“Jon,” said Vice Admiral Glover, surprised to see his colleague enter the room. “You don’t usually attend these meetings. What brings you down here from your dark and mysterious layer on the forty-second floor?”
Glover was right. Jonathan Owens was a rare sight at Starfleet Command. There was in fact, little knowledge as to his exact role or position within the organization. His division, whatever it did, occupied most of the forty-second floor and only a privileged few appeared to have access.
Owens took the comment with a smirk as he sat down at the conference table next to Glover. “It got a little bit too dark and mysterious up there.”
“Even a vampire needs to get out sometimes,” said Admiral Paris who had opened the shades to the large panorama windows to allow for a stunning view of Golden Gate Park, flooding the room with sunlight in the process.
“Too bright,” said Owens and held up his hand to mockingly shield his eyes.
Paris took his seat. “I bet it is.”
Moments later Alynna Nechayev and Admiral Leyton entered the room and quickly took their chairs but not before taking a quick note of Jonathan Owens’ presence.
Nechayev had taken the head of the table.
“I hope you’re all well this fine morning,” she said and pulled out a padd. “Let’s get through this quickly, shall we? This is just a quick review meeting and I have about three dozen much more urgent conferences to attend today, including one with the Tellarite ambassador who hates being kept waiting.”
“I’m sure a couple of well placed insults will easily appease him,” said Glover. “The lower you aim the better his disposition.”
This elicited some chuckles around the room but Nechayev wasn’t in the mood. “If that’s the case maybe I should bring you along, Sam,” she said humorlessly.
Glover decided not to make another remark.
“Alright, gentlemen, this is about the latest ship assignments. Let’s run through the list quickly. Ticonderoga to Matthews, Mumbai to Trellx, Shenandoah to Gibson, Sutherland to Quinn -”
“Actually, J.P. might have somebody else in mind for the Sutherland,” Leyton interrupted.
“Fine,” said Nechayev, “you can have another discussion on the Sutherlandnearer the time she’s going to be ready. Moving on: Chenta to Woo, Eagleto Riker, Paragon to Richardson -“
“If I may, Alynna,” said Jonathan Owens.
The admiral stopped reading and glanced up from her padd to look at Owens. Her glare making it quite obvious that she didn’t appreciate being called by her given name.
Owens took no notice. “I don’t understand why we are going through this every year. It should be obvious by now that Riker has no intention of taking a command. The new Enterprise will launch next year and he has made it clear he wants to be back at Picard’s side. So why go through these motions? Let him come to us if he’s really committed to taking that center seat.”
Glover nodded. “I agree. We are wasting our time with Riker. Let’s give Eagle to somebody who really wants her.”
“Very well,” said Nechayev, not willing to spend more time on this issue than was absolutely necessary. “Do we have any other candidates?”
There was a momentary silence as the flag officers present mulled over worthy officers who were in line for promotions or a new command.
“I’d like to put Michael Owens forward,” said Jonathan Owens.
“There’s a surprise,” Paris said, rolling his eyes.
“He has proven himself as a starship captain while filling in some mighty big shoes, taking over the Columbia from Mendez. He is in line to get another command.”
“Leaving aside for a moment that he’s your son, Jon,” said Leyton. “You don’t want us to consider Riker because he’s been hesitant to take his own command and now you’re suggesting a man who has almost gone out of his way to declare that he has no interest in sitting in that chair again.”
“He’s interested,” said Owens sharply.
“That’s not what he sounded like at the Columbia inquiry,” said Paris.
“Trust me, I’m his father, I know he wants another ship.”
Glover had picked up a padd and quickly brought up Michael’s file. “He’s got a great track record, I have no objections of giving him Eagle,” he said and then looked at Owens. “If he really wants her.”
“May I remind everyone of the fateful decisions he made leading up to Columbia’s destruction. If he had followed orders the ship would never have been lost in the first place,” Paris said.
“You mean your orders,” said Owens.
“Orders are orders,” countered the other admiral. “Differently to you, I don’t have any personal feelings in the matter.”
“Really?” said Owens. “Because I distinctly remember your rather detailed objections at the inquiry. You sounded positively vicious. Michael, blew up his ship to save a populated world. He received a medal and commendations for his actions. How would it look if we were to refuse him another command now?”
“We gave him that medal for appearances sake and you know it. We’re not in the business to reward insubordination and that’s exactly the message we’d be sending.”
Nechayev rubbed her temples, clearly not having expected such a heated conversation. “Gentlemen, I don’t have time for this. Make your recommendations by next week and we take it from there,” she said, stood and briskly left the room.
He pressed down hard on the clutch and then smoothly shifted the stick into fourth and final gear.
The engine roared with the power of 400 horses unleashed.
He smirked with satisfaction when the needle on the old fashioned display finally reached 120 mph. It had taken him all afternoon to find a suitable spot to open her up. It hadn’t been for a lack of long and open roads in the Wisconsin countryside. But it turned out, bothersome traffic, on foot and in leisurely cruising skimmers persisted even in the 24th century.
He noticed with annoyance that the vintage muscle car was dragging slightly to the right but he was not inclined to slowing her down. Not yet. Instead he compensated by slightly turning the large steering wheel and continued to push her faster.
Michael Owens had travelled at speeds many multiple times faster than this but somehow the thrill of racing a combustion powered car down a road, the vibrations of the engine and the suspension and even the smell of oil and gasoline were all part of an experience even a starship couldn’t quite offer.
The adrenaline rush didn’t last nearly long enough.
His house appeared down the road and the fuel indicator had almost reached empty. It was time to bring her in.
He cut a sharp corner, causing the tires to squeak loudly on the dura-asphalt pavement and steered the car up the dirt road leading to the yellow, three story antebellum-style family home.
Somebody was waiting for him at the end of the driveway and he knew exactly who it was before he was close enough to make out a face.
Her bright blond hair was not the only thing that gave her away. The woman, a girl really, practically glowed under the bright summer sun.
Owens smirked wickedly, accelerated then whipped around the wheel and hit the brakes hard.
The car skittered across the driveway causing the tail end to break out dangerously.
The young woman’s eyes grew wide like saucers and she took a few quick steps backwards when it appeared the driver had lost control.
The car came to a stop long before it had any chance of hitting her.
“Hey,” he said casually through the open window of the vehicle.
She appeared too shaken to speak right away.
He jumped out of the bright orange muscle car. “What'd you think?”
“I think,” she said slowly, “that this is an incredibly dangerous, not to mention environmentally damaging mode of transportation.”
He nodded as he walked up to the large hood and popped it easily. “Yeah. Also, a hell of a lot of fun to ride. 1969 Pontiac GTO, Judge edition. Ram Air IV engine, 400 hp at 5700 rpm. 0-60 in less than 5.1 seconds. As far as I know only two of these babies still exist and I’ve got one.”
DeMara Deen shrugged her shoulders and she joined Owens by the engine. “None of that means anything to me. What I do know is that more people have been killed by automobile-related accidents in Earth history than by all other means of transportation combined.”
Michael looked up with annoyance. “You are a regular buzz kill, did you know that? Tell you what, I take you on a spin and I bet you’ll be singing another tune real fast.”
She considered him as if he had lost his mind, then looked at the car and back at him. “In that thing? I don’t think so.”
“I thought you liked a challenge,” he said and reached into the engine to try and move aside a few wires. He failed to realize that the motor was still smoldering hot and painfully withdrew his hand.
“Might want to let that cool down first,” she said with a self-satisfying smile.
“Thanks for the advice, grease monkey,” he said and reached for a piece of cloth which was stuck in the back pocket of his denim pants to assist him in the task. “What brings you out here anyway?”
When she didn’t answer he looked up at her youthful face. “I’ve heard they offered you a post as operations officer on the Farragut. That’s a good ship.”
“I’m holding out to get a chief science post.”
“You have to be realistic, Dee. They’re not going to just hand you an entire science department on an explorer. You’re twenty-one years old, five years out of the Academy. Even your first rate Tenarian education isn’t going to help you on this one. Give it a few more years.”
“Well, maybe if I had a captain who’d request my services …”
Owens noticed somebody watching him from an upstairs window. The man withdrew before he could get a good look but he didn’t need to see his face to know who he was. He angrily dropped the hood with a loud bang. “That’s why you are here, isn’t it? You are wasting your time, Dee. Take the Farragut posting.”
“I can’t. She left two days ago.”
“Let me guess, this was his idea, wasn’t it? Soften me up with those big purple eyes of yours and then convince me to take another ship? Well, you can lay off the charm because it’s not going to work on me,” he said and turned away to head towards the garage.
Deen followed him, with anger now rising in her own voice. “That is not fair, Michael. You make it sound as if I have some sort of on and off switch. Well, I don’t. And even if I did I wouldn’t try to charm you into anything. The truth is, I honestly believe that you should have another command. You deserve it. Also … I want to serve with you again.”
“Some things are just not meant to be, Dee.”
“Why not? Because you lost a ship, a crewmember? Michael those things happen. Besides there was nothing you could’ve done differently. It doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams.”
Owens turned to face her. “I didn’t just lose any ship. I lost the old man’s ship. His ship and so much more.“
Deen knew that he had always reserved that particular epithet for a man he had looked up. More than that. Loved and respected. And that person was not his father.
“I destroyed his entire legacy in one single move,” he said and then looked directly into her eyes. “I could have avoided it, Dee, I could have followed my goddamn orders like I was supposed to. How can I trust myself with another ship and another crew after what I’ve done?”
She apparently had no immediate answer for that.
Owens looked up at the window where he had seen the person watching him earlier. “I’m going to put an end to this for once and for all,” he said and walked into the house.
He found him in his own study, standing at Michael’s desk and looking at a case which contained his Christopher Pike Medal he had received shortly after the Columbia incident.
Michael frowned. It had been hidden away at the bottom of a drawer.
“Does she still pull to her right at high speeds,” Jonathan Owens said while he kept his back towards his son.
“Yeah,” he said and stuffed the dirty cloth back into the back of his jeans. “I think it’s the front axle.”
Owens Senior nodded. “I never found the time to look at that.”
Michael wanted to laugh. His father had never found time to do anything besides his job. “Well, looks like I’ve got plenty of that on my hands now.”
Jonathan turned around and threw his son a very small black box.
Michael caught it easily.
“No you don’t,” said the admiral. “Starfleet will be giving you another ship.”
He opened the box to find a solid, round pip inside.
Michael Owens wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it. He had wanted to be a captain, a proper captain, since his second year at Starfleet Academy. He had occupied the center seat on the Columbia for nearly ten months but he had never felt like it had been his ship. It was and always had been the old man’s. Until he destroyed it.
He found himself staring at the piece of insignia which by itself meant nothing. The truth was, he wanted it. He had always wanted it.
He looked up to find his father’s probing eyes. “A new command, huh? I doubt that very much. They might give me a promotion but they’re not giving me another ship. Paris was quite clear on that subject.”
“Don’t worry about Paris.”
This made Michael angry again. “Dad, I’ve told you I don’t want you meddling with my career. It is none of your business so stay out of it. Whatever I’m going to achieve, I’ll do on my own.”
“Oh, don’t be so melodramatic, son.”
“Tell me you’re not interfering.”
“Listen, all I’ve ever done–“
“Tell me, dad or this conversation ends now.”
“Fine, fine,” he said, throwing his hands up into the air. “I’m not interfering with your career. Happy?”
“Than how do you know about Starfleet giving me another ship?”
“Because, son, I’m an admiral. I work in the building. I hear things.”
Michael didn’t look convinced. “I don’t care. It’s just not going to happen. I’m not going to accept another command.”
Jonathan Owens moved closer. “All I ask is that you think about it. Go and have a look at her. A look won’t hurt. See her with your own eyes and if you still decide that you don’t want her, I promise I’ll never bring it up again.”
Michael Owens gave him a short nod.
“Decks one through seventeen have been evacuated and all shuttles have cleared the ship for the rendezvous coordinates.
According to their last transmission, the Cuffe and the border cutter Amberjack are less than eight hours out.”
Michael Owens made his way through the corridors of the Columbia like a fish trying to swim against the current, working himself through the stream of crewmembers trying to rush towards the lifeboats. He was moving into the opposite direction.
How had it come to this, he wondered and not for the first time.
A day earlier they had responded to a distress signal from a heavily populated border colony of the Tzinkethi who had come under attack from an unknown enemy. Owens had decided to cross the border, going against direct orders from Admiral Paris who had insisted that Columbia did not get involved.
But Michael Owens had gone anyway, believing that coming to the Tzinkethi’s help could soften their aggressive notions which many believed were going to lead to another war in the near future.
What they had found was a massive meteor turned weapon which would ensure the total destruction of the roughly sixty million inhabitants of the colony world.
They had tried to find a solution for hours while at the same time taking heavy damage from the weapons which had been mounted on the rogue planetoid.
Out of time and out of options, Owens had made the call. Detonate Columbia’s warp core in the meteor’s flight path, a drastic action but according to the simulations it would split the meteor into relatively harmless fragments.
But something had gone horribly wrong.
Owens wasn’t sure what it was yet, except that the problem was originating in main engineering, the very place he was trying to reach desperately before the ship blew, or worse, it didn’t, and would be crushed by the incoming planetoid before finishing off the colony.
“Any update on our situation?” he asked as he pushed passed crewmembers and panicked civilians.
“None, but engineering has been evacuated. Commander Mendez is still on board but I haven’t been able to locate him,” DeMara Deen told him from the bridge. “I’m coming down to help you.”
Owens shook his head. “Negative, Lieutenant. You get yourself into a lifeboat and get out.”
“I’m not leaving you here, Michael.”
“Yes, you are. Whatever the problem I’m sure Mendez and I can handle it. Don’t worry, I have no intention of going down with the ship.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Damn it, Dee, get off the ship.”
She hesitated for a moment. “Alright. But you have less than ten minutes until the warp core needs to be triggered. You have that long to get clear, not one second more.”
“Understood. Owens out.”
The acting captain of the USS Columbia reached main engineering moments later and found it abandoned.
The warp core was pulsating with raw energy, producing as much as it could before it was going to rip the ship and with any luck the asteroid to pieces along with it.
Michael checked the instruments. The automatic detonation sequence had been interrupted and he couldn’t immediately ascertain why. He tried to reengage it but the system stubbornly refused to comply.
Out of the corner of his eye he spotted somebody stepping next to the warp core.
It was Commander Nelson Mendez, first officer and the son of legendary starship captain Eduardo Mendez, the man who had commanded the Columbia for nearly four decades until he had been killed less than a year earlier.
“Nelson, where’ve you been?” Owens asked but realized that time was too short for explanations. “I need your help to reactivate the automatic detonation.”
“Commander Michael Timothy Owens.”
Owens turned to look at the first officer who still stood in front of the core with an eerie stillness entirely inappropriate considering the current situation. He made not one move to help him. Owens had been too distracted to notice that Mendez had called him by his official rank and not, as was customary, by his title.
“Come on, Nel, we’re running out of time here.”
“Out of time,” he repeated. “To do what? Save the Tzinkethi? Have you forgotten what these people did to us? Have you forgotten that it was the Tzinkethi who murdered the old man? And here you are, trying to save their miserable planet, destroying the only thing that is left of my father.”
Owens couldn’t believe he was having this conversation now. “I’ve already noted your objections in my log, now is hardly the right time to discuss them.”
“I think it is the perfect time.”
“You can’t be serious. Help me to reengage the detonation sequence. That’s an order.”
Mendez smirked. “You’re ordering me, huh? Like Paris ordered you not to cross the border?”
Owens shot the man an angry look. “Damn it, Nel, you’re going to assist me blowing this ship or so help me God–“
“Hey, I’m not the one to defy a direct order. That’s your game,” he said and pointed at a corner of the engine room. “But it looks as if one of those last hits jarred loose a few isolinear chips. It’s a real mess and it interrupted the sequence.”
Owens followed his glance and found a number of chips lying on the floor. He rushed to the panel, took a knee and tried to slot them back into place as quickly as he could.
“You know, Michael, I always liked you,” said Mendez while he watched the acting captain sorting through the isolinear chips. “Even back when you first came onboard five years ago and everybody saw you as an outsider, an interloper, trying to break up the family.”
Owens didn’t have the time to focus on Mendez.
“I never blamed you for Maya deciding to leave,” he said, referring to Columbia’s former chief engineer who had been in the run for the then vacant first officer’s spot. The charismatic Amaya Donners had been popular with the crew but she had left the ship shortly after Michael Owens had gotten the position instead. “Do you know why, Michael?”
Owens was down to a hand full of chips. “No, Nel, why don’t you tell me?” he said without paying him much attention.
“Because she was never going to get the position. She might have thought she was next in line but the truth is the old man never really considered her. It was me, Michael. It was always me. I was going to be the first officer.”
Owens had found and returned all the chips save for one. But it was missing, nowhere to be seen.
“Are you looking for this?”
Michael turned to see the last chip in Mendez’s hand.
It slowly dawned on him what had happened here. “You did this?”
“Don’t sound so surprised,” he said. “You always knew what this ship meant to me. You knew that I’d give my life for her. That I’d give my life for the old man. But you took that from me, Michael. You and your goddamn heroics. You were the one responsible for his death and then you took all the credit for saving the ship.”
Owens had always known that Nelson Mendez possessed a mean streak. He had seen it in his eyes the first time they had met. He had never really wanted to keep him as his first officer after he had been given temporary command but he had always felt that he owed it to the old man. Of course he had never dreamt that he’d be capable of taking things this far.
But now, for the first time, he realized that Nelson Mendez had never gotten over the loss of his father. And worse, he still blamed him for his death.
“I did what I had to do,” he said. “Those Tzinkethi would have destroyed an entire convoy of ships, you know that, you were there. The old man’s death was tragic but there was nothing we could’ve done differently. Now, give me the damn chip or we’ll both die.”
“Sentencing him to death wasn’t enough for you, was it? Now you have to take his ship, too. And for what? To protect his killers,” he said and looked at the chip. “You want this?”
Michael Owens could see in his dark eyes what he was about to do. The madness that had been festering for so many years was beginning to completely assert itself.
“No!” Owens screamed and scrambled to get to Mendez.
It was too late.
Nelson Mendez snapped the chip in two.
“You’ve lost your mind.”
“Maybe I did,” he said with an indifferent shrug. “But I won’t let you take the credit for this one. Not this time. Personally I hope Starfleet will have you court-martialed for your decision to violate orders but knowing your connections they’ll probably give you a medal instead.”
“What are you talking about?”
Mendez laughed. “The funniest thing is that you really thought all this time that the old man wanted you here. You thought he hand-picked you as his successor. He didn’t. He wanted me to succeed him. That has always been the plan until you came along. You were a mistake forced on him by …”
“I think you know.”
“Listen to me, Nel. This is insane.”
“This was going to be my ship and without her I’m nothing. Make sure you’ll tell them it was me who saved those cat bastards.”
“Wait, we can still–“
Michael Owens never got to finish his sentence.
Mendez had activated a control panel and the acting captain of the doomed ship dematerialized instantly only to find himself on a shuttle craft some thousand miles away.
He paid no attention to the surprised looks from the many crewmembers surrounding him now and turned towards the view port.
The meteor hung over the Columbia like the axe of her executioner.
Then came the explosion so bright, he had to cover his eyes.
When he looked again, Columbia was gone and the meteor nothing but a shadow of its former self.
“A moment of your time.”
Admiral Paris stopped and turned around. He sighed heavily when he noticed Jonathan Owens stride up to him. “What is it, Jon?”
“It’s about Eagle.”
“You know what?” said Paris with noticeable annoyance in his voice. “You and Glover seem to think that Starfleet is a place to cement your personal legacies. Well, let me tell you something, Jon. It isn’t. We work hard to achieve our goals and there are no silver spoons to be given out.”
“You think my son didn’t work hard for his career? Have another look at his service jacket.”
“I did. I wonder how tough it was on him to serve as a liaison on the Tiaitan homewold. A race of beings that don’t know war or violence and seem to live in seemingly eternal harmony. Or maybe it was that year he served at the Academy, teaching his experiences to a bunch of unruly cadets that was so challenging.”
Jonathan Owens frowned. “I’m not going to discuss his qualifications with you. If you choose to ignore his record on the Fearless and the Columbia, that’s your business. But holding a grudge against him because he didn’t follow your orders, that’s something I’m concerned about.”
“Following orders is how Starfleet works, you know that.”
“Yes,” he admitted. “I also know that we need captains who can think for themselves if the occasion calls for it. Michael’s actions might have very well avoided another costly war with the Tzinkethi.”
“That’s speculative at best.”
“Look, I just want what’s best for my son as every father would. I know you felt the same way. Maybe you still do. But don’t punish my son because of what happened to yours.”
Owen Paris became visibly uncomfortable. “My son?”
“I know you think he’s still out there somewhere.”
“Voyager was lost with all hands,” he said bluntly but sounding somewhat uncertain of his own words.
“But you are not entirely convinced of that, are you? I’ve seen your little pet projects, your plans to comb through every last inch of the Badlands. You’re still holding out hope that he and Voyager will turn up again someday.”
Paris didn’t speak.
“A team of mine has been working with the Vulcans on a new interdimensional array out in the Mutara sector. We’re not entirely sure yet on the exact scope of its practical applications but theoretically it could be used to locate a vessel displaced in space or in a different dimension. It might even be able to communicate over extremely long distances. We are still in the early stages of the project but once it is completed and Voyager is really still out there somewhere, this array might help you locate her, or perhaps talk to them.”
Paris’ eyes grew slightly upon hearing about this device. “And you’d be willing to share what you have?” he asked skeptically, fully aware that Jonathan Owens’ projects were usually well hidden secrets within Starfleet.
“Share it? You can have the entire project.”
“And what do you want in return?”
Jonathan Owens smiled.
He moved closer to the large transparent aluminum screen which separated the lounge from the space dock and waited patiently for the old Ambassador-class starship to clear the way.
The sight of the vessel, he hadn’t caught her name, had brought back painful memories of the last time he has seen the Columbia.
But his old ship wasn’t the reason he had come here.
The reason was the brand-new vessel that was finally revealed when the older ship had moved out of the way.
She was just another Nebula-class but for whatever reason, her gleaming new hull made her stand out more so than any other ship docked there.
She practically commanded his attention.
“A beauty, isn’t she?”
Owens turned to see a tall, blond haired commander who had moved up next to him, his eyes focused on the same vessel. “I served on a couple of ships but every time I lay eyes on a new assignment I fall in love all over again,” he said in a relaxed British accent. His blue eyes seemed to sparkle with life.
“You’ll be serving on her?”
The commander nodded. “First officer.”
“Thank you,” he said, still not quite able to tear himself away from the ship.
Michael Owens wasn’t quite sure where his next question came from but the words came over his lips before he could think about it. “Do you think she’ll be yours someday, Commander?”
He looked at Owens and his puzzled expression gave proof that it wasn’t a question he had expected. He glanced back at the ship. “Maybe someday,” he said. “But not now. For now she’ll belong to somebody else and it’ll be my job to keep them both out of harm’s way the best that I can. No doubt it’ll be a challenge some days but that’s what we live for, is it not? The challenge is why we are here.”
Owens followed his glance.
“I’m sorry,” said the commander. “I didn’t introduce myself. The name’s Edison, Eugene Edison.”
Michael took his hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Eugene.”
“Call me Gene.”
Edison’s confidence never wavered even when Owens refused to return the favor and reveal his own name.
“Well, I’d better report for duty, wouldn’t look good to be late on my first day.”
Commander Edison gave him a nod and then began to head for the nearest turbolift.
“Gene,” Owens called after him
Edison turned around.
“I think I’ll be seeing you again soon.”
“It’d be my pleasure,” he said and stepped into the lift.
Michael Owens caught his own reflection in the window and noticed that he was still wearing just three pips on his uniform collar.
He had received his official promotion a few hours ago but had not yet attached the new insignia. He had come up to the space dock only because of a promise he had made to his father.
He reached into the pocket of his uniform to remove the small box he had handed him. Michael opened it, removed the fourth pip and attached it next to the others.
He used his reflection to make sure it aligned correctly before he looked up and found his face staring back at him.
Michael Owens knew then and there that he was looking at the new captain of the USS Eagle.