Ten minutes had not been nearly enough time to recover from whatever they had just been through and Michael still found it difficult to focus on his thoughts while his mind remained flooded with a thousand mental images which had seemingly assaulted him all at once and for a period which had felt like half an eternity. In truth, he still could not tell how much time had elapsed since they had made first contact with the gateway and the ship’s internal chronometers were of little help since they refused to work correctly.
He forced himself to focus his thoughts on the task ahead, no matter how much of a struggle, as he regarded his senior officers assembled in the observation lounge, all of who appeared just as exhausted as he felt. The only exception perhaps was Bensu, the man he had known as Eagle’s civilian bartender but who had turned out to be a lot more than that. Of course, so far nobody had been able to explain to him how it was that Bensu knew so much about their circumstances or had been able to weather the latest events far more successfully than the rest of the crew, least of which Bensu himself.
Jarik, the half-Vulcan interim director of Starfleet’s Department of Special Affairs and Investigations and his one-time Academy roommate and close friend, as well as the person chiefly responsible for having them chase this subspace portal in the first place, looked just as bad as the rest of them. Perhaps even worse as he was attempting to control a coughing fit which had overcome him.
Michael knew that Jarik was suffering from a rare and incurable genetic disease which he had taken pains to hide from the people he worked with. He wondered how their journey through the portal may have affected his already weakened physiology.
Jarik had taken over as interim director of SAI after Michael’s father sudden passing and yet Jonathan Owens was sitting right next to his successor after only recently revealing that he had faked his own death for reasons which he had still not revealed to him fully. His relationship with his father had never been particularly good for several reasons but as far as Michael was concerned, making him believe that he had died, had only widened the rift between them to a point where he had a difficult time imagining any kind of reconciliation in the near future.
He tore himself away from those personal thoughts as he regarded Tazla Star sitting to his right at the conference table. “All right, first things first. What’s our status?”
Regardless of what they had only just been through, Star was the very epitome of professionalism. Her fire-red hair was back in its regulation bun with just a couple of loose strands hanging in her face and she had her report ready to go. “Overall, not good. Let’s start with the good news. We have no reported fatalities so far. Initial diagnostics confirm that the ship is structurally sound and all essential systems are running on auxiliary power including life support, artificial gravity, and secondary systems.”
Michael nodded. “I’m getting the feeling I’d wish the good news report was longer.”
She uttered a little sigh. “You and me both. Half the crew is either injured or still unconscious. The main computer is down ditto for the warp core and the impulse engines. We don’t have external sensors or subspace communications. Shields and weapons are currently not operational. At this point I couldn’t even tell you what time it is, not to mention our spatial coordinates.”
Michael glanced towards the large windows which allowed an unobstructed view of the area directly aft of Eagle. The sight he found there was familiar, a dense and colorful starscape virtually identical to the one they had been surrounded by before Eagle had stumbled across the in-between space and the gateway. “We still appear to be in the Amargosa Diaspora.”
Xylion offered a minuscule nod to this. “According to the visible stellar constellations, our current location is the star system Cygni-98 and approximately identical to our location in regular space before we entered the threshold into in-between space with a margin of error of point two one percent.”
Michael realized that whatever had happened to them had clearly not had an adverse effect on his Vulcan science officer’s razor-sharp intellect. However, he had not quite missed the uncharacteristically hesitation in his voice.
He nodded at Xylion. “So we think we know where we are except that spatial coordinators don’t seem to be telling us the full story since we have at least one starship sitting off our starboard bow which is a spitting image of our own, captained by a man who by all accounts should be dead and who is convinced that we are imposters.”
“The most likely explanation, Captain, is that we have somehow entered an alternate quantum reality,” Xylion said.
Michael rubbed his forehead. He had heard of this kind of thing before, of course, had even started to suspect something along those lines himself but in truth had hoped it wasn’t true. Time travel was one thing, haunting the nightmares of most starship captains, but the idea that they had not just moved back or forward in time but had left behind their own space-time continuum altogether was a daunting proposition and one he’d rather not consider if given the choice.
“For those of us not as versed in advanced quantum mechanics, Commander, would you mind elaborating on that theory,” said Tazla Star.
“Certainly,” said Xylion. “Naturally, due to our current situation and without access to sensors and the main computer, I am unable to form a full hypothesis of our current circumstances. However, the theory of alternate quantum realities has been previously confirmed by several Starfleet and Federation encounters with other quantum realities where different choices have led to the creation of universes which may resemble our own but contain either minute or significant differences.”
“I hope this is not the part where you start talking about felines trapped inside boxes,” said Deen, already looking exasperated by his explanation. “I always felt bad for that cat at the Academy.”
Xylion merely raised an eyebrow to that.
“Let’s leave household pets out of this for now,” said Michael and considered Xylion again. “Our best theory then is that the portal has deposited us in an alternate reality instead of taking us into subspace.”
“I think we are getting ahead of ourselves,” said Jarik. “We have no real evidence to base this on. What we do know is that the portal was built by the subspace aliens and that they intend to invade normal space.”
“And yet we find ourselves here,” said Star.
“We don’t even know where here is,” Jarik insisted. “For all we know this could all be just an elaborate simulation or some other form of subspace effect. We are clearly dealing with a highly advanced enemy, one which has been able to construct a massive portal structure which far exceeds anything we could have created.”
“None of this precludes the possibility that we find ourselves in an alternate quantum reality,” Xylion said.
“For now that’s merely a theory. Our primary focus must be to return to the gateway and attempt to understand how it works so that we may stop it from being used to invade our space,” said Jarik and then shot a brief glance towards Admiral Owens at his side.
“Agreed,” the other man said.
Michael found their interplay somewhat peculiar. It almost felt as if his father was taking his cues from Jarik. Then again he wasn’t entirely sure anymore about the chain of command since his father no longer had an official status in Starfleet.
“We should head back towards the same exact coordinates we used when we first made contact with this in-between space and the portal to see if that will take us back there,” Jarik continued and looked straight at Michael.
“That’s all well and good,” said Star. “But we do have a more immediate problem. As in the two starships sitting off our bow and expecting an explanation regarding our presence here in less than twenty minutes.”
“An explanation we can’t really provide,” said Michael.
“I am satisfied that we offer them the same alternate reality theory proposed by your science officer for now. But we mustn't reveal the full details about the subspace gateway,” Jarik said.
Michael didn’t like the sound of that. Keeping secrets hadn’t worked out so well for anybody involved so far and had a tendency to backfire spectacularly. He did agree, however, that there was a need to be careful around these possibly alternate versions of the people he thought he knew. After all, it was more than likely that in reality, he knew next to nothing about them.
“We’ll play things close to our vest for now. Mister Xylion, you and Bensu will accompany me over to the Agamemnon,” he said and considered his science officer and the bartender.
The two men offered brief nods to acknowledge.
“Commander, see what can be done to get my ship back into shape quickly. At the moment we are a sitting duck in an unfamiliar and possibly hostile environment. Not to mention that we won’t be able to answer any of our many questions without a working starship.”
“Jarik and I will come along as well,” said Jonathan Owens.
Michael quickly shook his head. “That’s not a good idea. If this is some sort of parallel universe, the fewer people we expose to the locals, the better.”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to insist on this one, son,” he said sternly.
Michael stared him down for a moment but his father answered his gaze without flinching and Michael stood down. He had a feeling that the two of them were going to butt heads sooner or later but he decided that this was not going to be the battle worth fighting over. “Fine. As long as it is understood that I am the only person to speak for this ship.”
“Of course,” Owens Senior said quickly.
Perhaps a little too quickly, Michael thought.
Any further considerations on this point were cut short by an incoming call.
“Alendra to Captain Owens.”
Michael glanced towards the ceiling upon hearing the voice coming over the intercom. “What’s matter, Lieutenant?”
“Sir, I apologize for the interruption but I’ve detected what appears to be an abnormal energy reading.”
“Are you able to localize it?”
She hesitated for only a moment. “Not with any accuracy. However, I believe it originates from within the ship.”
Michael glanced over at his first officer but Star looked just as clueless. Considering the events of the last few hours, he quickly decided that they couldn’t afford to overlook the small things and pushed his chair back to get onto his feet. “We’re on our way, Owens out.”
Stepping back onto the bridge, he tried hard to ignore the disturbing image of the other Eagle still on the main screen and instead focused his attention on Alendra, the Bolian woman currently serving as the duty officer. “What have you got, Lieutenant?”
She shook her bald blue head. “Nothing concrete, I’m afraid,” she said while standing at the tactical station. “It’s an energy reading but I cannot identify its source or its location. It is not significant but I thought best to bring it to your attention right away.”
Michael nodded. Alendra had been a fairly recent addition to the crew and had been brought onboard by Commander Leva following his short stint as a first officer on a different vessel which had ended in disaster. He had highly recommended the efficient young Bolian officer and so far Michael had to admit that having a versatile officer and generalist around who could easily jump into any required role was a real asset to the ship. Officially she held the position of deputy tactical officer but in reality, she was a true jack-of-all-trades. “The right call, Lieutenant,” he said as he headed towards his chair in the command area and watched Deen take her seat at ops to provide more details.
It took her only a moment to query the data she was looking for. “Internal sensors are still down so I cannot get a fix on the reading but the signature looks familiar. It is similar to the energy drain we’ve experienced over the last few days.”
Michael seemed to vaguely remember reading something to that effect in the daily status updates but it may as well have been a report he had reviewed a year ago as far as the details of it were concerned.
Fortunately, Xylion’s memory was as precise as it had always been. “Sensors first detected a two point four kilojoule energy disparity originating from cargo bay three approximately two days ago. A level four diagnostic revealed no malfunctioning equipment at the time and due to the low energy level no additional diagnostics were scheduled,” he said as he took his seat at the science station. “I agree with Lieutenant Deen’s assessment that this energy signature appears consistent with the energy drain we have detected previously.”
“And I don’t think it is localized to the cargo bay any longer,” said Deen.
“What’s our ETA on getting sensors and the main computer back up and running?” said Michael, looking at Star for an answer.
“Louise is still unconscious and her team is severely understaffed at the moment. Repairs are underway but I don’t expect that we have functionality restored for another four to five hours.”
He quickly shook his head. “I’m not willing to wait that long to investigate this,” he said and turned to find his science officer. “What other options do we have to find the source of these readings?”
The Vulcan didn’t need long to offer alternatives. “Since we know the energy signature we are looking for, it should be possible to initiate a manual search utilizing hand-held tricorders. The logical place to commence any such search would be cargo bay three.”
“Good old-fashioned follow the bread crumbs,” said Star.
Michael nodded. “Looks like it. But we can't keep Donners and … Edison waiting much longer. Commander, get a search team organized and find the source of that energy reading.”
She acknowledged with a quick bob of her head.
“Mister Xylion, Bensu, you’re with me,” he said and then briefly made eye contact with Jarik and his father who had also returned to the bridge and who were already making moves to join him as well, no matter how much he would have preferred for them to stay behind.