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“We’ve managed to secure thirty tons of selenite, fifteen tons of terminium, twelve tons of exatanium, and five tons of nitrium alloy,” said Tazla Star as she ran down a list of materials they had obtained from Hutchport.

“Good job, Commander. Once we’ve got the time, I’d be curious to find out how you accomplished this,” Michael said and then glanced over to where his chief engineer was sitting at the conference table. “Does that give you everything you need to complete repairs?”

“The terminium should be enough to restore our weapon’s systems and we can use the nitrium alloy to get close to one-hundred percent efficiency on sensors. I wish we could have gotten our hands on some neosorium and duranium composite but we may be able to make do with the exatanium to patch things up. It won’t be pretty, and it won’t be to Starfleet code, but it’ll do in a pinch.”

“Good enough for me,” said Michael.

“Do we have any concerns that these materials may not play nice with our systems,” said Leva, who was also in attendance, along with Deen, Xylion, Culsten, Garla, and Admiral Owens. “After all, we are in a different universe.”

“That is a valid concern,” the Vulcan science officer said. “I have been able to analyze all the materials we have obtained and found that they possess all characteristics we would expect from those in our own universe. The only abnormality appears to be the quantum signatures.”

“Quantum signatures?” Michael asked.

Xylion offered a brief nod. “All matter in the universe resonates at a unique subatomic signature. However, these signatures vary between universes. Therefore, any matter, biological or inorganic, which is native to this universe will have a different quantum signature to any object from our universe, including our systems. I have calculated a one in fifty-five thousand chance of catastrophic systems failure when combing materials with different quantum signatures in the manner that would be required to carry out repairs to Eagle.”

“Sounds like an acceptable level of risk to me,” said Star. “I suggest we get on with repairs as soon as possible. Mister Hutchinson was particularly eager for us not to linger around these parts for too long.”

“Not to mention that we’re on the clock to get back to the Ring,” said Michael and gave Hopkins a brief nod, letting her know to get on with things.

The chief engineer acknowledged and then got out of her chair and quickly headed for the exit to return to main engineering and oversee the urgent repairs required.

“Our first priority should be to get back to Arkaria and convince your brother that it’s in his best interest to work with us. If we can explain to him the stakes we are up against, and that his entire universe is at risk, he might see reason,” Jon Owens said.

The only response to this was empty stares from the rest of the attendees and Michael too wasn’t entirely sure what he was to make of his suggestion. He was still very much furious that his father had decided to leave the ship without permission. And then there was another pressing question that needed to be answered as far as he was concerned. “Perhaps you could shed light on something I can’t quite figure out,” Michael said, his eyes aimed at his father with stern intensity. “How exactly did you know that Matthew was on Arkaria in the first place?”

But Owens Senior shook his head. “We need to stay focused on what’s important,” he insisted. “What matters is that we found him and we need all the allies we can get, particularly in a universe so unfamiliar to us.”

Michael glanced over to Star and it wasn’t difficult to see what she was thinking. She harbored the exact same doubts playing out in his mind, except that she was too polite to mention them, or perhaps she figured that it wasn’t her place to criticize a man who until recently had held the official rank of vice admiral.

Michael had no such compunctions. Yes, he would have preferred to handle this matter in private but he also felt that he had to put this matter to bed as quickly as possible. “That Matthew Owens we met on the surface is not my brother and he is not your son. And unless he has a way to get us past an entire Dominion fleet, there is very little help he could offer us at this time.”

“You can’t tell me that you weren’t just as exhilarated seeing Matthew again as I was. I saw your face down there,” he said just before he tried to control a coughing fit.

He shook his head. “Do you even hear yourself? We are facing the death of entire universes and you seem obsessed with trying to pull off a twisted, multi-universe family reunion. Even if the situation were different, Matthew--the one in this universe--wants nothing to do with us and we have far bigger problems to worry about.”

Jon was fighting a battle with his cough that refused to subside.

But Michael’s anger had gotten the better of him now and he ignored his father’s malaise. “Your actions of sneaking off this ship, considering what we are up against, were irresponsible and quite frankly put this entire ship and crew at risk. It cannot happen again. You either get fully behind what we must do or I’ll have you confined to quarters and placed under guard until this mission is concluded.”

Jon Owens’ face was turning red from the persistent coughing fit.

DeMara shot Michael a frown, clearly disagreeing with his tone and attitude, and then quickly jumped to her feet to seek to help Owens Senior. “Admiral, are you alright?”

Michael watched on quietly as his father tried to wave her off unsuccessfully. “You need to go to sickbay,” she said as she placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.

He resolutely shook his head. “No,” he managed to rasp between coughs. “My quarters. I’ve got something there to help me with that.”

Michael recalled the hypospray he had found there earlier.

“Just … if you’d help me back to my quarters, dear,” he managed to say, his coughing finally getting back under control.

She looked dubious, clearly more comfortable with taking him to sickbay.

“Please, I just need to get back to my quarters and rest for a minute,” he said and then glared at Michael. “It seems I have outstayed my welcome here.”

Michael rolled his eyes at his father’s histrionics but held his tongue, suddenly quite conscious that perhaps he had taken things a little too far in this rather public setting and was now more than eager for his father to leave and put this entire episode behind him.

Deen helped Jon out of his chair and then guided him to the exit, the rest of the people present left their seats as well out of respect to the man’s rank. All except for Owens and Garla.

Once the doors had closed behind them, Michael took a moment to recompose himself before he considered the remaining people in the room, most of which were taking their chairs again. “All right, we need a plan how to get back to the Ring undetected. We’re on a clock until this supercollider is likely to start up again,” he said and directed his attention toward the science officer. “How much time do we have exactly, Commander?”

“According to my calculations, the supercollider is expected to reactive in thirteen hours and forty-eight seconds.”

“Repairs are not going to be complete for another two to three hours at best,” said Star.

“And getting back there the way we came, through the Moebis cluster, is going to take at least another six to seven hours,” added Culsten.

Michael nodded. “Okay, so time is not on our side. We know that.”

“I still believe our best chance is to make contact with the Krellonians who are patrolling the area. They clearly control the territory and if we can convince them to give us free passage, we save ourselves a great deal of time and pain,” said Garla.

But Star was not that fond of the idea. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last two times we made contact with the Star Alliance things worked out pretty badly for everyone involved. Didn’t your doppelgangers try to kill you and Lif in both universes we’ve been to?”

“They did,” Culsten said, which garnered him a glare from his aunt.

“The point is,” she said. “In both universes, both our alternates were important figures in the Star Alliance power structure. And we managed to pass ourselves off as our doppelgangers each time.”

“To varying degrees of success,” Star said, still dubious of this plan.

“We are not exactly blessed with an abundance of options here, Commander. If you have a better plan, feel free to share it with the group,” the Krellonian agent said sharply, her tone noticeably confrontational.

Michael raised his hand before his Trill first officer could respond. There had been enough sniping for one meeting, he decided. “I’m not so sure how comfortable I am with the idea of entrusting the safety of an entire universe to an unknown quantity such as the local Krellonian Star Alliance. Besides, we have to assume that the Dominion presence in this sector will have a role to play in how the Krellonians will respond to us. For now, our best course of action, I believe, is to wait until we have access to our long-range sensors again and get a proper lay of the land. In the meantime, I want suggestions on my desk on how to proceed based on various circumstances. That’s all folks,” he said and then got out of his chair before anyone else could start an argument.

However, his thoughts were already on another matter altogether, something that he hadn’t been able to entirely shake out of his mind for days now. He was determined to get to the bottom of it for once and for all.

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