, or punched, or even gagged.

“Of course, I don’t like him as much as you do, my dear Commander, but I have to admit that he amuses me. Every time I think he’s going to take a right turn, he takes a left, and vice-versa. Fascinating.”

“Oh cut the crap, for fuck’s sake. What do you want?”

Gabriel’s tone wasn’t as biting as his words. And the hand holding his phaser hung uselessly along his side, as if his desire to kill had vanished as quickly as it had  emerged.

“Still not big on preliminaries and niceties, are  you, Gabe?”

“What about getting us outta here? Should be kid’s stuff for a creature like you.”

Q shook his head gleefully.

“And spoil my fun as I watch you two beat the odds again and again? Do you know that you officially hold the record for the longest survival on this planet after a crash? And not just in this universe?”

Michael took an instinctive step back as Q walked closer to her, his smile growing wider.

“Not many survived this  environment, and none lived after their first encounter with the rather unwelcoming and grouchy local population. Commander Burnham… chapeau bas.” The intruder punctuated his words by tilting an imaginary hat in her direction.

“I was lucky.” Michael shrugged off the compliment. God knew that her track record of intuitive action was far from spotless - the Binary Stars and the Charon would haunt her forever.

Q’s gauging smile told her that he knew, too, somehow. For a moment that lasted forever, he considered her with piercing eyes and a thoughtful frown, before eventually turning to Gabriel.

Then he clapped his hands.

“That’s decided. You can pull it off. But first, let’s play one last game.”

Michael felt her eyebrows raise on their own in surprise.

“Then you get us off this fucking planet?”

Gabriel’s voice sounded… resigned. It didn’t sound like him.

“I’ll raise the odds of your doomed escape plan. But before that, you’ll have to discover the secret of this planet. Good luck, my dear Robinsons.”

And just like that, he was gone.

Michael watched Gabriel as he let himself slide against a wall and sit  down with a frustrated groan. The phaser dropped with a thud to the floor. Silently, she joined him and took a limp hand in her smaller ones.

“I suppose I should show more gratitude to him , but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone I’ve taken a dislike to quite so fast. I think even Tilly would find him irritating...”

She spoke softly, trying to keep a light tone. But the reality of what Q had just told her started to sink into her mind.

Ever since they’d landed on this planet, she had wondered many times about Gabriel’s improbable survival. She had witnessed Georgiou’s blade pierce  through his chest. She had watched Gabriel fall  into the spore reactor. Yet she’d barely questioned his presence by her side, too afraid of opening Pandora’s box.

Maybe she was all alone on this planet and Gabriel was merely  a product of her imagination - like Pi’s tiger, a chimera during the boy’s odyssey across the ocean. Amanda always made sure to counterbalance Michael’s Vulcan education by introducing her to the less logical and more poetic side of human culture.

Michael tightened her grip around Gabriel’s hand, relishing the warmth, seeking reassurance. Her throat constricted suddenly and tears started to form in her eyes.

“Yeah, this guy… he tends to make you question your sanity.”

Gabriel disentangled his hand to wrap his arm around her shoulders. Michael closed her eyes and let herself enjoy the proximity, the feeling of his lips on her forehead.

It felt real.

It was no figment of her imagination.

Michael straightened up and turned to look into Gabriel’s eyes, her fingers finding his jaw on their own accord.

She knew there were more pressing matters at hand. Send a signal to Sarek and Tilly. Do Q just challenged them to do. Keep on working.

“What happened to you?” she asked instead. “After the Charon…”

After Georgiou stabbed you from behind. After you reached for me and I stepped aside, watching you disappear into flames.

She couldn’t bring herself to say the words.

-/-

And the cat was out of the bag.

Lorca didn’t reply at once. In some way, Q’s impromptu visit made it easier, somehow. How could he have answered Michael’s question if she had asked before the insufferable but almighty weasel had shown its ugly face again?

How can you explain an experience that you barely understand yourself?

He remembered the blinding light of the spore reactor all too well. The burning heat. The pain. The pain above all. The brief moment of helpless fury--he was dying and Georgiou was still breathing.

Acceptance came and replaced anger as the first bolt of lightning hit him in the chest.

It was over. He didn’t need to run anymore.

He was tired of running anyway.

Running towards unattainable goals. Running from certain death on the battlefield. Planning and scheming. Killing. Destroying. Struggling to keep his head above the water. Watching over his shoulder.

Running from himself.

It was over.

He could rest at last.

Well, that was what he thought then. Lorca snorted humorlessly.

“You know, when I was a kid, we used to watch those old movies from the 20th century at my grandparents’ house in Argentina. I don’t know how my grandfather managed to put his hands on these copies, but he had an impressive collection--well,  by our standards.”

He didn’t need to look at Michael to know that she suspected another of his avoidance tactics.

“Anyway, there was this French movie in which one character wonders what happens after death. He imagines his old pal, who lived as a devoted catholic, presenting himself at the gates of Paradise, certain to meet his version of God, and he suddenly faces an unknown deity that doesn’t understand him. That was my first experience of doubt, y’know.” The words poured out of his mouth. Suddenly, he was a confused 8 year-old whose belief system had been shaken to the core. “In the Fatherland, life is short and often absurd for us Earthborns. So we cling to whatever helps us make sense of it all…”

“Athena, Artemis, Asclepius and the others. The more help, the better.”

Lorca nodded.

“You know what my last thought was? When I fell into the spore reactor?”

Michael straightened up to stare at him. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. She shook her head.

“Finally, I’ll get to know who’s right in the end about what’s beyond the gate.”

The sadness and pity in Michael’s eyes were almost physically painful. He didn’t deserve that.

“So… did you? Find out?” Her voice sounded tiny.

For a second, he was engulfed into the kaleidoscope of sounds and images that swallowed him as he dissolved into millions of particles. His parents. His beloved mountains in San Carlos. The sinister streets of Terra-11. The lab where they injected the nanos into his system for the first time.

Space.

Endless battles.

Exploding ships, small and big. Thousands of victims. Dead enemies.

Michael in a Terran uniform. Michael in a Starfleet uniform.

Then nothing.

Until he opened his eyes only to see Q looking at him with his usual unnerving smirk.

Lorca raised a hand to cup Michael’s cheek.

“I met Q. Apparently, I still have a role in whatever sick plan its demented mind has come  up with.”

Michael’s sceptical raised eyebrow told him she wasn’t really convinced. To be honest, he wasn’t convinced, either.

“Yeah, I know… Not really believable, is it?”

Michael leant into his touch.

“Not really. But Sarek brought me back from the dead, so…”

She didn’t need to finish her sentence. There were things in outer space that the human mind just couldn’t grasp, or barely. They just had to accept the evidence and move on.

Michael wasn’t done with him yet, though. After pressing her lips to his palm, she went on.

“This Q… old acquaintance? What does he want?”

“I was still a pilot when I met him for the first time. He comes and goes, saving my ass and giving me warnings about the state of my universe. He’s the one who told me about the Klingon attack on Doctari Alpha. He brought the Buran back from the future when we got lost in a pulsar… I think… I think it watches the different universes.”

Michael would have to accept this vague answer, because he didn’t have a better one.

Lorca watched her as she nodded thoughtfully.

“And now this watcher has another task for us.”

“More of a test. And it won’t be the last.”

“What is he testing? And why?”

Michael waited for an answer that he couldn’t give her, then threw her hands in the air in a rare display of frustration.

“Back to work it is, then.”

She stood up and walked back to her abandoned station. Lorca took a second to observe the feline movement of her back. The Vulcan stiffness she displayed when he first met her on Discovery was long gone, replaced by a natural grace that accompanied her every movement.

With a tired groan, he got back to his feet  and went back to sifting through equipment and tools.

Not just work: survival. And now pointless hoops to jump through for a capricious God-like being who didn’t play fair.

Just peachy.








Chapter Text

Vulcan starship, Unknown universe, 2259

“So, to put it mildly, the new enhanced field force was a bust…” Tilly flexed her fingers in and out again, a sound like an explosion crackling through from the side of her mouth. “Literally. Kaboom.” Her defeated frown deepened as the expectant expressions - Stamets, Saru and the bridge crew - soured on the other side of the Quadrant.

After days of frenetic research, careful modelization and thorough testing both on Discovery and the Vulcan starship, they really thought that they’d finally come up with the perfect shield to enable the communication satellite to survive the crucible of the debris belt.

“How much time?” Saru enquired, intent on moving past this new roadblock.

Tilly shrugged. “Half a day. I’d just started to calibrate the signal.”

“Well, that’s progress.” Stamets rolled his eyes impatiently. Strictly speaking he was right. They’d made some serious  progress for the past few weeks.

But not enough, because time wasn’t on their side.

“Thankfully, the asshole who would make us jump into the nearest sun is down on the ground and not breathing down our necks,” Detmer deadpanned, barely tearing her eyes from the report Tilly just sent to Discovery.

Tilly had to bite her lips when Saru almost choked on his salted tea and fumbled to keep hold of his cup and saucer with all the dignity he could muster.

“Can you imagine the horror if the Commander was the only one on the planet with Lorca back among us?” Rhys - Lorca’s favorite target during their exhausting simulation sessions - followed his comrade’s train of thoughts. Even if they never got the whole picture, everybody had noticed how much Lorca played favorites with Michael the moment she’d stepped on board.

Tilly giggled in earnest. This was unfair. But they needed to unwind, a bit. Emboldened by Saru’s tolerant expression - he would let them get away with it, for now - she went on. “Pretty sure he would have had us find a way to disintegrate the whole debris belt by now.” Her voice dropped. “I don’t give a damn. Just get it done.”

Mischievous smiles now replaced the sour and defeated expressions. Thing was, they did get things done. How did Lorca do it? Manage to make them feel both utterly incompetent one minute and like they could do anything the next?

We’ll follow our Captain to the grave, even if he’s an asshole.

Let’s kick the lying bastard’s ass.

Let’s show what we can do without him.

We’re Lorca’s crew, for better and for worse.

They admired him. They loathed him. They missed him.

“Before anybody asks again...” In spite of a lingering half-smile, Stamets was back to business. “I tried different simulations. Even if we convince Admiral Cornwell to let Discovery attempt such a high-risk rescue in the middle of the peace talks, there’s still no way I can jump to this planet and back. Too many unknown parameters.”

“How good are the Vulcan pilots?” Detmer asked. “Why don’t we send a ship?”

 “Maybe before Her Majesty blew up the station,” Rhys shook his head. “The chain reaction caused by the explosion is out of control.”

“Sarek sent a team two days ago to explore the outer ring of the debris belt. Their latest report isn’t encouraging at all,” Tilly grimaced.

“Is there a way to amplify the signal? I read about experiments about beaming people to ships traveling at warp speed…”

It was Saru’s turn to shake his head.

“I read about it, too, Lieutenant Stamets. The project is still experimental, and I heard that the first attempts were inconclusive. There are rumors among the high command of dogs cut in half. We want our people back in one piece.”

“Back to work, then…”

“Good luck, Ensign Tilly, and keep us posted on your progress. We won’t be able to help as much as we want from now on, but we’re expecting good news.” Saru disconnected after a solemn nod.

Tilly grimaced. The peace talks were starting. Georgiou was still at large. The Klingons were restless, as were some parts of Starfleet. And Discovery was tasked with the protection of Admiral Cornwell’s delegation.

Wonderful.

Unknown system, unknown planet, 2259

Commander Burnham’s log, Day 88

Our radio system is almost functional. In a few days, we will be able to test it, if we manage to find a proper source of power. We’re still waiting for news from Tilly and Sarek. I suppose that putting a satellite in orbit isn’t as easy as they made it sound in their message.

Is it what Q meant when he spoke of our “doomed escape plan”?

I’ve tried to ask our mechanical guardians about the current state of the planet, its people and its history, in vain. Somehow, I have to wonder if the programming of the machines hasn’t been corrupted.

I’ve attempted to find documents - any kind of historical document, government, press, culture - on the system, but my explorations have so far been met with a swift response from the machines, which have now restricted my access to their database..

Gabriel is less frustrated by this than I am. This kind of control over all and any information is common where he’s from.

Commander Burnham’s log, Day 91

We’ve located a generator that we could use. Negotiating physical access with our hosts is exhausting and frustrating.

We’re running in circles.

Gabriel and I  almost had a fight. For the first time since our days in the cave.

He complained about the machines again. I reminded him  that we were the intruders and that they were entitled to protect themselves or their  data. I told him that he needed to give others the benefit of the doubt.

His reply is still ringing painfully in my ears.

“Did you? Give us the benefice of the doubt?”

We worked in silence all day.

Truth is, I do realize that there is something wrong - illogical - about the countless restrictions enforced by the machines. There is never anything innocent in denying access to the past.

I just couldn’t resist arguing  for the sake of it .

This isn’t good.

We’re so close to escaping this place. We can’t jeopardize our chances.

Commander Burnham’s log, Day 92

No negotiation today.

We went outside to stretch our legs and pick up some more fruits, careful not to anger our hosts by stepping outside their arbitrary perimeter.

The weather is getting chillier day after day. The spots in the shadow of the crumbling buildings remain covered by frost most of the day.

While Gabriel walked to a nearby pond to collect some water under the watchful eyes  of the machines, I used the opportunity to study the ruins around us.

Some of the buildings used to be high and elegant, their glass walls reaching for the sky like a new Tower of Babel. Now, they are little more than eviscerated carcasses, torn apart by an invisible force. Structural remains suggest monuments made out of something  like ceramic that could defy gravity - until gravity changed the rules of the game. The large streets and air routes probably buzzed with activity.

If the machines let us, we could go and study one of the many crashed vehicles lying  on the ground less than 300 yards away.

It looks like tragedy struck in the middle of a normal day. Maybe the machines cleaned up, but there are no signs that weapons were used. No sign of fire or explosion.

Only decaying  buildings and crumpled  vehicles, all  seemingly twisted by a giant and invisible hand.

Gabriel joined me after a little while. We still have to speak properly today, but it was nice to enjoy the sunset wrapped in his embrace.

In his warmth, I almost can forget the nightmare before my eyes.

Commander Burnham’s log, Day 94

We are back on track.

Gabriel came up with an unorthodox solution. A crazy gamble, but a logical one at the same time.

“Remember this antic comic book?” He said. “The kid who gets what he wants by threatening to hold his breath until something happens to him? Soupalognon y Crouton?”

To be quite honest, I didn’t catch the reference. But I understood Gabriel’s point.

I’d already put my life on the line to negotiate his safety and it worked.

Threatening to harm myself in order to get what we need was only a logical step further.

This trick won’t work forever. But for now, we have what we need.

I suppose that Q is having a field day, watching us as if we were lab rats.

-/-

“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”

Lorca’s eyebrows  shot up at the uncharacteristic outburst.

“Everything’s alright, sweetie?” he enquired, unable to conceal his growing amusement. “We still can switch places, y’know. I’m the one with actual scavenging experience...”

“And risk another diplomatic disaster if there are more robots down here?” Michael shot back.

“Point taken.” He grimaced, absently scratching his temple. She was right. There was no guarantee he could maintain his best behavior in front of more of these damn toasters. “But who has a better night vision and thus wouldn’t hit his head in the dark?”

“The bigger one with injured vertebrae who couldn’t fit in this blasted tunnel anyway. Sorry, Gabe, but your days as a scrappy scavenging teen are long gone.”

Lorca almost choked on the water he was sipping as he was monitoring Michael’s progression to the generator. Apparently, being stuck in confined spaces made Michael particularly grumpy and snappy. Which was fun, even if this latest barb stung more than a little bit.

“And for the record, I didn’t bump my head. I just put my hand on a rusty pipe that collapsed.” Michael’s factual tone could be unnerving at times.

“That’s supposed to be reassuring?”

“Not really. Just keeping you posted. Instead of worrying like a mother hen, why don’t you tell me about how you all became polytheists while I find my way through this maze?”

Lorca remained silent for a moment or two. Michael had a one track mind alright.

“Why are you so curious about that?”

“You should know by now, I’m curious about everything,” Michael replied, her voice slightly deformed by static. Nothing too alarming, for now. “And I’ve noticed you don’t want to talk about it, and that’s only got me more curious. Besides, we still need to solve your friend’s riddle.”

The woman was a damn mind reader at times. Or maybe she was just too stubborn to drop a bone once she had her teeth firmly planted in it. Probably both.

“So you think my own history might give a clue? And for the hundredth time, that creature is not my friend.”

He could hear Michael grunt as she negotiated what was probably a tricky turn. He tried to relax his knuckles and ignore the sound of a metallic structure complaining against the intruder. He didn’t stop his smile when Michael’s sigh of success  came to his ears.

“And I think I just reached another room. Seriously, I’m starting to think that the machines have given us the most circonvulated itinerary ever to the generator. They’re hiding something…”  

Lorca grunted in approbation. “Your words. Not mine.”

You didn’t have to come to come from a world riddled with terror and paranoia to figure that out. There was something terribly familiar with the way the machines forbade access to certain areas and specific intel.

You cannot and pick up these fruits. It is outside the authorized perimeter.

Do not  use the elevator.

Do not investigate the archives.

Give us all the maps and navigation systems you have.

Do not make any more maps.

Close the window.

Do not  use this power source.

Access to this room is prohibited.

It was downright kafkaian.

These absurd, petty prohibitions were not what really bothered him. It was the fact that the machines had been programmed to enforce them with deadly force. It meant that, as advanced as it was, the local civilization went down a road not that dissimilar to his homeworld.

As if on cue, Michael spoke again.

“So yeah, I think whatever you have not told me might help me understand better what we’re dealing with here.”

Lorca sighed. Michael would never drop the subject. “Okay, then. Here’s a concise history of humanity in my plane of existence.” The only history he knew until the fateful day he’d traveled to Michael’s universe.

His history.

His reality.

“If you’ve read my files, you must know how our timelines diverge after the 18th century?”

“Yes. Great-Britain won the anglo-american war of 1812 and the United States returned  to the British Empire. Napoleon  won the war against Russia. You really did your homework.”

Lorca nodded. So had she, clearly. Always trust Michael to be a thorough reader and analyst.

“Well, I couldn’t risk a stupid misstep…”

He remembered all too well the long nights spent poring over history and geography handbooks, familiarizing himself with this brand new world, so deceitfully similar yet so different, so that he could act like a convincing Federation officer. Not that he didn’t still commit mistakes. Calling a gormangander a fish. Underestimating Mudd’s greed and thirst for vengeance. Misreading Cornwell… Letting his own solitary and untrusting nature guide each decision he’d made, until they’d all come back to bite him in the ass. Hard.

For a whole year, he had barely been able to keep his head above water, always reacting to an ever evolving context with his guts, rarely planning more than two days ahead. And yet, he still had deluded himself into thinking he’d had a plan all this time. Like some genius mastermind or something.

What a fucking, useless moron.

“So what happened, then?” Michael’s voice brought him back to the present.

Lorca cleared his throat.

“Big empires like Britannia became the rule, which means that your era of nationalism didn’t happen. Instead, religion became the backbone of these empires, even more than in your history. So no world wars for us in the 20th century, but galloping industrialization - think big machines and planes and mechanical computers as early as the 1840’s.”

“The 1840s? How were they powered? ?”

“Coal and steam.”

“That’s incredible.”

He could see how it would look that way to Michael. He felt an irrational stab of pride. “So…does that mean global warming in your universe before the first launch of Sputnik in mine?”

Even as she spoke, Michael was still searching for her way to the generator. Lorca could hear her sifting through rubble and abandoned gear.

“Yup. More or less. Economic collapse. Epidemics.”

“And...rising... tensions?” There was a staccato rhythm to Michael’s words. She sounded as if she was trying to slide a door open.

Lorca checked the monitor. She wasn’t following the route that the machines gave them anymore. She was closer to the generator, though.

That’s my girl.

“Yup… and global thermonuclear religious war at the start of the 21st century. Those who could, found a refuge in orbit and started their eugenic bullshit.”

“The Heavenborn and the Earthborn?”

“My ancestors survived, forgot all about the gods that led them to their doom and went back to a feudal system. Clans versus clans. Warrior code. Scavenging economy. Survival above all else. Finally, they became the footsoldiers of the rising Terran Empire once the Heavenborn returned to the Fatherland after the First contact. Of course the first thing they did was rewrite our common history…”

“You think that’s what happened here?” Michael’s voice was back to normal.

“Maybe… there’s this abandoned city on the shore. But if it was that simple, I doubt Q would have shown its ugly head.”

Michael didn’t reply at first. Panic immediately submerged him. He should have been the one down there, the toasters and their stupid route be damned.

“Michael? Michael? Do you copy?”

“I copy.”

The reply was clear, no static. But her voice was barely audible. Trembling.

“You should come down, stat.”

Before he knew it, he was forcing the elevator door open, all geared up with the few weapons they had left. Fuck the toasters and their rules, he would take the most direct route to the generator.

Vulcan starship, Unknown universe, 2259

Sarek heard the door slide open and acknowledged his visitor with a curt nod, not bothering to take his eyes from the alarming report he had received from Vulcan about the growing discontent among Starfleet personnel about the upcoming peace talks.

It was concerning news.

He suspected that the former Emperor Georgiou had a hand in feeding the internal discontent in Starfleet.  How and why, he could not discern yet. However,  it had not escaped his notice that Section 31 had shown a rather suspicious interest in the two Terrans that crossed universes when they came onboard of Discovery for an impromptu debriefing at the end of the war.

They must have made contact with Georgiou at some, and now she was creating havoc in the Federation.

What she expected from it was unclear too. One thing was sure. She was building on it. But she certainly didn’t create it.

The war did.

The visitor didn’t speak, clearing their throat in a way that was now very familiar.

Ensign Tilly.

Sarek tore his eyes away from the report and studied Tilly’s expression. Usually, more than her words, the way she looked at him, the way she struggled not to balance from one foot to another, the way she bit her lips told him everything he needed to know about another failed attempt.

This time, however, her expression was different. Her already pale complexion was downright livid. Ashen.

He put his pad down and raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

“Yes, Ensign Tilly?”

“We’ve finished the analysis of the debris belt at last, sir.”

“Yes, and?”

“Well, if we believe the latest modelization, this planet used to have two small inhabited moons in orbit.”

“Their destruction would explain the debris belt. Any theories as to how it might have come about? ” Sarek had a hard time finding a logical explanation for  such a catastrophe.

“Apparently, they were blown off from the sky. The dispersion pattern seems to indicate that whatever struck them came from space, not on the ground. In fact, we’re pretty sure it came from the surface of the planet. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of firepower that would take.”

Sarek frowned. The idea that Michael had possibly been confronted with the remnants of a civilization powerful enough and vindictive enough to destroy not one but two moons - and their inhabitants -  was unsettling. What a man like Gabriel Lorca could do in such a setting, with potential access to such weapons, was even more worrying. Or perhaps the Terran was ironically just the right man with the right tools to support Michael in such a place. The universe moved in mysterious ways, and even the Vulcan mind failed to understand it all.

“What about Raak and her team?” Sarek stirred the conversation away from moons turned to dust, encouraging Tilly to finish her report.

“They will be back soon. They found a module that was almost intact and brought it back. Hopefully, we’ll find some readable intel. Maybe some usable tech.” The young officer shrugged helplessly. “I wouldn’t hold my breath though.”

Ensign Tilly’s overtalking tendencies still remained, but her normally boundless  optimism was clearly on the wane.

Sarek stood up to walk the young officer to the door, his hands crossed in front of him.

“Ensign, it isn’t time to lose hope yet.”

He was not sure she believed him.

He was not sure he believed himself, either.

Unknown system, unknown planet, 2259

The armored door complained and cracked under the machines’ repeated assaults, but it didn’t move. Whoever had built this room had made sure that it was inviolable, if the door was properly shut close.

Michael monitored the door one last time before checking the wall for any sign of vulnerability. After Gabriel had rushed to join her, storming into the room, phaser blazing, a horde of robots coming after him, they had found a way to barricade themselves behind the main door. Miraculously, said door had escaped the torments of time and gravity. Where everything else in the lab complex was broken, torn apart or eaten by rust, the room and its equipment seemed properly frozen in time.

It looked more like a vault, in fact. Large, circular, and organized around a column of some sort that went deep into the dark below them. Ladders led to the lower levels. On the column itself, an aggregate of cells and capsules. Some were broken. Most were intact. Many were plunged into darkness. More radiated an eerie light.

Behind her, she could hear Gabriel’s grunt as he finished the climb up from the lower levels. Michael walked to the ladder and helped him to haul himself up onto the main level.

“One, these anti-g belts are a blessing,” Gabriel started talking once they were settled against the wall, side by side. “There are ten levels under us. The structure is conic and the lowest level is just machinery, and the generator that you were probably looking for. No door, no corridor, no exit.”

So they were safe for now.

The problem was that they had absolutely no way to escape this room, either. Furthermore, Michael had the sinking feeling that her little trip out of the boundaries drawn by the machines had destroyed any future chance of dialogue in the future.

Why had she decided to go and check that faint source of light instead of obediently following the machines’ instructions?

Curiosity killed the cat..

At the very least, it brought more complications.

And nightmares for the years to come if they survived this damn planet.

Michael’s hand sought Gabriel’s warmth.

“Are there more…?”

She couldn’t bring herself to say the words.

Embryos. Foetus. Babies. Children.

Bodies.

Corpses.

Gabriel nodded.

“More functioning cells the closer we get  to the generator. It’s still working by the way, as if in sleep mode. The cells seem to have their own additional power source. And not just humanoids. Animals. Plants. We protect life,” he parroted the machines’ mantra. “Talk about a failure of epic proportion.”

Michael rested her head on her companion’s shoulder, as if crushed by a sudden wave of sadness for a civilization that had  entrusted its survival to an artificial intelligence, only to disappear, frozen for all eternity, slowly decaying in the fringe of an oblivious universe.

What kind of despair led to such a foolish gamble?

Michael swallowed. “Noah’s ark.”

The sound of hands clapping echoed through the vault. Neither Gabriel nor Michael deigned to greet Q as he stepped out of the shadows, a triumphant, unnerving smile on his lips.

“You dit it! My dear friends, you constantly beat my expectations. Congratulations.”

Outside the door, the machines had gone suddenly silent.

By her side, Michael could feel Gabriel’s body stiffen. But his voice sounded tired, singularly lacking his usual biting tone. “So what now? These people tried to escape their doom and failed. Case solved. What more do you want from us?”

Get us the fuck out of there. Game over.

The words weren’t spoken out loud, but they hung heavily in the air.

“Why so defeated, my dear friend?” Q strolled dramatically around the column, a small satisfied smile growing on his lips.

Michael felt her own fists tighten in anger.

“I realize that your hosts’ manners aren’t conducive to clear thinking, but still. Don’t tell me you didn’t think about turning the whole thing on again yet.

Q spun around  brusquely. Michael could feel the weight of his unnerving gaze.

“That would be disappointing. See you soon.”

Then the vault was silent again.

The spot abandoned by Q was now occupied by the gear and supply they’d left upstairs.

“Pompous asshole.” The words were out of her mouth before she even knew it. This wasn’t her. She rarely swore, not like that.

In the semi-darkness, she heard Gabriel snort.

“Yeah, Q has that effect on people.”



Chapter Text

Galaxy E-999, planet Kobol, Year Unknown

Clear, crystalline laughter resounding in the garden make Michael’s eyes lazily open. Blinking, she takes in her surroundings. Someone had taken the pad she was working on from her hands after she’d dozed off and placed it on the coffee table by the couch. She must have been exhausted. Karnak had been right to give her the day off, deaf to her vehement protests.

Before thinking of saving everybody, she needs to focus on the life she’s carrying.

With a groan, she struggles to sit upright. She’s entering the time of her pregnancy when actions as simple as sitting up become a struggle.

More laughter from the garden makes her smile as she strokes her belly.

She wouldn’t have it any other way.

The muted holographic table is still on, revealing more disastrous images of Moon refugees piling up in unspeakable camps, interrupted by angry pictures of chancellor Georgiou speaking in front of the puppet Senate of the Sacred Empire.

Michael doesn’t need to put the sound back on to know the content of the speech.

“The Moons Federation is a gangrene that will corrupt and kill Kobol if we don’t act soon. We need to cut the infected limb in order to save the body. The Moons Federation’s pride knows no limit and now they are cutting us from our legitimate access to the vital resources in orbit. They are strangling us. Even after the destruction of the Moons, they still rule in orbit, and on the land they suffocate us. This need to stop.”

Michael shakes her head sadly. It’s like a mantra to her. She grew up listening to these words. She repeated them obediently at school. She internalized them. She killed for them. Until she opened her eyes.

She watches some more for reports on the progress of war in the equatorial regions, where the Empire is conquering the last territories belonging to the Moons Federation in a gruesome and salvage fight, island after island. Even after the destruction of the Moons themselves, the Federation can still rely on their bases on the ground, for now. Nothing new here. Everything’s at a stand-still, and everybody seems to have forgotten the very reason that started the war…

The slow death of their planet and the competition for diminishing resources.

With a tired sigh, Michael waves at the hologram to shut it down before heading to the garden where Gabriel is trying to teach their son how to swim.

More than ever, Michael feels perfectly confident of her decision to defect from the Empire to seek refuge in one of the last neutral states on Kobol. Here, far from the stiffening and maddening hatred that permeates every layer of imperial society, she was able to rebuild her life.

Here, she isn’t a traitor anymore, but can work on finding a way out of the upcoming collapse.

Here, she’s met Gabriel, former commander of the Moons Federation invasion army on Kobol.

Here, she gave birth to their first child and expects their second.

Here, they can learn to live again.

Michael wraps a shawl around her shoulder before stepping outside. She takes a deep breath, enjoying the smell of the blooming trees in the garden. Orb was one of the few place in the world not affected by the collapsing of the bee colonies. Karnak should step out of his vault from time to time and follow his own advice.

No point in saving a world if you are going to cut yourself off from it.

Even if the sun is high in the sky, the temperatures are still a bit chilly at this time of year. Fruit of centuries of evolution of the Moon people, Gabriel is immune to the cold, and it seems that their Rafael has inherited that trait from his father, along with his blue eyes.

The moment she walks onto the wooden terrace, she’s greeted by enthusiastic splashing.

“Mama! Come over! I’m stronger than Papa, I drowned him twice!”

Michael stares pointedly at Gabriel with raised eyebrows and a knowing smile. You’re spoiling him. She doesn’t need to speak the words. His own silent reply is a mischievous smirk: I know and I don’t care..

In the afternoon light, the silver glow of his artificial arm reminds her of the events that led them to each other.

The battle just outside of Orb between the Empire and the Federation.

The destruction of the Buran, the command ship that inspired fear everywhere on Kobol.

She was on the winning side, he was on the losing one. Both were exhausted. Their eyes met on the battleground, filled with mirroring disgust. They defected. Both of them.

Deserters. That’s what they are.

Maybe they are selfish, enjoying a carefree day like that when most of their world is tearing itself apart. It is definitely selfish to try and build a future in a futureless world.

What kind of planet will they leave to Rafa and his yet unborn sibling?

First it is the blinding light in the North, in the direction of ancient Orb, that makes her look up in alarm.

Then a deafening, cracking sound makes Gabriel turn around, his arms reaching instinctively for their boy to try and shelter him. Michael starts to run to the pool but stops abruptly as the pool water begins to float up into the air, as it might do in space. Then she’s floating, too, higher and higher, Gabriel and Rafa also. Ever higher. At some point, they manage to get hold of each other. Around them, the chaos is indescribable. People are twirling all around in the sky, their screams silenced by those of the world torn asunder below them. They house being torn up from the ground by an invisible hand. The buildings downtown are remaining anchored to the ground, but are being shaken and twisted by the mysterious force.

Michael and Gabriel share one last look before gravity suddenly pulls them down with a vengeance. They cling to each other desperately. They try to shelter Rafa between them. In vain.

The ominous words he muttered to her with clenched fists the day they discovered the horrific images of the Moons’ destruction invade her last thoughts as the ground gets closer and closer.

“My people will never forgive. Never.”

Galaxy E-999, planet Kobol, 2259

Strong hands shook her awake.

“Michael! Snap out of it! You’re having a nightmare!”

Gabriel’s tone, as harsh as it was, comforted her as the last remnants of her dream retreated into her subconscious. Even so, she struggled to open her eyes, half afraid of the reality she would discover.

“Come on sweetheart, wake up, it’s over.”

His tone was gentler now, as was the touch of his fingers tracing her brow and temple dampened by sweat.

Michael swallowed once, twice. Her throat was sore. She must have been screaming in her sleep. When she finally snapped her reluctant eyes open, she was reassured by the gloomy light emanating from the pods on the Tree of Life--the name the creator of the complex gave to the system. With a groan, she straightened up and accepted the portion of liquid food Gabriel handed to her.

Michael took a tentative sip and grimaced right away. This one was as awful as all the others . But it contained the right amount of nutrients and calories they needed. After they had launched the procedure to restart the Tree of Life following Q’s suggestion, the whole city around them seemed to wake up from a long slumber. A centuries-old recording from an androgynous creature named Karnak explained the purpose of the pods. For hours, they watched motionless as the scientist, who wore a similar toga to the one Q sported when he first appeared to them, told the story that led him to this desperate measure.

The Sacred Empire of Kobol, which dominated most of the planet.

The Moons Federation, the descendants of the old mining colonies that proclaimed their independence from the ground and embraced their new nature as space dwellers.

The neutral cities caught in between, such as Orb, where the Tree of Life was built.

The pure and unadulterated hatred consuming his people for centuries, leading to their doom.

The gravitational bombs the Moon people detonated everywhere on Kobol, striking their enemy and the neutral states alike, because neutrality had become heinous, too.

The guilt borne by the few survivors and how they dedicated everything they had left of themselves to complete the Tree of Life in a crumbling world.

Karnak’s voice had haunted the vault long after the recording ended.

After that, they went to work. They managed to tweak the programming of the machines so that they stopped considering them as intruders and started to obey their command.

They even found various sources of processed food and the local equivalent of sonic showers.

Silently, Gabriel let himself slide down the wall to sit by her side and wrap his arm around her still slightly shaking shoulders.

“That was a nasty one, huh?”

Michael nodded weakly before turning to study Gabriel’s face. He looked exhausted. Dark shadows underlined his eyes. The salt-and-pepper stubble combined with his ashen complexion gave him a sickly expression. It couldn’t be another case of nano withdrawal, she had given a shot herself the week before. And in spite of the heavy workload of the last few days, their gravity belts were fully functioning, so it couldn’t be physical exhaustion.

“You didn’t sleep at all, did you?” she whispered as she cupped his jaw.

“Nano induced insomnia. It happens, you know that.” Gabriel leant into her touch, his eyes closing briefly.

She did, and after three months of close quarter survival with him, she also knew what nano insomnia looked on Gabriel, a mix of restlessness, over-excitement and almost mania until he collapsed for a whole day of deep sleep. That wasn’t what he was now. However, Michael was too emotionally exhausted to pull the truth out of him. She didn’t want to address her own nightmares should she start to confront him about his self-inflicted lack of sleep.

Instead, she pulled his arm to invite him to lie down with her. Even if she was fully awake by now, her heart was still beating wildly in her chest. Gabriel resisted at first, raising his eyebrow in question.

“You need to rest a bit, even if you can’t sleep,” she whispered, pulling his arm with more insistence while rolling onto her side.

He relented at last and wrapped himself around her, immediately burying his face between her neck and her shoulder. The enormity of what they were about to accomplish weighed heavily on them.

Were they about to save these people? Or were they condemning them to a pitiful life on the wreck of a planet that their ancestors left behind?

Were they right to follow Q’s instructions?

Apparently, Gabriel had stopped wondering about Q’s schemes a long time ago, but she had yet to reach that point. He had also been suspiciously absent since they had discovered Noah’s Ark by accident.

They were on their own.

Galaxy E-999, Vulcan starship, 2259

The bluish hue of intergalactic communication was cruel on Admiral Cornwell’s features, and the worry she failed to hide even more. Sarek listened to her with growing alarm as she related the latest developments surrounding the peace talks.

“So long story short. The incident between our cruiser and the Klingon destroyer has put everything at a standstill. We still don’t know what these ships were doing in the area. Command’s trying to understand why an exemplary officer like Captain Harlock felt the need to patrol the sector without telling us first. L’Rell told us that the destroyer belongs to a clan that doesn’t consider the war lost, let alone over.”

“As far as they are concerned, there’s no need to have any peace talks because the Federation has only survived thanks to a traitorous and cowardly plot.”

Sarek was a diplomat, and he knew that the first condition of a successful negotiation and lasting settlement was a common good faith. An actual will to reach an agreement. If both parties kept on thinking that they should have won, that the war couldn’t stop just like that, then peace couldn’t be anything but fragile.

Unsustainable.

Admiral Cornwell nodded. “The Klingon version of the Germans’ ‘stab in the back’ after 1918. And we all know what happened after that…”

“If I understand you correctly, even if L’Rell signs anything, there’s a high probability that some clans will denounce the accord.” Sarek pointedly stirred the conversation back to facts. Panic was illogical, and in any case its requirements had yet to be met in this case.

“Exactly.”

“And on our own side, there are voices calling for a swift response after this incident…”

Cornwell interrupted him with a tired, defeated expression. “More like retaliation. Some some want to start the war again to force the Klingons to accept their defeat.”

Sarek knew what Cornwell was about to ask even before she opened her mouth.

“We need you, Ambassador.”

The Vulcan worded his reply carefully. “We are nowhere near rescuing Commander Burnham and her companion. They could be instrumental in finding a solution to this madness.”

A humorless laugh was her reply. “I have been witness to Commander Burnham’s abilities, but shall I remind you who is her companion? Do I need to tell you what his little side trip to his own universe cost us? Five days, Ambassador, I can give you five days.”

And the communication went off.

Sarek leant forward on his desk, resting his chin on his folded hands.

In some ways, Admiral Cornwell was right. Gabriel Lorca of the Terran Empire had cost the Federation dearly when he had disappeared with their most important ship. At the same time, further inquiry had also revealed that he had transmitted the cloaking technology data before taking off for his universe, showing surprising consideration for someone who had harboured only one goal for months and months.

Except that the data had never reached them.   Even Lorca, who came from a world where all any treachery was conceivable, had underestimated the Klingons’ spying powers, which reached even further than the ability to place a sleeper agent on the Federation’s top starship. The House of Mo’Kai had ears and eyes everywhere, and at the highest level. Once in power, L’Rell’s first act of goodwill had been to reveal how deep the infiltration went. Of course, Sarek knew from his long experience as ambassador that it was only the tip of the iceberg, a calculated sacrifice to pave the way to peace, a gesture that Starfleet had to return in kind over the course of the negotiations.

Not only that, but Lorca’s performance as Captain of the Discovery had been almost entirely exemplary and successful, and there was no denying that without him, the war would have been lost much sooner. As if that wasn’t enough, he knew Philippa Georgiou better than anyone else in this universe. He had served her, then he had rebelled against her.

Five days.

Hoping for a miracle was as illogical as panicking. Perhaps, however, it was entirely logical when all other options had been exhausted.

Galaxy E-999, planet Kobol, 2259

For what seemed the seventh time in a row, Lorca checked the scrolls of data with blurry eyes. The vault was silent, with the exception of the rattling of his keyboard. He stiffened a yawn and rubbed his eyes before trying to focus again on his screen. Three days of voluntary sleep deprivation were taking their toll. Long gone were the days when he could go five days without sleep with little difficulty. The nanomachines from this universe weren’t as efficient as the ones he’d been dosed up with most of his life as an Imperial soldier. And he wasn’t getting any younger. At the same time, Karnak’s message hit far too close to home, and Lorca didn’t even want to know what kind of memories would come back to haunt him because of the fate of Kobol and its civilization. After the Charon, he’d resigned himself to the fact he wouldn’t be the one changing the Empire’s disastrous future. With Michael entering the picture again, resignation became acceptance, and a kind of relief. But Kobol’s story was too familiar to him. You couldn’t bury decades of bloodshed, fear and fury that easily.

Kill or be killed.

Avenge your fallen brothers in arms.

Destroy the enemy.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Being brought back to the Romulan disaster - his first battle ever - or the slaughter of Qo’noS, hunted or hunter, was the last thing he needed right now. The sight of Michael as she struggled with her own demons at night was already terrifying enough.

Instead, he ran from himself, something he had always excelled at, and worked days and nights to identify the problem that had caused the fatal malfunctioning of this Noah’s Ark and engaged the sleep mode. With the help of their past jailers - new programming had dramatically improved their relationship with the toasters - he had finally found the source of all their problems earlier in the afternoon. A giant colony of local ants had bitten through one of the main power cables in one of the lower levels.

Ants. The last hope of an entire civilization jeopardized by ants.

Lorca snorted as the numbers scrolled down before his weary eyes, thankful for the translator add-on that Michael had inserted into the programming.

As if he needed yet another reminder of how the mighty can fall.

Back on Earth - on his Earth - they often joked that after the many disasters of the 20th century, it was a miracle that mankind hadn’t been replaced by giant roaches and other tarantulas. Here on Kobol, ants had almost done the deed.

We are little more than dust in the wind.

It was a concept that he had rebelled against all his life. Getting rid of the incompetents above him until reaching the very top, or almost. Striving to live, fight, kill and eventually die on his terms. Of course, he would have preferred a fate other than being stabbed in the back by Georgiou but at the very least, he had died trying.

Then Q had appeared and reminded him of his utter insignificance. Mocked his arrogance.

Now the asshole wanted him to literally play God. The irony of the situation was biting. Lorca was also pretty sure that what they were about to do in order to get away from this hell broke at least a good dozen of Starfleet’s regulations, starting with the Prime Directive. As far as that was concerned, Lorca didn’t care, just like he didn’t care if they condemned the people who would step out of Noah’s Ark to live on a hellish planet. As long as he and Michael got out of there   in a near future, whatever happened to this blasted planet was of little consequence to him. He could tell that it bothered Michael greatly, though, but they had yet to discuss the matter.

The gods helped him if she suddenly had cold feet.

“Gabriel?”

As if on cue, Michael had turned away from her own screen. Her voice sounded hesitant. Unsure. Lorca made his seat swivel around to face her, bracing himself for the unavoidable and unpleasant ethical debate that he had been waiting for.

“What is it?” he asked with a yawn. He was beyond exhausted. Hopefully, it meant a dreamless sleep for him.

“I’ve been meaning to ask for a while…” Whatever was on her mind, Michael visibly struggled with it.

Please don’t let it be a “let’s find another way to escape,” or some other shit.

“How many people served on the Charon?”

Lorca could feel his eyebrows shooting up in surprise. Now that was a curveball. And he was fully awake again.

“Excuse me?”

Michael sighed heavily as she absently brushed her keyboard with the tip of her fingers.

“That day, when we escaped from your universe, how many lives did we take?”

It was almost a whisper.

Lorca felt his fists clench instinctively as he fought a sudden surge of anger. At Michael. At the crew of Discovery. At himself mainly.

“My men. Shy of a hundred of them. The Imperial Guard. But we took care of them before you did anything. Other than that, 100,000 people give or take,” he spat with more venom than intended. The long-silenced devil in him made him speak again. “Government agents, merchants, servants and slaves. Prisoners. Klingons. Kelpiens. Romulans. V…”

Michael stood up abruptly, silencing him with a raised, trembling hand. Lorca stared at her retreating back, helpless, barely stopping himself from smashing his keyboard in frustration.

Gabriel, sos un infeliz pelotudo.

-/-

The shower was scorching hot. The air stuffy with steam. Michael forced herself to wait for another minute before setting the temperature to cold. The sudden change struck every fiber of her body, her chest constricting in protest, goosebumps forming on her skin.

It felt good. As brutal as it was, the ritual always helped her to focus when her turmoil threatened to swallow her whole. It worked when everything - meditation and focus - had failed. It felt like cleansing.

Slowly, she stepped out of the shower and dressed again with a heavy heart. Ever since their latest argument about the toasters’ controlling behavior, Gabriel’s words had kept on echoing through her mind.

Did you? Give us the benefit of the doubt?

The barely concealed resentment had let a wave of guilt surge up in her. She had managed to ignore its whispers since Discovery had returned from Gabriel’s universe, but here, living by his side day and night, envisioning a future with him, had forced her to consider their past.

She’d had to know.

There was nothing she could do about it. But she needed to know.

Starfleet doesn’t fire first.

The irony of the affirmation she’d proudly reaffirmed when she had received her medal left a bitter taste in her mouth. They did shoot first that day, and never stopped to think about the consequences of their actions.

At the same time, in spite of the lasting sense of guilt at the pit of her stomach, she felt lighter somehow.

Let the truth set you free.

It was humbling. And empowering at the same time. As if she’d reached a new level of clarity.

With measured gestures, Michael tightened the buckles of her boots.

For all her talk about understanding and communication, she had failed to understand what was unfolding in front of her on the Charon. She took a glimpse in the mirror and loathed what she saw, and then she dropped it, let it shatter on the ground, and ran from the mess she had made. They were so proud to be Gabriel’s crew. When they discovered the truth, they were quick to rip through any connection to him, rejecting their former captain and his influence, burning it to the ground. They denounced his manipulative ways, refusing to consider what their willingness to follow him to hell and back revealed about them - and him.

Surely, humanity was better than that now.  They were still only one wrong decision from becoming that other humanity, the one that ended up hating itself and despising the whole universe.

With a sigh, Michael walked back to the vault. Gabriel was still working at his post. Probably sulking and mulling over his most recent outburst. She lifted her eyes to consider the Tree of Life in all its glory. The now functioning system had purged the dead cells. As grim as the process was, it was a necessary step to ensure that Noah’s Ark became what it was supposed to be again. A last hope. A gamble for the future. If Michael was honest with herself, she had to recognize that the ethical ramifications of what they were about to do were numerous and clamouring for attention. Starfleet would probably not look kindly on it for many reasons.

We don’t interfere.

However, was it interfering? Or were they simply setting things back on tracks? Were they playing God or were they just giving this civilization a fighting chance? Maybe they had cruelly interrupted the burgeoning evolution of a brilliant civilization of ants.

At the same time, Michael and Captain Georgiou had saved the Crepusculants from certain extinction just before the Binary Stars and never thought they were interfering in the fate of this planet. They’d only focused on not making contact and respecting the sacred Prime Directive.

What kind of evolution had they interrupted there?

What if a powerful alien race had landed on Earth as the dinosaurs faced their end and had decided to save them?

Of course, a Starfleet failed experiment had triggered the oncoming catastrophe. In the end, it could be argued that the Shenzhou merely set things back on track, which wasn’t so different from turning the Tree of Life back on.

Michael let a nostalgic smile form on her lips as she walked to Gabriel. There was no point in trying to solve this conundrum. There was no easy answer to it. Only very imperfect answers. In fact, their present situation wasn’t that different from the Kobayashi Maru test at Starfleet Academy.

Gabriel swirled in his chair as she walked closer to him. She was still trying to find her words when he spoke first.

“Listen, I’m sorry…”

“Did you lie?” Michael didn’t let him finish.

He blinked in surprise before answering, his eyes seeking hers.

“No.”

Michael motionned him to let her sit on his lap. “Then yes, you’re an ass, but you were also right.”

Gabriel shook his head stubbornly.

“I’m the one who screwed up. The Charon… it’s on me. All of it. I lost it. I should have listened to Landry…”

Michael bit back a sad grin. Of course the man who had wanted to rule the world would also take all the blame. Gabriel’s pride was infinite, in his most glorious successes and his most pitiful failures. He was so very human. Just like her.

“You really aren’t good at sharing, are you? Even the blame?” Her fingers traced his jaw from his chin to his temple. As always, he leant into her touch even if he didn’t want to at this very moment.

“Nope, I’m greedy like that.” Half a smile, at last. More of a grimace in fact.

“The problem is, I’m not really good at it, either,” she whispered. It was quite the euphemism. She’d carried the guilt of the Binary Stars on her shoulders for so long, punishing herself again and again. Now she had to wonder. Was she a glutton for punishment or just too arrogant for her own good? “So we’ll have to find a middle ground here. Shared responsibility, then?”

Michael watched as Gabriel closed his eyes, releasing a shaky breath. When he opened them again after a long silence, she knew she had won.

“Okay.”

“For the past and the future?” she asked again, nodding at the Tree of Life gleaming behind Gabriel, who understood her meaning right away. Kobol was their responsibility. They were on the same boat, for better or for worse. The way he stared at her was so intense, so reminiscent of the look they shared when Discovery destroyed the Ship of the Dead that she focused on the constellation of cells in front of her.

“Yeah. Okay...”

The sudden contact of his hand on her thigh was electrifying, as always. Her eyes went back to his face and she could see that any further philosophical discussion was the very last thing on his mind.

“You do realize that it makes us the local version of Adam and Eve, don’t you?” she whispered, resting her hands on his chest.

The thing was, they weren’t playing God. They were just puny humans stumbling their way across the vast universe.

His only answer was a long, hungry kiss that she returned eagerly.

Galaxy E-999, Vulcan starship, 2259

Tilly wanted to scream. Throw something. Break it, too. They were supposed to leave the system the next day and they were nowhere near finding a decent solution to beam Michael and Lorca back to safety. The Vulcans had decided to send another module but they were giving up. She understood perfectly that there were far more pressing matters. The peace talks were in danger. War was rearing its ugly face again. Discovery was on the front line.

They had to go.

Still, the idea of leaving Michael behind was downright unbearable. Unimaginable. Unconceivable. So Tilly revisited the data again and again to find that one crack in the wall that would allow them a way in. But she was on her own: the Vulcans had taken the next logical step and now focused on sending more supply. Her friends on Discovery had more pressing matters to deal with - even if they still required a daily report on the castaways’ status.

“There must be a way to send the stupid signal. There must be, damn it!” she hissed between clenched teeth, fighting back the tears that kept welling up in her eyes.

If she had learnt something from Lorca when he was their captain, it was that giving up was never an option. Under his harsh training, the crew of the USS Discovery had developed a thicker skin than most. They had more drive. More stamina. The day before, they’d successfully sent a satellite into orbit, at long last. But they were out of time.

Tilly looked up at the clock. Less than nine hours left. Nine hours to send a proper signal. With a tired hand, she reached for her cup of cold coffee. But it was fuller than she remembered and she ended up knocking it down. Coffee spilled on her console.

“Shit, shit, shit, SHIT!”

The scream sounded more hysterical than she was comfortable with, but it felt good to let go, just for a second. She collected herself again, and turned around to find some paper to clean after her mess. She needed a short break.

It was when she noticed it. The incoming call. Through her satellite. At first, she thought it was no more than an hallucination caused by wishful thinking.

“This is Commander Burnham to the Vulcan ship Tlalpan. Sarek? Tilly? Anybody? Do you copy? ” It sounded like Michael had been doing this for a while. How did she miss this?

Still doubting her ears, Tilly checked the frequency first. This was the one she had sent to Michael and Lorca. The signal was incoming, as in from an outside source. And from what she could read, the signal came from the ground. She stopped fighting the expression of triumph that was forming on her face. Of course they had found a solution by themselves.

With a trembling finger, Tilly established the communication.

“Michael? Are you alright? How did you - Where are you? And Captain Lorca -” Questions poured out of her mouth as fast as ever.

“Put on the video, Ensign Tilly, and you’ll get some answers to your barrage of questions.” Tilly blushed like the cadet she used to be at the familiar gruff voice.

She turned the monitor on. The image quality was poor, grainy. She could see their faces though. They looked tired, exhausted even. Both had dark circles under their eyes. Their faces were thinner than she remembered, Lorca’s especially. Maybe that was the rough stubble and the shaggy hair that made him look older. Michael’s own hair was a wild mess, a stark contrast to the very proper Commander Burnham’s usual appearance and composure. But overall they sounded in good shape. Tilly could not help but notice the way Lorca’s arm rested casually on Michael’s shoulder.

“Do you think that the signal is good enough to give us a lift?” Michael’s voice was serene as ever, in her typical matter-of-fact way that she inherited from her days on Vulcan. It was so good to hear her friend again.

“Sure. Let me test it.”

After much fumbling around, Tilly launched another protocol, silently praying that this one would be the last. For what seemed an eternity, she observed the accelerated scrolling of numbers on her screen.

FInally, the scrolling stopped. And she bit her lips to contain her growing giddiness.

“Test 998 is a go,” she waved at the screen. “See you in a sec, guys. Welcome back.”


















Chapter Text

Vulcan system, Vulcan Space Dock, USS Nausicaa, 2259

Admiral Cornwell’s log, United Federation of Planets / Klingon Empire Peace Talks, Day 14

Two weeks for nothing.

The first round of negotiations was a near disaster. I wish I was surprised. Captain Harlock’s coup d’éclat destroyed everything we managed to build so far. Chancellor L’Rell is caught between a rock and a hard place, and I’m afraid that she will decide to pacify the hard-liners in her Empire instead of keeping talking to us

To put it bluntly, I think we’ve lost her.

I suppose that Captain Harlock’s recent actions were just the last straw that broke the camel’s back. It was quite a miracle that she accepted to work with us in the first place.

Ambassador Sarek is due to arrive next week at the latest. Hopefully, he won’t be greeted by the remains of a battlefield .

In the meantime, I need to find an opportunity  to propose a private meeting to L’Rell, without any witnesses.

Admiral Cornwell’s log, United Federation of Planets / Klingon Empire Peace Talks, Day 15

Troubling conversation  with Admiral Terral. Apparently, Captain Harlock received orders to patrol this sector. He acted on good faith. If true, the situation is even more dire than we thought. .

We are compromised. Deeply so.

The fact that Terral has been called back to Earth urgently only adds weight to this theory.

The peace talks are at a standstill. Tensions are heading for conflict. My efforts to establish a durable peace are being sabotaged. I can think of only one person capable of pulling that many strings at the same time.

Emperor Georgiou.

I have seen how this woman twists and corrupts everything she touches for her own benefit first hand. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

Is it her own twisted version of Emperor Napoleon’s Hundred Days? It is clear that she, like Little Boney, was never going to take to forced retirement. And people like her need chaos to get back to the top, because chaos breeds opportunity.

But Napoleon didn’t escape from Elba Island on his own. He had been defeated by foreign armies, but still had strong support in his former Empire.

So, I have to wonder. What  kind of support does she have  in our ranks? In our universe?

The same inside support that enabled Lorca to con us all and take Gabriel’s place?

After what Lorca did - using Discovery for his own ends - can there still be people foolish enough to go along withGeorgiou’s plans? To trust her? She hates everything the Federation stands for.  Do they really think that whatever she’s doing will strengthen it?

Or maybe it’s not an inside job. There are plenty of peoples who would be glad to see the Federation bleed to death in an endless war with the Klingons. History has a habit of repeating itself, and the Romulans have been very quiet for the past decades.

Too quiet?

Admiral Cornwell’s log, United Federation of Planets / Klingon Empire Peace Talks, Day 16

I’ve finally persuaded Chancellor L’Rell to meet privately. We need to speak freely, far from hostile ears and agendas, Klingon and Starfleet alike. The USS Discovery and its crew will prove useful: Chancellor L’Rell will trust Commander Saru and meeting on his ship. So do I.

Because of Discovery’s commitment to peace, I’ve been expecting them to be re-deployed for some time. I guess that whoever is pulling the strings realize that you cannot send Discovery far away enough. They are only a jump away from any place in the universe after all.

I might as well make use  of this last trump card.

Admiral Cornwell’s log, United Federation of Planets / Klingon Empire Peace Talks, Day 17

Sarek is en route. Along with Commander Burnham.

And Gabriel Lorca.

His daughter’s rescue must account for what could only be described as the closest a Vulcan gets to optimism. I wish I could see an upside right now. .

In any case, I shall wait for their return before meeting Chancelor L’Rell. The talks are at a standstill. I need to determine who can be trusted on my own side before I make any further move.

Alpha Quadrant, Vulcan starship, 2259

Sarek stood outside sickbay and observed Michael and Lorca as they went through a thorough check-up.

Quite surprisingly, Lorca seemed to accept it better than Michael. Of course, the man had snapped an impatient and gruff “I’m fine” more than once, but he still went through the process with relative good grace. Michael, on the other hand, displayed a kind of nervousness that was unusual. The more people moved around her, the stiffer she sat, her hands curled into tight fists. Obviously, Sarek wasn’t the only one noticing Michael’s uncharacteristic behavior. Ensign Tilly had been silent for a while now, content with sitting with her friend and sharing sympathetic looks while the medical staff buzzed around with medical tricorders and hand scanners. From the other side of sickbay , Lorca showed little interest in Harry Mudd’s chatter and was quite unsuccessful in hiding his own growing worry as he watched Michael. Sarek sighed tiredly, pinching the bridge of his nose.

What both castaways needed right now was rest and quiet. After three months of almost total isolation under the constant pressure to survive, the logical procedure would have been to accompany them as they adapted to the wider  world again. But there was no time for that. They were en route to the Vulcan system as requested by Admiral Cornwell. Michael and Lorca could be instrumental in stopping Georgiou’s plans, whatever they were, and salvage peace with the Klingons, especially as it was becoming more and more obvious that both sides sheltered groups still determined to resume the bloody conflict. Instead of giving them the time and the rest they needed, Sarek was forced to rush them through their medical check-up and debrief.

He could hear Amanda’s protests in his head.

He could also hear Admiral Cornwell’s own reservations, although her concerns were of a different nature. She didn’t trust Lorca one bit, with reasons, and she was still wary of Michael, especially if she was back in Lorca’s orbit. Of course, the admiral had never voiced her hesitations. But her expression had said plenty.

There was little time for trust exercises or psychological evaluations, and any mistake could cost the Federation dearly. Sarek would give Cornwell the reassurance she needed, but on his terms.

The moment he stepped into sick bay, his eyes met Lorca’s demanding stare. Sarek was not particularly fond of the man. Cornwell was right. His actions had cost Starfleet a great deal. At the same time, he couldn’t deny that the Terran cared about Michael, then and now. With measured steps, Sarek joined Michael and, after some hesitation, put a comforting hand on her tense shoulder.

From the first results, both castaways looked in general good health. What Michael needed right now was rest and quiet.

“Ensign Tilly, why don’t you accompany Michael to her quarters?” Then he turned to Lorca. “Captain,” he said, studying the man’s reaction to the use of his former rank. “I should be honored if you would join me for dinner.”

Decades of diplomacy in every corner of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants taught Sarek that you could learn much more about an individual by sharing a meal with them than by interrogating them in a prison cell.

-/-

Tilly cast furtive glances at Michael as she walked her friend to her new quarters through the cold maze of the now silent Vulcan ship. Night shift had begun and most of the crew was resting, most especially those who had worked around the clock for days in search for a solution to save the castaways. Tilly herself was beyond exhausted and  still on her feet only thanks to the wave of adrenaline released by the un-hoped for call.

Michael walked quietly by her side, visibly more unnerved than really tired. A nostalgic smile formed on Tilly’s lips. She knew this caught in headlights look  very well. In many ways, her friend’s demeanor reminded her of their days on Discovery, when Lorca had brought the mutineer on board their ship. Back then, Tilly had smothered Michael under endless talk.

She knew better now.

When they walked into the turbolift  that would lead them to Michael’s quarters, she reached out, though, and pressed her friend’s hand silently, reassuringly. She would have hugged her again like she had in the transporter room, just to make sure it wasn’t all a dream, but stopped herself.

Michael responded with an apologetic smile.

It was enough.

-/-

Whatever Michael and Lorca had to live through on that planet, it certainly didn’t affect Lorca’s appetite. Sarek watched silently as the Terran asked for a second helping of empanadas from the replicator then proceeded to add more hot water to their gourds of maté. Who would have thought that this particular liking of Amanda’s would help to create a bridge with a man from another universe?

When Lorca sat down again, Sarek decided that it was time to dig further. Until then, their conversation had remained very factual about the conditions of their survival and the environment they had encountered, in particular the vestiges of a past civilization. Sarek could feel that Lorca’s report was incomplete  in some way he couldn’t grasp yet, but the details of these three months on the deserted planet didn’t interest him as much as the man’s current state of mind.

His potential usefulness or lack thereof.

“Correct me if I’m mistaken, Captain, but your present behavior seems to indicate that it isn’t the first time you found yourself stranded on some unknown planet.”

Lorca shrugged while swallowing another mouthful of empanada.

“First, I’m no captain of nothing these days, so you can stop that.”

Sarek could not help but notice that there was more growl than bite in the Terran’s tone. Ill-concealed guilt. Fugitive sadness, even.

“If you count waking up in an universe that isn’t mine as being stranded in an unknown place, it is my sixth time. The third time, I almost lost my mind after six months alone. I went Neanderthal. I even ended up drawing a face on my helmet and started talking to it. Gave him a name, too.”

“Why did a rescue take so long?”.”

Lorca stretched out lazily and sat back, sipping his maté. “The Empire doesn’t believe in rescues. It’s not in the business of helping people.”

“It’s a sign of weakness.” Sarek remembered the different reports he had read about every little thing Lorca said or did during his stay on Discovery. He considered again the man in front of him. In spite of the ordeal he had recently gone  through, let alone the previous ones, he looked ready to jump to the next task, whatever it was.

That would be expected from a man who had cheated death in the most literal way.

Now the pressing question was how much the Federation could rely on the man who brought it so close to victory and then snatched it away the moment his interests didn’t align anymore with Starfleet’s. Sarek pondered his next move. Play on Lorca’s guilt about what happened in the Mirror Universe, his enduring hatred for Georgiou or his barely hidden feelings for Michael? In many ways, Admiral Cornwell was right: the Terran was far too volatile to be considered a reliable ally. At the same time, Sarek had the intuition that this volatility could be instrumental in solving the Federation’s present conundrum - unusual circumstances required unusual approaches. From the moment that impostor was granted such a strategic command as the USS Discovery, from the moment the story of the fall of the Buran was accepted by the high command, things had stopped making logical sense. In addition to his many talents, Lorca’s ability to hide in plain sight had defied credibility  again and again. Sarek made his decision.

“As I’m sure you know by now, the Federation sees things differently. We are always prepared to help where we can, and to ask for help when we must.”

“Is that what this is? Asking for help? Because I don’t put out until at least the third date, you know.”

“No. This is me trying to assess the wisdom of relying on your help.”

Lorca snorted. “That’s assuming a lot. Like me agreeing to help in the first place.”

“You may not ask for our help but we both know you need it - to keep you out of prison, for instance.”

“Well, well, well, Ambassador. Now I know you’re not above a little blackmail, I like you better. But don’t even try any of your Vulcan mojo on me because I’m not above gutting you out.”

Sarek smiled mirthlessly at the man who casually threatened him, on his own ship, while collecting the last crumbs off his plate.

However, there was little genuine intent in his tone. A threat out of habit. If they were sitting on Lorca’s ship, in Lorca’s  universe, Sarek would fear for his life. Maybe the knife left on the plate would already be planted in his throat or his stomach. But there, on this ship, in this universe, Sarek knew that Lorca was simply testing him.

Well, two could play that game. Sarek leant on the table, resting his chin on this joined hands.

“Let’s be real, Captain.” Only the almost invisible twitch of the Terran’s upper lip revealed his annoyance at Sarek’s stubbornness.  “We both know that the only thing I can fear from you is a half-hearted punch, at the most.”

Lorca moved back in his chair, gourd in hand. “And why is that?”

“Well, Captain, for the exact same reason that you didn’t kill Emperor Georgiou when you had the opportunity . Do I need to elaborate further, Captain?”

Sarek had listened to Michael’s account about the events on the Charon. Obviously, it had been a messy debacle. But something had always bothered the Vulcan in this story. Why didn’t Lorca kill the Emperor when he had the chance? It made no sense. A man ready to spend days in an agony booth just to get close to his target would have finished her. It was not logical.

Unless you added Michael to the equation.

The Terran’s silence was more eloquent than anything. The poker face crumbled at once.

“I suppose Admiral Cornwell will accept nothing less than your very Vulcan seal of approval, will  she?”

Sarek shook his head.

Lorca swallowed, his eyes looking anywhere but in front of him.

“Let me warn you: being in my head,not that fun. Trust me on that.”

-/-

Much to Tilly’s surprise, Michael invited her to come in for a cup of tea, as if they were back on Discovery, enjoying their free time at the end of their shift. It had been  their tradition,. Before they were Commander and Ensign, they’d been roommates, lost mutineer and awkward cadet.

They didn’t talk much. Or at least Michael listened with her usual reserved smile while Tilly told her how worried their comrades on Discovery had been as they lounged on the sofa, cradling their steaming mugs.

It felt almost like home.

Michael looked more relaxed now, far from the constant bustle  and attention in sick bay. She had cut her hair short--three months of little to no care had wreaked havoc--and she kept on stroking it absently, obviously still unfamiliar with a near buzz cut. A shower had done wonders to her tired features. She definitely seemed thinner, but also in good health.

It was such a relief.

Unwanted tears started welling up in Tilly’s eyes. She could feel her chin trembling slightly. It had been such a close call. If Michael and Lorca had tried to make contact just a day later, they would have called in vain, only to find empty space. Tilly stopped talking to focus on her mug and regain some control on her emotions. She couldn’t crack here, not in front of Michael. She felt the sofa shift as her friend came and sat closer, resting a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

It was ridiculous.

Michael had spent three months stranded on a planet destroyed by some atrocious war, and she was the one comforting Tilly as she fought against the sobs building up in her chest. She felt pathetic.

“Hey, I made it out of there.” Michael’s voice was as calm as ever, but also slightly different. Warmer.

Tilly shook her head and kept staring at her mug stubbornly. “No thanks to us…”

“Nonsense. We couldn’t have made it without your help. The module you sent us, the messages you sent us, it was our life line. Trust me. Without Mudd’s nanos, Gabriel… Lorca… he would have been in a much more terrible shape, or worse…” It was Michael’s turn to pause and swallow.

“It was… good teamwork. Everyone involved played a crucial part.”

There was something in Michael’s voice that made Tilly look up. She saw a lingering sadness in her friend’s eyes that contrasted with the soft, encouraging smile. There was a whole untold story here, but now wasn’t the time. Michael would talk, at her pace, in due time.

Tilly relaxed and let Michael refill her mug. It heated instantly and she curled her fingers contentedly around it, enjoying the sensation.

“Teamwork - yeah, I can live with that. But you guys did some heavy lifting, for real.” She flexed her biceps to prove her point. “Like real heavy lifting. What’s up with the muscle definition, girl? Think you can arm-wrestle Saru?”

A genuine laugh, at last. Michael’s laughter was rare and precious. Tilly watched as her friend rolled her shoulders self-consciously.

“Now that would be quite a sight.”

The gruff voice behind her startled Tilly, but she miraculously managed to keep her tea in her mug.

“C… cap… captain,” she stuttered, suddenly a cadet again. “Is… is anything wrong with your quarters?”

“I have to bunk up with Mudd, that’s what’s wrong.”

Tilly was sure Lorca just rolled his eyes at the absurdity of her question. She turned back to Michael, who greeted Lorca’s arrival as though it was the most natural thing in the world.

“Hey, Gabe.”

Gabe?

Still facing Michael, Tilly mouthed a hundred questions at once, trying to think of ways to use her fingers that wouldn’t come off as obscene.

They had spent three months together on a planet. Such a development had to be expected - all the books Tilly had read about men and women getting stranded somewhere together said so . And she had seen how close they were sitting together when they’d made contact. How Lorca had held Michael when they’d been beamed back successfully, how she’d had her arms wrapped around his waist.

But this was…. casual domesticity and Tilly felt like she had missed quite a few episodes.

“Jeez Tilly, even when you don’t talk, I can hear you think… Never play poker.”

Tilly straightened on the couch, chastized and happy at the same time. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed Lorca’s gruff tones until she heard his voice again.

Talk as little as possible.

Have you noticed I talk a lot?

Defy your every instinct.

“Everything ok?” Michael’s voice was softer than ever, and Tilly couldn’t help but feel like an intruder.

“Yeah, peachy,” Lorca sighed as he sat down heavily next to Michael, his hand settling on her thigh.

Michael’s raised eyebrow showed that she didn’t buy it. Well, even Tilly didn’t buy it. Lorca looked worse than he did  before going with Sarek.

Shaken, even if he tried to hide it.

Tilly felt caught in some kind of crossfire as Lorca silently returned Michael’s searching stare with one of his bullish  glares. She looked down at the contents of her mug as the two castaways had a conversation of their own. It felt terribly familiar. These wordless contests had been a frequent occurrence back on Discovery. Lorca would say one thing. Michael would counter with something else and what Rhys had come to label the “glaring death match” would start, until Lorca caved.

Lorca always caved.

“Just need to get reacquainted with a proper bed. You girls keep on catching up.”

Speechless, Tilly watched Lorca as he made a beeline for the bed, tossing his T-shirt aside and kicking his shoes off along the way. She turned to her friend whose eyes lingered just a bit too long on Lorca’s back as he slid under the covers.

Teamwork, huh? “Go, team!,” she winked knowingly at Michael.

Her friend had the decency to look embarrassed, just a little bit.

-/-

Vulcan system, Delta Vega’s orbit, USS Discovery, 2259

A rather atypical chatter welcomed Saru as he stepped into the cafeteria. He had thought - mistakenly, it seemed - that he could enjoy some quiet before walking back to his quarters. Most of the bridge crew had gathered there in their night attire - Owosekun, Detmer, Rhys, Bryce - and were talking animatedly around mugs of steaming liquids.

They ought be back in their quarters to get some rest. He ought to chastise them and send them on their way.

However, the radiant and relieved smiles, along with Detmer’s reddened eyes, stopped him from making his presence known. After three months of barely concealed anguish, they deserved this moment. Their stricken faces when Saru and the rest of the away team had returned without Michael or Ash Tyler would remain engraved in his mind forever.

In spite of everything, in spite of his growing allegiance to the Klingon empire and the similarly growing rejection of the Federation, Ash Tyler had been one of them. A brother-in-arms. Saru could never forget Tyler’s guttural tones when they’d beamed him back on Discovery. He could never forget the realization that the Klingon hybrid had killed Dr. Culber. Of course, neither could Stamets - let alone forgive - and he had made himself scarce when Tyler came back to Discovery with Chancelor L’Rell. But Saru also knew that the younger crewmembers had chosen to believe that the Ash Tyler they had known - the “real one”, if there was such a thing - wasn’t responsible for these actions. After their dreadful experience in the other universe, after Lorca’s betrayal, they’d needed to cling to something. So they’d decided that Ash Tyler and Voq were two separate entities, that Voq was gone for good and barely questioned this reality anymore.

So, when they had realized that Tyler wouldn’t come back at all this time, the loss had hit them hard.

When they had heard that Michael was missing in action, they had let despair overwhelm them.

When they heard she was well and alive, along with their former Captain - the one they hated so much and missed so much at the same time - but that Discovery had to go, Saru thought he would have to put down his own mutiny. For days, they made him pay for his orders with sullen silences and a rather glacial atmosphere on the bridge.

Then anguish became their daily companion. They lived to the rhythm of Tilly’s reports. Noticeable progress on the Vulcan ship meant a good day on Discovery. Failure meant a gloomy day. Week after week, Saru had seen how Michael’s absence on the bridge affected its operations. For the last three months, they’d never functioned as smoothly as they did under her precise vigilance. Stamets had been a living nightmare. Temper had flared and mistakes had been made.

They’d gone back to the dreaded days before Michael set a foot on Discovery. Saru always wondered if her extensive influence on this ship had been part of Lorca’s plan, or a fortunate, unexpected side-effect that had also caught the Terran by surprise.

And now, they’d just learned that not only Michael was alive and well but that she would join them in a few days, along with Lorca himself.

Saru himself still needed to process the news. After everything they’d been through, he’d come to consider Michael as family. The possibility of losing her had weighed down on him heavily for the past three months. He’d needed to listen to Tilly’s overexcited message thrice before he was able to move again and broadcast it immediately to the rest of the ship in the middle of the night shift.

So, instead of sending his bridge crew back to their quarter, he ordered a cup of salted tea from the replicator and joined them.

As Captain Georgiou used to say, a good crew is built on common struggle and shared good memories.

This moment definitely qualified as a good and memorable one.

Who knew what the other Georgiou had in store for them next?

Vulcan system, Vulcan Space Dock, USS Nausicaa, 2259

Admiral Cornwell’s log, Federation of United Planets / Klingon Empire Peace Talks, Day 20

I retrieved the data that Lorca provided to prove his good faith. Just associating the concept of good faith with this man makes me nauseous.

This is a man who thought nothing of sending Gabriel’s parents a package of incriminating evidence as insurance against betrayal from Section 31.

Such a level of cynicism is hard to swallow.

But Section 31’s level of manipulation is even worse.

They knew all along that Lorca was different. Yet they used him anyway. They let the wolf into the fold.

But this wolf was not a pack animal. He helped Starfleet only as long as it suited him.

Now Ambassador Sarek is asking me to trust this man. Someone who lied to me and deceived me and used me. What a sad joke.

At least I can finally grieve for my Gabriel.

Admiral Cornwell’s log, United Federation of d Planets / Klingon Empire Peace Talks, Day 21

Terral has called with worrying news. Klingon ships have been on the borders of the Klingon Empire. Starfleet command, in response, has decided to mobilize our forces in the solar system.

As agreed, Chancelor L’Rell’s escort fleet remained at a safe distance in the Vulcan system during the first round of negotiations. It seems though that her grip on her own fleet is as tenuous as mine.

Provocations from both sides is our daily reality now. And more fleets are ready to jump into the Vulcan system at the slightest hint of a hostile move.

It is nothing less than a “damn if you do, damn if you don’t” situation. We stay, we increase the risks of an incident and a renewed conflict. We postpone the peace talks, and we’ll probably never start them again.

Admiral Cornwell’s log, United Federation of Planets / Klingon Empire Peace Talks, Day 22

Terral might be able to make some progress thanks to Lorca’s data. The wolf was smart  and kept a record of all the officers he met after they rescued him from the wreckage of the Buran.

Of all the officers involved in the deception that put him in charge of Discovery.

The same people who were so keen on blaming the war on Starfleet’s first mutineer.

If billions of lives weren’t at stake, I would laugh.

Hopefully, tomorrow, we’ll make some progress at last.

 

Chapter Text

Alpha Quadrant, USS Buran, 2256

A guttural grunt and a vicious hit to the jaw welcome Lorca the moment he materializes again in the transporter room of the Buran. Surprised, he falls flat on his back.

What the hell?

More grunts. He would recognize the sound anywhere. Fucking Klingons. On his ship. That’s impossible. He must be losing his mind.

The moment he’s back on his feet his assailant comes back with a vengeance, one huge fist aiming at his head. 

But he’s ready this time. 

They struggle a bit. And the knife he always keeps hidden in his boot plunges into the asshole’s throat.

Only then does Lorca look around him, his tongue tasting the blood in his mouth and testing a broken tooth.

A goddam slaughter.

It’s the Buran, for sure. He knows his old ship by heart to the very last screws and bolts. He also knows his crew.

And his crew wouldn’t lie dead, wearing unknown uniforms, after what looked like a desperate fight. They must have tried to stop the Klingons from accessing the transporter room, for whatever reason.

He should feel pain at the sight. He only feels disgust at the obvious failure. 

His crew doesn’t fail.

He doesn’t fail.

But he’s also there, lying dead in a puddle of  blood, eyes wide open, as if surprised.

Or rather,  he’s standing in front of his own corpse.

He steps back, instantly nauseous.

What the fuck is going on?

“Q, if that’s one of your fucked-up jokes, it better be ending now,” he mutters angrily. He has no time for this kind of shit. The Charon is closing in. He needs to be with his people. 

Fighting with his crew.

But the weasel never shows its ugly face.

In the distance, Lorca can hear the Klingons having their way on his ship. Slaughtering the crew that clearly isn’t his crew.

Among the corpses--too many Humans, not enough Klingons for Lorca’s taste--someone is struggling to get back on their feet. 

Landry.

She looks so familiar but so different at the same time. For one, Landry doesn’t whimper, ever.

And she would be up killing Klingons, not getting killed by them.

More cries of pain and distress. A second wave of Klingons is approaching. Even if the crew is still resisting sporadically, the ship is as good as lost. He doesn’t know where he is. But he can recognize a lost cause when he sees one.

And he knows that he needs to survive first and foremost.

He has an emperor to kill after all.

Lorca steals the uniform vest and the black insignia from the corpse that looks like him and grabs a barely breathing Landry.

Somehow, he can't leave her behind. And a direct witness to whatever happened down here might prove useful in many ways.

Carrying his burden, he makes his way through corridors that the Klingons haven’t reached yet. The sudden chirping from the black badge makes him jump in surprise.

Fucking hell.

He waits for a moment, not moving a limb, hoping that nobody heard the noise. He acknowledges the com only when he’s sure that no Klingon’s around.

“Lorca,” he whispers before grimacing. What if the other guy doesn’t have the same name?

“Captain, what’s the situation?” The female voice is anxious yet authoritative, and terribly loud in the empty corridor. It rings oddly familiar. A voice he hasn’t heard in years. The bitch that used to eat into Cornwell’s hand. Admiral Patar? 

Lorca stiffles an annoyed groan. First, he finds himself face to face with his clone. Then pseudo Landry. Now he’s going to be haunted by the ghosts of the assholes he dispatched over the years? 

Just wonderful. 

“The ship is lost. Klingons everywhere,” he replies softly. “I’m trying to gather what’s left of the crew.” The lie is blatant to his own ears. Hopefully, the other person won’t catch the disingenuous tone.

“Negative, Captain. You have your orders. Proceed with protocol 987.”

What the fuck is this all about?

“I need confirmation. I’m not sure I can carry out those orders. The situation is dire.”

First rule of survival in the Imperial fleet. When given an order during a crisis, always doubt it. It’s probably a stupid one. Lorca built his career on disobeying stupid orders then dispatching the superior officers who gave them.

“Captain, it is crucial that the data doesn’t fall into Klingons’ hands. You need to secure the data. Then you and Landry have to get the hell out of here, and destroy the evidence. Daedelus is the absolute priority. The survival of the Federation depends on it.”

Now that’s a euphemism that he’s heard more than once.

Destroy the ship.

Easier said than done with Klingons everywhere. 

The way to the other guy’s ready room is a long play of cat and mouse, but Lorca knows his way around every vent and corridor. Landry’s hidden safely in a storage room. 

And the Klingons are dumb.

Whatever their mission is, something must be off and tensions are skyrocketing. That’s his window of opportunity.

The ready room is spartan. No chairs. Barely a table. Lorca snorts. Meetings with the crew must have been fun on this Buran. He can understand the desire not to be bothered by his crew more than necessary, but he also likes his comfort very much. His own chair is custom-made, and gives a good view of the unique collection of galactic maps he had gathered over the years.

Quickly, Lorca scrolls through the captain’s terminal in search of anything called Daedelus. Somehow, the very name sounds very familiar. Too familiar. Too improbable. He finds it, buried under a ton of biometric security.

Fortunately, he’s basically a clone of the other guy - at least when it comes to DNA if not interior design - and they share the same way to organize files, too.

A retina scan later, everything about Daedelus is his to take. Lorca gasps. The sensation of deja-vu becomes certainty.

Well, now, Patar’s panicked insistence makes sense. If the Klingons get this intel, whatever the Federation is, is doomed.

Well, they might be doomed anyway, because this project is a disaster waiting to happen. He knows it. He put an end to it years ago. Cornwell and Patar advocated for it, but it was too risky, it could have jeopardized the Empire. Georgiou still listened to him, in those days.

Lorca secures the data in his uniform and beams out of the ready room to retrieve Landry. When he finally reaches the hangar bay, he sees another slaughter. The mechanics offered no resistance.

Weaklings.

Lorca looks around for a functioning ship until his eyes settle on a shuttle. He grunts. What kind of starship goes around without proper fighters? How can he escape from a nest of Klingons on a fucking shuttle?

How can he destroy the evidence?

Then he sees the crates ripped open at the back of the hangar bay. He recognizes their content immediately--a terribly dangerous weapon wasted in the hands of a crew of lousy soldiers, for sure. A sinister grin forms on his busted lips. A shuttle will do after all. 

He has a plan.

No Klingon steps freely onto his ship and lives to see the following day.

Besides, the other guy had his orders. 

Lorca’s just fulfilling the mission in his stead. He still doesn’t know where he is, but he can see people here are weak. Compared to taking on Emperor Georgiou’s forces, this is going to be a walk in the park.

Alpha Quadrant, Vulcan Starship TLALPAN, 2259

7am

“C...pu.er, stop… larm.”

The first attempt sounded more like a tired groan than an intelligible sentence. At least, it wasn’t intelligible enough for the computer presently trying  to wake Michael up.

Curiously enough, no gruff or expletive-laden attempt to turn it off came from the other side of the bed.

More than the melody of the alarm--conceived to rouse people as smoothly as possible to set them up for their day, it was as aggressive as an old-fashioned ringing alarm-clock to her tired brain--the absence of movement or protest from Gabriel’s side of the bed tore Michael away from her sleep.

She turned her head groggily over to her right: he was gone. More coherently but no less unhappily, she asked again for the alarm to stop and for the time.

“The time is 0h-Seven-Hundred Hours.”

Michael sighed. She was supposed to be sitting down with Sarek for a briefing at that very moment. “Computer, send message to Ambassador Sarek. Please forward my apologies and inform him I will be thirty minutes late.”

“Message transmitted.”

“Computer, locate Gabriel Lorca.”

In one swift movement, she was out of bed and starting her stretching routine. Neck. Shoulders. Back. Hips. Legs. Kobol’s gravity had done a number on her joints.

“Gabriel Lorca is currently on deck five, physical recreation room.” 

“What time did he leave these quarters?”

“Gabriel Lorca left these quarters 103 minutes ago.”

“Any messages from Gabriel Lorca?”

“Negative.”

Michael grimaced as she put on her uniform--once again Gabriel hadn’t been able to have a full night of sleep. It was the third time in a row that she had to wake up to an empty bed. 

Before she could start to fret about her Terran’s current state of mind, the sudden smell of fresh coffee and pastries filling the room chased away her worry and brought back a smile to her lips.

Gabriel.

Shaking her head in amusement, she turned around to see her breakfast appear in the replicator without her prompting.

No note, of course.

No flowers, naturally.

But her coffee just like she liked it. Hawaiian brew. No sugar. Croissant. Or rather medialunas, the Argentinian version to which he was trying to convert her.

After this is all over, I’m taking you for a long trip across the Andes. You’ll taste the real stuff.

The prospect was quite alluring. Michael didn’t know Earth that much. She was a child of space and always looked up to the stars. Gabriel wanted to show her his land. And she suspected he also wanted to see for himself what his land looked like in her universe.

Michael finished her coffee. Yes, a trip like that would be good for them. They both needed it.

Before that, they needed to stop a war.

7.30am

“Good morning, Michael.” 

Sarek’s voice welcomed her in his usual flat tone. She smiled. It had been so disconcerting at first, this lack of warmth and expressiveness. Michael remembered her parents’ voices very well. If she focused enough, she could feel her mother’s hands arranging her hair, how her father’s laughter sounded. Living in Sarek’s household, by Spock’s side, she had learnt to see love in the smallest things. A twitch of the cheek. A movement of the head. A slightly raised eyebrow...

“Did you oversleep?”

“Gabriel reset the alarm.”

...A twitch of the lips that mixed both disapproval and amusement. “You look well rested.”

“Not as much as I would like to be, but I’ll manage.”

“We’ll reach the rendezvous point with Discovery in fifty-seven minutes. We have to suppose that the Klingon delegation is already onboard, as well as Admiral Cornwell. I’ll accompany you onto Discovery while the Tlalpan continues its journey to Vulcan.”

Here they were. The respite had been short. Too short.

“Any update  on where we stand ?”

Michael watched Sarek as he stood up and walked around his desk with careful steps, his hands crossed in front of him.

“If we fail, war shall start again, I’m afraid.”

Michael felt her shoulders tense instinctively. It was the Binary Stars all over again. She had to get it right this time. She had to succeed.

The feeling of Sarek’s hesitant hand on her shoulder almost made her jump.

“You’re not alone, Michael, don’t forget it. You have friends. You have allies.”

She let Sarek’s words sink in with a shaky breath. Yes.

“You have him.”

Yes.

8am

Michael finally found Gabriel lost in contemplation on the higher deck of the ship, away from the growing restlessness below. The moment they reached the Vulcan system, they would be in the middle of an angry hornet’s nest. 

From a post-apocalyptic planet to a pre-apocalyptic system.

No rest for the wicked.

Silently, she joined Gabriel and rested her arms on the railing, finding solace in his closeness. She always found comfort in his presence, even before

“Hey you…” she whispered. Ever since he had accepted to cooperate fully with Starfleet, he had been quite withdrawn.

“Hey…” he acknowledged her presence absently.

“Thanks for the breakfast.”

Wordlessly, his hand came to rest between her shoulder blades.

“Saw Sarek on my way up. ETA with Discovery is about 30mn.” 

“Good.”

“Ready to go?” In spite of the hellish situation that awaited them, she was impatient to go back to Discovery.

To go  home.

With him.

Whatever may come, she knew they could face it, together

The faintest smile formed on his lips. “Yeah.”

Michael sighed. 

Sometimes, making him talk was akin to extracting a stubborn teeth from an uncooperative patient. It was one of those times. As sweet as his morning gesture had been, it still smelled like one of his trademark avoidance tactics. Given the circumstances, she had tried to respect his silence, but she was getting tired of his monosyllabic replies.

“What’s up with you?” If patience didn’t work, then a more bullish approach would have to do. 

Her tone might have been more biting than intended because Gabriel dropped his hand and turned around  with a surprised expression. He bit back instantly.

“What’s up with you?”

Now Michael was in a more familiar territory. “Ever since your talk with Sarek, you’ve been acting strange. You barely speak. You’re gone before I wake up.”

“Sorry. Guess I did all the sharing I could stand when your father made me.” 

Damn.

A heartfelt apology was on Michael’s lips as she reached for his cheek. She had seen his scars. She had witnessed what the nanos in his system put him through. She had heard him fighting again and again in his nightmares…

He was quicker,  though, and pulled her to him, his lips brushing her forehead.

“Wasn’t all bad. It helped me connect a few dots. And I wouldn’t have been able to do that without his mojo.”

Michael stepped back reluctantly to study Gabriel’s face. There was no despondency  there that she could see. Sometimes his resilience was frightening. Would he ever reach his breaking point? Or had he already reached it, and learned to move on?

“Dots? Which dots?”

She saw him hesitating before replying carefully.

“Cornwell is right. Georgiou isn’t working alone. But...”

They had talked about it repeatedly with Sarek. About Cornwell’s suspicion of a possible Romulan interference. Come to think of it, Gabriel never really weighed in during these conversations. He never contradicted Sarek. But he never agreed either.

“But… not the Romulans?”

He shook his head.

“Then who? A Klingon faction?” Somehow, Michael had a hard time imagining Georgiou cooperating in any way with the Klingons. She remembered all too well the hateful glee the former Emperor displayed when she evoked the fate of Qo’nos in her own universe.

Gabriel shook his head again with mock horror before sobering up.

“Have you ever heard of project Daedelus?”

It was Michael’s turn to shake head. She raised an interrogative eyebrow, waiting for Gabriel to expand on his idea.

“An aborted project in my universe. An ongoing one in yours. A terrible idea in both.”

“That sounds ominous. Care to…?”

Michael didn’t finish her question. Instead, the sudden rigidity in Gabriel’s posture, his icy glare fixing something behind her back  and above all the way he reached instinctively to his hips for a phaser that wasn’t here made her turn around.

It couldn’t be.

“My dear friends! Glad to see you well and rested! Congratulations on being the first people ever in the entire multiverse to escape the deathly grasp of Kobol!”

“What do you want?” Michael snapped in a way that surprised her. Q had really a way of getting under her skin. 

The creature shook its head with a disapproving frown.

“Commander Burnham, you are starting to sound like your companion and partner. Shouldn’t you be the one to inspire him to be more patient? Anyway, the Tree of Life is working just fine, in case you wondered. In a couple of centuries, give or take, Kobol might become a new paradise, or the ultimate pit in hell, or anything in between actually. Possibilities, the very essence of life. Alea jacta est, my friends.”

“Cut the crap, Q,” Gabriel growled behind her back. Michael could feel he was ready to pounce on the creature. She would normally disapprove, that’s true. In this case, she wasn’t entirely sure she wouldn’t be the first one to charge.

“So this is all the gratitude  I get for saving your lives. I’m terribly disappointed.” Q looked almost sincere, and Michael felt almost remorseful. Almost and almost. “Anyway, I can’t stay long, much to my regret. I was just stopping by to tell you that the situation is even more dire than you might have feared. And you’ve seen what happens when things get out of control. Some wars have no winners.”

Then Q was gone. 

Michael sighed as she leant into Gabriel’s silent embrace. They’d talk about Daedelus later. If the universe was ending soon, they deserved these few minutes of respite.

Vulcan system, Delta Vega’s orbit, USS Discovery, 2259

8.40am

Lorca blinked as they materialized on Discovery. Ages ago, he had beamed out, giving his last order as the captain of this ship, ready to carry on with his plan. He was Michael’s prisoner back then. He liked to think he was luring her away from a world that was beneath her.

Moron.

And now he was back. Brought back by Michael. He still wasn’t sure that this universe deserved her. Lorca looked at their joined hands. Hell, he wasn’t entirely sure he deserved her, either.

Fortunately, there wasn’t much time for more self-pitying introspection. The second they materialized, Saru welcomed them briefly and immediately proceeded to lead them to his ready room--that sounded weird to be honest--where Admiral Cornwell and the Klingon delegation were waiting for them. In his usual careful delivery, Saru updated them on the latest changes  as they went from one corridor to another.

It was so damn familiar and yet just as disconcerting. The blinding white walls. The succession of science labs. The utter lack of military posture within the crew. The sudden sense of comfort. The warm feeling of being home again. Lorca told himself that the looks of joy on the faces they walked past, the occasional gasp of excitement even, were meant for Michael, but they felt good to him, too.

Because Discovery was one damn good ship with one damn fine crew. He’d been so proud of them.  

That was why he had rushed his plan. Because he knew that the more he stayed on this ship, among these people, by her side, the more his thirst for vengeance would vanish.

Then they were on the bridge. The captain’s seat was empty--which was normal, since Saru’d been walking with them. Rhys was the first to turn around, still smiling his infuriatingly boyish smile. He was still a kid. Bryce followed suit, and Lorca felt his throat constrict briefly at the memory of the other Bryce’s corpse. Detmer and Owosekun stood up from their post, making a beeline for Michael and Tilly. Lorca could remember a time when nobody on this ship was willing to even stand at the mutineer’s side, let alone share a meal, as if mutiny were some contagious disease.

Behind him, the turbolift door opened to reveal Stamets. Seeing him engulfing Michael in a tight, shaky hug was a confusing sight, given how the other Stamets had betrayed them.

Betrayed Michael.

A hand on his shoulder brought him back to the present. Saru stood by his side, patiently waiting for the end of the unavoidable effusion. The Kelpian’s hand felt huge and heavy on Lorca’s shoulder. He felt small.

“Thank you, captain.”

This time, the use of his rank didn’t irk him. To be honest, he liked the sound of it. Always had.

It felt like home.

Then he saw her. The past couple of years hadn’t been kind on Cornwell. She looked as commanding as ever, but also terribly tired. Exhausted. Their eyes met.

“Captain Lorca.” Not Gabriel of course. Her stare was unwavering.

“Admiral,” he saluted back formally. He wasn’t that kind of guy, but he had to force himself not to look down.

Lorca hated many  feelings he had come to know  among these people. Guilt was not part of his programming. It made him feel weak. And he hated the lingering sadness that came with it even more.

Rage. Bitterness. Grudge. Envy. Pain. Even love. That he could deal with. Guilt? Not so much.

He had done what he had to do in order to go back home. The fact that the Cornwell in his universe was a sadistic bitch he had eliminated with glee made it easier to abandon this Cornwell to her fate in the Klingons’ hands. His mission mattered more than anything else.

He had an emperor to kill.

People to avenge. People to save.

An empire to bring down and rebuild again with Michael.

Still, he had been surprised to feel some sort of relief when Michael had brought Cornwell back to Discovery.

That should have been his warning. Among so many others. His growing fondness for Tilly. His growing respect for Stamets. 

How he had started to look at them without seeing the other ones.

How much Michael the Vulcan had invaded his dreams more and more.

How much he enjoyed this world.

10am

 “Your people started this mess! You have to take responsibility!”

“I don’t remember luring a whole fleet to the Binary Stars to start a war…”

“You let her escape! You let him die!”

“You don’t even control your own fleet.”

“You can’t expect to be welcome with open arms all the time. The Federation’s vanity knows no bounds.”

“And you are using us. The Federation can’t be the sacrificial lamb in your endless internal strife!”

You created this damn weapon!”

You slaughtered civilians!”

You were ready to destroy our world!”

If the situation wasn’t so dire, if the threat of Daedelus wasn’t so close, Lorca would laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. 

You could profess all the best goodwill in the universe, and still get caught up in a senseless shouting match.

The wounds were too fresh.

The dead too numerous.

Both the Federation and the Klingons had stepped a bit too close to the abyss and were now teetering on its edge. Lorca had to fight off a surge of guilt. If he had stayed just a little longer before rushing after his foolish ambition...

It was not his war.

How convenient.

The formal meeting had started one hour ago. The first rude remark had followed fifteen minutes later, starting the verbal exchange of fire.

And, if the body language of some of the Klingons in the room was any indication, words might soon turn to actions.

Lorca glanced around him. 

If Saru’s ganglia still existed, they would be working overtime at this point. Instead, the Kelpien looked ready to pounce at any moment. A fearless Saru, now that was an amusing development. 

Sarek wore his insufferable poker face, and kept on staring at him, as if expecting something from him. 

Michael, meanwhile, was desperately trying to keep the meeting on track in her usual quixotic fashion.

“Chancellor L’Rell, we are not getting any closer to finding a solution to our current problems by rehashing the past. We have many reasons to seek vengeance and retribution from each other. But we have to break the wheel,  or we will run to our collective doom.”

Some wars have no winners

“I keep hearing… the clans won’t… the clans refuse to… Who rules the Klingon empire, L’Rell? The Chancellor or the clans?”

Her voice was steady, collected. Commanding. She stood straight, with a patient but stern expression. Only her clasped hands slightly betrayed her effort at self-control. Man, she was made to rule. The regret was fugitive, but vivid. She would have brought the revolution the crumbling Terran Empire needed so badly.

It wasn’t meant to be, alas.

Sarek caught his attention again.

Maybe it was a trick of his imagination, but he was almost sure that the Vulcan had mouthed the word Bajor

He couldn’t mean…

If they were in his universe, sure, he would…

Sarek was still looking at him.

Bajor.

Of course the fucking Vulcan knew. He knew everything about him. Everything Lorca did in the name of the Empire. 

How he strong-armed the Bajoran warring clans into a peace treaty they didn’t want. Civil war meant no taxes. And the Empire always needed taxes.

How he put an end to a Romulan revolt by bringing them the head of the corrupt and inept Terran governor. He had focused punishment on a few carefully chosen leaders--not too anonymous to satisfy the Emperor, not too well connected to avoid a renewed rebelion.

In every corner of the Alpha Quadrant, he had carried out Georgiou’s will, with his own twist.

Several things caught Lorca’s attention at the same time and brought him back to the present.

First, the nervous Klingon playing with the handle of his sword once too many times. 

Then, Cornwell’s young aide making a move to stand up, only to be stopped by the Admiral’s furious glare.

Of course, the Klingon spat in the tenderfoot’s direction. Who needed fucking Georgiou to create chaos when this kind of moron existed?

If they were in his universe, he would not tolerate this kind of idiocy on his ship… He never had any patience for this crap.

If they were on his ship, he would have thrown the pseudo warriors out of the first airlock.

There was not time for stupidity. Georgiou was lurking somewhere. Daedelus was out of control.

This was the war at hand.

This was his war.

His hand was inside his civilian jacket before he could think about it.

This was his ship.

Cornwell would give him hell later for bringing a phaser to a diplomatic negotiation. He had almost missed her constant nagging. Almost.

This was his home.

Both lieutenant Tenderfoot and nervous Klingon fell to the ground, stunned.

Wordlessly, Lorca put his phaser on the table after switching it from stun mode to kill mode, glaring hard at both delegations.

“Make no mistake. The enemy is Daedelus. It wants the Federation and the Klingon empire to destroy each other. We are its puppets. And Georgiou as well.”

When was the last time he had done that? Speaking his mind openly? Weighing on a strategy?

The endless and frustrating briefings with Cornwell and Terral didn’t count. He had been playing an act. Back in the Empire, he had played an act, too, feigning submission when he was plotting to give the throne to someone worthier.

“And how do you know that, human?”

Lorca looked at the barking idiot standing by L’Rell’s side. He was about to snap back when Cornwell spoke up.

“Gabriel Lorca contributed to the development of the system and had to sacrifice his previous crew to protect its secret, so he knows more about it  than anyone  else here.”Well, actually, Admiral Cornwell, you were the one designing it in my universe, and I killed you to stop the program.

Daedelus was an advanced program designed to collect data from our ships and enhance our strategic abilities.”That was true in both universes, and stupidly dangerous. You just don’t rely on a fucking program. Data was a tool, not a weapon.

Cornwell looked down for a second before continuing. “The program evolved out of our control. However, thanks to Captain Lorca’s expertise, we’re working on a counter-program to isolate and destroy Daedelus.”

She spoke quickly, a bitter scowl on her lips. Fair enough. He had used her, over and over: in her place it would kill him, too to admit that he might  be right or useful.

Then again, with the exception of Georgiou, people who used him never lived long enough to prove either of those things. The very idea of forgiveness  was still so foreign to him.

Michael stepped in. “But if we want to do that, we first need to save the peace between the Federation and the Klingons. We cannot wage war on two fronts.  Then, while we deal with our own problems, you will be able to finally assert your authority on your people, Chancellor. Stability on both sides is the only way to ensure a lasting peace.”

“I believe Captain Lorca has a plan?” Sarek turned to Lorca.

“Either Georgiou’s already dead and what’s left of her is nothing but a pawn in Control’s hands, so to speak, or she’s still alive and she might be convinced to jump ship… or stop whatever she’s plotting against the peace talks.”

“Then I’ll lead an away team with Saru to the station.”

Lorca turned around to glare at Michael. What was up with this woman and her foolish taste for away missions? She glared back.

He caved.

For a second, Lorca almost believed that he saw a smile on Saru’s usually inexpressive face. How did Rhys call it, thinking he couldn’t hear them snickering on the bridge? The glaring death match?

Immediate concern chased away the nostalgia, though.

Sure, he knew that his former First Officer would do anything to keep Michael safe. Besides, it now turned out that a Kelpian, at least a mature one, was a perfect bodyguard… Still, Lorca would have prefered to be by her side while she confronted Georgiou again. For the first time since their crash on Kobol, he would have to entrust Michael’s safety to another person, and it didn’t sit well with him.

Unfortunately, unlike Discovery, Lorca couldn’t teleport from one place to another, and he had his own mission to complete. 

“Meanwhile, Captain Lorca and Discovery will make sure to contain both the Federation and Klingon fleets. We have to expect that Daedelus will manipulate some of our ships into breaking the ceasefire in order to spark another war and destroy any new attempt at negotiation. I believe he has the perfect strategy for this kind of situation. And the perfect ship.”

Sarek was staring at him, again.

“And what kind of strategy would that be?” Cornwell’s reluctance was obvious. He couldn’t blame her.

Lorca leant back in his chair. 

“Bajor 2249. Civil war on the planet. I fought both sides until they had to accept my conditions for peace. With Stamets’ spore drive, should be a walk in the park.”