As it had turned out, one of the large warehouses that formed Matthew Owens and Frobisher’s compound had been turned into a makeshift hangar large enough to house a compact shuttle. The small vessel had barely enough room for the two scientists, Michael, Owens Senior, and the two Krellonians.
It was a tight fit but comfort wasn’t high on Michael’s agenda as they squeezed themselves into the shuttle. His primary concern related to their chances of escaping Arkaria Prime without the Dominion taking notice--there seemed little hope they’d be able to outrun a Jem’Hadar ship in the shuttle, not to mention fight one-off--and ideally regroup with Eagle on their way back to the Ring.
Wes Frobisher seemed fairly skilled at piloting his small ship and getting them into orbit without raising the attention of the Dominion fleet that now patrolled the system. But clearly, the Jem’Hadar were far more preoccupied with trying to find Eagle than taking notice of the unassuming civilian craft.
Michael had initially argued that they needed to find a way to return to the ship that he assumed was hiding somewhere within the system but Frobisher had quickly convinced him that staying near Arkaria with a dozen Jem’Hadar fighters looking for him and his ship was a risk not worth taking.
After a half-hour sprint at high warp, Frobisher dropped the shuttle back to sub-light in the vicinity of a neutron star within the Amargosa Diaspora. He shut down the engines and then swiveled around in the single pilot chair to face the five other occupants packed into the small shuttle. “The magnetic field strength of the neutron star should keep us shielded from sensors for a while,” he said.
“It appears you’re quite adept at eluding pursuers,” said Jon Owens who had found the only other seat on the ship.
“This is not my first time playing keep away from the Dominion.”
Matthew just shook his head. “This is insane. All of it. We should never have left Arkaria in the first place.”
Michael could tell he was angry and frustrated. He exhibited all the telltale signs his brother had been wont to when he got like that, the way his eyes darted back and forth, his hands repeatedly balling up into fists and the light perspiration developing on his brow were all uncanny reminders of how similar this Matthew was to his own.
“It may have been difficult to explain the dead Jem’Hadar to the Vorta once she returned,” Garla said in a deadpan that Michael didn’t appreciate since it didn’t help resolve Matthew’s concerns.
“And whose fault is that?” he practically shouted at her. “You didn’t have to go and kill them all.”
“Remind me who was responsible for them being there in the first place?” she shot back.
Michael quickly inserted himself between the two before Matthew could come up with another retort. The sentinel glared at him briefly when he gestured for her to stand down and he got the distinct impression that she was not used to being told by others how to behave. The defiance mirrored in her eyes would have been worrisome if he didn’t have a heap of more pressing matters that needed his attention first.
Garla just shook her head and then stepped toward the back of the shuttle, putting as much physical distance between her and the others as possible. It wasn’t much.
“I still can’t believe that you’ve worked with them all this time,” said Wes Frobisher, staring at the man he lived and worked with. “And that you thought it would be a good idea to tell them about our visitors.”
“This man nearly killed you,” Matthew cried, pointing an accusing finger at Michael. “These people came to our home armed and clearly looking to pick a fight. I was worried for both our safety.”
Michael couldn’t help but feel partly responsible for the way matters had escalated. If he had just kept his calm after coming across the man who looked identical to his brother’s killer, much of what had followed could have been avoided.
He had long since learned that there was little point in dwelling on past mistakes. Learn from them and move on, that was his mantra now.
“Matt, they came here because the universe as we know it is at great risk. Perhaps even the entire multi-verse. And we might be the only ones able to save it,” Frobisher said and Michael found it odd to hear such words coming out of his mouth.
“There is always some sort of crisis with you,” he said, waving off his dire warnings.
“I can assure you, this one is like no other. We have witnessed entire universes die in a matter of seconds and this one could be next,” said Michael, keeping his eyes on Matthew to try and impart on him the urgency of what they were up against. He wasn’t entirely successful based on the blank look he received in response.
“So have I,” said Frobisher. “The trips I’ve been undertaking over the last few weeks? I used this shuttle to visit numerous universes, many of which were being wiped out of existence.”
Matthew refused to be impressed by what he was being told but Michael’s attention was back on Frobisher. “You used this ship to travel to other universes?”
He nodded. “I have equipped it with a dark anti-matter engine that produces enough energy to create subspace fissures but my power source is nearly used up. I have perhaps enough juice for two maybe three more attempts.”
“Dark anti-matter technology is dangerous,” said Matt. “I thought we had decided a long time ago that it wasn’t worth the risks. Exposure to its radiation can be lethal.”
As if on cue, Jon Owens experienced a brief coughing fit, causing most of the eyes in the room to dart his way. He held up his hand just before it passed. “Regretfully I can attest to that. I was unfortunate enough to use a dark anti-matter transporter to traverse realities.”
“Wes,” said Matt, considering his partner again. “What have you done?”
“Those jumps were brief each time. I didn’t spend a significant amount of time in those other realities and I haven’t shown any symptoms. I should be fine.”
Michael couldn’t tell if he honestly believed this or if he was merely attempting to put Matthew at ease.
“In any case, the things I’ve learned were worth the effort.”
Michael’s thoughts drifted back toward his universe and what his brother and Frobisher had created there. “I’ve also encountered the dark anti-matter transporter. Years ago. And I’ve never experienced any ill-affect. However, I didn’t travel into other universes, it sent me into the past.”
“Time travel?” said Frobisher with noticeable curiosity to which Michael just nodded. “Fascinating,” he added, doing his best Vulcan imitation. “I don’t think I’ve ever considered that. But I can see how the energies created by the dark anti-matter accelerator could affect the chronition field and perhaps even manipulate it.”
“God, Wes, isn’t it enough that you build a device that can take you into other realities? You need a time machine as well?” said Matt.
“I agree that we need to stay focused,” said Michael. “Getting back to the Ring and shutting it down for good is our top priority. And we are up against a clock.”
“Cygni-98,” Frobisher said and nodded as he swiveled in his chair to face a computer console. Within moments he had brought up a holographic projection overlaid on the large forward viewport that Michael recognized as the globular cluster that was the Amargosa Diaspora. The projection zoomed into a highlighted section deep within that area of space that symbolized the system where he knew the gateway into in-between space was located.
Matthew was already shaking his head. “They may as well have put this on the Founder’s homeworld and it would have been no more difficult to get there. That’s right in Outlander territory and they don’t take too kindly to foreigners.”
“What about us?” said Lif Culsten. “Would they accept Krellonians?”
Matthew considered the helmsman for a moment. “From everything I know about the Outlanders, they don’t treat Krellonians all that well.”
“What are you saying?” said Garla. “That our people are slaves to the Outlanders?”
“Perhaps not slaves,” said Matthew. “But not exactly first-class citizens either.”
“I don’t see why this surprises you all that much,” Culsten said to his aunt. “We’ve seen a reality in which our people treated Outlanderss no better than cattle. In our universe they are second-class citizens at best. It stands to reason that there are universes in which things have worked out very different.”
The sentinel nodded slowly even if it appeared that she did have some trouble accepting this as a fact.
Frobisher in the meantime turned back to the helm controls and began to enter new commands as if struck by sudden inspiration.
“What are you thinking?” Matthew asked with noticeable skepticism.
“If we want to get into Outlander territory, there might be somebody who could help us,” he said without pausing his efforts.
“Who?” said Matthew.
Michael felt the small ship beginning to move again.
Matthew decidedly shook his head. “Wes, no.”
“Who are the Windjammers?” asked Jon Owens.
“Bad news,” said Matt.
“They are customers of ours,” said Wes as he activated the shuttles warp engines that allowed it to jump to FTL speeds.
“Former customers,” said Matt. “And for good reason.”
“We had a bit of a misunderstanding a few years ago,” Frobisher said. “But I smoothed things over with them a while ago. We’ll be fine. Trust me.”
There was something in his tone, or perhaps it was the dubious look in Matthew’s eyes that made Michael feel anything but put at ease.
He understood that they were still short on options but he also knew that he would rue the day that he’d ever trust a man called Westren Frobisher.