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17


He couldn’t help but worry that he may have lost a step or two over the years. Once upon a time, he had prided himself on being one of the best security officers in the fleet, and certainly, his career had supported such bold claims after he had worked himself all the way up to the chief of security of Deep Space Two, one of Starfleet’s most prominent frontier outposts.

He’d always thought that he had done a decent job to ensure that his finely honed senses that had made him such a good security specialist were not getting dulled after he had decided to become Eagle’s chief tactical officer five years ago and had exchanged a role that had required him to be highly physically active at all times to one where he spent the majority of his time on the bridge or studying starship combat strategies.

He still started most days running laps around the ship’s saucer section along with his former protégé Nora Laas, and he took part in her rigorous training exercises on the holodeck. And not just the somewhat watered-down versions she ran for the senior staff and non-security personnel but the grueling and often back-breaking affairs designed to keep her and her team in perfect physical shape.

And yet, So’Dan Leva found it difficult not to blame himself for the way their latest mission had turned out. A mission where in Nora’s absence, he had filled the role of ensuring the away team’s safety, which instead of leading to the retrieval of the men they had sought out to liberate, they had found themselves prisoners as well.

One could have argued that with the presence of Sensabaugh and his special mission team operators, security had been primarily their responsibility but So’Dan had never been comfortable with shifting blame to others.

The truth was that he should have anticipated Jarik’s betrayal and taken steps to counter it instead of being led into what in hindsight had been an obvious trap.

There was no point in denying it, So’Dan thought. Spending years standing behind the tactical board on the bridge had likely made him a maven tactician and space combat specialist but at the cost of his once stellar instincts on which he had been able to rely on as a security officer.

He was determined to find a way to redeem himself and the best opportunity so far had been Altee’s willingness to allow him and the captain free movement within his underground facility.

His intuition wasn’t yet so far gone that he didn’t consider the offer as anything other than a ploy to get Captain Owens to trust Altee who clearly had his own agenda, and he was certain that although he could see no visible guards trailing him as he walked the corridors, his movements were more than likely being closely monitored. Regardless, it was still his best opportunity to try to find a way to free Sensabaugh and his people and escape with both Admiral Owens as well as the Prism. Jarik was on his wish list as well, not because his retrieval had been part of the original mission but rather so that the man could stand trial for his growing catalog of crimes committed against Eagle and her crew.

He quickly realized that this was going to be a tall order when it became apparent that most sections of the base had been sealed off or were heavily guarded, giving him access to just a handful of low-security areas like the small, mostly abandoned mess hall and the even less frequented rec room.

He was surprised, however, when he spotted Owens rounding a corridor and heading his way, escorted by a couple of security officers, considering that he had only just seen him in their quarters. “Captain?”

Owens gave him a short nod in acknowledgment but didn’t even slow down as he headed towards him.

So’Dan considered the two armed security officers with him. Last they had spoken, the captain had indicated that he was planning on making contact with Eagle using the hidden transmitter he wore under his skin. The fact that he was now under guard could mean that Altee and his people had discovered his clandestine communication attempt. “Is there a problem, sir?” he asked as Owens walked past him.

The captain stopped and turned to face him. “There is a big problem and if somebody doesn’t provide me with some answers soon, things will get much worse, trust me. Do you have answers for me?”

So’Dan was taken aback by the angry, almost aggressive tone in the captain’s voice, not something he was used to. “What answers are you looking for?”

Owens uttered a sharp laugh but there seemed no humor at its core. “The same answers I’ve been looking for over the last year. I’ve been led to believe that my mission is the worst hidden secret in the fleet. What rock did you crawl out from, Commander?”

It was only then that it hit So’Dan that this wasn’t his Captain Owens.

“I know that the man with the answers is hiding himself away on this particular rock. Where is he? Where is Director Altee?” Owens continued when Leva didn’t respond.

“Sir, if you’ll follow us, we’ll take you to the Director,” said one of the security officers who had been escorting him.

But Owens seemed suddenly more interested in So’Dan and he took a couple of steps closer to him just shy of invading his personal space. “There is something very peculiar about you, Commander. Something that doesn’t quite fit and I wonder why that is.”

Leva did his best Xylion imitation and raised an eyebrow in Vulcan fashion even as he squared his shoulders and clasped his hands behind his back.

“But I don’t have time for this,” he said and then quickly turned away again and continued to stride down the hall with his escort following him closely.

“There is something peculiar about you as well, I’d say,” So’Dan mumbled under his breath before he resolved to follow the angry Michael Owens doppelganger at a safe distance.

It turned out to be a good decision since Owens managed to run into Altee not long after and just outside the restricted area into which Leva would not have been able to follow them.

“Altee,” Owens barked as soon as he spotted the bald Deltan.

The man immediately responded with what appeared to be a large, good-natured smile on his face, very similar to the one he had sported when his armed men had threatened to cut down So’Dan and the away team a short time ago. “Ah, Captain Owens. What a pleasure. I’ve only just been informed that you’d arrived here. If I had been aware of your plans to visit us, I would have made more accommodating preparations,” he said and then discharged the security guards who had escorted Owens.

Owens shrugged off the comment with a grunt. “I can just imagine what those would have looked like,” he said as he approached the Deltan. “Considering you’ve made it near impossible to find this place.”

“And yet, here you are.”

“It might surprise you to know this, but I still have a few friends in the fleet, including within this task force you’ve assembled here in the middle of seemingly nowhere and for God knows what reason.”

“Perhaps we should talk more in my office,” Altee said and pointed towards the doors leading into a guarded area of the facility.

But Owens made no moves to follow him. “I know she’s here, Altee. And I want her head.”

“This obsession of yours is not healthy, Captain. Tazla Star is dead.”

Owens shot Altee a look so cold, it made So’Dan shudder which was not something he was prone to. For the briefest of moments, even the Deltan lost his carefully maintained composure, his seemingly inviting façade faltering for less than a second to reveal something akin to contempt. It was gone before Leva could have been sure of what he had seen from where he was spying on the two men.

“I just want it to be perfectly clear that if I ever find out that you’ve been hiding her from me all this time, I’ll make it my sole mission in life to destroy you, Altee. Just after I’ve destroyed her. I don’t care if it will be the last thing that I do.”

“There is no need to be so melodramatic, my dear Captain. If you are convinced that Star is still alive, I’m more than happy to assist you in locating her. How about this, you help me with my mission here and I will dedicate all my resources in assisting you with yours?” Altee said, sounding once more as magnanimous as always.

But Owens was not interested in a deal. “I don’t care what you’re up to out here and I certainly don’t want any part of it. All I want is her. In fact, I’m going to stay right here until I’ve found her. If you have a problem with that, take it up with Admiral Leone,” he said with a growing smirk. “She’s given me wide latitude in identifying traitors to the cause and Tazla Star is pretty high on that list. Besides, turns out she can’t stand you either. Guess that Deltan charm of yours only gets you so far,” he added as he momentarily seemed to relish his position of power over a man who technically outranked him before he turned sharply and walked away. “We’ll be delighted to host you as our guest, Captain,” Altee called after him even if Owens did nothing to acknowledge him.

Once Altee was alone again, he couldn’t quite keep a growing frown off his features, one that told So’Dan that this newest development was clearly a complication to whatever plans he had designed. Then he quickly turned back and disappeared into the restricted area just behind him.

So’Dan on the other hand immediately understood that this latest complication for Altee meant something much more important to him. It was their best opportunity to make a move.


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