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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.”

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