With Eagle holding position in orbit around Arkaria and Tazla Star and an away team having beamed onto Hutchport to find a way to convince its proprietor to assist them with crucial repairs, Michael had decided to take advantage of the rare break in the seemingly ceaseless chain of events they had been entangled in recently to have a long-overdue chat with his father.
He wasn’t entirely certain where he stood with the man with whom he had shared a mostly combative relationship for most of his life. It had only worsened after the death of his brother Matthew ten years ago. And it had recently moved into entirely uncharted territory when the enigmatic Starfleet admiral had led most in Starfleet, including himself, to believe that he had died, only to reveal that his death had merely been a ruse.
A short-lived moment of relief that his father was alive had quickly given way to a rush of anger and resentment. Michael had not been entirely prepared for an uncharacteristic heart-to-heart they had shared after this mad universe hopping adventure had begun in which Jon Owens had not only admitted--for the first time in his life, Michael was sure--all the mistakes he had made that had allowed their relationship to wither the way it had, but also show genuine remorse. Michael had been stunned to learn that his father was looking to make things right between them after all these years, that he had committed himself to heal their troubled relationship once and for all. And Michael had believed him.
But a lot had happened since this unexpected father-son moment. His health had continued to deteriorate, he had been abducted from Eagle and entire universes had died.
And yet one thing had refused to leave the back corners of his mind over the last few and turbulent days. It had been something Jarik had said shortly before the alternate Michael Owens had incinerated the man on the spot. His former Academy roommate and friend turned adversary had in no certain terms alluded to an alliance between his father and Altee, a scrupulous intelligence operative from a now-dead universe who had sought to take control of the Ring and its ability to unlock access to the limitless potential of the quantum-verse.
Admittedly, the half-Vulcan had surrendered this information while being tortured by the man DeMara Deen had taken to refer to as Dark Michael, meaning that nothing he had said at that time could be considered reliable intelligence. Even if some of it had turned out to be accurate.
The nagging thought that perhaps his father had been working against them all this time in the same manner as Jarik troubled him and he was determined to get answers to those questions once and for all.
Although perhaps not as quickly as he would have liked, since he received no response after triggering the annunciator of the VIP quarters assigned to his father on deck eight.
After two more unsuccessful attempts, he became concerned, picturing his frail body lying unconscious somewhere within his quarters, having finally succumbed to his worsening condition.
He used his authorization code to override the lock and the doors hissed open obediently, allowing him to step inside.
“Dad? It’s Michael. Are you all right?”
The lounge area was empty with no sign of his father so he moved on to the adjacent bedroom. “Dad, are you okay?”
But he wasn’t there either and the washroom was empty as well.
Walking back into the lounge he spotted what looked like a hypospray on the table and picked it up. It was empty. “Computer, locate the whereabouts of Admiral Owens,” he said but spotted what appeared to be his combadge on a chair even before he had finished speaking, giving him a good idea how his inquiry would be answered.
“Admiral Jonathan Owens is in VIP quarters zero-bravo on deck eight, section four.”
“Computer,” Michael tried again. “Disregard Admiral Owens’ combadge signal and locate his bio-signs.”
“Admiral Jonathan Owens’ bio-signs have not been detected onboard Eagle.”
Michael felt a sudden pang of panicked déjà vu. It hadn’t been too long ago that his father had been abducted from the ship and now he feared that it had happened all over again. They had taken numerous precautions protecting the Prism from being taken again but now it seemed they had not taken enough precautions to safeguard the crew.
“Owens to bridge.”
“This is Lieutenant Commander Xylion,” the science officer responded with little delay.
“Commander, I’m in my father’s quarters and the computer just informed me that it is unable to locate his bio-signs on the ship,” he said as he walked over to the arrowhead-shaped communicator and picked it up. “I’ve found his combadge.”
“Following the recent damage we have sustained, sensors are not operating at peak efficiency. Accessing the internal sensor logs directly might help determine the Admiral’s location. Please stand by,” he said while he presumably made his way to the science station at the aft section of the bridge to interface with the ship’s computer. “As I suspected, internal sensors have been affected by system damage to the main deflector and I’m unable to access ship-wide logs. It may be possible to query localized sensors and perimeter detectors to retrace his most recent movements.”
Michael usually appreciated the Vulcan meticulous attention to detail in everything he did, but at present, he found it difficult to concentrate on his technical explanations. He just needed to know where his father was. “The sooner the better, Commander.”
“Excluding your entry into the VIP quarters two minutes ago, the cabin doors were last triggered eighteen minutes and twelve seconds ago.”
Michael nodded and stepped back into the corridor, leaving the channel to Xylion open. “So he left his quarters but we can’t be certain if it was voluntary or not. Where did he go next?”
“Considering all activity in that section at the time, Admiral Owens most likely entered turbolift four shortly after leaving his quarters.”
Michael was already heading in that direction. Xylion spoke again before he had reached the doors leading into the lift.
“The turbolifts’ only stop in that time period was on deck six, section nine.”
Michael ordered the lift to take him there once he was inside, his mind already cycling through possible locations on that deck. His suspicion that he had been heading for one of the two transporter rooms located on deck six was contradicted by his science officer the moment the lift arrived at its destination.
“The main doors to shuttlebay three were triggered forty-two seconds after the turbolift arrived on deck six.”
Michael made a beeline for the shuttlebay. He knew that any unauthorized shuttle launches would have alerted the bridge, even with internal sensors operating at a limited capacity. “Commander, check our inventory. Are we missing any shuttles?”
The science officer needed just a moment to query the necessary databases. “All shuttles and support craft are accounted for.”
The heavy shuttlebay door panels slid aside as Michael approached to reveal the cavernous flight deck. Not nearly as expansive as the Eagle’s main shuttlebay a deck above but still easily among the single largest spaces on the ship.
A compact shuttle pod and a medium-sized type-6 were currently parked on the deck but neither craft looked like it was prepped for imminent take-off. The larger shuttle, the Emerson, had its rear access ramp lowered.
Michael quickly made his way over to the Emerson and walked up the ramp.
The shuttle was empty.
“He’s not here,” he said.
“I have no further data on additional movements,” Xylion said. “It appears this was your father’s final destination.”
Michael considered that for a moment. His father had clearly come here but not, it seemed, to abscond with a shuttle. And yet it seemed unlikely that he would have made the shuttlebay his destination for a leisurely stroll.
He took a seat behind the controls and activated the ship’s log but found that it had no recent activity listed outside of routine maintenance, either because it had not seen any use in a while or because the log had been erased.
He swiveled his chair around to think. “What have you been up to, dad?”
Xylion seemed to understand that the question had not been directed at him and did not respond.
Then it struck him and he quickly swiveled back toward the controls to check the shuttle’s subsystems and just as he had suspected, they had indeed been activated. “Son of a bitch.”
He made a note of what the instruments were showing him and then got out of the chair again, leaving the shuttle and heading for the exit with urgent strides. “Owens to security.”
“This is Lieutenant Carlos,” the deputy chief responded promptly.
“Lieutenant, meet me with a team in transporter room 2.”
“On our way, sir. Carlos out.”
Transporter room two was only a short distance away from the shuttlebay but Michael understood why his father had opted for the latter. Although the shuttle transporter was not as powerful it had been more than enough to get him to where he had been looking to go and by avoiding using the transporter room, he had smartly prevented triggering any alarms or having to confront an operator.
“Sir, am I right in assuming that you have established your father has used the shuttle’s transporter to beam off the ship,” Xylion said, clearly having put the pieces together as well.
“He beamed to Arkaria,” Michael said, trying hard to keep his rising anger in check. “And judging by the shuttle’s energy usage, he was alone.” Which, as far as he was concerned, meant that he had left the ship purposefully and out of his own volition. This time, nobody had forced him to go anywhere and Michael had no idea what could have possibly compelled his father to believe this was a good time to go on a solo excursion into an unknown and hostile universe. Whatever his reasons, he was certain that they were unacceptable considering their current circumstances.
“Can I further assume that you intend on following your father?”
Michael stepped into the transporter room and found a young Vulcan ensign whose name escaped him at that moment, manning the transporter console. Her surprise at seeing the captain enter the room flashed on her face for less than a second before she squared her shoulders and clasped her hands behind her back while awaiting her orders.
Michael had none to give her and instead stepped up to the console himself as the ensign got out of his way. “I’ve got the coordinates from the shuttle computer,” he said as he punched them into the console. “And yes, I know what you’re going to say next but I need you to stay on the bridge while Star is still on that station. Besides, this won’t take long. We’ll beam down, get my father and bring him back. I don’t care if we have to phaser stun him to do so.”
“Ordinarily I would suggest that we isolate his biosignature on the surface and beam him back on board instead of sending a retrieval team, however, the damage to our sensor arrays prevents us from carrying out that approach.”
Michael nodded, having already suspected this much.
“Sensors can confirm, however, that your father transported to an area of low population density outside a small conurbation on the easternmost continent of Arkaria. Sensors confirm a limited number of bio-signs in the area.”
“Good, that means it won’t take long to find him.”
The doors to the transporter room opened and Lieutenant Josè Carlos stepped inside followed by the slender-framed Petty Officer Skyler McIntyre and dark-haired and dark-eyed Betazoid Andrus Stadi. All three were equipped with standard-issue phasers at their hips. Carlos also had a tricorder.
Michael retrieved a phaser and holster for himself, tugged it to his uniform, and then stepped onto the transporter platform. “We’re going after my father who has inexplicably beamed off the ship to a sparsely populated area on the planet a short while ago.”
Carlos nodded firmly, giving no signs that he was concerned about suddenly being thrust into a position of having to safeguard the most precious cargo on board while on an away mission into unknown territory. Instead, he and his equally stone-faced security guards arranged himself around their commanding officer on the transporter platform.
“I’ll remind you that my father is not an active-duty Starfleet admiral at this time and wields no authority whatsoever. We will bring him back here if he wishes to or not,” he said and took a moment to look each of the three members of his away team in the eye to ensure that there were no misunderstandings.
“Understood, sir,” Carlos said sharply.
Michael glanced at the transporter operator next. “Ensign, beam us to the coordinates I’ve provided. Energize when ready.”
The efficient Vulcan did so without delay and within moments they had exchanged their starship surroundings for those of a rural area on Arkaria, materializing close to an arrangement of three old-fashioned warehouses that looked like they may have been used to house farming equipment or produce at some point in the past but had been converted into something with a less agricultural function.
The climate reminded Michael of a cool autumn night in his native Wisconsin on Earth. Just a tad too cold to be comfortable with the steam from their breaths visible in the air.
There were signs of a larger settlement a few kilometers to the west and hills that eventually gave way to mountain ranges in the other directions. The nearest building had large windows on the ground floor, revealing a well-lit interior but Michael couldn’t see anyone inside from where he stood.
“I’m detecting three life signs, all humans, within the nearest structure,” said Carlos who had flipped open his tricorder.
Michael nodded in acknowledgment and headed out for what looked like a set of doors leading inside.
The door turned out to be a manual slide gate and Carlos quickly helped him push it open enough to allow them to enter.
Beyond it, they found what looked very much like some sort of workshop with assorted machinery, technical diagrams, and various gadgets and devices in different stages of assembly.
Michael was drawn to a set of large whiteboards that contained detailed sketches and plans for concepts he was only barely familiar with.
There were intricate diagrams for polaron-based weapons and shields and another for what looked like a quantum-based warp engine that took up two boards and which as far as Michael understood was something still in the conceptual phase at Starfleet R&D.
His eyes were drawn to another sketch that felt eerily familiar to him for some reason although he couldn’t quite place it. It had something to do with dark-matter energy. But it was the sight of a severed and partially deconstructed head of a male Borg drone that captured his immediate attention as well as that of the away team.
“Is that thing real?” McIntrye asked as she carefully approached the head where it had been propped up on a stand in the workshop.
“If it is, it’s long dead,” said Stadi who as a Betazoid was able to detect telepathic energies from most living beings. Undaunted by the disturbing sight of the severed head, he walked up next to it to get a closer look at it.
Michael couldn’t help but be equally intrigued by it. The head was almost cleanly cut open along its right side as if somebody had taken a laser scalpel to it and it revealed heavily assimilated brain tissue with visible mechanical parts fused directly to the organic matter.
Perhaps most interesting in a disturbing sort of way was the cubical device implanted deep within its right eye socket. “That must be its myoneural cortical array,” Michael said, remembering his mandatory Borg briefings that had swept across Starfleet after their repeated attempts to assimilate the Federation.
A set of loud voices coming from somewhere nearby quickly refocused his attention.
Carlos indicated toward a door leading deeper into the building as the most likely source of those voices.
Michael gestured for the away team to ready their weapons as he did the same and then prepared to open the door.
He checked his people were ready before he pushed the door open and then was the first one through it, with the security team right at his heels.
His father stood in the middle of the room with his back to him, speaking to another person Michael couldn’t see.
“Dad,” he hissed angrily. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”
His father turned around and stepped aside, allowing him to see the person he had been addressing.
The sight rooted Michael to the spot instantly and he could literally feel his jaw drop while his heart had seemingly stopped beating.