The Star Eagle Adventures: QD3 - Uncertainty Principle

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by CeJay, Sep 12, 2021.

  1. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The Star Eagle Adventures
    Quantum Divergence - Book III
    Uncertainty Principle



    Previously in Quantum Divergence: Book I – False Vacuum and Book II – State of Entanglement


    The starship Eagle is rerouted from an eagerly anticipated deep-space exploratory mission to a colony world of the xenophobic Krellon Star Alliance, suffering from a devastating medical emergency.

    But before they even reach the borders of that isolated empire just beyond the globular stellar cluster of the Amargosa Diaspora, Michael Owens is briefed by Starfleet’s secretive Department of Special Affairs, formerly run by his recently deceased father and now under the command of Jarik, Michael’s old Academy roommate.

    Jarik, working with Captain Amaya Donners, warns Michael of an impending threat to the entire Federation originating from within subspace and facilitated by powers within the Star Alliance.

    After uncovering a connection between Garla, a Krellonian Sentinel, and a mysterious race of subspace aliens, and with the help of Bensu, Eagle’s enigmatic bartender, the ship comes across the Ring, a massive megastructure hidden deep inside a subspace pocket.

    The ship is sucked into a vortex only to remerge in another universe where the surprised crew comes across familiar faces, including former first officer Eugene Edison, now in command of his version of Eagle and Amaya Donners and the Agamemnon.

    With both Jarik and Admiral Jon Owens on board, the latter having faked his own death, the crew navigates across this familiar yet strange reality to learn more about the subspace aliens and the threat they pose.

    Managing to work with a reluctant Garla, they are able to make contact with the aliens to learn of the Beholder, another piece of a puzzle that is only slowly falling into place.

    Forced to watch helplessly as the Ring wipes out the universe, Eagle barely escapes the same fate by traveling deeper into the quantum-verse and discovering an entirely different reality.

    Here they must face a much more ambitious Krellonian Star Alliance, along with a Federation divided by civil war.

    While Michael Owens embarks on a mission to rescue his abducted father, an away team to the Ring makes contact with Gary Seven, an agent of an interdimensional agency, who enlist the away team to assist in stopping the subspace aliens.

    After Jarik turns traitor, and with the assistance of a disillusioned Amaya Donners, Eagle manages to return to the Ring, only to once again realize that their efforts were seemingly in vain, as another reality begins to crumble around them.



    Prologue: Set the World on Fire

    1

    DZ -75

    It was an unseasonably warm spring evening in the city of Quagum when Themysa found him at his home, sitting just outside his house and enjoying a glass of fermented rice wine as had been his wont as of late.

    Although he was at least twenty cycles her senior, they had formed a close friendship ever since he had been her tutor in civics and political study at the university. It had begun, like many of those things do, as a romantic relationship, with her being attracted to his intellect and he had been smitten with her energy and enthusiasm.

    But they had both quickly learned that those initial feelings were borne out of passion rather than genuine affection and they had decided to remain friends rather than to carry on with a relationship that was destined to fizzle out and fail.

    He had remained her mentor and confidant even after she had left school to pursue a career in politics. It had helped that he too had moved back into that field, quickly rising to the highest levels of the planetary government.

    They’ve had their disagreements over the years, they certainly didn’t see eye to eye on several important issues, but she had been more than a little surprised to hear about his most recent vote in an assembly session just a couple of days earlier.

    “I had not taken you, of all people, as a sleever,” she said even as she approached him sitting on the porch of his rather modest single-story home located in one of the more affluent parts of the city.

    He afforded her with one of his beaming smiles that she had found so irresistible in her younger days when she had spent countless hours in his company speaking with him about anything and everything, from her childhood spent in the hill country, to her upbringing in the city and her dreams of becoming an assemblywoman someday. He’d had an almost uncanny ability to listen to her speak, oftentimes hearing things she hadn’t even said, always with that inspiring smile decorating his lips and never really noticing until much later that while she routinely bared her soul to him, he never once talked about his own past.

    “I don’t believe that is the preferred term,” he said to her as he had another sip of his wine with one hand, and gently stroked his white and bony protrusions that ran lengthwise down his bald, dark-skinned head in neat rows all the way to the back of his neck. Then he raised the bottle as if to offer her a drink.

    She shook her head. “I don’t care what they call themselves. But the idea of simply shrugging off your body to replace it with an artificial shell when it no longer suits you just feels unnatural. Our resources would have been so much better spent on more worthwhile pursuits, such as the space program.”

    He looked past her and toward the city behind her. Although his home was modest, the location he had chosen for it most certainly was not. Positioned on top of one of the taller hills, it afforded a splendid view of the metropolis, currently lit up in bright colors. “If you were to ask our forefathers about vehicles driving themselves or robots carrying out menial tasks to make our lives easier, things we take so much for granted now, I am certain there would have been some among them who would have considered such innovations unnatural as well.”

    “I’m sure you’re right,” she said calmly. She had long since moved past her early habits of arguing her points with a great passion, having learned to temper herself with rationality instead. A lesson he had taught her. “Perhaps the problem is that the Assembly is composed of old men and women, scared of the prospect of dying of old age and desperate to cling to any hope to artificially prolong their lives. Perhaps what the Assembly requires is an infusion of youth and vision.”

    At that, he smiled good-naturedly at her. “That, my dear, I do not doubt at all.”



    DZ -49


    “I cannot believe you did that.”

    Themysa was thoroughly astounded when she had found him sitting by himself at a table in the far corner of the restaurant, the leftovers of his recent meal mostly forgotten in favor of a half-emptied bottle of spiced rice wine.

    But it wasn’t that he had ordered an entire bottle for himself that had her so completely flabbergasted, it was the fact that he possessed only a passing resemblance to the man she had known for almost her entire adult life. He looked like himself, except years younger, as if he was the son she knew he had never had.

    Most disturbingly perhaps, he now looked younger than she did.

    “Was it true after all? You just wanted to live forever?” she said as she wiped the sweat off her brow.

    He looked up at her briefly without paying her much attention. “This isn’t a good time.”

    “You’ve been avoiding me for the last ten cycles, I’ve barely seen you more than a handful of occasions during all that time, and trying to contact you has become increasingly difficult. Now I’ve learned you’ve resigned from your assembly role and I find you hiding in here, wearing your brand-new shell that makes you practically look like a child.”

    He took another sip from his beverage. “The technology is really quite remarkable. You should try it.”

    She shook her head. “I am quite happy with my body the way it is, thank you very much.”

    “You’d be amazed by the results. I thought I knew what I had lost in old age. Turns out, I was only half right,” he said, although he sounded somewhat flat, his tone not quite matching the enthusiasm his words seemed to imply.

    “Is that what you’ve become? A cheerleader of sleeves?”

    He finished his drink and toggled the payment sensor at his table before he stood and headed for the doors. “I wish I had time for that.”

    She was not willing to give up so quickly. She had spent a significant amount of time and effort to track him down, had been surprised to be told that he was no longer working for the Assembly, it had almost been as if he had dropped off the face of Celerias altogether until she had heard of rumors that somebody matching his description, albeit loosely, had been seen frequenting this establishment.

    Now that she had found him, she was not willing to give up so easily. “Pray tell me what’s been keeping you so busy for the last few cycles if it is not working for your new masters at the sleeve builders?”
    They stepped outside and he stopped for a moment, looking skyward. “Hot day we’re having.”

    “It’s called a heatwave,” she said, not willing to change the subject

    He nodded and then glanced at her.

    “You were telling me what you’ve been working on.”

    “Do you recall our conversations back at the university about trying to make a real impact on the world we live in?”

    “It’s how you convinced me to go into politics,” she said, recalling those conversations quite vividly. She had been so optimistic and eager in those days, barely able to wait to graduate and start tackling the greatest issues facing their society.

    “I was wrong,” he said.

    A large skimmer pulled up next to them. It was white and sleek with no visible markings, like the ones people of affluence liked to ride in, those who had suddenly found themselves able to use their wealth to purchase new bodies as if they were suits of clothing.

    It was a fad, she had decided, a new fixation of the rich and famous to spend their money on. Rather than invest in houses or boats, they could now get younger and stronger, and more beautiful for the right price.

    Without another word, he slipped into the vehicle and drove off, leaving her to look after him.

    “What happened to you?”
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2021
  2. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commander Red Shirt

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    The long-awaited continuation!

    This thing is starting to rival the Wheel of Time... Thanks!! rbs
     
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  3. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

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    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Very cool back story! Can’t wait to see how it fits into the next part of this saga.

    And who is this mysterious “he” ?
    I have ideas but we’ll all have to wait for answers!
     
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  4. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commander Red Shirt

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    I'm thinking about a Long Island Iced Tea - with a dash of Aldebaren Whisky...
     
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  5. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

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    The first round’s on me!
     
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  6. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    2

    DZ -33


    She didn’t recognize the face staring back at her in the mirror.

    It belonged to a stranger and yet it was now hers.

    The irony of it all, of course, didn’t escape her one bit.

    For most of her life, she had been an outspoken opponent of the sleeve program and determined to live out her natural life in the body she had been born with, even as the technology continued to improve seemingly with every cycle. And as it became more and more affordable, people from all walks of life were now drawn to the prospect of switching into a younger body, or perhaps even into an entirely different one.

    Many of her friends, she knew, had either already purchased one or joined the waiting list to receive their replacement shell once their natural body expired, enticed by the prospect of immortality.

    She on the other hand had stubbornly held out.

    Until the accident.

    Only twelve people had survived the maglev train derailment, and she had been among only two who would have died within days had it not been for an emergency sleeve procedure. She had approved the body swap at the time, lying in the hospital bed, barely conscious enough to understand what had been proposed.

    She didn’t regret her decision. After all, it had been the only way to save her life, even if the only body that had been available at short notice had been of the opposite sex.

    She had been told that she could change her shell again to something more familiar but she had stubbornly refused and instead decided to stick to what she had been given, and in honesty, she had been more than a little curious to find out what it would be like to go through life as a male member of her species.

    It had been somewhat awkward at first and she had found that she had to relearn certain parts of her daily routine she had long since taken for granted, but after an adjustment period that had lasted half a cycle or so, she had come to realize that, although she looked very different now, none of the things that truly mattered to her had changed.

    It hadn’t stopped her though from reconsidering some of her life choices. She had left politics and had started a career as an investigator, something she had quickly found to be a more rewarding occupation.

    It certainly had kept her busy.

    “I hate to add to your slate but I’ve got another case for you,” said Trayus, her affable supervisor at the agency she worked at as she returned to her desk. He slipped her a padd just as she sat down.

    “You cannot be serious. The heatwave has half the city acting crazy. I’m buried in cases.”

    He frowned. “Heightened solar flare activity is the preferred term.”

    “Right.”

    “And according to the Assembly, it is due to subside within the next five to six cycles. Until then we’ll all just have to bear the warmer weather and cope with its consequences. It’s got us all far busier than usual.”

    Themysa, who had decided to keep her pre-sleeve name, gave Trayus the same looks she always did when it came to the subject. She had worked for the Assembly once and their official statements didn’t fill her with a great amount of confidence. It was one of the reasons she was an investigator now.

    She glanced at the padd and brought up the case file. “What is it?”

    “Reports of unsanctioned activity in the Morta Flatlands.”

    “Morta? So what? Nobody lives out there.”

    He shrugged. “It’s still protected territory and access is strictly regulated.”

    “You have to be kidding me?” she said with an exasperated sigh. “I’ve got two dozen cases of city folk slowly going insane and you want to send me out into the middle of nowhere to look into somebody trespassing into a nature preserve? In this stinking heat?”

    He looked vaguely apologetic. “It’s the job.”

    She uttered another sigh as she began to review the case file on the padd. There wasn’t much there. A few reports from rangers working in the area and a few blurry high-altitude surveillance photographs.

    With so little evidence to go by, she hoped it meant she wouldn’t need to spend much time on this case. It would take her nearly two days to get all the way out to Morta.

    She was about to add the file to her caseload when she spotted something in the last photograph that caught her attention.

    Trayus noticed her sudden interest with a grin. “See, that’s why you are my favorite investigator. You see the details where others don’t. You’ll solve this one in no time.”

    But she wasn’t listening to him anymore.

    The image she had found showed a skimmer traversing the flatlands. It was too far away to make out any details but she could tell that it was large and painted white. It was an older model, one that had been quite expansive once and certainly not the kind of vehicle one would expect this far out in the sticks.

    She had seen it before.

    “What would you be doing all the way out there?” she mumbled to herself but Trayus had already walked away.




    DZ -25


    Conditions had not improved. If anything, things had gotten worse and the Assembly had only recently admitted that it had started to construct underground cities when the massive civil works projects simply became far too large to hide.

    Temperatures in the southern hemisphere of Celerias were now so high most of the time, that the majority of the population had started to migrate north, including into the city of Quagum.

    The large population increase in the capital had also spurred public unrest and crime rates have skyrocketed, forcing investigators such as Themysa to spend most of her time working as a peace officer rather than doing her actual job, meaning that many of her cases had fallen significantly behind.

    Her department had suffered in other ways as well, with a large number of her fellow investigators having left their positions when it had become clear that they would no longer be able to do the work that they had signed on for. One of those who had left had been her superior Trayus who had been replaced with a woman younger than Themysa and with far less patience.

    “We had another explosion in sector four this morning,” said Heleria, the chief investigator. “All signs point towards a terrorist attack. I need you to get out there right away.”

    But Themysa shook her head. “What’s the point? If it’s like all the other bombings, there’ll be nothing left to find. And we have enough officers on site for crowd control and evidence recovery. I think my time would be better spent following up on leads from here.”

    Heleria looked dubious. “What do you expect to learn from your desk?”

    Themysa, who had become quite used to her male shell over the last cycles, pointed at her computer screen. “From initial reports, these attackers used the same chemical compound to create their bombs as the last three. I think we are looking at the same group. If I can locate the source of those materials and determine who obtained them, I might be able to identify the responsible party.”

    Heleria regarded her screen for only a few seconds. “Fine. You have five days. If you don’t find anything, I want you back out there,” she said and then quickly left. Themysa had long since realized that there was little point in arguing with the chief investigator.

    She spent the rest of her day following up on purchases of chemical compounds in the city and the region.

    It didn’t take her long to realize that she was on to something. Purchases had steadily increased over the last ten cycles or so and she was able to identify a noticeable pattern as she dug a little deeper.

    Most of the purchases were carried out by companies that appeared unrelated to each other at first glance until she realized that all of them seemed to be nothing more than companies in name only with no physical locations or employees. And they were all owned by other, similar entities.

    It took her most of her five days to follow all the threads that to her utter astonishment led her to a very familiar name.

    The person who owned all those companies, it seemed, was somebody she knew very well. Or at least, had known very well once.

    However, there was no trace of him anywhere.

    He had sold his house overlooking the city cycles ago and nobody who used to work with him knew his whereabouts.

    She was out of options and her deadline to produce results was coming up fast. It was then that she recalled the last time she had thought she had spotted him. It had been a trespassing case out in the Morta Flatlands she’d never had time to follow up on.

    With no other leads to go on and Heleria breathing down her neck, she decided to leave the city.

    With the nearly unbearable heat during the day, she had to travel mostly during the night. It was a two-day trip to the nature preserve where she had picked up surveillance images of the skimmer cycles earlier. She found a cheap hotel to sleep in during the day and spend most of the night hours driving her skimmer into continuously more barren and rocky territory.

    People were scarce in this part of the world, as nobody ventured out here anymore and although it had once been an area teeming with life, the high temperatures had killed off most of the fauna and flora over the cycles.

    She arrived at his last known location after a six-hour drive. She wasn’t sure what she had expected to find. In the back of her mind, she had told herself that this entire excursion had been a phenomenal waste of her time, after all, Morta was a huge area, and trying to find just one person within the flatlands was a fool’s errand.

    She spotted the massive spire almost immediately.

    It wasn’t man-made and at least a hundred meters tall, sticking out from the surrounding landscape like a sore thumb.

    She parked her skimmer half a kilometer away at the foot of one of the many rock formations in the area and then hiked a short while until she found a good vantage point on top of a ridge.

    The spire was part of an installation, perhaps thirty or forty square meters in size. There was a small storage building and she could see several canisters and containers arranged on a platform. The spire had been erected at the center of the platform.

    There was a missile-like device attached to the spire that launched just a couple of minutes after she had reached the ridge.

    The bright flash of its thrusters blinded her for a moment and when she could see again she found that it was shooting straight up into the early morning sky.

    The sun was already up, looming far larger than it should have been and generating enough heat to make her sweaty and uncomfortable.

    She followed the path of the rocket, having to shield her eyes with her hand, fairly certain it was heading right for the sun.

    After a few minutes she could no longer spot it in the sky and she began to head towards the installation. Halfway there she saw somebody getting into a large white skimmer and speed off.

    As she had suspected the many barrels in the storage building contained the chemical compound that had led her to this place. There were parts for many other rockets and upon closer inspection, she found that they were designed to deliver a specific payload. Since she couldn’t identify what it was, she took a sample.

    Before she made her way back to her skimmer, she spotted the many discarded beverage cans on the ground and picked one up.

    She recognized the brand immediately.

    Spiced rice wine.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2021
  7. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
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    Looks like Themysa has undergone a transformation... I'm really enjoying this thread and hope to see a lot more of it - really great science fiction. I'll leave a more detailed review over at AA after I recover from GenCon. I'll probably spend Monday sound asleep all day... Thanks!! rbs
     
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  8. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

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    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    There’s more than one element of intrigue here. First we have the obvious destruction or at the very least disruption of this planet’s civilization due to solar changes.

    Then there’s the concept of people being able to migrate their consciousness into artificial bodies. (Always cool and not as far fetched as it used to seem, BTW.)

    It’s also worth mentioning the concept of gender fluidity, which isn’t shied away from either.

    Finally how does this fit into the present story?

    Don’t know but anxious to find out!
     
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  9. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    3


    DZ -12


    Matters had deteriorated rapidly over the last thirteen cycles.

    A good half of the planet was no longer able to sustain life on the surface due to extreme temperatures and even in northern cities such as Quagum, spending more than an hour outside posed significant health risks.

    The Assembly had held fast to their narrative that the increased solar flare activity of the sun was merely a temporary condition but by now, several independent scientists were seriously disputing this interpretation of available data and large parts of the population were close to all-out panic.

    The construction of underground cities was no longer an open secret, in fact, mandatory evacuation orders were in full effect and Themysa spend the majority of her days supporting that effort.

    She had recently switched back into a new sleeve, one which looked a great deal like her former body, albeit younger than it had been when she had lost it.

    Although society had started to crack, the production of synthetic bodies remained at an all-time high, feeding the people’s ongoing desire to switch out shells at will for no other reason than vanity or excitement. With all the problems facing their world, the government highly encouraged sleeve swaps now that they were cheap enough to be affordable even for the non-wealthy.

    Themysa knew that it was nothing more than an opiate for the masses, something to take their mind off the fact that their world, their way of life, was crumbling all around them.

    But that belief hadn’t stopped her to jump on that same bandwagon. She had felt a little guilty, sure, but she had rationalized it with the fact that her current synthetic sleeve had started to deteriorate—it had been an early model after all. Not in any significant way, but enough to slow her down when she could least afford it.

    And she had to admit that she had grown increasingly nostalgic for the old her and eager to be a woman once more, both in mind and body.

    “Let’s keep it moving, people,” she shouted, not for the first time, as she herded a crowd towards an access tunnel to Quagum’s designated underground city.

    It was a thankless task, most of these people were strugglers who had no desire to leave the homes they had known for most of their lives to move to a barely completed and barely adequate home underneath the surface.

    Fights and resistance were commonplace and she had been forced to use her stun baton on a number of people who had refused her directives or tried to incite riots.

    She grabbed a particularly slow-moving man by the shoulder and dragged him forward. “Keep going. Don’t hold up the line.”

    The man glared back at her and then shoved back so hard, it caused her to nearly topple over.

    She responded in kind, bringing up her baton and striking him hard until he fell to the ground bleeding from his face.

    A few cycles ago she had been hesitant to use force against evacuees but things had changed. Their reluctance to cooperate only put more people at risk. She didn’t like herself for doing it, but she understood that decisive action was required for the greater good.

    She gestured a few of her colleagues over who quickly took the beaten man and dragged him away.

    The disturbance had given some others in line a chance to try and make a run for it. She knew the drill.

    She activated her comm unit and within moments hover drones appeared above, their bright spotlights quickly identifying the runners and firing tranquilizer rounds to neutralize them before they could escape deeper into the city.

    Themysa noticed that one escapee had seemingly eluded the drones and she took off after him. “Stop,” she yelled.

    The man didn’t listen.

    She hated this part. Chasing down evacuees through the narrow alleyways of the mostly deserted city was a chore with all her armor and protective gear.

    And he wasn’t making it easy on her.

    She could tell that he had a synthetic shell as well, and it was young and strong and doing a more than adequate job at running and jumping or dodging obstacles to keep his distance.

    What he didn’t have, however, was the law enforcement package. It had been a requirement when she got her new sleeve and it afforded her greater strength and stamina.

    In the end, it was enough to catch him.

    When she had closed in on her prey, she used the remains of a burned-out skimmer abandoned at the side of the road to propel herself into the air and forward to tackle the fleeing man from above.

    They both went down hard, with the runner taking the brunt of the fall.

    She rolled on the ground and when she came back up, her helmet beacon revealed a face she knew well.

    He looked younger than the last time she had seen him which, of course, was no longer much of a surprise.

    Finding him here was.

    She raised the dark visor of her helmet to show him her face.

    He didn’t seem nearly as startled at finding her. “You had an upgrade,” he said, breathing hard, as he slowly sat up against the destroyed skimmer. “I recall that you didn’t trust sleeves.”

    “Things change.”

    He uttered a laugh but there wasn’t much humor to it. “So very true,” he said and glanced up towards the night sky that refused to provide any relief from the relentless heat.

    “Where have you been?”

    He reached into the pocket of his vest to retrieve a small flask and took a sip.

    She could smell the spiced rice wine from where she was picking herself off the ground. Protocol required her to bring up her weapon or call for backup but she kept her sidearm holstered and her comms offline.

    “Oh, I’ve been busy. I’ve been so very busy,” he said, laughing again.

    “I know,” she said. “Out in the Mora Flatlands.”
    He seemed surprised by this.

    “I’ve followed you there once. Saw your contraptions. Shooting missiles into the sky. What for?”

    He regarded her for a moment. “I’m afraid you wouldn’t understand,” he said and took another sip but found his flask empty. He dropped it as he stood back up. “But I still have a lot of work to do. So you see, I cannot go down yet.”

    “What work could you possibly be doing?”

    “I’m reshaping the world, Themysa,” he said as he turned his back on her and began to walk away. “I’m reshaping the world.”

    She got some chatter on her comms, one of her fellow units required assistance. By the time she looked back up, he had slipped away into the darkness.

    She considered for a moment if she should follow him and take him in, force him back into the underground city as was her duty.

    She turned and left to return to her post.





    Day Zero -0 cycles


    Themysa uttered a little curse under her breath as she held on to the computer on her desk to keep it from falling off as the entire building around her trembled.

    It was bad enough that she now had to reside in a cramped underground city and spend the majority of her life below the surface, the recent tremors caused by sporadic solar flares could turn certain days into a living hell. The nights were worse.

    The shaking subsided after less than a minute, as it usually did, and everybody around her quickly went back to work as if nothing out of the ordinary had transpired.

    After two cycles of this routine, it had become a fact of life.

    A young man stepped up to her desk. She knew he was young in appearance only, Gethra was on his third sleeve and had been one of the department's laboratory technicians for at least two of them.

    “My team managed to get caught up on some of the work we’ve been behind on and we found a number of your requests in the queue,” he said and handed her a data slate.

    She took it and looked it over, her eyes widening slightly as she scanned the content. “Are you serious? Some of this stuff is thirty cycles old.”

    He simply shrugged. “We’ve been behind quite a bit.”

    “Some of this goes back to the time I first joined the department,” she said. “When we were still on the surface. What do you expect me to do with this now?”

    He didn’t seem all that interested and turned. “Not my concern.”

    “Wait a minute, what is this?” she said as she found the one entry on the slate that had no conclusive lab results listed against it.

    Gethra turned back. “Yes, that one. Must have been a contaminated sample.”

    “Why?”

    “Because otherwise, the results do not make sense. The sample showed chemical elements that are not native to Celerias.”

    “Extraterrestrial?”

    He smirked as if she had made a bad joke. “Sure, if that’s what you like to believe. But if you want a scientific explanation, based on those quantities, it is far more likely that the sample you obtained was contaminated,” he said and then quickly left, having accomplished his mission of sharing his findings with her, no matter how useless they were after all this time.

    She was mostly annoyed by his attitude and the implication that she had somehow corrupted evidence when obtaining it and decided to follow up on it. She had to search her case files to find what this particular sample related to.

    Although much had been lost in their rushed evacuations to the underground cities, thankfully data had not been among the things left behind and it didn’t take her long to bring up the correct file.

    She remembered it immediately.

    It was the sample she had collected from the launch station out in the Mora Flatlands. It had been part of the payload of the missiles he had shot into the sky.

    With everything else that had been going on, she had all but forgotten about that incident. But things were coming back to her now and she decided to dive into it a bit further.

    She checked the records and was surprised to learn that he was once again registered and employed, this time as an assistant to an Assembly science advisor. Something she found suspicious.

    She realized that over the cycles she had missed plenty of opportunities to attempt to get to the bottom of her old mentor’s strange behavior and probably let him get away with things she shouldn’t have because of the relationship they had once shared.

    But he had changed. So much so that he may as well have become an entirely different person with each new sleeve.

    She was surprised how little data she could find about him in the records but she did locate his registered residence.

    “We have another riot in Sector C,” Heleria, her supervisor, said as she came rushing over to her desk. The woman had just recently upgraded into another shell that looked identical to her old one and kept her eternally youthful in appearance. “I need all available bodies there now.”

    But Themyra had made up her mind. She was going to confront him once and for all and this time she would not let herself be distracted.

    “Where do you think you’re going?” Heleria called when she walked away from her.

    “Dealing with some unfinished business.”

    Her supervisor said something else but she couldn’t make out what it was as she was already out of the door. She very much doubted that one extra person would make much of a difference dealing with yet another riot, an almost weekly occurrence as of late.

    She had to cross almost half the underground city to reach his residence, a task made somewhat easier thanks to her security credentials.

    She still had to stop at least once when the city was gripped by another quake, this one felt worse than the others and she watched on as part of the buildings around her took serious damage. A few unlucky bystanders were hurt and she dutifully called it in but refused to stay and help.

    She had questions she needed answers to and she’d be damned if she didn’t get them.

    It was the late evening by the time she reached his residence, a modest apartment inside a large tenement building that like so many others had been constructed in a hurry and was already overcrowded.

    The door to his unit was slightly ajar and so she let herself in unannounced.

    She was surprised how bare the apartment looked as if he had only just moved in and had not had the time to unpack his belongings. According to his records, he had lived there for over five cycles.

    She found him in the living area.

    He still looked young, younger perhaps than she had ever seen him in his natural body and she wondered if he had replaced his shell yet again since she had last run into him during the evacuation.

    “What a pleasant surprise,” he said with a wide grin upon seeing her inside his apartment. “An old friend has come to see me.”

    His voice was slightly slurred and her experience immediately told her that he was inebriated. Then again, it didn’t require a detective’s instinct to draw conclusions from the many discarded cans littering the room.

    “Don’t have many of those anymore,” he said and headed for the open kitchen area. “Can I offer you a drink? I’m sure I’ve got one left here somewhere.” However, he seemed to struggle to find a can that wasn’t already emptied.

    “I’m good.”

    He turned to face her. “How have you been? You joined the peace corps, I see. Never took you for an authoritarian.”

    “I joined to be an investigator. As the cycles went on there was less and less need for investigators and I became a peace officer. But you know that. We’ve run into each other during the evacuations.”

    “Oh, we did?”

    “Yes, remember? You told me that you were reshaping the world.”

    He laughed. “Yes, yes, of course.”

    She wondered how drunk he had been back then. “And how did that go?”

    He finally found another can but instead of offering it to her, he opened it and took a sip himself. He laughed again and then spread his arms as if to indicate their surroundings. “Can’t you see? It is reshaped. I’m certain neither of us would have expected to live out our lives buried deep below the surface seventy-five cycles ago.”

    “What are you saying? That you’re somehow responsible for all of this?”

    He laughed again. “You are the investigator. You tell me.”

    A fit of sudden anger gripped her and she stepped up closer to him, slapping the beverage out of his hand and causing him to stumble back.

    “Maybe I’m starting to believe that you are,” she said. “A lot of things you’ve done haven’t made a lot of sense to me. The way you voted when you were still a member of the Assembly, for example. People are saying that if we had invested in a space program in those days, we could have established colonies on other worlds by now, instead of hiding ourselves away underground. But you and your vain assembly members supported the sleeve program instead.”

    He shrugged. “Neither of us would still be here without it.”

    “And what exactly did you fire up into the sky all those cycles ago? Lab tests show that it was material not even native to this planet. Did you shoot it into the sun? It seems to me things got a lot worse after that.”

    “It doesn’t matter,” he said and turned away.

    But she wasn’t finished. “Your behavior changed so much over the cycles I hardly recognize you anymore. And don’t blame the sleeves. I switched from a female body to a male one and back again, and while my appearances may have changed over the cycles, I never lost track of who I truly am.”

    “Good for you.”

    “I’m starting to wonder if I ever knew who you were,” she said as she continued, following him across the apartment as he seemed desperate to keep her distance. “I checked your records and there is nothing there about you before about a hundred cycles ago. No records whatsoever. No reference to where you were born or who your parents were.”

    “That’s a long time ago. Records get lost.”

    But she shook her head. “Just yours, it seems. See, I remember back when I was a young student and we were together at the university, I remember how you let me talk for hours about my life, my past, and my dreams. But you know what? Not once do I recall you ever speaking about your life.”

    Another tremor hit the city, strong enough to force them both to hold on to the walls until it had subsided.

    She reached out for his back now turned to her and spun him around. “Tell me, once and for all. Who are you and what have you done?”

    He looked at her and then started to laugh again.

    She shook him. “What have you done?”

    “Are you familiar with the stories of the Worldtaker?”

    “What?”

    “The legend,” he said.

    She shook her head. “Ancient myths and superstitions of a long bygone area.”

    “Maybe,” he said with a shrug. “Then again, maybe not.”

    “What does any of that have to do with you?”

    “Oh, my dear, lovely Themyra, can’t you see? It’s me. I’m the Worldtaker. I’ve burned it all down, I’ve destroyed your world.”

    “My world?”

    Another quake.

    This time he lunged at her, grabbing her and holding her so tight to his body that she couldn’t escape. “What are you doing?”
    “This is it,” he whispered in her ear.

    This tremor didn’t end.

    Instead, it only got worse.

    Panic began to grip her as she felt the building around her crumble and yet he still wouldn’t let go of her.

    “What have you done, Bensu?” she screamed.

    Then came a sudden burst of heat, worse than anything she had ever felt before.

    Then came nothing at all.
     
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  10. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    I'll have that Long Island Iced Tea with a dash of Aldebaren Whisky now that we know who the bartender was... Galen4 is buying. Worldtaker, eh? Sounds like he wasn't a very nice guy all those sleeves ago.

    In answer to a question you posed over on Ad Astra, it was Stephen Hawking:

    https://www.newsweek.com/stephen-hawking-warns-100-years-earth-extinction-593609#:~:text=Hawking%2C%20the%20English%20physicist%2C%20warns%20humanity%20needs%20to,become%20a%20multiplanetary%20species%20to%20ensure%20its%20survival.

    Thanks!! rbs
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2021
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  11. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    WTF?? Bensu is the Worldtaker? The game's afoot!

    (So I'm thinking he didn't put that on his resume?)

    But I wonder if Bensu has another identity or if this is the real him. I mean, it sounds like he's been crashing parties for a while now. The Worldtaker could be anything from a separate entity that can take over bodies to a malicious AI or something else all together.

    Since he's included in a story about subspace aliens and universe-crushing machines, it can't be a good thing.

    Keep it coming!
     
  12. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Part I: The Hard Hello


    1



    He was floating through the infinite void.

    He was shapeless, without form, without a body, just pure, focused thought. And the space around him was devoid of any constellations or nebulae he recognized. It was a maelstrom of color and movement, the beauty of which mesmerized him while at the same time it threatened to drive him to the edge of insanity.

    No mortal, he was certain, had ever laid eyes upon what stretched out before him now and had been able to keep their wits about them. Quite possibly, no human being had ever seen what he glimpsed now. There were no words in his language or any language to describe its sheer splendor and total madness.

    Beings possessing power far beyond anything he could have ever imagined made this realm their home. He could only perceive them as indistinct shapes and blurry motions existing in the space just outside his own perception.

    The entire universe bend to their all-consuming will and there was no force in all of creation greater than theirs. He wasn’t sure how he knew this, how he could possibly understand any of it, and yet he had no doubts that this had to be true.

    He opened his eyes as if he had slept for centuries and it took a long time to shake the persistent cobwebs in his brain which struggled to interpret what his eyes were trying to show him.

    He stood on a shimmering bridge of blue light with an endless pink depth below. A corridor stretched out in front of him, seemingly with no end in sight.

    He had been here before, he knew.

    He tried a few, cautious steps, not entirely sure if he could trust his legs to carry him.

    He was alone but he could hear their sound.

    The clicking noises were all around him, insistent and indecipherable, unrelentingly mocking his presence here, a place where he clearly did not belong.

    He came to a room and the large window showed him nothing but more of that swirling salmon-colored mass.

    Although he saw nothing there, the sight drew him closer until he stood less than an arm’s length from the transparent material.

    Then he saw it. It was as if a thick fog had cleared suddenly. At first, it was just a small skeletal structure, not much larger than an orbital observation post but it grew quickly and he watched on as it expanded not unlike in a time-lapse, growing to the size of a starship, then a station, an orbital dry dock and very soon becoming a superstructure rivaling the size of a small moon. It took on a distinct circular shape as it became larger than a planet, then a star, then a Dyson Sphere. Looking at its rapid growth made him dizzy but he kept his eyes on the expanding ring shape. Not a moment after the ring had closed, it began to move, to spin on its own axis, faster and faster, and until he could feel the vibrations rattling his bones.

    A bright flash, followed by a powerful shockwave forced him to stumble backward and he lost his bearings completely.

    Once the room had stopped spinning the Ring was gone. And so, in fact, was the room itself.

    He was in a cargo bay. There, beyond a force field, a reptilian creature with large, round eyes and clad in a long, hooded robe was writhing on the ground. A man in a Starfleet uniform was hovering above it. The dark-skinned Vulcan was shouting questions he couldn’t understand while the creature squirmed in agony.

    Another flash and the cargo bay was gone.

    A man walked toward him and he knew that face well, it was after all not so different from his own. The man was smiling and yet also frowning at the same time. His own senses told him that this wasn’t possible and yet the approaching dead man was showing him two faces at the same time.

    The dead man reached out with one hand but no matter how close he came, no matter the shrinking distance between them, he could not reach him.

    Another flash made him disappear and, in his stead, he saw another dead man. Somebody who had once been a friend and confidant to him but the bearded man was none of those things now. Instead, he snarled and growled at him, like an angry animal and then he too was gone.

    He felt a presence behind him and it was her.

    She smiled at him pleasantly as she quickly melted the distance between them. She pressed her lips against his for a brief moment he wished lasted longer. Then she reached for his neck, stroking lovingly at first but before he even understood what she was doing, she had a firm grip around his throat and squeezing it with such force, he felt his consciousness slipping away.

    She was laughing maniacally but he couldn’t hear a sound.

    Somewhere beyond her, a Vulcan and an Orion man were laughing right along.

    The flash saved him yet again but this time it drowned his world into darkness. He fell to his knees onto a floor he couldn’t see.

    Blind and with no notion as to where he was, he stumbled around helplessly on his hands and knees.

    Then somebody grabbed his hand and pulled him roughly back onto his feet.

    The face that greeted him out of the darkness was his own.

    His twin looked him over for a brief moment, appraising his mirror image. He didn’t seem to like what he was seeing and he turned his back and walked away.

    He tried to follow, to reach out for the other him but something unseen prevented him to make contact until he was gone as well, leaving him alone in the darkness once more.

    A cold shudder came over him as he felt the temperature dropping suddenly to what felt like sub-zero.

    A single, focused red light penetrated the darkness somewhere ahead. It struck him right in the eye, blinding him for a moment before he raised his hand to block it.

    He slowly moved his hand and squinted to try and see.

    A person, more machine than man stood in the distance, too far away to make out any features but he knew exactly what it was he was looking at and it inspired a primal fear within him, unlike anything he had ever felt.

    He wanted to run, to hide, to disappear but his feet were frozen solid to the ground.

    The silence all around him was pierced once more by that harrowing clicking noise. It started silently and subdued but it was growing more prominent with each second.

    The machine creature was gone but in its stead someone, something else had appeared.

    The darkness gave way to a lush green field and he was forced to squint and raise a hand in front of his face again as a bright sun had unexpectedly banished the dark and was now blinding him.

    The robed, reptilian creatures stood all around him.

    It took him a moment to realize, that it wasn’t him they were surrounding but the other man.

    Bensu.

    He had his arms raised, his palms facing the sky as he looked right at him.

    The clicking sounds were becoming so loud they were booming now.

    And all of a sudden he could hear what it was they were chanting with the kind of crystal clarity that had eluded him so far.

    “World-taker, World-taker, World-taker.”

    Bensu smiled. “Now it begins. Now it ends.”

    He watched the man close his eyes and his body beginning to shift unnaturally, slowly turning into pure bright light.

    He understood immediately what he was doing.

    He was ending it all.

    “No,” he heard himself scream as he began to race towards the bright light.

    Even as he ran, he could see the world around him fall to pieces. The meadow, the sky, the clouds, the sun, they all crumbled, piece by piece as the chant grew louder and louder still.

    The chant continued like the never-ending beat of a drum, but the words had changed: “Be-holder, Be-holder, Be-holder.”

    The ground under his feet disappeared and he fell.

    The voices were gone.

    And he knew. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was all gone.

    Everything that had ever been or would ever be.

    He had failed.
     
  13. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Couldn't help it, having been a Dungeon Master many long years ago. Now I'm going to have to write one of those beasts into a Trek short story...

    Nice shifty dream sequence, presenting the question - one Bensu, two Bensu, three, maybe more? I'll leave a more detailed review over on Ad Astra later on.

    Thanks!! rbs
     
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  14. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    If this is still Bensu he’s really creeping me out at this point. Maybe something else is pulling his strings. He might be living through his own hell of reincarnation, dying over and over again just to come back as a destroyer of worlds…

    There’s a whole lot left to explore here. Glad I’m still on this ride!
     
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  15. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    2


    The world around him was blurred and out of focus but bright enough that the light hurt his eyes.

    It took a moment until he could be sure that all his extremities were still connected to his body but the dry sensation in his mouth seemed unwilling to pass.

    His mind caught up slower than his body. Only after he had started to stir did he also regain glimpses of what had transpired and even then, he struggled to distinguish actual events from a powerful, soul-crushing vision he had experienced. At least, he hoped it had only been a vision.

    It had been both depressing and confusing, it had felt like somebody had dropped all his worst nightmares into a blender and mashed them together until it had become impossible to distinguish one from the other. To tell apart what had been memories of things that had come to pass from possible premonitions of what could still take place in the future.

    “Beholder.”

    The name punched itself through his foggy consciousness, not unlike a razor-sharp knife driven right through his cerebrum.

    It caused him to respond physically, and he jerked upwards far quicker than his body was prepared to. Naturally, he paid the price.

    Lifting himself off the floor suddenly, his feet gave out almost immediately and he painfully slumped back onto the carpet uttering a low moan that never reached his ears.

    The anguish that had spread through his being forced him to try again, but slower this time and with a greater appreciation of his obvious weakness.

    The bridge had steadily come into focus again and he was able to distinguish and recognize familiar shapes and patterns all around him.

    He managed to get back onto his hands and knees and tried to call out.

    “Report,” he said but mostly only inside his own mind as the word refused to form on his lips and sounded more like an unintelligible gasp to his ears.

    He spotted his chair nearby and reached out for it with a trembling hand. Once he had found purchase, he held on to the cushion as if his life depended on it.

    Slowly yet steadily he managed to drag himself into his seat and then allowed himself a moment to take a deep breath and survey his bridge.

    There was noticeable damage. The starboard wing console by the bulkhead to his right-hand side had clearly burned out, likely from a power surge, and was flickering on and off. The main viewscreen was without power and he could see an exposed conduit near the doors that led to his ready room.

    Although he knew well that assessing his ship’s status purely based on what he could see did not tell him the full story, he had to admit that he had seen his bridge in far worse conditions than it appeared now.

    He was far more concerned about his crew.

    DeMara was slumped over her ops console to the left and Ensign Srena was lying on her side immediately next to her chair at the conn to the right. Tazla Star was lying flat on her stomach not far from her usual seat.

    He forced himself to fight through the soreness of his body and made it out of his chair and then half walked, half stumbled over to where his first officer was lying. He practically fell to his knees beside her and, holding his breath, he reached for her neck to find a pulse.

    His anxiety abated slowly once he felt the steady beat in her veins. Carefully he turned her on her back, a few strands of her bright red hair came loose from her bun and framed her face. More importantly, however, her chest was rising and falling the way it was supposed to.

    Satisfied, he made the arduous task of getting onto his feet once more and then made his way to ops. He gently reached out for DeMara, bent over the console, and pushed her back into her seat. She uttered a little moan as he did so which was proof positive that she too was alive.

    The Andorian helm officer was breathing as well but he didn’t like the angle of her head and decided against moving her in case he’d inadvertently injure her by doing so.

    “Beholder.”

    The voice inside his head caused him to snap up suddenly as if somebody had punched him unexpectedly.

    It was only now that he remembered the Ring and the universe it had attempted to tear apart while they had been stuck in the middle of it all. The gateway that had started to form at the dead center of the superstructure and the away team he had left behind on the massive particle collider designed to wipe out entire realities.

    The SMT operatives, Nora Laas, Louise Hopkins, Xylion, his father, and …

    There was a small voice buried deep inside the back of his head that told him exactly what he needed to do first. What both regulations and logic demanded he focused his entire attention on without further delay. Check the rest of the bridge crew and assist his officers to take back their stations so that they could assess and assist the rest of the ship. Get a damage report, find out if there had been casualties and that sickbay was able to deal with them appropriately. Ensure the ship was safe from dangers; internal and external. And, of course, find out if they had finally managed to find their way back home.

    All those actions he knew had to take priority and yet he was already on his way toward the turbolift, a fear he couldn’t quite explain driving him on, refusing to let up and allow him to focus on all the things he ought to be doing.

    Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Star attempting to get off the floor but by then he was already in the lift, thankfully still fully operational.

    “Transporter room two,” he croaked in a voice that sounded nothing like his own and yet seemed to be enough for the computer to understand.

    As the lift sped toward its destination, the many myriad images in his fever dream reasserted themselves in front of his mind’s eye. Edison and Amaya, Jarik and Altee, his father and the Ring, but more than anything else, one single individual had taken hold of his thoughts and refused to let go.

    “Now it begins. Now it ends.”

    The lift doors reopened and disgorged him onto deck six where he nearly stumbled over what he hoped was merely an unconscious crew member lying in the corridor.

    He never stopped to check on his status.

    Instead, he continued toward the two large door panels of the transporter room that obediently parted before him.

    And then he froze.

    There on the transporter platform, he found the away team. Somehow, and he couldn’t remember when or how they had managed to get beamed back on board. All of them were there, some were bleeding and clearly injured, likely requiring immediate medical attention.

    But at that moment, he wasn’t concerned for any of the unconscious bodies littering the platform.

    For there was one who had not shared their misfortune. One who just stood there, among the unconscious bodies, tall and with seemingly not a single scratch on his dark skin.

    In his hand, he held a small, silver device he immediately recognized as the Exhibitor, the unassuming instrument that contained within it the awesome power of controlling the Ring and quite possibly the fate of entire universes.

    Bensu, standing perfectly still not unlike a stone statue, was staring at him without speaking a word, his face an empty mask devoid of emotions.

    And Michael just stared back.
     
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  16. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Okay - totally creepy... It appears Bensu likes having an audience. But is this the Bensu of old or some alternate Bensu? And I'm really curious about what Xylion thinks about all of this (although at the moment he seems to be out cold and he might not have caught up yet.) It also presents the question - why did Bensu beam back aboard?

    Yet another classic CeJay cliffhanger... A psychological one this time.

    Thanks!! rbs
     
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  17. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2007
    Location:
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Ahh! Get Bensu the hell off the ship!

    Seriously though, I’m at a loss to figure this one out. Is he our Bensu or something sinister? I can’t wait to see how all of this comes together.
    I’m especially interested in why Michael has a connection to Bensu.

    I can’t imagine the answers being good news for any of our Eagle heroes!
     
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  18. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Is this when Intrepid suddenly shows up to help? Or Bluefin? I'm asking for Captain Llewellyn of Fortitude.
     
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  19. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    3


    Tazla had woken with the mother of all headaches, worse even than the one she had remembered after the first time they had gone through the gateway.

    She was certain she had spotted the captain jumping into the turbolift before she’d had a chance to even find her bearings. It had seemed like an uncharacteristic move for him considering the current crisis and she had no idea where his presence could have been required more urgently than on the bridge. Ultimately, she was relieved that he had weathered their latest transition unharmed.

    She had spent the next few minutes checking on the rest of the bridge crew. Deen and Leva were dazed but most unharmed while Srena and a crewmember manning one of the bridge aft stations had been injured, neither of them seriously, but enough for her to have them sent to sickbay. The versatile Bolian Lieutenant Alendra had slipped behind the conn in the meantime.

    The initial damage report seemed to indicate that the ship had taken a beating traveling through the gateway, not as badly as the first time they had made the sudden transition but certainly worse than their last journey when they had been far better prepared.

    The captain returned to the bridge just as Leva completed a report she had asked for.

    “Engines are at sixty-five percent power but weapons are offline and shields are running on auxiliary power. Communications are down as well but we do have sensors,” the tactical officer said and briefly glanced in the direction of the captain who was making his way down the ramp and toward the command area.

    “Casualties?” he asked just before he had reached her.

    “None have been reported so far,” Leva said. “Sickbay advised of about two dozen injuries but that number is likely to increase. The transporter room reports that we managed to retrieve our away team. Apparently, they’ve taken quite a beating on the Ring, virtually all members were wounded and are being seen to in sickbay.”

    Owens nodded knowingly, leading her to suspect that that’s where he had rushed to before she had even been on her feet. Perhaps out of concern for his frail father who had been part of the away team to the Ring.

    He glanced at her next. “I want security posted to sickbay.”

    She had no earthly idea why he felt that was necessary but her quizzical look went unanswered and she decided to follow her orders. She walked up to her chair, titled her computer console in her direction, and then entered the necessary commands to advise the security department to dispatch a detail to the medical section.

    “Now for the big question,” Owens said. “Where did we end up and is there any chance that we found our way back home?”

    “The good news is that we’re definitely in Cygni-98,” said DeMara Deen as her fingers danced over her console.

    “But is it ours?” she asked, trying her best to hide her own anxiety over the answer. After having visited two universes and having come face-to-face with what had been her nightmare version of herself, and watching her die, she was more than ready to be done with this reality-hopping business.

    “Long-range sensors have taken a bit of a hit during the transition,” the Tenarian said as she kept working her panel. “It’ll take me a moment to get them back into full working order.”

    The doors to the forward turbolift opened and Tazla watched Lif Culsten and Garla step onto the bridge. She had known, of course, that they had beamed over several people from the Krellonian flagship before it had been destroyed, but matters had escalated so quickly afterward, that she had admittedly not had the time to determine who exactly had been rescued.

    She was relieved to see that Lif Culsten had made it. On the other hand, the sight of his aunt moving about the ship freely made her feel less enthusiastic, considering the intelligence officer’s history and after having witnessed first-hand what she was capable of. And perhaps she was also still slightly peeved that the woman had bested her at a game she had once excelled at.

    “Good to see you made it off that ship in one piece,” Owens said to his helmsman.

    “Thank you, sir.”

    “We were the only ones to make it,” said Garla.

    It took Tazla a moment to understand what she meant, after all, they had managed to beam dozens of crewmembers across the stricken Tenarian ship. But then, just like the last time they had witnessed the destruction of an entire universe, nobody who had called it their home had been immune to its sudden end, even if they had been on Eagle at the time.

    Owens and the rest of the bridge crew seemed to understand and let the comment pass in silence. It wasn’t enough, or even close to appropriate, to commemorate the end of a staggering number of people, Tazla thought. In fact, she felt the urgent need to distract herself from a thought truly unfathomable. “You’re out of uniform, Lieutenant,” she said after the moment had passed.

    Culsten looked down at the elaborate Krellonian attire he was clad in. “Apologies, Commander. We had to improvise on short notice.”

    Owens nodded. “We’ll let it slide for now,” he said with a small smile on his lips.

    “Where are we?” Garla asked.

    “That’s what we’re trying to establish,” she said and took a step closer to ops. “Any luck with those sensors?”

    “Not exactly. But I have picked up multiple contacts.”

    “Confirmed. We’ve triggered some sort of sensor alert,” said Leva from tactical, causing most heads to turn his way. “I’m reading eight starships that have amended their course and are now headed in our direction. The closest one will reach us in less than two hours.”

    “Can you identify the ships?” she asked.

    “The configurations resemble Krellonian designs.”

    “Krellonian?” said Garla and then stepped closer to the main viewer. “Put it on screen.”

    Tazla was just about to reprimand the woman for her audacity to give orders on this bridge. It was obvious that the sentinel was used to giving orders and she wanted to make it perfectly clear that she had no authority on this ship.

    But when she spotted Owens nodding slowly, she indicated toward Leva instead to do what she had asked for.

    The screen shifted to show a starship at warp. Its hull had that same chrome glint that she had seen on other Krellonian vessels but the ship was too distant to make out many details. “Magnify.”

    The image zoomed in closer to reveal that it didn’t quite share the same design philosophy of the Krellonian ships in their universe, nor those they had encountered in the two others for that matter. This ship looked far more stream-lined compared to what they had come across before, not totally unlike a large missile, with a pointed forward section and a much wider aft quarter where three warp nacelles were seemingly incorporated into the ship’s superstructure.

    “That’s no Star Alliance ship,” Garla said. “But I’ve seen this configuration before. It almost looks like…”

    “Looks like what?” Tazla asked when she didn’t elaborate.

    The Krellonian woman just shook her head. “No, that couldn’t be.”

    “Considering what we have seen so far, I wouldn’t be too quick to rule anything out,” said Deen and Tazla found herself agreeing wholeheartedly.

    “I’m reading another set of contacts now heading our way,” Leva said as he continued to monitor his board. Tazla could see the growing frown on his face.

    “What is it?” she asked.

    He looked back up. “I’m afraid we’re quite familiar with these designs,” he said and tapped a few commands to change the viewscreen.

    Tazla felt a cold shudder run up her spine at what it revealed. It was a sight she had hoped not ever having to see again. It had haunted her nightmare for the better parts of the last few years.

    The six purple and gray ships were shaped like large scarab beetles with warp nacelles attached to their sides like wings.

    “The Dominion,” said Owens, he kept his voice low but the bridge was quiet enough that it carried.

    “I think we can safely say that wherever we’ve landed, this is not home. There was no reported Dominion activity in the Beta Quadrant when we left,” said Tazla who, keeping with old habits, made it part of her daily routine to stay up with any and all intelligence briefings she could get her hands on, including one or two which were not meant for general distribution and she was able to obtain thanks to the connections she still maintained in the community.

    “And we can also assume that they are not heading our way to invite us to tea and scones,” said Deen before she glanced at Owens.

    “The Jem’Hadar ships are traveling at high warp and will reach our position in approximately three hours and forty-six minutes,” Leva said. “There are now a total of twelve ships heading our way. There is no way we can take on all of them. Not in our current condition. Maybe not even at full strength.”

    Owens nodded slowly. “We can’t stay here. Options?”

    “We could slip back through the threshold and in-between space. It’s very likely that the crew of those ships are not aware of its existence. None of the people we’ve come across in the other universes did,” said Deen.

    But Tazla shook her head. “It’s too risky. They can likely see us just as clearly as we can see them. Which means if they spot us disappearing, they might just be able to find the threshold as well and follow us.”

    “Which would give them access to the Ring,” Owens said, agreeing with her assessment. “Can we outrun them?”

    Alendra who was still sitting at the helm turned her chair with a discouraging expression on her face. “Unlikely. Engineering reports that warp engines are only partially available. It doesn’t look like we could muster much more than warp six, maybe warp seven. Not enough to get away from those ships.”

    “The Krellonian vessels are fairly spread out,” added Leva. “We are not exactly surrounded yet but that net is tightening quickly.”

    Lif Culsten took a few steps toward the center of the bridge and then turned to look at the captain. “What about the Moebius Cluster?” he said and then looked at Tazla. “In our universe, it spreads out across almost the entire expanse of the Amargosa Diaspora and is almost impossible to navigate.”

    “Impossible to navigate is the key term,” said Garla. “No one is foolish enough to even think of going close to that cluster. The gravimetric forces alone are enough to tear a ship apart within minutes.”

    Culsten shot her a self-satisfying grin. “It’s how we came after you on Piqus and we made it in one piece,” he said and looked back at the captain. “I can pilot us through that and I’m certain our pursuers have the same mindset as my overcautious aunt here.”

    “That’s not a term people tend to associate with me,” she said coolly.

    Tazla could well imagine that to be the case. But more pressingly, she was not convinced at all of the helmsman’s brash plan. “That was a runabout you piloted, not a three-million-ton starship. There is no way we’ll fare anywhere near as well in the cluster even with you at the controls. And that trip was among the worst ones I’ve experienced. In multiple lifetimes.”

    “Maybe there is a way we could survive,” said Leva who once more caused the attention of most of the bridge crew his way. “We may have an advantage all these other ships lack.”

    Tazla understood what he meant but Owens beat her to the punch. “The transphasic shield,” he said.

    “We’re not in great shape,” she said after thinking what it would mean to try and venture into an area so hostile, Eagle could be torn apart with nothing to protect her but a newly installed and barely tested shield system that even under optimal conditions was a significant power drain. “Will we have enough energy to keep it operational long enough to escape those ships?”

    The question had been posed, primarily, to Leva but the half-Romulan tactical officer had no immediate response ready.

    The captain, however, had already made up his mind. “It’s our best shot for now and the longer we stay put and do nothing, the worse our situation gets. We’ll just have to figure things out on the way,” he said resolutely and glanced at the Bolian woman at the helm. “Lieutenant, set a course for the Moebius Cluster, preferably one that keeps us well away from any ships trying to catch up with us. Best possible speed.”

    The woman nodded sharply and went to follow the order.

    Michael Owens offered Tazla a very brief glance and just enough to reveal what the confident tone in his voice had successfully masked.

    He had no idea if this was going to work.
     
    SolarisOne, Galen4 and mthompson1701 like this.
  20. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Still not in Kansas.... But considering what's been happening to all those alt-Kansases the Eagle's crew have washed up in, that's probably a good thing...

    Bets on whether the gym'hadar are heading over to deliver tea and crumpets...

    Thanks!! rbs
     
    CeJay likes this.