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Michael felt a surprising sense of relief after he and his away team rematerialized inside the transporter room of his starship Eagle. Surprising perhaps since they had not exactly accomplished what they had set out to do. On the contrary. His father and the Prism, both crucial parts in getting them back home and likely finding a way of stopping the massive Omega collider from wiping out any other universes were still in Altee’s hands while Jarik had been killed by a homicidal version of himself.

And yet there was something about the familiarity of his ship and crew that made him immediately much more comfortable than he had been ever since he had left her. They were still a long way from being back home, but there was something to be said for at least being back in friendly territory.

“Somehow I expected more. This isn’t exactly all that impressive,” said his counterpart who had joined them on his ship.

His apathy seemed almost predictable to Michael, it seemed to be on par for everything he had heard this man say and seen him do. As far as he was concerned, his ship was far superior to the other man’s Eagle in nearly every way. She was clearly far better maintained, she was cleaner, her crew was more experienced and capable and she was overall in much better shape. He was not about to state any of this to the other captain. “It is essentially the same ship as yours.”

“Just perhaps a little more polished,” said Leva who apparently couldn’t quite help himself. The comment immediately garnered him a dark scowl from the other Owens.

Michael was also convinced that his crew acted more professional at seeing two versions of himself walking down the corridor. There were still double takes but nobody outright gawked at them. In their defense, they had likely gotten used to the idea of being in a parallel universe, where bizarre was just around the next corner.

Michael dismissed Sensy and his people as well as an armed security team that had been waiting on them after they had arrived, feeling that it was important that neither Amaya Donners nor Owens felt threatened while they were on board. After all, he considered securing their assistance a major priority in tackling the challenges that laid ahead of them in a mostly hostile universe.

With Leva returning to the bridge, Michael escorted his counterpart to the observation lounge on deck two where he knew he was going to have to make his case to him and to Donners about the importance of all of them working together. Michael liked to pride himself on his diplomatic experience and accomplishments, but this was not a task he was looking forward to.

Things got off to a bad start.

Donners had already beamed over onto Eagle and was awaiting them in the briefing room, lounging comfortably in one of the chairs surrounding the large conference table.

But it wasn’t the other starship captain that caused an immediate issue, it was the other woman in the room. In hindsight, of course, Michael realized that he should have anticipated this and he later berated himself for not taking more appropriate precautions.

The other Owens froze the moment he stepped into the observation lounge and laid eyes on Tazla Star standing just a few meters in front of him.

“I was positively giddy to see how you’d react to this,” said Donners with a wide smirk on her face as she placed her boots on top of the smooth black table as if getting ready to watch a spectacle.

A spectacle she would get.

“Captain, this is my first officer Commander--“ Michael didn’t get a chance to properly introduce her, however.

“Star,” Owens seethed, clearly not having heard a word his double had said, and then, like a racing hound, straining for the start, he shot towards the Trill with murder in his eyes.

Star was not entirely prepared for seeing her captain--a version of him, at least--jumping her with such vicious intensity and although she was, no doubt, well-trained in combat, her momentary hesitation was enough to allow Owens to tackle her hard and drag them both down onto the floor.

Michael immediately regretted his decision of having dismissed the security team earlier or not having kept at least one of the Niners around as he dove after his counterpart to try and pry him away from his beleaguered first officer.

But Owens was blind with rage and in his single-minded fury, he managed to leash out at everything and everyone, including Michael, delivering a powerful punch right into his face that caused him to fly backward and toward the table, even as he held his bruised and now bleeding nose.

“Getting punched in the face is a real thing with you,” said Donners as she watched him stumbling against the table. “You deal with that problem much?”

“Not until I got to this universe,” he said as he cast her a dark look that did nothing to rouse her into action and away from her relaxed pose in her chair. “Feel free to help out anytime.”

“Are you kidding? I’d pay good latinum to watch this.”

Michael frowned, wiped the blood from his nose, and turned back towards Owens and Star, ready to pounce back in to try and rein in the other captain.

There didn’t seem to be any need.

After her initial hesitance, Star had started to take action and managed to throw Owens off of her and get herself back onto her feet.

But the captain wasn’t willing to give up so quickly and charged her again. But while he was driven by anger and rage, Star was much more calculated and already over the fact that her attacker looked precisely like her commanding officer.

She easily blocked a punch being thrown at her face and responded with one of her own, driving it right into his solar plexus with enough force that caused him to double over in pain.

It didn’t stop him for long and when he tried to strike out yet again, the Trill intercepted his attack, took a firm grip of his lower arm, spun him around, and drove him face right into the bulkhead. She pushed him hard into the wall, keeping hold of his arm and twisting it behind his back to keep him in place.

Michael was both impressed and slightly concerned with the apparent ease she had been able to subdue him. It didn’t speak well for his chances if there’d ever be a physical altercation between him and his first officer. He made a mental note to try and avoid any such encounter in the future. Not that getting into a fistfight with Star was one of his primary concerns.

“I know who you think I am,” Star said while she kept the furious Owens pinned against the bulkhead, taking full advantage of her cybernetic arm that afforded her superior strength. “But I am not her and I’ve never met you before today.”

“All right, Commander, I think you’ve made your point. Let him go, please,” Michael said as he approached the two.

She offered him a short nod and then took a couple of steps away from the man who had tried to take her head off. “With pleasure, sir,” she said and Michael didn’t miss the little sparkle in her green eyes, almost as if she had indeed taken some enjoyment from the tussle. That, did seem concerning.

Owens whirled back around. “We’re not done, Star.”

“Captain,” Michael said, quickly positioning himself between him and the Trill. “As I was trying to explain earlier. This is my first officer. She may look like the Taza Star you know, but just like you and me, they have otherwise very little in common.”

Owens was still breathing hard, his anger was slow to subside, especially now and after he had been bested by the doppelganger of his sworn nemesis. Michael wasn’t sure what had wounded him more, the physical bruises she had given him or the way she had so publicly beaten his pride. “We’re not talking with her in the room.”

Michael uttered a small sigh and then turned to glance at Star.

She understood and nodded. “I’ll be right outside if you need me.”

“Thanks, Commander but I’m sure that won’t be necessary.”

Star offered the other Owens a last, parting glance, one which he purposefully ignored, and then left the observation lounge with a fairly confident stride.

“Now that that’s settled,” Michael said, still feeling a little out of breath himself from being punched a moment earlier. “Perhaps you’d like to take a seat.”

Owens took a moment to gather himself before he did so, picking the chair at the far end of the table. Michael went for the one at the other end.

“I have to say, if that’s how it’s going to be should you ever catch up with the Star you’ve been chasing all this time, my money’s going to be on her,” Donners said, still amused, as she removed her boots from the table.

“I’m going to start listening to you once you have something useful to say,” he shot back without making eye contact.

Donners rolled her eyes in response.

“I hope you haven’t forgotten our deal, Captain,” he said, looking across the table at Michael. “I’ll help you deal with Altee and this crisis of yours but in return, you’ll assist me in getting my hands on Star. The real one.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Donners said. “The man is painting a picture of the end of all life as we know it and all you can think of is your own petty quest for revenge.”

Owens ignored the other captain altogether, keeping his eyes on his counterpart instead. “Jarik gave us the cloaking frequency of her ship. Which means we have the means of finding her. I won’t be able to do it on my own, say what you will about our Starfleet, but solving science-based problems isn’t really our strength anymore. But I’ve seen you and your crew operate and I’m convinced you’ll be able to locate her.”

“It’s a big galaxy, Captain.”

“Oh, she’ll be close by, I can practically sense her.”

“You sure it’s the right one this time?” Donners said with a smirk.

Owens regarded her with a glare that did nothing to relieve her of her ongoing amusement.

Michael quickly jumped back in, knowing that he needed all three of them focused on the same task, as far as he was concerned, it was their best chance of stopping the Ring and getting back home. “I am not planning on reneging on our arrangement, Captain. But first, we find Altee and get my father back.”

“So your personal objectives take precedent over mine? So much for your moral high ground, Captain,” he said, crossing his arms defiantly.

To Michael, Owens looked almost like a petulant child and he hoped to God that he had never come across like that to other people. He shook his head. “This isn’t personal at all,” he said, mindful that this wasn’t entirely accurate. “My father is the key to engaging the particle collider. And without him, Altee, won’t be able to use it for his own purposes. And since your Star apparently works with Altee, there is a good chance that wherever he is, she’ll be nearby.”

This seemed to put him at ease slightly. “Fine, we’ll do it your way. For now.”

“Trying to stop Altee won’t be easy. He and at least half of his Guardian fleet managed to slip out of the Arkaria system before our task force could secure it,” said Donners.

“Which means they are most likely on their way to the collider right now,” he said and glanced at Amaya. “What about your task force? Can we count on their help to corral Altee’s remaining ships?”

She shook her head. “Doubtful. That battle left them in bad shape. Besides, I might be willing to help you save the universe, but trying to convince the other captains is going to take time we don’t have.”

He realized that she was right. Altee already had a head start on them, and the longer they delayed, the greater the chances that he would get to the Ring first and find a way to activate it with the Prism and his father’s help. And what would happen then was anybody’s guess. The worst-case scenario, he knew, was nothing less than apocalyptic.

“All right, we’ll have to make use of what we have,” he said and looked at the two captains. “We set course for the Ring right away and on our way, we’ll try to carry out repairs to your ship as best as we can,” he added, glancing at his counterpart.

The other Owens stood. “Don’t do me any favors. I certainly don’t need any of your people crawling all over my ship.”
“Oh, I wasn’t planning on sending a soul to help you,” Donners said with a straight face.

Michael sighed. He understood that this alliance was tenuous at best. At worst they were going to kill each other in a not-so-friendly fire accident. “At the very least we’ll get you any parts or resources you’ll need to speed up repairs. Once we reach Altee, we need all our ships at their best.”

“Fine,” Owens said before he turned towards the exit. “Just get it done. I need to get back onto my Eagle. The air over here is becoming a little too stale for my tastes.”

Donners stood after Owens had left, offering Michael another smile. “If nothing else, this should prove to be rather exciting, don’t you think?”

He had no words to offer. Worrying that his own allies would turn against each other was not exactly the kind of excitement he needed in his life right now. Not while the stakes were this high.

He remembered a saying his father had liked to quote in times like these. Sometimes, you have to play the cards you’ve been dealt.

He was very cognizant that he was holding a bad hand and that bluffing his way through this one was only going to get him so far.


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