Interlude: The Looking Glass
Six Years Ago
Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco were not a secure facility.
At least not for the kind of work Admiral Jonathan Owens and his Department of Special Affairs and Investigations dealt in. The problem wasn’t necessary security itself, which was pretty impressive for an installation which otherwise prided itself in being transparent and non-threatening. To reach the forty-second floor of the main building which functioned as the official home of SAI, visitors were required to pass at least four security checks. And civilians, as well as members of Starfleet without high-security clearance had to be vetted first and usually didn’t make it as far as reception if they hadn’t been expressly invited.
But there was a good reason why even Starfleet Intelligence conducted most of its business elsewhere, including in its purpose-built facility in central Africa and others including numerous clandestine sites.
San Francisco was simply too high profile for work that was best carried out in the shadows. There were too many people with too many eyes focused on headquarters to make it a viable location for some of Owens’ more delicate work.
After all, few things could be more disruptive than some overzealous admiral, or even worse, the Commander, Starfleet, or the CNC to just casually stroll into the SAI offices and start asking too many questions about a project that wasn’t yet ready for wider scrutiny.
Of the dozen or so clandestine off-site locations administered by SAI, Owens was particularly partial to his facility located at the bottom of a deep and long since abandoned diamond mine located in the sparsely populated Sakha Republic.
Although still located on Earth, it was fair to say that few people ventured this close to the Arctic Circle for good reason, especially not in Far East Russia.
It was therefore the perfect location for one of SAI’s most secretive projects until Operation Myriad was ready to be moved off-world altogether.
One of the advantages of the underground facility was the fact that transporters were unable to beam anyone or anything directly into the base and instead had to be deposited just outside the entrance and at the bottom of the deep, ring-shaped, open-pit mine. Owens had established the base two years prior and he still hadn’t gotten used to the sub-zero temperatures he was briefly exposed to every time he beamed-in from San Francisco.
Thankfully the beam-in area was just a few short steps away from the base entrance and the main turbolift that led deeper into the Earth and the main section of the facility.
His most trusted lieutenant, Jarik, greeted him as soon as he had stepped out of the turbolift.
“We just arrived two hours ago,” he said without preamble and then fell into step beside him as they walked down the fairly standard looking hallway which looked hardly any different than countless corridors on countless Starfleet ships and bases. “Doctor Alaalatoa and her team are looking over it now.”
“You encountered complications in retrieving it?”
Jarik offered a curt nod. “You were right. They did interfere and came very close to obtaining it before we could. However, Susan did an outstanding job of reclaiming the object. At a high cost. We lost Sorenson and his team.”
“That is regrettable,” Owens said without slowing his pace. “I assume you managed to elude any further pursuit from our friends.”
“I am confident we were not pursued. Nobody knows the object is here.”
“Excellent,” he said just before he entered through a set of heavy doors which led into a large, cavernous room with high ceilings and which was mostly empty save for a few work stations lining the outer walls. A handful of men and women in lab coats and blue-shirted science officers stood around a platform positioned at the very center of the room, studying the small object that had been placed there.
Doctor Alaalatoa, a dusky-skinned and impressively tall woman of Samoan ancestry turned to Owens and Jarik as they approached, clearly already excepting what kind of questions she was about to receive.
“Doctor, what have you learned?” Owens asked even before he had reached the group of scientists.
The shorthaired woman shook her head. “Not much, I’m afraid. A few things we have been able to determine. One, it emits an immense form of unidentified energy which we have not been able to identify but which is physically palpable. Two, the device functions like an exhibitor of sorts which summons the object itself which after initial observations appears to be out of phase with our universe and three, we are not able to summon the object using the exhibitor for longer than two point four seconds.”
Jarik nodded. “I noticed the same effect when I first attempted to use it after we managed to obtain it. The exhibitor device grew so hot, I was unable to hold on to it.”
“We made the same observation and have not been able to overcome this limitation,” Alaalatoa said. “What we have been able to determine is that the exhibitor appears to scan the molecular structure of its user to attempt to create a connection. When it is unable to do so, it simply shuts down.”
“It’s a security measure,” said Susan Bano, the Bolian science officer who had been chiefly responsible for obtaining the object from the planet Eteron after a harrowing encounter with enemy agents. In fact, she had chased after the mysterious objects for months, ever since they had learned of its possible existence. She looked at Owens. “It must be a similar feature to what we have observed on the two Pandora Boxes we have obtained. Since studying the shard-artifacts contained inside them led us to this object in the first place, it is clear that they are connected.”
Owens frowned, not happy with the mystical-inspired nickname for the boxes SAI had managed to secure before getting their hands on this latest object.
“We only know of two people who have been able to open the boxes,” said Jarik. “You being one of them. If these objects are connected, it stands to reason that you might be able to activate this exhibitor as well.”
Alaalatoa didn’t seem to like the sound of this. “I strongly suggest we continue to study the object before we make any further attempts to activate it,” she said. “We still know next to nothing about its function or the limits of its power.”
Bano nodded. “I agree. Let’s put it through its paces before we try to meddle with it.”
Owens stepped closer to the platform containing the unassuming device not much larger than an isolinear chip. The power Alaalatoa had spoken of was undeniable and somewhat mesmerizing as well. He reached out and picked up the device.
“Sir, I really think we should-“
But Owens cut off the Bolian. “Give me the room.”
“Sir?” she said, sounding somewhat surprised.
The admiral exchanged a telling look with Jarik who offered him an acknowledging nod before the half-Vulcan turned to consider Bano and Alaalatoa. “We need the room. Everybody, we’ll convene in two hours to discuss our next steps. In the meantime, we are not to be disturbed.”
Bano still looked doubtful. “I don’t think that is wise.”
“Regardless, Commander,” Jarik said, offering the woman a small smile that appeared almost disturbing on his dark Vulcan features. “The admiral wishes to study the object in private. Considering his track record with the shard artifacts, I believe that is not an illogical approach.”
When the Bolian science officer was still not mollified by his words and the prospect of being shut out of her own discovery after everything she had gone through to obtain it in the first place, Jarik placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Susan, you did a truly outstanding thing in bringing this to us. But you always knew that the nature of the work we do here is extremely compartmentalized. Trust me, if we require any assistance, you’ll be the first person we call.”
Since it was obvious this was not an argument she could win, Bano begrudgingly left the room, following the rest of the science team, until Owens and Jarik were the last two persons remaining.
Jarik turned back towards the admiral who still held the small device in his hand, his body trembling ever so slightly as his eyes were squarely focused on it.
“Sir, I think that perhaps Susan is right about this,” he said. He had not been willing to raise his own doubts in front of the others but now that they were alone, he was clearly determined to say his piece. “This object appears more powerful than the shards and we studied those for years.”
“Your concerns are duly noted, old friend,” Owens said, even while he kept all his focus on the Exhibitor. “But something tells me that we don’t have that kind of time.”
“How do you know?”
He shook his head briefly. “I am not sure. It’s as if it’s speaking to me. It’s not in a language I fully understand. It’s not language at all, really. They are like … impressions. Even that is not quite the right word. I can feel its power, Jarik, it is astonishing.”
“Which makes it dangerous as well,” he said.
Owens nodded. “Oh yes, of that I have no doubt.”
“Please, be careful.”
The admiral regarded the man at his side, offering him a smile. “I have never
been afraid of power, Jarik. Now, brace yourself,” he said and glanced back at it. “It’s time to see what this object can do.”
Jarik quickly retrieved a specially adapted tricorder that had been designed by Bano and Alaalatoa to pick-up on the unique energy readings emitted by the mysterious shard objects contained in what the Bolian had liked to refer to as a Pandora’s Box. Although this artifact was clearly not another shard, it was clear that these objects were all connected in some form.
Owens was once more focusing on the oblong device in his hands and it began to stir. Owens cried out in pain and dropped onto his knees with Jarik immediately lowering himself at his side. “You need to let it go.”
But Owens shook his head. He had trouble speaking, using one hand to steady himself on the floor but kept a firm grasp on the device with his other. “No, it’s all right. Something is happening. I can feel it coursing through me.”
Jarik referred to his tricorder. “I see it. It’s establishing some sort of connection with you. Curious, this did not happen when I attempted to activate it,” he said and then looked back at Owens. “You appear to have an inherent aptitude interfacing with this device.”
“Just like … with the boxes,” he said between labored breaths.
“Can you summon the object itself?”
“I think so, hold on,” he said and closed his eyes.
A perfectly prism-shaped object shimmered into existence just above their heads. It was larger than it had been the last time Jarik had seen it, just after Bano had retrieved the Exhibitor. It still shimmered in a green light, spinning slightly on its axis like a projection. It was obviously much more than that.
Exhausted, Owens let the Exhibitor slip through his fingers and allowing it to fall to the floor but for now, his entire focus was on the geometric shape floating above, and with Jarik’s help he managed to get back onto his feet.
“It appears fully stable,” Jarik said, glancing at his tricorder before he looked back at the shape. “But I am not getting a clear reading of it. I cannot tell if it is a solid object or merely a projection of sorts.”
Owens stared right at it. “The Prism. It’s real.”
“You can sense it?”
“I think so,” he said. “But I think all I’m getting are surface impressions. It feels like a vast ocean and all I can perceive are a few drops. The amount of information contained in just the small fractions I have access to is incredible.”
“Can you determine its purpose?”
Owens took a step closer and then another until he stood right inside the Prism, the shape rotating around him. He gasped.
“Sir?” Jarik said concerned and made to follow him but was stopped when Owens raised a hand to keep him back.
“It’s just, there’s so much here. Past, present, future, other realities, they all seem to be contained within the Prism. It’s a window and what lies beyond seems more infinite than space itself.”
“That is too much knowledge even for us,” Jarik said.
Owens nodded slowly. “I agree. But there is something here, something it wants me to see,” he said and closed his eyes to focus on a specific thought.
Moments later the large holographic screens which surrounded the center of the room came to life, each one showing a stream of seemingly never-ending images of known and unknown people and animals, of starships and bases, of planets and stars until, all of a sudden, all screens display the same image. A massive ring-shaped structure floating in what looked like a mass of salmon-colored space. Small gaps within the structure made it seem that it was not yet fully completed.
“What is it?” Jarik said as he stepped closer to one of the screens.
Owens shook his head. “I am not sure. But I don’t think it is a good thing.”
The images shifted again, this time to reveal the builders of the structure, their tall, lean bodies wrapped into long cloaks and hoods and offering few glimpses at their pebbled and reptilian faces.
Jarik quickly glanced back at his tricorder to ensure the images were being recorded and to crosscheck everything they were being shown.
“I don’t recognize the species,” Owens said, staring at the screen.
But Jarik found a match. “We only have a single known encounter on record. Last year, in the Amargosa Diaspora, this race abducted members of the crew of the Enterprise to experiment on them. Their motivations were unclear but we know they are salonogen-based and live in subspace.”
“And now they are building a massive superstructure.”
Jarik glanced at Owens. “Could be an attempt to crossover into regular space. A possible incursion.”
He nodded slowly. “Something we would be entirely unprepared for.”
“Starfleet’s current focus is on the Borg and the Maquis,” said Jarik. “Securing resources to fully investigate this may be difficult.”
Owens seemed to consider that for a moment. Then he glanced back towards the Prism which still floated at the center of the room. “We may be able to find allies elsewhere,” he said as he stepped back into the Prism. “There are an infinite amount of universes out there and we may have found a way to connect to all of them.”
The screens once again began to show the rapid stream of images they had earlier, seemingly cycling through an endless amount of people and objects from an infinite amount of other universes.
When the stream finally came to a stop again, every screen displayed the face of a middle-aged and entirely bald-headed Deltan man wearing a Starfleet uniform.
“Assistant Director Altee of Starfleet Intelligence?” Jarik said after recognizing the man’s face.
“Not the man we know,” said Owens and stepped back out of the Prism.
“I think he too is looking for allies beyond his own universe. And we have to start somewhere,” Owens said and glanced at one of the screens.
The image was no longer static and the Deltan appeared to be looking straight at Owens, he turned to look at somebody off-screen for a moment. “That’s it,” he said. “I think we’ve made contact with somebody. Maintain this frequency,” he said and looked back towards the screen. “Can you hear me?”
Owens nodded. “Yes, we can. Altee, I presume?”
“Yes. And you look very much like Admiral Owens. However, I have a feeling you are not that same self-important windbag I know, are you?”
Owens and Jarik exchanged looks before the admiral turned back towards Altee. “I sincerely hope not,” he said. “There’s much for us to talk about.”
“Yes, indeed,” the Deltan said with a smile. “And I cannot wait to get started.”