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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.”

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