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Eagle and Agamemnon had found the threshold to in-between space exactly where they had left it, inside Cygni-98 and right alongside the signal buoy Eagle had deployed earlier to allow them to keep an eye on things while they were inside the subspace pocket.

The captain had called a meeting as soon as they were back within in-between space and within the immense shadow of the still awe-inspiringly massive ring structure.

To Lif, the observation lounge felt more packed than usual. The captain was there, of course, sitting in his usual chair at the head of the conference table with Tazla Star at his right.

The captain’s father who had miraculously returned from the dead not long ago was also present. Lif had heard that the admiral was suffering from serious health issues and had in fact collapsed on a recent away mission to the Ring. His condition had apparently improved sufficiently to attend the meeting although he seemed far paler than he remembered.

The half-Vulcan Jarik, who had been recovered from an escape pod from the other and now destroyed Eagle, was also present. He had looked like he had been to hell and back when he had suddenly appeared on the bridge after their devastating battle but had since cleaned himself up and replicated a fresh uniform. The man was still preoccupied with keeping his metallic case close. Lif hadn’t seen the Prism artifact that it was said to contain but he could certainly feel its powerful essence emanating from the slim container and permeating the entire room.

Captain Amaya Donners stood by one of the large windows and looking out at the swirling pink subspace mass outside instead of sitting at the table. She had seemed particularly glum and Lif didn’t blame her considering recent events.

Nora Laas had taken up position by the doors along with three additional security officers spread out to cover both entrances. They were here mostly for Garla even if Star had asked him to play her chaperone while she was on board, seeing that she seemed to respond to him far better than to any other Starfleet officer. He hadn’t liked the idea much, after all, last time they had run into each other on Eagle, she had taken him hostage and threatened to kill him in order to facilitate her escape.

He understood the first officer’s argument, however. Regardless of their differences, Garla was still family, something she had reaffirmed during their turbulent mission to Piqus. He still didn’t fully trust her and he had the feeling she remained equally guarded about him but for now, she had agreed to help them get back to their home universe.

Star’s confidence in his ability to keep her under control only went so far, as evidenced by the security detail which had shadowed Garla ever since she had stepped on board.

He and Garla hadn’t spoken much since the battle and she had seemed lost in her thoughts for the most part after their escape.

Bensu, Xylion, Deen, and Hopkins were also in the observation lounge, all sitting at the table, which had left him and Garla to remain standing, as seating room had grown scarce.

The captain considered Bensu and his science and engineering officers first. “What is the current status of the Ring?”

“It remains unchanged from its condition when we left it. We carried out a brief survey of the control sphere before this meeting but could not determine any changes since our last visit,” Xylion said.

“That’s good news, I suppose,” said Star and gave the captain a telling look before focusing on Jarik further down the table with a noticeable frown on her Trill features which Jarik seemed to ignore entirely.

Lif was vaguely aware that something had transpired on the Ring during their absence and while Star had clearly been updated, he had not. Deen had alluded to a potentially hostile escalation between the two ships when she had briefly spoken to him earlier but had not had the chance to elaborate on the details.

“Our top priority, for now, has to be finding a way back home,” said the captain. “We believe we have the means of achieving this with the Prism which may be even more effective if used directly on the Ring. Bensu’s unique talents and insights may help us focus the artifact in the right way. Having said all that, our last experience of traveling through a gateway was anything but pleasant and exerted a significant toll on both the ship and her crew. I want to make sure we do whatever we can to minimize the risks this time.” He turned to look at Garla even though she didn’t seem to pay him much attention. “I believe that’s where you come in, Sentinel.”

She looked up then, giving him a rather blank expression in response. “I wasn’t even aware of the structure’s existence until very recently. And I certainly didn’t know of its potential to facilitate travel to other universes.”

Star leaned forward in her chair. “But you did work with the people responsible for constructing it. With the subspace aliens.”

“Saying that I worked with them is somewhat generous,” she said.

Star and Owens exchanged glances before the captain focused back on her, his facial expressions hardening. “Call it what you wish but the fact remains that you had a mutual agreement with them. More importantly, you were in direct communications with the subspace aliens.”

Garla nodded slowly.

“We need to speak to them,” he said.

“What exactly do you think that will accomplish?” Jarik said, the first words he had spoken since the meeting had commenced.

“I thought that much was obvious,” Owens said, not entirely able to keep the frustration out of his voice.

“May I remind you that those are the same people intending to invade our universe? And we already tried communicating with them once before. That didn’t exactly work out, did it?”

Michael glanced towards his father, hoping perhaps that he would comment on Jarik’s obstructiveness but the admiral remained mum.

“That may have had something to do with the fact that you were torturing the creature,” Owens said.

“I did what was necessary.”

“And now we’re doing what I think is necessary,” he said sharply which seemed to have robbed Jarik of a response. He turned his focus on Garla again. “We need your help to establish a dialogue with them.”

But Garla didn’t speak.

Star uttered a little frustrated sigh of her own. “You do have the means to contact them?”

“Perhaps,” Garla said. “But I’m not so sure I want to do that.”

“How dare you?”

Everyone present glanced towards Amaya Donners who had finally turned around from staring out into the void of subspace to face the other woman.

“A good man just sacrificed his ship and most of his crew for a chance to get us back here alive and you have the audacity to stand there and say that you do not wish to do your part in this?” she said, her voice sharp as a razor blade and her eyes shimmering like burning stars. “That you just don’t feel up to doing the one thing we brought you back here for? We could have left you to rot on Piqus instead of trying to get you back home.”

“Tha man killed a lot of Krellonians,” Garla shot back.

“Krellonians intend on killing us. Killing you. So forgive me if I don’t shed any tears for their demise. When all this is over you may find your way back to your universe but I’ll still be here and no doubt will have to deal with the fallout of what happened today. A full-out war with the Krellonians has become pretty much unavoidable at this juncture. So how about you get over whatever the hell is eating you and you start pulling your weight?”

Garla just glared at Donners but said nothing at first.

Lif couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Agamemnon’s captain and it occurred to him that everything that had happened in her universe since they had arrived, from the people they had been forced to kill and the chaos they had created on Piqus, the battle with his counterpart and Captain Edison’s sacrifice, all of it had happened because of them. Because they had arrived in this universe and done everything they could to go back home, leaving death and destruction in their wake. And now Captain Donners was the only person left, at least in this room, who would have to deal with the consequences of it all.

Garla clearly didn’t see it that way and crossed her arms defiantly. “We could have found another way than massacring thousands of my people.”

“They weren’t your people,” Donners shot back.

“They were Krellonians.”

For a moment an uncomfortable silence settled over the room. It wasn’t until Lif spoke up that it was broken again. He turned to look at his aunt. “You said it yourself, these aliens, they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain in whatever deal you struck. In fact, they outright lied to you to gain your assistance in carrying out their plans that we have to assume are still fully in play. On the other hand, whatever you were hoping to accomplish for our people, your stand-alone society, it may no longer be viable because of their deceit. If nothing else, help us stop them from carrying out their designs and get your revenge in the process.”

Lif didn’t miss the frown forming on the captain’s face and he was certain that he didn’t entirely appreciate his tactic of using the promise of exacting vengeance as a motivation tool. It wasn’t exactly the Starfleet way. But then again, Garla wasn’t Starfleet and he knew that she was not a person you wanted as an enemy, had in fact painfully learned that lesson only just recently.

She considered him for a few seconds, her face an unreadable mask. For a moment he thought that perhaps he had overplayed his hand and overestimated her desire to settle a score.

Then she offered a smile. “Well, if you put it that way,” she said and reached into a hidden pocket of her outfit to retrieve an object, which immediately caused Nora and the security team to tense-up, with hands darting towards holstered phasers.

“Relax, everyone,” she said after noticing their reaction and then very slowly retrieved something which looked decidedly non-threatening. She took a few steps towards the dark glass and mahogany conference table and then placed the object on the smooth surface. It was nothing more than a flat, gray, octagon-shaped item half the size of her palm which to Lif looked more like a Fizzbin card than a piece of technology.

Star, upon seeing the unassuming card, looked up at her. “Are we playing a game?”

“You want to contact the subspace creatures. That’s how to do it,” she said in a deadpan.

“How does it work?” Deen asked, studying the card closer but avoided touching it for the moment.

“You tell me. I’ve thrown non-insignificant numbers of resources and scientists at this over the last few months and nobody has been able to tell me much about its functionality,” she said and looked at the captain. “But trust me, it's your best chance of making contact with those things. Just remember my condition, Captain. I fully expect to get a piece of them myself.”

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