It had only been just over five months since the most devastating attack on Earth since the Xindi Incident of 2153. And even though the Breen assault on Starfleet Headquarters and the San Francisco Bay Area was not even close to comparable to the massive casualties the Xindi had caused two centuries earlier, Earth had become so unaccustomed to being a target of interstellar war, the shockwaves the assault had caused could still be felt even after all the physical scars had healed.
In fact Michael Owens could find none of the heartbreaking damage he had seen in broadcast footage immediately after the attack as he walked the streets of the city.
The Starfleet complex on both sides of the bay looked as immaculate as always with its perfectly maintained and manicured gardens and even the historic Golden Gate bridge in-between, which had been torn apart in the attack, had been fully restored to its old glory.
As far as he understood it, the Federation Council and the United Earth government had made clean up and repair a major priority after the attack and Owens thought he understood why. More than causing damage and casualties, the attack had been intended to demoralize not just the population of Earth but citizens all across the Federation, and at first the Dominion had certainly succeeded with that task.
Footage of one of the Federation’s most significant cities burning had caused widespread despair as it brought the war which had theretofore been waged mostly outside core Federation worlds, right to its very heart. Suddenly a sense that this war could strike anywhere at anytime had become a scary reality for billions of citizens and even worse, a painful defeat had become a real possibility, one that could no loner be ignored.
The Federation had therefore not hesitated to repair the damage as quickly as possible to demonstrate to both its own people, as well as to its allies and enemies that a heinous surprise attack would not damage its resolve to win the war.
Considering the ultimate outcome, perhaps the strategy had in fact paid off.
And yet while the damage had been seen to months ago, a certain atmosphere of desperation still lingered, if not on Earth in general, then certainly in this Northern California metropolis where over two thousand lives had been lost in that tragic event.
A pilgrimage to both the Dominion War memorial at the Presidio as well as the monument erected at the center of Golden Gate Park in memory of those lost during the Breen attack on the city had been one of the first stops he had made after arriving on Earth.
Paying his respects to the dead had not been the only reason he had come to visit the City by the Bay. There had been a number of mandatory meetings of course with a whole range of important Starfleet admirals and other officials who were eager to debrief starship captains personally the first chance they had, now that this long and bloody war had come to an end.
One of those admirals was his father who had left him a personal message even before Owens had known that he was returning Eagle to Earth himself.
He wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about seeing Jonathan Owens again. He hadn’t seen him in nearly four years and before that they had gone another few years without coming face-to-face for good reason. Owens’ relationship with his father had never been particularly steady and had only gotten worse first after his mother had passed when he had still been a child and then when his brother Matthew had been killed ten years ago.
Their last meeting had been unsurprisingly turbulent with a number of accusations being thrown around and in the end he had to admit that he hadn’t helped matters much. There had however been light at the end of the tunnel and perhaps even the first steps to a path towards reconciliation.
They hadn’t traveled down that road very far yet, which explained why Michael had purposefully delayed this meeting until all others had concluded.
Once he had finally made his way to the forty-second floor of Starfleet Headquarters where his father’s enigmatic Department of Special Affairs and Investigations had its home, he was told that he was already expected. But instead of being shown to an office, he was given a set of coordinates and pointed to the nearest transporter room.
He materialized outdoors, in a place that was most certainly not Northern California. The first clue that he had travelled a significant distance was the fact that it had suddenly become night, even though it had been the early morning in San Francisco.
He found himself at the bottom of what looked like a massive crater. Upon closer inspection though he found that the cavity was clearly man-made considering the many smooth and step-like layers leading all the way to the surface which he guessed had to be at least six hundred meters up.
The stars in the clear sky gave further proof that he had been transported to the other side of the globe.
He stood near a large blast door which opened for him and the positively frosty air was more than enough motivation to quickly ducking inside where he found his father emerging from a turbolift.
“Michael, sorry I only just heard that you had arrived.”
“Where the hell are we, dad?”
He pointed through the still open door. “Can’t you tell? This used to be one of the world’s largest diamond mines. Welcome to Udachnaya in the Sakha Republic.”
“Russia?” he said. “What’s wrong with Starfleet Headquarters?”
He shook his head as he led him into the turbolift. “Too many prying eyes out there. Sometimes it is better to be outside the spotlight and this place qualifies.”
“No kidding. Might as well be on another planet.”
The turbolift closed and after Owens Senior had activated the control panel it set into motion, taking them even deeper into the Earth. “Well that’s just a very snobbish attitude, son and I’m not sure the locals would approve. This planet is more than its large, glitzy cities.”
“Sure, says the man who has chosen this place for its remote location. I’m fairly certain you’re not about to advertise Far Eastern Russia to Earth’s tourism board.”
“Far Eastern Russia perhaps,” said the older Owens. “I just might leave out this mine.”
They didn’t appear to travel very far and the turbolift ride came to an end only shortly after it had set in motion, the doors opening to reveal an indistinct corridor which was similar in design to what Owens was used to on Eagle and was fairly standard within Starfleet facilities.
Admiral Owens led him out of the lift and down the corridor. On the way to their destination they came across at least a dozen other people who seemed to work in this facility, most of which where Starfleet officers and judging by the color of their uniforms, they were predominantly science personnel. The civilians he spotted also appeared to be scientists; he noticed at least a couple of lab coats.
This by itself was hardy suspicious of course, had it not been for the last time he had visited a secret science outpost during the Dominion War. That experience ranked as one of the most painful of his life, and it was difficult not to think of the people he had lost there.
His father stepped up to a set of doors which swished open for him and then pointed at the entrance.
Just before Michael was about to step inside, he thought he saw a familiar face from the corner of his eye. He turned just in time to see the dark-haired woman wearing a red and black Starfleet uniform turn a corner. “Maya?”
But she hadn’t stopped and she didn’t remerge after he had called her name.
Jon Owens shot him a puzzled look, still waiting for him to step into his office.
“I thought I just saw somebody I know,” he said and then shook his head, after realizing that Amaya Donners would have told him if she too was on Earth. Not to mention that her starship, the Agamemnon had not been in orbit when Eagle had arrived. “Never mind,” he said and then walked into the office.
It was of decent size, befitting a man of his father’s rank and position and combined an office space complete with a large desk and chairs along with a briefing room, featuring a large oval table with a six chairs surrounding it.
Otherwise the office seemed sparsely decorated, a few plants, and only a handful of personal items. The most prominent feature was the large screen build into the far wall, opposite the desk, which judging by the crystal clear image of the snow-covered mountain ranges dominating this region, might as well be mistaken for an actual window if not for the fact that they were far underground.
Jon noticed him looking that way. “I tend to get a bit claustrophobic,” he said with a smirk and then pointed to a sofa along the adjacent wall for him to sit.
He did as suggested and then watched his father sit down behind his desk.
This was the first time Michael actually took a moment to consider the elder Owens. It had struck him the last time he had seen him on Eagle how old and exhausted he had appeared. Like a man who was no longer coping well with the stressed life he was trying to lead and certainly nothing like the vital and energized man he had been when Michael had been much younger. Sadly he didn’t look any better now and his good humor notwithstanding, he looked terribly old. Much older than he had any right to look.
“It is so good to see you again, Michael. I’ve been following Eagle’s missions quite closely over the last few years. You have no idea how relived I am that you came out of that nasty war in one piece.”
Michael wanted to counter that Eagle had not come out in one piece at all. People had lost their lives. But perhaps considering the high number of average casualties to the fleet, he had to consider himself lucky after all. He certainly didn’t feel it. What he didn’t doubt however was that his father had taken an interest in Eagle. He had suspected on more than one occasion that Jonathan Owens might have had a hand in trying to keep him and his ship away from the frontlines, certainly not something to put past the man, considering that he strongly suspected that his father had somehow orchestrated him getting Eagle in the first place. Something that still angered him a great deal.
Michael was determined however not to get into another fight with his father, so he simply nodded. “It’s good to see you as well, dad.”
For a moment his father didn’t respond and instead silence settled over the two men, as if to pretend that years of anger and resentment had never existed.
“Well it’s been far too long and I’m looking forward to catch up.”
Michael wanted to laugh but suppressed the urge. Catching-up wasn’t really something they did. “Sure. I suppose it’s not the reason you brought me to your secret base in the middle of nowhere.”
“I wouldn’t call it secret.”
Michael considered him suspiciously. “Starfleet knows about all this?”
“They know enough.”
He couldn’t quite suppress a sigh.
His father sat up straighter in his chair, resting his elbows on his desk. “Big things are happening, Michael. Really big things. And we need to be prepared for them. If we are not, what we just went through with the Dominion might feel like a school yard tussle in comparison.”
“Geez, dad, why not ease me into things here?”
“I’m afraid we don’t have much time. I’m going to need your help. Desperately.”
“Okay, so how about you start with the beginning? What is it you’re doing here and what is this big thing that’s got you so rattled?”
But the admiral shook his head. “Before I can get into any of those details I first need to be sure that you will take this on. That you will help me.”
Michael stood up in frustration. “I hate this cloak and dagger nonsense, you know that. Just tell me straight, what is it you need my help with?”
Jonathan stood as well. “I need somebody I trust on my team. Somebody I know can take over the work that I started and can see things through.”
“I need you to come onboard with SAI,” he said and then removed a padd from a drawer in his desk. “All the paperwork is already prepared. It comes with a promotion as well. All you need to do is say yes.”
“I don’t even know what I’m saying yes to,” he said. “Besides I have no intention of leaving Eagle to work with you in some secret underground lair here on Earth.”
Jonathan sighed heavily. “Please son, this is not the time to be difficult about these things, trust me on that. I can’t tell you more about my work until you agree to this. Until you have proper clearance. All I can say for now is that it is imperative that you do. What we are trying to accomplish here is crucial for the Federation’s long-term safety and security. Maybe more so than what we’ve just gone through with the Dominion. You will see that once you join me here.”
He looked back at his father with a blank expression, trying hard to avoid showing the anger he felt. He wasn’t sure why he should have been surprised that his father would pull something like this, after all these years, he knew he should have known better. He shook his head. “Do you have any idea how crazy this sounds? What kind of impossible position you’re putting me in here? We have barely spoken more than a handful of sentences in years, you have never once told me anything meaningful about what it is you do, and now, out of the blue, you want me to sign on to something without telling me the first thing about it and leave behind everything that I worked for all my life.” He made sure to put extra emphasis on the fact that it was his work that had gotten him into the captain’s chair of Eagle, not whatever it was his father might have done behind the scenes. Sadly he wasn’t so certain if that was actually true. “And you want me to be what? Your successor? These aren’t the middle ages, dad. You can’t just appoint your own heir. What about Starfleet Command?”
He dismissed this with a shake of his head. “Don’t worry about Command. That’s been taken care of.”
Michael turned his back to his father, staring instead towards the high-resolution image of the mountain range. He realized then that it was likely a live external feed. His father didn’t just put this up for the esthetics. He wanted to know if anybody approached his base uninvited. “This just isn’t right,” he said still not looking at him. “And to be honest I don’t think I want any part of this. Not unless you tell me something. Give me any indication what all this is about. I can’t see how you can expect me to make a sensible decision otherwise.”
“I told you, it’s—“
“Classified, I know,” he completed his sentence. “So it’s a chicken and egg situation then, is that it? You can’t tell me anything because I don’t have the clearance but I cannot get clearance until I sign on and commit myself to something I don’t know anything about.”
Owens Senior handed him the padd. “You’ll have to trust me on that.”
Michael glanced over the content of the padd briefly but as expected nothing on it seemed to reveal anything of any substance. Instead it felt more like a ready-made contract to sell his soul.
There was only one word that he could spot that seemed to even hint at anything substantial. “Operation Myriad?” he read and then looked up.
But he was interrupted by the door annunicator. He shot a glower towards the doors, clearly annoyed by the interruption and then quickly took the padd out of Michael’s hand to return it to his desk drawer. “Enter.”
“I’m sorry if this isn’t a good time,” the man wearing a Starfleet command uniform said as he poked his head inside once the doors had parted.
Jon Owens’ mood quickly improved after realizing who had interrupted the meeting with his son and he waved the man inside. “That’s quite alright, come in.”
Michael immediately recognized the tall, dark-skinned officer, even though he hadn’t seen him in a long time. “Jarik?”
The officer offered a wide smile which to some may have been disconcerting considering his tapered ears which were a clear indication of his Vulcan origins. It didn’t surprise Michael however, knowing full well that Jarik was only half-Vulcan and had long since embraced both aspects of his heritage, and quite successfully so. The two men had known each other since their Academy days, having been room mates for two years during which Michael had learned that Jarik possessed both a splendidly rational mind but at times was perfectly able to display humor and other emotions as well.
“Michael,” he said, still grinning. “I was told you were here.”
He approached and they hugged briefly.
“Really good seeing you again. It has been far too long,” the half-Vulcan said.
“Occupational hazard, I supposed,” said Michael. “But you’re right. How have you been? You working with my father now?”
Jarik nodded. “The reward for all my sins, I suppose.”
Michael noticed his old friend was wearing four pips like him but his were arranged on top of a solid bar, a rank insignia not used very often off-planet and one which usually indicated a high, administrative rank. It didn’t come as much of a surprise since differently to him, Jarik had never shown the same inclinations of becoming an explorer or a starship officer like he had. Instead he had decided to serve Starfleet and the Federation by staying behind and becoming a member of the equally important administrative branch of the fleet.
“Jarik has been invaluable to me over the years,” Jon Owens said, regarding the other man. “We wouldn’t even be close to what we have achieved without him as part of the team.”
“Whatever that might be,” said Michael.
Jarik shot the admiral a mock frown. “I see he’s keeping you in the dark.”
“That’s putting it mildly.”
“It won’t be like that for much longer. Not once you agree to help us.”
“Can’t give it a rest, dad?” Michael said.
“You know your father, he is nothing if not persistent,” said Jarik with a wide grin, considering both men.
Michael was surprised that his father was okay with Jarik, his subordinate, speaking about him in such a manner and in front of his own son no less. But clearly the two men had a very good working relationship, clearly a better one than he shared with his father privately. He wasn’t sure if this offended him or if it made him feel oddly jealous.
“Listen, Michael, Jon,” said Jarik. “I have some business to take care of at headquarters tomorrow. Why don’t the two of us get together for lunch? We can catch up and talk a little bit more about your father’s offer.”
Michael actually liked the sound of that. Not so much talking about his father, after all his plans for him had been made unmistakably clear, but it had been far too long that he had tried to reconnect with the people of his past after spending years out in deep space.
“A splendid notion,” Jon said before Michael could respond and then looked at him. “Take some time to digest what I’ve said. Consider what it will do to your career in Starfleet and then talk to Jarik. I’m confident he will be able to alleviate any doubts you might have.”
“Might have?” Michael said with a little humorless laugh. “So far you haven’t told me anything at all that would make me want to even consider this strange gig of yours.”
Jarik clasped him on the shoulder. “We’ll talk soon, Michael and we’ll see how you feel about it all then, alright?”
He found himself nodding. “Alright.”
“Excellent. Now if you’d both excuse me, it’s a short trip back to California these days but I have still much work to prepare,” he said and looked back at his old friend, giving him a parting smile which Owens reciprocated with one of his own.
Once he had left, Jon turned back to his son. “Jarik is a good man. You’ll be working quite closely with him once you agree to join us.”
Michael suppressed a sigh and then changed his mind about the retort he was ready to fire off. “If he’s still the same man when he was when we were young than I don’t doubt that for a second. And you clearly trust him quite a bit. Which begs the question: Why do you need me?”
His father didn’t respond straight away. Instead he walked back to his desk.
He sat down. “I shouldn’t be telling you this.”
Michael uttered a laugh. “So far you’ve been telling me next to nothing.”
“Jarik is suffering from a hereditary medical condition. I respect him too much to go into the details with you, but it’s serious and there is no cure. He’s been doing a admirable job covering up the symptoms but if you work with him on daily basis, it’s hard to hide them completely. Jarik has been invaluable but I need somebody I can rely on fully.”
“That’s pretty cold.”
“Please, you’re a starship captain, son. You have hundreds of people under your command, so you know how these things go. You are only as strong as your weakest link. With what we are facing, we cannot afford being sentimental.”
Hearing his father talk like that made him feel uncomfortable and yet he knew that there was truth to this.
Jon Owens stood from his chair again to round his desk and approach his son. “Michael, we are family. And sure, I know it may not be fashionable or politically correct to say this, but if we cannot rely on each other in moments of great need, who can we rely on?”
He shot his father a surprised look. And not just because those words sounded pretty hypocritical coming from the man who had spent a lifetime favoring his work over his family, Michael vividly recalled saying something very similar to DeMara Deen very recently. Family sticks together, he had told her, not expecting those words to come back to haunt him.
“I need to think about all this,” he said and turned towards the exit.
He stopped short of the doors and turned back.
“Regardless of how you feel about me and what I do—“
He shook his head. “Dad, I don’t even know what it is you do.”
“Fair enough. But regardless of all that, it is truly good to see you again. There were times during the war …”
He left the rest unspoken.
But Michael nodded, understanding exactly what he was saying. “Yes, I know.”
“You’re one of the lucky ones, son.”
“Yeah.” He wanted to dwell on those thoughts even less than on his father’s surreptitious offer. “Things are going to get better,” he said, not quite certain himself if he even believed that.
But Jon Owens was quick to nod. “Yes, they will. But not unless we stay vigilant, son. Not unless we take action. And soon. You and me, together.”
He considered his father for a moment and it seemed obvious he was not talking in general terms. He really believed that what he was doing was essential in keeping the Federation safe. As to keeping it safe from what exactly he couldn’t even guess.
“It was good seeing you too, dad.”
He nodded. “I’ll have somebody take you back up to the surface. You can beam out from there.”
“Thanks,” he said and turned and left the office.
Michael had spent most of the next day at his family home near Waukesha, Wisconsin, only to find the large antebellum-style house mostly abandoned. It was obvious that his father hadn’t spent any significant time there in a long while. He had always suspected that he had avoided their home ever since his mother had died, perhaps because the reminder was too painful.
He had ventured into his father’s study on the second floor and there on his large oak desk he found a holo-picture of the Owens family all together, his mother and father as well as he and his brother, both nothing more than kids but all smiling happily as their hair rustled under the light breeze of that day. The image looked perfectly life-like of course, thanks to holo-technology. It was a captured moment in time that seemed eternal, without any of those smiles wavering for even a moment.
He couldn’t remember having taken that picture or if those smiles had been genuine. If this was a mere pretension of the Owens household, that everything was in fact as perfect as the image suggested or if there had been tension even back then.
What he did remember vividly of course was that his mother had died in a workplace accident less than a year or so after. He remembered that his brother, Matthew, had abandoned the family as soon as he had been able to, unable to cope with his father’s never-ending demands, particular his insistence that he followed in his footsteps and joined Starfleet.
He recalled that he himself had once hoped to become an oceanographer or perhaps a marine biologist just like his mother but that with her gone out of his life, his father’s will had manifested itself instead.
And once Matthew had been gone, out of his father’s realm of influence, he had brooked no debate as to where Michael’s future would lie.
It had been his father’s will that he’d joined Starfleet. It hadn’t been his choice at all. Jonathan Owens had wanted one thing out of his sons. A heir. Somebody to carry on his legacy.
With those emotions still stirring up inside of him, he left the family home and returned to San Francisco.
Michael had chosen to meet Jarik at the 602 Club in Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco and Starfleet Headquarters.
By the time Michael had been in his second year at the Academy, he had left behind his trepidations of joining Starfleet on his father’s wishes and he had developed his own ambitions of becoming a pilot and a starship officer. As such the 602 Club had been one of his favorite hang-outs, as he and many other aspiring officers sipped on their synthehols exchanged Academy tales and eagerly stared at the pictures of the great explorers that had come before them decorating the walls. Like many other before him and likely long after, Michael too had idolized the images of Jonathan Archer, James Kirk and Grace McAfee, dreaming of following in their footsteps one day. Even Jarik who had never really shown much of an interest in becoming an explorer, had been attracted to the lore of this place back in the day.
With the Academy semester having concluded, it wasn’t quite as loud and rowdy of a place as he remembered it from his own school years, which suited him just fine. He found his former roommate sitting in one of the more remote booths when he came in and quickly joined him.
“Michael, glad you could make it,” he said with a large grin.
“Of course.” Michael took a seat across from him and ordered a syntheholic dark ale he hadn’t tasted since the last time he had visited this establishment as a cadet. “Nothing like a trip down memory lane with a good friend. How have you been, Jarik?”
“Cannot complain. Then of course my exploits have hardly been comparable to what you have been up to, saving the galaxy as we know it out there on the final frontier.” The gleam in his eye, gave proof that his mockery was good-natured humor.
Owens regarded him for a brief moment but could notice no signs of the serious affliction his father had mentioned. He was either very good at hiding it or his father had invented the entire thing to convince him to take him up on his offer. He wanted to believe that he wouldn’t stoop so low, but in truth, he didn’t fully put it passed him either. “I’m sure Starfleet would fall apart without the bureaucrats.”
“Flattery will not get you anywhere, Michael,” he said as they received their drink orders. “Besides, I know what you starship officers say about us bureaucrats when we are not around to hear it.”
Michael laughed as he had a sip of his ale, the familiar taste and texture quickly brining back memories. He let his eyes wander across the club. “Those were the days, weren’t they? Everything seemed possible back then. Everything was within reach. Optimism and excitement everywhere you looked.”
He nodded. “The galaxy was wide open to us. For some it seems the promise held.”
Michael looked back at his old friend. “If I remember right, you didn’t quite hear the same call as I or Amaya did. You never had your head in the stars.”
“Don’t tell me you’re regretting it now. It’s not too late, you know.”
He shook his head as he had a sip of his own beverage. “No regrets. I’m perfectly content where my life has taken me and the work I’ve been able to be a part of.”
“Yes, the mysterious SAI. So are we here so you can pick up where my father has left off? Is this the hard sell?”
Jarik uttered a laugh himself, causing a couple of heads turning his way. Hearing a Vulcan laugh wasn’t as unusual as it had once been, and yet it still drew attention now and then. “If I have learned one thing over the years, it’s that Owens’ are a stubborn bunch. Your father is determined to see you come work for him and you are equally determined to stay where you are. Unmovable object, meet your unstoppable force.”
“I don’t quite think it’s that,” said Michael. “Dad can make as many demands as the day is long but his reach goes only so far. I know he’s a man who is used to getting what he wants. There aren’t many people who can say no to him. Hell, I was once one of the people who fell in line for him. It’s reason I wear the uniform today. But I’m not a child anymore and I make my own decisions and I’ll be damned if I let him continue to meddle with them.”
Jarik raised his hands defensively. “Hey, I’m not getting into the middle of this family dispute here,” he said and then looked him straight in the eye. “But let me ask you something else. Is this what you really want or is this just a way for you to spite your father.”
Michael’s instinctive response was that this had nothing to do with his father at all. That he was happy with where he was in his life and his career. That commanding Eagle was everything he had ever wanted, and that he was not willing to give it up for anything. But he also realized that this wasn’t the complete truth. “So, tell me what you think, I should do then? Is this work you and my father are doing so important? Am I being selfish by hanging on to what it is I want instead of considering the wider implications and the greater good? Or should I commit myself to something I don’t even know the first thing about?”
Jark took another sip and then looked around the bar some more, his eyes seemingly taking in the portraits of the great Starfleet explorers of the past. Men and women who had left behind legacies which had inspired generations of eager young cadets. “What is it you want to be remembered for, Michael?”
The questions caught him off-guard. “To be honest, that’s not something I tend to worry about. I want to make a difference in the here and now. And I think I’m doing that on Eagle. What happens after I’m gone, that’s not something that keeps me up at night.”
He nodded and looked back his way. “Fair enough. If you ask me, you should do what makes you happy. If that’s commanding a starship, if that is your calling, and all evidence seems to point to that fact, than that’s where you belong.”
Michael shot him a puzzled look. “Don’t think my father would be very happy with you giving me that kind of advice.”
A playful smile danced on his lips. “If you don’t tell him, neither will I.”
And yet, with his father’s foreboding tone still edged in his memory, Michael couldn’t entirely deny his curiosity. “This Operation Myriad,” he said. “Is there anything at all you can tell me about it? Why it has my father so concerned?”
Jarik couldn’t entirely hide his surprise at hearing that name. “What has he told you?”
“Dumb question. Nothing, of course. Listen, I would be lying if I didn’t say that it wasn’t important, the work we are doing. But I would betray your father’s trust if I were to reveal classified details, even to his own son, especially since you are not inclined to joining us. I’d rather not be in that position.”
He nodded understandingly. “I think that’s fair enough.”
They sat in silence for a moment, nursing their respective drinks. Michael looked back up at him. “So how is he? My father?”
If Jarik was surprised by this sudden display of concern, he didn’t show it. “He’s fine. I mean, you probably know this better than most, but he has always been a driven individual, and the work we do, it takes a toll on him, there is no doubt. But Jonathan Owens is nothing if not persistent. He is determined to see things through and he will find a way, with or without you at his side.”
Michael nodded gingerly. It felt odd hearing another man speak of his father like this and it made him realize that despite what Jarik thought, perhaps he in fact knew the man much better than he ever had. Jonathan Owens had been, after all, an absentee father for most of his childhood and he mostly remained a mystery to him even now.
He was tempted to ask him about his own condition, about this supposed affliction his father had mentioned. But it felt inappropriate to bring it up, either his father had told him this in confidence or it was an outright untruth.
“He’ll be fine, Michael.”
It was oddly comforting hearing Jarik say this. He raised his glass. “I wish you and him the best of luck then. With whatever it is you’re doing to save us all from our own undoing.”
Jarik smirked as he raised his own. “Here’s to avoiding our own undoing.”
The small white boat rocked gently on the calm azure and turquoise sea underneath and equally blue and mostly cloudless sky and a pleasantly warm sun.
Michael stood near the bow, surveying his surroundings and taking a deep breath of sea air, once again realizing how much he had missed it, and that no matter how advanced technology had become, no matter how realistic of a depiction a holodeck could create, it would never quite be a true substitute for the real thing.
“So, now that we’re on a sea-going vessel, I suppose you’d still want me to address you as captain.”
Michael turned to see Tazla Star having emerged from the deckhouse, wearing a short-sleeved, black and white wetsuit similar to the one he wore himself. He had to admit however that the tall, redheaded Trill woman made the skintight outfit look a great deal better on her.
He offered her a smile. “First let’s get our terminology right. This is a trawler, a converted fishing boat, if you will, and as such I think skipper would be more appropriate.”
She gave him quick, mock salute. “Aye, aye, skipper.”
He could tell she was enjoying herself and he was glad that he had decided to invite her along to his shore leave. It had actually been DeMara’s idea who had unexpectedly turned down his offer to spend shore leave with him and had instead suggested he invited Star instead, arguing that the captain and first officer should be spending more time with each other away from the ship. It had been a sensible recommendation, even if it hadn’t been his first choice, and yet he suspected that Dee’s suggestion had more to do with her decision to not spending time with him than strengthening his bond with his XO.
The reason he had been hesitant to take Star along was mostly due to the fact that their relationship had been off to a rocky start when she had come aboard nearly two years earlier and had eventually revealed that her assignment on Eagle had been not much more than a smokescreen in order to carry out a clandestine mission for Starfleet Intelligence.
Her position had been made permanent after that incident, ostensibly as a punishment for her disobeying orders and working against the interests of her then boss and his morally questionable aspirations.
Michael had understandably not trusted his first officer after this for a long time, even after she had proven her dedication to her new position over and over again and some, like Deen, had questioned his commitment to having her around at all. It soon became clear that his approach of micromanaging the ship and crew was becoming frustrating to everyone, most of all Star herself.
Eventually things had improved between them and trust had followed. In fact he had started to see the Trill as not only indispensable but also as an exemplary Starfleet officer, a notion which most people who knew of Tazla Star for her past crimes would have considered ludicrous.
“I have to say, this is truly beautiful,” she said as her eyes roamed over the shimmering blue sea and the small chain of green islands. “I think I might be warming to the idea of a blue ocean.”
Michael’s smile widened. “Oh, you haven’t seen anything yet. The real beauty of the Great Barrier lies underneath us.” He referred to an old-fashioned and colorful paper map which he had spread out on an equipment box. “We’ll be spending the next few hours exploring Osprey Reef and its amazing coral mesa. It’s home to all kinds of marine life; cuttlefish, wrasses, eagle rays, sea turtles and if we’re lucky a few dwarf whales and a reef shark or two.”
His smile was clearly infectious. “I had no idea you were so passionate about the ocean.”
He nodded as he looked up at the sea surrounding them. “Always have been. My mother’s influence.”
“Well, I can’t wait and start exploring, never thought I do that underwater but I suppose there’s a first thing for everything.”
“With all those accumulated lifetimes I find it hard to believe that you’ve never gone diving before,” he said as he considered the Trill for a moment, glancing briefly towards her abdomen where he knew her long lived symbiont resided.
“Wexri, Star’s second host, was quite an avid swimmer when she was young and before she joined with Star.”
Owens nodded. “Was she the politician?”
Star smirked. “Yeah. A champion of equal rights and social justice. She dedicated her life to those pursuits, even more so after the joining. Spend very little time on personal pursuits as she became older. Wexri practically lived for her calling.”
“She sounds like she was an admirable women but let’s try not to emulate all aspects of her life,” said Michael and grabbed the two rigs of lightweight oxygen-tanks which would allow them to remain submerged for hours and handed one to her. “Today is all about leaving duties and obligation above the surface. Skipper’s orders.”
She smirked as she took the rig and began to strap it on, following Michael’s example. “Wouldn’t dream of defying that one.”
He stepped up to her and double-checked her rig. “You’re good to go,” he said and padded her on the shoulder. “Trust me, after this, you’ll start wishing for more color in outer space.”
A most unwelcome sound from the deckhouse interrupted their preparations. It was coming from his communicator.
“Didn’t you give orders not to be disturbed?” said Star.
Michael nodded and frowned. “Can’t be good.”
He headed into the deckhouse and answered his communicator only to find that it was much worse than he could have imagined. After a brief moment he stepped back onto the deck and judging by the surprised look on Star’s face, he must have appeared as pale as he felt. “It’s my father,” he said, still trying to process the news he had just been told. “He’s dead.”
Shore leave at the Great Barrier Reef was understandably cut short as the marvels of the Coral Sea had suddenly become the furthest thing from Michael Owens’ thoughts.
Star had naturally been fully understanding and had been the first to offer him her heartfelt condolences, and he could tell that she truly meant it. She had also pretty much insisted to return the trawler to the seaport while he beamed back onto the ship. He had hesitated for a moment, considering her lack of experience with actual seafaring vessels, but she had convinced him that if she could pilot a three million ton starship, she’d be able to handle a comparatively tiny boat.
He had relented, mostly because he found it suddenly quite difficult to focus on even the most basic tasks. And even after returning to his quarters on Eagle he still felt a sense of shock he hadn’t experienced since Jana Tren, the woman he had loved, had been killed during the war.
He had of course not been as close to his father as he had been to Jana, not even as a child, and yet he couldn’t deny that inexplicable feeling that had settled over his chest, like a massive weight threatening to crush him. And even after having lost far too many people he had been close to over the years, his mother, his brother, Jana, Gene Edison and many other crewmembers and sometimes friends, he realized that he had not gotten used to this at all. That it still hurt as if a part of himself had been violently ripped out of his body.
It had also left him slightly dizzy, unable to think what it was he should be doing first, even after he had returned to his quarters.
One of his first thoughts had been to find DeMara, his closest friend and confidant, and share the news with her. After all she had known his father quite well and differently to him, had actually gotten along with him very well.
He ultimately decided against it. Not only was she busy on Earth, the news would surely have hurt her a great deal as well, and Michael was already concerned about the way the death of a very close friend had affected her on their last mission.
It was then that it suddenly struck him why the news felt so devastating besides the obvious reason. With both his mother and brother already gone, he had now lost everyone in his immediate family. The Owens clan went beyond this, of course, he had cousins, nephews and aunts, but many of which he had never been particularly close to.
He felt alone all of a sudden, which seemed odd to him considering how rarely he had spoken to his father over the years. And then, very slowly, an even worse feeling began to spread inside of him.
It took him a surprisingly long time to process all those emotions raging in his mind. In the past when he had lost people, it had usually been in combat or during some other pressing situation which had not allowed him time to think or grieve immediately, there had usually been a crisis surrounding the death of a friend or colleague which had forced him to divert all his attention to trying to resolve it and ensure that nobody else shared that same fate.
For the first time in as long as he could remember, Michael found himself wishing for just such a crisis. Anything really to take his mind of the death of his father.
It was Tazla Star who managed to ultimately get him out of this miserable state he had fallen into. She came to see him a few hours after he had left her in Australia to check up on him and to let him know that she had managed to return the trawler semi-successfully.
Apparently sensing his despair, she had attempted to lift his mood by recounting her experiences of attempting to pilot the boat, including the three near-collisions as she had tried to navigate around much larger ships in the port which had very nearly resulted in her being taken into custody by the authorities and more than a few choice words by the captains of the other vessels.
Michael did find himself laughing out loud at her horrible attempts of mimicking an Australian accent, and repeating some of the sailors’ words they had used to describe her sailing skills.
“Turns out steering a boat on an ocean isn’t quite the same thing as piloting a starship,” she had said. “Unless maybe you count trying to navigate through a class-four ion storm.”
She had asked him if there was anything else she could do for him before she had left, but as it turned out she had already done enough and he thanked her for it.
After taking a sonic shower and dressing in his uniform again, he headed straight to Starfleet Headquarters to meet with the medical team responsible for taking care of his father’s body.
He had taken his time to look at his still, lifeless corpse, taking a very small amount of comfort from the fact that he looked so peaceful and at rest after having lived a life that had clearly taken its toll on him.
After having identified the body he spoke to the medical examiner. He had already been told that his father had died from a heart attack but he needed more details, after all at just eighty-nine years, Jonathan Owens had been too young to pass away from such a seemingly preventable death. But as it turned out, the medical examiner who had access to his father’s medical records determined that Jonathan Owens had suffered from heart problems for a few years now, no doubt brought on by the stressful nature of his occupation. And he had repeatedly refused to seek treatment which his doctors had highly recommended.
“He was one of the most stubborn men I’ve ever known,” said Jarik who had met Michael in a small coffee shop on Market Street in the late afternoon. “And he was so damned secretive about his own health. It was just never a topic he would talk about. Even to me.”
Michael nodded, seeing how evasive he had been about his actual work, it came as little surprise that he would have been just as vague when it came to his own well being. “I’ve been told it runs in the family.”
“I feel awful about this, truly. No two days ago you were asking me about him and I told you he was fine, that there was nothing to worry about. I didn’t even realize how wrong I was. I am so sorry, Michael.”
But he just shook his head. “You couldn’t have known.”
“Couldn’t I? I’ve been working closely with him over the last three years. I practically talked to him every day. I should have seen it, Michael. I should have seen it and I should have insisted he’d seek help.”
Michael sipped on his coffee. “We both know he wouldn’t have listened to you. The man was too stubborn to listen to his doctors, what could you have done?”
“I could have threatened to quit, that’s what. I could have told him that he needed to take care of himself or I would walk away.”
He uttered a mirthless chuckle. “It would have accomplished nothing. He most likely would have called your bluff. And no doubt if you hadn’t been there over the last few years, he would have worked himself even harder and died sooner.”
Jarik didn’t say anything to that.
“It wasn’t your fault. Let’s face it, if anyone is to blame here, it’s him.”
“Don’t do that.”
He looked up. “What? It’s true. His own stubbornness killed him.”
“He was a good man. Maybe he wasn’t a good father but he was a good man.”
“I guess you would have known better than me,” said Owens, finished his coffee and stood, he had a funeral to prepare for.
There was a no more sobering place to fully realize the cost of the recent war than at the Starfleet Cemetery where the majority of those who had fallen in the conflict had been laid to rest.
Michael understood that not all of the sea of countless white headstones belonged to casualties of the most recent war, but they made up, without doubt, a significant proportion.
He watched on as his father’s remains were being lowered into the ground to join the thousands of bodies interred in this place.
No matter how Michael had felt about his father when he had been alive, Starfleet had clearly thought very highly of him, judging by the large turnout at his funeral. The throng of white dress uniforms extended nearly as far as he could see, and he was fairly certain every last member of the admiralty was in attendance, certainly everyone within a day’s reach from Earth, and many of which seemed eager to share a few words with him, even those with whom he had clashed in a professional capacity over the years.
All past transgressions appeared to be water under the bridge, at least for this occasion, as many came up to him, offering their condolences and reminding him what a great man his father had been.
Michael accepted all this graciously of course but in the back of his mind he was unable to stop wondering if perhaps the casket had been accidently switched out somewhere and that he was attending the burial of an entirely different man by mistake.
Any such doubts were ultimately dispelled for once and for all when he and the rest of the mourners watched a tall and gracious looking Andorian dressed in a long and beautiful black gown walk up a small makeshift stage just a few meters from where his father had been buried.
Owens thought he recognized her even before the music had begun and she had started to sing one of the most moving renditions of La mamma morta he had ever heard.
The tragic aria of a woman lamenting the killing of her mother who had died protecting her during the French Revolution had been his father’s favorite musical composition and seemingly unsurprisingly he had managed to include in his will not only that it be performed at his funeral, he apparently also had the connections to ensure Piraa Sh'zohlel, the Federations most famous soprano, would be the one to sing it.
The performance was impeccable and Sh'zohlel easily channeled the legendary Maria Callas who had made that same piece immortal centuries earlier. Her rich and exotic bel canto technique added an otherworldliness to the aria unheard of before Earth had joined the intergalactic community.
It was only after the music had died down—the audience remaining in quiet appreciation instead of breaking out in inappropriate applause—and the Andorian had cleared the stage that it struck him how much like his father this performance had been, making sure that even in death, at least for a brief moment, he remained the center of the universe.
The speeches were next and he had dreaded those the most. Especially since the Commander-in-Chief had delivered a glowing testament to what he had called sixty years of selfless service to the Federation. The Chief of Staff, the Commander, Starfleet and the Head of Fleet Operations had all struck a very similar tone. When it came to his turn to speak—he had not wished to deliver a speech, but the top brass had talked him into it—and he stood at the podium in front of at least a few hundred high-ranking Starfleet officers, he found himself at a loss for words.
It wasn’t because he was unaccustomed speaking in front of crowds or at funerals. As a Starfleet captain he had done both more times than he cared to remember, most recently only a few months ago on a planet very far from Earth. Granted, he usually didn’t have to address nearly the entirety of Starfleet Command, but public speaking wasn’t the issue.
He glanced at those faces in the crowd looking up at him expectedly and awaiting to hear from the one person they believed had known Jonathan Owens better than anyone, his own son. The truth was the exact opposite.
He spotted DeMara Deen in the audience as well, he had arrived with her from Eagle and her eyes were still red from the tears she had shed for a man she had greatly respected. After reading over his prepared remarks, she had also strongly suggested some changes to soften his language, all of which he had dismissed.
He looked down at the padd resting on the top of the podium, reading the first words without uttering them out loud. ‘My father gave his life to Starfleet. The cost of which, unfortunately, was not just his health, but also his family.”
There was no doubt that this would not play well with this crowd and when he had written it, he had felt an old anger resurface, and had not cared what the rest of the galaxy might think of him for condemning the man who had been a father to him in name only.
He switched the padd off. “There is little else I can think of to say about my father after everything we have already heard. His accomplishment had a tremendous impact on Starfleet and the Federation. Jonathan Owens dedicated his life to Starfleet, and taught many of us, including me, what it means to serve and to believe in something far greater than any one of us.
More importantly however, he was my father and while we had our difficulties over the years, even though we didn’t see eye to eye on many issues, I can say one thing with absolute certainty. I will miss him. Not Jonathan Owens the admiral, but my dad. I wish we could have had more time to get to know each other again.
I wish …” he stopped himself when he realized that he was threatening to lose control of his emotions while stumbling through the improvised speech. He hadn’t even realized that he had felt that way. Regret, he realized, was a vicious emotion and one never truly understood until it was already far too late. Exploring it now, in front of hundreds wasn’t the right time or place. “Thank you for a lifetime of tireless service to the Federation, Admiral.
You can rest now, Dad. We have it from here,” he worked hard to suppress the tears which were threatening to escape his eyes as a terrible silence seemed to have gripped the entirety of this vast cemetery. He could have sworn even the birds had stopped chirping. Or perhaps he had simply tuned out the world around him.
He left the podium quickly and without making eye contact with anyone until he was back in his chair and feeling DeMara’s hand gently on his shoulder. He looked up at her and she was nodding slowly, wordlessly thanking him for his words.
“It was a terrible speech,” he said later when they had moved on to the reception and he had found his voice again.
“I think it came from the heart, and I think people could tell.”
He had to field another string of well-wishers and condolences at the reception, many of which coming from people Michael had never even seen before. Some faces however were familiar, such as his cousin Vincent Owens who had brought his wife Kerra, both of which served in Starfleet as well, Vincent as a scientist and Kerra in the Sol Defense Force. They had been accompanied by their son Rhory who Kerra had proudly announced had recently aced his entry tests for the Academy and who was on track to become a cadet later in the year.
Michael was hardly surprised, having found Rhory to be a very bright kid even at an early age, and even though he didn’t speak much, his attentive eyes seemed to do little to hide a keen intellect. The young man was clearly meant for big things, perhaps even following his own footsteps and becoming a starship captain one day.
Michael was much more surprised to see another face at the funeral, one with which he was even more familiar with and for entirely different reasons.
“My condolences, Michael. I’m really sorry for your loss.” The tall, dark-skinned woman wearing captain’s pips on her all-white dress uniform jacket hugged him briefly before he had even been able to register her approach.
“I didn’t even know you were on Earth,” said Michael once they had let go and he was able to take in Amaya Donners fully.
She nodded. “Yes. Sorry I didn’t tell you. It was really just meant to be a short layover. Agamemnon was due to depart two days ago but … well, I couldn’t miss the funeral.”
It took him a moment to process this. The two of them had been friends since their Academy days, had even served briefly on the same ship and only recently had become more than friends even though they had both avoided trying to define their relationship exactly. It was difficult enough maintaining a friendship as starship captains with literally half a galaxy between them most of the time, harder still during a war.
“I wish we had time to catch up but Agamemnon is making preparations to depart even as we speak,” she said and sounded genuinely apologetic for this missed opportunity to spend time together.
“Of course, I understand. Thank you for making it to the funeral.” But then he remembered that he had thought that he had seen her before the funeral. At his father’s base in Russia just a few days earlier.
She hugged him again before he could bring it up. “I’m truly sorry, Michael, I’m still in shock myself. We lost a great man but more importantly, you lost your father. I promise I will make time to talk to you soon,” she said and then disappeared again among the crowd of white uniforms surrounding them.
Michael didn’t see her again that day and remained too busy trying to find her with the many other mourners seeking to have a moment with the son of the late, great Jonathan Owens.
Once back on Eagle, after a long and exhausting day, one of Michael’s first stops was the bridge where he found a skeleton crew of only three officers standing watch while most of the crew was on shore leave.
Ensign Rachel Milestone was the most ranking officer, casually chatting with a female Vulcan ensign whose name escape Michael in that particular moment. He tried to not let that annoy him too much, even though he had prided himself on knowing the name and face of every officer under his command, a challenging task considering the frequency of crew rotations on a ship of Eagle’s size. Considering the day he’d had, he forgave himself for his lapse.
The petite ensign was sitting in the first officer’s chair, even though she was the duty officer and as such was within her rights to occupy the center seat while she was in command. The young woman had a large smirk on her face, clearly amused with the conversation she was having even though the humor appeared to be entirely lost on the Vulcan, judging by her stone-faced expression.
Milestone’s smile quickly dropped off her face when she spotted the captain approach and she stood from the chair and snapped to attention a little bit too quickly Michael thought.
He waved her off. “At ease, Ensign.”
She visibly relaxed.
The Vulcan woman who had been standing already, with her hands clasped behind her back offered him a short nod.
“I was hoping you could look into something for me,” he said, addressing Milestone. “I’m looking for the Agamemnon.”
“Yes, sir,” she said and then promptly headed towards the operations console at the front of the bridge, taking the empty chair while Michael followed her.
“Checking sensors now, sir,” she said as she worked the station. She started to shake her head within seconds. “She’s not in the system, sir.”
“Can you check sensor records?”
She gave him an efficient nod and turned back to the console. “Got her, sir. She was moored at Starbase One until four hours ago.” Anticipating his next order, she went back to look at the current sensor feed. “I have her on long range. She is traveling at warp eight on a heading of two-three-one mark five-two.”
Michael considered that for a moment. “Can you tell when she arrived in the system?”
Her fingers danced over the console. “According to the starbase’s arrival log she got here four days ago, sir. One day before us.”
He wasn’t sure why it bothered him so much that Amaya Donners had never tried to make contact during the time they had been both in the same place. Starfleet captains, he understood were busy people, knew it first hand of course, but it felt odd to him that she hadn’t even attempted to get in touch until the funeral, especially since they had only recently worked together on a particularly challenging mission which had not ended in a way either of them had hoped for.
“Is there anything else you would like me to check for you, sir?”
Michael looked down and seeing Milestone glancing up at him and realizing that he had been in thoughts for a few seconds. He shook his head. “No, thank you, Ensign, that’ll be all.” He stepped away from operations but stopped again when he heard her speak again.
He turned to look at her.
She had left her chair. “I just wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss.”
He gave her a short nod to acknowledge the sentiment and then headed for the turbolift and back to his quarters.
Amaya had left him a message as it turned out but it was text only and didn’t elaborate any further on the few words she had said to him at the funeral, merely offering her condolences once more and apologizing for the missed opportunity.
A short while later DeMara Deen came to visit, correctly anticipating that he didn’t feel like being alone. They sat together and he talked to her about his father and the few happy memories he had of him, the majority of which had been while his mother had still been alive.
There was however one moment which stuck out to him, he told her. It was the day he had graduated from the Academy and he remembered vividly how proud his father had been of him. The cynical side of him had always attributed his father’s pride as a merely selfish indulgence on his father’s part. An indication that he was pleased