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34


When Michael and Amaya arrived in the empty, yellow-gridded holodeck they found pretty much everyone else already present. Xylion, Hopkins, and Deen were standing around what looked like a computer console, complete with a raised platform, its sole purpose, it appeared, was to connect the card-shaped device with the computer. Michael couldn’t tell if the console had been brought into the holodeck, or, and this seemed more likely, that the contraption was a holographic construct itself.

Garla stood nearby, her arms crossed in front of her chest and appearing as defiant as she had earlier, Culsten still by her side and Nora Laas and the orange-furred Caitian junior lieutenant T’Nerr watching over the Krellonian agent.

Bensu also watched the trio working on the console from where he stood a few meters away from the others but seemed otherwise not heavily involved in the process.

Jarik and his father were standing in a far corner, the half-Vulcan looking more anxious than his father. José Carlos from security stood near Jarik. On Nora’s insistence and with Michael’s full support she had assigned her deputy to follow him wherever he went on Eagle and with specific instructions not to allow him near any sensitive areas. Jarik had unsurprisingly objected to this treatment which he felt to be undignified for a man of his position but considering what he had been up to with the late Gene Edison, Michael had ignored his laments and instead also ensured that he surrender the Prism again and placed it under guard in the science lab. Jon Owens, for once, had backed his son’s play as well, leaving Jarik with no allies on Eagle.

Tazla Star greeted the two captains as soon as they had entered the cavernous room. “I’m being told we’re almost ready to get started.”

Michael nodded. “How does this work exactly?”

“I think I better let the experts explain that,” she said and indicated towards Xylion and the others.

The science officer looked up from the console. “We have not been able to determine the precise nature of the device or how it functions,” he said.

“It’s one hell of a piece of technology though,” said Hopkins with noticeable awe in her tone. Michael wasn’t sure if he had ever met a person as excited about encountering new forms of tech. “With more time I’m sure there is plenty we could find out about it.”

Deen nodded. “It’s definitely a few centuries beyond Federation science. Perhaps more.”

Michael stepped closer to the platform to study the unassuming device which still didn’t look all that impressive to him. “Is there anything you were able to learn about its origins and who may have built it?”

“Not really,” said Deen. “But it stands to reason that whoever created the Ring out there may also be responsible for this device.”

“And the Prism as well?”

“Since both objects and the structure have continued to defy our own analysis, it is impossible to determine this for certain,” Xylion said. “However, it is a reasonable hypothesis.”

Michael considered the Vulcan and then Bensu. “What are you getting from this?”

“Not much, I’m afraid. What I can say for certain is that it does not resonate with the same kind of energy as the Prism artifact,” he said after glancing at the device.

“Best as we have been able to tell so far,” continued Hopkins, “this device isn’t so much a communicator than a data storage device. Once we tried to interface with it our own systems began to reconfigure themselves to allow for what we believe is holographic-based communications.”

Amaya stepped forward. “Which explains why we are here,” she said and both Hopkins and Deen nodded. “But how exactly are we establishing communications? Are we just going to plug this thing in and see what happens?”

Deen grinned sheepishly. “Actually, that was exactly our plan.”

Michael frowned. He may not have been a scientist at his core, but he did usually prefer a more methodic approach when dealing with new technology. Otherwise, what was the point of having a ship filled with science specialists and research labs?

“In their defense,” said Garla,” that’s pretty much what we did with this. And we had many months to study it. In the end, all that matters is that it works.”

Star shot Michael a quick look. “Nothing ventured?”

He nodded. “All right. Let’s do it.”

Xylion and Hopkins went back to work on the console while Nora tensed up, checking over the phaser holstered at her hip.

“Don’t worry, Laas, if this works according to plan, this will be a purely holographic encounter,” Deen said upon seeing the security chief’s concern.

“If things ever went according to plan around here, I would be out of a job,” she said, finished checking her weapon and then reholstering it. “And seeing that I have not exactly been twiddling my thumbs lately, I think I better err on the side of things going terribly wrong.”

Deen responded with a frown.

“What can we expect?” said Amaya.

When Deen just shrugged, Garla took a step forward. “It’s never been exactly the same. But some form of two-way communication should be possible.”

“Here goes,” said Hopkins and began to input commands into the computer console.

The yellow grid which ran all over the floor, walls, and ceilings disappeared but instead of creating a new environment, their holographic surroundings began to flicker and distort with headache-inducing static which caused Michael to feel disorientated to the point that he was beginning to lose his balance.

Only the other people in the holodeck with him as well as the central console remained fixed in place while everything around them was in constant flux, like some sort of attraction at a carnival ride designed to induce vertigo.

His father was the first to succumb to the effects but thankfully Carlos standing nearby managed to steady him before he could keel over.

Michael wasn’t sure how much more of this he’d be able to endure himself. “Is this some sort of malfunction?”

“Unlikely,” Xylion said. “It is more plausible that the holodeck matrix is not fully compatible with instructions it is receiving from the device. I am attempting to compensate.”

“The sooner the better,” said Amaya. “Otherwise, I’m afraid I shall refamiliarize myself with my breakfast and I don’t think anyone here wants to see that.”

The science officer’s efforts were starting to bear fruit and the image began to stabilize even if it was still a long way off from displaying anything sensible, instead it appeared as if they were floating amongst a kaleidoscope of colors, mostly reds and dark earth tones not entirely dissimilar to the shade of the subspace void that surrounded them.

The first sign that they were in fact going to be able to establish contact with somebody was the appearance of the shapeless and distorted figures. Michael had difficulty counting them since they seemed to appear and then wink out again, just to reappear somewhere else entirely. And this wasn’t just limited to the pane he was standing on, figures appeared completely randomly within the environment, including standing upside down or projected on what would have been the holodeck’s walls. It was, without a doubt, one of the most jarring experiences he had ever encountered.

“Is this normal?” said Lif Culsten as he nearly stumbled while trying and likely failing on focusing on anything in particular.

“I have found that there is no such thing as normal when dealing with these creatures,” Garla said and Michael could see that she had closed her eyes, which was probably the smartest move considering the reality-bending imagery they were exposed to.

“The holo-matrix is aligning with the device interface,” said Xylion whose concentration remained on his console. “The image should begin to further stabilize.”

Michael was now intrigued by a figure that was beginning to take shape just an arm-length away from him. It began like nothing more than a shadow, similar to the figure Bensu and Xylion had conjured when they had experimented with the Prism earlier but this time it began to take on a more familiar form until it was undeniably one of the subspace aliens he had encountered previously, wearing the same long robe with a deep hood, and possessing those same reptilian features including deep and dark soulless eyes.

It was very possible that he was mistaken since he couldn’t exactly claim familiarity with this species, but something told him that this was the exact same individual he had helped capture in their previous intrusion into subspace and then nearly tortured to death.

The creature raised its arm, presenting its three-fingered hand, and Michael followed suit. But when they touched, he felt a painful jolt and quickly withdrew his hand again.

Nora quickly stepped closer. “Are you all right, sir?”

He shook out his still hurting hand. “I’m fine. I didn’t expect that.”

The security chief glared at Deen. ”So much for nothing here being able to hurt us.”

Deen looked confused. “I’m not sure what happened. The holodeck’s safety protocols are still in place and working as they should.”

“All it means is that we must be careful,” Michael said as he looked around, seeing more and more creatures appear, even if many of them were still upside down or standing at unnatural right angles. The sound of their clicking language began to fill the holodeck and he had no doubt that many of those aliens were now regarding him and the others.

“Looks like they can see us,” said Amaya. “But can they understand us? I certainly can’t make sense of what I’m hearing.”

“We made some progress in deciphering their language,” said Michael and glanced towards Xylion.

The Vulcan offered a short nod. “The universal translator is active.”

It wasn’t enough to completely eliminate that insisting sound of clicks and snaps but he began to hear more recognizable words among them.

“Who are you? Why are you here?” he heard the voices say, over and over again, from all directions.

Michael decided to focus just on the creature closest to him for now. “My name is Michael Owens from the United Federation of Planets. We are from the realm beyond subspace. We have made contact once before,” he said

“Who are you? Why are you here?” the creature in front of him said in-between clicks.

“We are visitors from beyond your realm. We are looking for a way back to our own universe,” he said.

Another creature, one which hovered above Garla, upside down, spoke to her. “We know you.”

Garla craned her neck back to look the alien in the face. “We’ve had dealings before,” she nearly spat. “We had an agreement. One you have failed to uphold. What you showed me where lies.”

Somewhere to her right, Michael could see images of what he assumed to be from Piqus VII, and although he had never had the opportunity to visit that planet, he didn’t believe that the images he saw belonged to the Piqus of their universe. The blurry and distorted images looked more like what he had remembered seeing in old photographs of Earth’s darkest chapter of its history. They were images of slavery, forced labor and concentration camps. What was unmistakable, however, was that the slaves where all made up of the so-called Outlander races while Krellonian guards watched over them.

Garla angrily pointed at the images in the distance. “That’s a lie. You led me to believe this was our future. Instead, this is an alternate reality. This reality. Not mine.”

Culsten put a hand on her shoulder when she tried to reach out for the hovering creature, likely to assault it. “This isn’t the time for this. Let’s find a way to get home first,” he said.

Michael had to give the younger Krellonian credit for keeping his composure and managing to calm his infuriated aunt, who for now at least, left it to just giving him an angry glare but stopped herself from trying to attack what was essentially nothing more than a holographic projection.

“Who are you?”

Michael turned back to the alien standing near him.

“They aren’t exactly fast on the uptake, are they?” Amaya said

“My name is Michael Owens,” he said and then indicating at the others and Garla. “Like her, we come from what we call regular space. We found your structure and it took us into another universe. We need to find a way back.”

Another creature, standing closer to Jarik glided nearer the half-Vulcan, causing Carlos to tense and moving a hand on his phaser. “We know you,” it said amidst more urgent clicks.

Michael took a few steps to place himself between the alien and Jarik. “We had reason to believe that you are planning to invade our space. We took actions to defend ourselves and took one of your people prisoner.”

The first alien glanced back at him and Michael was surer than ever that it was the creature they had tortured. “You took us prisoner.”

Michael nodded. “Yes. Because we thought you were trying to hurt us.”

“You hurt us,” it said.

Michael shot Jarik a glare but the other man seemed unrepentant. He glanced back towards the alien. “It was a mistake to hurt you.”

Star had moved to his side. “We have an opportunity to find out about their plans,” she whispered in his ear.

Michael nodded. “We have to be delicate here. One step at a time. First, let’s try to find a way back home and create a dialogue. Then we address a potential invasion and all-out war,” he said, keeping his voice equally low even though he had no idea if this meant that these creatures could hear him or not.

“You helped us,” the first alien said to Michael.

He nodded quickly, suppressing a smile at the first sign of progress they were making. “Yes. Because I understood that hurting you was wrong. I want us to speak freely. To learn from each other and avoid conflict. Perhaps we could even become friends.”

“Friends,” the creature said and Michael was not able to determine if it was a statement or a question.

He nodded again. “Yes. And friends help each other. We know you’ve constructed the Ring with Garla’s help,” he said, pointing at the woman. “We know it has somehow thrown us into another universe. One we don’t belong in.” He decided not to mention the Prism for now, better to keep things simple. “We are looking for a way back to where we belong.”

“We belong here,” it said.

“We understand that,” Michael said. “We call this place subspace. It is a layer beyond our dimension, beyond our home. But there are many different dimensions out there. Your ring has placed us in one that isn’t our home.”

“You don’t belong here.”

Michael was beginning to feel that he was losing his audience. He well understood the difficulties of communicating with species so different from the ones he knew that they lacked a common frame of reference. Although this wasn’t exactly a first contact scenario, considering they had met previously, this was the first real attempt to create a dialogue without force or cohesion. It required tact, patience, and diplomacy, three attributes he had always liked to think he possessed in ample supply.

“No, we don’t belong here. Not in subspace and not in this reality,” he said.

At this, the creature went quiet and even the ubiquitous clicking sounds all around them seemed to lessen noticeably.

Michael glanced at the rest of his people, looking for some suggestions. His eyes finally fell unto Bensu. “I think it’s obvious we are having some communication challenges. Perhaps you could attempt to make them understand.”

Bensu looked skeptical. “I’m not sure how I could do this.”

“You have shown some surprising aptitudes dealing with these matters as of late. Just try to communicate with them the way you were able to interact with the artifact. At this point I can’t see how it could hurt,” he said.

Bensu nodded slowly and stepped forward, concentrating on the creature Michael had spoken to. He became quickly obvious that some sort of communication was taking place since the clicking sounds increased once more and the creature began to focus back onto Bensu.

“Are you speaking to it?” Star asked.

But Bensu shook his head. “I wouldn’t call it speaking exactly,” he said while he kept his gaze firmly on the creature. “I am receiving what could be best described as impressions. It’s difficult to put them into words. It’s beyond mere language and imagery.”

Michael had no idea what that meant. “Can you decipher any of it?”

“There is great concern,” he said.

“Concern about what?” Amaya said

“About us, about the Ring, about it fulfilling its function.”

Michael exchanged concerned looks with Amaya and Star before he looked back at Bensu. “Can you gleam its purpose?”

“So far this is mostly a one-way connection,” he said. “I am receiving impressions but I’m not sure how to send any of my own.”

Xylion stepped away from the central console. “I may be able to assist to once more focus your mind to enable you to take greater control of it.”

“That might help,” Bensu said without breaking his eye contact with the alien.

Xylion glanced towards Michael and when he nodded his assent, the Vulcan took up position just behind and to the side of Bensu and reached out for his neck. For a moment Michael thought that Xylion was planning to apply the Vulcan nerve pinch and knock out Bensu but this didn’t seem to be the case. Apparently, Xylion just needed to make physical contact with him, and not necessarily with his face as Michael had observed previously.

“Sense my mind connecting with yours,” Xylion said. “Use it to balance your own thoughts and to focus on the task.”

Bensu nodded slowly. “Yes, I can feel it.”

Michael thought he could see Bensu’s eyes becoming more intense.

“I am trying to determine the purpose of the Ring,” Bensu said.

No sooner had he spoken the words, the creatures’ agitation seemed to increase exponentially, the clicking and popping sounds gaining volume by the second, increasing in speed so much, the universal translator gave up on trying to translate anything. Soon it was getting so bad, many in the room had to cover their ears.

“What is happening?” Amaya shouted to make herself heard.

Xylion crumbled suddenly and Deen and Hopkins quickly rushed to his side, Bensu took a few steps backward as if he had been physically struck, his shoulders immediately sagging as his energy visibly left his body

“The Beholder,” Bensu said. “The time is here.”

Michael wasn’t sure what he was saying but he did recognize the name. The creature had used it before when they had first interrogated it. “Who is the Beholder? Is it them?” he said but Bensu seemed too exhausted to speak and Michael turned back towards the creature. “Are you the Beholder?”

The creature’s blank eyes just looked back at him.

“Can the Beholder help us to get back to our universe?” he said.

“The Beholder. The time is here,” the creature said. “The time is here.”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” said Amaya as she looked around the agitated and loudly clicking aliens. “Something is happening and it doesn’t feel right.”

Their surroundings were beginning to flicker and distort again and the aliens were once more fading out.

“Wait,” Michael said.

“The time is here,” the creature said once more before it had fully disappeared. Moments later the clicking noises were gone so suddenly, the unexpected silence hurt Michael’s ears almost as much as when the noises had become near unbearably loud. The world around him flickered faster and faster and just before it was threatening to overpower his senses entirely, it too vanished to be replaced once more with the standard yellow-on-black grid of the holodeck.

Nora was the first to speak, holstering her phaser again which she apparently had drawn at some point during the chaotic meeting. “I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m glad that’s over.”

A loud surging sound drew everybody’s attention towards the console just before it erupted with a small explosion. Since nobody was still standing near, it didn’t affect anyone but Michael could see that the power surge had burned Garla’s device to a crisp.

Deen and Hopkins had seen to Xylion who seemed to have recovered and Bensu too appeared to find his strength again.

Garla in the meantime had walked up to the destroyed console and carefully picked up the device which was now nothing more than a scorched, black card. “I suppose we won’t be making contact with them again anytime soon.”

Hopkins looked at the destroyed device. “Could they have done this on purpose?”

“Considering how agitated they were I think that’s a good guess.”

But Amaya shook her head. “I don’t pretend to understand what just happened, but I didn’t exactly get the feeling that we were dealing with the most intellectually-advanced species we’ve ever encountered.”

Michael had to admit that he had very much gotten that same impression. However, he also understood that it was dangerous to apply their own understanding of intelligence onto a mostly unknown species so quickly. If they had indeed built the Ring, the communications device, and maybe even the Prism, there was little doubt that these subspace aliens were centuries ahead of their own technological abilities.

Any further thoughts on the subject ended abruptly when he felt the deck trembling underneath him.

“Bridge to captain.”

Michael recognized Leva’s voice. “Go ahead, Commander.”

“Sir, something is happening with the Ring.”

Concerned looks were exchanged among the people in the holodeck.

“Can you describe it?” Michael asked.

“It appears that it has started to move. Or more accurately, it is beginning to spin and according to our readings it’s speeding up at an exponential rate.”

Xylion raised an eyebrow. “Movement of a structure of that size would cause significant gravimetrical sheer.”

“In other words,” said Star. “We probably wouldn’t want to be close to it.”

“Indeed,” Xylion said.

“Commander, back us off from the structure,” he said and then glanced over at Amaya who quickly nodded. “And instruct Agamemnon to follow our lead. We’ll be right there. Owens out.”

“What are the chances that this is unrelated to what just happened here?” said Star.

“I would say very small,” said Deen. “Those words they kept uttering over and over again at the end. That sounded like a warning. Or maybe a threat.”

Michael had to agree. Then the ship shook again, harder this time. “Let’s go to the bridge, we may have to get out here in a hurry,” he said and headed for the doors.

He only made it halfway there before he saw Amaya collapse. He was quickly at her side, steadying her before she could fall. “What happened?”

She seemed baffled. “I don’t know. I suddenly felt incredibly weak, as if every last bit of energy I had was being drained away and”“ she stopped herself again as she gasped and collapsed yet again. Michael watched on in shock as she seemed to flicker for a moment as if she was nothing more than another holographic projection.

“Amaya?”

“Bridge to captain, we have another situation,” the tactical officer said and when Michael didn’t immediately respond, still distracted by whatever had stricken Amaya, he continued. “We are getting very strange readings from the Agamemnon. It appears she is rapidly losing structural integrity on a molecular level.”

With Michael still preoccupied, Star began to communicate with the bridge.

“Can you determine the cause?”

“Negative, but my gut is telling me it is related to the Ring. It is now spinning at an ever-increasing speed and releasing some sort of unknown radiation in massive quantities.”

“Is it affecting Eagle?”

“Not as far as we can tell.”

“We need to get away from that thing now,” said Star.

“Michael,” Amaya said while he held her in his arms, still flickering in and out of existence.

“Just hang on,” he said, even though he wasn’t sure what it was he could do for her.

She reached out for his face but by the time she should have touched him, her hand was gone and a moment later so was the rest of her. Michael stared at where she had been in his arms just a second earlier with wide-eyed shock. “What … what happened?”

Star stepped up to him, ignoring the other captain’s disappearance for now. “Sir, we need to get the ship out of here.”

“There’s nowhere to go.”

Both Michael and Star turned around to look at Bensu. In fact, everyone on the holodeck was looking at him now.

“What do you mean?” Star said.

“It’s not just Captain Donners and the Agamemnon. It’s their entire universe. It’s gone.”

“That’s impossible,” Star said.

“Commander Leva, what is the status of the Agamemnon,” Owens said automatically reopening the channel to the bridge.

“I can’t explain it, sir, but she just vanished. We are also receiving reports that the survivors of the other Eagle who were still on board are also gone, as are the escape pods and every trace of debris we brought onboard.”

Michael was starting to feel dizzy.

Star spoke up next. “Do you still receive telemetry from our signal buoy outside subspace?”

“Negative, the last thing we picked up was some sort of energy surge. Than nothing. It coincided with the activity of the”“ Leva stopped as the ship shook again, this time hard enough to cause everyone on the holodeck to lose their balance. “Sir, the gravimetric sheer is starting to affect our own structural integrity. We won’t be able to sustain it much longer.”

Star glanced at Michael. “We can’t stay here. We’ll have to get back through the threshold and into regular space.”

Michael started to nod but Bensu cut in. “No, we can’t. There is nothing there anymore. If we try to return back to regular space we will disappear as well.”

“How can you know that?” Hopkins asked, clearly having a difficult time comprehending what was happening.

Michael felt much the same way. Amaya was gone. She hadn’t been the woman he had fallen in love with, but she had been so very similar that the differences seemed irrelevant now. And his brain simply couldn’t quite fathom the idea that her entire universe had vanished along with her. He also knew that he had an obligation that outweighed all others. To ensure his ship and crew would not follow that same fate. “Then where do we go?”

Bensu didn’t have an immediate answer.

It was Jarik, who hadn’t spoken at all since all this had started, who suddenly raised his voice. “Isn’t it obvious?” he said, taking a step forward. “We use the Prism. It’s our only chance.”

Michael exchanged glances with Star, both knew that even if they could manage to create another gateway, there was no telling where it would lead and that Eagle would make the trip in one piece. They also immediately understood that Jarik was right: There was no other choice.

He looked towards Bensu. “Do you think you could do it?”

“I’m honestly not sure. Perhaps if we were back in the control sphere with the Prism and Xylion helping me.”

“And I can guide you both,” Jarik said. “After all, I’m the only one here who has used the Prism before. I know how to make this work.”

Michael wasn’t exactly encouraged by those words. And Bensu and Xylion, after what they had both been through didn’t look one hundred percent.

The ship shook again and this time Michael could feel from the way the deck plates rumbled under his feet and the sounds of the bulkheads around him that his ship was starting to come apart at the seams. Time to consider their options was over.

He nodded. “Laas, get to the science lab now and retrieve the artifact than meet us in transporter room one.”

The security chief nodded sharply and then immediately sprinted out of the holodeck and towards her destination, aware that time was not on their side.

Michael considered Xylion next. “What are our chances that we can safely transport back onto the Ring from here?”

“Theoretically, gravimetric sheer should not affect the transporter beam,” he said.

Michael nodded and looked at his father. “Dad, you will need to come to, you’re the only one who can activate the Exhibitor.”

He nodded. “I understand, son.”

“Let’s go.”

On the way to the transporter room, Star made a quick but impassioned argument to let her lead the away team considering the many dangers and unknowns posed by their present situation but Michael was insistent that he went himself much to her chagrin. He instructed her to do whatever was in their power to get the ship ready for another journey through a quantum rift.

He wasn’t surprised to find that Nora had beaten them to the transporter room, already waiting with the case containing the artifact in hand, holding it awkwardly away from her body as if weary of the power contained within.

Jarik was all too eager to take the case off her.

Michael in the meantime focused on Hopkins who promptly joined Chief Chow behind the operator’s console to assist him with what was likely going to be a challenging transport. “Will we still be able to beam over onto the structure while it is in motion?”

The chief engineer must have wondered the same thing as she checked the console. “We’re still receiving steady telemetry from our probes inside the Ring, although any of those originating from the other ships have gone.”

Michael looked at Xylion next.

“It stands to reason that the interior of the structure is not affected by its own momentum or that the structure uses powerful inertial dampeners, similar to the ones we employ,” the science officer said.

“Can we beam straight into the control sphere?” he said.

“Since we know the precise locations of its threshold, that may be possible,” Xylion said and then quickly walked over to an equipment locker, having to steady himself on his way there as the ship continued to struggle against the increasing gravimetrical stress being placed on her hull. He retrieved a number of armbands each with a small device attached and then handed them out to the team. “These are subspace beacons based on the devices we employed during our away mission into the subspace fissure. Theoretically, we should be able to maintain communications and a transporter lock even through a subspace fold. Lieutenant Hopkins and I worked on these earlier, anticipating that they may be required considering our situation.”

Michael took the device and quickly attached it to his upper arm, giving him and his chief engineer appreciative nods. “Good thinking,” he said and was again nearly thrown to the deck had Nora not steadied him in time.

Michael glanced towards the ceiling, more than aware that his ship was on borrowed time. “Owens to Star. What’s our status?”

“Bad and rapidly getting worse,” she responded promptly. “I’d say we have less than five minutes until total structural collapse.”

“Nothing like a bit of pressure,” Michael quipped even if he felt little more than dread about their deteriorating situation. He looked at his people assembled around him. “Dee, Lou, I want you to stay here and do what you can to keep the ship in one piece and help Star prepare for another transition,” he said, receiving sharp nods from both women before he glanced to the others. “You’ve heard the lady. Time is not our friend, let’s move.”

He stepped up onto the platform with Xylion, Bensu, Nora, Jarik, and his father who required Deen’s assistance, quickly joining him. He gave Chief Chow a nod to proceed.

Xylion had indicated that immense gravimetric sheer was unlikely to affect the transporter and yet Michael couldn’t help but feel as if powerful forces were trying to pull and tear at his very disassembled molecules as he felt the familiar tingling sensation of being dematerialized. Perhaps it was just in his head, or maybe it was the fact that they were attempting not just to beam across space but, in essence, through subspace dimensions as well.

The anxiety that went with a difficult and possibly lethal transport abated as quickly as it had come when he rematerialized along with his people inside the control sphere. A quick check confirmed that he had made it through in one piece, as had the others.

The sphere wasn’t exactly how he had remembered it. What had been a tranquil, almost harmonious bubble in an endless void now seemed to be abuzz with activity. The bubble around the platform itself was pulsing and throbbing, waves rippling urgently across the sheer film that surrounded them. Sparks and lightning bolt-like discharges of dark greens and cool reds lit up the void beyond, speaking to a barely contained power raging all around them.

A tiny and very distorted voice focused his mind back to the task at hand. It came from his combadge and it sounded vaguely like Tazla Star but it was impossible to make out what she was saying.

He glanced over to Xylion who had also heard the first officer. “We have not had the time to test and fully calibrate the devices. It is unlikely we will be able to improve communications at this time.”

Michael nodded. “They got us this far, that’s good enough for now,” he said and then tapped his badge. “Owens to Eagle. I am not sure if you can hear us but we are unable to receive a clear signal on this end. If you still have a lock on us, beam us back on board as soon as a gateway is forming.”

Star said something else, it was short and to the point, and Michael hoped it was an acknowledgment. Then the line went dead.

Xylion and Bensu made their way towards the center of the platform and the holographic controls arranged there, most of which were now streaming undecipherable data and flashing in much darker colors than they had before.

Michael and the other followed them. “All right, we have no time to lose. How do we proceed?”

“I suggest we commence our mind-link and attempt to establish a connection with our surroundings. Once that has been accomplished we activate the Prism and aim to use it to create a gateway,” Xylion said.

“How can we know that the gateway will lead us back home?” Michael said.

“I think I can help with that,” Jarik said.

Michael considered him skeptically.

“As I said, I’m the only one here who has used it before. I didn’t fully understand it the first time but I believe I learned from my mistakes. If I can focus sufficiently on our destination, I am certain I can control the gateway’s terminus.”

He didn’t like it but the fact remained that they weren’t blessed with an abundance of options. “What do you need?”

“Let me join the mind-link. I am, after all, half-Vulcan. I possess telepathic abilities myself,” Jarik said.

Michael glanced towards Xylion who offered a short nod. “Any additional psionic energy we can bring to bear to bolster and steady Bensu’s focus is likely going to increase our chances of success.”

Michael nodded. “Do it.”

He watched as the three men knelt onto the floor, positioning themselves closely together so that each was able to establish a touch connection by completing a small triangle. While they were getting ready, Michael moved over to his father who had taken the Prism case off Jarik. “How are you feeling?”

He glanced at his son. “You worry if I’m up for this?”

“You haven’t spoken much since your most recent episode. I’m worried about you,” Michael said honestly. He had still not gotten over losing Amaya Donner, not to mention Gene Edison. Even if both had hailed from other universes, watching them die in such a sudden and unexpected manner had affected him profoundly and he wasn’t sure if he could handle losing his ailing father as well.

He shook his head. “I’m fine. Worry about the mission instead. That’s where your focus is needed the most.”

The words were true, of course, but it didn’t stop him from sensing that his father was anything but fine, the weak tone in his voice and his pale face only serving as further proof of this.

“I know what I must do,” Jon Owens said as he began to take a knee, Michael quickly helping him to lower himself, then placed the case in front of him and slowly opened it until its lone content came into view.

Michael thought the platform trembled underneath them even as he once more felt the energy of the unassuming device wash over him.

His father retrieved the Exhibitor and raised it slightly.

“The power in this place, it is staggering. It feels endless and eternal.”

Michael looked back towards the group of kneeling men. It was Jarik who had spoken, his entire body visibly trembling. He took a step towards them.

“It is truly awesome,” Jarik said.

“You must remain focused on the task,” Xylion said, although keeping his eyes closed. “Concentrate on Bensu’s mind and add your strength to his.”

“Yes,” Jarik said. “But the potential here. It is difficult to grasp.”

“Don’t let it distract you,” Michael said. “We need to open that gateway.”

Jarik nodded slowly. “Do it. Activate the Prism.”

Michael looked towards Bensu and Xylion even though neither of them could see him through their closed eyes.

“We are as ready as we will ever be,” Xylion said.

Michael glanced back at his father, giving him a nod.

He in turn activated the Exhibitor and the floor trembled once more as the prism-shaped device emerged as it had before, glowing in bright lights, appearing like a holographic projection as it slowly rotated on its own axis.

But it did something it had not done previously. The shape was growing ever larger and the sphere was responding to it, the ripples becoming more and more pronounced like waves turning into a tsunami, the lightning beyond gained intensity building up to a storm of light and energy.

“I can sense it,” Bensu said. “It’s filling this place. It’s filling me. It’s coursing through everything. It is … too much.”

“Steady your mind,” Xylion said, attempting to remain calm but his voice starting to crack with stress and tension.

“This place is tearing itself to pieces,” Nora said as she struggled to step closer to her captain as the energy coming from the still-growing Prism shape was beginning to manifest itself physically, like a powerful wind attempting to blow away anything in its path. “We can’t stay here.”

He had to agree. Already he was starting to lose his footing and having to fight to keep upright. His father had already been flattened to the ground and the three men in the mind-link were wavering like trees caught in a hurricane.

“It is without end,” Bensu said. “Infinite possibilities, infinite combinations, it’s everything and everywhere. It’s the past, the present, and the future and it’s all at the same time. It’s madness and it’s perfection. It’s the sum of all.”

“We must find just one, isolate it, focus all thought on that one single reality,” Xylion said, struggling to even make himself heard as the world around him was turning into a hellscape.

“Yes, yes,” Jarik screamed like a man possessed, his Vulcan side clearly having lost the battle for control. “I can see it. I can see our destination. I can see home. I can see it so clearly and it is pure perfection, pure beauty. Just reach out for it and take it. Just reach out for it and claim it,” Michael could see tears welling up in the man’s eyes and he couldn’t help wondering if the power they were up against was driving him insane.

“I see it too,” Bensu said, managing to keep himself less hysterical. “I can reach it. I can open it. I just need a little more … strength.”

“Focus on it. All of you, focus on that one single thought,” Xylion urged.

“Yes, yes, yes,” Jarik cried. “Here it is, here it is. Take it.” He removed his hand from Bensu’s face and then reached for his own head, taking it in both of his hands as if attempting to keep his head from falling off his shoulders. “It’s too much,” he screamed as she began to stand and then was quickly cut off his feet.

Michael tried to reach him but realized there was no point in even trying, the forces at play where pushing Jarik right towards him.

Before they could collide, Michael too lost his balance and he felt himself become weightless for a brief moment before he was tossed backward and towards the surface of the angrily throbbing globe. Something deep inside him told him that hitting that sphere with sufficient force was a certain death sentence.

He saw the others being swept up as if they were nothing more than ragdolls stuck in the path of a powerful tornado, the eye of which was the glowing and rotating shape of the Prism which was now large enough to fill almost the entire inside of the sphere.

Just as he thought he was going to smash into the bubble, Michael felt his body tingling once more. His mind, too preoccupied with what appeared to be its imminent and painful demise, didn’t even register the sudden change of his surroundings until he dropped onto the hard transporter platform on Eagle.

His body felt too bruised and ached too much to immediately follow his commands or even attempt to stand, he nevertheless managed to turn his head just enough to find, with great relief, that everybody had made it back. Although he couldn’t determine if they were all alive.

He heard Chief Chow’s voice. “We’ve got them, Commander. But they may require medical attention.”

“It will have to wait,” Star responded over the comm, her tone hurried but calm. “We are being pulled into the gateway. Bridge to all hands: Brace, brace, brace.”

It wasn’t enough time to prepare.

Not a moment later the deck lurched violently and Michael thought it could hardly have been worse if Eagle had hit a solid brick wall in space. The lights cut out as the room was plunged into darkness and for the second time in as many minutes, his body was catapulted into the air.

The landing, he knew, was going to be murder.


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