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He hadn’t exactly been crazy about the idea of leaving the away team behind on the Ring, especially not with the presence of the mysterious and powerful artifact that seemed to have the inexplicable ability to create trans-dimensional gateways.

He wasn’t quite sure why his concern for a father who had alienated him for most of his life had suddenly trumped other concerns. Perhaps it had something to do with the entirely unexpected grief and sense of loss he had felt after he had learned of his passing, which of course had turned out to be an elaborate lie. Or maybe it had been his father’s recent plea to try and make amends for a lifetime of neglecting his family, brought on by the notion, Michael guessed, that neither of them had much family left besides each other.

It had been rare in his near twenty-five year Starfleet career that he had put the wellbeing and concerns of a single person above those of the mission. The Vulcans had a pertinent saying to that effect and in general, he tended to live his life by that maxim, firmly believing that as a starship captain, it was his duty to prioritize his crew, his mission, sometimes even the fate of entire worlds, above his personal and individual needs, wants and concerns.

Intellectually, Michael Owens understood all that, and yet, it hadn’t stopped him from carrying his barely conscious father out of the control sphere and then have them both, along with Nora, beamed back onto Eagle.

He had ordered his security chief back to the Ring the moment they had entered sickbay and his father was taken from their shoulders to be treated by several medical professionals, Elijah Katanga chief amongst them.

But he stayed behind, hardly moving more than a few meters from where they were working on him, watching on silently as Katanga and his nurses and med techs diagnosed and treated his father.

No fifteen minutes after he had brought him in, he found himself in his chief physician’s office, pacing the room while keeping his eyes on the biobed Jon Owens was now calmly resting on through the transparent wall. “What’s wrong with him?”

“I wish I could say.”

That had not been the answer he had hoped for and he stopped in his tracks to pin the older man with a sharp look to communicate his displeasure.

Predictably, the ‘Captain’s Stare’ didn’t quite work on a man who was easily twice is age and who had no doubt endured countless such glares in his exhaustive Starfleet career. Elijah Katanga was not a man to be pressured.

Realizing this, Michael took a different tact. “There’s got to be something you can tell me.”

Katanga stepped up to the large screen embedded in the sidewall of his office which currently showed a detailed tomographic scan of his patient. “There is some significant cellular damage throughout Admiral Owens’ body which is affecting all of his biological functions,” he said and shook his head. “I’ve never really seen anything quite like it before.”

Michael stepped closer to the screen but in truth, not much he could see there made a great deal of sense to him. “What is the cause?”

“I don’t know yet. Not until I’ve been able to carry out some additional analysis.”

“What’s your prognosis?”

He uttered a little sigh, clearly not happy to encounter a medical mystery that stumped him. Perhaps this had been different when he had been a young doctor, but Michael guessed that these days, the octogenarian preferred to have solutions, rather than having to painstakingly chase them. That he had the determination and the skills to do so, however, he had already evidenced on Piqus VII. Perhaps more so than Michael had been comfortable with. “It’s too early to tell. The cellular degradation is obvious, what I don’t know yet is how quickly it is progressing and if all cells are affected in equal measure. We have stabilized him for now and he should be fine until”“ he stopped himself and Michael spotted a frown on his face as he glanced over his shoulder and back into the patient ward.

Michael turned to find what had caught his ire.

It was his father. He was awake and not just that, he was pushing himself off the biobed, getting up and dismissing the two nurses who were desperately trying to keep him in place.

“What in the name of the Great Bird of the Galaxy does he think he’s doing?” Katanga said angrily and then rushed out of his office, Michael following on his heels.

“Sir, I really must insist that you return to your bed,” said a clearly flustered nurse, seemingly torn between physically restraining the admiral and keeping her objections purely vocal.

“That’s quite alright, Ensign,” Owens Senior said. “You’ve done a fine and commendable job. But I cannot stay here.”

“There is absolutely no other place for you to be,” Katanga said sharply and positioned himself squarely in the admiral’s path. “You are in no condition to leave you shouldn’t even be on your feet.”

“And yet here I am,” he shot back. “Upright and ready to work. So, well done, Doctor, your reputation is truly well deserved. You are indeed a master of your craft.”

Katanga shook his head. “Flattery will get you nowhere with me, sir. Now, return to your bed at once. I have done little to nothing to address the underlying causes of your condition.”

“I feel perfectly fine, Doctor.”

“We have given you something to help with the symptoms but that hasn’t changed the fact that you’re most definitely not fine. Not even remotely close to it.”

Owens Senior tapped the other man on the shoulder good-naturedly. “Let’s agree to disagree. But unless you plan to have me physically restrained by security, I am leaving. There is too much at stake and simply not enough time,” he said as he swiftly sidestepped the doctor and continued towards the door.

For a moment Michael though that Katanga was going to leap after his father and restrain him all on his own, drag him back to that bed kicking and screaming if he had to.

That didn’t happen but Michael was convinced that the veteran doctor would have no qualms of making use of ship security to do that work for him. As the chief medical officer, it was within his right to do so and Michael had zero desire to go and kick that particular hornet’s nest and start a power struggle between him, his father and Katanga. Something like that, he was dead certain, would quickly become ugly and likely see nobody come out as a winner in the end.

He stepped up to Katanga and gently reached for his arm. “Doctor,” he said quietly. “Allow me to deal with this.”

“Captain, with all due respect, I cannot condone”“

“I understand, Doctor, I really do. And trust me, I am as concerned about my father’s wellbeing as you are. Probably more so. But perhaps I can get you some answers that otherwise would take you a long way to find out on your own.”

That seemed to be enough to make him relent somewhat and his expression began to soften slightly. “I think this is a mistake.”

“Noted,” he said and then quickly followed his father.

“Is there nobody left on this ship who has the good sense of listening to their doctor?” Michael heard Katanga grumble even as he was hurrying to catch up with his father. “Is that truly too much to ask for?”

Michael ignored his laments, stepped out of sickbay and found his father walking gingerly down the corridor where he caught up with him easily. “You do realize that you’re putting me into an untenable position, Dad. You need to get back to sickbay and let Katanga check you out properly.”

Jon Owens shook his head as he continued, albeit at a much slower pace than was his custom. “There’s no point.”

“What does that mean?”

“Listen, son. We don’t have the time for this. I need to ”“ he stopped walking as he seemed to lose his balance and required the help of the bulkhead to steady himself.

Michael quickly reached out for him to keep him from collapsing. “Dad, this is ridiculous. Katanga is right, you can barely stand.”

“Just … just get me to my quarters,” he said. “Please, I beg you, for all of our sakes, do this for me,” he added when Michael remained unconvinced.

He could not recall ever having seen his father so weak and apparently helpless. He certainly had rarely if ever begged, not even when he had made the seemingly outrageous request a few weeks ago, just before he had faked his death, for him to leave Eagle and join him and his enigmatic undertaking.

He nodded wordlessly and helped him along to the turbolift and then back to his quarters a few decks above. They hardly exchanged more than a few words on the short trip which took longer than usual due to his father’s weakness he was no longer able to hide.

Once they had reached his quarters, he managed on his own to get to the bedroom, asking Michael to stay behind.

“What’s going on, Dad? First I find out Jarik has Darnay's disease and has got who knows how much time left before his body starts failing him and now you’re suffering from some form of cellular degradation which has even Doctor Katanga with all his decades in medicine, entirely stumped. What kind of work are you doing at SAI that is making you all sick?”

His father didn’t respond but Michael was sure that he could hear the sound of an emptying hypospray coming from the other room. Before he could go to investigate, Jon Owens reappeared by the door.

“You have to be careful with Jarik.”

Michael was confused. “Jarik works for you.”

“It’s complicated.”

“Then, for the love of God, just uncomplicated it for me. It’s about time you start being straight with me. Seriously, I cannot believe that after all you’ve done, after all the games you’ve played and all those sky high stakes you keep preaching about, that we are still doing that same old dance around the truth.”

“Help me over there,” he said, indicating towards the sofa positioned beneath the large windows currently showing just a tiny portion of the massive ring structure within the pinkish swirling mass of in-between space.

Michael did as he asked.

“After I had to fake my death, Jarik stepped up to play a bigger role at SAI. For all intense and purposes he became its new leader,” he said after he had sat down on the couch, noticeably still weak, although the color was starting to return to his face.

“What are you saying? That Jarik is following his own agenda?”

“Leva to Captain Owens.”

Michael glanced upwards upon hearing his tactical officer’s voice, knowing that he was on the bridge, currently in command of the ship. “Go ahead, Commander.”

“Sir, we’ve just been contacted by the away team. Xylion appears concerned that a situation is developing that requires your urgent attention.”

Jon Owens sat up a little straighter upon hearing this. “I was afraid of something like this. It’s Jarik. You can’t let him take over, son,” he said and shook his head. “And right now, I’m in no condition to stop him.”

“Goddamnit, dad,” Michael mumbled, quietly enough as to not let Leva overhear his budding frustrations. “Commander, advise Xylion that I’m returning now. Owens, out,” he said and then looked at his father. “Are you going to be all right?”

He nodded. “I’ll be fine, trust me. This isn’t the first time I had an episode like this. It’ll pass. But you need to get over there and keep Jarik in check before it’s too late.”

Michael regarded his father with a skeptical look. There were still so many questions he desperately needed answers to. Question about what Jarik was really up to and the nature of his father’s condition. But it was clear that Jon Owens was particularly concerned about what his supposed lieutenant was capable of if left to his own devices. Something in his tone had made his blood run cold and convinced him that he had to deal with this latest situation before he could try and get any more answers.

“Why can’t anything ever be straight forward with you,” he said, doing little to mask his exasperation.

“Because, and you really should have learned this by now, we just don’t live in a straight-forward universe.”

He suppressed the urge to counter that things had felt so much less complicated before his father got involved as he promptly left the VIP quarters and headed with all due haste back to the transporter room, already anxious about what new complication he’d have to face once he had returned to the Ring.

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