The man on the screen was dead.
He had died two years earlier on an insignificant world somewhere at the edge of the known galaxy, killed by a shapeshifter who had targeted Nora Laas but had found Gene Edison instead when he had pushed her aside in the nick of time, saving her life and dooming himself in the process.
He didn’t look exactly like the same Edison who had given his life for a fellow officer years ago. He wore a full beard now, looked older than he had any rights to be, his dark blonde hair now showing signs of white and his hazel eyes much more tired than he had ever remembered them.
“I want to know who the bloody hell you are and where the blazes you’ve come from.”
Michael Owens struggled with that question, with much of everything his senses were currently telling him.
Never mind the dead man talking to him from a ship that looked very much like his own. It felt as if his mind was failing desperately at playing catch-up like he had left it behind somewhere else entirely and he was still waiting for it to finally arrive and make him whole again. Make him understand what was happening.
Eagle had been someplace else, that he knew. It had traveled through some sort of anomaly, a rip in the space-time continuum and it had delivered them here. Wherever here was.
“This is some sort of Dominion trick and I will not fall for it,” Edison said. “I’ll end this before it ever gets started. I’ll blow you right out of the stars.”
“Wait a minute, just hold on,” Michael said as he stumbled back to his feet. While he still couldn’t tell what was happening, he knew that his ship and crew were in bad shape and not in any position to survive a fight. “This is not a trick. I don’t know what has happened or where we are and I am just as stunned to see you as you appear to be finding me here.”
It wasn’t difficult to tell that Edison wasn’t buying any of this. “I don’t have the patience for games. You are an imposter brought here for who knows what reason and I will not allow it. I will not let you disgrace his memory by—“
Without warning another face appeared on Eagle’s viewer, splitting the image of the enraged Edison. This one Michael recognized as well, in fact, it was much more familiar to him. It belonged to Amaya Donners and differently to Edison, she looked more confused than angry. “Maya.”
“What is this? This can’t be,” she said.
“It’s pretty clear what’s going on here,” Edison continued. “This is some form of elaborate deception designed to lower our guard.”
“Listen, Maya, you know me. It’s me, Michael. I appreciate that tempers are flying high. Let’s all just take a breath and talk about what is going on here. Why don’t you and Gene join us here on Eagle and—“
“Eagle?” Edison said shaking his head with apparent disgust. “Your ships is not Eagle.”
“I think we should hear him out,” Amaya said.
Michael offered her a grateful nod.
“This is a mistake,” Edison said quickly. “And there is no way I’m setting foot on that pretender’s ship. If we are having a meeting, it’ll take place on the real Eagle. On my ship.”
But Michael didn’t like the idea at all, not considering Edison’s attitude. Something told him that if he agreed to beam over to his ship, he would find himself behind a force field or worse in short order.
Amaya could apparently see his hesitation. “Agamemnon then. Will that be acceptable to everyone?”
Edison grunted in response, clearly not enthused by the idea but willing to tolerate it.
Michael nodded. “Very well. Give us a few minutes to collect ourselves over here and we’ll beam over to your ship.”
Edison glared at him. “I won’t tolerate delay tactics so that you can come up with further deceptions.”
“We’ve just been through somewhat of an ordeal,” Michael said, keeping his voice stern in the face of the suspicious Gene Edison. “We have taken damage and have wounded over here. Let me see to that first and then we can have our meeting and try to make sense of all this.”
Edison hesitated for just a moment. “Thirty minutes. That’s all the time I’m willing to give you. Take care of your injured and then I expect to see you on Agamemnon. Not a minute later. Eagle out.” And with that, the face of the bearded Edison disappeared from the screen.
Amaya gave him a nod even if she had apparently not quite gotten over her own confusion yet. Michael could appreciate how she felt. Then she disappeared as well and the screen went back to show their respective two ships again.
DeMara Deen turned to look at Michael from the operations console. She had a few bloody scratches on her face and her usually perfect blonde locks were in disarray. She had not fared well during their trip through the anomaly. None of them had. “Was that Gene? How is that possible?”
Michael sat back down in his chair. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
Only very slowly the bridge crew was coming back around and for Michael memories which had been a haze just moments ago seemed to begin to take shape again in his mind. He remembered the portal they had discovered in a pocked of in-between space. A portal built by a race of subspace aliens and designed to allow them to transition into normal space and facilitate and all-out invasion.
It had brought them here and face-to-face with another version of Agamemnon and Eagle, captained by a man who had died two years earlier.
He needed answers and he needed them quickly.
Michael got back onto his feet even though he still felt feeble after what they had been through. Tazla Star, his first officer was there to steady him, even though one look at the tall Trill redhead made it clear that she wasn’t in much better shape. “Get me a full damage report within the next ten minutes. Then get everyone to the observation lounge. I think it is time we had a chat.”