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Summary

Part One

Captain's log, stardate 48979.1. We are nearing Cardassian space, soon to cross into it as per Starfleet's orders. My mission has been kept secret since I left the station. Too risky for subspace, I have been instructed to view a recorded message at 0700 hours. I am, however, aware of two things... I will be paying a visit to the High Council of Cardassia Prime... and that this mission is of priority one status. The rest I can only speculate on. But there is a nagging feeling in the back of my head that this mission has something to do with... Thomas Riker.

Riker finds himself in a cell surrounded by Cardassian guards and scientists. Strapped into a torture chair of sorts, he has lost all track of time since his imprisonment. Sam Veress is the chief scientist, in charge of Riker. Veress has a dislike of Humans, something he doesn't bother hiding from Riker. Veress' colleague Ker Jaana isn't afraid to show his frustration, but his pride keeps insisting that they will break Riker's spirit soon. He also tells Riker that Dr. Duran Nol, a genetics authority, will be arriving the next day, and she will find his secrets.

On board the USS Defiant, Sisko listens to the recorded message. The message states that an informant has told them that the Cardassians are trying to find out the secret of Riker's duplication so that they can create an army of duplicates. The Admiral also informs Sisko that the Federation is willing to cede the planet Delkar Seven in exchange. The planet is currently being used as an observation post, but has an ore that the Cardassians desire, and is right on the border between Federation and Cardassian territory. Just as the message finishes, Sisko is informed that they've arrived in Cardassian space and have been met by two Galor-class starships. Gul Amark of the Kenzha greets Sisko, telling him that he and Gul Dracos of the Serron were to be his escorts.

On Cardassia Prime, Dr. Nol and her assistant Gell Terr were shown to the Hall of Science. In the Hall, she greets Dr. Veress and notes that it is good to be back from Rissa IV, where her studies had been getting monotonous. Veress confirms to her that they are attempting to figure out how Riker was duplicated in order to create the perfect army.

Riker, alone in his cell, reminisces about his time on Nervala IV and wonders whether his theft of the Defiant was foolish, due to its costs. The door opens and one of the guards drags Riker to the laboratory. As he does so, Nol amazes at the wonders they can create and shakes her head watching the guard. In the lab, as Nol asks Veress to leave the room, Riker protests that it was a freak accident, but she will have none of it.

Captain's log, supplemental. We have reached the Cardassian's solar system and have decreased speed. On this journey, I have thought much about the subject of my mission... the man called Thomas Riker. Since my first encounter with him, I've often tried to put myself in his position... tried to imagine what it must be like, not only to have lost eight years of life and career by being stranded alone on an alien world... but to find out that another part of you had lived the life that you were supposed to live. I marvel at the mysteries of this universe.

Sisko asks for a spare combadge, but with its circuitry removed. Amark contacts the Defiant and informs Sisko that he has been asked to escort him to the surface. Sisko tells him to transmit coordinates and that he will transport down in five minutes.

In the lab, Nol discovers that Riker is completely identical to the samples of William Riker they have on file, noting that "even clones aren't this identical." She asks Terr to escort everyone out as she wants to talk with Riker in private. When the room is cleared, she tells Riker that she knows that the reports were true about his creation "less than an Earth decade ago." She points out that his celluar tissue was only nine years old. As such, whether artificially or intentionally, it is still technology that would be a powerful weapon. She also confides in him that it scares her and that she is uncertain whether she can allow her people to have such a weapon...

Part Two

Malibu30

Cover of issue #30, part 2 of the story

On Cardassia Prime, Gell Terr sneaks away from the laboratory door after overhearing Dr. Duran Nol telling Thomas Riker that she is scared of the potential of the weapon that could be created if they could figure out how he was duplicated. Her revelation is something that surprises Riker, making him think to himself "I will return with something I thought not possible here on Cardassia... a sense of compassion." She tells him that she cannot tell her people that he is an identical copy of William Riker because, despite being a copy, he is an individual. This puts her into an awkward position, but she says "I believe there is an old Earth expression... you can't turn lead into gold."

Meanwhile, Captain Sisko thanks the Cardassian High Council for allowing him to speak with them on short notice. While they speak, Dr. Nol goes over the latest tests on Riker with Sem Veress and the other scientists. Just as she begins to speak about him, Gul Amark enters asking how conclusive the tests are to this point because a Federation representative has arrived pleading for Riker's release. Nol tells him that they have nothing new at this point and that she's just begun her tests. Amark tells her that she has all of Veress' prior findings which should put her ahead of schedule and that even if things don't really work that way, the Council expects them to.

That evening, Nol approaches Riker in his cell. She explains the Council's latest requirements and tells him that she needs to know his secret in order to deceive her people. Riker chooses to take the risk because, for some reason, he trusts her. He explains that he was leading an evacuation team from the USS Potemkin. When he went to beam up to the starship, the distortion field on the planet got worse and that the transporter chief compensated with a second transporter beam. The first beam got through, sending William Riker to the ship, but the second beam reflected back, leaving Thomas on the surface. The whole time he was stranded, he was kept sane by the thoughts of the woman he loved.

Amark tells Sisko that his government finds it suspicious that the Federation wants Riker back, as if there were a secret to hide. Sisko tells him that it is because he is a member of the Maquis and how involved his family is in Starfleet, and as such, the Federation has a high profile incident and wants to make an example of him. One of the members of the High Council tells Sisko that Dr. Nol wishes to speak with him and has Kerex, a guard, escort him there. As Sisko leaves, Amark tells the Council member that he finds Sisko believable, but the Council member tells him not to worry as Nol will get the truth from Riker soon enough.

Sisko greets Nol, telling her that her name is mentioned with respect in the Federation. She points out that it is likely because her brother and father were involved in famous skirmishes. She tells him that they merely wish to discover the secret of Riker's creation. Sisko tells her that the details can be found in open Starfleet records, something she tells him that Riker's story confirmed. She tells him about the plans the Cardassians have for an army of duplicates, and that despite the glory and honor, her mother stills goes to bed alone each night. The Council member interrupts over the intercom telling Sisko that they've come to a decision. Sisko thanks Nol for her time and tells her that she'll have his respect.

The Council informs Sisko that they've decided not to allow the return of Riker as they have no interest in Delkar Seven. They tell him that he is welcome to stay as a guest as long as he wishes, but that they will not change their minds. Sisko tells them that he must return to Deep Space 9, but asks to see the prisoner to give him a small gift, which they allow.

Sisko meets with Riker, and Riker begins to apologize for stealing the Defiant, but Sisko stops him. He asks about his "brother", but again Sisko stops him. He gives Riker the combadge, and tells him that the circuitry has been removed, "but it's there to remind you of where you came from... and that maybe, someday, no matter how long your sentence is... you will be back." Riker thanks him, and Sisko heads back to the Defiant.

On board the ship, Amark contacts Sisko from the Kenzha showing surprise at the fact that Sisko did not try to barter with the Council after their first response. Sisko responds that he knew they were not going to give him up and that he got his answer. Amark responds by saying "curious, captain. He must not be what we think he is.". Sisko responds with apparent confusion, but Amark merely wishes him a safe journey home.

Dr. Nol presents her findings to the Council, telling them that what Riker told them contradicts all proven transporter theory and the law of conservation of mass. As such, he was likely displaced from a parallel dimension, suggesting that the testing has no further function. Terr agrees with her findings, and the Council rules that Riker will be sent back to a labor camp and that the Hall of Science would no longer endorse the experiments.

As Nol and Terr leave the hall, she asks him why he supported her findings. He confesses that he overheard her talking with Riker and heard her promise. He also tells her that if she felt "prepared to commit treason, there'd have to be a good reason." She thanks him for what he tells her.

Meanwhile, Riker ponders Sisko's gift as he prepares for another round of tests. Guards enter and tell him that he is being sent back to a labor camp. He thinks to himself "I will finally see the stars outside again. And who knows...? Maybe someday... I'll fly among them again."

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