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Sickbay, USS Gibraltar
In geo-synchronous orbit of Pierosh II

Upon first arriving in Sickbay, Sandhurst had met briefly with the newly awakened Lar’ragos, who seemed to be recovering quickly from his inexplicable three-day coma.  The lieutenant was mortified that he’d been unconscious during the Orion boarding incident, but Sandhurst had reassured him that the security teams had responded superbly, due in no small part to their intensive holo-sim training regimen.

The captain approached the guarded isolation ward and nodded to the security specialist standing watch outside the door.  “I’ll speak with him alone.”

The Baron appeared to be sleeping beneath the restraining field that fixed him to the bio-bed.  He opened his eyes, however, in response to the door cycling.  Sandhurst approached and pulled a chair over to take a seat next to the immobilized man.  He had decided to forgo any theatrical attempts at intimidation.  If the Baron had half as much intelligence as Sandhurst credited him, he would easily see through the captain’s threats.  Such tactics would only serve to undermine his credibility.

“I’m Donald Sandhurst, captain of the Federation starship Gibraltar.”

The Baron watched him impassively and remained silent.

“We know you only as ‘the Baron,’ by way of your Orion accomplices.  Might I inquire as to your proper name and where your barony is located?”

After a long moment, the man responded, “My actual title is closer to that of Lord than Baron, but for the time being, the latter will suffice.”  He offered a knowing smile.  “And my domain is a great distance from here, Captain.”

Sandhurst nodded.  “I’ll begin by telling you that at present you’re facing eleven different counts of serious felony crimes against this vessel and its crew.  Your cooperation in our ongoing investigation might serve to reduce some of those charges.  I can’t make any promises, though, as prosecution of such crimes is decided by our civilian government.”

The Baron sneered, “You would charge me for trying to undo the crimes of your people?”

Sandhurst studied the man for a long moment as he ran his tongue across the back of his teeth.  Calm and controlled, the Baron exuded a casual arrogance that the captain found unsettling.  No, that wasn’t quite it.  He’s in control, or he thinks he is, Sandhurst assessed.  The man was lashed to a bio-bed in a locked room, and yet apparently felt that he was fully in command of his situation and surroundings.  He was either completely mad, or ridiculously dangerous.  Perhaps he’s both, Sandhurst mused.

“And what crimes would those be?”

The Baron shot Sandhurst a disbelieving look and said, “Your crew has been to the surface, you’ve seen it for yourselves.  Those fools down there went diving in waters so deep and dark they couldn’t begin to understand.”  His expression shifted to one of disdain.  “Do not think me the idiot, Captain.  Your own people did this, and your kinsmen will surely suffer the consequences.”

Sandhurst frowned as he wondered if the Baron did in fact know of Benghazi’s activities, or if the man was merely fishing for information.  “Perhaps you should tell me what, specifically, we’re talking about?”

“Those careless simpletons thought to command energies they could neither contain nor control.  They blindly opened a conduit into another reality, and in so doing they’ve unleashed the dragon!”  The Baron delivered the rebuke with conviction as his eyes flamed.

In response, Sandhurst quirked a dubious eyebrow and replied, “I’m going to assume you’re speaking metaphorically.”

The Baron seethed while he thrashed against the restraining field.  “Of course I am, you dolt!”  Then, as if exercising pure force of will, the Baron appeared to compel himself to relax.  “Forgive me, Captain.  I have been given a terrible task to perform, and the weight of it upon me is considerable.”

The captain scratched his chin idly and folded his arms across his chest.  “Baron, you’re speaking in riddles.  I’d much prefer you explain the circumstances as plainly as possible.”

The prisoner closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath.  Once he had centered himself, he began, “The scientists who opened that conduit have inadvertently tunneled into a prison, Captain.  It was a very unique construct, a pocket dimension created explicitly to contain a being of unbelievable destructive power.”  The Baron craned his neck and his eyes fought to lock and hold Sandhurst’s.  “That creature has partially emerged into your universe, though it remains tethered to its containment vessel by a proverbial thread that is decaying even now.  If you fail to act, an entity that annihilated seventeen star systems before it was imprisoned will be let loose upon your universe.”

Sandhurst felt a tightening in his stomach. He didn’t want to believe the Baron’s words, but on some primal level, he did.  He consciously controlled his movements to prevent himself from fidgeting as he sought clarification.  “What is your relationship to the creature?”

“I was sent here to capture it and return it to its prison.”

“Sent by whom?”

The Baron rolled his eyes, his frustration palpable.  “A league of advanced races cooperated to create the containment dimension.  I am an agent of one of those species.”

Sandhurst stood slowly as he pushed the chair back.  “If you are some kind of peace officer or bounty hunter whose goals are recovery of this ‘fugitive,’ how do you explain your unwarranted attack on my crew?”

“Unwarranted?  Not from my vantage point, Captain.  Until I’d accessed your computer database, I believed your people had done this deliberately.  For all I knew, you planned to try and capture the entity and use it against your Federation’s enemies.”  The Baron shifted uncomfortably under the restraining field.  “The Orions accused your ship of having fired on them with a subspace explosive.”

His expression soured and Sandhurst fumed, “No.  The subspace weapon belonged to the Orions themselves.  They initiated an unprovoked attack on my ship.  The experiments you speak of were unauthorized.  Such activities are expressly forbidden by our government.”  He decided to give the Baron the benefit of the doubt, and Sandhurst asked, “We have personnel on the surface.  How much danger are they in?”

“Impossible to say.”  An ironic smile flitted across the older man’s features.  “In my present circumstances, I’m obviously unable to track where and what it is.”

“How do you mean… ‘what it is?’”

“It’s an omnimorphic entity, Captain.  It can be whatever it desires.  Matter, energy… nothing is beyond its capabilities.”

“I see,” Sandhurst replied coolly.  On the inside he was in turmoil.  He weighed the unconfirmed dangers possibly facing his crew against his distrust of the Baron.  “One final question.”  Sandhurst moved to a control interface and downloaded an image into the room’s holo-emitter.  A one-quarter size holographic image of Dr. Benghazi appeared in the air above the bio-bed, rotating slowly.  “Do you recognize this man?”

The Baron grunted noncommittally, then noted, “He looks very much like me.  Who is this?”

“Dr. Stephen Benghazi, the scientist in charge of the project that opened the wormhole on the surface.”

From beneath the restraining field, the Baron chuckled wryly.  “Fascinating.  Are you familiar with the theory of alternate parallel realities, Captain Sandhurst?”

“Somewhat,” Sandhurst allowed as he observed the man closely while wishing he had Lar’ragos’ unconventional abilities.

“Identical individuals can exist in parallel realities.  How ironic that my counterpart in this universe shares my vocation.”

Sandhurst intoned soberly, “Indeed.”  He deactivated the image.  The man had at least given the appearance of being candid, so Sandhurst decided to roll the dice with another query.  “Where is your ship, Baron?”

The enigmatic traveler responded with a question of his own.  “How long must I remain confined in this manner?”

“Until our medical department informs me that your injures have healed sufficiently.  Then you’ll be moved to our brig.”

The Baron smiled humorlessly.  “In which case, I’m afraid I must withhold any further cooperation.  I am not your enemy; in fact, I may be your only hope.  As long as you continue to treat me like some petty criminal, you’re endangering yourselves as well as the rest of your galaxy.”

Sandhurst moved to the exit and signaled the security officer on the other side to open it.  “I appreciate what assistance you’ve shown me so far, Baron.  We will, of course, have further questions.”  With that, Sandhurst left.  He moved into the adjoining exam room, where Ramirez and Taiee had watched the exchange on a monitor.  Sandhurst looked to his exec.  “Thoughts, Commander?”

Ramirez pursed her lips thoughtfully before replying.  “Is it just me, or does this guy sound like a villain from a particularly bad holo-novel?”  She smirked at Sandhurst.  “Pity he doesn’t have a mustache to twirl while he spins his lies.”

Sandhurst cocked his head.  “I’m not so sure he is lying.  Not about everything, anyway.”  He leaned against a bio-bed to rub the bridge of his nose tiredly.  “If this ‘dragon’ exists as he claims, it could wreak unbelievable havoc.  That’s not exactly the kind of trouble the Federation or Cardassia needs right now.”  Turning to Taiee, he inquired, “What about his claim that Benghazi’s his counterpart in our universe?”

The nurse practitioner was still behaving frostily towards the captain, but she made a concerted effort to bolster her professional demeanor.  “Complete crap, sir.  Our friend the Baron, despite his appearance, isn’t even remotely human.”  She directed their attention to a display screen at a nearby workstation.  “And to make matters worse, the EMH has found genetic irregularities in Benghazi’s DNA unrelated to the energy discharge on the surface.”

A DNA double-helix appeared onscreen, sections of which were highlighted in flashing primary colors.  “These segments normally control physical appearance characteristics in humanoids.  These highlighted sections are areas where specific alterations have been made to his genetic code.”  Taiee turned to face the captain.  “It’s very good work, better than Federation medical science is currently capable of.  However, it created what amounts to areas of weakness in his genome.  This may be why he proved so susceptible to the EM pulse and chronometric radiation on the surface.”

Sandhurst squinted as he tried to make sense of this.  “And this means…”

Ramirez was quicker on the draw.  “Meaning, sir, that someone deliberately altered Benghazi’s DNA so that he would physically resemble the Baron.”

Taiee smiled at Ramirez.  “Well, look at the brain on Liana.”

The XO gave the Chief Medical Officer a mock glare that turned into a smirk.

Sandhurst looked skeptical.  “That doesn’t make any sense, Doc.  Benghazi’s sixty-seven years old.  He’s lived his entire life in the Federation.  Benghazi and the Baron are the same age.  Perhaps someone altered both of them to resemble one another?”

Taiee shook her head emphatically.  “The Baron’s DNA is obviously non-terrestrial, but I’ve detected no similar genetic anomalies.  And we’re only assuming that their ages are approximate.  I’ve no way to judge the Baron’s true age until I get a better understanding of his physiology.”

The captain still looked unconvinced.  “So you’re saying that sixty-eight years ago, someone altered the genetics of a human embryo to make it look like the Baron?  And then that embryo grew up to be Stephen Benghazi?  A man who just happens to become a researcher into interdimensional physics?”  He felt a headache coming on.  “Isn’t that far too convoluted to be believable?”

“No.”

The three officers turned simultaneously to see the source of the refutation.  Pava Lar’ragos leaned unsteadily against the doorframe, clad in his patient gown.  He inclined his head towards the isolation ward.  “Our new friend in there… he’s a time traveler.”

*****

Pierosh II
Meteorological Research Station Aristotle
Sub-Level 4


Dunleavy stood behind the transparent aluminum viewing partition as she kept an eye on their visitor below.  The glowing orange orb measured some two meters in diameter.  It had emerged from the mouth of the portal moments earlier, and was now hovering a few meters from the open maw.

She glanced back at Science Specialist Vandermere and asked, “What do you think, life form or probe?”

Without looking up from her tricorder, Vandermere assessed, “My guess would be probe.  It’s transmitting some form of poloron beam back through the aperture.”

“Sending telemetry back to its base?” Dunleavy posited.

“That’s as good a theory as any.”

As Juneau and her entourage rushed into the lab, the sphere emitted three fan-shaped fields of amber light that swept the perimeter of the lower chamber on multiple axis.

Juneau joined Dunleavy at the viewport while the blood drenched Tark drew startled looks from the others as he set about double-checking the laboratory’s security measures.

The old non-com called to Juneau, “The door leading to the portal chamber is secured, Lieutenant.”

Eyes still fixed on the bright sphere, Juneau replied, “Thank you, Master Chief.”  Then to Vandermere, “Is it scanning?”

“Yes, sir.  Broad-spectrum sensor sweeps of its environment.  Intensity of the poloron beam has increased ten-fold.”

Without warning, the sphere shot up into the air and came to a stop directly in front of the viewing partition.  The assembled crowd stepped back, their movement accompanied by a chorus of gasps.

The sphere drifted forward to pass through the partition effortlessly.  Tark took aim with his phaser rifle as he growled, “Everybody back!  Head for the surface!”

Dunleavy turned to run, but was instead enveloped in a golden beam of light from the sphere and vanished.

Tark pulled his trigger and sent pulse after pulse of phaser energy into the sphere to no effect.  He was joined by the other security officer, whose constant beam from his hand phaser had no better luck.

The remaining Starfleet personnel scrambled to exit the room as they tripped over one another and created general pandemonium.  Juneau executed a tactical step-slide backwards, slowly backing away as she kept her phaser trained on the object.  “Chief, cease fire!  We haven’t even tried communicating with the thing!”

Over the steady thump of his discharging rifle, Tark shouted, “Oh, I think it’s getting the message!”  Something shoved the barrel of his rifle skyward at the same time Tark was swept off his feet to land crumpled in an angry pile on the floor.  He gaped open-mouthed at the sight of Juneau standing above him, his rifle in her hand.  She raised her eyebrows, and bore the expression of a displeased parent.  “Perhaps you misunderstood me, Master Chief.  I ordered you to cease fire.”  She dropped the rifle and Tark caught it fumblingly.  “In most circles that phrase is commonly accepted as meaning ‘stop shooting right the hell now.’”

Juneau looked up just in time to see the sphere backtrack along its original path as it retreated through the viewport and down into the lower chamber.  She raced to the window only to witness it pass through the roiling blue event horizon of the portal.  A bedraggled looking Tark joined her to emit a grunt of displeasure as he watched the sphere vanish.

As she looked over at the old warhorse, Juneau commented, “At least now we know it goes both ways, eh?”

*****

Meteorological Research Station Aristotle
Level 1


Security Specialist Eric Stins tried to keep his hand from shaking as he drew his phaser’s beam down the seam of the entrance doors to weld them together.  Whatever nightmarish thing lay on the other side howled and pounded on the doors with a strength that was most certainly preternatural.

The door’s seam glowed an angry red as Stins and Petty Officer O’Shae backed away.  Stins looked at his comrade.  “First it starts raining blood outside, and now we’ve got some kind of giant beast trying to force its way in.”  He shook his head.  “Commander Plazzi told me this planet is a lifeless rock, except for moss.”  Wide eyed, he looked at O’Shae beseechingly.  “Does that sound like moss to you?”

Rather than answer what was a decidedly rhetorical question, O’Shae tapped his compin.  “Away team to Gibraltar, we have an emergency…”

*****



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