DISCLAIMER: It's Paramount's galaxy.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: C/7. AU where members of the Voyager crew are living new lives with different identities. How they got there will eventually be revealed.

I thought I'd give another AU story a go. Will be about the same length as the others, but will probably take me longer to finish.



Stardate unknown

Annie was washing dishes in the tin basin next to the sink. She handled each item gingerly, being careful not to break it with her metal fingertips. Her blonde hair was tied back in a bun, as it usually was, with a few stray strands hanging out on the sides. She placed the plate she had just rinsed into the drying rack and tucked some of the errant hair behind her ear. Before moving on to the next plate she peered out the window above the sink that looked onto the main street of the town. It was another sunny day with a few puffy white clouds off towards the mountains in the east in a wide blue sky. Her vantage point offered a good view of the entire street and the dry riverbed out past the edge of town to the south.

"It's too early yet," her younger sister said with a slight scoff. Mary was sitting at the kitchen table mending a shirt. Many of their clothes needed mending, and Mary had become quite adept at it, not only with their own clothes but those of the others in the town as well to make extra money. She was a polar opposite to Annie in many ways. Raven black hair that she let fall to her shoulders and much more outgoing and gregarious than Annie. She also had a sense about people, an ability to somehow know how they were feeling or thinking that Annie lacked completely. It was hard to believe the two were really sisters.

"What do you mean?" Annie replied, returning to her work.

"He won't be round for another half hour, most likely," Mary replied not looking up.

Annie hesitated before continuing to scrub the final dish. "Do you mean the sheriff?" she inquired innocently.

Mary sighed and then smiled up at her older sister. "Of course I mean the sheriff," she replied. "Who else would I be talking about? It's not like you have more than one beau coming round to see you. And he's been coming round most every day for the past month. Ever since the ... well, you know, that day. More often now since you've finally shown some interest in him and not just talking about the stars or some such."

Annie paused and frowned only a little. "It was the day after that day," she said, feeling compelled to correct the inaccuracy.

"Whatever," Mary replied exasperated.

Annie continued working and reflected on the sheriff's attention towards her. Why he had chosen to start courting her was a mystery. Most of the men in town were leery of her, seeing that she was physically stronger than all of them. She had proved that clear enough on that day. She looked again at her metal hand and shook her head. It, and the other things, made her unique and different, both a blessing and a curse. She knew Mary fancied the sheriff as well. Many of the women in town did, she suspected. She had even heard rumors that the sheriff and the town's mayor, a woman more accomplished than her, were secretly interested in each other, but that clearly wasn't the case. For whatever reason, the sheriff had chosen her on which to shower his affections. She paused again in her work. "He is persistent, I give him that," she finally mused. "And I do enjoy his company."

Mary laughed. "You think?"

"Well, what about the preacher," Annie countered putting one of the cups in the drying rack. "I think he's taken a fancy to you."

Mary shrugged. "Yeah, I think you're right. He's okay I guess," she replied, noncommittal. She slowed down her sewing and pondered a bit more. "The strangest preacher you'd ever want to know I would venture," she added. "When he's reading the Bible, it almost seems as if he's reading it for the first time."

"I think his sermons are very insightful," Annie countered. She liked the preacher. He and the sheriff were close. Although Chris and Michael had supposedly only met shortly before arriving into Santa Lucia, it seemed as if they had known each other for years. In a strange way, the same was true for her and the sheriff. There was a connection and familiarity that couldn't readily be explained for knowing him for just over a month.

"I suppose," Mary replied dubiously, interrupting Annie's thoughts. "At least all his sermons are short. I get the feeling he doesn't like talkin' much." Now Mary stopped her work and frowned. "It's a strange town we've ended up in," she mused. "It's like no one seems to belong here."

"What do you mean?"

Mary hesitated, as if trying to remember something that was just out of reach. "I don't know, just a feeling."

Annie had learned to trust Mary's feelings. Her own were more confusing. "Do you remember when I questioned whether we were really sisters?"

Now Mary smiled. "Oh, we're sisters all right. I remember that feeling you had. You were talking gibberish about having Doc draw our blood and doing some sort of test. What was that all about?"

"I just had a thought that something in our blood would provide the answer," Annie replied. She still had the same thought. "I'm not quite sure what."

"Well, I'm not letting Doc anywhere near me," Mary said firmly. "Michael might be an unconventional preacher, but at least he seems to know something about what he's doing. I don't know where Doc got his training and I'd like to take a close look at that certificate on his wall and make sure it's not forged." She then narrowed her eyes a bit. "Are you not happy about me being your sister?"

Annie shook her head slowly. "That's not it at all," she said, and then hesitated. How to explain another one of her confusing feelings? "I know it's strange to say, but I just don't feel I deserve you."

Mary waved her hand as if dismissing the thought.

"Just sometimes I get these thoughts that I've done something terribly wrong in the past," Annie continued. "Something I'll never be able to reconcile. Something dreadful."

Mary paused and grew thoughtful. "I've known you my entire life Annie," she finally said. "I think we're all getting over what happened here a month ago. All in our own way." She then turned more serious and added, "It was traumatic, and I'm not sure what I'd do without you here with me."

"Nor I Mary," Annie replied and shook her head to expel the rest of her recent thoughts. She then finished washing the last cup from midday meal and dumped the water from the basin into the sink. She wiped her hands dry on her apron and then took it off and hung it on a hook near the door.

Annie and Mary lived in the small house together. They had inherited the house after their parents had died from influenza two years before and along with it the mining claim just outside of town. They still shared one of the two bedrooms with the two beds nearly taking up the entire room and the privy just outside the back door. Neither had been willing to move into their parents' bedroom just yet. The kitchen was separated from the main living area by an interior wall with no doors. It was more than adequate for the two of them, and about standard for the other forty or so inhabitants of their small frontier town of Santa Lucia. As Annie was heading towards the bedroom, there was a knock at the front door.

"Hello Annie," a deep male voice called from the front porch. "It's me, Chris."

Annie glanced at Mary, one of her eyebrows raised and a bit of amusement in her eyes. "Coming," she called out and revectored her walk towards the front door.

"So he's early today," Mary shrugged and continued with her work.

Annie got to the door and opened it. Outside on the porch was the sheriff wearing a wide grin. He had a darker complexion than most in the town with black hair with a hint of gray and a strong square jaw. Above his left eye was a claw-like tattoo, which reminded Annie of the strange metal device above her own. He had removed his hat and was holding it in his hands. "Afternoon Annie, you look beautiful today."

Annie was never quite sure how to respond to his compliments. Fortunately, Mary saved her. "Sheriff, you're always telling her that. Can't you think of something else to say?"

"Oh, your sister and I talk about all sorts of things Mary," Chris retorted with a slight bow towards her. "It doesn't make your sister being beautiful any less true." He then turned back to Annie. "I was hoping you'd come for a walk with me down by the arroyo." He gestured over his shoulder. It was one of their usual places to go.

"Of course Chris," Mary replied in a sing-song voice attempting to sound like her sister before Annie could respond.

Annie shot Mary a half annoyed look and then turned back to face the sheriff. "Of course Chris," she said, and then as an afterthought and to be slightly different from what Mary had said added, "I'd love to." She turned to Mary. "I'll be back in a few hours," she said and stepped out onto the front porch and closed the door not waiting for Mary's reply.

Chris placed his hat back on and they walked side by side down the main street towards the arroyo south of town. The land was dry and mostly deserted, stretching out to the horizon. The whole area was in a drought and it hadn't rained in the past month. "How's your experiment going?" Chris asked after a short time. He seemed a little distracted and Annie picked up on it right away.

"I haven't made any measurements this past week," Annie replied. "I haven't seen the pattern I was expecting so thought I'd let some time pass. I'm planning to go tomorrow morning before Sunday services and take a new measurement."

"You should have become a teacher, or a.. ah, scientist," Chris remarked. "You know a lot more than I do."

"Nonsense," she replied. It was true she did know about a variety of things, geology, astronomy, physics, but so did Chris. She couldn't quite remember where she learned any of it, though, she just knew. "Not many schools out here in the territory," she said after a time. "I'd have to go back east for that."

Chris nodded and then sighed. He definitely was out of sorts. "What's wrong Chris?"

Chris frowned. "Well, I…" he started, but then shook his head and started over. "I didn't want to spoil our evening, but I guess you'll find out tomorrow at the town meeting after services. Remember I was talking to you about the well?"

Annie nodded.

"It's drying up," he said soberly.

"How's that possible? We made measurements just last week."

Chris shrugged helplessly. "I can't make any sense of it, but there's no doubt about it now. The Mayor estimates we now have about a week. Same with our supplies. We're running out."

"I shouldn't have washed the dishes after lunch," Annie reflected. Her conversations with Chris on their walks had sometimes concerned their dwindling supplies. They had had no luck in capturing any of the wildlife in the area as supplement food. With the water now in jeopardy, the town was in a terrible predicament.

"Anyway," Chris continued, "the Mayor figures we can stretch it out to a couple weeks, maybe a bit more, but there's now talk about perhaps abandoning Santa Lucia and heading back east towards one of the bigger towns."

"But Santa Lucia is our home," Annie protested.

Chris sighed again. "I know. Like I said, the Mayor is going to talk about it all tomorrow at the meeting. Put it to a vote. I think she's gonna recommend we pick up and move out as a group, as soon as this Monday or Tuesday. I think most folks are going to agree."

Now Annie frowned. "Most always do seem to agree with her," she mused. "How are you going to vote?"

"I don't know. Most of the time, I do agree with her," Chris replied. They had reached the arroyo and were walking down the center of the dry riverbed. At a bend in the river's path, there was a large cottonwood and Chris paused in its shade. "I'm kinda happy here. I feel settled. Something I don't think I've ever felt before in my life." He stepped forward just a bit to be closer to Annie. "With the news of the water situation, it's got me thinking. Like a switch turned in my head." He cleared his throat. "There's something I've been wanting to ask you," he added tentatively. He seemed more nervous now, and Annie thought that perhaps she misinterpreted why he seemed so out of sorts before. The news about their supplies and water was bad, but there was obviously something different on his mind. He withdrew something from his pocket, hesitated for just a moment, and then got down on one knee.

"What are you doing?" Annie said, becoming alarmed as his intent became clear.

"Annie," Chris replied. "I know we've only known each other a short time. But when I'm with you I feel like we've known each other much longer. From this point forward, I don't want to ever be apart from you."

Annie caught sight of what Chris had in his hand and her eyes widened. It was a ring. "Chris, is this the right time to be discussing this?"

"Better now than later," Chris retorted. "We don't know what's going to happen. In two weeks' time, we might have no water and no food, whether we stay here in Santa Lucia or strike out back east. The only certainty I know is that I love you and want you to be my wife if you'll have me."

"But now? Is this the right time to get married?" Annie repeated.

"The right time?" Chris shot back and looked about. He then returned his gaze to Annie's. "Perhaps I should have asked you a week ago. A month ago. There's no sense in waiting if you feel the same way as I feel about you." He reached up his hand to show her the ring. It was a simple band with no jewel. In all likelihood he had made it himself. "Please Annie. Please say yes and make me the happiest man on earth."