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36


There was a condition that Michael Owens liked to refer to as a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach which oftentimes appeared to be related to a physiological phenomenon rather than a physical one. It was a sensation that DeMara had thankfully been spared of for most of her life.

It was impossible to ignore now, however, after she had been escorted to the bridge of the ship that had abducted her and forced to take over the operations console by the man responsible for her predicament.

She knew exactly why she was feeling this way. It was difficult to argue that this version of Michael Owens--she had started to think of him as Dark Michael--would have been able to successfully locate the exact whereabouts of the ship they were now approaching, and that carried the woman he was determined to kill, without her. Whatever happened next, she fully understood that part of the responsibility lay on her shoulders. And so, apparently did her stomach.

She was still convinced that her only alternative had been to hold out and risk the life of an innocent young man, Dark Michael would not have hesitated to sacrifice, in order to gain her compliance.

She had not yet given up, however, on finding a way to ultimately thwart his nefarious ambitions. “Distance to target: Five million kilometers and closing,” she said as she followed the sensor readouts of the cloaked ship on her console. It was only part of what she was doing. Although she had two well-armed security guards standing just a couple of meters behind her to ostensibly keep an eye on her, she seriously doubted that they had enough understanding of ship operations to follow what she was up to.

This wasn’t because she thought her guards to be intellectually inferior to her, instead it was clear that Starfleet officers in this universe were simply not trained to the degree she had been. Dark Michael understood this as well, why else would he have chosen to replace the young enlisted man who had been in charge of the ops station with her?

She had quickly found that she had perhaps a third, if not less, of the resources and functionality at her disposal via operations on this ship than she was accustomed to. It made her job a great deal more challenging.

“The target is changing course by three degrees,” said the only other officer on the bridge DeMara recognized, a man who could have easily passed as the twin brother of José Carlos. In this reality, he appeared to be the most senior officer on the ship next to the captain, which was telling since he was a mere lieutenant and in charge of security and tactical. First officers, experienced or otherwise, seemed to be a rare commodity in this Starfleet.

“Adjust your course,” the captain said.

DeMara shook her head and swiveled her chair around to face him. “I wouldn’t recommend that.”

“Why not?”

“Their course correction is far too minor to signal a change of direction. It is more likely that they are trying to establish if we have detected them and are baiting us into adjusting our course accordingly.”

A smirk came over his face. “We have been creeping up on them for the last four hours, they are becoming suspicious,” he said and then nodded. “Very well, no point in getting impatient now, not while we are so close. Helm, keep your speed and course until we reach the ambush point.”

“We’ll have to amend our interception angle and speed slightly to adjust for their course change,” she said and then turned back to her console to calculate the new course, while that irritating discomfort in her stomach reintroduced itself.

She knew she had to play along for now, making him think that she was doing everything in her power to get him what he wanted. As it stood, the plan was deceptively simple. Although their distance to their quarry was still significant enough to consider it merely coincidental, thanks to the unique gravimetric attributes of the star-packed Amargosa Diaspora, at their current speed and course they would reach a point within less than an hour at which a dramatic change of heading and a jump to maximum warp, would allow them to intersect the other ship’s course in less than two minutes.

It was a tactic that would most likely not have worked in most other regions of space, and under any other circumstances, DeMara would have been quite proud of her calculations that made this possible.

Tazla Star’s cloaked vessel didn’t attempt any further course corrections after Eagle had failed to take the bait and the next hour passed with few words being exchanged on the bridge.

“Approaching ambush point in thirty seconds,” said Carlos from the tactical horseshoe-shaped station behind the captain.

“Stand by to execute intercept.”

The officers around him acknowledged the order while DeMara continued to monitor their course, and that of the other ship, closely.

“Ambush point achieved,” Carlos said.

Owens was too anxious to remain in his chair and stood. “Do it, do it now. Bring weapons and shields online.”

The red alert panels lit up as the ship prepared for battle and DeMara could feel the less-well-aligned inertia dampeners struggling to compensate for the sudden change in direction and acceleration to warp nine point five. She thought she could hear the hull groan from the stress put on its frame and the engines. She was convinced that Louise Hopkins would have shed tears of frustration if her ship had exhibited such obvious signs of poor maintenance while performing this high-speed maneuver.

“We are on a direct intercept course and will enter weapon’s range in forty seconds,” Carlos said, the tone in his voice now nearly as eager as that of his commander.

“They’ve spotted us,” she said as she noticed the sensor readout that represented the other vessel suddenly adjust course. She knew it was far too late by now. She was much like a preyed upon animal that had failed to spot its hunter approach until it had lined up for the kill shot.

“You can run, Tazla, but you cannot hide. Not anymore,” Owens said as he stepped closer to the main screen, even though at present it showed nothing but the stars streaking past. “I’m coming for you. I bet you can feel it deep down in your gut already. This is it.”

DeMara had no idea who exactly he was talking to but for now she didn’t much care either.

“Weapons range,” Carlos nearly shouted.

“Fire everything.”

It wasn’t quite the light show that one would have expected, and partially that was due to her efforts. Then again, firing weapons from a ship traveling near two thousand times the speed of light while trying to hit another craft traveling at about four hundred times the speed of light on an intersecting heading was not exactly the easiest proposition under the best of circumstances. It required the kind of calculations even she wouldn’t have been able to carry out in real-time. It was a job left to the ship’s powerful main computer.

It may not have had quite the same processing speed as the one on her Eagle, but it was just adequate enough to ensure the brief phaser fire, and three out of six torpedoes fired hit their mark or were at least close enough to fulfill their purpose.

“Direct hit, she’s dropping out of warp,” Carlos said, his excitement still palpable.

“Stay with her. Let’s finish her off for once and for all.”

Not a moment later Eagle dropped to sub-light speeds as well and right behind a decloaking ship with a slightly elongated saucer section connected to a detached secondary hull by its two integrated warp nacelles. To DeMara, it looked similar to a Steamrunner frigate, except, unlike most Starfleet ships she had ever seen, this one was painted entirely black, making it difficult to make out against the void of space had they not just entered a binary star system, the bright light of the two suns outlining her silhouette perfectly on the main screen.

According to her hull markings, she was named the Erebos even though the computer had no match for her in the Starfleet database.

She was badly limping now, leaving a trail of green warp plasma from her damaged right nacelle while her impulse engine was sputtering.

“Hail her,” Owens barked.

“No response.”

“Just open a damn channel then.”

Carlos nodded to let him know it had been done.

Owens stepped ever closer to the main screen until he stood practically right next to her, staring intently at the broken vessel futilely trying to escape. “This is it for you, Tazla. The end of the line. Tell me, how does it feel to be the one in the crosshairs for once? How does it feel now that I’m finally putting you out of your misery? Surely a part of you has to be relived, I wager.”

The screen came on to static at first. It slowly cleared up enough to show the Trill woman, kneeling on her bridge to help an injured crewmember and looking up over her shoulder at them. Although DeMara had seen this woman before, briefly, when she had come onto her Eagle and pretended to be the first officer to abduct Jon Owens, Jarik, and take the Prism artifact, she had adjusted her looks for that mission. In this reality, she wore her hair cut very short, rather than tied up in a ponytail like her Tazla was wont to. She had a couple of small but still noticeable scars running across the lower part of her face. She was also currently bleeding from a cut on her forehead.

“This may come as a shock to you,” she said, her voice even and collected. “But my life has not revolved around you and your mad quest to hunt me down. In fact, I’ve spent very little time over the last year thinking of you.”

The words were clearly well-chosen since they hit home. “Don’t pretend to be so indifferent. I’m about to make you pay for your crimes. Are these really the last words you wish to be remembered by?”

She stood and turned to fully face him. “Don’t make me laugh. This has nothing to do with justice.”

“You killed my brother.”

She looked away for a brief moment. “Your brother? Oh yes, I remember him. Nice guy. I believe he worked for the Guardians when I last saw him. He had switched sides because he was fed-up with your self-righteousness arrogance. Does it help you to pretend that the two of you were close? Does it help justify this sham of a revenge quest you’ve dedicated your life--“

“Your attempts at stalling for time are pointless.”

“At least admit to yourself that none of this is because of your brother. The only person you’re doing all this for is you. Because without this, you have nothing.”

He stared at her with such intensity, with such pure unadulterated hatred, had he been a telepath, DeMara wondered if he would have required weapons of any kind to incinerate the woman where she stood.

“I wish I could say it was nice knowing you,” he nearly spat. “Make peace with whatever dark deity you aligned yourself with.” He turned his back on her and looked right at his tactical officer. “Wipe her out of the stars.”

Carlos nodded and activated the required panels on his console. Then he frowned.

“Do it now,” Owens said, clearly infuriated at having to ask twice.

He shook his head. “I can’t. Weapons are not responding.”

On the screen, Star snickered. “I thought that this maneuver you pulled off was far too intricate to have been conceived by your limited imagination. I see you had some help,” she said, glancing at DeMara. “I think we’ve met already. Actually, I know we have. Don’t think I’d forget that face.” She regarded Owens again whose veins were noticeably swelling. “My guess is she may not have been as helpful as you had hoped.”

“Cut the channel,” he barked, and then, before DeMara could even see the Trill disappear from the screen, she felt his hand on her shoulder, roughly pulling her out of her chair and painfully throwing her against the bulkhead. He pinned her to the wall, his reddening face coming within inches of hers. “What have you done?”

She wanted to retort with a clever line about how she had managed to foil his plans to get his revenge and murder an entire starship but the savage fury in his eyes prevented her from being quip. “I’ve rerouted power from weapons to forty-nine separate subsystems over the last two hours and recalibrated the EPS manifolds feeding phaser control and the torpedo guidance systems to accept only polarized electro plasma that cannot be converted into operational energy.”

“Undo this now.”

She shook he head. “It’ll take me two hours, maybe more to readjust the manifolds.”

DeMara involuntarily closed her eyes when she saw him cock his elbow to strike her. Instead, his fist punched into the bulkhead next to her head so hard, his knuckles began to bleed.

“I should kill you where you stand.”

“I don’t think you will.”

“You don’t know the first thing about me.”

She took a small breath. “You may not be the man I’ve known for most of my life, but I have to believe that you share some of the attributes that make him the man he is. Even if it is just an infinitesimal amount. You have it within you to change this course you have chosen for yourself. You know where it leads, and you can still decide not to follow it to its ultimate conclusion.”

In response, he put his hand on her throat and began to apply pressure to her neck. She reached for his hand threatening to cut off her air supply but then, as he looked him right in the eye, she let go again.

“I can sense that power of yours, you know,” he said as he kept his firm grip on her throat. “That sensation of warmth and comfort you seem to be able to evoke somehow. It won’t work on me.”

“If I’m wrong about you, then do it.”

He didn’t let go but he didn’t tighten his hold either. Instead, he moved his face even closer and for a moment she worried he was going to try and kiss her.

She felt a sense of shame, quickly followed by disgust, that for a very brief and fleeting moment, she actually found herself welcoming that gesture as her mind was tricking her to think of him as another man altogether.

He brushed away a couple of locks that had fallen into her face and then pushed his mouth so close to her ear that their cheeks touched. “My counterpart is a goddamned fool for not seeing what he has in you. If I’d had you in my life, things would have been very different. For both of us,” he said, keeping his voice barely above a whisper.

“Captain, I’m detecting two ships approaching our coordinates,” Carlos said.

Owens considered her for a moment longer, exploring her purple eyes as if trying to see inside her Then he let go of her neck, allowing her to breath properly again, and turned towards his tactical officer. “Who is it?”

“It’s Agamemnon, sir. Along with the other Eagle. They’ll reach us in about thirty minutes.”

He shot her a telling look. “Of course, they are. No doubt your doing as well.”

DeMara held her tongue.

Owens turned back towards the screen that still showed the Erebos limping away from them, clearly no longer in a shape to put up a fight. “It doesn’t matter. They’ll be too late to stop me from finishing what I’ve started.”

“At their current speed, they will reach the orbit of Telron XI in less than an hour,” said Carlos.

“Like hell they will. Prepare an assault team. I’ll lead it,” he said and took a step closer to the screen, a smirk growing on his face. “I think I’ll prefer it this way. I think it was meant to be this way. To let me see her eyes as I drain the life out of her body.”

Owens turned to his security chief. “You have the bridge, Carlos,” he said and then headed for the doors leading into the turbolift. But he stopped short of reaching them and turned to regard DeMara with one last look. “I’ll see you in another life, gorgeous. Perhaps there things will be different.” He didn’t wait for a response and disappeared into the lift.


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