State of Entanglement by CeJay
Summary:
After an eventful mission into the star-packed globular cluster of the Amargosa Diaspora beyond Federation space and into the isolated and xenophobic Krellonian Star Alliance, the Starship Eagle learned of an invasion plan by subspace aliens, assisted by elements within the Star Alliance.

With the help of Bensu, the enigmatic bartender on Eagle but in reality a man possessing unique characteristics and knowledge about the aliens, Michael Owens and his crew, along with with his father, have located a massive superstructure hidden away in a subspace pocket.

Now, as the startling truth of the aliens’ plans becomes more obvious, Eagle will find itself deeply entwined in a dangerous game which goes far beyond their own universe and will pit them against friends and foes with familiar faces which will shake Owens and his crew to the core.

Continue the journey into the depths of quantum reality in Book Two of the Quantum Divergence trilogy.

And don’t miss Book One, False Vacuum and the Road to Quantum Divergence stories, Civil War and Homecoming.


Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: None
Genre: Action/Adventure, Family
Warnings: Character Death, Violence
Challenges: None
Series: The Star Eagle Adventures
Chapters: 83 Completed: Yes Word count: 213208 Read: 85932 Published: 19 Sep 2019 Updated: 03 Jul 2021

1. Prologue - Catch Me If You Can by CeJay

2. Part 1 - Splintered: 1 by CeJay

3. Part 1 - Splintered: 2 by CeJay

4. Part 1 - Splintered: 3 by CeJay

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36. Interlude: The Looking Glass by CeJay

37. Part 2 - Shattered: 1 by CeJay

38. Part 2 - Shattered: 2 by CeJay

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Prologue - Catch Me If You Can by CeJay
Prologue: Catch Me If You Can



May 2370

Now



The sky was raining fire.

That was Susan Bano’s first thought as consciousness was slowly beginning to assert itself once more.

Her vision was blurry, her ears were ringing and she felt something very hard and uncomfortable underneath her. It took her a moment to realize that it was the wet, durasteel ground.

Her body felt broken and her mind was still playing catch-up on how exactly she had ended up like this. She had a vague memory of chasing something or someone. But who that could have been or why she had no idea.

‘You will find that there comes a time in your life when no matter how hard you have tried, no matter how well you prepared, no matter how strong you thought you were—there will inevitably come a moment when you fall down and everything will appear to be lost.

And that, Susan, will be the exact time when you will have to decide if you get back up and try again or if you lay down, give up and die.’

It was her mother’s voice she heard in her head. The autocratic Bolian woman had always possessed a penchant for the melodramatic, and certainly, that specific life lesson she had imparted on her at the tender young age of nine had seemed a little high-handed at the time.

It had never rung truer than in that particular moment, however.

“Yes, mother,” she whispered even if she couldn’t hear her own words coming out of her mouth due to the persistent ringing sound in her ears.

Trying to move and feeling a sharp pain shooting up her side, she was fairly certain that she had broken her left arm, or at the very least dislocated it from her shoulder.

She still wasn’t sure why she was here, but she knew her mother had been right. She had to get back up and finish what she had started. Whatever the hells that had been.

It took tremendous effort and pain so excruciating, it forced tears into her eyes, but somehow she managed to get back onto her knees.

The rain was pelting down with a vengeance and it wasn’t just water; there were little droplets of fire pouring down from the sky alongside it.

It was nighttime on whatever planet she was on, but it might as well have been daylight considering the bright fires all around her.

She felt a sudden burning sensation on her back and then, realizing that she too was on fire, she quickly shrugged out of her leather jacket.

She considered the discarded garment lying on the ground for a moment and seemed to remember that she had used to like it quite a bit. It was ruined beyond repair now.

Susan forced herself to her feet and looked around

She stood on the landing platform of a spaceport. Or at least it had been one once, it was difficult to tell now with all those fires which even the torrential downpour didn’t seem to be able to douse.

One of the things on fire were the remains of what looked like had been a transport ship once.

She took a few steps towards it, not entirely sure where else to go and immediately stumbled over her own feet.

It took her a moment to try again.

There were three bodies near the ship, all clad in black. One of them still looked alive, blood trickling out of the corner of his mouth and his piercing dark eyes staring up at her as she looked down at him.

She recognized those eyes.

She had been chasing him. He had the Object.

Things were slowly coming back to her.

She knelt down next to him and grabbed him by his black jacket with her good arm, pulling him off the ground slightly. “I’m a goddamned science officer, you bastard. I don’t do this kind of stuff. High-speed chases, phaser fights, and explosions and all this holo-novel crap. That’s not my thing, do you read me? I've had it up to here with this place and this nightmare ends now. We're finished, you and me, we're done. It's over.” She had no idea where this sudden rant had come from but by the end of it, she realized that she was more right than she had guessed. After all, she was holding on to a dead man. "Good riddance," she said and allowed the now lifeless body to slip out of her grasp.

She lowered herself to her knees next to him and started to pat him down until she found what she had been looking for, what she had been after for so long. It was such a tiny and unremarkable little thing considering what she had been through to try and get her hands on it.

She couldn't help but stare at it for a moment. It still had the same effect on her it did when she had first seen it. There was still some inexplicable power to this small device which she could somehow feel vibrating against her entire being.

She quickly slipped it inside her boot and then, still barely managing to endure the pain she was in, she got back on her feet.

She reached for her right lobe, hoping that her in-ear communicator was still working. “This is Bano. I have the Object. Could use an extraction.”

There was no response.

“Does anybody read me?” she said. “Is anyone still alive?” she added much more quietly, fearing the worst.

Uttering a heavy sigh she considering the flaming wreck of the transport ship. “Not getting off this damned planet in that.”

Something made her look the other way and into the darkness of the night. The lights of the city twinkled in the distance and she knew her best bet was to try and find another spaceport somewhere within it.

But it wasn’t the city that held her gaze.

It was something else.

The bright flames which engulfed what remained of a large fuel tank revealed the shadows first.

Five shapes of black-clad men were emerging from the darkness and slowly moving to approach her. They looked almost identical to the man she had just liberated the Object from.

All five of them held weapons, all of them trained on her.

She was surrounded on all other sides by fire.

She was trapped.

“I guess I was wrong after all,” she said, addressing nobody. “This isn’t over yet.”


4 Hours Earlier

There was something to be said about working covertly, not the least of which was the freedom to ditch the restrictive Starfleet regulation uniform for something much more comfortable and to her style, such as the chic, sepia-colored, imitation leather jacket she’d chosen, along with a lightweight vest and matching tan pants. She certainly wouldn’t have gotten away with wearing those tall, white boots while on regular duty. The boots were currently resting on top of a conference table, inside a compact meeting room of a civilian freighter.

Just beyond the tips of her white boots, the man who was her de facto superior was considering her from half a quadrant away via a computer screen.

“I am pleased to find you this relaxed so close to your imminent mission, “ the half-Vulcan said as he peered at her.

She just shrugged. “I just have a good feeling about this.”

“Eteron is not a place to be taken lightly, Susan. There is no Federation presence on the planet, and its close proximity to both the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Neutral Zone makes it a hot zone of smuggling operations and other criminal activities. The Orion Syndicate is reportedly the only true authority on that world.”

“That’s why I’ve got Lieutenant Sorenson and his team of elite security operators along for the ride. Those guys know how to handle themselves,” she said and then removed her boots from the top of the table to lean in closer towards the monitor. “This is the closest we’ve been to obtain the Object in four months. This is the culmination of years of studying those blasted boxes and the shards contained within them and I just know that we’ll find what we’ve been looking for on Eteron.”

But Jarik looked doubtful. “In the hands of a group of Pakled traders?”

She shook her head. “They don’t even realize what they’ve found. I still believe it was a complete coincidence that they managed to obtain it at all. But I’m convinced that it fell into their lap on Gordian XI and they’ll be more than happy to part with it considering what we can offer them in exchange. Nobody’s ever accused a Pakled of being particularly bright.”

“Just promise me you’ll be careful down there. The Pakled may not be smart, but they can be dangerous. And we have no additional assets in the area to support you if things go bad. You’re on your own out there.”

She offered him a smirk. “I’m a science officer by trade, Jarik. I'm no gung-ho, damn-the-torpedoes-type starship captain of yesteryear. I understand risk and I know how to manage it."

“I’ll hold you to that, Commander Bano.”

“Have you made any progress on determining who our competition might be? I still think we’re not the only ones after the Object. Somebody very nearly got to those Pakled after Gordian XI, I’m sure of it.”

Jarik shook his head marginally. “Not yet but I am working on it. Whoever they are, it is absolutely critical that we obtain the Object first.”

Bano nodded. “I know, I’ve seen the same data you have. Whatever these Pandora Boxes truly are—“

She stopped herself when she spotted his noticeable frown, remembering that he didn’t appreciate that term for the mysterious artifacts which had provided them with clues to the location of a possibly even more powerful device which for now they had simply designated as the Object.

It had been her friend and colleague Terrence Glover, who had coined the term Pandora’s Box after they had come across the small, shard-like artifact secured inside a translucent and ornately crafted box during a mission in the Pandorian system.

That had been thirteen years ago while she and Glover had both served on the Kitty Hawk. The discovery of the enigmatic and clearly immensely powerful artifact had changed her entire career path, since only a short while later she had started—in between other gigs—to work for the Department of Special Affairs and Investigations, the secretive Starfleet agency which had long since taken a significant interest in objects and artifacts which seemed to defy easy explanations.

She had worked with Jarik ever since she had joined the organization which was led with an almost singular vision by the Old Man.

It hadn't been until a second box had been found, a discovery once again involving Terrence Glover who seemed to be attracting these kinds of things like a magnet, that they had started to gain an understanding of the true power of those artifacts which were seemingly able to communicate with certain individuals. The boxes had revealed a number of secrets, including the location of Iconian gateways but also, perhaps most disturbingly, the possible whereabouts of an artifact even more powerful. It had been that latest revelation which had brought her to the farthest most reaches of Federation space.

“I know the Old Man prefers to call them shard artifacts,” she said to Jarik who seemed much more pleased with that term. “But I can’t help but feel that the Object the shard artifacts have revealed to us was hidden for a very good reason and that perhaps it was never meant to be found.”

“It seems a bit late for that conversation now. Besides, if we do not get to it first, somebody else will and I fear that if that were to come to pass, we might find ourselves facing a crisis the likes of which we’ve never encountered before.”

“Right,” she said with a dark grin. “End of the galaxy kind of stuff. And all of that because of our damned curiosity.”

“You should take this matter more seriously.”

“Don’t worry, I do. And I’ll get that Object—whatever it turns out to be—and bring it back for the good guys. Besides, as a science officer, I have to believe that a good dose of healthy curiosity is the first step towards real progress,” she said and stood from her chair to get her mission underway. “Unless, of course, you’re a cat.”

The half-Vulcan’s blank look seemed proof that he either didn’t care for her joke or simply didn’t get it.


* * *


Susan had never understood how any sentient being in the galaxy could possibly consider what the Klingons called opera as a form of musical entertainment.

To her ears, the wailing sounds coming out of the mouths of the three overweight Klingon performers on the stage were nothing more than loud, ear-splitting noise, hurled at each other in some sort of competition to find out who could most successfully drown out the other two singers.

Unfortunately for her, they had tracked down the four Pakled traders who she was convinced were unwittingly in the possession of what might very well be the most powerful artifact in the galaxy to a large music hall whose main attraction was a marathon performance of Keedera’s collected—and very loud—works.

Despite the thunderous performance taking place on the stage, music halls on Eteron, Susan quickly realized, didn’t seem particularly focused on the music itself. Instead, they functioned more like a meeting place for business, a bar as well as an eating establishment where the live music functioned only as an additional—albeit, in this case, she felt, a headache-inducing—side attraction.

Very few patrons seemed to pay much attention to the Klingons on stage and perhaps surprisingly considering the roaring act, the tumultuous guests were going about their various businesses, somehow able to make themselves heard over the ubiquitous music, mostly by gesturing wildly, shouting or—if that failed—beating each other senseless.

“I don’t like this at all,” said Nels Sorenson, who like the rest of the team was wearing civilian clothes in order to fit in. Susan thought that regardless of his outfit, it was difficult not to peg the blonde-haired, tall and muscular man of Scandinavian ancestry as anything other than a solider. “We’re exposed here.”

“Still better than meeting outside. We seemed to have arrived in the middle of the local monsoon season.” She continued when this didn’t seem to make him feel any better. “It’s a public place,” she said. “Less likely to run into trouble here.”

“Or more likely.”

Susan spotted the group of Pakled sitting at a table at the far end of the hall and nowhere near the stage. Not that it would have a significant effect on the level of ambient noise. “Look, there they are. Let’s just get what we came for and get out.”

“The sooner the better,” he said and then instructed the rest of his people to fan out and keep their eyes open.

Before approaching the table, Susan pulled up the sleeve of her jacket slightly to reveal her wristband computer. It contained a useful device which would keep anyone from getting a transporter lock on her or anything in her immediate surroundings. She activated the portable inhibitor, after all, they had gotten this far and she'd be damned if somebody just beamed the Object away right in front of her eyes.

There were four Pakled, all of them mostly preoccupied with consuming—or rather destroying—a meal which Susan couldn’t even guess at. Table manners, it appeared, were not high on the Pakled’s list of priorities.

“Grubnog,” she said loudly. It was the name of the only Pakled she had spoken to previously and it may have been racially inappropriate, but she couldn’t tell any of them apart, all of them stocky with round fleshy faces and vertically aligned, bushy eyebrows. All wearing practically identical thick gray jackets secured with a multitude of fasteners.

“She’s blue,” one of the Pakled said to the others who quickly nodded while he continued to tear into his meaty meal right off the bone.

Susan thought that she had that coming, considering her own insensitive thoughts and just smiled. “Bolian. On my mother’s side,” she said. “We spoke earlier. About making a sale.”

“We make sales,” said the first Pakled.

“Yes. You have something that we want to buy. We brought a lot of latinum for it.”

“We like latinum,” said the second Pakled.

Susan indicated towards Sorenson who quickly produced a large backpack which Susan took off him, opened up and then threw onto the table, right on top of the Pakled’s dinner. It contained enough gold-plated currency to buy five music halls on Eteron.

Grubnog—or at least she thought it was Grubnog—pushed the bag open further to reveal the latinum which glittered invitingly under the light.

“Let’s keep a low profile on what’s in that bag, shall we?” Susan said quickly, shooting a couple of cautious glances across the establishment, not doubting for a moment that what was in the bag was enough money to incite a mob.

“We look for things,” said the other Pakled.

“You’ll be able to buy a lot of things with that,” said Susan. “Now, about the thing that you’ve found on Gordian XI.”

A third Pakled reached into his jacket to produce what looked like a tiny silver rod, which may as well have been a child’s toy, the way it appeared in his large and thickly gloved hand.

There was no way to tell for certain, but somehow Susan knew that it was what they were looking for. She could feel it. And this wasn't mere instinct either.

The tiny device was radiating pure, unfettered power. She couldn't quite suppress a little gasp coming over her lips. “How exactly did you manage to obtain this,” she said as she stared at it wide-eyed.

“We look for things,” said Grubnog.

“You did mention that,” Sorensen said who apparently was also momentarily mesmerized by the Object.

“Things that can help us,” said another.

“Well, this is certainly going to do just that. It helped make you rich,” Susan said.

The four Pakled seemed to like the sound of that as they looked at each other with large smiles plastered on their faces.

“Now, would you mind passing it to me,” she said, reaching out for it.

“You are pretty,” said another Pakled.

She shot him a very brief smile. “Thanks,” she said and focused back on the device.

“We like pretty things,” said possible-Grubnog.

“Don’t we all. Now, the Object, please,” she said, sounding more insistent.

The Pakled nearest to her took hold of her jacket, pulling her down slightly towards the table and until she could smell his rather foul breath. She had the feeling that he was paying too much attention to her cleavage which made her want to shudder. “We look for pretty things.”

“I think they like you, Commander,” said Sorenson as he stepped closer, his hand darting under his jacket to reach for his weapon.

“A little too much,” Susan said but waved him off, determined to deal with this without causing a commotion. She managed to free herself from the Pakled’s grasp. “Look, I’m flattered but I don’t come with the deal. If it’s company you seek, you’ve got more than enough latinum in there to secure the services of every wench in town.”

Two of the Pakled looked at the bag of money with renewed interest as if they could find said courtesans inside that very case.

“We look for pretty things to make us go,” said the third Pakled.

Susan pinched the bifurcating ridge running between her eyes which she was wont to when she got frustrated. “That’s far too much information. You have your money. Now give me the—“

“Commander, we have a problem,” Sorenson said.

“Tell me about it.”

He shook his head as he was talking to another member of his team who seemed to be listening in on something with his in-ear communicator. Judging by the concerned expression on the young man’s face, he wasn’t getting good news.

Susan quickly reached for her ear to activate her own device and listened in.

“… not sure where they came from but they are right on top of us,” said the voice belonging to one of the team members they had left behind on their ship. “I think we’ve been made.”

“Stand by to extract us along with the Object and then initiate immediate evasive actions,” barked Sorenson.

“They’re opening fire!”

Susan recognized the sounds of battle and from everything she could tell, this was bad. The attackers had caught her ship entirely unaware.

“Shields are gone, hull breach, hull breach. Critical damage to all systems. Abandon ship, abandon—“ There was a lot of shouting and desperation coming over the line just before the voices were drowned out by static and then cut out entirely.

“Mueller, come in. Mueller, can you hear me?” Sorenson was pressing his hand hard against his ear but it made no difference, the line was dead. Susan was fearing that the same was true for the crew and her ship. He looked her straight in the eye. “We have to assume the worst.”

She nodded, trying hard not to think of the people they had likely just lost. There’d be time to mourn later. “What’s the play?” she said. She outranked Sorenson in both grade and seniority but as a science officer, she was more than willing to let the security expert take the lead in a situation such as this.

“We are likely to get company any second now. We need to get out—“

The explosion came so suddenly it threw her and most of the people around her to the ground. She heard cries and shouts of pain and anger all around her and the distinct smell of things being on fire.

“We have to move right now,” she heard Sorenson’s voice yell from somewhere close.

It took her a moment to find her bearings again. The explosion had originated from the other side of the music hall, near the stage, and must have killed and injured at least a dozen or so people there. The entire far wall was in flames, as were parts of the stage.

What had been a chaotic scene just moments before was now erupting in all-out pandemonium as those who still could, scrambled to their feet, shouting and wailing and trying to get to an exit. The Klingon performers, who were used to rowdy crowds seemed to draw a line when it came to explosions and were amongst the first to flee. Clearly, these Klingons were not of the honorable warrior type who’d eagerly throw themselves into battle.

One of Sorenson’s men helped her back onto her feet and he was shouting something at her but he couldn’t make it out through the insistent ringing sound in her ears. She looked straight at the young man to try and perhaps read his lips only to watch as his head jerked back violently in a mist of red blood.

“Sniper, we’ve got a sniper,” Sorenson shouted behind her just as her hearing was coming back and she watched the dead man collapse to the floor.

“We need to move now before we get picked off or trampled to death," said Sorenson. "T’Vel, do you have eyes on the sniper?”

“Affirmative. However, I do not have a shot.”

“Do what you can to cover us,” he said and then grabbed Susan by the arm. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Not without the Object,” she said, trying to find the Pakled but the growing chaos all around her made that difficult as people were now running passed her from seemingly all directions, most in such a hurry, they didn’t care who or what they were running over in the process.

“No time, we have to —“

Sorenson went down with another sniper blast to the back of his neck. His eyes opening wide in surprise for just a brief moment before they went totally dead and he fell where he had stood.

“Find cover, now,” T’Vel’s calm voice said into her ear.

Susan dove for an upturned table which she hoped would be sufficient to keep her out of harm’s way.

Breathing hard and leaning against the hard surface behind her, she found where the Pakled had sat, their table thrown upside down, two of them desperately trying to stuff the latinum which had spilled out of the bag back inside, the other two having already fled. She was fairly certain that the one who had produced the Object earlier was now on all fours, frantically collecting the money.

“I have eyes on the Object, I think,” she said. “I can get to it.”

“Negative, Commander. Hold your position.”

Another sniper blast rung out and struck the other Pakled in the side of his head, killing him instantly. His friend didn’t even seem to notice as he continued to collect the latinum.

“Commander, I need you to draw out the sniper,” T’Vel said.

“What? How the hell do you expect me to do that?”

“The shooter is at your three o’clock. Approximately eighteen meters. I do not have a clear shot. You will have to attempt to fire at him from your position.”

“I didn't sign up for this kind of crap,” she said, beginning to realize that she was most likely in shock. It took her another moment to understand that considering the people she had already lost on this mission, and with an increasing chance of losing the Object as well, she had no other choice but to take action. "Goddamnit,” she said and reached for her phaser hidden inside a holster under her jacket.

With her weapon in hand, she peeked up over the upturned table.

She saw a blast and immediately ducked back down.

The entire side of the table disintegrated upon impact.

She stared at the missing part of the table with disbelieve, realizing that her head had been there just a moment earlier.

Another shot rang out, this one, she thought, coming from T’Vel to try and suppress the sniper.

“I need you to fire now, Commander.”

“Yeah, piece of cake. No problem,” she said, took a deep breath and then tried again.

She found the sniper exactly where T’Vel had placed him. It wasn’t going to be an easy shot—she was decent enough with a phaser but that was usually on a shooting range, not while stuck in a burning building which was quickly filling with smoke, with dozens of screaming and shouting and running patrons all around her and while taking fire from a sharpshooter who had already killed two members of her team.

She tried to remember her training.

‘Empty your mind of everything but the target. Take a breath, hold it, squeeze the trigger.’ That’s what her firearms instructor had used to say at the Academy. That seemed like a very long time ago now.

Her shot went wide.

“Crap.”

And the sniper had her back in his crosshairs, ready to finish her off.

He didn’t get a chance as he was struck by another beam coming from somewhere up above and behind her.

“Target eliminated. I have another hostile, moving quickly across the floor and towards the remaining Pakled. I will not be able to neutralize him from my position.”

“The Object,” Susan realized and quickly scrambled to her feet to dart towards the still unaware Pakled. Then she spotted the man clad entirely in black sprinting in the opposite direction to everybody else.

He had a few steps on her and was moving far too quickly for her to get a beat on him. A compact dagger appeared in his hand seemingly out of nowhere and he buried it deep into the back of the Pakled’s skull with vicious precision and speed.

By the time Susan had reached the dead body, the man in black had already found and removed the Object and darted off again and towards the nearest exit.

“Damn, he’s fast,” she said as she followed him. She tried to line up a shot yet again but it was useless, he had already slipped passed several other patrons and merged with a mass of bodies.

“T’Vel, he’s got the object and is heading straight for the exit. Any chance you can cut him off?” she said as she rushed towards the doors.

There was no response.

“T’Vel, do you copy? Anybody?”

She didn’t know if they were too busy to answer or if they were all dead. The way things were going, she feared the latter seemed most plausible. She was on her own which meant it all depended on her now.

“No pressure,” she mumbled as she kept after him, knowing that her portable transporter inhibitor only had a limited range, and the moment he was more than twenty-five meters ahead of her, there would be nothing stopping him from simply beaming away.

Her first challenge was to get out of the burning building along with what felt like a horde of panicked and terrorized patrons, all rushing the same, small exit. She had to push and squeeze herself past a number of men and women, many of which were much larger than her, which made it easier to slip in-between them, but in the process, she may also have trampled over some smaller individuals in her mad rush, too.

Getting out of the music hall had felt like being squashed through a wringer and for a moment she thought she’d suffocate from the number of bodies pushed so tightly together. It was pure adrenaline which kept driving her and eventually allowed her to somehow come through on the other end mostly unharmed.

Outside she was greeted by a torrential downpour which soaked her to the bone in mere seconds.

She desperately wiped the dripping rain from her face to try and peer into the surrounding city scene. It was nighttime but thankfully the area immediately outside the music hall was well lit by streetlights to reveal a city as decrepit as much of the rest of the planet.

The man she was chasing had made the mistake of wearing all black which would have seemed sensible at night and in the rain, had it not been for the fact that the current fashion trend on Eteron—if one could call it that—certainly for the kind of people frequenting late-night music halls, was a more colorful ensemble which made him stand out from the rest of the crowd.

She spotted him quickly and from her vantage point, it looked as if he was trying to use a communicator, more than likely attempting to arrange a beam-out which of course wouldn’t work while she was nearby.

She set out to follow him across the street, dodging both pedestrian and other traffic, most of which didn’t seem to care much about running over a Bolian woman who had been crazy enough to run right into the street.

The man in black saw her following him when he turned his head and with lightning-fast reflexes he produced a phaser, firing it at her with no delay.

She had to jump to avoid the blast, landing right in a large dirty puddle of rainwater. She ignored her bruises and fired back, but only hitting the building he was running towards.

He was making a beeline towards a group of Valerians who had parked a couple of hoverbikes underneath the building's large canopy to wait out the rain.

He blasted his weapon again and without even slowing down, striking the unprepared Valerian closest to one of the bikes, the force pushing the man backward and over his vehicle where he crumbled to the ground, presumably dead in an instant.

Susan scrambled back onto her feet but was too late to keep him from jumping on one of the hoverbikes and peeling out onto the street.

She reached the canopy just a few moments later, pointing her phaser at the three remaining Valerians who quickly backed up, not eager to share their friend’s fate. “Really sorry, but I’ll have to borrow your ride. I’ll try to keep it in one piece.”

She heard no protests as she climbed on the other remaining bike. “Hope I remember how to do this,” she mumbled to herself as she slipped the phaser back into its holster and then hit what she hoped was the ignition switch.

The bike came to live underneath her, rumbling and sputtering for a moment as it lifted slightly off the ground. This wasn’t exactly a top of the line model, more like a rocket with a seat, seemingly assembled out of spare parts and held together by tape and goodwill.

She had no time to consider how street legal or even safe the contraption was as she pressed down hard on what looked like the accelerator.

The rocket took off, nearly throwing her clear out of the saddle.

With a yelp of surprise at the sudden burst of speed, she drove the hoverbike right through a rickety stand selling refreshments, smashing it in the process and forcing several people to jump out of her way at the very last second.

“Sorry,” she shouted but was already racing away from the scene at breakneck speed as she managed to rain in the bike, albeit somewhat unsteadily, as she swerved down the street. “Hold on to your potatoes,” she said as she sped-up again.

Barreling down a small alley into which the man in black had disappeared, it didn’t take her long to catch back up with him and his bike, finding that he’d had similar issues controlling the over-powered vehicle, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.

The alleyways were narrow, thankfully covered by awnings overhead to keep the rain away but they were filled with people and stands even at this later hour.

“Come on folks, you've never seen a high-speed chase through the city before? Get the frack out of the way,” she shouted as loudly as she could as some of the pedestrians were simply moving far too slowly for her liking. She made the best possible effort to try and keep mowing down people and property, though the same could not be said for the man she was pursuing.

After a harrowing few minutes through packed alleyways the pursuit finally took them to wider streets with far fewer people but they also lost their protective coverings overhead which now meant that besides traffic, she also had to manage the relentless rain which made it difficult to keep upright on the bike, not to mention trying to see where she was going.

The man in black was not doing much better and she managed to stay with him as they hurled through the city at speeds exceeding two hundred kilometers an hour, making Susan mindful that even gracing one of those other vehicles they shared the road with would likely cause her to break her neck instantly.

It didn’t stop her from reaching back into her jacket to retrieve her phaser, keeping just one hand on the steering handle and pulling the weapon free to try and get a shot at the other bike.

On a stretch of mostly straight road and with less traffic, she took her chance, lined up her shot and fired.

Instead of hitting her target, the phaser blasted a hole right in-between the eyes of a larger than life Vulcan woman, looking down from a huge billboard with a wide smile on her face, seemingly put there by whatever it was she was selling. The already shaky billboard crumpled after impact and rained down on the pedestrians underneath.

“Sorry, sorry,” she cried, hoping nobody had been injured by the collapsing structure.

Determined not to allow the man in black to get away, she increased her speed, dodged something akin to a taxi cab by about a hair’s width and then, undaunted by its insistent beeping, pushed right into the rear of the bike she was chasing.

The rider turned his head and she got her first proper look at the man. He was human, dark-haired, with steely brown eyes which considered her with little emotion for just a heartbeat or so.

“Stop that goddamned bike,” she shouted at him.

He just turned back around and pressed down harder on his accelerator, pushing away from her.

She lined up another shot, but this time, instead of trying to hit the man, or the bike, she tried to aim in front of him, hoping to get him to slow down.

The phaser blast lit up the road and caused him to swerve sharply to the left and right into a heavy cargo vehicle traveling in the same direction.

He careened off the side of the truck and Susan could tell from the smoke coming out of his engine that the bike had taken serious damage.

He was rapidly losing speed, allowing her to once more catch up with him. “I got you now,” she cried out jubilantly.

Awash in the glow of victory, she missed the sharp turn he made as he slowed down suddenly, leaving her to barrel right towards a high fence instead.

“Oh, crap.”

It was all she had time to say as she desperately tried to turn and slow the machine between her legs. To no avail. She crashed through the fence and found a sharp slope just beyond it.

The bike went airborne, far higher than it was designed for. Gravity quickly took hold and Susan braced herself for what she expected to be a painful impact.

The bike slammed into the ground hard and she was thrown clear of the saddle as if she had been riding a particularly wild animal at a rodeo show.

She had the presence of mind to roll as she landed right in a small rill.

It probably saved her life as she splashed down, as did the fact that the runnel was filled with overflow rainwater mixed with some dark, gooey sludge which smelled nasty enough to make her want to vomit. She desperately tried to avoid thinking about what it may have contained.

The impact still hurt like hell as her momentum rolled her right out of the muck and onto an adjacent field.

When she finally came to a stop, she felt the overwhelming urge to just stay where she was, remain on the ground and perhaps drift into a long and restful sleep.

She knew she couldn’t afford it.

Her bruised body objecting with shooting pain, she nevertheless pushed herself back onto her hands and knees, fairly certain that she had survived the fall without breaking any bones.

“Gotta be thankful for the little things,” she mumbled as she pulled herself back up and looked around. “I’ll be damned.”

She had feared that she'd lost the man in black and the Object after her detour through the fence and the grimy stream. Instead, she found his bike lying on its site just a few dozen meters away, the engine compartment smoking heavily, he had clearly abandoned it.

She spotted him not too far from the disabled machine, running across a wide-open space of what she suddenly realized was a spaceport. It wasn’t well-frequented and the expansive landing platform she stood just at the edge of was almost empty save for what looked like a medium-sized Corvellan transport ship, getting ready for take-off.

The man in black who had now been joined by two similarly dressed men was running right towards the transport’s extended landing ramp.

There was no way that she’d be able to catch up with them, not in her bruised and battered condition, not to mention that she was noticeably outnumbered and considering that they likely had even more friends waiting onboard that ship.

But there was something else that caught her eye. A thick umbilical conduit was connected to the hull of the transport ship which in turn was attached to a large, dome-shaped tank of sorts. The ship was still refueling.

“You bastards aren’t going anywhere,” she said as she pulled her phaser free once more, thankful it had survived her fall. She took a knee and then carefully aimed at her target, using both hands to steady her weapon. “Deep breath, hold it and squeeze,” she quietly repeated to herself. “Got to be able to hit one blasted thing tonight.”

The beam ripped across the wide landing platform and struck the large fuel tank.

Nothing happened.

“Figures,” she said, bemoaning that things were simply refusing to go her way on this night.

If nothing else, the phaser beam had given away her position and all three men stopped in their tracks to turn to look at her. All three pulled out their weapons.

“Oh, great.”

She was fairly certain that they were much better shots than she was.

A loud, low rumbling sound kept them from opening fire straight away as they turned to find the source of the growing commotion.

It was coming from the fuel tank.

It ripped itself to pieces so suddenly and with such a bright explosion, it lit up almost the entire spaceport and Susan had to raise a hand over her eyes to shield herself from it.

It didn’t quite stop there.

Still connected to the transport via an umbilical which had been pumping highly combustive thruster fuel into the ship, with just a second or so of a delay, the explosion ripped into the transport as well and blew it apart in what Susan could only describe as the most satisfying fireball she had ever witnessed.

The force of the eruption may have rivaled a warp core breach and the shockwave flattened the three men in an instant, likely killing them all.

“Yes, yes, yes,” Susan shouted, her built-up adrenaline getting the better of her.

There as just one problem. The chain of explosions didn’t end there.

What she had failed to realize through the gloomy and wet night, was the fact that the fuel tank she had targeted was itself connected by another conduit which ran alongside the edge of the landing platform. Whatever emergency fail-safe may have been been in place had malfunctioned, and the fuel pipeline erupted like a very long and very deadly fuse.

Her eyes darted ahead of the chain reaction of explosions to find that the conduit was not only running in her direction, it terminated at two massive fuel drums which towered just a few meters to her right.

“No, no, no.”

Understanding what was about to happen, she forced her bruised body to start running as fast as it could take her.

The explosion behind her was deafening but it was the shockwave which she was certain was going to end her.

It lifted her clean off the ground and catapulted her forward and high into the air.

There was a moment of almost serene quiet and elation as she felt herself becoming weightless while she sailed through the night sky.

That moment ended quickly.


Now


“No, I think I was right the first time,” said Susan, standing on the burning landing platform of the wrecked spaceport as she considered the dark-clad men approaching her with their weapons drawn. “Seems very much like this is the end of the road for me. Looks as if this might be it.”

After all, where else could she go? Her team was dead. The ship most likely destroyed. Running wasn’t really an option, considering that she wouldn’t make it five meters in her condition without being shot in the back. Fighting would be suicide as well. She had lost her weapon after she had been nearly incinerated by the latest explosion and whom was she kidding? She wasn’t a fighter.

“Now Terrence on the other hand. He’d love this kind of crap,” she said out loud, suddenly wishing for nothing more than for her friend and one-time lover to be at her side. Even if it was for nothing more than not having to die alone.

There were no illusions as to what these men were going to do with her. They had shown no interest in taking prisoners. The only reason she wasn’t dead yet was because they wanted to make sure that they secured the Object first.

Susan took a few steps backward, trying to delay the inevitable. Room was scarce, the burning hulk of the transport ship behind her cutting off any escape.

She considered for a moment to just leap into the flames and taking the Object with her and thereby denying it to her enemies. She was convinced that it was enormously powerful. Jarik had said it himself. The worst-case scenario was for anyone else getting their hands on it. She could only guess what kind of nefarious purposes these black-clad men had, what kind of terrible things they’d be able to accomplish with something as powerful as the Object.

She remembered her mother’s words then. She almost laughed at them now.

“Tell me, mother. What would you suggest I do now? Do you have any worn-out

tropes befitting this situation?”

The persistent ringing sound in her ears which had never really gone away since the music hall—only gotten worse, if anything—was all she heard in response.

“I didn’t think so.”

She felt something vibrating against her left arm now hanging uselessly off her side and looked down to notice her armband computer. Using her right hand she lifted the limp arm to look at the device which miraculously was still operational.

The computer was informing her that her transporter inhibitor was moments away from losing power. “Yeah, of course, you are. Bad news never comes alone.”

It took her a second to realize that keeping the inhibitor active while about to be executed in cold blood was probably the wrong way to go. She found the right controls and turned the device off.

Bano grinned to herself and she looked skyward, letting the rain pelt her gray-blue face. “I know this is a long-shot but if somebody’s up there. I would sell my mother for a beam—“

Her body began to dissolve.

Shocked she looked towards the black-clad men, thinking that she had just been shot. But this wasn’t that kind of disintegration.

By the time they realized what was happening and opened fire on her, they struck nothing but empty air.

Bano grabbed her body, padding herself down as soon as she was back in one piece, halfway expecting to have been pierced by various phaser blasts. Luck was on her side one more time.

“Hello, Susan. You’ve looked better.”

She stood in a small transporter room on a ship—not the same one she had taken to get to Eteron—with Jarik standing just a few meters in front of her.

“What—“ it was the only word she managed to get over her lips before she felt her knees buckle underneath her.

Jarik leaped over to her and managed to steady her before she could collapse. He then carefully guided her to a small bench along the far wall of the room where she gingerly sat down. “I am relieved that you finally deactivated that inhibitor of yours. We had a lock on you for the last two minutes but couldn’t beam you out. You didn’t respond to comms, I am assuming your communicator was damaged.”

Susan reached into her ear, plugged the small device out of the canal and then almost spitefully threw it on the floor.

“How do you feel?”

She glared at him. “Like I’ve been shot at, blown-up multiple times, set on fire and repeatedly driven into the ground.”

“I understand this to mean that there were some complications.”

She couldn’t help but utter a laugh which sounded like it belonged to a madwoman. “Yeah, you could say there were some fraking complications.”

“But you survived.”

“Barely. Did anyone else make it out?”

He shook his head.

“They were good people.”

“Yes, they were."

She reached into her boot and retrieved the Object. “At least I made sure they didn’t die in vain.”

Jarik glanced at it for a moment as if taken aback by the small and unassuming device.

Susan nodded. "I know. I felt it, too. Packs a hell of a punch, doesn't it?"

“Whatever it is,” he said as he never took his eyes off the device in Bano’s hand. “I believe my Vulcan side is even more susceptible to its effects.” He carefully took it off her.

“Now, you want to tell me where the hell you've come from? When last we spoke you gave no indication you were anywhere nearby. I figured you were still on Earth."

“I could not be sure who else may have been listening in. Even secure subspace channels can be intercepted,” he said, still studying the Object.

“Well, turns out you were right. Somebody else very nearly beat us to this. Who were those guys, anyway?”

Jarik shot her a very brief glance.

“Wait a minute. Was that the shadow group the Old Man has been so worried about? That Section—“

He held up a hand to stop her. “He does not care for that name to be mentioned and I suggest you avoid it as well unless you wish to draw his ire. But yes, it appears they were much closer than we anticipated.”

“What do you think it does?” she said, focusing on the Object again.

“You are the science officer. You tell me.”

She shrugged. “According to the Pandora Boxes—the Shard Artifacts—this Object is powerful enough to penetrate time and space. Probably even realities themselves. We'll need to study it in greater detail but something tells me the possibilities of all that power are near-infinite.”

“And all that from such a small little thing,” said Jarik, still studying the silvery rod. He manipulated it slightly in his hand and both he and Susan were suddenly taken aback by the appearance of a construct—having seemingly come out of thin air—hovering in-between them a few meters off the ground. It was a three-dimensional shape, pulsing with green light and obvious power, slowly rotating on its axis.

“What did you do?” Susan asked wide-eyed.

“I am uncertain.”

“It looks like a prism.”

The shape vanished as quickly as it had appeared and Jarik uttered a surprised gasp as the rod dropped to the floor.

“What happened?” Susan asked.

“I do not know,” he said and then took a knee next to the Object lying on the floor, very carefully attempting to pick it up again. He seemed to be able to do so without difficulty. “It felt incredibly heavy and hot all of a sudden and I was unable to hold on to it. Whatever it was, it seems to have reverted to its previous state now.”

“Fascinating—as your people are fond of saying.”

“We’ll have to study the Object as soon as possible,” he said as he stood again.

Susan felt very tired all of a sudden, the punishment her body had absorbed over the last few hours beginning to catch up with her as the adrenaline began to subside.

Jarik seemed to notice as she slumped down further on the bench. “But first you will need medical attention in sickbay.”

She nodded slowly, unable to disagree with his assessment and then laid down flat on the bench. “You’ll have to carry me because I think I’m going to pass out right about now.

It’s been one of those days.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 1 by CeJay
Part 1: Splintered



1


The man on the screen was dead.

He had died two years earlier on an insignificant world somewhere at the edge of the known galaxy, killed by a shapeshifter who had targeted Nora Laas but had found Gene Edison instead when he had pushed her aside in the nick of time, saving her life and dooming himself in the process.

He didn’t look exactly like the same Edison who had given his life for a fellow officer years ago. He wore a full beard now, looked older than he had any rights to be, his dark blonde hair now showing signs of white and his hazel eyes much more tired than he had ever remembered them.

“I want to know who the bloody hell you are and where the blazes you’ve come from.”

Michael Owens struggled with that question, with much of everything his senses were currently telling him.

Never mind the dead man talking to him from a ship that looked very much like his own. It felt as if his mind was failing desperately at playing catch-up like he had left it behind somewhere else entirely and he was still waiting for it to finally arrive and make him whole again. Make him understand what was happening.

Eagle had been someplace else, that he knew. It had traveled through some sort of anomaly, a rip in the space-time continuum and it had delivered them here. Wherever here was.

“This is some sort of Dominion trick and I will not fall for it,” Edison said. “I’ll end this before it ever gets started. I’ll blow you right out of the stars.”

“Wait a minute, just hold on,” Michael said as he stumbled back to his feet. While he still couldn’t tell what was happening, he knew that his ship and crew were in bad shape and not in any position to survive a fight. “This is not a trick. I don’t know what has happened or where we are and I am just as stunned to see you as you appear to be finding me here.”

It wasn’t difficult to tell that Edison wasn’t buying any of this. “I don’t have the patience for games. You are an imposter brought here for who knows what reason and I will not allow it. I will not let you disgrace his memory by—“

Without warning another face appeared on Eagle’s viewer, splitting the image of the enraged Edison. This one Michael recognized as well, in fact, it was much more familiar to him. It belonged to Amaya Donners and differently to Edison, she looked more confused than angry. “Maya.”

“What is this? This can’t be,” she said.

“It’s pretty clear what’s going on here,” Edison continued. “This is some form of elaborate deception designed to lower our guard.”

“Listen, Maya, you know me. It’s me, Michael. I appreciate that tempers are flying high. Let’s all just take a breath and talk about what is going on here. Why don’t you and Gene join us here on Eagle and—“

Eagle?” Edison said shaking his head with apparent disgust. “Your ships is not Eagle.

“I think we should hear him out,” Amaya said.

Michael offered her a grateful nod.

“This is a mistake,” Edison said quickly. “And there is no way I’m setting foot on that pretender’s ship. If we are having a meeting, it’ll take place on the real Eagle. On my ship.”

But Michael didn’t like the idea at all, not considering Edison’s attitude. Something told him that if he agreed to beam over to his ship, he would find himself behind a force field or worse in short order.

Amaya could apparently see his hesitation. Agamemnon then. Will that be acceptable to everyone?”

Edison grunted in response, clearly not enthused by the idea but willing to tolerate it.

Michael nodded. “Very well. Give us a few minutes to collect ourselves over here and we’ll beam over to your ship.”

Edison glared at him. “I won’t tolerate delay tactics so that you can come up with further deceptions.”

“We’ve just been through somewhat of an ordeal,” Michael said, keeping his voice stern in the face of the suspicious Gene Edison. “We have taken damage and have wounded over here. Let me see to that first and then we can have our meeting and try to make sense of all this.”

Edison hesitated for just a moment. “Thirty minutes. That’s all the time I’m willing to give you. Take care of your injured and then I expect to see you on Agamemnon. Not a minute later. Eagle out.” And with that, the face of the bearded Edison disappeared from the screen.

Amaya gave him a nod even if she had apparently not quite gotten over her own confusion yet. Michael could appreciate how she felt. Then she disappeared as well and the screen went back to show their respective two ships again.

DeMara Deen turned to look at Michael from the operations console. She had a few bloody scratches on her face and her usually perfect blonde locks were in disarray. She had not fared well during their trip through the anomaly. None of them had. “Was that Gene? How is that possible?”

Michael sat back down in his chair. “I was hoping you could tell me.”

Only very slowly the bridge crew was coming back around and for Michael memories which had been a haze just moments ago seemed to begin to take shape again in his mind. He remembered the portal they had discovered in a pocked of in-between space. A portal built by a race of subspace aliens and designed to allow them to transition into normal space and facilitate and all-out invasion.

It had brought them here and face-to-face with another version of Agamemnon and Eagle, captained by a man who had died two years earlier.

He needed answers and he needed them quickly.

Michael got back onto his feet even though he still felt feeble after what they had been through. Tazla Star, his first officer was there to steady him, even though one look at the tall Trill redhead made it clear that she wasn’t in much better shape. “Get me a full damage report within the next ten minutes. Then get everyone to the observation lounge. I think it is time we had a chat.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 2 by CeJay
2


Ten minutes had not been nearly enough time to recover from whatever they had just been through and Michael still found it difficult to focus on his thoughts while his mind remained flooded with a thousand mental images which had seemingly assaulted him all at once and for a period which had felt like half an eternity. In truth, he still could not tell how much time had elapsed since they had made first contact with the gateway and the ship’s internal chronometers were of little help since they refused to work correctly.

He forced himself to focus his thoughts on the task ahead, no matter how much of a struggle, as he regarded his senior officers assembled in the observation lounge, all of who appeared just as exhausted as he felt. The only exception perhaps was Bensu, the man he had known as Eagle’s civilian bartender but who had turned out to be a lot more than that. Of course, so far nobody had been able to explain to him how it was that Bensu knew so much about their circumstances or had been able to weather the latest events far more successfully than the rest of the crew, least of which Bensu himself.

Jarik, the half-Vulcan interim director of Starfleet’s Department of Special Affairs and Investigations and his one-time Academy roommate and close friend, as well as the person chiefly responsible for having them chase this subspace portal in the first place, looked just as bad as the rest of them. Perhaps even worse as he was attempting to control a coughing fit which had overcome him.

Michael knew that Jarik was suffering from a rare and incurable genetic disease which he had taken pains to hide from the people he worked with. He wondered how their journey through the portal may have affected his already weakened physiology.

Jarik had taken over as interim director of SAI after Michael’s father sudden passing and yet Jonathan Owens was sitting right next to his successor after only recently revealing that he had faked his own death for reasons which he had still not revealed to him fully. His relationship with his father had never been particularly good for several reasons but as far as Michael was concerned, making him believe that he had died, had only widened the rift between them to a point where he had a difficult time imagining any kind of reconciliation in the near future.

He tore himself away from those personal thoughts as he regarded Tazla Star sitting to his right at the conference table. “All right, first things first. What’s our status?”

Regardless of what they had only just been through, Star was the very epitome of professionalism. Her fire-red hair was back in its regulation bun with just a couple of loose strands hanging in her face and she had her report ready to go. “Overall, not good. Let’s start with the good news. We have no reported fatalities so far. Initial diagnostics confirm that the ship is structurally sound and all essential systems are running on auxiliary power including life support, artificial gravity, and secondary systems.”

Michael nodded. “I’m getting the feeling I’d wish the good news report was longer.”

She uttered a little sigh. “You and me both. Half the crew is either injured or still unconscious. The main computer is down ditto for the warp core and the impulse engines. We don’t have external sensors or subspace communications. Shields and weapons are currently not operational. At this point I couldn’t even tell you what time it is, not to mention our spatial coordinates.”

Michael glanced towards the large windows which allowed an unobstructed view of the area directly aft of Eagle. The sight he found there was familiar, a dense and colorful starscape virtually identical to the one they had been surrounded by before Eagle had stumbled across the in-between space and the gateway. “We still appear to be in the Amargosa Diaspora.”

Xylion offered a minuscule nod to this. “According to the visible stellar constellations, our current location is the star system Cygni-98 and approximately identical to our location in regular space before we entered the threshold into in-between space with a margin of error of point two one percent.”

Michael realized that whatever had happened to them had clearly not had an adverse effect on his Vulcan science officer’s razor-sharp intellect. However, he had not quite missed the uncharacteristically hesitation in his voice.

He nodded at Xylion. “So we think we know where we are except that spatial coordinators don’t seem to be telling us the full story since we have at least one starship sitting off our starboard bow which is a spitting image of our own, captained by a man who by all accounts should be dead and who is convinced that we are imposters.”

“The most likely explanation, Captain, is that we have somehow entered an alternate quantum reality,” Xylion said.

Michael rubbed his forehead. He had heard of this kind of thing before, of course, had even started to suspect something along those lines himself but in truth had hoped it wasn’t true. Time travel was one thing, haunting the nightmares of most starship captains, but the idea that they had not just moved back or forward in time but had left behind their own space-time continuum altogether was a daunting proposition and one he’d rather not consider if given the choice.

“For those of us not as versed in advanced quantum mechanics, Commander, would you mind elaborating on that theory,” said Tazla Star.

“Certainly,” said Xylion. “Naturally, due to our current situation and without access to sensors and the main computer, I am unable to form a full hypothesis of our current circumstances. However, the theory of alternate quantum realities has been previously confirmed by several Starfleet and Federation encounters with other quantum realities where different choices have led to the creation of universes which may resemble our own but contain either minute or significant differences.”

“I hope this is not the part where you start talking about felines trapped inside boxes,” said Deen, already looking exasperated by his explanation. “I always felt bad for that cat at the Academy.”

Xylion merely raised an eyebrow to that.

“Let’s leave household pets out of this for now,” said Michael and considered Xylion again. “Our best theory then is that the portal has deposited us in an alternate reality instead of taking us into subspace.”

“I think we are getting ahead of ourselves,” said Jarik. “We have no real evidence to base this on. What we do know is that the portal was built by the subspace aliens and that they intend to invade normal space.”

“And yet we find ourselves here,” said Star.

“We don’t even know where here is,” Jarik insisted. “For all we know this could all be just an elaborate simulation or some other form of subspace effect. We are clearly dealing with a highly advanced enemy, one which has been able to construct a massive portal structure which far exceeds anything we could have created.”

“None of this precludes the possibility that we find ourselves in an alternate quantum reality,” Xylion said.

“For now that’s merely a theory. Our primary focus must be to return to the gateway and attempt to understand how it works so that we may stop it from being used to invade our space,” said Jarik and then shot a brief glance towards Admiral Owens at his side.

“Agreed,” the other man said.

Michael found their interplay somewhat peculiar. It almost felt as if his father was taking his cues from Jarik. Then again he wasn’t entirely sure anymore about the chain of command since his father no longer had an official status in Starfleet.

“We should head back towards the same exact coordinates we used when we first made contact with this in-between space and the portal to see if that will take us back there,” Jarik continued and looked straight at Michael.

“That’s all well and good,” said Star. “But we do have a more immediate problem. As in the two starships sitting off our bow and expecting an explanation regarding our presence here in less than twenty minutes.”

“An explanation we can’t really provide,” said Michael.

“I am satisfied that we offer them the same alternate reality theory proposed by your science officer for now. But we mustn't reveal the full details about the subspace gateway,” Jarik said.

Michael didn’t like the sound of that. Keeping secrets hadn’t worked out so well for anybody involved so far and had a tendency to backfire spectacularly. He did agree, however, that there was a need to be careful around these possibly alternate versions of the people he thought he knew. After all, it was more than likely that in reality, he knew next to nothing about them.

“We’ll play things close to our vest for now. Mister Xylion, you and Bensu will accompany me over to the Agamemnon,” he said and considered his science officer and the bartender.

The two men offered brief nods to acknowledge.

“Commander, see what can be done to get my ship back into shape quickly. At the moment we are a sitting duck in an unfamiliar and possibly hostile environment. Not to mention that we won’t be able to answer any of our many questions without a working starship.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Jarik and I will come along as well,” said Jonathan Owens.

Michael quickly shook his head. “That’s not a good idea. If this is some sort of parallel universe, the fewer people we expose to the locals, the better.”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to insist on this one, son,” he said sternly.

Michael stared him down for a moment but his father answered his gaze without flinching and Michael stood down. He had a feeling that the two of them were going to butt heads sooner or later but he decided that this was not going to be the battle worth fighting over. “Fine. As long as it is understood that I am the only person to speak for this ship.”

“Of course,” Owens Senior said quickly.

Perhaps a little too quickly, Michael thought.

Any further considerations on this point were cut short by an incoming call.

“Alendra to Captain Owens.”

Michael glanced towards the ceiling upon hearing the voice coming over the intercom. “What’s matter, Lieutenant?”

“Sir, I apologize for the interruption but I’ve detected what appears to be an abnormal energy reading.”

“Are you able to localize it?”

She hesitated for only a moment. “Not with any accuracy. However, I believe it originates from within the ship.”

Michael glanced over at his first officer but Star looked just as clueless. Considering the events of the last few hours, he quickly decided that they couldn’t afford to overlook the small things and pushed his chair back to get onto his feet. “We’re on our way, Owens out.”



* * *




Stepping back onto the bridge, he tried hard to ignore the disturbing image of the other Eagle still on the main screen and instead focused his attention on Alendra, the Bolian woman currently serving as the duty officer. “What have you got, Lieutenant?”

She shook her bald blue head. “Nothing concrete, I’m afraid,” she said while standing at the tactical station. “It’s an energy reading but I cannot identify its source or its location. It is not significant but I thought best to bring it to your attention right away.”

Michael nodded. Alendra had been a fairly recent addition to the crew and had been brought onboard by Commander Leva following his short stint as a first officer on a different vessel which had ended in disaster. He had highly recommended the efficient young Bolian officer and so far Michael had to admit that having a versatile officer and generalist around who could easily jump into any required role was a real asset to the ship. Officially she held the position of deputy tactical officer but in reality, she was a true jack-of-all-trades. “The right call, Lieutenant,” he said as he headed towards his chair in the command area and watched Deen take her seat at ops to provide more details.

It took her only a moment to query the data she was looking for. “Internal sensors are still down so I cannot get a fix on the reading but the signature looks familiar. It is similar to the energy drain we’ve experienced over the last few days.”

Michael seemed to vaguely remember reading something to that effect in the daily status updates but it may as well have been a report he had reviewed a year ago as far as the details of it were concerned.

Fortunately, Xylion’s memory was as precise as it had always been. “Sensors first detected a two point four kilojoule energy disparity originating from cargo bay three approximately two days ago. A level four diagnostic revealed no malfunctioning equipment at the time and due to the low energy level no additional diagnostics were scheduled,” he said as he took his seat at the science station. “I agree with Lieutenant Deen’s assessment that this energy signature appears consistent with the energy drain we have detected previously.”

“And I don’t think it is localized to the cargo bay any longer,” said Deen.

“What’s our ETA on getting sensors and the main computer back up and running?” said Michael, looking at Star for an answer.

“Louise is still unconscious and her team is severely understaffed at the moment. Repairs are underway but I don’t expect that we have functionality restored for another four to five hours.”

He quickly shook his head. “I’m not willing to wait that long to investigate this,” he said and turned to find his science officer. “What other options do we have to find the source of these readings?”

The Vulcan didn’t need long to offer alternatives. “Since we know the energy signature we are looking for, it should be possible to initiate a manual search utilizing hand-held tricorders. The logical place to commence any such search would be cargo bay three.”

“Good old-fashioned follow the bread crumbs,” said Star.

Michael nodded. “Looks like it. But we can't keep Donners and … Edison waiting much longer. Commander, get a search team organized and find the source of that energy reading.”

She acknowledged with a quick bob of her head.

“Mister Xylion, Bensu, you’re with me,” he said and then briefly made eye contact with Jarik and his father who had also returned to the bridge and who were already making moves to join him as well, no matter how much he would have preferred for them to stay behind.
Part 1 - Splintered: 3 by CeJay
3


He had to admit that he felt a certain anxiety about transporting over to this unfamiliar Agamemnon and not necessarily because he was worried about his or the away team’s safety. His concerns were much more of a personal nature, considering that he was beaming onto the ship of the woman who in some other reality had been much more to him than just a fellow starship captain. At least that had been the case until she had unexpectedly put their relationship on hold just a few days earlier.

Now he was about to come face to face with a different version of Amaya Donners altogether. He wasn’t sure how many more variations he could stomach. After she had appeared to have gone through a transformation so suddenly, Michael had been inclined to believe that she had been replaced by an alternate version of herself.

Before beaming across to the other ship, Star had made the strong case to take an armed escort with him but Michael had quickly dismissed the idea since it had already become apparent that these people inherently mistrusted their mere presence here, the last thing they needed was to aggravate the situation by showing an unwillingness to trust them. It was the same reason why had also decided against beaming to the Agamemnon armed. Jarik had protested that decision as well but as far as Michael was concerned, if Donners and Edison wanted to harm them while they were guests on the Agamemnon, there was little a few phasers could do to stop them.

Nora Laas, had she been awake, would likely have insisted that she be allowed to accompany him. But since the security chief was among those still unconscious following their harrowing trip, the away team remained limited to just him, Xylion, Bensu, his father and Jarik.

They materialized in Agamemnon’s transporter room were he found Amaya Donners, Arden Texx and Gene Edison waiting for them.

Amaya looked not too dissimilar to his own version except that her naturally curled black hair was straighten and down to her shoulders with a partial bang over the right side of her face. He didn’t know Texx nearly as well but the Bolian first officer looked almost identical to his opposite. The most startling person in the room was Edison, of course. His presence was still quite disconcerting even after people he had thought to be dead had made it their habit to show up alive again as of late.

Edison’s eyes were undeniably the same as the ones belonging to the man who had been his first officer and friend for nearly three years, even if his beard which obscured much of his lower face felt unfamiliar. All three officers, as well as the transporter technician, wore the same uniforms as Michael and Xylion did.

An awkward silence had fallen over the room the moment he and his away team had materialized as the two parties seemed to appraise each other for a moment. Edison was the easiest to read since he made no effort to hide his hostility while Amaya’s expression was near impossible to decipher as her dark eyes regarded him and the others.

Surprisingly, it was Jarik who made the first move as the silence was threatening to drag on. He stepped off the transporter platform and addressed Amaya. “My name is Jarik. With me are Captain Michael Owens, his science officer Commander Xylion, as well as Bensu and Admiral Jonathan Owens.”

Amaya nodded. “I know. I mean I know some of you,” she said and then offered Jarik a smirk. “The two of us went to the Academy together. As far as I know, you’re on Earth working as an administrator within Starfleet Command.”

“Looks as if my career aspirations have remained somewhat consistent,” he said with all the humor of a full-blooded Vulcan.

She looked passed him and considered Michael and the others before her eyes came to rest on Bensu. “I don’t believe I recognize you, however,” she said and then looked to Edison for help.

He shook his head. “This is all just absurd.”

“I’m the bartender,” Bensu said with a smile.

This prompted a quizzical look from Agamemnon’s captain.

“Trust me, if he were just the bartender, I wouldn’t have brought him,” said Michael which quickly invited Amaya to refocus on him with a stare so intense it made him feel slightly uncomfortable in his own skin.

“Not that this isn’t all very fascinating,” said Jon Owens. “But perhaps there is a better-suited place for us to have this conversation.”

Amaya quickly nodded as if only now realizing the awkwardness of this meeting. “Of course. Ard, do you mind escorting our guests as well as Gene to the briefing room?”

“You got it, Cap,” he said and pointed towards the doors.

But before Michael could follow he felt Amaya pin him with another look. “Would you mind staying behind for just a spell?”

Edison didn’t seem to like the sound of that. “Maya?”

“Just … humor me, please,” she said.

Michael exchanged a quick look with Jarik also not quite sure what to make of this request. The other man just shrugged and then followed Texx out of the transporter room along with everyone else and with Edison leaving last and only hesitantly as if uncomfortable with leaving Donners and Owens alone.

Once the doors had closed behind them, Amaya turned towards the transporter tech behind the console. “Ensign, please give us the room.”

The young man nodded and instantly left his post as requested.

“What’s going on?” Michael asked once they were alone.

Amaya turned back around to face him and with three quick steps, she was right inside his personal space. Before he could even try to back away from her, she had grabbed hold of him and pressed her lips hard against his.

Michael’s first instinct had been to fight back after all this was not the woman he knew, but he quickly realized that it didn’t feel like that at all. On the contrary, it felt perfectly right and after just a moment he went along with it, embracing Amaya and kissing her back just as passionately. For a brief moment, all his recent worries and head-spinning revelations simply melted away into nothingness as he lost himself in that kiss. He would have lied to himself if he didn’t admit that this was exactly what he had wanted from her, from his Amaya, for months but which she had refused to give him.

When it was over and she finally took a step back again, Michael felt it had ended too soon.

She looked at him with wide eyes. “It really is you, isn’t it? I can’t believe it.”

“I take it we are on good terms here.”

“We were,” she said and then turned away.

“That sounds familiar. Don’t tell me, I was the one who broke things off. I can’t imagine being that stupid.”

“No, Michael, you didn’t end it. Not on purpose at least,” she said, refusing to look back his way.

He was starting to get a bad feeling about where things were going.

She finally turned to face him again. “You died. Two years ago,” she said and couldn’t quite stop her eyes from getting wet. “A month after our wedding.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 4 by CeJay
4


The rate at which the crew was regaining consciousness following their unexpected journey through the spatial anomaly made Eli, who had himself only awoken a few hours earlier, optimistic that the entire crew would be back on their feet within the next six hours.

For the moment, however, this left Eagle severely short-staffed and Tazla wasn’t able to assemble an entire task force to chase down the errant energy readings they had detected as she would have done if personnel had been available.

Instead, she had gone on the hunt herself, for now only accompanied by DeMara Deen and with support from Alendra on the bridge.

“I’m definitely registering a trace energy signature within the cargo bay,” said Deen while she used her tricorder and after the two of them had entered the large, cavernous room filled with crates and containers, most of which still littering the deck following ship-wide system failures.

“Can you pinpoint it?”

She tapped a couple of controls on the compact device and then began to move deeper into the room with Tazla following closely.

She studied the younger woman for a moment while she remained intently focused on her tricorder. “I don’t believe I’ve heard your take yet on the prevailing theory that we have found ourselves in an alternate universe.”

She glanced up only briefly. “My take?”

“You’re not usually shy about offering theories,” said Tazla. “You didn’t have much to say at the staff meeting earlier.”

Deen shrugged her shoulders. “There isn’t much to say until sensors and the main computer have been restored.”

“I understand that. But you must have thoughts on the matter. Some sort of professional insight.”

“It’s possible, I suppose. We do know that other quantum realities exist.”

Tazla nodded as she continued to follow Deen across the cargo bay. For a moment neither of them spoke and Tazla couldn’t help but start to feel somewhat awkward. She and Deen had never been particularly close, of course, nowhere as much as Deen and the captain but the Tenarian had always been more than eager to strike up a conversation and had treated her with the same enthusiastic spirit she seemed to afforded all people in her life. She hadn’t missed the fact that she had been much less like her buoyant self for some time now, ever since the end of the war. And while she had expected her spirits to lift as they had done for most of the rest of the crew, particularly after their extended R&R period on Earth, shore leave had done absolutely nothing for her. If anything it had only dampened her mood further.

Of course, it had also not escaped her notice that her changed attitude had also led to Owens confiding into her much more willingly then he had done previously. She had to believe that if Deen had been more like herself over the last few weeks, the captain would never have brought her into his confidence as he had done recently.

Tazla couldn’t deny that she liked this development, convinced that it was only right for a starship captain to be able to have absolute trust in his first officer and right-hand woman, but she wasn’t so jaded that she didn’t care about how she had been elevated into his circle of confidence.

“I know that you and the captain haven’t been seeing eye-to-eye as of late.”

Deen stopped what she was doing and looked up at her with a puzzled expression on her face. “What gave you that idea?”

“Come on, Dee, it’s obvious to see for anybody who knows how close the two of you have been.”

“Forgive me for saying so, Commander, but I don’t see how this would be any of your concern.”

Tazla was taken aback a little bit by her cold tone which was not something she had expected from her usually radiantly warm personality.

Apparently, Deen had noticed it too. “It has nothing to do with Michael.”

She nodded even if she wasn’t entirely convinced of this. “I just want you to know, that whatever it is, you can always talk to me. I care for you, Dee, for anyone under my command. If there is anything I can do, you just need to ask. My door is always open.”

She simply stared back at her and for a moment and Tazla wondered if she was seriously considering the offer.

“We’ve all suffered over the last few years,” Tazla continued. “There is no shame in admitting that it has affected all of us in some form or another.”

A warning tone from her tricorder interrupted the moment and Deen quickly glanced back down at its small display. “I think I’ve got something,” she said and headed straight for one of the bulkheads. “It appears to be originating from an EPS junction.”

Tazla followed her to the bulkhead and when Deen pointed at an access panel, she didn’t hesitate to remove it. Behind it, they found a standard EPS manifold tap which linked into Eagle’s vast electro-plasma network which delivered power from the warp core to all parts of the ship.

The signaling tone from the tricorder had noticeably increased. “The energy reading is coming from this tap.”

Star looked over the small, circular-shaped access port but could see nothing out of the ordinary with the naked eye. “Do you register anything else that appears out of place?”

She shook her head.

“Star to Alendra.”

“Alendra here,” the Bolian quickly responded.

“Lieutenant, we’ve traced the rouge energy signature to an EPS manifold in the cargo bay. Tap number four nine six eight baker nine. Anything you can tell from your end?”

“Internal sensors in that part of the ship are still down,” she said from the bridge. “But I may be able to learn more if I look at the EPS distribution levels for that specific manifold.”

Star nodded even if she couldn’t see it. “Good idea, Lieutenant.”

It didn’t take her long to bring up the data she had searched for. “I’ve got something. The energy drain originated from that exact location. And sir, looking at the full distribution pattern for the EPS network that manifold serves, I am detecting another energy drain.”

“Can you localize it?” Star asked.

“Unfortunately not. But I can give you an estimated location. Same deck, section thirty-two lima.”

“Just like following bread crumbs. Thanks, Lieutenant, Star out,” she said and then pointed the way towards the main doors of the cargo bay.

Deen understood the invitation and set out.

“Dee.”

She stopped and turned back around.

“Regarding what I’ve said.”

She quickly shook her head. “There really is nothing to worry about, Commander. However, I do appreciate the offer.”

Tazla nodded and then followed her out of the cargo bay.

It wasn’t a very long walk to the section Alendra had identified and Deen was able to pick up something on her tricorder as soon as they had entered the location. Apparently, this energy signature was originating somewhere within the deck thirteen mess hall.

They both stepped inside and found the room relatively quiet with just a small handful of crewmembers occupying the half dozen or so tables. The mess hall on this deck was nowhere as large as the Nest, the main ship lounge located three decks above and spread out over two levels. But with a standard complement of nearly nine-hundred, Eagle required much more space to feed and entertain its crew than just that one single lounge and so several other, similar facilities were located throughout the ship and close to crew quarters.

Eagle had not been close to its full crew capacity for years now, and this along with the fact that it was currently the middle of beta shift, and a large portion of personnel were still unconscious or recovering from their recent ordeal, all accounted for the low number of people currently occupying the mess.

Deen, following the signals her tricorder gave her, steered Tazla towards another bulkhead where they found yet another access hatch.

She hesitated for a moment before opening the hatch, taking a few seconds to take in her surroundings to look for anything that didn’t belong. The few crewmembers at the tables had turned curious looks towards the two senior officers who had entered the room but now quickly returned to their meals or conversations. Unlike the Nest, this crew lounge didn’t feature a staffed bar but instead had a row of four replicators along the far wall to allow for self-service. Two windows offered a view out of Eagle’s starboard side. For now, Tazla could see nothing out there but the sight of the Amargosa Diaspora which looked pretty much exactly the same as the one they had seemingly left behind before entering the anomaly.

Once she was satisfied that there was nothing else to find here, she opened the hatch to reveal another manifold tab just like the one in cargo bay three. “Star to Alendra. We’ve traced the reading to the deck thirteen mess. Tap number four four one seven baker nine.”

“Understood, Commander. Just one minute.”

“What do these two locations have in common?” Tazla asked Deen while they were waiting.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Other than being on the same deck I don’t see a connection.”

“Neither do I.”

“Commander, I’ve located another energy drain with that particular signature. This one is on deck twenty-five.”

Tazla and Deen exchanged surprised looks. Twelve full decks below them.

“We’ll better check it out. Star out.”

A short walk and a turbolift ride later they both stepped onto deck twenty-five and not long after Deen had once again picked up a trace which took them right into transporter room four which was being manned by an on-duty transporter tech. He quickly confirmed that he was not aware of anything out of the ordinary having transpired and checking his log didn’t reveal anything odd either.

They did locate an access hatch for an EPS tap.

“Got another one. This is definitely coming from the main shuttle bay,” said Alendra once Tazla had given her the latest tap number.

“That’s deck five,” said Deen.

So they got back in the turbolift, this time to take them all the way up through the ship again. It took a little longer to locate the source this time since the main shuttle bay was large enough to take up almost the entirety of deck five all by itself. After a search lasting a few minutes, Deen located the energy tap in question.

“Don’t tell me,” said Tazla. “You’ve got another reading pointing us somewhere else.”

“I’m afraid so,” said Alendra. “Deck twelve. Possibly sickbay or somewhere else within the medical section.”

Tazla nodded. “Of course.”

Deen was already making her way out of the shuttle bay but stopped when she noticed that Tazla wasn’t following her. “Commander?”

“I know what this is,” she said with a little amused chuckle, realizing that she recognized the pattern. Recognized it because she had done something very similar on a few occasions before she had become Eagle’s first officer.

Deen just offered a puzzled look in response.

“This is what they like to call a snipe hunt.”

“What does it mean?”

“It means that somebody is trying very hard to keep us distracted.”

“Distracted from what?”

Star smiled as she couldn’t entirely deny the feeling of being in her element. “Now that is the real question here.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 5 by CeJay
5


“All available evidence suggests that our universe is merely one of an infinite amount of quantum realities, each one differing to various degrees to the other realities and representing decisions or circumstances which may have resulted in an alternate outcome in that reality. The prevailing theory states that these quantum realities are separated by boundaries referred to as branes.”

Michael had been listening to Xylion’s explanation of their situation but he had a difficult time focusing his thoughts considering what Amaya had told him just moments ago. That in this universe, not only had the two of them been married but that shortly after they had tied the knot, he had perished.

None of it should have mattered of course. This Amaya was not the same woman he knew and more importantly, this version of Michael Owens wasn’t him. And yet it all felt so familiar. Sure, there were some major differences, including the bearded Gene Edison sitting at the very same conference table along with him and the others. But Amaya had seemed just like the one he had known since their Academy days, and the notion that they could have ended up married to each other wasn’t entirely far fetched. Now, contemplating his own death, on the other hand, wasn’t a far more difficult proposition.

“You look like the Commander Xylion I know and you sure as hell sound like Xylion. That doesn’t mean I buy any of this,” Edison said from his chair at the far end of the conference table.

Amaya tore herself away from staring back at Michael for a moment. “We know about alternate universes. So-called crossover events are mandatory reading for every Starfleet cadet. And it's hard to argue its legitimacy when it stares you right in the face,” she said and glanced towards Michael again.

“Right,” said Edison. “So far the only evidence I’ve seen is a few individuals with an uncanny familiarity to people we know. It doesn’t require an alternate universe to accomplish that.”

“You believe we are some sort of imposters?” Bensu said. “For what purpose?”

“For all we know you could be Founders, attempting to infiltrate the Federation again. Or some other hostile species looking to destroy us from within. It would hardly be the first time,” said Edison and pinned Bensu with a stare. “And who exactly are you supposed to be? The other people from your ship seem familiar but you? You are a complete mystery. I’ve never seen you or anyone looking remotely like you before.”

Xylion raised an eyebrow. “You are saying that there is no person matching Bensu’s description on your version of Eagle? Curious.”

“There are bound to be significant differences between universes,” said Michael and then focused on Edison. “We are more than happy to try and lead you back to the transitional space where we discovered the device we think is responsible for bringing us here. If the threshold is located in the same location in this universe, perhaps you can help us trying to get back to where we came from.”

Edison quickly shook his head. “You’re not going anywhere but back to Starbase 123 where we will report all this to Starfleet Command. I am certain they’ll have plenty of questions.”

“We don’t have time for this,” said Jarik bluntly. “We obviously do not belong in this place and need to find a way to return as quickly as possible. Regardless of our circumstances we all still belong to Starfleet and I am the highest-ranking officer on site.”

“Technically, wouldn’t that be Admiral Owens,” said Amaya and glanced towards Michael’s father.

“She’s right,” Jon Owens said.

But Jarik didn’t seem to agree. “I am the ranking active officer.”

“This entire conversation is moot,” said Edison. “I do not recognize either of your authorities. Even if you truly are from another universe, and I still have my doubts about this, I’m fairly certain that rank doesn’t translate to dimensions.”

“Maybe not,” said Amaya as her eyes found Michael’s again. “But I am the senior captain in this universe and I say we investigate this device further.”

“Maya, this is a mistake.”

“Think about it, Gene. If there really is a device that allows people and ships to cross universes, that would amount to a far more significant threat than somebody pretending they are from another reality.”

Edison glared but said nothing, begrudgingly deferring to Amaya’s seniority for now but Michael had a feeling that his compliance was shaky at best. He had no idea about the relationship between these two captains and how far Edison would toe the line.

“We’ve already established that this universe is markedly different from our own. Based on what you’ve seen from us, what are the key differences?” said Jon Owens glancing back and forth between Edison and Amaya. “I know my son isn’t in command of Eagle anymore. Tell me, why is that?”

Neither of the two starship captains seemed particularly interested in offering an explanation out loud and Michael too diverted his eyes, not exactly eager to share what he had learned about his counterpart’s fate.

“I see,” said Owens Senior, understanding the unsaid implications. “How about Matthew, my other son? What happened to him?”

Michael thought this had gone far enough. “This isn’t a fact-finding mission, dad. I don’t see any point in trying to learn about this universe and what may have become of people we’ve known in ours. Let’s just return to the gateway and find a way back to where we belong.”

“Agreed,” said Jarik, briefly pinning Admiral Owens with a stern look. “The quicker we are on our way, the sooner we can focus on the mission we left behind and which remains our priority.”

Apparently realizing that he had stepped out of line, Jon Owens nodded quietly.

Maya turned back to look at Michael. “So then where is this gateway of yours?”
Part 1 - Splintered: 6 by CeJay
6


He had made his way to sickbay as soon as he had heard that she had regained consciousness.

They may have had their differences recently and their blossoming relationship had cooled somewhat after their fateful shore leave to his homeworld a few weeks earlier, but he still cared deeply for her and had been worried when she had been among the crewmembers who had not immediately regained consciousness following Eagle’s unexpected trip into what some of the crew had begun to refer to as the Rabbit Hole.

Lif hadn’t exactly fared particularly well himself. He had been on his way to the bridge when the ship had been sucked into the anomaly and then in a stroke of misfortunate had found himself in a turbolift speeding through the ship when the artificial gravity had failed suddenly and slammed him so hard into the ceiling and then the floor that he had suffered a concussion.

However, he had been released just a couple of hours after he had been admitted to sickbay since the understaffed medical personnel found itself somewhat overwhelmed with the high number of unconscious patients, nearly a quarter of the crew, to give him anything more than the most urgent medical care.

Since so many crewmembers were either still insensate or recovering, many of the patients had been transferred into secondary wards and it was there where he found Louise Hopkins sitting up on a bed and arguing with Doctor Barry Nelson.

“You are not yet cleared, Lieutenant. I must ask you to stay put until we had the chance to have a proper look at you,” the young doctor said.

“From what I hear, we’re in pretty bad shape. The warp core and most of the primary systems are down. The sooner I can get back to engineering, the sooner I can make sure we do something about that.”

But Nelson shook his head. “I can’t worry about that. My priority has to be your well-being.”

A noticeably exhausted nurse was standing not two meters away, trying to get Nelson’s attention who was clearly required elsewhere. “Doctor, we still need to complete the diagnosis for the patients in ward C and E. We’re already behind schedule.”

Hopkins picked up on this quickly. “I bet that’s not easy to do without having access to the main computer.”

Nelson regarded her with a pointed stare but then visibly gave up on his argument with a heavy sigh. “Very well, you win,” he said and produced a small device from a nearby tray, attaching it to her temple. “But you’re wearing a cortical monitor until further notice and until we can confirm that there are no other side-effects. At the first sign of any dizziness or lack of focus, you come straight back here or I’ll have security corral you.”

She offered him a wide smile. “Deal.”

The nurse finally managed to drag Nelson away but not before he gave Hopkins one parting look. “And get the computer up and running again. That’ll be all the thanks I need.”

“You bet, Doc,” she said and stood from the bed.

“I had no idea you could be so persuasive. Ever consider moving onto the command track? You’d make a great captain,” said Lif as he approached her.

She smirked. “No, thanks, engineering suits me just fine. Besides, I’m lucky Katanga isn’t around. No chance I could’ve talked him into letting me out of here.”

“I’m really glad you’re all right and back on your feet,” he said and followed her out of the patient ward.

“Glad you made it in one piece as well. But there’s no time to waste, apparently whatever we’ve come across did a real number not just on the crew but our systems as well. Half the ship seems to be down.”

He nodded. “And that isn’t even the oddest thing.”

“I’m a bit behind the curve. What else happened?”

“Well, the prevailing theory is that we have landed in an alternate universe. Either that or the anomaly we found has induced some sort of mass hallucination,” he said as they stepped onto the corridor and headed towards the nearest turbolift.

“You’re kidding?” she said without slowing her pace.

He shook his head.

“Is this the one where we all have evil doppelgangers?”

“I’m not sure. But there is another Eagle. In fact, she’s right here. And Gene Edison is in command.”

That caused her to stop well short of the turbolift. “No.”

He nodded.

“Does Laas now?”

Lif understood the significance of her question straight away and was surprised that he hadn’t thought of it earlier. Nora Laas had been in a short-lived but intense relationship with their version of Gene Edison until he had died. Killed in action while saving her life. He had no idea how the infamously hot-tempered Bajoran security chief would take the news. “I don’t think she’s awake yet.”

“I hate to say it, but I kind of hope she sleeps through the entire thing,” she said as she continued towards the lift and they both stepped into a waiting car. “Main engineering.”

The lift set in motion and for a moment the two of them simply stood there, side-by-side, in silence.

“Computer, stop lift,” Louise said, bringing the car to a halt. “Are we going to talk about it?”

“About Edison?” he said, shooting her a perplexed look.

She rolled her eyes. “About Piqus and about what happened after we left.”

Lif shrugged. “I did what I thought was right to get us out of a tough spot.”

“By suggesting that you surrender to Garla on the outside chance she’ll let the rest of us go?” she said, unable to hide her disbelieve.

He didn’t really want to have this conversation now, but he knew they had put it off for too long already. They had barely spoken more than two words since their escape from Krellonian territory a few days earlier.

“I have the feeling that perhaps you bought into her delusional fantasy about magically solving all of Krellon's problems by separating your people from the Outlanders somehow.”

“It’s not delusional,” he said defensively.

“So you do believe it. That separation is the way forward? Putting aside for a moment that segregation has never been the answer to a society’s problems, how would that even work? From everything I’ve seen, the Outlanders have become an integral part of Krellonian society. And how about those who don’t want to be segregated? Is she just going to remove those by force? Is she going to build walls to keep everyone in their own little ghettos?”

The truth was that he didn’t know the answer to any of those questions since Garla had never revealed the details of her plan that she claimed would not only prevent the Krellonian Star Alliance from heading towards inevitable civil war, she’d make it so that the ‘Great Shame’, the systematic enslavement by his people of various alien races who were now collectively known as the Outlanders, would no longer be a factor causing friction between the two separate groups. She had made it sound as if she was looking to rewrite history itself. “I don’t know, Lou, we didn’t get that far before she tried to kill me. But for all her frustration over my betrayal and all her other faults, at least she is the only person in a position of power I’ve ever seen trying to make an actual difference. That has to count for something.”

But Louise was not convinced. “It counts for nothing if her plan ends up in genocide. I’m sure people like Colonel Green, Khan Noonien Singh, and Governor Kodos started out with good intentions as well.”

Lif wanted to counter that it was entirely unfair to compare his aunt with such villainous examples in history but he didn’t get the chance when he heard the first officer’s voice over the intercom

“Star to Lif Culsten, please report to the main shuttlebay on the double.”

The two left it at glaring at each other instead of continuing the argument.

“You better get going and I’m already way overdue in engineering,” she said.

He nodded.

“Computer, resume lift to main engineering and to main shuttlebay.”

The computer trilled in acknowledgment and set the car back in motion towards deck twenty-four and main engineering since that had been its first destination requested. Lif and Louise rode the rest of the way in silence, exchanging brief glances once the doors opened again to allow Louise to exit.

Lif uttered a heavy sigh he hadn’t realized he had held back after she had left and the lift headed back upwards and toward the shuttlebay on deck five.

These arguments between him and Louise had become far too frequent as of late for his liking and he was beginning to wonder if their relationship had been a mistake after all.

He refocused his concentration on the task at hand when the turbolift deposited him on deck five, wondering what Star needed him for in the shuttlebay. Since he was among the most experienced pilots on the ship, he might have been required for an impromptu shuttle mission, and he did not miss the three small vessels already arranged on the deck as he stepped into the large and extensive bay. He could, however, not see Star anywhere.

“Commander?”

The only response was the sound of his echo reverberating off the high bulkheads.

He approached the three shuttles.

“I’m afraid your first officer couldn’t make it.”

He whipped around upon hearing the familiar voice and immediately froze.

His aunt was standing right behind him with a pointed at his chest. “Garla?”

“Surprised to see me again, Liftu?” she said as she closed in on him, forcing Lif to step back to try and keep his distance.

“What’re you doing here?”

“What do you think I’m doing here?” she said as she continued to advance.

Lif ran out of room when his back hit the parked shuttle behind him. “You’ve come to finish me off, is that it? To take your revenge.”

“And why shouldn’t I?” she said and indicated towards his chest with her weapon.

Lif understood what she wanted and he removed his combadge and dropped it onto the deck.

“You betrayed me, Lif. You betrayed your entire people. It wasn’t enough that you turned your backs on us the first time, you had to come back and twist that dagger, didn’t you?”

“You know, the funny thing is, you’re right.”

That admission gave her pause and she stopped.

“Yes, I did turn my back on my people. In fact, I couldn’t wait to get out of the Star Alliance and I jumped at the first opportunity I got to leave that place. I knew even then how truly broken our society was and realizing that there was nothing I could do to change it, I chose to run away from it all instead. But I was willing to believe that you had found a way to fix all that. I was starting to believe in your passion and that maybe you had a solution to turn our people from the abyss.”

“Until you threw that away when you chose to side with your new friends instead of standing with your people. With your family,” she said, doing little to hide the venom in her voice.

He had no defense to offer. He knew he’d more than likely make that same choice all over again if he was placed in that position once more. Naturally, he couldn’t share this with her if he wanted any chance at getting out of this confrontation alive. “So you hid away on Eagle for days just to satisfy your urge for satisfaction, is that it? All your grand plans to save the Star Alliance from itself have suddenly taken a backseat to you settling a personal grudge. Call me a traitor to my people, if you must, but I don’t see your priorities being any less selfish.”

She paused for a moment but the hesitation passed quickly. “Of course, you wouldn’t,” she said and took two more steps closer to him. “I’m taking you back, Lif.”

“You may find that won’t be that easy.”

“I’ve evaded your supposedly ingenious Starfleet crew and technology for days now. I know exactly how to get out of here.”

He nodded. “I’m sure you do. But unless you have a plan on how to get back to our universe, we’re not going anywhere.”

The puzzled expression on her face gave ample evidence that she hadn’t yet realized the predicament they all now found themselves in. “What are you talking about?”

“Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t already know. We tracked down the portal your allies have built. But instead of taking us into subspace, it dropped us into an alternate universe.”

She quickly shook her head. “That’s nonsense.”

“Then how do you explain what happened to us and the ship? Half the crew is still unconscious and most of our systems are offline. No doubt you must have experienced the transition as well.”

That too gave her pause as she began to consider what he had said and likely her own experiences after Eagle had been pulled into the anomaly. She was momentarily distracted by her own thoughts, her weapon no longer pointing at him. Lif considered making a move against her but then, remembering her lightning-fast reflexes she had already demonstrated once before, he decided that he didn’t care for his chances and stayed put.

“We’re a long way from home, Garla.”

The heavy doors at the far end of the shuttle bay opened and Lif felt a sense of relief when he spotted Tazla Star and DeMara leading a small team of heavily armed security personnel inside.

It was short-lived. Garla saw them as well and within just a second she had grabbed him and positioned him like a shield in front of her with her phaser pushing into the side of his head.

“Lif, are you all right?” Deen asked as soon as she spotted him and while she and the team approached carefully.

“Other than that phaser pointed at my head, I’m fine.”

“That’s close enough,” Garla said when Star and the others had come within ten meters.

The first officer did stop and indicated for her team to do the same, however, neither Star nor the security team lowered their weapons which were all leveled at the two Krellonians. “It’s over, Garla.”

She shook her head. “No, not quite yet.”

“You have my professional respect for being able to stay undetected as long as you did and that little diversion you’ve sent us on was particularly clever. It may even have worked if you hadn’t been up against somebody trained in counter-intelligence,” Star said as she raised her phaser to line up her shot.

“I’ll keep that in mind for next time we meet,” Garla said.

“There won’t be a next time. There is no way out of here. Surrender,” she said. “Or don’t,” she added with a shrug. “We can just stun you both and sort it out later.”

“I wouldn’t try that if I were you,” said the Krellonian Sentinel. “I have a very itchy trigger finger which could go off by the slightest movement. If you don’t want to pick up Lif’s brains from the deck, I suggest you withdraw.”

The two women exchanged silent stares as they were measuring each other up, one intelligence officer against another. Who would call the other one’s bluff first?

It turned out to be Star. “I don’t think so. You’ve been on this ship for nearly three days. If you had planned to kill Lif you would have had plenty of opportunities to do so. I think you want him alive.”

“Are you willing to bet his life on that?”

Star made eye contact with her hostage. “What do you think?”

“I think you both make good points. I’d just rather not be the man in the middle in this bet,” he said.

“This isn’t over,” Garla said and then shoved Lif hard into the direction of the Starfleet team.

He landed painfully on the deck and by the time he looked back around he could just see her shimmer out of existence. “What gives?”

But apparently, the Trill had already expected something like this. “She’s wearing some sort of personal cloaking device. That’s how she’s been able to evade us. Stay down,” she said and then quickly adjusted her phaser. She leveled it towards her last position again and then fired a single wide-beam pattern which covered a significant area in front of her

It paid off. Garla was hit and her cloak fizzled out again as she stumbled down onto the deck.

Star and the security team closed in. “Ready to surrender yet?”

Garla looked up. She had lost her weapon when she was struck by Star’s phaser and seemed out of options. And yet that little smile playing on her lips didn’t seem to support her predicament. “Well played, Commander. Let’s see if you thought of everything, shall we?” she said and then tapped the top of her right boot.

Star fired again but this time she connected with nothing but the empty deck after Garla had already dematerialized.

Star uttered a Trill curse under her breath.

“That was a Starfleet transporter signature,” Deen said who had recognized the familiar blue light patterns into which Garla had disappeared.

Star nodded. “She must have configured one of the transporters while she had the chance.”

“This means she could be anywhere,” said DeMara.

“Bridge to Commander Star.”

“Go ahead, Lieutenant,” Star said when she heard Alendra’s voice.

“Sir, we just detected a shuttle materializing just off our starboard bow. It’s one of ours.”

Lif had to admit he was somewhat impressed. “She beamed one of our shuttles right out of the hangar bay and into space.”

“And something tells me her right along with it,” added DeMara.

“Lieutenant, can you get a lock on the shuttle or whoever is inside and beam them back on board?”

“I’m afraid not, Commander. Targeting sensors are down.”

“What about a tractor—“

Star never got a chance to complete her sentence. “Sir,” Alendra said, interrupting the first officer. “The shuttle has just gone to warp.”

Lif looked at the clearly unhappy first officer. “And with engines down, we can’t follow.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 7 by CeJay
7


“How do we even know that this portal of yours exists in our universe?” said Edison, doing nothing to hide his skepticism which had not abated from the moment the meeting had commenced. “Even if I believe your story and you did come across this thing in your universe, there is nothing to say it’ll also be here.”

“It is,” said Bensu. “I can sense it nearby. I believe we will find it exactly where we found it before.”

Gene Edison shot the bartender a suspicious look. “You can sense it? How?”

Michael took the question before Bensu could respond. “We have already learned that he has a natural sensitivity to the events that have been unfolding lately. How this is possible remains a mystery to us.”

“As it is to me, I’m afraid to say.”

Edison didn’t look particularly convinced. Michael wondered what had happened to this version of him that had made him so distrusting of others. There was plenty to be suspicious about, considering their unique circumstances and he couldn’t blame this Edison for being careful but it seemed obvious that mistrust and skepticism were how the captain of this universe’s Eagle operated by default.

“Bridge to Captain. We’ve just detected Eagle—that is to the say, the other Eagle—beaming a shuttle with an occupant into space,” a disembodied voice Michael didn’t recognize announced.

Edison was unsurprisingly the first to react, even before Michael could digest this unexpected development. The man shot up onto his feet and glared at him. “What is this?”

Michael shook his head. “I have no idea,” he said truthfully.

“I knew you were up to something. I knew it the moment I saw that ship appear out of nowhere,” he fumed and then glanced at Amaya who seemed to take the news much more in stride.

She stood from her chair and within moments everybody else still sitting followed along. “Bridge, go to yellow alert. We’re on our way.”

Edison was already on his way to the doors with Michael and Amaya close behind.

The bridge on Agamemnon was located on the same deck as the observation lounge and Michael recognized the familiar Starfleet design as almost unchanged to the one he had seen in his universe’s counterpart.

“Report,” Amaya called out the moment she had crossed the threshold.

A tall, amber-furred avian officer with a set of impressively tall wings arching up behind his back promptly turned her way. “It just happened, sir. According to sensors, the shuttle was beamed about fifty kilometers off the other Eagle’s bow. Sensors confirm one life-sign onboard.”

“On screen.”

On her order, the main viewscreen shifted to show what Michael immediately recognized as the Valkyrie, one of Eagle’s medium-sized shuttles. The small craft’s warp nacelles lit up with a bright blue light and the next moment Valkyrie was gone as it had jumped to warp.

“What the hell is going on here?” Edison said, his eyes focused on Michael.

“I have no idea. I certainly didn’t authorize this,” he said.

“We are being hailed by the Eagle,” the avian officer said from his tactical station.

“Put it on,” said Amaya.

The viewscreen shifted once more to show the face of a somewhat exasperated Tazla Star walking down the ramp towards the command area of the bridge as if she had only moments ago emerged from the aft turbolift.

“Report, Commander,” Michael said. “What happened?”

“It’s Garla, sir. We discovered that she was the source of our energy drain issues. She must have beamed over before we left Krellonian space and has been hiding away ever since. She tried to make a move on Lif but we cornered her.”

“How did she get a shuttle?”

Star looked noticeably contrite. “We’re still looking into that but I believe she made some creative modifications to our systems while she was on board. Nothing that could be detected easily but enough to execute an exit strategy.”

“Who is this Garla person?” Edison asked.

“She is a Krellonian operative we ran into on a recent mission. She is Lif Culsten’s aunt,” Michael said.

Edison offered him a blank look in response. “You say that name as if it’s supposed to mean something to me.”

“He Eagle’s helmsman,” Michael said. “I suppose not here.”

Amaya considered her tactical officer again. “Lure, can you tell us where she is headed?”

The avian checked his board. “According to its heading, the shuttle is on a beeline for Krellonian space.”

“Sir, I think we need to go after her,” said Star from the other bridge. Michael couldn’t be sure but he thought she felt personally offended by the fact that Garla had apparently outwitted her. No doubt spies didn’t like to be bested by other spies. He knew her well enough by now to understand that it couldn’t be her only motivation. “She doesn’t belong in this universe and who knows how much damage she could be doing here if we let her go.”

Michael nodded. “We’ll take it under advisement, Commander. I want you to continue to focus on getting my ship fully operational again.”

“Understood, sir.”

Michael glanced over to Amaya. It was her ship after all and it was only prudent to give her the final word. Agamemnon’s captain pointed at Lure who then promptly closed the channel.

“My first officer is right,” Michael said once Star was gone. “We can’t leave her here.”

But Edison was, once again, quick to disagree. “I have no intention of chasing after a Krellonian from another universe. Besides, we are not exactly on the best of terms with the Star Alliance. They like to be left alone and I am not going to be responsible for starting another war.”

“This changes nothing as far as I’m concerned,” said Jarik. “Our mission remains to return to the gateway and identify a way to operate it so that we can take control of it.”

Michael considered the half-Vulcan for a moment. He sounded more self-assured and authoritative than he had been before, or perhaps he had simply not noticed this side of him until now. The man didn’t even consider his father when he spoke, which considering that up until recently he had been his direct superior felt somewhat concerning, the fact that Admiral Owens was still officially listed as deceased, notwithstanding.

He looked towards his father for an opinion. He wasn’t exactly eager to hear his views but considering the unfamiliar territory they all found themselves in, he thought it best to consider all options.

“I think it’s the right—“ A sudden coughing fit interrupted him mid-sentence. He raised a hand to indicate it would pass soon but it didn’t.

“Admiral, are you all right?” Amaya asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

“I’m fine,” he said between coughs. “The transition into this universe has been … hard on all of us,” he said and still couldn’t quite get his cough under control.

“I think we better get you down to sickbay,” Amaya said.

He shook his head quickly as his cough began to finally abate. “Not necessary but I think I better return to the ship,” he said.

Amaya nodded and indicated for one of her officers to escort Owens Senior back to the transporter room.

Michael watched his father leave but couldn’t quite bring himself to feel particularly sympathetic for the plight of a man who had been happy enough to make his own son believe he was dead.

With Jon Owens gone, Jarik easily retook the initiative. “We’ve lost enough time already. Let’s find the threshold to the gateway and make sure we all go back to where we belong.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 8 by CeJay
8


Star had briefed him on the latest developments as soon as he had returned from Agamemnon, including on how she believed Garla had managed to beam onboard undetected using a personal cloaking device after Eagle arrived at the Krellon border a few days earlier to retrieve her and the away team following their escape from Piqus.

Star naturally blamed herself for allowing this to happen even if Michael was fairly certain that it would have been near impossible to detect her coming onboard.

Star pointed to the fact that Garla had been surprisingly disengaged at the time, apparently already planning her scheme to follow her and Culsten onto Eagle instead of making a play for them while they were still in Krellonian territory.

The news about the status of the ship and crew were more encouraging. Almost the entire crew had been successfully resuscitated or had awoken from their coma on their own and most where still recovering in sickbay. Since Louise Hopkins had returned to duty, she had managed to restore several primary systems, including sensors, impulse engines, and the main computer. The warp drive and defensive systems were next on her list.

Back on the bridge, Michael found Jarik who quickly assured him that his father was doing well and recovering in his quarters and Michael was more than happy to take him at his word for now.

“We cannot wait for him,” Jarik said. “We need to get underway as soon as possible. We obviously do not belong in this place and the longer we stay here, the greater the chance that we cause permanent damage.”

Star considered the half-Vulcan. “I thought you didn’t prescribe to the theory that this is an alternate universe.”

“I don’t know what this is,” he said, sounding almost defensively. “But we do have a mission to fulfill and we can’t do that without establishing control of the gateway.”

Michael nodded. It didn’t matter if this truly was an alternate universe or not, although all evidence he had seen so far seemed to strongly support that claim, they needed to find a way back home, of that there was no doubt. And currently, the only way they knew how to do that was to make use of the very same device that appeared to have brought them here in the first place.

He glanced towards Lif Culsten who sat at the helm. “Lieutenant, according to Mister Bensu, we should find the threshold to in-between space at the same coordinates we first encountered it. How close are we to those?”

The Krellonian quickly checked his board. “We’re practically already there. Less than two million kilometers.”

Michael glanced towards Leva next who had only just returned to duty and was already manning his usual post at tactical. “Commander, we’ll need shields to cross the threshold. Are they available yet.”

He dipped his head slowly. “We should have enough to get us through based on previous sensor data. However, I would strongly suggest avoiding going into battle until they are back to full power.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Michael said. “Raise shields and configure them to the same frequency we used last time we approached the threshold. Then share that information with the other two ships.”

Leva acknowledged and went to work.

Michael took his chair at the center of the bridge and Star and Jarik sat down in the seats flanking him.

“Last time we did this we had a very unpleasant journey,” said Star. “I’d rather avoid doing that again if we can.”

“Couldn’t agree more,” he said and found Xylion at his science station. “Commander, any thoughts?”

“We do not have sufficient information on the structure to establish its working parameters at this juncture. For example, we do not know if the vortex we encountered was an automated event or if it was triggered by our presence. However, it did not appear to form until we approached the structure. I would, therefore, suggest we maintain our distance to the structure until we can learn more about how it operates.”

Michael exchanged a quick look with his first officer. “Sounds like a sensible approach.”

“Agreed.”

“Sir,” Leva said. “Both Agamemnon and … uh … the other Eagle are confirming that they have raised shields and configured them to the required frequency.” He shook his head. “I’m not going to get used to this.”

Star smirked. “Let’s hope we won’t be here long enough that we have to.”

“Yes, I think one version of us is plenty,” Michael said.

“I don’t know, I wouldn’t have minded meeting my doppelganger and finding out what he’s been up to in this reality. Who knows, he may be a starship captain here,” said Culsten as he swiveled his chair around.

“Sorry to disappoint you,” said Michael. “But Edison had never even heard of you before.”

“That’s a shame,” he said but then a grin began to spread over his face. “Doesn’t stop me to imagine that, wherever he may be, he’s a really important man.”

Deen shook her head. “You mean like you are here?”

The Krellonian shot the woman at his side a scowl. “Tell me you’re not curious to meet this universe’s version of yourself,” he said and then glanced back towards the command area. “Imagine two DeMara Deens.”

“I rather not,” she said without making eye contact.

Michael found himself agreeing with her. “I think it would be for the best if we did everything we can to avoid any of our alternate versions while we are here.”

“That shouldn’t be all that difficult for you,” said Jarik.

Michael looked at the Vulcan by his side, wishing he had not mentioned this since it had invited several curious glances being directed his way.

“I have the feeling I shouldn’t ask,” said Star.

Michael tugged down on his uniform jacket, eager to move on. “Let’s get going, people. Mister Culsten, take us towards the coordinates. Nice and easy, one-quarter impulse and then thrusters only for the transition.”

The helmsman understood it was all business again and turned back to his station. “Aye, aye. One-quarter impulse.”

“Mister Leva, tell the others to follow us in. But advise them to keep a healthy distance to us and each other. We don’t know what happens when multiple ships traverse the threshold at once.”

“Advising now.”

Michael kept his eyes focused on the viewscreen in front but at this slow speed, it was practically impossible to even notice that they were moving at all or for that matter to see what it was they were hopefully heading towards.

“We’ll be reaching the target destination in thirty seconds,” said Deen monitoring her console and then continued to provide a countdown. “Twenty seconds. Ten seconds. Contact.”

Michael hadn’t consciously realized that he had gripped the armrests of his chair hard enough to turn his knuckles white until the stars had once again disappeared from the viewscreen to be replaced by the swirling and undefined salmon-colored mass which made up in-between space. He let out a little sigh of relief once he realized that the threshold had indeed followed them into this universe, or perhaps it had never left. More importantly was the fact that their way home was, if not assured, at least still viable.

And just like the last time they once more found themselves in this layer of subspace, the massive structure was still dominating the area as it had done before, a humongous artificial ring which would have dwarfed planets and even stars had there been any nearby.

“Both Agamemnon and Eagle have followed us across the threshold,” said Leva from tactical.

Michael stood from his chair. “All stop. Remember, let’s keep our distance this time.”

“Aye, sir. All engines stop,” said Culsten.

“Both ships are hailing us,” said Leva.

Star couldn’t suppress a small grin. “Yeah, I’d think they would.”

“Put them both on screen.”

The image promptly changed to show Amaya on the left and Gene Edison on the right, both still focused on what their viewscreens and sensor data were telling them.

“Quite a sight, isn’t it?” Michael said as he studied their surprised faces.

“My God, it’s massive,” said Amaya. “Who built it and how?”

“We believe a subspace dwelling race is responsible for constructing the structure with at least some form of assistance from the Krellonians. We don’t have all the details on how it was assembled but we do know that they possess technology far superior to our own,” said Jarik.

“That much seems obvious,” she said.

“Our sensors are unable to penetrate its hull,” said Edison. “How do we operate this gateway to send you back to where you belong?”

Michael shook his head. “We’re not sure yet. It’s what we’ll need to figure out. Last time we encountered the structure it activated on its own, possibly triggered by our proximity. I’d rather avoid another such incident and learn more about the device before we try that again.”

Amaya seemed to agree. “Considering the damage you took, that seems like a wise precaution. According to our initial scans, while we cannot penetrate the hull, we may be able to beam unmanned probes inside. I suggest we start our investigation that way.”

Michael turned to find his science officer to get an opinion.

“That should be feasible,” he said. “However, I would suggest we limit our initial attempts to a small number of probes. Since we have no way to determine the interior space of the structure, we may inadvertently cause significant damage should a transporter cycle be successful.”

“We could attempt to beam in a couple of micro-probes to try and get the lay of the land first,” Star said.

Michael nodded. “Let’s get started with that but we’ll do it from here. I do not want to risk approaching the gateway any further.”

“That should be possible as we are within theoretical transporter range of the structure,” Xylion said while Star was joining him at the science station at the back of the bridge to get the ball rolling on their plan.

Michael glanced back towards the screen and his two fellow starship captains. “I suggest we keep our efforts tightly concentrated for now considering what we already know this structure is capable of.”

Amaya seemed to agree. “Makes sense to me.”

“Just make sure you share any data with us as soon as you have results,” Edison added, clearly still less willing to cooperate than his colleague.

“Of course,” Michael said. “Owens out.”

Once the channel had closed Michael joined Star and Xylion at the aft science station. “What do we have?”

Star pointed at a heavily magnified section of the ring structure displayed on the monitor. “We’ve identified this area as a possible entry point. We are ready to start deploying probes.”

Michael couldn’t see anything special about the section she had pointed at. “Why that area?”

“The hull pattern in that particular section contains an approximately point five percent variation to hull patterns compared to the surrounding area,” Xylion said.

“In other words, you’re guessing.”

Star offered a sheepish look. “Essentially, yes.”

Michael glanced towards Jarik who had also joined them at the science station before he considered Xylion again. “Commander, hypothetically speaking, if this structure contained a powerful and possibly unstable molecule of some sort, what kind of damage could we be doing by blindly beaming probes inside of it.”

Jarik’s expression made it clear that he didn’t like the question since it was bordering closely on violating the Omega Directive, which not only stated that Starfleet was obligated to eradicate any attempts at stabilizing the enormously powerful molecule but also restrict any knowledge of the particles. Michael decided that the question needed to be asked regardless.

Xylion clearly found the query interesting enough to turn from his station to look directly at his captain for a moment as if prompting him to elaborate. “If such a molecule were to exist within the structure it would be highly dangerous to attempt beaming in the blind since we may accidentally breach any containment facility within the structure and destabilize any particles in the process.”

He had expected something like that.

But Jarik shook his head. “We have no other choice.”

Michael and Star exchanged glances, clearly neither of them entirely comfortable with the idea of potentially poking a sleeping bear. Everything they had learned so far seemed to indicate that the Omega particle had been delivered to this location, ostensibly for the gateway structure, but there was no way of telling if it was contained within and if so in what kind of quantities. Considering its size, the structure could have easily contained immeasurable amounts.

Ultimately Michael understood that this was most likely their only way back home, not to mention attempting to stop a potential invasion. He gave Xylion the nod to proceed.

The Vulcan hesitated for only a moment but then turned back to the science station. “Initiating first attempt.”

Michael held his breath.

As it turned out, the ring structure did not rip itself apart in a fiery explosion, taking Eagle and the other two ships with it.

Ship’s sensors lost contact with the probes the moment they had been beamed off the ship—as had been expected—and when Xylion attempted to lock in on those exact coordinates again to beam the probes back on board, all four probes returned damaged beyond recovery.

It took three more attempts, each one just as harrowing as the first for Michael until some of the probes finally yielded results.

“Sensor data from the latest probes indicates internal spaces sufficient in size to accommodate humanoids. Also reading the presence of gravity at a force of point eight gees as well as an atmosphere equivalent to a class K world,” said Xylion.

“Meaning we should be all right in environmental suits,” said Star, looking at Michael.

He nodded. “Very well, assemble an away team and let’s have a look inside.”

Star tapped Xylion on the shoulder and then pointed at Deen sitting at the operations station at the front of the bridge. Both understood and rose to their feet to follow her to the turbolift.

“I should go as well,” said Jarik.

Star stopped and glanced back at the half-Vulcan. “I don’t believe that is a good idea.”

“Quite honestly, Commander, I don’t care what you believe is or isn’t a good idea. I am the ranking officer here.”

Jarik’s outburst had been so sudden that most eyes on the bridge had turned his way. It also reminded Michael that his old Academy friend was more human than Vulcan.

Realizing that perhaps he had spoken out of turn, he addressed Michael in a much more contrite tone of voice. “I should go along.”

“Commander Star is right,” he said as he carefully studied Jarik’s expression. “We have hardly any idea what to find over there. We’ll keep the away team as small as possible for now. Once we have a better idea of what we can expect, we might send more people.”

There was no doubt to him that Jarik did not agree with that call but apparently he was not quite willing to challenge him on this and Michael was getting the feeling that the last word on this matter had not yet been spoken.

For now, he exchanged a quick glance with Star, reaffirming his decision and she left the bridge with Xylion and Deen following close behind.

Michael walked back towards the command area. “Mister Leva, please share our data with the other two ships and advise them that we’ll dispatch an away team.”

It didn’t take long for both captains to respond, Edison clearly not happy with the development. “I have been willing to give you plenty of latitude in dealing with this but I am not prepared to sit by quietly while your people are investigating this structure by themselves. I’ll be sending my own away team.”

“It might be advisable to keep away teams as small as possible,” Michael said. “At least for now and once we have a better idea of what we are dealing with,” he added when he could read from Edison’s face that he was not on the same page.

“A few more additional bodies won’t make a difference for a structure of this size. I am not compromising on this point. I’m sending my own team,” Edison said, clearly with his mind already made up.

A brief look at Amaya revealed that she was not going to interject on this occasion and Michael already knew that differently to Jarik’s earlier objection, this was not an argument he was going to win.
Part 1 - Splintered: 9 by CeJay
9


Arriving in the transporter room, already decked out in a full environmental suit and carrying the helmet under her arm, Tazla was somewhat surprised to find Nora Laas waiting for them there along with Louise Hopkins, both equipped with the same style hard-suits she wore.

“Lieutenant, good to see your back on your feet,” said Tazla. “And don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you’re back with us but I understand you’ve only just woken up. Joining an away mission may be a bit premature.”

Clearly, the Bajoran was not having any of that. “I’ve been through much worse than a little, day-long coma. You don’t know what to expect over there, you’ll need all the help you can get.”

Tazla seized her up for a moment but could spot no obvious signs that the security chief would not be up for the challenge. It had been half a lifetime ago since she had been a physician and she was sure that Elijah may not have agreed with her surface prognosis, but she decided to give Nora a clean bill of health for now. In truth, the value of having an experienced security officer at her side when possibly having to face off against a hostile alien species could not be understated.

“Very well. Everyone ready?” she said and glanced at her four-man strong away team comprised of Xylion, Deen, Nora and Hopkins, each one wearing the red and white environmental suit and equipped with type-2 hand phasers and tricorders. Nora had opted for just her weapon, preferring to leave the data collection and analysis to more capable members of the team.

She received quick nods from all four of them before everyone fitted their helmets on top of their suits and fastened them securely with another away team member double-checking that the seals were safely in place.

Once that had been done, Tazla and her four officers took their places on the transporter platform.

“Star to Owens. We’re ready to go down here.”

“Excellent. If we should lose the ability to communicate once you are over there, I want you back at the exact same beam-in coordinates within five minutes and we’ll bring you back.”

“Understood.”

“Oh, and it looks like you’ll have company. Keep an eye out for an away team from the other Eagle. Their captain insisted on sending one of his own.”

“We’ll be on our best behavior.”

“I know you will. Be careful over there. Owens out.”

Tazla glanced at Chief Chow standing behind the transporter controls, regarding the team with his usual beaming grin. “Energize, Chief.”

He nodded and activated the controls.

Thanks to her long Starfleet career, not to mention the vast experiences culminated over previous lifetimes courtesy of her symbiont, Tazla didn’t usually have trepidations before a transporter cycle and as her body was about to be disassembled atom by atom. But then again, she usually didn’t beam into vast superstructures impenetrable to sensors and which had previously only been visited by automated probes.

She wasn’t quite sure if it was merely her imagination, but the cycle did feel longer than usual as she felt herself dematerialize on the pad on Eagle and for a brief moment she wondered what would happen to her and her long-lived Star symbiont if they both never rematerialized at all, lost for all eternity to drift aimlessly in the aether as microscopic molecules.

That fear, irrational or otherwise, didn’t have enough time to fully manifest itself before she once again felt solid ground underneath her magnetic boots.

She found herself, along with the away team, in what looked like a massive tunnel with the walls and ceiling high and wide enough to allow a starship the size of Eagle to pass through it, perhaps even two of them. And glancing in both directions, the tunnel seemed to continue on far beyond what was visible with the eye, but since the lighting was relatively dim and her suit beacon’s not nearly powerful enough, she couldn’t tell for sure. The internal dimensions, although massive, seemed to imply that she could see a small portion of the actual proportions of the ring-shaped structure.

“Anyone else just get a shudder from the sheer size of this place?” said Hopkins through the comm unit of her helmet.

“Agoraphobia is not uncommon among humans when encountering large and unknown spaces for the first time,” said Xylion.

But the chief engineer shook her head slightly inside her helmet. “This isn’t just a large space. This is humongous as if it was created for giants.”

Tazla increased the power to her suit beacons and the others quickly followed suit. The illumination inside the tunnel was just about adequate to get a feel for the massive scale of the interior but revealed very little detail beyond that. “We believe the builders were the same subspace aliens we encountered previously. From everything I’ve seen, they are of similar size to us.”

“That is correct,” said Xylion who was the only member of the away team who had actually come face to face with those creatures. “It, therefore, stands to reason that the size of this structure is not related to the size of its builders.”

“Unless they didn’t build it,” said Nora as she began to slowly move away from the group to establish a perimeter, her phaser already un-holstered.

“Whoever did, I’d sure love to have a chat with them about it,” said Hopkins as she consulted her tricorder. “And we thought the Jenolan Dyson Sphere was big.”

Tazla activated her communicator by pressing the corresponding panel on her suit’s wrist controls. “Away team to Eagle, do you read?”

The response was not immediate but came with a short delay. “This is Owens, we’re receiving your signal, Commander,” the captain’s voice responded, sounding slightly distorted as if he were submerged underwater.

“I'm hearing you as well. The signal is weak but you are coming through clear enough. I am instructing Commander Xylion to activate an uplink to his tricorder,” she said and indicated towards the Vulcan science officer.

Xylion gave her a brief nod to acknowledge and then entered the necessary commands into the device. Once he was done, he glanced back at her with another nod.

“We are receiving the telemetry now,” said Owens. “Including coordinates of your combadge signals and life-signs. That should be sufficient to beam you back on board when required. What’s it look like?”

Tazla turned back around to take in the sheer size of the dim tunnel they stood in. “Massive. And we’re likely not even seeing a tiny portion of this thing. So far there are no signs of any threats but we’ll keep an eye out. I expect that we’ll need some serious assistance to investigate this structure.”

“I think our best option might be using automated probes,” said Hopkins on the same channel as Tazla and Owens. “I’m just not sure if we can replicate enough to cover the entirety of this thing.”

“We’ll start looking into that on our end.”

Tazla nodded, mostly just for the benefit of the away team. “For now I suggest we continue to have a look around and see what we can determine at our present location.”

“Agreed, Commander.”

Tazla heard the sound of the transporter before she spotted the five columns of blue light appear a few meters away. The transporter effect was immediately familiar and practically indistinguishable from how Eagle’s transporter operated.

“Looks like we’re about to have company,” she said. “I believe the other away team is joining us.”

“Understood. I appreciate that could become awkward. Just try to do your best to work with them as much as you can. Owens out.”

The five figures that ultimately gave way to the swirling energy patterns were each clad in environmental suits that looked just like the ones she and her team were wearing.

She found herself holding her breath while she watched the other away team take on shape before her eyes. She had dreaded this moment ever since Owens had mentioned that Captain Edison had insisted on sending his own people to the structure to join them. She couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to meeting her opposite from another universe, like looking in the mirror and finding the person staring back at her to be an entirely different version of herself. And considering her poor life choices, she had to believe that her doppelganger had to be a far better version of Tazla Star.

It was easy to spot the faces of the member of the other away team, illuminated by their helmets behind clear visors. She was a little surprised to find the team being led, not as she had feared by another version of Tazla Star, but by that Eagle’s captain himself, Gene Edison.

Tazla had never met Edison since he had died before she had joined the crew but she had seen images of him and this version of him certainly looked similar around the eyes and upper face but also sporting a thick beard which apparently had not been something their universe’s Edison had been prone to do.

Next to the captain stood pretty much the spitting image of Xylion, and at first glance, she could not tell him apart from the Vulcan she was familiar with. Edison had also brought his DeMara Deen who wore her blonde hair noticeably cut very short and spiked which gave her a much more serious demeanor.

She recognized the fourth member looking very much like Jos Carlos, Nora’s burly deputy and at his side was a dark-skinned Vulcan woman who possessed the body frame and serious look of somebody working in security.

The two away teams simply stared at each other for a moment, nobody speaking a word. Star could see that Edison’s eyes were locked on Nora Laas and she understood why.

It was she who ultimately made the first move and approached the others. “I’m Commander Tazla Star, first officer of my version of Eagle. Captain Edison, I presume?”

The man didn’t immediately react, his blank stare still focused on the Bajoran security officer behind her. Tazla moved closer, stepping into his line of sight and forcing his eyes on her.

He finally looked at her with a slightly puzzled expression.

“You are Captain Edison?”

He nodded. “That’s right.”

“I appreciate that this is a bit of an unusual situation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that you’re here. This structure is immense and we’ll need all the help we can get to try and figure it out. But I’m thinking that perhaps it would be in the best interest of everyone involved if we tried to work separately for now.”

“And why is that?”

She very briefly glanced at his officers. “We have two Xylions and two DeMara’s here. I don’t know about you but I think coming across your doppelganger could be a huge distraction and one we don’t need when trying to investigate a powerful superstructure build by a hostile alien race.”

“My people are professionals, Commander. I trust them implicitly.”

“As do I trust mine. But why take the chance?”

Edison seemed to consider that for a moment. “Very well. What do you suggest?”

Tazla had some reservations asking her next question but decided that it had to be done. “Do you have a version of me on your ship?”

He looked at her closely for a moment before shaking his head. “I’m pretty sure we don’t. Commander Xylion is my first officer. Has been ever since I took command.”

There was some noticeable pain in his voice when he spoke, Tazla noticed, leading her to believe that it hadn’t been a smooth command transition. Considering the absence of Michael Owens on his ship, she had a good inkling why that might be.

“Have you perhaps met a version of me before?”

“I think I would have remembered you, Commander.”

“Never heard of me?”

Edison was getting visibly annoyed by the questioning. “No, I have not. You seem surprised that I don’t know you. Are you considered an important person where you come from?”

She quickly shook her head. “No, not at all. Quite the contrary, actually. Let’s just say that I’m glad my reputation hasn’t followed me across universes,” she said with a little smile to try and alleviate the tension. Edison’s stone-faced visage gave proof that it hadn’t worked. “My point is that since we both don’t know of each other, or rather of our counterparts, it may make sense that any interaction between our respective teams goes through the two of us.”

“Fine,” he said with little enthusiasm.

“This entire structure if far too large to investigate with the manpower we have available and since we cannot use external sensors, we are considering using automated probes. But I think our first task should be to investigate our immediate surroundings. Unless you have another suggestion, I say we do this the old fashioned way,” she said and pointed behind him. “You take that part, we take this one. We’ll keep an open comm link and regroup in one hour.”

Edison hesitated for a moment and Tazla had the impression that he didn’t much care for being told what to do, especially not by an officer of lower rank and one not even native to his universe. Owens had warned her that Edison had been both skeptical and obtrusive ever since they had made first contact.

“We’ll regroup in forty-five minutes,” he said.

She nodded. “Sure.”

He stepped around her to get another brief look at her team before he turned his back on them and indicated for his people to follow him.

Tazla took a deep breath before she faced her own away team again. She still felt somewhat relieved that having to face her own doppelganger had become unlikely and yet she couldn’t help wonder what was worse, infamy or irrelevance.

“What did he say?” Hopkins asked when she regrouped with the others, not having been able to overhear their conversation.

“We’ll work together but to keep things uncomplicated, I’m going to be the one liaising with Edison,” she said.

“Uncomplicated?” Nora said, shooting her an exasperated look. “That is Gene Edison over there. And Xylion and Dee. How is any of this uncomplicated?”

“We have a job to do here, Lieutenant,” she said sternly. “Our mission is to find a way back to our universe and the only way to do that is by trying to figure out how this portal works.” She considered all four of them. “You are all Starfleet officers and we all know that weird is part of the job description. So let’s just focus on what we need to do here so that we can all go home again.” She let those words sink in for a moment before she singled out the security chief. “If you don’t think you’ll be able to do that, Laas, I understand and nobody will think any less of you if you were to decide to beam back to the ship.”

Nora’s expression was one of total astonishment. Then her glare turned venomous. “That’s one hell of a thing for you to say to me, Commander. After your little speech about duty and dedication. I can handle this just fine. This man over there,” she said, indicating towards the other away team slowly moving away from them, “is not the man I used to know. This is just another mission, nothing else,” she said and then turned on her heel and walked off.

Tazla looked at Hopkins next.

The chief engineer offered a little nod. “I’ll talk to her,” she said and followed Nora.

Tazla sighed and considered the remaining two officers. “Anyone have anything else to add?”

Deen just shrugged in her suit. “I’m fine, Commander.”

“Interrogating my counterpart could yield fascinating insights into the field of advanced quantum cosmology,” said Xylion but continued when Tazla gave him an annoyed look in response. “However, I understand and agree with our current priorities.”

She nodded. “Good, then let’s go. This mystery is not going to solve itself.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 10 by CeJay
10


“How are we doing?” Michael asked as he walked up the aft ramp of the bridge to join a group of science and engineering personnel that had assembled at the stations lining the back bulkhead, tasked with supporting the away team on the alien structure and led by Commander Leva.

The tactical officer turned towards him as he saw him approach. “We have been monitoring the tricorder telemetry closely but it still doesn’t give us an accurate picture of the full extent and composition of the internal structure.”

Michael nodded. “Taking into account its size it was perhaps overly optimistic to expect that we would be able to make much progress after sending just a few people over. What about using automated probes to assist with cataloging the interior?”

Lieutenant Alendra sitting at the mission ops station took that one. “We’ll need a whole lot of probes to cover the entire structure. If we utilize all four industrial replicators we have on board, we can produce about thirty-five drones per hour, adding to the twenty drones we already have available in storage. I’ve taken the liberty to check in with Agamemnon and the other Eagle and they would be able to increase our output to about one hundred drones per hour.”

Michael nodded. “That sounds like a decent number, good job, Lieutenant.”

But the Bolian didn’t seem quite as enthused. “There is a bit of a problem.”

Leva continued for her. “Our initial tests have shown that we lose contact and control with any drone we deploy after they have traveled just five-hundred meters within the structure. We’re not entirely sure why but it could be related to a yet to be identified background radiation we’ve detected. It does not seem to affect biological systems but it is playing havoc with drone sensors.”

“If we could find a way to isolate and identify the nature of the radiation we might be able to find a way to compensate for it,” said Alendra.

Michael’s first thought was that perhaps the issue was related to the Omega molecule that they suspected was somehow being used to power the trans-dimensional gateway. Since the Omega Directive was very specific about sharing information about the existence of the ultra-powerful particle, he was not exactly at liberty to speak about it in front of his crew. But he knew enough about Omega to know that its energy source was unique enough to be easily detectable by sensors, usually causing immediate warnings to a ship’s crew and captain. So far there had been no signs of this.

“It might be helpful,” said Leva, “if we had any more information about this structure and how it was constructed.”

He could tell his tactical officer was implying something but he wasn’t entirely sure where he was going with this. “What exactly are you suggesting, Commander?”

Leva and Alendra exchanged brief glances. “We’ve been talking, sir,” said the Bolian. “Perhaps there are certain people on board this ship who know more about this structure than they are letting on.”

“I can ask Bensu to come up here and try to help you. He has proven to be resourceful before,” he said.

“That might help,” said Leva somewhat awkwardly. “But we were thinking about Mister Jarik and more to the point, your father.”

Michael shot him a quizzical look. “How do you figure?”

Alendra spoke again. “They both seemed to know of this portal’s existence before we ever arrived. Mister Jarik even knew the right shield frequency to allow us to cross into in-between space without taking damage. I—we just feel there might be more they are not telling us.”

Michael could immediately see where they were coming from and he had to admit he felt a little embarrassed that he had not considered that sooner. After all, he knew better than most about his father’s proclivity to keep secrets and compartmentalizing information. He had to admit that after recent events and his miraculous return from the dead, he had done everything he could to avoid his father, including making a concerted effort not to think about him at all. Perhaps that had blinded him from questioning their true knowledge about quite possibly the only thing that was able to take them back to their home universe.

He also found it somewhat strange that considering how important it had been for both men to find this gateway and prevent an impending invasion, neither of them was currently present to monitor their efforts.

“I will have a chat with my father. In the meantime, continue to find ways to work around the problem with the drones,” he said. After both officers offered quick nods in acknowledgment, Michael tugged at the bottom of his uniform jacket and headed for the turbolift, leaving Leva in charge of the bridge.

He had decided to head straight for his father’s quarters. He knew he had put off speaking to him for too long already, especially since his surprising departure from their previous meeting.

However, once he got to the doors leading to the VIP cabin, he received no response to his repeated attempts to gain entry.

Concerned about his father’s condition after he had shown signs of poor health the last time they had spoken, Michael used his authority to override the door lock.

He heard the loud voices coming from within even before he stepped inside.

“That is entirely unacceptable, and you know it.”

“The decision is mine, Jarik.”

“We have invested too much time and effort—“ Jarik stopped himself when he spotted Michael’s unexpected arrival.

The two men were standing near the windows of the cabin, facing each other and clearly in the middle of an argument, heated enough that they must have missed the sound of the annunciator.

“Apologies for the intrusion,” Michael said quickly. “But there was no answer. I was concerned.”

“That’s fine, Michael, we’re done here anyway, aren’t we?” said his father, shooting Jarik a dark glare.

“Yes, I suppose we are,” the other man said and then turned away, walking past Michael without slowing down and left the cabin.

“Mind telling me what that was all about?” Michael said after the doors had closed behind Jarik.

But his father just shook his head as he headed for the replicator. “Just a difference of opinion,” he said and uttered a little cough before asking the replicator for a glass of water.

“Must have been quite a difference.”

Jon Owens took the glass of water that had materialized and had a sip. “Nothing to be concerned about. I’ve just given Jarik a great deal of latitude to deal with matters while I was unavailable—“

“Unavailable? Is that what you call faking your own death?”

His only response was an exasperated look as if to say that he was done discussing this particular matter with him. But as far as Michael was concerned, he had still not been given a satisfactory reason for why he had gone to such an extreme measure in the first place.

Jon Owens began to nod slowly. “I wish I could have told you why it was necessary,” he said and took a seat in one of the chairs in the lounge.

“Well, you can start now,” Michael said and followed suit.

“It’s not that easy.”

Michael uttered a sigh. “Of course not. With you, it never is.”

Jon looked him straight in the eye. “Listen, son, I have a great many regrets in my life and if I could do things over again, trust me, I would make very different decisions. I would make sure that your brother didn’t end up resenting me the way he did. I would find a way to keep Matthew from running away from home the moment he was old enough to do so. I would spend more time with him, with you and with your mother. I would make sure that we were a real family and not one in name only. Family is one of the most precious things in the universe and it took me some time to come to fully realize that.”

Michael was stunned. He had spent half a lifetime accusing him of having been a poor father, of prioritizing Starfleet over his family and driving his brother away, and—perhaps somewhat unfairly—laying the blame for his ultimate death at his feet. If only he had been less insistent that Matt had to follow his father’s footsteps and join Starfleet, perhaps if he had only treated him more like a son, instead of a means to ensure his legacy, perhaps then his brother would still be alive, he had argued.

In hindsight, he understood that it hadn’t been quite so black and white. While his father certainly hadn’t played the role of a caring parent to either him or his brother, and while his persistent expectations had played a role in alienating his brother from the rest of his family, it wasn’t entirely fair to blame him for his death which had come at the hands of Matt’s own colleague and friend.

“I’m not sure if I’ve ever said this to you,” Jon Owens went on. “But Matthew’s death was very hard on me. I know it was hard on all of us. I know you suffered a great deal. But losing a son,” he said, shaking his head. “For a very long time, it practically debilitated me. I was a useless wreck for a long time and it took even longer for me to understand that you never come back from something like this. Not really. ”

Michael could not remember his father ever opening up to him like this before and revealing his shortcomings and vulnerabilities. He had long ago given up hope that he’d ever admitted to his mistakes and his true feelings.

“We only have each other, Michael. We are the only family we have left and I want you to know that I will do whatever it takes to make sure that what happened between Matt and me will not happen between the two of us. I don’t want to regret having lost another son, especially not while he is alive.”

It took Michael a moment to speak and even when he finally found his voice again he couldn’t think of the right words “Dad, I don’t know what to say.”

“Just promise me that we’ll make the effort.”

“An effort for what?”

“To close the gap that we’ve allowed to grow between us over the years. That we find a way to be father and son again. Even if it is for the first time.”

He had often hoped—prayed even—that there was a chance to reconcile with his dad before it was too late. After he had learned of his sudden death, he had felt physically sick to his stomach when he realized that he’d never get that chance. And now here it was, offered unsolicited and unconditionally. It had caught him so entirely by surprise, he wasn’t sure how to handle it.

He finally nodded. “I’ve always wanted that, Dad.”

“We can make it work. I know we can.” He had another coughing fit then which he only managed to get back under control after taking another sip of water.

“I want you to get checked out in sickbay.”

He shook his head. “I need some rest. The dimensional jump has exhausted me far more than I thought. Half the crew was in a coma for hours. Turns out, jumping universes like that,” he said with a little grin, “is a young man’s game.”

“I didn’t even realize until it was too late that you’ve been as stubborn about looking after your health as you’ve been with most everything else in your life,” he said, having learned only after his father had faked his death that he had suffered from a heart condition on which his faked death had been blamed on. “I thought it was what had killed you. Don’t let it be your undoing now, please.”

“Very well. But I have no desire to go down to sickbay and be prodded by your doctors for all to see. I believe I have earned my dignity and sense of privacy. Send me a nurse with some sleeping aids so that I can get a good night’s rest.”

Michael nodded, accepting the compromise for now and then stood. “Fine. But we’ll need your help with the structure. We’ve started exploring it but any intelligence you can share about it would help us immensely.”

“I’m afraid there isn’t much I can tell you besides what you’ve already learned.”

Michael wasn’t so sure how much he believed that.

“Have a word with Jarik, he knows as much as I do about the subspace aliens and their plans. I promise to join you once I’ve recovered my strength.”

There was little point in pushing his father since it was obvious he needed to rest. “I’ll make sure to get a nurse to come see you. And in the spirit of our conversation, quit being cavalier about your health. This fresh start you want us to work on will be for naught if you’re not around for it.”

Jon Owens offered him a crooked little smile. “Don’t worry, son. I meant what I said. I want to see this through as much as you do. I won’t be going anywhere.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” he said before he left the quarters, feeling surprisingly good about his relationship with his father for the first time in a long time and musing with some dark humor that all it had taken for him and his father to finally make up after a lifetime of confrontations and disappointments had been for him to die.
Part 1 - Splintered: 11 by CeJay
11


The enormous size of the superstructure remained the number one challenge in trying to discern its function. Simply put, even with three large starships, there wasn’t nearly enough manpower available to investigate an installation that at least as far as its diameter was concerned, rivaled that of a small solar system.

Commander Xylion had already postulated that even using all resources Starfleet could realistically assign to such an undertaking, it would require at least three years to fully map the structure, and even then, more than likely, many more questions would still remain.

Using automated probes had made a significant impact. Science and engineering teams working on all three ships had not been able to solve the issue that the probes would stop operating correctly after a relatively short distance. The workaround first proposed by Lieutenant Alendra was simple enough: Deploy a relay of drones that could communicate with each other and thereby creating a sensor network within the superstructure that would steadily grow with each additional probe being added.

Volume remained an issue. The three ships simply couldn’t produce enough probes to span the entirety of the structure and continuously replicating drones had its limitations, chiefly the amount of power this operation required.

Consequently, after five hours of Eagle’s away team having stepped onto the alien ring, a mere point zero five percent of the interior volume of the structure had been mapped, and at the rate things were going, a quick end to the mission was not in sight.

The probes had, however, already identified a few areas within the structure warranting closer scrutiny and both away teams from the two different ships had been dispatched to investigate in hopes to find clues to how the structure could be operated to send Eagle back to her universe.

Tazla and her team materialized in another section of the gateway, the fourth different area they had explored since they had first arrived and to her it looked no different than any other section they had seen so far, just another part of the immense tunnel which all evidence seemed to suggest spanned the entirety of the ring. She could spot one of their drones a few hundred meters away, hovering above the floor, its regularly flashing beacon illuminating the area only marginally.

Xylion, Hopkins, and Deen had their tricorders out again while Nora surveyed the area with her phaser, still not entirely comfortable that any part of this structure was truly safe. Considering that it had been constructed by subspace aliens as a means to facilitate an invasion, Tazla understood and endorsed her sense of caution.

“The radiation variance in this section is point three-four percent below what we have previously recorded in other parts of the structure,” said Xylion as he slowly approached the far wall of the tunnel.

“That’s hardly enough of an anomaly to be noteworthy,” said Hopkins, clearly not particularly excited about these findings.

“Then again it could be incredibly significant,” said Deen. “Problem remains that we don’t have any frame of reference or fully understand the nature of the radiation.”

Tazla joined the small science and engineering team. “Any chance the increased radiation levels could be dangerous to us?”

Xylion glanced up at her. “We have no evidence at present that the radiation could prove damaging to biological tissue. However, considering its unknown nature, I would recommend that we continue to limit our exposure to the radiation until we know more.”

“Our suits should provide us with enough insulation for now,” said Hopkins.

Tazla nodded. “Anything at all here that could tell us more?”

“I find this pattern interesting,” said the chief engineer, as she focused on the small display of her tricorder. “I’ve noticed it before but the anomalous readings in this section are making it even more noticeable.”

Xylion seemed to agree. “The wavelength pattern seems to suggest a consistent particle flow.”

Deen had seen the same thing. “And it is more heavily concentrated in this general area,” she said and stepped up close to the wall before carefully touching the smooth surface with a gloved hand. “There’s definitely something here. I can feel it.”

This prompted all three officers to touch the wall and exchanging glances as they seemed to come to an unspoken agreement.

Tazla couldn’t lay claim to an extensive science or engineering background. Her Starfleet career had been mostly spent in navigation, communication, and intelligence. As for Star, its previous hosts had been students of law, diplomacy, and medicine. Doren, Star’s first host, had been a mathematician as well as a philosopher, but she was getting the clear sense that he would have been just as much out of his depth here as she was. “Anyone want to clue me in as to what this means?” she said as she stared at the three officers with their hands pressed against the wall as if they were in silent and telepathic communion with whatever secrets lay beyond.

Xylion removed his hand and turned to glance at her. “We do not have sufficient evidence to form a plausible hypothesis.”

“Let’s be implausible then.”

He raised an eyebrow, making it clear that speculating implausibilities were not within his wheelhouse.

“Humor me.”

“There is a mechanism at work. I think it might be just beyond this bulkhead and I think it is powerful. Really powerful,” said Hopkins, the awe in her voice not easily missed.

“It would make sense,” added Deen. “Considering that the interior space we have seen so far, as vast as it may seem, only accounts for a small portion of the total width of the structure.”

Nora moved closer to the wall. “So there’s a lot more we’re not seeing,” she said and offered Tazla a glance. “Another tunnel perhaps?”

“It’s too early to be sure, of course, but I would venture that it contains the very mechanism that allows the structure to create the gateway we have traveled through,” said Hopkins.

“Utilizing a power source entirely alien to us,” said Xylion.

Tazla may not have been a scientist, but she thought she knew better in this particular case. If this structure used Omega as its energy source as both she and the captain suspected, it wasn’t nearly as alien to Starfleet as the Vulcan seemed to believe.

“Do you have any notion of what this could be, Commander?” Deen said.

Tazla shot the other woman a surprised look, not having expected such a direct question. She quickly cursed herself when she realized that she had let slip her usually so carefully maintained facial features for perhaps a moment or so. Deen had clearly picked up on it. Tazla didn’t want to lie to her people outright but she couldn’t exactly reveal what she knew either. The circumstances were anything but normal, of course, but the Omega Directive was very clear and left nearly no room at all for interpretation.

“Captain Edison to Commander Star.”

She was almost grateful for the interruption as she heard the voice being filtered through her helmet comm on a dedicated line. She raised a hand towards the others. “Hang on,” she said and then turned her back and took a few steps away from her team. “This is Star, go ahead, Captain.”

“We found something here that I think you should have a look at?” Edison said.

“Where are you now?”

“About twenty-eight kilometers ahead of your position.”

She turned to look down the tunnel and into that direction but at this distance, she knew it was hopeless to make any visual contact, considering the poorly lit surroundings. “What have you found?”

We are not entirely sure ourselves. Commander Xylion seems to believe that there is a chance it might give us a better idea of what we are dealing with here.”

Tazla naturally glanced towards her own Xylion, her mind needing a nanosecond to remember that he was talking about his XO and not her science officer. She was still hesitant to bring the two teams together. “Could you send us your findings? We could try and see what we can determine from here or the ship if necessary.”

Edison hesitated for a moment. “To be frank, Commander, I don’t have the patience for that. Your people want to go home as soon as possible and I am quite eager for that to be sooner rather than later. So if what we’ve found here will let you do that, I’d rather we get it done now.”

Not for the first time Tazla had to wonder if this version of Edison was anything like the one in her universe. From all she had heard and read about Eagle’s previous first officer, he had been an even-tempered, rational and likable person and capable officer. Captain Edison felt very much like the polar opposite. She uttered a little sigh. “I’ll contact the ship to have us beamed to your location.”

“Good. Edison out.”

After quickly explaining the situation to her team, she did as she had promised and got in touch with Eagle. Moments later they beamed into another section of the structure which once more looked exactly like the place they had just left. Except, of course, that Captain Edison and his people were there, all standing close to the center of the wide tunnel.

Tazla walked towards the other group and the others followed. It didn’t escape her notice, however, that Nora, usually the first to take point in almost every away mission assignment, quietly slipped towards the rear as they approached Edison’s team.

“What have you found, Captain?”

“I’ll let Commander Xylion explain,” he said and gestured to his first officer.

The other Vulcan stepped forward and Tazla once again couldn’t immediately get over the fact how similar he looked to the Xylion she knew. He may as well have been a clone of her science officer. But the man himself seemed unperturbed by addressing a team that contained his double. “We have detected a localized quantum variance which does not appear to match the quantum signature of the surrounding area.”

Tazla glanced at her Xylion, hoping he would be able to translate this in terms she would more readily understand.

“Curious,” he said. “Quantum signatures do not vary by location. Theoretically, everything contained in this dimension should possess the exact same signature.”

“We still don’t fully understand in-between space,” said Tazla’s Deen. “For all we know things might behave differently here. Also, since none of us are native to this dimension, perhaps we are the source of the variance.”

“We have accounted for that,” said the other Deen, gracing her own doppelganger only the briefest of glances.

The other Xylion continued. “That is correct. We have ruled out any quantum anomalies that may be caused by our presence. What remains is not related to our own biological signatures or equipment.”

“I would like to review your findings,” said the other Vulcan which for her sanity, Tazla had decided to think of Xylion Prime for the time being.

“Naturally,” said his counterpart and passed him his tricorder.

Xylion Prime studied the device which appeared identical to their tricorders intently. “Fascinating. The phenomenon seems to be restricted to a very clearly defined local area.”

“Where?” asked Tazla.

Edison and his team turned around to face an empty space just behind them. “It’s right in front of us,” Edison said. “Covering an area of about sixty-five square meters.”

Tazla took a few careful steps closer until she stood right next to Edison. Peering into the poorly lit and immense tunnel, she could see nothing of consequence but empty space, even after she increased the light beacons of her own suit. “I don’t see anything.”

“It stands to reason,” said Xylion Prime, “that the effect is not observable with the naked eye. However, I concur with Commander Xylion that the anomaly is present at that location.”

“Any ideas what it might be?” said Tazla.

“One way to find out,” said Edison.

Tazla watched with concern as the captain stepped ever closer to the invisible phenomenon. His two security officers carefully shadowing him, visibly tensing at his insistence of putting himself at risk. Judging by the way the rest of his team didn’t comment on his actions, she assumed that it wasn’t unusual for Edison to expose himself to danger. Although Tazla was no stranger to leading from the front, she couldn’t help but think of it as reckless in this instance.

“Captain, you are standing directly in front of the outer boundary now,” the other Xylion remarked.

Edison carefully reached out with one hand only to watch it disappear.

Tazla, as well as his two security officers, quickly rushed towards him but Edison seemed unfazed by losing his hand and half his forearm. Instead, he simply looked at the now-vanished appendage with curiosity. Then he pulled back and his arm reappeared, apparently entirely unharmed.

He turned to the others. “Well, I say there’s definitely something here.”

Tazla nodded. “I suggest we deploy a drone.”

“Or we could just see for ourselves,” Edison said and before anyone else could respond, he took a step forward and vanished.

Tazla couldn’t believe it and turned to look at the rest of his team.

The other Deen simply shrugged. “Yeah, he does stuff like this all the time. You get used to it.”

Carlos and the Vulcan security guard were the first ones to follow their captain. Then Xylion and Deen disappeared as well until only Tazla and her people remained.

“I’m not sure that was wise,” said Hopkins.

She agreed with the chief engineer but at the same time, she felt compelled to follow the others. “Star to Eagle. We have found what appears to be some sort of dimensionally-shifted space at our present location. The team from the other Eagle has already entered this space. We’re set to follow.”

So’Dan Leva responded. “Understood, Commander. Proceed with caution.”

“We will. Star out,” she said and then took a deep breath. “All right, here goes,” she said and then followed Edison’s footsteps but not before holding her breath.

The effect was instantaneous. She had crossed a barrier and found herself, it seemed, somewhere else entirely. Where? She couldn’t possibly tell.

She stood on the outer edge of what looked like a circular platform constructed out of pure and bright blue light, twenty, perhaps thirty meters in diameter and surrounded entirely by some sort of transparent, silvery bubble. Beyond that thin layer, all she could see was a dark void.

Edison’s team was there, curiously taking in their surroundings as she did, marveling at the way the layer surrounding them seemed to be malleable to the touch and reflective in nature. The other Deen had reached out for the bubble at the far side of the platform, and when she had pulled her gloved hand back, the bubble pulled back as well as if stuck to her glove and until it snapped back like a rubber band, causing the entire thing to ripple slightly.

Xylion Prime and the rest of her team joined her just a moment after, seemingly emerging out of the bubble layer until they had taken on their familiar forms and the elastic barrier snapped back into place behind them and sending waves of ripples all across the half sphere.

“Whoa,” was the only thing Louise Hopkins managed to say after she had stepped onto the platform and she took in her surroundings, otherwise rendered speechless for a moment.

Deen nodded beside her. “What she said.”

“Fascinating,” said Xylion but reached for his tricorder instead of joining his colleagues at gaping at this unexpected find.

“First the invisible boundary taking us into in-between space and now yet another hidden pocket of subspace. I’m starting to feel as we’ve landed inside the largest matryoshka doll ever put together,” said Hopkins after she’d had a moment to take in this unexpectedly new and odd environment.

Tazla had to admit that she wasn’t entirely certain what the chief engineer was referring to, and judging by the faces of the rest of her non-human away team, she wasn’t alone in her ignorance. However, back when she had been at the Academy on Earth, she did recall having come across a peculiar, globe-shaped children’s toy filled with water and white particles to give the impression of falling snow. Glancing around her, she felt very much like they had been transported into a massive replica of one of those toy spheres. Albeit, and thankfully, without the water or the snow.

Edison turned around to face the new arrivals with a little smirk. “Sometimes it pays off taking a leap of faith.”

Tazla still wasn’t sure she fully agreed with him on that but kept it to herself.

“Where are we, Commander?” he asked his science officer.

The other Xylion was already studying his tricorder. “Unclear. Sensors are not able to determine the nature of our surroundings. I hypothesize that our equipment is not correctly calibrated for this environment.”

“Seems to be some sort of extra-dimensional subspace pocket,” said Deen as she slowly explored the space of the platform and then turned to look at Xylion Prime. “Maybe similar to the subspace realm you and the captain entered?”

The Vulcan offered a brief nod as he looked up from his tricorder. “That is a valid theory, Lieutenant. Certain elements appear to be consistent with that subspace dimension.”

Edison’s interested was piqued. “You’ve been here before?”

Xylion Prime glanced at Star to determine if she was willing to let him explain. She offered a nod and he continued. “We were able to open a portal into the subspace realm which is home to the aliens we believe are responsible for constructing the gateway structure.”

“Fascinating,” said the other Xylion.

“So we are in subspace then?” said the other Deen.

“We are not in the same realm we entered previously,” said Xylion Prime. “It is more probable that this is a different layer of subspace.”

“How many layers are there?” said Tazla who was beginning to lose count of the many pockets of space they had encountered, none of which she had ever even suspected existed at all.

“The study of subspace is mostly theoretical, however, Bran Theory posits that there are an infinite number of subspace layers known as brans which divide subspace,” said Xylion Prime.

“I have a feeling that field of science is going to become a lot less theoretical,” said Nora as she was slowly making her way rounding the outer edge of the platform.

Tazla noticed that Edison’s eyes were following her closely, not even making much of an effort to be inconspicuous about it.

“All right, so what do we think this place is for?” she said, hoping to refocus the captain’s attention.

“It may have something to do with this,” said Hopkins who had moved closer to the center of the platform where a ring-shaped wall about a meter and a half in height surrounded the dead center of the platform. Constructed out of the same blue hard light as the floor, it had four narrow gaps which allowed access to the otherwise unremarkable center. Peculiar looking lights were dancing on top of the wall with no immediately apparent purpose. They seemed to be nothing more than little sparks or dots of varying colors and unknown origin. The engineer carefully reached out for them.

The lights shimmered slightly only to be replaced not a moment later by more substantial shapes.

“Whoa,” she said again and quickly stepped back upon seeing the shapes appear out of nowhere. She turned to the others with a grin. “This is pretty neat.”

Tazla and the others joined her at the center of the platform and quickly found more dancing lights which all turned into the same manner of shapes upon making contact. There were cubes, cylinders, cones, and other basic shapes, in various different colors and combinations. After a few moments, they had successfully managed to materialize an entire array of shapes on top of the complete width and length of the console-like wall.

“This could be some sort of control panel,” said Edison as he studying the ring-shaped console with its many shapes.

Tazla nodded in agreement. “Question is, how do we operate it,” she said and shot the captain a sharp look. “I don’t suggest we just start pressing buttons without knowing what they do.”

Edison responded with a glower, not appreciating the insinuation that he was somehow impetuous. He addressed his own people next. “Mister Xylion, DeMara, why don’t the two of you work with the others to try and find a way to make this thing go. The rest of you spread out and keep a close eye on our surroundings. If this place can be accessed from any other location, I don’t want to be surprised.”

All four of his away team members acknowledged the new orders and the two science-minded officers headed for the holographic controls while the two security guards fanned out.

Tazla watched with some dread as Xylion and Deen joined their counterparts and Hopkins at the center of the platform. The two Vulcans, however, didn’t seem the slightest bit perturbed by working together. Deen Prime, on the other hand, gave her counterpart a wide and noticeable berth.

The five specialists commenced to meticulously examine the shimmering ring-shaped console from all angles, determining quickly that the holographic shapes seemed as solid as the console and the floor itself and sensitive to the touch, indicating that they could indeed be manipulated, possibly for a very specific purpose.

Nobody, however, could offer a clear explanation of what any of this was meant to do or how it could be used to control the gateway that had transported Eagle to another universe.

With little else to do, Tazla gingerly made the trip back through the bubble, taking great care to exactly retrace her earlier steps. She passed through the thin layer effortlessly and the brief fear that she may simply fall off the platform and pummel into an endless dark void abated the moment she felt solid ground under her boots and found herself back on the megastructure.

She didn’t stay gone long, just long enough to give Eagle and Owens who had since returned to the bridge a brief report about what they had found and that they were continuing to investigate.

When she returned she discovered the team still hard at work.

“I’m curious, Commander,” she heard Xylion Prime say quietly to his counterpart. “When we were on the Agamemnon, your Captain Edison seemed entirely unfamiliar with Bensu, leading me to believe that he has not been transferred into a physical body. If you allow this question, does he still occupy your katra?”

The other Xylion regarded his counterpart with a raised eyebrow. “I do not understand your inquiry. No being other than myself occupies my mind.”

“Fascinating. Tell me, Commander, did you encounter any unexpected life forms during your kahs-wan when you were young?”

“No,” his counterpart said. “I was unable to complete my journey through the Forge on my original attempt. I succeeded only on my second venture. I encountered no anomalous life forms during either excursion.”

Xylion Prime seemed surprised to hear about this but then discontinued that line of inquiry when he spotted Tazla approaching. The captain had since briefed her on Bensu’s extraordinary story and how he had apparently existed inside Xylion’s mind for seventy years before they had managed to transfer his consciousness into a synthetic body that seemed to defy even the Federation’s most advanced cybernetic technologies. As a Trill, with the knowledge and experiences of five different individuals residing within her, having two minds occupying one body wasn’t all that astonishing. Xylion’s ability to secretly construct an advanced synthetic body, however, was something she was sure would have to be looked into in more detail once this mission had concluded. She wasn’t sure what to make of the fact that Xylion’s counterpart had not encountered Bensu in his life.

“Have you made any progress, Commander?” she asked Xylion Prime but quickly realized that it had caused both Vulcans to turn and look her way.

“It is proving difficult to discern the functionality of this design without obtaining more knowledge about the people who have designed this interface,” said Xylion Prime.

Hopkins and the two Deens’ joined the others. “It’s like trying to read without knowing the alphabet,” said Louise Hopkins. “Without a Rosetta stone, we could start making some guesses but considering what we’re dealing with here—“

“That would be a very bad idea,” concluded DeMara Deen. Tazla needed a second to realize that it hadn’t been hers.

She glanced back at Xylion Prime. “You’ve been here before. Or a place like this. You’ve encountered this type of alien technology. Isn’t there something you can determine from that experience?”

“Unfortunately the technology here is markedly different to what we discovered in the subspace domain and we had insufficient time for an in-depth analysis,” he said.

“So this is a dead-end,” said Deen Prime.

“Not necessarily,” Xylion Prime said and considered Tazla again. “The captain had the most significant interaction with the subspace alien’s technology. He may have been able to retain relevant knowledge in that encounter.”

Tazla nodded. “Record everything here. We’ll take it back to the ship and see what we can decipher there,” she said and then turned to look for Edison. She found him a few meters away, almost casually leaning against the light wall and speaking to Nora Laas.

Tazla began to make her way over to them.

“I never thought I see you again, Laas,” she heard him say.

“In a way, you haven’t,” she responded without making eye contact.

“I understand that. But you are just so much like her. So much.”

Tazla could tell that the Bajoran was struggling with this conversation and when she looked up and saw her walk towards her and Edison, she tried to slip away.

“Laas, wait,” he said and tried to reach out for her hand. He missed and instead made contact with the console and the holographic shapes on top of it.

They responded to his touch and began to change, both in color and shape.

The platform began to tremble beneath their feet almost immediately.

Edison took a step away from the controls.

“What have you done?” Tazla said as she stepped closer.

He considered her with a glare. “It was an accident, Commander. Spare me the self-righteous lecture.”

She wanted to shoot back that she had seen exactly how this accident had occurred. That he had been distracted with Nora Laas instead of paying attention to his surroundings but the rumbling was getting worse.

Edison’s two security officers were moving to flank him and raised their weapons in anticipation of a possible attack.

“I think we should leave,” said Nora Laas.

“Agreed,” said Tazla.

And then it stopped as quickly as it had begun.

Edison smirked. “We’re fine.”

She looked around carefully but could see nothing out of the ordinary. Everything seemed back to normal. “Still, there is nothing else we can do—“

“Sir, watch out,” Jos Carlos shouted.

Tazla saw it too late to react. Right above, the bubble surrounding them was rapidly changing from silver to a greenish color as something was pushing against it from the other side, bulging out the surface. A sudden bolt of energy penetrated the layer and shot out right towards them.

Carlos was the first to react and pushed his captain aside but in doing so, the energy lance struck him across his chest instead. The force of the impact lifted the security officer high into the air and backward and right towards the bubble where he disappeared.

Tazla looked back towards where the strike had originated from but other than the slight ripples caused by Carlos penetrating the layer, everything seemed normal again. She decided not to be fooled a second time. “Let’s get out of here, now.”

This time nobody hesitated and both teams rushed towards the edge of the platform where the security officer had been catapulted through.

Within moments they were back on the ring structure.

“Over there,” said Hopkins and rushed towards where she had spotted the prone form of Carlos.

The rest of the team quickly surrounded him.

Hopkins took a knee next to him and carefully flipped him onto his back.

The security man’s faceplate was shattered from the impact and his face was blank and drained of color. His eyes were open but unmoving.

Xylion Prime was reviewing his tricorder. “He has suffered numerous broken bones including his spine. He is bleeding internally and his heartbeat is erratic. There is no brain activity.”

“We need to get him to sickbay right now,” Deen Prime said.

But her counterpart shook her head and took a knee next to the dying man. “It’s too late. He’s gone,” she said as she looked down at him with surprising detachment as if she was considering an inanimate object instead of a fellow crewmember. She reached for his eyes through the smashed visor and using the palm of her glove, she closed them.

“There is still a chance,” Deen said.

“He’s brain dead and his body is not far behind,” the other woman said, still on her knees, still looking at Carlos without a trace of emotion in her tone.

Deen Prime looked at Tazla. “Commander?”

She nodded and looked at Edison in turn. “We can bring him onto our ship but he’s your man, Captain.”

Xylion Prime closed his tricorder, shaking his head ever so slightly. “His vital signs have ceased.”

Edison regarded his security officer. “He died in the line of duty, protecting his captain,” he said and looked back up. “We’ll bring him back to Eagle and I’ll make sure he receives the highest honors for his brave and selfless actions.”

Cold comfort, Tazla thought, and found it difficult not to blame his demise on the actions of his own captain. Although she felt angry at what she considered a needless loss of life, she also understood that this was neither the time nor the place to voice her feelings.

She toggled her communicator instead. “Away team to Eagle,” she said, sparing one last glance at the fallen man. “We’re ready to come back.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 12 by CeJay
12


Bensu leaned in closer to study the colorful light shapes in more detail while an entire group of people watched him carefully and with noticeable anticipation.

The bartender turned unlikely subject matter expert had spent the last ten minutes meticulously taking in every detail of the dimensionally-shifted room, from the shimmering blue energy floor, to the silvery bubble surrounding them on all sides, the dark and indiscernible void beyond, as well as what for all intents and purposes looked like a ring-shaped bank of control stations, constructed of solid hard-light.

It was Jarik who lost his patience first, stepping up closer to Bensu. “Do you get anything yet? Do you have any thoughts on how to operate these controls and activate the gateway?”

Bensu stood back up straight and turned to look at the half-Vulcan man, before slowly shaking his head. “I am afraid not. There is no doubt that the technology employed here is similar to what we have seen before, but I cannot seem to deduce how to operate any of this.”

“This is a waste of time,” Gene Edison bemoaned, all but throwing his hands up in frustration and then turning his back to Bensu and the others.

Michael was not yet willing to give up, however. “On previous occasions, you seemed to experience something akin to emotional triggers. Some notions you weren’t able to fully describe but which seemed to be entirely correct. Are you getting anything like that now with what you’ve seen here?”

Bensu took another moment to take in his surroundings but the look on his face did not give much reason for optimism. “I can feel something and it’s not all that different to what I felt before,” he said before he turned to look at Michael again. “But it’s not nearly as strong or as concrete. Nothing, I fear, that could help us.”

“Perhaps you need to see the real thing,” said Star. “This recreation is fairly accurate to what we’ve found over there but it isn’t perfect. There could be some elements which we are missing and which could help Bensu to get a sense of how this is supposed to work.”

Bensu nodded. “If you believe it would help, I’d be happy to try it.”

But Jarik shook his head. “I’m not willing to allow a bartender with no Starfleet training or experience to set foot on what could be an immensely powerful and unknown structure.”

Xylion raised an eyebrow to that. “I believe Bensu has already demonstrated his value to this mission. We would likely not have located this structure without his assistance in the first place.”

Michael nodded along. “And he’s already visited one of these subspace domains which we wouldn’t have been able to escape without him.”

But Jarik stuck to his guns. “I am still not sure how I feel about your decision to take him onto such a dangerous mission. What we need is one of those subspace aliens to show us how to operate these controls. Which would be an option still available to us if you had done a better job of securing the prisoner we already had in our possession.”

Michael was about to shoot back an angry reply, ignoring for the moment that he hadn’t failed at securing their prisoner at all rather than having actively facilitated its escape.

But before he could do so, his father stepped in. “It is what it is. Assigning blame now is not getting us anywhere to solve the problem at hand..”

Jarik uttered a frustrated little sigh but then stepped down, acceding to the argument for the moment.

“Son, you were in the subspace domain as well. According to your report, you interacted with their technology while you were there. Think carefully, does anything here look familiar?”

Michael had been somewhat afraid of that question. His experience in subspace had not exactly been pleasant and one he’d rather forget. But he also understood that unless they could figure out how to make this technology work for them, they were stuck in a universe not their own and possibly unable to prevent an invasion of their quantum reality.

He took a moment to study the platform and the consoles himself, joining Bensu while he tried to make sense of what he saw. Except for the fact that it employed some sort of unknown hard-light technology, the ring-shaped console didn’t look all that dissimilar to something one might expect to find on a Starfleet installation. It was certainly arranged in a similar manner, clearly designed to be accessed by individuals with humanoid characteristics, probably from a standing position. He could easily reach out for the shapes with his hands and manipulate them with little effort. The design and patterns of the symbols themselves looked only faintly familiar, however. Most seemed to respond to the movements of his fingertips as he hovered above them, making them even more intuitive than Starfleet-issue touch panel controls but he struggled to make sense of any of them.

He shook his head as he looked back at the group watching him. “These controls are not arranged in the same manner as the one in the subspace domain. And even if they were, I wouldn’t know where to start. The only interaction I had was of a telepathic nature and it didn’t include an instruction manual.”

Jon Owens was noticeably disappointed by hearing those words.

“So nobody here can decipher this control scheme and we don’t have access to one of its operators,” said Tazla Star. “However, we do know of at least one person who has worked with the subspace aliens before and who might have some insight into how they think.”

“Garla,” Michael said.

Jarik immediately shook his head. “She’s gone.”

“Using one of our shuttles,” Michael said. “Which means we should be able to track her. She’s not out of our reach.”

“She might as well be,” said Edison. “Last we saw of her she was heading into Krellonian space. We can’t get her there.”

Amaya, who hadn’t spoken much since they had assembled in Eagle’s holodeck, nodded. “I have to agree with Gene on that one. I don’t know what the Star Alliance looks like where you’ve come from but here it’s not an easy place to get into. The Krellonians do not like visitors and their government alternates between indifference and hostility as far as the Federation is concerned.

“Sounds pretty much the same as what we’ve come across,” said Star. “And we do have some experience with the Krellonians. Not to mention a guide.”

Jarik crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I don’t believe this is a good idea.”

“We don’t have much of a choice. She is our best option at the moment. And she would have a vested interest to help us to get back home,” said Michael and glanced first at Jarik and then his father.

It was Jon Owens who nodded first.

Michael, of course, didn’t need their permission to proceed. His mind was already made up, but he also understood that things would go smoother if he had Jarik and his father’s buy-in. The last thing they needed now was another confrontation. Jarik remained noticeably skeptical of the plan but at least he wasn’t outright opposing it anymore, which was good enough for him. “The only question remains is how we do this. We’ll need a starship to catch-up to her and Eagle is not exactly in the best shape to do that,” he said, considering his two fellow captains.

“I still think this is a terrible idea,” Edison said quickly. “And I’m not interested in playing any part in this. I’m not going to be responsible for starting a war between the Federation and the Krellonians.”

Amaya, on the other hand, nodded slowly. “If you can assemble a team and a shuttle, I can deliver both to the Krellonian border. But I won’t be able to cross it. You’ll be on your own inside Star Alliance territory.”

“Maya?” Edison said, flashing her a glare.

“Michael is right, if we are serious in trying to help them get back home, this is our only play right now.”

“You’re dangerously close to losing you objectivity,” Edison shot back.

“What is that supposed to mean?” she said sharply, matching his intensity.

Edison apparently was not willing to put into words what he had already implied and instead just turned away. “Do what you must then. But I refuse to get involved in this madness.”

Michael decided to strike while the iron was hot. “Commander, take the Nebuchadrezzar along with Nora, Culsten and an SMT team onto Agamemnon and bring Garla back here. Whatever it takes.”

Star nodded sharply.

But Edison clearly wasn’t done yet. “You’re giving this mission to her?” he said, sounding incredulous. “You can’t be serious?”

Star spoke up before Michael had a chance. “How exactly is that a problem?”

“After what happened over on the gateway, I wouldn’t consider you to be the most reliable person for the job.”

Michael couldn’t remember the last time his Trill first officer had lost her cool, but the fire now burning in her eyes as she regarded Edison gave ample proof that she was rapidly approaching that point. “After what happened?”

“We lost a good man over there,” he said.

“You lost a man over there because you were distracted, Captain. That death is on your shoulders and on yours alone,” she shot back.

“Don’t you dare put that on me,” he yelled back. “None of that would have happened if not for you and one of your officers.”

“That has to be the most obtuse thing I’ve ever heard in my life. And that’s counting all five of them.”

“Watch your tone, Commander.”

Michael had heard enough and quickly took a step forward and right between the two shouting officers who looked very much like they were just moments away from throwing punches at each other. He couldn’t let that happen. “Everybody, let’s calm down, shall we?” he said sharply, but reserving most of his ire for Star.

The Trill needed a brief moment to notice his captain’s eyes on her but then quickly nodded and took a few steps back to put some distance between herself and the man who had riled her up so much. “Yes, sir.”

Michael considered Edison next. “Captain, I appreciate your concern, but as you’ve made very clear just a few moments ago, you are not willing to participate in this mission. And with all due respect, I will choose my away teams as I see fit.”

Edison’s angry glare lingered on Star for just a heartbeat longer before he acknowledged the other man. He nodded slowly and then tugged down at the bottom of his uniform jacket to recompose himself. “Yes, of course, Captain, I fully understand. And I apologize for losing my temper. That wasn’t very professional.”

“Think nothing more of it,” Michael said quickly but purely to put Edison at ease. “This is an unusual situation for all of us. And I know how hard it is to lose an officer under your command.”

Edison nodded very slowly. “It’s your away team, Captain and your decision. All I ask is that you keep Lieutenant Nora here.”

“What, why?” Star said, apparently unable to help herself.

Michael raised a hand her way to let her know to back down before considering his counterpart captain once more. “That is a legitimate question, Captain. Nora Laas is my chief of security and an essential part of any away mission.”

“That is exactly why I want her here,” he said. “We are not going to sit on our hands while your people head out on this dubious mission of recovering somebody who may or may not help us with this gateway. We’ll need to get back over there and considering I’ve just lost my security chief, I want somebody with us who knows what they’re doing. I knew Nora Laas, I trust her.”

Michael shook her head. “This is not the same Nora Laas.”

“I understand that. But if she is even half as competent as my Laas, I want her on our team.”

Michael uttered a little sigh. He didn’t like this at all but then he also understood that he needed to keep working with Gene Edison while they were guests in this universe. He needed to try and find a way to accommodate him. He nodded. “Very well, Nora Laas stays here.”

“Captain?” Star said, clearly wishing to protest that decision.

“Not now, Commander,” he said and then considered the rest of the assembled group. “Commander Xylion, please get the Nebuchadrezzar prepped to be transferred to the Agamemnon as soon as possible. Maya?”

She nodded. “We’ll have plenty of room for her.”

“All right, let’s get this underway.”

With that, everybody offered short acknowledgments, some looking less pleased than others, as they all made their way to the exit of the holodeck which appeared in the form of an arch right at the edge of the platform.

After a moment only Michael and Star remained, the first officer clearly having sensed his unspoken wish for her to stay behind.

“Sir, I’m sorry about my outburst earlier, that was out of line but—“

He stopped her with another raised hand. “Yes, it was, Commander. I need us all to keep a cool head here. This entire situation is extremely delicate and we won’t find our way out of it if we lose our tempers.”

“I know, sir.”

“What happened over there?”

Star walked over to the still active holographic representation of what was an alien control panel, retracing her steps from when Lieutenant Jos Carlos had been killed until she stood exactly where Edison had when it had happened. “He was distracted, sir. He was distracted by Nora. I don’t know what happened to her in this universe, but clearly, there must have been a connection. He couldn’t stop looking her way from the moment he first saw her and once we got to this place he stopped even pretending that she wasn’t affecting him. His entire focus was on her instead of on his surroundings and it made him careless.”

“And it got one of his people killed?”

“Yes. And as tragic as that is, it could have as easily been one of us,” she said.

Michael rubbed his forehead.

“Sir, he’s reckless and impetuous. Gene Edison is not a good captain or a leader of men and that makes him very dangerous.”

“I have to admit, it’s not exactly easy for me to see him again. Gene was a good friend and I have to believe that this man, as different as he may appear to the one I knew, shares some qualities with that person,” Michael said.

“You said it yourself when you talked about Nora. They are not the same people.”

“But they are not entirely different either,” Michael said. “We have all gone through very similar experiences, sometimes even identical ones. A few things obviously worked out differently over here.”

“I don’t know if it is a good idea to leave Nora behind, sir.”

“We’ve both seen first hand what the SMTs can do. I’m sure you’ll be fine without her.”

But Star shook her head. “I’m not worried about my mission.”

“Just be careful, Commander. And bring Garla back. I’ll make sure to keep my eyes on Edison.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 13 by CeJay
13


She strode into the shuttle bay to find that the runabout Nebuchadrezzar had already been lifted from the below hangar onto the flight deck, ready for takeoff. The large bay door at the far end of the cavernous hall stood fully open. Since both Eagle and Agamemnon had returned to Cygni-98 to transfer the runabout, the open doors allowed for a splendid view of the colorful Amargosa Diaspora with only an invisible forcefield between the inside of the ship and the cold vacuum of space beyond it.

The four SMT operatives who were to join her mission had already arrived, standing near the runabout, they were going through what looked like last-minute equipment checks, reviewing their heavy weaponry and several additional cases they were planning to bring along, clearly planning to be prepared for any eventuality.

Other than the team leader Reynolds Sensabaugh or Sensy as his people liked to call him, the team was made up of Ivory, the tall Vulcan female operative of few words, Grunt, the short but stocky and seemingly permanently ill-tempered Tellarite and the Boslic woman Violet who had seemingly taken her moniker from the bright color of her hair.

But it was Lif Culsten who approached her pretty much the moment she had stepped foot in the shuttle bay. “Commander, a quick word before we go?”

She nodded while she kept her course for the runabout. “Let’s make it brief, I want to get underway as soon as possible.”

Lif fell in step beside her but seemed hesitant to enter the ship. He shot a glance at the SMT operators in earshot before he looked back at her. “Somewhere more private perhaps?”

It was clear he didn’t want to have this conversation in the open but at the same time, he was determined not to board the Nebuchadrezzar. Tazla decided she didn’t have time for this. She stopped and turned to face him. “What is it, Lif?”

He uttered a little sigh when it became obvious that she wasn’t willing to take this discussion someplace else. “I just don’t think I should be on this mission.”

“Oh really? And why not, if I may ask?”

“Isn’t it obvious? Last time I ran into my aunt, she wanted to kill me for betraying her trust. If we need to bring her back here, the last thing she’s going to do is come with me. You stand a better chance of getting her back if I stayed as far away from her as possible.”

Tazla looked him straight in the eye, trying to determine the real reason he didn’t wish to go. The fact that Lif had been unhappy about returning to Krellonian space in the first place, that he had been so opposed to the entire notion that he had avoided meeting with his aunt even after both she and the captain had urged him to do so, none of that was much of a secret and she suspected that after escaping Krellonian space the last time, he had hoped not ever having to return there again, regardless in which universe. “We’re heading back into Krellonian space, Lif. Last time I checked you are still the only Krellonian onboard. I think that is good enough of a reason to include you in this mission.”

“But this isn’t even my home. For all we know this Star Alliance may have nothing in common with the place we visited a few days ago,” he said.

She shook her head. “Everything we’ve seen of this reality so far indicates that things are very similar to our own quantum-verse. It’s just that the details are all a little different. And even in that case, this would still make you our most logical guide.”

He broke eye contact for a moment and Tazla was wondering if he was trying to think of another argument to keep him from going. “Things didn’t exactly work out so well last time I went into Krellonian space,” he said when he looked at her again.

“I remember, I was there,” she said.

“So maybe it would be for the best if this time—“

She didn’t let him finish. “Look, Lif, you’re going and that’s all there’s to it. Like it or not, you are our subject matter expert on both the Krellonians and on Garla. In my eyes—and in those of the captain’s—that makes you mission-critical. And I don’t want to waste any more time arguing this.”

He got the message and nodded slowly. “I’ll go ahead and prep for take-off then.”

She offered him a wide grin. “That sounds like an excellent idea.”

He trotted off towards the runabout with his shoulders noticeably slumped.

Tazla didn’t miss the looks she was getting from some of the SMT operators who had listened in on the conversation. Violet, in particular, seemed to have taken some interest in the exchange, judging from the smirk playing on her lips as she looked up from what looked a lot like some sort of portable missile launcher she was currently inspecting. Tazla silently prayed to any deity that would listen that they wouldn’t need that sort of armament on this mission.

Before she could address the operators, she heard the heavy doors of the shuttlebay opening and when she looked that way, she spotted Nora Laas come rushing towards her.

“Commander,” she said before she had even reached her. “I have no idea what happened but for some reason I was not notified of this mission in time. My apologies.”

“None are necessary, Lieutenant. You are not on this mission.”

The blank look on her face seemed to speak of genuine confusion. “What, why not?”

She rubbed her forehead. Now, this was definitely not a conversation she wanted to have in the open. “It’s complicated. Let’s just say that your presence will be required here.”

It wasn’t enough of an explanation for the Bajoran. “Commander, I am the chief of security. You are about to embark on a mission to extract a high-value target behind enemy lines, more than likely against her will. We already know that Garla is an extremely capable and dangerous individual. You’ll need me.”

Tazla turned her back slightly to shield herself and this conversation from the operatives. “I am not disputing that.”

“Then what is the problem? Let me come along and make sure this mission will be successful.”

She tried a different tact. “Do you think the Niners are not up to that task?”

Nora briefly glanced over Tazla’s shoulder to consider the SMT members for a moment. “Of course not. They have proven that they’re highly capable. But I didn’t ask for them to be transferred to Eagle to replace my role on away missions.”

“This isn’t about you, Lieutenant.”

Nora, however, saw right through that bald-faced lie. “Oh no? It feels like it is since I would have been the first choice to ensure security on such a high-profile mission. What’s happening here, Commander?”

Tazla uttered a sigh and decided that there was no point in dancing around it any longer, not if she wanted to depart on schedule. “Captain Edison requested for you to remain behind,” she said and watched Nora’s face twist into a mask of growing anger. “To provide ongoing support in securing and investigating the gateway structure.”

“This has to be some sort of joke,” she said, doing little to hide her frustration.

Tazla shook her head. “I’m afraid not. It wasn’t my idea and the captain has agreed to Edison’s request since his ongoing cooperation is going to be essential,” she said. “So please, do not take this up with the captain,” she added since she knew that the fiery security chief had a tendency to take her grievances right to the top.

“Don’t worry, Commander, he’s not the one I am going to have words with,” she said, turned on her heel and rushed out of the shuttlebay just about as quickly as she had arrived.

Not a moment after the doors had closed behind her again, Tazla could sense that Violet had stepped up next to her. “You should have considered joining the Teams, Commander. No pesky personnel issues here,” she said with a wide grin, clearly enjoying Tazla’s frustrations before she boarded the runabout.

The other three members of her team followed suit, each one passing her by and giving Tazla a very brief glance as if in silent agreement with Violet, including the tall and reticent Vulcan woman. The Tellarite, as if to stay true to his handle, offered her a simple grunt as he walked by her last and following his team members onto the Nebuchadrezzar.

Tazla stood there just a moment longer, watching silently as the four operators boarded the runabout and then shook her head. “Things can only get better from here on in,” she said quietly and in doing so perhaps hoping that by saying it out loud, it would make it come true.
Part 1 - Splintered: 14 by CeJay
14


In order to facilitate the transfer of the runabout Nebuchadrezzar from Eagle to Agamemnon, both ships had exited in-between space to return to the Amargosa Diaspora and the subsequent trip from one shuttle bay to another had taken less than five minutes.

Tazla Star glanced out of the viewport of the runabout’s cockpit once they had set down inside Agamemnon just in time to get a glimpse of Eagle moving away again. The ship deployed a signal buoy which they hoped would allow them to keep in contact, even within in-between space before Eagle slipped back into the rabbit hole and disappeared in a way that still left Tazla somewhat startled.

The shuttlebay door closed shut and she felt the slightest bit of a jolt which indicated that Agamemnon had jumped to warp.

Captain Donners had promised to take them as close to the border of the Krellonian Star Empire as possible which her ship could do much faster than the runabout would have been able to do under its own power.

For the duration of their journey, both Tazla and Donners had agreed that her team would remain secluded on the Nebuchadrezzar to avoid unnecessary interactions between individuals from different universes. Donners, Tazla had found, was much more reasonable in that regard than Edison had been.

It wasn’t a significant imposition since Agamemnon would reach the drop-off point in just a few hours at high warp since apparently the territorial border of the Star Alliance reached far deeper into the Diaspora in this universe than it did in theirs.

Tazla spent her time being ferried to their destination familiarizing herself with the intelligence briefings on the Krellonian Star Alliance Donners had made available to them. It wasn’t much, she had quickly realized and even less information than the little insight their Starfleet Intelligence had gathered about the Krellonians.

“Our best chance to enter Krellonian territory undetected is by passing through the Moebius star cluster which spans across much of the Diaspora. The high level of solar radiation in that region of space should help mask our approach,” Tazla said after studying the scant reports. “We should be able to reach the border in just under three hours after we have reached our drop-off point.”

“Do we have any idea about the location of our target?” said Sensabaugh who occupied the runabout's cockpit alongside Ivory and Culsten.

“Our last long-range scans showed Garla’s heading to be a direct course for the Piqus system,” Tazla said.

The SMT operator shot her a skeptical look. “This woman is an experienced intelligence agent. We need to consider that she may have altered her course or otherwise disguised her true destination.”

“Ordinarily, I would agree,” she said. “But Garla seemed to be unaware, or at least highly skeptical, that we had crossed into a different quantum reality. As far as she is concerned she is back in our universe and if she believes that, there is little reason for her to hide the fact that she is going back to her base of operations since she won’t be excepting us to follow her.”

Sensabaugh nodded slightly, accepting the logic of her argument. “Then all that’s left for us to do is to find a way to enter the sovereign territory of a highly xenophobic race undetected, approach a likely hostile colony world, locate a single individual among a few million people, convince or more likely force her to come with us and then exfiltrate back into Federation space in once piece. And all that, ideally without starting an interstellar incident in this universe.”

Tazla offered him a little grin. “That’s about the gist of it.”

“And here I thought this mission might pose a challenge,” he said and regarded Ivory with a smile of his own. “Sounds like another day at the office.”

The stoic Vulcan responded with nothing more than raising one of her finely arched eyebrows.

“Lif, we’ll need some ideas regarding how we can fool Krellonian border security. If they are anywhere near as overzealous as the ones we’ve met in our universe, using the Moebius cluster to facilitate our crossing may not be enough,” she said, looking towards the helmsman who sat in the pilot’s seat even now while there was nothing much there he could do.

He shook his head ever so slightly. “It’s a fool’s errand, Commander. We’re not going to get far,” he said without making eye contact.

Sensabaugh bestowed Tazla with a concerned expression. And from what she could tell, it wasn’t so much what he had said but rather how he had said it that didn’t seem to sit right with the veteran operator.

She knew exactly how he felt since it bothered her as well. And much more significantly than it bothered him, she wagered. Tazla left her chair. “Lieutenant,” she said sternly enough to force him to swivel his seat around to face her. “I think it’s time we’ve had that private chat you’ve asked for earlier.”

Recognizing the hard look on her face, he nodded, stood and then followed her towards the back of the runabout.

Tazla found a spare module which would allow them some privacy, a tiny crew compartment not much larger than a broom closet, and indicated for him to step inside first before she followed suit.

The door slid shut behind her and the Krellonian turned around to face her, the sullen expression on his features a clear indication that he likely knew what was coming.

“All right, Lieutenant,” she said, wasting no time at all. “You wanted a talk, talk.”

“It seems rather pointless now that we’re already underway, doesn’t it?” he said.

“Sir.”

He shot her a quizzical expression.

“Doesn’t it, sir,” she said again.

It took a moment to dawn on him what she had done and he quickly straightened his posture as was befitting an officer speaking to a direct superior. “Yes, sir. Apologies, sir.”

“Here’s the thing, Lif. You should know me well enough by now to know that I’m not a stickler for rules, never really have been. I like to work in a relaxed and informal manner with the crew when we are not faced with an imminent crisis and I think that arrangement had worked fairly well over the years, wouldn’t you say?”

He nodded. “Yes, yes it has.”

She pierced him with another look.

“Sorry. Yes, sir.”

“But you see, the only way this approach works is if everybody involved behaves like a professional Starfleet officer, and shows the appropriate respect to their fellow officers and crew, no matter their rank, and conducts themselves in line with what is expected from somebody who wears the uniform. Do you see what I’m getting at here?”

He nodded slowly.

“You have been selected for a crucial mission which as it stands at present, could very well determine our ability to ever return home again, and quite frankly, you have been behaving like an impetuous child.”

“I … “ he didn’t quite have words to offer.

That suited Tazla just fine for the moment. “I understand that you’ve struggled with reconciling your personal feelings for your people with having to return into Krellonian space. I know that none of it was your idea and that you had hoped never having to return to face your own people and their—well, let’s say complicated societal challenges again. But things don’t always work out the way we hope, especially not in Starfleet.”

“I understand that, Commander, but—” he stopped himself again. “Permission to speak freely, sir.”

“Permission granted.”

“I honestly thought that I had started to overcome my misgivings about this mission. You are right; I wanted absolutely nothing to do with my people again. I was angry at everybody and nobody that I was forced to return there and even more so that you expected me to engage with Garla. But the thing is, Commander, she had a plan to finally make a difference for my people. A solution that would at long last address the terrible sins of our past and allow our society, both Krellonians and Outlanders, to move beyond our atrocious history.”

“Yes, I remember. Total segregation of the races, was it? Not exactly what I would call an ethical or even realistic solution.”

“Maybe, maybe not. But it was better than nothing. And while Garla hadn’t shared the details of that plan, she seemed convinced that it would work for everybody. And then it all went horribly wrong.”

She shook her head. “You don’t know that it has.”

But he was convinced and shook his head. “Of course it has. Garla feels betrayed enough that she wants me dead and whatever deal she has struck with these subspace aliens has clearly not worked out the way she had intended. But that’s not even the worst of it.”

Tazla felt it best to let him speak, now that he had amassed some momentum.

“I came to believe that I could genuinely help Garla help my people. Face the demons—if you allow the poetic turn—and not just those I’ve been dealing with most of my life, but all Krellonians and even more so the Outlanders had to endure. I thought I was part of the solution and instead I’ve ended up killing an Outlander with my bare hands on Piqus and helped kill perhaps dozens more on Garla’s freighter. The blood of all those people are on my hands,” he said and had started to divert his eyes as if he couldn’t stand any longer for her to see his shame. “I think that maybe—in my current mental state—maybe I am just not fit to be on this mission. I may be more of a liability to you and the team than an asset.”

Tazla stepped up closer to him, which didn’t require much considering the confined space of the cabin. She placed a hand on his shoulder. “Lif, I know it’s been tough on you and I can see why you would blame yourself for the things that have gone wrong. I probably know better than anyone about that miserable feeling deep down in your gut when you realize that you’ve been responsible for somebody’s death. And I know that there is nothing you can do to rid yourself of it. It’ll be part of you for the rest of your life.”

He turned to look at her with visible anguish etched into his features.

“Understand, I am not equating what you’ve gone through, what you feel you are responsible for, with my own past. I still believe that you’ve mostly been the victim of unfortunate circumstances. Most of the awful things I’ve done in my life—well, I don’t blame anyone else but myself for them. And for a very long time I kept relieving the worst of those moments in my mind and punishing myself to the degree that I was pretty much useless doing anything else. What I came to realize is that I had a choice. I could spend the rest of my life beating myself up over my mistakes, or I could try to start atoning for them. What choice are you going to make, Lif?”

He nodded slowly.

She gave him an encouraging squeeze. “We’ll need your help with this mission, or things will get a lot worse for everyone. So I ask you, do you believe we can count on you? If you tell me, no, if you a certain that you’ll be more hindrance than help, tell me now, and you can stay behind on the Agamemnon.”

He didn’t need to think it over. “I’ll do whatever I can to help, sir,” he said, sounding a great deal more determined than he had a few minutes earlier.

“Good, we’ve got a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to get it done,” she said and offered him one last heartening look before she headed for the door with him following closely behind.
Part 1 - Splintered: 15 by CeJay
15


Michael understood that their best shot at trying to figure out how the Ggteway operated was by hoping that Star and her away team would be able to retrieve Garla and find a way to make her cooperate. But even if assuming that the Krellonian agent was able and willing to contact the subspace aliens which had constructed the structure, there was no guarantee that they would cooperate, certainly not if his father was right and their ultimate goal was nothing less than invasion. Having been responsible for torturing a member of theirr race previously also would not exactly endear them to help Eagle find a way home.

His father and Jarik had not been nearly as helpful as he had hoped in this either. He had considered them both, if not subject matter experts, at least the closest they had to one. After all, his father had made it clear that the pursuit of the ring structure had been one of his agency’s top priorities over the last few years and it had been his intelligence that had gotten them to where they had ended up in the first place.

When the two men had first come onto Eagle, just before they had discovered in-between space, Michael had been concerned with the possibility of his father meddling with his command. Instead it had turned out that both men had a frustrating tendency to hide themselves away which would have suited him just fine if not for their current dilemma.

All this meant that they couldn’t afford not to pursue every single avenue available to them and Michael had given Xylion and his team wide latitude to learn as much as possible about the gateway.

When he entered Eagle’s main science lab to check on their progress, he found them hard at work. His chief science officer, along with Bensu, Hopkins and Deen where closely studying a holographic projection of the Ring currently being displayed above a console at the center of the lab.

“Any progress?”

Xylion turned to look at the captain. “We have arrived at a working theory about the operational nature of the structure.”

This quickly caught his full attention as he stepped closer to the projection. “Let’s hear it.”
“We don’t have any concrete evidence to back this up yet,” said Hopkins.

“But it does seem consistent with what we’ve seen so far,” added Deen.

“Noted. Don’t keep me in suspense.”

“Our theory posits that the structure is essentially a massive particle collider,” said Xylion as he manipulated a control console which in turn altered the projection by removing the Ring’s outer hull and revealing a series of large conduits which ran the entire length of the structure. Small light particles traveled these conduits at increasingly higher speeds. “If correct, we believe particles are accelerated to levels of kinetic energy beyond anything we have come across previously.”

Michael couldn’t deny that this was an intriguing theory.

“What we cannot account for—among a number of other things—is what kind of particles are being accelerated within the Ring,” said Deen. “But even if we’re talking about your regular old protons here, or some sort of anti-matter—and we’re pretty sure we’re not—the power this collider could be exerting—“

“Would be damn near incalculable,” said Hopkins, her eyes twinkling with awe as she kept them on the projection.

“It certainly would be enough energy, we believe, to penetrate branes in subspace and creating gateways to other universes,” said Xylion, as usual doing a much better job at keeping his emotions in check.

Michael could feel a cold shudder run up his spine. He couldn’t admit that he was an expert on quantum physics but thanks to Starfleet’s obsessive need to classify and compartmentalize information, he knew one thing that his more science-minded people did not. He was fairly certain that the Ring was operating on Omega molecules. Considering that some theories held that Omega had been present just before the Big Bang, possibly as the accelerating agent, this massive collider—if that’s what it truly was—may have been far more powerful than even his science team could guess at.

He glanced towards the member of the team who hadn’t spoken yet. “What do you make of all this, Bensu?”

The bartender looked over the projection for a moment, then at his fellow colleagues and then finally considered Michael. “It might be difficult to believe considering my close history with Xylion’s brilliant mind, but much of this science goes over my head. What I know—or rather—what I sense, is that there is an immense power emenating from the Ring.”

“And we need to find a way to harness that if we have any hopes of getting back home,” Michael said.

“I’m hesitant to suggest this,” Bensu said. “Mostly because I’m afraid of what I might find over there, but I think it is becoming unavoidable that I visit the Ring myself and see what I can—“ Bensu stopped suddenly, reached for his head and with a loud gasp fell onto his knees.

“Bensu?” Deen cried and was by his side immediately, grave concern etched onto her features. Hopkins and Xylion were not far behind. “Science lab one to sickbay, medical emergency.”

“What happened?” Michael said as he too quickly closed in on him.

Bensu shook his head. “I’m not sure. I felt a powerful force just now. It’s the suddenness of it that caught me off guard. I’ve felt this once before.”

Michael remembered. It had happened on the bridge just before they had been thrown into this alternate universe. “Owens to bridge.”

“Leva here, sir.”

“Commander, what is our status?”

The tactical officer needed a moment to respond, likely checking the bridge instruments. “Unchanged, sir. All systems are operating as expected.”

“What about the Ring? Any activity? Any sign of a gateway?”

“We’re still having trouble getting reliable readings from that structure but no, there are no indications of any anomolies.”

Michael exchanged a look with Xylion before he spoke again. “Very well, keep an eye on it and let me know the moment you detect anything out of the ordinary. Owens out.”

Bensu was clenching his teeth. “It’s the same sensation, I’m sure of it. And it is close.”

“Are you able to describe what you are experiencing?” Xylion asked calmly after having taken a knee next to Bensu.

“It’s not pain exactly but it is very uncomfortable, as if every single synapse in my brain is firing all at once. I don’t know how else to explain it.”

The doors to the lab opened to admit Doctor Katanga carrying a medkit over his shoulder which he promptly unslung after seeing Bensu on his knees. “What happened?” he said as he was retrieving a tricorder from the kit.

“He just collapsed,” said Hopkins. “He says it’s the same as the last time this happened on the bridge.”

The veteran physician took a knee as well as he began to scan his patient. “I am detecting significantly elevated brain wave activity but I can’t say what is causing this,” he said as he studied his scanning device. “Of course, if you had allowed me to study you in greater detail when I asked, perhaps I’d know what I’d be looking for now.”

“Hindsight is a funny thing. Maybe you were right,” said Bensu through clenched teeth.

“I’m a doctor, son, of course I was right.”

“The good news is it’s already starting to pass,” Bensu added. “Just as it did the last time.”

“That is not sufficiently acceptable,” said Xylion. “You seem to be sensing something in close proximity.” He glanced right at Michael before continuing. “It might be a danger to the ship and crew.”

He nodded. “Considering what we’ve been through I tend to agree.”

Bensu shook his head. “I can’t tell you what it is, I’m afraid.”

“But perhaps you can help us locate the source,” Xylion said.

Bensu considered him skeptically. “I don’t see how.”

“You were able to direct us to in-between space before,” said Michael.

“That was different. Don’t ask me to explain but this experience is not coming with directions. It’s just a very powerful sensation that, to be quite frank, is overwhelming my mind and my senses.”

“Then, logically, what you require is another mind to allow you to focus on what is happening to you.”

Katanga seemed to be the first to realize what Xylion was suggesting and quickly shook his head. “Absolutely not. I will not condone one of those hinky Vulcan mind melds your people seem so fond to administer with wanton disregard. They are highly unreliable and outright dangerous. It’s not happening on my watch.”

Xylion glanced at the other man. “Doctor, you seem to forget that our minds were already linked—in a manner of speaking—for long periods of time and therefore are quite familiar with each other.” He continued before Katanga could raise another objection. “Furthermore, I am not proposing a full mind meld.”

“What are you thinking?” Michael asked.

“Consider it a bridge instead of a meld. Linking our two minds without fusing them and thereby keeping them as two entirely separate entities. It will allow me to support and stabilize Bensu’s thoughts and hopefully allow him to focus on the source of this phenomenon.”

“Call it what you will, I still don’t like it,” the doctor said.

Michael looked at Bensu still kneeling on the floor, still in noticeable discomfort. “I can’t order this. The decision is yours.”

“Seventy years sharing a mind was really more than enough for me,” he said. “But we need to figure this out and I can’t think of any other way of doing that.”

“I know I’m going to regret going along with this but at the very least we need to take this to sickbay where I can monitor this loony mind bridge procedure in better detail,” Katanga said.

But Xylion shook his head marginally. “There is no time, Doctor. The longer we delay, the more likely the chance that we will lose the connection Bensu has with whatever is affecting him.”

Bensu looked right at his long-time friend. “Let’s do it.”

The Vulcan knelt down directly in front of Bensu and then reached out with one hand, each finger making contact with specific points on Bensu’s face. Michael had seen images of Vulcans performing mind-melds before and this didn’t look all that different.

“Try to focus your thoughts on the sensation you are currently experiencing. Think of nothing else.”

“Shouldn’t be too difficult, it’s like somebody is setting off fireworks in my head.”

Xylion’s face twitched slightly as he seemed to be making contact with something.

“I can sense you in my mind,” said Bensu. “Again.”

“Pay no attention to it. Keep your mind focused.”

For a moment neither of them spoke, or if they did, Michael couldn’t hear it and it was taking place telepathically. But it was obvious from studying their faces that something was happening and that Xylion was dedicating a great amount of effort and focus on what he was trying to accomplish.

Katanga’s visage in the meantime was scowling harder by the minute, ready to put an end to this the moment he felt it was getting out of control.

Xylion gasped and then fell backwards, Hopkins and Deen able to steady him in time before he he dropped to the deck.

“Fascinating.”

“Are you all right?” Hopkins asked, obvious concern lacing her voice.

“I am unharmed, Lieutenant.”

Katanga was running his tricorder over both of them. “I’m going to be the judge of that. How about you, Bensu, how do you feel?”

He offered a little smirk. “Surprisingly much better. The sensation is gone.”

“Were you successful. Are you able to tell the source?” Michael asked.

Bensu shook his head. “I’m afraid not, Captain.”

Xylion stood with Hopkins’ help. “However, I believe I do.”

Michael wanted to ask how but then decided against it as he repriortized their next steps. “All right, let’s get an away team together and beam back over onto the Ring. Commander, do you feel well enough to guide us?”

The Vulcan considered Michael with what appered like curiosity for a brief moment. “I am well enough, Captain. But there is no need for an away team.”

Deen shot him a confused look. “What do you mean?”

“The source of the disturbance is onboard Eagle.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 16 by CeJay
16


She ignored the many curious looks and double-takes she received as she determinedly strode down Eagle’s corridors.

This ship, after all, was extremely familiar to her, even if she had never set foot on it before in her life. But as it turned out, the alternate version of Eagle mirrored her own in almost every detail.

After learning from Star that it had been Captain Edison who had insisted that she stayed behind, instead of joining the first officer in her perilous mission to retrieve Garla, she had made a bee-line for the transporter room and asked to be beamed over to his ship.

Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she knew it wasn’t the smartest choice to voluntarily surround herself with people from another universe, including taking the chance of running into her own double. She knew she wasn’t violating direct orders in doing so and Starfleet didn’t exactly have clear regulations about interacting with alternate universe counterparts or if it did, she had never bothered to look them up. But this wasn’t like the Temporal Prime Directive which was mandatory reading material for Starfleet officers since none of her actions would have any direct effect on the timeline of her universe.

The looks on the faces of the crewmembers she passed by, however, made it very clear that she didn’t belong here and they reminded her to some degree of the astonished expression on Gene Edison’s face when he had first spotted her.

At the time she hadn’t thought too much about it since his mere presence had completely thrown her for a loop. She had done, she thought, an admirable job to hide it from the rest of the away team, but in truth, seeing the only man she had ever loved and who had practically died in her arms two years earlier, seeing him alive once more, standing just a few meters from her, it had very nearly broken her.

Her rational mind had played catch-up ever since with the emotional side of her brain having concluded—without a shadow of a doubt—that Captain Gene Edison was not the man she had fallen in love with. He was nothing like him. The beard he wore was the least that distinguished him from her Edison. This man was impulsive, careless and irresponsible, that much he had already proven on the alien structure. Worse, considering how he had made decisions and demands which were never his to make, he was also arrogant and overbearing.

She was resolved to set him straight.

The ship’s computer had helpfully advised her that the captain was in his quarters after she had beamed across, and the transporter technician behind the console had done little more than stare at her wide-eyed as she had simply strode off the platform and headed to where she expected the captain’s quarters to be. So far her only true faux pas had been her failure to be given formal permission to come aboard but as far as she was aware, nobody had ever been court-martialed for this kind of offense.

She located the captain’s quarters in the exact same place they were on her Eagle, except that it was Gene Edison’s name that was printed on the doors instead.

She practically punched the annunciator panel.

It didn’t take long for the doors to open and Edison to appear. His uniform jacket hung loose and unzipped and his hair looked slightly ruffled as if he had just woken up. The dark circles around his eyes, however, seemed to make it clear that he had not gotten a lot of sleep lately.

“Laas?” he said, unable to hide his utter astonishment at seeing her standing outside his quarters.

Her boiling anger abated upon seeing his face again. Yes, the full beard took some time getting used to, but other than that, it was impossible to ignore that he looked identical to the Gene she had known. The man she had thought she’d never see again. She felt her knees weaken despite herself and momentarily forgetting what it was she had come here to say.

“What are you doing here?” he said, still sounding as if he was recovering from the shock of seeing her.

Her rational mind once again won out and she recovered from her state of confusion, her eyes aiming razor-sharp daggers. “You have some nerve, you know that?”

Edison looked passed her and down both sides of the corridor, either wondering if she had come alone or if anyone else had witnessed her arrival. “Come in, please,” he said.

Without a second thought, she pushed herself passed him and strode right into his quarters.

Edison did one last sweep of the corridor before he stepped back to let the door panels slide shut again and then turned around to consider her, taking his time to look her up and down.

Laas didn’t appreciate the way he studied her meticulously but then again, took the same liberty herself since she had only seen him wearing a full-body environmental suit on their previous encounter.

It was startling yet again. His general stance, his facial expression, the way his blonde hairline parted slightly over his brow, even that little thing he did with his right eyebrow whenever he had been concerned or confused, she recognized all of it and seeing it again, it suddenly felt very painful, like looking at a reproduction in the holodeck which had faithfully created all physical details with perfect accuracy but had been unable to imbue this facsimile with a soul.

“I’m so glad you came, Laas,” he said as he took a step closer to her.

It was only then that she was beginning to wonder if she hadn’t made a terrible mistake coming here. She wasn’t even sure anymore what she had hoped to achieve. This was hardly the first time she had acted entirely out of anger or frustration, but she had worked hard over the years to find ways to control that aspect of herself. She had thought she had only recently made a breakthrough when she had opened her mind for the first time in her life to the Prophets of Bajor after unexpectedly coming across a temple dedicated to the gods of her homeworld in the last place she would have ever excepted to find one.

She realized that all that hard work was now in real danger of crumbling and come crashing down on top of her.

“I mean, look at you,” he said, still unwilling to take his eyes off her. “Just look at you,” he said again, a smile now beginning to grow on his bearded face. “You look perfect, Laas. Just perfect.”

She slowly shook her head. “I am not the Nora Laas you know.”

“Of course not,” he said, shaking his head slightly now as well. “Of course you are not. I’m sorry, Laas. It’s just so incredible to see you here like this. Just incredible.”

“This entire thing is strange.”

“Yes,” he quickly agreed. “Very strange, indeed. But, I forget my manners. Let me get you something,” he said and headed for the replicator to order beverages.

She took a step to follow him. “That’s all right, I didn’t come here for—“

“Kava juice?” he said, holding out the replicated drink.

She took the glass gingerly from his hand, looking at it as if she had never seen anything like it before. Then he looked up at his expecting face. “Thanks.”

“It’s your favorite,” he said.

It was quickly becoming clear to her that this wasn’t going well, certainly not at all like she had played it out in her head beforehand. She put the drink down on a table and took a deep breath. “You had me taken off an away mission,” she said sharply. “You had no right doing that.”

“I thought your expertise would be better suited to help us continue studying the structure. I know how capable you are, Laas. I wanted the best person for the job,” he said, putting down his glass.

She shook her head. “It wasn’t your call. You are not my commanding officer and you should have no influence over personnel decisions on my ship.”

“You are right.”

“You put my captain into a difficult position by making these demands and I resent that a great deal, especially since it compromised a vital mission which is now underway without my assistance,” she said.

“I am sorry.”

She just glared at him. She wasn’t sure what she had expected him to say. At the very least some sort of justification, maybe even an argument but certainly not outright capitulation. She didn’t know how to work with that. “You are sorry?”

He nodded. “Yes. You are absolutely right, Laas. I was out of line. Maybe—I don’t know what I was thinking—but maybe, subconsciously, I just wanted you out of harm’s way.”

She uttered a little humorless laugh at that. “Out of harm’s way? I’m head of security. Being in harm’s way is my job description. And it’s not as if that alien structure is any safer. We’ve already seen that.”

He nodded slowly, no doubt thinking about his slain officer.

“You are right. On all counts,” he said with a heavy sigh. “I have exhibited poor judgment, I know that now. But I can’t undo what I’ve done. I can only apologize and promise you that I will not overstep like that again.”

She stared back at him blankly, not sure what she was supposed to say to this while at the same time unable to dismiss that he sounded so much like her Edison, it was becoming increasingly difficult to tell him apart.

He took a few gingerly steps towards her. “I will do whatever is in my power to help you and your crew to find a way back home.”

“Thanks.”

“I owe you that much.”

“The captain will be relieved to hear that.”

“If your Michael Owens is anything like the one I used to know, he’s a great leader and a good man. I’m still trying to fill his shoes and as you can see, not always that successfully.”

“I’m sure you are doing a decent job,” she said, mostly because she felt she needed to say that.

He shook his head. “We both know that’s not true but thank you for saying that. What was my counterpart like?”

She had dreaded this question. He had apparently already deduced that her Edison was no longer around. “He was a pretty good man as well.”

“Did you and he—were you together?”

She turned around to leave, unable to look him in the eyes when speaking about Gene, unable to talk about him with the man who was his double in almost every way.

He reached out for her arm and pulled her back around gently and Laas surprised herself by offering no resistance, glancing back into his hazel colored eyes.

He nodded. “There was something there, wasn’t there?” he said. “Something meaningful.”

She said nothing and she barely even moved when he stepped closer.

She had no idea how it had come to that, but when his lips pressed themselves onto hers, she could have sworn that it was her Gene kissing her again. For a brief moment, it was like what she thought the Celestial Temple would be like, being surrounded by the Prophets who’d love her without question or condition. For a brief moment, she was back with Gene when things had been as good as they had ever been when she had found the one man she believed she could spend the rest of her days with. Before he had been violently ripped away from her and her world.

It was, perhaps fittingly, the foreign sensation of his prickly beard against her face that forced her open again. Still pressed against the familiar shape of his body, she spotted a picture frame sitting on a shelf on the far wall. It was her smiling face that looked back at her from the animated photograph.

She pushed away from Edison and freed herself from his embrace. “What happened to her?”

He followed her glance towards the shelf and then walked over to the frame. “She died,” he said simply as he stared at her alternate version’s face and her short strawberry blond hair rustling slightly in the breeze. “It was my fault. We were on a mission during the Dominion War. There was a shapeshifter.” It was clear he meant to say more but the words didn’t come over his lips and Laas didn’t prompt him to continue, sensing his pain.

“She saved my life,” he finally said and then placed the frame face down onto the shelf.

She struggled to keep tears out of her eyes.

She knew exactly what mission Edison was talking about. It had been the same mission her Gene had been killed. By that same shapeshifter. Of course, in her version, Gene had saved her and it had been she who had been plagued with survivor’s guilt ever since.

He glanced back at her. “It went differently for you, didn’t it?”

She felt a sudden shiver running up her spine as a sense of fear and confusion gripped her. She shook her head and took two steps backward. “This is wrong. This is so terribly wrong.”

“Laas,” he said.

“No, I should never have come here,” she said, turned around and rushed towards the doors.

“Laas, wait,” he called after her.

She was already out of his quarters heading back towards the transporter room in an ever greater hurry, knowing that she had to get off that ship and away from Gene Edison as quickly as she possibly could.
Part 1 - Splintered: 17 by CeJay
17


Somewhat surprisingly, it had been Xylion, not Bensu, who was confidently guiding Michael along with Doctor Katanga, DeMara Deen, Bensu and a security officer across the ship, apparently having been able to glean the source of the disturbance which had now twice affected Bensu and which he had been able to interpret more clearly thanks to their shared mind link.

They ended up on deck eight and Michael immediately made a mental calculation as to what was located on this deck. There were his quarters, of course, those belonging to Tazla Star and other senior officers, the entrance to holodeck one, as well as VIP quarters.

Xylion came to a stop in front of the latter.

Michael instantly knew who occupied that cabin. “Is this it?” he said. “Is this the source?”

Bensu reached for his head as if he had felt another pang of pain. “Most definitely. It’s coming from just inside.”

Michael wasn’t sure if the extra muscle was required it may have seemed inappropriate considering the rank of the person who occupied those quarters presently, but he felt like taking no chances and indicated to Jos Carlos, the deputy chief of security, who quickly drew his weapon.

Then he did the civil thing and used the annunciator.

There was no response.

“Security override,” he said to Carlos.

The muscled officer nodded and began to enter the required code into the panel next to the door.

Michael felt his body tense up just before the two door panels split with a hiss.

Whatever it had been that Bensu had felt, he was sure he could feel something similar the moment the doors had opened. Something he couldn’t possibly describe was washing over him, a tingling sensation he could sense deep in his core.

Carlos could feel it too, momentarily taken aback by this unexpected sensation.

Deen gasped and looked at him. “Are you sensing this?”

He nodded.

“What … what is this?” Carlos said, clearly somewhat disoriented by this unexpected sensation.

Nobody had an answer.

“It’s here,” Bensu finally said.

He wasn’t sure what was driving him on, innate curiosity at what could possibly make him feel this way, or perhaps it was concern for his father, but Michael was the first one through the door.

The lounge was empty and he continued towards the bedroom.

He stopped in his tracks.

In the middle of the room stood his father, holding in his hand a small and unremarkable silvery rod. Jarik was by his side and between the two men, an object was floating a few meters in the air. It was glowing in bright green and white colors as if it was made out of pure light. Not much larger than his head, the perfectly geometrically triangular shape was rotating slowly and filling the room with bright light.

Both Jarik and his father were transfixed on it, and Michael couldn’t help but stare at it as well, sensing the power of the strange object deep within him.

“This is it,” said Bensu after a moment, nearly whispering. “This is what I’ve been sensing.”

It was only then that Jon Owens and Jarik took notice of the visitors. Owens dropped the device he had been holding and after a moment the light shape vanished as if it had never even existed, taking its light with it.

The powerful force that had been penetrating him just a moment ago, disappeared just as quickly, although the sensation continued to linger at the edges of his consciousness.

When his mind finally cleared again, he glared at both Jarik and his father. “Somebody tell me what the hell you’ve brought onto my ship.”


* * *



“We’re calling it the Prism,” Jonathan Owens said, as he took his seat at the conference table along with Jarik who remained on his feet just behind him.

Michael had taken his usual chair at the head of the table and Xylion, Bensu, Deen and Hopkins were present as well.

Michael had also invited Gene Edison to the meeting after briefing him on what they had found in his father’s cabin. Captain Edison had chosen the chair to Michael’s right, the seat usually reserved for Star when she was present. Of course, it didn’t escape Michael that it had originally been Commander Edison’s chair once upon a time, and this version of the man—save perhaps for his full beard and the four pips decorating the collar of his uniform—appeared perfectly at home there.

A former first officer having come back from the dead, however, was not on the agenda for this meeting, instead, it was a somewhat unassuming, small, silver and rod-shaped device sitting at the center of the conference table which currently held the attention of most of the eyes in the room.

“Not that, exactly,” said Owens Senior, indicating towards the device. “That is merely a summoning instrument, an exhibitor if you will. It allows us to bring forth the Prism and its awesome power.”

“Power to what end?” Edison said.

“It’s difficult to say, precisely,” said the admiral.

It was clear that nobody in the room was particularly comfortable with that answer and Jarik jumped in. “We have studied the Exhibitor and the Prism for the last six years, ever since we managed to obtain it at a great cost,” he said. “You’ve probably already felt its power yourself,” he added, looking straight at Michael. “ What we know for certain is that it affects the space-time continuum and possesses trans-dimensional properties.”

“We learned about the Ring structure from studying the Prism,” said Jon Owens and received a noticeably dark scowl from Jarik in response.

Michael rubbed his forehead as he considered the Exhibitor on the table which even now, as it lay there inert, seemed to be unable to entirely mask the power contained within.

He looked towards Bensu. “What impressions are you getting from this device?”

Bensu stared at it intently. “I certainly agree that it is incredibly powerful. I’m also getting the feeling that it may be very old.”

“I appreciate the input,” said Jarik in a sharp tone, “but we’ve been studying the Prism for years. You’ve seen it for a few seconds. We have a fairly good understanding of what the Prism can do.”

“In which case, please enlighten us,” said Michael just as sternly. “And you might wish to start by telling us for what purpose you were using it when we found you with it.”

Jon Owens and Jarik exchanged glances but didn’t speak.

“You said it has trans-dimensional properties,” said Edison. “It is connected to the Ring, isn’t it?”

“We don’t know that for sure,” said Jarik.

It wasn’t good enough for Michael. “You studied this thing for six years and you don’t know for sure? It showed you the Ring. You brought it with you when you went out to search it and you activated this Prism just now.”

“And not for the first time.”

All eyes darted to Bensu.

“That’s right,” said Deen before looking at Michael. “This is the second time Bensu was affected by it. The first time was just before the gateway opened.”

The pieces fell into place and Michael glared at his father. “You brought us here.”

He shook his head. “Not on purpose.”

“You're saying that massive Ring out there can be controlled by this little thing,” said Edison, glancing at the small rod on the table.

“I don’t believe it can,” said Bensu as he stepped a little closer to the table from where he was standing near the windows. “At least not directly. But the Prism and the Ring are clearly related in some way. It opened a gateway when it was first activated and I suspect that a second attempt to do so failed.”

Jarik remained stonefaced but Jon Owens nodded slowly.

“You were trying to take us back home?” said Michael, looking at his father.

“It didn’t work. We don’t know why.”

“We simply have to make another attempt,” said Jarik resolutely. “Last time we used it we were far closer to the Ring then we are now. Reducing our distance may be all we require to make it work again.

But Michael quickly shook his head. “I don’t think so. You don’t know nearly as much about this device as you think you do. And the last time we traveled through a gateway we nearly lost the ship. Not to mention that I still have an away team out there,” he said and then glared at the two men who had harbored this secret. “This is the kind of information you should have volunteered to us from the beginning.”

But neither his father nor Jarik even made eye contact with him.

“So what do you suggest we do?” Edison asked and for a brief moment, Michael let himself forget that this wasn’t his friend and former first officer speaking.

Michael glanced at his science officer. “Commander, I want you to run your own scans on this device.”

“You don’t think we’ve already scanned it with every sensor known to man?” Jarik said, sounding incredulous.

“I have no doubt that you did. But we have something you didn’t have access to,” he said and looked straight at Bensu.

He picked up on Michael’s insinuation straight away. “Sir, I’m not sure how much help I can be with this.”

“Just like you weren’t sure about where to find the Ring or how you are connected with this Prism in the first place,” Michael said. “I get that you don’t understand what is happening with you and how you know the things you know but as far as I’m concerned, you are the closest thing we have to an expert on all the very odd things happening around here and that means I want you to work on this.”

He nodded. “I’ll do what I can.”

Jarik, however, didn’t appear particularly fond of this idea and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “The Prism is the property of Special Affairs and Investigations. I can’t just hand it over to you.”

Michael offered a smile containing little humor. “Seeing that I have both the former and current head of SAI here, I’m sure we can work something out.”

When neither his father nor Jarik offered a response he continued. “Gentlemen, let me be clear. This Prism of yours may be our best chance to finding a way back home and I intend to pursue it anyway I can and with all appropriate caution. You are welcome to oversee any of our efforts to investigate it further, but while this device is on my ship, it is my responsibility.”

Silence fell over the assembled group in the room.

When there were no further objections, Michael turned to Xylion. “Commander, I think your focus is clear. I expect hourly reports on your progress.”

The Vulcan nodded and then approached the table to pick up the Exhibitor. He hesitated briefly as if whatever Michael had felt from the device was affecting him also. Then, while Jarik scowled at having to surrender the Exhibitor, Xylion took the device and left the room with Bensu, Deen and Hopkins following closely.

Michael looked at his father again. “If there is anything else you’ve failed to mention regarding the Prism or the Ring or any other crucial information about us having traveled to another universe, now would be a good time to tell me.”

Before his father could respond, Jarik spoke up. “You know everything you need to know, Captain,” he said, sounding much more formal than he had previously and then turned to leave the conference room.

Jon Owens followed a moment later.

Michael offered a sigh.

“I don’t envy your position, Captain,” Edison said.

He nodded to the other man to acknowledge the expression of sympathy.

“And, Captain, I know I’ve been somewhat hostile towards you since you first arrived here. I suppose I’ve become rather suspicious over the years but regardless of my tendency of not trusting people easily any longer, I do wish to say that it is good to see you again. My Captain Owens was taken from us far too soon.”

“I feel the same way. And I think, considering all the people we could have run into over here, I’m glad it was you, Gene.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 18 by CeJay
18


If the borders to the Krellonian Star Alliance had been well protected in their universe, here, in this alternate quantum-reality, it appeared the Krellonians were on a virtual lock-down, judging by the countless sensor buoys and automated watch stations which had been set up all along the outer boundary of Star Alliance territory.

Tazla vividly remembered how difficult it had been to enter Krellonia space before—how it had very nearly led to a shootout onboard Eagle with an overzealous Krellonian inspection team—it seemed nigh impossible to approach the border in the universe without the people tasked to protect it from finding out.

Their only chance lay with the Moebius Cluster the runabout was now rapidly approaching, or as rapidly as Culsten could navigate the ship through the challenging area of space which was constantly buffeted by powerful solar winds and radiation from several particularly dense stars which seemed more common in the Amargosa Diaspora than virtually any other corner of the galaxy she’d ever visited.

It made for a turbulent ride even at low warp speeds.

Tazla had always prided herself on her ironclad constitution but she had to admit, the way the small runabout was shaking and heaving, she wasn’t quite sure how successful she’d be in keeping her breakfast down.

“We should consider ourselves lucky that we only have to skim Moebius to get into Star Alliance space. This would be another story altogether if we had to cut right through it,” said Culsten who must have caught a glimpse of her ashen face even while the majority of his focus remained on his navigational controls in order to avoid getting crushed by the gravimetrical eddies all around them.

“Just keep us in one piece,” she said, trying to deflect from her growing discomfort.

The small smile on his lips seemed to indicate that—regardless of his reservations previously—the helmsman was actually quite enjoying himself. Tazla wasn’t sure if it was the chance of making her queasy or the challenge of trying to navigate through what was for all intents and purposes, impassable terrain.

“How confident are we that we will be able to cross the border undetected in this region?” said Sensy who induced Tazla’s envy in no small measure by the way he seemed to effortlessly whether their rough ride. In fact, the Special Missions Team operative had remained standing just behind her and Culsten, with just one hand holding on to the ceiling above to keep him steady. No doubt this wasn’t his first rough insertion into hostile territory. It also made her begin to think that perhaps starship duty had started to make her soft. Back in her days working as an intelligence operative, this wouldn’t have been much more than another day at the office for her too.

“Back home the Moebius cluster is considered so treacherous, it is practically a natural border wall with hardly any patrols assigned to this area at all,” said Culsten as he entered constant course corrections. “Without trying to sound boastful, a lesser pilot wouldn’t get within a thousand kilometers into this cluster without breaking up their ship like a raw egg.”

The runabout shook so hard all of a sudden, Ivory who sat in one of the back chairs was slung out of her seat, Sensy very nearly followed suit but managed to steady himself just in time while Tazla’s head only barely missed a very painful encounter with her console.

“Sorry about that,” Lif said. “This cluster might be somewhat more volatile in this universe.”

Tazla fired a dark glare his way once she had recovered. “Any chance there might be some other things in this reality you hadn’t considered?”

He just shrugged and then turned back to his controls.

Their nausea-inducing journey lasted a painfully-long four hours during which nobody spoke to allow Lif to fully concentrate on piloting the ship and judging from the sweat pearls which had begun to drip down his forehead, he needed his entire focus to traverse the outer edges of the star cluster.

It was only once their ride finally began to smooth out again that Tazla allowed herself a deep breath which she hadn’t even realized she had avoided for most of their tumultuous journey.

Culsten offered her a large grin. “That was fun, don’t you think?”

“I think our definitions of fun are wildly divergent,” she said. “How long until we cross into Krellonian space?”

The grin stayed on his face. “Technically, we’ve been within Star Alliance territory for the last hour. Thanks to taking this shortcut we’re just a couple more hours out from the Piqus system.”

She glared at him again. “You could’ve said something sooner.”

He shrugged. “I’m sorry, I was a little distracted.”

Her features softened and she offered him a nod before glancing at Sensy behind her. “Get your team ready, Senior Chief,” she said

He quickly acknowledged and moved into the back along with Ivory to get ready for their upcoming mission and prep his people which included the Boslic woman Violet as well as the Tellarite Charm.

“I’m activating our sensor camouflage which should make us appear to anyone who’ll casually scan us as nothing more than a standard Krellonian escort,” she said as she activated the right panels. “That is if their ship configurations in this reality match ours.”

“Uh, Commander, I’m detecting a vessel on sensors.”

She turned her head to look at him. “A border patrol vessel? Did they get a chance to scan us yet?” she asked, concerned that they may not have been able to activate the camouflage in time.

But he shook his head. “No, this looks like a freighter. Big one at that. It’s odd.”

“What is?”

“Well, there isn’t much in this sector that would warrant a freighter of that size.”

She considered that for a moment. “The Piqus system used to be home to a large mining operation in our universe. It might still be going strong here.”

“It’s possible but even if that were the case, this ship is on a course away from Piqus and not on any of the usual trade routes which would take it towards the core worlds. It’s heading the exact opposite way.”

Tazla agreed that this did seem peculiar. Of course, they knew very little about the Star Alliance in this reality beyond the scant information Captain Donners had been able to provide them with. Her curiosity piqued, she decided to take the risk and scan the freighter. The results surprised her. “It’s not carrying any cargo. It is, however, jammed-packed with people.”

“What people?”

Tazla checked again. “None of them are Krellonian.”

Culsten looked at her. “Outlanders.”

“It looks as if they have detected us. They are changing course and increasing speed,” she said.

Culsten looked at his sensor data. “To get away from us.”

She nodded. “They’re reading us as a Krellonian ship and must be considering us a threat.”

“I’m opening a channel to let them know we’re not.”

Tazla quickly shook her head. “Belay that, Lieutenant.”

“But, Commander.”

“We’re on a mission to get to Piqus VII and extract Garla and we are inside hostile territory. We cannot give ourselves away at this point and risk mission failure.”

Culsten seemed to understand this and nodded slowly.

“Keep your eyes on that ship as long as it is in range, but we are staying on course and radio silent as long as we can.”

By altering its speed and course, the freighter had apparently drifted within sensor range of other Krellonian vessels and Tazla and Lif watched on quietly on long-range sensors as three patrol vessels were quickly closing in on the large ship. Her worst fears about the nature of the packed Outlander freighter were confirmed when the border vessels began to open fire on it.

“They are broadcasting a distress signal on all frequencies,” Culsten said.

Even if they had the firepower to stand up to three border cutters, there was little to no chance that the runabout could reach the freighter in time, judging how determined these Krellonians were to stop that ship.

After just a few minutes the freighter’s shields collapsed and they both watched on silently as all sensor data from the larger vessel disappeared, leading to only one inescapable conclusion to this drama.

Culsten brought up the last data they had been able to gain from the freighter. “There were over three hundred people on that ship,” he said and stared at her. Tazla couldn’t quite tell if it was accusatory or just pure anger.

She sadly shook her head. “There’s nothing we could have done for them, you know that.”

“Doesn’t make it any better,” he said and stood from his chair to leave the cockpit.

Tazla uttered a heavy sigh, realizing that this away mission was already off to a terrible start.
Part 1 - Splintered: 19 by CeJay
19


She hadn’t slept very well that night, or really any night since they had arrived in this alternate universe even though she was not usually prone to insomnia.

She hadn’t complained and taken pains to avoid allowing her tiredness to show since she knew that people—even sometimes those who knew her—tended to assume that she was delicate, or even worse, fragile and somebody who needed to be sheltered and protected. That she was far too inexperienced, innocent, and vulnerable to be a senior officer on a Starfleet ship of the line.

Considering her peaceful upbringing and her young appearance mostly due to her people’s inherent genetic profile some may have been forgiven to judge her solely on what they could see.

But DeMara Deen was more than the proverbial pretty face. She had to be in order to survive in Starfleet during one of the most volatile decades in its existence. And it hadn’t been easy for her to reconcile the life she had come to know on her idyllic homeworld with essentially becoming a soldier fighting in a war to protect her adopted home.

She had lost a few nights of sleep after Gene Edison had been killed some years earlier, this had been a hard blow for her and shattered some of that innocence she had still clung to, making her realize, perhaps for the first time, that her life had been forever changed.

Her toughest lesson had come a few months ago when a man she had once known at the Academy—who had been her first real romantic companion—had been senselessly killed only shortly after they had unexpectedly rekindled that passion they had known so many years earlier.

She had not slept well after that.

Nor had she found restful sleep after she had returned to Earth to be reunited with a long-time family friend, only to learn that she could no longer truly understand her own people’s isolationism and their total dedication to pacificism even in the face of an undeniably dark and hostile universe set on chaos and destruction.

And yet, none of those factors were on her mind when she had repeatedly failed to get more than a few hours of slumber over the last couple of nights. It had been one single person who had remained at the forefront of her thoughts ever since she’d encountered her. Somebody she’d never have imagined she’d ever meet in person in this manner.

Herself.

But not exactly herself rather than some alternate version of her who looked like her, spoke like her and except for some very minor physical differences seemed to be identical to her in every way. Except for—and this had become very obvious to her only shortly after first meeting her double—she did not think like her at all.

DeMara had thought that she had done an admirable job to stay entirely professional and not to show any outward signs of her discomfort around her counterpart. She certainly thought she had handled it better than Nora Laas had after encountering Edison’s doppelganger, although properly not nearly as well as Xylion meeting his alternate version. Either way, the encounter had still profoundly affected her.

So when she stepped into the science lab after another night spent tossing and turning in her bed and she found Captain Edison along with his first officer Xylion and also the other DeMara already in attendance, she decided that she had to confront the matter head-on instead of spending any more long evenings alone with her anxiety.

The timing seemed right. The two Xylions were quietly talking to each other, no doubt discussing possible theories on the Prism artifact which had been secured underneath a forcefield in the lab. Bensu was standing alongside Louise Hopkins who was instructing a few junior engineering officers on final adjustments to the equipment and the captain, along with his father and Jarik who were all due to attend this meeting hadn’t arrived yet. Captain Edison seemed somewhat preoccupied with his thoughts and staring at the doors, appearing almost disappointed when she had entered.

Her counterpart was standing by herself, carefully considering the unremarkable Exhibitor under its forcefield dome.

DeMara stepped up to her and once more was struck by the uncanny resemblance but also how very different she looked with her hair so short, it was very nearly a buzz cut. She had never sported such a look herself, had never even considered ridding herself of her shoulder-long blonde locks, being quite fond of them.

“Do you have a minute?”

The other DeMara looked up and offered her a smile which she thought looked somewhat disingenuous. “Certainly. I’ve been looking forward to a chance to speak to you. I didn’t think you were interested.”

The two women stepped into a corner of the science lab for some added privacy and DeMara gave her a surprised expression. “What makes you say that?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I suppose just the look in your eyes.”

“You’re telling me you weren’t surprised to see another you?” DeMara said.

“Of course, I was,” she said and then glanced right into her purple eyes. “I recognized that look. Not that different from the look you have in those eyes right now. It makes sense that I would, since they are my eyes, too.”

“And what does that look tell you?”

The other DeMara glanced away for a brief moment as if unsure if she should say what was on her mind.

“Please, speak freely. After all, we are the same.”

She shook her head. “That’s just it, I don’t think we are. I suspect we are very different from each other. I mean, yes, we clearly look the same. I can tell in your universe you were cursed by that same aura—the glow, as people like to call it—as I have.”

“Cursed? I like to think of it as a gift.”

The other woman uttered a little laugh but it held little bemusement. “Somehow I am not surprised you’d think that way.”

“Why?”

“Because everything about you practically screams out virtuous saint. The way you wear that ridiculously impractical long hair, the way you speak, the way others around you seem to perceive you.”

DeMara did her best to not take offense by those words. It had been a long time since somebody had successfully hurt her feelings but it wasn’t very often you were admonished by your mirror image.

“I don’t mean to upset you,” her double said when she seemed to sense her thoughts. “You asked me to speak freely.”

“I guess I didn’t expect you to be quite that free.”

She shrugged.

“I don’t see myself as a saint. But there is nothing wrong with using my gift—or curse, if you insist—to make life better for the people I care about.”

“And tell me, how often has this gift of yours been abused? How often have the people you cared about asked you to use your so-called gift to suit their needs? To mollify an enemy or give them some sort of advantage?”

DeMara had no immediate response to this. It was true that those kinds of things happened. That Michael would ask her to intercede in certain affairs. Her aura had a calming effect on most people and occasionally such talent came in handy when having to face hostile individuals. But she had never considered it an abuse of her powers before.

“You’re still a lieutenant,” the other DeMara carried on. “Assuming your universe works like mine, I’m guessing by the department color of your shirt that you work in operations,” she said and continued when she received a nod in affirmation. She briefly glanced towards where the two Xylion’s were talking. “With your talents, you should be further ahead in your career by now and be at least a chief science officer, maybe a chief engineer.”

“Progressing my career has never been my priority.”

Her alternate crossed her arms in front of her chest, giving her a little smirk. “So you’re telling me you wouldn’t want to be heading your own science team? Perhaps we are more different than I thought after all.”

In truth, of course, DeMara had always wanted to work in the sciences. That had been her educational background before joining the Academy and what she had been working towards back on Tenaria. She had specialized in astrophysics at the Academy and her first assignment upon graduation had been as a science specialist. She had only ever switched to operations when Michael had suggested the idea after the position became available on the Columbia, the ship on which they had both served.

When Columbia had been lost and Michael had been offered Eagle, she had made the case to become his science officer but Starfleet had balked at the idea of giving somebody so young and inexperienced such a high-ranking position on a ship of the line.

Alternate DeMara was reading her like an open book. “You didn’t insist on it, did you? Why? Because you didn’t feel as if it was your place? Because you didn’t want to upset the order of things? That position was yours to take, but you didn’t fight for things because you are not a fighter.”

“You’re wrong about that,” DeMara said. “I fought in the Dominion War. I had to kill people and as painful of an experience as that was, I understood it was necessary. That it remains necessary to protect my ship, my crew and the Federation itself.”

She shook her head. “I’m not talking about picking up a weapon and defending yourself. I’m talking about fighting for what you want and you deserve. I would never have made science officer if I hadn’t taken it.”

“And how did you do that?”

She smirked again and briefly glanced towards Edison who seemed oblivious to her at present. “I said it’s a curse but if you know how to use it right, it can open doors for you.”

DeMara felt disgusted by the implication.

“Oh don’t give me that self-righteous look. You remind me a lot of myself when I was younger. And you know what I learned then?”

“I’m dying to find out,” she said, sounding perhaps a bit more sarcastic than she had intended.

It just made her counterpart grin before her features hardened. “Everybody loves a saint but it’s the sinners who get the last laugh. Let me give you a little bit of free advice I wish I could have learned sooner in my own life. Toughen up and stop trying to be everybody’s best friend. Start looking out for yourself and take what you deserve.”

DeMara had no idea how to respond to that.

The doors to the science lab opened to allow Michael to enter, followed by his father and Jarik.

“Nice chat,” said the other woman and then turned to rejoin her captain.

DeMara looked after her for a moment, belatedly realizing how wrong she had been about her alternate version. They had absolutely nothing in common.

What she was less sure about was if this was a good or a bad thing.

While Michael approached the Exhibitor at the center of the science lab, Louise came over to join her. “I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to this,” she said, keeping her voice low. “I mean, how weird is it to have Gene Edison here? How about two Xylions? How about two of you? It makes me wonder if they have a version of me over on that other Eagle.”

DeMara was keeping her eyes on her counterpart across the room. “Trust me, you don’t want to find out.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 20 by CeJay
20


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He nodded.

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

“You knew about it as well?”

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

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

“I know where I’d go.”

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

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

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

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

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

Culsten nodded and initiated the landing procedure.

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

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

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

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

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

“Neat trick,” said Violet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you believe it’ll work?”

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

She glared at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Clear,” Sensy called out.

Tazla stepped in after them as did Culsten.

The small interior space of the shuttle was empty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That could be difficult,” said Violet.

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

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

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

“So much for staying inconspicuous,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are you from?”

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

behind her would give her something to work with.

“Loktar Colony,” he whispered to her.

She repeated this to the approaching guards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you trading?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nortu.”

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

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

“Nortu!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can.”

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

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

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

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

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

Culsten nodded. “I believe I do,” he said and turned to lead the way. “But I’m dreading what we may find there.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 21 by CeJay
21


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It obviously isn’t,” said Edison.

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

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

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

“Indeed,” his Xylion replied.

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

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

Michael glanced at his father who said nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grateful at hearing alternatives, Michael prompted him to continue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His father nodded. “I believe so.”

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

She nodded promptly and then did as he had instructed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t. It’s slipping away.”

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

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

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

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

Nobody in the room had an answer.
Part 1 - Splintered: 22 by CeJay
22


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She looked up at him with a quizzical look.

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

She nodded slowly and then returned to poke her hasperat.

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

Laas just uttered a little grunt to that.

“Do you know if you have one?”

She looked up again. “Huh?”

“A doppelganger? Another you.”

She shrugged. “I’m dead here.”

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

“You see what?”

“She was not you, Laas.”

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

“Do what?”

“Try to psychoanalyze me over lunch.”

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

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

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

She nodded without looking at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laas felt she had said too much.

“You met him, didn’t you?”

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

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

She uttered a little sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laas smiled mirthlessly in triumph. “Well, somebody hand me a medal, then. I managed to make Counselor Alex Clancy shut up for once,” she said, stood and left the Nest.
Part 1 - Splintered: 23 by CeJay
23


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crowd immediately broke out in loud cheers.

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

The cheers erupted once more.

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

There was another pause for loud cheers and applause.

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

Louder cheers this time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Most certainly not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“An alternate universe?”

She nodded.

“That is insane.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culsten and Ivory were quickly at Tazla’s side.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was good enough for Star who followed her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That won’t be necessary.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s already done.”

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

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

The last thing she saw of the person she had been sent to retrieve as she and the others were being roughly manhandled was her striding away confidently, Lif Culsten following in her wake much less self-assured than his counterpart had appeared earlier.
Part 1 - Splintered: 24 by CeJay
24


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That will not be necessary,” Xylion said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bensu nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moments later they were gone.

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



* * *




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded. “That’s right.”

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

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

He nodded slowly but didn’t speak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She looked at him despite herself.

“Her death was my fault, too.”

Laas had no idea how to respond to that.

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


* * *



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why our universe?” DeMara asked.

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

She stepped closer, repeating her question.

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

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

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

Jarik looked towards Owens Senior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He nodded slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“About the gateway?” Jarik insisted

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

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

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

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

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

“Keep following that single strand,” Xylion said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

DeMara was just behind him.

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

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

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

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

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

Michael noticed that both Xylion and Bensu had interrupted their mind-link and were now back on their feet, watching them carry the unconscious admiral out of the sphere. “Stay here and continue your efforts for now. I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he said but couldn’t quite keep his thoughts to stray from his father. For all their disagreements they’ve had over the years, including their most recent spat following the revelation that he had faked his own death, and no matter how much he had told himself that he was finished with his games, he wasn’t sure if he could bear losing him a second time.
Part 1 - Splintered: 25 by CeJay
25


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a moment later, Garla stepped into the room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not really, no.”

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

“That thought had crossed my mind as well.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A shame you won’t get that chance.”

The instigator whirled around but it was for naught.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s not your face.”

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And make them regret ever crossing me.”

He nodded. “Sure, that too.”

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

“I suppose that’s what family does.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 26 by CeJay
26


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wish I could say.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s your prognosis?”

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

Michael turned to find what had caught his ire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I feel perfectly fine, Doctor.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What does that mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have to be careful with Jarik.”

Michael was confused. “Jarik works for you.”

“It’s complicated.”

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

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

Michael did as he asked.

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

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

“Leva to Captain Owens.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He suppressed the urge to counter that things had felt so much less complicated before his father got involved as he promptly left the VIP quarters and headed with all due haste back to the transporter room, already anxious about what new complication he’d have to face once he had returned to the Ring.
Part 1 - Splintered: 27 by CeJay
27


Garla had found a spare instigator uniform in her counterpart’s office after balking at the notion of undressing her doppelganger and putting on the dead woman’s clothing, and not just because it would have been difficult to hide the prominent tear in her jacket or the bloodstains.

Together they had stashed the other Garla in a closet and Lif thought, that after she had pulled on the black outfit and slightly adjusted her hair, she’d easily pass for her local alter ego, even if perhaps closer scrutiny would have revealed a few inconsistencies.

They were not significant enough, however, to raise suspicions with the guards manning the detention center in the basement of the building. Since Instigator Garla had apparently not shared any concern with her staff regarding a possible security breach, Lif and Garla managed to make their way to the detention center with relative ease, Garla only having to field a single question about her planned departure for the homeworld, which the trained spymaster had handled with confident aplomb, letting the assistant know that her departure plans were merely delayed rather than canceled outright which would have, no doubt, raised red flags.

After having gained access to the detention center, Lif was hardly surprised to find that it was mostly occupied by Outlanders of various races, predominantly with lupine T’aq, who apparently shared their more bellicose attributes with their counterparts in his universe. Judging by the sight of the many desperate and desolate faces of the prisoners, as well as their many physical scars, the Krellonians used torture and violence far more frequently, and perhaps even to better effect, than those of his Star Alliance. Or so he hoped for his own universe’s sake.

“We don’t treat Outlanders like this,” she said quietly after reading his facial expressions while they walked passed cell after cell packed with obviously mistreated prisoners.

“It isn’t that much better though,” he said, keeping his voice low as well to ensure they would not be overheard by the two guards who were escorting them through the complex.

“I was going to change all that.”

He remembered her plan of a stand-alone society in which Krellonians and the Outlanders were living entirely separately from each other. He hadn’t much cared for the idea when she had first proposed it to him. Ultimately, however, after seeing the direction their society was headed, he had started to believe that no matter how ugly of a solution it had seemed, perhaps it was better than none at all. It certainly was a preferred outcome to what they were witnessing here and a return to all-out slavery.

“Even if we find our way back,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s all over now.”

Lif had little time to ponder this further as the guards stopped in front of a cell that stood apart from all the others.

Inside he immediately spotted four familiar faces. He was relieved to find that the members of the away team were all seemingly unharmed, neither of them having been subjugated to Krellonian torturing efforts just yet.

Unfortunately, however, their holographic camouflage devices had been located and removed, revealing all four of them as obviously non-Krellonians.

Tazla Star stood nearest to the force field and must have heard the approaching footsteps. Sensy and the Vulcan Ivory were standing near the sidewall, with the red-bearded Niner looking almost casual with his large, muscular arms crossed in front of his broad chest and leaning against the partition. Violet was half sitting on a bare cot at the far end of the small cell, seemingly paying little attention to what was happening outside.

“You were correct, Instigator,” the guard captain said as he looked over his prisoners. “They are foreign spies. Considering their racial composition, they are most likely Federation agents. We were just about to commence interrogation to learn of their mission here.”

“That will not be necessary,” Lif said but then quickly regretted being so quick about it when he spotted the captain’s confused expression.

“I will deal with them personally,” said Garla. “I have my own methods to obtain information from uncooperative prisoners which are far more reliable than conventional means.”

She sounded so convincing, Lif wondered how much of this was an act and how much was in fact based on reality.

“As you wish.”

“Leave us.”

“Instigator, with all due respect, I don’t believe that would be a good idea. These people are clearly well-trained operatives. They would never have gotten this far otherwise.”

Garla turned on the man and looked him straight in the eye. “Forgive me, Chief Justicar, but it almost sounded as if you were implying that I am incapable of handling foreign spies and that they may possess skills superior to my own. Surely that could not have been your meaning, could it?”

He noticeably swallowed. As a sentinel operating for the Eye of Krellon in their universe, Garla was an imposing and powerful figure, no doubt in this reality Instigator Garla was not just respected but likely feared by her own people as well. “Of course not. We will be nearby should you require our assistance.”

“And deactivate all active and passive surveillance for this area. There shall be no permanent records of what is about to transpire here.”

He nodded and this time he followed her order without hesitation, contacting the control room via his communications device to instruct them to immediately cease all visual and other surveillance. Then he gestured to his fellow guard and they quickly walked back down towards the command post.

Garla waited until both men were out of earshot before she addressed Star. “I have to say, I am somewhat disappointed in the quality of Starfleet Intelligence operatives, seeing that you have managed to let yourself be imprisoned and have so far failed to overcome such a mundane obstacle without assistance.”

Star didn’t rise to the bait. “What makes you think I’m with Starfleet Intelligence?”

Garla stepped up closer to the force field until she stood almost exactly opposite the Trill. “Oh, but I can see it behind your eyes. The way you seem to constantly evaluate others, as well as your surroundings, speaks of a well-trained agent. If you aren’t active now, you were not too long ago.”

“I’ll get you out of this, Commander,” Lif said but then stopped short when he realized that there were no obvious controls to lower the force field nearby. “Just as soon as I figure out how.”

“There’s no need to hurry,” she said while keeping her eyes on Garla. “Sensy, the word is now.”

Lif looked back into the cell, slightly confused, only to see the SMT team leader step away from the wall to reveal that Ivory who had been standing directly behind him, had somehow managed to remove a panel on the wall and had her left hand buried deep inside it. She applied some pressure and the force field winked out.

Violet who had seemed mostly zoned-out just a moment before, sprang up into action, wielding a baton, ready to strike. Ivory had produced a tiny, matchbox-sized type-I phaser while Sensy revealed a hidden blade, glinting in the stark cell light. Lif had no idea how they had managed to conceal all that weaponry from the guards.

Star stepped out of the cell and right into Garla’s personal space, to her credit the Krellonian didn’t even flinch, hardly even showed surprise on her face. The Trill offered a little smile. “See, overcoming the obstacle isn’t the issue. It’s all about timing.”

“I guess I underestimated you, Commander,” Garla said, allowing a tiny bit of respect to seep into her tone.

She offered the Krellonian a nod and then stepped up to Lif. “It looks as if my confidence in you, however, has paid off, Lieutenant. I knew you’d come through for us and I didn’t want to complicate matters by an untimely escape attempt,” she said and then glanced back at Garla. “Can I assume you are with us and willing to return to Eagle now?”

“Don’t consider us allies,” she said. “But for now our goals are generally aligned. Chief amongst them is to get as far away as possible from this perverted version of my home.”

“First things first,” said Sensy who followed Star out of the cell along with his two fellow Niners. “We need to get out of this prison and back to the runabout.”

“We spotted a transporter station in the control room on our way here. But there are a lot of guards there. We won’t be able to just walk passed them with you,” Lif said.

“I hate to suggest this, but our only way out of here may be to create a diversion,” said the chief SMT operator and glanced towards the other cells.

Lif didn’t like the sound of this at all and shook his head. “Even if we managed to open those cells, in all likelihood it would end in slaughter. We can’t allow that.”

There was a moment of silence and Lif hoped that it was because they were trying to come up with an alternative plan, even if he was drawing nothing but blanks.

It was Garla who spoke up first. “I don’t see any other way. And let’s face it, these Outlanders would relish the chance to get some payback on their torturers. Their ultimate fate is most likely already sealed.”

“Doesn’t mean we have to speed it up for them,” Lif said and glanced at Star for support.

“I don’t like it any more than you do, Lif, but if we want to get out of here alive, this is our best bet. And who knows, some of these prisoners might be able to escape as well.”

“And go where? The entire planet is a labor camp and we’ve already seen how the border force handles anyone who manages to get off-world.”

In the end, Lif lost the argument since both Star and Garla, for perhaps the first time ever, were on the same page. He knew he had no choice but to go along with it, no matter how much it pained him.

Ivory managed to gain access to the remaining force fields much the same way as she had gained access to the one to their cell, a design flaw Lif was sure the local security forces would address once all this was said and done.

“Get ready,” Sensy said, which was the signal for Lif and Garla to reach for their appropriated phasers, while the rest of the team relied on the weaponry they had managed to smuggle into the cell, including another telescopic baton which Violet had passed on to Star.

Sensy glanced at Ivory, giving her the wordless signal.

The force fields of the entire block shut down at the same time and a moment later so did the bright overhead lights in both the cells and the corridors outside. Nominal illumination was restored almost immediately via amber-colored emergency lighting which gave the entire prison an eerie, almost foreboding quality.

Star and the Niners marched down the corridor first, setting an example for the other prisoners which quickly got the idea as they began to flow out of their cells with newfound energy, anger and most of all, motivation. Garla had remained right, like penned up race hounds, the Outlanders had been straining for a start, and now that they were set free, they were like a rubber band released, shooting out of their pens with murder and hatred in their minds and hearts.

It didn’t take long at all for the Outlander prisoners to overtake Star and the Niners to barrel ahead like a crushing wave rolling over the totally surprised and unprepared guards.

Garla and Lif stayed mostly in the back, both of them understanding that they would likely make an incredibly inviting target to the enraged Outlanders.

With alarm sirens blasting, the guards quickly regrouped and now fully armed began to cut down the Outlanders en masse, but not without taking casualties themselves. Lif once again marveled at the quickness and athleticism of the T’aq, who used their strong hind legs to leap right into the middle of the guard formations and in lieu of weapons, used their sharp teeth to bite and rip at their jailers, causing horrific screams and vicious, bloody wounds, creating a scene which Lif was sure would provide fodder for weeks of disturbing dreams.

The Niners moved among the confusion and chaos like ghosts, which was remarkable considering how much they didn’t fit into this scene. Where the Outlanders were mostly a chaotic mob, the SMT assault was based on combat tactics, quickly identifying the lieutenants and senior officers who were giving the orders, and deftly taking them out of the picture first with a well-placed dagger to their side here, a baton strike to their kneecaps and heads there, or in Ivory’s case, using her superior physical strength and precision to twist a neck or two; no graceful nerve pinch for this Vulcan.

When Lif spotted an elder T’aq being caught dead to rights by a rifle-wielding guard, he didn’t even hesitate, and fired his phaser right at the Krellonian, causing his head to implode on itself. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he felt disgusted with himself, and yet, strangely, also relaxed about it all, as if this was a most natural cycle, which had begun when he had been forced to kill an Outlander in his universe, now having graduated to kill a fellow Krellonian in another as payback.

There was, of course, not much time to consider such philosophical concerns as he pushed forward, taking care to avoid being targeted by the prisoners as an enemy but also taking full advantage of any guard believing him to be an ally.

Garla moved as gracefully as he had witnessed her do the previous times they had been caught in combat. She was once more using her personal cloak to full effect, momentarily winking out of existence only to reappear behind a hapless guard to impale him with her blade or finish him with a phaser blast at point-blank range.

“Instigator, what is happening here?”

Lif could see that the chief justicar who ran the detention complex had managed to get behind her without her noticing his approach. Thankfully he was still too perplexed to realize that Garla was not on his side and killing his men indiscriminately.

“I’ve decided that I don’t much care for your attitude,” she said coolly and then pointed her phaser at his head and fired without delay, before stepping over his lifeless body, his eyes still wide open with a horrified and astonished expression on his face.

While the battle for the prison raged on behind them, Garla, Lif and the away team managed their way to the compact transporter alcove, likely designed for prisoner transfer. Lif immediately headed for the console, pushing the operator who had been efficiently disposed of by Star’s baton earlier aside. He shook his head when he realized that it wouldn’t help them escape the prison. “It’s been locked down.”

“I’m sure we can get around that,” said Garla and stepped up to the console. She activated the comm. unit and the face of a young officer appeared.

“Instigator,” he said, clearly surprised to see her face. “We have an emergency situation in the detention complex.”

“I would say so,” she shot back, wiping some of her victim’s blood off her face. “And things aren’t looking good down here. I need you to lift the transporter lockdown right now.”

This seemed to startle the young man. “Protocol dictates that in the case of a prison riot”“

“Don’t you dare lecture me on protocol,” she hissed. “If I were to come to harm because our incompetent security forces weren’t able to contain this situation, I will make sure you will be held personally accountable for your inactions. Perhaps protocol will come as a warm comfort to you on the day of your execution,” she said and then spat some more blood, including some of her own.

He nodded quickly, almost eagerly. “Lifting lockdown now.”

“Good, man,” she said and stabbed the comm. controls to turn them off. “It’s great to be loved,” she said to Lif. “But sometimes it’s far better to be feared.”

“Speak for yourself,” he said but was already focused on programming the transporter. “Done. I’ve set coordinates for the quarry. Ready to initialize.”

“Do it,” Star said and gestured for her people to step up on the transporter platform which they all did without delay, Star being the last to take her position, even waiting until Lif had entered the final command before leaping on the platform.

Moments later the prison and the chaos were gone, to be replaced by the frigid, blustery night in a quarry a few hundred kilometers away.

“There is a human saying that comes to mind right about now,” said Lif after he had materialized with the others not far from the runabout. “I think it goes something like this: From the frying pan into the fire.”

He thought it was an appropriate metaphor since they found themselves within the sights of at least a dozen heavily armed Krellonian soldiers who were seemingly investigating the shuttle Garla had used to get to Piqus. The team was led by a man with a face more than just familiar to him.

After all, it was his own.
Part 1 - Splintered: 28 by CeJay
28


Michael beamed back onto the Ring without any further delay, already mentally chastising himself for having lost sight of his priorities. Yes, he was concerned for his father’s wellbeing, but clearly bigger matters were afoot and he could no longer afford to be sidetracked. Not if there were people, like Jarik, waiting in the wings to take advantage while he was distracted.

Of course, his father’s warning which like everything else he ever did, had been rather cryptic, remained near the forefront of his thoughts as he materialized within the superstructure again.

DeMara was waiting for him there.

“What’s happening?”

She shook her head. “Things are getting tense,” she said. “I think you better get in there.”

He followed her back towards the invisible layer which separated their current surroundings with the control sphere located even deeper in subspace. The first thing he spotted as he was back within that enigmatic bubble that seemingly existed within an endlessly dark void was Jarik and Xylion, having an animated conversation. Or at least one of them seemed animated. While both men were of Vulcan heritage, Jarik did a much poorer job of hiding his emotions, likely due to his human side.

Perhaps even more concerning was the fact that Gene Edison stood next to Jarik, apparently agreeing with his logic as if battle lines had been drawn.

Nora Laas and the two SMTs watched on from the far edges of the sphere, with the security chief already having taken a few steps towards the arguing parties and considering them with increasing tension.

Bensu stood to the side, not getting involved. Being the first to spot his return, he made eye contact with Michael, silently imploring him to bring this conflict to an end.

Michael was determined to do exactly that. “Gentlemen, what seems to be the issue?”

Both Xylion and Jarik turned to look at him, Jarik spoke up first. “Good, you’re back. How is Jon?”

Michael thought he did an admirable job of not letting the irritation of Jarik using his father’s given name show. He wasn’t sure why it suddenly irked him so much. He knew the two of them had become close to each other over the years. Perhaps it was because he was beginning to wonder who was truly holding the power between those two men.

In the end, he resolved that it didn’t really matter who of them thought was in charge. He had already made it clear that for the remainder of this mission, he was the one calling the shots. “He’s better but weak. Doctor Katanga hasn’t been able to determine what has caused his recent illness.”

Jarik offered a grin. “Jon is a tough bastard. I’m certain he’ll be fine.”

“What is the situation here?” Michael said, eager to refocus everyone’s attention.

“Mister Jarik is insisting that we attempt to utilize the Prism artifact,” Xylion said.

“We have exhausted all other options,” Jarik quickly jumped in. “And I believe I have been more than patient with our cautious approach. But it is time to start taking some risks. The stakes are too high for us to simply sit here and do nothing while those aliens are drawing up plans to invade our universe.”

“I agree,” said Edison. “And we don’t even know for certain if your universe is truly the target. It could be mine.”

“Or any other of the infinite numbers out there,” said DeMara Deen.

Edison acknowledged this with a brief nod. “The point is, we are doing very little at present to find out. We are playing a reactive game when we should be proactive. Otherwise, by the time we get hit, it might already be too late.”

“It is also possible that by taking action, without having a full understanding of the situation, we may help aggravate and accelerate an already perilous condition,” said Xylion, clasping his hands calmly behind his back.

“Sometimes we have to take risks, I believe this is an acceptable one,” Jarik countered.

Michael turned to look at Xylion and then Bensu. “Have you been able to learn anything further?”

“Only what we already suspected. That this is a focal point of energy which may very well control the entire Ring,” said Bensu. “With Xylion’s help I could see the strands of pure energy and thought all around us but I have not been able to isolate and focus on any single one of them the way I was able to do before.”

“Because you are missing the tool to be able to do that,” said Jarik and then gave Michael another meaningful look.

“Let’s think this through,” Michael said. “The first time you activated the Prism in the vicinity of the Ring, it activated a gateway which threw us into another universe and caused significant damage to the ship and crew, we can’t risk that happening again without knowing how to prepare for it.”

It was Edison who shook his head. “The last time we activated it, we very nearly made contact with these subspace aliens. If we want more information, that’s the course we should be embarking on.”

“I agree we need to re-establish communications with them, but the cost of doing so, right here and now, is too high. Besides, my father is in no condition to come back over here to activate the Exhibitor. He’s the only one who can.”

Jarik offered a little sigh and then took a few steps away from Michael, making use of the space within the sphere. Then he turned back around, resolve now seemingly etched into his face. “Look, I hate to be the one saying this, but if you are not able to make these kinds of decisions than it is time that somebody else does.”

This caused Michael to tense and he could see Nora take another step closer to them. “What does that mean?”

“Gene and I spoke earlier,” he said, making brief eye contact with the other captain who offered a nod to underscore his support. “We believe we need to do this and we also agree that if you are not willing to pursue this action, I need to take operational command of this mission.”

Michael knew exactly what he was talking about. It had been something he had feared from the moment his father had come onto his ship. It had not been assuaged by his assurances that they had no intentions of overriding his decision or assuming overall command over his ship.

It was clear to him now that Jarik had never quite shared that mindset. In fact, in hindsight, he could see how he had attempted to take charge of the mission pretty much from the moment he had come aboard and now that he appeared to have found the backing of another starship commander, he was ready to make the move he had been itching to take ever since this had begun. “That is not going to happen.”

“Michael, please don’t make this difficult,” Jarik said, adopting a more soothing tone which almost reminded him of what he had sounded like back during their Academy days when they had been roommates and the closest of friends. It felt like a lifetime ago now.

“You can’t be serious? You are staging a mutiny and want me to simply acquiesce and step aside?”

He shook his head. “It’s not a mutiny when the decisions are made by a superior officer.”

“My father is your superior officer.”

“Not since he was declared dead.”

Michael glared at this former friend but said nothing.

Nora Laas very slowly stepped up next to her captain, her hand not quite on her phaser yet.

“Listen,” Jarik said, clearly noticing the Bajoran’s aggressive stance. “This doesn’t have to become ugly. But if you escalate this matter now, we may be going down a road we can’t come back from. The best thing for everyone is for you to agree to use the Prism. The alternative is that Gene and I will need to take action to do this with or without your help.”

“How exactly are you envisioning this will go?” Michael said trying very hard to keep his seething anger in check and not doing a great job at it. “I have my father who is the only one who can activate the Prism. I have Bensu and Xylion who are the only ones who can use it to communicate with these aliens. You have nothing.”

“I have this universe’s Eagle which is in far better shape than yours,” Jarik said, letting some emotion seep into his tone as well. “Captain Edison’s crew already has orders to take over your ship if necessary. Don’t let it come to that.”

Now Nora did pull her phaser and the two SMTs also brought up their weapons, taking aim at Jarik and Edison. Michael raised a hand to let them know to hold their fire. He wasn’t going to be the one to start shooting, no matter the threats being levied against him and his ship. “You’ve been planning this all along, haven’t you?”

“There is still a way to resolve this amicably,” he said. “But I am convinced that if we don’t take action now, billions of lives might be at risk. I’m ready to take whatever actions are necessary to safeguard these lives, even if you are not.”

“Gene, don’t do this,” Nora said with her phaser in hand, but for the moment resting against her leg. “We spoke about regrets. Don’t make this one of them.”

Surprisingly, Edison did seem torn by hearing her say this. But only for a moment. “It’s the right call, Lass. Sometimes we need to be strong enough to make the difficult calls no matter how ugly they may be. I wish I’d had that strength a few years ago. Things would have played out very differently if I had been more decisive. I will not repeat my mistakes.”

“This situation is completely different,” she said.

He shook his head. “I don’t think it is. But the stakes are so much higher which is why it so much more urgent that we act now.”

“We’re wasting time,” said Jarik. “You can shoot us if you want but it doesn’t change anything. The other Eagle will take action within the next few minutes unless we resolve our disagreements and you follow my lead.”

“This is coercion of the lowest form,” DeMara said and took a defiant step forward. “And not befitting a Starfleet officer.”

“What you call coercion, I call trying to save the universe the only way I see how.”

Michael found himself between a rock and a hard place with seemingly all good options suddenly off the table. Take decisive action now and force a potentially deadly confrontation with another ship which was equal to his own in all the metrics had it not been for the significant damage they had taken after traveling through the gateway, or, give into Jarik and Edison, let them have it their way, bring back his ailing father, risk his life and possibly creating another gateway which would not only cause further damage to his ship and crew but also, quite likely strand his away team in an unfamiliar universe.

All his instincts told him to go with option one and he certainly didn’t care for the idea of backing down. He also knew that if he took action now, he had to do so quickly to eliminate Jarik and Edison and then brace for the ensuing storm.

Somebody stepping into the sphere behind him caused Nora and the two SMTs to whip their weapons at a potentially new target.

Alendra stopped in her tracks, raising her hands in surprise. “Whoa, take it easy. It’s just me,” the Bolian woman said noticably taken aback by the hostile welcome.

Michael glanced at her for only a second before focusing on Jarik again who he considered the bigger threat for now. “Lieutenant, things are a little heated at the moment. What is it?”

It took her a moment to speak up and only after Nora and one of the Niners took their weapons off her to aim them at Jarik and Edison again. Charm, the Tellarite, kept his weapon on Alendra, apparently still considering her a potential target. The Bolian seemed to do her best to ignore this. “Our comms relay outside the subspace threshold just picked up a message from Agamemnon. Apparently, there is some concerning chatter coming from Krellonian territory and they are moving closer to investigate. Captain Donners is concerned this could escalate quickly.”

Michael considered the news for a moment and then addressed Jarik again. “This changes things, wouldn’t you say?”

But Jarik shook his head. “It changes nothing.”

“Are you sure?” He glanced towards Edison. “From my understanding of this universe, the border with Krellonian space has always been a hot spot. If things went badly with the mission, the away team, as well as Agamemnon could be in trouble.”

Jarik spoke up before Edison could. “That would be a shame, but remember that I cautioned against sending that away team. Any fallout will be on your head.”

But Michael kept his eyes on the other captain instead. “Are you really willing to risk Amaya over this as well? See, I’m not going to back down here, I guarantee you that. I think Jarik is wrong and I will stand by my decisions and convictions.” It was a calculated risk, Michael knew, to show his cards early, but differently to what Jarik seemed to think, he was not averse to taking risks, as long as they were justified.

“Gene, please,” Nora almost pleased. “Let’s do the right thing here. I don’t want this to escalate any further than it already has. I don’t want to have to fight you.”

Michael didn’t know if it had been him or Nora who had ultimately gotten through to Gene Edison, and in truth, it didn’t matter. The other man nodded. “I’m calling this off, at least for now,” he said, looking at Jarik.

“What? No.”

“I am not getting dragged into a battle here if Amaya may need our help out there,” he said and headed towards the edge of the sphere that would take him back to the Ring, Michael and Nora letting him pass. He stopped just before he had reached Alendra and turned around. “This conversation isn’t over, merely delayed. For now though, priorities have shifted.”

Michael nodded, agreeing to that compromise and suppressing the urge to utter a sigh of relief of just having avoided a painful conflict. “Let’s head out,” he said and then shot Jarik another glance. “You can stay here for all I care but you’re not coming back on my ship,” he said and then briefly glanced at the case Jarik still carried which contained the Prism, considering for just a moment to try and make a play for it. He decided against it. It was too powerful to keep it in the care of a man who had proven dangerous and unreliable, but he also had just narrowly avoided one crisis, no point in trying to force another one, he decided.
Part 1 - Splintered: 29 by CeJay
29


His counterparts reaction to seeing Lif materialize less than a hundred meters from where he stood with his men, investigating the abandoned Starfleet shuttles, was a far cry from the way Instigator Garla had responded to coming across her double, leading him to believe that this universe’s Lif was much more volatile than he had ever been.

He could see the other man practically snarling at their sudden appearance. “Imposters,” he cried. “Federation spies,” he added and was the first one to bring up his weapons, even while his soldiers still appeared momentarily baffled at seeing him and Garla appear before them.

The transporter, unfortunately, had not deposited them immediately next to the runabout, instead, the away team found itself on the wrong side of a ravine, very much in the open and making them an easy target.

“Get to the runabout,” Star shouted even as she brought up a rifle she had appropriated from a prison guard earlier, fully realizing that considering the numbers they were up against, they stood little chance

Lif and the rest of the team set in motion, rushing towards the ravine.

“I want the imposters alive,” Lif heard his counterpart shout to his men, just before the firing started.

Ahead of him, the three Niners had already made it across the small plank bridging the gully and were returning fire. Lif didn’t turn around but from what he could hear, the SMT operatives had far better aim than the Krellonian security forces.

Star went across the makeshift bridge next but before Garla managed to get to it, she was struck and went down.

Lif quickly slid down in the dirt next to her. “Are you all right?”

Garla checked her shoulder where she had been hit but Lif could see no signs of a wound or blood. Instead, a small, circular tag seemed to have attached itself to her jacket.

She winced when she tried to pull it off. “It’s dug itself into my skin,” she said.

“What is it?”

“Looks like a transporter inhibitor,” she said. “Your counterpart seems serious about capturing us alive.”

Lif felt a sudden sting in his right arm and when he brought it up he realized that he had been tagged with a similar device.

He turned to look back. He could see that most of the soldiers had taken cover behind their own shuttle, three of their comrades had not made it behind cover in time.

The other Lif Culsten, either very bravely, or stupidly, was rushing towards them with three more soldiers. His escort kept their phaser fire focused on Star and the Niners on the other side of the ravine in order to attempt and suppress them, but his double was clearly zeroed in on him and Garla, seemingly desperate to capture them both now that he had ensured they could not beam away.

“Let’s go,” Garla said and pulled herself up. “Once we get to the runabout, these inhibitors won’t matter.

They reached the ravine shortly thereafter Garla rushed across the narrow plank first. But Lif hesitated, noticing that the simple board spanning the gap was beginning to show noticeable cracks.

“Lif, come on,” Garla urged him from the other side.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to hold,” he said after he tried to put just a single foot onto the wooden board and he could feel it give way under his weight. The gap was too wide to jump.

“No time, get down,” she yelled and brought up her weapon.

Lif looked around to see one of the soldiers close to reaching out to him. He immediately went low and not a moment later the solider was wiped off his feet by a well-aimed phaser blast from Garla’s rifle.

Too late did he realize that his counterpart had been just a step behind the felled soldier, close enough to see murderous anger in his eyes, the other him launched himself at Lif and both men tumbled backward and onto the plank.

It improvised bridge may have held one Lif but it had no chance against the combined weight of both of them crashing down on it. The wood tore apart with a loud crack and they tumbled down into the ravine.

The impact was softened only marginally by a shallow pool of dirty water at the bottom and was still forceful enough to expel any remaining air in his lungs, and painful enough to make him believe that he may have broken his back.

Lif had always liked to believe that his Krellonian bone structure was able to absorb a greater amount of damage than those of most of his humanoid colleagues and it seemed to him that he continuously found ways to put that theory to a test.

Far above him, he could see Garla looming down at them, yelling at him, but the hard landing had robbed him of his auditory senses.

She disappeared moments later since it was obvious from the blasts of phaser fire crisscrossing the rift above that the shootout hadn’t ceased just because he and his counterpart had tumbled down the ravine.

Fighting through the pain in his back, Lif managed to turn himself over on his stomach, his hands slipped on the wet and smooth ground. He found a way to drag himself out of the water and onto the drier shoulder. He spotted a Krellonina phaser where it had landed just a few meters away. When he heard a rustling sound, he turned his head to see that his counterpart had also come to, his eyes wide and still mirroring furious anger, likely only exacerbated after his fall. He had also spotted the phaser.

They both launched themselves at the weapon at what seemed like the exact same time. Lif’s entire body felt like it was on fire but adrenaline and survival instincts won out and his hand reached the handle of the weapon first.

It did him no good.

The other Lif was on him perhaps a nanosecond after, pulling him away from the phaser and causing it to slip from his fingers.

“You’re an imposter,” he shouted. “Are there no limits to the Federation’s audacity? Have you no shame?”

He shook his head. “This is not what this is,” he said but was cut off by the fist hitting his face.

Somewhere in the far reaches of his mind, Lif thought of a joke about beating up on oneself and how painful of an experience that could be.

“Federation lies,” the enraged counterpart shouted, getting ready to keep pounding him.

Lif’s long honed reflexes as a pilot where split-second decisions were not uncommon, reasserted themselves and he pulled his head away, causing the other man to strike empty ground instead.

He tried to find the phaser again but couldn’t see it where he lay and decided he needed another way to turn the tables. Using the momentary distraction caused by the other Lif injuring his hand, he used his body as a weapon and launched himself at his opponent, sending them both rolling down the narrow shoulder and back into the water.

He quickly realized that while his piloting career had given him faster reflexes, his counterpart was a far more experienced fighter and stronger as well.

Using momentum gained from their roll and his superior strength, the other man lifted him back onto his feet and pushed him hard into the side of the ravine, causing Lif to scream out in pain as he felt the jagged rocks being driven into his back.

The other Lif hesitated, taking a moment to study his opponent more closely. He reached up to touch Lif’s bloodied face. “By the Creator, what are you?”

“I can explain,” Lif said in-between coughing fits. As the adrenaline was starting to subside, his body was beginning to shut down.

But his double had no such patience and his grip became like a vise, ripping at Lif’s face as if offended by its mere existence and causing him to scream in pain once more.

A shadow fell over both men and Lif thought he could hear a rushing sound approaching. They both looked up.

Somebody was coming down, seemingly gliding out of the sky.

He knew exactly what he was looking at, after all, he had seen this in action not too long ago in a very similar and yet entirely different place.

His counterpart was a far more surprised by seeing the purple-haired woman swooping down towards them wearing gravity boots.

Lif took the chance to head butt the other man which he was certain must have hurt him just as much as it had hurt Lif. But the surprise of the sudden impact had forced his counterpart to stumble backward.

He recovered quicker than Lif had anticipated and with his back in pain and his face bleeding from being torn at, he wasn’t in much of a shape to offer resistance.

“Mind if I cut in here,” Violet said from above and aimed her boot thrusters right into the other Culsten’s face, causing the man to howl and dive for the shallow stream to cool off his burned face.

She came to a hover less than a meter above Lif and reached out with a hand. “Need a ride?”

He nodded eagerly. His last experience of being a passenger on gravity boots hadn’t exactly been pleasant but he was more than ready to leave this place and never ever set foot on a planet called Piqus ever again.

He took her hand as she continued to descend towards him, placed one foot on her hovering boot and held on tightly. Remembering the last time he had done so, when Nora had been his savior, and she had complained about how tight he had pressed himself against her, he offered the Niner an apologetic look.

The Boslic woman just smirked at him. “Don’t worry, I’m not the squeamish type.”

But Lif’s concern quickly refocused when he realized that his counterpart had recovered again and had found the phaser, bringing it up to take a shot at them both. “Watch out.”

Violet must have seen the danger from the corner of her eye and yet was not quick enough to bring her own rifle up to fire first. Instead, she jerked sideways, trying to avoid the incoming blast. It still struck her shoulder and she was forced to let go of her weapon which fell out of her hand.

The impact pushed them both backward and Lif once more struck the rock wall painfully, along with his would-be rescuer.

“Hang on,” she shouted as the impact had caused her to momentarily lose control of the boots and they blasted forward and right into the surprised other Culsten, knocking him over in the process.

Violet regained her balance and they began to gain altitude.

But there ascend was arrested when Lif felt something holding him down.

“You’re not going anywhere, Imposter,” he screamed while he held on to Lif’s right boot with both hands, his weight enough to keep them both suspended in mid-air.

“Can’t shake him free,” she said.

“Give me some slack,” Lif responded.

She seemed to understand and reduced the thrust of the boots, causing them to slowly drop back towards the ground.

“I’m going to rip you apart and find out what you truly are,” the other Culsten roared angrily as he eagerly watched their descend towards him.

“There’s something that people have been saying about me lately,” Lif said to his enraged counterpart as he continued to draw nearer. “I think it’s doubly true for you. You have a real attitude problem,” he said just before he smashed his boot into the other man’s face with as much force as he could.

Culsten let go and dropped to the ground while Violet and Lif shot into the sky.

They were immediately greeted by phaser fire from the remaining soldiers who had taken cover behind the shuttle. It was promptly answered by a phaser blast from the runabout which was now hovering a good ten meters above the ground.

The blast ripped the shuttle to shreds, killing several soldiers instantly and causing others to scramble for additional cover.

Violet steered them towards the runabout’s open airlock where Garla was already waiting to pull them both inside.

“Are you all right?” she asked as she took a knee where he had collapsed against the bulkhead of the airlock. “You look terrible.”

“Pay no attention to that. Truth is, I feel so much worse.”

Garla and Violet helped him inside the cockpit of the Nebuchadnezzar to allow the outer door to close.

Star was sitting at the controls and through his blurred vision, he could already see the planet’s ubiquitous cloud cover approaching rapidly, Star having wasted little time to get them back towards space. She turned the pilot seat to look at him. “Is he okay?”

“Judging by the return of his insufferable wit, I’d say he’s fine,” Garla said.

Ivory had provided him with a towel and was using a medkit to treat his wounds while he looked up at Garla from the chair they had placed him in. “I always thought you liked my wit.”

“It was never your most endearing attribute,” she said but offered him a smile.

“I’d love to say the worst is behind us but I’m afraid that might not be strictly accurate,” Star said after she had turned back to the controls.

The runabout had already cleared the atmosphere and was racing away from Piqus VII’s gravity well to allow Star to activate the warp engines.

“I am already detecting signs of pursuit,” she said, studying her instruments. “A lot of it. Seems like we kicked the proverbial hornet’s nest.”

“My counterpart will not let us go without a fight. The man has some serious anger issues. It was written all over his face,” Lif said, nodding gratefully at the Vulcan operative who had finished using a dermal regenerator to heal his more obvious wounds and had also administered an analgesic via hypospray which had numbed him of the worst of the pain.

“In fairness, I don’t think I would be too happy if I was in his shoes right now either,” Garla said.

“Talk about déjà vu,” said Lif and then spotted his aunt’s quizzical look and realized that it was not a term that easily translated into Krellonian. “We’ve been through this already. Except for last time you actually were in his shoes while we were running for our lives from you. How does it feel to be on the other side of things?”

She shook her head. “Honestly, I don’t care for it at all.”

Lif felt the runabouts deck plates rumble slightly and then looked back towards the viewport to confirm that they had just jumped to warp speed.

He gingerly got up off his chair to join Star at the front. He needed Garla’s help to keep himself steady though. “Transfer controls to me, Commander. That’ll free you up to keep an eye on sensors.”

The Trill considered him for a moment as if to check if he was truly up to this after what he had just been through but apparently was convinced enough by his resolve and did as he had asked.

To Lif, few things came more easily to him than flying a starship and he didn’t need his still aching bones or back to do that.

“I’m reading multiple vessels in pursuit,” she said. “Long-range sensors have also picked up border patrols ships closing in on us.” She turned to look at him. “Can we make it to the Moebius Cluster?”

He shook his head. “Not if we want any chance of outrunning our pursuers. I think we go for a straight shot and try to get to the border before we get cut off,” he said as he reviewed the best course back into the Amargosa Diaspora and towards Federation space.

Star nodded in agreement. “Let’s do it. I don’t think we’re going to lose our pursuers at the border but with any luck, we might be able to get back to Agamemnon before they catch-up with us.”

Lif quickly entered the new course and throttled-up the engines.

“Don’t count on the Lif Culsten of this universe to be as easily deterred as I was,” said Garla as she had taken a seat at one of the aft stations to monitor the pursuing ships. She activated a few panels and after a moment Lif’s monitor displayed what she had already discovered, his eyes opening wide.

“They’re not just scrambling a few ships,” Garla said. “That’s an entire fleet, big enough for a serious incursion. Agamemnon will not be enough to turn back that tide.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 30 by CeJay
30


He had to restrain himself from pacing the length of the bridge as Eagle raced towards Krellonians space since the latest news from Amaya and long-range sensors were not painting a rosy picture.

At last count, eight Krellonian cruisers were hot on the heels of the Nebuchadrezzar which was making best speed out of Krellonian territory and to a rendezvous with Agamemnon within the Amargosa Diaspora.

Eagle, along with her sister ship from the local universe, was heading to the very same rendezvous from the opposite direction and all current estimates seemed to indicate that they would arrive almost concurrently with the runabout and her pursuers.

Michael understood that a conflict seemed near-inevitable and he would have preferred to try and level the playing field by arriving ahead of the Krellonians to get the lay of the land, as it were, and prepare their defenses. The uniquely challenging environment of the Diaspora, however, made it a physical impossibility to push their engines any faster, and even at their current speed, helmsman Srena noticeably required all her focus and concentration to keep them steady at warp nine point eight.

Edison’s Eagle either didn’t have a pilot quite as skilled as the young Andorian or had not received the same warp core overhaul his ship had recently been given and therefore remained a few minutes behind them. Michael was painfully cognizant that the other Eagle not being able to keep up would put them at a significant disadvantage should it come to a fight.

“We are sixty seconds out from Agamemnon,” said DeMara Deen from her station at operations, her body language much more tense than usual, clearly anticipating a confrontation as well.

Michael turned to look towards his second officer who recently had subbed more frequently as the ship’s de facto XO. “How about the runabout?”

Xylion glanced up from the aft science station. “The Nebuchadrezzar will arrive at the rendezvous point eight point seven seconds after we have dropped out of warp. The first Krellonian vessels are expected to arrive approximately twenty-two seconds thereafter.”

“What’s the count up to now?”

Leva took that one. “Eight vessels initially, all large-sized cruisers. A super-cruiser and additional support craft are less than two minutes behind.”

Michael nodded slowly, not letting his growing concern be mirrored on his face. According to what he had learned from Edison, Krellonian ships were mostly equal in tactical abilities to Starfleet vessels and while full-out conflicts had been rare in previous years, this universe’s Starfleet Intelligence did believe that they were building up their fleet for a possible incursion deeper into Amargosa and perhaps even into Federation-held territory. Those reports had been the primary reason for Agamemnon and the other Eagle’s presence in the sector and before they had stumbled across the unexpected, inter-dimensional arrival.

The latest numbers suggested that they were outnumbered at least three to one which were certainly not favorable odds.

Edison, Donners, and Michael didn’t have much time to hatch a plan which in the end had turned out to be rather simple: Recover the runabout and find a way to talk the Krellonians out of creating an incident which could very well lead to interstellar war. Michael could not help but be reminded about the oft-recited adage relating to well-laid plans. He wasn’t sure if there was a saying for hurriedly crafted plans but if so, he was positive it was even more discouraging.

“We’re approaching the Agamemnon, now,” said Deen, her steely gaze focused on her instruments.

“Dropping out of warp,” said Srena. Although she was Eagle’s number two helmsman behind Culsten, and younger than the Krellonian, she was every bit as good a pilot and didn’t need to be told what to do in a crisis situation.

On the viewscreen, the streaking starfield disappeared suddenly, to be replaced by the image of the Agamemnon. It was impossible to tell by sight but Michael got the sense that she was primed and ready for a fight.

Michael had long since learned that in outer space, where distances were vast, it was unusual for things to happened quickly and battles, in particular, were often slow-developing and long, drawn-out affairs. Fast, high energy confrontations between many different ships zooming around hither and thither were much more common in fictional accounts, like holo-novels, than something one came to expect in real-life situations.

There were expectations, of course, and on this occasion, things happened very quickly.

“The Nebuchadrezzar just jumped out of warp,” Deen said.

Michael could see the small runabout streaking onto the screen just between Eagle and Agamemnon. She immediately came about to head directly back towards her mothership.

“Three minutes to touchdown in the shuttle bay,” the Tenarian said.

That would take too long, Michael decided. “Expedite that any way you can. I don’t care if we violate a few safety protocols in the process. I’ll take it up with the air boss later.”

She offered a quick nod. “Srena, bring us about so that the shuttle bay doors are facing the runabout. Let’s give her the shortest possible approach.”

“Rotating now,” the Andorian ensign said as her fingers raced over the attitude controls.

While the ship twisted around its axis, thankfully somebody had remembered to keep the viewscreen focused in place, allowing a continued view of the approaching Nebuchadrezzar and the Agamemnon beyond.

“Hail her,” said Michael.

Moments later the main section of the viewer changed to show the cockpit of the runabout while the external view was relegated to a smaller inset in the upper left corner. On the runabout, Culsten sat at the helm and Star next to him. Michael could also spot Garla in one of the back seats. The fact that she was not restrained or under guard by any of the SMTs was encouraging and told him that she had likely returned with the away team voluntarily.

It wasn’t difficult to tell that Culsten seemed rather banged up, possibly even injured, considering the still bloody scratches on his face.

“Your mission was to return with Garla, Commander. We didn’t really plan for half the Krellonian fleet you’ve brought along for the ride,” he said with a deadpan.

She nodded to acknowledge the inconvenience. “Trust me, sir, these party crashers definitely didn’t get any invites from me. However, it seems they didn’t take too kindly to our little infiltration mission.”

“We’ll find a way to make do,” he said. “I take it you were otherwise successful.”

Star briefly glanced behind her and at Garla before she turned back. “I wouldn’t call it the smoothest operation I’ve ever executed but we got what we came for and besides a few scrapes and bruises we got out relatively unharmed.”

Leva interrupted the conversation. “Sir, we’ve got eight ships dropping out of warp.”

Michael could see it on the inset picture in the upper corner, the fleet quickly crowding the small image.

“Gotta cut this short, I’m afraid while I deal with those uninvited guests of yours,” Michael said. “Prepare for an expedited landing. It might get bumpy but I want you on board yesterday.”

Star offered a curt nod. “After this, a bumpy landing will be a walk in the park.”

“You may change your mind depending on how this plays out. Eagle out.”

As soon as the connection was terminated, the smaller screen expanded again to take up the entire viewer, fully revealing eight, menacing ships quickly approaching in a tight, combat formation.

Michael thought that they looked fairly similar to the Krellonina border vessels they had encountered in their universe, expect that these ships were far larger, each one almost the size of Agamemnon and just a bit smaller than Eagle herself. And while Starfleet ships in both universes had a white-gray finish, these vessels were gleaming in bright chrome colors which were even more impressive under the strong light of the many nearby stars within the Amargosa Diaspora. Similarly to the smaller ships he had encountered previously, these too were shaped like a double-u with nacelles arranged like upward swooping wings from the main body. Michael was sure he could see several visible weapon emplacements protruding forward form the main spaceframe, speaking to significant firepower.

“We’re being hailed,” Leva said from tactical.

Michael nodded to acknowledge. “As soon as the Nebuchadrezzar is onboard, stand-by to raise the transphasic shields, I fear we may need to finally put them to the test. Bring all weapons online as well.

“Understood,” the tactical officer said. “However, our weapons energy will be limited while the transphasic shield is active.”

Michael was well aware of this handicap but for the moment he decided that a strong defensive tactic was more valuable than offensive firepower. “Open the channel.”

The screen shifted again, once more using the inset feature to push the external view aside. On the main screen, the face of a man he had only seen just moments ago dominated the visual pick-up. This Lif Culsten seemed to be a little roughed up himself as if he too had been in a fight. The most noticeable difference between the two men who were otherwise mirror images of each other was the fact that this Culsten hardly seemed to be able to contain his seething anger playing out on his features. “Federation vessels, stand down at once and surrender to us the persons who have illegally entered Star Alliance territory and have assaulted and murdered Krellonian citizens or I promise you, none of you will survive the day.”

Michael had expected some hostility but this man felt more belligerent than a Klingon warrior on a bad day. “I am assuming you are Lif Culsten. My name is Michael Owens from the starship Eagle.”

“I have no interest in who you are,” he snapped.

“Fair enough. I deeply regret if any of your people were hurt but it was vital that we extracted Garla-our Garla-from your planet. She didn’t belong there and neither do any of us. We are not from this universe and are simply trying to find our way back home.”

He wasn’t sure if Culsten was too angry to care or if none of this seemed to interest him in general but his expression was anything but encouraging. “You have committed acts of war against the Krellonian Star Empire. Your reasoning is irrelevant.”

Michael took a step forward to show his resolve. He knew that morally speaking he was in a difficult position. He wasn’t sure what had transpired on Piqus and couldn’t say with certainty that his people or Garla had not committed crimes against the locals there but he was also not willing to just surrender any member of his away team or possibly the only person who might be able to facilitate their return to their own universe. “I cannot surrender my people. But perhaps there is a middle ground here, a compromise we could both live with. I’m sure neither one of us wants to escalate the situation to a full-out interstellar conflict.”

Culsten glared at him for a moment, a frightful look on a man Michael had come to regard as one of the friendliest and most accommodating persons he had ever known. “You have brought this conflict on yourselves by the crimes you have committed. If you do not surrender your people, I will be satisfied with taking possession of their corpses as well as any of those who get into our way.”

The connection was cut off at his end.

“Boy, I like our Lif a lot better,” said Srena.

Agamemnon is hailing, sir,” said Leva.

“Put her through.”

Amaya’s face appeared where Culsten’s had been a few moments ago. She was sitting in the center chair of her bridge, her body leaning forward slightly in anticipation of what was to come. “It was a good try, Michael but I had a feeling it wasn’t going to work. These guys have been spoiling for a fight for a long time. This is just the excuse they’ve been looking for.”

“I don’t want to drag your people into a war, Maya.”

She uttered a little, humorless laugh. “A bit too late for that, I think. Listen, war was coming one way or the other. We’ve known for years that they’ve ramped up starship production and the Federation is not entirely unprepared for this move. Now it seems the first battle will be fought right here,” she said and then considered her next words carefully. “Michael, if we don’t make it out of this I just want you to know that-“

He stopped her. “We’ll make it out.”

She grinned. “Oh, how I’ve missed that bravado,” she said and nodded. “All right, let’s slip the dogs of war, and all that.”

She ended the connection and Michael could see her ship starting to move towards the incoming Krellonian fleet.

“Where are we with the runabout?” he asked.

“Wheels down in thirty seconds,” Deen said.

“Bring weapons online now. Give me a targeting solution on their lead ship,” he said, hoping that the age-old tactic of going after the head of the snake would cripple the body. Perhaps if they could eliminate Culsten, the remaining Krellonians would reconsider his revenge-fueled quest and turn back.

“Lead ship targeted. All weapons on standby,” the half-Romulan at tactical confirmed.

Eagle shuddered slightly under Michael’s boots. Not enough to indicate incoming fire but more than he would have expected to bring in a runabout.

Nebuchadrezzar is onboard and secured,” Deen said. “It wasn’t the prettiest landing in the books but we got her.”

“Seal the shuttle bay and raise shields. Srena, get us in there, I don’t want Agamemnon to take the full brunt of their attack.”

Michael’s orders were quickly acknowledged and executed.

“Additional contacts dropping out of warp,” said Deen.

A much larger ship, easily three times the size of the other Krellonian cruisers zoomed onto the screen just behind the main fleet, along with six smaller ships that seemed to be support vessels. The behemoth was much bulkier than the other ships and looked more like a massive, beached whale than the elegantly shaped cruisers. It did have the same chrome-like paint job.

“By the Infinite, what the blazes is that monstrosity?” said Srena as she starred at the ship dwarfing all the others with wide-open eyes and antennae fully erect.

“Sensors are detecting a high volume of smaller ships within the vessel,” said Xylion from the science station.

“It’s a carrier,” said Leva.

Michael didn’t like the sound of that. “Just what we needed.”

“The main fleet is opening fire on the Agamemnon,” said Deen even though once again the viewscreen already made this plain as day as the cruisers fired powerful, blue-tinted energy beams at the other Starfleet ship which immediately responded in kind with a barrage of phaser fire and quantum torpedoes. It was obvious, even without sensors, that in this standoff, Agamemnon had drawn the far shorter straw.

“She is taking heavy damage to her shields,” said Leva. “She won’t last long.”

“Dammit, don’t try to be the hero, Maya,” Michael mumbled under his breath. “Srena, get us there, now.”

The Andorian nodded and operated her console accordingly.

Michael turned to tactical. “Open fire as soon as we are in range. I want to extend our transphasic shields around Agamemnon.”

“It will lessen their effectiveness.”

“So be it.”

The doors to the turbolift opened to disgorge Tazla Star, closely followed by Culsten and Garla.

“Nice of you to join us,” he said to his Trill first officer, her face and civilian attire still dirty and bloodied from her recent away mission, as were the other two.

“Wouldn’t miss this for the world,” she said and made a beeline for her chair, quickly using the computer console to catch herself up.

Culsten took one of the aft stations for now, allowing Srena to remain at the helm since it was too risky to replace the ship’s pilot in the middle of combat operations.

Garla just stood in the middle of the bridge, glaring at what she was seeing on the screen.

“We’re now in secondary weapons range,” said Leva. “Firing quantum torpedoes at the lead vessel.”

Not a second later half a dozen bright white missiles shot across the screen and towards their target, flying passed the Agamemnon and striking the Krellonian ship dead-on which didn’t even attempt to evade the incoming projectiles.

“Direct hit,” said Leva. “Their forward shields are seemingly reinforced. Shield strength remains at seventy percent, only minor hull damage.”

The response was quick and relentless as all eight ships now concentrated their fire on Eagle, causing the ship to tremble hard under the impact and Michael who was standing behind the flight control station had to grab hold of the back of Srena’s chair to remain upright.

A moment later the eight ships, which apparently had never slowed down, raced passed both Eagle and Agamemnon, still in their original formation.

“Shields holding at eighty-two percent but we won’t be able to absorb many more of those hits,” said the tactical officer. “The Krellonians are utilizing a tight attack formation that concentrates their firepower and will eventually overwhelm us.”

Garla nodded. “Those tactics aren’t all that different to our own,” she said. “They can be devastating.”

Star stood from her chair to consider the other woman. “If you have any suggestions as to how to fight them, now would be a good time to share.”

“I agreed to help you getting back to our universe but I have no intention of assisting you killing my own people,” she shot back.

“That’s funny,” said Culsten from where he stood at the raised back of the bridge. “You seemed to have fewer compunctions when you assassinated your counterpart.”

Garla glared at him. “That was different. She tried to kill me.”

The ship shuddered again.

“In case you hadn’t noticed,” said Michael, once more holding on to the chair in front of him. “These guys are very much operating along similar lines.”

“Sir, the carrier is engaging its attack crafts,” Leva said.

Michael turned back towards the screen to see dozens of tiny little ships come shooting out of the massive carrier like bullets fired from a gun. They were too small to make out details at this distance but they quickly clustered together in groups before commencing their own run.

“Phasers,” Michael said. “Fire at will.”

The void of space lit up like a fireworks display on Federation Day with crisscrossing phaser blasts from both Eagle and Agamemnon, only very few of which seemed to strike the quick and agile attack ships and permanently removing them from the battlefield. Michael didn’t need to be told that this wasn’t going to be a viable defensive strategy.

Leva shook his head. “Phaser fire is having limited effect.”

Eagle shook again, this time it felt as if they were being struck from all sides at once as if they had been caught right in the middle of an angry swarm of bees. To Michael, it felt like death by a thousand cuts.

Star was moving towards the horseshoe-shaped tactical station to support Leva. “Switch to burst firing mode and relax the targeting computer’s tethering that might give us a bit more leeway against fast-moving objects.”

Leva nodded and adjusted the weapons as instructed with Star’s help. Michael could see the effects immediately. Instead of firing sustained, single burst of phased energy at their targets, the phaser arrays now fired in quick staccato burst, spreading out the blasts to fire in front, behind and right through the cluster of enemy attack ships. It didn’t take long for Agamemnon to apply the same modification to her phasers and the results were encouraging as more and more craft were disabled or destroyed. It still didn’t quite feel like enough.

“The main fleet is coming around for another pass,” Leva said.

The main viewscreen shifted to show the eight cruisers bearing down on them again.

“Continue to concentrate torpedoes on the lead vessel. Fire at your discretion.”

The Krellonian ships were once again greeted by a quantum barrage along with phaser fire, even if the burst mode proved less effective against the bigger targets. And once more, the Krellonians responded in kind, firing their weapons at both Starfleet ships as they completed another strafing run.

Michael could feel and hear his ship groaning painfully under the assault and was sure that the hull had taken damage, even through their newly enhanced, albeit overstretched shields. Agamemnon looked in even worse shape and he could see one of her warp nacelles starting to leak plasma.

“Shields down to sixty percent. Hull damage on deck eight, twelve, and seventeen. We’re starting to get causality reports,” Leva said.

Agamemnon’s structural integrity is beginning to buckle,” Deen added to the already bad news.

“What is the status of the Krellonian ships?” Michael said.

Star had the report while Leva was busy targeting and firing his weapons. “Not great but better than us. The lead ship’s shields are showing some fluctuation damage but nothing that’s really slowing her down yet,” she said and then looked up at him. “At this pace, we’re done for long before they are.”

Michael turned to Srena. “Can we get out of here? We got what we came for.”

“I wish we could,” she said, shaking her head. “But not while we are being swarmed by those attack fighters. They are sticking to us like glue and we can’t maintain a stable warp field while they’re on top of us.”

“Wouldn’t matter anyway. I’m getting the distinct feeling that he’ll chase us down before we can get anywhere near reinforcements,” said Garla.

Michael frowned at her. “Well, then perhaps it is time that you take a more proactive approach in keeping us from being blown to bits, don’t you think?”

She nodded slowly. “Hail them. Let me speak to him.”

“Sir, the other Eagle just dropped out of warp,” said Leva. “She’s joining the battle.”

“About time,” said Srena.

But Leva’s face quickly turned into a frown. “She is being intercepted by the support ships that arrived with the carrier. She’s not going to be much help in dealing with the cruisers for a while.”

Michael uttered a heavy sigh. “Of course not,” he said and then glanced back at Garla who seemed to be chomping at the bit to speak to the other Culsten. Michael was out of options and nodded. “Hail the lead vessel.”

Deen had taken over handling communications while Leva was busy working on their defensive strategy. “She’s not responding but they can hear you now.”

Garla took a few steps closer to the viewscreen as if this would make her sound more determined. “Lif, this is Garla. Listen to me.”

To Michael’s surprise, he did. Or at least he opened the channel, appearing once more on the viewscreen and pushing the ongoing battle aside for now, prove that it hadn’t been suspended came via the continued impacts against Eagle’s shields which Michael could feel with increased concern.

“This is pointless,” she said. “Let’s end all this now before any of us does things we truly regret.”

Culsten’s anger had not abated, if anything it was further fueled by seeing Garla. “You’re the imposter who killed the Instigator and caused a deadly riot in our detention center. I will enjoy seeing you pay for what you’ve done.”

“Stop acting like a child throwing a temper tantrum,” she shot back. “I’m assuming with my counterpart no longer with us, you are in charge. Which means you have to start making strategic decisions and committing your entire fleet to attack the Federation here and now isn’t a smart tactical move, surely you can see that.”

“How dare you presume to lecture me, Imposter,” he cried with rage causing spittle to fly from his mouth.

“Start thinking rationally. Yes, bad things happened and we’ll have to take responsibility for them but this mindless war footing you are engaging in is disproportionate to the injury you have sustained. I don’t want to see any more Krellonians die needlessly, even if they are not from my universe. Stop this now.”

Culsten leaned closer towards the screen until it was filled almost entirely by his face. “I won’t destroy your ship. Not completely. I want to make sure that I capture you and the other imposter alive. I want to hear your screams while I slowly torture you to death.”

Michael had tapped Deen on the shoulder even before he had finished his last sentence to cut off the transmission and his face once again disappeared.

“That didn’t go well,” said the other Lif Culsten once his alter ego was gone.

“It doesn’t help that your counterpart is a recalcitrant child having no business leading men,” said Garla.

“In which case insulting him was probably not the way to go,” said Michael, shooting Garla a brief scowl before refocusing on the battle which, as it stood, was nowhere close to coming to an early conclusion. “We need to find a way to get some distance to those attack craft in order to go to warp.”

“That will have to wait,” Star said and indicated towards the screen. “Here he comes again.”

Heavy weapons fire was exchanged once more and Michael was reminded of old-fashioned jousting matches where heavily armored knights would ride up on each other until one of them was unhorsed. Unfortunately, in this particular matchup, it was Eagle’s armor which was crumbling first.

This became indisputably clear when they took another brunt of incoming fire which Srena was not able to fully dodge. Michael immediately knew that the hit had been bad. Further proof of this came when one of the aft stations exploded in a shower of sparks and the same feedback surge struck the flight control station not a moment later, flinging Srena out of her chair and onto the deck.

Culsten reached her body first, checking her over with noticeable concern.

“They managed to get us right in-between the ribs this time,” said Star. “Damned lucky shot too. We’ve lost all starboard phaser control and the shield grid on that side if threatening to collapse.”

Culsten had called in the medical emergency after finding that Srena was apparently still alive, although unconscious for now, and then promptly climbed into her chair to try and take control of the ship by using the damaged console. “I’m attempting to keep our starboard side away from them.”

“Not sure if it’s going to be enough,” Leva said grimly from tactical. “Their lead vessel has taken damage to their engines but it has only slowed them down. They are preparing for another run.”

Star said what Michael was already thinking. “We’re not going to survive another hit.”

It was the moment every ship captain from the earliest days of naval warfare had dreaded more than anything else. Being faced with the very likely possibility of imminent defeat. Knowing that the ship which they had entrusted their very lives to was no longer able to sustain them and instead would take them all down with it. The remaining options were miserable and only one of them seemed even remotely feasible at this point. It was a call no starship captain ever wanted to make.

But before he could give the order to abandon ship, Deen spoke up again. “The Eagle-the other one-is breaking through the Krellonian blockade and heading straight for us.”

“Onscreen,” Michael said, hoping that this could signify the desperately needed turning point in this battle.

But Deen crushed those hopes as soon as she had raised them. “She’s in a poor state. Worse than us. Not sure she’s even going to reach us.”

“She’s not trying to get to us,” said Star which caused Michael to look back at the screen and realize that the other ship was not heading for them but for the Krellonian cruisers which had just executed another turn to finish them off.

“What is he doing?” Culsten said, clearly not understanding why he was running right at them in what seemed like an ill-conceived tactical move.

Michael could see the telltale sign of an evacuation in process as Edison had apparently had the same thought he’d had, except that he was also determined, it seemed, to ride it out all the way to the bitter end.

“They’re abandoning ship and launching escape pods,” said Deen and shook her head. “They’re going to be easy pickings for those attack craft.”

“Lif, change our heading, get us in range to recover the escape pods,” Michael said as his rising adrenaline forced him to move closer to the screen.

“That’ll get us right into the cruisers’ line of fire,” he said but to his credit, didn’t hesitate to carry out the order.

“Something tells me they’re going to have their hands full.”

And then Gene Edison appeared on the screen, looking haggard and bleeding from his forehead. He wasn’t sitting in the captain’s chair, instead, he was at the helm, steering his ship himself. Michael could see two other people with him on the bridge, everyone else was either dead or had already evacuated.

“What are you doing, Gene?”

The other captain smiled and for a brief moment, Michael was almost convinced he was looking into the eyes of the man who had once been his first officer and friend. “I thought that much was obvious. I’m giving you the chance you need to get out of this alive.”

He could only imagine how he must have felt about sacrificing his ship and possibly a large percentage of his crew in this last desperate effort. Michael was no stranger to sacrificing a starship in an attempt to save lives, he had felt that terrible anguish when he had helplessly watched his former command, the Columbia, destroyed by a weaponized meteor after he had given the order to use the ship to prevent it from annihilating an entire colony. Of course, he’d had the fortunate opportunity to watch that drama unfold from the safety of a nearby shuttle, secure in the knowledge that Columbia’s entire crew, save for one soul, had evacuated the ship before it found its doom.

Edison was still onboard and much of his crew wasn’t going to get off his ship in time.

“Gene, get to a lifeboat.”

He hesitated for a moment, looking over his navigation board, and when he looked back up he wore that same smile again. “You know, I don’t think I was ever cut out to sit in the captain’s chair. That was your job, Michael and I should have made sure that you were able to keep it.”

He took a step closer to the screen, shaking his head. “Don’t do this, Gene. Get out of there.”

“I failed you, Captain,” he said, his expression having grown more dejected now. “And I failed Laas. Tell her that I’m sorry. Tell her that I didn’t do enough to save her.”

“Gene.”

“Will you tell her that, Captain?”

He nodded. “Yes, yes, I will.”

“Thank you, sir,” he said. “And save as many of my people as you can.”

“I will, I promise.”

On the inset screen, Michael could see the cruisers beginning to tear into Eagle as she raced towards them on a collision course. Escape pods continued to shake free of the battered spaceframe but her hull was breaking up even faster, destroying many pods before they had a chance to launch.

The image of Edison on his bridge was starting to tear and shake, growing static making it difficult to see or hear him clearly. “I know this is a terrible cliché,” he said, his distorted face looking back at him. “But I mean it when I say that it was an honor to have served with you, Captain. Perhaps this makes up for all the-“

The connection terminated suddenly and the viewscreen was once again filled with Eagle’s final flight.

“The honor was mine, Gene,” Michael said quietly, feeling his heartbreaking at seeing what was essentially his ship, being torn apart by the Krellonian cruisers, and her crew losing their lives in the process.

The bridge around him fell into dead silence as everyone watched the tragedy unfold.

It felt like an eternity was passing even while in truth the entire episode lasted less than thirty seconds.

The cruisers failed to obliterate Eagle entirely before she was upon them. Michael had no idea how but Edison had managed to avoid striking the lead vessel head-on and instead she smashed into the other ship at an angle, causing a terrible rendering of metal on metal as the Starfleet ship tore through the other vessel, shedding hull plates by the dozens in the process and losing her portside nacelle.

There was a momentary and almost eerie serenity to the scene after Eagle had cleared the lead vessel and she just hung there, surrounded by the Krellonian ships and her own debris, deformed to such a degree it was difficult to even tell she had been a proud starship once.

Then the warp core exploded with a blinding flash.

The force of the matter/anti-matter explosion set off a chain reaction and the lead vessel, as damaged as it was, didn’t stand a chance, blowing itself to pieces in a spectacular display of destruction which was quickly followed by the obliteration of the closest ship to it and then continued one-by-one in a span of just a few seconds.

The brightness of the resulting explosions forced Michael and most others on the bridge to shield their eyes before the screen dimmed automatically but by the time Michael had lowered his hand, nothing but debris remained of the Krellonian attack fleet.

Their dangerous and devastatingly close-combat formation had also spelled their undoing.

“Infallible Creator,” Garla said quietly as the sight of the destruction and massive loss of life.

Michael didn’t allow himself too much time to morn the loss of the other Eagle, knowing that the battle was not necessarily over just yet. After all, they were still surrounded by a number of other enemy ships, including the carrier and its many attack crafts. “Recover every Starfleet escape pod you can. Do it now.”

He could now see that Agamemnon was also moving towards what had become a starship graveyard surrounded by a dense field of debris. She was too far out to secure escape pods but she did everything she could to keep the remaining Krellonians at bay.

“The attack crafts are beginning to back off,” said Leva. “We might have a window to retreat.”

“How many pods did we get?”

Deen checked her instruments. “We’ve recovered twenty-two so far,” she said, her voice sounding much more strained than usual. “I am detecting about forty additional pods but the majority of which are structurally compromised.”

“Any more life signs?” Michael asked.

She didn’t respond. Instead, she looked at him and simply shook her head.

“The Krellonian ships are regrouping,” said Star. “I think they’re going to try for a final push. This might be our only chance to get out of here.”

Michael allowed himself another look at the screen and the sight of destruction spread out ahead. Dee had confirmed there was nothing left alive out there. He resolved that it wasn’t worth two more starship crews to collect the remains of those who had given their lives so that they could carry on.

“Signal the Agamemnon. We’ll make best speed back towards the subspace threshold,” he said.

Agamemnon confirms. She’ll be limited to warp seven due to damage sustained to her engines,” Leva said.

Michael nodded. “It’ll have to do. Lif, get us out of here.”

He kept his eyes on what remained of Edison’s starship for as long as he could, it was the least he could do and even that felt far too little for their sacrifice. That final tribute lasted a couple of seconds before the floating tomb disappeared amidst a field of streaking stars.
Part 1 - Splintered: 31 by CeJay
31


The main shuttlebay looked as if it had been thrown into utter and total chaos and more closely resembled a junkyard than an orderly flight deck on a ship of the line.

The entire length and width of the massive space seemed to be occupied by escape pods in various state of disrepair, along with tons of other debris which had once belonged to the other starship Eagle. Mixed in with all of that were hull pieces and starship fragments from the Krellonian vessels which had suffered the same fate.

Clearly, in a rush to recover as many viable escape pods as possible, Deen and the transporter operators had thrown a wide net, beaming anything and everything that could possibly have contained life signs right into the shuttle bay to be sorted out later.

It had been an expedient tactic, probably the only one that ensured they could save as many souls as possible but it had left a junk heap of twisted and burned metal to be sifted through by the crew.

Nora Laas didn’t care as she joined an army of crewmembers trying to find survivors.

Since Eagle was still at red alert status, everybody who was not crucial to the defense of the ship had been drafted to the shuttlebay to help out. Mostly led by blue-collared medical personnel, members of the science, operations, and engineering divisions, as well as SMTs and even civilians had come together to pick through the rubble and to try and locate crewmembers of the doomed Eagle, either alive or dead.

Laas was leading the majority of her security team doing the same. This was hardly their first time performing this oftentimes grim task and she thought that over the years they had perfected a pretty good system of doing this, splitting up in groups, using tricorders and other tools to go through the rubble, starting with any lifeboats which seemed more likely to have kept people alive and going from there.

She had to admit, however, that this was one of the messiest operations of this kind she had ever been party to and braced herself that much of this was going to be more recovery work than actual search and rescue.

She also had a more personal stake in trying to locate survivors-one which on the surface didn’t make much sense, not even to her, and yet she felt her heart pounding in her chest as she rushed from one escape pod to the next, trying to find one specific survivor.

She kept asking the shell-shocked crewmembers she helped out of the lifeboats, many of which had to be carried, the same question over and over again, and the answers remained the same.

She thought she heard her name being called in the middle of interrogating a couple of young crewmen who had already sadly shaken their heads to her inquires and as she turned around, she half expected to see the man she had been looking for.

It was Elijah Katanga who had called out for her. “He’s not here, Lieutenant.”

She shook her head, pointing at several pods that had not yet been seen to in the far corner of the bay. “We don’t know that. We haven’t checked them all,” she said and turned towards them.

“Laas.”

She ignored him initially, determined to check all the pods as quickly as possible. He may have been in one of those that had taken significant damage, badly injured, and waiting to be rescued.

“I’ve had word from the bridge.”

She froze then, not immediately turning to face the doctor.

“He stayed on board until the very end,” Katanga said, for once displaying a softer bedside manner that usually eluded him when dealing with his patients. “He’s gone.”

Laas wasn’t sure how she was supposed to feel about this. He hadn’t been her Gene Edison, she knew that on an intellectual level, of course. He had been so very different from the man she had loved and lost. But then again, he had been so similar as well. She did not doubt that, given time, he could have become like her Gene. He certainly had aspired to be.

She felt Katanga’s hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

She shook her head and turned around. “I hardly knew that man.”

He nodded sympathetically as if he understood that there had been much more than that.

Laas took a deep breath and resolved that she wouldn’t mourn Captain Edison the way she had Gene. She wouldn’t allow herself to go through all that again. They were both gone now but she was still around. Things had to carry on.

Her inner monologue was interrupted by a banging sound that started faintly but quickly gained intensity.

Both she and Katanga turned to look at a nearby pod which was singed so badly, it was nearly pitch black with half its hull plates already having shed away, it didn’t look capable of sustaining life.

Katanga quickly referred to his medical tricorder. “There is a lot of interference from various exposed energy sources but there might be somebody alive in there.”

Laas quickly made it to the pod and began to clear the debris which was preventing access to the hatch, disposing of it haphazardly in an attempt to get to it as quickly as possible.

Katanga, belying his age, promptly joined her and together they managed to create a path to the hatch.

The small viewport was shattered and made it impossible to look inside. Laas grabbed the main handle but it wouldn’t budge even as she put her entire strength to it.

It wasn’t until the octogenarian physician began to help out that the hatch was beginning to give way.

A sudden rush of adrenaline augmented her strengths and effort just enough for the door to finally give up its resistance and it flew open so suddenly, both Laas and Katanga were very nearly flung to the ground.

She helped steady the doctor first and helped him sit down on a piece of debris after he had noticeably exhausted himself and then quickly made it back to the now open hatch, using her wrist beacon to illuminate the dark interior.

The pod appeared empty.

Then she felt it.

A sensation she had perceived before. It guided her to a far corner of the pod where she spotted the body. And it was moving.

She reached out into the pod. “Take my hand.”

The man did and once she had a firm grip she began to pull him out until the light revealed his face.

She recognized him immediately.

He was a Vulcan and she tried hard not to let her disappointment show on her face.

“Jarik,” she said, almost spitting the name.

He looked pretty awful, his usually meticulously kept hair was in total disarray, his face dirty and streaked with greenish blood.

“Are you injured?” she asked as she continued to pull him out.

He began to fight her. “Stop. Stop it.”

He was so insistent she had no choice but to cease her efforts. She guessed he was in shock which was not uncommon after surviving the destruction of a starship. “You are all right now. You are safe,” she said.

But he didn’t seem to listen, instead, he freed himself of her grasp and dove back into the pod.

She was just about to climb in after him when he reappeared, this time holding a case she had also seen before. The sensation she had felt earlier was undoubtedly emanating from within. She had a good idea what it contained.

Clutching it closely as if his very life depended on it, he finally reached out for her again and this time allowed her to pull him out of the pod. “Are you all right?” she asked again.

He nodded. “I am fine,” he said as he climbed out with her help.

“Anyone else in there with you?”

“Where are we?” he said once he had set foot onto the flight deck. “Where are we going?”

Laas exchanged a quick look with Katanga who was pulling himself back up now that he had another apparent patient. She was wondering if Jarik had suffered a concussion which again would not have been unusual in this situation.

“We’re on Eagle. The one from our universe. The other one was destroyed. Last I heard we’re heading back towards the Ring,” she said.

“Good,” he said. “I need to speak to the captain right away,” he added and then began to make his way towards the exit even if he was moving with some difficulties, noticeably wobbling and needing to steady himself.

Katanga shook his head. “I think I need to look you over first.”

“I don’t have time for that,” he said without slowing down and quickly finding his balance again, allowing him to pick up the pace.

It was Katanga, it seemed, who was too tired to chase after him. “Heaven’s preserve me, will I ever find a cooperative patient on this ship?”

Laas indicated towards her deputy, José Carlos, who was standing nearby and then pointed at Jarik who was making a beeline for the exit. Carlos understood immediately and began to follow the half-Vulcan. After her last encounter with the SAI administrator where he had threatened Owens to take over command even by force if necessary, Laas was determined to have the man closely guarded while he was on his ship.

Once she was satisfied that Jarik was being watched she glanced back into the pod realizing that there had been another person inside after all. She was in the corner opposite from where she had found Jarik. It was a Bolian science officer judging by the blue-collar of her uniform. Her empty and lifeless eyes were staring right back at her.

Laas turned away and climbed off the pod. “I’m afraid you won’t find another patient in that one,” she said as she walked passed Katanga to find the team tasked with recovering dead bodies before she’d continue to search the remaining pods, already fully aware that the chances of finding any more survivors were slim to none.
Part 1 - Splintered: 32 by CeJay
32


Eagle and Agamemnon had found the threshold to in-between space exactly where they had left it, inside Cygni-98 and right alongside the signal buoy Eagle had deployed earlier to allow them to keep an eye on things while they were inside the subspace pocket.

The captain had called a meeting as soon as they were back within in-between space and within the immense shadow of the still awe-inspiringly massive ring structure.

To Lif, the observation lounge felt more packed than usual. The captain was there, of course, sitting in his usual chair at the head of the conference table with Tazla Star at his right.

The captain’s father who had miraculously returned from the dead not long ago was also present. Lif had heard that the admiral was suffering from serious health issues and had in fact collapsed on a recent away mission to the Ring. His condition had apparently improved sufficiently to attend the meeting although he seemed far paler than he remembered.

The half-Vulcan Jarik, who had been recovered from an escape pod from the other and now destroyed Eagle, was also present. He had looked like he had been to hell and back when he had suddenly appeared on the bridge after their devastating battle but had since cleaned himself up and replicated a fresh uniform. The man was still preoccupied with keeping his metallic case close. Lif hadn’t seen the Prism artifact that it was said to contain but he could certainly feel its powerful essence emanating from the slim container and permeating the entire room.

Captain Amaya Donners stood by one of the large windows and looking out at the swirling pink subspace mass outside instead of sitting at the table. She had seemed particularly glum and Lif didn’t blame her considering recent events.

Nora Laas had taken up position by the doors along with three additional security officers spread out to cover both entrances. They were here mostly for Garla even if Star had asked him to play her chaperone while she was on board, seeing that she seemed to respond to him far better than to any other Starfleet officer. He hadn’t liked the idea much, after all, last time they had run into each other on Eagle, she had taken him hostage and threatened to kill him in order to facilitate her escape.

He understood the first officer’s argument, however. Regardless of their differences, Garla was still family, something she had reaffirmed during their turbulent mission to Piqus. He still didn’t fully trust her and he had the feeling she remained equally guarded about him but for now, she had agreed to help them get back to their home universe.

Star’s confidence in his ability to keep her under control only went so far, as evidenced by the security detail which had shadowed Garla ever since she had stepped on board.

He and Garla hadn’t spoken much since the battle and she had seemed lost in her thoughts for the most part after their escape.

Bensu, Xylion, Deen, and Hopkins were also in the observation lounge, all sitting at the table, which had left him and Garla to remain standing, as seating room had grown scarce.

The captain considered Bensu and his science and engineering officers first. “What is the current status of the Ring?”

“It remains unchanged from its condition when we left it. We carried out a brief survey of the control sphere before this meeting but could not determine any changes since our last visit,” Xylion said.

“That’s good news, I suppose,” said Star and gave the captain a telling look before focusing on Jarik further down the table with a noticeable frown on her Trill features which Jarik seemed to ignore entirely.

Lif was vaguely aware that something had transpired on the Ring during their absence and while Star had clearly been updated, he had not. Deen had alluded to a potentially hostile escalation between the two ships when she had briefly spoken to him earlier but had not had the chance to elaborate on the details.

“Our top priority, for now, has to be finding a way back home,” said the captain. “We believe we have the means of achieving this with the Prism which may be even more effective if used directly on the Ring. Bensu’s unique talents and insights may help us focus the artifact in the right way. Having said all that, our last experience of traveling through a gateway was anything but pleasant and exerted a significant toll on both the ship and her crew. I want to make sure we do whatever we can to minimize the risks this time.” He turned to look at Garla even though she didn’t seem to pay him much attention. “I believe that’s where you come in, Sentinel.”

She looked up then, giving him a rather blank expression in response. “I wasn’t even aware of the structure’s existence until very recently. And I certainly didn’t know of its potential to facilitate travel to other universes.”

Star leaned forward in her chair. “But you did work with the people responsible for constructing it. With the subspace aliens.”

“Saying that I worked with them is somewhat generous,” she said.

Star and Owens exchanged glances before the captain focused back on her, his facial expressions hardening. “Call it what you wish but the fact remains that you had a mutual agreement with them. More importantly, you were in direct communications with the subspace aliens.”

Garla nodded slowly.

“We need to speak to them,” he said.

“What exactly do you think that will accomplish?” Jarik said, the first words he had spoken since the meeting had commenced.

“I thought that much was obvious,” Owens said, not entirely able to keep the frustration out of his voice.

“May I remind you that those are the same people intending to invade our universe? And we already tried communicating with them once before. That didn’t exactly work out, did it?”

Michael glanced towards his father, hoping perhaps that he would comment on Jarik’s obstructiveness but the admiral remained mum.

“That may have had something to do with the fact that you were torturing the creature,” Owens said.

“I did what was necessary.”

“And now we’re doing what I think is necessary,” he said sharply which seemed to have robbed Jarik of a response. He turned his focus on Garla again. “We need your help to establish a dialogue with them.”

But Garla didn’t speak.

Star uttered a little frustrated sigh of her own. “You do have the means to contact them?”

“Perhaps,” Garla said. “But I’m not so sure I want to do that.”

“How dare you?”

Everyone present glanced towards Amaya Donners who had finally turned around from staring out into the void of subspace to face the other woman.

“A good man just sacrificed his ship and most of his crew for a chance to get us back here alive and you have the audacity to stand there and say that you do not wish to do your part in this?” she said, her voice sharp as a razor blade and her eyes shimmering like burning stars. “That you just don’t feel up to doing the one thing we brought you back here for? We could have left you to rot on Piqus instead of trying to get you back home.”

“Tha man killed a lot of Krellonians,” Garla shot back.

“Krellonians intend on killing us. Killing you. So forgive me if I don’t shed any tears for their demise. When all this is over you may find your way back to your universe but I’ll still be here and no doubt will have to deal with the fallout of what happened today. A full-out war with the Krellonians has become pretty much unavoidable at this juncture. So how about you get over whatever the hell is eating you and you start pulling your weight?”

Garla just glared at Donners but said nothing at first.

Lif couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Agamemnon’s captain and it occurred to him that everything that had happened in her universe since they had arrived, from the people they had been forced to kill and the chaos they had created on Piqus, the battle with his counterpart and Captain Edison’s sacrifice, all of it had happened because of them. Because they had arrived in this universe and done everything they could to go back home, leaving death and destruction in their wake. And now Captain Donners was the only person left, at least in this room, who would have to deal with the consequences of it all.

Garla clearly didn’t see it that way and crossed her arms defiantly. “We could have found another way than massacring thousands of my people.”

“They weren’t your people,” Donners shot back.

“They were Krellonians.”

For a moment an uncomfortable silence settled over the room. It wasn’t until Lif spoke up that it was broken again. He turned to look at his aunt. “You said it yourself, these aliens, they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain in whatever deal you struck. In fact, they outright lied to you to gain your assistance in carrying out their plans that we have to assume are still fully in play. On the other hand, whatever you were hoping to accomplish for our people, your stand-alone society, it may no longer be viable because of their deceit. If nothing else, help us stop them from carrying out their designs and get your revenge in the process.”

Lif didn’t miss the frown forming on the captain’s face and he was certain that he didn’t entirely appreciate his tactic of using the promise of exacting vengeance as a motivation tool. It wasn’t exactly the Starfleet way. But then again, Garla wasn’t Starfleet and he knew that she was not a person you wanted as an enemy, had in fact painfully learned that lesson only just recently.

She considered him for a few seconds, her face an unreadable mask. For a moment he thought that perhaps he had overplayed his hand and overestimated her desire to settle a score.

Then she offered a smile. “Well, if you put it that way,” she said and reached into a hidden pocket of her outfit to retrieve an object, which immediately caused Nora and the security team to tense-up, with hands darting towards holstered phasers.

“Relax, everyone,” she said after noticing their reaction and then very slowly retrieved something which looked decidedly non-threatening. She took a few steps towards the dark glass and mahogany conference table and then placed the object on the smooth surface. It was nothing more than a flat, gray, octagon-shaped item half the size of her palm which to Lif looked more like a Fizzbin card than a piece of technology.

Star, upon seeing the unassuming card, looked up at her. “Are we playing a game?”

“You want to contact the subspace creatures. That’s how to do it,” she said in a deadpan.

“How does it work?” Deen asked, studying the card closer but avoided touching it for the moment.

“You tell me. I’ve thrown non-insignificant numbers of resources and scientists at this over the last few months and nobody has been able to tell me much about its functionality,” she said and looked at the captain. “But trust me, it's your best chance of making contact with those things. Just remember my condition, Captain. I fully expect to get a piece of them myself.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 33 by CeJay
33


Xylion, Hopkins, and Deen had gone to work straight away to try and determine how to use the curious device Garla had produced to open communications with the subspace aliens and which had left them mostly stumped initially.

Realizing that answers wouldn’t be forthcoming immediately and that he would do nobody any favors by impatiently hovering over the engineers and scientists trying to decipher the device, Michael had decided to let them get on with it in peace for now and had instead brought Amaya back to his quarters after she had requested a private conversation.

She hadn’t spoken much during their brief journey to his cabin and Michael was well aware that her mood had likely not improved significantly since her angry outburst in the observation lounge when she had confronted the stubborn Krellonian Sentinel who had developed second thoughts on assisting them in their mission.

Michael didn’t blame her one bit. After all, it was no easy thing to watch a fellow starship and her crew parish, and he had to admit that watching Edison’s sacrifice had effected him greatly as well, even if he hadn’t known that version of the man well, or the fact that he had threatened him and his ship with violence just a few hours before.

Once they had reached his quarters, Amaya visibly relaxed and took her time to take in her surroundings, studying the art hanging on the bulkheads, the photographs of friends and family, his extensive collection of old paper tomes, and other assorted knickknacks.

Michael watched her as she did so. He hadn’t really seen much of the Amaya Donners of this universe, at least not up-close and in a calm and private setting, since that surprisingly passionate kiss she had first greeted him with and which he had not been able to ban from his memory. He was struck once more how similar she looked to his Amaya, more so even than the two Edisons had resembled each other. Or perhaps it was so much more noticeable as it had been only days since he had last seen her counterpart, whereas it had been years since Gene Edison had been killed.

Amaya seemed amused by some of the things she found in his collection and Michael guessed that she recognized those pieces from her late husband, indicating to him that he had shared much with his counterpart including, it seemed, his romantic interests.

She picked up a frame containing an animated picture of his brother, smiling at something somewhere beyond the camera, his dark graduation gown softly rippling in the breeze. “Matthew,” she said and then turned to look at him.

Michael felt his throat tightening. His brother had died tragically in his universe many years ago and in a twisted turn of fate which had included an unlikely trip back into time, he had been forced to live through Matthew’s death twice, unable to prevent his demise a second time despite his best efforts. Now he couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps he was still alive in this reality, having been able to escape his cruel fate and carry on the Owens lineage in his brother’s absence. “Is he…?”

She shook her head sadly and then placed the frame back where she had found it.

Michael felt a little sigh escape his lips as he understood.

Amaya, realizing that this was a painful subject, quickly moved on. “I wanted to thank you for retrieving those escape pods,” she said. “We’ve started bringing them aboard Agamemnon.”

He nodded. “Of course. It was the least we could do.”

She headed towards his seating arrangements and put herself down in one of the chairs by the slanted windows and he followed suit. “Losing Eagle was a big blow to Starfleet.”

“Edison was a good captain,” he said, not so much because he believed it but because he felt it needed to be said.

Amaya looked right into his eyes. “We both know that’s not true.”

“I didn’t know him as well as you did.”

“I heard what happened while we were gone, Michael. Edison was out of line to threaten you the way he did. Something very dark happened to him after he took command of Eagle. Perhaps he was never ready for that level of responsibility in the first place. Perhaps it was losing his captain,” she said, sorrow noticeably creeping into her tone.

“I am truly sorry for what happened. If it hadn’t been for my plan to go and retrieve Garla, this would not have turned out this way,” he said.

She quickly shook her head. “Don’t apologize for making a command decision, Michael. It was the right call at the time and you know it. There is no way we could have foreseen how this would play out.”

He nodded, thankful for her wisdom which reminded him a great deal of his own Amaya. “But it does mean that you’ll be left with one huge mess with the Krellonians no doubt looking for blood.”

She glanced towards the windows for a moment. “Yeah. They’ve been on a war footing for a while so this will not come as a surprise to anyone,” she said and then looked back towards him. “With both Garla and her chief lieutenant gone, however, not to mention a substantial number of their ships, it will take them some time to regroup and attempt another incursion. Enough time for us to prepare.”

“I hope so.”

“Of course, having another ship around would help improve our odds,” she said with a playful smile. “Any chance I could convince you to abandon your plans of finding a way back home and instead stick around here for a while longer.”

She had made it sound like a joke but Michael could see through it. There was more than a kernel of seriousness underpinning her request and it wasn’t difficult to understand why. “It wouldn’t be fair to my crew. None of us belong here.”

“Of course,” she said quickly, perhaps too quickly before she looked back into his eyes. “Is there an Amaya Donners waiting for you on the other side?”

He nodded slowly.

“But she isn’t your wife, is she?” she said as she threw a furtive glance across the room, indicating the lack of any pictures or other mementos speaking to a married man.

“No she is not.”

She nodded. “Tell me about her. What is she like?”

He grinned. “She’s very much like you, I think. She’s the captain of the Agamemnon as well. She’s strong, smart, and beautiful. She’s among the most resourceful people I’ve ever known. She can be as stubborn as an ox and as supportive as a lifelong friend, sometimes both at the same time. I’ve known her since my early days at the Academy and we have been the closest friends ever since,” he said, purposefully leaving out the less than cordial relationship they had shared in an alternative timeline.

Amaya returned that smile. “I think I’d like that version of myself.”

“I think you would too,” he said, perhaps sounding a little more wistful than he had wanted to. He had described her best attributes and the reasons why he had fallen in love with her even though as of late those feelings had apparently not been reciprocated.

“But there’s more to it, isn’t there?” she said.

He shot her a surprised look at her ability to see through him so easily.

She offered a good-natured smile. “I’ve learned reading that face a long time ago.”

He nodded with understanding. “Things have been a little difficult as of late and I’m not entirely sure why. It may have something to do with this mission. Let’s just say things have cooled down between us rather suddenly,” he said, unable to shake the odd sensation of discussing his relationship with Amaya with her nearly exact duplicate.

This Amaya didn’t respond to this straight away, instead, she seemed lost in her thoughts for a moment.

“Star to Owens.”

Michael glanced towards the ceiling upon hearing his first officer’s voice. “Go ahead, Commander.”

“It looks as if we had a minor breakthrough with Garla’s device and we might be ready to try something. I thought you might want to be around for that.”

“Absolutely.”

“We’re assembling in holodeck two.”

Michael thought that to be an odd place to test unknown technology but then nodded. A habit he had never been able to shake, regardless of the fact that on an audio channel, Star couldn’t see him. “We’ll be right there, Commander. Owens out.”

With the channel closed once more, he glanced towards Amaya. “Time to go back to work,” he said and stood and a moment later she followed suit.

She reached out for him as he made his way towards the doors and Michael stopped and turned to look at her.

“If nothing else, find a way to make it work between the two of you,” she said, sounding deadly serious, as she looked straight into his eyes. “From everything you’ve said, your Amaya sounds a great deal like me. And if that’s true then I have no doubt in my mind that she loves you a great deal. Don’t make her lose you like I’ve lost my Michael. I need you to promise me that.”

He nodded slowly. And even though he had no idea how he could make that happen, how it was even in his power to change her mind, in that brief moment he knew he had to find a way. “I promise I won’t ever give up on her.”

That seemed to improve her mood again and she offered him that brilliant smile he had fallen in love with so long ago. “That’s all I needed to hear. Now let’s get out there and kick some subspace alien butt.”
Part 1 - Splintered: 34 by CeJay
34


When Michael and Amaya arrived in the empty, yellow-gridded holodeck they found pretty much everyone else already present. Xylion, Hopkins, and Deen were standing around what looked like a computer console, complete with a raised platform, its sole purpose, it appeared, was to connect the card-shaped device with the computer. Michael couldn’t tell if the console had been brought into the holodeck, or, and this seemed more likely, that the contraption was a holographic construct itself.

Garla stood nearby, her arms crossed in front of her chest and appearing as defiant as she had earlier, Culsten still by her side and Nora Laas and the orange-furred Caitian junior lieutenant T’Nerr watching over the Krellonian agent.

Bensu also watched the trio working on the console from where he stood a few meters away from the others but seemed otherwise not heavily involved in the process.

Jarik and his father were standing in a far corner, the half-Vulcan looking more anxious than his father. José Carlos from security stood near Jarik. On Nora’s insistence and with Michael’s full support she had assigned her deputy to follow him wherever he went on Eagle and with specific instructions not to allow him near any sensitive areas. Jarik had unsurprisingly objected to this treatment which he felt to be undignified for a man of his position but considering what he had been up to with the late Gene Edison, Michael had ignored his laments and instead also ensured that he surrender the Prism again and placed it under guard in the science lab. Jon Owens, for once, had backed his son’s play as well, leaving Jarik with no allies on Eagle.

Tazla Star greeted the two captains as soon as they had entered the cavernous room. “I’m being told we’re almost ready to get started.”

Michael nodded. “How does this work exactly?”

“I think I better let the experts explain that,” she said and indicated towards Xylion and the others.

The science officer looked up from the console. “We have not been able to determine the precise nature of the device or how it functions,” he said.

“It’s one hell of a piece of technology though,” said Hopkins with noticeable awe in her tone. Michael wasn’t sure if he had ever met a person as excited about encountering new forms of tech. “With more time I’m sure there is plenty we could find out about it.”

Deen nodded. “It’s definitely a few centuries beyond Federation science. Perhaps more.”

Michael stepped closer to the platform to study the unassuming device which still didn’t look all that impressive to him. “Is there anything you were able to learn about its origins and who may have built it?”

“Not really,” said Deen. “But it stands to reason that whoever created the Ring out there may also be responsible for this device.”

“And the Prism as well?”

“Since both objects and the structure have continued to defy our own analysis, it is impossible to determine this for certain,” Xylion said. “However, it is a reasonable hypothesis.”

Michael considered the Vulcan and then Bensu. “What are you getting from this?”

“Not much, I’m afraid. What I can say for certain is that it does not resonate with the same kind of energy as the Prism artifact,” he said after glancing at the device.

“Best as we have been able to tell so far,” continued Hopkins, “this device isn’t so much a communicator than a data storage device. Once we tried to interface with it our own systems began to reconfigure themselves to allow for what we believe is holographic-based communications.”

Amaya stepped forward. “Which explains why we are here,” she said and both Hopkins and Deen nodded. “But how exactly are we establishing communications? Are we just going to plug this thing in and see what happens?”

Deen grinned sheepishly. “Actually, that was exactly our plan.”

Michael frowned. He may not have been a scientist at his core, but he did usually prefer a more methodic approach when dealing with new technology. Otherwise, what was the point of having a ship filled with science specialists and research labs?

“In their defense,” said Garla,” that’s pretty much what we did with this. And we had many months to study it. In the end, all that matters is that it works.”

Star shot Michael a quick look. “Nothing ventured?”

He nodded. “All right. Let’s do it.”

Xylion and Hopkins went back to work on the console while Nora tensed up, checking over the phaser holstered at her hip.

“Don’t worry, Laas, if this works according to plan, this will be a purely holographic encounter,” Deen said upon seeing the security chief’s concern.

“If things ever went according to plan around here, I would be out of a job,” she said, finished checking her weapon and then reholstering it. “And seeing that I have not exactly been twiddling my thumbs lately, I think I better err on the side of things going terribly wrong.”

Deen responded with a frown.

“What can we expect?” said Amaya.

When Deen just shrugged, Garla took a step forward. “It’s never been exactly the same. But some form of two-way communication should be possible.”

“Here goes,” said Hopkins and began to input commands into the computer console.

The yellow grid which ran all over the floor, walls, and ceilings disappeared but instead of creating a new environment, their holographic surroundings began to flicker and distort with headache-inducing static which caused Michael to feel disorientated to the point that he was beginning to lose his balance.

Only the other people in the holodeck with him as well as the central console remained fixed in place while everything around them was in constant flux, like some sort of attraction at a carnival ride designed to induce vertigo.

His father was the first to succumb to the effects but thankfully Carlos standing nearby managed to steady him before he could keel over.

Michael wasn’t sure how much more of this he’d be able to endure himself. “Is this some sort of malfunction?”

“Unlikely,” Xylion said. “It is more plausible that the holodeck matrix is not fully compatible with instructions it is receiving from the device. I am attempting to compensate.”

“The sooner the better,” said Amaya. “Otherwise, I’m afraid I shall refamiliarize myself with my breakfast and I don’t think anyone here wants to see that.”

The science officer’s efforts were starting to bear fruit and the image began to stabilize even if it was still a long way off from displaying anything sensible, instead it appeared as if they were floating amongst a kaleidoscope of colors, mostly reds and dark earth tones not entirely dissimilar to the shade of the subspace void that surrounded them.

The first sign that they were in fact going to be able to establish contact with somebody was the appearance of the shapeless and distorted figures. Michael had difficulty counting them since they seemed to appear and then wink out again, just to reappear somewhere else entirely. And this wasn’t just limited to the pane he was standing on, figures appeared completely randomly within the environment, including standing upside down or projected on what would have been the holodeck’s walls. It was, without a doubt, one of the most jarring experiences he had ever encountered.

“Is this normal?” said Lif Culsten as he nearly stumbled while trying and likely failing on focusing on anything in particular.

“I have found that there is no such thing as normal when dealing with these creatures,” Garla said and Michael could see that she had closed her eyes, which was probably the smartest move considering the reality-bending imagery they were exposed to.

“The holo-matrix is aligning with the device interface,” said Xylion whose concentration remained on his console. “The image should begin to further stabilize.”

Michael was now intrigued by a figure that was beginning to take shape just an arm-length away from him. It began like nothing more than a shadow, similar to the figure Bensu and Xylion had conjured when they had experimented with the Prism earlier but this time it began to take on a more familiar form until it was undeniably one of the subspace aliens he had encountered previously, wearing the same long robe with a deep hood, and possessing those same reptilian features including deep and dark soulless eyes.

It was very possible that he was mistaken since he couldn’t exactly claim familiarity with this species, but something told him that this was the exact same individual he had helped capture in their previous intrusion into subspace and then nearly tortured to death.

The creature raised its arm, presenting its three-fingered hand, and Michael followed suit. But when they touched, he felt a painful jolt and quickly withdrew his hand again.

Nora quickly stepped closer. “Are you all right, sir?”

He shook out his still hurting hand. “I’m fine. I didn’t expect that.”

The security chief glared at Deen. ”So much for nothing here being able to hurt us.”

Deen looked confused. “I’m not sure what happened. The holodeck’s safety protocols are still in place and working as they should.”

“All it means is that we must be careful,” Michael said as he looked around, seeing more and more creatures appear, even if many of them were still upside down or standing at unnatural right angles. The sound of their clicking language began to fill the holodeck and he had no doubt that many of those aliens were now regarding him and the others.

“Looks like they can see us,” said Amaya. “But can they understand us? I certainly can’t make sense of what I’m hearing.”

“We made some progress in deciphering their language,” said Michael and glanced towards Xylion.

The Vulcan offered a short nod. “The universal translator is active.”

It wasn’t enough to completely eliminate that insisting sound of clicks and snaps but he began to hear more recognizable words among them.

“Who are you? Why are you here?” he heard the voices say, over and over again, from all directions.

Michael decided to focus just on the creature closest to him for now. “My name is Michael Owens from the United Federation of Planets. We are from the realm beyond subspace. We have made contact once before,” he said

“Who are you? Why are you here?” the creature in front of him said in-between clicks.

“We are visitors from beyond your realm. We are looking for a way back to our own universe,” he said.

Another creature, one which hovered above Garla, upside down, spoke to her. “We know you.”

Garla craned her neck back to look the alien in the face. “We’ve had dealings before,” she nearly spat. “We had an agreement. One you have failed to uphold. What you showed me where lies.”

Somewhere to her right, Michael could see images of what he assumed to be from Piqus VII, and although he had never had the opportunity to visit that planet, he didn’t believe that the images he saw belonged to the Piqus of their universe. The blurry and distorted images looked more like what he had remembered seeing in old photographs of Earth’s darkest chapter of its history. They were images of slavery, forced labor and concentration camps. What was unmistakable, however, was that the slaves where all made up of the so-called Outlander races while Krellonian guards watched over them.

Garla angrily pointed at the images in the distance. “That’s a lie. You led me to believe this was our future. Instead, this is an alternate reality. This reality. Not mine.”

Culsten put a hand on her shoulder when she tried to reach out for the hovering creature, likely to assault it. “This isn’t the time for this. Let’s find a way to get home first,” he said.

Michael had to give the younger Krellonian credit for keeping his composure and managing to calm his infuriated aunt, who for now at least, left it to just giving him an angry glare but stopped herself from trying to attack what was essentially nothing more than a holographic projection.

“Who are you?”

Michael turned back to the alien standing near him.

“They aren’t exactly fast on the uptake, are they?” Amaya said

“My name is Michael Owens,” he said and then indicating at the others and Garla. “Like her, we come from what we call regular space. We found your structure and it took us into another universe. We need to find a way back.”

Another creature, standing closer to Jarik glided nearer the half-Vulcan, causing Carlos to tense and moving a hand on his phaser. “We know you,” it said amidst more urgent clicks.

Michael took a few steps to place himself between the alien and Jarik. “We had reason to believe that you are planning to invade our space. We took actions to defend ourselves and took one of your people prisoner.”

The first alien glanced back at him and Michael was surer than ever that it was the creature they had tortured. “You took us prisoner.”

Michael nodded. “Yes. Because we thought you were trying to hurt us.”

“You hurt us,” it said.

Michael shot Jarik a glare but the other man seemed unrepentant. He glanced back towards the alien. “It was a mistake to hurt you.”

Star had moved to his side. “We have an opportunity to find out about their plans,” she whispered in his ear.

Michael nodded. “We have to be delicate here. One step at a time. First, let’s try to find a way back home and create a dialogue. Then we address a potential invasion and all-out war,” he said, keeping his voice equally low even though he had no idea if this meant that these creatures could hear him or not.

“You helped us,” the first alien said to Michael.

He nodded quickly, suppressing a smile at the first sign of progress they were making. “Yes. Because I understood that hurting you was wrong. I want us to speak freely. To learn from each other and avoid conflict. Perhaps we could even become friends.”

“Friends,” the creature said and Michael was not able to determine if it was a statement or a question.

He nodded again. “Yes. And friends help each other. We know you’ve constructed the Ring with Garla’s help,” he said, pointing at the woman. “We know it has somehow thrown us into another universe. One we don’t belong in.” He decided not to mention the Prism for now, better to keep things simple. “We are looking for a way back to where we belong.”

“We belong here,” it said.

“We understand that,” Michael said. “We call this place subspace. It is a layer beyond our dimension, beyond our home. But there are many different dimensions out there. Your ring has placed us in one that isn’t our home.”

“You don’t belong here.”

Michael was beginning to feel that he was losing his audience. He well understood the difficulties of communicating with species so different from the ones he knew that they lacked a common frame of reference. Although this wasn’t exactly a first contact scenario, considering they had met previously, this was the first real attempt to create a dialogue without force or cohesion. It required tact, patience, and diplomacy, three attributes he had always liked to think he possessed in ample supply.

“No, we don’t belong here. Not in subspace and not in this reality,” he said.

At this, the creature went quiet and even the ubiquitous clicking sounds all around them seemed to lessen noticeably.

Michael glanced at the rest of his people, looking for some suggestions. His eyes finally fell unto Bensu. “I think it’s obvious we are having some communication challenges. Perhaps you could attempt to make them understand.”

Bensu looked skeptical. “I’m not sure how I could do this.”

“You have shown some surprising aptitudes dealing with these matters as of late. Just try to communicate with them the way you were able to interact with the artifact. At this point I can’t see how it could hurt,” he said.

Bensu nodded slowly and stepped forward, concentrating on the creature Michael had spoken to. He became quickly obvious that some sort of communication was taking place since the clicking sounds increased once more and the creature began to focus back onto Bensu.

“Are you speaking to it?” Star asked.

But Bensu shook his head. “I wouldn’t call it speaking exactly,” he said while he kept his gaze firmly on the creature. “I am receiving what could be best described as impressions. It’s difficult to put them into words. It’s beyond mere language and imagery.”

Michael had no idea what that meant. “Can you decipher any of it?”

“There is great concern,” he said.

“Concern about what?” Amaya said

“About us, about the Ring, about it fulfilling its function.”

Michael exchanged concerned looks with Amaya and Star before he looked back at Bensu. “Can you gleam its purpose?”

“So far this is mostly a one-way connection,” he said. “I am receiving impressions but I’m not sure how to send any of my own.”

Xylion stepped away from the central console. “I may be able to assist to once more focus your mind to enable you to take greater control of it.”

“That might help,” Bensu said without breaking his eye contact with the alien.

Xylion glanced towards Michael and when he nodded his assent, the Vulcan took up position just behind and to the side of Bensu and reached out for his neck. For a moment Michael thought that Xylion was planning to apply the Vulcan nerve pinch and knock out Bensu but this didn’t seem to be the case. Apparently, Xylion just needed to make physical contact with him, and not necessarily with his face as Michael had observed previously.

“Sense my mind connecting with yours,” Xylion said. “Use it to balance your own thoughts and to focus on the task.”

Bensu nodded slowly. “Yes, I can feel it.”

Michael thought he could see Bensu’s eyes becoming more intense.

“I am trying to determine the purpose of the Ring,” Bensu said.

No sooner had he spoken the words, the creatures’ agitation seemed to increase exponentially, the clicking and popping sounds gaining volume by the second, increasing in speed so much, the universal translator gave up on trying to translate anything. Soon it was getting so bad, many in the room had to cover their ears.

“What is happening?” Amaya shouted to make herself heard.

Xylion crumbled suddenly and Deen and Hopkins quickly rushed to his side, Bensu took a few steps backward as if he had been physically struck, his shoulders immediately sagging as his energy visibly left his body

“The Beholder,” Bensu said. “The time is here.”

Michael wasn’t sure what he was saying but he did recognize the name. The creature had used it before when they had first interrogated it. “Who is the Beholder? Is it them?” he said but Bensu seemed too exhausted to speak and Michael turned back towards the creature. “Are you the Beholder?”

The creature’s blank eyes just looked back at him.

“Can the Beholder help us to get back to our universe?” he said.

“The Beholder. The time is here,” the creature said. “The time is here.”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” said Amaya as she looked around the agitated and loudly clicking aliens. “Something is happening and it doesn’t feel right.”

Their surroundings were beginning to flicker and distort again and the aliens were once more fading out.

“Wait,” Michael said.

“The time is here,” the creature said once more before it had fully disappeared. Moments later the clicking noises were gone so suddenly, the unexpected silence hurt Michael’s ears almost as much as when the noises had become near unbearably loud. The world around him flickered faster and faster and just before it was threatening to overpower his senses entirely, it too vanished to be replaced once more with the standard yellow-on-black grid of the holodeck.

Nora was the first to speak, holstering her phaser again which she apparently had drawn at some point during the chaotic meeting. “I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m glad that’s over.”

A loud surging sound drew everybody’s attention towards the console just before it erupted with a small explosion. Since nobody was still standing near, it didn’t affect anyone but Michael could see that the power surge had burned Garla’s device to a crisp.

Deen and Hopkins had seen to Xylion who seemed to have recovered and Bensu too appeared to find his strength again.

Garla in the meantime had walked up to the destroyed console and carefully picked up the device which was now nothing more than a scorched, black card. “I suppose we won’t be making contact with them again anytime soon.”

Hopkins looked at the destroyed device. “Could they have done this on purpose?”

“Considering how agitated they were I think that’s a good guess.”

But Amaya shook her head. “I don’t pretend to understand what just happened, but I didn’t exactly get the feeling that we were dealing with the most intellectually-advanced species we’ve ever encountered.”

Michael had to admit that he had very much gotten that same impression. However, he also understood that it was dangerous to apply their own understanding of intelligence onto a mostly unknown species so quickly. If they had indeed built the Ring, the communications device, and maybe even the Prism, there was little doubt that these subspace aliens were centuries ahead of their own technological abilities.

Any further thoughts on the subject ended abruptly when he felt the deck trembling underneath him.

“Bridge to captain.”

Michael recognized Leva’s voice. “Go ahead, Commander.”

“Sir, something is happening with the Ring.”

Concerned looks were exchanged among the people in the holodeck.

“Can you describe it?” Michael asked.

“It appears that it has started to move. Or more accurately, it is beginning to spin and according to our readings it’s speeding up at an exponential rate.”

Xylion raised an eyebrow. “Movement of a structure of that size would cause significant gravimetrical sheer.”

“In other words,” said Star. “We probably wouldn’t want to be close to it.”

“Indeed,” Xylion said.

“Commander, back us off from the structure,” he said and then glanced over at Amaya who quickly nodded. “And instruct Agamemnon to follow our lead. We’ll be right there. Owens out.”

“What are the chances that this is unrelated to what just happened here?” said Star.

“I would say very small,” said Deen. “Those words they kept uttering over and over again at the end. That sounded like a warning. Or maybe a threat.”

Michael had to agree. Then the ship shook again, harder this time. “Let’s go to the bridge, we may have to get out here in a hurry,” he said and headed for the doors.

He only made it halfway there before he saw Amaya collapse. He was quickly at her side, steadying her before she could fall. “What happened?”

She seemed baffled. “I don’t know. I suddenly felt incredibly weak, as if every last bit of energy I had was being drained away and”“ she stopped herself again as she gasped and collapsed yet again. Michael watched on in shock as she seemed to flicker for a moment as if she was nothing more than another holographic projection.

“Amaya?”

“Bridge to captain, we have another situation,” the tactical officer said and when Michael didn’t immediately respond, still distracted by whatever had stricken Amaya, he continued. “We are getting very strange readings from the Agamemnon. It appears she is rapidly losing structural integrity on a molecular level.”

With Michael still preoccupied, Star began to communicate with the bridge.

“Can you determine the cause?”

“Negative, but my gut is telling me it is related to the Ring. It is now spinning at an ever-increasing speed and releasing some sort of unknown radiation in massive quantities.”

“Is it affecting Eagle?”

“Not as far as we can tell.”

“We need to get away from that thing now,” said Star.

“Michael,” Amaya said while he held her in his arms, still flickering in and out of existence.

“Just hang on,” he said, even though he wasn’t sure what it was he could do for her.

She reached out for his face but by the time she should have touched him, her hand was gone and a moment later so was the rest of her. Michael stared at where she had been in his arms just a second earlier with wide-eyed shock. “What … what happened?”

Star stepped up to him, ignoring the other captain’s disappearance for now. “Sir, we need to get the ship out of here.”

“There’s nowhere to go.”

Both Michael and Star turned around to look at Bensu. In fact, everyone on the holodeck was looking at him now.

“What do you mean?” Star said.

“It’s not just Captain Donners and the Agamemnon. It’s their entire universe. It’s gone.”

“That’s impossible,” Star said.

“Commander Leva, what is the status of the Agamemnon,” Owens said automatically reopening the channel to the bridge.

“I can’t explain it, sir, but she just vanished. We are also receiving reports that the survivors of the other Eagle who were still on board are also gone, as are the escape pods and every trace of debris we brought onboard.”

Michael was starting to feel dizzy.

Star spoke up next. “Do you still receive telemetry from our signal buoy outside subspace?”

“Negative, the last thing we picked up was some sort of energy surge. Than nothing. It coincided with the activity of the”“ Leva stopped as the ship shook again, this time hard enough to cause everyone on the holodeck to lose their balance. “Sir, the gravimetric sheer is starting to affect our own structural integrity. We won’t be able to sustain it much longer.”

Star glanced at Michael. “We can’t stay here. We’ll have to get back through the threshold and into regular space.”

Michael started to nod but Bensu cut in. “No, we can’t. There is nothing there anymore. If we try to return back to regular space we will disappear as well.”

“How can you know that?” Hopkins asked, clearly having a difficult time comprehending what was happening.

Michael felt much the same way. Amaya was gone. She hadn’t been the woman he had fallen in love with, but she had been so very similar that the differences seemed irrelevant now. And his brain simply couldn’t quite fathom the idea that her entire universe had vanished along with her. He also knew that he had an obligation that outweighed all others. To ensure his ship and crew would not follow that same fate. “Then where do we go?”

Bensu didn’t have an immediate answer.

It was Jarik, who hadn’t spoken at all since all this had started, who suddenly raised his voice. “Isn’t it obvious?” he said, taking a step forward. “We use the Prism. It’s our only chance.”

Michael exchanged glances with Star, both knew that even if they could manage to create another gateway, there was no telling where it would lead and that Eagle would make the trip in one piece. They also immediately understood that Jarik was right: There was no other choice.

He looked towards Bensu. “Do you think you could do it?”

“I’m honestly not sure. Perhaps if we were back in the control sphere with the Prism and Xylion helping me.”

“And I can guide you both,” Jarik said. “After all, I’m the only one here who has used the Prism before. I know how to make this work.”

Michael wasn’t exactly encouraged by those words. And Bensu and Xylion, after what they had both been through didn’t look one hundred percent.

The ship shook again and this time Michael could feel from the way the deck plates rumbled under his feet and the sounds of the bulkheads around him that his ship was starting to come apart at the seams. Time to consider their options was over.

He nodded. “Laas, get to the science lab now and retrieve the artifact than meet us in transporter room one.”

The security chief nodded sharply and then immediately sprinted out of the holodeck and towards her destination, aware that time was not on their side.

Michael considered Xylion next. “What are our chances that we can safely transport back onto the Ring from here?”

“Theoretically, gravimetric sheer should not affect the transporter beam,” he said.

Michael nodded and looked at his father. “Dad, you will need to come to, you’re the only one who can activate the Exhibitor.”

He nodded. “I understand, son.”

“Let’s go.”

On the way to the transporter room, Star made a quick but impassioned argument to let her lead the away team considering the many dangers and unknowns posed by their present situation but Michael was insistent that he went himself much to her chagrin. He instructed her to do whatever was in their power to get the ship ready for another journey through a quantum rift.

He wasn’t surprised to find that Nora had beaten them to the transporter room, already waiting with the case containing the artifact in hand, holding it awkwardly away from her body as if weary of the power contained within.

Jarik was all too eager to take the case off her.

Michael in the meantime focused on Hopkins who promptly joined Chief Chow behind the operator’s console to assist him with what was likely going to be a challenging transport. “Will we still be able to beam over onto the structure while it is in motion?”

The chief engineer must have wondered the same thing as she checked the console. “We’re still receiving steady telemetry from our probes inside the Ring, although any of those originating from the other ships have gone.”

Michael looked at Xylion next.

“It stands to reason that the interior of the structure is not affected by its own momentum or that the structure uses powerful inertial dampeners, similar to the ones we employ,” the science officer said.

“Can we beam straight into the control sphere?” he said.

“Since we know the precise locations of its threshold, that may be possible,” Xylion said and then quickly walked over to an equipment locker, having to steady himself on his way there as the ship continued to struggle against the increasing gravimetrical stress being placed on her hull. He retrieved a number of armbands each with a small device attached and then handed them out to the team. “These are subspace beacons based on the devices we employed during our away mission into the subspace fissure. Theoretically, we should be able to maintain communications and a transporter lock even through a subspace fold. Lieutenant Hopkins and I worked on these earlier, anticipating that they may be required considering our situation.”

Michael took the device and quickly attached it to his upper arm, giving him and his chief engineer appreciative nods. “Good thinking,” he said and was again nearly thrown to the deck had Nora not steadied him in time.

Michael glanced towards the ceiling, more than aware that his ship was on borrowed time. “Owens to Star. What’s our status?”

“Bad and rapidly getting worse,” she responded promptly. “I’d say we have less than five minutes until total structural collapse.”

“Nothing like a bit of pressure,” Michael quipped even if he felt little more than dread about their deteriorating situation. He looked at his people assembled around him. “Dee, Lou, I want you to stay here and do what you can to keep the ship in one piece and help Star prepare for another transition,” he said, receiving sharp nods from both women before he glanced to the others. “You’ve heard the lady. Time is not our friend, let’s move.”

He stepped up onto the platform with Xylion, Bensu, Nora, Jarik, and his father who required Deen’s assistance, quickly joining him. He gave Chief Chow a nod to proceed.

Xylion had indicated that immense gravimetric sheer was unlikely to affect the transporter and yet Michael couldn’t help but feel as if powerful forces were trying to pull and tear at his very disassembled molecules as he felt the familiar tingling sensation of being dematerialized. Perhaps it was just in his head, or maybe it was the fact that they were attempting not just to beam across space but, in essence, through subspace dimensions as well.

The anxiety that went with a difficult and possibly lethal transport abated as quickly as it had come when he rematerialized along with his people inside the control sphere. A quick check confirmed that he had made it through in one piece, as had the others.

The sphere wasn’t exactly how he had remembered it. What had been a tranquil, almost harmonious bubble in an endless void now seemed to be abuzz with activity. The bubble around the platform itself was pulsing and throbbing, waves rippling urgently across the sheer film that surrounded them. Sparks and lightning bolt-like discharges of dark greens and cool reds lit up the void beyond, speaking to a barely contained power raging all around them.

A tiny and very distorted voice focused his mind back to the task at hand. It came from his combadge and it sounded vaguely like Tazla Star but it was impossible to make out what she was saying.

He glanced over to Xylion who had also heard the first officer. “We have not had the time to test and fully calibrate the devices. It is unlikely we will be able to improve communications at this time.”

Michael nodded. “They got us this far, that’s good enough for now,” he said and then tapped his badge. “Owens to Eagle. I am not sure if you can hear us but we are unable to receive a clear signal on this end. If you still have a lock on us, beam us back on board as soon as a gateway is forming.”

Star said something else, it was short and to the point, and Michael hoped it was an acknowledgment. Then the line went dead.

Xylion and Bensu made their way towards the center of the platform and the holographic controls arranged there, most of which were now streaming undecipherable data and flashing in much darker colors than they had before.

Michael and the other followed them. “All right, we have no time to lose. How do we proceed?”

“I suggest we commence our mind-link and attempt to establish a connection with our surroundings. Once that has been accomplished we activate the Prism and aim to use it to create a gateway,” Xylion said.

“How can we know that the gateway will lead us back home?” Michael said.

“I think I can help with that,” Jarik said.

Michael considered him skeptically.

“As I said, I’m the only one here who has used it before. I didn’t fully understand it the first time but I believe I learned from my mistakes. If I can focus sufficiently on our destination, I am certain I can control the gateway’s terminus.”

He didn’t like it but the fact remained that they weren’t blessed with an abundance of options. “What do you need?”

“Let me join the mind-link. I am, after all, half-Vulcan. I possess telepathic abilities myself,” Jarik said.

Michael glanced towards Xylion who offered a short nod. “Any additional psionic energy we can bring to bear to bolster and steady Bensu’s focus is likely going to increase our chances of success.”

Michael nodded. “Do it.”

He watched as the three men knelt onto the floor, positioning themselves closely together so that each was able to establish a touch connection by completing a small triangle. While they were getting ready, Michael moved over to his father who had taken the Prism case off Jarik. “How are you feeling?”

He glanced at his son. “You worry if I’m up for this?”

“You haven’t spoken much since your most recent episode. I’m worried about you,” Michael said honestly. He had still not gotten over losing Amaya Donner, not to mention Gene Edison. Even if both had hailed from other universes, watching them die in such a sudden and unexpected manner had affected him profoundly and he wasn’t sure if he could handle losing his ailing father as well.

He shook his head. “I’m fine. Worry about the mission instead. That’s where your focus is needed the most.”

The words were true, of course, but it didn’t stop him from sensing that his father was anything but fine, the weak tone in his voice and his pale face only serving as further proof of this.

“I know what I must do,” Jon Owens said as he began to take a knee, Michael quickly helping him to lower himself, then placed the case in front of him and slowly opened it until its lone content came into view.

Michael thought the platform trembled underneath them even as he once more felt the energy of the unassuming device wash over him.

His father retrieved the Exhibitor and raised it slightly.

“The power in this place, it is staggering. It feels endless and eternal.”

Michael looked back towards the group of kneeling men. It was Jarik who had spoken, his entire body visibly trembling. He took a step towards them.

“It is truly awesome,” Jarik said.

“You must remain focused on the task,” Xylion said, although keeping his eyes closed. “Concentrate on Bensu’s mind and add your strength to his.”

“Yes,” Jarik said. “But the potential here. It is difficult to grasp.”

“Don’t let it distract you,” Michael said. “We need to open that gateway.”

Jarik nodded slowly. “Do it. Activate the Prism.”

Michael looked towards Bensu and Xylion even though neither of them could see him through their closed eyes.

“We are as ready as we will ever be,” Xylion said.

Michael glanced back at his father, giving him a nod.

He in turn activated the Exhibitor and the floor trembled once more as the prism-shaped device emerged as it had before, glowing in bright lights, appearing like a holographic projection as it slowly rotated on its own axis.

But it did something it had not done previously. The shape was growing ever larger and the sphere was responding to it, the ripples becoming more and more pronounced like waves turning into a tsunami, the lightning beyond gained intensity building up to a storm of light and energy.

“I can sense it,” Bensu said. “It’s filling this place. It’s filling me. It’s coursing through everything. It is … too much.”

“Steady your mind,” Xylion said, attempting to remain calm but his voice starting to crack with stress and tension.

“This place is tearing itself to pieces,” Nora said as she struggled to step closer to her captain as the energy coming from the still-growing Prism shape was beginning to manifest itself physically, like a powerful wind attempting to blow away anything in its path. “We can’t stay here.”

He had to agree. Already he was starting to lose his footing and having to fight to keep upright. His father had already been flattened to the ground and the three men in the mind-link were wavering like trees caught in a hurricane.

“It is without end,” Bensu said. “Infinite possibilities, infinite combinations, it’s everything and everywhere. It’s the past, the present, and the future and it’s all at the same time. It’s madness and it’s perfection. It’s the sum of all.”

“We must find just one, isolate it, focus all thought on that one single reality,” Xylion said, struggling to even make himself heard as the world around him was turning into a hellscape.

“Yes, yes,” Jarik screamed like a man possessed, his Vulcan side clearly having lost the battle for control. “I can see it. I can see our destination. I can see home. I can see it so clearly and it is pure perfection, pure beauty. Just reach out for it and take it. Just reach out for it and claim it,” Michael could see tears welling up in the man’s eyes and he couldn’t help wondering if the power they were up against was driving him insane.

“I see it too,” Bensu said, managing to keep himself less hysterical. “I can reach it. I can open it. I just need a little more … strength.”

“Focus on it. All of you, focus on that one single thought,” Xylion urged.

“Yes, yes, yes,” Jarik cried. “Here it is, here it is. Take it.” He removed his hand from Bensu’s face and then reached for his own head, taking it in both of his hands as if attempting to keep his head from falling off his shoulders. “It’s too much,” he screamed as she began to stand and then was quickly cut off his feet.

Michael tried to reach him but realized there was no point in even trying, the forces at play where pushing Jarik right towards him.

Before they could collide, Michael too lost his balance and he felt himself become weightless for a brief moment before he was tossed backward and towards the surface of the angrily throbbing globe. Something deep inside him told him that hitting that sphere with sufficient force was a certain death sentence.

He saw the others being swept up as if they were nothing more than ragdolls stuck in the path of a powerful tornado, the eye of which was the glowing and rotating shape of the Prism which was now large enough to fill almost the entire inside of the sphere.

Just as he thought he was going to smash into the bubble, Michael felt his body tingling once more. His mind, too preoccupied with what appeared to be its imminent and painful demise, didn’t even register the sudden change of his surroundings until he dropped onto the hard transporter platform on Eagle.

His body felt too bruised and ached too much to immediately follow his commands or even attempt to stand, he nevertheless managed to turn his head just enough to find, with great relief, that everybody had made it back. Although he couldn’t determine if they were all alive.

He heard Chief Chow’s voice. “We’ve got them, Commander. But they may require medical attention.”

“It will have to wait,” Star responded over the comm, her tone hurried but calm. “We are being pulled into the gateway. Bridge to all hands: Brace, brace, brace.”

It wasn’t enough time to prepare.

Not a moment later the deck lurched violently and Michael thought it could hardly have been worse if Eagle had hit a solid brick wall in space. The lights cut out as the room was plunged into darkness and for the second time in as many minutes, his body was catapulted into the air.

The landing, he knew, was going to be murder.
Interlude: The Looking Glass by CeJay
Interlude: The Looking Glass


Six Years Ago

Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco were not a secure facility.

At least not for the kind of work Admiral Jonathan Owens and his Department of Special Affairs and Investigations dealt in. The problem wasn’t necessary security itself, which was pretty impressive for an installation which otherwise prided itself in being transparent and non-threatening. To reach the forty-second floor of the main building which functioned as the official home of SAI, visitors were required to pass at least four security checks. And civilians, as well as members of Starfleet without high-security clearance had to be vetted first and usually didn’t make it as far as reception if they hadn’t been expressly invited.

But there was a good reason why even Starfleet Intelligence conducted most of its business elsewhere, including in its purpose-built facility in central Africa and others including numerous clandestine sites.

San Francisco was simply too high profile for work that was best carried out in the shadows. There were too many people with too many eyes focused on headquarters to make it a viable location for some of Owens’ more delicate work.

After all, few things could be more disruptive than some overzealous admiral, or even worse, the Commander, Starfleet, or the CNC to just casually stroll into the SAI offices and start asking too many questions about a project that wasn’t yet ready for wider scrutiny.

Of the dozen or so clandestine off-site locations administered by SAI, Owens was particularly partial to his facility located at the bottom of a deep and long since abandoned diamond mine located in the sparsely populated Sakha Republic.

Although still located on Earth, it was fair to say that few people ventured this close to the Arctic Circle for good reason, especially not in Far East Russia.

It was therefore the perfect location for one of SAI’s most secretive projects until Operation Myriad was ready to be moved off-world altogether.

One of the advantages of the underground facility was the fact that transporters were unable to beam anyone or anything directly into the base and instead had to be deposited just outside the entrance and at the bottom of the deep, ring-shaped, open-pit mine. Owens had established the base two years prior and he still hadn’t gotten used to the sub-zero temperatures he was briefly exposed to every time he beamed-in from San Francisco.

Thankfully the beam-in area was just a few short steps away from the base entrance and the main turbolift that led deeper into the Earth and the main section of the facility.

His most trusted lieutenant, Jarik, greeted him as soon as he had stepped out of the turbolift.

“We just arrived two hours ago,” he said without preamble and then fell into step beside him as they walked down the fairly standard looking hallway which looked hardly any different than countless corridors on countless Starfleet ships and bases. “Doctor Alaalatoa and her team are looking over it now.”

“You encountered complications in retrieving it?”

Jarik offered a curt nod. “You were right. They did interfere and came very close to obtaining it before we could. However, Susan did an outstanding job of reclaiming the object. At a high cost. We lost Sorenson and his team.”

“That is regrettable,” Owens said without slowing his pace. “I assume you managed to elude any further pursuit from our friends.”

“I am confident we were not pursued. Nobody knows the object is here.”

“Excellent,” he said just before he entered through a set of heavy doors which led into a large, cavernous room with high ceilings and which was mostly empty save for a few work stations lining the outer walls. A handful of men and women in lab coats and blue-shirted science officers stood around a platform positioned at the very center of the room, studying the small object that had been placed there.

Doctor Alaalatoa, a dusky-skinned and impressively tall woman of Samoan ancestry turned to Owens and Jarik as they approached, clearly already excepting what kind of questions she was about to receive.

“Doctor, what have you learned?” Owens asked even before he had reached the group of scientists.

The shorthaired woman shook her head. “Not much, I’m afraid. A few things we have been able to determine. One, it emits an immense form of unidentified energy which we have not been able to identify but which is physically palpable. Two, the device functions like an exhibitor of sorts which summons the object itself which after initial observations appears to be out of phase with our universe and three, we are not able to summon the object using the exhibitor for longer than two point four seconds.”

Jarik nodded. “I noticed the same effect when I first attempted to use it after we managed to obtain it. The exhibitor device grew so hot, I was unable to hold on to it.”

“We made the same observation and have not been able to overcome this limitation,” Alaalatoa said. “What we have been able to determine is that the exhibitor appears to scan the molecular structure of its user to attempt to create a connection. When it is unable to do so, it simply shuts down.”

“It’s a security measure,” said Susan Bano, the Bolian science officer who had been chiefly responsible for obtaining the object from the planet Eteron after a harrowing encounter with enemy agents. In fact, she had chased after the mysterious objects for months, ever since they had learned of its possible existence. She looked at Owens. “It must be a similar feature to what we have observed on the two Pandora Boxes we have obtained. Since studying the shard-artifacts contained inside them led us to this object in the first place, it is clear that they are connected.”

Owens frowned, not happy with the mystical-inspired nickname for the boxes SAI had managed to secure before getting their hands on this latest object.

“We only know of two people who have been able to open the boxes,” said Jarik. “You being one of them. If these objects are connected, it stands to reason that you might be able to activate this exhibitor as well.”

Alaalatoa didn’t seem to like the sound of this. “I strongly suggest we continue to study the object before we make any further attempts to activate it,” she said. “We still know next to nothing about its function or the limits of its power.”

Bano nodded. “I agree. Let’s put it through its paces before we try to meddle with it.”

Owens stepped closer to the platform containing the unassuming device not much larger than an isolinear chip. The power Alaalatoa had spoken of was undeniable and somewhat mesmerizing as well. He reached out and picked up the device.

“Sir, I really think we should-“

But Owens cut off the Bolian. “Give me the room.”

“Sir?” she said, sounding somewhat surprised.

The admiral exchanged a telling look with Jarik who offered him an acknowledging nod before the half-Vulcan turned to consider Bano and Alaalatoa. “We need the room. Everybody, we’ll convene in two hours to discuss our next steps. In the meantime, we are not to be disturbed.”

Bano still looked doubtful. “I don’t think that is wise.”

“Regardless, Commander,” Jarik said, offering the woman a small smile that appeared almost disturbing on his dark Vulcan features. “The admiral wishes to study the object in private. Considering his track record with the shard artifacts, I believe that is not an illogical approach.”

When the Bolian science officer was still not mollified by his words and the prospect of being shut out of her own discovery after everything she had gone through to obtain it in the first place, Jarik placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Susan, you did a truly outstanding thing in bringing this to us. But you always knew that the nature of the work we do here is extremely compartmentalized. Trust me, if we require any assistance, you’ll be the first person we call.”

Since it was obvious this was not an argument she could win, Bano begrudgingly left the room, following the rest of the science team, until Owens and Jarik were the last two persons remaining.

Jarik turned back towards the admiral who still held the small device in his hand, his body trembling ever so slightly as his eyes were squarely focused on it.

“Sir, I think that perhaps Susan is right about this,” he said. He had not been willing to raise his own doubts in front of the others but now that they were alone, he was clearly determined to say his piece. “This object appears more powerful than the shards and we studied those for years.”

“Your concerns are duly noted, old friend,” Owens said, even while he kept all his focus on the Exhibitor. “But something tells me that we don’t have that kind of time.”

“How do you know?”

He shook his head briefly. “I am not sure. It’s as if it’s speaking to me. It’s not in a language I fully understand. It’s not language at all, really. They are like … impressions. Even that is not quite the right word. I can feel its power, Jarik, it is astonishing.”

“Which makes it dangerous as well,” he said.

Owens nodded. “Oh yes, of that I have no doubt.”

“Please, be careful.”

The admiral regarded the man at his side, offering him a smile. “I have never

been afraid of power, Jarik. Now, brace yourself,” he said and glanced back at it. “It’s time to see what this object can do.”

Jarik quickly retrieved a specially adapted tricorder that had been designed by Bano and Alaalatoa to pick-up on the unique energy readings emitted by the mysterious shard objects contained in what the Bolian had liked to refer to as a Pandora’s Box. Although this artifact was clearly not another shard, it was clear that these objects were all connected in some form.

Owens was once more focusing on the oblong device in his hands and it began to stir. Owens cried out in pain and dropped onto his knees with Jarik immediately lowering himself at his side. “You need to let it go.”

But Owens shook his head. He had trouble speaking, using one hand to steady himself on the floor but kept a firm grasp on the device with his other. “No, it’s all right. Something is happening. I can feel it coursing through me.”

Jarik referred to his tricorder. “I see it. It’s establishing some sort of connection with you. Curious, this did not happen when I attempted to activate it,” he said and then looked back at Owens. “You appear to have an inherent aptitude interfacing with this device.”

“Just like … with the boxes,” he said between labored breaths.

“Can you summon the object itself?”

“I think so, hold on,” he said and closed his eyes.

A perfectly prism-shaped object shimmered into existence just above their heads. It was larger than it had been the last time Jarik had seen it, just after Bano had retrieved the Exhibitor. It still shimmered in a green light, spinning slightly on its axis like a projection. It was obviously much more than that.

Exhausted, Owens let the Exhibitor slip through his fingers and allowing it to fall to the floor but for now, his entire focus was on the geometric shape floating above, and with Jarik’s help he managed to get back onto his feet.

“It appears fully stable,” Jarik said, glancing at his tricorder before he looked back at the shape. “But I am not getting a clear reading of it. I cannot tell if it is a solid object or merely a projection of sorts.”

Owens stared right at it. “The Prism. It’s real.”

“You can sense it?”

“I think so,” he said. “But I think all I’m getting are surface impressions. It feels like a vast ocean and all I can perceive are a few drops. The amount of information contained in just the small fractions I have access to is incredible.”

“Can you determine its purpose?”

Owens took a step closer and then another until he stood right inside the Prism, the shape rotating around him. He gasped.

“Sir?” Jarik said concerned and made to follow him but was stopped when Owens raised a hand to keep him back.

“It’s just, there’s so much here. Past, present, future, other realities, they all seem to be contained within the Prism. It’s a window and what lies beyond seems more infinite than space itself.”

“That is too much knowledge even for us,” Jarik said.

Owens nodded slowly. “I agree. But there is something here, something it wants me to see,” he said and closed his eyes to focus on a specific thought.

Moments later the large holographic screens which surrounded the center of the room came to life, each one showing a stream of seemingly never-ending images of known and unknown people and animals, of starships and bases, of planets and stars until, all of a sudden, all screens display the same image. A massive ring-shaped structure floating in what looked like a mass of salmon-colored space. Small gaps within the structure made it seem that it was not yet fully completed.

“What is it?” Jarik said as he stepped closer to one of the screens.

Owens shook his head. “I am not sure. But I don’t think it is a good thing.”

The images shifted again, this time to reveal the builders of the structure, their tall, lean bodies wrapped into long cloaks and hoods and offering few glimpses at their pebbled and reptilian faces.

Jarik quickly glanced back at his tricorder to ensure the images were being recorded and to crosscheck everything they were being shown.

“I don’t recognize the species,” Owens said, staring at the screen.

But Jarik found a match. “We only have a single known encounter on record. Last year, in the Amargosa Diaspora, this race abducted members of the crew of the Enterprise to experiment on them. Their motivations were unclear but we know they are salonogen-based and live in subspace.”

“And now they are building a massive superstructure.”

Jarik glanced at Owens. “Could be an attempt to crossover into regular space. A possible incursion.”

He nodded slowly. “Something we would be entirely unprepared for.”

“Starfleet’s current focus is on the Borg and the Maquis,” said Jarik. “Securing resources to fully investigate this may be difficult.”

Owens seemed to consider that for a moment. Then he glanced back towards the Prism which still floated at the center of the room. “We may be able to find allies elsewhere,” he said as he stepped back into the Prism. “There are an infinite amount of universes out there and we may have found a way to connect to all of them.”

The screens once again began to show the rapid stream of images they had earlier, seemingly cycling through an endless amount of people and objects from an infinite amount of other universes.

When the stream finally came to a stop again, every screen displayed the face of a middle-aged and entirely bald-headed Deltan man wearing a Starfleet uniform.

“Assistant Director Altee of Starfleet Intelligence?” Jarik said after recognizing the man’s face.

“Not the man we know,” said Owens and stepped back out of the Prism.

“Why him?”

“I think he too is looking for allies beyond his own universe. And we have to start somewhere,” Owens said and glanced at one of the screens.

The image was no longer static and the Deltan appeared to be looking straight at Owens, he turned to look at somebody off-screen for a moment. “That’s it,” he said. “I think we’ve made contact with somebody. Maintain this frequency,” he said and looked back towards the screen. “Can you hear me?”

Owens nodded. “Yes, we can. Altee, I presume?”

“Yes. And you look very much like Admiral Owens. However, I have a feeling you are not that same self-important windbag I know, are you?”

Owens and Jarik exchanged looks before the admiral turned back towards Altee. “I sincerely hope not,” he said. “There’s much for us to talk about.”

“Yes, indeed,” the Deltan said with a smile. “And I cannot wait to get started.”
Part 2 - Shattered: 1 by CeJay
Part 2: Shattered




1


“Michael?”

He nodded at her and held her closer. He could feel her weight in his arms as they embraced, could smell her fragrance and when their lips touched, he could sense her skin, her warmth, her entire being.

None of those sensations lasted. With his eyes closed and his mind focused on the kiss they were exchanging, he could already feel her slipping away from him.

When he finally looked at her, Amaya Donners was dissolving in front of his eyes. “No, stay with me,” he heard himself beg.

But she wasn’t even looking at him anymore. Or rather, she was looking through him now, as if he no longer existed even while it was she who was fading out of reality. He tried to grab on tighter to her but in the end, all he came away with was empty air until even the specter of her appearance had dissolved into nothingness.

“Amaya,” he cried as if shouting her name loudly enough would force her to reappear.

He heard his voice endlessly reverberate in the dark void that had opened where she had been just moments ago.

She didn’t return but somebody else did.

The figure of Gene Edison suddenly swam into his vision. He was certain it was Edison even though much of his face was distorted and almost unrecognizable. His former friend and first officer didn’t linger either and instead, he too disappeared in much the same way Amaya had.

Edison was soon followed by other familiar faces: Tazla Star, DeMara Deen, So’Dan Leva, his father, Nora Laas, and at an increasingly faster pace, every single person he had ever known appeared in front of him, albeit briefly and only to vanish inside the void.

And it didn’t end there. Once they had all come and gone, other objects followed suit. The starship Agamemnon appeared only to be swallowed up by infinite nothingness. Then the Fearless, the first starship he had served on as an ensign fresh out of the Academy, followed by the Columbia, his first command and then ultimately Eagle herself. He watched stunned and helpless as Earth briefly manifested itself and then vanished, as did Andor, Vulcan, and Tenaria, entire stars and even galaxies disappeared until he started to feel the pull himself.

He tried to brace himself against it, tried to move away from the void but it was all for naught, the force of it was overwhelmingly strong.

As he approached the threshold and just before he was sucked inside, he realized that the outer edges of the dark, endless void were shaped like a perfect ring.

The darkness swallowed him whole just as the feeling of nothingness, of eternal solitude, insignificance, and misery began to take hold of him completely.

Michael awoke with a start to find himself lying on a biobed in sickbay.

The overhead lighting was such a stark contrast to the darkness he had been plunged into just a moment ago that he needed to bring up a hand to shield his eyes.

What he had experienced, it hadn’t felt like a dream at all. It was still so raw in his memory, the sensations so acute, touch, smell, sight, all of it felt as if it had truly happened and yet he knew that it couldn’t have been possible.

As his eyes were beginning to adjust to the light and he began to lower his arm again, he spotted a face entering his vision, looking down at him with a frown he quickly recognized and which made him wonder if Doctor Elijah Katanga had been off the day they had taught bedside manners at medical school.

“Look who has finally deigned to rejoin the land of the living,” he said before he consulted his readings displayed on the monitor above the biobed. “How do you feel?”

It took him a moment to find his voice. “Not as well as I would like, to be honest.”

At that Katanga actually offered a tiny smirk. “A starship captain admitting to his own weakness? Will wonders never cease?” He picked up a tricorder and began to scan him for additional details. “Although I’m sure you are still understating the matter, considering that you smashed right into a bulkhead and suffered a nasty concussion in the process.”

It was only now, that the dreamlike sensations and the associated dread were beginning to fade, that he was starting to feel his physical body, especially the pain from his bruises and his aching bones.

“I’ve treated the concussion and your vitals have almost fully recovered about an hour ago but I thought it best to keep you unconscious a while longer to give your body the chance to heal.”

“I wish you hadn’t,” Michael said. Considering the intensity of his visions, he would have gladly accepted any kind of physical pain in order to avoid that nightmare. He tried to push himself up on the bed but was forced to stop when his body began to protest his movements.

Katanga quickly placed a hand on his shoulder. “Easy now, your not really in shape to go gallivanting around yet.”

“You can give me something for the pain.”

That trademark frown was back on his face. “You know, pain can be a good thing, Captain. It reminds us of our limitations and when we need to slow down and let our bodies heal.”

Michael stared right at the octogenarian doctor.

It didn’t happen often but on this occasion, Michael won the wordless argument and Katanga backed down, reaching for a hypospray on a nearby tray and injecting it into his arm. The sensation was almost immediate and Michael could feel his body relax and the aches subside enough to allow him to sit up and swing his legs around. “Much better, thank you, Doctor.”

He nodded reticently, clearly not entirely happy. “You just take it easy for a few hours. I have little scruple to relieve a starship captain of active duty if I have to. Wouldn’t be the first time either.”

“I have no doubt,” he said and attempted to stand. Katanga actually had to steady him when he initially threatened to lose his balance. “Just a little dizzy from lying down so long,” he quickly said, preempting another lecture from the doctor.

He looked around sickbay and found Nora Laas and Xylion already sufficiently recovered to be sitting on their beds. Jarik also seemed to be awake, although he was still lying down. His father and Bensu still appeared to be unconscious.

“What happened after we beamed back on board?” Michael asked while he tried to search his memory, which remained fuzzy and mostly obscured by his recent dream vision. He recalled having been beamed back onto the ship from the Ring and thought to remember Star’s voice calling out but other than that he was having difficulties putting it all together.

“We went through yet another of those blasted portals. God knows where this one has deposited us. Thankfully we were a little bit more prepared this time. DeMara and I managed to inoculate the majority of the crew against the side effects we’ve seen last time we went through one of those things. I believe our industrious chief engineer and Taz managed to do the same for the ship itself.”

Michael nodded as he walked over to Xylion and Nora who had both gotten back onto their feet to huddle together. “How are the two of you?”

The Bajoran security officer gave him an affirmative nod. “I’ve had worse,” she said.

Michael offered her a smile. He was fairly certain that she was understating things much more than he had done earlier but then he wouldn’t have expected anything less from his tougher-than-nails security chief.

“The experience of passing through another gateway was unpleasant, however, I believe I have mostly recovered my strength,” the Vulcan said.

“Did either of you experience anything while you were out? Visions or dreams of any sort?”

Both Nora and Xylion answered in the negative and Michael didn’t get the impression that either of them was attempting to hide anything. Of course, this made the fact that he had been faced with such disturbing imagery all the more concerning.

He and Xylion approached Bensu next who remained unconscious on his biobed. “How about him, Doctor?”

Katanga brought up his tricorder again for additional scans but quickly shook his head. “Bensu is the only member of the away team who has not regained consciousness yet. Now, this isn’t necessarily a reason to be concerned. We already know that losing consciousness is a side effect from traversing these gateways and we still have a few people who remain affected by this.”

Michael moved on to his father.

“He has not suffered any serious injuries I have not been able to address and his vitals, including his brain patterns, are stable. Considering his recent medical history, however, I’d rather not wake him for now,” Katanga said in a tone which made it very clear that he was not going to have another argument about his prescribed medical treatments.

On this occasion, Michael decided that he was probably right.

A sudden scream caused both him and Katanga to whip around towards Bensu. He had awoken suddenly, his entire body shaking uncontrollably and only Xylion’s quick reaction, grabbing him by the shoulders, appeared to have kept him on top of his bed.

Nora quickly jumped to the other side of the bed to help the science officer to try and keep Bensu steady.

It appeared to be a tough fight, as Bensu’s body refused to stop shaking or screaming for that matter. His eyes were eerily wide open as if he had seen a ghost and yet they didn’t seem to be focused on anything.

Katanga and Michael quickly joined the others, as did a small group of nurses and med techs prompted to action by Bensu’s toe-curling screams.

“What’s wrong with him?” Michael asked as he watched the nurses and Katanga taking over for Xylion and Nora, trying desperately to hold down the thrashing man.

Katanga, however, was too busy giving instructions to his people, asking for various medical compounds that were hopefully going to calm him down.

It took a few minutes until they found the right combination of drugs to at least stop the screaming and the seizures but Bensu’s eyes remained wide open as he was mumbling incoherently.

It wasn’t until Michael managed to get closer to him that he could hear what it was he was saying over and over again. “The universe is dead. The universe is dead.”

It gave him chills mostly because he already suspected that he was exactly right. In some way he still couldn’t explain, the alternate universe they had visited had suddenly and unexpectedly been utterly annihilated, including Amaya Donners and every other person or object inhabiting it. It was still difficult for him to even grasp the full scope of this and its implications.

Bensu finally stopped his mantra and the seizures fully subsided, allowing a couple of nurses to place him onto his back again.

“Bensu, can you hear me?” Katanga asked a few times but although his eyes remained open, he didn’t seem responsive at all. The doctor looked at Xylion next. “Has he ever exhibited these kinds of symptoms before?”

“Not as far as I know,” Xylion said.

“What do you think is wrong with him?” Michael asked.

“Honestly, I have no idea. This is definitely a much more extreme reaction than we have seen previously. Most of his anatomy is still a mystery to me, although on the surface his vitals appear to be within a range I would ordinarily class as acceptable.”

“Bridge to sickbay.”

Michael looked towards the ceiling, recognizing Star’s voice.

“Is Captain Owens awake?”

“I am, Commander. How’s my ship?”

“Glad to hear your voice, sir. I would have hated to have to argue with Eli to have to wake you. We’ve taken some damage from our latest transition but not nearly as much as last time.”

“Understood, Commander. Are we back home?” he said and fought the urge to hold his breath. The short pause in Star’s response didn’t help matters.

“I think you better come up here and see for yourself.”

“I’ll be right there, Owens out,” he said and then looked at Katanga who he was sure was about to raise an objection. “You have another patient who will require your attention more urgently than I do,” he said and glanced at Xylion. “Commander, stay here for now and provide the doctor with any assistance you can dealing with Bensu.”

Xylion offered a brief nod, understanding that since he had been instrumental in creating Bensu’s synthetic body, he understood his physiology better than anyone else on board.

Michael wasted no time to get out of sickbay and before Katanga could try and find a reason to keep him contained.

The short journey to the bridge was not a pleasant one for him. Besides some ongoing dizziness and lingering aches, he was plagued by a multitude of disturbing thoughts, chief among them was the apparent destruction of the other reality which it now seemed they had managed to escape in the nick of time. He couldn’t stop thinking of Amaya having vanished in front of his eyes. He could also not shake the sensation of dread his vivid visions had left in him.

On top of all that, he was also worried about Bensu and his father’s health which had already shown signs of failing. The matter of the subspace aliens and their poor reaction to their attempts to communicate with them was also an ongoing concern and he couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a link to their unexpected behavior and the destruction of the alternate universe. He didn’t even want to think about the still unresolved threat of an invasion.

By the time he had reached the turbolift, he had resolved that he needed to face one crisis at a time, and for now, the most pressing concern was where the gateway had transported them to. He desperately hoped it had brought them back home but something in Star’s voice had made him doubt that.

Those fears were confirmed when he emerged from the turbolift and stepped onto the bridge to be greeted by another, familiar face displayed larger than life on the main viewscreen.

It belonged to a man who had been desperate to kill them all not too long ago and Michael felt an immediate tightness in his stomach upon seeing yet another version of Lif Culsten.
Part 2 - Shattered: 2 by CeJay
2


There seemed to be no shortages of crises as of late, Michael mused, as he realized that after only just barely escaping the apparent annihilation of an entire universe, just after being nearly obliterated by a Krellonian fleet, they were, yet again, facing a very similar opponent, once more surrounded by a potential adversary.

The Culsten on the screen wasn’t currently paying attention to Eagle and the bridge crew, leading Michael to assume that even though they could see each other, the connection was temporarily muted, likely awaiting his arrival.

Star immediately turned to face him when he stepped down the incline connecting the aft turbolift to the command area at the center of the bridge. “Captain, good to see you back on your feet. Are you all right?”

“As good as can be given the circumstances. Bensu, it seems, is the only member of the away team who has been seriously affected. He is still unresponsive. My father was still unconscious when I left sickbay but the doctor assures me he should recover,” he said and then took a moment to glance around the bridge, finding it mostly in good shape and more or less the way he had last seen it, which certainly had not been a given considering their most recent experiences. Deen, Culsten, Leva, and Alendra were all at their stations with the helmsman paying particularly close attention to yet another double of his currently occupying the screen.

Michael wanted to inquire about the status of his ship and crew but considering that the other Culsten looked as if he was becoming somewhat impatient, he decided he needed to focus on the matter at hand.

Star seemed to understand this as well. “He and his ships, six in total, showed up just a few minutes ago. We were still trying to get sensors working after our arrival here.”

“Any ideas where we are?”

“Not yet,” she said. “But evidence suggests that we are neither where we were nor where we want to be.”

Michael nodded. “Good guess. First impressions on this version of Lif Culsten?”

“He goes by Sentinel Culsten. He hasn’t started shooting at us yet, which is always a plus. He’s confused as to where we’ve come from, which I suppose is understandable. I am not clear on their relationship with the Federation but I don’t think he’s particularly happy to see us,” she said. “I’ve made sure he didn’t get to see his counterpart.”

At that Lif Culsten at the helm turned around to look at his two superior officers, looking somewhat grateful for that decision. One could hardly blame him considering his recent experiences with his double from an alternate universe.

“Let’s keep it that way for now. At least until we know more about who we are dealing with this time,” Michael said and glanced towards Leva at tactical, giving him a nod to reopen the channel.

The tactical officer confirmed with a bop of his head that the connection had been reestablished.

Michael tugged at the bottom of his uniform jacket and redirected his focus towards the screen. “Greetings, I’m Captain Michael Owens of the starship Eagle. Sentinel Culsten, I presume.”

“Indeed. And please accept my gratitude for deciding to join us,” he said, his tone sharp, calculated, and containing noticeable sarcasm.

“I apologize for the delay but it was unavoidable. We have arrived here not entirely of our own volition.”

That seemed to catch his interest. “Sounds to me you’ve got a story to tell, Captain.”

“I suppose we do.”

“I appreciate that this region is technically neutral space but you can understand that we would be somewhat concerned about Starfleet activity in this area, particularly since you have never shown an interest in the Diaspora before. Frankly, I would think Starfleet is far too preoccupied these days to venture all the way out here.”

Michael and Star exchanged brief glances, neither of them certain what he was referring to before he looked back at the Krellonian. “We don’t expect to remain in the area for long, Sentinel. And I can assure you that we have no intention of venturing anywhere near Krellonian space.”

Culsten smirked. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been concerned about Starfleet activity. But I want to make something very clear to you; we have no interest whatsoever in getting involved in your internal affairs and the Star Alliance is on good standing with the Nyberrite Alliance. Having said that, I am curious to find out what brought you here. Your vessel appears to have taken damage. I would be willing to offer technical assistance to any of your vital systems.”

“That’s very gracious of you, Sentinel,” Michael said, even if he couldn’t help but wonder what exactly he was referring to. He knew of the Nyberrite Alliance, of course. In their home universe, which clearly wasn’t this one, it was an organization not too dissimilar of the Federation, albeit far smaller, made up of a dozen or so member worlds which had banded together to create their own space force dedicated mostly to defense. Michael had never visited their space since it was located at the far end of Federation territory, but he knew that they were known for their willingness to recruit skilled people from any background.

Their last experience with the Krellonians still fresh in his memory, he was rather disinclined of repeating that episode and decided that keeping them at a safe distance was probably the smarter play. “However, I believe we have repairs well in hand over here. Once they are complete, we will be getting on our way again.”

Culsten seemed to consider this for a moment. “In that case, I’d like to extend an invitation to you and your senior officers to visit my ship as guests while you carry out your repairs,” he said and then continued when he apparently noticed Michael’s unspoken reluctance. “If it makes you feel more comfortable, we can do it the other way around, I’d be happy to visit your ship instead. I haven’t heard a good story in a while and one look of you is telling me that yours won't disappoint.”

Michael didn’t like either suggestion but he was getting the distinct impression that this Culsten wasn’t a man who liked to be turned down and as it stood, Eagle was in no condition to get into another fight. So he nodded. “Very well, we’d be honored to have you come onboard, Sentinel.”

Culsten was all smiles. “Outstanding. I’ll beam over within a standard hour and once we’ve received your coordinates,” he said and then vanished from the screen.

Michael took a small breath and considered his officers. “Thoughts?”

“I say that for him, he certainly is nothing like the last version of Lif we’ve encountered,” Deen said.

“I don’t like him,” said Culsten.

“He seemed friendly enough,” offered Alendra who had stepped up from one of the aft stations she usually manned.

“Too friendly,” Leva quickly added. “He’s fully aware that he has the tactical advantage and he may see our presence here as a threat.”

“If he wanted us gone, he could have attacked us already. The fact that he is willing to beam onboard doesn’t speak of hostile intentions since he risks becoming a hostage should hostilities ensue,” said Alendra, causing the two officers to glower at each other for a moment.

Michael turned to his first officer for an opinion.

“I think it’s clear he has an agenda. But this is also our best opportunity to learn more about where we are.”

Michael nodded. “I’d rather not stay here any longer than we absolutely have to, Commander. But I have to admit, part of me is curious to learn where exactly we have landed this time. Our main priority, however, must remain clear. We need to get back home and stop the subspace aliens using that Ring. What’s our current status?”

“Better than last time we went through a gateway,” she said. “However, sensors, shields, and warp engines are still down. Louise is working on them now in that order and last I spoke to her she is optimistic that all ship functions will be restored within a couple of hours. About five percent of the crew is unconscious but we suffered no serious injuries in the transition.”

Michael nodded, appreciating hearing some positive news for a change. “We need to get up and running again as soon as possible and find a way to return to in-between space. If the Ring is capable of destroying entire universes, our mission has just become a whole lot more critical.”

“Are we absolutely positive that’s what happened?” Star said.

“Right now there’s nothing we can be absolutely positive about. Bensu seems to be the only person who can answer a lot of these questions and he is not responsive at the moment. For now, let’s see if we can get these Krellonians off our back and return to our mission,” he said and glanced towards the other Culsten sitting at the helm. “Lif, I want you to remain out of sight while your counterpart is onboard. The same goes for Garla. In fact, I want the guards around her doubled. We can’t have her go off again the same way she did last time.”

“She won’t.”

“See to it, please.”

Culsten nodded and left his post to ensure his orders were carried out and to keep a close eye on his aunt.

Michael turned back to his first officer. “All right, let’s get ready to welcome our guest. I don’t want him to get the impression we are hiding anything but we can’t tell him the truth either.”

Star smiled. “Once upon a time, that’s exactly how I used to make a living.”
Part 2 - Shattered: 3 by CeJay
3


Jarik was waiting for him outside the transporter room as he was making his way to receive their Krellonian guest, shadowed closely by a security officer and Michael couldn’t help but frown at seeing a man who he had once counted as one of his closest friends. It seemed like a very long time ago now.

He shook his head even before he started to talk, already guessing what he had planned. “You are not taking part in this meeting,” he said resolutely.

“I believe it is important that I do.”

Michael stepped up closer, nearly invading his personal space, but he wanted to make sure that there could be no misconstruing his next words. “You should consider yourself lucky that I haven’t confined you to quarters after what you’ve done.”

Jarik didn’t speak right away, instead, he simply regarded him for a moment. “Everything I’ve done was what I believed to be in the best interest of the mission which, in case you had forgotten, is to ensure, not just the safety of the Federation but perhaps of our entire galaxy.”

“Yes, and how has that gone so far? What price have we paid to ensure our own safety? We were just witnesses to the destruction of an entire universe.”

“We don’t know that for certain.”

“I think we got a pretty good idea.”

Jarik seemed to take a moment to collect his thoughts, or perhaps consider an alternative strategy since whatever he was doing at present didn’t appear to work. “I thought you might want to know that your father is awake.”

It was a cheap shot, Michael understood that, but at the same time, he couldn’t help but feel thankful to hear that news and found himself nodding slightly. Things had progressed so rapidly ever since he had recovered from his own episode that he had not found the time to check on him. “How is he?”

“Still weak and restricted to sickbay but your doctor seems to think he should be back on his feet soon.”

Michael knew that if his father had not managed to escape Katanga and sickbay yet, he truly was sick, considering how he had successfully stood up to the veteran physician earlier even though his health had clearly not warranted his premature medical release.

“With your father still recovering, I am the ranking officer on this ship, Michael. I also have significant insight into the Krellonians from my research of this sector of space--and granted, I know these aren’t our Krellonians, but we’ve established obvious parallels between universes already.”

Michael glared at the other man. “I want to make one thing very clear to you. I no longer recognize your authority. Not since you threatened to assault my ship to take over command. And the moment this mission is over and we are back in our universe, I will make sure that you’ll face a court-martial for your actions.”

If those words had affected Jarik, he did well to hide it. “You do what you need to do. In the meantime, I do what I have to. And I have to be at this meeting.”

Michael was sick of arguing and somewhere deep down he felt like he didn’t care anymore what Jarik did or didn’t do. “I don’t know what working for my father did to you over all those years but I don’t even recognize the man you used to be.”

“We all change, Michael.”

“Yeah,” he said and nodded. “Some of us more than others.” With that, he turned towards the transporter room and stepped inside, Jarik following him.

Tazla Star and Nora Laas were already waiting for them inside. Michael had decided to keep the delegation meeting with Culsten as small as possible, considering how poorly things had gone the last time they had run into a counterpart of their helmsman.

Nora stood by the freestanding computer console, next to transporter chief Chow. “Sir, the Krellonian lead ship is awaiting our go-ahead to initiate transport.”

Michael exchanged a quick look with Star who in response subtly indicated towards Jarik, which Michael simply acknowledged with an annoyed expression, making it clear that his presence hadn’t been his idea. Star, it seemed, got the message: Keep an eye on him.

“We’re ready on our end. Give the word,” Michael said.

Nora gave Chow the nod and then stepped around the console to join the others as they took position to face the transporter platform.

A green-blue beam shimmered into existence on the dais, which quickly began to coalesce into the familiar body of Lif Culsten. The sentinel wore a dark, form-fitting uniform that showed off his splendid physique and he wore his silver hair much shorter than their Culsten, showing off his earless head. He glanced around for a moment with what appeared genuine curiosity before he found the captain.

“Welcome aboard, Sentinel,” Michael said.

“Thank you for having me,” Culsten said and took the two steps down the podium.

“I might be mistaken, but I believe this may be how you say ‘hello’,” Michael said and then pressed his palms together, pointing his fingers in his direction.

Culsten followed the gesture. “Quite correct, Captain. You honor me by showing such knowledge of my people. Not something I’ve come to expect from those hailing from the Federation.”

Michael acknowledged this with a quick nod before turning to his officers. “I believe you’ve already met my first officer, Tazla Star. This is my security chief Nora Laas and Jarik.”

Culsten repeated the greeting gesture for each member of the delegation. “A pleasure to meet you all,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind if I left my entourage behind. I thought it is best to have a more intimate conversation.”

“That suits us just fine, Sentinel. Why don’t we head somewhere more suited for that conversation,” Michael said and pointed towards the doors.

Culsten nodded and headed into that direction, stepping through the doors and onto the corridor where Michael led him towards the nearest turbolift.

Their guest seemed to be taking in his surroundings with great interest. “This is quite a fine ship you have here, Captain. Nebula-class, I believe?”

“That is correct,” he said.

“As I mentioned before, we don’t come across many Starfleet vessels out here so you can understand my curiosity as what has brought you so far from your own borders,” he said as the five of them stepped into the turbolift.

Star ordered the lift to take them to the observation lounge on deck two.

“Our mission out here is highly classified, which means, unfortunately, we are not able to share any of the details with you,” said Jarik, immediately garnering him a subtle scowl from Michael. He too thought it was the right approach to keep the more spectacular details of their unusual journeys to themselves for now, but Jarik’s tact was unnecessarily undiplomatic.

“As a sentinel, I can appreciate the importance of operational security,” Culsten said.

“I believe I have some, albeit limited, understanding of what a sentinel does,” said Star. “And forgive me for saying this, but you appear fairly young for such a position.”

Michael had wondered the same thing, after all, this Lif Culsten appeared very much the same age as their own. Certainly, he looked physically fitter and his darker eyes seemed to speak to a man who had been exposed to a far wider range of experiences than their helmsman, and yet he would have been surprised to learn if Sentinel Culsten was more than thirty years old, certainly much younger than Garla.

“No offense taken. But I can assure you, I have more than earned my position. Some of my enemies in the past have underestimated me because of my youth. I can say without embellishment or conceit that most have come to regret this. You see I had an excellent teacher whom I admired a great deal. I took up her mantle when she was tragically killed.”

Michael had an inkling who that teacher may have been.

“Now that you know a bit more about me, it’s time we talk about you,” he said quickly. “And since you are operating so close to our borders, in an area of space neither of your Starfleets normally operate in, I feel I am entitled to a few answers.”

Michael and Star exchanged a surprised look by his turn of phrase before they disembarked from the lift and shortly thereafter stepped into the observation lounge, which afforded them a great view of the area directly aft of the ship.

Michael hoped that the threshold into in-between space was still somewhere out there but the quickly developing events over the last few hours had prevented them from trying to find it again.

He pointed at one of the seats around the conference table. Culsten was happy to take up the offer with the rest of the group quickly sitting down around him.

“I’ve been wondering, Captain,” Culsten said after he had taken his seat. “Which faction exactly do you belong to? Guardians? Or is your allegiance with the Preservers?”

Michael had no idea what he was talking about but guessed that it related to some sort of political group unique to this universe.

“We are with the Guardians,” Jarik said.

Michael shot him a look, not sure if to be thankful for his quick thinking or upset that he had just, quite possibly, dug them into a hole by offering such a blatant untruth.

“I see,” said Culsten. “I’m sure you understand that the Krellonian Star Alliance must remain neutral in your conflict.”

Michael nodded. “We are not here to look for allies, I assure you.”

“Good. Now then, why are you here?” he said and then quickly raised a hand. “I don’t need to know about your classified details. But a sudden appearance of a Starfleet vessel in the Amargosa Diaspora will need to be explained to my superiors.”

“What if we were to say that we are on a scientific expedition?” said Star.

Michael liked that. And it wasn’t exactly a complete fabrication, more like a significant understatement.

It didn’t go over as well with Culsten, however. Or at least, Michael thought it didn’t but he couldn’t tell exactly since the Krellonian had started to laugh out loud. He caught himself again quickly. “I apologize for my outburst but I don’t think anyone in this quadrant is going to believe that Starfleet is still in the business of dedicating capital ships to scientific undertakings. Not even the Guardians.”

The more he was hearing about this version of Starfleet, the less he liked the sound of it, and the more desperate he was to find a way to get out of this universe as soon as possible. This time, hopefully, without it tearing itself apart in their wake.

“Unless, of course,” Culsten said. “You are working on some sort of weapon in order to get the upper hand over the Preservers. Now that I could believe. And it would concern me at the same time.”

“We are not working on a weapon,” Michael said but couldn’t help think that even that was not entirely the truth. What else could have been responsible for the terrible fate of an entire universe?

More than ever he understood that they had to find answers to that question as soon as possible and before the same fate could befall any other reality. A task made more difficult with Culsten’s fleet surrounding them.

The sentinel considered him carefully as if trying to peer right through his eyes and for a brief moment, Michael feared that perhaps, in this universe, Krellonians were telepaths. “I want to believe you, Captain, I really do. But all I have for now is your word on that.”

“What else would you require?” said Star.

He seemed to think that over for a moment, or at least make a show of it. “A full inspection of your crew and ship would go a long way to show your cooperation and trustworthiness.”

“Out of the question,” Jarik said so sharply, all eyes in the room turned towards the half-Vulcan. “We were more than happy to cooperate with you so far, allow you to come on our vessel, and have a polite conversation about your concerns. But the truth of the matter remains that this is neutral space. We have as much right to be here as you do.”

“I have not disputed that,” said Culsten, his tone remaining civil but starting to show signs of an edge.

“An inspection of this ship is crossing a line. You have no authority in this area of space and judging by the fact that you have not attempted to force the issue yet, tells me that you will not resort to force without explicit approval from your government.”

Culsten now glared at the other man. “Do not make the mistake to confuse my courtesy for weakness.”

“I suggest we end this now,” Jarik said, looking at Michael. “The sentinel here clearly has his own agenda and we are not in the least interested in allowing it,” he said and looked back at Culsten. “So let us part ways to allow us all to continue with our respective tasks.”

Michael was about to object to Jarik’s bold and, in his opinion, unnecessarily blunt suggestions when Culsten stood from his chair. “Very well, I can see this has been a waste of my time,” he said and looked towards Michael. “He’s right. I won’t attempt to force the issue for now. Carrying out an assault on a Federation starship in neutral territory is not worth the paperwork I’ll need to file. But I know your up to something out here, starships don’t just show up out of nowhere. So I am going to stay right here and keep a very close eye on you to make sure that I find out exactly what that is,” he said and then turned on his heel to head for the doors.

Michael could tell there was little point in trying to get him back to the table so he indicated for Nora to escort him back to the transporter room.

The security chief nodded sharply and then quickly got up out of her chair to chase after Culsten who was apparently so annoyed, he didn’t want to wait on anybody.

Once both were out of the room, Michael turned towards Jarik, trying hard to keep his own rising irritation in check. “What the hell was that?” He didn’t do a great job at it.

Jarik didn’t seem concerned about being the target of his ire. “There was little point to continue this dance. He was merely looking for an excuse to search the ship, something we can not allow.”

“You don’t know that,” Michael shot back. “And perhaps we could have found a compromise if we had continued to talk, an opportunity which you blatantly sabotaged with your accusations.”

“Tell me, Mister Jarik,” said Star, not sounding quite as upset as her captain but her eyes reflecting a similar annoyance. “Is diplomacy not a trait held in high esteem in the Department of Special Affairs or is it that you are just dead awful at it?”

Jarik stood. “Diplomacy is not going to get us anywhere in this situation.”

“I see,” Michael said. “But having an irritated and distrustful Krellonian senior official and his fleet shadowing our every move does?” Michael said.

“There’ll be other opportunities.”

Michael looked at him dumbfounded before he slowly turned to Star. “Remind me to keep Mister Jarik away from any future meetings with the Krellonians or anyone else for that matter. In fact, let’s make sure he doesn’t have any off-ship communication privileges from this point forward.”

Star reached for a padd on her desks and typed in a few commands. “Done.”

“You are making a mistake,” Jarik said. “I can still be helpful.”

Michael shook his head. “If this is the help you can offer then I think we are all set without you. You have shown repeatedly that you cannot be trusted. I am not entirely clear what you are trying to accomplish but this will mark the last time you will be involved in any decisions pertaining to this ship and her mission.”

“You are making a--“

“You are dismissed,” Michael said, cutting him off and indicating to the security guard who had been assigned to him.

She promptly stepped up behind him, making it unmistakably clear that he was to follow her at once.

Jarik hesitated just a moment longer before he turned to the exit and left, his guard one step behind him.

Michael uttered a heavy sigh once he was gone. “I knew it was a mistake to include him. I just wish I had listened to myself.”

“I’ll remind you to stay true to your instincts next time,” Star said.

“Thanks.”

“What now?”

Michael wished he knew. He left his chair and walked over to the large windows currently showing little more than the star-filled space of the Amargosa Diaspora which, as in his universe, was bright and colorful. Somewhere, in the not so far distance, he hoped the threshold leading back to the Ring still remained. But no matter how close it was, with half a dozen ships surrounding them, it was next to impossible to reach it undetected. “We need to figure out what the hell happened back there. In the other universe. How the Ring factored into all that and if it is even still there.”

Star stood as well. “It better be. It might be our only way back home.”

Michael turned to face her and nodded. “We need to understand where we stand and collect theories on what happened and how we can stop it from happening again. Bensu would be a real asset to that conversation but I don’t believe he has recovered yet.”

“I take it we are excluding Jarik.”

“Absolutely.”

Michael noticed her becoming pensive. “You disagree?”

She quickly shook her head. “No, not at all. That man is clearly a menace in more ways that one. It just struck me that for all his bluster and boisterousness, he was right about one thing.”

Michael nodded slowly, realizing it now as well. “He knew that Culsten was not going to make a move against us. Could have been a lucky gamble on his part.”

“Perhaps,” she said, clearly not fully convinced.
Part 2 - Shattered: 4 by CeJay
4


“I just don’t like that thing.”

DeMara turned to glance at Nora Laas who stood a few meters behind her in the science lab, arms defiantly crossed in front of her chest and her gaze firmly fixed on the pedestal which securely contained the Exhibitor covered by a force field.

Besides the Bajoran, there were an additional four armed security guards in the lab, as to Commander Star’s orders. Nobody wanted to take chances with this incredibly powerful artifact.

“It very likely saved all our lives,” said DeMara. “Without it, we may not have been able to escape whatever happened to the other universe.”

Nora held up a hand. “Don’t even go there, please. Bad enough that we’re traveling through other realities and encountering people we should have never come across in the first place.”

DeMara was fairly certain that she was particularly upset about meeting one specific person she should never have met under normal circumstances.

“Now we might be dealing with entire universes falling apart as if they were nothing more than a house of cards,” she said. “I cannot even start contemplating such a thing without my brain wanting to kill itself. It’s certainly not the kind of thing I thought I’d be dealing with when I signed up for Starfleet.”

“None of us expected something like that,” DeMara said. “But that’s part of why we’re doing this. Starfleet is about the unexpected.”

Nora just frowned. “There’s the unexpected and then there is this.”

She nodded slowly as she turned back to look at the Exhibitor, the unassuming little device which was able to summon the Prism, a yet to be fully understood phenomenon which could, somehow, create gateways into other universes when activated near the Ring superstructure. She had spent the last few hours, along with Xylion and a small army of science personnel to try and study the device in more detail but their efforts had been stymied by the fact that they were not able to activate the Exhibitor themselves. Apparently, this could only be accomplished by the Admiral, Michael’s father, who currently was in no condition to do so again.

Michael had called for a meeting to share their findings so far and Xylion had left to prepare but for the moment it appeared they still had far more questions than answers to give. It didn’t help that the one person who had, inexplicably, been able to provide any kind of answers at all, was still in sickbay, fading in and out of consciousness.

“And I certainly don’t care for the strange sensation it emits. Is there nothing you can do to at least dampen it?” the security chief asked.

She shook her head. “Nothing has been proven successful to shield the radiation it emits. At least Doctor Katanga has confirmed that it appears benign.”

In response, Nora took a small step back from the device, apparently not at all put at ease by that statement. DeMara didn’t blame her for her cautiousness. But her scientific curiosity, not to mention their desperate need to fully understand how this Prism worked, kept her close to it, staring at the device as if it would reveal its secrets at any moment.

That’s when the ship trembled so suddenly, everyone in the room lost their balance as the lights in the lab began to flicker.

Nora had her phaser out at a moment’s notice and so did the rest of the security team, all of them jumping to high alert, expecting imminent danger.

“What was that?” Nora asked.

DeMara had no immediate answer.

“Are the Krellonians attacking?”

“I’m not sure, but it didn’t feel like a conventional weapon that hit us.”

The red alert lights and klaxon came to live, only to immediately die down again, along with all lights and computer consoles, plunging the science lab into sudden darkness.

“By the Prophets, what’s going on here?” Nora said.

“Deen to bridge.”

But there was no response.

DeMara tried her combadge next, trying to circumvent the ship’s internal comm. system, but the results were the same. Nora attempted the same but received nothing but a dull chirp in response, indicating a malfunction.

Emergency lighting along with the flashing crimson red alert strobes returned to finally illuminate their surroundings again but communications remained dead.

Nora indicated for her people to spread out across the room.

“What are you thinking?” DeMara asked her.

“A sudden systems and comms failure?” she said as she began to slowly round the room. “Textbook approach for a boarding mission.”

“The Krellonians don’t even know about the Prism.”

“I guess they found out.”

Sounds from the main entrance to the lab immediately directed all their attention to the doors. With main power apparently down, somebody was attempting to force them open from the outside.

Nora gave more instructions and her team took up positions to cover the door and blast whoever was trying to make their way inside.

Since DeMara didn’t have a weapon on her, she kept close to Nora. “What’s the plan?” she whispered.

“Stay back. The moment the doors open wide enough, we start shooting,” she said and trained her weapon on the point where the two still closed door panels met.

DeMara took cover behind the pedestal with the device. The proximity to it caused her skin to tingle but that seemed preferable at the moment to getting hit by crossfire.

Nora raised her free hand to indicate to her people to get ready to fire on her signal.

The panels began to part a few centimeters, not enough for a clear line of fire but it did allow a few fingers to push into the gap.

A moment later the gap widened and Nora was just about ready to give the signal to start shooting.

“Wait,” DeMara said when she thought she recognized something and then stood.

Nora shot her an annoyed glance.

“Look,” she said.

The panels opened wider to reveal a face. It was a distinctly Trill woman with bright red hair.

“Somebody help with this blasted door,” Tazla Star said.

Nora holstered her weapon and quickly stepped up to the panels and a moment later DeMara joined her as well. Together, the three of them managed to push the panels aside enough to let Star enter.

DeMara was just about to let go of the panels again when she noticed that the commander had not come alone. Jarik and Jonathan Owens had accompanied her and also slipped inside.

Owens looked pale, even in the weakened light, and needed Jarik’s help to steady himself. “Admiral, I don’t think you should be out of sickbay,” she said. Differently to Michael, DeMara had always enjoyed a very good relationship with his father who had embraced her with open arms when she had come to Earth as the first of her people to attend Starfleet Academy. Of course, back then most people she had encountered had responded mostly positively to her.

“He’ll be fine,” Jarik said and Owens nodded lamely.

It didn’t inspire her with much confidence.

“What happened?” Nora asked Star as soon as she had made it all the way into the lab.

“It’s the Krellonians. Our meeting with them didn’t go as well as we would have liked and they got fed up with waiting around. They struck us with some sort of EMP weapon.”

“That explains why our systems crashed,” DeMara said.

“We need to prepare for what’s coming next,” Star staid and glanced at Nora. “I need you and your people to get ready to repel borders and keep anyone from entering the lab,” she said and then looked at DeMara. “You are needed on the bridge.”

DeMara looked at her and then Jarik and Owens. “What are you planning to do?”

“We may need to use the artifact to get us out of this mess,” she said.

“But we need to act quickly.”

“How exactly are you proposing to do that?” she asked, somewhat confused by this proposed plan, considering that the science team so far had not been able to shed any additional light on the device or the Prism artifact.

“SAI has studied this object far longer than you have, Lieutenant,” Jarik said sharply. “We believe we know what we are doing and it might be our only way to survive going up against the Krellonians who outnumber us six to one.”

DeMara remained skeptical. “I should stay and help where I can.”

“I appreciate the assistance,” Star said. “But we have no time for this and you're needed urgently on the bridge.” She glanced over to Nora and her people who were also still in the room. “Come on, people, you have your orders. Let’s move it.”

“I’d be more comfortable to keep a team close by,” Nora said.

Star nodded. “Fine. But keep them outside the lab. They’d only be a distraction in here when we activate the artifact.”

The security chief frowned but then followed her orders. Her people quickly managed to pry the doors open again and one by one they slipped out of the lab with DeMara the last person to push herself through but not before shooting one last glance towards the lab where she could see Star and Jarik approaching the device.

“Is it just me or did that sound like a very odd plan?” Nora asked once they were back in the corridor outside the lab.

DeMara was still staring at the now-closed doors again. “Not just odd,” she said. “Irresponsible, too. We’ve already seen what this artifact can do.”

“You think they’re trying to make us jump universes again?”

“I’m not sure if it’s possible without being in the vicinity of the Ring. And without the proper preparations, it could be incredibly dangerous.”

Nora nodded. “I remember that first jump. I wish I didn’t. I still haven’t fully shaken the nightmares it gave me.” She was pensive for only a moment. “Anyway, we have our orders and if the Krellonians are attacking us, we need to get ready. You better get back to the bridge.”

In truth, she didn’t want to leave the lab but she understood that her priorities needed to shift and that her expertise was likely put to better use on the bridge to fend off a Krellonian assault. She nodded and they headed for the nearest turbolift. They made it halfway down the corridor when the lights came back on.

DeMara stopped and looked at Nora, both of them seemingly having the same idea and immediately called the bridge.

This is Star, what’s your status?”

DeMara and Nora exchanged surprised looks at hearing the first officer’s voice.

“Commander?” Nora said.

“Yes, Lieutenant,” she said, sounding slightly annoyed. “We’re pretty busy up here. What do you need?”

“Sir, are you presently on the bridge?” DeMara said, still giving the security chief a perplexed look.

“You called the bridge, I answered. What do you think? Are we done playing games now?”

DeMara and Nora turned around to look at the still-closed doors to the science lab. Without having to utter a word, they both set out in a dead run towards them.

Although power had been restored, the door panels refused to budge as they approached.

“They have been sealed from the inside,” DeMara realized.

As the head of security, Nora had an override code to open pretty much any door on the ship and once she had provided the computer with her authorization, the doors hissed open.

The lab was empty.

DeMara immediately headed for the pedestal but the Exhibitor was gone.

“Commander, are we under attack by the Krellonians?” she asked.

“We don’t believe so. It appears they have been affected in the same manner as we have. We are still trying to figure out what happened.”

DeMara and Nora looked at each other again before the Tenarian spoke. “Sir, I think we have another problem.”
Part 2 - Shattered: 5 by CeJay
5


“It wasn’t me.”

“Well, she looked exactly like you.”

Tazla Star glared at Nora Laas and for a moment Michael was reminded of the rather unbecoming feud the two women had been engaged in for the first few months after the Trill had come aboard. He knew he hadn’t helped matter by keeping his new first officer on a short leash in the beginning while at the same time doing little to discourage the Bajoran security officer. He wasn’t proud of how he had handled that entire episode but he was fairly certain that those days were behind them now.

“The commander has about ten witnesses, including me, who can place her firmly on the bridge during that time,” said Michael, first considering Nora and then the other senior officers, as well as Garla, who had all assembled in the observation lounge. “There is no way she could have slipped unnoticed to get down to the science lab.”

“Considering our situation, we have to allow for the possibility that Lieutenant Deen and Nora did encounter Tazla Star.”

Michael had a feeling where Xylion was going with this and he didn’t like the sound of it at all.

“Wait,” said Deen. “You’re saying she was her counterpart? From this universe?”

“That is a valid hypothesis given the evidence.”

Nora shook her head. “I find that hard to believe. We’ve been here for less than four hours. How could she have tracked us down so quickly?”

“Maybe she didn’t,” said Star. “Maybe she was expecting us.”

Michael felt like they were jumping the gun. “Let’s focus on what we know so far,” he said and considered the science officer. “What do we know for certain?”

“We can say with a high degree of confidence that the Prism artifact which Admiral Owens and Jarik brought onboard, transported us on two occasions to two different quantum-universes, most likely with the assistance of a ring-shaped superstructure located in subspace and possibly constructed by a race of subspace-dwelling beings.”

Michael nodded to let him continue.

“We have further apparently witnessed the destruction of an entire quantum-universe by the same superstructure.”

“How is that even possible?” said Star.

“Well, theoretically, the universe--or a universe--could be destroyed by recreating the Big Bang and restarting cosmic inflation,” said Louise Hopkins. “But the amount of energy required for this would be beyond astronomical.”

“Ten to the power of nineteen electron volts,” said Xylion.

“To create that much power one would need…” Deen stopped herself suddenly.

“You would need what?” Star asked.

Deen, Hopkins, and Xylion were just looking at each other as if telepathically communing their impromptu findings.

“A massive particle collider accelerating the most powerful molecule known to exist,” said Garla.

Deen shook her head. “But there’s no particle that powerful.”

“Isn’t there?” the Krellonian said.

“We have already learned that the Ring structure was powered by an immensely powerful element unknown to us,” said Xylion. “We also know that the creation of a universe would have, theoretically required such a particle. It, therefore, stands to reason that the Ring structure is, in fact, a massive particle collider using that same molecule in order to create cosmic inflation from subspace to destabilize universes.”

Michael’s head was beginning to spin. Not because of the science starting to go over his head, but because of the implications being pondered here. He already knew that the particle in question, the Omega molecule, had been theorized to have been the driving force behind the creation of the universe and was therefore powerful enough to destroy one given the right circumstances. It was one of the key reasons why Starfleet had classified any knowledge on the subject to the highest level.

“What if this isn’t about an invasion at all?” said Star, aiming him a concerned look. “Maybe this is about destroying universes.”

“To what end?” Michael said and then looked at Xylion. “Wouldn’t subspace be affected by the destruction of universes as well?”

“Subspace forms the branes or layers which separate quantum universes. If universes were destroyed, the branes would no longer be required. However, since we are discussing highly theoretical concepts, it is difficult to predict this with certainty.”

“Not to mention that there are countless quantum universes,” said Deen.

Michael rubbed his forehead. “All right, there is no doubt we need to find a way to stop the Ring from doing any more damage. At the same time, we need to get my father and Jarik back, as well as the Prism. There’s no telling what this other Star could do with that kind of power.”

“I hate to add to our growing list of problems,” said the first officer. “But our most immediate issue is with Sentinel Culsten. If he was irritated before, he is downright furious after the EMP assault which affected his ships as well. He knows it didn’t come from us but he will have already learned that the EMP signature was Starfleet.”

“Our systems are mostly restored but we won’t be going anywhere while surrounded by Krellonian ships,” said Leva.

Michael considered that for a moment as he slowly regarded his officers until his eyes came to rest first on Culsten and then at Garla sitting next to him. “I think we have to start playing the cards that we have. Perhaps it is time for Sentinel Culsten to meet a familiar face.”
Part 2 - Shattered: 6 by CeJay
6


Lif couldn’t help but wonder if he looked that ugly when he was angry. Of course, the man on the screen wasn’t him, but the physical differences were marginal at best.

Lif didn’t sit in his usual chair at the helm station, the Andorian ensign Srena held that position for now while he stood with Garla near the port side bulkhead of the bridge to remain hidden from the visual pickups which were transmitting an image of the bridge back to the Krellonian ship.

“I don’t even know why I should be surprised by what happened,” said his counterpart on the screen. “I knew the moment you suddenly showed up on sensors that you’d be trouble.”

“This was not an assault against you or your forces. We were the sole target,” the captain said as he stood at the center of the bridge with Tazla Star flanking him.

“So you keep saying. And I believe you. We detected another Starfleet signature nearby which disappeared by the time our sensors were up and working again. Which means you’ve brought your foolish little war all the way out here. As I told you before, I will not get involved in your asinine internal Federation crisis.”

Lif felt a frown coming on. How often had this been a line delivered by Captain Owens or other Starfleet officers, he wondered. It felt strange being on the receiving end of that statement. And did they usually sound as arrogant and self-righteous when proclaiming it?

Owens shook his head. “We have no intention of asking for your assistance. We are not looking for you to get involved.”

“I can’t help but feel that I already am.”

“You don’t have to be. Whoever attacked us took two of our people hostage. I intend to get them back.”

Sentinel Culsten kept his eyes intently focused on the captain. “There’s still something you’re not telling me. And I have a feeling that it is something important. I’m not sure I am comfortable letting you leave here until you’ve given me more to go on.”

The captain glanced over to Lif and Garla for a moment. As far as the Sentinel was concerned, he was looking somewhere off-screen since he could not see them from his end. The captain finally nodded, clearly having anticipated something like that. “Very well,” he said and looked back the other Culsten on the viewer. “You are right. We’ve been keeping something from you. The truth is, we are not from around here at all.” He gestured for Garla to join him, which she did.

“By the Creator, what is the meaning of this?” he said, unable to hide his total astonishment at seeing her.

“My name is Garla. Sentinel Garla,” she said.

“That is impossible. You died. I attended your funeral.”

“That is disconcerting,” said Garla. “But I assure you, I am alive and well.”

Owens gestured for Lif to join them as well.

“What manner of trickery is this?”

“It’s no trickery at all,” said Owens. “This is my helmsman, Lieutenant Lif Culsten. As I said, we are not from around here.”

Sentinel Culsten took a moment to regard his doppelganger and Garla. “You’re from another dimension? Another reality?”

The captain nodded.

“I suppose that explains a few things,” he said without taking his eyes off the two Krellonians.

“We are looking for a way back home, that is our mission. But before we can do that we need to recover our people,” the captain said. “I am not asking you to assist us in that task, I can appreciate how that would complicate the political situation here. But I need you to let us leave here so that we can do what we must.”

“This … this changes things.”

Lif couldn’t tell if this was for the better or worse.

Then he nodded. “Fine. Try and get your people back, although I believe it won’t be an easy task. My only condition is that Garla and my counterpart stay here. As my guests as it were.”

The captain quickly shook his head. “I cannot agree to that.”

“It is the only way I’ll allow you to leave, Captain. I cannot risk for two Krellonians to be discovered on your ship by Starfleet and casting suspicions on the Star Alliance taking sides in their conflict. No matter if they are from this universe or another.”

Lif didn’t like the idea at all and not just because he had a feeling that his double wasn’t being entirely honest about his motivations.

“Captain, I think it is a reasonable request,” Garla said. “I’m happy to be Sentinel Culsten’s guest for the time being.”

“Give us a moment, Sentinel,” Owens said and when Culsten nodded his assent, he indicated to Commander Leva to cut the transmission before focusing back on Garla. “This was not part of the plan. I can’t just hand the two of you over to these people.”

“We don’t have a lot of options here,” she said. “And now that he is aware of our existence, I doubt he’ll ever let us go until he’d had a good look at us.”

“He did seem to speak very highly of her as her mentor earlier,” said Star when Owens regarded her for an opinion. “I don’t love the idea, either, but we’re stuck here in more ways than one if we don’t get the Prism back.”

“And my father to operate it,” Michael said. “Which still leaves us with the issue of how we are getting back to the Ring. I am not yet ready to share that piece of information with our new friend.”

Deen spoke up from her seat at operations which she had swiveled all the way around. “If it is still located where we found it previously, we’re about five-hundred kilometers from the threshold to in-between space, which is roughly in the same direction as the residual Starfleet engine signature we detected. We should be able to head towards the threshold at impulse without suspicion and then allow a shuttle or the runabout to slip into null-space while we pass by it at very close range. If our distance to the threshold remains small enough, our own mass and energy output should conceal the shuttle from sensors.”

“That just might work,” said Star.

The captain seemed to consider this plan. He glanced towards Lif. “How about you, are you ready for this?”

He desperately wanted to say no since, in truth, the last thing he wanted to do was face yet another doppelganger of his, after the last one had very nearly killed him. But with all eyes now resting on him, including Garla who seemed almost eager to go, he knew he had no choice in the matter. “Yes, sir.”

“Very well,” he said and found his science officer. “Commander, prep a runabout and assemble an away team. I want you and Bensu to head back to that Ring and get a head start on understanding how it works and how it can take us back home.”

Xylion offered a short nod and then quickly left the bridge.

Owens considered Garla and Culsten next. “You realize the two of you will be on your own over there? I don’t have to stress to you to be extremely careful about what you do or what you say.”

“You do not,” said Garla. “After what we’ve seen of the Star Alliance in the last universe we’ve been to, it’s hard to imagine that this place could be much worse. We’ll handle it.”

Lif immediately wished that Garla had not used those words. Humans, he had learned, had a superstitious belief that required little more than being overly optimistic about a difficult situation in order to bring about misfortune. Garla, he feared, had just jinxed them all.
Part 2 - Shattered: 7 by CeJay
7

Deen’s proposed plan had worked flawlessly.

Once Garla and Culsten had beamed over to the Krellonian lead ship, the small fleet which had surrounded Eagle almost ever since she had arrived in this universe had backed off slightly, and showing no more interest in the reality-misplaced starship, Eagle was free to maneuver away and towards the coordinates of the threshold.

Even before reaching it, Xylion, along with Hopkins, Nora, and Bensu who had recovered sufficiently to join the away team, as well as two Niners for security, had boarded the Nebuchadrezzar which had slipped out from the main shuttle bay and flown in such tight formation with her mothership, that as far as sensors were concerned, the two had been indistinguishable.

Once the two vessels had reached the threshold location, the runabout had peeled off slightly to head right towards it, while Eagle had initiated a brief warp flare to momentarily hide both ships from sensors and what to anyone monitoring from afar would have looked like nothing more than an engine test.

Owens and the rest of the bridge crew watched on with satisfaction as the runabout disappeared as it slipped into the threshold exactly where expected.

Moments later a low-yield subspace burst originating from in-between space signaled to Eagle that the away team had successfully made the transition and Eagle went to warp, following a faint Starfleet warp signature which ostensibly belonged to the ship the alternate Star had used after adducting Jon Owens and Jarik.

It didn’t take them very far.

“I’ve lost it,” Deen said, unable to hide her frustration. “The warp trail has deteriorated beyond the ability of our sensors to detect it.”

“Is there any way to extrapolate the ship’s course?” Star asked.

But Deen was shaking her head. “Whoever piloted that vessel knew how to throw off pursuers. The trail itself was already erratic so as to give no indication of their final destination,” she said and turned her chair around to face her superior officers. “They could have gone anywhere from here.”

Michael noticed Star’s concerned frown that seemed to have been caused by more than just losing track of their prey. “What are you thinking?”

She turned to look at him. “The other me,” she said. “It just feels like she follows the same playbook I used to once upon a time. And if she is as I once was, or rather, what I could have been if I had continued that life…”

She didn’t continue her thought but Michael got the gist. She’d be extremely dangerous. Considering that she had already accomplished boarding them practically unseen and abducting two crewmembers and stealing a powerful artifact, Michael needed a few reminders of her abilities.

“But this also means that you might be able to foresee her next move,” he said. “If you were in her shoes, what would you do? Where would you go?”

She briefly pondered that question. “It’s difficult to say since we know next to nothing about this universe. But considering the methods she used, the EMP attack, and the ease with which she fooled us after boarding the ship, the entire operation felt very much planned. If that is the case, she’d be heading back to her base of operations to deliver her cargo.”

“So you don’t think she’s working for herself?” he asked.

She shook her head. “If she lived my life or anything like it, I don’t think she would. I was always ambitious but mostly I used my talents in the service of other people’s agenda.”

Michael could tell that it pained her to speak of her previous life, one she so desperately wanted to keep in the past. He stood from the command chair and took a few steps towards the front of the bridge and closer to Deen and Eagle’s current pilot, Srena. “All right, let’s say she’s taking our people and the artifact back to her masters. I can’t imagine they’d be going all the way back to Earth. That’s a long trip without a warp sled. What would be a likely destination for her?”

“The largest Federation installation in the sector, at least in our universe, is Starbase 123,” said Deen.

“Not here.”

Michael turned to look towards Leva standing at the horseshoe-shaped tactical console. “According to long-range sensors, there is no sign of a starbase at those coordinates.”

“From what Sentinel Culsten told us, Starfleet is a very different organization in this universe. Possibly involved in some sort of internal conflict and with much more limited resources than what we have at our disposal. It’s possible that 123 was never constructed here, scuttled or otherwise lost,” said Michael.

“It also means we should probably keep our distance from this universe’s Starfleet as much as possible,” said Deen.

“Agreed,” Michael said. “But we still need to find our people and the Prism.”

Star stood from her chair. “I don’t think my counterpart would be headed to a major Starfleet installation in any case. She most likely works in the shadows and prefers to keep a low profile.”

“She could be headed for Arkaria,” said Leva as he worked his console again. “In our universe, it is the closest Federation system from our location and long-range scans confirm it is inhabited here as well.”

Star gave Michael a nod. “I think it makes sense to start our search there.”

“Very well. Ensign, set a course, and engage at warp eight.”

“Aye, sir. Setting course and engaging.”

On the large forward mounted screen, the colorful and star-packed vista of the Amargosa Diaspora shifted as the ship changed heading, and moments later countless dots of stars turned into streaks as Eagle jumped to FTL speeds.

Michael considered Leva again. “What do sensors tell us about a Starfleet presence in Arkaria?”

“I can’t get a detailed high-resolution scan due to the interference from the Diaspora but I definitely detect Starfleet signatures in the system,” the tactical officer said.

“Which means we need to be careful about our approach. Keep an eye on sensors and try to find a way to get us into the system without drawing too much attention to ourselves.”

“It might be too late for that.”

Michael turned back towards Deen at operations. “What is it?”

“I just detected three Starfleet ships on an intercept course, closing in fast. We didn’t detect them sooner due to the interference but they’ve definitely spotted us,” she said as her fingers danced over her console.

“Just what we tried to avoid,” said Star as she returned to her seat.

“We could attempt to outrun them,” said Deen. “We might be able to get to Arkaria before they reach us if we increase speed to warp nine point four.”

Michael shook his head as he followed Star’s example to get back to his chair. “We’d invite too much suspicion that way and would have to deal with ships in front and behind us.”

“You want to try and bluff your way through this?” Star said after he had joined her in his chair next to hers.

Michael tugged down on his uniform jacket. “Worth a shot. Ensign, maintain our course and speed. Let’s carry on as if nothing were the matter. What’s their time to intercept?”

Deen answered. “The three ships are currently at warp eight point five. Four hours until intercept.”

Star leaned over the side of her chair and towards the captain. “If this Starfleet is involved in an internal struggle, it’s possible that those ships are not friendlies.”

Michael nodded grimly. “I had considered that.”

“We may have a problem here,” said Deen, grimacing noticeably.

Michael straightened in his chair to brace for more bad news.

“All three ships just significantly increased speed. Now exceeding warp nine point five.”

“At that speed, they will reach us in just under one hour,” said Leva from tactical.

Tazla shook her head slightly. “That is not a good sign.”

“No, it’s not,” Michael said.

“I’ve been attempting to identify the three ships,” the tactical officer continued. “I’m still working on the two trailing vessels but I have a positive on the lead ship. It’s the Agamemnon, sir.”

That caused Michael to get out of his chair again and face the half-Romulan standing behind him, unable to keep the surprised look off his face. “Are you sure?”

“The transponder code doesn’t exactly match that of her counterpart in our universe, but her warp signature and hull configuration are a close match.”

Michael turned back towards the viewscreen as he momentarily pondered their options before coming to a decision. “Ensign, bring us about, and head towards the Agamemnon. Maintain speed.”

The young Andorian glanced at him briefly, perhaps to double-check that she had heard that right. Then she bopped her white-haired head. “Aye, sir. Changing course.”

“Contact in fifteen minutes,” Deen said and turned to look at him as well. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” she added sotto voce.

Michael returned to his chair once more.

“I suppose I do not have to remind you that Donners may not be her captain in this universe or that, even if she is, she might be a very different person from the ones you know,” Star said.

“It’s a roll of the dice, Commander.”

The next few minutes on the bridge were spent in mostly anxious silence as Eagle and Agamemnon, as well as her escort, were racing towards each other. Michael didn’t need to be told that from a tactical standpoint they were at a clear disadvantage if it came to hostilities. Eagle had suffered some damage during their latest quantum-transition, nowhere near as much as the time before that, and much of it was already repaired, but that didn’t change the fact that his ship wasn’t at one hundred percent.

But he had to believe that Amaya, no matter what universe they were in, wouldn’t force a violent confrontation. It simply wasn’t in her nature. Of course, he couldn’t help and wonder how much of that was simply wishful thinking and colored by meeting the now-vanished Amaya who had married his counterpart before he had been tragically killed.

“All three ships have raised their shields,” Leva said after they were just moments away.

“Now that is definitely a bad sign,” Star said, and Michael could feel her insistent look resting on him. When he didn’t answer, she continued. “We have to assume that if there are different sides in Starfleet here, we’re not on theirs.”

“We’re not on anybody’s side,” Michael said.

“I don’t think they know that,” she said.

He nodded and understood that this needed to be rectified. “Mister Leva, hail the Agamemnon.”

When he didn’t hear an immediate response, he turned around to see the tactical officer shaking his head.

“They are ignoring us.”

“What is their tactical status?” asked Star.

“All three ships are running with shields fully energized. Weapons, too, are powered up,” he said after checking his board.

The Trill first officer moved closer to the captain. “They’re coming in fast and hot and they’re in no mood to talk,” she said, keeping her voice low. “Their intentions seem pretty obvious.”

Michael kept his eyes on the screen, which had since shifted to show the three rapidly approaching ships, flying in a tight echelon formation. Judging purely from a visual perspective it was difficult to tell that these vessels were in any way different to the Starfleet ships he knew. The lead ship was clearly the catamaran-like Agamemnon with two smaller frigates stacked to her right.

It took him a few moments to realize that the hulls of those ships weren’t gleaming quite as meticulously as he would have expected from the famously well-crafted and maintained Starfleet ships, particularly under the stark glare of the combined star-power of the Amargosa Diaspora.

The reason for this became obvious just a moment later when he noticed the many patchwork repairs these ships seemed to have undergone, as well as what looked like temporary fixes to many of their major components.

“Try hailing the Agamemnon again,” Michael said as he positioned himself at the center of the bridge.

“Still no response,” Leva said. “The ships will be in weapon’s range in three minutes.”

Deen swiveled her chair towards him. “They are clearly on a warpath, Michael. I suggest we raise our shields.”

But he shook his head. “The moment we do that, we make it clear that we expect a fight.”

“Michael, this isn’t Amaya, you know that.”

He looked right into her sparkling purple eyes. She was right, of course, and as much as he wanted to believe otherwise, all evidence was pointing to the contrary.

“One minute to weapon’s range,” the tactical officer said.

Michael nodded slowly. “Activate the transphasic shielding and begin deceleration.”

Leva and Srena quickly acknowledged their new orders.

Standing fast in the middle of the bridge, Michael kept his eyes focused on the Agamemnon as she raced towards them with unveiled designs as if perhaps he could somehow, wordlessly impart on her captain the better angels of her nature.

It didn’t work.

“They are opening fire,” Leva said once they had come into range.

Not a moment later the ship trembled under Michael’s boots as the three vessel’s phaser blasts impacted against Eagle’s shields. He had never enjoyed the sensation of being fired upon, but the difference their new reinforced shielding did was noticeable.

“We will not be able to maintain warp speed while the transphasic shields are active,” Leva said.

Michael nodded. “Drop to impulse.”

Srena nodded and had Eagle back to sub-light speed within seconds.

“The Agamemnon and the other two ships have also dropped out of warp and are coming around for another pass,” the tactical officer said.

Michael could see it on the viewscreen, all three ships bearing down on them yet again, this time in a wedge formation with Agamemnon in the lead. And this time they didn’t limit themselves to phasers, throwing in half a dozen photon torpedoes into the mix for good measure.

This assault was more jarring, forcing Michael to briefly fight for balance in order to stay on his feet.

“Shields holding at eighty-nine percent,” Leva said. “However, I don’t recommend we play the bull’s-eye for much longer. We should return fire.”

It was obvious that it went against every instinct of his being to simply sit by idly and be fired upon without offering any resistance. Michael didn’t blame him. “Try hailing them again.”

The response they received was not the one he had been looking for. More phaser strikes and torpedoes smashed into their shields.

“Sir,” Leva said. “They are clearly not interested in talking.”

Michael just raised a hand to let him know to be patient just a little while longer. He understood their new shields wouldn’t last forever but they did give them an opportunity they otherwise may not have had. “Open a channel.”

“Channel open,” he said, doing a decent job to hide his frustration at his captain’s chosen tactic.

“This is Captain Michael Owens of the USS Eagle to the ships currently firing on us. I have no quarrel with you and do not wish to engage you in combat. I just want to talk. If you still believe that there is reason to fight afterward, I promise you, there’ll be plenty of opportunity for that.”

He let that sink in for a few seconds before he turned to look at Leva by his tactical board. He quickly muted the connection and then shook his head. “They can receive us. They just choose not to respond,” he said, just as he had to hold on to his console as the attacking vessels unleashed yet another barrage. “Shields at eighty-five percent.”

Michael indicated towards his console. “Put me back on.”

He followed the order, but Michael was sure he could see him suppress a sigh while doing so. He also didn’t miss the increasingly skeptical look in Tazla Star’s eyes who so far had chosen to remain silent.

Leva nodded to let him know the channel was back open and Michael turned back towards the screen just in time to see the three ships begin yet another run. “Amaya, if you can hear me, please listen to me. Whatever you think is happening here, I guarantee you that things are not as they appear. Just give me a chance to explain. One chance is all I ask for.”

Those ships continued to bear down on them at rapid sub-light speed, ready to unleash more deadly firepower. But this time, instead of firing, all three vessels simply sailed passed Eagle. The viewer quickly readjusted to show the trio of ships come about and then fan out while facing Eagle.

“I cannot imagine a single thing you could say to me that would change my mind about wanting to wipe you off the face of the galaxy,” said Amaya Donners as she appeared on the viewscreen, sitting in the captain’s chair at the center of her bridge.

She looked slightly older than the Amaya of his reality, or even the last version of her he had encountered. Her expression much harder and angrier than he ever remembered seeing on her face before. Her hair was severely short and her eyes lacked the compassion and joy he had always admired in her. And yet, she was undeniably Amaya Donners in every other way.

It took him a few seconds to take in the stark differences.

“What? You were so desperate to talk just a moment ago? Cat got your tongue?”

“Maya, I am not your enemy.”

At that, she laughed out loud, but without any warmth at all. “Since when? Don’t tell me you’ve decided to defect. You know, it wouldn’t even surprise me if you did.” Her face hardened further. “But it’s too late. I’d rather blast you out of the stars for what you’ve done rather than allow you to join my side.”

“What I mean to say is that I am not the Michael Owens you think I am.”

She considered him skeptically. “What kind of game are you playing? I am not falling for it.”

“This ship, me and everyone else on board, none of us belong in this universe. If there is another Michael Owens here, another Eagle, we are not them. We were transported to this universe by mistake.” He continued when she began to frown. “Look at me. Really look at me. Do I look like your Michael Owens?”

And she did. “Uniforms are different and granted your ship doesn’t exactly match the records we have on file. And God knows what’s up with those fortified shields of yours,” she said and shook her head. “But all that could be a trick. Some sort of new technology by the Guardians or an attempt to try and get the Preservers to lower our guard.”

Star had stood from her chair and joined Michael to address the other woman. “Sir, before today, none of us had ever even heard of the Guardians and the Preservers. At least not in the context you are using those terms.”

Michael could see Amaya’s eyes grow wide. “Star?”

She nodded. “Commander Tazla Star,” she said. “First officer of the USS Eagle. This Eagle. I take it that’s not the case in this universe.”

“This is insane,” Amaya said.

“It’s been that kind of week, yes,” Michael said.

Amaya seemed to consider matters for a moment without taking her eyes off him and Star. “All right, I want to hear that story and it better be a good one. You’ll beam over onto Agamemnon in five minutes.”

Star shook her head. “I don’t think I like that idea. A moment ago you wanted to blast us out of the stars, as you so delicately put it.”

“And I still might. Beam over, just the two of you, and convince me I shouldn’t or I’ll start firing again. Coordinates are on the way,” she said and then gestured for a crewmember to cut the transmission.

As soon as she was gone Michael headed for the turbolift.

“Sir, do I really have to spell out what an incredibly terrible idea this might turn out to be?” Star said after him, causing him to stop and turn to face her. “She’ll have us both and her animosity towards you is clear as crystal.”

Leva nodded quickly. “I agree. This is not a wise tactical move, sir.”

“I don’t like this one bit, Michael. I know we keep repeating this, but that woman over there is not the Amaya Donners we know. She doesn’t even seem anything like the one we met in the other universe,” said Deen.

He glanced at his officers, one after the other, before he spoke. “I take all your points. I understand that this isn’t the most cautious approach, hell, it might not even be prudent, but the fact remains that we are in a universe we know nothing about with two of our own kidnapped by unknown forces. If we want any chance of getting them back, not to mention the one device that can take us home, and possibly prevent the destruction of another reality, we have to find allies.”

“And you truly believe this Amaya Donners could be one?” Star said, sounding entirely unconvinced.

“I’m willing to take that chance.”

“I think your judgment is clouded by the fact that she has her face,” Deen said.

It was not unusual for DeMara to speak her mind to him, but usually not quite that openly and not in front of the rest of the crew. He scowled at her for the comment but she seemed unperturbed.

“My mind is made up on the matter. I will beam over to the Agamemnon,” he said and then glanced at Star. “I’m not ordering you to come along but I’d rather you did since she is expecting the both of us.”

She didn’t hesitate and nodded quickly. “Of course.”

He looked towards Leva next. “Commander, you have the bridge. Should anything happen to us while we are gone, you are to continue the mission at whatever cost. Find a way to retrieve our people and the Prism, return home and stop the Ring.”

Leva nodded as well, but unable to entirely hide his displeasure by his captain’s decision. It was, after all, a tall order for any person.

A few minutes later Michael and Star found themselves in the transporter room. Star made an argument to take phasers, even if just the tiny, type-I variety that could be easily hidden within the uniform but Michael vetoed the idea, arguing that they would likely detect them during transport and disable them.

They both stepped up on the platform and he gave the order to energize.

They rematerialized in a transporter room which looked fairly similar to the transporter rooms of the other Agamemnon he had visited recently, although, just like she had appeared much less pristine from the outside, the inside as well looked much more tired, dirty even and in desperate need of a few new bulkheads and consoles.

Maya Donners was waiting for them along with an entire row of armed security officers, all of which were carrying rifles as if they were getting ready to receive dangerously violent criminals.

As she had alluded to earlier, Amaya and her crew wore different types of uniforms consisting of black jumpsuits with colored shoulders and a mock turtleneck underneath, a style the Starfleet in his universe had retired about three years earlier. Judging by the patchy look of their outfits that was apparently also roughly the last time they had replicated new ones.

“Permission to come aboard,” Michael said and stepped off the transporter platform, followed by Star.

Amaya, who didn’t carry a rifle but did have a phaser holstered at her hip, took a moment to look him up and down. “Michael Timothy Owens as I live and breathe,” she took a small step towards him and then, entirely unexpectedly, brought up her balled fist and hit him in the chin with such force, he went down like a sack of maaza stalks.
Part 2 - Shattered: 8 by CeJay
8


He couldn’t exactly claim to feel euphoric about the upcoming meeting and considering that the last time he had come face-to-face with an alternate version of himself, the other Lif Culsten had tried desperately to kill him, he thought that most people would appreciate his reluctance.

Most people did not, apparently, include Garla who seemed noticeably curious to find out about this universe’s version of the Krellonian Star Empire, including his counterpart and likely her own. In truth, it wasn’t easy to fully understand what was on the veteran Sentinel’s mind these days. Although they had grown somewhat closer lately, primarily since he had been forced to stick close to her as to Commander Star’s orders ever since she had been brought back to Eagle, she had not exactly opened up to him.

It was clear that Garla’s grand plans to save the Star Alliance from itself had failed. From what Lif had pieced together, she had entered into some sort of arrangement with the subspace aliens who seemingly had promised her the tools to reshape Krellonian society in exchange for her assistance in providing essential elements to their particle supercollider.

As it had turned out, however, whatever it was that the aliens had shown Garla to secure her cooperation, had most likely been an alternate reality instead of a possible future for their own.

She hadn’t spoken much about those setbacks since they had returned from the other Piqus, and he had no way of knowing if she had been shown a Star Alliance which had been torn apart entirely by civil strife and unrest or if she had witnessed a society she seemed to have been pursuing all this time, one in which Krellonians and Outlanders lived entirely separated and segregated lives, perhaps one in which their people had never even conquered and subjugated the other races.

Or maybe, the aliens had shown her both possibilities, a dark future which didn’t seem so far-fetched considering the current tensions in the Star Alliance, and another one where things had gone very differently.

He knew Garla wasn’t a gullible individual, couldn’t afford to be in her position, but whatever she had been shown, it had to have been incredibly convincing for her to dedicate so much of her time and resources to assist the aliens and pursue her lofty ambitions to transform the Star Alliance.

The first thing Lif noticed as he began to fade back into a solid state, after having been beamed from Eagle to his counterpart’s flagship, was the massive ursine Buoth standing near the far wall, and although he had seen many of his kind before while he lived in Krellon space, his mind immediately flashed back to his most recent encounter with a member of the bear-like species, in a backyard on Piqus VII, when an enraged Buoth had nearly torn him limb from limb had he not managed to kill the massive creature in the nick of time.

His entire body tensed even before the rematerialization had completed and he felt a sudden cold sweat come over him.

Garla, at his side, also responded to the sight, but the Sentinel was bracing herself for a fight instead, the fact that she had beamed over unarmed not stopping her.

“Welcome aboard the Yellow Rose. Sentinel Culsten bestowed on me the honor to greet you and escort you to his quarters.”

It took Lif a moment, and a calming breath, to register that the Buoth wasn’t posing an immediate threat. In fact, he appeared to be the transporter operator, or possibly a security guard, standing behind a console and doing little more than looking at the two newcomers.

Lif did recognize the man who had spoken. It was another Outlander, a much lither, almost diminutive compared to the ursine, Kridrip. He had met the man before--it was Tenn, Garla’s assistant.

Next to him stood a Krellonian guard, wearing a uniform not entirely dissimilar to what Star Alliance officers wore in his universe, but instead of chrome armor, he wore a lighter jacket, coated it the same kind of reflective material. Instead of a rifle, the female officer wore a holstered sidearm as she stood at attention next to Tenn.

Garla stepped off the platform first and seemingly had taken in the transporter room and its inhabitants in mere moments before she addressed the female officer. “Thank you for having us. I am looking forward to meeting your sentinel.”

The woman looked at her with noticeable confusion etched into her dark features, before she glanced at Tenn next to her.

“Yes, indeed,” he said. “And he is very much eager to meet both of you. Forgive me, but I have not yet introduced myself. I am Chief Justicar Tenn, Second on the Alliance cruiser Yellow Rose,” he said, putting the slightest emphasis on his position as if trying to clear up any misunderstanding.

Surprisingly, Garla, who he was certain prided herself in not missing details, appeared to have overlooked the subtle but visible rank insignia on the two officers’ jacket sleeves. They were not an exact match to those used in the Eye or the Star Alliance Navy, but they were close enough to make it obvious that Tenn held a much higher position than the Krellonian woman at his side.

Garla recovered quickly, although she did seem somewhat uncomfortable in addressing the man she chiefly knew as her assistance. “My apologies, Chief Justicar. Things are a little different where we come from.”

He quickly shook his head. “None are necessary. Please, if you’d like to follow us, I’ll take you to the see the Sentinel now,” he said with a smile.

Garla nodded and the two officers set out with Lif and Garla following closely.

“What’s going on here?” Lif whispered to her as they stepped out of the transporter room.

But Garla just hushed him and they walked into a corridor, right behind their escort.

Lif’s father had served in the Star Navy and as such, he’d had enjoyed opportunities to visit Krellonian cruisers when he had been younger and before he had left his home for the Federation. The Yellow Rose was not exactly a mirror image of those ships but it was close enough that he quickly recognized it as a ship of the line. What was decidedly different here, however, was that at least half the crew they encountered seemed to be made up of Outlanders, something that would have been unheard of in their universe. Lupine T’aq, humanoid Kridrip, and even reptile Zel made up this crew, making it the most diverse Krellonian vessel he had ever set foot upon. And these crewmembers weren’t merely support personnel either, judging by the similar rank insignia on their sleeves, most of them were officers or otherwise held comparable ranks to their fellow Krellonians.

Lif could tell that Garla was taking notice of this as well.

Tenn led them to a turbolift of sorts, one with entirely transparent walls that allowed quite an impressive view of the surrounding space as it traveled along the outer hull of the ship. The short trip to their destination was carried out mostly in silence as both Garla and Lif took in this strange and yet also familiar universe and the people who called it home.

The female guard waited outside Sentinel Culsten’s quarters while the Chief Justicar led them inside where Lif was once more greeted by an uncanny mirror image of himself.

Sentinel Culsten was sitting behind an expansive wooden desk that had a passing similarity to Garla’s large desk in her office. He wore a more elaborate outfit than his officers, a coat like smock with a gold and silver embroidered black shirt underneath which to Lif looked almost regal, featuring elaborated, possibly hand-sewn patterns. It seemed more ceremonial than something a sentinel would wear as a routine outfit and was certainly far more impressive than Garla’s utilitarian and form-fitting jumpsuit.

The other Culsten wore his hair in a shorn mohawk, with a broad patch of silver hair running up the very center of his otherwise bald head and tapering off in a braided ponytail going down his back.

He stood the moment he spotted Garla and Lif. “It is even more stunning seeing you in the flesh,” he said, his eyes noticeably gleaming with excitement as he rounded his desk.

Tenn stepped aside wordlessly to allow the sentinel an unobstructed path to the two visitors.

Sentinel Culsten wasn’t shy of getting close, just short of invading their personal spaces, and studied their faces with obvious curiosity. “The resemblances,” he said. “Uncanny.”

They said nothing as he continued his inspection, trying to get a look at them both from various angles. Then, as if spotting the looks in their eyes for the first time, he took a step back. “As you can imagine, I have quite a few questions.”

“That’s understandable,” said Garla.

“But first, drinks,” he said and quickly headed for a cabinet close to his desk. He promptly retrieved three glasses and filled each one halfway from a tall, brown bottle. He took two glasses and indicated towards a seating arrangement made up of four large, well-cushioned chairs facing each other. “Please sit down,” he said as he handed a glass to each of them.

Lif took his, as did Garla before Culsten retrieved the third one for himself. Together they took the chairs, Lif and Garla on one side and Sentinel Culsten on the other.

Lif’s counterpart kept his sparkling eyes on the duo as he sipped from his beverage and Lif followed suit, immediately recognizing the taste as a popular, although expensive liquor brewed on Yooktku, the homeworld of the fifth, former Krellonian subject race. It had a pleasant burn to it.

“So, you hail from a different universe. A different reality,” he said.

Garla nodded. “That is correct.”

“Amazing,” he said. “Our scientists have long speculated of alternate universes besides our own but your appearance here is the first concrete proof of their existence.” He focused in on Lif and the uniform he was wearing. “I can see that your reality differs a great deal from ours. You are in Starfleet?”

“Yes. I’m serving on the Eagle as a helmsman.”

“A helmsman,” he said and did a poor job to hide his disappointment. Considering his counterpart was already a sentinel at a relatively young age, one of the most prestigious positions in the Star Alliance, it was perhaps understandable that he considered Lif’s rank underwhelming.

“But Starfleet and the Federation, from what I hear, are a very different place where we come from.

“The Borg didn’t wipe out half the quadrant in your reality?”

Lif’s eyes opened wide with surprise, trying hard not to imagine the horrors this reality had seemingly endured. Then he shook his head. “No. We pushed them back.”

“Impressive,” he said and glanced back towards Garla. “And you? You are not with the Federation?”

“No,” she said, and Lif thought that she sounded almost offended by the notion. “I am a Sentinel for the Eye of Krellon.”

His features lit up at hearing this. “Just like your counterpart on this side.”

“Is she here as well?” she asked.

Culsten took a large gulp of his drink. “No,” he said and then stood to return towards the cabinet to replace his glass. “She died,” he added with his back to his guests.

Lif turned his head to see how Garla had taken the news but her facial expressions remained unreadable as she kept her eyes on the other sentinel. “How?”

He uttered a sigh. “A senseless accident. One that should never have occurred,” he said, his voice having lost its earlier excitement.

“An accident?” Garla sounded incredulous.

Sentinel Culsten turned to face her. “Yes. A warp core containment failure on her personal shuttle. Less than a year ago. We lost a great leader that day. You see, Garla--my Garla--she was more than family to me. She was my mentor. Everything I know about the galaxy, I learned from her. She was a person with incredible vision for the Star Alliance and losing her set us back decades. I’ve been fighting a seemingly futile battle with shortsighted politicians and bureaucrats to fulfill her legacy ever since we lost her and I took her place but I’ve made little progress. But now,” he said, his voice taking on the same enthusiasm and excitement it had before. “Now, this could all change thanks to a most unexpected twist of fate.”

“How so?” Lif asked but wasn’t sure he truly wanted to hear the answer to his question.

Culsten took a step forward. “Because fate has delivered you,” he said. “And if you are just half as formidable as my Garla was, together nothing will be able to stand in our way.”

Lif had feared something like that and when he looked back towards Garla, she still refused to make eye contact with him. Instead, she stared back at his counterpart with a determination he had seen mirrored in her face before. It had heralded nothing good.
Part 2 - Shattered: 9 by CeJay
9


The blow had come so fast and he had been caught so entirely unawares, Michael Owens had crumbled unceremoniously to the deck.

Star jumped forward immediately but was forced to stop in her tracks when she was greeted with half a dozen phaser rifles pointed at her face. Realizing that fighting wasn’t an option, she turned towards Michael instead. “Are you all right?” she said as she knelt next to him.

In truth, Michael could not remember the last time he had been sucker-punched like that. It was not a common occupational habit as a starship captain, and the pain in his jaw was considerable, as were the stars swirling around his mind. He truly felt like he had stepped into a mirror universe, considering the exact opposite way in which the previous Amaya Donners had greeted him.

Determined not to reveal any more weakness in front of her, he confidently reached out for Star’s proffered hand and allowed her to pull him back onto his feet. “One hell of a right hook you’ve got there,” he said, giving Amaya an admiring look.

She smirked with obvious self-satisfaction. “I don’t know if I buy that fantastically ridiculous story of yours yet but that felt damned good, no matter where you’re from.”

Michael couldn’t help but rub his bruised jar. “Now that we have gotten that out of the way, perhaps we could try and have that conversation. Preferably with less punching.”

“We’ll see how it goes.”

Amaya led him and Star out of the transporter room and into the ship’s corridors with the heavy security escort following behind them. The rest of Agamemnon, Michael quickly realized, looked much like the transporter room had, like a ship that had been in one too many battles and had seen far too little maintenance in between. Compared to what he had seen on his previous visits to the ship, the crew complement felt thin, considering the small number of crewmembers they passed on their way to the turbolift, and almost none of the people he saw wore sciences blue.

Amaya led them to the observation lounge where two of the security officers took position outside and the rest joined them inside, guarding the two doors.

Apparently, Amaya had decided to host him and Star alone and none of her senior officers attended the meeting. Michael knew that in his universe, Amaya had several highly reliable people around her whom she trusted implicitly, he wondered if this was not the case here.

She took the seat at the head of the large conference table and Michael and Star took chairs where she indicated for them to sit, further down the table.

“So, let’s talk. You start. I’m dying to hear how you’re going to convince me that you’re not a complete and utter dirtbag,” she said.

Michael and Star exchanged a quick look before he began to tell her almost everything that had happened over the last few days. He left out a few details, including his strained relationship with her counterpart back in his universe, as well the finer details about Bensu and the Prism. But he laid out exactly how they had come across the Ring, how they believed it had been constructed by subspace aliens, how they had potential plans of invading regular space, how they had landed in another universe, and ultimately how it had been destroyed before ending up here.

Amaya listened to every word carefully and when it was over, she leaned back in her chair, letting out a long breath. “That is quite a story.”

“Tazla Star, a different version of her,” Michael said, glancing briefly at his first officer. “Boarded Eagle shortly after we arrived here and abducted two members of my crew, including my father. We have to get them back before we can attempt to return to our space and hopefully prevent the Ring from destroying another universe. But we’ll need help. We know next to nothing about this place.”

The captain of the Agamemnon considered him briefly before glancing towards Star and then letting her eyes wander back to him. “You know, there is only one reason I’ve even entertained the notion that you might be from another universe,” she said. “The Michael Owens I know would have killed Tazla Star on sight. The fact that the two of you are working together means you’re most definitely not from around here.”

“What happened?” Star asked.

“You, or rather the other you, killed his brother. And Matthew was a good man. A bit bookish and idealistic perhaps but a decent man.”

Michael wasn’t sure how he felt about that. When he glanced at Star at his side, he could tell how awkward she felt about this revelation and Michael gave her a reassuring nod, letting her know that he didn’t believe that she’d be capable of doing something like that. At least, he hoped, not anymore.

“Perhaps you could give us the lay of the land,” Michael said to Amaya, eager to move on. “As I said, our reality is very different from this one. We understand that there are at least two factions within Starfleet. The Guardians and the Preservers, you called them?”

“I don’t know where you’ve come from but if you don’t know about the Schism, I envy you and your universe. We’ve got the Borg to thank for it all. They changed everything.”

Star nodded. “We’ve had our run-ins with the Borg. They were always painful and we paid dearly on each occasion we had to face them but nothing on a scale that would have changed the fabric of our society altogether.”

“Consider yourself lucky then. It all started eleven years ago when the Enterprise somehow encountered the Borg in the Delta Quadrant. When she came back, she and her crew had been assimilated and become a vanguard to an all-out invasion. We fought back, hell most of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants joined together to oppose the Borg. It took us years but eventually, we drove them back. The thing is, after the Borg where gone, there was not much left. Those damned cyborgs wiped out entire worlds and the vast majority of the Alliance fleet.”

“But you rebuilt,” Star said.

“We certainly tried to. But in our weakened state, we were easy prey for opportunists. The Nyberrite Alliance, which had managed to somehow escape the path of destruction the Borg had brought came swooping in. Some saw their overtures as those of good Samaritans, they certainly positioned themselves that way at first, trying to help us rebuild our planets, treating or sick and injured and offering us resources and trade. Others realized their true intentions right away, how they were not much different to the Borg had been, except that they made assimilation a choice nearly impossible to refuse. Soon enough all former major powers had joined their cause, what remained of the Klingon Empire, the Romulans and the Cardassians joined with the Nyberrites to create a new alliance, controlled solely by the Nyberrites themselves.”

Michael was almost afraid to ask the question burning in his mind. “And the Federation?”

“Say about the Nyberrites what you will, but they are damned clever. They took over our formerly great Federation piece-by-piece, not by combat or outright violence, but by convincing former Federation members to join their alliance instead. By the time we even realized what they were up to, it was too late. Most of the few remaining core worlds decided to try and appease the Nyberrites by bending to their wishes and accepting their prohibitively expansive trade agreements designed to undermine and bankrupt us from within,” she said and Michael could sense the anger and frustration in her tone, the subject evoking a number of unpleasant emotions within her. “But a few of us decided that enough was enough and we banded together to try and oppose their insidious ways and fight to restore the Federation to what it had once been. But instead of fighting the Nyberrites, we’ve been fighting each other for almost two years now. The struggle has become an outright civil war between those who are looking to preserve the Federation the way it once was and those who are supposedly guarding what they have left.”

“Preservers and Guardians,” Star said.

Amaya nodded. “If I ever find whoever came up with those preposterous terms, I’ll strangle their neck.”

“So I take it that my counterpart is with the Guardians. What about this universe’s Tazla Star?” Michael said.

“She’s a wild card, I think. Officially she was with the Guardians as well but something happened about a year ago. Matthew Owens and a few others were constructing a secret device for us that promised to end this senseless struggle. You--or rather your counterpart--and a small fleet of Guardians were dispatched to find and I suppose secure the device for Guardians. In the process of that mission Star killed Matthew and Michael swore revenge. It’s the last time I’ve seen her and most thought her dead. Michael was convinced that she was alive and has been on a personal quest to destroy her by any means necessary. From what you’re saying, I guess he was right to believe that she’s still alive.”

Michael needed a moment to take all of this in. Not only had they traveled to another universe, but they had also, seemingly managed to get themselves right into the middle of a highly charged political, not to mention personal, quagmire involving their very counterparts.

“Here is something I don’t understand,” said Amaya as she leaned forward. “Why would Star expose herself like that now just to abduct a couple of people from another universe, one of whom is dead here?”

Michael could tell that Amaya, regardless of what universe she was from, was far from stupid and she understood that more was at play than what he had told her. He was not willing to reveal the existence of the Prism just yet and it was in fact something else that caught his attention. “My father--Jon Owens--he’s dead in this universe?”

She nodded and then apparently noticed Tazla Star’s concerned expression and offered her a little smile. “Don’t worry, as far as I know, your counterpart was not responsible for that one. Not that I wouldn’t put it past her.” When she locked eyes with Michael again, he knew that she would not let her question slip without a satisfactory answer.

“The Star in this universe must have somehow learned about the Ring and its ability to travel into other universes. The two people she took may be instrumental in making that possible,” he said.

Amaya Donners leaned back in her chair again. “And Star is not working alone. I’m not sure if her allegiance is still with the Guardians, with the Nyberrites or some other group, but the idea that they could have access to other universes is damned scary and could change everything.”

“That’s why we must find a way to get our people back,” said Star. “We believe them to be operating somewhere within the sector. Maybe out of Arkaria.”

Amaya nodded. “That makes sense. There has been heightened Guardian activity in that sector lately which considering its remote location is unusual. It’s why I’m out here in the first place, trying to gather intel on their plans.”

Michael turned towards his first officer. “Then Arkaria remains our best option to try and find your counterpart and our people,” he said and then glanced back towards Amaya. “Will you help us?”

She considered that for a moment. “I don’t like Star--my version of her--and I’m fairly certain her masters are even worse. But there is no way I can assist you getting into Arkaria. Not until we get some reinforcements out here and even then it won't be easy, we may have the Guardians outnumbered but they have the more powerful ships and superior technology.”

“How long until your reinforcements arrive?” he asked.

“Hard to say. This isn’t exactly a priority for Command right now. They are trying to win the struggle at home where the fight isn’t going well. They don’t worry too much about what’s going on all the way out here. It could be a day, it could be a few weeks.”

Michael shook his head. “We can’t afford to wait that long.”

“Well,” she said, with a small, mischievous twinkle in her eye. “You might find another way to slip into Arkaria without raising too much suspicion. After all, you and your ship fit right into that party.”

Michael did not like the sound of that at all.
Part 2 - Shattered: 10 by CeJay
10


Louise Hopkins held on to her console so tightly, her knuckles were turning white as her mind pondered the implications of entering into a fold of subspace which had pretty much disintegrated around them the last time they had been there.

Xylion had argued successfully that the instability of what they referred to as in-between space had been caused by the massive gravimetric sheer created by the movement of the Ring superstructure which in turn had led to the destruction of an entire universe. He had argued that once that task had been completed, the Ring would once more become inert and in-between space along with it.

From a technical perspective, his rationale had made sense to her, but even he had admitted that this was merely a hypothesis and therefore not without potential flaws. And yet it had been enough to convince the Captain to allow him, along with her, Bensu and two Niners to take the Nebuchadrezzar back into in-between space and to the Ring in hopes to find a way to stop its seemingly apocalyptic purpose.

Louise took a deep breath as they approached the threshold and the small ship traversed back into in-between space. She hadn’t even been consciously aware that she had held it in until they emerged on the other side, finding the subspace fold just like it had been when they had first come across it, the massive Ring superstructure once more entirely still as it ominously hung in the salmon-colored void.

“Readings indicate no sign of gravimetric disturbance,” said Xylion as his fingers danced across the console to her right, carefully studying the sensor readouts. “There is no indication of abnormal activity from the Ring structure itself.”

“You’re telling me that that thing was responsible for wiping out an entire universe?”

Louise turned her head slightly. Nora Laas had stepped up between her and Xylion, leaning forward and looking out of the viewports to get a better look at the superstructure.

“There is no way for us to know that for sure,” she said as she followed her friend’s glance. She couldn’t deny the cold shudder running up her spine whenever she looked at that immense device that was multiple times larger than any spaceborne superstructure she had ever encountered or read about. And yet, at the same time, the engineer in her was endlessly fascinated by it, desperate to try and understand how exactly it functioned. “If we’re right, and it is a supercollider, accelerating enormously powerful particles to speeds beyond the warp scale, and colliding them, there would be no end to what this machine could accomplish.”

“Still,” Nora said, unable to tear her eyes away. “A universe-killer? That’s hard to believe.”

“It’s true.”

All three of them turned to look at Bensu who sat in one of the back chairs of the cockpit. The dark-skinned bartender had his eyes closed and seemed to be in some sort of meditative state he had remained in ever since he had boarded the runabout. Louise had heard that he had not weathered the transition into this latest universe they found himself in now very well, and had only very recently awoken from a waking coma of sorts. She wasn’t convinced at all that he had sufficiently recovered to be on this mission in the first place, certainly not by judging his paler than usual complexion.

“I have seen it,” he said in a near whisper that seemed to command the attention of everyone present. “It brought forth energies immeasurable by your instruments to create a state of total entropy and in doing so it wiped away a universe within mere moments.” He opened his eyes and the blank look on his face gave her chills. “Every life, sentient or otherwise, every structure, planet or star. The very fabric of time and space, gone in an instant.”

An uncomfortable silence settled over the small control deck of the runabout.

“If that is true,” Xylion said. “We must find a way to ensure this does not happen again. Not to this universe, ours or any other.”

Louise nodded slowly.

“My question is,” said Nora. “Why would anybody want to destroy an entire universe?”

Louise had wondered the same thing.

“The creatures who seem responsible for constructing this device dwell in subspace,” Xylion said. “We have not yet gathered enough evidence to support a concrete theory, however, it does appear that subspace itself may not have been affected by the particle collider’s activity.”

Louise looked out of the viewport to study the pink and white mass surrounding them in closer detail but found that it looked no different than it had before. “You think they are waging a war on normal space? Trying to wipe it all out?”

“As I said, we do not have sufficient evidence at this stage. We may be able to find more answers on the structure itself,” he said.

It didn’t take them long to get back into transporter range of the Ring, even as they approached it slower and more carefully than they had done in the past, to make absolutely certain that no lingering effects remained.

The entire team of Starfleet officers, accompanied by the two SMT operatives Diamond and Ivory equipped themselves with the same armbands they had used the last time they had beamed onto the structure. Eagle had not been able to deploy a signal buoy like she had done previously to keep up communications through the threshold since it would have been spotted easily by the Krellonian fleet, at least the armbands would make it easier to keep track of the away team once Eagle returned.

At first blush, Louise couldn’t see any changes to the massive, tunnel-like interior of the Ring, still as gloomy and overall imposing as she remembered it. It wasn’t until she referred to her tricorder that she detected anomalies. “I can no longer detect a signal from our drones,” she said, referring to the hundreds of autonomous probes Eagle as well as the ships from the other universe had deployed to map the entirety of the interior.

“This one looks pretty dead to me,” said Diamond, who had approached one of the compact drones that now lay lifeless on the ground and then nudged it with the tip of her boot.

“I suppose they didn’t survive the particle acceleration,” said Nora.

Xylion in the meantime was busy setting up a communications and signal booster he had brought from the runabout. The armbands they wore were theoretically able to keep them in contact with the runabout computer, but as a veteran science officer, Xylion clearly believed in contingencies. “We can assume that the probes deployed by the vessels from the other universe have been neutralized in the same manner as every other matter originating in that reality.”

She knew he was probably right, still remembering how Amaya Donners who had looked so much like her counterpart from their own universe, had practically vanished in front of their eyes. Yet she wished Xylion hadn’t sounded so clinical when talking about the end of trillions of lives and destruction on a scope she could barely get her head around.

“I have successfully reestablished an uplink with the runabout computer,” said the Vulcan as he stood back up after having taken a knee next to the booster to program it accordingly.

“What now?” Nora asked.

Xylion turned to Bensu who seemed to be walking around slowly but with seemingly no specific aim. “Are you picking up anything out of the ordinary?”

It took him a moment to realize that he had been addressed. “I can’t be certain.”

Louise had no idea what he meant by that, considering the puzzled looks by the rest of the away team, they too didn’t know what to make of that response.

Xylion didn’t push it further. “Let us return to the control sphere.”

That seemed like a sensible suggestion and Nora took point, using a tricorder to locate the exact coordinates where they had last encountered the invisible barrier that had taken them into an even deeper subspace domain. She held her phaser tightly in the other hand.

Diamond and Ivory took up the rear and flanks, constantly scanning their environment with their heavily modified phaser carbines at the ready.

Louise watched first Nora and then Xylion disappear as they stepped through the threshold and felt undeniable butterflies of anxiety in her stomach when it was her turn. Like most Starfleet officers and Federation citizens, she had long since gotten used to having her body dismantled on a molecular level and beamed to locations thousands of kilometers away. However, commencing one step in one locality only to find herself somewhere else entirely upon completion of a single stride was not something she thought she’d get used to quickly. Especially not since her new surroundings were so completely alien.

The control sphere too was unchanged and she could still not shake the impression that it resembled an oversized snow globe in which they found themselves trapped in.

For a moment she once more marveled at the void beyond the thin, film-like sphere that surrounded them on all sides. Having been an engineer for her entire adult life, Lou firmly believed in the laws of physics, it was what made starship travel the stars at faster than light speeds”something that had been unthinkable on her homeworld until Zefram Cochrane had shattered the warp threshold and in doing so united an equally shattered planet. And yet, here, in subspace, all rules seemed to be off, in fact, it appeared volumes of books could be filled with everything they still didn’t understand about the enigmatic layer of space-time that existed beyond what could normally be seen and felt.

Xylion and Bensu had made their way back towards the central circle of holographic computer displays which they still hadn’t made much headway in deciphering, probably hoping that after the Ring’s recent, unexpected activity, something may have changed to allow a clue to its operation.

Nora and the two battle-hardened SMTs in the meantime had quickly fallen back into their security stance, weapons carefully sweeping the area as if danger would drop on top of them at any second.

Louise decided to join the science officer and the man she had primarily known as the barkeeper, serving her drinks in the Nest.

“Something is different.”

She stopped to consider Bensu who had spoken suddenly. “Something related to particle acceleration?” she asked. She had her tricorder already in hand but unsurprisingly, like every other time she had tried, it refused to make sense of much of anything around her.

“There is something--somebody else here.”

That immediately got Nora’s attention and she stepped closer to the trio.

“Can you be more specific? Who is it and where are they?” she said, her phaser rifle at the ready.

Bensu closed his eyes. “I am not sure if it is a physical presence but I can sense it. Perhaps if I can just focus on it.”

Not a moment later Louise could see it too. It startled her so much she instinctively jumped back a little when seeing the ghost-like specter appear not two meters in front of her. It was shaped not unlike a man, or a creature but it was blurred to such a degree it was impossible to make out any features. She thought she had seen something like this before.

Nora and the Niners trained their phasers on the specter

“Fascinating,” said Xylion, carefully studying the phenomenon.

Nora shook her head. “Agree to disagree. The last time we came across these things they turned out to be subspace creatures. The very people responsible for this monstrosity.”

The Vulcan considered her briefly. “That event took place in a holographic environment and was initiated by the use of alien technology.”

“I don’t care how it happened, Commander,” she said. “In case you had forgotten, an entire universe died after these guys showed up. We cannot allow for that to repeat itself.”

Louise wanted to agree with Nora but somehow she doubted a few phaser rifles would be enough to prevent that from happening. “What do we do?”

The figure flickered a few times as if it was about to disappear again and Louise could see that Bensu was having trouble maintaining his focus.

“I suggest that whatever it is you’re doing,” Nora said, glancing at Bensu. “You stop.”

He shook his head. “This is not a subspace alien.”

“Who then?” Nora asked while keeping her sharp gaze on the flickering apparition.

But Bensu’s strength and mental focus waned quickly, leaving him exhausted and spent. Louise was at his side before he could collapse and she helped him sit on the floor. He looked up at the others but needed a moment to recollect himself. “I cannot say for certain but I know I don’t have the focus required to connect with it,” he said and glanced towards Xylion. “Not alone.”

The Vulcan nodded, understanding his meaning immediately.

“Commander, this not a very good idea,” said Nora as she too seemed to understand what they were up to.

“At present, this appears our best option to gain answers we desperately require,” he said resolutely as he took a knee next to Bensu to prepare them both for another mind-link.

Nora threw Louise a look as if to try and find somebody who had still a shred of common sense left. “What was that human expression about overzealous interest and the death of feline creatures?”

Louise decided not to humor her, although in the back of her mind she couldn’t help but wonder if the Bajoran wasn’t on the right track.
Part 2 - Shattered: 11 by CeJay
11


He hadn’t been able to deny that Amaya Donners’ revelations about the universe they now found themselves in troubled him a great deal. It had been obvious that this had been a very different place to the one he called home from their very first and rather unwelcoming encounter with Agamemnon. Although her captain had eventually agreed to help them find a way home--at least as long as it didn’t interfere with her own plans, the entire notion that Starfleet and the Federation itself being at war with itself was almost incomprehensible to him.

Then again, Michael also had a difficult time trying to imagine what would have happened if his Starfleet had not been successful in opposing the Borg and if their advances had not been stopped in time to destroy the very fabric that held the Federation together.

Perhaps it wasn’t too far-fetched to believe that a disaster of such a magnitude would have fractured his Federation as well, shattering its long-held ethos of peace and unity and subsequently making it an easy target for foreign powers to exploit the weakened union until it was nothing more than a mere specter of its former self.

He had also not been able to get out of his mind what Amaya had insinuated about his alter ego and the fate of his family in this galaxy. His father dead, most likely in the truest sense--although he would not have put it past him to have faked his death in this universe as well--and his brother only recently murdered by the very same woman who served as his first officer instead of being killed by his own colleague Westren Frobisher a decade earlier as it had happened in his universe.

As for his counterpart, the Michael Owens of this reality was--according to Amaya Donners at least--an unscrupulous warmonger who over the last year had been consumed by a quest to revenge his brother’s murder and burn down anyone or anything that threatened to slow him down in the process.

Michael was convinced that he was not a man he wanted to meet, although he also considered the possibility that Amaya’s opinion of his doppelganger could have been distorted by the fact that they found themselves on different sides of a civil war, and like the sucker punch she had dished out--and he could still feel hours later--had proven, there was no love lost among these two starship captains.

None of these many disturbing revelations had altered Michael’s commitment to locate and liberate his father and Jarik as well as the Prism which as it stood was the only means for them to find a way back home and perhaps stop the Ring for good.

Amaya had stopped short of offering any kind of active assistance in this task but she had pointed them in the right direction, confirming that Arkaria was the most likely location for Star to have taken their people. But there was a good chance that this was merely a way station, meaning that they had to act fast if they wanted any chance of getting their people back.

Michael strode into the large stellar cartography lab on deck nine where he found Star, Deen, and Leva already waiting for him. The lab, essentially a large round room with curved holographic walls high enough to encompass two decks which surrounded a central platform, allowed amazingly detailed views of stars, planets, and stellar phenomena and as the name suggested, was primarily used by the science department to study, observe and chart new stars and the surrounding space. Michael could not remember the last time he had used stellar cartography for anything other than planning tactical operations, an unfortunate indicator of how long it had been since Eagle had truly fulfilled its primary purpose.

DeMara was sitting in the only chair, working the computer console while Star and Leva watched the shifting curved screens all around them which currently displayed a star system from various angles.

“Arkaria,” Michael said as he approached the trio via the short and narrow gangway leading to the platform. After their meeting with Donners, he had instructed his people to learn as much as possible about their destination.

The Trill first officer glanced his way and nodded. She had appeared somewhat shaken by Amaya’s story, particularly learning that her counterpart had been responsible for killing Matthew Owens in this reality and that she had become the Alternate Michael’s nemesis in the process. Her professionalism had ultimately trumped those feelings and she showed no signs of concern now. “In many ways, very similar to our own version but not without a few key differences.”

“That’s right,” said Deen and worked her console focusing in on a large green-tinted planet until it took up almost half of the massive screen in front of her. “Take Arkaria Prime for example.”

Michael noticed the disparity immediately. “No Remmler Array?”

“No,” she said. “However, there are some smaller orbital facilities we can see, most likely functioning as repair and maintenance facilities.” Deen continued to work the controls and the planet began to spin slowly until it revealed several satellite-like installations floating in space above it. Some of which seemed to be serving very familiar-looking starships.

“Have we been able to ID any of those ships?” Michael asked.

“You’re going to love this part,” said Leva who was leaning back against the far railing of the platform. The tone in his voice seemed to imply the contrary.

“We were able to perform a few passive scans which gave us a better idea about what we may find in that system,” said Star while the screen began to shift and focus in on one of the ships in Arkaria’s orbit.

Michael took a small step closer to the railing but quickly realized that he didn’t have needed to bother since the ship was quickly becoming unmistakable, the wide saucer section, the warp nacelles slung underneath her compact engineering hull and the triangular-shaped pod on top of the saucer left no doubt about her class, and once her registry number came into view, Michael let out a surprised breath. “It’s Eagle.”

Deen turned from her station to face her. “I don’t know if we should start believing in cosmic destiny, but if Xylion were here, I’m sure he would tell us about the infinitesimal chances of encountering not just Agamemnon but also our own double twice in two separate universes.”

Michael had to agree that it sounded implausible, but then again, actually traversing the quantum-verse hadn’t sounded much more feasible to him just a few days ago. “If she is here, that means my counterpart will be as well. From everything we know so far, we would be wise to try and avoid him.”

Star was first to agree to that sentiment and he could understand why.

Deen had zoomed out again so that the holographic projection showed the entirety of the system with all its twelve planets orbiting two bright, main-sequence stars. “There are at least eight Starfleet vessels in the system, a few of them patrolling, but most of them near the ninth planet,” she said and focused on that world, a much smaller one with no obvious population centers visible from orbit.

“Which contains a hidden SAI base in our universe. Could there be a similar installation here as well?” Michael said.

Deen swiveled around in the chair. “Impossible to tell from this distance and using passive scans only, I’m afraid. But considering the activity around the planet, I think it’s highly probable there is something on that planet that somebody wants to protect.”

He nodded. “I concur. Which means it’s the most likely location of our people. The question is: How do we get there undetected?”

Leva took a step away from the railing, clearly, he had already considered this problem. “We’ve detected what looks like small craft traffic heading for Arkaria IX. I think we can modify one of our shuttles to make it look like it belongs in this universe, shouldn’t be difficult since most of the differences between our Starfleet and theirs are cosmetic. With some luck, this will allow us to slip into the atmosphere without causing suspicion. The harder part will be trying to find and retrieve our people and the artifact.”

Star took over. “I can lead a team of SMT operatives and infiltrate the base. Assuming it is in the same location as the one in our universe, we’ll already know where to start looking.”

Michael considered her for a moment before casting his gaze back towards the projection of the small planet on the screen. “It’s risky but I think we have little choice.”

She nodded. “I’ll get started on the preparations.”

“Commander, just one adjustment to the plan,” he said, stopping her in her tracks and eliciting a quizzical expression from his first officer.

“There is only one person on this ship who has been to that base before.”

She shook her head, immediately understanding where he was going with this. “Sir, we don’t even know if it is the same base. For all we know it could be something entirely different. Besides, the risks--“

“I understand the risks, Commander. But I believe we both know why you can’t be the one leading this mission.”

Star clearly didn’t see it that way.

“I’m happy to lead the away team instead,” Leva said quickly.

But Michael had made his decision. “Thanks, Commander, but it will need to be me. We know my double in this universe is working for the Guardians faction, which means if I’m discovered I will have the best chance to pass off as belonging there.”

Deen stood from her chair. “Unless you run into him. This doesn’t strike me like a good idea, Michael.”

“The other Eagle is nowhere near that planet so chances are good neither is my doppelganger,” he said and then raised a hand when he felt like all three of his officers about to gang up on him to keep him from going on what was an obviously risky, but in his opinion, necessary mission. “I’ve noted your objections, people. I understand it is not ideal but it is what we’re going to do. And we don’t have the time to sit around and argue over it.” He looked at all three of them and although none appeared happy with it, they all understood that his mind was made up. He focused on Star. “Get those preparations underway, please. I want to head out as soon as possible.”

The Trill hesitated for just a second or so, as if he would perhaps change his mind after all, but then offered a quick nod and left the room along with Leva to do what needed to be done.

“I really hope you know what you’re doing,” Deen said and then followed the others.

All alone in the cavernous room, Michael stepped up to the computer panel and looked over the controls until he found what he was after. Without sitting down, he altered the view to zoom back out from Arkaria IX to once more find the other starship Eagle in orbit around the other planet. “So do I,” he said to himself as he stared at the eerily familiar vessel.
Part 2 - Shattered: 12 by CeJay
12


Although a great many things in this universe were utterly foreign to him, there were some aspects he recognized from his own reality. Even if it had been many years since he had stepped onto the bridge of a Star Alliance Navy cruiser, Lif immediately noticed that the design was very much comparable to the ones he had seen as a child when his father had occasionally brought him aboard the ships he had sailed on.

Differently to Eagle, with its centrally situated seating arrangement for the captain and his officers and forward-facing control stations located between the command area and the large main viewer, on a Star Alliance ship, the commander sat at the very front of the triangle-shaped control center, facing a curved screen that allowed for a nearly one-hundred eighty degree view of the surrounding space.

All supporting stations, including the helm, tactical, sensors, and engineering were arranged behind the command chair along three banks of computer stations which ran vertically within the control room, each aisle with its own transparent computer display situated at eye-level to allow the bridge officers to see what the captain was looking at or any other relevant data depending on their configuration.

What was still entirely peculiar to Lif was the fact that those computer stations behind the command chair were manned by several different races. Just like he had seen on the rest of the ship, the bridge crew seemed to be made up of an equal number of Krellonians and Outlanders.

After Chief Justicar Tenn had escorted him and Garla onto the command deck, they both paused for a moment to take in this unusual sight. Once he had gotten over the initial surprise, Lif couldn’t help but smile. This cruiser reminded him more of a Federation starship than what he would have expected from a Star Navy vessel, in fact, the Yellow Rose may have been even more diverse.

He briefly glanced over at Garla but his aunt seemed more perplexed than amused, considering that she had spent years trying to figure out how to save the Star Alliance from issues stemming from Outlander and Krellonian tensions.

Tenn led them across the command center and towards the front of the room where his counterpart sat alone in his control chair which swiveled around automatically to face them once he had sensed their approach.

“Good, you are here,” he said with a pleased smile on his features which to Lif felt somewhat disturbing, making him wonder if he ever made people feel that way when he attempted to smile. “I thought you might be interested in observing our mission.”

“What’s your mission?” Garla asked.

“Believe it or not,” he said, still smiling. “But the Eye of Krellon didn’t send me out here to try and find travelers from other universes.” He interlaced his fingers as he considered his two visitors. “Tell me, what do you know about the Nyberrite Alliance?”

It was not a name Lif had heard very often and in truth he was only vaguely familiar with them. He knew that they were a loose confederation of various star systems that operated at the far-end of the Federation.

Garla, the intelligence operative, unsurprisingly was much better informed. “In our universe, they are a minor galactic power operating at the outer fringes of the Alpha Quadrant beyond Federation territory. They have a medium-sized fleet mostly dedicated to exploration and defense. They have a decentralized form of government and a low population that forces them to rely on foreign personnel to man their ships. They have never been considered a significant threat to the Star Alliance.”

“That used to be true here as well once,” he said with a nod, clearly impressed by her knowledge and perhaps the similarities between their universes. “That’s until the Borg devastated most of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. After that, it was open season for anyone who was spared by the destruction the Borg left in their wake and the will to exploit the weakness of those less fortunate. The Nyberrites quickly filled the vacuum left by the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans by entering into key alliances and expanding their influence.”

Lif needed a moment to digest all that.

“So far they have mostly stayed clear of our borders but I have been watching them for a few years now and I am convinced that they have a plan to extend their sphere of influence well beyond what was once Federation territory. There have been minor skirmishes between our forces in the past and our diplomatic status can best be described as heated.”

“You think they are planning on making a move on the Star Alliance?” Garla asked.

Sentinel Culsten nodded from his elevated chair. “Yes. Reliable intelligence has placed one of their listening posts designed to spy on our fleet movements in the system we have just entered. It is unlikely to be heavily defended. I plan to wipe it out and make it clear to the Nyberrites that we will not be as easy a target as the Federation or the Klingons have been.”

“Sentinel, we have detected anomalous readings originating from the third planet,” Chief Justicar Tenn reported after he had returned to oversee the officers working at the computer stations. “The readings are consistent with a high-powered observational array.”

The smile returned to Culsten’s face. “Just as I predicted,” he said and then glanced at his visitors. “You are welcome to stay and watch while we send the Nyberrites a message they won’t soon forget.”

Garla nodded, clearly interested in witnessing this mission in person, and Sentinel Culsten’s chair began to swivel back towards the front.

“Prepare the fleet for battle, Tenn. Raise shields and bring weapons online. We will form the tip of the spear, advise Spirit of Fire and Razor’s Edge to follow us in. Flank ahead,” he ordered as he settled back into his standard posture, his hands working on computer panels located at the tips of his armrests even as he spoke.

Lif could see his diverse crew jumping into action, acknowledging his orders, and confirming their execution as they walked up and down those long aisles to work on various computer stations alongside them. The brighter illumination in the meantime was dimmed and replaced by darker, amber light.

“Fleet reports ready for battle,” Tenn announced after less than a minute had passed.

“What kind of resistance do you expect?” Garla asked.

Culsten just turned his head slightly to answer her. “A few support craft at best. We will be catching them just a few weeks from setting up their operation here. They will not yet be fully entrenched. After we’re done, they will know that we will not tolerate any future efforts to attempt and threaten our borders.”

“Sensors are detecting a wing of defensive vehicles on approach from the third planet,” said a female lupine from her station. “Appear to be automated craft.”

Culsten nodded. “Targeting solution, stand by to fire high capacity missiles.”

“High-caps armed and ready,” said a Krellonian officer from the weapons station.

“Firing solutions for all six vessels confirmed,” the lupine responded not a moment later.

“Fire.”

Glancing over his counterpart’s shoulder, Lif could see the projectiles racing across the screen and towards the incoming vessels. All six missiles made contact, turning each ship into a fireball.

“Six kills confirmed,” Tenn called out although there seemed little need for it.

“Come on, at least try and give me a challenge,” Sentinel Culsten said. “Continue to head for the planet. Start working on a firing solution for the array.”

Once again his officers quickly went to work. But Lif noticed that a younger Krellonian crewmember appeared to have some problems with carrying out the order, frustration clearly evident on his features. “I’m registering increasing electromagnetic interference in the planet’s ionosphere which is interfering with our targeting sensors.”

The lupine officer left her station to assist the younger Krellonian. “Attempt to compensate with the lateral transpectral imager to boosts the targeting resolution,” she said as she pointed out the controls.

The younger officer quickly nodded. “Yes, that has helped,” he said and offered the lupine a thankful nod before being distracted by a loud siren blaring from his station. “The boosted sensors have revealed another vessel in orbit.”

Lif could see it as well. A large, imposing Romulan warbird had suddenly appeared on the viewscreen. The green-tinted vessel was easily the size of the Yellow Rose, probably a bit larger, and was now heading directly for them.

Tenn confirmed a moment later. “Warbird on an intercept course.”

He couldn’t see it, but it sounded as if the Sentinel was smiling. “Well now, that’s more like it.”

“You knew the Romulans were involved here as well?” Garla said with a calm he envied. Fighting a few automated ships was one thing, facing a Romulan warship that was easily powerful enough to give Eagle a run for her money was an altogether different story.

He shook his head slightly. “These aren’t Romulans. At least not the way you might think of them. That ship is part of the Nyberrite Alliance. The Romulans have become their puppets. And to answer your question. Yes, I expected at least one major starship to patrol the area.” He turned his head again to face her, his lips smirking. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing we cannot handle.”

“Warbird will reach weapons range in twenty seconds,” Tenn said.

“Engage attack pattern Sentinel-Four.”

What followed was indeed an impressive tactical feat as the three ships that made up the assault force managed to partially surround the advancing Romulan starship, blasting it from various angles, forcing it to go on the defensive before it could bring its most powerful weapon to bear.

It landed a few shots on the Yellow Rose, causing the deck under Lif’s feet to heave enough to force him to steady himself, but the shields held and the damage remained minor.

The battle reminded Lif a little bit of a dance, a back and forth in which the four ships exchanged phaser and plasma fire as they careened in every direction and jockeying for the best possible position to ensure maximum efficiency of their weapons. He had been in enough space battles to realize that the warbird was at a clear disadvantage, however, outnumbered as it was, and that it would not be able to sustain the fight.

The Sentinel knew it too. “Time to finish this, don’t you think, Tenn?”

The Chief Justicar nodded. “Indeed,” he said and cast a glance towards the weapons officers. “Target their engine core and fire a full salvo of high-caps.”

The Romulan ship was too slow to evade the incoming barrage and most of the missiles remained true to their aim, causing several explosions to ripple across the vessel’s green hull.

“The warbird is breaking off and heading for a course out of the system,” the lupine officer said with a grin wide enough to show off her razor-sharp teeth.

“Let them run and report back to their masters that the Star Alliance does not take kindly to bullies,” Culsten said. “In the meantime, we have a sensor array to dismantle.”

Another alert siren captured most of the crew’s attention. The junior sensor officer quickly saw to it. “Now reading a massive energy build-up coming from the third planet.”

This apparently caught Culsten by surprise as he quickly manipulated his controls to get his screens to show him a view of the ocher-colored planet. “By the Infallible, what are they up to?”

The answer arrived promptly. A massive blue energy beam shot out from the planet and within seconds had ripped right into the side of one of Yellow Rose’s escort cruisers.

Culsten nearly jumped out of his seat. “Full evasive. Now.”

Lif felt the ship lurch to its side so fast, the inertia dampeners weren’t quick enough to compensate and he had to hold on to a nearby bulkhead to keep his balance.

And yet it was still not fast enough to get out of the way of a second blast, this one squarely aimed at the Yellow Rose.

The impact felt as if they had been struck by the planet itself. Lif was ripped off his feet and collided painfully against the bulkhead only to immediately fall the other way and smash into the floor. He felt weightless for a moment, possibly because the artificial gravity net had failed to compensate for the cruiser suddenly rolling onto its side. It lasted just a few seconds before he smashed into the unforgiving floor yet again.

Darkness claimed him.
Part 2 - Shattered: 13 by CeJay
13


He had to admit that the uniform invoked a certain sense of nostalgia in him.

After they had reviewed many of the files Amaya had made available to them about this universe, particularly those relating to the Guardians, it had been clear that the other faction of Starfleet favored wearing an even older style of uniform than Donners and the Preservers.

It was the same two-colored outfit which he had worn for the majority of his Starfleet career, in slightly varying iterations, and it tended to remind him of a very different time when the galaxy hadn’t looked quite as dark and ominous as it had later turned out to be. But then again, as was often the case with nostalgia, he wasn’t sure how reliable those feelings truly were, after all that era that felt so innocent now had also been the same one in which Starfleet had first encountered the Borg and thousands had lost their lives to them. And while they had managed to defeat them in his reality, in this twisted alternate one, things had played out very differently.

Lieutenant Alendra and an engineering team had altered the shuttlecraft Osiris that would take him, along with Leva and three Niners to Arkaria, but the changes had been so superficial, he had hardly even been able to spot the differences after walking into the shuttlebay. They had decided to keep Eagle’s registry and other identifying marks on the livery, hoping that anyone spotting the shuttle would assume it came from the Eaglenative to this universe.

Leva was already at the piloting controls when Michael walked up the rear ramp and he could see the three Niners, Sensy, Violet, and One-Shot also already on board. “Took us a while but I suppose we finally did get you into uniforms after all. Even if they are somewhat outdated,” he said with a smirk at seeing all three operatives wearing the same style outfit he did, although theirs were mustard-yellow across their chests instead of his command-red. He recalled that one stipulation of the Special Mission Team members after coming aboard had been that they could be exempt from Starfleet’s uniform dress code and instead wear their mixture of civilian garb and tactical outfits they were used to. Michael had hesitantly agreed since he didn’t wish to meddle with whatever combination of factors made the Niners so effective even if he was not pleased about the idea of having a different set of rules for different members of his crew.

“We wear whatever is required for the mission,” Sensy, the tall, broad-shouldered team leader said.

Violet, the Boslic woman who had her bright hair tied up neatly in a bun, didn’t seem quite as happy and was pulling at the tight collar of her uniform. Considering that she seemed to prefer outfits with far deeper necklines, she was probably not very comfortable. “Honestly, no clue how you Fleeters ever thought this was a good idea.”

“The pajamas are the least of our trouble,” said One-Shot, the dark-skinned human sniper and weapons expert as he looked over the only armament he carried. Or at least the only one visible. “These type-II phasers are a joke. Sensy, give me a few hours and I can see if I can’t turn these toys into real weapons.”

Michael shook his head. “We don’t have a few hours. I’m sure you’ll do fine. And I’ll have you know that we did all right with these kinds of weapons and uniforms for a good decade or so,” he said as he glanced at the sniper and then the Boslic woman.

“Can we at least take some standard-issue rifles?” the man nearly begged.

“This is an infiltration, not an assault. Somebody sees us coming in heavily armed and we blow our cover,” said Sensy, beating Michael to it. “The captain is right; we make do with what we have. Wouldn’t be the first time.”

His two operatives nodded begrudgingly and Michael continued to the front of the shuttle where Leva was going through the preflight checklist.

He considered the half-Romulan for a brief moment while he was busy working the computer console. He knew the man was a capable security officer and had in fact served most of his career in that capacity. However, since Michael had followed the example set by his former commanding officer on the Columbia, on which he had served as first officer, where Captain Eduardo Mendez had preferred the more old-fashioned approach of splitting security and tactical duties across two roles, it was rare that Leva left his bridge post for an away mission.

Michael had no second thoughts about bringing him along instead of another security officer, knowing full well that Leva routinely trained and worked out with Nora Laas and her team and that he was probably itching at the chance to get some time away from the ship.

His heritage could have been a concern since Romulan Starfleet officers weren’t exactly common in their universe, which likely meant they were even less typical in a reality in which the Federation had apparently been decimated.

However, since Leva was the progeny of two races, his forehead was almost entirely smooth rather than raised as was the case with many Romulans, this, along with his elegantly tapered ears allowed him to easily pass as a Vulcan.

And yet the tactical officer still seemed somewhat uncomfortable as he observed him tugging at his old-style uniform tunic. “Something the matter, Commander?” he said. “Don’t tell me you are having issues with this outfit as well.” Leva looked up, appearing slightly embarrassed by having drawn attention to himself in this way. “No, sir. The uniform is fine. I just wished they’d picked a different color.”

Michael couldn’t help but smirk. Differently to him, and the Niners, Leva wore a blue uniform denoting a science or medical officer, it seemed that Star, who he believed had chosen their outfits and equipment, must have felt that it be less conspicuous for their cover to be more varied. It also made sense to have a fake medical officer in their midst, considering that his father was still very ill.

“This hue just doesn’t do me any favors.”

“I think it fits you well,” he said with a little grin, noticing that it seemed to have made the large-framed Romulan even more uncomfortable.

Leva was clearly keen to move on. “I’ve plotted an indirect course towards Arkaria IX,” he said quickly and then brought up their programmed flight plan that came up on the holographic HUD projected on the large forward viewport.

It showed a somewhat serpentine route towards the star system that would get them there in just a bit under five hours. It was slower than a straight-line approach, but Leva seemed to believe it was less likely to get them noticed. Michael was happy to defer to his tactical judgment on that matter.

According to his mapped course, they’d drop out of warp at the outer edge of the system, near the Oort Cloud, and at the opposite side of where the ninth planet was currently orbiting its two stars. From there, Leva had planned what looked like a planet-hopping course, using the various stellar bodies within the system to mask their approach to their target, however, he had made sure they kept their distance to Arkaria Prime, likely to avoid a run-in with the one person in this universe who could have immediately ferreted out their deception.

It was going to be a long trip but it was a very sound plan. “Good work, Commander. We better get moving, we have a lot of ground to cover.”

Leva nodded and began the final pre-flight check while Michael got in touch with the bridge and Star one last time before obtaining take-off clearance.

Not long after, the back hatch of the shuttle sealed up tight and Leva smoothly initiated the anti-gravs to allow Osiris to push off the deck. Since the large bay door was already fully opened, he nudged the small vessel forward and it slid effortlessly through the forcefield separating the ship’s atmosphere with the vacuum of outer space.

Leva kept the shuttle on a straight course for less than a minute at low impulse speed to gain some separation from Eagle, before altering the heading in accordance with his flight plan and then promptly engaged the warp engine for the pre-programmed approach vector.

Michael spent most of the journey studying the data Amaya had provided them on this universe, trying to understand this place as best as he possibly could.

The war with the Borg which had driven the Federation and most of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants close to the breaking point, the faltering reconstruction efforts after they had finally been defeated, the emergence of the Nyberrite Alliance, and the schism within the Federation. It was all difficult to stomach and yet the more he read about how the galaxy had gotten to this place, the more it seemed to make sense. In this reality, the Federation had once enjoyed the same prosperity, optimism, and moral certitude that he recognized from his home, but it had been chipped away steadily over the years and after continuous defeats and losses. He recognized the trend, after all, it wasn’t too dissimilar to how things had felt during the Dominion War when it had become harder and harder to believe that victory was possible. Perhaps, if things had panned out differently, his own galaxy would have started to resemble this broken place much more than it did.

They completed their approach on Arkaria without incident, dropping back into normal space just where Leva had planned, but forcing him to use all his piloting skills to navigate the dense asteroid field which made up the outer boundary of the system. Michael kept an eye on sensors while Leva successfully steered them out of the Oort Cloud for a high impulse jump towards one of the uninhabited and frozen outer planets in the system in order to slingshot around it and in the direction of their next waypoint.

Michael heard the sensor alert before Leva could report it. “We’ve got an incoming vessel, heading two-three-one point four-six,” the tactical officer said as his fingers marched across his console.

He checked his instruments to confirm. Sure enough, somebody was heading their way. Judging by its course, it wasn’t making a beeline for them, so the chances were good that they had not yet been detected.

Leva quickly crushed those hopes. “We’re being scanned.”

“Can you identify the vessel?”

Moments later the tactical officer brought up the sensor details on the computer screen positioned in the console between them. Michael could feel a cold shudder shoot up his spine when he instantly recognized the familiar shape of the ship displayed in wireframe. For all their preparation, it now appeared, his worst fears were coming true after all.

“Definitely Nebula-class,” Leva said as he kept studying the sensor data. “She’s changed course to intercept. Wait … I’m getting a transponder signal. Registry reads as NCC-72015.”

Michael shot his pilot an astonished look. The good news was that this wasn’t Eagle. It took him a moment to remember which ship owned that particular number.

Leva spelled it out for him. “It’s the Sutherland. Shall I plot an evasive course?”

He shook his head. “No, there is no way we’d outrun her in a shuttle. And with a civil war raging in the Federation, we’d only draw more attention to us.”

Leva nodded slowly. “She’s hailing us.”

Michael uttered a heavy sigh. “So much for the stealthy approach,” he said and tugged at the bottom of his old-style uniform tunic. He knew very well who commanded the Sutherland in his universe and hardly any encounter with her captain had ever gone particularly well. He very much hoped their relationship was of a different nature in this reality, or better yet, she was commanded by a far-less--in his opinion at least--notorious commander. “Put it through.”

Once again, his prayers were not answered when the face of an attractive, blond-haired woman appeared on the computer screen. She wore her curly locks high with bangs covering her forehead and she was dressed in the same command-red uniform he currently wore. “Michael Owens,” she said and it sounded almost like a curse. “Not exactly somebody I expected to run in all the way out here at the ass-end of the galaxy.”

It seemed obvious that whatever animosity existed between him and Shelby extended to this reality as well. He hoped that they were fighting on the same side in this civil war since they were clearly outgunned. “Captain,” he said in a clipped tone. “What can I do for you?”

She considered him suspiciously. “What is that new thing you’re trying? Tact? Don’t think it suits you much.”

Michael wasn’t sure if he should feel offended. He’d always considered himself a rather diplomatic person, even when dealing with individuals he didn’t always agree with, a category that Shelby--at least the one he knew--definitely fell into. Clearly, the Michael Owens of this universe did not share this trait with him. “We’re allies, aren’t we? Let’s just keep this civil and then get out of each other’s way,” he said, adding a little bit more fire to his tone, hoping that it would make him sound more like a person he’d never met but whom Shelby was apparently expecting.

It worked and she visibly relaxed slightly, leaning back in her command chair. “I think you know exactly what’s going on here. And I for one am sick of playing these types of games.”

Michael racked his brain but for the life of him, he couldn’t tell what she was alluding to. He decided to play it somewhat honestly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Captain.”

Shelby smirked. “Like hell, you don’t. Last I heard your sole mission in life was to hunt down the woman responsible for killing your brother. God knows how you manage to get away with this kind of crap, putting your selfish quest for vengeance above the good of the Federation. Tell me, you got something on Admiral Leone, or are people still afraid your father will come back to life someday?”

Michael was momentarily stunned by this outburst. Hearing somebody talk so bluntly about such matters felt disconcerting, and his father coming back to life hit closer to home than Shelby could have ever imagined.

Shelby wasn’t done. “Imagine my surprise at seeing you being part of whatever the hell this little expedition to the middle of nowhere is all about. But considering your family history, I suppose I shouldn’t be. All this cloak-and-dagger stuff runs in your blood. Now, I want to know why half a fleet has been assembled in a remote system of no strategic value whatsoever when we could ensure we protect the borders of the core worlds and keep those damned Preservers in line?”

It turned out that Elizabeth Shelby knew how to push his buttons no matter the universe. He had never been able to stand people talking about his family, particularly when implying that he took after his father, no matter that she was obviously talking about a very different family. But then again, it felt so much like his own. “You know what your problem is, Elizabeth? You just can’t keep your nose out of things that do not concern you. You’re a Starfleet officer for Christ’s sake. Try behaving like one for a change. You get an order to travel to the ends of the galaxy, you should ask how fast, not why. I don’t have any answers to give you and even if I did, I don’t think you deserve them.”

The woman glared at him with murder in her eyes, reminding him for a moment of the look that this universe’s Amaya had given him the first time they had met. For a brief moment, he thought he may have pushed things too far especially considering his rather exposed position.

But then Shelby allowed herself a smirk. “You know, Captain, you remind me of a dog I once had. An unimpressive little creature that barked all day long to make up for its diminutive size. I think you know just as little as I do and it makes you mad. Good luck on your moronic quest for revenge. Remember to dig two graves. Shelby out.”

Michael let out a deep breath after the woman had disappeared from the screen. He turned to cast a glance at Leva who was staring right back at him.

Michael shrugged. “I suppose I got carried away a bit.”

Leva did not comment further and instead reviewed the sensors. “The Sutherland is no longer heading our way. Judging by her course she appears to be patrolling the system.”

He nodded. “Let’s try to avoid running into her again. Next time could get ugly,” he said. “Uglier,” he added quietly.

Leva resumed the shuttle’s heading towards the nearest planet and once they were sure that the Sutherland was no longer monitoring their progress, they continued to head for the ninth planet, managing to avoid any further run-ins with other ships.

Traveling across a planetary system tended to be a quick affair thanks to faster-than-light engines and high-powered impulse drives, but their encounter with Sutherland notwithstanding, Michael opted to keep their clandestine approach that, if nothing else, was time-consuming but would also make doubly sure that Shelby would likely have had a difficult time finding the shuttle again. It took a few more uneventful hours until they emerged from the dark side of Arkaria IX’s largest moon to finally lay eyes on their destination.

The small, unremarkable planet looked very much like he remembered it from his universe. Passive scans had already revealed that there were currently no starships in orbit or in close proximity. They had also located a well-hidden underground structure exactly where it had existed in their reality and one which would have been near impossible to discover unless somebody knew where to look.

Leva entered the planet’s thin atmosphere from the opposite hemisphere to where the base was located, it would add some more time to their approach but it would also increase their chances of remaining undiscovered.

After yet another hour of high supersonic, low altitude flight across the mostly barren and unpopulated surface of the Arkaria IX, they eventually entered transporter range and Leva landed the shuttle in the crevice of a canyon before joining him and the others.

“To reiterate, our mission has three elements,” said Michael to the Niners and Leva who were checking over their admittedly limited gear. “Locate Admiral Owens, Jarik, and the Prism artifact, retrieve all three, and return to Eagle without raising any alarms. We may not be able to remain completely undetected but hopefully, we will pass an eye test,” he said as he considered the four others, all of which looked mostly inconspicuous in their regulation uniforms. Sensy, the burly Niners team leader had even trimmed his usually thick red beard to appear more like what was expected of a Starfleet officer.

“Do we have a priority target?” One-Shot, the team’s weapon’s expert asked while he once more went over his handheld, type-II phaser, no doubt silently bemoaning the limited range of armaments available to him on this mission.

Michael hated the question but understood its necessity. He didn’t want to make anyone more important than anyone else during a rescue mission, but he also understood that to fulfill their wider mission, which very well may have included the fate of an entire universe, some elements were simply more crucial than others. “We need the Prism. And my father is the only person we know who can operate it,” he said and left it at that. The silent nods he received in response made it clear that the message had been well understood.

“When retrieving packages and personnel, it tends to be easier to start with personnel which in turn may be able to give us indications as to where to find the packages. I suggest we start by locating Admiral Owens,” Sensy said.

This made sense to Michael and he nodded. He tried not to let the fact that he desperately wanted to get his father back influence his decision. “Let’s make it so. Considering his poor health when he was taken, a sickbay or infirmary might be the best place to start.”

“That just leaves us with how to infiltrate the facility undetected. Approaching it via shuttle is bound to get us noticed and we won’t be able to just beam inside,” said Violet.

This put a small smirk on Leva’s usually serious features. “Actually, beaming in just might work.”

Michael and the others shot the tactical officer quizzical looks.

“I ran a passive scan of the base and I was able to recognize their shield configuration. They are utilizing a triple rotating shield sequence at a frequency of two five seven point four. That’s the same frequency most Starfleet shields operated on maybe a decade ago in our universe.”

“What does that mean?” One-Shot asked.

That smirk widened slightly. “There is a known vulnerability to that frequency we can exploit. Not only can we beam into the base through the shield by reconfiguring our transporter beam to the same rotation, we can make it appear like nothing more than a minor shield fluctuation when we do. Something that is not bound to get noticed.”

“I knew there was a reason I brought you along,” Michael said, now mirroring the half-Romulan’s smile.

Leva quickly went to work in reconfiguring the transporter and after having located a lightly frequented part of the underground structure with passive scanners, they beamed into what turned out to be some sort of storage facility.

“So far so good,” said Michael after all five of them had rematerialized and no audible alarms had been triggered.

Leva quickly reached for his tricorder clipped to his waist. He was the only member of the away team equipped with a tricorder, one which Star had cleverly disguised as a medical scanner to go with his cover. “We might be in luck,” he said after reading the small screen of the device. “It looks like we arrived during the night shift. I’m reading very light foot traffic in the facility.”

“Anything that looks like a medical bay?” Michael asked.

He nodded. “There is a small facility less than two hundred meters to the east of our position which has a layout consistent with an infirmary.”

“That’s our first target,” Michael said and indicated for the Niners to take point, a task which Sensydelegated to Violet, the Boslic woman on his team.

She carefully opened the door of the storage room by just a few centimeters to check their surroundings. After a moment she nodded to the rest of the team and opened the panels normally, allowing them to slip into the corridor outside.

Michael was once more struck how similar this structure appeared to what he had found in their universe. The corridor was wide, with slightly outward-curved walls and high ceilings, clearly of non-Federation design, most likely even predating Starfleet. The corridor was empty as they set out with Violet taking the lead.

He admired how confident she and the rest of the Niners looked as they moved down the corridor. The last time he had been on a mission with the operatives it had been into a subspace domain and while just traversing that environment had been a huge physical effort, everything about their demeanor was different now. Instead of slinking through the hallways ready to pounce an enemy at any moment, Sensy and his team looked relaxed and untroubled, as if they belonged here and were intimately familiar with their surroundings. It was exactly how infiltrators were to act, of course, and yet for Michael, it wasn’t nearly as easy to fall into such a composed stance. He did his best to imitate them.

Whatever he did was good enough to fool the couple of Starfleet officers they encountered on the way to their first target. Fortunately, there seemed to be enough people stationed on the base that not everybody apparently knew everyone else by sight, and the people they encountered passed with just brief and disinterested nods.

It didn’t take them long to get to what Leva had identified as a possible sickbay but instead of turning at the right junction to head for it, Violet simply continued straight on, passing by the corridor that led to the entrance. This allowed Michael to catch a quick glimpse of a set of doors guarded by two armed security officers.

Violet stopped once they were out of view of the guards and after checking their surroundings, the team quickly huddled up.

“I think the human term is jackpot,” said the Boslic.

Leva agreed. “There’s definitely something in there they want to keep from getting out. Possibly a prisoner.”

Sensy took stock of the corridor they were in for a moment. “From what I’ve seen so far, the design of these hallways is fairly symmetrical. I believe we should be able to double back by continuing down this corridor and approach from the opposite side.”

Michael nodded. “Do you have a plan to get us inside?”

The team leader considered that for a brief second. “Boot and substitute,” he said and looked at his people.

“Like Merian IV?” One-Shot said with a smirk.

“Exactly like Merian IV.”

“That should work if we’re quick,” Violet said.

Michael shot Sensy a quizzical look which he promptly responded to. “We knock them out and take their place. We won’t have much time to do what we need to do inside but it’s the quickest way to get passed them.”

“Let’s do it.”

“Two teams,” he said to his two operatives. “Follow our lead,” he added to Michael and Leva.

Sensy and Violet quickly continued down the corridor and then made a turn at another junction ahead while One-Shot stayed behind. He waited about a minute, presumably to allow the others to get in position on the other end, and then asked Michael and the tactical officer to follow him back towards the guarded entrance.

“We’re just going to have a quiet conversation as we walk by the guards,” said the Niner as they turned into the corridor with the entrance.

“That’s it?” Michael asked.

“That’s it,” he said and then continued, talking but saying nothing of consequence and allowing him and Leva to respond with simple answers.

Michael could see that Sensy and Violet were already coming down the corridor from the opposite end, similarly engaged in quiet conversation. He wasn’t entirely sure how they had managed it but at their present pace, they would all meet pretty much exactly in front of the two guards.

The guards were briefly distracted by their approach but then, as they were all coming together, and space was becoming more limited even in the wide corridor, One-Shot collided gently against Violet in what looked very much like an accidental run-in.

What happened next took place so quickly, it seemed very much like a blur. Before One-Shot had even completed his faux apology to Violet for getting in her way, he had jumped the guard on the left while Sensy was on top of his colleague on the right. The startled guards didn’t even know what hit them and within moments both their bodies had gone limp.

Violet had already located another empty side room into which the two unconscious guards were deposited quickly. No ten seconds after they had first approached, One-Shot and Violet now stood by those doors, looking not one bit out of place and Sensy slipped in between them and inside the room with Michael and Leva following quickly.

There was another guard inside which Sensy greeted quickly as if they were best friends. The man had no chance to even have time to show his bewilderment of meeting this perfect stranger, since the Niner had already struck him so hard in his throat he reached for his neck to gasp for air.

Sensy grabbed the incapacitated guard and dragged him away from the door.

Michael’s concern about the guard surviving the brutal assault was immediately interrupted by a woman stepping out from behind a partition. “What’s going on here?” she asked

Michael glanced towards Sensy with concern that she may have seen him dragging away the unconscious guard but apparently, he had been quick enough, if anything, the woman may have caught a glimpse of the poor man’s boots before he had pulled him around a corner and out of her line of sight and even then only if she had looked at the floor which thankfully she had not.

Michael quickly realized that Leva had not only steered them right--since they seemed to have walked right into a sickbay filled with biobeds--but that they had indeed struck gold as one of those beds was occupied by his father, apparently unconscious.

The young woman who was now walking towards them was short, compact with brown hair cut into a bob. She wore a blue medical uniform and according to her rank insignia, she was an ensign. “Where did Schmitt go?”

“Schmitt had to step out for a minute,” Michael said quickly and then headed towards the woman to keep her from coming their way and try to go find the downed guard.

“Without telling me first?” she said, sounding suspicious but slowed down as Michael and Leva closed in.

He decided to refocus the conversation. “You have a patient here we need to talk to.”

She shook her head. “I’ve already told the Director that he is no condition to talk. Not yet. I’m still not entirely sure what is wrong with him,” she said as she glanced over to where Jon Owens was lying on the biobed. “I’ve never seen readings like that before.”

Michael had the impression that this woman wasn’t a doctor. Or if she was, she seemed very young to be one. Perhaps this spoke to the desperate straits these Guardians found themselves in and their lack of resources and personnel. He ignored the ensign and walked up to the bed with his father.

“I don’t think you are authorized to be here,” she said and followed him. “Who are you, I don’t think I’ve seen you around here.”

Realizing that she could become a problem, he turned back around. “Captain Owens,” he said, stressing his rank as he skewered her with a dark look. “Ensign?”

“Issara Taiee,” she said but refused to be intimidated by Michael’s hard stare. “And the Director has made it very clear that I am in charge of all medical matters on this base. And quite frankly I do not appreciate you just waltzing in here in the middle of the night like you own the place.”

Michael’s visage softened as he tried a different approach. “You are right, of course, I apologize, Doctor.”

“Nurse, actually,” she said, defiantly crossing her arms in front of her chest.

“Yes. You see, the Director thought it would make sense to get you some help with treating this patient. This is Doctor T’Lev,” Michael said and indicated towards the half-Romulan who he hoped looked sufficiently like a Vulcan to Taiee. He specializes in these kinds of cases.”

Leva raised an eyebrow in such Vulcan fashion, it would have fooled Michael had he not known better. He guessed that part of his reaction was stemming from genuine surprise. He took on his new role quickly enough and adopted a very stiff looking posture which would have made Xylion proud.

“I am not aware of any doctors on this base,” she said, her suspicions once again raised.

“I serve with Captain Owens on his vessel,” Leva said, keeping his voice perfectly neutral.

Taiee was still not satisfied. “I like to think that I know our medical community quite well and I’ve never come across your name before,” she said.

Michael felt that this was dragging on for too long and he gently motioned with his head towards Taiee’sneck while giving Leva an insistent look which he responded to with a blank one of his own.

She apparently noticed the glances being exchanged and caught Michael moving his head. “Something wrong with your neck?”

Michael grabbed it quickly. “Just sore from working long hours. You know how that goes,” he said, actually being quite truthful for once.

“Tell me about it,” she said, nodding in agreement. “I’ve been told there used to be a time when Starfleet could afford having actually well-staffed sickbays. Before my days, I suppose.”

As she turned back towards her patient, the famous Vulcan neck pinch did finally find Taiee’s nape and she quickly and silently fell unconscious. It had not, however, come from Leva but instead from Sensy who had snuck behind the unguarded nurse, having come out of seemingly nowhere, and then caught her as she sagged to the ground before picking up her limp body.

“That’s a useful move,” said Leva as he watched him depositing her on top of an empty biobed. “You’ll need to teach me that at some point.”

“It’s all in the fingers,” he said as finished with the nurse.

Leva noticed Michael displeased glower and shrugged. “Just because I’m pretending to be a Vulcan doesn’t mean I know all their tricks.”

Michael decided that to be a fair enough point and quickly approached his father’s bed. He looked pale and weak, worse even than what he had looked back on Eagle. According to his bio readings, he was alive but his vital signs weren’t encouraging. “We need to get him out of here now.”

“That might not be that easy,” said Leva. “We can’t beam back to the shuttle from this location and carrying an unconscious man through the base will not go unnoticed.”

Before Michael could consider their next move, he heard the doors to the sickbay hiss open behind him. He turned around, forcing himself not to reach for the phaser on his hip to maintain his cover.

“Michael?”

It was Jarik

“What are you doing here?” he said as he slowly stepped away from the door. A moment later Violet followed him inside and when the half-Vulcan looked back he seemed to realize for the first time that this particular guard did not belong there either. He looked back at Michael and nodded with a grin. “I should have known. This is a rescue mission, isn’t it?”

“Very astute,” he said sharply. Jarik had been a close friend of his back at the Academy but it had become very clear to him over the last few days that the Academy had been a long time ago. He had come here to save his father, bring back the Prism, and find Jarik. In that order. And in truth, he doubted if he would have lost too much sleep if the latter had not worked out. “Mind telling me what the hell happened?”

“Tazla Star happened,” he said and approached slowly. “The one from this universe. I have to admit I did not know her all that well in ours but her counterpart here is a positively vicious individual. I didn’t feel like arguing with her after she shoved a phaser into my face hard enough to leave an impression. She wanted the Prism.”

“And you showed her where to find it?” he said sharply.

“I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.”

“How did she even know about it?”

“I have no idea. We didn’t exactly share a deep conversation after she took us and then brought us here.”

“Where is she now?”
He shook his head. “I haven’t seen her since we arrived.”

“How about the Prism? Do you know where it is?”

“I think so. I saw them place it into a separate room.”

“Take us to it,” Michael said and then indicated towards Leva and Violet. “Bring my father.”

Jarik took another step forward. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

He could tell that Leva and Sensy seemed to agree with him on that point but Michael was adamant. He wouldn’t lose him yet again. “We’re taking him with us, get the Prism, and then get out of here.”

There were no further objections and Leva and the Boslic operative managed to pick up Jon Owens and carry him carefully between them.

Jarik hesitated for a moment, looking at the scene with a large frown plastered on his dark face before he ultimately relented and lead them out of sickbay.

“We don’t have much time,” he said once they were outside. “It won’t be long until my guards will find out that I managed to slip away. According to them, there is no place I can go but then again they were not expecting a rescue mission.”

“What exactly does Star want with you and the device? What does she know about it?” Michael asked as he followed him down the corridor.

“As I said, she didn’t share her plans with me,” he said and made a left. “The room where I believe they placed the Prism is just ahead.”

Jarik was right and it didn’t take them long at all to reach a set of larger doors. Michael thought it was a particular stroke of luck that they had not run into any more base personnel who could have witnessed them lugging his unconscious father along with them.

“No guards?” Sensy observed.

But Jarik had already walked into the room. “I’m sure the Prism is in here.”

And in fact, Michael could feel the distinct energy it possessed already, doubtlessly all of them could. It was a sensation that was difficult to forget, resonating deep inside his bones, like the power of the sun contained inside a device smaller than the size of his palm. It was as if it called out to him.

The room was dark, too dark, Michael realized, for Jarik or anybody to find anything inside of it. “Jarik?” he said once he had lost sight of the man.

The powerful sensation emanating from the Prism remained but something else began to grow within Michael, something that made him reach for his phaser.

“Something is very wrong,” said One-Shot.

“Let’s get out of here,” Michael said without further hesitation.

The lights came up so suddenly and were so bright, they blinded him instantly. Once his eyes had finally adjusted, he realized what he had already started to intuit moments earlier.

They were surrounded by a dozen armed men and women all of which had their phaser rifles pointed at him and his team.

“Captain Michael Owens, I presume,” the voice said and it took him a moment to find who had said them. It hadn’t been one of the armed officers. Another man slowly stepped into the circle, Jarik at his side. He was of average height, bulky but not overly so, his head entirely bald and lacking any kind of hair, his features sickly inviting as he radiated with congeniality that felt blatantly misplaced. The Deltan’s smile was wide enough to show off his pearly white teeth. “Although not quite the same Michael Owens I know and cherish. Welcome to my humble home, Captain. Welcome to my universe.”
Part 2 - Shattered: 14 by CeJay
14


Although it had felt as if he had been hours, Lif had only lost consciousness for a few seconds. The lights around him were flickering wildly and he could smell the acrid fumes of burned plastics, flesh, and blood. Thick smoke was making it difficult to see more than a few meters.

“What hit us?” he could hear his voice ask. He couldn’t see his counterpart through the smoke but he could hear him coughing. “What was that?”

Tenn responded from somewhere at the back of the bridge. “From what I can tell, some sort of high powered, planet-based plasma weapon. The Razor’s Edge has taken heavy damage. Our damage report is still being compiled.”

“That’s impossible. They shouldn’t be having any planet-based weapons,” Culsten responded.

Lif felt a strong hand reaching out for him and pulling him back onto his feet. “Are you all right?” Garla asked.

He nodded at her when he finally recognized her face, slightly bruised but otherwise unharmed.

He felt a stinging pain in his shoulder. “May have dislocated something but I think I’ll live.”

Garla nodded and then quickly darted away. At first, he wasn’t sure where she was going until the smoke was beginning to dissipate thanks to atmospheric filters and he managed to see the destruction that had been caused on the bridge. Many of the computer banks had blown out and their screens had shattered. Very few of the officers who had manned them were still at their stations.

He spotted the lupine officer who lay still on her back, a large metallic fragment lodged deep into her skull. The younger officer was kneeling next to her, his face wet from tears and his own blood as he tried desperately to revive her.

Garla found a still working control station. “We’ve lost main propulsion and shields and we are drifting,” she said after looking over the ship status, apparently finding the controls not at all so different from what she was used to. “I’m also detecting another energy build-up on the planet.”

Lif turned back towards the front of the bridge where he could see Sentinel Culsten crawl back in his chair. He watched on his screens as another energy blast was being flung through space and into their direction. Considering how much damage the first strike had done, he doubted very much that they could survive a second hit.

Spirit of Flame has been hit,” Tenn said from the back. “She has taken heavy damage.”

Lif forced himself not to feel relief that it hadn’t been them. No doubt the other ship had suffered casualties as well.

“We have to get out of here now,” Tenn said. “We are a sitting target.”

“Main propulsion is offline,” said Garla as her fingers raced over the consoles of the computer stations. “But I might be able to transfer some power from the primary weapons platform to give us a sub-light pulse that should get us out of the system.”

“No,” Culsten said, his chair now turned to face the back of the bridge. “We have to finish off that array.” He urgently began to enter commands into his console. “New assault patterns: Sentinel-Nine-Five. Get us into weapon’s range of that planet and give me a targeting solution on that weapon.”

Tenn hesitated for a moment longer but then bowed to his commander’s orders and returned to his station even if most of his officers were already injured or incapacitated.

Lif could see through the forward windows that the other two ships slowly turned toward the planet. Too slowly, he thought, more like limping animals rather than predators out for the hunt. One of the ships, he wasn’t sure of her name, was quite noticeably venting large amounts of drive plasma from her starboard engine nacelle.

“Sensors are having difficulties to pinpoint the weapon’s exact location,” Tenn said, his voice strained.

“Then we just have to turn that entire blasted planet into glass,” Culsten shot back, his eyes staring at the object of his ire with furious intensity.

“The weapon is firing again,” said Garla who apparently had her eyes on sensors now as well.

Culsten nodded as she stood from his chair. “Evasive. And pinpoint the origin of that beam,” he said as he turned around to look towards the control stations behind him. “Let’s zero in on that weapon and take it out of commission for-“

But even as he spoke, Lif could see the energy beam blasting up from the planet and towards them, and whatever evasive actions were being taken, it was clear it wasn’t going to be enough.

He had just enough time to brace himself for what he knew was going to be inevitable.

The impact shook the Yellow Rose with enough force to rip everyone to the deck, once again filling the command center from thick, acrid smoke from the chain reaction of computer stations that exploded in a spectacular shower of sparks.

Lif had seen Garla go down when the console she had been working on had erupted and he rushed to where she had landed the moment the deck had stopped moving beneath him.

There was blood trickling from the corner of her mouth and he feared the worse. She was barely conscious and yet managed to look up at him as he hovered above her. “Transfer energy to the engines. Get us out of here now,” she said, struggling to keep her tone firm.

He nodded quickly and stood, his crisis management training, which was mandatory for Starfleet bridge officers, quickly asserted itself. One of its tenets was to get a starship out of danger first before seeing to those who had been injured, even if they required critical care.

As he desperately searched for a computer console still operational, he spotted Tenn emerge through the smoke, a nasty wound on his forehead blooming with bronze-colored blood.

“We have no defense against that plasma weapon. We must withdraw if we are still able,” the justicar said.

Lif could just about make out the shape of the sentinel at the front of the bridge, shaking his head. “They shouldn’t even have that weapon,” he insisted angrily.

“That doesn’t change the fact that they do and that it is killing us,” the Kridrip said, clearly not afraid to stand up to the sentinel.

Lif had finally found a working station and tried hard to remember how to make it work. It had been a long time since he had operated a Krellonian starship and even then, those had been mere shuttles. This was far more complicated.

“I’m instructing the fleet to withdraw,” said Tenn, apparently having grown tired of waiting for orders from his commander. “Can you get our engines to work?” he asked Lif when he realized what he was up to.

He nodded as his fingers flew over the controls, entering new commands while shutting down error messages brought on by his input errors and failing starship systems at an equally rapid pace. He felt he was getting a handle on things. “I’ve managed to transfer energy from weapons to engines to initiate the impulse burst pulse,” he said. “I think.”

He looked back to the front of the bridge, mindful that he hadn’t been given any order yet by the captain of the ship.

But his counterpart seemed to be just staring out of the forward viewport.

“By the Infallible Creator, this shouldn’t have happened,” he mumbled angrily.

“Do it, activate the engines. The other ships are already on escape vectors,” Tenn said as he gave Lif a sharp nod.

He pressed down hard on the panels. “Engaging,” Lif said and then immediately had to hold on tight to the console as the ship lurched forward and away from the planet and its deadly plasma weapon. It wasn’t the smoothest ride he had ever experienced on a starship, but given the circumstances, Lif was thankful the ship responded to his commands at all.

Once he was certain that they’d be able to escape the system without taking another hit, his eyes returned towards his counterpart, seemingly steaming in his chair and refusing to make eye contact with anyone left alive on the bridge.

Once again, Lif’s hopes that perhaps he could have been a better or maybe a wiser man in another universe felt frustratingly unfulfilled.
Part 2 - Shattered: 15 by CeJay
15


“We don’t have to be enemies, Captain,” the Deltan said, wearing what could only be described as one of the most amiable smiles Michael had ever seen, one that nearly made him forget that he was surrounded by a dozen or so men who had their rifles pointed at him and his team. Instead of a uniform, he wore an elegant and smartly tailored two-piece suit that matched the dark blue of his intense eyes.

“That is an interesting thing for you to say,” he responded, keeping his phaser raised even in the face of the overwhelming opposition they were up against. “Considering that you had my ship boarded and abducted two of my people,” he said and then looked around, trying to find the doppelganger Tazla Star who according to reports had been the front person in the raid on Eagle. But the Trill woman was not among those surrounding them now.

“Michael, listen to him. He is right. Altee is after the same things we are and together we’ll be able to help each other,” Jarik said while he remained next to the Deltan.

Michael shot the man he had once called a friend a poisonous glare. “You set us up. After all the things you’ve done, I don’t even know why I should be surprised. What exactly is he offering you?”
Jarik shook his head. “I just listened to what he had to say and it made a great amount of sense. You should too. We need allies if we want to try and get back to our universe.”

“We may have been able to get back just fine,” said Leva, “if they hadn’t taken the artifact and Admiral Owens.”

“From what I’ve been told, you had a very close run-in with the Krellonians. And let me tell you, the Star Alliance in this universe is far more powerful and dangerous than what you are used to,” Altee said.

“Your little stunt didn’t exactly help matters,” Michael said and then exchanged a brief glance with Sensabaugh who, along with his two operatives, still had his weapon up as well. His body was visibly tense and ready for action but the look in his eye seemed to make clear that he was not overly optimistic that a forced confrontation now could be turned into an advantage.

Michael didn’t have the tactical chops of the Niners team leader or even those of So’Dan Leva, but then he didn’t need to be a military genius to figure out that being surrounded by a dozen or so armed men, deep inside a hostile base, meant that the deck was decisively stacked against them. It didn’t help that his father by his side, who was coughing intermittently, was still weak from his affliction, was in fact barely able to stand on his own and would not only be useless in a fight but also likely be its first casualty.

Altee seemed to know exactly what Michael was thinking and took a few small steps forward, immediately causing Sensy to track him with his rifle. But the Deltan made no aggressive movements whatsoever, even raised his hands slightly to demonstrate his peaceful intentions.

Of course, his security detachment made no such overtures. “Listen, I think it is clear that we are at a bit of an impasse here. Sure, we could start shooting at each other, and you might even be able to take out a few of us, but ultimately, I’m afraid to say, you wouldn’t get far,” he said and indicated towards his ailing father. “The admiral will be among the first to go down and in his condition, that might even be fatal. So then why not put down your weapons and talk. I’ll make sure that your father gets the medical care he needs. After all, that’s what we were doing for him before you decided to liberate him from the infirmary. Let us find a way to work together to get you back home.”

“Michael,” his father whispered beside him. “You cannot trust him.”

He didn’t need to be told this. Although Altee was doing an immensely great job at the attempt, he was certain that the man had another agenda. None of this changed the fact that he didn’t really have another option. “All right, so what do you propose?” he said, but kept his phaser up for now.

Altee nodded. “We both know the Ring structure is dangerous. Far too dangerous to be left alone and unguarded, particularly with the Krellonians in the area who are likely already curious about it after your sudden arrival. And there are other powers in this universe who would go to any lengths to secure it for themselves.”

“You want to take control of it instead, is that it?”
“Captain, whatever you may think of me and this universe, I’m still a Starfleet officer. I like to believe that that counts for something. I want what you want. I want this universe to be safe and free of the strife and war that has ravaged it for so long. I believe you can help me do that and I, in turn, can help you get back home.”

The words all sounded right, as did the tone in his voice but Michael couldn’t ignore the nagging notion that the situation was still all kinds of wrong.

“Here’s what I’m offering,” Altee continued. “You and your officer may consider yourselves our guests for the time being, not prisoners. You’ll be allowed to move freely as is Jarik here until we have discussed how we can best help each other.”

“What about the rest of my team?”

“I understand your operatives are quite resourceful. So at least for now, I will have to insist that we keep them detained. But only until we have concluded our discussions and then you are all free to go. Your father, of course, will continue to receive medical care.”

“Think it through, Michael. It’s a much better deal than to start shooting at each other,” Jarik said.

He could see his father slowly shaking his head beside him but it was his concern for his well-being that ultimately made him choose his course of action. He nodded and lowered his weapon, and a moment later so did the rest of the away team.

“Thank you, Captain. I’ll make sure you don’t regret the trust you’ve shown me today. I suspect the two of us have much to talk about,” he said but before he could continue, an assistant--who had apparently been waiting out the stand-off between Michael and Altee’s men--quickly approached the Deltan and began to whisper something in his ear.

Whatever the news, it was clearly not positive, since Michael could see Altee’s visage slipping slightly for the first time, his carefully maintained smile and affable demeanor briefly replaced by a frown wrinkling his perfectly smooth forehead.

He exchanged a glance with the messenger and for just a heartbeat his eyes looked cold as stone. To his credit, he caught himself again quickly and the glower disappeared once more as he offered the young man a nod instead.

Then he glanced back towards Michael. “I apologize, Captain, but some urgent business has come up that will require my attention. But I am a man of my word. While we’ll have to confiscate your weapons and equipment for the time being--for safety reasons--I’d like you to consider yourself my honored guest. My men will show you to temporary quarters and I’m looking forward to speaking to you just as soon as circumstances allow,” he said and then indicated to his men who quickly moved in on the surrounded away team, not just taking weapons and tricorders, but also removing their combadges.

Michael offered no resistance and made sure the rest of his team fell in line as well. For now, he had made his choice, for better or worse.

His father, at his side, was trying to speak up but his words were lost in a coughing fit and Michael had to steady him to keep him upright once it looked as if he was about to lose his balance.

Altee looked concerned. “Removing Jon from the infirmary wasn’t a very good idea, I’m afraid. He is gravely ill and needs medical treatment. My men will escort him back there. And I’m afraid I will have to ask that your security detail is remanded to our holding cells, at least until you are ready to depart.”

Michael watched on quietly as Altee’s men followed his orders, escorting first his ailing father out of the room and then Sensy and his men. He exchanged a brief look with the Niners team leader as he was being led out of the room, making it clear that he was already thinking about potential next steps. In truth, he hoped the combat veteran had a few more plays in his bag of tricks since for the moment at least, he had nothing.

“Now, I really do have to excuse myself. I feel terrible about being such a poor host but I’m afraid I have little choice in the matter,” Altee said and then quickly found Jarik. “Why don’t you escort our guests to quarters while I tend to other matters?”

The half-Vulcan nodded briefly and then stepped forward while Altee urgently left the room with a small entourage. He did leave behind four armed security officers with Jarik and for a brief moment, Michael considered his odds to try and overpower them. But even with Leva’s help, he didn’t like their chances, not to mention that he no longer had any illusions which side Jarik would support if it came to a fight.

His former Academy friend offered him a small smile and then indicated towards the doors. “Shall we?”

Michael glowered at the man before he turned on his heel and headed for the exit, Leva right by his side and Jarik and the guards close behind.

Once outside Jarik led them down the corridor.

“I had not thought it possible that you could stoop any lower,” Michael said, turning his head slightly to make sure Jarik could hear him but avoided to make outright eye contact. “Are you so desperate to make alliances that you will sell us out to anyone we cross paths with?”

“Altee isn’t the enemy here, Michael.”

“Oh no? I suppose the assault he ordered on Eagle was a mission of mercy.”

“I admit that perhaps Star’s strategy was somewhat overzealous. This version of her is a rather intense individual. But I’m convinced that if there had been any other way, if we had not been surrounded by a fleet of Krellonian vessels, things would have gone very differently,” he continued while he walked behind him.

“And what exactly are you getting out of all this?” Michael wanted to know.

“My only interest is to secure the Ring and stop the subspace aliens from launching an invasion. Altee will be able to help us do that.”

He led Michael and Leva into a decently-sized double cabin that had been set up to serve as personal quarters, complete with chairs, tables, a couple of beds, and even some decorative although uninspired paintings and plants. At first blush, Michael could spot no replicator or any other form of technology inside. No matter how friendly those quarters looked, he recognized a jail cell when he saw one.

Jarik seemed to be able to read his mind. “Director Altee does not want you to feel like a prisoner. He has given you the same liberty and freedom of movement he has shown me, meaning you may move around freely throughout the facility. Within reason of course.”

Michael turned to regard his former Academy roommate again, studying him carefully as if he could determine the man’s true agenda just by the expression on his face. Although only half-Vulcan, Jarik’s mien was as carefully schooled as that of his full-blooded kinsmen. “Are you telling me that you are really trusting this man? So much so that you would give him your loyalty? You hardly even know him or his plans.”

“My loyalties aren’t in question.”

“Like hell they aren’t,” said Leva sharply which garnered him a brief glare from Jarik.

“You will see that all this is for the best,” he said. “I’ll return shortly with Altee and I’m certain you will understand once he explains what he has planned and why our cooperation is essential.”

With that Jarik left the room along with the guards. Michael was certain that the security detail remained just outside those doors.

“No offense, sir, but I cannot believe that man was ever your friend.”

Michael shook his head. “Neither can I,” he said as he began to take a closer look around the room, trying to find anything of use but quickly realizing that his first impression had been correct.

Leva was equally unsuccessful. “What are your orders?”

Michael uttered a heavy sigh as he considered his next move. “Something very odd is happening here. Something we haven’t figured out yet and I doubt Altee or any of his people are going to tell us exactly what that is.”

Leva nodded. “How do you suggest we find out?”

“For now, let’s take Altee up on his offer. Why don’t you test the limits of his supposed hospitality? Take a look around. See what you can find out. Don’t take any provocative actions just yet, there is no point in forcing another confrontation until we are ready.”

“Reconnaissance?”
Michael nodded.

“What will you do?”

Michael allowed himself a rare smirk. “Our Tazla Star has at least one thing in common with her counterpart of this universe. She is extremely resourceful, not to mention insistent,” he said and he tapped the side of his neck.

Leva seemed to understand, offered him a nod, and then left the room.

Michael remained behind and sought out the compact refresher of the cabin. If there were listening devices in these quarters--and there was no reason to assume there weren’t--the fresher may have been the one area that was not being surveilled.

He activated the sink unit and splashed his face with cold water before regarding himself in the mirror for a moment. The eyes that looked back at him seemed much more tired than he had expected and he realized that couldn’t remember the last time he had slept.

It was of little consequence, of course, he already knew that rest was not one of the things awaiting him in the near future.

He began to carefully probe the side of his neck with his fingers until he felt the tiny, subdermal transponder device Star had insisted he had implanted before he left the ship. Thankfully, Altee’s people had not carried out an intensive body scan and therefore had missed the device which was hard to detect, even with sensors.

The device was powerful for its size and meant to be able to allow discreet communications over long distances by using the shuttle’s comms array as a booster but Michael was not sure if it was going to be strong enough to contact Eagle within a shielded activity.

His concerns were unfounded and apparently Altee’s people had not yet disabled the shuttle nearby.

“Captain, are you all right?”

Star’s voice reverberated across his skin and came across weak and distorted as if she was speaking to him from across a long tunnel. It was good enough considering their situation.

“The mission didn’t work as planned. It appears Jarik has made some sort of deal with the man behind his abduction. We were able to locate my father and the Prism but Jarik sold us out before we could return.”

“Damn that man. I wish I had insisted we put him in the brig after that last episode,” Star said.

Michael saw himself nodding in the mirror. He’d had that exact same thought as well. “Too late for that now.”

“If we perform a warp jump we can reach your coordinates within less than twenty minutes, send down an assault team and bring you and the others back.”

It was a valid backup plan and one they had discussed before he had set out on this mission but it was not without its flaws. “There are ships loyal to the man in charge here throughout this system. Even if you could get here avoiding them, there is no chance you wouldn’t be detected and be surrounded within minutes. Let’s keep that option as a last resort. So far Altee seems to be more interested in discussing his plans with me and he has been surprisingly civil about it. As if he wants me to trust him. Jarik clearly does.”
There was a momentary pause on the line. “Sir, did you say Altee?”

“Yes, Director Altee, I believe. He is the man in charge here. It appears he also instructed your double to assault Eagle.”

“Sir, whatever you do, you cannot trust that man.”

“I assume you are familiar with him. Or maybe his version in our universe?”

“Unfortunately, yes. He’s the man who recruited me into Starfleet Intelligence and quite possibly the most ruthless and manipulative person I’ve ever met. If he is anything at all like the man I know, he will stop at nothing to achieve his agenda. He will be extremely dangerous.”

He could hear her concern in the tone of her voice, even over the weak comm. channel. Tazla Star had shared quite a bit about her former life with him over the years and he did recall her mentioning a rather scrupulous senior official under whom she had served and who had been more interested in resolving his personal grudges than serving the best interests of Starfleet and the Federation.

“Yeah, I didn’t get a good vibe from that man. Now, I know why.”

“Sir, I urge you to reconsider an immediate rescue mission.”

Michael shook his head even if she couldn’t see it. “Not yet. I’ll make contact again in exactly one hour from now. If you haven’t heard from me in an hour and a half, you can come in guns blazing. Until then, I’m going to see if I can try and find out what is really going on here. Owens out.”

He disconnected the line and Michael glanced back at the man in the mirror. He found it difficult to recognize those eyes as his own. With each passing day, he thought they began to resemble more and more those belonging to his father. He wasn’t sure what could possibly scare him more.
Part 2 - Shattered: 16 by CeJay
16


The Yellow Rose’s medical bay was packed with casualties from their recent and ill-fated encounter with the Nyberrite Alliance and Lif was forced to push himself passed dozens of wounded crewmembers who had not yet been allocated a bed or simply hadn’t been seen yet by the clearly overtaxed medical staff in order to find the person he had come down here looking for.

Garla was lucky enough to have been assigned a bed even if she apparently didn’t seem to appreciate the gesture, judging by the way she was arguing with a frustrated Krellonian nurse.

“In the long list of injures I have sustained over the years, this ranks as a flesh wound at best, so there is little need to keep me here any longer. I will be much more valuable in assisting with repairs than taking up space better put to use to treat those with actual injuries.”

Lif couldn’t help but smirk at hearing Garla’s vocal objections to her being remanded to the medical bay, her attitude immediately evoking those commonly found by people in authority roles he had come across over the years, be that starship captains or senior intelligence officials such as his aunt.

But the veteran nurse was not intimidated by her background, keeping his back to the unwilling patient as he reviewed a data padd presumably containing her medical chart. “Doctor’s orders, I’m afraid. You are to remain in the medical bay until you have been cleared by your attending physician.”

Garla just shook her head and then spotted Lif approach. “Perhaps you have better luck talking sense into these people,” she said but then quickly moved on to the next subject on her mind. “What’s our status?”

“We’re out of immediate danger,” he said but unable to keep himself from sadly shaking his head. “But we’ve taken serious damage and heavy casualties. Half the crew of Razor’s Edge has either been killed or injured and Spirit of Flame hasn’t fared much better.”

“That explains the crowded conditions,” she said, looking past her bed and the many wounded crewmembers still waiting for treatment. To the medical staff’s credit, most of those who had been seriously injured had already been seen to. “And more reason to let me get out of here quickly.”

“From what I’ve gathered there are no immediate plans for another assault on the planet. At present we are heading back towards Star Alliance territory to carry out repairs,” Lif said in hopes to convince Garla to look after herself first.

As expected, the plan didn’t quite work. “They’ll need all the help they can get after the beating they took.”

Lif noticed Tenn, the Kridrip Chief Justicar, emerge from the throng of patients around them. “Ah, there you are. The Sentinel has asked me to make sure that you are on your way to recovery and all your needs are being taken care of.”

“My current need is to get out of this place,” she said. “Unfortunately, your overbearing medical staff seems to have other ideas,” she added, shooting the nurse a dark look he barely even acknowledged.

“I’m certain they are simply ensuring your well-being,” Tenn said and then considered the nurse who quickly handed over the medical chart.

“Which is admirable but unnecessary considering my minor injuries,” she shot back. “As you can plainly see--“ Garla had to stop herself due to a sudden coughing fit.

Tenn raised a thin eyebrow as he glanced over the chart. “According to this, you suffered a collapsed tertiary lung and internal bleeding. These are hardly minor injuries.”

Garla tried to wave it off and Lif was convinced that she had likely suffered much worse in her long career as a sentinel where she clearly had made it a habit of leading from the front. And yet even with her hand raised, she seemed to be unable to stop from coughing.

The nurse finally showed pity on her and handed her a glass of water which Garla took eagerly.

“I’m afraid I will need to insist that you stay here and fully recover,” Tenn said as he watched her empty the glass. “It would be unthinkable that you should aggravate your injury because you were released prematurely.”

Garla was ready to protest again, most likely not appreciating being told what to do by a man who was nothing more than her assistant in her universe, not to mention an Outlander.

Lif spoke up before she had the chance. “I fully agree. In the meantime, I would be more than happy to assist with any repairs or any other needs you may have.”

Tenn nodded. “That would be greatly appreciated.”

Lif offered him a smile. “It’s settled then,” he said and shot Garla another look. It was clear she wasn’t nearly as happy with this arrangement but it was equally obvious that she was not going to win this argument.

A couple of minutes later Lif and Tenn had left the begrudged sentinel behind in the medical bay and headed down the corridor together.

“Where can I be most useful with repairs?” Lif asked the chief justicar walking at his side.

“We’ve taken serious damage to our main engines and the navigational array. I understand that your specialty is in piloting, so it seems to me that would be a good place for you to put your skills to use.”

Lif quickly nodded. “Glad to,” he said, and then after a moment. “I’m still astonished that we were so terribly blindsided by the Nyberrites. My counterpart--Sentinel Culsten--he appeared convinced that our intelligence was solid.”

When the other man didn’t respond to this, Lif cast a sidelong glance his way. “What do you think went wrong?”

Tenn seemed to consider that for a moment and then, apparently having made up his mind, beckoned Lif to follow him into an empty room just off the corridor they had been on. Tenn only spoke up again once the doors had closed behind them. “There is a good reason why he was so convinced of the validity of the intelligence.”

He offered the Kridrip a puzzled look.

“He is a sentinel.”

Lif suddenly understood. “It was his intelligence.”

Tenn nodded.

“And it was bad,” Lif said, now recalling his counterparts astonishment when the Nyberrites had opened fire with their devastating weapon, very nearly destroying his small fleet.

“And not for the first time.”

That caught Lif’s attention and he glanced back at the justicar. “What?”

He quickly shook his head, heading back towards the doors. “It’s not my place to speak of this.”

“Wait, are you saying that my counterpart is not a good sentinel?”

Tenn stopped and uttered a sigh. “He has great ambitions, that is a certainty. But he has run into difficulties with the Eye leadership on numerous occasions over the quality of the intelligence he has produced since he took over for Sentinel Garla. Some even suspect that he was somehow involved in the circumstances of her death.”

This caused Lif’s eyes to open wide with surprise. “You think he killed her,” he said. “I thought she was his mentor. That he looked up to her.”

“She was and they certainly were close when she was alive. But I know for a fact that Garla didn’t agree with his more aggressive aspirations and that they argued often about his vision to greatly expand Star Alliance influence beyond our current borders.”

“Enough to plot her death?”

Tenn took a few steps closer towards Lif, lowering his voice as he spoke again. “I am not saying that Sentinel Culsten was responsible for Garla’s death. In fact, the Eye of Krellon conducted a thorough investigation afterward and found no indication of foul play.”

Lif stared right back into Tenn’s eyes. “But what do you believe?”

He didn’t respond. Then he turned back towards the door. “I believe that we have wasted enough time discussing this subject and that there is much work for us to do to address urgently needed repairs.”

He watched as the justicar headed back out onto the corridor, waiting to see if perhaps he would turn back and elaborate further on the suspicions around his counterpart in this universe. Tenn never did but his refusal to address the question seemed answer enough.

Lif wasn’t sure what was worse, a version of him that had been outright hostile towards him and everything he stood for, or one that was cunning enough to scheme and plot his way to power, willing to do anything to achieve his goals.

A cold shudder ran up his spine before he eventually followed Tenn out of the room and towards whatever repairs awaited his attention.
Part 2 - Shattered: 17 by CeJay
17


He couldn’t help but worry that he may have lost a step or two over the years. Once upon a time, he had prided himself on being one of the best security officers in the fleet, and certainly, his career had supported such bold claims after he had worked himself all the way up to the chief of security of Deep Space Two, one of Starfleet’s most prominent frontier outposts.

He’d always thought that he had done a decent job to ensure that his finely honed senses that had made him such a good security specialist were not getting dulled after he had decided to become Eagle’s chief tactical officer five years ago and had exchanged a role that had required him to be highly physically active at all times to one where he spent the majority of his time on the bridge or studying starship combat strategies.

He still started most days running laps around the ship’s saucer section along with his former protégé Nora Laas, and he took part in her rigorous training exercises on the holodeck. And not just the somewhat watered-down versions she ran for the senior staff and non-security personnel but the grueling and often back-breaking affairs designed to keep her and her team in perfect physical shape.

And yet, So’Dan Leva found it difficult not to blame himself for the way their latest mission had turned out. A mission where in Nora’s absence, he had filled the role of ensuring the away team’s safety, which instead of leading to the retrieval of the men they had sought out to liberate, they had found themselves prisoners as well.

One could have argued that with the presence of Sensabaugh and his special mission team operators, security had been primarily their responsibility but So’Dan had never been comfortable with shifting blame to others.

The truth was that he should have anticipated Jarik’s betrayal and taken steps to counter it instead of being led into what in hindsight had been an obvious trap.

There was no point in denying it, So’Dan thought. Spending years standing behind the tactical board on the bridge had likely made him a maven tactician and space combat specialist but at the cost of his once stellar instincts on which he had been able to rely on as a security officer.

He was determined to find a way to redeem himself and the best opportunity so far had been Altee’s willingness to allow him and the captain free movement within his underground facility.

His intuition wasn’t yet so far gone that he didn’t consider the offer as anything other than a ploy to get Captain Owens to trust Altee who clearly had his own agenda, and he was certain that although he could see no visible guards trailing him as he walked the corridors, his movements were more than likely being closely monitored. Regardless, it was still his best opportunity to try to find a way to free Sensabaugh and his people and escape with both Admiral Owens as well as the Prism. Jarik was on his wish list as well, not because his retrieval had been part of the original mission but rather so that the man could stand trial for his growing catalog of crimes committed against Eagle and her crew.

He quickly realized that this was going to be a tall order when it became apparent that most sections of the base had been sealed off or were heavily guarded, giving him access to just a handful of low-security areas like the small, mostly abandoned mess hall and the even less frequented rec room.

He was surprised, however, when he spotted Owens rounding a corridor and heading his way, escorted by a couple of security officers, considering that he had only just seen him in their quarters. “Captain?”

Owens gave him a short nod in acknowledgment but didn’t even slow down as he headed towards him.

So’Dan considered the two armed security officers with him. Last they had spoken, the captain had indicated that he was planning on making contact with Eagle using the hidden transmitter he wore under his skin. The fact that he was now under guard could mean that Altee and his people had discovered his clandestine communication attempt. “Is there a problem, sir?” he asked as Owens walked past him.

The captain stopped and turned to face him. “There is a big problem and if somebody doesn’t provide me with some answers soon, things will get much worse, trust me. Do you have answers for me?”

So’Dan was taken aback by the angry, almost aggressive tone in the captain’s voice, not something he was used to. “What answers are you looking for?”

Owens uttered a sharp laugh but there seemed no humor at its core. “The same answers I’ve been looking for over the last year. I’ve been led to believe that my mission is the worst hidden secret in the fleet. What rock did you crawl out from, Commander?”

It was only then that it hit So’Dan that this wasn’t his Captain Owens.

“I know that the man with the answers is hiding himself away on this particular rock. Where is he? Where is Director Altee?” Owens continued when Leva didn’t respond.

“Sir, if you’ll follow us, we’ll take you to the Director,” said one of the security officers who had been escorting him.

But Owens seemed suddenly more interested in So’Dan and he took a couple of steps closer to him just shy of invading his personal space. “There is something very peculiar about you, Commander. Something that doesn’t quite fit and I wonder why that is.”

Leva did his best Xylion imitation and raised an eyebrow in Vulcan fashion even as he squared his shoulders and clasped his hands behind his back.

“But I don’t have time for this,” he said and then quickly turned away again and continued to stride down the hall with his escort following him closely.

“There is something peculiar about you as well, I’d say,” So’Dan mumbled under his breath before he resolved to follow the angry Michael Owens doppelganger at a safe distance.

It turned out to be a good decision since Owens managed to run into Altee not long after and just outside the restricted area into which Leva would not have been able to follow them.

“Altee,” Owens barked as soon as he spotted the bald Deltan.

The man immediately responded with what appeared to be a large, good-natured smile on his face, very similar to the one he had sported when his armed men had threatened to cut down So’Dan and the away team a short time ago. “Ah, Captain Owens. What a pleasure. I’ve only just been informed that you’d arrived here. If I had been aware of your plans to visit us, I would have made more accommodating preparations,” he said and then discharged the security guards who had escorted Owens.

Owens shrugged off the comment with a grunt. “I can just imagine what those would have looked like,” he said as he approached the Deltan. “Considering you’ve made it near impossible to find this place.”

“And yet, here you are.”

“It might surprise you to know this, but I still have a few friends in the fleet, including within this task force you’ve assembled here in the middle of seemingly nowhere and for God knows what reason.”

“Perhaps we should talk more in my office,” Altee said and pointed towards the doors leading into a guarded area of the facility.

But Owens made no moves to follow him. “I know she’s here, Altee. And I want her head.”

“This obsession of yours is not healthy, Captain. Tazla Star is dead.”

Owens shot Altee a look so cold, it made So’Dan shudder which was not something he was prone to. For the briefest of moments, even the Deltan lost his carefully maintained composure, his seemingly inviting façade faltering for less than a second to reveal something akin to contempt. It was gone before Leva could have been sure of what he had seen from where he was spying on the two men.

“I just want it to be perfectly clear that if I ever find out that you’ve been hiding her from me all this time, I’ll make it my sole mission in life to destroy you, Altee. Just after I’ve destroyed her. I don’t care if it will be the last thing that I do.”

“There is no need to be so melodramatic, my dear Captain. If you are convinced that Star is still alive, I’m more than happy to assist you in locating her. How about this, you help me with my mission here and I will dedicate all my resources in assisting you with yours?” Altee said, sounding once more as magnanimous as always.

But Owens was not interested in a deal. “I don’t care what you’re up to out here and I certainly don’t want any part of it. All I want is her. In fact, I’m going to stay right here until I’ve found her. If you have a problem with that, take it up with Admiral Leone,” he said with a growing smirk. “She’s given me wide latitude in identifying traitors to the cause and Tazla Star is pretty high on that list. Besides, turns out she can’t stand you either. Guess that Deltan charm of yours only gets you so far,” he added as he momentarily seemed to relish his position of power over a man who technically outranked him before he turned sharply and walked away. “We’ll be delighted to host you as our guest, Captain,” Altee called after him even if Owens did nothing to acknowledge him.

Once Altee was alone again, he couldn’t quite keep a growing frown off his features, one that told So’Dan that this newest development was clearly a complication to whatever plans he had designed. Then he quickly turned back and disappeared into the restricted area just behind him.

So’Dan on the other hand immediately understood that this latest complication for Altee meant something much more important to him. It was their best opportunity to make a move.
Part 2 - Shattered: 18 by CeJay
18


“Light-duty? Who does he think he is? More importantly, who does he think I am?” Garla fumed at him, just minutes after Lif had returned to the quarters they shared on the Yellow Rose after a few long hours assisting with repairs to the ship’s main navigational guidance system which partly due to his efforts was back to near one-hundred percent, speeding up their return to the nearest repair base.

It was clear that Garla, who had eventually managed to get herself released from the medical bay, was not happy with the caveat his counterpart had insisted upon in exchange for her newly won freedom.

“I suppose he thinks that he is a sentinel in this universe and that you are not,” he said, sounding a bit more flippant than he had planned which immediately garnered him a rather displeased glare from his aunt.

“I don’t think I care for your tone, Mister.”

Lif offered an apologetic gesture. “Look, he’s worried about you and wants to ensure that you are fully healed up.”

She shook her head. “I am not some precious doll likely to crack if you drop it a few too many times. I am a sentinel and that doesn’t change just because we are in a different universe. It also means that I’m used to taking action and I certainly don’t need to be coddled. If my alter ego in this universe was anything like me, Sentinel Culsten should be well aware that this approach is not going to make me consider staying here more favorably.”

Lif sat down in one of the large chairs of their shared lounge, his earlier conversation with Tenn quickly returning to the forefront of his thoughts. He had been so distracted with working on the navigational systems over the last few hours, he had not given his words a great deal more thought since. “You are seriously considering his offer to stay in this universe?”

She took a step towards him. “How could I not? Consider what you’ve seen here. The Star Alliance in this universe is not just strong, it is healthier than ours has ever been. The more I think of it, and the more I see here, the more I believe you were right all along.”

“Right about what?”

“About doubting my designs of a stand-alone society. I was so convinced that we were too far gone as a people that unity between Krellonians and Outlanders was simply impossible. That there were too much pain and hurt and history between us that we could ever hope to come together. And perhaps, for our universe, that is still true. But here things are very different. Here Krellonians and Outlanders work hand-in-hand like equals. And the Star Alliance is a much stronger place for it.”

“So then let’s take these lessons back to our universe. Let’s find a way to fix our Star Alliance,” Lif said.

But Garla shook her head. “I’ve had plenty of time while I was sidelined in the medical bay over the last few hours to read up about the history of this Star Alliance. It is very different from ours. The conquests of the Outlanders never happened here. The alliance came together in a much more mutually beneficial way.”

“Like the Federation,” Lif said.

Clearly, Garla didn’t care for that analogy but it appeared difficult to deny the similarities and she nodded begrudgingly. “What matters is that there is hope here. More than that, opportunity. I can make a real difference in this universe.”

“But it isn’t yours, Garla. You died here.”

She turned away with obvious frustration. “So what? Who is to say who belongs where?” she said and faced him again. “We have been given the ability to step from one reality into another, why not take advantage of this?”

“I don’t know. It just feels wrong to me.”

Garla sat down in a chair next to him. “Why? Because your beloved Federation is falling apart in this reality? Nothing is ever perfect and you have to accept sacrifice if you ever hope to make a change. And you know what? I would exchange a broken and crumbling Federation in favor of a healthy and thriving Star Alliance any day of the week. And as a Krellonian, so should you. You can finally come back home, Lif.”

He looked her right in the eye. “You think Sentinel Culsten would like having a doppelganger around? I doubt his offer extended to me. And I’m not even sure if he’s entirely honest about wanting you here in the first place.”

To that, she offered him a puzzled look. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that there is a good chance that my alternate is unstable. You have seen the way he acted on the bridge during the assault. He practically froze up when things turned sideways.”

“It happens to the best of people.”

“Would it have happened to you?”

Garla didn’t voice her opinion. “He had disastrously bad intelligence that led to his people getting killed. That’s a hard lesson for anyone.”

“He is a sentinel. Intelligence is his business. And from what I hear, it was his intelligence that got his people killed,” he said and shook his head. “He is in over his head, Garla. Blinded by ambition and willing to stop at nothing to get what he wants. I’ve seen that type before.”

She stood from the chair. “We’ve been in this universe a few hours and you are telling me you have already figured him out?”

“He is me. A version of me at least. A much darker version.”

“I refuse to believe that. And I made a career out of reading people,” she said sternly.

“Well, your senses are wrong here, Sentinel. This man might very well be responsible for your alter ego’s death.”

“What?”

He nodded. “There is no evidence of this, of course, but rumors abound. They disagreed quite a bit over the direction the Star Alliance should take and I think Sentinel Culsten decided it would be easier to get what he wants with her out of the way.”

“That’s insane.”

“Any more insane than versions of the both of us being part of a brutally fascist empire?” he said, referring to the Lif Culsten and Garla they had encountered in the previous reality they had visited.

“I get it,” she said. “You don’t want to stay here. You cannot stomach the idea that your Federation has degenerated into civil war and is being carved up by more powerful empires. But that doesn’t mean I can’t stay and make a difference. If you so desperately want to return to our universe to see the Star Alliance share that same fate, be my guest, but I refuse to be a witness to its downfall,” she said, turned, and walked out of the cabin.
Part 2 - Shattered: 19 by CeJay
19

“He is in here, sir,” So’Dan Leva said as he indicated towards the doors of the mess hall they were approaching.

Michael stopped and glanced at his tactical officer who responded with a brief nod. “I cannot say that I ‘m looking forward to doing this,” he said as he uttered a small sigh before tugging down at his red and black uniform tunic as if it would give him the courage he needed for what he was about to do. He had forgotten how snug these uniforms had been compared to the much more comfortable outfits he had gotten used to wearing over the last few years. The tightness of his clothes was the last of his concerns now, he finally decided, and then stepped up to the doors which obediently parted before him.

He stepped into the mess hall, Leva just a couple of steps behind him, and his eyes immediately found who he was looking for.

The man was the spitting image of himself, that same prominent chin, the same eyes that greeted him in the mirror each morning, he even wore his brown hair in the same short crop that he tended to favor.

Something he didn’t quite recognize in the other Michael Owens perhaps was his apparently ferocious appetite. He sat alone at a large table in the mostly empty mess hall, busying himself with a full plate of what looked like a large chicken or similar fowl, tearing into his meal by hand and helping it go down with a tall pint of beer or lager. He didn’t seem to care much about general eating etiquette as he ripped into a large drumstick while grabbing his drink with his free hand.

Michael had observed a few Klingon meals in his time and his counterpart would have likely fit into that crowd rather nicely.

It didn’t take long at all for the other man to notice the new arrival and it caused him to forget his dinner immediately. He froze the moment he spotted the overly familiar face as he stared back wide-eyed.

He unceremoniously dropped the drumstick he had been holding and put down the glass of beer so quickly, some of the golden liquid sloshed over the rim and onto the table.

He stood up from his chair slowly, his eyes glued to the other Michael Owens.

Ever since Eagle had first arrived in an alternate universe--one which had since been wiped out of existence--Michael had dreaded the idea of coming face-to-face with a counterpart of his. He had, of course, read the reports of other Starfleet officers, displaced in time, in alternate realities or some other strange galactic twists, meeting different versions of themselves and had felt for the members of his own crew like Dee, Xylion, and particularly his young helmsman who had been forced into situations where they had to meet their counterparts which had turned out to be disturbing encounters.

As much as he had wanted to avoid such a scenario for himself, he had seen no other choice at present, not after Leva had informed him of his presence on the station and his all too obvious disdain for the same man who kept him and his people prisoner. They needed an ally and at the moment, Michael Owens was the best candidate for the job.

And yet he immediately regretted his decision now that he had actually laid eyes on his virtual twin, quickly realizing that no matter what he had read or what others had said about the experience, it had not been enough to prepare him for it. In fact, he found it difficult to describe the surrealism of the situation, of meeting himself. It was not natural, that was for certain, and not something that should ever be allowed to happen.

“What the goddamned hell is going on?” the other Michael said after a few seconds had passed, his eyes burning himself into his doppelganger, his facial features mirroring an odd mix of confusion, disbelieve, and anger. “Who are you?”

Michael took a couple of careful steps towards the other him. “That will take a moment to explain, I’m afraid,” he said. “But essentially, I am you. But also not. I am from a different reality.”

The other captain slowly left the table and cautiously approached his mirror image. “This is one of Altee’s absurd games, it has to be.”

He shook his head. “I assure you this is no game. As for the absurdity of the situation? I suppose I’d have to agree.”

“How is this possible? Explain and do it quickly,” he said, sounding much more aggressive than Michael thought he ever did. His counterpart clearly didn’t share his sense of patience.

“There has been an incident originating in the Amargosa Diaspora, not far from here. It created an anomaly of sorts which caused a bridge between multiple quantum realities,” he said.

“Quantum realities? Like alternate universes?” the other Michael said, not entirely able to hide his confusion.

Michael had never considered himself a great scientist although he shared the innate curiosity and drive to explore the mysteries of the galaxy as many of those who had decided to dedicate their lives to Starfleet did. He inherently understood and was fascinated by the idea of quantum realities, even if as of late he had been exposed to the idea far more closely and personally than he would have ever liked to. Somehow, he didn’t get the sense that his counterpart shared those values.

Michael nodded. “Yes. We were forced into this reality against our will and are trying to find a way back to our home universe.”

“Get to the part where you just strolled into the exact same place I was having dinner in while wearing my face.”

Michael exchanged a brief look with Leva before considering his counterpart again. “Altee abducted some of our people and brought them here. We attempted to try and free them but we were captured as well.”

“Altee. I should have known he was involved in this. That man is constantly planning and plotting like the weasel he is.”

There had been only two other people in the mess hall when Michael and Leva had entered, both security officers, and the two men had watched the unusual encounter in silence until that point. Now they had decided to act and quickly approached the two identical men, each of them with one hand resting on their phasers. “Sir, I need you and your Vulcan officer to return to your quarters,” said the more senior officer, clearly realizing that his boss would not approve of this meeting.

Michael’s double shot the man a venomous glare. “What’s your name?”

“Alec Peters, sir,” the ensign said.

“Alright, Alec. Here’s what I need you to do. Take your friend and get to the other side of that door and stay there until I say otherwise and don’t even think about running back to your puffed up Deltan master or I swear by my brother’s grave that I will make it my primary mission in life to make yours as miserable as possible, and I won’t stop until both of you get assigned to the frozen wastelands of Delta Vega chasing down ice beasts for the remainder of your miserable and very likely short careers.”

The ensign swallowed sharply, very briefly glanced at his equally mortified colleague, and then, without saying another word, both men quickly left the mess hall. Judging by the looks on their faces, Michael was fairly certain they would not alert Altee of this meeting, at least not immediately.

He wasn’t entirely sure if he was impressed or concerned about the degree of malice in his counterpart’s words and tone. He could not argue, however, with his effectiveness.

Once the only other witnesses to their discussion had been removed, the other Michael once again refocused his entire attention on his double. He indicated towards the table he had been sitting at and both Michael and Leva took the offer and sat down.

The other captain followed shortly, for a brief moment considering Leva as he took his chair. “I knew there was something very off about you, Vulcan.”

“Probably because he isn’t a Vulcan,” Michael said.

“Romulan,” Leva said. “On my mother’s side.”

The man nodded. “Not the strangest thing I’ve heard today,” he said and then glanced back at the other him, studying his face intently as he sat opposite him. “This is remarkable. You truly are me, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but not entirely. We may look the same, we may even share many other commonalities, but our universes are very different. For example, there is no civil war in ours.”

“I suppose you won the lottery when they gave out universes.”

Michael wasn’t so sure about that one. Yes, the Federation was still intact in their reality but he wasn’t willing to consider their fate lucky, certainly, the millions of people who had died in the recent Dominion War hadn’t been. “We’ve had our share of challenges,” he said, deciding to leave it at that since there was little point in comparing tragedies.

“I want to know how Altee is involved in all this.”

“We don’t know the full extent of his involvement yet. But he clearly was aware of the anomaly that brought us here. At least to some degree. It was almost as if he was waiting for us to arrive,” Michael said, wondering not for the first time, how this version of Tazla Star had been able to act so soon after their arrival. “He had our ship boarded and took two of our people. He brought them here. We followed him but we were betrayed by one of the people we sought to rescue after he made a deal with Altee.”

The other captain nodded. “He is a slimy bastard, that one.”

“We need your help to free our people and get off this station. The fate of multiple universes may depend on it.”

But Michael didn’t seem all that moved by the potential risks to entire realities, yet another way in which that version of Michael Owens seemed to differ greatly to him. Considering what he had learned about the man, it didn’t come as a huge surprise. It was, however, disappointing.

The other Owens leaned back in his chair. “That sounds like serious life-and-death business you’re dealing with,” he said even if his tone didn’t entirely match the weight of those words. “But I have my own problems and I cannot afford to be sidetracked. Not while I am so close to achieving my goals.”

Michael considered Leva at his side and the blank expression on his vulcanoid face seemed to mirror his own. He glanced back at his counterpart, remembering what he had learned about him from Amaya Donners. “I think I know a little bit about what you’re looking for.”

He uttered a short, sarcastic laugh. “I supposed I haven’t cared to keep it a secret. Half of Starfleet--Guardians and Preservers both--know what--whom I’m looking for. I shouldn’t be surprised the news has reached other universes by now.”

Michael looked him right in the eye, it was eerie, like looking into a mirror and seeing himself and yet not himself at the same time. “The woman you are looking for, she boarded my ship and took my people. She brought them here.”

Everything about the alternate Owens’ demeanor changed then, his pupils noticeably widened, his nostril flared slightly, his brow wrinkled and he leaned forward in his chair. “Star.”

Michael considered him carefully. “I think that perhaps we can help each other, Captain.”
Part 2 - Shattered: 20 by CeJay
20

In her nearly five-year tour of duty as Eagle’s chief of security, Nora Laas had gotten used to her objections being considered and then ultimately cast aside by those above her in the chain of command, and so, she was left with few options other than to look on with a frown on her face as Commander Xylion and Bensu were getting ready for yet another mind-link to attempt and make contact with whatever they had caught a glimpse of earlier, appearing out of the ether like a shady specter.

She had conferred with her security team, the human Niners operative Diamond, and her Vulcan colleague Ivory, making sure to position them in the control room for maximum coverage to deal with whatever may ultimately emerge.

Of course, considering, what they were up against, Nora was beginning to doubt that a few phaser rifles would make much of a difference in the face of universe-destroying forces.

She watched on silently as Xylion and Bensu took up sitting positions near the center of the room, Xylion reaching out to make contact with the other man as they both closed their eyes to focus on their mental connection.

Nora had never truly understood psionics and how exactly it was supposed to work. She knew that certain species, including Vulcans, had the innate ability to create telepathic connections with others and that Bensu--although she still wasn’t entirely clear to what species he belonged--seemed to possess similar abilities. Since it was impossible to see or physically fight a psionic field, she usually regarded it with a high amount of skepticism. Considering their current circumstances, where they now found themselves, and what had transpired over the last few days, she felt fairly justified in her beliefs.

It didn’t take long for their joint efforts to bear fruit.

“Look, over there,” said Hopkins after she had spotted the slight shimmer in the air again where the initial specter had first appeared. But something was different this time. For one, its shape seemed different, much smaller than what they had witnessed before. It barely would have reached her knees.

“I can sense it,” Bensu said. “It is close, attempting to breakthrough.”

Laas exchanged a concerned look with the chief engineer. “Breaking through from where?”

But Louise just shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t have a clue.

“It is a powerful intelligence,” Xylion said, eyes still closed as he continued to support Bensu’s efforts.

She stepped closer to the Vulcan. “Can you determine what it is?”

But Xylion didn’t respond, either because he couldn’t hear her or maybe because he was so focused on the task at hand that he had no perception of the outside world.

She shook her head. “I don’t like this.”

She felt a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s just give it a chance,” Louise said.

Whatever it was the two telepaths were trying to accomplish, however, didn’t seem to work the way they had hoped. The small blurry shape refused to solidify, almost like a transporter beam which was perpetually stuck in the rematerialization cycle.

Bensu’s smooth dark brow began to furrow. “I cannot maintain the connection.”

“We have attempted this previously,” Xylion said calmly. “You must center your mind on a single thought.”

“I am trying but it isn’t working.”

Xylion seemed to attempt to compensate for Bensu’s lack of focus with his own as he was visibly beginning to extort more and more effort into his psychic link. Laas knew things were going wrong when she spotted the first trickle of bright green blood dripping down his nose.

“We have to stop this,” she said.

When Xylion’s body began to tremble, Louise removed her hand from her shoulder. She took a knee next to the Vulcan. “Commander.”

But he continued to ignore all external stimuli.

“Commander,” she repeated more forcefully. “You have to stop.”

When this also didn’t work, she grabbed him by his shoulders and began to shake him slightly. “Xylion, stop.”

His eyes shot open and he gasped loudly as if coming up for air after being submerged underwater for hours on end. He glanced at Hopkins with wide-open eyes.

“Xylion, are you all right?”

It took him a moment to respond, maybe because he didn’t immediately recognize her. Then he offered a minuscule nod and removed his physical connection to Bensu.

“I am unharmed.”

But Louise looked doubtful. “You are bleeding.”

Xylion reached for his nose, his fingers coming away with droplets of his blood. “A superficial injury, Lieutenant, I assure you.”

She kept his eyes on him a moment longer and Laas had an inkling on why that may have been. After all, she was well aware that Louise had once carried a torch for the science officer, in fact, she had learned of this in the most unusual manner in a holodeck of all places. That had been years ago and clearly Louise had moved on from what appeared to have been a foolish infatuation with a man who had made it his primary mission in life not to show his feelings. Considering the look she held in her eyes now, however, perhaps she had not entirely moved on after all.

Regardless, the moment soon passed and Bensu also reopened his eyes and Louise seemingly realized that she had neglected to check on his well-being. “How about you? Are you okay?”

He nodded slowly. “I think so,” he said and then glanced back towards the Vulcan. “I felt my mind touch it, Xylion. It was so close. I thought I had it, I thought I could push it through but it slipped past me. We need to try again.”

Laas couldn’t believe what she was hearing and quickly stepped up closer, shaking her head. “Not going to happen,” she said forcefully. “Whatever you were trying to do, it didn’t look right. Xylion here looked close to popping a few blood vessels in his brain.”

“The mental strain was significant,” Xylion agreed. “However, I could sense it as well.”

“Was it the subspace aliens?” Louise asked.

“I don’t think it was,” Bensu said.

“Agreed. I could sense a powerful intelligence attempting to make contact with us. But something prevents it from doing so,” Xylion said.

“Well, we tried,” Nora said, slinging her rifle over her shoulder and crossing her arms in front of her chest. As far as she was concerned, this was over.

“If we could somehow amplify the psionic energy from our side, perhaps that will be enough to establish contact,” Bensu said, sounding much more eager now than he had before. “We were so close.”

“We might be able to fashion some form of rudimentary psionic enhancer with equipment on the runabout,” Louise said.

“We don’t necessarily need a technical solution,” Bensu said, looking first at the chief engineer and then at the science officer.

Xylion understood straight away. “We require another telepathic conduit.”

Xylion, Bensu, and ultimately even Louise turned their heads to find the only other person on the away team who fit that description. It took Laas a moment longer to realize who they had singled out. Oddly, she had never really thought of the woman as a telepath or even a Vulcan for that matter, although her elegantly taped ears and angled eyebrows didn’t exactly hide her ancestry. Perhaps it was the fact that she had barely ever heard the dark-skinned operative utter more than two words that had caused her no to think of her sooner.

It was Diamond, her fellow Niner who spoke up first. “This is not the kind of thing we do,” she said quickly. “You need muscle or tactical firepower that’s where we come in. But we don’t go messing around inside other people’s heads. That’s psych ops stuff.”

“She has a point there,” Nora said.

Xylion pushed himself off the floor and considered his fellow Vulcan who simply stared back at him. “I will not order you to participate in the mind-link, however, I would be remiss if I were not to stress the importance of what we are trying to accomplish here in order to locate a way in which we can return to our universe and stop the particle accelerator to cause any further damage.”

“So, you know, no pressure or anything,” Louise mumbled under her breath.

Ivory raised one of her finely arched eyebrows. “I am not an accomplished telepath.”
“You are Vulcan. You have intrinsic psionic abilities not shared by anyone else on this away team other than Bensu and myself. Even if you have not trained those abilities, our chances of success increase significantly with your assistance.”

True to what she knew of the operative, she said nothing, simply staring back at the older Vulcan and for a brief moment Laas wondered if they were carrying out an entire conversation in their minds instead. She disregarded the thought, fairly certain that Vulcan telepathy didn’t work that way.

Ivory turned to her fellow Niner and wordlessly handed over her rifle.

Diamond considered her skeptically. “Are you sure about this?”

“Yes,” she said simply and then walked over to Xylion and Bensu.

Xylion offered her a very small nod and then indicated for her to kneel on the floor, creating a tight triangle with him to her right and Bensu to her left.

Although she clearly had little experience in these matters, most likely having dedicated most of her life to training her body and mind for combat instead, she had obviously paid close attention to what they had done previously and she reached out to touch Bensu’s face to make contact with him while allowing Xylion to touch hers.

“Clear your mind of any thoughts other than the task ahead. You will shortly be exposed to several significant mental stimuli that you may find difficult to decipher and understand. Avoid the temptation to let these thoughts distract you. Instead, keep your focus on supporting and strengthening Bensu’s mind,” Xylion said and then watched her bop her head slightly before she closed her eyes.

“This just gets better by the minute,” Laas said quietly who had hoped that they were done with this foolhardy approach only to now having to witness yet another person being dragged into this. She shot a glance toward Diamond and spotted something on her face she had not seen there before: Concern.

Ivory was clearly not entirely prepared for what she experienced next and her usually carefully maintained visage quickly distorted to display surprise and then discomfort, perhaps even pain. Her mouth opened as if to utter a moan but it never came.

“Look to my mind first,” Xylion instructed. “Let it wash over you to steady your own.”

That did the trick as Ivory began to relax thanks to Xylion’s calming influence.

Not long after that, the shape that had emerged earlier returned.

Their joint efforts seemed more successful now. Although neither of them spoke, each of their faces became masks of stern concentration and the strain Xylion had exhibited earlier was not nearly as worrisome this time around.

“Look, it’s starting to emerge,” Louise whispered and pointed at the object

Laas took a few steps closer to it, raising her phaser rifle while doing so. She didn’t know if it would be of any use against what was beginning to take form, but if nothing else, the heft of the weapon felt reassuring to her.

The shape was perhaps twenty or twenty-five centimeters tall and forty centimeters long, far too small for an average-sized humanoid. In fact, it was so small, Laas went down to one knee to study it in closer detail as more and more of it became visible.

It was an animal of sorts, four-legged, black-furred with a small head and a long tail. It wore something shiny around its neck. “By the Prophets, what is that thing?”

Louise stepped up next to her. “That,” she said, sounding incredulous, “is a cat.”

Laas looked up at her. “You’re kidding?”

She shook her head.

When she looked back at the domesticated animal, it hissed at her and then leapt forward so quickly, it caught Laas unprepared as she fumbled for her weapon while it jumped right past her.

When she turned back to find it again, she realized that the cat had not been alone after all. Unbeknownst to anyone else present, somebody else had appeared.

A man, appearing roughly middle-aged with dark hair and wearing what looked like a very old-fashioned two-piece suit complete with a shirt and necktie. An outfit Laas recognized mostly from historical records from Earth. The man appeared to be human.

The cat made a beeline to the strange man who quickly picked it up and took the animal into his arms.

Startled by his sudden appearance, Laas pointed her rifle at him, joining Diamond who had been a beat faster at leveling her own weapon. “Who the pah are you?”

The man took a moment to take her in, stroking the black cat in his arms. “The name is Seven. Gary Seven. We have much to talk about.”
Part 2 - Shattered: 21 by CeJay
21

“All right, so what do you need from me?” Captain Michael Owens asked his counterpart and his half-Romulan tactical officer after he had agreed to assist them.

“We need to get off this station along with the rest of my team and the people we came here to bring back,” Michael said. “There is also an artifact Altee took from us we need to retrieve.”

The other man shook his head. “There is only so much I can do. I may have a strong mandate from Command but Altee has assembled half a fleet in this system which answers to him. If we attempt to get your people back by force, he’ll have reinforcements here within a moment’s notice.”

Leva turned to his commanding officer. “Sir, I believe our priority has to be to get off the station first.”

But Michael did not like what he was hearing. “I’m not willing to leave anybody behind, Commander.”

Leva quickly shook his head. “I don’t suggest we do, sir. Presumably, Captain Owens here has a ship in orbit. It should have more powerful sensors than the shuttle and I might be able to locate our people from there.”

“And how do you propose we beam out of here undetected?” The native Owens asked.

Leva offered a small smirk. “Same way as we beamed in.”

Michael nodded. “That could work.”

The other Owens looked confused but the other two quickly filled him in on the method they had employed to beam through the base’s shields without raising an alarm. After that, it was just a matter of explaining the process to the transporter operator onboard Captain Owens’ ship.

A few minutes later the two Owens’ and Leva materialized in Eagle’s transporter room.

Captain Owens immediately stepped down the platform to approach the operator. “Report? Any sign that our departure was detected.”

The young human officer behind the controls shook her head. “None that I can see, sir. There are no alerts or unusual activity on the base.”

He turned back towards his two guests. “That was quite a neat trick. I’ll have to remember that for the future.”

Michael in the meantime was taking a moment to absorb his new surroundings. Although transporter rooms on Starfleet ships and installations were fairly interchangeable, this one felt more familiar than most, being nearly identical to the ones found on his own ship. He didn’t recognize the young woman behind the transporter console, however, indicating to him that some things were bound to be different here.

“So, what’s next?” Captain Owens asked.

Leva stepped down from the platform as well and approached the console. “I should be able to scan for our people from here,” he said and moved behind the station, glancing at the woman operating it. “May I?”

She checked with her captain first, and when he gave her a nod, she stepped aside to let Leva take over. The two Owens’ joined him there.

“I’ve located the Niners by scanning for their subdermal transponders,” he said after working on the station for just a few moments.

Michael nodded, making a mental note to thank Star for suggesting to tag the entire away team in this manner. “Beam them up.”

Sensy, Violet, and One-Shot materialized on the platform shortly after. Their confusion of being whisked away suddenly lasted mere seconds and as soon as the team leader recognized Michael and Leva, he quickly bounded down the two steps of the transporter platform. “Sir?”

Michael indicated towards his double. “We were able to get some assistance from the locals. We are on his ship.”

Sensy nodded, seemingly not particularly disturbed by the presence of two Captain Owens’.

Michael was thankful for the man taking the news in stride since he didn’t have time to explain further. Instead, he turned back to Leva. “Get my father next.”

“Wait, your father?” Captain Owens said, sounding surprised

Michael nodded. “He is one of the people Altee took from my ship and we came here to recover.”

“Jonathan Owens?” the other man said.

Michael nodded again.

“My god,” he said, looking pensive for a moment. “My father died.”

“So did mine.”

Captain Owens shot his counterpart an odd look.

Michael quickly shook his head. “Long story. Suffice it to say for now that last time I saw him he was alive. Barely. We need to get him back and provide him with medical assistance as soon as possible.”

“I would very much like to see him again,” Captain Owens said. “Even if he isn’t really my father.”

Leva spoke up. “That might not be as easy,” he said while working the console.

Michael cast him a concerned look. “What is it?”

He shook his head even while his fingers kept dancing over the controls. “The admiral doesn’t have a transponder and I’m having a difficult time locating his signature. I think I may have located Jarik though. His Vulcan bio signs are more distinct.”

“I want my father, Commander,” he said, not just because Jon Owens was much more important to him, it was also quite clear that Jarik, his erstwhile Academy roommate and close friend, had betrayed them when he had allied himself with Altee. On a practical note, Jon Owens was far more vital for the mission to succeed since he was the only person who could use the Exhibitor.

Captain Owens tensed visibly. “Jarik is on that station?”

Michael wasn’t entirely sure why. “Yes, he was taken from my ship along with my father.”

His facial features hardened. “Jarik is a traitor.”

Michael nodded. “Yes, he appears to work with Altee now,” he said, not immediately realizing that it hadn’t been a question.

“He worked with Star and was complicit in killing my brother.”

Michael exchanged a worried look with Leva before he considered his agitated double again. “You speak of Jarik from your universe. This man traveled with us from our reality. Although it does appear that his duplicitous nature is disturbingly consistent.”

“Beam him up,” Captain Owens said sharply.

“According to sensors, he is not alone. Transporting him now would raise alarms,” said Leva.

“I don’t care. Bring him in.”

Michael put a hand on his counterpart’s arm, making sure to speak softly when he addressed him. “Captain, this is not the same man you know. He is from a different universe like the rest of us. And we cannot risk getting him until we’ve found my father and the artifact Altee took.”

The look that greeted him in the other man’s eyes seemed empty and Michael couldn’t be entirely sure that he had gotten through to him.

The sudden wailing of the red alert klaxons refocused everybody’s attention and Michael immediately feared that their efforts had been detected.

But Leva shook his head, apparently sensing his concern. “I don’t think it’s us,” he said quickly as he checked the board.

Captain Owens tapped his combadge. “Owens to bridge. Report.”

“Sir, sensors have just picked up an incoming Guardian fleet. They’ll reach the system in less than five minutes.”

Michael couldn’t believe it. Amaya was making her move now. It was terrible timing.

“The rest of our ships in the system are beginning to rally to fend off the attack,” the officer on the bridge, who sounded eerily similar to Josè Carlos, Eagle’s deputy chief of security in Michael’s reality, continued to report. “We are being ordered to join their efforts.”

“We have to find my father and the artifact first,” Michael said. “We might be able to use this distraction to do it.”

Captain Owens pushed Leva aside and manned the transporter station himself.

“What are you doing?” Michael said

“I’m beaming Jarik aboard.”

“Wait, don’t.”

But it was too late; the man was already beginning to materialize on the transporter platform while Michael looked on with dismay.

Owens walked around the console and moved towards the transporter platform as if to welcome his newest guest.

Jarik looked significantly more disorientated than the Niners had when they had been beamed aboard abruptly moments earlier. “What’s happening?” he said, looking around with a befuddled expression on his face which betrayed the human part of his ancestry. “What is this?”

“You’re on Eagle,” Captain Owens said as he stepped up to the platform. “Welcome aboard, you son of a bitch,” he said and then without slowing down, cocked his fist and downed the unprepared man with one blow to his chin.

Michael couldn’t deny a small sense of satisfaction at seeing the man who had betrayed him more than once go down in a heap. The gratification was fleeting and he quickly whipped back around towards Leva who had once more taken the transporter console.

The tactical officer already knew the question and had an answer ready. “They know he’s gone,” he said before he made eye contact with Michael. “And they know we have him. They are on full alert and have altered their shield harmonics.” He shook his head sadly. “I can no longer get a lock on anything on that base.”
Part 2 - Shattered: 22 by CeJay
22


Nora Laas had always prided herself on being able to read people quickly, which as far as she was concerned was an essential skill for a security officer in order to rapidly determine if a person posed a threat to the people she had taken an oath to protect. It was one of the reasons--she liked to believe--why she had been so successful in her career and which had led her to become the chief of security on a ship of the line before she had turned thirty.

That had been five years ago and now she was forced to wonder if those senses had begun to dull with age since she had absolutely no idea what to make of the odd, human-looking man who had appeared out of seemingly nowhere, wearing a dark and old-fashioned two-piece suit and tie and petting a peculiar looking animal nestled in his arms.

Of course, this didn’t stop her from keeping her phaser rifle leveled at the man who had identified himself as Gary Seven even if he outwardly appeared non-threatening and had yet to make a single hostile gesture. If there was one thing Laas was sure of, it was that appearances could be highly deceptive and that only a fool based their threat analysis solely on what they could see.

Diamond’s thought process seemed well-aligned to her own, as she had quickly brought up her rifle as well, covering the stranger from a different angle but keeping her distance, not too close to allow him to strike at her but close enough to make sure she wouldn’t miss if she had to take him down.

“As for my companion here,” the man said after he had revealed his name and indicating the animal in his arms. “This is Isis,” he added and then considered Laas again, taking specific note of the weapon pointed at him. “I can assure you that there is no need for that. Not that it could harm me in my current state.”

“You’ll forgive me if I err on the side of not trusting the stranger who just appeared out of nowhere. At least until you give us more than your name and that of your pet,” Laas said, keeping a firm hold of her rifle.

“I don’t know how much time we have,” he said and took a step away from her, considering his surroundings while Laas and Diamond continued to track him with their weapons. “I fear not much at all. And time is going to be critical for what we--“

He disappeared even while speaking. To Laas it looked like he was literally breaking up, like a comm. signal overloaded by static. His entire being became distorted length-wise as if he was being stretched from either end before he was gone as quickly as he had appeared.

“That was strange,” Louise said, stepping closer to the point where he had stood moments ago, using her tricorder to get some answers but apparently not getting any judging by the way she was shaking her head.

“Lieutenant?”

Nora turned to see that Xylion was getting back on his feet following the conclusion of the mind-link. Bensu and Ivory took a moment longer to recover from the experience and were still sitting on the floor.

“We just had an unexpected visitor,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at the science officer but not willing to turn away from where the odd stranger had just disappeared in case he returned.

Xylion just raised an eyebrow.

“He called himself--“

“Gary Seven,” said Bensu from where he was sitting on the floor.

She nodded. “Yes. You know of him?”

“No.”

She responded with a frown. “Okay. I think that warrants a bit more of an explanation on your part.”

Bensu stood. “Trust me, Lieutenant, I would love to be able to explain just half the things that have been happening lately. All I can say is that I could sense his presence. He is the intelligence I made contact with earlier.”

“I sensed his presence as well,” Xylion said. “However, I am curious how you were able to deduce his name.”

Bensu’s expression seemed to say enough. He had no earthly idea.

“I’d like to know why he appeared human,” Hopkins said after having given up trying to learn anything from her tricorder.

“Or why he had a cat with him,” said Diamond as she stowed away her rifle for now to look after her fellow Niner still sitting on the floor. From what Laas could see, Ivory was fine, just slightly disorientated from the mind-link experience. She did not envy her.

“It may be possible that you misinterpreted what you perceived,” said Xylion, clearly not convinced of what he was being told the rest of the away team had seen.

“My cousin back in Ottawa had a cat just like that when she was younger,” said Hopkins. “I know what I saw.”

But Xylion appeared to remain dubious.

The man who called himself Gary Seven reappeared not a moment later but this time behind them. Laas quickly had her phaser up again but not quite as quickly as Diamond. The recovered Ivory followed suit not a moment later.

Seven was sans pet this time and his image remained distorted, when he spoke, his voice sounded hollow and distant. “I apologize but something or someone appears to be opposing my presence here and it is taking an extraordinary effort to appear at all.”

Xylion took a moment to consider Seven. “Fascinating.”

“I don’t have much time to explain, at least not under our present circumstances but it is vital that we talk,” he said just before he blinked out of existence again only to reappear moments later. He took a few steps forward, ignoring, for now, the three phaser rifles pointed at him and instead paying closer attention to Xylion and then Ivory. “I thought I sensed the presence of Vulcans. You created a telepathic connection of sorts which made it possible for me to reach you but it won’t last.”

“How long do you believe you can maintain your connection?” Xylion said.

Seven shook his head, blinking out yet again. “Not long, perhaps a few more minutes. You will need to create another telepathic link, something more powerful. It’s the only way to--“ He disappeared again before he could finish the sentence.

Laas and the others waited patiently for a couple of minutes but Seven did not come back this time. She turned to Xylion. “How does he think we could create a more powerful mind-link? We don’t have access to any relevant equipment.”

“There might be a way. However, it would require the efforts of the entire away team.”
“I don’t think I like where this is going,” Laas said as she considered the science officer suspiciously.

But Bensu was already nodding. “Seven was right in saying that something is actively opposing us trying to create a psionic connection with him. I could sense it in our mind-link.”

“Overcoming this opposition will require a more concentrated effort on our part, one we might be able to generate if we added additional psionic energy to the link,” Xylion said.

“But we don’t have access to any additional telepaths,” said Hopkins.

“Creating a mind-link with individuals who possess active telepathic abilities would be preferable and likely garner better results,” the science officer said. “But even creating a link with non-telepaths should strengthen our position to create a more stable connection with Gary Seven.”

“I was afraid you were going to suggest something like that,” Hopkins said and stepped away as if to think about what he had said.

Laas hated every part of the idea and differently to Louise, she was not shy to say as much. “You can’t possibly be serious. Bajorans don’t possess whatever it is that lets you use telepathic powers and last time I checked, neither do humans. How is this even supposed to work?”

“Although you are correct that you do not physically possess the required paracortex functions to initiate telepathic activity, it is well-documented that Bajorans and other races can receive and on occasions generate psionic energy. I believe that with my guidance, I will be able to guide your minds to partake and contribute to the mind-link to a sufficient degree to allow us to re-establish a connection with Gary Seven.”

Laas stared back at Xylion as if he had just suggested a spacewalk without an EVA suit. She had no immediate words to offer. Intellectually, she knew that he was right. She had heard of stories of non-telepathic species taking part in psionic events, be it mind-melds or something as simple as receiving telepathic messages, but instinctively speaking she abhorred the very every idea of sharing her mind with not just one person but an entire group. To her, nobody had the right to enter her head; it was the last true bastion of privacy.

Xylion seemed to sense her concerns. “I can ensure that the process will be as least invasive as possible.”

“But you cannot guarantee that.”

“Indeed, not,” he was quick to admit.

“And how do we even know that this Gary Seven person is on our side? He could be involved with these subspace aliens. For all we know, he’s working for them,” she said as she crossed her arms in front of her.

“That is possible but unlikely. Based on what we’ve been able to determine from the previous mind-links Gary Seven is facing powerful resistance from establishing a connection with us, presumably originating from the subspace aliens. And considering what we understand this particle accelerator to be capable of, we will require any assistance we can secure if we wish to stop it from annihilating another universe.”

Laas had to admit that what Xylion was saying was making sense and that perhaps she was just looking for an excuse to avoid having to do as he had suggested.

She glanced around the room to consider the faces of the rest of the away team, all now looking to her as if awaiting her decision. She was not the most senior officer present, that distinction went to Xylion, and in truth, she was not used to be a decision-maker on an away mission.

Diamond was slowly shaking her head, clearly just as reluctant of partaking in a telepathic experience. The Special Missions operative was very much cut from the same cloth as she was herself, she had since learned. Like the rest of her team, she was a woman of action and ready to face any challenges that put her life and limb at risk. But she was not so ready to put her mind on the line like had been suggested.

Ivory, on the other hand, the operative who had already taken part in the initially mind-link, was much harder to read. Bensu kept his expression carefully neutral as well as if he was making an effort to try and not pressure her decision.

Louise on the other hand did a very poor job of disguising her feelings. More than anyone else, she looked downright perturbed. Laas thought she knew why that was.

“As with Ivory earlier, I cannot and will not order you to participate in the mind-link, but I would like you to remember what is at stake,” he said after she had not spoken for a moment. Clearly, she was not the only one who had to make this decision but Xylion had apparently deduced that the rest of the away team would follow her example.

When Louise's eyes were taking on a distinctively pleading look, Laas approached her and they both took a few steps away from the others for a modicum of privacy. Laas had no illusions that every other eye of the team still rested on her back.

“I can’t do this, Laas,” Louise whispered.

“Do you think I want to? Exposing myself like that? Give me a weapon and an enemy I can see. Hells, I’d rather go up against a Jem’Hadar or a Borg drone than letting people mess around inside my head.”

“It’s not just that,” she said and threw a short, furtive glance over her shoulder and towards Xylion.

She uttered a sigh. She understood, of course, about the feelings she’d had for the stoic science officer. Laas wasn’t sure anymore how her friend felt about the Vulcan and maybe neither did Louise. Perhaps that’s what scared the engineer the most.

Laas was also mindful that the clock was ticking. Perhaps for an entire universe. “As much as I hate this, Lou, Xylion is right. And we can’t let personal issues interfere with this.”

It took her a moment but Louise finally offered a small, hesitant nod.

She took one more deep breath and then turned back to face Xylion. “All right, how do we do this?”
Part 2 - Shattered: 23 by CeJay
23


That his counterpart suffered from serious anger issues was difficult to deny after the way he had lashed out against Jarik the moment he had been beamed onboard. And even after he had knocked the unprepared Vulcan onto his back and as he hovered over his prone form, Michael was sure that he could see murder in the other Captain Owens’ eyes.

And yet his temperament was not his most pressing concern at the present moment. There was also the little matter of Altee and his base on the surface being made aware of Jarik’s abduction and likely of his and his people’s escape as well. Not to mention the quickly approaching Preserver fleet which was destined for a showdown with Altee’s forces and with them positioned squarely in the middle of things.

And then of course there was his father and the Prism artifact they required to get back home, both still on the surface and now seemingly frustratingly out of reach.

“Captain, I need to get in touch with my ship,” Michael told his counterpart.

But the other man was barely paying him any attention, all his focus, for now, seemed to be reserved for Jarik. “Later,” he said and then reached down to grab hold of the dazed man and pull him off the floor. “First the two of us are going to have a little talk.”

It was clear that there was little chance to alter his counterpart’s priorities and Michael huddled with Leva and the liberated Niners around the transporter console. “Commander,” he said quietly, “can you access subspace communications from here to reach Eagle?”

Leva, who had apparently been thinking the same thing, had already been working at the console and was quickly shaking his head. “Comm systems are restricted to the bridge, I can’t get access.”

Michael had guessed as much. “I’ll have to use the subdermal communicator,” he said quietly and hoping that it had enough power left to deliver a message to Star.

The doors to the transporter room opened and a team of half a dozen armed security officers rushed inside, led by a familiar face. On his ship, in his universe, José Carlos was Nora’s deputy but here it looked as if the burly Hispanic man was in charge of security. He quickly surveyed the scene, his surprise at finding two versions of his commanding officer palpable. “Captain?”

“José, we have some guests,” Owens said even while he was still holding on to the noticeably groggy Jarik by the lapel of his jacket. “Mister Jarik and I are going to have a talk. Keep our new friends here close,” he said and then dragged Jarik off the platform and towards the doors.

“Yes, sir,” he said and indicated for his men to guard the others in the room.

Fearing he wouldn’t get another chance soon, Michael inconspicuously reached for his neck and gingerly tapped against the subdermal transponder implanted there, hoping that it would be enough to get a message to Star, however, the way it immediately began to gently vibrate against his skin told him that it was likely not successful in establishing a link. It had never been designed for repeat use.

Owens pushed Jarik out into the corridor and the half-Vulcan seemed far too dazed to offer much resistance.

Michael, Leva, and the Niners had little choice but to follow along as they were prodded by the security team.

The look in Sensy’s eyes made it difficult to hide that the man was eager to take action but Michael didn’t believe this to be the right time, not while once again outnumbered by armed guards and stuck on a starship with no immediate escape routes. He told the SMT leader as much by slightly shaking his head as they were herded outside.

Owens was apparently far too riled up to consider taking his prisoner to the brig or an interrogation room and instead dragged him right towards a nearby door. Michael recalled that on his Eagle that room would have been one of the science labs.

The entire party followed Owens into the room and Michael quickly found that on this ship the room had been converted into a storage unit, apparently there hadn’t been much need for labs while fighting a civil war.

Two young crewmen were working in the room.

“Get out,” Owens hissed at them and they immediately darted for the exit even while Michael, the rest of the away team, and their security escort streamed inside.

Owens practically threw Jarik towards a chair where the man landed awkwardly.

Before he could pay any more attention to his prisoner, the entire room shook hard, nearly causing him and the others to lose their footing. Owens turned towards his security chief. “What the hell is going on?”

Carlos had rushed over to a computer console, presumably to get an update from the bridge. “It’s the base on Arkaria IX, sir. They have opened fire. Shields are up and holding,” he said before he turned to his captain for further orders.

“Altee can go straight to hell as far as I care.”

“There are also at least a dozen starships closing in on our position, both Guardians and Preservers. They’ll reach us in less than five minutes.”

“Break orbit, get us out of here,” Owens said even as his poisonous glare remained on the groggy Jarik slumped in the chair.

Michael took a step forward which immediately elicited a response from the security team surrounding him. “My father is still down there.”

Owens turned to face his double. “And what do you suggest we do about that now? We’re sitting duck out here.”

Michael wanted to argue that if he had not taken such rush actions earlier, perhaps they would have found a way to retrieve both his father and the Prism from Altee’s clutches before the Preserver fleet reached them. Of course, that ship had now sailed and he had to begrudgingly agree that their options were bleak.

The captain gestured towards Carlos. “Do it, Lieutenant. Put some distance between us and those ships,” he said and then turned back to Jarik. “I don’t want to be disturbed while I’m tending to our very special guest here.”

The security officer followed the order and contacted the bridge to relay the instructions accordingly.

“Before you do anything. Let’s search him,” Michael said in the unlikely hope that perhaps Jarik had the Exhibitor on him.

Owens turned his head to glare at Michael over his shoulder, clearly not appreciating being given orders on his ship.

“He may carry weapons,” Michael said quickly, not wishing to share too much with the other Owens unless he absolutely had to. It was becoming increasingly obvious to him that although this man looked and sounded just like him, the differences were stark enough that he couldn’t allow himself to trust him.

Owens uttered a heavy sigh. “Fine, but let’s be quick about it.”

Michael gave the task to Leva who quickly stepped up to Jarik and first ran his tricorder over him and then, in order to be thorough, also padded him down manually. “I got something,” he said as he reached inside the sitting man’s jacket.

Michael tensed up, as did the security team which raised its weapons.

Leva retrieved a small silvery device which led Michael to think that his hunch had paid off.

“It’s a hypo-spray,” Leva said as he looked back at his commanding officer.

Owens snatched the device out of Leva’s hand and considered it briefly. “I suppose he could have used that as a weapon,” he said and then no longer interested in the medical device, tossed it across the room and far out of Jarik’s reach. “Anything else?”

Leva shook his head as he stood back up and then made his way to where the hypo had landed to retrieve it, offering Michael an apologetic glance.

“Good,” Owens said and took the spot Leva had vacated, hovering over Jarik who was slowly getting back around, looking up at the man looming above him through half-open eyes. “I have some questions and the way you answer them will very much determine how things will go for you.”

When Jarik paid him very little attention, Owens grabbed hold of him by the collar of his shirt to lift him slightly, only to punch him right in the face. “You decide how easy this’ll go for everyone. Are you tracking this?”

“You are wasting your time,” Jarik said, spitting out a wallop of spit mixed with green blood to the floor.

“Maybe,” Owens shot back. “But’s it’s my time to waste and who knows, I might even enjoy it. Now, I want Star. I know you worked with her when she killed my brother. Tell me where she is.”

Michael was appalled by the way his counterpart carried out his interrogation. “Captain, this man can’t possibly know about that. He came here with us. He is from our universe and would not have been involved in your brother’s death.”

Owens, still holding on to Jarik’s shirt with a balled fist turned towards Michael. “How can you be sure?”

“He was taken from my ship along with my father,” Michael said.

“Taken by Star.”

Michael nodded reluctantly. “Yes, but that doesn’t mean that he knows her.”

“You said it yourself, he has betrayed you and made a deal with Altee. Which means, one way or another, he is working with her.”

Michael could tell that Owens really wanted to believe this. Maybe even needed to believe it. “If I’m right we’ll get nothing out of him this way. Allow me to ask a few questions.”

Owens made no move to hand over his prisoner.

“If we get nothing, you can still interrogate him your way until your knuckles bleed,” he said when Owens wasn’t being swayed.

The other man grinned. “We’ve only just met and you already know me better than most. Wonder if it's because there is a little bit of me in you?”

“I sincerely hope not.”

“We’ll see,” he said and let go of Jarik to allow him to slump back into the chair. “Ask your question but make it quick. Patience is not one of my better attributes.”

Michael stepped up to Jarik who looked up at the same face whose owner had just pummeled him repeatedly. The quickly swelling bruises on his face bearing testament. As much as Michael had come to distrust and despise Jarik over the last few days, he still hated seeing him like this. A small part of him still held out hope that perhaps they could eventually find a way to be friends again. Although, admittedly, he knew that it would be a long and difficult road to get there.

“Where’s my father?”

Jarik wiped some more blood from his face. “He’s still down there. Still alive. But I think you know that he is not doing very well,” he added and then began to cough.

“What about the device? Does Altee have it?”

The cough turned into laughter. Michael didn’t fully understand why.

“What exactly amuses you?” The other Owens asked who had remained close by. “Mind sharing the joke?”

“The joke?” Jarik said and then began to nod slowly. “I suppose it is a joke, isn’t it?” he said but kept his eyes on the man who wasn’t native to this universe.

“What are you talking about?” Michael asked.

“I just find it hilarious how blind you have been this whole time,” he continued, alternatively coughing and laughing, creating a terribly irritating hacking sound. “Your father has been working with Altee. They’ve planned all this together to take control of the Ring.”

Michael shook his head.

“Oh, you find that difficult to believe? Really? Is it any more unexpected than seeing your old man coming back from the dead?”

Michael took a step back.

Owens took one forward. “This is not getting us anywhere,” he said and then unceremoniously grabbed hold of Jarik again to use his face as a punching bag, not even bothering to ask questions at first, just hitting him over and over again until green blood was beginning to pour down the half-Vulcan's face. “I can drag this out for hours before I find a way to kill you in the most painful way I can think of. Or you can give me Star.”

When he finally took a break from beating Jarik to a pulp, the half-Vulcan was coughing so hard he had tears in his eyes and was fighting for each breath of air, and with his last bit of strength he feebly reached out towards something.

Michael followed his line of sight and realized that he was looking at Leva, or rather the hypo-spray he was holding. He thought he understood. “Captain, he’s dying. He needs what's in the hypo. Jarik suffers from a degenerative disease.”

But Owens didn’t seem to listen and just went back to striking him with his fist, his eyes wide with mad obsession.

Michael knew he had to stop this and intervened, reaching out for his counterpart and pulling him back.

Owens whirled around and took a swing at Michael who managed to deflect the blow but only enough to soften it. He still stumbled backward and his chin felt on fire. When he reached for it to try and soothe the pain, he came away with blood. But it was green.

Leva and the Niners quickly moved forward to help their captain but so did Eagle’s security detail, and since they were the ones armed, there was little the away team could do.

“Don’t ever do that again,” Owens fumed.

Michael massaged his chin. “You get nothing out of him if he’s dead.”

Owens looked back towards the bloodied and gasping Jarik who was barely able to keep himself upright in the chair. Then he walked over to Leva and took the hypo out of his hand before returning to the dying man. “Tell me how to find Star and you get your precious medicine,” he said, holding the device just outside of his reach.

“Cloaked … ship,” he said between gasps.

Owens nodded slowly. “That makes sense. It’s how she’s been able to avoid me all this time.” He looked around briefly and then found what he was looking for. He picked up a data padd sitting on a storage crate and threw it into Jarik’s lap. “I want the cloaking frequency. Give me that and I’ll give you what you need.”

Jarik was apparently no longer in any kind of state to offer opposition and instead quickly tapped away on the padd and then held it out for Owens in a trembling and blood dripping hand.

The captain calmly took the device and looked it over.

“Hand him the hypo,” Michael said sharply.

Owens looked back up, first at Michael, then at the gasping man in the chair. Finally, he tossed the medical injector at Jarik who caught it clumsily and after some effort managed to apply it to his neck.

The results were almost immediate as he quickly began to breathe more normally again.

Owens handed the padd to Carlos. “Relay these details to the bridge. I want a search pattern in place within the hour. Star is nearby, I can sense her, and this time she isn’t getting away.”

Carlos nodded and did as he was told.

Owens stepped closer to his counterpart next. “Let me ask you something, Captain. If this man truly is from your universe, if he’s only been here for less than a day as you say, how come he knows the exact configuration of Tazla Star’s cloaking device?”

Michael had no answer as he stared back at the slowly recovering Jarik. It was feasible, of course, that he had learned this when he had been taken from Eagle after their arrival in this universe, or that perhaps it had been shared with him after he had agreed to work with Altee. Or maybe, in his desperation, Jarik had simply provided a believable but random frequency in hopes it would give him access to the life-saving hypo.

Apparently, Owens had not expected a reply and instead headed for the doors. He stopped short of leaving the room and turned back. “I think he may have been right about something else. I think you may have been played for a fool,” he said, reached for his phaser, and then fired it at Jarik.

Michael watched on helplessly and in shock as his friend and former Academy roommate disintegrated in front of his eyes.
Part 2 - Shattered: 24 by CeJay
24


She ran like her life depended on it.

In fact, it did.

At her last count, at least five Cardassian soldiers were nipping at her heels, dead-set on capturing her if possible or outright cutting her down if bringing her in alive proved too difficult.

At least she thought it had been five, in truth, she hadn’t been able to tell for sure while dodging their barrage of phaser fire which had started the moment the patrol had first encountered her.

The Cardies were angry and probably had every right to be after she had successfully set off a photon bomb just outside the heavily guarded main Cardassian garrison for Rakantha Province a couple of hours earlier.

As had been their standard practice, her cell of mostly teenaged resistance fighters had split up after the attack in order to improve their chances to avoid the inevitable manhunt that would follow.

Her luck which had served her quite well over the last few months had finally run its course when a patrol had stumbled over her practically by accident and she had spent the last hour or so desperately attempting to avoid the soldiers chasing her, fully aware that the longer the pursuit carried on, the higher the chances that they’d catch up with her. There was little doubt that the Cardassians had already called in for reinforcements, a luxury she didn’t have access to as a guerilla fighter facing an enemy with far superior numbers and resources.

She allowed a small smirk to cross her dirty face when she spotted the first signs of the swamp.

The expansive bog with its hip-high and muddy water, its large trees, its infestation of Rakonian swamp rats, and fog so thick it could be cut with a phaser was one of the province’s most impassable regions and an ideal location to throw off pursuers, especially those unfamiliar with the treacherous terrain.

She, of course, had grown up in this place and knew exactly which trails were relatively safe and which ones led right into the worst sandbanks where one could easily lose their footing and drown, particularly in the gloom after sundown with only Bajor’s moons providing any meaningful light.

The mixture of darkness, fog, and mud was a deadly combination she had exploited on many occasions to throw Cardassians off her trail and there was little to make her believe that this time would be any different.

And yet, almost as soon as she had passed the first large trees growing out of the waters and had entered the misty surroundings, she could tell that something was very wrong.

She slowed the frantic pace she had kept up for nearly an hour for the first time, partly because it would have been hazardous, not to mention challenging, to attempt and cross the swamp at an all outrun. But she came to a complete standstill when she suddenly and inexplicably could no longer tell which direction would deliver her to safety, almost as if she had never entered the bog before.

Equally as curious was the fact that an unnatural quietness had fallen over the swamp. Gone were the angry shouts and curses of her pursuers, and neither could she hear the usually persistent squeaks of the large rat population that made this place it's home, nor sounds of birds or even insects.

The swamp was perfectly still, dead even.

She turned slowly to try and reorient herself, to find anything that would indicate which direction she needed to take but rather than reaffirming the right path, her confusion only grew, soon she wasn’t able to tell which direction she had come from. The fog appeared thicker now than ever before, making it practically impossible to see more than two meters in any direction.

Then she heard the faint voice, seemingly coming from somewhere behind her. Whatever confusion she was experiencing, it seemed her pursuers had not encountered any such challenges and were closing in on her.

She did what she always did when she feared her enemy was close by and ready to pounce on her. She went into a crouch and slowed her breathing. Then she closed her eyes trying to concentrate on the movements of her opponents.

It worked.

He was right behind her.

She leaped into action.

“Lieutenant.”

She ignored the strange-sounding voice and struck out through the fog, letting her instinct guide her in lieu of being able to see her pursuer.

She found her target.

“Lieutenant.”

With a mixture of well-practiced moves and the desperation of a young woman fighting for her life, she grabbed hold of the enemy and managed to rip him off his feet and straight into the water, intending on drowning the trooper before he could call for her help.

As expected, he struggled against her as she forced him into the swamp water with all her strength. She was no stranger to killing a man with her bare hands and whenever she had been forced into that situation, it usually helped to not think of her enemy as a man at all.

“Lieutenant,” he gasped again as his face briefly broke the surface of the muddy water.

She applied more force, understanding perfectly well that at this moment it was either him or her, that if she didn’t follow through now, she’d never get another chance.

And yet he was much stronger than she had anticipated, stronger than most Cardassians she had ever fought.

“Nora.”

She hesitated for a moment when she heard her name.

“Laas.”

She realized for the first time that the face of the man she was trying to kill wasn’t Cardassian at all but much darker and smoother than it had any right to be.

And it was familiar.

The head lifted out of the water enough for her to spot his ears which were clearly not Cardassian, not exactly Bajoran either. They were Vulcan.

She let go suddenly and stumbled backward.

There were no Vulcans on Bajor, at least none she knew off. In fact, she was fairly certain that she had never seen a Vulcan in her life and yet she knew this man. Knew him well.

Her head spinning now, she stumbled over the thick roots of a tree behind her and landed in the knee-high mud herself even while she watched on wide-eyed as the Vulcan man stood up from where she had tried to drown him.

“Lieutenant Nora, do you recognize me?”

She nodded despite herself.

“You are Lieutenant Nora Laas, chief of security on the Starfleet vessel USS Eagle. You are currently taking part in a shared mind-link,” he said calmly as he kept his eyes on her, showing no evidence that he had come close to drowning in the swamp moments earlier.

It all came back to her in an instant. “This is all in my head?”

“In a matter of speaking, yes.”

It was only now that she spotted the other figures around her. She couldn’t tell with certainty if they’d always been there or if they had only just emerged from the fog.

She immediately recognized Louise, Bensu, Ivory, and Diamond.

Lou promptly walked over to her and held out a hand which Laas quickly took, allowing her friend to pull her back onto her feet. “Laas, are you all right?”

“A little disoriented to be honest.”

Louise nodded. “You’re not the only one.”

“What is this place?” Bensu said.

“It’s a swamp on Bajor close to where I grew up,” she said and then looked towards Xylion. “The better question is, why are we here?”

“Creating a mind-link is not an exact science, certainly not when involving the less disciplined minds of non-telepaths. Certain aberrations are not entirely unexpected,” he said.

She rolled her eyes. “Undisciplined minds? I’ll try not to take offense.”

“None was intended.”

“A warning would have been nice,” she said as she began to wipe the thick mud off her uniform but then stopped when she remembered that none of this was real in the first place.

“Although I anticipated some difficulties, I had no way of knowing the exact shape they would take,” he said as he considered his surroundings.

“So, does this mean we’re all inside Laas’ head right now? Is that what’s happening here?” said Lou.

“Physically, our bodies remain in the same position they were when we commenced the mind-link in the Ring’s command room. However, we are currently experiencing a shared telepathic connection powered by the efforts of the telepaths in our link. But I fear the connection is currently unstable.”

“Because of the undisciplined minds in the link,” Laas said, not entirely able to keep her voice free of indignation.

Xylion offered a small nod. “Yes. Until we can find a way to stabilize the connection, we might experience--“

The Bajoran swamp disappeared in front of her eyes, almost as if somebody had suddenly torn away a veil on which it had been painted and Laas and the others found themselves somewhere else entirely.

The transition was nothing less than startling, more abrupt and immediate than the fastest transporter that had ever whisked her through time and space and it left her dazzled with her mind spinning.

The dark, foggy bog had been replaced by a brightly-lit room, sparsely decorated and judging from the expansive vista observable through a large window, located in a desert-like environment.

The rest of the away team was as startled as she was by this unexpected change of scenery, everyone but Xylion, it appeared.

The Vulcan stood slightly apart from the others, busying himself at a standing computer workstation and paying no attention to the rest of the team or the fact that they had just been yanked to this location without warning.

“What … happened?” Louise said, sounding out of breath from the experience.

She shook her head as she slowly took in their surroundings. While she had been perfectly familiar with the swamp they had occupied moments earlier, she couldn’t place this new locale at all. Outside the window, she could spot a very bright sun high in the sky and at least one other star which was likely part of the same planetary system. This didn’t exactly narrow their options since binary and tertiary star systems were abundant in the known galaxy.

“Vulcan.”

Laas turned to look at Ivory who had taken a step closer to the window and then turned to regard her. She said nothing further as if she had explained everything.

Louise considered her for a moment and then also turned towards Laas. “We must be inside another memory. And if this is Vulcan and the memory isn’t Ivory’s.”

She didn’t have to finish the thought as Laas reached the same conclusion at the same time. She turned to find the only other Vulcan in the team again, finding him still working at the computer station, seemingly unconcerned with their situation. “Commander.”

He didn’t respond.

Louise put a hand on her shoulder which caused her to look at the chief engineer. “If this is anything like the last one, it’ll be difficult to reach him.”

She nodded, remembering how real it had felt reliving her memory of trying to drown the Cardassian soldier in the swamp, almost as if she had been right back in that moment which had taken place over ten years earlier.

The sound of the door annunciator caught everyone by surprise again, and she whipped around towards the room’s only entrance.

“Enter,” said Xylion calmly.

The doors parted and a woman stepped inside. Laas recognized her. She was Vulcan and certainly attractive, wearing just a hint of facial makeup and the strands of bright blonde hair in her otherwise traditionally cut Vulcan hairstyle made her stand-out from much of her peers. Laas had met this woman years earlier when she had visited Eagle along with a diplomatic delegation. K’tera had been Xylion’s betrothed and she had been killed only a few days after she had come aboard.

“Xylion, I trust you have made a decision,” she said with little preamble as she stepped further into the room, paying no attention to the rest of the away team which was clearly invisible to her.

Xylion turned away from his console. “I have. I must accept the Institute’s offer to join the Soval’s mission as such an opportunity will likely not repeat itself in some time.”

She offered a brief nod, seemingly not surprised by the news. “You wish to delay our espousal,” she said. It wasn’t framed as a question.

“My decision will necessitate that we do.”

“By three years?” she said.

“That is the planned length of the expedition.”

“I understand.”

Xylion took a small step towards her. “My commitment to our future has not changed because of this assignment.”

She offered a little smile in response, making it quite clear that K’tera was not the average Vulcan. “It is just that your career is of more importance to you.”

“That is incorrect. However, it is impossible to deny the impact the Soval’s expedition will have on our current understanding of astrophysics and how my contribution to this research is likely to significantly advance the field. If I were not to take part in this expedition now, the probability that such advances will not take place within our lifetimes is high. On the other hand, the probability of our betrothal taking place if I am to join the Soval at this time remains above seventy-five percent.”

“Your logic appears flawless. As always.”

He offered a brief nod as if she had offered him a compliment. “You accept my decision?”

She took a moment to let her eyes wander across the room, towards the window and then slowly back to him. “I wasn’t under the impression I had a choice in the matter.”

Xylion looked surprisingly irritated by her response. “I apologize if I have given you that impression. It was not my intention.”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter, Xylion. This is your decision and you have made it. I will await your return,” she said and then raised her right hand to offer the traditional Vulcan v-shaped hand salute.

He mirrored the move. “Live long and prosper, K’tera.”

Laas couldn’t help but wince at hearing those words, knowing full well that in her case the salutations would actually turn out to be a dark omen.

“You as well,” she said, hesitated just a moment longer before she turned her back to him and walked out of the room again.

Xylion looked after her, keeping his eyes on the door even after she had left. After a few and empty seconds, he returned to his computer station.

He didn’t make it all the way there. Instead, he stopped suddenly and reached out for his head

Louise stepped closer. “Xylion, can you hear me?”

He turned back and after a moment he seemed to recognize her. “Yes.”

“What happened?” Laas asked.

“It appears the instability in our shared mind-link is causing us to jump to random memories within our subconscious,” he said as he considered his surroundings. “A fascinating telepathic phenomenon I have not previously witnessed and one worth further study.”

“Yes, really interesting,” Laas said, unable to keep a tinge of sarcasm from leaking into her tone. “I think our time might be better put to use trying to stabilize this mind-gizmo thing and try to accomplish what we set out to do.”

“Agreed.”

But apparently, Lou wasn’t quite ready to give up on what she had seen. “Why this memory? Do you regret it? Do you regret that you postponed your marriage to K’tera to pursue your career?” Hopkins said and then blushed immediately, realizing that perhaps she had crossed a line.

“I--” Xylion uncharacteristically sopped himself as he looked back towards the doors where the memory of K’tera had walked out of his apartment and likely out of his life as well, just a moment earlier.

He didn’t get a chance to complete his thoughts and once again, the façade of Vulcan shattered unexpectedly to be replaced with yet another location.

Still not used to these sudden transitions, it left Laas woozy yet again and she stumbled slightly until Xylion, standing next to her, steadied her. She offered him a grateful look and then tried to focus on their new location. “Where are we now?”

They stood in a large and triangular-shaped open-air arena of sorts, with three sides of stands surrounding a wide space with a sizeable three-sided table at its center.

The terraces which must have allowed enough room for hundreds of spectators were mostly empty but at least thirty people stood around that central table. Laas noticed that all their physical attributes matched quite closely to Bensu’s, making it obvious that they had to be seeing one of his memories.

This marked the first time Laas had seen another member of Bensu’s species, a race she hadn’t even been aware of before she had met the enigmatic bartender and even now, she couldn’t name his people or had the slightest inkling where they hailed from.

It seemed this planet, wherever it may have been, held a significant population of his people, may even have been their homeworld.

There wasn’t much to see beyond the tall walls of the building they found themselves in, but even in this memory construct, she could feel an oppressive heat she thought was even worse than the dry climate of Vulcan, which was particularly peculiar since it appeared to be nighttime.

“The vote is on resolution five-nine-eight-nine, resource allocation to the space program,” said an elderly man who stood slightly apart from the others at the narrowest end of the large table. “The resolution recommends that these funds should be reallocated to the transference project to improve current supply shortages. How do you vote?”

The forty or so delegates around the table went in order, each one entering their vote into the record. By the time half had cast their vote, it seemed clear that these delegates seemed fairly evenly split on the issue.

Laas wasn’t a great admirer of politics, usually preferring action to the long and drawn-out process which involved a great deal of talking and, at least in her opinion, very little results, but this process held her entire attention and she couldn’t help but feel that something extremely significant was being decided here.

“Is that Bensu?” Louise asked as she looked at the delegate who was next in line to vote.

Laas shook her head as she studied the man’s face. The similarities were undeniable, the dark skin, the bright white bony ridges running across his scalp, the color of his eyes and the overall size and shape of his body, but this man had to be at least thirty years older than the Bensu she knew. “Maybe his father or another relative.”

“It is him,” said Xylion simply.

Both Laas and Louise threw puzzled looks towards the Vulcan. Considering how close he was to Bensu, it seemed unlikely that he’d be wrong on this.

“I vote in favor of the resource allocation,” the elder Bensu said.

Laas turned back to the session and with Bensu’s vote, it seemed that the tide was shifting towards allowing the resolution to be passed. In fact, just a few moments later the result was in and the group’s leader announced that the motion had narrowly carried.

Before Laas could fully understand how Bensu and his fellow delegates felt about the outcome of the vote or what all of this would mean, the entire building, including everyone inside of it, disappeared yet again, like a sudden scene change in a play.

This time Laas was slightly better prepared for the head-spinning transition. She knew immediately that this time they found themselves inside a starship. Although she could see no windows of any kind, the familiar vibrations and the hum of an FTL drive were hard to miss for somebody who spent the majority of her time in space.

It was a Starfleet ship but not Eagle or any other vessel which currently served in the fleet. This one was much older.

“No, no, no. Not this,” Louise mumbled as soon as she recognized where they were.

It took Laas a moment longer to make the connection. She had been to this place only once before. It was a holographic recreation of the twenty-third century starship Lexington inside one of Eagle’s holodecks. It was a program created by Louise Hopkins with, what she had learned, were some significant creative alterations.

“This looks like the engineering section of an old Constitution-class cruiser,” said Diamond which garnered her a surprised look from Laas to which the operative shrugged. “Starship design history is a bit of a side hobby of mine.”

The way she had so quickly identified the interior of a hundred-year-old starship led Laas to believe that her statement was somewhat of an understatement.

It was something other than the Niner’s surprising knowledge of starship design that caught her attention, however. This was clearly Louise’s memory but in all the other ones, the person who had experienced the memory had been entirely part of it, at least initially, while here Louise still stood with the rest of the team, clearly fully aware, not to mention, concerned, as where they found themselves.

Xylion provided an answer. “I have been able to increase my mental focus on the mind-link,” he said. “At present, we are experiencing a significant dissonance in our shared mind-space which we should be able to overcome if we ignore these memories and instead focus on more calming thoughts.”

Laas spotted the terrified look on Louise’s face. It wasn’t hard to guess that this was not a calming memory for her. And she had a pretty good idea why that was.

The evidence appeared just a moment later when a version of Louise Hopkins entered the engineering room, dressed in an era-appropriate, bright red minidress uniform, complete with dark stockings and tall boots. She was accompanied by a Vulcan wearing a blue uniform shirt. Xylion.

“Looks like this is going to be a nice and quiet night-shift,” the other Hopkins said with a growing grin which she aimed squarely at the Vulcan. “Just the two of us for the next four hours.”

The sudden appearance of another version of himself, seemingly caught the real Xylion by surprise which he expressed by raising an arched eyebrow. “Interesting.”

Louise clearly didn’t think so and regarded Laas with a pleading look. “We need to get out of here now.”

She had no idea what was about to happen in this holographic fantasy, but considering the little she had seen when she had joined Louise in a very similar program year earlier, where her friend had created a relationship between herself and a fictitious version of Commander Xylion, serving together on the old Lexington, she had a good idea why Louise would be greatly concerned about sharing this memory with the away team, not to mention the real Xylion.

“All right everyone,” Laas said, determined to spare Louise the likely embarrassment that was about to ensue. “You heard the Commander. We need to put a stop to this and get back on track. We need concentration and calming thoughts,” she said as she closed her eyes and tried hard to think of the most serene thing she could think of.

“This is beautiful, what is it?”

She opened her eyes again when she heard Lou speak again, sounding a great deal less strained than she had a few moments ago.

They were now standing in front of a large temple-like building with six golden columns that glimmered in the pleasantly warm sun. The temple itself stood surrounded by a lush, green garden compete with a calm stream running through it.

Four people stood by the steps leading up into the temple and in front of those tall columns. Three were Bajorans, one man and two women, and one was a human male. All four were clad in flowing white robes and all four were wearing smiles on their faces.

Laas didn’t require any time at all to recognize them. It was her mother and father who had died in a Cardassian forced labor camp while she had been still a child, her sister who had also been taken from her by the Cardassian, sacrificing herself so that Laas could escape their occupied homeworld and it was Gene Edison, the man she had loved and who had equally given his life to save hers.

And although all four of these people that had meant so much to her were linked to painful memories, seeing them like this, at the threshold of the Celestial Temple, she couldn’t help but feel joy and a deep sense of peace. One that had eluded her for a long time and which she had only recently started to discover.

Before Laas could answer Lou’s question, the scene began to vanish before their eyes but this time, much less violently, slowly fading out rather than being yanked away, given her the chance to look on those smiling faces for just a few seconds longer before they were all gone. She couldn’t deny a small sense of regret at seeing them disappear but the joy and peace she had felt from seeing them at all was the stronger emotion and it lingered longer.

“Took you long enough to get here.”

Laas and the rest of the team turned to see the man who had called himself Gary Seven emerge of the darkness which had surrounded them. Once again, the mysterious man was cradling his black cat within his arms.

“Let’s get started, shall we? We’ve already wasted enough time.”
Part 2 - Shattered: 25 by CeJay
25


Garla had located the Yellow Rose’s astrometric lab that included a holo-alcove to allow a close-up study of stars, planets, and other stellar phenomena. Curious about her home in this reality, she had configured the alcove to create a scale holographic representation of the entire Star Alliance.

As she walked across the simulation of man high stars and planets, she couldn’t help but be impressed by the sheer size of the territory. She had easily located Krellon Prime, which she had found exactly where she had expected it, as well as the five vassal planets which in the history she knew, her people had brutally conquered and turned into slave worlds for centuries.

But where in her reality the borders of the Star Alliance didn’t extend much further than the farthest of these five worlds, here, the Alliance had laid claim to a far wider area of space, filled with resource-rich colonies and even a handful of planets which she knew to be home of other civilizations but which here were clearly part of the Alliance.

She was well aware that many in the Central Council, the Star Navy, and even in the Eye of Krellon regarded the Federation with at least some envy over their ability to create an empire which stretched out over thousands of light-years in just a couple of hundred years and, differently to other major powers such as the Klingons, the Romulans, the Cardassians, and in fact even her people, without the need to conquer a single planet. The Star Alliance in this universe wasn’t nearly as massive as the Federation in hers, but it was certainly several times more expansive than what she called home.

“Quite a sight, isn’t it?”

She turned upon hearing the familiar voice, already berating herself for allowing anyone to approach her undetected, something that could quickly turn out to be a fatal mistake in her line of work.

“It never ceases to impress me,” Lif Culsten said as he joined her inside the holographic representation of the Star Alliance. “To think that this all started with a single, mostly unimpressive planet and over time grew into an empire like this. An empire that has become the envy of many nations in the galaxy.”

“Except perhaps the Nyberrites,” she said.

“If our last encounter tells me anything, it’s that they want what we have,” Culsten said. “And they understand our potential. Are probably afraid of it.”

Garla regarded the simulation again. “This empire of yours. It certainly is larger than what I’ve ever known,” she said as she walked to the center of the alcove until she stood right inside Krellon, the planet on which she had been born. “Tell me about your Star Alliance.”

His eyes seemed to light up at this. “It’s a truly magnificent place and I think our history reflects this. We spread out into the stars just over three hundred years ago. We encountered the Yooktku first.”

This surprised Garla. In her universe, their first contact had been with the lupine T’aq. An aggressive and warrior-like race that had not responded well to Krellonian explorers more interested in the resources their world had to offer than its people. A long and bloody war soon followed that had eventually led to the enslavement of an entire people and developed into a doctrine of Krellonian foreign policy for years to come.

She wondered what it would have been like if her people had made contact with the peaceful and enigmatic Yooktku instead. By the time the Star Navy had come across them nearly a hundred years later, the Alliance was already an empire fueled by war and slave labor and the Yooktku had fared little better than those who had come before.

“We formed a partnership and established the seeds of what would later become the Star Alliance, initially made up of five founding members.”

Garla knew these founding members as vassal worlds instead.

“Together we quickly grew, establishing colonies as far as the Gazelle Nebula and convincing other races like the Jin’Tar, the Ortu, and the Darsaean to join the Alliance. Today we control an area of space nearly four hundred light-years across.”

“That is impressive.”

He nodded and then walked over to the computer console, entering a few commands and the simulation all around her changed until it was focused on what she recognized to be the Federation. Although what in her universe was a massive entity spanning over one hundred fifty worlds over two galactic quadrants, here it had been reduced to less than a few dozen star systems seemingly being fought over by two separate factions.

“And it could become even more impressive.”

She understood what he meant. “You wish to conquer the Federation.”

He joined her inside the holographic model. “There isn’t much left but many of these worlds are still rich in resources or hold other worthwhile secrets, including Earth, Vulcan, and Andor. And while engulfed in civil war, the Federation has never been weaker since the Borg War.”

“What about the Nyberrites?”

“Contrary to popular belief, the Nyberrites don’t care much for open conflict. Sure, they like to flex their muscles from time to time, but they much prefer to use diplomacy and trade as weapons. That’s how they picked up the pieces of the Romulans, the Klingons, the Cardassians, and parts of the Federation after the Borg had decimated most of their space. They won’t mount a serious military effort to stop us.”

Garla took a moment to consider what he had said. It was obvious that Sentinel Culsten was among those people who had always desired what the Federation had, even if it was a shadow of its former self.

“Together we can make this work. I can tell that you share the same sharp mind and tactical acumen as the Garla I knew. With my resources and your knowledge of strategy and tactics, there’ll be very little to stop us. Even those bloated buffoons in the Central Council will be forced to acknowledge the inherent logic of our plans.”

“But why?”

He offered her a puzzled look.

“You’ve told me that the Star Alliance is this wonderful place and from all I’ve seen, it certainly appears much superior to my home. Resources are in high supply, you’ve been spared the social ills that have plagued my home and your people, from everything I’ve seen so far, your people are content. Why risk all of that by going to war?”

“Isn’t it obvious? We can’t allow ourselves to stagnate and become complacent. Look at what happened to the rest of the galaxy. While they were resting on their laurels and became slow and lazy they allowed the Borg to nearly wipe them out. That is not a fate I wish for the Star Alliance.”

“And your strategy to become impervious to such a fate is what? To eventually conquer the entire galaxy?”

“Why not? If there are no more enemies to threaten us, the Star Alliance will be able to sustain itself until the end of time itself.”

Garla couldn’t help wonder how many other civilizations that were now nothing more than ancient memory and dust had followed that exact same chain of reasoning.
Part 2 - Shattered: 26 by CeJay
26


Michael was trying to come to grips with the fact that his counterpart had just killed Jarik in cold blood. There had been little love lost between him and his former Academy roommate, in fact, many of his actions as of late had made him seriously reconsider their friendship, but he wouldn’t have wished that kind of fate on his worst enemy.

And then there was how Owens had so callously executed Jarik, almost casually and seemingly with little thought and zero prior warning. He had tortured him for the information he needed and then discarded him like he was nothing more than useless waste.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect to all of this had been the fact that the man who had pulled that trigger wore his exact face and a small voice in the back of his mind couldn’t stop wonder that if his counterpart had been capable of committing such acts, then perhaps that same darkness lived within him as well, just much better hidden underneath a carefully maintained façade of moral certitude and conviction and yet ready to surface just as effortlessly as the other Owens had dispatched his prisoner. That thought, more than anything else, scared him the most.

Thankfully he didn’t have more time to consider those disturbing parallels as another crisis seemed to have caught up with them.

Eagle took another hit, a big one, causing everyone in the room to lose their footing and slam painfully into a bulkhead or the deck.

Captain Owens scrambled back onto his feet first. “What the hell now? Bridge, what’s going on up there?”

The voice of a flustered young woman responded. “We’re under attack, sir.”

“I figured that much. Who is it this time?”

“The Agamemnon, sir. She came out of nowhere and landed a direct hit. Shields are fluctuating,” the officer reported, sounding noticeably out of breath.

“Donners,” Owens fumed. “Of course.” He found his security team. “Escort our guests to quarters and make sure to keep a close eye on them.”

Michael had no interest to become a prisoner yet again, not after he had witnessed how this Captain Owens treated his ‘guests’. “Captain, we’ve run into Amaya Donners shortly after we arrived here and came to a mutual understanding.”

He shook his head. “She’s Preservers. You made a deal with her, you picked the losing side.”
“What I’m saying is that I have established a rapport with her. If she knows I’m onboard, perhaps I might be able to talk her down before she blasts us to pieces. Last I spoke to her, she didn’t think very highly of you.”

He grunted to that. “We have history. It’s complicated.”

The ship jolted again, giving proof that Amaya Donners was clearly not letting up now that she had Eagle and her commander dead to rights.

“Let me come with you to the bridge,” he said and briefly glanced towards where Jarik had been a moment earlier and where now only burn marks remained. “The information you obtained will be useless to you if you and your ship are dead.”

Owens nodded reluctantly. “All right. But the rest of your people stay put.”

Under the circumstances it was the best he could hope for, Michael decided. “Let’s go.”

The two Owens’ and Josè Carlos left the room and headed for the bridge even while Eagle continued to take multiple hits. From the telltale sounds of the ship around him which he was all too familiar with, he could tell that the battle was fairly one-sided. Eagle was returning fire but it wasn’t nearly enough to seriously slow down the Agamemnon which had caught Eagle on the back foot.

The moment the turbolift doors opened and they emerged onto the bridge, they were greeted by chaos.

The room was laid out almost exactly like his own bridge, the only key difference he could spot through the smoke quickly beginning to fill the air was the fact that the central command area only had a single chair for the captain, whereas on his Eagle, the captain’s chair was flanked by seats for the XO and another officer, as well as two further jump seats.

The ops station at the front on the bridge was already out of commission, apparently having burned out following a power surge, and the officer who had manned it lay on the deck unconscious with another one trying to tend to his injuries.

A young lieutenant stood over them both, shouting commands at the helmsman and the tactical officer while on the flickering viewscreen the Agamemnon was turning back around to complete yet another pass.

Owens shook his head. “That’s what I get when I leave rookies in charge,” he said as he promptly made his way down the ramp and towards the command area while Carlos relieved the officer at the horseshoe-shaped tactical station.

Michael had already figured that the Guardians, and likely the Preservers as well, suffered from significant personnel shortages, probably ever since the Borg War had decimated much of the Federation. Experienced crewmembers, not to mention first officers who could take over in a pinch, seemed to be luxuries of the past in this universe’s Starfleet.

“Report,” Owens barked at the lieutenant.

The woman did a double-take when she spotted not one but two Captain Owens’s. Already stressed enough as she was, this was clearly not an additional complication she could deal with, causing her to gawk at both men.

Owens had no time for this and loudly snapped his fingers into her face a few times. “Rachel, pay attention to me,” he said forcefully. “What’s our status?”

“Uh, sorry, sir,” she said, shaking her head. “Not good, shields are nearly down, and we lost the torpedo guidance system. Engineering is not optimistic about getting systems restored within the next hour.”

Michael braced himself when he spotted Agamemnon approach on the screen and not a moment later she unleashed a barrage of phaser fire which rattled the bridge hard, causing one of the aft stations to erupt in a shower of sparks. They didn’t have an hour.

As Owens took over, the lieutenant which Michael thought looked very much like Rachel Milestone from his universe, headed for an auxiliary station. “She’s hailing us, sir.”

“Ignore it,” he said instantly and as if out of instinct.

Michael stepped up closer to him. “I suggest we try to talk,” he said, keeping his voice low. “I don’t think we can fight our way out of this.” Michael had to admit it felt strange, uncomfortable even, being on this bridge and not being the one giving orders. Then again, in this universe, he had yet to find a situation that didn’t feel strange.

Once again, Owens nodded reluctantly. “Fine. Put her on.”

The smiling face of Amaya Donners appeared on the screen not a moment later. Usually, he loved seeing her smile, but on this occasion, there was something very sinister about the grin decorating her lips. Something that caused a cold shiver to run up his spine. “Well, look at who I’ve found with their pants around their ankles,” she said in a singsong kind of voice.

“If you think I’m going to bend over, you’ve made yet another mistake.”

“Right,” she said her eyes regarding him like a set of dead stars. “I suppose my first one would have been to ever share a bed with you. I guess it's time to make up for all of them and I can’t think of a better way of doing that than erasing you from this galaxy.”

“Don’t make me laugh,” Owens shot back. “You don’t have what it takes.”

Michael quickly took a step forwa