Joseph Akinola entered the wardroom of his own ship and found Michael Owens sipping a mug of freshly made coffee.
“This is amazing,” Owens said. “I didn’t even realize how much better the real thing tastes and smells compared to the replicated version.”
Akinola said nothing.
“I was hoping to get a Danish with this but I can’t find a replicator.”
“That’s because there isn’t one.”
He nodded understandingly. “On another deck?”
Akinola shook his head.
Owens frowned. “Are you telling me things are so bad with the Guardians, you had to cut back on replicators?”
“Yours or your crews?”
Akinola fixed the other man with a glare which clearly communicated his waning patience with this conversation. “I don’t believe part of our deal included you commenting on my ship’s amenities.”
Owens grinned and took another sip. “No, I guess I’m just the curious sort. And I have to say, this was all almost worth it just for the coffee.”
“Well, the coffee might be all you’ll be getting out of this.”
Owens set down his mug upon hearing this, frowning.
“We’ve arrived at Panea but there’s no sign of this secret complex you claim to exist there. And if it is hidden, as I think it would be, it will be almost impossible to locate without inviting the wrong kind of attention.”
“We won’t need to look for it,” said Owens and slid a padd across the desk.
Akinola picked it up and his eyes widened slightly upon reading its content. “This is pretty detailed information on a facility which is supposed to be secret.
“I guess all the good spies must have stayed on our side,” said Owens with another simper but then quickly took on a more serious demeanor. “In any case, that should be enough to beam me directly into the facility. Have you detected any other ships in the area?”
Akinola looked up from the padd. “Agamemnon is patrolling the system and is close by, Cuffe is in a standard orbit around Bolarus at present and Heracles is supposedly in the vicinity as well but we don’t have a confirmed position for her.”
“Have you had any problems or challenges from the other ships?”
Akinola shook his head. “No. But Orion will be overdue in about twenty-five minutes. Reiyhn isn’t the kind of man—“ he stopped himself. “Wasn’t the kind of man to miss a report. It will cause suspicion.”
Owens looked annoyed. “You were supposed to report in for both ships. Let them believe that everything is fine.”
Akinola glared at the other captain again. “Understand, there is a limit as to what I’m willing to do here. I will not fire on another Guardian vessel and I sure as hell will not pretend that everything is fine when you have in fact destroyed and killed the Orion.”
Owens tried to interject that he had not been responsible for the destruction of the other ship but Akinola did not give him the chance. “I agreed to this on very specific terms and only because the intelligence you have shown me about this Alpha Weapon looks compelling enough to have me worried about what its development could mean to all of us. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to take unnecessary risks or betray my own people. I don’t care how many of my officers you are holding hostage on your ship.”
“That’s overly dramatic, don’t you think? They are enjoying their stay in our guest quarters, not in the brig.”
He laughed derisively. “Under heavy guard and behind force fields. Call it what you want, Captain, but the truth is you are keeping them hostage.”
“They are insurance. I have given you my word that no harm will come to them. You are not the only one taking risks, I’m sticking my neck out pretty damn far here. And let’s face facts, we have both betrayed our respective people. At least you have been given the gift of plausible deniability.”
“Yes, how very gracious of you, Captain.”
Owens sat his coffee aside. “Since you are not willing to contact your people, we don’t have much time until we raise alarm bells. I take it I can still count on you to fulfill the rest of the plan.”
He nodded. “We’ll beam you into the facility, alone and unarmed. You destroy the prototype and return with your dear, estranged brother, and we take you back to your ship where you will release my people. And everyone lives happily ever after. Or something vaguely to that effect.”
Owens gave the other made a sharp nod, deciding to ignore the sarcasm.
“And what exactly makes you so certain he will listen to you and destroy his own prototype? You said it yourself, you haven’t exactly parted on the best of terms.”
“He is still my brother and no matter how long it has been, I know he will listen to me,” he said and stood. “Let’s get going, there’s no time to waste.”
Akinola had been right, the intelligence available to the facility was surprisingly accurate. In fact it had allowed Bluefin to circumvent most security measures and beam him directly into the laboratory level of the complex without tripping any alarms. The central part of the facility had been too well shielded against direct beam-ins, and he had been deposited into one of the outlying corridors instead.
And while Owens had agreed on beaming down unarmed, he had been able to keep with him a concealed type-I phaser, barely the size of a matchbox.
The facility was well lit, with wide and bright corridors, painted uniformly white which offered few places to hide. Thankfully he spotted no personnel at all, it appeared as if his brother and his colleagues had kept their team very small. Another aspect the intelligence he had been given that seemed to have proven right.
It wasn’t until he checked the third room that he ran into another person. It wasn’t his brother and yet the man was certainly no stranger.
“Jarik,” Owens hissed at the man who had his back turned to him, after he had made sure they were alone.
The tall, dark-skinned Vulcan turned to look at Owens. His eyes widened in surprise. “Michael?”
“What the hell are you doing here?” he said, sounding rather emotional for what appeared to be a man of Vulcan heritage.
“What do you think? I’m looking for my brother.”
Jarik looked around for a moment, as if considering his options.
Owens followed his glance towards a com-panel and produced his phaser, pointing it in his general direction. “I’d rather not use this, not on a man I once considered as a close friend. Of course that was a long time ago.”
Jarik looked back at Owens, seeing the weapon but saying nothing.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw that you are working with Matthew. We both know you’re no scientist. You are bureaucrat, even back at the Academy you were always more interested in the theory instead of actually putting anything into practice. So mind telling me how you ended up here? Working for the Guardians of all people?”
He offered a very little, very un-Vulcan like smirk. “That’s a long story. One better left for another time.”
Owens nodded. “Suits me. I’m not here for you. Where is he?”
“Are you here alone?”
“Of course not, I have a ship in orbit.”
Owens was beginning to grow tired. “Listen, I don’t have time for twenty questions. I know the Guardians have vessels operating in the area, protecting this very facility. I’m on the clock here, just tell me where Matt is.”
“Is there anyone else down here with you?” he said, ignoring Michael’s growing annoyance.
“No. Now, can you take me to my brother or do I have to stun you and look for him myself?”
“What do you intend to do once you find him?” he said, now sounding as calm as any other Vulcan would be in any given situation.
Owens raised the phaser a little higher. “You really want to do this?
Jarik shook his head, clearly suppressing a sigh. “Follow me,” he said and then quickly turned towards another door.
“Slow down. I might be in a hurry, but I have no desire of walking into a trap.
Jarik got the message and slowed his pace as he led him through a set of doors and down another corridor which looked indistinguishable to the others Owens had already seen.
He led him into another lab, filled with machinery and computer displays, and his brother, working at one of them.
“Matt,” Jarik said, “there is somebody here to talk to you.”
He sighed heavily without turning. “Tell her that the project is classified. Strictly need to know and she doesn’t need to know. I am getting pretty sick of repeating—“ he stopped after having turned and realized who had stepped into his lab. “Michael?”
“Matt,” said Owens looking at his brother, noting that he hadn’t aged much since he had seen him last a few years ago. He also didn’t miss that he looked well, enthusiastic and full of energy, not the gloomy and borderline depressed man he had been the last time they had spoken in person.
He quickly shook his head. “You can’t be here.”
“Well, nice seeing you too.”
Matthew looked at Jarik, aiming him a clearly surprised look, before glancing back at his brother. “How are you here?”
“Does it really matter?”
“Seeing that this is a secret facility, yes. Yes, it does.”
Owens took a step closer. “Do you really think you can work on a project this big, this dangerous and it wouldn’t raise a few eyebrows. We know about what you are up to and Starfleet—our Starfleet—is determined to stop this. By any means necessary.”
“What does that mean?”
“What do you think it means? Destroy it if they have to. And to be honest, I think that is a pretty damn good idea.”
This clearly terrified him and he quickly shook his head, becoming more animate. “No, I won’t allow it.”
“You won’t have a choice in the matter.”
“This is madness,” he said, beginning to pace. “And so goddamned typical. Here’s something the admirals and the politicians don’t understand and their first instinct is to destroy it. Destroy it because they are scared by it. I have worked too long and too hard on this to let ignorant minds determine the future of what we have done here.”
“Oh please, stop it with the self-righteous indignation already…” he stopped talking when he realized that, without him noticing, Jarik had slipped out of the room. He quickly made his way towards the exit, trying to locate him again.
“Mark my words, Mike, I won’t let them destroy it. I’ve been here before. Years ago when we first approached Starfleet—before the Schism—to practically beg them to give us the resources we needed to make this a reality. They shut us down then, just like they are trying to shut us down now,” he said and shook his head again. “But we are so close. The prototype—“
“Will you give it a rest for a moment?” Owens said sharply. “Where did Jarik go?”
He shot him a piercing glare. “Jarik. Where did he go?”
But Matthew responded with nothing more than an empty look. Then his eyes opened wider.
Owens whipped back around only to see a phaser cone inches from his face.
“Well, well, well, just look at what the le-matya has dragged in.”
The phaser was wielded by another face intimately familiar to Michael Owens, however one that he had really hoped to avoid seeing up close again, regardless how attractive her dark features still were, even after all those years.
He slowly backtracked from Amaya Donners and the phaser in her hand, but not before she plucked his own cricket-sized weapon out of his hand.
“I keep telling him to leave the trash outside and yet he never, ever listens.”
“You made a real dumb move coming here alone, you know that?”
“Who says I’m alone?”
As if one cue, Jarik appeared again, entering the room, walking straight passed Donners who kept her phaser trained on the intruder. Owens fixed his former friend and Academy roommate with a poisonous glare.
“Look at that, it’s almost like a class reunion, isn’t it?” said Donners. “I’d say all of us having made pretty good decisions over the years which led us to this point. Well all of us, except for you, Michael. Then again, making good decisions has nvever exactly been your strong suit.”
“Let’s not make this personal,” Owens said.
Donners laughed. “I don’t see how things couldn’t be any more personal. You’ve come all the way out here to rescue your poor brother from our evil clutches in what clearly is not a sanctioned mission. Tell me how many strings did you have to pull to get this far? Name of the old man still carrying a lot of weight, huh?”
Owens glanced at the three people in the room, one of which holding him at gunpoint. His brother seemed distraught, as if unable to decide between family loyalty and his dedication to his life’s work. Jarik was unreadable, but as far as Owens was concerned, he had already revealed his hand.
“Matt, listen to me,” said Owens, keeping his eyes on Donners and the phaser. “You are on the wrong side of this but you have been too focused on your work to realize that what you are doing here could spell doom for all of us. No matter if you want to keep the peace or chase some sort of phantom dream of rebuilding what we once had. If you don’t stop this and come with me, you’ll bring this all crashing down on us like the fragile house of cards it already is. Everything we’ve fought so hard for to rebuild after the Borg will have been for nothing.”
“I don’t even know what you are talking about,” said Matthew.
Donners simply snickered. “You were always good with the speeches, Michael. Must be what I thought I once saw it you. But you are dead awful at reading a crowd. Told you that you were going to get what’s coming to you eventually,” she said, closing in slowly.
Matthew took a step closer. “Wait, what are you doing?
“Getting rid of a problem, what do you think?”
This caused Michael some amusement, even as he took another step back, realizing that he was quickly running out of room. “She’s got a major grudge against me, don’t you know? Revenge really doesn’t suit you, Maya. It makes you look ugly.”
Matthew shook his head. “Don’t hurt him. He’s still my brother.”
But Donners wasn’t listening, raising the weapon higher as if to take aim, her eyes cold as ice.
That’s when Owens spotted the third man of Matthew’s research team entering the room, clearly drawn here by the commotion. “What the hell is going on here?” the gray-haired Westren Frobisher barked.
“We have an intruder,” said Jarik.
The hawkish features of Frobisher took in Michael Owens and his eyes widened in alarm. “Get rid of him.”
“My thinking exactly,” said Donners.
“No!” Matthew rushed Donners in panic, distracting her just long enough to allow Owens to make a move.
Donners fired the phaser but the shot went wide, singeing the white wall behind Michael but missing him entirely.
He jumped her and the force of the tackle pushed them both over a table before they went crashing down onto the floor, taking padds and other computer equipment along with them.
Donners lost hold of her weapon and it went skittering across the floor until it disappeared underneath a few cabinets.
Owens won the short struggle against Donners, who seemed dazed from the impact. Not wasting any time, he jumped back onto his feet.
Frobisher was on him in seconds, trying to pin him down but the scientist was no match for the well-trained Starfleet captain who easily shrugged him off, sending him flying against the far wall where he collapsed with a groan.
Jarik was next but he didn’t attack, instead he raised his palms towards Owens. “Wait, just listen to me.”
But Owens was in no mood. He sucker punched the Vulcan with such force, he went down in a heap.
He turned to his brother who had been looking on with wide-open eyes as chaos had erupted in his lab. “Alright let’s get out of here.”
“What, no,” he said, shaking his head emphatically. “I told you, I’m not leaving my work behind.”
“You cannot be serious. Matt, they’ve brought in somebody else to come after you and your prototype. And she won’t hesitate to destroy it and everyone in her way. You have seen how easy it was for me to get here, she won’t be far behind. I’m not going to let you throw away your life for a super-weapon which deserves to be wiped off the face of the galaxy.”
He shot him a befuddled look. “Super-weapon, what are you talking about?”
“Your damned dark-matter device. Big Betty. You even called it after your first love.”
He shook his head again. “Big Betty isn’t a weapon.”
“It’s a transporter.”
Owens didn’t understand and he didn’t have time to catch up as Matthew shoved him aside hard. “Watch out.”
It was just in time to avoid a phaser blast coming from Donners who was picking herself off the floor again and had apparently re-located the phaser she had taken from Owens earlier.
Michael grabbed hold of his brother’s arm and dragged him out of the room and down the corridor. But Matthew was not going along willing, offering resistance and eventually freeing himself again. “Stop it, I told you, I’m not going with you.”
“Goddammit, Matt, you are supposed to be the smart one. Think this through. Something else is going on here and while you stay here, you remain in the crosshairs. I’m not going to let you die for this. I made a promise to dad that I wouldn’t let you get hurt.”
Matthew sneered. “Is that it? A promise to the old man, to protect his estranged son? Well, you won’t need to worry about that anymore, will you?”
Owens fought hard to keep his anger in check but failed. “The least you can do is honor his memory. He’s been trying to reconcile with you over the last years but you continuously rebuffed him. Going so far as joining his enemies. You broke his heart, Matt. He couldn’t deal with it.”
He uttered a little derisive laugh. “Right, so you blame me for his death, is that it? Why are you even here, Mike?”
“Because I care about family.”
The two men stared at each other with growing fury threatening to be set free.
Another phaser blast hitting close to Michael’s head and adding another large scorch mark to a shiny white wall prompted them back into action as they scrambled down the corridor together.
“Stop running like the coward that you are,” Donners shouted from further down the hallway, following the two brothers.
Owens pushed Matthew around a corner.
“Boy, she’s got murder in her eyes,” Matthew said with seemingly misplaced humor. “Tell me, is there anyone in your life you haven’t managed to tick off?”
“I think I might have turned my last allies against me today.”
“Get out of here, Mike,” he said.
“Not without you.”
“We’re not going to make it far with her chasing us. No doubt she has already called for reinforcements. I can buy you some time and you can try to live to fight another day.”
“I’m not going to let you risk your life—“
“She won’t kill me, it’s you she’s after. And whatever else is going on here, I trust you to figure it out and put a stop to it,” he placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry about, dad. I know we had our differences, and I still think he tried to drive a wedge between us, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sorry he’s gone. But most of all I’m sorry we allowed him to pull us apart.”
Before Owens could say anything else, Matthew turned and disappeared around the corner to run interference.
“Dammit, Matt,” he hissed but realizing he had no other options, he turned the other way, racing towards the extraction point.
He felt his combadge vibrate once he had left behind the shielded part of the complex, alerting him that he was clear for a beam out. He quickly tapped it. “Owens to Akinola. One to beam up.”
But there was no response.
“Owens to Akinola, come in, dammit.”
He continued on, trying to get further away from the shielded parts of the complex, hoping that it would reduce any inference which may prevent Bluefin to get a lock on his position. “Akinola, get me out of here now.”
He stopped in his tracks when Amaya Donners came around a bend and walked right into his path with a wide smirk, clearly having anticipated his destination and cut him off. “Don’t tell me your friends abandoned you. That’s such a common thread for you one would think you’d be used to it by now.”
Owens began to backtrack again, raising his hands slowly while Donners pointed the phaser at him once more. “And maybe you start tiring of playing the spurned lover. How about that?”
“I guess we all have our roles to play. Yours though, ends now.”
A very familiar feeling brought a little grin to his face. “Maybe next time,” he said as felt his body being dematerialized. He could see her indignation even through the haze of the transporter effect, saw the phaser blast which harmlessly passed through his body which was no longer there.
It didn’t stop him of course to grab his chest where the blast had been aimed the moment he had fully rematerialized, relieved not find any injury at all.
Only then did he take note of Bluefin’s transporter room and the female Vulcan officer there to receive him. He completely ignore her and rushed right passed her and towards the bridge.
He had stayed mostly out of sight since he had returned command to Akinola and his crew, after all she was still, essentially an enemy vessel, but he no longer cared about staying inconspicuous as he burst onto the bridge.
“Next time, don’t cut it so damn close,” he barked at Akinola who was getting out of his chair.
The other captain clearly didn’t appreciate his tone; on his own bridge no less. “I don’t foresee there being a next time.”
A quick glance towards the view screen revealed that they were no longer in orbit around Panea. “What are you doing? We’re not done here.”
“Oh yes, we are.”
“We had an agreement,” Owens fumed, ignoring the startled looks of the bridge crew. “It was me and my brother.”
“The agreement was to take you to Panea and bring you back,” said Akinola, matching his intensity, if not his volume. “Not my problem that you came back from the surface alone. If you prefer, we can leave you behind,” he added and then entered a few commands into the armrest controls of his chair. “Of course that would mean you would have to deal with them.”
The view screen switched to an aft view to show Panea as well as two starships coming into view. Agamemnon and Cuffe. It didn’t take long at all for both vessels to begin pursuing Bluefin.
“Looks like they figured it out. The ruse is up, Captain,” said Akinola.
“Get us back to Eagle at maximum speed.”
Akinola glared at the other man for a brief moment, obviously hating being told what to do. He considered his options for only a moment before he slowly nodded to his helmsman.
“We’re not going to outrun those ships,” said Akinola. “So I hope you have some sort of contingency plan in mind because if not, we are both going to hang for this.”
“Sir, we have additional ships now reading on sensors,” said the Vulcan officer who had follow Owens from the transporter room and had taken her station at ops.
“More of ours?” asked Akinola.
The view screen switched back to a forward view to display two ships on an intercept course.
Owens recognized them immediately. Intrepid and Gibraltar were coming in fast.
“This is going to get ugly.”