This time, when Michael pressed the annunciator to the VIP quarters, there was no need to have the computer enact a door override since Jon Owens beckoned him to enter after just a couple of seconds.
He found him sitting in a well-padded chair in the lounge. He was leaning back slightly as if trying to rest but he did look far better than earlier in the observation lounge.
“How are you?” Michael said perhaps more sharply than he had planned.
“Good,” he said and took the chair opposite his.
“The way you spoke to me before was out of line,” Jon Owens said without really looking at his son.
He nodded slowly. “I’m sorry, I got a little carried away. You’ve caused me some serious headaches over the last few weeks.”
Jon Owens uttered a little laugh and even Michael couldn’t keep a tiny smile off his face as both men acknowledged the strange events that had led them to this point.
“I want you to come down to sickbay with me. Doctor Katanga is standing by to do a full check-up on you.”
But Jon Owens shook his head. “That won’t be necessary. I’m feeling much better again.”
Michael didn’t press the issue. Instead, his eyes found the large and sloped forward-facing windows of his quarters and the curvature of the turquoise planet visible from orbit beyond. “You know, I can’t stop thinking about how I reacted down there.”
“He’s your brother, Michael. I know you loved him. Of course, you had a strong emotional response upon seeing him again. Especially considering what you’ve been through.”
But he shook his head. “Not to Matthew. Frobisher.”
“What do you mean?”
“That sudden rush of irrational anger that washed over me as soon as I spotted his face. Intellectually, I fully understood that he wasn’t the same man who had killed my brother but in that brief moment it didn’t even seem to matter. I would have liked to think that I’d be better than that.”
“I’m sure a good counselor would have plenty to say about the way you reacted but I don’t think you have anything to worry about. At the end of the day, we are all just human, with all the flaws that come with the species. You responded as any human would have.”
“But not you.”
“What are you getting at?”
Michael leaned forward in his chair. “While I was quite literally seeing red and was ready to use his face as a punching bag, you showed practically no emotions whatsoever at seeing the man responsible for the death of your son.”
“I obviously didn’t care for seeing him either. But I also understood that he wasn’t the same man. Besides, I was still in awe of seeing Matthew again.”
Michael considered his father for a moment. His head was inclined backward, his eyes directed toward the ceiling if they had been open. “You know, the last time I saw Frobisher, eight years ago, when we had evidence that he was still alive, you refused to support me trying to bring him to justice. You were far more concerned about your conference on Tiaita than hunting down my brother’s killer. I was pretty upset with you back then.”
“It was a difficult time.”
“Yes, it was,” Michael said, his eyes now practically burning themselves into his father. “But that wasn’t eight years ago. It was four.”
He opened his eyes to look at him. “Of course, yes. I remember.”
“And do you remember your conference as well?”
Jon Owens massaged his forehead. “Michael, what is the point of all this? I’m getting too old to play these kinds of games with you.”
“What planet was that conference on, dad?”
He uttered a heavy sigh. “I’m getting tired, son. If you’ve just come to reminisce, I’d much rather you left me to rest and regain my strength.”
Michael stood. “That conference was on Farga, not Tiaita. Four years ago, not eight.”
“Four years, eight years, son, when you get to be my age you start forgetting the little details. Planet names and conferences, there have been so many of them in my life, you can’t expect me to remember them all.”
But Michael was not willing to extend any slack whatsoever. “That last message you sent me before you faked your own death,” he said. “Do you remember that? It was just a few weeks ago.”
Jon Owens said nothing.
“It was driving me crazy for the longest time. ‘Don’t trust anyone’, is what you told me. As cryptic as anything you’ve ever said to me and maybe just as useless. I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep for the next few days after I heard that message. I had no idea who you were talking about. Was it Admiral Throl or Starfleet Command in general? Were you referring to Jarik, the man who was running things in your absence, or could it be that you didn’t think Amaya could be trusted? Hell, for a while there I wasn’t even sure if there were people in my own ranks I needed to be mindful of.”
“But I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore, does it? Because you never really died. You are right here in the flesh, able to shed light on all the things that were driving me up the wall. So, tell me, who was it you were talking about? Who couldn’t I trust?”
Jon Owens just stared back at him.
“You want to hear my theory?”
“Actually, I’d prefer you left me in peace.”
“My theory is that my father was warning me of himself.”
Admiral Owens sat up straighter in his chair. “Don’t be ridiculous. I am your father.”
“I think you are as much my father as Matthew down there is my brother,” he said, pointing toward the windows. “Which begs the question: Who are you really and what do you want?”
Owens Senior got out of his chair and turned toward the bedroom. “You have taken leave of your senses and I don’t see any point in continuing this conversation while you’re acting like this.”
But Michael just followed him. “Jarik told me. Just before my sadistic counterpart atomized him in front of me.”
Jon turned to face him.
Michael nodded. “He told me that you had been working with Altee. That’s when I first started to have my doubts.”
“Listen, son, things are more complicated than--“
“Who are you really and what do you want?” Michael repeated, his voice taking on volume and intensity.
“I am your father, goddamnit,” he shouted back.
Michael pinned him hard with his eyes for a moment and then looked toward the ceiling. “Owens to Commander Xylion.”
“This is Lieutenant Commander Xylion,” came the prompt response.
“What are you doing?” Jon wanted to know.
“Commander, I want you to come to my father’s quarters, please. Make sure you bring a tricorder.”
“Understood, sir. I am on my way.”
Michael closed the connection.
“What is this? What are you trying to do?” Jon Owens said.
“You heard yourself,” Michael said. “All matter has a specific quantum signature that remains constant within the universe. Matter that originates in other universes, however, has a different quantum signature. So, if you are right, and you really are my father then you will share the exact same quantum signature as everything and everyone else on this ship.”
“This is nonsense,” he said and continued into the bedchamber. “I’ll play no part in stoking your paranoid fantasies.”
He regarded him with a quizzical look as he followed him. “But you’ve got nothing to worry about. According to you, you’re my father and the scans will confirm this, won’t they?”
Jon Owens kept his back to Michael. “You’re getting yourself worked up for nothing. Nothing at all.”
“It’s just a harmless little scan.”
The door chime announced a visitor.
“Come in,” said Michael, and not a moment later he heard the doors swish open. “We are in here, Commander.”
Xylion appeared by the entrance of the bedroom. “Sir?”
Michael regarded the science officer. “Commander, I need you to carry out a scan of my father and confirm his--“
“All right, all right. Just stop this.”
Michael turned back to face his father who was letting himself drop into a chair next to his bed, clearly defeated and discouraged.
“I think that’ll be all for now, Commander,” Michael said.
Xylion raised an eyebrow but decided against prying any further into whatever was transpiring between father and son and instead promptly left the quarters again.
Michael moved further into the room and sat down on the bed, facing Jon Owens. “Start talking.”
“Before I say anything else, I need you to know that I believe that I am your father. I believe that Matthew down there is my son. Even if it may not be true in the strictest sense. I also need you to know that whatever I did, I did it because I love you and that I would never wish to hurt you or Matthew.”
“What happened to my father? My real father?” Michael said, not really paying much attention to the words that had come out of his mouth, now that it was beyond a doubt that this man was not who he had claimed to be.
“He died. As far as I understand it not long after you went to see him on Earth a few weeks ago.”
He had suspected something like this but it still hurt hearing it. He wasn’t sure how many more times he could handle this kind of thing. His father dying, then miraculously coming back to life only to find out that he had been dead all along after all. He was certain it was more than anyone should have been asked to bear.
Jon Owens continued when Michael hadn’t found the strength to ask his next question. “The truth is that your real father was a far better man than I ever was. I know that may be difficult to believe, considering all the pain he put you through over the years, but my alter ego understood the enormous threat created by the Ring far better than I ever did.”
Michael needed a moment to reorder his thoughts. “You knew him?”
He nodded. “For a while now. It all started with your father. He came across certain artifacts that were capable of piercing the veil of time and space and allowing him to see beyond his universe and learn of the dangers posed by the subspace aliens and their supercollider. Although I don’t think he knew exactly what it was at first, nor was he likely aware of how powerful it could be. That it could lay waste to entire universes.”
“He thought it was an invasion,” Michael said, remembering his initial briefings with Jarik.
He nodded. “He did realize that he needed allies to fight such a threat and the Prism allowed him to find others who were willing to help. It’s how he found me and Altee.”
“You all worked together?”
“At first, yes. But Altee had other motives than trying to save the universe from a threat none of us could see. It took me a while to realize it but he wanted the power to gain access to other universes for himself. To fix what was wrong with his reality and likely become its ruler in the process. He understood that your father was in the best position amongst all of us. He had access to the most resources, not to mention the Prism itself which we suspected to be unique in the quantum-verse. I made the biggest mistake of my life when I agreed to work with Altee against your father but the bastard knew how to play me. He knew that I’d do anything to get my sons back after I lost them both in my reality.”
“You killed my father and replaced him?” Michael said, struggling to keep his anger under control.
But Jon Owens shook his head and stood. “No, I had nothing to do with his death, you have to believe that. And I don’t think that Altee meant to make me replace him from the start. He was quite happy to have his man Jarik run things in your universe.”
Michael began to understand. “Jarik was from Altee’s universe.”
“Altee had access to an inter-dimensional transporter based on dark anti-matter technology and designed by your brother from that universe. At some time over the last couple of years, Altee had his Jarik replace his counterpart in your universe to keep a closer eye on your father and manipulate him. I think eventually Jarik killed your father to give Altee control over his resources. The only problem with the plan was that the transporter doesn’t work perfectly. It alters the molecular structure of everyone who uses it which leads to cellular degradation and ultimately death.”
“Darnay's disease, he called it.”
Jon Owens shook his head. “He was masking the symptoms of increased cellular degradation brought on by his use of the transporter and his continued presence in a foreign universe.”
“Wait a minute,” Michael said when he realized what he was saying. “You’ve been having the same symptoms. You also used the transporter.”
He nodded slowly. “As I said, Altee hadn’t planned to replace your father but after the actions you took when you refused to cooperate with Jarik, Altee convinced me to take his place. I knew what I was getting myself into but I thought I’d have more time.”
“You’re dying,” Michael said, sounding almost clinical about the thing.
“I had access to a small cache of cellular stabilizers that Jarik relied on to manage his symptoms while he was in your universe. But I’ve run out and I’m clearly not as resilient to the cellular damage as Jarik’s half-Vulcan physiology.”
“I don’t understand,” Michael said. “What did you hope to gain from all this? If you knew that the transporter would eventually kill you, why did you agree to replace my father?”
Jon uttered a small and humorless laugh. “I said earlier that we are all but humans with our own frailties and weaknesses. Well, as for me, I was willing to forfeit my life for a chance to get the two most important people in my life back together. To reunite with my sons one last time and gives them a chance at a life together.”
Michael wasn’t sure what to say. He was conflicted over whether he should have been angry at this man who had pretended to be his father all this time or if he merely deserved his pity. Or perhaps it was neither. After all, the entire notion was absurd. This man’s sons had died. And neither he nor Matthew Owens on Arkaria were truly his flesh and blood. What this Jon Owens was attempting to do was impossible and more importantly, it was utterly and undeniably trivial compared to the deaths of entire universes.
“Star to Captain Owens.”
It took Michael a second to even register his first officer’s voice coming over the intercom.
“This is Owens. Go ahead, Commander.”
“Uh, sir, we’ve received a message from the surface,” she said, sounding uncharacteristically uncertain of herself.
Michael frowned. “A message? From whom?”
“He said he’s your brother, sir. And that it is imperative that you come and see him as soon as possible.”