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“I just don’t like that thing.”

DeMara turned to glance at Nora Laas who stood a few meters behind her in the science lab, arms defiantly crossed in front of her chest and her gaze firmly fixed on the pedestal which securely contained the Exhibitor covered by a force field.

Besides the Bajoran, there were an additional four armed security guards in the lab, as to Commander Star’s orders. Nobody wanted to take chances with this incredibly powerful artifact.

“It very likely saved all our lives,” said DeMara. “Without it, we may not have been able to escape whatever happened to the other universe.”

Nora held up a hand. “Don’t even go there, please. Bad enough that we’re traveling through other realities and encountering people we should have never come across in the first place.”

DeMara was fairly certain that she was particularly upset about meeting one specific person she should never have met under normal circumstances.

“Now we might be dealing with entire universes falling apart as if they were nothing more than a house of cards,” she said. “I cannot even start contemplating such a thing without my brain wanting to kill itself. It’s certainly not the kind of thing I thought I’d be dealing with when I signed up for Starfleet.”

“None of us expected something like that,” DeMara said. “But that’s part of why we’re doing this. Starfleet is about the unexpected.”

Nora just frowned. “There’s the unexpected and then there is this.”

She nodded slowly as she turned back to look at the Exhibitor, the unassuming little device which was able to summon the Prism, a yet to be fully understood phenomenon which could, somehow, create gateways into other universes when activated near the Ring superstructure. She had spent the last few hours, along with Xylion and a small army of science personnel to try and study the device in more detail but their efforts had been stymied by the fact that they were not able to activate the Exhibitor themselves. Apparently, this could only be accomplished by the Admiral, Michael’s father, who currently was in no condition to do so again.

Michael had called for a meeting to share their findings so far and Xylion had left to prepare but for the moment it appeared they still had far more questions than answers to give. It didn’t help that the one person who had, inexplicably, been able to provide any kind of answers at all, was still in sickbay, fading in and out of consciousness.

“And I certainly don’t care for the strange sensation it emits. Is there nothing you can do to at least dampen it?” the security chief asked.

She shook her head. “Nothing has been proven successful to shield the radiation it emits. At least Doctor Katanga has confirmed that it appears benign.”

In response, Nora took a small step back from the device, apparently not at all put at ease by that statement. DeMara didn’t blame her for her cautiousness. But her scientific curiosity, not to mention their desperate need to fully understand how this Prism worked, kept her close to it, staring at the device as if it would reveal its secrets at any moment.

That’s when the ship trembled so suddenly, everyone in the room lost their balance as the lights in the lab began to flicker.

Nora had her phaser out at a moment’s notice and so did the rest of the security team, all of them jumping to high alert, expecting imminent danger.

“What was that?” Nora asked.

DeMara had no immediate answer.

“Are the Krellonians attacking?”

“I’m not sure, but it didn’t feel like a conventional weapon that hit us.”

The red alert lights and klaxon came to live, only to immediately die down again, along with all lights and computer consoles, plunging the science lab into sudden darkness.

“By the Prophets, what’s going on here?” Nora said.

“Deen to bridge.”

But there was no response.

DeMara tried her combadge next, trying to circumvent the ship’s internal comm. system, but the results were the same. Nora attempted the same but received nothing but a dull chirp in response, indicating a malfunction.

Emergency lighting along with the flashing crimson red alert strobes returned to finally illuminate their surroundings again but communications remained dead.

Nora indicated for her people to spread out across the room.

“What are you thinking?” DeMara asked her.

“A sudden systems and comms failure?” she said as she began to slowly round the room. “Textbook approach for a boarding mission.”

“The Krellonians don’t even know about the Prism.”

“I guess they found out.”

Sounds from the main entrance to the lab immediately directed all their attention to the doors. With main power apparently down, somebody was attempting to force them open from the outside.

Nora gave more instructions and her team took up positions to cover the door and blast whoever was trying to make their way inside.

Since DeMara didn’t have a weapon on her, she kept close to Nora. “What’s the plan?” she whispered.

“Stay back. The moment the doors open wide enough, we start shooting,” she said and trained her weapon on the point where the two still closed door panels met.

DeMara took cover behind the pedestal with the device. The proximity to it caused her skin to tingle but that seemed preferable at the moment to getting hit by crossfire.

Nora raised her free hand to indicate to her people to get ready to fire on her signal.

The panels began to part a few centimeters, not enough for a clear line of fire but it did allow a few fingers to push into the gap.

A moment later the gap widened and Nora was just about ready to give the signal to start shooting.

“Wait,” DeMara said when she thought she recognized something and then stood.

Nora shot her an annoyed glance.

“Look,” she said.

The panels opened wider to reveal a face. It was a distinctly Trill woman with bright red hair.

“Somebody help with this blasted door,” Tazla Star said.

Nora holstered her weapon and quickly stepped up to the panels and a moment later DeMara joined her as well. Together, the three of them managed to push the panels aside enough to let Star enter.

DeMara was just about to let go of the panels again when she noticed that the commander had not come alone. Jarik and Jonathan Owens had accompanied her and also slipped inside.

Owens looked pale, even in the weakened light, and needed Jarik’s help to steady himself. “Admiral, I don’t think you should be out of sickbay,” she said. Differently to Michael, DeMara had always enjoyed a very good relationship with his father who had embraced her with open arms when she had come to Earth as the first of her people to attend Starfleet Academy. Of course, back then most people she had encountered had responded mostly positively to her.

“He’ll be fine,” Jarik said and Owens nodded lamely.

It didn’t inspire her with much confidence.

“What happened?” Nora asked Star as soon as she had made it all the way into the lab.

“It’s the Krellonians. Our meeting with them didn’t go as well as we would have liked and they got fed up with waiting around. They struck us with some sort of EMP weapon.”

“That explains why our systems crashed,” DeMara said.

“We need to prepare for what’s coming next,” Star staid and glanced at Nora. “I need you and your people to get ready to repel borders and keep anyone from entering the lab,” she said and then looked at DeMara. “You are needed on the bridge.”

DeMara looked at her and then Jarik and Owens. “What are you planning to do?”

“We may need to use the artifact to get us out of this mess,” she said.

“But we need to act quickly.”

“How exactly are you proposing to do that?” she asked, somewhat confused by this proposed plan, considering that the science team so far had not been able to shed any additional light on the device or the Prism artifact.

“SAI has studied this object far longer than you have, Lieutenant,” Jarik said sharply. “We believe we know what we are doing and it might be our only way to survive going up against the Krellonians who outnumber us six to one.”

DeMara remained skeptical. “I should stay and help where I can.”

“I appreciate the assistance,” Star said. “But we have no time for this and you're needed urgently on the bridge.” She glanced over to Nora and her people who were also still in the room. “Come on, people, you have your orders. Let’s move it.”

“I’d be more comfortable to keep a team close by,” Nora said.

Star nodded. “Fine. But keep them outside the lab. They’d only be a distraction in here when we activate the artifact.”

The security chief frowned but then followed her orders. Her people quickly managed to pry the doors open again and one by one they slipped out of the lab with DeMara the last person to push herself through but not before shooting one last glance towards the lab where she could see Star and Jarik approaching the device.

“Is it just me or did that sound like a very odd plan?” Nora asked once they were back in the corridor outside the lab.

DeMara was still staring at the now-closed doors again. “Not just odd,” she said. “Irresponsible, too. We’ve already seen what this artifact can do.”

“You think they’re trying to make us jump universes again?”

“I’m not sure if it’s possible without being in the vicinity of the Ring. And without the proper preparations, it could be incredibly dangerous.”

Nora nodded. “I remember that first jump. I wish I didn’t. I still haven’t fully shaken the nightmares it gave me.” She was pensive for only a moment. “Anyway, we have our orders and if the Krellonians are attacking us, we need to get ready. You better get back to the bridge.”

In truth, she didn’t want to leave the lab but she understood that her priorities needed to shift and that her expertise was likely put to better use on the bridge to fend off a Krellonian assault. She nodded and they headed for the nearest turbolift. They made it halfway down the corridor when the lights came back on.

DeMara stopped and looked at Nora, both of them seemingly having the same idea and immediately called the bridge.

This is Star, what’s your status?”

DeMara and Nora exchanged surprised looks at hearing the first officer’s voice.

“Commander?” Nora said.

“Yes, Lieutenant,” she said, sounding slightly annoyed. “We’re pretty busy up here. What do you need?”

“Sir, are you presently on the bridge?” DeMara said, still giving the security chief a perplexed look.

“You called the bridge, I answered. What do you think? Are we done playing games now?”

DeMara and Nora turned around to look at the still-closed doors to the science lab. Without having to utter a word, they both set out in a dead run towards them.

Although power had been restored, the door panels refused to budge as they approached.

“They have been sealed from the inside,” DeMara realized.

As the head of security, Nora had an override code to open pretty much any door on the ship and once she had provided the computer with her authorization, the doors hissed open.

The lab was empty.

DeMara immediately headed for the pedestal but the Exhibitor was gone.

“Commander, are we under attack by the Krellonians?” she asked.

“We don’t believe so. It appears they have been affected in the same manner as we have. We are still trying to figure out what happened.”

DeMara and Nora looked at each other again before the Tenarian spoke. “Sir, I think we have another problem.”

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