The Star Eagle Adventures: QD3 - Uncertainty Principle

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

  1. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 27, 2007
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    The Jem’Hadar? Blimey, this universe looks to be all kinds of fun!

    If this is what I think it is, the Civil War universe will seem mild by comparison! Here’s hoping the transphasic shields can save everyone.

    After that they’ll need to leave with all due haste. I don’t see anyone surviving for long in this place.
    CeJay and SolarisOne like this.
  2. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Louise Hopkins, down in engineering, was doing her level best to earn the miracle worker moniker that was so often bandied around when talking about the ingenuity of Starfleet engineers who occasionally seemed to be able to bend the very laws of physics to pull off the impossible.

    Michael was very much aware of this as his chief engineer had somehow managed to wrestle eight hundred thirty times the speed of light, or about warp seven point five, out of Eagle’s damaged engines in order to get them to the Moebius cluster before a squadron of Dominion fighters and likely hostile Krellonian ships would be able to catch up with them.

    After all, even while trying to stay well ahead of a pack of hostiles out for blood, the woman was equally busy trying to keep the damaged ship in one piece and find a way to get the transphasic shields up and running at a moment’s notice since those shields would be the only thing that would keep them alive once they reached the cluster.

    She had the assistance of Commander Xylion, who had been given special dispensation to be released from sickbay to head down to main engineering to do whatever he could to ensure the shields would work, over the vocal objections of Doctor Katanga.

    Michael had decided that inviting the wrath of the cantankerous physician would be a small price to pay to ensure all their survival.

    “How much longer until we get to the cluster?” Tazla Star asked from where she was sitting by his side.

    Culsten had retaken the helm, although he’d not had the chance to replace his lavish Krellonian robes for a Starfleet uniform yet. He answered without looking up from his instruments. “Technically, we’ve been inside the Moebius Cluster for the last eight minutes. But we won’t reach any parts containing significant gravimetric shear for another twelve minutes.”

    Deen spoke up next. “We’ll need those shields to be up and running in eleven or we’ll break up like a raw egg hitting the pavement once we get there.”

    Star glanced at him. “And we won’t be able to keep at warp while the shield is deployed.”

    He nodded, fully aware of that limitation. Even when not operating at full strength, the super-powered shield grid required a significant portion of warp power to operate efficiently.

    “The Dominion ships are still closing and will be right on top of us as soon as we drop out of warp,” said Leva from the tactical station behind him.

    “How sure can we be that they won’t be able to follow us?” he asked.

    Deen offered him a glance with a shrug. “At the moment it’s not much more than a hypothesis based on the fact that very few known ship designs in our universe would be able to withstand the conditions inside the cluster.”

    “But things could be different here,” said Star, and Deen nodded before she turned back to her instruments.

    It was a gamble they had to take, Michael understood this. In fact, it was their only gamble at this stage. Get to the outer edges of the cluster’s hazard zone as quickly as possible, and then drop out of warp to activate the transphasic shields, theoretically powerful enough to keep the ship from being shaken apart by the destructive energies of the stellar cluster. And all that before a squadron of Jem’Hadar warships could catch up with them and turn them into a flaming husk of space debris.

    He spotted Star’s growing frown and not a moment later, Leva explained what the first officer had apparently already realized. “The Dominion ships have managed to increase speed. They’ll intercept us before we can reach the hazard zone.”

    Michael glanced toward the helm. “Can we coax any more speed out of the engines, Lieutenant?”

    Culsten shook his head without turning from his station. “I’m giving it all she’s got, sir,” he said and then turned his head. “Maybe Louise can work some more miracles.”

    He was loath to disturb their chief engineer, knowing full well that her plate was already overflowing. “Owens to Hopkins.”

    “Engineering here,” she said without much of a delay and sounding expectedly harried.

    “How are we doing with those shields? We’re going to need them any minute now.”

    “To be brutally honest, I would give my left leg for another hour to calibrate the emitters. We’ve barely had enough time to mend the damage from our latest transition. This whole thing could end up blowing up right in our faces without the proper alignments.”

    “Time is the one thing we don’t have,” he said. “In fact, we seem to be having less of it than we thought. Can you give us any more power to the engines?”
    There was a short pause and Michael wasn’t sure if it was because she wanted to laugh or cry. For a second, he worried that he had finally asked too much of his young chief engineer and finally broken her. And in doing so validating the naysayers who had long ago warned him that Louise Hopkins, her undeniably brilliant technical mind notwithstanding, had never been ready for the responsibilities he had bestowed upon her when making her one of the youngest chief engineers on a Starfleet ship of the line.

    “Our new warp drive is currently churning out four thousand one-hundred twenty-five teradynes per second. We’ll need at least three thousand five hundred teradynes to initiate the transphasic shield and our shield emitters cannot handle a transfer rate higher than five hundred teradynes per second when they are perfectly calibrated which, at the moment, they are not. And that’s not even taking into account that our brand new class-IXb drive is only rated for a maximum theoretical throughput of four thousand teradynes per second.”

    Michael exchanged a glance with Star.

    “I believe what you’re trying to tell us, Lieutenant,” said the Trill at his side, “is that the answer to our question is no.”

    “With all due respect, sir, the answer to your question is ‘hell no’. Unless, of course, you can change the laws of physics.”

    Michael nodded slowly even if she couldn’t see it over the audio channel. “Understood, Lieutenant. Carry on and focus on giving us the transphasic shield when we need it. We’ll find a way to make do. Bridge out,” Michael said and closed the channel.

    “When did she get so feisty?” Star asked.

    “It must’ve been right around the time you started to ask the impossible,” said Deen from ops, clearly having overheard the conversation.

    “We’ll reach the hazard zone in less than five minutes,” said Culsten from his station beside her and refocusing everybody’s attention.

    “Not soon enough,” said Leva behind Michael. “Jem’Hadar ships will be in weapons range in under three.”

    “Do we stay the course and take the beating or do we drop out of warp and try to fight?” Star asked

    “Neither is appealing,” Michael responded.

    “I do not recommend we slow down,” said the tactical officer. “Right now, we have four enemy ships on our tail. As soon as we lower speed, the rest will catch up with us before we reach the hazard zone and we won’t be able to survive that.”

    “I also do not recommend activating the transphasic shield early,” added Alendra who was helping out Leva at the tactical board. “It is powerful, but we’d be asking too much of it to protect us from their directed energy weapons until we make it to hazard zone on sub-light.”

    Star seemed to be of the same mind, nodding along. “And we can’t afford it to fail once we’ve made it inside or it’ll all have been for nothing.”

    Michael could see there was no choice. “Maintain course and speed.”

    Not soon after the pursuing Jem’Hadar ships made their presence violently known as the ship shook hard enough that Michael was nearly thrown out of his chair.

    “Direct hits to our rear shields,” said Leva among the wail of the red alert klaxon. “Shields holding at eighty-nine percent. For now.”

    “Divert all available shield energy to the rear,” said Michael. “But keep an eye out on those emitters. We’ll need them once we reach the hazard zone.” He knew that yet another concern on their quickly growing list of worst-case scenarios was that they’d lose their shield emitters due to overloading them as they tried to absorb the incoming fire and thereby lose their ability to activate the transphasic shield.

    Eagle shook again, hard enough that Michael had to grab hold of the armrests of his chair so tightly, his palms were beginning to hurt.

    “One could get the impression they don’t want us to go this way,” Star said as she pushed a strand of loose red hair out of her face.

    “Mister Culsten, any piloting tricks you may have been holding back would be much appreciated right about now,” Michael told his helmsman.

    The Krellonian nodded with a growing smirk. “Evasive maneuvers at high warp inside a super high-density star cluster? I suggest everybody find something to hold on to.”

    Deen shot him a sidelong look. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re already clinging on for dear life here.”

    “Right,” he said. “Here goes.”

    Michael could feel the gravitational forces on the bridge shifting as the inertia dampeners designed to keep the crew from ending up as smudges on the bulkheads at velocities exceeding a few thousand times the speed of light, struggled to compensate for Culsten’s new and even more extreme maneuvers.

    He was happy to accept the discomfort of feeling his heart pressing against his throat if it meant that the enemy was equally finding it difficult to keep up and get a clear shot at them.

    He heard Star gasp where she sat but he was being pressed so hard against the side of his chair that he found it difficult to even look her way.

    “We are headed straight for a Bok globule,” Deen managed to rasp as the ship seemed to level out again. “We hit that at warp and we’re history.”

    “I should be able to get us around that,” Lif said.

    The ship took multiple hits in quick succession as if the Jem’Hadar behind them were expressing their frustration of this difficult chase through their weapons. An energy conduit running along the port bulkhead ruptured from the impact and damaged some of the panels on that side of the bridge.

    Michael winced when he watched the ship’s dedication plaque come undone and unceremoniously drop onto the floor. Always a bad omen.

    He looked down at his armrest display. DeMara’s announcement had given him an idea.

    Eagle was currently heading directly toward a Bok globule at high warp, a particularly dense cosmic cloud chock-full of dust and gases. Stellar clusters were packed with these kinds of dark nebulae that functioned like incubators for brand new stars and that made regions like the Moebius cluster near impossible to navigate conventionally.

    DeMara was right, of course. Attempting to enter one of those clouds at high warp would go about as well for them as it would for an egg being thrown at a brick wall. Even at impulse and with their deflectors at full strength, he doubted it was a journey they could survive.

    “Could we make it through the cloud with the transphasic shields?”

    DeMara turned to look at him. Her expression was not one of incontrovertible confidence. “Possibly.”

    He decided to take the chance. “Lif, drop us out of warp right outside that globule. Then cut all engines and let our momentum ride us inside.”

    He offered a sharp nod. “Warp cut-off in twenty-five seconds.”

    “We’ll make contact ten seconds after that,” said Deen, studying her instruments intently, no doubt making sure her calculations were as precise as they could be.

    “Star to engineering.”

    “Hopkins here.”

    “Lieutenant, we’ll need the transphasic shield up and ready in thirty seconds. Not to add any undue pressure but if it won’t go up, we’ll all die,” the Trill said with a voice that remained so even and calm, it betrayed nothing of the anxiety she and the rest of the bridge crew felt. To Michael, it sounded as if she was securing dinner reservation rather than discussing the fate of the nearly eight hundred souls that would be decided by their actions over the next half minute.

    “You get us out of warp and you have your transphasic shield. Just remember, the maximum transfer rate is five hundred teradynes per second. Any more and we lose the emitters.”

    “That gives us what? A three-second contingency,” Star said and then glanced at Michael. “We’ll be cutting this damned close.”

    Michael just nodded as the words of a famous starship captain rang in the back of his head. ‘Risk is our business’, he had said. He wondered at what point exactly risk turned it nothing more than blatant recklessness.

    Eagle took another hit.

    “Shields down to forty-eight percent,” Leva said from tactical.

    Michael knew things were going to get a lot worse before they got better. If they got better. He hit a control on his armrest computer. “All hands, this is the Captain speaking. Brace for significant incoming fire.”

    “Ten seconds to warp cut-off,” said Culsten, his eyes now locked on his instruments, his fingers hovering over the right controls with anticipation.

    Seconds that lasted an eternity was a well-worn cliché, Michael knew. And yet he thought an entire lifetime could have been lived in the time it took to get to the point of no return while his mind punished him with seemingly endless doubt. Had he just made a decision that was going to cost them all their lives? Would he be responsible for the destruction of his ship, his crew, and perhaps even the entire multi-verse?

    Anxiety be damned, he cherished the arrival of the moment of truth and for fate to give him his answer, one way or another.

    “Dropping out of warp.”

    The viewscreen instantly changed from a view of streaking stars to one entirely devoid of any. It took him a moment to realize that the Bok globule they were now bearing down on was so close that it obscured anything beyond it.

    “The transphasic shield is powering up,” said Alendra.

    “Jem’Hadar ships dropping out of warp,” said Leva.

    And they wasted no time at all to let everybody know.

    Eagle trembled mightily under their wrath, leaving no doubt at all that they meant to destroy her before they could try to lose them inside the dark nebula. Explosions erupted all across the bridge while smoke and the acrid smell of burned polymers filled the air to such a degree it made him want to gag.

    He thought he heard Leva shout that the shields were collapsing which meant that the very next thing that would go would be the shield emitters themselves. And once they were gone, so went any chance for them to survive.

    He heard Deen call out a warning but he couldn’t quite make out her words over the sound of the ship breaking apart around him and he had lost all sense of time, unsure if five, ten, or twenty seconds had gone by since they had cut the warp engines.

    An invisible force, sudden and powerful, grabbed him and slung him forward and onto the deck so hard, he thought he had broken his arm upon making contact with the floor.

    Dazed he slowly attempted to make it back to his feet.

    He stopped and smiled when he felt almost intolerable pain shooting up his right side.

    Pain was good, he realized. Pain meant he was still alive.

    And so were the people around him.

    He felt a strong arm reaching out for him and pulling him up and found it belonged to his first officer. Star’s hair had come loose again and hung into her face, but that, along with a slightly bloodied lip seemed to be the extent of her distress.

    “Are you all right, sir?” she said, apparently somewhat confused by what must have been a rather inappropriate smile decorating his face.

    “Looks like we made it,” Michael said, trying hard to regain his composure, as he looked around the bridge, mindful that his crew needed to see him as they were accustomed to. A man unquestionably in control of himself and his command.

    There was nobody he could see who wasn’t banged up in some way or another, but nobody had suffered any serious injuries.

    The deck plates rattled steadily under his boots but nothing like what they had experienced over the last few minutes.

    Leva at tactical helped Alendra back to her feet and tried to tend to a cut that was oozing blue blood from her forehead until she waved him off, apparently intent on dealing with it herself. He hesitantly left the Bolian to her own devices to focus on the tactical station for the latest readings. Then he looked up to make eye contact with him. “Transphasic shield is active and holding within tolerances,” he said with a reaffirming nod.

    A sudden bump threatened Michael’s balance yet again but he caught himself in time. He found his tactical officer again. “What was that?”

    “Not us,” said Deen and Michael turned to look at her but caught sight of the viewscreen instead.

    There, within the dark cloud, he saw what was quite obviously debris floating somewhere behind them.

    “It’s what’s left of at least one Jem’Hadar ship,” she said.

    “They must have tried to follow us inside,” said Star.

    “And got crushed in the process,” added Culsten from the helm.

    Michael’s eyes lingered on the sight only a moment longer, not wishing to dwell on the thought of how close they had come to end up just like that.

    “Damage reports coming in from multiple decks,” said Leva. “Crew has sustained various injuries according to sickbay. Life support has failed on three decks and evacuation procedures are underway. Weapons and long-range sensors are offline. Impulse engines are operating at reduced capacity.”

    Michael walked over to the port side bulkhead while Leva gave his report. He took a knee to pick up the dedication plaque, taking a moment to feel the heft of the metallic plate containing the ship’s name, registry details, and motto. ‘Peace has its victories but it takes brave men and women to win them’.

    He stood back up and handed it to Star who had followed him, offering her a smile. “I don’t believe there can be any doubt about the bravery of this crew.”

    “None whatsoever,” she responded in kind.

    “Let’s get repairs underway,” he said and pointed at the plaque. “Start with that.”
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  3. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Jun 18, 2021
    Nice line! Thanks!! rbs
  4. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Eagle had taken a beating, that much was undeniable as Michael digested the latest damage report while he made the short trip from his ready room to the observation lounge for a senior staff briefing.

    And it hadn’t been just because of the latest battle with the Jem’Hadar. His ship had been in bad shape even before they had ever taken fire from their pursuers, thanks to three separate inter-dimensional journeys, something Eagle had certainly not been designed for.

    Even so, it had been the handful of seconds between when they had dropped out of warp and before they had brought up the transphasic shield to survive their passage into the Moebius Cluster’s hazard zone, that had taken the hardest toll on Eagle as she had been relentlessly pelted by those Dominion ships.

    It was bad enough that Hopkins had yet to provide an estimate on repairs to the main phaser couplings or the torpedo guidance system, she wasn’t even sure if long-range sensors could be brought back online without an infusion of raw materials and heavy equipment only a starbase could provide. Worst of all in his eyes was the fact that they had taken two casualties. An unlucky human crewman on deck twelve had broken his neck when the ship had hit the Bok globule and a lieutenant in engineering had been killed when an EPS conduit had overloaded in her section. The young Andorian woman had saved two crewmembers thanks to her quick actions once she had realized the impending catastrophe but had been unable to escape the explosion of super-heated plasma herself in time.

    Hopkins had called her a hero in her report and Michael had every intention to ensure she’d receive the highest honors Starfleet could bestow for bravery in action, even if he was sure that any posthumous awards would come as little comfort to her loved ones once they learned of her fate.

    Michael knew it had been naïve to expect that they’d be able to complete this mission without sacrifices but that hadn’t stopped him from aspiring to such a goal.

    For a brief moment, he considered how the death of two crewmembers seemed to pale in comparison to the annihilation of entire universes, and yet, he had long since learned that there was truth to the saying that the death of one or a few was a tragedy, while the death of many was often no more than statistics.

    He did his best to shake those macabre thoughts out of his mind as he stepped into the briefing room where he found most of his senior officers already seated around the table, along with Sentinel Garla and Lif Culsten at her side.

    He was glad to see that Xylion and Nora Laas, who had been part of the away team to the Ring and who had been injured while there, appeared to have fully recovered.

    The Vulcan science officer spoke up first. “Sir, it appears there has been an oversight,” he said. “Bensu has not been invited to this meeting.”

    Michael shook his head. “Not an oversight.”

    He raised his eyebrow. The only indication of his puzzlement. “I assume that we will be discussing the supercollider and its ability to annihilate quantum-verses and our strategy to prevent it from repeating it from doing so again. Bensu is our primary subject matter expert relating to the structure and its builders.”

    “I’m well aware of that.”

    “Michael, this makes no sense,” DeMara said from where she was sitting to his left. “If we want any hope of putting a stop to whatever is going on here, we’ll need his input.”

    “I know that Mister Bensu has shown some remarkable insights into our situation,” Michael started but was cut off by DeMara.

    “Insights?” she said with noticeable disbelieve. “We wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for his efforts.”

    “All right, people,” said Tazla Star from his right, speaking in a firm tone. “Let’s all remember that this is a Starfleet ship and that the captain has the final say on who takes part in a meeting and who does not. Now, I think we all need to focus on where we are and what we need to do next.”

    Michael offered his first officer a small nod but he could tell by the look in her emerald eyes that she wasn’t entirely sure why he had made certain decisions. In truth, neither was he.

    The far doors to the observation lounge opened and Michael feared that he had to confront Bensu about his decision in person, something he was not prepared to do just yet.

    Instead, it was his father who walked into the room.

    Michael stood. “Dad?”

    All eyes turned toward the admiral.

    “I believe I need to be here for this.”

    But Michael shook his head. The man looked haggard and frail. His face was much paler than he had seen it ever before and he wasn’t quite sure how he had managed to get out of Katanga’s clutches yet again, not to mention keep on his feet. “You should be in sickbay.”

    He raised a hand. “Yes, I know. And I’ll go back there. But for now, you’ll need my expertise. Just let me sit down and give me a minute to catch my breath.”

    Michael wanted to protest yet again but Jon Owens was insistent enough to make Nora get out of her chair and offer it to him. He couldn’t really blame her, his father looked about ready to keel over.

    Nora seemed happy to remain standing.

    Michael took his seat again, his eyes lingering for a moment longer on the admiral but when he didn’t make eye contact, he regarded his chief engineer instead, indicating for her to provide her report.

    “Well, good news first, I guess,” said Louise Hopkins. “The transphasic shield has worked like a charm so far. It’s fully stable and based on the current energy drain we should be able to remain within the cluster for at least nine to ten hours before the warp core will no longer be able to feed the shield’s power needs. We’ll have to put up with some increased stress on the hull that won’t make for smooth sailing while we traverse this area of space but I suppose that’s a small price to pay.”

    Leva continued. “From a tactical perspective, we’ve already established that the Dominion ships cannot follow us into the cluster. Although we don’t have access to long-range sensors at present, there is no indication that they are attempting to come after us.”

    “That begs the question as to where we go from here,” said the Trill first officer, glancing toward Michael.

    “This all started—it seems an eternity ago now—as a mission to gather intelligence and ultimately prevent an incursion by a subspace race into our domain. I think it is safe to say that our mission has now fundamentally changed. The Ring structure is capable of wiping out entire universes and rather than invading them, these subspace aliens have made it clear that they intend to destroy them.”

    Nora leaned forward in her chair. “But I still don’t understand why. What do they gain from doing this?”

    Nobody in the room had an answer to that question. “Their motivations are something we should try to establish but our priority, for now, is to find a way to stop them. And I want to make this very clear. Going forward that will be our primary focus. We’re no longer trying to stop an invasion, it’s not even trying to find a way back home. We will not allow the Ring to bring down another universe, no matter what we must do to accomplish that.” He let his gaze wander across the room, ensuring to make eye contact with every single person at the table to stress his resolve in this matter. He was encouraged that nobody seemed to disagree. He also understood that he had pledged his life, and the life of every single person on this ship, to this one task.

    “If the supercollider continues to operate the way it has in the past, it activates every forty-seven point four standard hours. That means that we have forty-four point eight hours to find a way to prevent it from reactivating. That is contingent on the assumption that the process is not triggered prematurely,” said Xylion.

    Michael nodded. “We cannot rule out that it won’t. This means our timetable on returning to Cygni-98 has to be as soon as possible.”

    “With the Dominion and the Krellonians patrolling the area, that won’t be an easy task, particularly in our current state,” said Star, and Michael was forced to agree with her.

    “Perhaps those Krellonian ships could help us,” said Garla, doing little to mask her interest in those vessels or perhaps more accurately, the people who crewed them. “If we could find a way to communicate with them, perhaps we could make a deal.”

    “I don’t know,” said Culsten at her side. “The Dominion ships and the Krellonians seemed to be in lockstep. They definitely didn’t see each other as hostiles. And that’s bad news for us.”

    Michael nodded. “Agreed. I think we need to find a way to avoid them both.”

    “That’s going to be a challenge,” the tactical officer said. “The entire area seems to be under heavy surveillance.”

    “Head for Arkaria.”

    All heads turned toward Jon Owens.

    He answered the unspoken questions. “Eagle is in bad shape. We won’t make it halfway back to Cygni-98 in our condition. Arkaria Prime may be the only safe harbor within reach for us and our only chance to make necessary repairs. The Moebius Cluster should allow us enough cover to get there virtually undetected by whoever is out there looking for us.”

    “What makes you so sure that Arkaria is a safe harbor?” Michael asked skeptically.

    “Sure?” he said, shaking his head. “Oh, I’m not sure at all. But I think we’ll have to take some risks. We know that the universes we have visited have had some very noticeable distinctions from each other but some patterns have remained consistent. Arkaria was an important space outpost in all of them and that might be true here as well. And it is within our reach. Where else would you propose we go, without the ability to rely on sensors? And we can’t affect repairs on our own.”

    Michael couldn’t deny that he made a certain amount of sense. He also realized that he had done his homework before joining the meeting. He seemed to be fully aware that Eagle was not going to go far without some outside help.

    Star nodded slowly. “I think it might be our best shot for now. The Moebius Cluster spans much of the Diaspora, from here all the way to Arkaria, we know that. We can dip in and out of the hazard zone to use warp and until we get there and most likely continue to elude the Dominion that way.”

    “Very well,” he said after a moment. “Let’s make that our destination. But if there is any indication at all that in this universe, it’s a Dominion outpost, we’ll need a backup plan.” He glanced at Xylion next. “Once we have found our way back to the Ring, how can we hope to stop it this time?”

    “During our last attempt we encountered a man called Gary Seven inside the structure’s control room,” the Vulcan said.

    “And his cat,” added Hopkins.

    This caused some eyebrows to climb toward the ceiling, Michael’s included. “I’m sorry, I thought you said his cat.”

    “It’s true, though I’m not sure I fully understand how that feline creature factors into all of this,” said Nora where she stood, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

    “I think you’ll better start at the beginning,” said Tazla Star, no doubt feeling just as befuddled as Michael.

    “With assistance from SMT operator Ivory and myself, Bensu was able to make contact with an individual who introduced himself to us as Gary Seven, and claimed to be a member of an inter-dimensional agency tasked with protecting the quantum-verse.”

    “And clearly not doing a great job at it,” said Nora.

    “At his suggestion, we created a more powerful mind-link that included all members of the away team. This allowed us to learn more about the nature of the Ring structure and its builders and eventually slow down the supercollider. Regretfully, we did not have the resources at our disposal to stop it altogether.”

    “And you think we can trust this agent?” asked Star.

    “I believe Bensu would be able to answer this question better than any of us since he spent the most time with him,” said Xylion. “But he gave us no reason to distrust his motives to try and stop the supercollider.”

    “I’ve been thinking,” said Hopkins, looking at the Vulcan sitting on the other side of the table from her. “We whipped up that psionic resonator pretty much on the fly to enhance the mind-link supporting Bensu. With our resources here on Eagle, we could likely fashion a much more effective device to support those efforts.”

    Xylion offered a short nod. “I have been considering this as well. And Eagle has at least thirty-five crewmembers with inherent telepathic abilities. If we could utilize all of their efforts, as well as a more sophisticated psionic resonator, we should be able to establish a much more powerful mind-link to oppose the forces of the subspace aliens.”

    “But we would still be reliant on Bensu to guide our efforts,” said Michael, not liking the sound of this at all.

    “Yes,” Xylion said. “He is the only person we are aware of who possesses the ability to create the psionic connections that can directly affect the subspace beings and the supercollider.”

    “Even Gary Seven seemed impressed by his powers,” said Nora. “And that man struck me as somebody who has seen some strange things in his lifetime.”

    Star turned to Michael. “I think for now we have to pursue it. Do everything we can to be prepared to put this plan into action unless a better opportunity presents itself.”

    Michel nodded but said nothing.

    Star took that as an affirmative and when it became clear he wasn’t going to add anything further, she addressed the rest of the people in the room. “Louise, your priority remains on repairs. See what you can do to give us weapons, we might need them to get back to Cygni-98 or maybe even to Arkaria. And we need to be able to see where we are going, so sensors are also high on that list.”

    The engineer nodded. “Weapons will be tricky but I might be able to give us some phasers. As for sensors, we’ll be able to use systems from our auxiliary craft to at least give us some idea what’s out there.”

    “Good thinking,” she said and looked at Xylion next. “Commander, the priority for the science team is to work on that psionic resonator. Use whatever resources we do not need for repairs to create something to give us the edge. I’ll get started on collecting our telepaths but I’ll need your help to prepare them for the task ahead.”

    “Understood,” he said.

    She addressed Nora next. “Lieutenant, make sure your team and the SMTs are ready at a moment’s notice. I don’t expect Arkaria to be anywhere as friendly as the one in our universe.”

    “We’ll be ready.”

    “Commander Leva, if Arkaria doesn’t pan out and we run into another Dominion fleet out there we’re going to need a strategy to get us out of there alive.”

    “I may have some ideas for that.”

    “Lif, set a course for Arkaria, make use of the Moebius Cluster as much as you can but keep in mind, we need to get there as fast as we possible, so we can’t stay hidden in here, traveling at impulse.”

    “It won’t be a straight line, Commander, but I’ll get us there with plenty of time to spare.”

    “Good,” she said and then briefly considered the remaining officers. “Everyone else, do your jobs and help where you can. Remember, our new mission is to stop the subspace aliens by any means necessary. It’ll be nice if we found our way back home while doing that, but that’s not our priority anymore. This won’t be easy, in fact, this will likely get a lot worse before it gets better,” she said and then briefly made eye contact with Michael again who gave her a nod to proceed. “But as I was reminded not too long ago, the bravery of this crew is beyond reproach.”

    Michael could see nothing but determined faces looking back at them, even Garla, who until recently had worked to thwart their efforts now appeared to be determined to do whatever was in her power to stop the collider.

    A small yet confident smile graced Star’s lips. “Let’s go and save the universe.”
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  5. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Jun 18, 2021
    Maybe she should have said "this universe"? They've already seen two collapse...

    I think Jorge Luis Borges would have been quite amused, gratified (and possibly a little horrified) by this story.

    Thanks!! rbs
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  6. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    She had served under Michael Owens long enough to be able to read the look he had giving her after the briefing had ended and so she remained in her seat while the rest of the attendees left their chairs and streamed out of the observation lounge.

    The captain waited until they were alone before he turned to face her. “The stakes we are dealing with here, they are difficult to fully appreciate considering the far-reaching implications.”

    Star nodded. “To say the least. I certainly never expected to be thrust in a position in which our decisions may very well determine the fate of an entire universe and a countless number of lives.”

    “Our leadership over the coming hours may be more critical than it has ever been, which means we cannot afford to make any mistakes. Too much is at stake. The mission must come first.”

    Tazla didn’t disagree but couldn’t help feeling that there was more to what he was trying to tell her.

    He rubbed his forehead and then briefly glanced out toward the large windows of the observation lounge. Eagle had cleared the Bok globule a few minutes ago and now the kaleidoscopic star field of the Amargosa Diaspora was almost fully visible again. “We’ve made too many mistakes already and it may have cost us—cost the universe—dearly.”


    He turned to face her once more. “I should never have asked you to go after the other Michael Owens. It was an unnecessary risk on my part and all it accomplished was to cost us precious time and very nearly your life.”

    Tazla considered that for a moment before she started to shake her head. “It’s impossible to say if it would have made any difference in the grand scheme of things. Meeting my own alternate version was not an experience I’d care to repeat but I now understand why it was so important to you to try and bring the other Michael Owens back. I had a very similar experience. I could see in her a large part of myself and where my life could have taken me if I had made only slightly different choices. I felt a desperate need to attempt and steer her away from the path she had embarked upon and perhaps, in some manner, I almost felt that I had a responsibility to try. That in rehabilitating her, I’d also rehabilitate myself somehow,” she said as she considered her captain who didn’t have an immediate response to what she had said. “I don’t know if any of that makes sense.”

    He uttered a little, humorless laugh. “I’ve given up trying to make too much sense of things right about the time we jumped into a different reality.”

    “It has been challenging.”

    “My point is this: When I asked you to try and bring the other Michael back, I wasn’t entirely putting the mission first. Sure, he would have been an asset dealing with Altee and his fleet, but I was driven by personal sentiment and we cannot afford those types of feelings to cloud our judgment when dealing with the possible destruction of an entire universe.”

    She nodded. “I understand.”

    “This thing we are dealing with here, I fear that we’ve only just scratched the surface of it, which is a scary thought considering what we have already experienced.”

    He seemed to be satisfied at leaving the matter at that but Tazla didn’t get out of her chair. Another matter had been nagging at her ever since they had arrived in this, latest universe, and this was as good a time as any to bring it up, she decided. “Sir, about Bensu. Xylion and DeMara were right to point out that he has been our key player so far in figuring any of this out. His abilities, no matter how nebulous their origins, are essential for us to have any chance of stopping whatever it is we’re up against.”

    His only reply was a heavy sigh.

    She continued when it was clear he wasn’t going to speak. “You are, of course, right to be skeptical. We should all be. But something seems to have changed very recently that has made you reconsider our approach.”

    Owens stood and walked over to the windows to consider the bright and splendid reds and blues of the Diaspora, seemingly trying to consider his next words carefully. “I know how this must seem to you and the rest of the crew. That I had a sudden change of heart.”

    She left her chair as well and took a few steps to follow him. “Perhaps, if you could let me into whatever doubts you have developed, I could better understand your skepticism and manage the crew accordingly.”

    He rubbed his forehead again but then finally turned back around to face her. “You have every right to know my thoughts on this, Taz. The problem is, I’m can’t be sure about the things that I’ve seen and how far I can trust them.”


    “Let me ask you this: During our transitions into these other realities, did you experience any kind of unusual dreams or visions?”

    She shook her head. “No, nothing I would call any more extraordinary than jumping universes like playing hopscotch. Certainly nothing particularly memorable.”

    He nodded slowly. “I have had visions each time.”

    “What kind of visions?”

    “They are not too dissimilar to what I’ve experienced when I entered sub-space for the first time. And some of the things I saw there, such as the Ring, and alternative realities, are precisely what we eventually encountered.”

    It didn’t take her long to put the pieces together. “And you’ve seen something that has made you doubt Bensu.”

    “The things I saw were disturbing but the things I felt where were far worse.”

    Tazla was afraid of asking her next question. “What did you see?”

    “I’m well aware of the need to consider these types of events with a certain amount of skepticism and to avoid jumping to premature conclusions. It is well understood that our senses can betray us easily and cannot always be trusted, especially if we experience strange visions prompted by inter-dimensional travel and subspace anomalies.”

    She nodded slowly, acknowledging his reasoning.

    “I saw Bensu being chiefly responsible not just for the death of one universe, but all of them.”

    That left her stunned.

    “And we could be enabling him to do exactly that.”

    “I don’t know what to say.”

    “So, you know how I feel.”

    She needed yet another moment to process the magnitude of what he had suggested. “Where do you propose we go from here?”

    His hand was back on his forehead, apparently trying to stave off what must have become a permanent headache. She couldn’t blame him. “A few days ago, I recall watching a message from my seemingly dead father to warm me not to trust anybody. I thought at the time that he had put me in an impossible situation. I would never have dreamt that this could be applied to a situation in which the entirety of all existence was at stake.”

    “In all honesty, these are stakes I don’t believe any mortal being should be forced to ponder outside the realm of philosophical thought experiments. This is the stuff of gods.”

    “If we want to be or not, we are in that position now.”

    “I wish I could offer some sage advice but this is well outside my wheelhouse of expertise.”

    He nodded. “Yours and mine both. As for how we proceed, we continue as discussed in the meeting. We already know the price of inaction and it is not acceptable. All we can do is keep our eyes wide open and do the best we can to steer events away from a worst-case scenario.”

    “Which means not trusting Bensu,” she said. “What about Xylion and the rest of the crew?”

    “I’ve always prided myself in the fact that we have a close-knit senior staff on this ship and in the majority of all cases, that is our greatest advantage. But in this case, I fear it could also be a huge risk. We already know Xylion and Bensu were practically the same person once upon a time.”

    She shook her head. Not in disbelieve but at the possible ramifications of what he had said. “They share a strong bond. And if we cannot trust Bensu we may not even be able to trust our chief science officer.”

    “I hope to God that’s not the case as I cannot see us standing a snowflake’s chance in Gre’thor against these odds without both of them,” he uttered another low sigh. “Let’s keep this between us for now and keep a short leash on our former bartender at the very least. He might be our savior. Or he could be the architect of our undoing.”
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2021
  7. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Jun 18, 2021
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  8. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 27, 2007
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Sorry I was absent for awhile.

    But I have to say these last few chapters were among the most exciting yet. Eagle’s escape into the Möebius Cluster was a hair-raising thrill ride. I’m also enjoying Michael’s regret over his perceived missteps.

    It’s good to see his renewed determination to put the mission first, though. He’s right to put personal feelings aside with not just one, but numerous universes at stake.

    Keep the awesomeness going!
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  9. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    Beware of bartenders... Have we really come to that?
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  10. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    He found her in her quarters with a security guard posted outside the doors. Although the Krellonian intelligence master was ostensibly on their side and had certainly assisted their ongoing efforts to stop the subspace aliens, the captain was still not entirely comfortable to have her roam the ship unsupervised, especially since she had already displayed more than once what she was capable of.

    Lif exchanged a quick nod with Ensign Andrus Stadi guarding the door and then activated the annunciator.

    There was no initial response.

    “She’s definitely in there, sir,” the Betazoid security officer confirmed.

    When there was still no response on his second attempt, he shot the other man a concerned look.

    Stadi used his security override code and the door panels hissed open to reveal the dark interior of the guest quarters.

    Lif thought he could see a dark shape sitting on the far couch, outlined by the bright backdrop of the Amargosa’s volatile Moebius cluster visible through the large forward-facing windows.

    The figure stirred slightly. “I suppose privacy is not a consideration held in high regard on Federation starships.”

    Lif indicated for Stadi to stay at his post outside as he stepped into the quarters, allowing the doors to close behind him again. “A little dark in here, no?”

    “Suits me fine.”

    “Computer, increase light levels by twenty-five percent,” he said.

    A subdued trill confirmed the order and the room was bathed in soft light, allowing him to see Garla stretched out on the sofa in front of him. She had raised a hand over her eyes to shield them from the new light.

    “What do you want, Liftu?”

    “I thought I’d come and see how you’re doing? We haven’t had much of a chance to talk since the Yellow Rose.

    “Not much to talk about. Both our doubles are dead as is everyone else we’ve met in that universe. Gone, as if they’ve never even existed,” she said without so much as a single glance cast into his general direction.

    “I can’t speak to your line of work,” he said as he walked toward a nearby chair and sat down. “But in mine, that’s not something I’m used to. Certainly, nothing I’ve ever been trained for. Nobody ever told me that there might come a time when I am going to meet myself and then be forced to kill him … me.”

    Garla sat up on the sofa and for the first time since he had stepped inside her quarters, she turned to look his way. “I know that couldn’t have been easy for you. I certainly didn’t take pleasure in killing my double. But you had no choice. If you hadn’t done what you did, I wouldn’t be around. You probably would have met his fate instead.”

    He nodded slowly. “There’s a big difference between understanding this on an intellectual level and dealing with it emotionally,” he said, suddenly finding it very difficult for his mind to keep from going back to that time and place. To see his own face, his own eyes, staring back at him while the life was draining out of them, all the while feeling the heft of the weapon he had used to slain him still in his hand.

    His memories didn’t linger there. They went back further, not too far, just a few more days earlier when he had taken part in a mission that had resulted in a whole shipload of Outlanders being sent to their certain death. And then, not too long before that, the day he had faced a frenzied Buoth bearing down on him with deadly intent until he had somehow—he was still not certain how he had accomplished it exactly—managed to dispatch the massive ursine before he had been able to tear him limb from limb.

    “There’s been a lot going on lately and not much time to process any of it.”

    He had been responsible for a lot of killing over the last few days, he realized. And all those terrible encounters seemed to have one common denominator. He lifted his head slowly to look at his aunt. The woman he had once admired as a child, considered the strongest person he had ever known. She certainly was still that. But also, so much more. He was starting to wish he had never sought her out in the first place back on Piqus. How much death could have been avoided if he had just stayed away, he wondered.

    She seemed to be able to read his thoughts. “Don’t give me that look,” she said snappishly. “Yes, things have been tough. Whole universes are going up in smoke. But this is hardly the time to feel sorry about yourself and ponder the unfairness of it all.”

    He shot her a glare. “I’m not the one hiding away in a dark room.”

    “And what exactly do you expect me to do? My plans to repair the Star Alliance I’ve worked for years have come to nothing, now that it is clear that they were all based on the lies these subspace aliens peddled to me to secure my cooperation. And just when I thought I found a home where our people didn’t make the same disastrous decisions that put the entire Star Alliance on a course toward self-destruction, I lose that one too. Now I’m stuck on this ship, surrounded by people who obviously do not care for my opinions or even trust me enough to not have me guarded around the clock.”

    “Now who’s feeling sorry for themselves?” he mumbled and then stood. “And how exactly can you blame them for being cautious? Not so long ago you were trying to get us all killed.”

    “Don’t be so melodramatic. I tried to take you into custody after your people attacked mine,” she said dismissively.

    “I can still feel that iron grip of yours around my throat,” he shot back.

    “I have a temper, so what? You betrayed me, Lif. If I had wanted you dead, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now.”

    The ice-cold tone in her voice forced him to find her eyes.

    Her stance softened slightly. “We’re family. I would never try to harm you.”

    “Yes, well, you could have fooled me when you put a phaser to my head.”

    She rolled her eyes as if to imply that he was exaggerating.

    The ship shuddered slightly under their feet as it continued to traverse the treacherous Moebius cluster.

    “As for you,” she said. “Aren’t you supposed to be the best pilot on board? Shouldn’t you be on the bridge making sure we’re not flying into a star?”

    It was a decent point, he had to admit. Especially since Srena was still recovering in sickbay from a neck injury, leaving them a bit shorthanded at the conn. However, the transphasic shield had been working just as advertised, significantly reducing the challenge of traversing this highly volatile area of space.

    “I wanted to make sure you were all right,” he said.

    “Well, don’t worry about me,” she said as she walked toward the exit. “Perhaps, if we ever manage to find our way back home, I follow your example for a change and abandon our people as you’ve done. At least that way I spare myself the pain of watching them tear themselves apart.”

    She had already slipped out of the doors before he had time to come up with a reply. He uttered a sigh as he watched her leave.
  11. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Jun 18, 2021
    Quite liking the Garla character arc. And the fact that she has one... Thanks! rbs
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  12. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 27, 2007
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Ah, Garla’s pulling the old “you’ve turned your back on your people” guilt trip on Lif. Sadly, this is all too real. Many people who have traversed cultures have to deal with exactly this type of attack.

    Great character work here as always. Waiting to see what other peril lies ahead.
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  13. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    It wasn’t often that Eagle’s main science lab was this well guarded.

    Michael found two security guards outside the doors as he approached. And not just armed with hand phasers as was standard procedure, these crewmen were wielding rifles, giving him a brief and disturbing flashback to the worst days of the Dominion War. He tried to shake off those thoughts and ignore the growing desire to exchange their current predicament for any of those miserable days he had spent studying seemingly endless casualty reports or the threat of Jem’Hadar attack ships swooping down on them at any moment.

    The war had taken its toll. It had been one of the darkest periods in Federation history, and yet, no matter how bad it had gotten, the stakes had never been as high as they were right now. Sure, the entire Federation and their way of life had been threatened on a nearly constant basis by the paranoid and order-obsessed Founders that controlled the Dominion, but existence itself, whatever shape it took, had never really been in doubt. Certainly not for an entire universe.

    Michael realized that Tazla Star had been right. Regular mortals such as he had no business having to contemplate the fate of all life everywhere. That was firmly within the scrutiny of the deities and would drive a lesser being such as himself mad over time, he was certain.

    He entered his authorization code into the panel next to the doors and after a moment they parted to allow him into the lab.

    Inside he found another four, heavily-armed security crewmembers spread out in each corner of the lab. At the very center stood a platform that held the device he had come here to ponder, secured inside a level ten force field bubble.

    After the alternate Tazla Star had managed to abscond with the Exhibitor so easily, his Star had instructed Nora Laas to implement a security plan that would make it far more challenging for anyone to attempt and steal the device a second time.

    Michael thought that Nora had more than delivered. Besides the six-man strong detail providing around the clock security, access limited to authorized personnel, and even then, only after the computer had verified their identity through a multi-stage verification process, the security chief had also secured the lab with additional shielding that made it virtually impossible to beam in and out. She had also ensured that the force-field protecting the device had multiple redundancies that would keep it active even if the rest of the ship lost power. Two command-level officers were required to deactivate the force field and remove the Exhibitor from the lab.

    All this would have seemed like overkill had it not been for the fact that Michael was more convinced than ever that the Prism that could only be accessed via the Exhibitor was the key to preventing the death of another universe.

    “Still hard to believe that such a little thing could play such an immense role in potential saving all of reality.”

    Michael turned upon hearing the familiar voice to find DeMara Deen. He had not seen her when he had stepped into the lab but she had found him staring at the force-field protected device. He nodded slowly and then looked back at the unimpressive-looking rod. “Have we learned anything more about it?”

    She stepped up next to him. “I doubt that we will. Special Affairs had this in their possession for years and hasn’t been able to make much progress. I doubt we will in a few days.”

    “Considering who ran Special Affairs during that time we should probably keep an open mind and maintain a healthy amount of skepticism about everything we are being told about it.”

    “We certainly haven’t given up on it,” she said, still at his side. “Pretty much all of Xylion’s people and a good number of engineers are currently pouring over every bit of data we’ve managed to glean from it so far. But it’s not much.”

    He didn’t speak right away as his eyes remained glued to the device and it took him a moment to realize that the ensuing silence between them was becoming awkward. It had been like this between them for a while now.

    Michael had a good idea why she was far less talkative than usual. Although a whole lot had happened since then, he still remembered their discussion a few days earlier that had turned into an argument about their relationship. He knew he hadn’t handled it very well and that he needed to find a way to address it before it could become this ugly thing between them.

    Recent events hadn’t exactly given him an opportunity for a good old-fashioned heart-to-heart and then there was that look in her eyes every time he was near. He thought he knew exactly what it was and where it had come from.

    “I know I’ve been a little distant lately,” she finally said before he could broach the subject.

    “I understand.”

    “I know he wasn’t you. Intellectually, I understand that,” she said without looking at him.

    “It wasn’t easy for me to encounter the other me, to see what had become of Michael Owens in that universe. I know it was worse for you. What he did.”

    She shook her head. “It’s not even that,” she said. “Yes, he fooled me into thinking he was you and he attacked me and kidnapped me. All that I can handle. It’s just…” she let the words linger there for a moment.

    Michael turned to her and he could see that look in her eyes again. A sense of uncertainty.

    “He did all those things while looking exactly like you.”

    “You don’t think I’d be capable of something like that, do you?”

    She took a few steps away. “I don’t know, Michael, I don’t think so.”

    That was difficult for him to hear. The fact that she didn’t immediately discount it was painful.

    DeMara turned back to him, noticeably keeping a distance. “There is a difference between what we know to be true and what we feel to be true. I know it wasn’t you, I know you wouldn’t behave as he did, but it doesn’t change the fact that when I look at your face…” she stopped again, shaking her head with frustration.

    He nodded. “It’ll take time. I think once all this is over, we’ll all need time to make our peace with what has happened. There’s coming across our doppelgangers which is bad enough, then there is considering the end of everything that ever was or ever will be. I see a lot of counseling sessions in our future.”

    At that, she grinned. “A starship captain volunteering to get counseling? And I thought this couldn’t get any stranger.”

    He laughed.

    She was ready to change the subject. “How’s the Admiral doing?”

    He sighed. “Not well.”

    Her eyes landed on the Exhibitor again. “Do you think he’s still in shape to use it again? We may need him to do so before this is over and as far as we know, he’s the only one who can.”

    Michael had been pondering that very same question. “I’m not sure. To be honest, I fear that trying it again could end up killing him. He seems to have gotten weaker every day since all this started.”

    “Since he came back from the dead.”

    He nodded. “And then there are things that Jarik alluded to about my father before he was killed that have started to give me pause and question his motives. I don’t know how much I can trust him.”

    She had clearly not heard this before and offered him a quizzical look in response. But Michael was not quite ready to talk about this.

    “Well, there is no reason you couldn’t try it.”

    That caused him to give her a puzzled glance.

    “Best theory we have so far is that the Exhibitor is somehow keyed into the Admiral’s biosignature, possibly through his DNA.”

    “Of which I’d share half,” he said.

    “It is worth a try, don’t you think?”

    And yet he felt a cold shudder running up his spine while considering activating the Exhibitor and attempting to summon the most powerful force he had ever known.

    His first officer’s voice interrupted his growing sense of dread. “Star to Owens.”

    He answered without delay. “Go ahead, Commander.”

    “We’re approaching Arkaria Prime, sir. I think you might want to come up here.”

    “On my way, Owens out.”

    “To be continued?” she said once the audio channel had been closed.

    Michael briefly wondered what part of their conversation she was referring to and ultimately settled on the Exhibitor. He shot it one last look. “I sincerely hope not,” he said and then quickly left the science lab.
  14. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Jun 18, 2021
    Sounds like not-good news about Akaria... Really nice scene here with DeMara. Thanks!! rbs
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  15. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 27, 2007
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    This scene touches on something that most Sci Fi / Fantasy shows tend to dismiss too readily: when an evil duplicate of a main character inflicts pain and suffering on his or her comrades. Unrealistically, the supporting characters tend to shrug it off with a "I know it wasn't really you" statement and everyone just moves on.

    In reality, this would cause some lingering trauma, and could even permanently destroy a relationship. So, I really like DeMara's reaction here, post Dark Michael.

    And now I can't wait to see what lies ahead for everyone at their next stop.

    Keep restocking the fun, please.
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  16. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Michael stepped out of the aft turbolift and onto the bridge just in time to witness the streaking starfield on the holographic viewscreen shift to a deceptively static one. This, along with the gentle rumbling of the deck plates beneath his feet confirmed that Eagle had dropped out of warp.

    As he walked down the ramp leading down to the command area, he noticed that there wasn’t much to see on the viewer, even the startling mixture of stars and colors had given way to the more routinely dark void of space since Arkaria was located along the outer edges of the expansive Amargosa Diaspora.

    Star got out of the captain’s chair as soon as she spotted his approach. “We’ve arrived at the outer periphery of the system. The Oort Cloud should shield us from any sensor activity from within the system.”

    Michael took to his chair.

    “I’ve got Arkaria Prime right where it is supposed to be,” said Lieutenant Stanmore who was currently operating ops.

    “On screen,” Star ordered.

    The main viewer shifted once more, this time to reveal the sight of the turquoise sphere hanging in space where, as far as Michael was concerned, this nightmare of a mission had first started just a few days earlier.

    At this distance, he wasn’t able to make out much more. “Magnify, please.”

    Stanmore’s fingers danced over his console and the screen promptly zoomed in closer until the globe filled out the entire height of the viewer.

    “I’m not seeing the Remmler Array but there appears to be a smaller orbital installation in its place,” said Star.

    Michael nodded, spotting it as well. It was not nearly as large as the massive installation designed to purge a starship’s hull of particularly harmful concentrations of baryon particles. The station that existed in its place was multiple times smaller. It did contain a dry dock facility of sorts, but this one did not appear as if it could support a ship of Eagle’s size and the adjacent control spire looked old and worn-out.

    “What about the planet?” Michael said.

    Alendra, who was stationed behind him at tactical, already had the scan results prepared. “Sensors read a population of about four-hundred million. That is roughly comparable to our universe. The vast majority are Arkarians but I’m also reading other bio signs, including Bolians, Vulcans, humans, and various other races,” she said. “The non-Arkarian population appears far larger than on our Arkaria.”

    “Curious,” said Star.

    He glanced at her and nodded in agreement.

    “What about our friends in the Dominion?” she asked. “Any sign of them in or around the planet.”

    Stanmore was back up. “Sensors are not detecting any Dominion signatures in the proximity. However, we are currently limited to passive scans only. Active scans may give us more information.”

    “And put a bright spotlight on us,” said Michael and shook his head. “Let’s try and stay as inconspicuous as we can for now.”

    “Sir,” said the Bolian officer at tactical. “I’m not detecting any Starfleet or Federation signatures either.”

    Michael stood from his chair to glance toward Alendra. “Our Arkaria isn’t exactly a hotspot of fleet activity either. The same may be the case here.”

    But Alendra shook her head. “I’m not detecting any Federation signals at all. Not on Arkaria, not in this system, not even in this sector or any that neighbor it.”

    Star stood as well to join her captain. “Which means the Federation may be significantly smaller here than in our reality, or…”

    “Or it doesn’t exist at all,” said Michael, finishing her thought.

    She nodded. “I suppose a cautious approach is called for.”

    “Remind me of the last time it wasn’t,” he said and then turned toward the helm console where the young Risian woman Aliris was currently piloting the ship. “Ensign, set a course for Arkaria Prime, full impulse.”

    She nodded and followed his command, setting Eagle in motion again.

    “Lieutenant Stanmore, keep a close eye on the planet and the rest of the system. Let’s keep sensors passive until somebody takes a closer look at us. Let me know as soon as you detect any kind of Dominion activity.”

    “Aye, sir,” the blonde officer replied and focused on his instruments.

    “That orbital station may not be the Remmler Array but it might be just what we need to get us going again,” said the first officer.

    Michael had been thinking the same thing. “I guess it’s time we introduced ourselves,” he said, although he was certainly not looking forward to it. He had come to the conclusion that Starfleet regulations of non-involvement didn’t apply exactly in the same way in an alternate universe as they did when encountering non-space faring races or time travel. The Starfleet brass may have held a different opinion on the subject, but then again, they were not the ones finding themselves in the middle of a quagmire that was spelling doom for entire universes. Whatever Prime Directive-like implications may have been drawn up by Command for such a situation, they had left those behind a long time ago, right about when they had witnessed the annihilation of an entire reality.

    It wasn’t Starfleet regulations that filled him with the anxiety of getting involved in the affairs of yet another universe but the fact that things had gone spectacularly wrong the last two times they had allied themselves with the locals. “Lieutenant Alendra, try hailing the orbital station,” he said, tugging at his uniform jacket and preparing himself for another difficult encounter, dreading what it might lead to this time.

    “We’re getting a response,” she said. “Putting it on screen.”

    “Just hang on one moment,” a voice said even as the visual pickup remained dark. “Just a moment, let me just set this upright, hold on.”

    Michael shot Star a curious glance. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting but this certainly hadn’t been it. His first officer had returned to her chair and shrugged, clearly not sure what was happening either.

    He looked back at the screen that presently displayed nothing. “My name is Michael Owens from the starship-“

    “Just, you know, give me a second here, all right? I have this all set up in a jiffy,” the other voice interrupted. “Where is it? Where is it? I know it was somewhere around here.”

    Confused, Michael found Alendra next but the Bolian shook her head. “Channel is definitely open and there is no indication of interference,” she said, confirming that nothing was malfunctioning, certainly not on their end.”

    “Yes, yes, it’s all just working perfectly fine. Just give me a goshdarn second here, will you?”

    “Take all the time you need,” Michael said to the unknown person, not quite sure what else to say.

    “Ah, there you are. It’s all good. No problem. No problem at all.” Something was being lifted away from the visual pickup and suddenly the entire screen was filled with the roundish face of a middle-aged human male with narrow eyes and a balding head. “It’s just where I thought it be,” he said as he reached out for the pickup device and jostled it slightly, causing the image to shake until he seemingly had it in the position he wanted it to be. “There, perfect,” he said and then leaned back in a chair and revealed that he was sitting in an office of sorts. Although not much of it was visible, the parts he could see looked rather grimy and filled with junk. A small round viewport behind his left shoulder revealed a glimpse of Arkaria Prime from orbit.

    The camera angle remained slightly askew but Michael didn’t have the heart to tell this to the red-faced man who was already sweating slightly.

    “Welcome to Hutchport. You have the pleasure of addressing the manager and sole proprietor, Calvin Hutchinson, but, and let’s just get that out of the way from the start, nobody calls me Calvin. Hutch is fine. Here at Hutchport, we offer the most efficient and affordable maintenance this side of the Diaspora. The only thing brighter than our service, are the stars of Amargosa.”

    The speech was clearly a well-rehearsed sales pitch and judging by the rather unenthusiastic delivery, he had given it a countless number of times.

    “Well, Hutch, it seems we’re very fortunate then to have found you. My name is Michael Owens and as it so happens, we are in needs of some maintenance—“

    “Whoa, Nellie,” he said, interrupting Michael before letting loose a long whistle as he glanced at something else, presumably another screen, somewhere outside of the pickup range. “That’s one hell of a ship you’ve got there. Don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that.”

    “We’re not exactly from around these parts,” Michael said.

    “You can say that again.” He turned to look back at him but this time did a double-take and then actually leaned in closer to the pick-up until most of his face filled the screen once more. “Wait a minute, wait a minute,” he said. “You are human.”

    Michael nodded. “That’s right.”

    “What kind of business do you have with a ship like that?”

    It wasn’t difficult to ascertain from the way this conversation was going that things were very different in this universe to the ones they had visited previously. But Michael had no intention of getting into details with this man. “It’s a long story and—“

    Hutch waved him off. “You know what? I don’t want to know. I don’t need to know. This smells like a lot of trouble and I’ve long since made it my personal policy to stay well away from trouble. I suggest you just move on along with your fancy ship and take your problems elsewhere.”

    “We’d be more than happy to get going but we’re in need of some repairs first,” said Michael.

    But Hutch was decidedly shaking his head. “Well, I suggest you look somewhere else for your maintenance needs. If you’re the brave type, you can try your luck in Outlander territory. Or go and pay Shantok a visit. She runs a halfway respectable facility in orbit around Tessen III. She may not have my vast expertise but I’m sure she’d be happy to accommodate you.”

    Michael glanced at Stanmore at ops.

    “Tessen is located in the neighboring sector and is twenty-three light-years from our position,” the officer said, correctly anticipating Michael’s unasked question.

    Michael didn’t need a computer to tell him that even at high warp it’d take them days to travel that far and that was time they didn’t have. Time, the universe didn’t have. “Unfortunately, our needs are too pressing to allow for that option. We’ve just traversed some of the more challenging areas of the Diaspora and require urgent repair.”

    His eyes opened wide. “You took your ship through the Moebius cluster? My God, man, be happy your still alive to tell the tale,” he said. He seemed torn for a moment. “To be honest, I wouldn’t mind taking a look under that hood of yours. It’s been a long time I’ve seen a piece of such pristine engineering come through here.”

    “We’d gladly offer you a tour.” That hadn’t been his first choice but the truth was, they were desperate.

    “It’s just not worth the risk.”

    “All we need are some raw materials,” Michael said, trying a different tact now. “We can affect repairs ourselves. In fact, we’ll more than happy to complete them elsewhere. And I’m sure we can find something to compensate you for your assistance. Some pristine technology, perhaps?”

    His eyes lit up for a moment. “You’re a tempting devil, mister,” he said, giving Michael hope that he was getting through to him.

    But then shook his head resolutely. “I just cannot risk it, no matter how enticing you make it sound. My suggestion is to take that gleaming ship of yours out of this system before it catches the attention of the wrong kind of people. And whatever you do, do not contact me again.” He stabbed a control on his desk and the connection shut down.

    “That could have gone better,” Michael said.

    “We don’t have a lot of options,” said Star as she stood from her chair to join him by his side.

    “What do you suggest?”

    There was a gleam in her eye that seemed both encouraging and a little scary at the same time. “I’ve dealt with people like Mister Hutchinson before. I think I know how to get through to him.”
  17. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Jun 18, 2021
    Scary universe. Michael's just going to have to be a scary guy... Thanks!! rbs
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  18. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jan 17, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
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  19. Galen4

    Galen4 Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 27, 2007
    Sol III, within the universe of United Trek
    Absolutely love Hutch. Can't wait to see more of his goofy ass.

    Now, what the hell kind of new nightmare is this? The Dominion are everywhere and it seems that Starfleet either never existed or didn't exist long enough to be around by the 24th century. No Federation either, obviously. And without the Federation, there was no one to stop the Dominion's advance into the Alpha Quadrant.

    I have no idea how our heroes are going to survive this new iteration with nary an ally in sight.
    Can't wait to find out though! (Oh, and the Shantok reference was fun, too.)

    CeJay likes this.
  20. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Undeterred by Hutchinson’s refusal to assist, Eagle had continued unchallenged toward his orbital facility and well into transporter range.

    Tazla Star had grabbed DeMara Deen and Nora Laas and, after a quick wardrobe change to replace their Starfleet uniform jackets with something less likely to raise questions in a place where the Federation apparently did not exist, they had beamed over onto the unshielded station with little difficulties.

    Although the facility was small by Starfleet standards, certainly much more compact than Arkaria Base in their universe, it did seem to function as a sort of local hub for space traffic in the system and likely beyond. As Eagle had closed in onto the planet, they had been able to identify seven civilian crafts docked or holding position close to the facility that consisted of not much more than a couple of mid-size repair berth and a tall but skinny spire that housed several businesses and establishments as well as administrative offices. Deep Space Nine, this certainly was not.

    Tazla’s first impression upon beaming onto the facility was that it resembled some of the less reputable border outposts she had come across occasionally, usually tugged away outside the auspices of Starfleet and the Federation and often run by criminal, or at least, extralegal enterprises such as the Orion Syndicate.

    It wasn’t well-maintained, it was dark and dirty and there were far too many people who had been asked to share too little real estate.

    The cramped conditions, at least, played in their favor since nobody seemed to pay too much attention to a tall red-haired Trill, a Bajoran who couldn’t quite disguise her military background or, and most importantly, a Tenarian who carried with her an aura nearly impossible to miss. The latter did turn a few heads but not quite enough to cause a major disturbance as the three of them made their way across the busy main concourse.

    Tazla’s spotted a great many Arkarians which was hardly surprising, but there were also a few Andorians, humans, and Tellarites in the mix as well as races from non-Federation worlds such as Klingons and Nausicaans.

    Although the main concourse of the small outpost was not shielded, the administrative section that presumably held Hutchinson’s office was protected against direct beaming.

    It didn’t take the away team very long to find the doors leading to where they needed to go.

    “Arkarian with hat and blue shirt. Looks like the lone guard,” said Nora Laas as they approached the entrance and indicated toward a bored-looking man sitting on a stool next to the doors. “How do you want to play this?”

    “We don’t have the time for the usual niceties,” Tazla replied after spotting the guard.

    Nora just nodded briefly to acknowledge and continued for the door and the guard.

    The Arkarian left the stool when he spotted the trio making a beeline for him. “This is a restricted area. No access.”

    Nora gave him a confused looked. “Our apologies. We are new here and it appears we’ve gotten ourselves lost.”

    Tazla couldn’t help but grow worried when the man stood to his full and considerable height, easily half a head taller than the security chief.

    “Perhaps you could give us some directions,” she said, sounding about as non-threatening as Tazla had ever heard her.

    And yet a lifetime spent fighting, in the Bajoran Resistance, in the Starfleet Marines, and as a security officer made it a challenge for her body language to mirror her voice, and the Arkarian wearing an almost comically oversized hat, wasn’t entirely put at ease. Tazla had made the call to only equip the away team with small, type-one phasers that were easy to conceal but didn’t pack much of a punch.

    As it turned out, her concerns were unfounded.

    Nora acted so quickly, it looked more like a blur, kicking the guard hard against his shin, causing him to double over in pain just enough to give her easy access to his throat, where she landed a powerful and perfectly placed strike with her hand. It was enough to make him pass out.

    The Bajoran caught him before he could fall over and gently placed him back onto the stool and leaned him against the bulkhead behind it. She pushed his large hat deeper into his face to make it appear he had merely dozed off.

    Tazla gave Nora an appreciative nod once she realized that nobody had noticed her lightning-fast assault on the guard.

    “The Niners aren’t the only ones with tricks up their sleeve,” she said with a little mischievous smile, referring to the Special Missions Team Eagle had recently taken aboard and who excelled in these kinds of missions.

    “Now to get through this door,” she said, turning toward the heavy, air-lock type portal that functioned as the access port to the administrative section.

    “One step ahead of you, Commander,” said DeMara Deen who already had a tricorder in hand and typing away. “It has a standard, stand-alone eight-digit encryption lock without any secondary authentication method. Should be able to crack that any—“

    The door hissed open even before she had been able to finish her sentence and Deen offered a large smile instead and pointed at the now open portal. “Age before beauty.”

    “I guess I know why I brought the two of you,” she said and quickly slipped inside, followed by the rest of the away team.

    The administrative section of Hutchport was hardly large enough to deserve the name. A few, mostly empty ramshackle workrooms, almost no personnel, and certainly no additional opposition to the away team that quickly located the proprietor’s office.

    “Who the hell are you? You have no business here?” the short, semi-bald human said the moment he spotted the intruders. “Where’s Arlo?”

    “If you are referring to your guard, he’s taking a well-deserved nap,” said Nora Laas and quickly closed the gap between her and the agitated proprietor. “Take a seat, Mister Hutchinson,” she added and pushed him back into his large, well-padded chair, the only piece of furniture in his cramped office that didn’t look depilated.

    “I knew I shouldn’t have skimped on security,” he mumbled to himself. “What do you want? If this is some sort of shake-down, you come to the wrong place. I have more debts than liquid assets. Go see Shantok in the Tessen system. She’s practically drowning in capital.”

    “I’m sure she’d be delighted to hear of your referrals,” Tazla said after she had made sure to secure the only entrance into his office. “But we are not here to rob you.”

    “Wait a minute, wait a minute,” he said as he pointed at the Trill. “I recognize your face. You were on the bridge of that shiny new ship out there. You work with that Owens fellow.”

    “That’s right.”

    He quickly shook his head. “I told you, people, not to come here. A ship like that is bound to attract the wrong kind of attention. And I don’t need the trouble. Go do your business elsewhere.”

    “Thing is, Mister Hutchinson—“

    “You can call me Hutch, dear,” he said, interrupting Nora Laas who remained close to the seated human to keep an eye on him.

    The Bajoran didn’t appreciate his condescending tone and let him know with an ice-cold gaze. “The thing is, Mister Hutchinson,” she started again. “We are on a mission with severe implications for the safety of the galaxy and on a very tight timetable so, as much as it may pain me to say so, you are our only option.”

    “So what? Your captain figured he send over the most attractive members of his crew to try and sweet talk me into helping you? Don’t get me wrong, you are all quite charming,” he said and for a moment seemed to be particularly fascinated by Deen who had remained in the background. “But no offense, not charming enough to make me forget what kind of pain may be in store for all of us if you don’t move on in a hurry.”

    Nora didn’t seem to care for his insinuation but before she could make her displeasure known, Tazla placed herself between her and Hutchinson.

    The truth was that she had not consciously selected her away team based on charm factors—if that had been the case, she would certainly have left Nora behind—but she had not entirely ruled out that she may be required to appeal to this man’s baser instincts. It hadn’t been an accident that she had replaced her uniform jacket with a low-cut top and zipped her red undershirt low enough to reveal hints of cleavage. It was hardly the first time she had used sensuality to fulfill a mission objective. In fact, during the darker days of her work in intelligence, she had rarely shied away from pulling out all the stops.

    “Actually, Hutch,” she said with a beaming smile. “That was all my idea.”

    Her tactic seemed to work as he appeared momentarily entranced by her attractive features. And why shouldn’t he have been? Tazla wasn’t a braggart by nature, but she did consider herself quite a catch. At least physically speaking. She wasn’t so sure if anyone would be particularly attracted by all her psychological baggage.

    She placed herself right next to the seated Hutchinson, leaning against the desk and making sure he got a good view of her from top to bottom, from her long, stretched out legs, her décolleté, all the way to her piercing green eyes and the loose strands of her fiery-red hair hanging into her face.

    She was pleased to find that she had captured his full attention. Although it was generally considered to be old-fashioned and perhaps even in poor taste to use sex appeal to win an argument, certainly back home and within the Federation, it was good to know that she could still pull it off, even after years of being out of practice.

    She pulled out a datapad she had tugged away in her open jacket and slid it onto the desk next to her. “All we require are a few resources so that we can tend to our repairs. And I’m certain that we can find a way to compensate you for your efforts.”

    Hutchinson hung on her lips for a moment longer, before he tore himself away and glanced at the padd on the desk. “I’d really love to help,” he said as he picked up the data slate. “And we do have some of these materials in storage here but the risk of certain powers finding out that I helped you is simply too great.”

    When he lowered the padd again his eyes didn’t immediately return to Tazla but stayed glued to another member of the away team. She tried not to take it personally that he seemed more enchanted by DeMara Deen than with her. The Tenarian, after all, didn’t exactly play fair.

    “There must be something that we could do for you that could make you consider taking such a risk,” Tazla said, nearly purring the words and starting to feel rather disappointed with herself.

    “I don’t see what it is you could offer me,” he said even while keeping his gaze on the young woman across the office.

    “Give us a second,” she said and then stepped away from his desk and regrouped with the rest of the away team in the far corner of the room and out of his earshot.

    “This is ridiculous,” said Nora, straight away. “He has what we need. Let’s just take it and be done with it. I know that’s not the Starfleet way but we’re talking about the possible destruction of an entire universe. I think our priorities are pretty clear, especially since we’d be saving his life in the process as well. I get that we are supposed to stand for certain moral values but this feels like the time to make some adjustments.”

    But Deen shook her head. “I disagree. It is times like these when our moral foundations must be strongest. If we don’t remain true to ourselves in a crisis then we might not have to bother having any foundations at all.”

    Tazla rubbed the bridge of her nose with frustration. She didn’t have the time nor the inclination to have an ethics discussion. She found both arguments inherently valid and simplistic at the same time. She considered DeMara. “He’s obliviously taken a shine to you.”

    “Show me a man who doesn’t?” Nora said, immediately garnering her a less than pleased look from Deen.

    “Perhaps you could use some of your unique gifts to make him, let’s say, more inclined to cooperate with us.”

    But Deen didn’t look happy about the prospect. “Don’t get me wrong, Commander, I understand the stakes here perfectly well. And if you order me to try and convince this man to help us, I will. But I’m not comfortable trying to manipulate a person like that. And that in itself may affect the success of my attempt.”

    “I’ve seen you do this kind of thing before,” the Bajoran said.

    “That doesn’t mean it was easy or a comfortable experience. And not everyone is wired the same way. Just because it worked on one person, it may not work with another.”

    “Worth a shot, if you ask me,” Nora countered.

    But Star could see the deep-seated reluctance in DeMara’s purple eyes. And what was more, she could empathize, probably more so than Nora Laas who had, first and foremost, relied on her strength and handiness with a weapon to solve problems in her life, rather than using her feminine appeal. Tazla had been down that road and she had hated herself for it each and every time.

    “All right, let’s try something else first,” she said and returned to Hutchinson who had been staring at the trio the whole time, either too afraid or too intrigued to attempt to escape or summon help.

    Tazla picked up the padd from the desk, entered a number, and threw it back at Hutchinson who caught it clumsily. “What is this?”

    “You may have already figured that we’re not from around here. But I get the feeling that money talks in a place like this more than anything else. That’s the total amount of gold-pressed latinum currently in the hold of our ship. All of which could be yours.”

    The way his eyes lit up gave proof that the currency was as much in demand in this universe as it was in many non-Federation territories in theirs.

    The number was a decent amount and Tazla hadn’t lied or exaggerated. Although the Federation had a money-less economy, since Eagle regularly traveled to areas beyond Federation jurisdiction, she was one of several Starfleet ships that carried well-regulated reserves of gold-pressed latinum and other common currencies, ostensibly for situations like this one. Although, probably not exactly like this one.

    “I mean that’s certainly more than enough latinum to cover my expenses,” he said, seeming quite torn about the issue. “But no latinum in the galaxy will protect me from the wrath of the powers that be.”

    Nora stepped up to his desk, placing her hands on the top and leaning toward him aggressively. “You’ve had a look at our ship, haven’t you?”

    He nodded. “Sure, sure. Indubitably, a mighty fine ship.”

    “And you can probably imagine the kind of firepower it has. What it could do to this little rust bucket you call a repair facility.”

    “Are you … are you threatening me?” he said in a tone that shifted back and forth between concern and outrage.

    “I’m saying that if we were anyone else, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. I’d just appreciate some acknowledgment that we are trying to go out of our way here to accommodate what is a simple trade of goods and services all of which are well within your ability to provide.”

    “I most certainly acknowledge your understanding,” he said quickly and then looked back at Tazla. “I really do. But I’m in a difficult position here.”

    “You want to help us but you’re afraid of the repercussions if the local powers learn that you have aided us,” Deen said as she stepped up next to the security chief. Her tone of voice, her entire demeanor was so calm, it was practically soothing and the complete opposite to Nora’s approach.

    “That’s exactly right.”

    “Then here’s what I suggest. You tell us exactly where we can find what we need. Perhaps there are certain cargo modules on your station you can point us to that just might contain the resources we are after. Then we take what we want without your permission. In other words, we steal them from you and might even damage some of your station in doing so.”

    “I don’t think I like that idea very much,” he said.

    Deen smiled sweetly at him. “Yes, but you see, what nobody else will know is that a sizeable amount of latinum will have found its way into your possession. Enough to cover the cost of the materials we abscond with as well as any damages done as a result. As far as anyone else is aware, we took what we wanted by force. You had no real chance to defend yourself considering what you were up against.”

    It took Hutchinson a moment to fully understand what she had suggested. “Nobody would know?”

    “It’d be our dirty little secret,” Tazla said with a mischievous grin.

    “And I get the latinum.”

    She nodded. “All of it.”

    He began to laugh. “I think you have yourself a deal.”

    Tazla took her padd back. “We’ll beam the payment directly to your office. I suggest you hide it away in a safe place and do not flaunt your new wealth for the time being,” she said as she headed for the exit, eager to get back to their mission as quickly as possible.

    “Since my life might depend on it, I’ll be more than discreet,” he said. “I can give you the location of the cargo bays that contain the materials you require.”

    But Deen shook her head. “Don’t trouble yourself,” she said as she raised her tricorder. “I’ve already located everything we need.”

    Hutchinson got out of his chair just as the three women were exiting his officer. “And please keep the damage to a minimum.”

    Nora rolled her eyes as she shot him a last, fleeting look. “After making us waste an enormous amount of time, I’d be tempted to forcefully reconfigure half of this station. Remember, we’re the heartless pirates here and we’ll need to make this heist believable,” she said with a grin just before she left the dumbstruck Hutch Hutchinson behind.
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