The Star Eagle Adventures: QD2 - State of Entanglement

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by CeJay, Sep 7, 2019.

  1. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Brrrr. DeMara's doppleganger is as calculating as a Tal Shiar agent. That has to be very disconcerting for her, but it does open up certain... possibilities. Our DeMara needn't go so far to the other end of the spectrum, but she could certainly stand up for herself more often, especially when it comes to her interactions with Michael.
     
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  2. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    20


    Once the runabout had cleared the challenging Moebius Cluster, it didn’t take them long to reach Piqus VII. After their incident with the Outlander vessel, Tazla had feared that another private chat with their Krellonian pilot had been called for, considering how the destruction of the freighter had affected him, to the point that he had immediately left the cockpit afterward.

    Thankfully, Culsten’s absence had only been a short one and he had returned after just a few minutes to retake the helm and no further words were exchanged regarding the episode.

    Tazla couldn’t deny that she felt awful herself for the Outlanders who had lost their lives on that ship or the fact that they had played a significant role in their fate. After all, if that freighter had not detected them, it would not have altered course and thereby come to the attention of the Krellonian border forces.

    Tazla had long since given up on retrospectively pondering hypotheticals, especially when she needed to keep her focus on a mission. Only once it came to an end, successfully or otherwise, did she allow herself to replay every scenario to consider any alternatives which could have led to a better outcome in the end.

    For now, she was too preoccupied with what their sensors were telling her about their destination as the runabout entered the same star system which they had barely escaped just a few days earlier—albeit in a different universe.

    “There’s a lot more traffic in this system than what we’ve seen on our side,” she said as she looked over the sensor data which showed her quite a few Krellonian ships, mostly small escorts and large freighters in and around the planet’s orbit. She turned to look at Culsten. “Could be a problem for us.”

    He shook his head. “We should be fine as long as we keep out of visual range of any other ships and they don’t carry out any high-resolution scans. I’m not detecting any major orbital installations so we might be able to just slip into the atmosphere.”

    The situation made her recall the last time she had needed to get off that planet without raising any suspicions. Something that she and Elijah Katanga had managed quite successfully.

    “If this place is anything like ours, we should be able to use the electromagnetic interference around Piqus’ northern pole to mask our approach,” Culsten said.

    Tazla regarded him with a surprised look, wondering for just a moment if he was able to read her mind since that had been exactly how she had accomplished this feat previously. Then it dawned on her how he knew. “You and Garla circumvented the planetary quarantine on Piqus to leave the surface.”

    He nodded.

    It was the same method Garla and her people had used to smuggle personnel from the surface to her clandestine asteroid bases to manufacture the Omega molecule for the subspace aliens. And it had been those residual thruster traces she and Katanga had followed to find out about those bases.

    “You knew about it as well?”

    “Yes,” she said, but remained vague on the subject, seeing that she wasn’t exactly at liberty to discuss the full details of her discovery. “More importantly, Garla is well aware of this little trick. May have even come up with it in the first place. And there is no way she wouldn’t have realized that this is a very different place to the Piqus she knows once she arrived here. I wouldn’t be surprised if she used a less conspicuous approach as well.”

    “That would make sense. But where would she have gone? I can’t imagine that she’d go straight for the capital in a Federation shuttlecraft.”

    “I know where I’d go.”

    They both seemed to have had the same thought. “As good a place to start as anywhere, I guess,” he said as he began his approach, making sure to mask his true destination until they were near enough to the northern pole to be undetectable by sensors.

    Their collective hunch turned out to be right on the money when they found the exact same quarry which had functioned as the temporary site of the field hospital in their universe precisely where they had expected it, down to the wide, narrow and deep ravine running all the way across the length of it. And this quarry, too, had apparently long since been abandoned.

    There was no sign of the hospital they had evacuated in a hurry and then destroyed before leaving Piqus VII on their side of course, however, they did find some Starfleet property.

    “It’s the shuttle,” Culsten said as they descended towards the bottom of the quarry. Tazla had spotted it as well, easily visible even from a distance and in the dusky, mid-evening light. It was parked right in the open, its back ramp closed and with no apparent activity nearby.

    She pointed at a spot about a hundred meters from the parked shuttle where a cluttering of empty buildings and rusted equipment would provide the larger runabout with some cover. “Take us down there.”

    Culsten nodded and initiated the landing procedure.

    In the meantime, Tazla gathered the rest of the team consisting of the three SMT operators: Sensy, Ivory, and Violet

    “We may be required to operate within populated areas,” she said as she gathered a small case in the back compartment of the runabout. “Lif shouldn’t have any problems blending in but it won’t be as easy for the rest of us. The intelligence obtained from Captain Donners suggests that this version of the Krellonian Star Alliance is just as xenophobic as the one we’ve dealt with in our universe, if not more so.”

    Sensy nodded. “Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve carried out infiltration work. What do you suggest we do about disguises? We don’t have access to a surgeon for physical alterations.”

    She retrieved a small case, placed it on a table and opened its lid. Inside were several small, disk-shaped devices. “As it so happens, I too have previous experience with clandestine work. And I’ve kept a few souvenirs which I think may come in handy here,” she added with a little smirk. She slightly pulled on the collar of the inconspicuous civilian shirt she now wore in lieu of her uniform and placed the coin-sized device at the left base of her neck.

    She felt a slight tingling sensation emanate from the device and spreading upwards to cover all of her head as if she had just donned a wooly mask. Judging by the look on the faces of the four operators, the device had worked as expected.

    “Neat trick,” said Violet.

    “Holo-masks. Basically, holographic camouflage,” she said and then turned the case towards the others. “I’ve already programmed these with a Krellonian biological makeup from the data we had available.”

    The SMT members each took a device and then followed her example and attached them to their necks, making sure they hid them underneath their own civilian outfits.

    Within moments Sensy’s full red beard was gone, as were his ears on his otherwise bald head. Ivory retained her rich dark skin but the Vulcan’s tapered ears vanished. Violet’s bright hair turned white.

    A soft bump indicated that the runabout had landed and shortly after Culsten entered the compartment and immediately froze as she and the others turned to face him.

    “What do you think?” she said with a grin.

    “I’d like to know who the hell you people are and what you’ve done with the away team.”

    “Do you believe it’ll work?”

    He stepped a bit closer to her and she allowed him to regard her from all angles, slightly turning her head both ways. “It certainly took care of your Trill spots and those funny looking appendages you call ears.”

    She glared at him.

    Culsten shrugged. “Hey, they all look odd to me.”

    “Will it be enough to pass as Krellonians?” she said.

    He continued to look her over, and the others as well. “Well, none of you would win a beauty contest on Krellon but I think it should be fine. Red hair is not as common among my people and dark skin is rare among Piqus natives but neither is so unusual that it should make you stand out.”

    “Excellent,” said Tazla and then regarded the operators again. “There are some limitations to these devices. Chief among them is that they’ll only last for about eight hours before requiring a recharge. Which means we’re on the clock. Let’s find Garla, bring her back here and return to Eagle as quickly as we can.”

    “No arguments here,” said Sensy with a nod.

    The five away team members, all armed with hand phasers hidden under their outfits disembarked the runabout and then, under Tazla’s instructions, crossed the ravine, which was much trickier to navigate here, since instead of a solid bridge, the only thing connecting both sides was nothing more than a treacherous looking plank.

    Once having crossed the narrow board single file, the team carefully approached the nearby shuttle from the rear.

    Sensy and Ivory took on position to the right of the ramp while Tazla, Culsten, and Violet stood to the left. All of them raised their weapons as Culsten entered an override code into the small manual release panel.

    The hatch blew open with a small explosion and fell to the ground. Before it had even had a chance to settle, the SMT operators jumped into the shuttle with their phasers at the ready.

    “Clear,” Sensy called out.

    Tazla stepped in after them as did Culsten.

    The small interior space of the shuttle was empty.

    “I guess that would have been too easy,” said Culsten.

    She indicated towards the main console in the front cockpit and the Krellonian quickly took a seat and began to check the onboard computer. “According to the flight log, the shuttle landed here six hours ago.”

    “Any indication where she may have gone?” Tazla asked.

    He went back to work and after a moment he began to nod. “The transporter was used shortly after landing,” he said and then looked up. “I have the coordinates. It’s the capital city. I think it’s a small alleyway near the center of town.”

    “Makes sense that she would pick an out of place location since she wouldn’t know what she’ll find,” said Sensy.

    Tazla nodded and then looked back at Culsten. “Let’s go after her.”

    He activated the right controls. “Ready to energize in five seconds,” he said and quickly jumped back up to join the others who took position in a tight outward-facing circle.

    Since the shuttle transporter was not powerful enough to beam them all at once, the away team materialized in the alley in pairs with Tazla the last person to make the journey. Once she had fully rematerialized she found that the operators had already secured the area. Thankfully, Garla had chosen her entry point carefully, the alley was devoid of people.

    Tazla zipped up her jacket a little tighter, feeling the cold chill of Piqus VII which was only getting worse the later the hour.

    Culsten had a tricorder out. “We’re definitely near the center of the city. About four hundred meters from what was the Eye building in our universe and Garla’s headquarters here. I could try to scan for her but I’m not sure if it won’t trigger any alarms.”

    “Let’s try to avoid any active scans for now. I’d rather not take the chance of them being discovered. We’ll make our way towards the Eye building and see what we can determine from there.”

    “Ivory, take point,” Sensy instructed the Vulcan.

    The team set out towards the end of the alley and found themselves at the edge of a much busier street.

    Considering the late evening hour, Tazla had expected to find the streets of the city to be quiet with little foot and vehicle traffic. While she hadn’t truly had a chance to visit the capital of Piqus VII in their universe thanks to Chief Administrator Chella’s zealous ban of offworlders, except for the Culsten’s rescue mission which had not exactly afforded her much time for sightseeing, she had assumed that a relatively small and inconsequential colony at the outer fringes of the Krellonian Star Alliance did not boast a lively night scene.

    This may have been true for their universe but it was certainly not the case here.

    The street they had stepped onto after leaving the alley was easily fifty meters wide from sidewalk to sidewalk. It was also heavily lit by evenly arranged streetlights that had more in common with floodlights than lampposts.

    The street was divided near its center by a tall mesh fence which kept both sides separated and appeared near impossible to scale. Foot traffic was heavy, especially on their side of the fence, with entire groups of people, often clustered together by the dozens, walking very orderly one way on the near side and the opposite direction on the other.

    The only vehicles Tazla could see where beyond the fence, along with more foot traffic, also traveling in both directions but not quite in the same regimented fashion.

    Speakers positioned on the fence were droning out a monotone voice listing instructions and schedules in a seemingly never-ending fashion. Also difficult to miss where the many banners attached to the streetlights, the fence and the buildings on each side of the street, all of which displaying a stylized yellow rose on a black background.

    “I have to admit, I haven’t seen much of the planet last time we were here, but is it just me or does this place have a very different vibe to it,” said Sensy after the away team had spent a couple of moments taking in their surroundings.

    “This is different, all right,” said Tazla. “And something tells me not for the better.”

    Culsten seemed to agree. “And I thought our Piqus was bad. This looks like a scene right out of my nightmares.”

    “We’re just here to find Garla and bring her back. The less time we spend on this planet the better. Let’s just keep a low profile and get the job done,” she said.

    “That could be difficult,” said Violet.

    She wasn’t entirely sure why the SMT operative felt that way until she began to notice the looks of the groups of people passing them by. None of them stopped altogether, but their eyes certainly seemed to convey a sense of surprise as if they knew that she and her team didn’t belong here. For a moment she wondered if their holographic camouflage had failed.

    “We’re on the wrong side of the fence,” said Culsten quietly.

    That’s when it hit her as well. The groups that were trotting up and down the street on their side where all Outlanders. And not just that, they were all divided by race. A party of mostly green and brown-hued Reptilians had just walked past them and a few meters behind them, a group of imposing, bear-like Ursine followed them. Heading the other direction and closer to the fence she could see a pack of twenty or so Lupines, staying close together and walking at an equal pace, ahead of a group of slender humanoids and more Reptilians and Ursine, all keeping their distance from each other. The only Krellonians she could spot were on the other side of that fence, and judging by those chrome-colored uniforms, most of them were soldiers or guards.

    “So much for staying inconspicuous,” she said.

    “Let’s get back the way we came,” Culsten said and was already beginning to turn.

    “Too late,” said Sensy. “We’ve got the attention of the authorities.”

    Tazla could see it as well. A gate within the fence had opened to allow four armed soldiers to step through and make their way across the street. The marching Outlanders stopped or parted quickly to allow the guards to pass. “Hold fast,” she said. “We start running now and this mission is over.”

    “I guess we’re about to find out how good those holo-masks are,” said Sensy.

    She nodded. “Nothing like a good field test.”

    It wasn’t going to be a very successful test, Tazla quickly realized. The four soldiers raised their weapons and began to slow their approach as they took aim, apparently expecting trouble.

    “Everybody, relax,” she whispered. “Perhaps we can talk our way out of this. If not, I’ll give a signal. Be ready to act fast.” She sincerely hoped that talking was going to work since she had already spotted more guards beyond the fence starting to take an interest. Even if they somehow managed to overpower the first four soldiers, there was no way they would be able to slip away unnoticed.

    “What are you doing over here,” the tall lead guard barked as he approached, his rifle pointed squarely at Tazla’s chest. “You are not authorized to be across the wall.”

    She raised her hands defensively. “We understand, of course. We’re new to Piqus and we got lost.”

    “Where are you from?”

    Tazla moved her head slightly to her side, hoping that Culsten standing

    behind her would give her something to work with.

    “Loktar Colony,” he whispered to her.

    She repeated this to the approaching guards.

    “You’re a long way from Loktar Colony,” he said and then stopped alongside his comrades about five meters in front of them. The Outlander groups simply moved out of their way without ever stopping, like a river that had been temporarily diverted.

    She nodded. “Yes, we are. And we’re not that used to this system you have here. Perhaps you could escort us back to the right side of the fence.”

    He shot her a skeptical look. “Work lanes work differently in Loktar Colony?”

    As a seasoned intelligence operative, Tazla understood that she was treading on incredibly thin ice. Not only did she know next to nothing about the place she had claimed to be from, but she also had no information at all about how this Krellonian society operated other than what she had observed over the last few minutes. The longer she kept up the charade, the greater the chance for her to slip up and their deception to be exposed.

    “Things are a little different there,” she said.

    Judging by his scowl, the man was not buying it.

    “Look at them, their obviously not from around here,” said another soldier, a woman nearly as tall as the lead guard wearing a chrome helmet with a dark visor covering much of her face. “Lokar is on the other side of the Alliance, who knows how they deal with Outties over there.”

    The tall soldier turned to scowl at her, clearly not appreciating her input.

    “Nortu, it’s nearly end of shift,” she said, not backing down. “I am not pulling extra duty again tonight. Let’s wrap this up.”

    He turned back to glance at Tazla and the others, taking a moment to study their faces. “All right, let’s go,” he said, pointing towards the gate. “But I catch any of you on the wrong side again and you’ll be spending the rest of your time here in a cell. I don’t care where you’re from.”

    Tazla nodded. “Fair enough. We promise to be more careful,” she said and then, following his prompting, began to walk towards the fence. The rest of the team followed closely behind with the four guards taking up the rear.

    She was tempted to slow down as she approached a group of Ursine Outlanders crossing her path, not wishing to be trampled on by those large bear-like Outlanders, but recalling the confidence the guards had shown earlier when traversing the street, she decided to keep her pace. And true enough, the Ursines, most of them easily a head taller than her, parted for the away team and their armed escort just as they had done before.

    They reached the other side of the fence after passing the gate and Tazla found this side much more in line with her expectations of what a street should look like, with sparse foot traffic and the occasional vehicle speeding down the road. Noticeably, however, was the lack of anyone not Krellonian.

    “Thank you for your assistance,” Tazla said, aiming a grateful look at the lead guard and then indicating for the rest of the team to follow her down the road to put some distance them.

    “What is your business on Piqus?” she heard the guard ask behind her.

    “Just trading, really,” she said, looking at him over her shoulder but not stopping.

    “What are you trading?”

    “Nortu, let it go, will you?” the woman said.

    He shook his head. “I want to know why somebody would come all the way out here from Lokar Colony for a trade mission. What’s Lokar got that we don’t?”

    “Other than a tolerable climate, you mean?” his colleague joked.

    Tazla had no choice but to stop and face them again. “Nothing exciting, I assure you. Mostly foodstuffs and equipment.”

    He took a step closer to her and while his weapon was no longer trained on her, she could see him gripping it a little tighter. “Foodstuffs, huh?” he said with a little laugh. “I have to say you don’t strike me as a food merchant. Or any kind of merchant for that matter.”

    Tazla knew she had overreached. It had been some time since she had operated as a clandestine agent and like with any skill that goes unused for some time, it begins to deteriorate.

    “Nortu.”

    But this time the woman was not able to appease him and he continued to shake his head. “No, I’m not going to be blamed for letting possible insurgents slip by us,” he said and focused on Tazla again, slowly raising his weapon. “If you are who you say you are, you will have transit papers.”

    Tazla began to tense. There seemed to be no way out of this now but to fight.

    “Nortu!”

    The lead guard whipped around with annoyance etched into his features. “What?”

    The other guard simply nodded towards the away team but not at Tazla or any of the others, she realized, but directly at Culsten.

    When the lead guard turned back around, recognition seemed to dawn in his eyes. “My apologies, I had not realized that these people are with you,” he said, sounding a great deal less confident of himself all of a sudden.

    Culsten just stared back at him without speaking and Tazla realized she had to do something before the situation became awkward and possibly worse. “Yes, he is a close friend of ours. In fact, we are here at his expressed invitation.”

    Lif finally began to nod. “Is there a problem with that, Justicar?”

    “No, of course not. That is perfectly fine if you are able to vouch for these people.”

    “I can.”

    “Do you still require to see our papers?” Tazla said, suppressing the urge to smirk at the suddenly very contrite look on the man’s face.

    “I don’t think there is any need for that,” he said quickly. “I know that you and Instigator Garla are scheduled to hold a speech at Central Plaza shortly and I do not wish to delay you any longer.” He offered what Tazla recognized as the traditional Krellonian salute with his palms pressed together and then quickly turned and left with the rest of his cadre.

    “That was close,” said Violet once they were out of earshot and then glanced at Culsten. “And I guess you’re a big deal over here.”

    “Somehow that does not fill me with excitement,” he said.

    “It may have just saved us all,” said Tazla. “Plus, now we know where we might find who we’re looking for? You know how to get to Central Plaza?”

    Culsten nodded. “I believe I do,” he said and turned to lead the way. “But I’m dreading what we may find there.”
     
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  3. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Wow, that was close. Poor Culsten is about to get more involved with this version of his world than he ever wanted to be.

    I like the realistic exchanges between the guards and Tazla's team. Usually the bad guys are easily fooled or not at all. In this case you can see the guard's training won out until he was presented with an incontrovertible reason to stand down.

    Now what's this speech about? And where's Culsten's counterpart?

    Looking forward to more!
     
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  4. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    I fear we're about to see what full implementation of Garla's plan would look like, with the alt-Lif standing alongside her at the center of the storm. Nice interactions with the guards. It really conveyed the xenophobia and paranoia on display in Krellonian society.
     
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  5. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    21


    Michael had felt it again almost the moment he had stepped into the science lab. That same, powerful and alien sensation he had experienced when he had been in the vicinity of the strange device before.

    It was unsettling in its intensity and yet it wasn’t nearly as strong or as compelling as it had been the very first time he had come across the Exhibitor when it had been activated and had brought forth the Prism.

    For all his claims of being an explorer and for having joined Starfleet to discover new and never before seen places and to further the Federation’s collective understanding of the universe, he had very quickly developed a strong distaste for this device now before him and mostly wanted it off his ship as soon as possible.

    Since it was very likely their ticket home, and possibly the key to unlocking the secrets of the Ring, he knew he would have to be stuck with it for now.

    “What have you learned from studying this object?” he said, tearing himself away from staring at it and making eye contact with his science officer instead. It took him a second or so before he was sure he was addressing the correct Xylion since they had confusingly chosen to stand next to each other.

    “We have not made significant progress at this stage,” the Vulcan said. “We have subjugated the device to a number of scans that have not yielded any further insight into its function. At this stage, all we can determine is that the Exhibitor is composed of commonly obtained materials.”

    Hopkins put a finer point to it. “All the scans are telling us is that this is essentially nothing more than a piece of metal.”

    “It obviously isn’t,” said Edison.

    “What about the energy signature it is radiating?” Michael continued. “Anything on that?”

    Xylion marginally shook his head. “At present, the only manner in which we can quantify these emanations is by the way our bodies appear to perceive them. However, sensors are not able to detect any form of radiation coming from the device itself.”

    “So we know it’s there, we all feel it, but we can’t see it or measure it,” said Edison and glanced at the assembled science and engineering team with a little smirk. “That has to be frustrating for you guys.”

    “Indeed,” his Xylion replied.

    “At least can we rule out that whatever it is we are experiencing is dangerous?” said Michael.

    “I don’t think we’ll be able to tell until we have been exposed for a period of time to see how exactly it affects our biology. Incidentally, I would not recommend that we stayed exposed to it for too long. Just because we cannot detect it with instruments, doesn’t mean it’s healthy to be exposed to it,” said Deen.

    Michael glanced at his father who said nothing.

    It was Jarik who spoke up. “SAI has had possession of the device for six years and we have studied it quite a bit since then. Nobody has shown ill-effects from exposure so far.”

    “But it has also never been in such close proximity of the Ring before to which it seems connected,” Michael said and then looked back towards his Xylion. “What’s our next step?”

    The half-Vulcan Jarik spoke up before his full-blooded kinsmen could. “I think that much is obvious,” he said. “We need to take it over to the Ring and activate it. That’s how we create another gateway to take us home.”

    Michael considered him skeptically. “And on what evidence are you basing this on?”

    “We’re clearly beyond physical evidence here, Michael,” he shot back. “We studied this thing for years and couldn’t really figure out how it truly works. Sometimes we just have to take a chance.”

    He nodded slowly but not in agreement. “You mean when you took it upon yourself to activate it when we first discovered the Ring and thereby put my entire ship and crew in danger?”

    Edison took a step forward. “I agree we need to be cautious but if we are not making any progress, I feel we need to start trying something less conservative,” he said and offered a grin which reminded Michael a great deal of the one belonging to his lost friend. “To quote a Starfleet legend: ‘Risk is our business’.”

    “There is another avenue we have discussed we would like to pursue first,” said Xylion.

    Grateful at hearing alternatives, Michael prompted him to continue.

    “The manner in which we were made first aware of this object’s presence on this ship was due to Bensu being able to perceive it far sooner than anyone else on board not aware of its presence. We were able to locate the device by creating a mind-link which allowed Bensu to focus on the object further.”

    “You think they are connected? Bensu and the object,” Michael said and then looked at Bensu who hadn’t spoken since he had arrived.

    “I seemed to be connected to a lot of things happening recently,” he said with an uneasy smile.

    Michael nodded. “What are you suggesting? Another mind-link?”

    “Trust me, Captain, I’m not crazy about the idea but I’m willing to try it if it could yield results.”

    “This is a waste of time,” said Jarik.

    For some reason, the fact that Jarik was dismissing this so quickly encouraged Michael to give it a try.

    “We have already attempted a mind-link with the Exhibitor in close proximity,” Xylion admitted. “And we were able to perceive some, albeit unclear impressions of the object in that manner. I suggest we attempt another link in the presence of the Prism itself. However, we were not successful in summoning the Prism using the Exhibitor for any length of significant time.”

    Michael regarded the two SAI leaders. “You seemed to be able to summon the Prism with little difficulties.”

    Jarik kept quiet and so Michael focused in on his father. “Dad?”

    He nodded slowly. “Only I seem to be able to activate the Exhibitor.”

    That caused a momentary stunned silence to fall over the lab.

    “Mind explaining that one to us?” Michael said.

    His father just shook his head. “It’s complicated.”

    “Yeah, I know. None of this is exactly straight forward.”

    “It took us a lot of time and effort to figure out how to summon the Prism using the Exhibitor,” said Jarik. “In the end, we managed to do it by bio-linking the device to your father.”

    “Fascinating,” said Edison’s Xylion and apparently beating the other Xylion to it by less than a second.

    Michael was getting more and more annoyed by this game his father and Jarik seemed to be playing which seemed to revolve around trying to keep as much detail about their work on the Ring and the Prism to themselves for as long as possible. He was half of a mind to lock them both into a cell and have them interrogated until they had revealed every last facet of what exactly they had been up to for all these years. Considering his father had made a career out of keeping secrets, he doubted that anybody on board had the skills necessary to dig the truth out of him without resorting to torture. And even then he wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d be able to withstand that as well.

    He quickly shook those darker musings out of his mind. Jarik and his father had already shown their willingness to employ such nefarious means to achieve their goals; he certainly was not.

    One thing was becoming quickly apparent to him, however. He would not be able to rely on either man to learn the full truth. Yet he needed their cooperation. “All right, let’s skip the nebulous details on why you seem to be the only person with the magic touch. Can you summon the Prism again? Yes or no.”

    His father nodded. “I believe so.”

    Michael glanced at DeMara next. “Dee, get in touch with the bridge. I want us to put as much distance to the Ring as possible while we do this. There is a chance a gateway may open again when the Prism appears and I don’t intend to leave here without the away team.”

    She nodded promptly and then did as he had instructed.

    In the meantime, Hopkins lowered the force field around the Exhibitor to allow Jon Owens access to it while Xylion and Bensu were preparing for yet another mind-link.

    When everything was ready and Michael was reasonably sure that Eagle would not get inadvertently sucked into another gateway, he gave his father the signal.

    It took him very little effort to use the Exhibitor. He simply took the rod in his hand and manipulated it slightly until, right before their eyes, the Prism appeared again, hovering in mid-air, illuminating the entire room with its bright green light as the shape slowly began to revolve around itself.

    Almost everyone present uttered a little gasp at the intensity of the energy which had suddenly filled the room. It was not dissimilar to what Michael had felt before and in its seemingly inert state but clearly that sensation, no matter how powerful it had felt at the time, had just been a small taste of its true potential.

    Both his father and Jarik seemed to deal with the Prism presence slightly better than the rest, likely due to the fact that they had become used to it by now, but everyone else in the room was entirely captivated by the floating shape including Bensu and the two Vulcans.

    “It is beautiful,” said DeMara after what had seemed like an eternity had passed.

    “Readings remain inconclusive,” added Edison’s Deen who had managed to consult a computer console. “Sensors are just not picking it up.”

    “And yet there it is,” said Edison keeping his eyes locked on the slowly rotating shape.

    Michael could feel his mouth getting dry and forced himself to look away from the mesmerizing sight and towards Bensu and Xylion.

    The two men understood and began their mind-link. Like they had before, they both got on their knees to face each other with Xylion touching Bensu’s face and instructing him to focus his thoughts on the Prism.

    Bensu cried out suddenly and fell backward and onto the floor. DeMara was the first one at his side. “Bensu, are you all right?”

    He nodded slowly as she helped him back onto his knees. “I’m fine. I just wasn’t quite prepared for that intensity. I will be next time.”

    But DeMara glanced up at Michael. “Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.”

    “Let them continue,” said her counterpart, the tone in her voice much colder than he had ever heard in DeMara’s. The two women glared at each other for a brief moment.

    Before Michael could render a verdict, Bensu made the decision for him, pulling himself up to face Xylion again. “I’m unhurt, really,” he said. “She’s right, we should proceed. I was just about to make contact and it is so very powerful. There’s so much there.”

    Xylion briefly glanced at Michael for confirmation to proceed and when he reluctantly offered a nod, he made contact with Bensu’s face again.

    DeMara seemed unhappy about this but offered no further objections. She made sure to stay close to Bensu in case of another unexpected episode.

    “It feels like an infinite well of power and energy,” said Bensu, his eyes wide open but looking at nothing, his sight seemingly turned inward and towards his mind which was now inexplicably connected to the Prism somehow. “It’s difficult to focus on any of it, there is just so much knowledge contained within it. So much information accumulated over eons. It is ancient. It’s been here longer than even our own universe. It comes from someplace beyond,” he said and shook his head. “I can’t hold on to any of it. It’s like trying to grasp at straws in a hurricane. It’s too much.”

    “Try to focus on just one single thought,” Xylion urged.

    Michael could see Bensu’s face distorting into pain. “I don’t think I can.”

    “I am attempting to steady your thoughts but there is a great deal of resistance from the Prism itself. My own mental capabilities may be insufficient,” said Xylion as he too was now starting to visibly experience increasing amounts of discomfort.

    “I will assist you,” said his counterpart, and then promptly took a knee next to him and reached out to grab hold of his shoulder. The other Vulcan uttered an almost immediate gasp, making it clear that he had somehow established his own connection to whatever it was Xylion and Bensu were tuned in to. “This is remarkable,” he said.

    “I can see something now. I think it is reaching out to me,” Bensu said.

    “Focus your thoughts, your entire being, to just this one thing,” Xylion said. “We will attempt to reinforce your own mental acuity.”

    There was no doubt that an enormous amount of effort was being exerted by all three of them, fighting against an invisible force trying to keep them, it appeared, from revealing its secrets.

    “I can nearly touch it, it is so close now,” Bensu said through clenched teeth and closed eyes.

    And then Michael could see it too. Everyone in the room could. Whatever it was that Bensu had taken hold off, it was beginning to manifest itself outside of his mind.

    It was a shape, approximately man-high and heavily distorted, almost as if it was only half there.

    Everybody in the room not engaged in a mind-link took an instinctive step back from the unexpected apparition which had manifested itself just a couple of meters next to the Prism.

    After the initial surprise of its appearance had worn off, both DeMaras had their tricorders out to scan this new phenomenon. They both shook their heads at about the same time, clearly not being able to obtain any clear readings on it.

    There was some movement within the apparition and for a moment he thought he recognized a more apparent shape. A shape belonging to a body, perhaps belonging to one of the subspace creatures they had encountered previously.

    “I cannot keep hold of it,” Bensu said who seemed unaware of the physical manifestation of whatever was taking place inside his mind.

    “Try to exert a greater focus on that single thought. Make it the sole focal point of your mind,” Xylion said.

    “I can’t. It’s slipping away.”

    And so it did. The apparition flickered briefly and then was gone.

    With it, the Prism also vanished again and Bensu collapsed back onto the floor with DeMara quickly seeing to him.

    The two Xylions needed a moment to recover from the intensity of connecting their minds as well.

    “What the hell did we just see?” said Edison.

    Nobody in the room had an answer.
     
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  6. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Wow, what the hell was that figure? And I wonder how the Prism is tied to these subspace creatures?

    Had to laugh at Michael's daydream about throwing his dad and Jarik in the brig. It's maddening how they continue to hold out, even with all that's happened thus far.

    Something odd here, regarding Owens Sr. Exactly what were the circumstances around his connection to the Prism?

    Hoping to find out more very soon.
     
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  7. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    22


    She hadn’t even noticed Alex Clancy approach her table or hear him speak to her, that’s how focused she had been on her thoughts while poking what was left of the hasperat soufflé on the plate in front of her.

    “Come again?” she said, looking up at him from where she was sitting in the upper section of The Nest, Eagle’s largest crew lounge spread out over the forward most sections of deck nine and ten.

    Nora Laas had met Alex Clancy properly for the first time a bit over a year earlier when the assistant counselor had been assigned to work on a homicide case with her. She had been furious at first that Commander Star had forced her to work with him, believing it to be a petty move designed to undermine her investigation or, at the very least, spy on the progress of a case which Star had lobbied hard to lead herself.

    Laas had been surprised when she had realized, over the course of their investigation, that she and Alex worked well together and—while she had never admitted it openly—had started to take a likening to the dashing young counselor.

    In a brief moment of weakness on her part, that attraction had very nearly turned physical before she had quickly shut things down. But that awkward episode on an early morning in the ship’s gym had not stopped her from ultimately befriending Clancy and they had remained close ever since.

    “I was wondering if this seat’s taken,” he said.

    She looked down at the empty chair as if seeing it for the first time, then she nodded and returned her focus on the remainder of her lunch. “Knock yourself out.”

    He placed his tray on the table, took a seat and started to munch on his green and red, leafy salad. “So, this is kind of weird, isn’t it?” He said while happily chewing his food.

    She looked up at him with a quizzical look.

    Clancy used his fork to indicate their surroundings. “All this alternate universe stuff.”

    She nodded slowly and then returned to poke her hasperat.

    “There is some rampant speculation onboard about who has an alter ego on the other Eagle and what they might be like,” Clancy continued.

    Laas just uttered a little grunt to that.

    “Do you know if you have one?”

    She looked up again. “Huh?”

    “A doppelganger? Another you.”

    She shrugged. “I’m dead here.”

    “I see,” he said and then put down his fork.

    “You see what?”

    “She was not you, Laas.”

    This time when she made eye contact again, she outright glared at him. “Don’t do that.”

    “Do what?”

    “Try to psychoanalyze me over lunch.”

    He shook his head. “I’m not trying to. But something is obviously bothering you. And I mean more than usual.”

    “Well, I can tell you right now that it’s not the fact that the woman known as Nora Laas in this universe died while saving this universe’s Gene Edison who went on to become the captain of his Eagle,” she said and then, finally fed up with the leftovers of her lunch, dropped her fork onto the plate and pushed it away from her.

    “Okay.” He went back to eating his salad but spoke up again after a few seconds. “I hear that the other Edison is currently onboard along with his version of Xylion and Lieutenant Deen.”

    She nodded without looking at him.

    “I wouldn’t mind meeting Edison. I never had a chance to do so when he was alive and from everything I’ve ever heard, he was a good man.”

    “You said it yourself, they are not the same.”

    He nodded and shoved another fork full of salad into his mouth. “From what I hear they’re having a big meeting down in the science lab,” he said and then continued when Laas gave him a dark look, as if not appreciating that he was aware of matters which were clearly outside of his purview. “You have three people who are the spitting image of our own running around on the ship. That’s the kind of news you can’t keep contained on Eagle.”

    “Perhaps you should concern yourself more with your work and less with the gossip grapevine,” she said, sounding perhaps a little sharper than she had intended.

    He took it in good spirits, shrugged and munched on his lunch. “Perhaps.”

    “Besides, Gene is hardly the spitting image of our version. There’s the beard, of course, but there are other things, which are very different. There are lots of subtle variances between our universes. Their Eagle may look like this one but I could sense how it’s nothing like ours. I could practically smell it in the air.”

    At that, he stopped chewing. “You went over there?”

    Laas felt she had said too much.

    “You met him, didn’t you?”

    “Was difficult not to,” she said quickly. “He practically insisted on joining the away team to the Ring.”

    He shook his head slightly. “No, I mean you went to see him on his ship.”

    She uttered a little sigh.

    “And that’s why you are projecting your feelings so openly. Even somebody without a counselor’s license could tell you are confused and frustrated.”

    She shot him another glare but it softened after only a few moments. “Of course, I’m frustrated. This is the man I was in love with. Who died saving my life years ago and whom I was only just about starting to truly get over. And now here he is, alive and well, the same but different. And to make matters even worse, he and I—or he and her—they were in love as well before she died. How is any of this not supposed to confuse the hells out of me?”

    Laas took a deep breath and noticed that Alex was just sitting there, watching her vent as he continued to eat his salad in silence. It was odd. She had felt this conflicted ever since she had first laid eyes on Captain Edison, and more so after confronting him in his quarters, but vocalizing her feelings out loud to Alex had actually felt surprisingly good. It hadn’t changed anything, of course, but hearing her say the words, it was almost beginning to make sense. In that twisted and perverse way the universe seemed to work on an almost constant basis.

    “So that’s why you’re here instead of in that meeting,” he said. “Giving the man a wide berth, as it were.”

    It was starting to annoy her how calm he was about the whole thing. Intellectually, she understood that as a counselor, he had been trained to behave this way, but right now it came across like smugness. Besides, she didn’t want a counselor. “Didn’t I just warn you about the psychology stuff?”

    “We’re just having a conversation among friends,” he said, sounding almost defensively.

    She leaned over the table a bit. “Doesn’t feel like it too me. And who knows, maybe you have your own personal reasons for not wanting me to be close to Gene.”

    She couldn’t tell if he looked hurt or angry by that accusation. Perhaps it was both and he was just doing a pretty good job hiding it. She knew she had aimed pretty low but when she got angry, she had a tendency to hit below the beltline.

    “I’m speechless,” he finally said. Her accusation had caused him to lose his appetite all of a sudden.

    Laas smiled mirthlessly in triumph. “Well, somebody hand me a medal, then. I managed to make Counselor Alex Clancy shut up for once,” she said, stood and left the Nest.
     
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  8. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Ooof. Well, that was a bit of Laas the Ass. :mad:

    Granted, she's been through quite a bit, but Clancy didn't deserve phasers on full. Hopefully, venting her feelings might help her get back into balance.
     
  9. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Man, you can tell Laas doesn't want to be messed with right now. Her overly defensive reaction is a good indicator that being confronted with the other Edison was too much for her.

    I must have missed something in the earlier chapters. I hadn't realized that her dead counterpart in this universe is the one who saved Edison's life. That certainly adds another layer of misery to an already heart-wrenching encounter.

    Hope she gets her head together soon, I have the feeling Michael is going to need his crew at full thrusters very soon.
     
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  10. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Turns out you didn't miss a thing. You discovered a dreaded plot hole.

    The story called for that in this alternate universe, the same mission which killed Edison in the prime universe turned out different, with Nora sacrificing herself to save Edison instead the other way around. This was supposed to be revealed earlier in a conversation between Nora and Alternate Edison. I just didn't write the dialogue.

    I'm going to go back and fix that.

    Excellent catch, thanks.
     
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  11. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    23


    Even if Lif Culsten had not known where to find Central Plaza, it would not have been difficult to locate it considering that seemingly half the local population was on their way there or had already assembled in the large square almost entirely surrounded by the tallest buildings in the city.

    It didn’t escape Tazla’s notice that the event had only drawn Krellonians, most likely since all the Outlanders they had come across were being kept behind fences, not much better than prisoners.

    Many of the Krellonians who had come together at Central Plaza appeared to belong to the military or other official institutions judging by all the uniforms she noticed. There were practically no children or elderly people as far as she could see, leading her to believe that the city was not home to a significant civilian population at all.

    The plaza was quickly filling to capacity with a good few thousand people, she guessed, all of whom seemed to have arrived here for a single reason, all focusing their attention on a large stage which had been set up at the far end of the plaza, just below one of the many skyscrapers surrounding the plaza.

    The audience didn’t have to wait long for the speaker to arrive and as soon as she appeared on the stage an eerie silence settled over the crowd.

    “I think we’ve just found who we’ve been looking for,” Sensy whispered and still managed to garner a few annoyed glares from Krellonians standing nearby.

    Garla was followed by a man with an even more familiar face, this one belonging to nonother than Lif Culsten. Both were dressed in sleek and almost featureless black suits with the yellow rose triangle on the right shoulder of their jackets.

    It would have been near impossible to make out any details of the two people on stage from where the away team was standing had it not been for the fact that the smooth and tinted windows of the high-rise building immediately behind the stage had turned into a massive screen, at least ten floors high, which displayed both Garla and Culsten as larger than life figures to the entire crowd and which identified her as Instigator Garla and him as Sentinel Culsten.

    Garla took position behind a simple podium with Culsten standing just behind her and to her right.

    Garla took a moment to look over the assembled crowd which remained almost perfectly silent while awaiting her to speak.

    “Today I announce that Piqus is stronger and more powerful than ever,” she said, her amplified voice booming across the plaza from multiple speakers.

    The crowd immediately broke out in loud cheers.

    “We are an example of what strength and determination can accomplish in the Alliance. We are not just a role model to other worlds, we are setting the tone for the rest of the Alliance to follow.”

    The cheers erupted once more.

    Garla continued without waiting for them to die down. “Our factories produce the most powerful weapons and equipment in the long and storied history of the Alliance. Our workforce is envied the galaxy over. Our production quotas are unrivaled throughout Krellonian space and beyond. Piqus is Power.”

    There was another pause for loud cheers and applause.

    “We have contributed a more than significant share to the greatness and might of the Star Alliance and proven for once and for all that as Krellonians, we are the superior race in the galaxy. That there is no limit to what we can accomplish.”

    Louder cheers this time.

    “Tonight, I will depart for Krellon to meet with the Paramount and the Central Council and we shall lay out a strategy for Piqus and the entire Alliance to show the rest of the galaxy that nothing can stand in the way of Krellonian power and determination.”

    The crowd remained enamored with what they were hearing judging by the ongoing reaction to her words.

    “There will come a day, in the not so distant future, that Krellonians will be known the galaxy over as a force to be reckoned with. And that future will be fueled by the fire of Piqus forges.”

    Garla went on for quite sometime after that to speak in mostly vague terms about this new future, pausing every so often, as she had done throughout, to allow for more jubilant reactions from the thousands of people who had assembled to listen to her.

    After ten minutes, Tazla had mostly zoned out, the themes seemingly repeating themselves endlessly as she pandered to her audience in ways that she had heard from countless despots before.

    When she was finally done, she determinedly walked off the stage, taking little time to bask in the final, thunderous applause of the crowd, with Lif Culsten following her closely.

    “Did she just declare war on the galaxy?” Violet said, keeping her voice down, but with the loud cheers all around them there seemed to be little chance for her to be overhead.

    “I think I’m going to be sick,” Culsten said. He had long since pulled up the hood of his jacket to try and hide his face as best as he could, clearly quite cognizant that his counterpart was an important and instantly recognizable person on this version of Piqus.

    The crowd didn’t linger for the most part and also quickly dispersed save for a few groups here and there.

    “Was she like this in our universe?” Sensy asked.

    Culsten shook his head but still seemed too preoccupied with what he had just witnessed to offer any words.

    “Most certainly not.”

    This had not come from any member of the away team and Tazla and the others whipped around upon hearing the voice.

    It had belonged to a woman who had stepped up just behind them, her own hood was obscuring her face. She took a moment to look around, perhaps to make sure nobody else was paying attention to her, and then pulled back the hood.

    “Garla,” Culsten said, clearly surprised to see her.

    Tazla instinctively reached for her phaser hidden under her jacket and so did the other operatives. Ivory and Violet quickly stepped sideways in order to flank the Krellonian woman they had come here to retrieve.

    Garla seemed to take little notice of this, her eyes still focused on the stage at the far end of the plaza where her doppelganger had just recently given her speech. “That woman is nothing like me,” she said and then looked around. “This place is nothing like the Alliance I know. This is nothing more than a slave labor camp.” Her angry eyes finally found Tazla’s. “What have you done?”

    She shook her head. “This is not on us. In fact, this is the doing of your allies. They built the Ring which created a gateway that brought us here.”

    “An alternate universe?”

    She nodded.

    “That is insane.”

    “And yet the evidence seems difficult to ignore,” said Tazla. “You need to get in touch with those subspace aliens and find a way to take us back home.”

    But Garla didn’t respond. Instead, she just stood there, staring into the distance at a world she knew and yet was entirely foreign to her.

    Tazla was running out of patience. She stepped up behind the woman and reached for her shoulder to turn her around. It was a move she quickly came to regret since the Krellonian woman whirled around much faster than she had anticipated, holding something in her hand which glinted under the powerful floodlights illuminating the plaza.

    Tazla jumped back as fast as she could but not quickly enough as not to be clipped by the razor-sharp blade which easily tore through her shirt and drew blood from her side.

    Garla pushed the surprised Tazla back so that she stumbled over her own feet and fell to the ground.

    Tazla pulled free her phaser but by the time she had a beat on the other woman, she was already sprinting across the plaza, her hood once more covering her features and using scattered groups of people for cover.

    Culsten and Ivory were quickly at Tazla’s side.

    “Are you all right?” he asked her as he took a knee next to her.

    She looked down at the small slice in her shirt and then inspected the wound underneath which although had drawn blood, was not much more than a scratch. She quickly pulled herself back onto her feet. “I’m fine.”

    “What are our rules of engagement,” Sensy asked after he and the remaining operatives had joined her as well.

    Tazla raised her phaser. “I’m done playing nice. Let’s go after her and take her back. I don’t care if we have to stun her and drag her unconscious body back to the runabout.”

    With that she took the lead, quickly crossing the plaza and following Garla’s footsteps.

    Fortunately, with the late hour and Instigator Garla’s big speech behind them, foot and vehicle traffic which could impede their chase, or worse, shut it down altogether, had died down significantly and the away team didn’t encounter many Krellonians as they followed Garla through the city.

    Ivory who had quickly taken the lead again was particularly adapt it seemed at picking up her trail. But even the Vulcan was not perfect and after a few minutes, the chase began to slow.

    “I am no longer certain which way she has taken,” Ivory said as they were approaching a junction in the road.

    “This place may be foreign to her,” Culsten said. “But most of the city’s layout is very similar to the one in our universe. That’s giving her a substantial advantage in evading us. Not to mention that she’s a trained Sentinel of the Eye.”

    Tazla tried not to let that get to her. After all, she had been in a very similar line of work once upon a time and while Garla clearly had some years on her in experience, and seemed to have the physical fitness and prowess to match hers, it had bothered her that the woman had already bested her twice. “You’ve been to this city. In our universe.”

    He shook his head. “I spent maybe half a day there. She’d been on Piqus for months.”

    Ivory took a left at the intersection. “There is a twenty-three percent chance she has chosen this direction.”

    That was good enough for Star who followed her.

    It had been a poor choice as they walked right into an armed Krellonian patrol.

    “Halt,” the lead soldier barked as soon as he spotted the away team. The rest of his eight-man patrol raised their rifles.

    The away team followed suit but Tazla could see right away that they were outnumbered and outgunned. She guessed that their SMT escort was better trained and more capable than a group of Krellonian grunts but were they good enough to incapacitate eight soldiers who had weapons trained on them and doing so without drawing the attention of an entire platoon? She knew that more often than not, the outcomes of unplanned confrontations such as these depended as much on luck as they did on pure skill.

    “Identify yourselves,” he said angrily, no doubt upset over having what seemed like a group of Krellonians draw weapons on him and his patrol.

    This time Culsten stepped up without having to be prompted, lowering his phaser as he addressed the patrol. “You recognize me, surely. These are agents acting on my behalf. Let us pass.”

    Tazla thought he sounded pretty convincing but regrettably, this lead solider was not as easily duped as the last one they had encountered. Perhaps somewhat confused by his very different attire then his alternate had sported just a short while earlier. “I will have to call this in.”

    “That won’t be necessary.”

    The squad leader turned to find the person who had said this and for a moment Tazla was tempted to give the order to use the distraction to eliminate the patrol. But once she realized who had come to their unexpected rescue, she decided to let it play out instead.

    “Instigator,” the guard said and quickly lowered his rifle.

    Garla confidently strode towards the patrol which quickly parted for her as she continued on towards Tazla and the away team before stopping just a few short meters away.

    “It was my understanding that you had departed for Krellon,” the squad leader said.

    She turned to look at him with an exasperated expression. “I would have already left if you hadn’t interrupted my plans by needlessly interfering with official concerns.”

    The man looked chastised. “Apologies, Instigator, we were not aware. Is there anything else we may be able to assist you with?”

    Garla turned back towards the away team and Tazla could see a look in her eyes she didn’t care for at all, and immediately came to regret not having taking action sooner.

    “In fact, you may. Sentinel Culsten and I have important business to discuss. The others are foreign spies and need to be arrested.”

    It was too late to think of a countermove, the guards were upon her and the SMTs within a heartbeat, quickly disarming them of their phasers and with their rifles at point-blank range.

    She caught Sensy giving her an intense look and she was sure that he was already thinking about making a move, not having a phaser was probably not going to even slow him and his people down. But Tazla didn’t like their odds and just shook her head.

    Culsten in the meantime was drawing no further attention from the soldiers and was free to move. He stepped up next to Garla, shaking his head. “Don’t do this,” he whispered.

    “It’s already done.”

    He found Tazla’s eyes and she hoped she was successful in imparting on the young Krellonian that it was now up to him to find a way to get them all back to Eagle.

    “Justicar, remove these people at once,” Garla said.

    The last thing she saw of the person she had been sent to retrieve as she and the others were being roughly manhandled was her striding away confidently, Lif Culsten following in her wake much less self-assured than his counterpart had appeared earlier.
     
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  12. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    It's all up to poor Culsten, now. No pressure, right?

    Well, Garla has again out maneuvered everyone. I bet Tazla would like nothing better than to get her hands around Garla's throat at this point.

    Speaking of Garla, she may not be as clever as she thinks she is. After all, she's trapped in this AU along with everyone else. Interestingly, she takes a dim view of her counterpart, a counterpart every bit as treacherous as she is, and probably more dangerous given her stature. How long does she think she can play this game?

    And will Garla Prime see the error of supporting xenophobia now that she's having to live in the embodiment of that idea? Or will it only validate her beliefs? I wonder if she's even capable of change...

    Can't wait to find out.
     
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  13. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Damn, Garla pulled another fast one on them. It seems poor Lif is going to have to make some hard choices in the near future. One wonders if Garla is enjoying seeing how her 'vision' plays out in reality, or if her enormous ego will shield her from that ugly truth.
     
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  14. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    24


    He hadn’t liked the idea much but in the end, he had given into Jarik and his father’s suggestion to take the Prism, along with Bensu, onto the Ring. Perhaps it had been Edison who had lobbied for the same approach, which had ultimately swayed his thinking.

    The idea of mixing three clearly potent and not yet well-understood elements together, the Ring, Bensu and the Prism, had him concerned. Xylion and Bensu’s subsequent attempts at creating a mind-link with the Prism functioning as a conductor of sorts had not yielded any more actionable insights. They had also failed to replicate the outcome of their first attempt which had summoned some sort of shady figure which may or may not have been a subspace alien.

    Since there was no guarantee that Star and the away team would be able to retrieve Garla, or that even if they did, the Krellonian agent could be convinced to cooperate with them, Michael understood that there was an acute need to continue to pursue multiple avenues. Especially considering the stakes, his father’s warning of an impending invasion of their universe still playing at the back of his mind, even if those fears had taken a temporary backseat over concerns of finding a way back home.

    He had also made the decision that he needed to be more actively involved in finding a solution since his first officer was otherwise engaged. He felt this to be particularly important considering that both Jarik and his father had insisted on joining the away team. His first instinct had been to turn down their request, but he was also still convinced that both had an important part to play in solving their current conundrum, even if they continued to be frustratingly reluctant to share the entirety of their knowledge pertaining to the Ring and the Prism.

    It was clear that he couldn’t trust either one of them and letting Edison lead the away team by himself was not an option he was comfortable with. Although he desperately wanted to believe Captain Edison possessed the same attributes which had made him a valued friend and officer in his universe, he also hadn’t entirely forgotten Star’s warnings about his recklessness which had directly led to the death of a man under his command.

    Michael was not an officer who easily brushed aside regulations but considering the circumstances, he was convinced that he needed to lead the away mission even if he still had a bitter taste in his mouth from the last time he had done so and very nearly come to regret all of it.

    So it came as little surprise that Xylion regarded him with a raised eyebrow when Michael stepped into the packed transporter room with a phaser and tricorder already strapped to his waist. He quickly raised a hand and spoke before the Vulcan had a chance. “Let me preempt you right there since I know what you’re going to say. I understand the risks and that leading an away mission is a breach of protocol. I’ve already covered this ground with Commander Leva,” he said. “If you wish, I will note your protest in my log but that will not stop me from joining the away team.”

    “That will not be necessary,” Xylion said.

    Michael couldn’t suppress a little smirk. Xylion had served long enough with him to know that once he had made up his mind, he tended to stick with his decision, regulations or not. He glanced at the other people assembled in the room; Edison, Jarik, his father, Bensu, Nora Laas, DeMara Deen and two SMT operators. “Any other objections?”

    For a moment he thought that perhaps his security officer, who in the past had shown a proclivity to be especially protective of him, would also attempt some form of protest. She didn’t on this occasion.

    Deen just shrugged. “It’s not as if we can talk you out of this.”

    Michael considered Xylion again. “I understand we are foregoing the environmental suits. How confident are we that there is nothing over there that could hurt us?”

    “We are not confident that the Ring is entirely safe since we have still not been able to survey more than a fraction of the structure. In fact, we have already witnessed its potential to be deadly. However, all scans that we have analyzed indicate that the atmosphere is breathable and that there are no harmful pathogens present,” the science officer said.

    “I’d be the first to admit that I hate to sacrifice mobility in favor of bulky enviro-suits,” said Nora. “But I’d still be more comfortable with that extra layer of protection.”

    “I fear it would get in the way of any attempts of creating another mind-link,” said Bensu.

    “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Michael said. “We’ll get the lay of the land first and then decide on our next steps.”

    Bensu nodded.

    Michael could see that Jarik was carrying a small case and judging by the slight tingle he had felt ever since he had entered the transporter room, it was reasonable to assume that it contained the Exhibitor. He couldn’t quite keep a frown off his face.

    Jarik took note. “Don’t worry, I’ll be careful with it.”

    This didn’t exactly inspire him with confidence. “Please see that you do. Also, I hope I don’t have to remind you of away team procedures—“

    Jarik shook his head, interrupting him. “You certainly do not. We may not be active starship officers,” he said, briefly indicating to the elder Owens. “But we are more than familiar with Starfleet regulations. You won’t have to worry about us.”

    Owens Senior nodded. “It’ll be as if we weren’t even there, son.”

    Michael shot Nora an almost commiserating look. He didn’t exactly envy her position. Not only was she responsible for security on an away mission to a mostly unknown and possibly hostile environment, now she also had to worry about the safety of her captain and two flag-rank officers, not to mention the captain of the other Eagle and the rest of the away team.

    He considered Gene Edison last, noticing that he was not being accompanied by any of his other officers. Remembering how disorientating it had been to have two versions of the same people around, he was thankful for that decision. Apparently, Edison had agreed to try and keep the away team as small as possible this time around.

    The captain of the alternate Eagle seemed to know what Michael was thinking. “You most definitely won’t have to worry about me,” he said with an easy grin which Michael reminded him a great deal of his old friend. “As far as I’m concerned, this is your mission and you take the lead. I’m just here as an observer and to represent the interests of my universe as it were.” He uttered a little chuckle. “Guess there’s no pressure on my shoulders then, huh?”

    Michael offered him a grateful smile but couldn’t entirely wonder if he was being this accommodating because of the disastrous outcome of the last mission which some had squarely blamed on him. “All right, let’s get underway,” he said and looked at Nora. “Lieutenant, I suggest you and your team beam in first and give us the all-clear.”

    She nodded sharply. “My suggestion precisely, sir,” she said and then quickly stepped up on the transporter platform, the stocky Tellarite operator Grunt and the dark-skinned and short-haired human woman Diamond, taking position at her flanks. Nora pulled free her phaser while the Niners raised their compact, non-standard carbines. The Bajoran glanced at Chief Chow behind the operator’s console. “Energize, Chief.”

    “Happy trails,” he said with a wide grin and activated the transporter.

    Moments later they were gone.

    It didn’t take long for Nora to report in and once she had done so, declaring that the beam-in site was safe, Michael and the others took their positions and followed their recon team.



    * * *​



    She couldn’t deny feeling some residual anger over the decision of not including her onto the away mission to retrieve Garla from within Krellonian space, however, considering that the captain had made the foolhardy decision to visit the Ring himself, she was mollified slightly that at the very least it was going to be her duty to keep him safe, rather than having to rely on somebody else to do her job.

    Not that she could fault the Niners for the work they had done so far, both on Eagle as well as on Piqus, reaffirming her decision to suggest to the captain to bring them aboard. She had reviewed the report of the away mission to the subspace domain and while it had been a harrowing read, in all honesty, she couldn’t think of anything she may have been able to do better or different, had she been part of it.

    Of course, she had long since abandoned the destructive tendency to endlessly analyze and question her decisions and choices. It had been exactly that kind of mentality that had nearly destroyed her after Gene Edison had died—killed while saving her life. She had managed to get over that loss, and the choices she’d made which had led to it.

    It wasn’t exactly easy to get over that kind of psychological trauma when the very person at the center of it all was suddenly and unexpectedly back in her life, and on the very same away mission no less.

    After their brief discussion in his quarters which she had belatedly realized had been a mistake, he kept a respectable distance to her after they had beamed over to the Ring.

    She found the interior of the massive structure exactly the same way it had been last time she had been here. The only difference this time was the lack of a protective suit, giving her—and the rest of the away team—for the first time a literal taste of their surroundings.

    The air was indeed breathable but it had a foul and stale quality to it like it hadn’t been breathed by another living being in decades. The smell was just as uninviting and she had to admit that she couldn’t quite get her skin from tingling slightly. As if the huge tunnel-like structure hadn’t already given her enough reasons to dislike being there, the added sensory perceptions made this place only more unappealing.

    They found what they had taken to call the control sphere exactly in the same place as before, still hidden in a deeper layer of subspace, and once more she and the Niners scouted ahead to secure the area first. This time even Edison restrained himself and waited patiently with the others until they had given the all-clear.

    She knew that Owens, his father, Jarik and Bensu had all seen holographic representations of the sphere but clearly experiencing the real thing still made quite an impression on them and they each took their time to study their surroundings more closely.

    She was satisfied that Diamond and Grunt—the two SMT operators—behaved much more like she would have expected from professional soldiers or military personnel, showing far less awe and instead quickly focusing on any potential risks or dangers. Laas had briefed them both on what had transpired on their last visit.

    After a quick survey of the circle-shaped room, the two Niners took up position opposite each other at the far edges of the sphere to give them the best possible coverage of the area.

    Laas followed suit and placed herself at a ninety-degree angle to them which meant that between the three of them, they had eyes on everyone and everything inside the half-sphere.

    She watched as Owens, his admiral father, Jarik, Xylion, Deen and Bensu began to discuss their next steps with Captain Edison noticeably remaining slightly apart from the group, staying true to what he had promised and being more spectator than participant.

    Laas made sure to keep her eyes on him, not because she wanted to, but because she was convinced that the fatality on their last visit had been mostly his fault.

    Edison noticed and seemed to take this interest in him as an invitation. She frowned when he began to make his way over to her, clearly not discouraged by the expression on her face.

    He stepped up to her wordlessly and then positioned himself right at her side, keeping his eyes trained forward.

    He allowed a few seconds of silence between them before he spoke. “You left my quarters rather abruptly,” he said without making eye contact.

    “I shouldn’t have been there at all,” she said, equally keeping her eyes trained forward.

    “I understand why you would think that. We are not the same people to each other as the ones we’ve both lost.”

    She nodded. “That’s right.”

    “But you cannot deny the similarities either,” he said after a moment. “Significant ones.”

    She turned to look at him even though she had told herself not to. “Do you really believe that this is a good time or place to discuss this? Considering what has happened here not too long ago.”

    He nodded slowly but didn’t speak.

    She turned her eyes forward again, hoping that she had shut down any further conversation on the topic.

    “What happened to Josè was tragic,” he said after a few seconds had passed. “And, yes, perhaps some of the fault for this death lies with me as his superior officer. I accept that.”

    “With all due respect, Captain, you allowed yourself to get distracted in a critical situation,” she said, her voice stone cold while she continued to avoid eye contact.

    “I suppose you’re right. And I will have to tell his family how his captain has failed him. That if he hadn’t, their loved one might still be alive. I will have to find a way to live with that.”

    For a brief moment, she almost felt sorry for him but then told herself to keep her emotions in check. And so she did.

    “I am going to tell you something I’ve never told anybody.”

    She looked at him despite herself.

    “Her death was my fault, too.”

    Laas had no idea how to respond to that.

    “Starfleet didn’t see it that way. For that matter, nobody on Eagle does either, not even those who were around when it happened. But I was her commanding officer and worse, I was in love with her. I don’t know if that blinded me to things, or not, but I could have done so much more. I could have saved her and all it would have cost me would have been my life. The truth is, I wish it had been me instead of her. Not a day goes by since I lost her that I don’t wish that she had never jumped in front of me and choosing my life over hers.”


    * * *​


    It wasn’t difficult to miss that Bensu had made some sort of connection with his surroundings pretty much as soon as they had stepped into the sphere. Michael had seen it on his face but had decided against questioning him about it since all previous inquiries had resulted in the same result. He hoped, at the very least, something in this unusual place would manage to unlock some of the many secrets buried deep within him and which he was more convinced than ever, were the key to much they had come across so far.

    “With your permission, Captain, I suggest we attempt another mind-link to determine if Bensu can establish contact with whatever psionic conduit exists in this place,” Xylion said after a having allowed Bensu and the others a few minutes to take in the sphere around them.

    “It’s what we are here for,” Jarik said before Michael had a chance. “It’s why we have brought this,” he added and slightly raised the case containing the Exhibitor.

    Michael shook his head. “We are not looking to create another gateway at the moment. We’re just trying to understand what we are dealing with and possibly making contact with the subspace aliens,” he said, still determined not to potentially strand his away team in another universe because Jarik and his father were overeager.

    Jarik took a few steps closer to him. “I appreciate your concerns, Michael, but let’s remember what is at stake. Our own universe remains under threat of invasion. I don’t want to risk losing people either, but we both know that sometimes we don’t have a choice in those matters.”

    He considered his old Academy friend closely and for the first time since they had reunited just a few weeks ago, he was beginning to question the man’s honesty. Of course, he had already proven that despite his earlier claims, he was more than willing to continue his father’s playbook and keep vital information compartmentalized, as was the case with the Prism, but there was something else in his tone that somehow rubbed him the wrong way. Michael was having the distinct feeling that Jarik couldn’t have cared less whose lives were put at risk as long as he achieved his overarching objective.

    “And let’s remember that I counseled against sending that away team,” Jarik continued as if that point would change anything.

    “Why our universe?” DeMara asked.

    Michael had been so preoccupied with trying to discern Jarik’s well-guarded thought processes that he had nearly missed her question altogether.

    She stepped closer, repeating her question.

    Jarik glanced at her, seemingly irritated. “What?”

    “If this Ring can create gateways to other universes, what makes you so sure that ours is the target of an alien invasion?” she said.

    Michael had to admit that it was a pretty decent question and one which had not occurred to him before.

    Jarik looked towards Owens Senior.

    “We don’t know for certain our universe is the target,” the admiral said.

    “Wait a minute,” said Edison, moving away from the edge of the room where he had stood next to Nora. “Are you suggesting that there is a chance that these aliens may be looking to invade our universe as well?”

    Jarik nodded. “It is a possibility we cannot afford to dismiss. Or it might be that the gateways are merely an unintended side effect of the Ring’s true purpose of facilitating a transition from subspace into regular space.”

    “Since the branes which theoretically separate quantum universes are located within subspace, it is possible that a particle accelerator of this size could affect branes in unknown ways,” said Xylion.

    Michael wasn’t quite so sure if he bought into that theory since it seemed clear that the Prism was somehow connected to the Ring so intricately that his father and Jarik had apparently learned of its very existence by using the strange artifact. “From everything you’re saying, I feel more inclined than ever to try and understand more about the motivation of the people who built this thing before rushing to any conclusions,” he said and could tell that Jarik didn’t seem to appreciate where he was going with this. “Even if we can recreate a gateway that takes us back home, we won’t be any closer to understanding the full purpose of the Ring or the aliens’ plans.” He indicated towards the case which contained the Exhibitor. “Let’s not involve the artifact at this juncture until we have no other choice.” He regarded Xylion and Bensu next. “Go ahead with the mind-link but do so cautiously. Try to make contact with the aliens if possible but don’t push too hard. Not until we know more.” Michael thought he could see his father nodding slowly with approval. Jarik, on the other hand, seemed disappointed with the decision.

    Xylion and Bensu took position near the center of the room and inside the ring of holographic consoles, both men kneeling on the floor, facing each other.

    Michael and the rest of the team watched with bated breath as Xylion once more made contact with Bensu’s face to initiate the link.

    Bensu gasped almost immediately. “This place, it’s like a crossroads of power and energy. I can feel it all around us,” he said while keeping his eyes closed. “There are countless strands intersecting and branching off into every direction.”

    “We must try to focus on a single strand,” Xylion said, his voice staying calm as ever. “Determine its nature and purpose.”

    Bensu shook his head slightly. “I’m not sure if I can. There’s just so many of them.”

    DeMara had stepped up next to Michael, keeping her eyes on both men. “If nothing else, I think that may confirm that this place is indeed the central control hub for the Ring. Maybe even more.”

    He nodded slowly.

    “As before, make use of my mind to steady yours. It should provide you with the focus you require to ignore everything else but that one single strand.”

    “Yes, I think it’s working. It’s beginning to crystallize,” Bensu said.

    “Follow it. Let it take you to wherever it may lead.”

    For a moment no more words where exchanged, or if they did, they were only heard inside their minds while Bensu’s expression became one of great concentration.

    But Jarik’s patience was apparently running thin. “Can you determine a way in which to activate the gateway?” he said as he stepped closer to the center again.

    Michael frowned at him, not happy with the interruption at this point.

    “There is so much here,” Bensu said. “It is just one strand but it consists of hundreds, no thousands of smaller ones, all branching off the main one and merging back into it. All containing energy and knowledge.”

    “About the gateway?” Jarik insisted

    Michael turned to him. “Let’s give them some time.”

    “Time might be something we don’t have,” he said and raised the case again. “We need to bring the Prism into this.”

    Jon Owens reached for the other man’s upper arm. “Let’s just see where this leads us first, Jarik.”

    But he shook his head. “You heard him, there are countless of these strands. It could take years to unravel them all.”

    “Centuries,” said Bensu, even while his focus continued to be diverted inwards. “Maybe even longer. Unraveling all of this cannot be achieved in a lifetime.”

    “Keep following that single strand,” Xylion said.

    Jarik freed himself from Jon Owens’ touch. “We need to be more aggressive.”

    “I’m not sure that’s wise,” the admiral said. “I believe caution may be—“ he stopped himself suddenly as his face was draining of color.

    Michael immediately realized that something was wrong and stepped closer. “Dad?”

    “I’m fine,” he said, holding up a hand to stop him from approaching. “I’m just getting a little dizzy.” He took a few steps backward, coughed a few times and then stumbled over his own feet.

    Nora who was now standing closest to him, rushed to his side just in time to catch him as he collapsed.

    “Dad,” Michael cried as he dashed to where he had collapsed in his security chief’s arms.

    DeMara was just behind him.

    Michael found him teetering on consciousness, unable to form sensible words. He glanced at DeMara who already had her tricorder out. “What’s happening to him?”

    She shook her head. “I’m not sure. But he needs medical attention. Right now.”

    “We need to take him back to the ship,” Michael said.

    “There is no way to beam anybody out from within the sphere,” Nora said. “We need to get out of here before we can get a transporter lock.”

    “Let’s go,” he said and helped Nora with carrying his father and DeMara bringing up the rear.

    Michael noticed that both Xylion and Bensu had interrupted their mind-link and were now back on their feet, watching them carry the unconscious admiral out of the sphere. “Stay here and continue your efforts for now. I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he said but couldn’t quite keep his thoughts to stray from his father. For all their disagreements they’ve had over the years, including their most recent spat following the revelation that he had faked his own death, and no matter how much he had told himself that he was finished with his games, he wasn’t sure if he could bear losing him a second time.
     
    Galen4 and mthompson1701 like this.
  15. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Man, like Michael really needs this right now. Whatever is going on with his father appears serious, adding to the stress of an already perilous situation.

    And God only knows what will happen as the crew starts tinkering with the sphere. Especially dangerous with the Prism envolved.

    Looking forward to finding out more about these sub space aliens and their infernal machine!
     
    CeJay likes this.
  16. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    So much is happening here, both in front of us and behind the scenes. While the admiral is finally beginning to show some appreciation for the delicacy of their circumstances, Jarik is obviously prepared to roll the dice as recklessly as necessary to achieve... well, we don't yet know what.

    Now with his father's collapse, Michael has yet another crisis pulling his attention away from the situation at hand.

    We're finally seeing what makes Edison tick, a dangerous combination of regret, fatalism, and possibly a death wish. That's a lot of baggage that he's obviously not yet dealt with in a constructive way.

    Phenomenal stuff, I eagerly await the next installment!
     
    CeJay likes this.
  17. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    25


    It hadn’t taken much time at all for it to become painfully clear to Lif Culsten how different this universe’s version of his home truly was. While the Federation and Starfleet, including the people they had encountered in this reality, seemed to closely mirror those on his side, things were shockingly different on Piqus and by all indication, throughout the Star Alliance.

    And yet small and seemingly unimportant details were almost exactly the same, this much seemed apparent when Garla led him into the exact same skyscraper he had visited previously when he had first come to see her on Piqus.

    He didn’t believe that even Garla knew exactly if she was heading in the right direction, and when he tried to speak to her, she simply hushed him, insisting they didn’t talk until they were alone and out of earshot of anyone who could call their identities into question.

    But like it had been the case with the patrol which had taken Star and the others into custody, none of the guards and officials working in the building challenged Garla as they strode confidently through the lobby and Lif was reminded of the old saying common even among his people that as long as you behaved as if you belonged, nobody thought of protesting your presence.

    There was more to this here, of course, since it was apparent that both their doppelgangers in this universe were highly influential people, Garla’s double more so since she was being afforded even more respect and seemed to wield greater influence then she did in their universe.

    As it was, not a single person stopped them as they walked straight to the elevator, stepped inside and rode it all the way up to the same floor she’d had her office in a universe away. In fact, they found it in exactly the same corner section where Lif had expected it.

    Garla waited for him to follow her inside and then made sure to lock the doors behind him.

    It was only then that Lif allowed himself to breathe again.

    Garla walked over to the large, ceiling-high windows which allowed a spectacular view of the city which was lit up brighter than most population centers Lif had visiting within the Star Alliance.

    He wasn’t interested in the view. “We have to get our people.”

    “They aren’t my people,” she said, keeping her back to him and her gaze intently focused on the cityscape below, one which was dominated by massive factories and warehouses which differently to those on the Piqus they knew, seemed to be fully operational and apparently running around the clock. Lif was sure he had already encountered the people who toiled in them.

    He took a step closer to her. “They are more your people than the Krellonians in this hellhole.”

    She turned to face him. “But they are still Krellonians, Lif.”

    He shook his head. “Not the ones we know. You’ve seen what this society is. It’s built on slave labor and ruthless obedience. Surely this is not what you wanted for the Star Alliance.”

    “Then maybe we need to try and change things.”

    “That would be a tall order, I imagine. And what about our people at home? You had great plans for our society. Are you willing to give all that up to try and fight a battle here which you might never win? Let’s say you do. Let’s assume that you can change this place which, for all we know, has operated in this manner for centuries. What’s next? Do you plan to roam the quantum-verse, one universe at the time and try to fix what is wrong with all of them? It’s an impossible task.”

    “Maybe somebody has to do it,” she said and Lif couldn’t quite tell if she truly was committed as her words seemed to imply. “We have been given an opportunity. Perhaps it is our duty to grasp it and remake this word and any other we may find. Maybe that’s what all this has been about.”

    “I refuse to believe that. I feel for these people, I really do, especially the Outlanders who seem to be no better than slaves. But our responsibility has to be to our universe. We have to ensure that our society doesn’t devolve into something like this,” he said and indicated towards the city.

    Garla shot him a pointed look. “Our responsibility?”

    It hadn’t even occurred to him until she had pointed it out that he had used that term, that he had subconsciously included himself in trying to find a solution for the deteriorating state of his people after he had for so long attempted to distance himself from them. He had little time to consider this verbal slip up further since the doors, which he was certain Garla had locked behind her, were beginning to open.

    Not a moment later, Garla stepped into the room.

    The woman who owned the office stopped after spotting Lif and her own counterpart and the two Garla’s simply regarded each other for a moment.

    “I was in the process of departing for the homeworld when somebody mentioned to me that they thought they had seen me enter my office which I thought to be peculiar since I hadn’t been here all day,” she said slowly, keeping her eyes on her double. “Yet here we both are.”

    Garla Prime didn’t speak as she simply regarded the other her.

    Instigator Garla stepped closer to the window and her counterpart, her face displaying an expression of curiosity, much more so than anger or annoyance. “I know who I am, which leaves the question who you are? A foreign spy made to look like me?” she said and then shook her head. “No, I don’t think so, since I can tell there are differences in the way you wear your hair and your clothing. A clone, perhaps? Or maybe a shapeshifter? Could you be a time traveler?”

    “All good guesses,” Garla said. “None of them are quite right.”

    She nodded. “How intriguing,” she said and when Garla Prime made a move towards her, the other woman pulled out a phaser and pointed it at her. “Forgive the aggressive stance but in my line of work it pays to be overcautious.”

    Garla Prime nodded as she stopped and regarded the weapon. “I understand perfectly.”

    “I suppose if you are anything like me you would,” she said and the glanced over to Lif. “I am assuming you are not my Lif Culsten then?”

    “Not really, no.”

    “I didn’t think so,” she said and focused in on her doppelganger again, clearly quite fascinated by encountering a living mirror image of herself. “You know, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have more than one of me. What I —we—could accomplish together.”

    “That thought had crossed my mind as well.”

    “We seem to be very much alike,” she said and uttered a little laugh. “Beyond the physical aspect, I mean.”

    Lif took a step forward. “Except that we don’t come from a place where we treat people like slaves.”

    She considered him curiously. “You mean the Outlanders?” she said and shrugged. “I take it you must be fairly impressed by what you’ve seen here. The things we’ve been able to achieve since we have conquered the lower races and given them a true purpose.”

    “Disgusted is probably the better term,” he said not doing a great job of masking his feelings as he took a small step towards her large desk.

    She offered a grin at that. “I see. Sounds to me you share those patronizing Federation sensibilities then. What a shame.”

    “I do not,” said Garla Prime and took a careful step forward. “In fact, I care nothing for the Federation. I believe they are a sickening influence on the galaxy with their tiresome insistence that every race follow their outdated and inefficient ethical standards and thereby corrupting the true meaning of strength and power.”

    “Yes, yes,” she said, nodding. “I think I like you.”

    “I’ve heard the speech you’ve made earlier. I have to admit a great many things you said I had never truly considered before. See, I too am looking to restore Krellonian greatness. And I think, perhaps, you have it all figured out already. Perhaps your model is the one to follow,” she said, closing in further.

    Instigator Garla stayed rooted to the spot as she regarded her counterpart carefully. “You say all the right things, I have to admit. And I want to believe you are being genuine, I really do. But here’s the thing: Even if you are, I don’t plan to share my power and with two of us, who is to say whom the people will follow?” She raised her weapon to take aim at the other Garla. “I’m afraid I will have to kill you now.”

    “You don’t wish to learn where I’ve come from?”

    She shrugged. “I’m sure, in time I will find out. But the risk of having you around is just too great. And you’ll be amazed what they can tell from dead bodies these days.”

    Lif had also managed to slowly inch his way closer to the instigator and her desk. Realizing what was about to happen, he reached out for a mobile computer terminal within arm’s length of him on top of the desk and quickly tossed it, aiming it at her head.

    Garla seemed to have anticipated such a move and dodged the device flying towards her easily and in response opened fire at Lif who was already jumping for cover behind the desk.

    He wasn’t quite fast enough and the greenish energy blast struck him in the right arm as he went down hard onto the floor.

    What the instigator had apparently not expected was for her counterpart to disappear right in front of her eyes. “That is a nice trick you have there,” she said, carefully surveying her office to look for a trace of the other woman. “I will make sure to add it to my own repertoire once I have killed you.”

    “A shame you won’t get that chance.”

    The instigator whirled around but it was for naught.

    Lif could hear the telltale sound of a blade cutting through cloth and skin. As he pulled himself up from behind the desk with his good arm, he could see Instigator Garla’s eyes open wide as the tip of a blade penetrated her chest, rapidly soaking her black suit in dark red blood.

    Garla Prime materialized just behind her, her head right next to her double to speak right straight into her ear. “As is the fact that my counterpart in this universe is such a bitch,” she twisted that blade slightly, causing the instigator to twitch slightly before the life left her eyes. Then she slipped off the blade and dropped to the floor.

    The remaining Garla glanced over to Lif. “Are you all right?”

    “Considering the circumstances,” he said, holding his shot arm which burned terribly. “I think the blast just grazed me. Still, it would be nice if I could stop getting shot when I’m around you.”

    Garla wasn’t paying him any more attention. Instead, she had squatted down next to her dead counterpart and stared into her empty eyes.

    Lif slowly walked over to her, but not before making sure that those doors were still closed and locked again. Since he hadn’t heard the sound of guard boots stampeding towards the office, he assumed that Instigator Garla, in her overconfidence, had not called for backup before coming to her office, nor had anyone outside seemed to have overheard the altercation that had just transpired.

    “Looking at your own dead face is disturbing,” Garla said.

    “It’s not your face.”

    She nodded slowly and then reached out for the dead woman’s head to close her eyes. Then she stood, once again staring out the window and the Piqus night. “It’s all been one big lie,” she said.

    “What do you mean?”

    “I’ve seen all this before,” she said.

    “You’ve visited this universe before? How?”

    She shook her head. “I’ve never set foot in this place before today. But they showed this to me. They said that this was what the Star Alliance would become if we didn’t take action and like a fool, I believed them.”

    It took him a moment to understand. “Your allies? The subspace aliens?”

    She nodded. “I thought this was the future,” she said and laughed. “When in truth it was just another reality, completely unrelated to my own.”

    “You never did tell me how you thought you could fix the Star Alliance?”

    “What does it matter now? They were all lies anyway. Lies to get me to provide them the resources they needed for that Creator-forsaken Ring.”

    He stepped up behind her. “Then help us defeat them,” he said. “Let’s get Star and the others and get out of this place. Together we can find a way to confront these creatures and destroy their plans.”

    “And make them regret ever crossing me.”

    He nodded. “Sure, that too.”

    She turned around and offered him a little smile. “Looks like we’re going to work together after all.”

    “I suppose that’s what family does.”
     
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  18. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Man, Garla's double badly underestimated her counterpart!
    Now she's going to help Lif and co. defeat those nasty sub space invaders.

    But can we trust her? If I were Lif I wouldn't turn my back on her for a second. I have a bad feeling about her sudden reversal.

    Looking forward to their return to Eagle and the happy mayhem that will ensue!
     
    CeJay likes this.
  19. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    26


    He hadn’t exactly been crazy about the idea of leaving the away team behind on the Ring, especially not with the presence of the mysterious and powerful artifact that seemed to have the inexplicable ability to create trans-dimensional gateways.

    He wasn’t quite sure why his concern for a father who had alienated him for most of his life had suddenly trumped other concerns. Perhaps it had something to do with the entirely unexpected grief and sense of loss he had felt after he had learned of his passing, which of course had turned out to be an elaborate lie. Or maybe it had been his father’s recent plea to try and make amends for a lifetime of neglecting his family, brought on by the notion, Michael guessed, that neither of them had much family left besides each other.

    It had been rare in his near twenty-five year Starfleet career that he had put the wellbeing and concerns of a single person above those of the mission. The Vulcans had a pertinent saying to that effect and in general, he tended to live his life by that maxim, firmly believing that as a starship captain, it was his duty to prioritize his crew, his mission, sometimes even the fate of entire worlds, above his personal and individual needs, wants and concerns.

    Intellectually, Michael Owens understood all that, and yet, it hadn’t stopped him from carrying his barely conscious father out of the control sphere and then have them both, along with Nora, beamed back onto Eagle.

    He had ordered his security chief back to the Ring the moment they had entered sickbay and his father was taken from their shoulders to be treated by several medical professionals, Elijah Katanga chief amongst them.

    But he stayed behind, hardly moving more than a few meters from where they were working on him, watching on silently as Katanga and his nurses and med techs diagnosed and treated his father.

    No fifteen minutes after he had brought him in, he found himself in his chief physician’s office, pacing the room while keeping his eyes on the biobed Jon Owens was now calmly resting on through the transparent wall. “What’s wrong with him?”

    “I wish I could say.”

    That had not been the answer he had hoped for and he stopped in his tracks to pin the older man with a sharp look to communicate his displeasure.

    Predictably, the ‘Captain’s Stare’ didn’t quite work on a man who was easily twice is age and who had no doubt endured countless such glares in his exhaustive Starfleet career. Elijah Katanga was not a man to be pressured.

    Realizing this, Michael took a different tact. “There’s got to be something you can tell me.”

    Katanga stepped up to the large screen embedded in the sidewall of his office which currently showed a detailed tomographic scan of his patient. “There is some significant cellular damage throughout Admiral Owens’ body which is affecting all of his biological functions,” he said and shook his head. “I’ve never really seen anything quite like it before.”

    Michael stepped closer to the screen but in truth, not much he could see there made a great deal of sense to him. “What is the cause?”

    “I don’t know yet. Not until I’ve been able to carry out some additional analysis.”

    “What’s your prognosis?”

    He uttered a little sigh, clearly not happy to encounter a medical mystery that stumped him. Perhaps this had been different when he had been a young doctor, but Michael guessed that these days, the octogenarian preferred to have solutions, rather than having to painstakingly chase them. That he had the determination and the skills to do so, however, he had already evidenced on Piqus VII. Perhaps more so than Michael had been comfortable with. “It’s too early to tell. The cellular degradation is obvious, what I don’t know yet is how quickly it is progressing and if all cells are affected in equal measure. We have stabilized him for now and he should be fine until—“ he stopped himself and Michael spotted a frown on his face as he glanced over his shoulder and back into the patient ward.

    Michael turned to find what had caught his ire.

    It was his father. He was awake and not just that, he was pushing himself off the biobed, getting up and dismissing the two nurses who were desperately trying to keep him in place.

    “What in the name of the Great Bird of the Galaxy does he think he’s doing?” Katanga said angrily and then rushed out of his office, Michael following on his heels.

    “Sir, I really must insist that you return to your bed,” said a clearly flustered nurse, seemingly torn between physically restraining the admiral and keeping her objections purely vocal.

    “That’s quite alright, Ensign,” Owens Senior said. “You’ve done a fine and commendable job. But I cannot stay here.”

    “There is absolutely no other place for you to be,” Katanga said sharply and positioned himself squarely in the admiral’s path. “You are in no condition to leave you shouldn’t even be on your feet.”

    “And yet here I am,” he shot back. “Upright and ready to work. So, well done, Doctor, your reputation is truly well deserved. You are indeed a master of your craft.”

    Katanga shook his head. “Flattery will get you nowhere with me, sir. Now, return to your bed at once. I have done little to nothing to address the underlying causes of your condition.”

    “I feel perfectly fine, Doctor.”

    “We have given you something to help with the symptoms but that hasn’t changed the fact that you’re most definitely not fine. Not even remotely close to it.”

    Owens Senior tapped the other man on the shoulder good-naturedly. “Let’s agree to disagree. But unless you plan to have me physically restrained by security, I am leaving. There is too much at stake and simply not enough time,” he said as he swiftly sidestepped the doctor and continued towards the door.

    For a moment Michael though that Katanga was going to leap after his father and restrain him all on his own, drag him back to that bed kicking and screaming if he had to.

    That didn’t happen but Michael was convinced that the veteran doctor would have no qualms of making use of ship security to do that work for him. As the chief medical officer, it was within his right to do so and Michael had zero desire to go and kick that particular hornet’s nest and start a power struggle between him, his father and Katanga. Something like that, he was dead certain, would quickly become ugly and likely see nobody come out as a winner in the end.

    He stepped up to Katanga and gently reached for his arm. “Doctor,” he said quietly. “Allow me to deal with this.”

    “Captain, with all due respect, I cannot condone—“

    “I understand, Doctor, I really do. And trust me, I am as concerned about my father’s wellbeing as you are. Probably more so. But perhaps I can get you some answers that otherwise would take you a long way to find out on your own.”

    That seemed to be enough to make him relent somewhat and his expression began to soften slightly. “I think this is a mistake.”

    “Noted,” he said and then quickly followed his father.

    “Is there nobody left on this ship who has the good sense of listening to their doctor?” Michael heard Katanga grumble even as he was hurrying to catch up with his father. “Is that truly too much to ask for?”

    Michael ignored his laments, stepped out of sickbay and found his father walking gingerly down the corridor where he caught up with him easily. “You do realize that you’re putting me into an untenable position, Dad. You need to get back to sickbay and let Katanga check you out properly.”

    Jon Owens shook his head as he continued, albeit at a much slower pace than was his custom. “There’s no point.”

    “What does that mean?”

    “Listen, son. We don’t have the time for this. I need to —“ he stopped walking as he seemed to lose his balance and required the help of the bulkhead to steady himself.

    Michael quickly reached out for him to keep him from collapsing. “Dad, this is ridiculous. Katanga is right, you can barely stand.”

    “Just … just get me to my quarters,” he said. “Please, I beg you, for all of our sakes, do this for me,” he added when Michael remained unconvinced.

    He could not recall ever having seen his father so weak and apparently helpless. He certainly had rarely if ever begged, not even when he had made the seemingly outrageous request a few weeks ago, just before he had faked his death, for him to leave Eagle and join him and his enigmatic undertaking.

    He nodded wordlessly and helped him along to the turbolift and then back to his quarters a few decks above. They hardly exchanged more than a few words on the short trip which took longer than usual due to his father’s weakness he was no longer able to hide.

    Once they had reached his quarters, he managed on his own to get to the bedroom, asking Michael to stay behind.

    “What’s going on, Dad? First I find out Jarik has Darnay's disease and has got who knows how much time left before his body starts failing him and now you’re suffering from some form of cellular degradation which has even Doctor Katanga with all his decades in medicine, entirely stumped. What kind of work are you doing at SAI that is making you all sick?”

    His father didn’t respond but Michael was sure that he could hear the sound of an emptying hypospray coming from the other room. Before he could go to investigate, Jon Owens reappeared by the door.

    “You have to be careful with Jarik.”

    Michael was confused. “Jarik works for you.”

    “It’s complicated.”

    “Then, for the love of God, just uncomplicated it for me. It’s about time you start being straight with me. Seriously, I cannot believe that after all you’ve done, after all the games you’ve played and all those sky high stakes you keep preaching about, that we are still doing that same old dance around the truth.”

    “Help me over there,” he said, indicating towards the sofa positioned beneath the large windows currently showing just a tiny portion of the massive ring structure within the pinkish swirling mass of in-between space.

    Michael did as he asked.

    “After I had to fake my death, Jarik stepped up to play a bigger role at SAI. For all intense and purposes he became its new leader,” he said after he had sat down on the couch, noticeably still weak, although the color was starting to return to his face.

    “What are you saying? That Jarik is following his own agenda?”

    “Leva to Captain Owens.”

    Michael glanced upwards upon hearing his tactical officer’s voice, knowing that he was on the bridge, currently in command of the ship. “Go ahead, Commander.”

    “Sir, we’ve just been contacted by the away team. Xylion appears concerned that a situation is developing that requires your urgent attention.”

    Jon Owens sat up a little straighter upon hearing this. “I was afraid of something like this. It’s Jarik. You can’t let him take over, son,” he said and shook his head. “And right now, I’m in no condition to stop him.”

    “Goddamnit, dad,” Michael mumbled, quietly enough as to not let Leva overhear his budding frustrations. “Commander, advise Xylion that I’m returning now. Owens, out,” he said and then looked at his father. “Are you going to be all right?”

    He nodded. “I’ll be fine, trust me. This isn’t the first time I had an episode like this. It’ll pass. But you need to get over there and keep Jarik in check before it’s too late.”

    Michael regarded his father with a skeptical look. There were still so many questions he desperately needed answers to. Question about what Jarik was really up to and the nature of his father’s condition. But it was clear that Jon Owens was particularly concerned about what his supposed lieutenant was capable of if left to his own devices. Something in his tone had made his blood run cold and convinced him that he had to deal with this latest situation before he could try and get any more answers.

    “Why can’t anything ever be straight forward with you,” he said, doing little to mask his exasperation.

    “Because, and you really should have learned this by now, we just don’t live in a straight-forward universe.”

    He suppressed the urge to counter that things had felt so much less complicated before his father got involved as he promptly left the VIP quarters and headed with all due haste back to the transporter room, already anxious about what new complication he’d have to face once he had returned to the Ring.
     
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  20. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    What is going on with Owens? Is he ill because of the Prism or because of exposure to something else? It's not a good sign that even the CMO is stumped!

    What he said about Jarik is troubling but not surprising. There was something about that dude I never really liked. Michael is going to have his hands full dealing with him, I think.

    Stay healthy and keep writing!
     
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