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Louise Hopkins held on to her console so tightly, her knuckles were turning white as her mind pondered the implications of entering into a fold of subspace which had pretty much disintegrated around them the last time they had been there.

Xylion had argued successfully that the instability of what they referred to as in-between space had been caused by the massive gravimetric sheer created by the movement of the Ring superstructure which in turn had led to the destruction of an entire universe. He had argued that once that task had been completed, the Ring would once more become inert and in-between space along with it.

From a technical perspective, his rationale had made sense to her, but even he had admitted that this was merely a hypothesis and therefore not without potential flaws. And yet it had been enough to convince the Captain to allow him, along with her, Bensu and two Niners to take the Nebuchadrezzar back into in-between space and to the Ring in hopes to find a way to stop its seemingly apocalyptic purpose.

Louise took a deep breath as they approached the threshold and the small ship traversed back into in-between space. She hadn’t even been consciously aware that she had held it in until they emerged on the other side, finding the subspace fold just like it had been when they had first come across it, the massive Ring superstructure once more entirely still as it ominously hung in the salmon-colored void.

“Readings indicate no sign of gravimetric disturbance,” said Xylion as his fingers danced across the console to her right, carefully studying the sensor readouts. “There is no indication of abnormal activity from the Ring structure itself.”

“You’re telling me that that thing was responsible for wiping out an entire universe?”

Louise turned her head slightly. Nora Laas had stepped up between her and Xylion, leaning forward and looking out of the viewports to get a better look at the superstructure.

“There is no way for us to know that for sure,” she said as she followed her friend’s glance. She couldn’t deny the cold shudder running up her spine whenever she looked at that immense device that was multiple times larger than any spaceborne superstructure she had ever encountered or read about. And yet, at the same time, the engineer in her was endlessly fascinated by it, desperate to try and understand how exactly it functioned. “If we’re right, and it is a supercollider, accelerating enormously powerful particles to speeds beyond the warp scale, and colliding them, there would be no end to what this machine could accomplish.”

“Still,” Nora said, unable to tear her eyes away. “A universe-killer? That’s hard to believe.”

“It’s true.”

All three of them turned to look at Bensu who sat in one of the back chairs of the cockpit. The dark-skinned bartender had his eyes closed and seemed to be in some sort of meditative state he had remained in ever since he had boarded the runabout. Louise had heard that he had not weathered the transition into this latest universe they found himself in now very well, and had only very recently awoken from a waking coma of sorts. She wasn’t convinced at all that he had sufficiently recovered to be on this mission in the first place, certainly not by judging his paler than usual complexion.

“I have seen it,” he said in a near whisper that seemed to command the attention of everyone present. “It brought forth energies immeasurable by your instruments to create a state of total entropy and in doing so it wiped away a universe within mere moments.” He opened his eyes and the blank look on his face gave her chills. “Every life, sentient or otherwise, every structure, planet or star. The very fabric of time and space, gone in an instant.”

An uncomfortable silence settled over the small control deck of the runabout.

“If that is true,” Xylion said. “We must find a way to ensure this does not happen again. Not to this universe, ours or any other.”

Louise nodded slowly.

“My question is,” said Nora. “Why would anybody want to destroy an entire universe?”

Louise had wondered the same thing.

“The creatures who seem responsible for constructing this device dwell in subspace,” Xylion said. “We have not yet gathered enough evidence to support a concrete theory, however, it does appear that subspace itself may not have been affected by the particle collider’s activity.”

Louise looked out of the viewport to study the pink and white mass surrounding them in closer detail but found that it looked no different than it had before. “You think they are waging a war on normal space? Trying to wipe it all out?”

“As I said, we do not have sufficient evidence at this stage. We may be able to find more answers on the structure itself,” he said.

It didn’t take them long to get back into transporter range of the Ring, even as they approached it slower and more carefully than they had done in the past, to make absolutely certain that no lingering effects remained.

The entire team of Starfleet officers, accompanied by the two SMT operatives Diamond and Ivory equipped themselves with the same armbands they had used the last time they had beamed onto the structure. Eagle had not been able to deploy a signal buoy like she had done previously to keep up communications through the threshold since it would have been spotted easily by the Krellonian fleet, at least the armbands would make it easier to keep track of the away team once Eagle returned.

At first blush, Louise couldn’t see any changes to the massive, tunnel-like interior of the Ring, still as gloomy and overall imposing as she remembered it. It wasn’t until she referred to her tricorder that she detected anomalies. “I can no longer detect a signal from our drones,” she said, referring to the hundreds of autonomous probes Eagle as well as the ships from the other universe had deployed to map the entirety of the interior.

“This one looks pretty dead to me,” said Diamond, who had approached one of the compact drones that now lay lifeless on the ground and then nudged it with the tip of her boot.

“I suppose they didn’t survive the particle acceleration,” said Nora.

Xylion in the meantime was busy setting up a communications and signal booster he had brought from the runabout. The armbands they wore were theoretically able to keep them in contact with the runabout computer, but as a veteran science officer, Xylion clearly believed in contingencies. “We can assume that the probes deployed by the vessels from the other universe have been neutralized in the same manner as every other matter originating in that reality.”

She knew he was probably right, still remembering how Amaya Donners who had looked so much like her counterpart from their own universe, had practically vanished in front of their eyes. Yet she wished Xylion hadn’t sounded so clinical when talking about the end of trillions of lives and destruction on a scope she could barely get her head around.

“I have successfully reestablished an uplink with the runabout computer,” said the Vulcan as he stood back up after having taken a knee next to the booster to program it accordingly.

“What now?” Nora asked.

Xylion turned to Bensu who seemed to be walking around slowly but with seemingly no specific aim. “Are you picking up anything out of the ordinary?”

It took him a moment to realize that he had been addressed. “I can’t be certain.”

Louise had no idea what he meant by that, considering the puzzled looks by the rest of the away team, they too didn’t know what to make of that response.

Xylion didn’t push it further. “Let us return to the control sphere.”

That seemed like a sensible suggestion and Nora took point, using a tricorder to locate the exact coordinates where they had last encountered the invisible barrier that had taken them into an even deeper subspace domain. She held her phaser tightly in the other hand.

Diamond and Ivory took up the rear and flanks, constantly scanning their environment with their heavily modified phaser carbines at the ready.

Louise watched first Nora and then Xylion disappear as they stepped through the threshold and felt undeniable butterflies of anxiety in her stomach when it was her turn. Like most Starfleet officers and Federation citizens, she had long since gotten used to having her body dismantled on a molecular level and beamed to locations thousands of kilometers away. However, commencing one step in one locality only to find herself somewhere else entirely upon completion of a single stride was not something she thought she’d get used to quickly. Especially not since her new surroundings were so completely alien.

The control sphere too was unchanged and she could still not shake the impression that it resembled an oversized snow globe in which they found themselves trapped in.

For a moment she once more marveled at the void beyond the thin, film-like sphere that surrounded them on all sides. Having been an engineer for her entire adult life, Lou firmly believed in the laws of physics, it was what made starship travel the stars at faster than light speeds”something that had been unthinkable on her homeworld until Zefram Cochrane had shattered the warp threshold and in doing so united an equally shattered planet. And yet, here, in subspace, all rules seemed to be off, in fact, it appeared volumes of books could be filled with everything they still didn’t understand about the enigmatic layer of space-time that existed beyond what could normally be seen and felt.

Xylion and Bensu had made their way back towards the central circle of holographic computer displays which they still hadn’t made much headway in deciphering, probably hoping that after the Ring’s recent, unexpected activity, something may have changed to allow a clue to its operation.

Nora and the two battle-hardened SMTs in the meantime had quickly fallen back into their security stance, weapons carefully sweeping the area as if danger would drop on top of them at any second.

Louise decided to join the science officer and the man she had primarily known as the barkeeper, serving her drinks in the Nest.

“Something is different.”

She stopped to consider Bensu who had spoken suddenly. “Something related to particle acceleration?” she asked. She had her tricorder already in hand but unsurprisingly, like every other time she had tried, it refused to make sense of much of anything around her.

“There is something--somebody else here.”

That immediately got Nora’s attention and she stepped closer to the trio.

“Can you be more specific? Who is it and where are they?” she said, her phaser rifle at the ready.

Bensu closed his eyes. “I am not sure if it is a physical presence but I can sense it. Perhaps if I can just focus on it.”

Not a moment later Louise could see it too. It startled her so much she instinctively jumped back a little when seeing the ghost-like specter appear not two meters in front of her. It was shaped not unlike a man, or a creature but it was blurred to such a degree it was impossible to make out any features. She thought she had seen something like this before.

Nora and the Niners trained their phasers on the specter

“Fascinating,” said Xylion, carefully studying the phenomenon.

Nora shook her head. “Agree to disagree. The last time we came across these things they turned out to be subspace creatures. The very people responsible for this monstrosity.”

The Vulcan considered her briefly. “That event took place in a holographic environment and was initiated by the use of alien technology.”

“I don’t care how it happened, Commander,” she said. “In case you had forgotten, an entire universe died after these guys showed up. We cannot allow for that to repeat itself.”

Louise wanted to agree with Nora but somehow she doubted a few phaser rifles would be enough to prevent that from happening. “What do we do?”

The figure flickered a few times as if it was about to disappear again and Louise could see that Bensu was having trouble maintaining his focus.

“I suggest that whatever it is you’re doing,” Nora said, glancing at Bensu. “You stop.”

He shook his head. “This is not a subspace alien.”

“Who then?” Nora asked while keeping her sharp gaze on the flickering apparition.

But Bensu’s strength and mental focus waned quickly, leaving him exhausted and spent. Louise was at his side before he could collapse and she helped him sit on the floor. He looked up at the others but needed a moment to recollect himself. “I cannot say for certain but I know I don’t have the focus required to connect with it,” he said and glanced towards Xylion. “Not alone.”

The Vulcan nodded, understanding his meaning immediately.

“Commander, this not a very good idea,” said Nora as she too seemed to understand what they were up to.

“At present, this appears our best option to gain answers we desperately require,” he said resolutely as he took a knee next to Bensu to prepare them both for another mind-link.

Nora threw Louise a look as if to try and find somebody who had still a shred of common sense left. “What was that human expression about overzealous interest and the death of feline creatures?”

Louise decided not to humor her, although in the back of her mind she couldn’t help but wonder if the Bajoran wasn’t on the right track.


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