Michael was trying to come to grips with the fact that his counterpart had just killed Jarik in cold blood. There had been little love lost between him and his former Academy roommate, in fact, many of his actions as of late had made him seriously reconsider their friendship, but he wouldn’t have wished that kind of fate on his worst enemy.
And then there was how Owens had so callously executed Jarik, almost casually and seemingly with little thought and zero prior warning. He had tortured him for the information he needed and then discarded him like he was nothing more than useless waste.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect to all of this had been the fact that the man who had pulled that trigger wore his exact face and a small voice in the back of his mind couldn’t stop wonder that if his counterpart had been capable of committing such acts, then perhaps that same darkness lived within him as well, just much better hidden underneath a carefully maintained façade of moral certitude and conviction and yet ready to surface just as effortlessly as the other Owens had dispatched his prisoner. That thought, more than anything else, scared him the most.
Thankfully he didn’t have more time to consider those disturbing parallels as another crisis seemed to have caught up with them.
Eagle took another hit, a big one, causing everyone in the room to lose their footing and slam painfully into a bulkhead or the deck.
Captain Owens scrambled back onto his feet first. “What the hell now? Bridge, what’s going on up there?”
The voice of a flustered young woman responded. “We’re under attack, sir.”
“I figured that much. Who is it this time?”
“The Agamemnon, sir. She came out of nowhere and landed a direct hit. Shields are fluctuating,” the officer reported, sounding noticeably out of breath.
“Donners,” Owens fumed. “Of course.” He found his security team. “Escort our guests to quarters and make sure to keep a close eye on them.”
Michael had no interest to become a prisoner yet again, not after he had witnessed how this Captain Owens treated his ‘guests’. “Captain, we’ve run into Amaya Donners shortly after we arrived here and came to a mutual understanding.”
He shook his head. “She’s Preservers. You made a deal with her, you picked the losing side.”
“What I’m saying is that I have established a rapport with her. If she knows I’m onboard, perhaps I might be able to talk her down before she blasts us to pieces. Last I spoke to her, she didn’t think very highly of you.”
He grunted to that. “We have history. It’s complicated.”
The ship jolted again, giving proof that Amaya Donners was clearly not letting up now that she had Eagle and her commander dead to rights.
“Let me come with you to the bridge,” he said and briefly glanced towards where Jarik had been a moment earlier and where now only burn marks remained. “The information you obtained will be useless to you if you and your ship are dead.”
Owens nodded reluctantly. “All right. But the rest of your people stay put.”
Under the circumstances it was the best he could hope for, Michael decided. “Let’s go.”
The two Owens’ and Josè Carlos left the room and headed for the bridge even while Eagle continued to take multiple hits. From the telltale sounds of the ship around him which he was all too familiar with, he could tell that the battle was fairly one-sided. Eagle was returning fire but it wasn’t nearly enough to seriously slow down the Agamemnon which had caught Eagle on the back foot.
The moment the turbolift doors opened and they emerged onto the bridge, they were greeted by chaos.
The room was laid out almost exactly like his own bridge, the only key difference he could spot through the smoke quickly beginning to fill the air was the fact that the central command area only had a single chair for the captain, whereas on his Eagle, the captain’s chair was flanked by seats for the XO and another officer, as well as two further jump seats.
The ops station at the front on the bridge was already out of commission, apparently having burned out following a power surge, and the officer who had manned it lay on the deck unconscious with another one trying to tend to his injuries.
A young lieutenant stood over them both, shouting commands at the helmsman and the tactical officer while on the flickering viewscreen the Agamemnon was turning back around to complete yet another pass.
Owens shook his head. “That’s what I get when I leave rookies in charge,” he said as he promptly made his way down the ramp and towards the command area while Carlos relieved the officer at the horseshoe-shaped tactical station.
Michael had already figured that the Guardians, and likely the Preservers as well, suffered from significant personnel shortages, probably ever since the Borg War had decimated much of the Federation. Experienced crewmembers, not to mention first officers who could take over in a pinch, seemed to be luxuries of the past in this universe’s Starfleet.
“Report,” Owens barked at the lieutenant.
The woman did a double-take when she spotted not one but two Captain Owens’s. Already stressed enough as she was, this was clearly not an additional complication she could deal with, causing her to gawk at both men.
Owens had no time for this and loudly snapped his fingers into her face a few times. “Rachel, pay attention to me,” he said forcefully. “What’s our status?”
“Uh, sorry, sir,” she said, shaking her head. “Not good, shields are nearly down, and we lost the torpedo guidance system. Engineering is not optimistic about getting systems restored within the next hour.”
Michael braced himself when he spotted Agamemnon approach on the screen and not a moment later she unleashed a barrage of phaser fire which rattled the bridge hard, causing one of the aft stations to erupt in a shower of sparks. They didn’t have an hour.
As Owens took over, the lieutenant which Michael thought looked very much like Rachel Milestone from his universe, headed for an auxiliary station. “She’s hailing us, sir.”
“Ignore it,” he said instantly and as if out of instinct.
Michael stepped up closer to him. “I suggest we try to talk,” he said, keeping his voice low. “I don’t think we can fight our way out of this.” Michael had to admit it felt strange, uncomfortable even, being on this bridge and not being the one giving orders. Then again, in this universe, he had yet to find a situation that didn’t feel strange.
Once again, Owens nodded reluctantly. “Fine. Put her on.”
The smiling face of Amaya Donners appeared on the screen not a moment later. Usually, he loved seeing her smile, but on this occasion, there was something very sinister about the grin decorating her lips. Something that caused a cold shiver to run up his spine. “Well, look at who I’ve found with their pants around their ankles,” she said in a singsong kind of voice.
“If you think I’m going to bend over, you’ve made yet another mistake.”
“Right,” she said her eyes regarding him like a set of dead stars. “I suppose my first one would have been to ever share a bed with you. I guess it's time to make up for all of them and I can’t think of a better way of doing that than erasing you from this galaxy.”
“Don’t make me laugh,” Owens shot back. “You don’t have what it takes.”
Michael quickly took a step forward, sensing that this was going the wrong way. “Amaya, let’s think this through. Eagle is finished and an easy kill for you, yes. But more is at stake here than your civil war. Your entire universe might be in danger.”
She regarded him briefly, thankfully not with nearly as much inherent bitterness and rage she had directed at his double. “You know I can almost understand why in whatever reality you’ve come from, my counterpart was quite fond of you,” she said and then glared at the other Owens. “See, where he comes from, you and I, we actually came to like each other. It must be because he’s not a slimy bastard.”
“Nobody forced you to do a thing, Maya,” he said through clenched teeth. “I remember right, you were a most willing participant.”
That intense look returned in a flash. “For a moment there, I considered keeping you alive.”
“Amaya,” Michael said, trying to beseech her to do the right thing.
But she shook her head. “I can’t argue with the fate of the universe and all that but I don’t think we need him around to save it. I’ll beam you over to my ship and then blow him and his trash pile out of the stars.”
“Go ahead and try. But I’ll make sure to take you with me when I go.”
“Sir, I’m reading another starship on approach,” Milestone reported from her station.
Owens seemed invigorated by the news. “Reinforcements?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Ours or theirs, Lieutenant,” Owens said sharply, clearly fully aware that whoever was about to join this fight would likely seal all their fates.
“It's… Eagle, sir,” she said and looked up from her station with a dumbfounded expression on her face. “It’s us.”
On the screen, another starship Eagle jumped out of warp to position itself right in-between them and Agamemnon.
Michael was the only one on the bridge to utter a sigh of relief at the sight. “Here’s my suggestion before we continue to consider blowing each other to Kingdom Come. Let’s reconvene in neutral territory on board my ship and find a way to keep this universe in one piece. Once we’ve accomplished that, everyone can go back to whatever the hell they were trying to do before we showed up.”
“I don’t like this,” Owens said.
“Consider the alternative, Captain.”
“I agree,” Donners said. “For no other reason than that Michael seems to hate it.”
Michael sighed. He knew it was the best he was going to get for the time being. He shot Owens an insistent look. “Think of your crew, Captain. I don’t know about this universe but in mine, I swore an oath to protect them as best I can. If it were me, my choice would be clear.”
Captain Owens turned his glowering eyes from Donners on the screen to regard his counterpart. “I am not sure if you had noticed, or not, but this universe is very different from yours. I’m very different from you.”
“Oh, trust me, I had noticed. But I have to believe that some things are universal. Tell me, what is it you think you’d be able to accomplish without this ship and her crew? You need them just as much as they need you. That is true no matter what universe we are in.”
Owens took a moment to regard his broken bridge and the faces of the mostly young crew around him, all of them looking expectantly towards their captain, ready to follow whatever order he’d give next.
He finally nodded. “Stand down,” he finally said through clenched teeth before he regarded Michael once more. “Let’s do this then. I have a busy schedule to get on with once this universe-saving business is done.”