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13


He had to admit that the uniform invoked a certain sense of nostalgia in him.

After they had reviewed many of the files Amaya had made available to them about this universe, particularly those relating to the Guardians, it had been clear that the other faction of Starfleet favored wearing an even older style of uniform than Donners and the Preservers.

It was the same two-colored outfit which he had worn for the majority of his Starfleet career, in slightly varying iterations, and it tended to remind him of a very different time when the galaxy hadn’t looked quite as dark and ominous as it had later turned out to be. But then again, as was often the case with nostalgia, he wasn’t sure how reliable those feelings truly were, after all that era that felt so innocent now had also been the same one in which Starfleet had first encountered the Borg and thousands had lost their lives to them. And while they had managed to defeat them in his reality, in this twisted alternate one, things had played out very differently.

Lieutenant Alendra and an engineering team had altered the shuttlecraft Osiris that would take him, along with Leva and three Niners to Arkaria, but the changes had been so superficial, he had hardly even been able to spot the differences after walking into the shuttlebay. They had decided to keep Eagle’s registry and other identifying marks on the livery, hoping that anyone spotting the shuttle would assume it came from the Eaglenative to this universe.

Leva was already at the piloting controls when Michael walked up the rear ramp and he could see the three Niners, Sensy, Violet, and One-Shot also already on board. “Took us a while but I suppose we finally did get you into uniforms after all. Even if they are somewhat outdated,” he said with a smirk at seeing all three operatives wearing the same style outfit he did, although theirs were mustard-yellow across their chests instead of his command-red. He recalled that one stipulation of the Special Mission Team members after coming aboard had been that they could be exempt from Starfleet’s uniform dress code and instead wear their mixture of civilian garb and tactical outfits they were used to. Michael had hesitantly agreed since he didn’t wish to meddle with whatever combination of factors made the Niners so effective even if he was not pleased about the idea of having a different set of rules for different members of his crew.

“We wear whatever is required for the mission,” Sensy, the tall, broad-shouldered team leader said.

Violet, the Boslic woman who had her bright hair tied up neatly in a bun, didn’t seem quite as happy and was pulling at the tight collar of her uniform. Considering that she seemed to prefer outfits with far deeper necklines, she was probably not very comfortable. “Honestly, no clue how you Fleeters ever thought this was a good idea.”

“The pajamas are the least of our trouble,” said One-Shot, the dark-skinned human sniper and weapons expert as he looked over the only armament he carried. Or at least the only one visible. “These type-II phasers are a joke. Sensy, give me a few hours and I can see if I can’t turn these toys into real weapons.”

Michael shook his head. “We don’t have a few hours. I’m sure you’ll do fine. And I’ll have you know that we did all right with these kinds of weapons and uniforms for a good decade or so,” he said as he glanced at the sniper and then the Boslic woman.

“Can we at least take some standard-issue rifles?” the man nearly begged.

“This is an infiltration, not an assault. Somebody sees us coming in heavily armed and we blow our cover,” said Sensy, beating Michael to it. “The captain is right; we make do with what we have. Wouldn’t be the first time.”

His two operatives nodded begrudgingly and Michael continued to the front of the shuttle where Leva was going through the preflight checklist.

He considered the half-Romulan for a brief moment while he was busy working the computer console. He knew the man was a capable security officer and had in fact served most of his career in that capacity. However, since Michael had followed the example set by his former commanding officer on the Columbia, on which he had served as first officer, where Captain Eduardo Mendez had preferred the more old-fashioned approach of splitting security and tactical duties across two roles, it was rare that Leva left his bridge post for an away mission.

Michael had no second thoughts about bringing him along instead of another security officer, knowing full well that Leva routinely trained and worked out with Nora Laas and her team and that he was probably itching at the chance to get some time away from the ship.

His heritage could have been a concern since Romulan Starfleet officers weren’t exactly common in their universe, which likely meant they were even less typical in a reality in which the Federation had apparently been decimated.

However, since Leva was the progeny of two races, his forehead was almost entirely smooth rather than raised as was the case with many Romulans, this, along with his elegantly tapered ears allowed him to easily pass as a Vulcan.

And yet the tactical officer still seemed somewhat uncomfortable as he observed him tugging at his old-style uniform tunic. “Something the matter, Commander?” he said. “Don’t tell me you are having issues with this outfit as well.” Leva looked up, appearing slightly embarrassed by having drawn attention to himself in this way. “No, sir. The uniform is fine. I just wished they’d picked a different color.”

Michael couldn’t help but smirk. Differently to him, and the Niners, Leva wore a blue uniform denoting a science or medical officer, it seemed that Star, who he believed had chosen their outfits and equipment, must have felt that it be less conspicuous for their cover to be more varied. It also made sense to have a fake medical officer in their midst, considering that his father was still very ill.

“This hue just doesn’t do me any favors.”

“I think it fits you well,” he said with a little grin, noticing that it seemed to have made the large-framed Romulan even more uncomfortable.

Leva was clearly keen to move on. “I’ve plotted an indirect course towards Arkaria IX,” he said quickly and then brought up their programmed flight plan that came up on the holographic HUD projected on the large forward viewport.

It showed a somewhat serpentine route towards the star system that would get them there in just a bit under five hours. It was slower than a straight-line approach, but Leva seemed to believe it was less likely to get them noticed. Michael was happy to defer to his tactical judgment on that matter.

According to his mapped course, they’d drop out of warp at the outer edge of the system, near the Oort Cloud, and at the opposite side of where the ninth planet was currently orbiting its two stars. From there, Leva had planned what looked like a planet-hopping course, using the various stellar bodies within the system to mask their approach to their target, however, he had made sure they kept their distance to Arkaria Prime, likely to avoid a run-in with the one person in this universe who could have immediately ferreted out their deception.

It was going to be a long trip but it was a very sound plan. “Good work, Commander. We better get moving, we have a lot of ground to cover.”

Leva nodded and began the final pre-flight check while Michael got in touch with the bridge and Star one last time before obtaining take-off clearance.

Not long after, the back hatch of the shuttle sealed up tight and Leva smoothly initiated the anti-gravs to allow Osiris to push off the deck. Since the large bay door was already fully opened, he nudged the small vessel forward and it slid effortlessly through the forcefield separating the ship’s atmosphere with the vacuum of outer space.

Leva kept the shuttle on a straight course for less than a minute at low impulse speed to gain some separation from Eagle, before altering the heading in accordance with his flight plan and then promptly engaged the warp engine for the pre-programmed approach vector.

Michael spent most of the journey studying the data Amaya had provided them on this universe, trying to understand this place as best as he possibly could.

The war with the Borg which had driven the Federation and most of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants close to the breaking point, the faltering reconstruction efforts after they had finally been defeated, the emergence of the Nyberrite Alliance, and the schism within the Federation. It was all difficult to stomach and yet the more he read about how the galaxy had gotten to this place, the more it seemed to make sense. In this reality, the Federation had once enjoyed the same prosperity, optimism, and moral certitude that he recognized from his home, but it had been chipped away steadily over the years and after continuous defeats and losses. He recognized the trend, after all, it wasn’t too dissimilar to how things had felt during the Dominion War when it had become harder and harder to believe that victory was possible. Perhaps, if things had panned out differently, his own galaxy would have started to resemble this broken place much more than it did.

They completed their approach on Arkaria without incident, dropping back into normal space just where Leva had planned, but forcing him to use all his piloting skills to navigate the dense asteroid field which made up the outer boundary of the system. Michael kept an eye on sensors while Leva successfully steered them out of the Oort Cloud for a high impulse jump towards one of the uninhabited and frozen outer planets in the system in order to slingshot around it and in the direction of their next waypoint.

Michael heard the sensor alert before Leva could report it. “We’ve got an incoming vessel, heading two-three-one point four-six,” the tactical officer said as his fingers marched across his console.

He checked his instruments to confirm. Sure enough, somebody was heading their way. Judging by its course, it wasn’t making a beeline for them, so the chances were good that they had not yet been detected.

Leva quickly crushed those hopes. “We’re being scanned.”

“Can you identify the vessel?”

Moments later the tactical officer brought up the sensor details on the computer screen positioned in the console between them. Michael could feel a cold shudder shoot up his spine when he instantly recognized the familiar shape of the ship displayed in wireframe. For all their preparation, it now appeared, his worst fears were coming true after all.

“Definitely Nebula-class,” Leva said as he kept studying the sensor data. “She’s changed course to intercept. Wait … I’m getting a transponder signal. Registry reads as NCC-72015.”

Michael shot his pilot an astonished look. The good news was that this wasn’t Eagle. It took him a moment to remember which ship owned that particular number.

Leva spelled it out for him. “It’s the Sutherland. Shall I plot an evasive course?”

He shook his head. “No, there is no way we’d outrun her in a shuttle. And with a civil war raging in the Federation, we’d only draw more attention to us.”

Leva nodded slowly. “She’s hailing us.”

Michael uttered a heavy sigh. “So much for the stealthy approach,” he said and tugged at the bottom of his old-style uniform tunic. He knew very well who commanded the Sutherland in his universe and hardly any encounter with her captain had ever gone particularly well. He very much hoped their relationship was of a different nature in this reality, or better yet, she was commanded by a far-less--in his opinion at least--notorious commander. “Put it through.”

Once again, his prayers were not answered when the face of an attractive, blond-haired woman appeared on the computer screen. She wore her curly locks high with bangs covering her forehead and she was dressed in the same command-red uniform he currently wore. “Michael Owens,” she said and it sounded almost like a curse. “Not exactly somebody I expected to run in all the way out here at the ass-end of the galaxy.”

It seemed obvious that whatever animosity existed between him and Shelby extended to this reality as well. He hoped that they were fighting on the same side in this civil war since they were clearly outgunned. “Captain,” he said in a clipped tone. “What can I do for you?”

She considered him suspiciously. “What is that new thing you’re trying? Tact? Don’t think it suits you much.”

Michael wasn’t sure if he should feel offended. He’d always considered himself a rather diplomatic person, even when dealing with individuals he didn’t always agree with, a category that Shelby--at least the one he knew--definitely fell into. Clearly, the Michael Owens of this universe did not share this trait with him. “We’re allies, aren’t we? Let’s just keep this civil and then get out of each other’s way,” he said, adding a little bit more fire to his tone, hoping that it would make him sound more like a person he’d never met but whom Shelby was apparently expecting.

It worked and she visibly relaxed slightly, leaning back in her command chair. “I think you know exactly what’s going on here. And I for one am sick of playing these types of games.”

Michael racked his brain but for the life of him, he couldn’t tell what she was alluding to. He decided to play it somewhat honestly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Captain.”

Shelby smirked. “Like hell, you don’t. Last I heard your sole mission in life was to hunt down the woman responsible for killing your brother. God knows how you manage to get away with this kind of crap, putting your selfish quest for vengeance above the good of the Federation. Tell me, you got something on Admiral Leone, or are people still afraid your father will come back to life someday?”

Michael was momentarily stunned by this outburst. Hearing somebody talk so bluntly about such matters felt disconcerting, and his father coming back to life hit closer to home than Shelby could have ever imagined.

Shelby wasn’t done. “Imagine my surprise at seeing you being part of whatever the hell this little expedition to the middle of nowhere is all about. But considering your family history, I suppose I shouldn’t be. All this cloak-and-dagger stuff runs in your blood. Now, I want to know why half a fleet has been assembled in a remote system of no strategic value whatsoever when we could ensure we protect the borders of the core worlds and keep those damned Preservers in line?”

It turned out that Elizabeth Shelby knew how to push his buttons no matter the universe. He had never been able to stand people talking about his family, particularly when implying that he took after his father, no matter that she was obviously talking about a very different family. But then again, it felt so much like his own. “You know what your problem is, Elizabeth? You just can’t keep your nose out of things that do not concern you. You’re a Starfleet officer for Christ’s sake. Try behaving like one for a change. You get an order to travel to the ends of the galaxy, you should ask how fast, not why. I don’t have any answers to give you and even if I did, I don’t think you deserve them.”

The woman glared at him with murder in her eyes, reminding him for a moment of the look that this universe’s Amaya had given him the first time they had met. For a brief moment, he thought he may have pushed things too far especially considering his rather exposed position.

But then Shelby allowed herself a smirk. “You know, Captain, you remind me of a dog I once had. An unimpressive little creature that barked all day long to make up for its diminutive size. I think you know just as little as I do and it makes you mad. Good luck on your moronic quest for revenge. Remember to dig two graves. Shelby out.”

Michael let out a deep breath after the woman had disappeared from the screen. He turned to cast a glance at Leva who was staring right back at him.

Michael shrugged. “I suppose I got carried away a bit.”

Leva did not comment further and instead reviewed the sensors. “The Sutherland is no longer heading our way. Judging by her course she appears to be patrolling the system.”

He nodded. “Let’s try to avoid running into her again. Next time could get ugly,” he said. “Uglier,” he added quietly.

Leva resumed the shuttle’s heading towards the nearest planet and once they were sure that the Sutherland was no longer monitoring their progress, they continued to head for the ninth planet, managing to avoid any further run-ins with other ships.

Traveling across a planetary system tended to be a quick affair thanks to faster-than-light engines and high-powered impulse drives, but their encounter with Sutherland notwithstanding, Michael opted to keep their clandestine approach that, if nothing else, was time-consuming but would also make doubly sure that Shelby would likely have had a difficult time finding the shuttle again. It took a few more uneventful hours until they emerged from the dark side of Arkaria IX’s largest moon to finally lay eyes on their destination.

The small, unremarkable planet looked very much like he remembered it from his universe. Passive scans had already revealed that there were currently no starships in orbit or in close proximity. They had also located a well-hidden underground structure exactly where it had existed in their reality and one which would have been near impossible to discover unless somebody knew where to look.

Leva entered the planet’s thin atmosphere from the opposite hemisphere to where the base was located, it would add some more time to their approach but it would also increase their chances of remaining undiscovered.

After yet another hour of high supersonic, low altitude flight across the mostly barren and unpopulated surface of the Arkaria IX, they eventually entered transporter range and Leva landed the shuttle in the crevice of a canyon before joining him and the others.

“To reiterate, our mission has three elements,” said Michael to the Niners and Leva who were checking over their admittedly limited gear. “Locate Admiral Owens, Jarik, and the Prism artifact, retrieve all three, and return to Eagle without raising any alarms. We may not be able to remain completely undetected but hopefully, we will pass an eye test,” he said as he considered the four others, all of which looked mostly inconspicuous in their regulation uniforms. Sensy, the burly Niners team leader had even trimmed his usually thick red beard to appear more like what was expected of a Starfleet officer.

“Do we have a priority target?” One-Shot, the team’s weapon’s expert asked while he once more went over his handheld, type-II phaser, no doubt silently bemoaning the limited range of armaments available to him on this mission.

Michael hated the question but understood its necessity. He didn’t want to make anyone more important than anyone else during a rescue mission, but he also understood that to fulfill their wider mission, which very well may have included the fate of an entire universe, some elements were simply more crucial than others. “We need the Prism. And my father is the only person we know who can operate it,” he said and left it at that. The silent nods he received in response made it clear that the message had been well understood.

“When retrieving packages and personnel, it tends to be easier to start with personnel which in turn may be able to give us indications as to where to find the packages. I suggest we start by locating Admiral Owens,” Sensy said.

This made sense to Michael and he nodded. He tried not to let the fact that he desperately wanted to get his father back influence his decision. “Let’s make it so. Considering his poor health when he was taken, a sickbay or infirmary might be the best place to start.”

“That just leaves us with how to infiltrate the facility undetected. Approaching it via shuttle is bound to get us noticed and we won’t be able to just beam inside,” said Violet.

This put a small smirk on Leva’s usually serious features. “Actually, beaming in just might work.”

Michael and the others shot the tactical officer quizzical looks.

“I ran a passive scan of the base and I was able to recognize their shield configuration. They are utilizing a triple rotating shield sequence at a frequency of two five seven point four. That’s the same frequency most Starfleet shields operated on maybe a decade ago in our universe.”

“What does that mean?” One-Shot asked.

That smirk widened slightly. “There is a known vulnerability to that frequency we can exploit. Not only can we beam into the base through the shield by reconfiguring our transporter beam to the same rotation, we can make it appear like nothing more than a minor shield fluctuation when we do. Something that is not bound to get noticed.”

“I knew there was a reason I brought you along,” Michael said, now mirroring the half-Romulan’s smile.

Leva quickly went to work in reconfiguring the transporter and after having located a lightly frequented part of the underground structure with passive scanners, they beamed into what turned out to be some sort of storage facility.

“So far so good,” said Michael after all five of them had rematerialized and no audible alarms had been triggered.

Leva quickly reached for his tricorder clipped to his waist. He was the only member of the away team equipped with a tricorder, one which Star had cleverly disguised as a medical scanner to go with his cover. “We might be in luck,” he said after reading the small screen of the device. “It looks like we arrived during the night shift. I’m reading very light foot traffic in the facility.”

“Anything that looks like a medical bay?” Michael asked.

He nodded. “There is a small facility less than two hundred meters to the east of our position which has a layout consistent with an infirmary.”

“That’s our first target,” Michael said and indicated for the Niners to take point, a task which Sensydelegated to Violet, the Boslic woman on his team.

She carefully opened the door of the storage room by just a few centimeters to check their surroundings. After a moment she nodded to the rest of the team and opened the panels normally, allowing them to slip into the corridor outside.

Michael was once more struck how similar this structure appeared to what he had found in their universe. The corridor was wide, with slightly outward-curved walls and high ceilings, clearly of non-Federation design, most likely even predating Starfleet. The corridor was empty as they set out with Violet taking the lead.

He admired how confident she and the rest of the Niners looked as they moved down the corridor. The last time he had been on a mission with the operatives it had been into a subspace domain and while just traversing that environment had been a huge physical effort, everything about their demeanor was different now. Instead of slinking through the hallways ready to pounce an enemy at any moment, Sensy and his team looked relaxed and untroubled, as if they belonged here and were intimately familiar with their surroundings. It was exactly how infiltrators were to act, of course, and yet for Michael, it wasn’t nearly as easy to fall into such a composed stance. He did his best to imitate them.

Whatever he did was good enough to fool the couple of Starfleet officers they encountered on the way to their first target. Fortunately, there seemed to be enough people stationed on the base that not everybody apparently knew everyone else by sight, and the people they encountered passed with just brief and disinterested nods.

It didn’t take them long to get to what Leva had identified as a possible sickbay but instead of turning at the right junction to head for it, Violet simply continued straight on, passing by the corridor that led to the entrance. This allowed Michael to catch a quick glimpse of a set of doors guarded by two armed security officers.

Violet stopped once they were out of view of the guards and after checking their surroundings, the team quickly huddled up.

“I think the human term is jackpot,” said the Boslic.

Leva agreed. “There’s definitely something in there they want to keep from getting out. Possibly a prisoner.”

Sensy took stock of the corridor they were in for a moment. “From what I’ve seen so far, the design of these hallways is fairly symmetrical. I believe we should be able to double back by continuing down this corridor and approach from the opposite side.”

Michael nodded. “Do you have a plan to get us inside?”

The team leader considered that for a brief second. “Boot and substitute,” he said and looked at his people.

“Like Merian IV?” One-Shot said with a smirk.

“Exactly like Merian IV.”

“That should work if we’re quick,” Violet said.

Michael shot Sensy a quizzical look which he promptly responded to. “We knock them out and take their place. We won’t have much time to do what we need to do inside but it’s the quickest way to get passed them.”

“Let’s do it.”

“Two teams,” he said to his two operatives. “Follow our lead,” he added to Michael and Leva.

Sensy and Violet quickly continued down the corridor and then made a turn at another junction ahead while One-Shot stayed behind. He waited about a minute, presumably to allow the others to get in position on the other end, and then asked Michael and the tactical officer to follow him back towards the guarded entrance.

“We’re just going to have a quiet conversation as we walk by the guards,” said the Niner as they turned into the corridor with the entrance.

“That’s it?” Michael asked.

“That’s it,” he said and then continued, talking but saying nothing of consequence and allowing him and Leva to respond with simple answers.

Michael could see that Sensy and Violet were already coming down the corridor from the opposite end, similarly engaged in quiet conversation. He wasn’t entirely sure how they had managed it but at their present pace, they would all meet pretty much exactly in front of the two guards.

The guards were briefly distracted by their approach but then, as they were all coming together, and space was becoming more limited even in the wide corridor, One-Shot collided gently against Violet in what looked very much like an accidental run-in.

What happened next took place so quickly, it seemed very much like a blur. Before One-Shot had even completed his faux apology to Violet for getting in her way, he had jumped the guard on the left while Sensy was on top of his colleague on the right. The startled guards didn’t even know what hit them and within moments both their bodies had gone limp.

Violet had already located another empty side room into which the two unconscious guards were deposited quickly. No ten seconds after they had first approached, One-Shot and Violet now stood by those doors, looking not one bit out of place and Sensy slipped in between them and inside the room with Michael and Leva following quickly.

There was another guard inside which Sensy greeted quickly as if they were best friends. The man had no chance to even have time to show his bewilderment of meeting this perfect stranger, since the Niner had already struck him so hard in his throat he reached for his neck to gasp for air.

Sensy grabbed the incapacitated guard and dragged him away from the door.

Michael’s concern about the guard surviving the brutal assault was immediately interrupted by a woman stepping out from behind a partition. “What’s going on here?” she asked

Michael glanced towards Sensy with concern that she may have seen him dragging away the unconscious guard but apparently, he had been quick enough, if anything, the woman may have caught a glimpse of the poor man’s boots before he had pulled him around a corner and out of her line of sight and even then only if she had looked at the floor which thankfully she had not.

Michael quickly realized that Leva had not only steered them right--since they seemed to have walked right into a sickbay filled with biobeds--but that they had indeed struck gold as one of those beds was occupied by his father, apparently unconscious.

The young woman who was now walking towards them was short, compact with brown hair cut into a bob. She wore a blue medical uniform and according to her rank insignia, she was an ensign. “Where did Schmitt go?”

“Schmitt had to step out for a minute,” Michael said quickly and then headed towards the woman to keep her from coming their way and try to go find the downed guard.

“Without telling me first?” she said, sounding suspicious but slowed down as Michael and Leva closed in.

He decided to refocus the conversation. “You have a patient here we need to talk to.”

She shook her head. “I’ve already told the Director that he is no condition to talk. Not yet. I’m still not entirely sure what is wrong with him,” she said as she glanced over to where Jon Owens was lying on the biobed. “I’ve never seen readings like that before.”

Michael had the impression that this woman wasn’t a doctor. Or if she was, she seemed very young to be one. Perhaps this spoke to the desperate straits these Guardians found themselves in and their lack of resources and personnel. He ignored the ensign and walked up to the bed with his father.

“I don’t think you are authorized to be here,” she said and followed him. “Who are you, I don’t think I’ve seen you around here.”

Realizing that she could become a problem, he turned back around. “Captain Owens,” he said, stressing his rank as he skewered her with a dark look. “Ensign?”

“Issara Taiee,” she said but refused to be intimidated by Michael’s hard stare. “And the Director has made it very clear that I am in charge of all medical matters on this base. And quite frankly I do not appreciate you just waltzing in here in the middle of the night like you own the place.”

Michael’s visage softened as he tried a different approach. “You are right, of course, I apologize, Doctor.”

“Nurse, actually,” she said, defiantly crossing her arms in front of her chest.

“Yes. You see, the Director thought it would make sense to get you some help with treating this patient. This is Doctor T’Lev,” Michael said and indicated towards the half-Romulan who he hoped looked sufficiently like a Vulcan to Taiee. He specializes in these kinds of cases.”

Leva raised an eyebrow in such Vulcan fashion, it would have fooled Michael had he not known better. He guessed that part of his reaction was stemming from genuine surprise. He took on his new role quickly enough and adopted a very stiff looking posture which would have made Xylion proud.

“I am not aware of any doctors on this base,” she said, her suspicions once again raised.

“I serve with Captain Owens on his vessel,” Leva said, keeping his voice perfectly neutral.

Taiee was still not satisfied. “I like to think that I know our medical community quite well and I’ve never come across your name before,” she said.

Michael felt that this was dragging on for too long and he gently motioned with his head towards Taiee’sneck while giving Leva an insistent look which he responded to with a blank one of his own.

She apparently noticed the glances being exchanged and caught Michael moving his head. “Something wrong with your neck?”

Michael grabbed it quickly. “Just sore from working long hours. You know how that goes,” he said, actually being quite truthful for once.

“Tell me about it,” she said, nodding in agreement. “I’ve been told there used to be a time when Starfleet could afford having actually well-staffed sickbays. Before my days, I suppose.”

As she turned back towards her patient, the famous Vulcan neck pinch did finally find Taiee’s nape and she quickly and silently fell unconscious. It had not, however, come from Leva but instead from Sensy who had snuck behind the unguarded nurse, having come out of seemingly nowhere, and then caught her as she sagged to the ground before picking up her limp body.

“That’s a useful move,” said Leva as he watched him depositing her on top of an empty biobed. “You’ll need to teach me that at some point.”

“It’s all in the fingers,” he said as finished with the nurse.

Leva noticed Michael displeased glower and shrugged. “Just because I’m pretending to be a Vulcan doesn’t mean I know all their tricks.”

Michael decided that to be a fair enough point and quickly approached his father’s bed. He looked pale and weak, worse even than what he had looked back on Eagle. According to his bio readings, he was alive but his vital signs weren’t encouraging. “We need to get him out of here now.”

“That might not be that easy,” said Leva. “We can’t beam back to the shuttle from this location and carrying an unconscious man through the base will not go unnoticed.”

Before Michael could consider their next move, he heard the doors to the sickbay hiss open behind him. He turned around, forcing himself not to reach for the phaser on his hip to maintain his cover.

“Michael?”

It was Jarik

“What are you doing here?” he said as he slowly stepped away from the door. A moment later Violet followed him inside and when the half-Vulcan looked back he seemed to realize for the first time that this particular guard did not belong there either. He looked back at Michael and nodded with a grin. “I should have known. This is a rescue mission, isn’t it?”

“Very astute,” he said sharply. Jarik had been a close friend of his back at the Academy but it had become very clear to him over the last few days that the Academy had been a long time ago. He had come here to save his father, bring back the Prism, and find Jarik. In that order. And in truth, he doubted if he would have lost too much sleep if the latter had not worked out. “Mind telling me what the hell happened?”

“Tazla Star happened,” he said and approached slowly. “The one from this universe. I have to admit I did not know her all that well in ours but her counterpart here is a positively vicious individual. I didn’t feel like arguing with her after she shoved a phaser into my face hard enough to leave an impression. She wanted the Prism.”

“And you showed her where to find it?” he said sharply.

“I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.”

“How did she even know about it?”

“I have no idea. We didn’t exactly share a deep conversation after she took us and then brought us here.”

“Where is she now?”
He shook his head. “I haven’t seen her since we arrived.”

“How about the Prism? Do you know where it is?”

“I think so. I saw them place it into a separate room.”

“Take us to it,” Michael said and then indicated towards Leva and Violet. “Bring my father.”

Jarik took another step forward. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

He could tell that Leva and Sensy seemed to agree with him on that point but Michael was adamant. He wouldn’t lose him yet again. “We’re taking him with us, get the Prism, and then get out of here.”

There were no further objections and Leva and the Boslic operative managed to pick up Jon Owens and carry him carefully between them.

Jarik hesitated for a moment, looking at the scene with a large frown plastered on his dark face before he ultimately relented and lead them out of sickbay.

“We don’t have much time,” he said once they were outside. “It won’t be long until my guards will find out that I managed to slip away. According to them, there is no place I can go but then again they were not expecting a rescue mission.”

“What exactly does Star want with you and the device? What does she know about it?” Michael asked as he followed him down the corridor.

“As I said, she didn’t share her plans with me,” he said and made a left. “The room where I believe they placed the Prism is just ahead.”

Jarik was right and it didn’t take them long at all to reach a set of larger doors. Michael thought it was a particular stroke of luck that they had not run into any more base personnel who could have witnessed them lugging his unconscious father along with them.

“No guards?” Sensy observed.

But Jarik had already walked into the room. “I’m sure the Prism is in here.”

And in fact, Michael could feel the distinct energy it possessed already, doubtlessly all of them could. It was a sensation that was difficult to forget, resonating deep inside his bones, like the power of the sun contained inside a device smaller than the size of his palm. It was as if it called out to him.

The room was dark, too dark, Michael realized, for Jarik or anybody to find anything inside of it. “Jarik?” he said once he had lost sight of the man.

The powerful sensation emanating from the Prism remained but something else began to grow within Michael, something that made him reach for his phaser.

“Something is very wrong,” said One-Shot.

“Let’s get out of here,” Michael said without further hesitation.

The lights came up so suddenly and were so bright, they blinded him instantly. Once his eyes had finally adjusted, he realized what he had already started to intuit moments earlier.

They were surrounded by a dozen armed men and women all of which had their phaser rifles pointed at him and his team.

“Captain Michael Owens, I presume,” the voice said and it took him a moment to find who had said them. It hadn’t been one of the armed officers. Another man slowly stepped into the circle, Jarik at his side. He was of average height, bulky but not overly so, his head entirely bald and lacking any kind of hair, his features sickly inviting as he radiated with congeniality that felt blatantly misplaced. The Deltan’s smile was wide enough to show off his pearly white teeth. “Although not quite the same Michael Owens I know and cherish. Welcome to my humble home, Captain. Welcome to my universe.”


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