“He is in here, sir,” So’Dan Leva said as he indicated towards the doors of the mess hall they were approaching.
Michael stopped and glanced at his tactical officer who responded with a brief nod. “I cannot say that I ‘m looking forward to doing this,” he said as he uttered a small sigh before tugging down at his red and black uniform tunic as if it would give him the courage he needed for what he was about to do. He had forgotten how snug these uniforms had been compared to the much more comfortable outfits he had gotten used to wearing over the last few years. The tightness of his clothes was the last of his concerns now, he finally decided, and then stepped up to the doors which obediently parted before him.
He stepped into the mess hall, Leva just a couple of steps behind him, and his eyes immediately found who he was looking for.
The man was the spitting image of himself, that same prominent chin, the same eyes that greeted him in the mirror each morning, he even wore his brown hair in the same short crop that he tended to favor.
Something he didn’t quite recognize in the other Michael Owens perhaps was his apparently ferocious appetite. He sat alone at a large table in the mostly empty mess hall, busying himself with a full plate of what looked like a large chicken or similar fowl, tearing into his meal by hand and helping it go down with a tall pint of beer or lager. He didn’t seem to care much about general eating etiquette as he ripped into a large drumstick while grabbing his drink with his free hand.
Michael had observed a few Klingon meals in his time and his counterpart would have likely fit into that crowd rather nicely.
It didn’t take long at all for the other man to notice the new arrival and it caused him to forget his dinner immediately. He froze the moment he spotted the overly familiar face as he stared back wide-eyed.
He unceremoniously dropped the drumstick he had been holding and put down the glass of beer so quickly, some of the golden liquid sloshed over the rim and onto the table.
He stood up from his chair slowly, his eyes glued to the other Michael Owens.
Ever since Eagle had first arrived in an alternate universe--one which had since been wiped out of existence--Michael had dreaded the idea of coming face-to-face with a counterpart of his. He had, of course, read the reports of other Starfleet officers, displaced in time, in alternate realities or some other strange galactic twists, meeting different versions of themselves and had felt for the members of his own crew like Dee, Xylion, and particularly his young helmsman who had been forced into situations where they had to meet their counterparts which had turned out to be disturbing encounters.
As much as he had wanted to avoid such a scenario for himself, he had seen no other choice at present, not after Leva had informed him of his presence on the station and his all too obvious disdain for the same man who kept him and his people prisoner. They needed an ally and at the moment, Michael Owens was the best candidate for the job.
And yet he immediately regretted his decision now that he had actually laid eyes on his virtual twin, quickly realizing that no matter what he had read or what others had said about the experience, it had not been enough to prepare him for it. In fact, he found it difficult to describe the surrealism of the situation, of meeting himself. It was not natural, that was for certain, and not something that should ever be allowed to happen.
“What the goddamned hell is going on?” the other Michael said after a few seconds had passed, his eyes burning himself into his doppelganger, his facial features mirroring an odd mix of confusion, disbelieve, and anger. “Who are you?”
Michael took a couple of careful steps towards the other him. “That will take a moment to explain, I’m afraid,” he said. “But essentially, I am you. But also not. I am from a different reality.”
The other captain slowly left the table and cautiously approached his mirror image. “This is one of Altee’s absurd games, it has to be.”
He shook his head. “I assure you this is no game. As for the absurdity of the situation? I suppose I’d have to agree.”
“How is this possible? Explain and do it quickly,” he said, sounding much more aggressive than Michael thought he ever did. His counterpart clearly didn’t share his sense of patience.
“There has been an incident originating in the Amargosa Diaspora, not far from here. It created an anomaly of sorts which caused a bridge between multiple quantum realities,” he said.
“Quantum realities? Like alternate universes?” the other Michael said, not entirely able to hide his confusion.
Michael had never considered himself a great scientist although he shared the innate curiosity and drive to explore the mysteries of the galaxy as many of those who had decided to dedicate their lives to Starfleet did. He inherently understood and was fascinated by the idea of quantum realities, even if as of late he had been exposed to the idea far more closely and personally than he would have ever liked to. Somehow, he didn’t get the sense that his counterpart shared those values.
Michael nodded. “Yes. We were forced into this reality against our will and are trying to find a way back to our home universe.”
“Get to the part where you just strolled into the exact same place I was having dinner in while wearing my face.”
Michael exchanged a brief look with Leva before considering his counterpart again. “Altee abducted some of our people and brought them here. We attempted to try and free them but we were captured as well.”
“Altee. I should have known he was involved in this. That man is constantly planning and plotting like the weasel he is.”
There had been only two other people in the mess hall when Michael and Leva had entered, both security officers, and the two men had watched the unusual encounter in silence until that point. Now they had decided to act and quickly approached the two identical men, each of them with one hand resting on their phasers. “Sir, I need you and your Vulcan officer to return to your quarters,” said the more senior officer, clearly realizing that his boss would not approve of this meeting.
Michael’s double shot the man a venomous glare. “What’s your name?”
“Alec Peters, sir,” the ensign said.
“Alright, Alec. Here’s what I need you to do. Take your friend and get to the other side of that door and stay there until I say otherwise and don’t even think about running back to your puffed up Deltan master or I swear by my brother’s grave that I will make it my primary mission in life to make yours as miserable as possible, and I won’t stop until both of you get assigned to the frozen wastelands of Delta Vega chasing down ice beasts for the remainder of your miserable and very likely short careers.”
The ensign swallowed sharply, very briefly glanced at his equally mortified colleague, and then, without saying another word, both men quickly left the mess hall. Judging by the looks on their faces, Michael was fairly certain they would not alert Altee of this meeting, at least not immediately.
He wasn’t entirely sure if he was impressed or concerned about the degree of malice in his counterpart’s words and tone. He could not argue, however, with his effectiveness.
Once the only other witnesses to their discussion had been removed, the other Michael once again refocused his entire attention on his double. He indicated towards the table he had been sitting at and both Michael and Leva took the offer and sat down.
The other captain followed shortly, for a brief moment considering Leva as he took his chair. “I knew there was something very off about you, Vulcan.”
“Probably because he isn’t a Vulcan,” Michael said.
“Romulan,” Leva said. “On my mother’s side.”
The man nodded. “Not the strangest thing I’ve heard today,” he said and then glanced back at the other him, studying his face intently as he sat opposite him. “This is remarkable. You truly are me, aren’t you?”
“Yes, but not entirely. We may look the same, we may even share many other commonalities, but our universes are very different. For example, there is no civil war in ours.”
“I suppose you won the lottery when they gave out universes.”
Michael wasn’t so sure about that one. Yes, the Federation was still intact in their reality but he wasn’t willing to consider their fate lucky, certainly, the millions of people who had died in the recent Dominion War hadn’t been. “We’ve had our share of challenges,” he said, deciding to leave it at that since there was little point in comparing tragedies.
“I want to know how Altee is involved in all this.”
“We don’t know the full extent of his involvement yet. But he clearly was aware of the anomaly that brought us here. At least to some degree. It was almost as if he was waiting for us to arrive,” Michael said, wondering not for the first time, how this version of Tazla Star had been able to act so soon after their arrival. “He had our ship boarded and took two of our people. He brought them here. We followed him but we were betrayed by one of the people we sought to rescue after he made a deal with Altee.”
The other captain nodded. “He is a slimy bastard, that one.”
“We need your help to free our people and get off this station. The fate of multiple universes may depend on it.”
But Michael didn’t seem all that moved by the potential risks to entire realities, yet another way in which that version of Michael Owens seemed to differ greatly to him. Considering what he had learned about the man, it didn’t come as a huge surprise. It was, however, disappointing.
The other Owens leaned back in his chair. “That sounds like serious life-and-death business you’re dealing with,” he said even if his tone didn’t entirely match the weight of those words. “But I have my own problems and I cannot afford to be sidetracked. Not while I am so close to achieving my goals.”
Michael considered Leva at his side and the blank expression on his vulcanoid face seemed to mirror his own. He glanced back at his counterpart, remembering what he had learned about him from Amaya Donners. “I think I know a little bit about what you’re looking for.”
He uttered a short, sarcastic laugh. “I supposed I haven’t cared to keep it a secret. Half of Starfleet--Guardians and Preservers both--know what--whom I’m looking for. I shouldn’t be surprised the news has reached other universes by now.”
Michael looked him right in the eye, it was eerie, like looking into a mirror and seeing himself and yet not himself at the same time. “The woman you are looking for, she boarded my ship and took my people. She brought them here.”
Everything about the alternate Owens’ demeanor changed then, his pupils noticeably widened, his nostril flared slightly, his brow wrinkled and he leaned forward in his chair. “Star.”
Michael considered him carefully. “I think that perhaps we can help each other, Captain.”