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He hadn’t been able to deny that Amaya Donners’ revelations about the universe they now found themselves in troubled him a great deal. It had been obvious that this had been a very different place to the one he called home from their very first and rather unwelcoming encounter with Agamemnon. Although her captain had eventually agreed to help them find a way home--at least as long as it didn’t interfere with her own plans, the entire notion that Starfleet and the Federation itself being at war with itself was almost incomprehensible to him.

Then again, Michael also had a difficult time trying to imagine what would have happened if his Starfleet had not been successful in opposing the Borg and if their advances had not been stopped in time to destroy the very fabric that held the Federation together.

Perhaps it wasn’t too far-fetched to believe that a disaster of such a magnitude would have fractured his Federation as well, shattering its long-held ethos of peace and unity and subsequently making it an easy target for foreign powers to exploit the weakened union until it was nothing more than a mere specter of its former self.

He had also not been able to get out of his mind what Amaya had insinuated about his alter ego and the fate of his family in this galaxy. His father dead, most likely in the truest sense--although he would not have put it past him to have faked his death in this universe as well--and his brother only recently murdered by the very same woman who served as his first officer instead of being killed by his own colleague Westren Frobisher a decade earlier as it had happened in his universe.

As for his counterpart, the Michael Owens of this reality was--according to Amaya Donners at least--an unscrupulous warmonger who over the last year had been consumed by a quest to revenge his brother’s murder and burn down anyone or anything that threatened to slow him down in the process.

Michael was convinced that he was not a man he wanted to meet, although he also considered the possibility that Amaya’s opinion of his doppelganger could have been distorted by the fact that they found themselves on different sides of a civil war, and like the sucker punch she had dished out--and he could still feel hours later--had proven, there was no love lost among these two starship captains.

None of these many disturbing revelations had altered Michael’s commitment to locate and liberate his father and Jarik as well as the Prism which as it stood was the only means for them to find a way back home and perhaps stop the Ring for good.

Amaya had stopped short of offering any kind of active assistance in this task but she had pointed them in the right direction, confirming that Arkaria was the most likely location for Star to have taken their people. But there was a good chance that this was merely a way station, meaning that they had to act fast if they wanted any chance of getting their people back.

Michael strode into the large stellar cartography lab on deck nine where he found Star, Deen, and Leva already waiting for him. The lab, essentially a large round room with curved holographic walls high enough to encompass two decks which surrounded a central platform, allowed amazingly detailed views of stars, planets, and stellar phenomena and as the name suggested, was primarily used by the science department to study, observe and chart new stars and the surrounding space. Michael could not remember the last time he had used stellar cartography for anything other than planning tactical operations, an unfortunate indicator of how long it had been since Eagle had truly fulfilled its primary purpose.

DeMara was sitting in the only chair, working the computer console while Star and Leva watched the shifting curved screens all around them which currently displayed a star system from various angles.

“Arkaria,” Michael said as he approached the trio via the short and narrow gangway leading to the platform. After their meeting with Donners, he had instructed his people to learn as much as possible about their destination.

The Trill first officer glanced his way and nodded. She had appeared somewhat shaken by Amaya’s story, particularly learning that her counterpart had been responsible for killing Matthew Owens in this reality and that she had become the Alternate Michael’s nemesis in the process. Her professionalism had ultimately trumped those feelings and she showed no signs of concern now. “In many ways, very similar to our own version but not without a few key differences.”

“That’s right,” said Deen and worked her console focusing in on a large green-tinted planet until it took up almost half of the massive screen in front of her. “Take Arkaria Prime for example.”

Michael noticed the disparity immediately. “No Remmler Array?”

“No,” she said. “However, there are some smaller orbital facilities we can see, most likely functioning as repair and maintenance facilities.” Deen continued to work the controls and the planet began to spin slowly until it revealed several satellite-like installations floating in space above it. Some of which seemed to be serving very familiar-looking starships.

“Have we been able to ID any of those ships?” Michael asked.

“You’re going to love this part,” said Leva who was leaning back against the far railing of the platform. The tone in his voice seemed to imply the contrary.

“We were able to perform a few passive scans which gave us a better idea about what we may find in that system,” said Star while the screen began to shift and focus in on one of the ships in Arkaria’s orbit.

Michael took a small step closer to the railing but quickly realized that he didn’t have needed to bother since the ship was quickly becoming unmistakable, the wide saucer section, the warp nacelles slung underneath her compact engineering hull and the triangular-shaped pod on top of the saucer left no doubt about her class, and once her registry number came into view, Michael let out a surprised breath. “It’s Eagle.”

Deen turned from her station to face her. “I don’t know if we should start believing in cosmic destiny, but if Xylion were here, I’m sure he would tell us about the infinitesimal chances of encountering not just Agamemnon but also our own double twice in two separate universes.”

Michael had to agree that it sounded implausible, but then again, actually traversing the quantum-verse hadn’t sounded much more feasible to him just a few days ago. “If she is here, that means my counterpart will be as well. From everything we know so far, we would be wise to try and avoid him.”

Star was first to agree to that sentiment and he could understand why.

Deen had zoomed out again so that the holographic projection showed the entirety of the system with all its twelve planets orbiting two bright, main-sequence stars. “There are at least eight Starfleet vessels in the system, a few of them patrolling, but most of them near the ninth planet,” she said and focused on that world, a much smaller one with no obvious population centers visible from orbit.

“Which contains a hidden SAI base in our universe. Could there be a similar installation here as well?” Michael said.

Deen swiveled around in the chair. “Impossible to tell from this distance and using passive scans only, I’m afraid. But considering the activity around the planet, I think it’s highly probable there is something on that planet that somebody wants to protect.”

He nodded. “I concur. Which means it’s the most likely location of our people. The question is: How do we get there undetected?”

Leva took a step away from the railing, clearly, he had already considered this problem. “We’ve detected what looks like small craft traffic heading for Arkaria IX. I think we can modify one of our shuttles to make it look like it belongs in this universe, shouldn’t be difficult since most of the differences between our Starfleet and theirs are cosmetic. With some luck, this will allow us to slip into the atmosphere without causing suspicion. The harder part will be trying to find and retrieve our people and the artifact.”

Star took over. “I can lead a team of SMT operatives and infiltrate the base. Assuming it is in the same location as the one in our universe, we’ll already know where to start looking.”

Michael considered her for a moment before casting his gaze back towards the projection of the small planet on the screen. “It’s risky but I think we have little choice.”

She nodded. “I’ll get started on the preparations.”

“Commander, just one adjustment to the plan,” he said, stopping her in her tracks and eliciting a quizzical expression from his first officer.

“There is only one person on this ship who has been to that base before.”

She shook her head, immediately understanding where he was going with this. “Sir, we don’t even know if it is the same base. For all we know it could be something entirely different. Besides, the risks--“

“I understand the risks, Commander. But I believe we both know why you can’t be the one leading this mission.”

Star clearly didn’t see it that way.

“I’m happy to lead the away team instead,” Leva said quickly.

But Michael had made his decision. “Thanks, Commander, but it will need to be me. We know my double in this universe is working for the Guardians faction, which means if I’m discovered I will have the best chance to pass off as belonging there.”

Deen stood from her chair. “Unless you run into him. This doesn’t strike me like a good idea, Michael.”

“The other Eagle is nowhere near that planet so chances are good neither is my doppelganger,” he said and then raised a hand when he felt like all three of his officers about to gang up on him to keep him from going on what was an obviously risky, but in his opinion, necessary mission. “I’ve noted your objections, people. I understand it is not ideal but it is what we’re going to do. And we don’t have the time to sit around and argue over it.” He looked at all three of them and although none appeared happy with it, they all understood that his mind was made up. He focused on Star. “Get those preparations underway, please. I want to head out as soon as possible.”

The Trill hesitated for just a second or so, as if he would perhaps change his mind after all, but then offered a quick nod and left the room along with Leva to do what needed to be done.

“I really hope you know what you’re doing,” Deen said and then followed the others.

All alone in the cavernous room, Michael stepped up to the computer panel and looked over the controls until he found what he was after. Without sitting down, he altered the view to zoom back out from Arkaria IX to once more find the other starship Eagle in orbit around the other planet. “So do I,” he said to himself as he stared at the eerily familiar vessel.

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