"Failure or success seem to have been allotted to men by their stars. But they retain the power of wriggling, of fighting with their star or against it, and in the whole universe the only really interesting movement is this wriggle."
- E.M. Forster, Our Diversions, 1936
On the Wings of a Butterfly
Augur dropped into his shuttle seat with a scowl. "You had to destroy it, didn't you? Do you know what the Resistance could have done with that little gadget?"
"Or how much money you could have made off of it?" said Liam, fastening the restraints of the pilot's seat.
"I have to recoup my expenses somehow," replied Augur. "It's not like you pay me for my work."
"You said it yourself—blowing up the reducer was the only way to prevent it from destroying half of Detroit." Liam slid a hand along the controls, launching the shuttle into the sky. "At least we have some idea of what they were trying to do there, and we'll know what to look for if they try it again." He paused to make an adjustment to the controls. "We're entering ID space now."
"We'd know more if you'd given me a few minutes with it," grumbled Augur. "I would have figured it out."
"Accept it," said Liam lightly. "It wasn't your destiny, Augur."
"Destiny," said the other man darkly, "is a term used by people who are too afraid to reach out and shape their own fates. I don't believe in destiny."
"Really?" said Liam, swiveling his head to look at his passenger.
"Absolutely. This is a universe of chance and willpower, Liam. We are whatever we want to be."
"You don't think that sometimes an individual can be created with certain…intentions?"
"Created by who? Their parents? Sure, every parent has dreams for their kid. Doesn't mean the kid has to play along. Why? Do you think…" Augur gasped as the shuttle began to rock violently, throwing him against the restraints. "Whoa, what was that?"
"I don't know," said Liam, fingers dancing desperately over a holographic panel. "Some sort of disturbance in the ID slipstream. I'm trying to compensate." He slid one hand upwards, trying to bring the shuttle under control. The rocking gradually slowed and then stopped.
"This feels suspiciously like that time we took a little side trip courtesy of Jonathan Doors."
"I don't think Doors is responsible for this," said Liam. "Could the reducer somehow have affected the shuttle?"
"I don't know," said Augur. "I didn't get much of a chance to study the thing. Maybe the energy from its destruction interacted with the shuttle's ID drive. You don't think we're going to end up back in Maiya's dimension?"
"Well, there's only one way to find out. Exiting ID space now."
As the shuttle made the transition to normal space, Liam and Augur found themselves over the familiar D.C. landscape, the late afternoon sun giving the city a warm golden glow.
"Looks good," said Augur. "No wilderness, no armed brigades…just home sweet home."
"Great," said Liam. "I'll drop you off, then I have to get the shuttle back to the embassy." He frowned as he looked down at the controls. "I think that little trip may have done some damage." The craft lurched as he set it down, despite his attempt at a gentle landing.
"I'm sure it's nothing serious," said Augur, climbing out of the shuttle. He stretched and looked around with a wide smile. The smile slowly faded as he caught sight of the church. "Uh, Liam? I think we might have a problem."
* * *
Liam contemplated the large statue in front of St. Michael's Church and fought the dread slowly twisting in his stomach. The statue was a ten-foot-high, white marble depiction of a Taelon. The Companion wore a beatific expression, with one hand reaching down, as if to elevate those below. It was a beautiful piece of work, if somewhat patronizing for his taste. It was also completely unfamiliar. Looking around, Liam began to see other subtle differences that he hadn't noticed when they first arrived. The area had the right feel, but a few buildings were slightly off, signs were the wrong colour or shape, and a few of the trees were in the wrong places.
"What's going on here, Liam?" asked Augur from behind him. "Did we miss the unveiling ceremony for this thing or something?"
"I don't think so," he replied distractedly. "It doesn't look like Taelon work. Besides, this isn't the only thing that's changed. We'd better go inside and see what's there."
The two men cautiously made their way into the church. Liam noted in relief that the DNA scanner was still located where it was supposed to be. Augur ran his finger along it, and the elevator doors obediently opened.
"That's a good sign," he suggested hopefully, stepping inside.
"Maybe," said Liam doubtfully. He followed Augur into the elevator. It looked like the elevator he was familiar with, but he couldn't shake off a feeling of apprehension. His hand came up to hover near his gun as the elevator eased to a stop and the doors smoothly slid open.
The first thing they noticed was the multiple weapons aimed in their direction. The second was that one of those guns was in the hands of Ronald Sandoval. Liam reacted automatically, reaching for his own weapon, and then stopping almost immediately as something else registered. Instead of firing, he raised his hands. After a moment, Augur slowly followed suit.
"Who are you?" snapped Sandoval. "And how did you get in here?"
Before either could respond, someone else, also armed, stepped forward.
"Augur?" she asked tentatively.
Liam inhaled sharply at the familiar voice, while Augur simply stared, frozen.
"Lili?" said Augur at last. "But…you're dead!"
"So are you," she replied. Her voice trembled a little, but her aim remained steady.
"I'm still waiting for an answer," said another voice.
"Jonathan," said Liam resignedly, turning to face the speaker. He pushed aside his surprise and joy at seeing Lili alive and well. It's an alternate dimension, he reminded himself sternly. She may not be anything like the person you knew. He hoped Augur realized that as well.
"Apparently you know me," said Doors. "I have no idea who you are."
"We can explain this," said Augur, reluctantly pulling his gaze away from Lili.
"This should be interesting," said a calm voice from the other side of the room. Augur spun around.
"You seem surprised to see me, Augur. Am I dead too?" Boone sounded amused.
"Actually, you are," said Augur. "At least in our dimension."
"Your dimension?" asked Sandoval skeptically. "And what dimension is that?"
"A dimension where you're working for the Taelons instead of the Resistance," said Liam.
"Speaking of which, what makes you think he's not working for the Taelons here?" asked Augur.
"No skrill," said Liam succinctly.
"I want to know what's going on," said Doors sharply, looking at Liam. "Who are you?" He turned to Augur. "How are you still alive? And what are the two of you doing in my headquarters?"
Augur and Liam exchanged a look. "This could be a long story," said Augur. "Mind if we put our hands down, maybe come in and sit down?"
"I haven't decided yet if you're going to make out of the elevator," said Doors. They ignored him to the extent of lowering their hands.
"Jonathan," began Lili.
"You stay out of this," he said without looking at her. "This isn't Augur. He's gone, Captain, remember? We watched him die."
"There's dead and then there's dead," said Liam. "You should know that better than anyone, Jonathan. Or did you not fake your own death here?"
"Here as opposed to where?" asked Boone.
"Here as opposed to the alternate dimension that we come from," said Augur. "The one where I'm alive and you and Lili are dead."
"And I work for the Taelons," said Sandoval.
"Right," said Augur.
"Alternate dimensions," said Lili. "What are you talking about?"
"Liam and I made a discovery about a year ago—certain factors can affect a shuttle during ID flight, causing it to go out of control and slip from one dimension to another. The first time we did it, we ended up on a version of Earth completely different from ours or yours. On that world, you were the one working for the Taelons, Lili. Only you weren't Lili there—you were Kayla."
"Kayla?" she repeated disbelievingly.
"It was a completely different world," said Liam. "The culture had developed along different lines. But the people were essentially the same, although they had sometimes chosen different courses."
"And so what happened? You went back to your own dimension, took another trip through ID space, and ended up here?" asked Lili.
"Basically, yes," said Liam.
"Then why don't you just get into your shuttle and go back to your own dimension?" asked Doors.
"The shuttle was damaged on our trip here," said Liam. "We have to repair it before we try returning. If we even can return. The cause of the initial inter-dimensional travel was different from last time. We don't know how that will affect things."
"Is any of this even possible?" Boone asked Lili.
"Well, in theory," said Lili. "We don't completely understand the technology the shuttles are based on, but I suppose if you posit the existence of alternate dimensions, the shuttles might, under the right circumstances, allow you to slide from one to another."
"There you go," said Augur. He took a step forward. "Now can we please come in and discuss this like civilized people?"
"I haven't heard yet who he is," said Doors, looking at Liam. "And I have no way of knowing which side either of you is on in your own dimension. As you said, people can choose different paths."
"Do you really think we would have walked into Liberation headquarters alone if we were working for the Taelons?" asked Liam. "If we were on their side, we would have come down here with a full raiding party."
"Unless you're Taelon spies hoping to establish yourselves in the Resistance," said Sandoval.
"Commander Boone," said Liam, "I notice you still have a skrill. And, I assume, a not-entirely functional CVI to go with it. Have you heard anything about a Taelon plot to insert double agents into the Resistance?"
"No," said Boone pragmatically. "But Da'an doesn't tell me everything and Zo'or tells Da'an even less."
"But you are in charge of security," said Liam logically. "And this would be a security operation." He hoped Boone wouldn't point out the number of times Zo'or had undoubtedly breached the chain of command to implement his own plans. He didn't fancy spending the next couple of days trying to prove that they weren't Taelon spies.
"Look," said Augur impatiently. "All we want to do is get back to our own dimension. If you aren't prepared to help us do that, we'll leave now."
"Why are you in such a hurry?" asked Lili. "You don't want to catch up with your old, dead friends?"
"We've found that spending too much time in an alternate dimension can have a poor effect on one's health," said Augur.
"You aren't leaving until I know whose side you're on," said Doors. "Who's he?"
"This is Liam…" Augur faltered as he looked over at Boone.
"The name I normally use is Major Liam Kincaid," said Liam calmly. "But as Commander Boone undoubtedly realizes, that's not who I really am. My real name is Liam, however, and I have permission from the real Liam Kincaid to use his name."
"Why are you using Kincaid's name?" asked Boone.
"Because my own would draw too many questions," replied Liam. "And because I needed Kincaid's military record—and his ties to you—in order to achieve my goal."
"Which was?" demanded Doors.
"To become a Companion protector, of course," said Liam with a lopsided smile. He nodded towards Boone. "I'm your replacement, Commander."
"You're Da'an's protector?"
Boone studied him carefully. "You don't seem to have a skrill, Major."
"No," agreed Liam. "And I don't have a CVI either."
"How did you manage that?" asked Sandoval suspiciously.
"Da'an had begun to question the value and necessity of CVIs by the time I entered his service, so he acceded to my request not to be implanted. And I think that Zo'or believed that he might stand to benefit if Da'an's protector was…less effective than normal. The balance of power was a little unstable at the time."
"And you're a double-agent for the Resistance," said Lili.
Doors looked calculatingly at the two men. "You'll stay here until we've had time to discuss things, and verify your story," he said after a moment. "Don't explore and don't touch anything. If you do anything that's even slightly suspicious, we will kill you. Am I clear?"
"Crystal," said Liam dryly.
"In that case," said Doors with a sardonic smile, "welcome to Liberation Headquarters."