The Star Eagle Adventures: QD3 - Uncertainty Principle

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

  1. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    STAR!!!! Oh, crap, the refuge has hit the fan.
     
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  2. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Pretty good showing against these alt-borg... But the borg are always quick to adapt. Nice tactics with the computer attack and shutting the main computer down - good story point. And these borg are still mysterious - interested to find out how they might vary from prime borg.

    Thanks!! rbs
     
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  3. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    6


    Amaya Donners, the woman he was in love with, dressed like an outlaw, leading a band of mercenaries, had Westren Frobisher, his brother’s killer, dead to rights as she kept a menacing-looking hand phaser leveled at his head, while his brother Matthew, very much alive, and his father, who had already died once only to unexpectedly return to the land of the living, watched on.

    The situation was beyond bizarre in a time and a place where bizarre had become the new normal.

    “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t disintegrate your worthless ass right here and now.”

    “Let’s everybody just calm down,” Michael said as he took a step closer to the heated Amaya, repeating a mantra that he had uttered not for the first time as of late.

    He was rewarded by his intervention with Amaya pointing the weapon at him instead, prompting him to quickly raise his hands.

    “You look awfully familiar,” she said as she considered him with suspicious eyes. “And I don’t think I like your face.”

    He tried not to take that as the insult it was likely meant to be. “Michael Owens,” he said, hoping that it would spark something in her.

    She shot a sidelong glance at Matthew. “Any relation?”

    “Yes, but no,” he said.

    This naturally did nothing but confuse her further. “I’m not playing games here.”

    “It’s a long story. If you just lower your weapon I’d be more than happy to explain why we’ve come here,” Michael said.

    “I don’t care for stories,” she said and turned her attention back to Frobisher on the ground.

    Michael could see that Garla was visibly tense as if waiting to jump into action, not unlike he had seen her do just before she had gone off on the Jem’Hadar on Arkaria. He didn’t like their chances here, not with Amaya’s men holding them at gunpoint, and he gave her a subtle shake of the head to let her know to stand down. He hoped she’d listen to him.

    “I’m still waiting,” she said to Frobisher. “You’ve cost me a lot of money, not to mention damaged my reputation, when you sold me that piece of junk energy core.”

    “I told you at the time that it was experimental,” Frobisher said, sitting up on the dirty floor, leaning against his shuttle behind him. “And it was never meant to be used as a weapon.”

    “You knew what I wanted it for and you still sold it to me.”

    “We can give you your money back,” said Matthew. “Just as soon as we can get back to our workshop. Unfortunately, that isn’t an option right now.”

    She pierced him with a dark scowl. “So, let me get this straight, you’ve come here with nothing? That was your plan?”

    When Matthew didn’t know what else to say, Frobisher continued. “There has been a development. The entire galaxy—the entire universe—is at great risk and we need help—“

    Michael was convinced that the Amaya Donners he knew would have listened attentively to any words prefaced with such a dire warning but this woman was clearly very different. Her thoughtful expression promptly morphed back to one of ironclad resolve as she cut off Frobisher in mid-sentence. “Fine. We’ll go back to your lab together. You pay me back everything you owe me, plus interest, and all this ends without anyone getting spaced.”

    “That could be a problem,” said Matthew.

    “Why?”

    “Probably because of the little issue of the dead Jem’Hadar squad we left behind,” said Garla with far more amusement than the occasion called for it.

    Amaya considered the other woman with a surprised look. “You killed Jem’Hadar? Now, why would you go and do something that stupid?” She shook her head before anyone had a chance to answer. “You know what? I don’t even care. Nor do I like the idea of having Krellonian refugees on my ship. There’s enough scum onboard already.”

    This prompted some laughter from the rest of her people.

    Garla was naturally not pleased with her pun and seemed all but ready to confront the armed Donners but Culsten smartly held on to her arm to keep her from getting too close.

    “Touched a nerve there, did I?” Amaya said with a crooked smile.

    Frobisher was slowly pulling himself back onto his feet. “Please, you have to listen to us. This crisis is very real and it is putting all our lives at risk unless we act now.”

    Michael found it difficult to hear Westren Frobisher sounding so concerned about human life considering that this had been the man who had put his own achievements above the safety of millions while he and his brother had developed their dark anti-matter technology years earlier.

    “A crisis, you say?” Amaya said. “Risk to all our lives?”

    He nodded.

    “It may have escaped your notice while ensconced in your workshop day and night but for the rest of us, our lives are at risk from the moment we get out of bed in the morning. If it’s not the Dominion, it’s the Borg. We’re all living on borrowed time until we end up as collateral damage in their damned war.”

    “The Dominion and the Borg are at war?” said Culsten with astonishment.

    “Only ever since I’ve been alive,” she said with a glare that spoke more to her annoyance than her surprise. “I know Krellonian refugees don’t get around much, but boy, I’d think that kind of news would have reached even your backwater haunts.”

    “We are not refugees,” Garla said between clenched teeth.

    Amaya looked her up and down again. “You certainly don’t carry yourself like one.”

    “Look,” said Michael, trying to play mediator once more. “The fact remains that we need your help to get into Outlander space. I’m sure we could find something to compensate you for your efforts.”

    Amaya laughed at that. “Outlander space, huh? Why didn’t you say so from the start? Here I was thinking you were trying to accomplish something difficult. I don’t know where you people have come from but I can tell that you’ve got nothing to offer me that could make me forget your debts and help you embark on a suicide mission,” she said but then her eyes found Frobisher’s shuttle. She stepped up closer to its hull to touch it. “I think maybe I’ll keep your little ship. Consider it a down payment of what you still owe me.”

    Frobisher briefly exchange a glance with Michael and it was clear from the look in his eyes that he was not eager to part with his shuttle. Considering what it was capable of, Michael felt much the same way but he understood that they didn’t have much else to bargain with.

    “You’ll find that shuttle to be much more valuable than it looks,” said Michael.

    That captured her attention. “Oh?”

    Frobisher uttered a little sigh before he spoke. “It has a dark anti-matter power plant. Probably the only one in existence. At least in this quantum-reality.”

    “Tell me more,” she said as she began to inspect the unassuming little shuttle with renewed interest.

    “I’ve rated the core’s maximum power output at nineteen-thousand six-hundred teradyne per second.”

    That made Donners whirl back around to face him with an unmissable gleam in her eyes. This revelation had also surprised Michael and much of everyone else assembled in the shuttle bay, both Windjammers and his motley crew alike.

    Michael wasn’t an engineer but he knew that even Eagle’s recently upgraded warp core was not able to produce anywhere close to that much energy, and he very much doubted that Amaya’s weathered and beaten-up freighter could muster even a fraction of that number. Considering what Frobisher had used his dark anti-matter engine for, however, he now realized that he shouldn’t have been surprised by its vast capacity.

    “You cannot be serious,” she said.

    “I’ll stake my life on it.”

    She had her weapon back up in flash, pushing him hard into the hull of the shuttle with a forearm against his chest and the phaser in his face.

    Both Michael and Matthew jumped forward at the same time, trying to keep her from atomizing his head but they were both stopped in their tracks by the rest of Maya’s people.

    “He’s telling the truth,” Matthew said desperately. “I think,” he said, suddenly not entirely sure anymore himself.

    “I think I’d still prefer to rid the galaxy of you,” she said as she refused to let up. “And I’d still get to keep your little ship. If it is as powerful as you say, great. If not, I’m sure I can sell it for scrap and at least recoup some of my losses.”

    “You’d make a big mistake,” said Frobisher, trying to sound calm with a phaser emitter so close to his face, and not being entirely successful. “And you’ll need somebody to show you how it works.”

    “I’m pretty resourceful.”

    Michael managed to free himself from the tall Bolian holding him in place but only managed a couple of steps before Amaya’s phaser was now pointed squarely at his head, forcing him to stop in his tracks again, once more holding out his palms. “Listen, I get that you’re mad.”

    “You have no idea.”

    He nodded. “Trust me, and I know this sounds crazy, but there was a time, not long ago, where the idea of ridding the galaxy of a man named Wes Frobisher would have been on the top of my to-do list as well.”

    She regarded him with undeniable skepticism.

    “I wanted that man dead but things have changed quite dramatically as of late. And I know you don’t care about the fate of the universe and all the talk about trying to save it. But I’m convinced that we can help each other if you’re just willing to listen.”

    He could tell that he was getting through to her. He wasn’t sure if it were his words, or perhaps he was getting good at trying to convince people called Amaya Donners of his cause.

    Whatever it was, he had her attention and he knew he had to exploit it for however short it would last. The only problem with his plan was the fact that he was making it all up as he went along.

    “You need to be compensated for the losses you’ve suffered. And you need to be further rewarded before you will ever consider helping us get into Outlander territory.”

    She didn’t respond to this which he took as a good sign for now. Although, the weapon still in his face, was much less so.

    “I have a starship nearby. We can’t reach it at the moment on the account of those Jem’Hadar we mentioned earlier but we will be able to get back to them and when we do, I will be able to offer you a significant reward for your assistance.”

    Her eyes said to continue.

    “Latinum. A whole lot of it.”

    “How much are we talking?”

    Michael had to admit that he didn’t know the first thing about gold-pressed latinum, the currency favored by Ferengi and many other races operating outside Federation space. He knew that Eagle carried a non-insignificant amount of it to allow them to operate in those areas. He also knew that Star had given much or all of it to Hutchinson in return for materials to aid repairs. “One-hundred,” he said, only vaguely remembering the ship’s manifest and deciding that this was the time to gamble with it. “One-hundred bricks of gold-pressed latinum.”

    She lowered her weapon and smiled. “Well, why didn’t you lead with that?”
     
  4. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
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    Vancouver, WA
    Is Eagle and her crew ever going to get home?
     
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  5. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    I'm particularly enjoying the reversed situation with Michael, Matt, Maya and Fro from previous stories. These four just keep doing this bizarre tango and every time a different person is at someone else's throat.

    Vulcans are always going on about infinite diversity in infinite combinations, but I think even they would find this situation profoundly annoying.
     
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  6. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    7

    It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the dark interior of the Borg sphere. In the meantime, it was the smell that got to her. It was as if the entire ship had been doused in ammonia and it made her want to gag.

    She found herself in a narrow corridor lined with Borg drones in both directions and as far as she could see.

    Her first instinct was to get hold of Eagle and she tapped the combadge on her chest only to hear the discouraging signal of a failed connection.

    Two drones directly in front of her stepped out of their alcoves with slow and robotic movements and she knew she had to move.

    She turned the other way only to find that direction now also blocked by two more drones.

    Before she could even think of a way out of this, the Borg behind her had already grabbed hold of her and she could hear their cybernetic motors spinning up as they moved to inject her with nanoprobes to assimilate her into their collective.

    She caught the glint of a small circular blade attached to the drone directly in front of her and watched in horror as it came down toward her chest, cutting through her uniform jacket like a hot knife through butter.

    A primal fear she had never known took hold of her, overriding much of her rational thoughts. It was more than just her biological imperative to survive, she understood instinctively that when facing assimilation, survival was no longer the primary goal.

    She threw herself backward with all the strength she could muster against the drones behind her.

    The two Borg in front reached out to arrest her movement but only came away with the tatters of her jacket while she fell to the floor, and right on top of the bodies of the drones behind her.

    The impact was hard and painful but adrenaline made it bearable and more importantly, it kept her moving.

    As the drones in front of her reached down to take hold of her again, she leashed out violently. There was no thought-out strategy behind her attack other than to inflict as much damage as possible. She took hold of whatever she could, both flesh and machine at the same time, and tore and ripped with no regard for her own safety.

    The irony that her one and only advantage was her own cybernetic arm escaped her at that moment as she used it indiscriminately, like a weapon. She had long since become accustomed to her artificial appendage, taking great care with it, particularly when she was unlucky enough to get into a brawl with another person. Not so now. The Borg were not people, not anymore, she told herself. This was a no holds barred fight to void a fate worse than death.

    It felt like minutes but within just a few seconds her clenched fist had pried off gray flesh and black tubes that leaked sickly white fluid mixed with torn pieces of her own artificial skin.

    She launched herself against the stumbling and damaged drones, driving one hard into the wall and an alcove containing a fellow Borg, then kicked the second one hard in the groin even if that did little more than cause it to lose its balance for a split second.

    It was enough time to push it aside and then take off in a full sprint down the corridor, leaving the four drones behind.

    Her only thought was to get off that ship. To reach a transporter room or a shuttle bay, anything that could facilitate her escape.

    In her mad dash through the sphere, all she could see were endless corridors lined with one drone after the next. Every so often a drone would open its eyes or ocular implants and step out of its alcove while Tazla refused to slow down, dodging them like hurdles on an obstacle course.

    When she spotted a drone just ahead, vaguely female and about her own height, step out of its alcove to block her path, she knew she wouldn’t be able to get around it in time. Instead of slowing down, Tazla lowered her shoulder and pumped her legs faster, barreling right into the drone.

    Her shoulder made contact while the Borg was slightly off-balance and it gave Tazla all the advantage she needed. The drone was lifted off its feet by the impact and smashed hard into the bulkhead while Taz was briefly redirected, bumping her right shoulder against the other bulkhead but then quickly found her footing again to continue her sprint. She didn’t look back as she clenched her teeth in pain from the encounter, determined to keep her pace.

    Not long after her lungs began to burn from exhaustion and her rational mind was slowly beginning to reassert itself with discouraging thoughts. Did the Borg even have shuttle bays or transporter rooms? And if not, if there was no way off this nightmare ship, did they have airlocks? She’d rather take her chances in the vacuum of space than surrender herself to being turned into a lifeless automaton, serving a collective hive mind for the rest of her existence.

    As her breathing became more ragged and sweat was beginning to pour into her eyes, she knew that she wouldn’t be able to run forever, even if there was no end to this maze of corridors.

    Tazla considered herself to be in peak physical condition, prided herself on it, in fact, she aimed to spend at least a couple of hours a day in the ship’s gym or join Nora Laas’ on her daily morning run around the saucer section, but she could already feel her sides beginning to ache and her legs sending signals back to her brain that this pace was not sustainable.

    As she looked down at herself, she could see her right shirt sleeve ripped and a deep gash in her skin soaking the red material with her blood.

    No doubt she had been injured during her collision with the drone but the pain had been masked by the sky-high levels of adrenaline coursing through her body. She knew that she desperately needed to find a way to stop the bleeding before she’d lose too much blood but that simply didn’t seem to be an option.

    When she looked back up, she realized too late that the way ahead had been blocked off by a solid wall of four drones facing her. There was no chance that she could avoid them or attempt to force herself through the barricade.

    She tried to slow down and change direction but she wasn’t quick enough and smashed into them at nearly full speed, taking all four of them down with her like a bowling ball striking a set of pins.

    Her head exploded with pain and she struggled to catch her breath as she rolled onto the floor, fighting to keep conscious and knowing full well that if she blacked out now, by the time she’d come back around, Tazla Star would no longer exist. Her symbiont and all the memories and experiences of the six lifetimes it carried would be extinguished.

    The thought made her physically ill.

    Something grabbed her by the back of her neck with tremendous strength and lifted her from the floor.

    She tried to resist but her strength had drained from her body and blood was now mixing with sweat, trickling from her face.

    She was pushed hard into a smooth surface and before she realized what was happening, she felt restraints having taken hold around her wrist and ankles, pinning her in place.

    The surface behind her moved so quickly she struggled to keep herself from vomiting as she transitioned from a vertical position to a horizontal one, even as the entire contraption began to speed away at a rapid pace, carrying her away and into the depths of the sphere.

    It moved so fast she could make out nothing more than bright green lights she passed by at regular intervals that did nothing to help her orient herself.

    She tested her restraints a few times but quickly realized that they were made of solid metal and did not budge even a bit, instead she felt them cut painfully into her wrist when she tried to pull herself free.

    With few options available to her, she decided to close her eyes and find a way to control her breathing. Her only chance, she figured, was to regain some of her strength and then attempt for another escape as soon as an opportunity presented itself.

    She refused to believe that she wouldn’t get another one. That assimilation was now the only possible outcome. She refused to give up.

    Her journey through the sphere, strapped to the platform, lasted what felt like an eternity causing her to wonder if they were purposefully trying to lull her to sleep to lower her resistance.

    She had only just formulated that thought in her head when she came to a stop as suddenly as the trip had started.

    Lersus, Star’s third host, had in his childhood greatly enjoyed visiting the traveling carnival in the region where he had grown up and one of his favorite attractions had been an elaborately designed amusement ride where he was strapped to a chair and taken through a series of rooms designed to scare the visitors with grotesque scenery.

    This felt very much like that attraction, only on steroids.

    The platform pushed her back up into a vertical position and then swiveled on its own axis to show her a series of poorly lit compartments, all filled with what looked like bodies of failed drones, assimilations that hadn’t quite taken and instead created terribly disfigured bodies, rejecting their implants. Worse even, some of these creatures were still alive, going through the same motions over and over as if trapped in an endless and broken feedback loop. Some were attempting to push parts of their own body back into place over and over again, others were constantly moving their damaged limps or just trying to keep their heads from falling off their shoulders.

    As she watched these scenes of horror, Tazla began to realize that there was a fate worse than assimilation after all.

    The conveyor brought her into a large round room, the first she had seen on the sphere that was entirely devoid of drones. She was placed in the dead center, leaving her to stare at a curved wall.

    “You are the commanding entity of the unidentified starship designated USS Eagle NCC dash 74329. Confirm.” The booming choir of voices coming from seemingly everywhere made her ears hurt she desperately wanted to cover them with her restrained hands.

    “Scans of your position on your command bridge, and the insignia on your uniform postulate that you are the highest-ranking entity on the unidentified starship designated USS Eagle NCC dash 74329. Confirm.”

    They didn’t know for certain, she realized. These Borg had never encountered a Starfleet vessel before and could only guess as to who or what they were. They had not been able to scan their computer core since she had ordered it shut down and their state of ignorance, she figured, was the only reason she was still herself.

    Bright beams of light were blinding her now, forcing her to shut her eyes.

    The platform moved again, spinning her around to face another direction but the lights stayed on her.

    “Species 5614, known as Trill. Species 5614 is not known to possess the level of technology exhibited by the unidentified starship designated USS Eagle NCC dash 74329. State your explanation.”

    It took her a moment to find enough strength to speak and even then she struggled to get the words over her lips. “You’re looking for answers. I get that. But in my present condition, I’m not particularly motivated to assist you,” she said and then spat out a wad of blood that had accumulated in her mouth onto the floor. “Tell you what, you get me out of this thing and back on my ship and we can have a conversation.”

    “State your designation,” the voices boomed again.

    “You can call me Tazla Star,” she said, feeling that perhaps she was getting somewhere now.

    The platform moved again, spinning her around nearly ninety degrees and tilting her forward so that she would have fallen onto the floor had she not been restrained, and putting more pressure on her already sore wrists and ankles.

    The bright lights lessened enough for her to open her eyes again.

    “Tazla Star, you will comply with the Borg or you will be assimilated.” It was no longer the same booming collection of voices speaking to her. Instead, this was voice was softer and sounded almost as if she was being addressed by an individual. The voice was still distorted and mechanical but it also sounded eerily familiar in a way that caused her spine to tingle.

    A new emerald-colored light emerged from somewhere in front of her in the darkest section of the room. It took her a moment to realize that the green beams of light were assembling a humanoid form. A Borg drone.

    Once it had taken shape, it stepped closer so that she could see it more clearly and what she found caused her to gasp in surprise.

    “I am Tyrantus of Borg. You will surrender all and any knowledge you possess of Particle 010. Resistance is futile,” said the Borg drone apparition now standing in front of her and wearing Michael Owens’ face.
     
  7. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Michael 4 of 5! Totally love it - and even this version of Michael is going after the Omega particle - and quite possibly onto the universal desctructor ray thingy...

    Really liking the borg failures - that's a fun wrinkle - Thanks!! rbs
     
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  8. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    A Borg Owens? This got more interesting! I hope that Tazla can get herself out of this situation. I like her.

    I thought this was an assimilation-free safe zone!
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2022
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  9. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    8


    “Welcome to the Lead Belly,” said Amaya Donners as she led Michael and the rest of his team into what could have been generously termed as a crew lounge. It certainly wasn’t the Nest or even any of the other smaller mess halls or recreation rooms one could come across on Eagle, but it did offer a few tables, a bar area with mismatched stools, and even a dom-jot table in the corner, albeit one that looked like it had been purchased in the previous century.

    Michael didn’t care what her ship looked like. All that mattered was that it could take them back to where they needed to go, back to the Ring, to try and prevent it from fulfilling what he now believed could very well be its final apocalyptic purpose.

    How exactly they were to achieve this, he didn’t know, but he understood that they had already lost far too much time in trying to stop the massive Omega accelerator, partly thanks to the man who he had until recently believed to be his father.

    Mi casa es su casa,” Maya said as she spread her arms wide to present the less than impressive lounge. “As long as you stay on this deck, that is. There are some sleeping areas and a lavatory if you need to freshen up. If you get the foolhardy notion to venture beyond this level, however, my fellow associates have standing orders to shoot you in the head.”

    “Charming,” said Garla, doing nothing to hide the sarcasm.

    “Hey, that’s what one-hundred bricks of latinum buys you in the Diaspora these days. If you think you can get a better deal, I’ll be happy to show you to the airlock. I’ll even throw in a spacesuit as a parting gift,” she said and shrugged. “No guarantee it’ll work.”

    “This will be fine,” said Michael and found that the larger of the few tables in the room also functioned as a computer display, currently showing a star chart of the sector.”

    Amaya joined him along with Frobisher and Garla. “So, you need to get into Outlander territory,” she said. “You’ve got any specific destination in mind or is this some sort of adrenaline safari to see how far you can go before you get yourself blown to pieces?”

    Michael was already working on the display and it didn’t take him long to locate his destination. He pointed at it. “This is where we need to go.”

    “What’s in Cygni-98?” she said.

    “A spatial fold that allows transition into a lower brane connecting the regular space-time continuum with a tertiary subspace manifold,” said Frobisher.

    Amaya looked at him as if he was speaking Klingonese. “Right. Sorry I asked,” she said and then focused on the star chart again. “Won’t be easy to get there. And going there in a straight line would be tantamount to suicide. The Outlanders run a sensor net that covers that entire area of space and alerts their roaming patrols the moment anything comes even close.”
    Michael nodded, remembering the immediate attention they had drawn after arriving in this universe.

    “I suppose you gotta ask yourself: Are you sure that’s where you want to go? I hear Rura Penthe is supposed to be particularly nice this time of year. And it would be much easier to get there.”

    “I’m afraid we are committed,” Michael said.

    Maya looked him right in the eyes as if she was seeing something there she hadn’t noticed before. A smile crept onto her lips. “Well, I do like a man who knows what he wants. But I won’t be able to take you there.”

    “By the Creator, I thought that’s what we’re paying you for,” Garla snarled at the woman.

    “Calm down, Lady. I won’t be able to take you straight to that system but I can do the next best thing.”

    “And what would that be?” she asked.

    She activated a few panels on the star charts to center it on what looked like a space station within a couple of light-years from Cygni-98. “Amargosa Station,” she said. “It’s the main Outlander trading post in the sector and one of the few places within their territory where they tolerate foreigners.”

    “That’s nowhere near to where we need to go,” Garla protested.

    “Maybe not, but I have a contact there who knows a thing or two about circumventing the Outlander sensor net and who might be convinced to assist you for the right price,” she said and crossed her arms in front of her while Michael and the others offered nothing but skeptical looks in response. “Listen, you’re asking for a lot here. This is the best I can do. Otherwise, the airlock option still stands.”

    “This is a joke,” said Garla and shot Michael an annoyed glare, making it quite clear what she thought of this plan.

    He uttered a sigh and then nodded at Maya. “Get us there as fast as you can.”

    She smirked again. “You’re used to giving orders, aren’t you?” She continued before he could respond. “Fine, your money gives you some prerogatives as long as you remember that I’m the captain on this boat.”

    “I don’t believe that will ever be in question,” he said.

    She gave him a quick nod. “Make yourselves comfortable,” she said and then left the room, presumably to get them going to where they needed to be.

    “I don’t trust that woman,” said Garla as he watched her leave. “I’ve known her type. She wouldn’t think twice to sell us out if she gets a better offer.”

    “Donners is a tough customer,” said Frobisher. “But she’s a decent sort at heart. Even if she does everything she can to hide that.”

    “Sure,” said Matthew. “The sort to incinerate us on the spot for not paying up the debt she believes we owe her.”

    “She has some rough edges,” Frobisher agreed. “But I’ve never known her to be deceitful.”

    “The way I see it, she is our only option right now,” said Michael and glanced back down at the star chart for an estimate on how long it would take them to get to Amargosa Station. “I suggest everybody gets some rest until we arrive. I fear we are going to need all our strength before all this is over.”

    The others nodded and Garla and Culsten walked over to a corner booth together to make use of the only padded seating in the room while Frobisher went toward the bar, possibly looking for refreshments.

    Jon stayed close to Matthew but Michael quickly realized that the older Owens was simply staring at Matt which Michael thought was rather disturbing. Matt noticed it too.

    “What?” he said curtly to the other man after a few seconds.

    “It’s just remarkable how much you look like my Matthew,” said Jon.

    “You know what, I don’t think I want to hear this,” he said and began to walk away.

    “I understand,” Jon said and followed him. “Trust me, I know how strange all of this has to be for you. To see me and your brother back in your life after all this time. It isn’t easy to accept and it’ll take a while for you to adjust to the insanity of it all. That’s perfectly normal.”

    “Nothing about this is anywhere near normal,” Matt shot back as he shook his head. “And I’m definitely not looking to adjust to any of it. I didn’t ask for you to come here and I certainly don’t want you around, I thought I had made that very clear,” he added and then turned his back again to walk away.

    “If you like it or not, we are stuck with each other for now.”

    To that, Matt turned around to face the other man. “Yes, we are. And you seem to take some strange satisfaction from all this, don’t you?”

    “Son, listen to me—“

    “No,” he said, interrupting the older man. “I don’t think I will. Because you need to understand for once and for all that I am not your son,” he said and gestured at Michael who had now stepped closer as well. “The both of you might look like people I once knew but you are nothing more to me than total strangers who have thrown my life into chaos. Do you understand?”

    “Jon, give him some space, for Christ’s sake,” Michael said, unable to deny the awkwardness to refer to the man who looked like his father by his given name. He knew he would never call him ‘dad’ again.

    But he shook his head instead. “The sooner we accept the reality of our situation the better. We may not have a lot of time—“

    “Time for what? Get to know each other better? Be a family?” said Michael, now feeling his own anger beginning to well up within him. “What is this fantasy world you live in?”

    “I am just trying to make the best of our situation.”

    “A situation that you have created,” Michael shot back. “You brought us here when you activated the Prism. You could have taken us anywhere, back to our universe or any other where the chances of getting back to the Ring would have been far better than they are here but you chose to bring us to this place because of what? Him?” he said and pointed at Matthew. “Because you knew there was a Matthew here who you thought would be willing to call you father again?”

    “It is not that easy,” he said.

    “Oh, but I think it is,” Michael responded. “The entire universe—all universes—are at risk of complete annihilation and your sole focus remains bringing together a family that no longer exists. You know what? You do remind me a lot of my real father after all. Except that, with you, it’s all backward. You care for your family more than the fate of the galaxy, but at the end of the day, you’re still worried entirely about your own priorities, about what is best for you and your personal goals.”

    “You know all this self-righteous talk is becoming quite tiring,” Jon shot back, his own voice now infused with mettle. “You claim to be so unwavering in your priorities but you’re little better than what you accuse me of.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “Oh please,” he said, “I know that you’ve made decisions that have put your objectives ahead of the greater mission. You went out of your way to rescue DeMara Deen after she was taken by your doppelganger and you very nearly sacrificed an entire away team to go after a man who was clearly beyond redemption. And for what? Tell me, Michael, I truly want to know. Because if you hadn’t made those calls, if you had been as laser-focused on the task as you claim to be, perhaps we wouldn’t even be in this position now.”

    Michael was momentarily speechless. Perhaps because he knew that the man had a point. The truth was, he had been in anguish over those decisions.

    “So don’t stand there and lecture me like—” he stopped himself when he was gripped by a coughing fit, likely brought on by his outburst.

    “All this reminds me of what it was like being part of this family,” said Matthew Owens as Jon was beginning to recover. “And you wonder why I don’t want anything to do with either one of you,” he said, turning on his heel to leave the room.

    Michael considered Jon Owens who was getting his coughing under control slowly. “Are you all right?”

    He raised a hand to keep him at bay. “Just … don’t,” he said and then followed after Matthew, passing by Amaya Donners who was casually leaning against the door frame. Michael wasn’t sure how long she had been standing there.

    “I was just coming down here to let you know that we’re underway and that we’ll get to Amargosa Station in just under three hours but it looks like I missed one hell of a show.”

    “Thanks,” was all that Michael could think to say.

    “Family, am I right?” she said with a wink. “Who needs that kind of trouble?”
     
  10. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Actually one of my favorite reads of the entire series - getting Owens from three different realities to fuss out their differences across universes. The circumstances are different, but at heart they are each the same person as their various doppelgängers... Really nice character portraits.

    Thanks!! rbs
     
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  11. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    9


    The resemblance was uncanny.

    Although the entire right side of his face, including his right eye, was covered with mechanical parts, there was no doubt in Tazla’s mind that she was looking at a version of Michael Owens. The mouth, the shape of his nose, the one visible eye as well as that prominent chin, all belonged to the man she had called captain for the last two years.

    She had, of course, encountered an alternate version of Owens before, and although that had been a rather unpleasant experience at the time, it paled in comparison to him as a Borg drone. In fact, this encounter may have been even more disturbing than meeting her own, misguided double in another universe.

    It also didn’t escape her notice that this drone had identified itself by name and as far as she knew, there had only ever been one Borg still part of the Collective with a name.

    “Your biological responses indicate agitation and astonishment,” said the Michael Owens drone as he stepped closer to where she was still restrained upright against the metallic surface. “Are you surprised at encountering us?”

    “I’ve been captured by the Borg,” she said angrily as she furtively tried to test her bonds again. “What kind of response were you expecting? Gratitude?”

    Tyrantus stepped up to her until she was forced to stare right into his pale, assimilated face, making it difficult for her to suppress a shudder. “Your presence, as well as that of your vessel, are an unexplained variable.”

    “I get that a lot.”

    The drone continued to look back at her, its one biological eye making contact with hers, while the other eye socket trained a powerful green light beam into her face that made her turn her head away.

    “You are the commanding officer of your vessel.”

    She just nodded to this.

    She was thankful when he finally stepped away from her again but only until she realized that the platform she was strapped to was moving with him, forcing her to keep facing him even while he walked around her. “Your vessel is crewed by races who are not known to possess the level of technology it has exhibited.”

    “I suppose you don’t know everything then, do you?”

    He continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “Although the nature of your vessel and its point of origin warrants further inquiry, our primary mission is to locate any and all occurrences of Particle 010 in this sector.”

    “Never heard of it,” she said truthfully.

    Tyrantus stopped and mercifully so did the platform. A holographic image appeared out of nowhere just behind his left shoulder. It displayed an animation of thousands of tiny particles working together in a mesmerizing effort to create a large, glowing ball of pure energy.

    Taz recognized it instantly.

    “Your biological responses indicate that you are familiar with Particle 010.”

    She cursed herself for her unconscious reaction to the image. Back in her days working in intelligence, a faux pas such as this could have cost her her life. Now, it could lead to far worse.

    “I may have seen it before,” she said, trying to sound indifferent about it. “Tell you what, you get me out of this contraption and return me to my ship and I’ll tell you what you want to know.”

    “That is unacceptable,” he said and then began to move again, this time in the opposite direction, and once more the platform moved with him. This back and forth was starting to give her a headache. “Traces of Particle 010 have been detected within the Amargosa Diaspora and the Borg have expended significant resources in attempting to locate it. It has become our primary directive. Resisting the Borg—“

    “I know, I know. It’s futile,” she said. “But then again, I recognize an interrogation when I see one. You could have just assimilated me and yet here we are having a good old-fashioned chit-chat instead. Quite telling.”

    He stopped again to look right at her. “Assimilating Species 5614 has caused complications in the past, including a total and irrevocable loss of all synaptic functions in the hippocampus that contains long-term memory functions.”

    “Borg and Trill don’t mix well? I guess today is my lucky day.”

    He continued and she had no choice but to follow along again. “If you believe your failure to comply will spare you assimilation, you are mistaken. Although assimilation is not our preferred option, if you continue to remain uncooperative, we shall be forced to initiate the procedure.”

    “And risk losing everything I know about your precious particle?” she said even as images of those failed Borg drones she had seen earlier came back to the forefront of her mind.

    The representation of the molecules that had been following Tyrantus was replaced by one of Eagle, sitting in space within close distance to the Borg sphere. “Initial scans of your vessel indicate five-hundred seventy-four individual sentient lifeforms, most of which can be assimilated with a minimal risk to their long-term memory functions.”

    “I so hate to disappoint, but I am the only person on board my ship with any knowledge of this particle whatsoever,” she said.

    They stopped again to allow Tyrantus to look right into her eyes.

    “What do my biological responses tell you about that statement?” she said as she defiantly maintained eye contact with him. She had never been more thankful for the seemingly bizarre and arbitrary Omega Directive Starfleet had imposed on all of its personnel. It had ensured that only those of captain’s rank or above even knew of that powerful molecule’s existence. Since she had briefly been a captain herself, she had been read into it at the time, but this was not the case for the rest of Eagle’s crew.

    Apparently realizing that she was speaking the truth, he started moving again, once more changing direction and once more she followed right along. The image of Eagle remained pinned behind him as he walked. “You are a sentient biological being. Sentient biological beings are known to have emotional weaknesses.”

    “You’ll find that I’m one of the tougher ones.”

    “I am curious to learn how long you will maintain this defiance. Will you continue to remain uncooperative as drones assimilate your crew? You will be made to watch as every single person on your vessels will be changed into Borg. We will commence with the crew on your command level and then continue deck by deck until you decide to volunteer the information we require.”

    Tazla felt her mouth go dry. How far was she willing to go to protect the location of the Ring that she was now fairly certain was being powered by the very energy source the Borg were after? The notion that the massive structure could wipe out another universe was frightening enough, but what would happen if the Borg would get their hands on it. An endless multiverse, all of it made up of an infinite army of Borg. Their single-minded mission and purpose would ensure that they would spread across all realities, like an unstoppable disease, in a never-ending mission to assimilate it all.

    As she pondered these gloomy thoughts, her eyes were drawn back to the image of Eagle, sitting calmly in space, and she realized the flaw in his entire argument.

    She couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

    “The thought of watching your crew assimilated amuses you?”

    “No. It’s just that I hadn’t realized before now that the Borg could bluff. It must be because you are not quite like other Borg, are you?”

    He stopped again. This time her platform tilted up a little further, putting more pressure on her wrist and ankle restraints that were keeping her from toppling over.

    He didn’t speak, just stared at her and so she took the initiative. “You were going after our computer core because you figured that it would contain the information you needed. When we shut it down your only other resource was to get to the crew but you were unable to penetrate our shields so you did the only thing you could, which was to capture one single person. Since we figured out how you did this you won’t get another chance. So for all your threats, the truth is, all you have is me and that’s all you ever going to get.”

    “You truly believe your ship will be able to withstand us indefinitely? Additional Borg vessels have already been dispatched to this position. How long do you think your shields would hold out against a fleet of Borg cubes?”

    “Doesn’t matter. My crew knows what is at stake. They’d rather blow up the ship than give you what you want.”

    Her platform began to move again, faster than before and making her head spin while Tyrantus didn’t bother to follow suit this time. The suddenness of the movement felt as if it had come out of anger. “Looks like I’m not the only one around here with emotional weaknesses.”

    A bright light shone into her face again and she could do little more than turn her head slightly. Then she felt something else.

    A couple of pointy, needle-like devices were beginning to push into the sides of her neck and Tazla found it difficult to control her heart starting to pound in her chest, fully aware of what this meant.

    “Are you certain you wish to risk what I know about Particle 010?” she said loudly even if she could no longer see Tyrantus or guess where he stood after the dizziness they had induced. “After all, I could have all the answers you’re looking for. I may be the best chance you ever going to have to fulfill your primary objective.”

    The needles stopped but they were already pushing against her skin.

    “You have given us no other option,” he said, and she could have sworn she was hearing resentment in his mechanically-modulated voice.

    “It’s amazing how much you remind me of somebody else I know. Granted, he would not have strapped me to a table and threatened me with assimilation, but he too gets infuriatingly stubborn at times. You may have heard of him.”

    The needles continued until they broke her skin, causing her to gasp in pain. “His name is Michael Owens and you look a lot like him.”

    The needles stopped and pulled away.

    The light dimmed and Tyrantus stepped back in front of her. “How do you know that name?”

    “He’s a friend of mine,” she said.

    “Your attempts at deception are predictable.”

    “Oh yeah? Then what does your lie detector tell you?”

    “Your biological responses are aggravated.”

    “Because you’re trying to assimilate me,” she shot back angrily. “But I know Michael Owens. Son of Jonathan Owens. Brother of Matthew Owens. Born in North America on Earth.”

    Tyrantus leaned in closer until he was just inches from her face. “Michael Owens is dead.”

    “No, he’s not. And looking at you, I’m not so sure you believe that either.”

    “You are wrong and your attempts at trying to deceive us will fail.”

    “The Borg assimilated Michael Owens, didn’t they? And for whatever reason, they kept some of his individuality. I’m assuming to better fight humans and other biological races. Perhaps to act as some sort of twisted Borg spokesperson. That makes you very different from other Borg. After all, drones aren’t known to show signs of identity whereas you have a name and an identity that separates you from other drones. All that tells me is that Michael Owens remains a part of you. The only decent part.”

    “We do not know how you learned about Michael Owens but it does not matter. We will not be distracted from our primary objective. You will be assimilated and serve the Borg. All your distinctiveness will be added to our own. If your cerebral functions survive the transition, everything you know will become known to the Borg.”

    “That’s a big—“ she didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence as those needles stabbed her neck at the same time, and so forcefully, she screamed out in pain. It was nothing compared to what came next.

    She had miscalculated, or not been convincing enough to try and argue with Tyrantus, regardless, he had opted for her assimilation and she immediately understood that her worst nightmares were about to be rendered meaningless by the horrors the Borg would force upon her.

    Already she could feel something alien and terrifying being pumped into her neck and her bloodstream. Her rational mind told her that these were Borg nanobots, millions upon millions of subatomic machines that would alter her body and mind from within. It felt as if she was being injected with tiny ants made out of pure hot lava, the way it was burning her up from the inside.

    In the meantime, her wrists and ankles were turning blood red as she strained against her metal bonds with enough force to cut deep into her skin.

    Her senses were beginning to shut down, with her vision starting to fade and her hearing shutting down, she was spared the sound of the most agonizing scream she would have ever heard, originating from her own throat.
     
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  12. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Looks like Tazla pushed it just a little to far with the tyrannical Michael - but she did find his weak spot. I'm wondering what sort of resistance her symbiote might provide against the nanites - or if the purpose of those nanites is assimilation or something else.

    Enjoying this latest Michael incarnation. But it might be that these borg could be leveraged against the clickety aliens...

    Thanks!! rbs
     
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  13. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    10


    The mercenary Amaya Donners had not been kidding when she had made it clear that her guests were strictly limited to the small crew deck of her ship as evidenced by perhaps the largest Klingon Michael had ever encountered, guarding the access to the only turbolift.

    Well over two meters tall, the warrior wore crisscrossing bandoliers across his otherwise bare chest as well as two disruptor pistols dangling from holsters at his hips and a mean-looking, serrated dagger strapped to his right leg.

    He bared his teeth and offered a wicked smile when he caught Michael, along with Garla and Culsten watching him from further down the corridor, wordlessly inviting them to take their best shot, as if looking forward to the challenge of taking them all on at once. His body language seemed to imply it wouldn’t be a challenge at all.

    “If you deliver a distraction,” said Garla, refusing to break eye contact with the Klingon down the hall, “I should be able to take him out.”

    Culsten considered her with a stunned expression. “And how do you suppose you’ll do that? This hallway is barely wide enough for two people walking side by side.”

    She regarded him with an almost paternal look. “Liftu, I believe you’ve known me long enough to realize that there are very few people capable of stopping me.”

    Michael shook his head as he turned away from studying the massive Klingon to give the sentinel his full attention. “Your capabilities, as impressive as they may be, are not in question here. But I have no intention of forcing a confrontation with Donners and her crew. Not now that she has shown her willingness to help us.”

    Garla crossed her arms in front of her chest. “That’s a mistake.”

    Michael tried not to bristle at the blunt tone in her voice. In truth, he wasn’t used to people speaking to him in this manner and he had to remind himself that this woman wasn’t a member of his crew and barely a temporary ally.

    She continued. “She only agreed to help because you made her a promise of payment that you may not be able to fulfill. I know her type, as soon as she realizes that the potential loss will outweigh the benefits, she won’t hesitate to cut us loose.”

    “I don’t think she will,” he said.

    “Please, Captain,” she said, sounding almost disappointed. “Don’t tell me you are so naïve that you believe you have a connection with this woman because you did so in another universe. You should know better than most that being familiar with her alternate versions means nothing here.”

    “I’m not so sure.”

    “Sir?” Culsten too seemed confounded by this.

    Michael knew his theory wasn’t exactly proven. On the contrary, much of the evidence they had seen so far had made it unmistakably clear that people from different universes were similar to each other only on the surface, if at all. His encounters with Gene Edison, but more importantly, with his own other self, had made that painfully obvious.

    But there was something else as well and he couldn’t entirely let go of it. “We have encountered Amaya Donners three times in each reality we have visited and in two she became one of our best allies, even if she started out hostile toward our goals. For all the differences we have seen, I am starting to believe that perhaps there is a pattern that transcends universes.”

    “And you are sure you want to take a gamble on your gut feelings with everything that’s hanging in the balance?” she said, noticeably not swayed by his arguments. “This isn’t the time to play a hunch. Not if you’re serious in trying to stop the madness that is playing itself out here.”

    Michael knew that she wasn’t exactly wrong. He had, after all, made a very similar case earlier himself. And yet, he couldn’t quite find it in himself to give up on Amaya. Not yet.

    Garla could see it too. “You’re disappointing me, Captain. I didn’t think you were the person who would let sentimentality cloud your judgment. Perhaps you are more like your father than you were willing to admit.”

    That point stung and he responded to this with a dark scowl that left her entirely unimpressed.

    “You’re not just playing with our lives, but potentially with all of existence. Understand that there is a limit on how far I am prepared to follow your lead,” she said but before Michael could inquire further as to what exactly she meant by this, she turned on her heel and walked away.

    He looked after the sentinel until she had disappeared. “Should I be worried about her?”

    “She understands that our best chance, for now, is to work together. Don’t worry, sir, I’ll talk to her. She’ll listen to me,” said Culsten.

    He considered his helmsman briefly and wondered how true that could be. How much the young man would be able to keep his headstrong aunt to toe the line, a woman who was used to blazing her own trail and for others to follow her lead.

    He understood that he needed to keep an eye on both of them but for now, he had more pressing concerns. “Later. First, I’ll need your help with something else.”

    He nodded quickly. “Of course.”

    Michael led the other man away from the guarded turbolift entrance and to another section of the deck. “Garla does have one compelling point. We cannot afford to solely rely on Donners, the stakes are simply too high.”

    “What do you have in mind, sir?”

    Michael stopped in front of a dark computer terminal hidden away in a dead-end corridor. “We need to find a way to get a message back to Eagle to let them know where we are going. It’s been a while since I’ve attempted to jury rig a comms system. I’ll need your help.”

    Culsten nodded and regarded the computer console. “I do what I can but there doesn’t seem to be any power feeding this workstation.”

    “No, there isn’t,” he said and then stepped up to the bulkhead right next to the console and found a loose panel he had discovered earlier. He struck it so hard that he was sure it was going to leave a bruise but the panel dislodged from the wall and fell to the floor, revealing the circuitry behind it. “I’m hoping all that time you’ve been spending down in engineering lately has paid off.”

    Culsten’s face turned a shade of red. He offered him a reassuring smile. “Relax, Lieutenant, I’m joking. But I’m sure you’ve had more recent experience working on power conduits than I have.”

    “Yes, sir,” he said quickly and then turned his full attention to the relays.

    It took their combined efforts, neither Michael nor Culsten were trained engineers, but after a few minutes they found the right connectors and the console came to life.

    “How about that?” Michael said with a grin.

    Culsten went straight to work. “It appears to be set up as a monitoring station but I believe I might be able to gain access to communications from here.”

    Michael could see that currently, the workstation was showing several visual feeds from across the deck. He could see the crew lounge where Frobisher and Matthew were sitting together in conversation, Although Frobisher appeared to be the one doing most of the talking, probably trying to get Matt, who had become a reluctant tag-along, to fully buy into their mission.

    Another feed showed Jon Owens by the makeshift bar in the same lounge, seemingly trying to find something to drink while he had given up, at least for the time being, to make peace with Matthew.

    He couldn’t spot Garla on any of the six feeds but one showed the Klingon guarding the turbolift.

    Lif had managed to gain access to the root folder quickly. “The good news is that this is a very basic setup with no significant safeguards in place. I should be able to get access to comms.”

    “What’s the bad news?”

    “Everything here has been configured so that any unauthorized access will be relayed back to the bridge. I’ll need some time to get around that and find a way to send a message that only Eagle can recognize.”

    “We might not have a lot of time,” Michael said when he spotted the turbolift doors opening and the Klingon stepping aside to allow Amaya to stride onto the deck. They exchanged a few words before she continued down the corridor, heading in their direction. “Do what you can, I’ll try to buy you that time,” Michael said and then left Culsten to carry on while he sought out to intercept Donners.

    He ran into her just moments after he had stepped out of the corridor that would have led to the security station. “Ah, our fearless captain. Come to check in on your valued guests again?” he said quickly.

    She stopped and considered him with a hint of suspicion evident on her face and he immediately realized that he had come on too strong. Working in intelligence was clearly not in his future and he would have to leave that kind of work to the likes of Garla and Talza Star, he quickly surmised.

    He tried to deflect from his awkwardness. “Are we close to Armagosa Station yet?”

    It worked and she shook her head. “Not yet. But I’ve been doing some thinking.”

    “Oh?”

    “It strikes me that I’m going to quite some lengths based on the promise of a decent payday but that I have no guarantees whatsoever that you will be able to keep your end of the bargain.”

    Michael couldn’t help but hear Garla’s warning in the back of his mind again. “You’re looking for a down payment?”

    “Well, I’m not in the charity business.”

    “You have Frobisher’s shuttle,” Michael said.

    She shrugged. “Sure, that counts toward something, I suppose. Tech like that could go for quite a bit of latinum. But times are tough. I’ll be lucky if it covers the debt Frobisher owes me and repairs the damage to my reputation he’s responsible for.”

    Michael tried another tact. “And the notion that we are on a mission to save the universe, possibly all of reality, none of that rates with you at all?

    “This again,” she said, sounding almost bored. “You’re still trying to sell me on the ridiculous notion that you people are from another universe.”

    “Not Frobisher or Matt. But yes, the rest of us do not belong here.”

    She considered him carefully. “That much is obvious. But the fact that you aren’t from around here doesn’t mean I believe you’re from another universe altogether.”

    “We know each other.”

    “What?”

    “I mean, where I come from. You and I. Or rather a version of you. We are close.”

    That caused Amaya to burst out laughing, a sound Michael enjoyed only until he realized that it was prompted by how absurd she considered the notion that they could be close. “That’s rich,” she said once she had wiped away the tears. “So let me get this straight. You’re saying, not only are you from another universe but in that universe, the two of us are a thing? Boy, how convenient that we ran into each other all the way out here then, isn’t it?”

    He nodded slowly. “The coincidence seems astounding. In fact, I’m starting to believe that perhaps coincidence has nothing to do with it at all.”

    “You think it’s fate?”

    “I don’t know. But before arriving here, we have visited two other realities and in each one, I encountered a version of you.”

    She had mostly stopped laughing now. “I cannot figure out if you’re a very good liar or if you really believe the things you’re saying.”

    “I think deep down you know that I’m right. Maybe it’s nothing more than a gut feeling, but you cannot deny that we share some sort of connection. One you cannot explain rationally.”

    “You’re really full of yourself, aren’t you? You should know that I have vaporized men for just looking at me the wrong way,” she said as her hand settled on the grip of her holstered weapon. For now, it was a mostly casual move but the implications were hard to miss.

    “Suppose for a moment that I’m speaking the truth.”

    “That you are from another universe and that wherever the hell you come from the two of us live a blissful life together,” she said, unable to keep from uttering another laugh. “Tell me, do we by chance have children together in that fantasy of yours? Maybe a nice little house in the countryside surrounded by lush meadows?”

    He shook his head. “No, but there was a reality where we were married. It wasn’t a happy life. It turned out she was a widow.”

    “You know what,” she said. “I’ve heard enough of this. I’m not interested in hearing about these sugarcoated fantasies roaming around in your head,” she said as she turned away. “I’m getting you to Amargosa Station, you’ll pay me, or I’ll space you. That’s our deal.”

    He took a step to follow her. “Your ship, the Lead Belly. You named her after your favorite musician.”

    She stopped with her back turned toward him.

    “Huddie Ledbetter. He’s from the same tiny Louisiana town you were born in. Near the Texas border and right by the bayou.”

    Amaya turned around very slowly, revealing a facial expression veering between anger and befuddlement. “How’d you know that?”

    “Because you told me,” he said and then shook his head and quickly corrected himself. “Because my Amaya told me. A long time ago. Her life was very different from yours. This entire universe is very different from mine but no matter where we go, some things stay the same.”

    “I never told anybody about where I’m from,” she said as the hand on her weapon had become a far more threatening gesture now. “And there sure as hell isn’t anyone in this sector who knows about Lead Belly.”

    “Then how can I know about this?” he said, undeterred by her hostile attitude. “You call yourselves Windjammers. I’m willing to bet that’s a reference to him as well. The instrument he played?”

    She stepped closer to him but said nothing, her hand still on her phaser.

    “The Amaya Donners I know, and the ones I’ve met, no matter what challenges they had faced in their lives, they all had one thing in common. And I can see it in you as well. You may play the role of the heartless pirate to survive in this world, but deep down inside you aren’t that person. You care and you want to do the right thing.”

    “Stop,” she said. “Just stop.”

    “Maya—“

    She shook her head. “No. Nobody calls me that, understood?” she said sharply.

    He nodded.

    “I have no idea where you’ve come from or how you know the things you know but let’s make one thing perfectly clear. You don’t know the first thing about me. You don’t know what I’ve done or what I’m capable of. And right now, you should count your blessings that I haven’t already spaced your ass for pissing me off. I’ll take you and your strange band of misfits as far as Armargosa Station because I am a woman who likes to keep her word. After that, we’ll part ways, one way or the other. If, however, you insist on continuing with this insipid talk of yours, about me being your good little wife, you won’t make it halfway there. Are you tracking me?”

    “I get it.”

    “Good,” she said and turned again. “And for the record, Windjammer is a reference to a sailing ship and not to an instrument to make sweet, sweet music with,” she said just as she rounded a corner ahead.

    Not a moment after she was gone, Culsten appeared by his side. “That was close,” he said.

    When Michael didn’t respond, his thoughts still will the departed Amaya, he continued. “I think I managed to get a message out using Eagle’s transponder code. It should seem like natural background noise to the untrained ear, but with any luck, Xylion will recognize it for what it is.”

    It took him a moment longer to register what he had said and then turned to him. “Very good work, Lieutenant. Very good work, indeed,” he said as they walked away together even as he struggled to fully put his encounter with Amaya behind him.
     
  14. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Sweet use of the great Leadbelly and fun that Michael didn't know what a windjammer is (although he has been sailing in previous episodes.) Also nice to see him zeroing in on the salient lesson from the previous installment with him.

    Garla remains a tremendously fun character - Thanks!! rbs
     
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  15. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    11


    Nora Laas had faced more enemies in her life than she cared to remember. She had fought the Cardassian occupiers of her homeworld, she had faced them again as a Starfleet Marine, she had taken on Klingons, Romulans, Talarians, Nausicaans, smugglers, and pirates, as well as the Jem’Hadar and the Breen.

    She had, however, never fought the Borg and certainly had never entertained any ambition to fill that blank space in her resume.

    None of this, of course, had stopped her from suggesting a daring rescue mission right into the heart of the Borg sphere the moment she had learned of Tazla Star’s abduction.

    Xylion who had assumed command by default after their first officer had been taken, had been reluctant at first to sign off on what at the time had appeared like a rather rash and not well-thought-out away mission into an extremely hostile environment.

    It hadn’t taken her long to convince the Vulcan that her plan was anything but rash.

    Not long after the Special Missions Team, the Niners, had joined Eagle’s crew, Nora Laas had made it her priority to sit down with their leader Sensy and meticulously craft and train for dozens of potential scenarios that they may one day have to face, and as it so happened, infiltrating a Borg vessel had been scenario eight on their list.

    And so, less than an hour after the Borg had abducted Star, Nora Laas found herself leading a small team of Niners onto the sphere, equipped with highly specialized hybrid phaser/projectile rifles designed to fight the Borg.

    She quickly found that none of their training had quite prepared her for the real thing since no matter how realistic a holodeck program was, it just couldn’t quite do the real thing justice.

    It had been the stillness inside the sphere that was most disconcerting. She was used to operating in enemy territory by sneaking her way passed soldiers and guards and eliminating her enemies using stealth tactics or, if necessary, overwhelming force to overcome whatever defenses she encountered.

    But here, deep inside the Borg ship, while surrounded by what seemed like countless drones lining the walls as far as the eye could see, nothing and nobody even reacted to their presence.

    It was unnerving to make her way through one corridor after the next, mostly in single-file, while she felt a thousand empty eyes watching her and patiently waiting to make their move.

    It wasn’t until they had located the central chamber in which they believed Star was being kept that the Borg finally responded to their presence, dozens of them awaking from their alcoves and bearing down on her team.

    The fireworks commenced in earnest when their strategically placed explosives ripped across the sphere, distracting the now suddenly active drones long enough to blow a large opening into the central chamber that apparently could not be accessed in any other obvious fashion.

    They knew that they were on a tight timetable the moment the shooting had started and everyone understood their task by heart.

    Grunt, the massive Nausicaan, promptly unstrapped the sensor-cloaked tri-cobalt bomb he had carried strapped to his shoulders and that was nearly as tall as his own impressive frame.

    Sensy helped him set up the device near the curved bulkhead of the round chamber while Violet and Boom, the Andorian heavy weapon specialist, provided cover.

    This left Laas free to make a beeline for the person they had come for.

    Tazla Star looked awful. She was strapped to an upright table, most of her body was covered in sweat and her skin was rapidly losing color while two injectors were pumping nanoprobes into her bloodstream.

    She was screaming in agonizing pain, giving Laas pause.

    But she didn’t hesitate twice. She pulled those injectors free from her neck and used a laser cutter to free her from the restraints.

    “Easy, Commander, I’ve got you,” she said once the other woman collapsed into her arms.

    She needed Grunt's assistance to carry Star since there was no chance that the Trill could even stand on her own feet in her condition.

    Getting out was far more challenging than getting in.

    The central area of the sphere was too well shielded to allow for a direct beam-out, which meant the team had to make its way back to the periphery on foot, except that this time, seemingly a thousand Borg drones were determined to stop them from getting there.

    A second set of carefully placed explosives did an adequate job of clearing a path for them, or at the very least, slowing down the Borg trying to cut off their escape route.

    And still, Laas and the rest of the team found themselves firing their weapons nearly non-stop as they barreled their way through the narrow corridors with their high-value cargo.

    Her rifle constantly alternated between high-powered and randomly modulated phaser beams and spitting out high-velocity, duranium-laced bullets, a combination that seemed somewhat successful against both Borg energy shields and armor.

    And although Laas was not overly familiar with this type of specialized rifle, she’d always had a knack for quickly picking up and inherently understanding weaponry and before long she had gotten used to the thunderous clap of each bullet clearing the muzzle, the recoil that shook her hands, the spent casings flying out of the chamber, and anticipating the requirement to slam a new cartridge into the rifle when the old one had emptied.

    By the time they had reached their beam-out point, she was down to her last magazine while the Boslic woman in the team had already discarded her weapon to begin slashing at drones with her katana-style sword, chopping off heads and limps with nearly every swing of her razor-sharp blade.

    “Away team to Eagle. We have the package. Bring us home,” she shouted as soon as she felt the vibration of her combadge, letting her know that they had reached the less well-shielded area of the sphere.

    She already knew that they were running behind their carefully planned schedule. Probably just a second or two, but even that could be enough to ensure all their deaths.

    She heard the far-away explosion before she felt the deck rattle under her boots.

    The transporter beam took hold of her not a moment later but not quickly enough for her to avoid a particularly tall drone, it looked like a former Jem’Hadar soldier, grab hold of her even as she dematerialized.

    It may not have been physically possible but she was sure she could feel his cold grip all the way through the transporter cycle.

    It was the change of the air, going from a stale and antiseptic smell of the Borg cube to the deceivingly fresh, recycled starship air of Eagle that gave her the first indication that they were back home.

    She gave herself no time at all to react to her new surroundings, not with a massive Borg drone looming over her.

    She jammed her rifle into his chest and held down the trigger, blasting five rounds into the drone at point-blank range. They turned out to be her last, the power clip feeding the phaser element had already given out and she had no time to replace it. The drone stumbled, but somehow the bullets shredding its armor had apparently missed all vital body parts and it quickly recovered by grabbing her throat.

    From the corner of her eye, she could see it was trying to bring up its arm that had a spinning circular saw attached to it and aiming it straight for her face.

    With little time to think or act, Laas used her own body as a weapon, throwing herself against the drone and catching it off-balance. She pumped her legs and drove it so hard into a bulkhead, destroying a built-in computer console as the Borg collided with it.

    They toppled over together and fell to the deck.

    The drone landed on top of her but she used their momentum to roll over and on top of the former Jem’Hadar while her right hand retrieved the laser cutter she had used earlier, activating it even as she brought it down hard against the Borg’s neck.

    She felt it cutting through tissue and metal but wasn’t satisfied to leave it at that, and instead began to stab it multiple times until it leaked copious amounts of grayish ooze that at some point may have been blood.

    Breathing hard she climbed off the lifeless body of the drone and with most of her strength having drained out of her, she simply sat down next to the thing, leaning against the bulkhead and surrounded by the remains of the wall console.

    It was only then, slowly catching her breath again, that she allowed herself to look up to see that she had arrived in sickbay, the rest of the Niners looking at her with undeniable respect.

    The medical staff on the other hand seemed mostly terrified by what they had just witnessed.

    Sensy stepped up to where she sat and offered a hand. “Ever consider joining the Teams? You’d fit right in.”
    She took the proffered hand and let him pull her up to her feet. “This gig is giving me all the excitement I need.”

    The doors to sickbay swished open and Elijah Katanga came rushing in. The octogenarian doctor was moving impressively fast for his age.

    His eyes took in the scene of Laas and the lifeless Borg drone in his sickbay for less than a second before finding Tazla Star, still being carried, seemingly effortlessly by the large Nausicaan. “Put her down here,” he said and pointed at the centrally positioned bio-bed. “And then get the hell out of my sickbay. Make sure to take that God-forsaken cyborg thing with you.”

    Grunt did as he was told as he and the rest of the Niners picked up the dead drone and left the room.

    The briefly unnerved nurses and med techs recovered from the unexpected fight in sickbay and under Katanga’s curt directions were back in their element as they tended to their patient.

    Laas stuck around and watched as the team of medical professionals began to treat the first officer. “How’s she doing?”

    He shook his head without stopping his efforts to inject her with various hyposprays and firing off instructions to his team. “She’s been injected with enough of those blasted nanoprobes to start the assimilation process. We’re up against a clock here.”

    The Trill was still semi-conscious and reached out to grab Katanga’s hand. She lifted her head off the bed as her eyes stared back at him with total focus. “Save … Star.”

    It took Laas a moment to realize what she was saying. She wasn’t pleading for her own life, she was trying to make sure that Katanga would save her symbiont instead, the worm-like creature inside her that had lived for hundreds of years in several host bodies.

    Katanga clearly had no time for this and quickly freed himself. “The anesthezine is ineffective. Switch to neurozine, twenty ccs.”

    Adams, Katanga’s head nurse, had the right hypo out in a flash and applied it to Star’s bare arm. The drug showed an almost immediate effect and the first officer collapsed back onto the bed.

    Katanga was consulting her vitals on a nearby monitor. “The nanoprobes are spreading too fast and are moments away from taking over her central nervous system,” he said and Laas admired how the veteran physician’s voice remained entirely free of panic or distress. “We need to stop the spread now or we’ll lose her.”

    “The alkysine treatment is not achieving the desired effect,” said Adams after she had administered another hypospray while a medtech was passing her yet another.

    Katanga was shaking his head. “It won’t be. We’ll need something far more radical if we want any hope of stopping this poison coursing through her veins,” he said as he took a step back from her slowly transforming body.

    Laas felt anxiety grip her when she realized that he was looking right at her. She wasn’t prone to experiencing such emotions. Not when going into battle, not even when facing the Borg, but now, she felt terribly helpless as the doctor with nearly three times her experience, seemed to be looking at her for answers she couldn’t give.

    It took her a moment to realize that he wasn’t really looking at her. He was thinking. He turned back toward the computer console and began to type in some commands. “What we need is something formidable enough to fight nanoprobes. Something just as vicious,” he said.

    “I can’t think of any medical compound that is as powerful,” said Leeta Adams.

    That made him stop and look up again. “Right. So maybe we shouldn’t be looking for medication at all.”

    She looked confused by that. “I’m not sure I follow.”

    He was back working at the computer. “Prepare a compound of HTLV. “

    “You cannot be serious.”

    But Katanga didn’t even slow down. “What we need is evil to fight evil. We’ll inject her with a T-cell lymphotropic virus.”
     
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  16. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Katanga fighting fire with fire... Well, what doesn't kill you sets you up for the knockdown blow...

    A very quick read and gripping rescue scene. Really liking the focus and quick, focused storytelling. Thanks!! rbs
     
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  17. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    12


    “You gave me cancer?”

    Tazla was incredulous upon hearing Eli explain to her what he had done to save her life and she wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be grateful or mortified. She eventually settled on the former. Although she had struggled to shake a persistent cough ever since she had awoken in sickbay and felt weaker than she had in a long time, the fact that those voices were no longer in her head and that she was still herself rather than a mindless Borg drone was reward enough to overlook that Katanga had given her one of the deadliest diseases known in history to keep her from turning into a cyborg.

    “Not just any cancer,” said Eli with what could only be described as a smug smile on his face. “We’re talking about a mutated strand of adult T-cell lymphoma that metastasizes up to one hundred times faster than regular lymphoma. Think of it like cancer on steroids.”

    Leeta handed her a glass of water she downed greedily, not realizing how thirsty she had been. It also immediately triggered another coughing fit that took her a moment to recover from. “So, what you’re saying is, that instead of becoming part of the Collective, I now have to look forward to wasting away to cancer?”

    “What kind of quack do you take me for?” he said, his smile now gone and consulting a tricorder, scanning her from head to toe.

    “Apparently one who injects his patients with deadly diseases.”

    “It was quite a feat actually, considering how little time we had. But the virus and the nanoprobes in your system immediately went to war with each other inside your body and practically wiped each other out. There are still some traces of cancerous cells that remain but we’ll be able to neutralize them fairly easily with regular anti-cancer treatments. You won’t be back to full strength for a couple of days but, most importantly, you are one-hundred percent nanoprobe free,” he said and closed the tricorder with apparent satisfaction.

    The doors to sickbay opened to allow Xylion to enter.

    Tazla immediately focused on the approaching science officer. “Commander, what is the status of the Borg sphere?”

    The Vulcan stepped up to the foot of her biobed and clasped his hands behind his back. “Lieutenant Nora and her away team were successful in deploying a tri-cobalt device inside the Borg sphere during your rescue. The sphere was subsequently destroyed.”

    She nodded. “Clever.” She fought another cough she managed to dispel after a sip of water before she looked back at Xylion. “What’s our status?”

    Eagle has taken only minor damage in our encounter with the Borg, primarily due to the transphasic shield. We are currently en route to the hazard zone of the Moebius Cluster in order to impair any further pursuit.

    Tazla sat up a little straighter on her bed. “First the Dominion and now the Borg. Please tell me there isn’t anyone else after us.”

    He marginally shook his head. “We have not detected any other ships following us. I ordered the course change as a precautionary measure.”

    “Good thinking.”

    Xylion considered Katanga. “Doctor, what is Commander Star’s condition?”

    “Well, mostly thanks to some rather ingenious although admittedly radical treatment methods, I can safely say that our favorite Trill will eventually make a full recovery,” he said with a smile on his lips which, of course, was entirely lost on the Vulcan who merely responded with a raised eyebrow. “I suppose that means the ship will remain yours to command for the time being.”

    “Indeed,” he said.

    “Everybody stop talking like I’m not in the room,” Tazla said mildly annoyed. Yes, she felt weak and light-headed, but as far as she was concerned, as long as she was conscious and with the captain missing, she was in charge. “I’ll resume command as soon as I can get out of here.”

    “That won’t be for a while, I’m afraid,” Katanga said.

    “You just said I’ll make a full recovery.”

    “I said eventually. Right now, your body is nowhere near full strength. You’ve gone from nearly being assimilated, to suffering a rapid form of cancer within a few hours. You should consider yourself lucky that you’re lucid enough to be able to string two coherent sentences together.”

    She knew he was right. She had been a physician in her former life after all. And yet she found it enormously difficult to abdicate her responsibilities, even if only for a brief time.

    “I should inform you that we have received what appears to be a coded message from the Captain,” Xylion said.

    That made her jump up slightly. “What?”

    Xylion continued calmly. “The message was sent on a very-low subspace band the computer initially disregarded as background noise. However, upon closer inspection, it seems clear that it is a message to us relaying a set of coordinates, possibly the Captain’s destination.”

    “I really think you should have led with that,” she said, threw away her covers, and promptly tried to get out of bed. She found herself quickly stopped by Katanga, placing a firm hand on her shoulder and pinning her in place.

    “And where do you think you’re going?”

    She shot him an incredulous look but found herself mostly irritated that the octogenarian was keeping her in place effortlessly. She liked to think that it had less to do with his strength and everything with her current state. “You heard him. The Captain needs our help.”

    He shook his head. “What I heard was that we believe we know where he’s going. And it doesn’t change the fact that you’re in no condition to return to duty.”

    Her eyes took on a harder quality as she regarded him. “Eli, we’re talking about the possible fate of an entire universe. I can’t just lay here and—“

    “That’s exactly what you’re going to do, my dear. Commander Xylion is more than capable to get us where we need to go. Now, get back into bed and start recovering. That’s an order. Unless, of course, you’d like me to get Lieutenant Nora back down here to keep you in line. She did seem quite concerned for your well-being.”

    “The doctor is correct,” Xylion said.

    “We agree on something?” Katanga said with mock-disbelieve. “Perhaps the universe is really coming to an end after all.”

    “Not funny,” she said.

    Xylion continued as if neither had spoken. “We will continue on our current heading toward the Moebius Cluster to ensure we are no longer being pursued and then order a course change for the coordinates we’ve received. I expect that we will arrive at that destination within five point three hours. That will provide us with sufficient time to reach the collider before we expect it to reactivate.”

    “See, everything is well in hand,” he said with a smile, even while he pushed her back onto the bed. Once he was satisfied that she was staying put, his eyes found Xylion’s. “Commander, if there’s nothing else. I think we should leave Taz to rest now.”

    “Naturally.”

    “Keep me informed if anything changes,” she said.

    He offered a brief nod and then left sickbay.

    “At least let me get back to my quarters,” she said. “I don’t need to be in sickbay to recover.”

    He considered her suspiciously but then began to nod. He retrieved a couple of small round devices, one of which he attached to her temple, the other to her chest. “I’ll keep monitoring your readings remotely. And don’t get any ideas, I’ll monitor the doors to your quarters as well. You try to leave and I’ll have half of security chase you down.”

    She offered a grim smile in return. “You know what, Eli? I think you missed your calling. You should have become a jailer, not a doctor.”

    There really was no escaping his clutches she realized when he had also insisted to have her escorted back to her quarters by a couple of medtechs who seemed as uncomfortable with their task as she was of being led across the ship by a medical entourage.

    She did utter a sigh of relief once the doors closed behind her and she was alone in her quarters.

    She had put on a brave face in front of Katanga and Xylion but she couldn’t deny how truly weak she still felt. And even worse, she had not been able to shake the memory of the pain and the sheer panic she had experienced when those Borg nanoprobes had been pumped into her body.

    She had purposefully kept the scars of her emotional trauma from Katanga since the last thing she needed now was a mandatory trip to the counselor’s office but the truth was, the experience of nearly being assimilated had shaken her more than anything else she had gone through in recent memory.

    She made a beeline for her bed and let herself fall into it.

    Although there was little denying that she felt exhausted, she also quickly realized that her mind would not let her fall back asleep, not with all those errant and disturbing thoughts flying around within her head.

    She got back up and headed for the refresher.

    The face that greeted her in the mirror looked like a pale imitation of herself like somebody had tried to draw her features but given up halfway through the attempt.

    She heard a voice coming from her living room.

    She found Katanga standing in the dark room.

    “Damn it, Eli, you’ve already got me practically locked up in here. I don’t need you to guard me as well,” she said, annoyed that he had entered her quarters unannounced.

    He stepped closer and the starlight from the windows caught his face.

    She froze when she realized that it didn’t belong to her long-time friend at all.

    “Did you truly believe I would allow you to escape so easily?” said Tyrantus

    She took a step back at seeing Katanga fully transform into the Borg who had abducted her. “How did you get on board?”

    “It was not difficult to find you again,” he said as he continued to close in while she tried to maintain her distance. “You are part of the Collective now, Tazla Star.”

    She shook her head. “No. The nanoprobes you injected me with are gone.”

    “You can hear it. All our voices. They are within you.”

    Her back hit the bulkhead and she had nowhere to go as he continued to bear down on her.

    He was right. The voices were back. A billion Borg talking to her with a single voice inside her mind.

    She reached for her head and screamed. “Make it stop.”

    “It will never stop. You belong to us now,” he said and grabbed a fistful of her shirt and lifted her up along the wall until her feet were clear off the floor.

    Tazla kicked hard against his right knee cap which caused him to lose his balance and his grip on her.

    She went tumbling to the floor, a chair arresting her fall as it toppled over even as she went down.

    Her victory was short-lived.

    Tyrantus was back on top of her in an instant, slapping away her arms, a weak attempt to push him away, grabbing her once more, and throwing her right into the nearby glass coffee table that smashed to pieces under her weight.

    This wasn’t the first time Tazla had tangled with a man possessing Michael Owens’s face, and while she had prevailed easily the last time, she simply did not have the strength to fight his Borg version.

    As she tried to get back up she cut herself on the glass shards all around her but knew that this was the least of her problems right now.

    She couldn’t win this fight and her only chance was to get away while she still could. Though dazed, she could see the doors to her quarters just a few meters away. If she could just get out into the corridors, she figured, perhaps she could get help.

    She came up like in a runner’s stance, determined to dash for the exit.

    Tyrantus had expected the move.

    He intercepted her before she had even made it halfway there, slamming into her so hard, it felt like she had run into a wall of solid duranium.

    Stunned, she stumbled backward and toward the other room.

    In her state, it didn’t take him much effort at all to push her down onto her bed before he pinned her with the full weight of his body.

    With zero strength remaining, she couldn’t stop him when he raised an arm and two narrow tubes emerged from his hand, snaking their way toward her neck and penetrating her skin.

    “Resistance is futile.”

    Her vision began to blur until she could no longer make out any shapes at all. That same agonizing fire she had felt on the Borg sphere once again filled her from the inside, threatening to burn her up as darkness began to claim her.

    “No,” she screamed and pushed back with all she had, refusing to give in.

    She managed to get back up into a sitting position just as her vision returned.

    Tazla found herself in her bed, breathing hard and covered in sweat, alone.

    She looked around and saw her quarters exactly the way they had been when she had entered them earlier.

    “Godsdamnit,” she mumbled under her breath and let herself fall back onto the sweat-soaked sheets. “Maybe a counselor wouldn’t be the worst idea.”
     
  18. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Sweet nightmare sequence! A borgy-Michael-changeling thing?

    Which asks the question - is the borgyman dead? If so, Sic Semper Tyrantus...

    I totally love this guy... :guffaw:

    Thanks!! rbs
     
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  19. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Part IV: Roundabout Route


    1


    Amargosa Station was an impressive sight, not so much for its size or design but rather for its location and its architectural ingenuity.

    The station had been built into the inside of a cracked moon, orbiting a massive gas giant and Michael had some serious reservations about the longevity of the structure the way it had been seemingly hastily merged to a dead satellite that, in all likelihood, had already commenced a slow but steady death spiral toward the planet it orbited until it would eventually be swallowed up whole by it.

    The fate of Amargosa Station, however, was not a significant concern to him at present as Amaya Donners gathered his team in Lead Belly’s docking port.

    “We’re about to dock,” she said as she strode into the antechamber that led into the airlock. “I don’t know what kind of space stations you people are used to, but Amargosa isn’t a very happy place and I’d rather not spend a minute longer on there than I absolutely have to. The plan is as follows: We go in, I’ll take you to my contact and we get the hell out again.”

    “That’s fine with us,” said Michael, nodding.

    Amaya glanced at Culsten and Garla. “And I suggest the two of you stay on the ship.”

    “Your concern is touching,” Garla said sharply. “But I have no interest in staying behind.”

    Amaya uttered a heavy sigh as if she had expected this kind of resistance. Then she turned toward a locker, retrieved two long cloaks, and threw them at the other woman who caught them easily. “If you insist on being stubborn, at least wear these. You do us no favors running around Amargosa and advertising that you’re Krellonians.”

    Garla was just about to offer another retort but Michael beat her to it. “An acceptable compromise, I’m sure,” he said, pinning her with a look that was sufficient to make her relent before she followed Culsten’s example and begrudgingly pulled on the concealing garment but not before complaining about its general state and its unpleasant odor.

    If she was unhappy about how dirty and smelly her disguise was, Michael couldn’t imagine how she felt about the station once they had set foot on it.

    He hadn’t been in this universe for long but from everything he had seen and heard about it, the fact that there was no Starfleet or Federation and that its people lived in mostly poor and borderline lawless conditions, had given him a fair idea of what life in this reality was like.

    Amargosa Station turned out to be worse than what he had imagined.

    It reminded him a little bit of the stories he had heard of orbital ore processing stations that the Cardassians had employed to strip mine planets they had conquered.

    After boarding, they had been quickly ushered onto the main concourse that on most starbases he had been on would have functioned as a promenade of sorts with storefronts, entertainment establishments, restaurants, and other facilities. Some of those existed here as well, but mostly it was a dark, dirty thoroughfare for Krellonian workers carrying minerals and ores that were being mined from the broken moon.

    Large walkways above were reserved for Outlander races, many in uniform, although the few, massive, ursine Buoth he spotted up there didn’t bother with much clothing at all, as they were covered with thick brown or black fur.

    Clearly, a great many of those Outlanders were guards, actively monitoring the traffic below, armed with batons or guns that could be wielded quickly.

    The station was generally in a poor state, the floors they walked on were covered with dirt and waste with plenty of floor plates missing outright, making the cramped space even more treacherous to navigate. Entire wall sections were uncovered to reveal old and barely functioning conduits and electronics and the smell was a near toxic mixture of unprocessed minerals and metals, along with the stench of too many unwashed bodies huddled together in a far too small place.

    “Charming locale,” Jon Owens said as he pushed past two Krellonians precariously balancing a stacked but broken anti-grav carrier between each other.

    “I’ve only been here once before,” said Frobisher. “And at the time I had promised myself to never come back here again.”

    “It grows on you after a while,” said Amaya who led the group across the concourse with relative confidence. She had left the rest of her crew behind on her ship, arguing that the last thing you wanted to do on Amargosa was bring a crowd.

    Seeing this station and the masses of workers here, Michael understood her argument completely, in fact, he now realized that even the size of their team was likely too large for it.

    “Just keep your heads down, don’t talk to anyone and for God’s sake, do not touch anything,” she said as she continued to lead them single-file through the throngs of people.

    “This contact of yours. Who is he?” Michael asked as he squeezed himself past two Nausicaans, the few non-Krellonians or Outlanders he had seen on this station, both of whom offered angry grunts in response.

    “Somebody who hopefully knows how to get you where you need to go. I’ve arranged a meeting in one of the cargo holds a few decks down. We should have a bit more room down there to breathe, not to mention, privacy.”

    “What’s his name?” he said. “In case we get separated.”

    She kept her pace but didn’t respond.

    Michael caught up with her and reached out for her shoulder. “Wait, you don’t even know your contact’s name?”

    She pulled back, freeing herself from his touch, and shrugged. “We’ve only ever spoken via subspace where we use code names. He goes by Gray.”

    “You have no idea what your contact even looks like?” said Matthew, not quite able to mask the astonishment in his voice. “And we are trusting this person with our lives because?”

    “Whoever Gray is,” she said with annoyance, “my contact has never let me down, never broken a promise, or sold me a bad product. So, you could say, Gray has been far more reliable than you and your partner have been. I take reliable over faces and names every time.”

    But Matthew was not impressed. “Wes, I think we should rethink this.”

    Michael responded in his stead. “We’re already committed and we’ve come too far to try and come up with another plan now.”

    “There are no other plans,” Amaya said. “Not if you’re serious about trying to get deeper into Outlander territory. It’s this or I can leave you right here and you can try your luck with the local authorities. I’ll be out of the latinum you still owe me but it’ll almost be worth it for the entertainment value of seeing you skinned alive by the T’aq.”

    Michael couldn’t tell how serious she was but one glance toward the walkway and the ferocious-looking lupines stalking above, he didn’t have a difficult time imagining those creatures being able to administer such punishment.

    “We’ll carry on,” said Michael and found everyone else in the group in agreement. Everybody but Garla, he realized.

    The sentinel had stopped walking and was now looking at an altercation a few meters away in front of a large industrial elevator that had apparently broken down in-between decks.

    In an attempt to clear the lift’s cargo of heavy ores, a few Krellonian workers had accidentally spilled two cases of valuable minerals.

    A uniformed, humanoid Kidrip was in the process of savagely beating a male Krellonian who, although bigger than the guard, offered no resistance as his face was being pummeled. A slightly younger female worker was already on the floor, her face bleeding as well from another beating.

    Another guard, a reptilian Zel, stood nearby watching on with a rifle in his hand, and keeping other Krellonians from coming too close.

    Garla was watching all this with a deep frown etched into her features.

    “Come on, there’s nothing we can do, let’s go,” said Culsten.

    “Those are our people, Lif,” she said angrily without taking her eyes off the gruesome scene.

    He shook his head. “No, they’re not. Not really.”

    “Doesn’t matter what universe we’re in. Those are Krellonians.”

    “Maybe,” he said. “And I know it’s wrong. But I also know that in our universe, a scene like that, but reversed, with the Outlanders being beaten by Krellonians, wouldn’t exactly be headline-grabbing news.”

    Garla shook her head in disbelief. “Right now, I don’t care. I can’t just stand here and do nothing,” she said and began heading for the elevator.

    “We don’t have time for this,” said Amaya with annoyance after being forced to stop for the Krellonian sentinel. “Get her back in line. She gets herself involved and she may as well be signing all our death warrants.”

    Michael understood and quickly moved to intercept Garla. He managed to get to her just before she had reached the mass of onlookers around the public beating. Apparently, the Outlanders were happy enough for others to witness their form of punishment, no doubt to serve as a warning for everyone else.

    He managed to grab her by her upper arm before she could close in any further. “Think this through. You attack them here and we’re in a world of trouble. We may not even make it off this station in one piece. Our mission is too important to take that kind of risk.”

    “Where’s that famously arrogant Federation morality now, Captain?” she said in a tone icy enough to give him chills. “Does it only apply when it suits your needs?”

    Although he kept his voice down, he matched her intensity in tone. “My morality comes with the wisdom to understand when it must be applied and when greater imperatives take precedent.”

    Garla freed herself from Michael’s grasp. “When I see something wrong, I’ll act on it. That’s my imperative.”

    Before he could say anything else she had slipped out of his fingers and disappeared within the crowd surrounding them. “Goddamnit,” he mumbled quietly to himself. He wasn’t armed, Amaya had seen to that, but he very much doubted that a weapon would have done him much good in this situation. His best chance now, he understood, was to get his team back to the ship as quickly as possible.

    He glanced once more toward the Outlander continuing to beat the Krellonian worker who did little more than moan and bleed, his face already a deformed mess, with no sign of Garla anywhere, before he began to turn back to the rest of his people.

    But before he had managed more than a step, the sentinel was back at his side. “Let’s get going,” she said forcefully

    Michael was momentarily confused. He looked back at the elevator but couldn’t see anything having changed and wondered if she had reconsidered after all.

    “Now,” she repeated urgently.

    And then he realized that the Kidrip was slowing down delivering the punishment. He took a step back and reached for his side where Michael was sure he could see something akin to blood. Too dark in color to belong to the Krellonian.

    Michael understood what must have happened. Garla had somehow managed to slip close to the Outlander without being noticed and had likely delivered a fatal blow with a sharp weapon. He also understood that they better be as far away from the scene of the crime as reasonably possible before the Outlanders realized that one of their own had been attacked.

    He quickly made it back to Amaya. “Let’s go. Now.”

    She didn’t hesitate and the team was back on the move and when Michael glanced back one last time, the look on the Kidrip guard’s face was still one of perplexity, not yet understanding that he was likely already dead.

    Amaya led them to a small staircase that didn’t see a lot of use and then descended four decks in a hurry. Michael made up the rear, mostly to make sure they were not being followed but also to help Jon Owens along who was not just the oldest member of the team but also, by far, the slowest.

    The lower decks were more bearable than the concourse. It wasn’t empty, there were still workers lugging around containers and the occasional guard, but it was a far cry from the packed conditions above and they managed to traverse the corridors without further altercations until they reached their destination.

    The cargo hold was truly massive, easily the size of Eagle’s main shuttlebay, probably a bit larger. It was also packed with rows and rows of shipping crates waiting to be loaded onto freighters.

    Amaya navigated the maze with admirable confidence until they reached an artificially created clearing, surrounded by crates and containers.

    Two Krellonian laborers were checking the inventory but upon seeing the away team they quickly decided against sticking around and disappeared deeper into the cargo hold.

    Garla shook her head with disgust. “Our people have been reduced to skittish kergs in the woods, hopping away the moment they even suspect trouble nearby.”

    “The Outlanders have not been kind to them,” said Matthew.

    “That’s an understatement,” added Culsten, referring to what they had witnessed above.

    Michael turned to Amaya. “Where this contact of yours? Where’s Gray?”

    She leaned casually against one of the crates and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “They’ll be here. My contact has never let me down before.”

    “But when?” he said. “In case I haven’t already stressed the urgency of our task before, we are on a tight clock here.”

    “Keep your shirt on,” she said as she was making herself as comfortable as possible. “You can’t expect everyone to work on your schedule. Besides, you better start thinking about how you’re going to pay me. Charm and looks are only going to get you so far.”

    “I told you, you get your latinum once we manage to rendezvous with my ship. Hopefully, your contact will be able to make that happen.”

    Garla, however, didn’t seem content to wait and was already on the move again. He stopped her before she could leave. “Where are you going?”

    “Please tell me they at least teach you rudimentary tactics in Starfleet? Take in your surroundings, Captain. What does this look like to you?”

    He did as she had suggested. The area they had been led into was enclosed on all sides by containers stacked too high to climb across. Three narrow walkways between containers led in and out of the area. Michael understood straight away. “Great place for an ambush.”

    She nodded. “Who knows, all this may work out. But if you don’t mind, I’ll err on side of being prepared for our contacts being less than friendly and find a better vantage point. You stay here and play the bait. Shouldn’t be too difficult for an experienced Starfleet officer.”

    He couldn’t argue her logic even if he hated the condescending tone in her voice. After serving as a starship captain for the last five years, it had been a long time since anyone had spoken to him in this manner, and quite frankly, he was getting sick of it.

    Garla, of course, didn’t care, nor did she give him an opportunity to air his grievances since she promptly departed into one of those narrow alleys.

    “Looks like being skittish is an inherently Krellonian trait,” said Amaya with a large smirk on her face.

    Michael just shot her an annoyed look in response.

    The next ten minutes felt excruciatingly long to him considering that by now the station had to be on high alert from Garla’s assault on an Outlander guard. His far greater concern was the fact that they only had a very limited window, according to Frobisher, to return to the supercollider and stop it from at best, annihilating another reality and at worse, taking the entire quantum-verse with it.

    Garla’s caution proved to be justified when he spotted a set of two Krellonians appearing at each of the three walkways. These men and women were not the same types of laborers they had predominantly encountered on Amargosa before. If their clothing was anything to go by, they seemed to have much more in common with Amaya’s crew, which led Michael to believe that they were mercenaries of some kind. This seemed to be confirmed when they brandished weapons they promptly aimed at him and his team.

    “What is this?” Amaya said as she stood from where she had been sitting against a container for the last few minutes. “We’re here to meet with Gray.”

    “In this time and place, taking precautions, comes with my line of work,” said a voice that sounded familiar to Michael.

    It was so familiar, that he glanced at Lif Culsten first only to find that he hadn’t spoken.

    Instead, the voice belonged to a man who walked out of one of the walkways, emerging behind two armed Krellonians and who looked almost indistinguishable from his helmsman.

    “Amaya Donners, I presume?” he said, glancing at the captain of the Lead Belly.

    She nodded but said nothing, clearly recognizing his face and looking back at Michael for answers.

    “I’m Gray,” he said. “And from what I’m hearing, you have a rather lucrative business proposal for me.”

    Nobody spoke and it clearly irritated him. “First off, I want to know who I’m doing business with. I know you,” he said, pointing at Donners. The rest of you look like humans,” he added, glancing over at Frobisher, Matthew, and Jon Owens with his eyes coming to a rest on his doppelganger who was still wearing a coat that did a decent enough job to hide his features within its hood. “What about you? Who are you supposed to be?”

    Michael shook his head and took a step forward, ostensibly to put himself in between the two men. “It doesn’t matter who he is,” he said. “I’m the one paying the bills.”

    “See, that’s not going to work for me. As you can imagine, my enemies far outnumber my friends. The only reason I’m still alive is because I know how to keep one step ahead of those trying to kill me. So I’ll have to insist.” He gestured for two of his people standing closest to him and they stepped up with their weapons drawn. “Show your face.”

    Culsten, clearly not seeing another option, complied and threw his hood back to reveal his long gray hair and his face.

    The other Culsten’s reaction was not surprising. “By the Creator, what is going on here? Who are you?”

    “That’s a long story,” said his alternate.

    But the other Culsten was not in a mood for stories, that much was clear, as he quickly shook his head. “The bastard Outties are behind this, aren’t they? They’re trying to replace me with somebody they can control? It’s not going to work. Kill them all.”

    Before Michael could even start pleading his case, Garla reappeared. He hadn’t even seen her approach but all of a sudden, she stood directly behind the enraged Culsten, something sharp and shiny glinting in her hand and pressed up against his throat. “You might want to reconsider that. See, you wouldn’t even be the first Lif Culsten I’ve watched die in the last few days.”

    His guards wheeled around to take a beat on Garla but none had a clear shot with their boss blocking the way.

    “Tell your people to take a breath and lower those guns. We wouldn’t want one of them to accidentally perforate you.”

    “Do as she says,” he said between clenched teeth.

    His people slowly put down their weapons.

    “You’re Garla,” he said, apparently having been able to recognize her voice. “How is that possible?”

    “It’s as the man said. A long and complicated story. But we are not working with the Outlanders and we need your help to get into their territory.”

    “I don’t believe you.”

    That’s when the shooting started.

    It didn’t come from Michael or his team nor the other Culsten and his people and he painfully realized that Garla had remained right after all. Except that she had been wrong about who was ambushing whom.
     
  20. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    I love frenemy stories and this one sports several - Garla, Maya, Fro and Matt. Maybe Tyrantus will show up and unexpectedly play both sides against the middle as well... I literally laughed out loud when i realized Gray was Lif 2.4. Garla is just a delight throughout this scene.

    Classic CeJay cliffhanger...

    Thanks!! rbs
     
    CeJay likes this.