“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.