Michael had felt it again almost the moment he had stepped into the science lab. That same, powerful and alien sensation he had experienced when he had been in the vicinity of the strange device before.
It was unsettling in its intensity and yet it wasn’t nearly as strong or as compelling as it had been the very first time he had come across the Exhibitor when it had been activated and had brought forth the Prism.
For all his claims of being an explorer and for having joined Starfleet to discover new and never before seen places and to further the Federation’s collective understanding of the universe, he had very quickly developed a strong distaste for this device now before him and mostly wanted it off his ship as soon as possible.
Since it was very likely their ticket home, and possibly the key to unlocking the secrets of the Ring, he knew he would have to be stuck with it for now.
“What have you learned from studying this object?” he said, tearing himself away from staring at it and making eye contact with his science officer instead. It took him a second or so before he was sure he was addressing the correct Xylion since they had confusingly chosen to stand next to each other.
“We have not made significant progress at this stage,” the Vulcan said. “We have subjugated the device to a number of scans that have not yielded any further insight into its function. At this stage, all we can determine is that the Exhibitor is composed of commonly obtained materials.”
Hopkins put a finer point to it. “All the scans are telling us is that this is essentially nothing more than a piece of metal.”
“It obviously isn’t,” said Edison.
“What about the energy signature it is radiating?” Michael continued. “Anything on that?”
Xylion marginally shook his head. “At present, the only manner in which we can quantify these emanations is by the way our bodies appear to perceive them. However, sensors are not able to detect any form of radiation coming from the device itself.”
“So we know it’s there, we all feel it, but we can’t see it or measure it,” said Edison and glanced at the assembled science and engineering team with a little smirk. “That has to be frustrating for you guys.”
“Indeed,” his Xylion replied.
“At least can we rule out that whatever it is we are experiencing is dangerous?” said Michael.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to tell until we have been exposed for a period of time to see how exactly it affects our biology. Incidentally, I would not recommend that we stayed exposed to it for too long. Just because we cannot detect it with instruments, doesn’t mean it’s healthy to be exposed to it,” said Deen.
Michael glanced at his father who said nothing.
It was Jarik who spoke up. “SAI has had possession of the device for six years and we have studied it quite a bit since then. Nobody has shown ill-effects from exposure so far.”
“But it has also never been in such close proximity of the Ring before to which it seems connected,” Michael said and then looked back towards his Xylion. “What’s our next step?”
The half-Vulcan Jarik spoke up before his full-blooded kinsmen could. “I think that much is obvious,” he said. “We need to take it over to the Ring and activate it. That’s how we create another gateway to take us home.”
Michael considered him skeptically. “And on what evidence are you basing this on?”
“We’re clearly beyond physical evidence here, Michael,” he shot back. “We studied this thing for years and couldn’t really figure out how it truly works. Sometimes we just have to take a chance.”
He nodded slowly but not in agreement. “You mean when you took it upon yourself to activate it when we first discovered the Ring and thereby put my entire ship and crew in danger?”
Edison took a step forward. “I agree we need to be cautious but if we are not making any progress, I feel we need to start trying something less conservative,” he said and offered a grin which reminded Michael a great deal of the one belonging to his lost friend. “To quote a Starfleet legend: ‘Risk is our business’.”
“There is another avenue we have discussed we would like to pursue first,” said Xylion.
Grateful at hearing alternatives, Michael prompted him to continue.
“The manner in which we were made first aware of this object’s presence on this ship was due to Bensu being able to perceive it far sooner than anyone else on board not aware of its presence. We were able to locate the device by creating a mind-link which allowed Bensu to focus on the object further.”
“You think they are connected? Bensu and the object,” Michael said and then looked at Bensu who hadn’t spoken since he had arrived.
“I seemed to be connected to a lot of things happening recently,” he said with an uneasy smile.
Michael nodded. “What are you suggesting? Another mind-link?”
“Trust me, Captain, I’m not crazy about the idea but I’m willing to try it if it could yield results.”
“This is a waste of time,” said Jarik.
For some reason, the fact that Jarik was dismissing this so quickly encouraged Michael to give it a try.
“We have already attempted a mind-link with the Exhibitor in close proximity,” Xylion admitted. “And we were able to perceive some, albeit unclear impressions of the object in that manner. I suggest we attempt another link in the presence of the Prism itself. However, we were not successful in summoning the Prism using the Exhibitor for any length of significant time.”
Michael regarded the two SAI leaders. “You seemed to be able to summon the Prism with little difficulties.”
Jarik kept quiet and so Michael focused in on his father. “Dad?”
He nodded slowly. “Only I seem to be able to activate the Exhibitor.”
That caused a momentary stunned silence to fall over the lab.
“Mind explaining that one to us?” Michael said.
His father just shook his head. “It’s complicated.”
“Yeah, I know. None of this is exactly straight forward.”
“It took us a lot of time and effort to figure out how to summon the Prism using the Exhibitor,” said Jarik. “In the end, we managed to do it by bio-linking the device to your father.”
“Fascinating,” said Edison’s Xylion and apparently beating the other Xylion to it by less than a second.
Michael was getting more and more annoyed by this game his father and Jarik seemed to be playing which seemed to revolve around trying to keep as much detail about their work on the Ring and the Prism to themselves for as long as possible. He was half of a mind to lock them both into a cell and have them interrogated until they had revealed every last facet of what exactly they had been up to for all these years. Considering his father had made a career out of keeping secrets, he doubted that anybody on board had the skills necessary to dig the truth out of him without resorting to torture. And even then he wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d be able to withstand that as well.
He quickly shook those darker musings out of his mind. Jarik and his father had already shown their willingness to employ such nefarious means to achieve their goals; he certainly was not.
One thing was becoming quickly apparent to him, however. He would not be able to rely on either man to learn the full truth. Yet he needed their cooperation. “All right, let’s skip the nebulous details on why you seem to be the only person with the magic touch. Can you summon the Prism again? Yes or no.”
His father nodded. “I believe so.”
Michael glanced at DeMara next. “Dee, get in touch with the bridge. I want us to put as much distance to the Ring as possible while we do this. There is a chance a gateway may open again when the Prism appears and I don’t intend to leave here without the away team.”
She nodded promptly and then did as he had instructed.
In the meantime, Hopkins lowered the force field around the Exhibitor to allow Jon Owens access to it while Xylion and Bensu were preparing for yet another mind-link.
When everything was ready and Michael was reasonably sure that Eagle would not get inadvertently sucked into another gateway, he gave his father the signal.
It took him very little effort to use the Exhibitor. He simply took the rod in his hand and manipulated it slightly until, right before their eyes, the Prism appeared again, hovering in mid-air, illuminating the entire room with its bright green light as the shape slowly began to revolve around itself.
Almost everyone present uttered a little gasp at the intensity of the energy which had suddenly filled the room. It was not dissimilar to what Michael had felt before and in its seemingly inert state but clearly that sensation, no matter how powerful it had felt at the time, had just been a small taste of its true potential.
Both his father and Jarik seemed to deal with the Prism presence slightly better than the rest, likely due to the fact that they had become used to it by now, but everyone else in the room was entirely captivated by the floating shape including Bensu and the two Vulcans.
“It is beautiful,” said DeMara after what had seemed like an eternity had passed.
“Readings remain inconclusive,” added Edison’s Deen who had managed to consult a computer console. “Sensors are just not picking it up.”
“And yet there it is,” said Edison keeping his eyes locked on the slowly rotating shape.
Michael could feel his mouth getting dry and forced himself to look away from the mesmerizing sight and towards Bensu and Xylion.
The two men understood and began their mind-link. Like they had before, they both got on their knees to face each other with Xylion touching Bensu’s face and instructing him to focus his thoughts on the Prism.
Bensu cried out suddenly and fell backward and onto the floor. DeMara was the first one at his side. “Bensu, are you all right?”
He nodded slowly as she helped him back onto his knees. “I’m fine. I just wasn’t quite prepared for that intensity. I will be next time.”
But DeMara glanced up at Michael. “Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.”
“Let them continue,” said her counterpart, the tone in her voice much colder than he had ever heard in DeMara’s. The two women glared at each other for a brief moment.
Before Michael could render a verdict, Bensu made the decision for him, pulling himself up to face Xylion again. “I’m unhurt, really,” he said. “She’s right, we should proceed. I was just about to make contact and it is so very powerful. There’s so much there.”
Xylion briefly glanced at Michael for confirmation to proceed and when he reluctantly offered a nod, he made contact with Bensu’s face again.
DeMara seemed unhappy about this but offered no further objections. She made sure to stay close to Bensu in case of another unexpected episode.
“It feels like an infinite well of power and energy,” said Bensu, his eyes wide open but looking at nothing, his sight seemingly turned inward and towards his mind which was now inexplicably connected to the Prism somehow. “It’s difficult to focus on any of it, there is just so much knowledge contained within it. So much information accumulated over eons. It is ancient. It’s been here longer than even our own universe. It comes from someplace beyond,” he said and shook his head. “I can’t hold on to any of it. It’s like trying to grasp at straws in a hurricane. It’s too much.”
“Try to focus on just one single thought,” Xylion urged.
Michael could see Bensu’s face distorting into pain. “I don’t think I can.”
“I am attempting to steady your thoughts but there is a great deal of resistance from the Prism itself. My own mental capabilities may be insufficient,” said Xylion as he too was now starting to visibly experience increasing amounts of discomfort.
“I will assist you,” said his counterpart, and then promptly took a knee next to him and reached out to grab hold of his shoulder. The other Vulcan uttered an almost immediate gasp, making it clear that he had somehow established his own connection to whatever it was Xylion and Bensu were tuned in to. “This is remarkable,” he said.
“I can see something now. I think it is reaching out to me,” Bensu said.
“Focus your thoughts, your entire being, to just this one thing,” Xylion said. “We will attempt to reinforce your own mental acuity.”
There was no doubt that an enormous amount of effort was being exerted by all three of them, fighting against an invisible force trying to keep them, it appeared, from revealing its secrets.
“I can nearly touch it, it is so close now,” Bensu said through clenched teeth and closed eyes.
And then Michael could see it too. Everyone in the room could. Whatever it was that Bensu had taken hold off, it was beginning to manifest itself outside of his mind.
It was a shape, approximately man-high and heavily distorted, almost as if it was only half there.
Everybody in the room not engaged in a mind-link took an instinctive step back from the unexpected apparition which had manifested itself just a couple of meters next to the Prism.
After the initial surprise of its appearance had worn off, both DeMaras had their tricorders out to scan this new phenomenon. They both shook their heads at about the same time, clearly not being able to obtain any clear readings on it.
There was some movement within the apparition and for a moment he thought he recognized a more apparent shape. A shape belonging to a body, perhaps belonging to one of the subspace creatures they had encountered previously.
“I cannot keep hold of it,” Bensu said who seemed unaware of the physical manifestation of whatever was taking place inside his mind.
“Try to exert a greater focus on that single thought. Make it the sole focal point of your mind,” Xylion said.
“I can’t. It’s slipping away.”
And so it did. The apparition flickered briefly and then was gone.
With it, the Prism also vanished again and Bensu collapsed back onto the floor with DeMara quickly seeing to him.
The two Xylions needed a moment to recover from the intensity of connecting their minds as well.
“What the hell did we just see?” said Edison.
Nobody in the room had an answer.