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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.”


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