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With Altee in possession of both the Prism and his father, as well as the knowledge of the exact position of the Ring, not to mention access to a small fleet of starships, Michael understood that their priorities were no longer just trying to find a way back home and stopping the supercollider from annihilating another universe, he would have to go through Altee to do this and at the same time prevent him from gaining access to the megastructure for his own nefarious purposes.

He’d need all the help he could get in order to go up against Altee and for now, the only resources he had available to him were Amaya Donners and his counterpart from this universe, two archenemies with their own agendas who were far more likely to be at each other's throats rather than work together towards a common goal.

Considering the stakes, he knew he had precious few alternatives and that he simply had to make things work with what he had.

After his rather violent first encounter with the Amaya from this universe, he had been somewhat surprised to realize that it was likely going to be his counterpart who would be the more difficult individual to work with. His single-minded obsession to go after the person who had been responsible for his brother’s killer seemed to guide his every waking thought and on occasion even override all reason, this much had been evident after he had tried to strangle his Tazla Star the moment he had laid eyes upon her.

But Michael had to believe that there was still some kernel of rational thought in the man, something that he could appeal to make him see the significance of their mission. He refused to believe that this man, who looked and sounded just like him, didn’t also share some of his other qualities, no matter how deeply buried underneath anger and hatred. He fully understood and appreciated that the Michael Owens of this universe was his own person, had been exposed to a much darker and more cruel universe, had been surrounded by other people, and had made very different decisions along the way, but Michael liked to believe that not every quality that made him who he was today could be attributed solely to nurture. Some had to be part of his inherent nature and therefore had to be present in the other Michael as well.

It was a fool’s hope perhaps, but at this point, he had to take whatever the universe was willing to give him.

And he needed these two starship captains to work together, with him, to stop Altee, the Ring, and to ultimately take his crew back home.

The only way he knew how to achieve this was to try, once more, to bring them all into one place and to appeal, if not to logic then at least to their sense of self-preservation.

This time he had made sure to keep Tazla Star well away from anywhere she could come across his doppelganger.

As Michael stepped into the observation lounge, however, he found that his counterpart had not yet arrived and instead he found only Amaya Donners there waiting for him.

She had taken the liberty of replicating a flute of what looked like champagne and quite eagerly sipped from the glass as he stepped inside. “I had almost forgotten what this stuff used to taste like,” she said as she held up the now half-empty flute to consider the sparkling wine bubbling inside. “It’s been some time since we had the power to spare to use our replicators for fine food or drink.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said as he approached her.

“I seem to remember that I was always quite fond of the real thing and that I always bemoaned the fact that the replicated stuff just didn’t quite do it justice. That it never quite got that saline quality of a good Blanc de Blancs right,” she said and then looked at him. “And you know what I’ve come to realize now, after years of not having tasted anything remotely as good?”

He offered her a quizzical look.

“I don’t care,” she said and then emptied the glass in one large gulp before placing it on the table and offering him a large grin borne out of satisfaction.

He picked up the empty flute and headed back to the replicator. “In that case, can I offer you another?” he said. He wanted her clear-headed for what was coming next, but thankfully alcoholic beverages produced by the replicator on Eagle were made of synthehol which did a reasonably good job at approximating the taste without affecting the blood ethanol concentration of the person consuming it.

She shook her head. “Better not get used to it. I’ll have no opportunity to taste such luxuries again once I leave here.”

He returned the empty flute into the replicator alcove and activated the right panels to cause it to be recycled back into energy before he turned to face her again. “Perhaps Captain Owens would enjoy a drink. The man strikes me like the kind of person who likes to indulges himself on occasion.”

“More than just occasionally. From what I hear, it has gotten worse since his brother was killed.”

“I see.”

“I was there, you now? When he died. It was my job to keep him safe.”

Michael nodded slowly. “I suppose that explains why he resents you?”

She shook her head. “No, that goes back far longer than that. We had some personal issues back at the Academy. That’s what ended our friendship. And then we had different ideas on how to go on after the Borg. He and his cronies were convinced that we shouldn’t poke the bear, that we should consider ourselves lucky with what we had left. I and many others disagreed and were looking to rebuild the Federation no matter the cost.”

“And that led to civil war?”

She nodded as she allowed her glance to wander towards the large observation windows. “I think in the end we did more damage to each other than we could ever have done if he had worked together from the start.”

Michael took a step closer. “Then why not try again? One of the Federation’s core values has always been cooperation. Infighting is anathema to what it was ever supposed to be.”

“It’s far too late for that now,” she said, refusing to turn and look at him. “Bridges have been crossed and then razed to the ground. There’s no more coming back from this,” she said and shook her head. “No, this will end with only one of us left standing. And whoever that may be, I doubt they’ll have much of a future in this galaxy. The ideal that once was the Federation has long since died.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way.”

She finally made eye contact with him. “Idealism,” she said. “That’s another thing I haven’t come across in quite some time. Reminds me of what we used to be.”

He uttered a sigh. It was clear that he wouldn’t be able to get through to her. And even if he did, what were the chances that he could change the course of an entire galaxy now seemingly destined to destroy itself from the inside?

“That’s why this little plan of yours will not work,” she said. “Michael Owens, the man I know as such, will not be swayed by your idealistic rhetoric. At least I can still grasp the sense of what you have to say, if for no other reason than to ensure our continued survival. But mark my words. Your counterpart is too far gone to ever see that.”

Just as Michael wanted to counter her point, he spotted something behind her that seemed to support everything she had just said. The other Eagle was starting to move away from them. “Bridge to Owens. Status report.”

Leva came on the line. “The other Eagle has just changed course, sir.”

Amaya’s expression didn’t hide what she was thinking: I told you so.

“Damn it,” he said and turned to leave the observation lounge, the other captain following him.

It took them a very short turbolift ride to get to the bridge one deck above and he could already see the familiar aft section of the other Nebula-class ship on the viewscreen as she was maneuvering away. “Hail them.”

Leva acknowledged the order.

His counterpart appeared on the screen. Michael thought he looked somewhat disheveled as if he had gotten in yet another fight recently.

“Captain, what are you doing?”

“I changed my mind. I am sure your mission is important but I have a lead on Tazla Star I cannot afford to ignore. And since you’re refusing to help me with my mission, I have no choice but to go at it alone.”

Michael made sure to keep his temper in check but it was no easy task. Ultimately, he realized that there was little point in getting angry at himself. “We’ve talked about this. I’ll use my ship and resources to assist you in bringing her to justice but not until our mission is complete. A mission, I would point out, which could very well determine the future of your entire universe.”

“Spare me the talk about saving the galaxy. You may not have noticed since you seem to be coming from such a marvelous place, but around here, there isn’t all that much left to save.”

Michael glanced towards Amaya at his side and was quickly reminded of her warning not to try and reason with the other Owens. He focused back on the viewscreen. “Listen to me, Captain. I understand the pain you’ve felt about losing your brother because I’ve known it all too well. And I would be lying if I didn’t say that it didn’t still gnaw on me every single day. But you must know that killing Star won’t bring him back. That it won’t give you the release you so desperately seem to seek.”

For a moment the other man seemed to appear almost contemplative and Michael thought that perhaps there was a chance to get through to him after all. Then his eyes hardened. “We are not the same, you and I. Trust me, I wish I shared some of your qualities but the truth is that besides the superficial similarities, we might as well be entirely different people. And I know for a fact that you consider me to be the lesser man.”

“That is not the case,” he said emphatically.

“Oh, please, it’s as obvious as the stars. And the truth is, for somebody like me, Captain, there isn’t much left other than vengeance. And nobody in this galaxy will deny me of it. Least of which a man who looks and sounds just like me.”

Before Michael could protest any further, the connection was cut on the other end and his face vanished from the screen. Not a second later, Eagle jumped to warp.

“Lieutenant Stanmore, keep a sensor lock on that ship. Ensign Srena, set a pursuit course--“ he stopped when he felt a hand around his upper arm and saw that it belonged to Amaya.

“What’s the point? Let him go.”

He turned back to the screen, now showing little more than empty space. He noticed his two officers at their stations regarding him with expectant looks as they awaited confirmation of their orders.

Michael knew she was right. What was the alternative, really? Hunt him down and force him to cooperate? It would waste valuable time they didn’t have and, in the end, achieve little but weaken them all further. “Belay that and keep our original heading,” he finally said.

Stanmore and Srena nodded and turned back to their stations.

Michael regarded Amaya. “I suppose it’s just us then.”

“I’ll try to rein in my disappointment.”

“Let’s discuss strategy,” he said and indicated towards his ready room.

She nodded. “That sounds like fun,” she said and headed towards the doors with him following behind her.

However, she stopped suddenly as soon as those doors had parted, her face showing a bemused little smile. “I have to say, Captain, you are far more of a slob than I would have given you credit for. “

He considered her with irritation for a moment and then glanced past her and into his ready room, finding it in a complete mess, with almost everything meant to be on the top of his desk now littering the floor among a couple of upturned chairs. “What the hell happened here?”


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