There was no denying in her mind that the Michael Owens from this universe was a very different person than the man she had known for fifteen years, perhaps even more so than she had been different from her counterpart she had encountered in the previous universe they had visited.
For one, it seemed obvious that this version of Michael Owens had never encountered her homeworld during his first deep-space assignment and had never served there as a Federation liaison officer.
Based on the way her aura affected those around her on the other Eagle, the way they looked at her with elation and general wonder, made her believe that perhaps the Federation had never come across Tenaria at all in this reality.
Of course, this famed aura of her people that usually had an almost disarming effect on most people not used to it had not stopped Owens from very violently smashing her head against a bulkhead just before he had abducted her.
Her head was still ringing from the blow and she could feel a large, ugly bruise starting to swell up where her forehead had made contact with the wall.
She had vehemently refused any medical attention Owens had offered her once they had beamed over onto his ship, determined to remain as defiant as she possibly could.
This, of course, hadn’t stopped him from throwing her into what passed as a science lab on his ship, after posting an armed guard and locking her inside with clear instructions to find Star’s cloaked ship.
She had little intention of complying.
Instead, she couldn’t help wonder how this Federation had fared with such meager scientific resources as she took in the science lab around her. At first blush, it all looked very similar to the main science lab on Eagle where she spent a great deal of her time when noting manning ops on the bridge. It was in the same location on deck five and the layout was roughly the same. But as soon as she studied the consoles more closely it became apparent that this ship had just a fraction of the capabilities that her Eagle possessed. No virtual neutrino spectrometers or short-range quark resonance scanners left the ship practically without any serious planetary or life form analysis equipment and very limited option to carry out astronomical observations. Most of the sensory equipment available was of the most basic function to support navigation and tactical operations, which was odd, since the Nebula-class had been designed, at least in her universe, as a multi-purpose exploratory cruiser. Obviously, in this reality, Eagle had a much more limited role.
The fact that scientific study was not a priority here was further stressed by the man Owens had introduced as his chief science officer and ordered to assist her efforts in locating his prey.
Junior Lieutenant Tang Zian looked as if he had graduated Starfleet Academy just a few days ago. Part of that impression came from the fact that he had been unable to stare at her when she had first stepped into the science lab, her aura clearly having quite a strong effect on the young Asian man.
“You should be able to access main sensors over here,” he said and pointed at a centrally-located computer station after DeMara had taken her time to tour the lab. “I’ve already carried out some preliminary adjustments to the ventral array that should make it uh … easier to carry out long-range scans.”
She made her way over to the station he was standing at even while he kept his eyes firmly fixed on her. Her initial impression that he was making a rather clumsy effort of studying her body gave way to the realization that he was probably more likely taking note of her uniform which was a stylistic departure from the tunic he wore and one that had been phased out in her Starfleet half a decade ago. The irony didn’t escape her that, from everything she had seen so far, this reality was by far more militaristic than hers, his attire appeared almost cheerfully colorful compared to the gray-shouldered black outfit that was currently Starfleet’s standard duty uniform back home. She had never been particularly fond of the most recent redesign.
She stepped up to the young officer to cast her eyes over the science station.
“I don’t think I’ve ever encountered your species before,” he said, clearly still more interested in her than the job at hand.
“I’m Tenarian,” she said almost off-handedly and without making eye contact. Quite used by now to explain her heritage even in her own universe. After all her people weren’t exactly well-known and certainly nowhere as common as humans, Andorians, or Vulcans.
“I think I heard about your people,” he said.
“I have to be honest, this isn’t very sophisticated technology,” she said without paying him much attention. “I have no idea where to even start with this.”
“The captain mentioned a tachyon scan earlier.”
She shook her head. “With what?” she said and casually entered a few commands into the console but stopping short of actually taking a seat in front of it. “Your sensor resolution is far too low to get any accurate readings at the range we would require and none of the primary modules have been configured to detect tachyon emissions.”
“I … I suppose we haven’t had the opportunity to make full use of our sensor equipment in quite some time.”
“To be honest, with a setup like this I’m surprised you’ve managed to avoid colliding with a meteoroid.”
“We’ve been able to get by for the most part.”
DeMara looked up at Zian and the pained look on his face and immediately felt a sting of regret for the uncharacteristically belligerent tone in her voice.
Considering that she had been abducted against her will, she felt as if she could be forgiven for her attitude but she also knew her situation was hardly his fault.
It pained her somewhat to be this angry but it was difficult to deny her feelings and she also understood that as a captured Starfleet officer, she had a duty to find a way to escape. Even if she had been captured by other Starfleet officers.
“And the Captain is expecting results. He’s not a very patient man,” he said and out of his mouth, it sounded more like a warning than a threat.
“All right, listen, perhaps there is something we can do if we reroute power to boost the main deflector and use it as our primary sensor platform.”
He nodded slowly, understanding where she was going with this.
She took a seat at the station. “Why don’t you go and give me access to the array?”
He offered another short nod and walked towards a nearby control station. But he stopped after just a few steps and turned back to face her. “I’ve been instructed to keep a very close eye on you.”
She offered him, what she hoped, was her sweetest smile, the one Michael had once jokingly claimed was brilliant enough to melt the polar caps of Andor. It was a terrible exaggeration, of course, but it was also difficult to argue that it had helped her on occasions to charm herself out of difficult situations.
The Tenarian Glow worked its wonders and she could visibly see his facial features relaxing slightly. DeMara had never liked the idea of wielding her natural aura like a weapon, in truth, while it may have made other people feel a great deal better about themselves, it made her terribly uncomfortable.
“I’ve been unfortunate enough to be at the receiving end of your captain’s impatience,” she said and briefly brushed the still growing bruise on her forehead. “I do not wish to repeat that experience. The quicker we get this done, the sooner I can get out of here and preferably put as much distance as possible to your short-tempered commanding officer.”
He visibly gulped at seeing her injury and that, along with the penetrating look in her purple eyes, she guessed, made him find his resolve and he quickly walked off to the other computer station.
“Make sure to divert as much power as you can spare to the dish, we’ll need it all,” she added as she turned back to her own station.
“I should be able to tap into auxiliary power.”
“And anything else that is not currently in high demand,” she said as she began to tap away at her station. She had no intention at all to use the deflector to initiate a tachyon scan. Her one and only thought was to use it to send a coded message back to Eagle and to let them know her location. And while there were stark differences in how the ship operated compared to her own, the underlying functionality was very much the same and it didn’t take her long to reconfigure the dish to send out brief subspace bursts that on their own would look like innocuous background noise but hopefully, her crew would be able to identify as much more than that.
“I’ve managed to reroute some warp power,” Zian said, still entirely oblivious to her true motives. “That should give you more than enough power for the deflector.” He finished up and returned to join her.
That was very inconvenient to DeMara since she was still in the middle of sending her masked signals and even the young science officer would quickly recognize her efforts once he had a proper look at the readouts of her station.
She let the computer do the heavy lifting and then turned to pin the younger officer with a disarming look. “Tell me something, Tian. What is it like serving on a ship like this?”
This actually made him stop in his track as he offered her a puzzled expression in response. “What do you mean?”
She briefly took in the entirety of the science lab with its meager resources. “You’re a trained science officer, aren’t you? And yet your abilities seem to be wasted on what has essentially become a combat vessel with almost no scientific capabilities to speak of.”
He considered that for a brief moment. “I … I’m not sure.”
“You must have considered this before. I mean when was the last time you were able to actually apply your background and your education while serving on this ship?”
“We’re at war. I suppose our priorities had to shift.”
“But you haven’t always been at war.”
“It feels like we have. Before hostilities with the Preservers broke out, we were pretty much in a state of cold war for years. Before that, it was the Borg and trying to recover from the devastation they brought. People often say that I should be thankful that I am too young to remember the Borg. But I haven’t forgotten that half my family was assimilated by those machines.”
The pain in the young man’s eyes was palpable and DeMara’s already troubling conscience was punishing her further for having pushed him down this track in the first place.
Before she could consider how to make up for making poor Zian relive the unspeakable horrors of his youth, the doors to the science lab opened and Owens strode inside with purpose, followed closely by two armed and armored security officers.
“Report,” he barked without delay, immediately shaking Zian out of his reflective stupor.
“Sir,” he said quickly. “We’ve been making some progress using the main deflector dish to initiate a tachyon scan.”
Owens nodded sharply and walked over to where DeMara was sitting. “Good, how soon can we start?”
She glanced back down and realized that the computer had still not finished sending her message. She quickly stood from her chair to block Owens from the console. She shook her head. “It’s no use,” she said. “You simply do not have the infrastructure or the resources to make this work.”
“But I thought we could use the main dish--“
She cut Tian off. “Yes, so did I. But it’s configured all wrong for tachyon emission. It would take a major refit at a starbase to get it in the right shape.”
Owens stepped around her to look at the console she had been working on, forcing her to hold her breath. He studied it for a moment before he looked right back at her.
She crossed her arms defiantly. “It doesn’t matter how much you huff or puff, I cannot change the laws of physics.”
The growing creases on his brow spoke to his rising anger. He considered Tian for a brief moment who had joined him at the console but didn’t seem to be able to make any progress.
His eyes focused on DeMara again. “Lieutenant Tian, give us the room.”
The young man looked up with some surprise. “Uh, yes, sir,” he said and then quickly departed for the exit.
Owens ordered his security escort to wait for him outside as well.
“Is this the part where you threaten me some more? Or perhaps beat me senseless until I give you what you want?” DeMara said, hoping that she sounded much braver than she felt.
Owens shook his head as he made use of the space in the lab. “No, I don’t think threatening you is the way to secure your cooperation.”
“Then let me go. Put me on a shuttle and let’s all forget this unfortunate thing ever happened.”
He nodded slowly. “A tempting thought, I agree. Let’s just pretend I didn’t abduct you or hurt you in any way. Let’s pretend I am not the man I am and that I won’t stop at anything to get what I want.”
She didn’t like where this was going.
He finally turned to face her once more and the look he was giving her was making her skin crawl. “I won’t lay another finger on you,” he said. “What I will do, is arrange for a very unfortunate accident to befall my young but rather ineffective science officer. Maybe an energy surge behind his console or an overloaded EPS manifold. Sure, there’s a chance he’ll survive it but even if he does, he’ll be scarred for the rest of his life, both physically and mentally.”
“You wouldn’t,” she said shaking her head.
He closed in on her, so much in fact, she had to take a small step backward to keep him out of her personal space. “You have no idea what I’m capable of to achieve my goals. I already killed a man in cold blood today, a man I had once called a friend. Do you think that I won’t hurt somebody I barely even know, now that I am so close to finally getting what I want most in life?”
She shook her head again, this time with a mixture of pity and disgust. “Revenge? Is it really worth all that death?”
He looked her over for a moment. “Wherever the hell you’ve come from, clearly not. But I have nothing left but revenge. Nothing else to aspire to or hope for. This entire galaxy began a slow and painful death the day the Borg fell upon us like locust. This civil war will finish what is left of the Federation and to be honest, it doesn’t even matter which side wins at the end. We all lose. So yes, you’re goddamned right it’s worth it. It’s worth every last drop of blood I spill because it means that in some twisted, perverted way, some form of justice has been served in a galaxy where the entire notion is nothing more than a distant memory.”
For a moment they didn’t speak at all as they simply stared into each other’s eyes, both seemingly determined to stay their chosen course. “I cannot decide if you are simply misguided or plainly mad.”
He stepped around her and walked towards the exit. “You keep trying to figure that out. We’ll see if having the life of Lieutenant Zian on your conscience will make it easier for you to decide.”
“Wait,” she said.
He stopped and turned before he had reached the doors.
When she didn’t speak, he uttered a sigh. “I know what you’re doing. I know that you’re much smarter than most people on this ship, smarter than me. I know you’re resourceful, as is your crew. Clearly, they train Starfleet officers much better in your universe than they do here. You’re playing for time and I have no doubt that that insufferably righteous clone of mine will eventually catch up with us,” he said and took a small step towards her. “But do you think he’ll be able to do that before another person has to die?”
DeMara took a deep breath. She knew the answer to that question, had no doubt, just by the determined look on that man’s face, that he was very capable of following through on his threat.
She took a deep breath and sat back down at the workstation. It took her just a few moments, with Owens looking over her shoulder until she had completed the scan.
She looked up at the large screen above her that showed a gridded cross-section of the sector they were currently traversing. A small blue Starfleet chevron in the lower part of the screen represented their location. Not too far away, just a few grid spaces over, a small red chevron appeared.
Owens immediately focused on that symbol. “Star.”
“It’s definitely a cloaked vessel. And it has a Federation signature. It's not the most sophisticated cloaking technology I’ve come across, in fact, if that had been a Romulan Warbird or even a Klingon ship, I doubt I would’ve been able to find her so easily.”
She entered a few more commands. “She’s traveling at warp four on a near perpendicular course and is currently less than point two light-years from our position. By gradually altering our course and speed, you may be able to sneak up on her and intercept that ship within two to three hours.”
A large smile formed on Owens’ lips, one that gave her no comfort at all. “Well done, Lieutenant, well done. One way or another, it all ends today.”