Pilgrimage

by J.A. Toner, aka "Jamelia"


Usually, Odo would have been the first to notice. Had Doctor Julian Bashir not been on Bajor helping medical authorities search for a cure for a virus that threatened the southern hemisphere, the young doctor might well have beaten Jake to the punch. As it was, Jake was the first to bring her to his father's attention. Once Benjamin Sisko actually saw her, he understood his son Jake's fascination with her.

"Dad, have you seen that Vulcan woman? The one that's been floating around the Promenade for the last few days?" At his father's negative response, Jake went on, "She must be one of the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I was hoping you knew who she was. No one I've asked seems to know."

Challenged, Captain Sisko made it his business to find out.

When he observed her from the upper level of the Promenade the next morning, Sisko was almost as intrigued by her as Jake had been. As the tall, slender figure glided tranquilly down the Promenade's lower level, her swirling deep purple robes seemed to ward off the crowds that hurried by her. If one was to mix the serene detachment of the quintessential Vulcan with the elegant beauty of Nefertiti, the result might be the bronze-skinned woman below him.

As he watched her pass, the captain became aware of another being standing at his elbow. "Who is she, Odo?"

"She is called Doctor T'Pel, a scientist from Vulcan, visiting Deep Space Nine to do 'research' according to the passenger manifest from her arrival. I have no idea what kind of research, as she does not seem to have availed herself of any facilities here I would presume one would wish to use for research purposes. Given the current threats to the station from the Cardassians and the Dominion, this does not seem to be a very good time to visit here for such an activity."

The captain faced his chief of security and resident professional skeptic. "It might also be difficult to do some kinds of research if the station were to be overrun by the Dominion. It would be logical to try to complete it before that happens."

"Logical. Yes, of course." Odo's raspy voice drew out the syllables, making it clear that he himself did not find that argument compelling.

"You have not had an opportunity to speak with her, then?"

"No, one of my assistants happened to greet her transport vessel. And she hasn't done anything to warrant my approaching her since."

That was to change by the end of the day.

"Excuse me, Doctor T'Pel, is it? This particular pylon is reserved for Starfleet and Bajoran Security Force vessels. Entry is restricted to authorized personnel only."

"It is I that must be excused then, Constable Odo. Please accept my apologies for disregarding your rules."

Odo had always found Vulcans to be a quite inscrutable people. Their faces, by and large, were difficult for him to read, despite their strongly defined features - much the way that his own partially completed visage was for many a humanoid. He could not shake the feeling, however, that the woman did not truly wish to apologize. While her words begged pardon, her dark eyes were scanning the organic curves of the corridor leading to the turbolift that serviced Pylon One's topmost docking port. Odo got the impression that she was memorizing each and every detail, intending to study them in her mind's eye later, for some unknowable purpose.

After shooing Doctor T'Pel away in his most pleasant manner, Odo accompanied her out of the area silently. Vulcans were not much for small talk, he knew.

When they arrived at the Promenade, Odo's concerns were alleviated by the doctor's exceedingly courteous manner as they parted company. The woman walked placidly toward the line of shops considerably dwindled in number due to the ever increasing threat of a Cardassian/Dominion invasion. Turning into Quark's to uncover the latest challenge to his authority the Ferengi had instituted, Odo was confident that the matter of the Vulcan woman had been quite satisfactorily resolved.

"My security chief said that he had to remove you from a restricted area twice today. Why?" Sisko viewed the beautiful but implacable face before him. Her eyes met his unflinchingly.

"I wished to visit Docking Port Six on that pylon, Captain."

Sisko picked up his baseball and began to finger it. He had served enough time with Vulcans in various Starfleet postings to know that if he did not phrase everything perfectly, this Doctor T'Pel would find a completely logical way to omit the answer that he needed to elicit from her.

"You were told that that area is restricted to Starfleet and Bajoran security?"

"Yes, Captain. Your Constable Odo was good enough to warn me." Hardly a blink from her.

"Constable Odo has not mentioned your connection to Starfleet, and I find it quite difficult to believe you are a member of any of the security forces on Bajor."

"I do have a connection to Starfleet, Captain. My husband is a Starfleet officer."

Her obsidian eyes still looked in his direction, but now they lost their focus. Sisko could tell she no longer saw him.

"I fail to see why that gives you permission to go into an area you are not authorized to enter." Or why she wanted to go into a currently deserted area at all, of course, but he controlled his impatience. Proceeding logically and carefully was the best, the only, course to follow.

She returned from the place to which she had momentarily traveled to again focus her eyes upon Sisko. "My husband is Lieutenant Tuvok. Of the starship Voyager."

"I see." Sisko stood up and walked over to look out the circular window in his office, still rolling the baseball in his hands. "My condolences for your loss." He clenched the ball suddenly as he felt a remembered stab of pain wash over him. How many times had these same words been said to him after he had lost Jennifer? How little did they mean to him then? Even now, really? Empty words ultimately, socially correct, but unable to cushion the blow felt at losing a spouse, or anyone else close, for that matter.

Many would say that uttering such customary, impersonal words to his visitor would not even matter. Vulcans had no feelings to upset. He knew otherwise.

"I thank you, Captain, as I recognize your intent is to comfort me. I do not, however, have any need to be comforted. You see, I am quite certain that my husband is still alive. I am trying to find out if that is so, or if, as my children have told me, I am merely being . . . emotional . . . about my loss."

The captain turned toward his visitor and looked upon her with astonishment. "Your own children said that to you?"

Doctor T'Pel achieved eye contact with the captain again. The loosening of tension around the eyes and the smoothing of the brow which the astute observer would recognize as a Vulcan's appreciation of a humorous statement appeared. "I see you have had experience with those of my race, Captain. 'Emotional, or quite insane,' as my eldest son put it. I did my best to maintain my equilibrium in the face of this statement, but I confess that it was . . . disruptive . . . to my concentration."

"I imagine it would be." Captain Sisko, not being forced by cultural imperatives to maintain a poker face, grinned broadly. The grin faded, however, as he realized that there was little he could do for this woman to change her son's opinion, given the facts concerning Voyager's disappearance.

The widow leaned forward in her chair as she continued, "It became clear that the only way to remove skepticism from the minds of my children and colleagues was to find out what I could about Tuvok's mission. I traveled to Starfleet Headquarters on Earth, but apart from what I had already learned from newsnet reports, nothing was shared with me. The single fact of significance is that Voyager's final port of call was Deep Space Nine. I have come here, Captain Sisko, to find out if there is anyone who knows some small thing which has been previously overlooked but which may be important - something which may give me a clue as to what actually occurred to Voyager."

"Doctor T'Pel, you must appreciate that we were hip-deep in Starfleet investigators when Voyager first disappeared. I very much doubt you will be able to find out anything more at this late date." He did not bother to add that if Admiral Owen Paris had been unable to find out anything about his wastrel son during his frantic visit two months after the disappearance, there was undoubtedly nothing to find three years later. Benjamin Sisko did not like to speak ill of the dead, however, even of such a man as Thomas Paris.

"I would like permission to try, Captain."

The commandant of Deep Space Nine thoughtfully appraised his visitor as he seated himself again at his desk, returning the baseball to rest in its holder. "I would be inclined to give that permission, as long as my conditions are met."

"Please state the conditions, so that I may decide if I can meet them."

Even for a Vulcan, this was a cool customer. "There is only one, really. If you desire to enter a restricted area again, you are to request clearance from Odo or myself so that we may assign an escort. I don't want to set the precedent that any relative of a missing Starfleet officer may wander anywhere around my station unsupervised."

"A perfectly reasonable condition, Captain; I accept."

There was something in her reply that told Sisko he may have been maneuvered into providing her with exactly what she had wanted all along. Since it was so delicately done, he chose to ignore it, saying only, "I'm glad we've come to this understanding."

"Captain, would it be possible to ask a favor of you?"

"Yes?"

"May I have that escort now? I wish to visit Docking Port Six on Upper Pylon One."

She was persistent, he would grant her that.

Cadet Nog was only too glad to be assigned the pleasant duty of squiring the beautiful female around the station. Before they had even left Ops, Jake Sisko just happened to drop by to speak to his father about their dinner plans for that evening. Young Mr. Sisko was invited along for the tour of Docking Port Six on Upper Pylon One and allowed himself to be convinced to go.

After the tourist and her entourage had filed out of his office, Sisko tried to figure out exactly how Nog had managed to signal Jake from right under Sisko's nose without him being able to catch wind of it. Of course, the two friends had had lots of practice with such machinations over the years.

The captain had more important things to do at the moment. Giving himself a mental shake, he called Voyager's crew manifest onto his computer screen.

It was strange, but Sisko did not recall meeting Lieutenant Tuvok at the dinner he had given for the bridge officers of Voyager during their call at the station. He had met Captain Kathryn Janeway before, shortly after she assumed her first command, when Sisko was executive officer of the Saratoga. She had impressed him then as an officer who would definitely be going places. The others he had never met previously, but their images refreshed his memory: Lieutenant Commander Cavit, Doctor Fitzgerald, Lieutenant Stadi, Ensign Kim. Perhaps Lieutenant Tuvok had been holding down the fort on Voyager that evening. Now that he thought about it, though, Sisko was sure that he had seen the Vulcan officer somewhere, but the memory was elusive. It would be more likely to come to him if he did not dwell upon the subject.

Switching to the Starfleet Intelligence file of those lost on the Maquis ship, Sisko found, unsurprisingly, that there was much less information available. Only four images of Maquis personnel were available: their leader Chakotay, an ex-Starfleet Lieutenant Commander; ex-Starfleet Lieutenant j.g. Michael Ayala; Starfleet Academy Engineering-track dropout B'Elanna Torres; and a Betazed native named Lon Suder who once had been arrested on suspicion of murder on Quedria III. He had fled while free on bail. Sisko noted that the Quedrian warrant for Suder's arrest was still active.

After reviewing what was available on the Maquis, Sisko called up the file of the "observer," paroled convict Thomas E. Paris, the admiral's son. Sisko was nonplused by Paris' service record. The young man had a reputation as a drunk, a gambler, and a Maquis traitor, yet up until the Caldik Prime incident, his record had been excellent, in fact, close to exemplary. As he read about the court martial and viewed the image of the fresh-faced young officer who had been forced out of Starfleet in disgrace, Sisko wondered uneasily if being an admiral's son had caused young Paris to be treated more harshly than another might have been in a similar situation.

It was all such a waste, not just Paris, but all of them, Voyager and Maquis crews alike, lost so needlessly in the Badlands.

The captain understood how difficult it must be for those who were left behind when people just disappeared like that. He had been emotionally paralyzed for years after losing Jennifer, and he had seen her lying dead, pinned beneath the wreckage of their quarters in the Saratoga. For your loved one to simply not be there any more, no wreckage, no confirmation of the loss available - Sisko could see how one could remain in denial for many years, perhaps even a lifetime.

Feeling that he had spent enough time with such depressing thoughts, Deep Space Nine's commander switched off the screen and turned to some other pressing duties. A report to Starfleet Headquarters was due, outlining the status of the improvements being made in the weapons array in the face of imminent invasion. An even more cheerful subject, he thought sardonically, but one that had to be done.

"Dad, do you know how old Doctor T'Pel is?"

"Couldn't even guess. Somewhere between 50 and 150? I know she has a son old enough to call her crazy."

"Dad!" Jake shook his head, laughing, as he helped his father clean up after their excellent bouillabaisse dinner. Father and son had prepared the meal from Ben's father's recipe, a featured item on the menu of his New Orleans restaurant. They had not had the opportunity for enough of these family dinners lately. It had become a rare treat for them to be together in the evening.

"I take it that you enjoyed your visit with her, then?"

"There's a story there, Dad, I know it. A fiction piece, if not a news story. She is convinced that Tuvok is still alive. She says she 'senses' it. I guess she can't admit that she 'feels' it, right?" At the sight of his father's eyebrow, raised in the Vulcan manner, Jake smiled. "Did you know her husband served with Captain Sulu on the Exselsior?"

The other eyebrow raised in surprise. "No, I didn't. I knew he had been an instructor at Starfleet Academy, but I never met the man when I was there. At least, I don't believe I have. He does look familiar from the picture of him that I saw today." Sisko's memory tickled him again. There was something about Tuvok that was important. He wished he could recall what it was.

Trying to grapple with his cerebral cortex to give up its zealously guarded secret information about Voyager's chief security and tactical officer, Sisko only half-listened as Jake rambled on concerning the couple's family and about how T'Pel and Tuvok met for the first time on the day they were married. This last was unusual. Obviously they had not been betrothed as children, as was customary, but instead had been brought together by the pon farr and had remained together afterward. Sisko's full attention was again captured when Jake began to speak of Doctor T'Pel's work.

". . . and this new technology is really interesting because it would be invisible to everyone, people could even pass through the equipment without any problem at all. . ."

"Jake, what did you say Doctor T'Pel did again?"

"She's a medical researcher. She was hoping to talk to Julian about this new technology she's helping to develop that permits people from light gravity planets to move around without cumbersome equipment. The actual device is in another dimension." Jake looked at his father's face, which suddenly glowed with comprehension. "You've heard of it, Dad?"

"Um, no, Jake I haven't. It's an interesting concept, though, isn't it?"

They chatted on for quite a while afterward. Sisko no longer felt he had to spend much time pondering the question of where he had previously seen Tuvok. Once Jake went to bed, Sisko was free to call up the Voyager personnel files again.

He was right; he had seen that face before. This time, viewing the Vulcan officer's image prompted a more thorough search through Starfleet Intelligence files, some of which required his highest security clearances. The source of the information about Chakotay's Maquis cell became clear. As the file verified, there was quite a story here.

=/\=

She was waiting for him at Quark's, as he had expected. For her to be less than prompt was unthinkable. "Doctor, I'm happy that you could meet me."

As she turned to face him, Sisko was struck again by her ageless beauty. It was impossible to know the exact number of her years by looking at her, although if Tuvok had served with Sulu and she was even close to her husband in age, she had to be one hundred years old or thereabouts. Four children and a granddaughter also bespoke of an age which was not discernable on her features.

They conversed for several minutes with what passed for Vulcan small talk. T'Pel listed the names and occupations of her family and asked about Sisko's own, bobbing her head in silent sympathy when he told of his loss of his wife at Wolf 359. Having heard that Sisko was the Bajoran Emissary, T'Pel inquired about the religious beliefs and political system of Bajor. He answered her as succinctly as he could before steering their talk towards the destination to which he had intended from the beginning.

"Jake was telling me a little about your work, Doctor. It sounds fascinating. We could certainly apply it here on Deep Space Nine to accommodate some visitors who cannot currently set foot on the station without some very bulky equipment."

Vulcans were resistant to flattery, but they were not immune. "I believe it would be most helpful to you here, Captain. It could also be utilized by Federation diplomats and Starfleet personnel on worlds with gravity too heavy to be visited without special, protective anti-gravity vehicles. We can establish a moving anti-grav field which supports not only the limbs but the internal structure of the visitor as well, preventing health problems that can occur during a long stay in crushingly heavy gravity relative to that of the visitor's native planet. My colleagues and I have also identified other applications. For example, we can assist the mobility of those who have been injured so severely that permanent limitations result, despite the most advanced medical care."

"The equipment is invisible, according to Jake."

"Not entirely, Captain. There are some bands that are worn under the clothing to support the body and limbs by directing the anti-grav field in the proper way for the limbs to move. The actual generating equipment, however, is out of phase with the rest of our reality. Except for a control panel, which connects the supports with the generator that is shifted out of phase, all is invisible to the eye and imperceptible to the other senses. The original idea was germinated from multi-phasic technology, although something my husband once told me was also an influence. Something which he had learned from Captain Sulu during his time with him: the Mirror Universe."

The Vulcan scientist was looking at him expectantly, hoping for confirmation of the hypothesis that undoubtedly had led her to Deep Space Nine. Disseminating the information she wanted was supposedly forbidden, but this would not be the first time that Ben Sisko had disclosed something "off the record." Besides, strict adherence to the restrictions made little sense for those who already were aware of the Mirror Universe. If she knew many of the details, a lot of exposition would be unnecessary.

"Doctor, would you like to take a short trip in a runabout with me? I promise to be on my best behavior."

"I would expect nothing less from you, Captain," she replied.

As they walked together down the corridor toward the runabout, the tall man with his long, powerful stride provided a cursory overview of his reasons for taking this trip to his companion. Although his legs were much longer than hers despite her queenly height, the Vulcan woman matched him step for step without showing the slightest sign of exertion. He concluded, "This is all highly classified, you realize."

She bowed her head slowly. "I understand, Captain. No one will hear the details from me, I assure you."

"I would expect nothing less of you, Doctor." He smiled at her as he echoed her earlier reply to him. If one could not trust a Vulcan to keep something private, no one could be trusted.

When they arrived at the runabout, Sisko paused briefly to inform Major Kira Nerys, his second in command, of his intention to take a short flight with a guest. Her confusion intensified when he relayed his intended coordinates to her, but her only comment was, "You're sure this is a good time for that, Captain?"

"I feel it is necessary. We won't be gone long."

Only after the Vltava had been cleared for departure and finally was headed towards the coordinates he had named could Ben Sisko relax. Keeping his eyes on the helm console while T'Pel sat stoically next to him, Sisko related the story of his visits to Terok Nor in the Mirror Universe, where a man who was your best friend in this reality might gleefully torture you in that one. He told her of how he had taken the place of that universe's deceased Ben Sisko, a man he would have had little use for if they had met here. After describing a universe in which Bajorans, Cardassians, and Klingons were allies while humans were slaves, Sisko told T'Pel that she might hate the Mirror Universe Tuvok - if the man Sisko saw there were not T'Pel's own Tuvok, a castaway in that other universe along with his friends and foes.

"I only saw him that one time, Doctor. I cannot be sure that it was your husband. He may well have been the Tuvok of the Mirror Universe, as the Ben Sisko I replaced had belonged there. It was after Voyager was lost, however, so it is possible."

"Can we go there now, Captain?" she said, quickly enough for him to read eagerness into her response. Despite all that he had told her, the desire to find Tuvok overrode any other consideration.

"It would not be advisable at any time, and I especially cannot risk it now, Doctor; not with the Alpha Quadrant steeling itself for an invasion from the Dominion."

His companion looked down, exhaling a little more heavily than was usual. Sisko went on, "I promise you, Doctor, once we have returned to the station I will again review all of the personnel files from Voyager and from the Maquis vessel, to see if I can recognize anyone else. From my review yesterday, I must admit, I do not believe that there was anyone else. Even if there were, I have no way of knowing whether or not the person was someone who had lived there his or her entire life. It seems that people are drawn to the same sector of space in both universes, to judge from our experiences."

She had been trained to hide her feelings since early childhood. To look at her now, T'Pel seemed impassive, yet Sisko sensed an emptiness beneath her lack of emotion that was telling. Even a Vulcan needs something to look forward to, even though the word "hope" might not be mentioned.

"Doctor T'Pel, there is one other thing that I will do for you and your husband. When we return to Deep Space Nine, I will make sure that my staff studies the images that we have available of the missing personnel from both vessels. Should contact ever be made again with the Mirror Universe, we will search for your husband and his missing companions from Voyager and the Maquis ship."

"This is quite acceptable, Captain. I realize that you can do no more at this critical juncture." T'Pel caught her breath, a surprising sound coming from her, before changing the subject. "Voyager's mission was to find this Maquis vessel, then?"

"Yes." He saw no need to discuss the other details he had learned about the mission with T'Pel. She would never admit to worrying, but he was sure she would do the equivalent if she knew why Captain Janeway had been so determined upon locating this particular ship.

Much of the remainder of the trip was spent in silence. In passing, Sisko wondered what he would do if they did happen to fall into that Mirror Universe again. What had happened to that dark-skinned Vulcan who looked like Tuvok that he had seen that time? With all that had been happening on that Terok Nor, was he even still alive?

When Sisko announced that they had reached the coordinates where a runabout from Deep Space Nine had once tumbled through a break in the space-time continuum to arrive unexpectedly in the Mirror Universe, T'Pel took to her feet and walked over to the viewport. She pressed her hands against the transparent aluminum surface as if to touch the very fabric of space into which her husband might have fallen.

The Vltava had passed beyond Bajor. Sisko brought the craft about to face the planet, which at this angle from its sun was in a three-quarters full phase. Deep Space Nine had been left far behind them, rendered invisible by distance. From their current vantage point, Bajor was marginally larger than the moon that Sisko remembered rising in the sultry skies of New Orleans when he was a boy. The scars of war, politics, disease, and petty strife could not be detected from here - only the sparkling bluish green globe swirling with white wisps of clouds, hanging suspended against the field of stars which, after five years, had become his stars. Sisko had always loved this view of Bajor. It reminded him of home.

After several minutes during which not a word passed between the passengers on the Vltava, T'Pel broke the silence. "Captain, are we in the Badlands of which you spoke, where the Maquis vessel had supposedly disappeared?" She turned to address him directly. "I had thought somehow that we would be much closer to Cardassian space - or perhaps my awareness of the distance we have traveled suffers from my lack of experience in such matters."

"No, you are correct, Doctor. That is Bajor before us; we are a day's journey at Warp 8 from the Badlands. In good conscience, I could not take you that far, to such a dangerous area of space - for political reasons, as much as for the physical dangers from the spatial turbulence itself. In terms of interstellar distances, it is not at all far from here, however. If the fissure in space-time, or whatever one might wish to call it, is present here, it is not so difficult to believe that one also could exist such a relatively short distance away, especially in a region plagued by violent plasma storms."

Before continuing, Sisko paused. He wished to use great care in putting into words what he wanted to convey to her next. It did not do to tell falsehoods to Vulcans, but it did not seem prudent to reveal everything to her. "Even bringing you here might not be particularly wise of me with the Cardassian and Dominion situation so unsettled, but you seemed to be making a sort of pilgrimage to your husband's last known location. This is as close as I can come at the moment to the anticipated flight path of vessels bound towards the Badlands from Deep Space Nine. You must understand that we are not even certain Captain Janeway and her crew ever actually entered the Badlands. She was some distance from the area when she last reported to Starfleet Headquarters."

"You think it is possible, then, that the crew of Voyager is alive in the Mirror Universe?"

His earlier grim thoughts resurfaced. Standing up to pace the limited open area of the runabout, strong brown hands clasped firmly behind his back, Sisko stated honestly, "It is certainly possible that they arrived in the Mirror Universe. What their situations might be now, three years later, would be difficult to say. Considering the conditions that were present during my last contact, who knows?"

He thought about telling her then but hesitated; before he could continue, her voice filled the gap in his speech as her dark eyes sought his again. "Your refusal to patronize me is most appreciated, Captain. But I know Tuvok is alive."

A half smile appeared on his lips. "How is it that you are so certain?"

She turned away then in the Vulcan equivalent of embarrassment. He recognized it well from serving with Vulcans in various postings. "There is a psychic bond between a wife and husband of my race which transcends that of most other beings. It calls to us over vast distances of space. I can sense this bond even now between Tuvok and myself. In about three years, of course, all doubt will be removed, at a particular time . . ." Her voice faltered. Sisko thought she had been astonishingly forthcoming with all that she had already disclosed to him. She did not need to make any further revelations to him.

"Doctor," he said gently. "From my service with Captain Storil on the Saratoga, I am aware of how the Vulcan mating bond manifests itself. A diversion to Vulcan was once necessary. You do not have to go into any details with me."

T'Pel glanced back at him, a measure of relief detectable that she would be spared the necessity of a long explanation. "Then you understand that distance is no barrier to this bond? I will know that I am truly a widow when the appointed time comes - if there is no answer to my blood's call."

"But between different universes? Are you sure the bond could traverse that great a gulf?"

"If I can still sense the bond now, why not then?" she said simply.

Her confidence was infectious, and Benjamin Sisko grinned at her. "Why not, indeed?"

She moved to the copilot's seat that she had occupied during the trip away from Deep Space Nine and seated herself gracefully. "I believe that I have taken up enough of your time, Captain. I know how busy you must be with defensive measures requiring so much of your attention. My most sincere thanks for having brought me out here, despite all the difficulties that are surely on your mind."

"The problems will still be there when I get back. Getting away can sometimes give one a fresh perspective."

At that moment Sisko did not feel that traveling with a beautiful woman on what he thought of as a sacred journey had been a hardship. By following the path Tuvok had taken and attempting to rescue him, T'Pel had exhibited a devotion to her absent husband that inspired admiration. It was a privilege to have been a part of it.

Even for a Vulcan, T'Pel was subdued during their return flight to the station. Alive or not, the probability of Lieutenant Tuvok's return before the pon farr could not be great, by anyone's measure. Sisko wondered what the effect on her would be if they could not fulfill their mating bond. Male Vulcans, he knew, had been fatally stricken when they could not reach their mates before all reason had been stolen by the pon farr. He did not know whether or not the female could also die, but from what he knew of the intensity of the time of mating, her husband's absence would undoubtedly be painful for her. He respected her privacy, resolving instead to ask Julian about it as soon as the young doctor returned from Bajor.

Thinking of Julian reminded Sisko of her ostensible reason for visiting Deep Space Nine. "How long will you stay on the station, now? Will you have time to consult with Doctor Bashir regarding your work?"

"If he returns before I must leave, I would very much like to consult with him, Captain. I have booked passage home to Vulcan three days from today. My children already find my behavior most eccentric, as you know. A long absence would be inadvisable."

"They might send the men in white jackets after you?"

"Pardon me, Captain? I do not understand the reference."

He laughed. "A saying of my home world based on long outdated ways of dealing with people that were not considered to be behaving in the usual manner. A very poor joke, Doctor T'Pel. Forgive me."

The tolerant look Captain Storil assumed whenever Sisko had joked with the senior staff on the Saratoga appeared upon her face. Wolf 359 returned to mind. May the good captain's lost katra rest in peace, Sisko thought, as a contemplative look replaced the grin on his face.

As they exited the runabout bay airlock, T'Pel turned to the right, looking out the arm of the crossover bridge toward the pylon she had tried unsuccessfully to visit twice before, and had successfully visited once. "Captain Sisko, I know I am being selfish of your time and attention, but would it be possible for us to go to where Voyager was last docked?" She inhaled deeply before continuing, "It is as you described on our journey. I am on what you might call a pilgrimage to where my husband's feet last walked, as well as researching what happened to him and to his fellow officers and the crew of Voyager. I request permission to visit Docking Port Six on Pylon One, one last time."

The list of Starfleet regulations he would be breaking scrolled through his mind as he listened to her, but he could not continue the pretense. "I will take you to where your husband last walked on Deep Space Nine, Doctor T'Pel, but you must promise me not to tell anyone what I am about to tell you. It is a deeper secret than the Mirror Universe is."

Her right eyebrow raised quizzically, T'Pel dipped her head in acknowledgment before they moved off together toward the turbolift.

=/\=

Later, Jake admitted to his father that he had begged Chief O'Brien and Dax to notify him when the Vltava returned to the station. Their meeting on the turbolift was not exactly an accident. After they all exchanged brief, cordial greetings, Sisko agreed to his son's request to come with Doctor T'Pel and himself - as long as Jake promised never to say anything to anyone of their eventual destination. The promise was readily made.

Instead of entering the turbolift that ascended the pylon, Sisko led the small party of three to the turbolift which serviced the Docking Ring. They moved almost 180 degrees around the ring before exiting near a docking port by one of the cargo bays. T'Pel looked around her, obviously confused by their arrival at what was decidedly not a location where the newest and best of Starfleet vessels would be berthed.

A few whispered words to Jake stayed him from following his father any further, but the young man watched as Sisko barely grazed the arm of their Vulcan guest to direct her into the docking port's dingy airlock. It was devoid of any but non-microscopic life forms and smelled of machinery oils and the variously scented sweats of the many races that had passed through the portal.

The captain bent low, speaking in a low-pitched voice so that Jake could not hear. "You wanted to come to where your husband last walked, Doctor T'Pel. I will deny that I ever told you what I am going to tell you now, and I will never repeat it, so listen carefully. Your husband was not on Deep Space Nine at the time that Voyager departed upon its last journey. He was on the station seven weeks previously, in the guise of a Vulcan who sympathized with the Maquis cause. He was met here by a former Starfleet officer, a native of a Federation colony in the Demilitarized Zone, who piloted a cargo vessel that was berthed here. Although no one could prove it at that time, this ex-Starfleet officer was suspected of being a Maquis terrorist. Your husband's assignment was to infiltrate the cargo vessel's crew to ascertain if the pilot and his companions were Maquis, and, if so, help bring the renegades to justice."

Before Sisko's speech was half ended, understanding bloomed on T'Pel's face. "Then my husband boarded the cargo ship from this docking bay?"

"Yes." He might as well tell her the rest - or at least, most of the rest. She did not need to know that Tuvok had failed to report to the Captain just before Voyager's disappearance. After all, she was sure her husband was alive, and it was not his place to put her certainty in doubt. "Voyager's missions were to apprehend the Maquis vessel, impound the ship, and retrieve your husband. No sign of either vessel has ever been found: no scrap of debris, no resonance traces from a warp core breach. For both ships to disappear so completely is highly unusual - probably impossible, although Starfleet has officially declared both ships as lost.

"So, if you wish to walk in the steps of your husband, his last known steps in this quadrant had to have been taken here." Sisko stepped away from the portal.

Her dark blue robes fluttering around her, the Vulcan woman slowly ascended the two steps to the open airlock doorway. T'Pel's hands lightly touched the edges of the portal, moving across the bare metal slowly, carefully. When she was fully inside, she folded her hands in front of her reverently as she slowly pivoted around her, intently studying each crevasse and support strut, committing them to her memory. Then T'Pel began to pace from one end of the airlock to the other, hand held out to graze each rounded strut, as if she meant, somehow, to fit her footsteps into the invisible, undetectable ones left by Tuvok and to put her hand where his might have rested.

It was difficult to watch her. The expression on her face was not one that was typical of the Vulcans he had known, yet Sisko could not identify any particular emotion that was present, only intense concentration. It was almost as if T'Pel were trying to telepathically sense the places where her husband might have touched, to communicate with him in some mysterious way.

Perhaps she could. Despite their long association with other races and their position as co-founders of the Federation, Vulcans kept much from outsiders. Sisko was aware of many a xenoanthropologist who had tried but failed to confirm a treasured hypothesis concerning some aspect of Vulcan culture. The citizens of that world preferred to preserve their uniqueness, not have it paraded across the quadrant for any curiosity seeker to examine.

If T'Pel was right about Tuvok - if her husband were alive unimaginably far from here - did that mean that Janeway and Cavit, Stadi and Kim, Chakotay and the half-Klingon engineer were alive, too? Was the Betazoid fugitive still fleeing justice? And the admiral's son with a knack for making the Big Mistake but with so much potential - could he be out there somewhere making good on a second chance?

The Maquis vessel might have been in a better position to survive in the Mirror Universe, yet Sisko found himself hoping that the Starfleet vessel, alone amongst so many enemies, had found a way to live on, too.

He had not even considered the possibility before, but as he had told T'Pel, it was unheard of for one vessel, let alone two, to vanish so completely. Sisko had accepted Starfleet's verdict that both ships had been lost forever; now, he realized, he did not. Should Voyager come flying out of a rift in space someday, returning home after years of adventure, Ben Sisko would not be astonished. If - and it was a very big IF - they could survive that Mirror Universe, or wherever else they may have found themselves.

Time stretched on. Captain Sisko became acutely conscious of the fact that his desk by this time must be fairly groaning with the weight of the data padds awaiting his perusal. He briefly considered leaving his guest to her meditations in the docking port and having Jake bring her back to her quarters, but then he put the thought aside. At the moment, Doctor T'Pel appeared to require his presence far more than inanimate data padds that would be there for him whenever he chose to attend to them. Ben Sisko would wait until T'Pel had finished taking her steps towards peacefully accepting whatever fate had decreed for her husband and for herself.

From where his father had directed him to stand near the turbolift door, Jake watched his father patiently waiting for Doctor T'Pel to finish whatever it was she was doing in the docking port airlock. As every minute passed, Jake became more and more convinced that there was a story here. He could just smell it.

Now, if he could only figure out what the heck it was.

Fini

General Disclaimer: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and all of its characters are the property of Paramount, Inc., and Viacom. I'm not getting a dime for it, and never will, since it was not a winner in the first "Strange New Worlds contest" sponsored by Pocket Books. That's why I wrote it. Of course, I like the story, so I'm glad I wrote it, even though it didn't win anything.