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45

“Transporter room to bridge. We have eighty-four Krellonian survivors.”

Michael briefly glanced up at the dome-shaped ceiling of the bridge and at the stars visible beyond the reinforced transparent aluminum after hearing Chief Chow make his report. But before he could ask if there was an opportunity to attempt and retrieve more from the doomed vessel, the ship lurched hard as it took multiple hits from the not so friendly Starfleet ships that had surrounded them from the moment they had warped right into the middle of this chaotic battle.

“Multiple hits. Damage to deck six, eight, and twelve. Structural integrity is critical,” said Leva from his tactical post behind Michael’s chair, his voice calm and professional even in the face of taking heavy fire from four ships all the while their protective shield envelope remained deactivated to allow the transporter to work.

Tazla Star was standing behind the conn, holding on to the backrest of Srena’s chair as the deck underneath her boots trembled angrily. She glanced back at her captain. “We are too exposed. We can’t afford to take any more hits like that.”

He nodded, having reached that very same conclusion.

“The Krellonian vessel is breaking up,” said DeMara Deen who had promptly returned to her duties at ops after her abduction and much to Michael’s chagrin had treated a mandated sickbay visit as not much more than a pitstop.

On the screen, the large ship that until moments ago had been used as target practice by the Starfleet task force was coming apart at the seams. There was no dramatic fireball-like explosion, instead, large pieces of the vessel were simply falling away from its superstructure as it was unable to maintain hull integrity and, in the process, venting significant areas of its insides to open space. This also meant, of course, that there could be more survivors.

Michael chose to put the safety of his ship and crew, not to mention the mission, first. “Raise shields. Evasive maneuvers.”

The experienced and well-trained crew around him followed his orders without delay.

His next inclination was to check if Lif Culsten and Garla had been among the ones who had been rescued but the battle they now found themselves in the middle of simply had to take precedent. He knew that Altee was on one of those ships, more than likely along with his father and the Prism, in other words, the key pieces the scrupulous Deltan would require to take control of a device powerful enough to lay waste to entire universes. And although he tried his best to get his priorities into the right order, he also couldn't deny his desperate need to get his father out of that man’s clutches again. He had already lost him once, he wasn’t sure how well he would take losing him again, regardless of how contested their relationship had been lately, or really, for his entire life.

“The Agamemnon is getting pummeled,” said Star who had returned to her seat to his right and was now getting real-time sensor updates fed into her console. “Looks like a Defiant and one of the cruisers are focusing their fire on her.”

The view on the main screen shifted to show the scene the first officer had described and it immediately made him feel sick to his stomach to see multiple Starfleet vessels firing at each other, clearly not pulling any punches. What could have gone so terribly wrong in this universe, that people not so different from him and his crew had decided to turn against each other in such a vicious manner, he wondered. He couldn’t even begin to imagine a scenario back home in his reality where he would ever consider going to war against the one thing he believed in more than anything else in the universe.

Perhaps, he briefly thought, that was what had caused this split to begin with. Hundreds, likely thousands of people, determined to protect the Federation and what they thought it stood for so desperately, they were willing to fight each other to try and preserve the idea of it.

“Michael, the Heracles is heading for the subspace threshold,” said Deen from operations, shooting him a quick but clearly worried expression over her right shoulder.

The screen shifted again, this time to show the large Galaxy-class cruiser slipping into in-between space, much of her oval-shaped saucer section had already transitioned into the other realm

“No doubt Altee is on that ship,” said Star at his side.

He nodded. “Along with my father and the Prism.”

Star didn’t have to say what he was already thinking, her eyes were making her mind obvious. They had to stop him.

But Michael was not yet ready to give up entirely on Amaya Donners who, as it stood, was very much at the mercy of her attackers that had the Agamemnon significantly outgunned. “Attack pattern kappa-two. Phasers and quantum torpedoes. Target the escort first.”

His crew acknowledged promptly. Srena at the helm was channeling more power to the impulse engines to quickly cross the gap between them and the fighting ships while Leva at tactical was redirecting energy to the forward shield grid while getting a targeting solution on the fast-moving Defiant warship, buzzing around the Agamemnon like an angry bee with an extraordinarily punishing stinger.

Moments later the tactical officer opened fire. Michael could tell straight away that things weren’t going well for them. Many of the orange-hued phaser blasts Eagle unleashed found their target but Leva was having trouble getting a firm torpedo lock on the fast-mover and firing manually was out of the question since the chance of friendly fire was too high.

Star was already shaking her head, seeing the same thing.

“The Agamemnon is hailing us,” said Deen who tended to manage communications when the tactical officer was preoccupied with fighting a battle.

“Put her on.”

Amaya appeared on the main screen distorted by heavy static that was just clear enough to make out that her bridge had already suffered from the fight. Clearly, their communications had been affected as well.

“Go after him, I’ll take care of this,” she said without preamble.

“You’re not going to last,” Michael countered. “It’s three against one.”

“Don’t worry about me. I’ve got reinforcements coming in.”

He briefly glimpsed at his first officer who decidedly shook her head, no. Amaya’s fellow Preserver ships would not get there in time.

“Not soon enough.”

Michael grabbed the armrests of his chair tightly as the ship shook hard suddenly.

“We’re being targeted by the cruiser,” said Leva, to explain the changed circumstances. That left the two other ships in Atlee’s task force focusing on the Agamemnon, having decided that destroying her was their primary objective.

“Return fire. Use quantum torpedoes if we cannot use them against the Defiant,” said Star and then apparently decided that Leva could use an extra hand and left her chair to join him.

“We can likely draw some of their fire away from you and give you a chance to get some distance,” Michael said, already considering the best strategy to overcome the three enemy vessels and inputting new commands into his armrest console. He was fairly confident that Eagle could hold her own against the Excelsior-class cruiserthat was currently targeting them as well as the smaller and less formidable Miranda-class frigate. He just wasn’t sure if they could put those two away before the Defiant would finish off Amaya’s ship.

“Michael.”

The tone of her voice had startled him so much, it forced him to look back up at the screen. She hadn’t raised her voice or even sounded distressed or upset. Instead, she had sounded a great deal like the Amaya Donners he knew and--he was fairly certain--still loved. She had sounded like the Amaya Donners he had briefly met in another universe just before she had been erased from existence.

“Listen to me. Go after Altee before it’s too late.”

He just stared at her.

She offered him a smile. “I can’t believe I’m even saying this. It’s been a long time since I entertained the notion of trying to protect more than just this sad little excuse one can barely still call a Federation. But I do remember a time--a lifetime ago it feels like--when saving the universe was not just a hokey idea but an actual calling.”

The connection winked out for a moment, as both ships were taking enemy fire, Agamemnon more brutally so as evidenced by a couple of explosions on her bridge.

“Be a Starfleet officer, Michael. Save this goddamned universe. Even if I’m not entirely sure it’s worth it.”

He absolutely hated the thought of losing her again. Of course, she was not the same woman who had perished in the other reality, the one they had failed to save, but that didn’t change the fact that he couldn’t stand her dying once more. He knew there was no good choice to be made here.

He also understood that his decisions as of late had not been governed by rational thought and it had cost him. He was still upset with himself for having sent Star after his double when every fiber of his being had told him that it had been a mistake. One that had very nearly killed his first officer.

The old Vulcan proverb about the good of the many came to his mind and he found that it gave him no comfort at all. But it was the right thing--the only thing to do. “Give’em hell.”

She smirked at that. “Oh, if I’m going down, they’re coming with me. You can bet on that,” she said with a mischievous look in her dark eyes. “Thank you, Michael.”

The words stung. After all his decision was going to doom her. “For what?”

“For showing me that not all hope is lost. That there is a Michael Owens out there I could have learned to tolerate,” she offered one last smile, and then she disappeared from the screen.

Agamemnon has just opened fire on all three ships,” said Deen.

“She’s giving us a way out,” said Star who was still assisting Leva at tactical behind him.

“Then let’s not waste it. Helm, take us into the subspace rift. Full impulse until we reach the threshold. Slow to one thousand kph for the transition. Mister Leva, reinforce aft shields. Then redistribute and reconfigure as necessary before we make contact.”

Once again, the orders were quickly acknowledged and carried out.

Michael forced himself to keep his eyes on the screen for as long as possible, watching on helplessly as the remaining ships tore Agamemnon apart piece by piece. It was one of the most excruciating things he’d ever had to witness. But he knew that paying witness to it was the least he could do. That he owed her that much.


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