Captain’s log, Stardate 55692.1…
Messenger is now one day from completing our survey of the Paulson Nebula. Thankfully. While I am certainly pleased to have had the chance to put the science labs of our new ship to the test, I confess as I have before that I am more eager to exercise the engines in an extended high-warp flight. Commander McMurty, on loan to us from the shipyard—
“Bridge to Captain Murphy.”
“Computer, pause log entry,” said Dominic Murphy, before glancing toward his ready room door. “Go ahead.”
His first officer, Lt. Commander Jaarid, spoke again over the comm link. “Captain, long-range sensors have detected a massive surge in neutrino and chroniton emissions point five-seven lightyears from our present position.”
“Set course for those coordinates and engage at warp eight. I’ll join you in a moment. Murphy out.”
He set his computer to save what he’d recorded of his log entry and headed for the bridge, which he quickly crossed to join Jaarid at the science station.
“What have you got for me?” he asked Sharp Smile to-Catsland, the Sivaoan ensign operating the console.
She purred softly. “Captain, the phenomenon appeared quite suddenly on our scanners, and is growing at an impressive rate.”
“What else can you tell us about it, Ensign?” asked Jaarid.
Sharp Smile pointed at the monitor on the wall with one claw-tipped finger. “Indications are that it is a subspace tear, but at present I cannot tell you if the rupture is a natural occurrence or if it has been artificially generated.”
Murphy looked over his shoulder toward the helm. “Lt. Tucker, what’s our ETA to the coordinates?”
“We will arrive at the tear in approximately four hours, twenty-six minutes, sir,” replied Messenger’s pilot, Charlaine Tucker.
“Ensign Catsland, keep monitoring that tear and coordinate with Cmdr. Ja-Nareth. Sully,” the captain continued as he turned away from the science station and glanced toward the officer at Ops. “Contact Starbase Echo and advise them of our circumstances. I want to be able to call in the cavalry if necessary.”
“Aye, Captain,” replied the Roylan, whose full name was Sullek, his fingers already moving across his board.
Murphy and Jaarid moved toward the command chair together. “I gather you are pleased by this sudden disruption to our routine, Captain,” said the R’naari.
His captain feigned surprise. “Whatever makes you think I’m happy about it?”
“You immediately gave the order to set course for the anomaly rather than merely relaying the information to Starbase Echo, thereby perhaps enabling another starship to assume the task of studying it,” Jaarid replied.
“But why wait for another ship to come out,” began Murphy as he took his seat, “when we are so nearby?”
A snort sounded from the tactical console. “You’re not fooling us, Captain,” said Lt. Yvala Hollen. “We all know how tedious you found the assignment to survey the Paulson.”
The laugh he had been holding in escaped him, and Murphy cried, “Because it was pointless! I’m a scientist, and every scientist I know feels the exact same way—it’s a waste of time and energy to send a starship out here every year to conduct the exact same scans and end up with the exact same results. The density and composition of the Paulson hasn’t changed in decades, if not centuries. Scientists seek change. We need new and different and strange and challenging—mysteries that make us think and question what we know, that make us want to learn more.”
“Then what would you suggest, Captain?” asked Sharp Smile.
Murphy glanced at the felinoid. “Same thing I suggested when the assignment was handed down—pop some probes out along the perimeter and don’t bother with sending an entire starship again unless the probes register change or stop transmitting.”
He sighed. “You saw how well that worked.”
Chuckles sounded around the bridge. Murphy shook his head at their lack of support but he grinned while he did so, and turned to the panel on the right side of his seat to study the incoming data on the anomaly for himself—silently wishing all the while that the next four and a half hours would pass quickly.
“Approaching the coordinates of the anomaly, Captain.”
Murphy stood and stepped toward the flight well; his shift was over but he wasn’t about to go anywhere. “Slow to impulse and then bring us to a stop, Charlie, about two hundred seventy-five away from the rupture.”
“All-stop at two hundred seventy-five thousand kilometers, aye, sir.”
“Sully, get me a visual.”
“Coming right up,” replied Sully, and in seconds a swirling mass of flashing light, stellar dust, and gas dominated the viewscreen. It reminded Murphy, somewhat, of how the Bajoran wormhole appeared when it opened to admit or release a starship.
Except that particular spatial distortion was designed and controlled by a race of non-corporeal life forms—it was breathtaking and eye-catching to witness. The one before them looked almost angry, like an injury that was only going to get worse.
“Any indication as to whether this thing is organic or fabricated?”
Lt. Commander Tyrone Ja-Nareth, Messenger’s senior science officer, had joined his fellow scientist at the port-side console. “So far it looks to be naturally occurring, sir. And huge! Sensors are showing it to be roughly three thousand kilometers wide and growing—it’s almost tripled in size from when we first detected it.”
Murphy turned his head in surprise. “That’s nearly the diameter of Luna.”
The Efrosian grinned back at him. “Still bored?”
Messenger’s captain laughed. “Hell no—this is exciting! These kinds of things are exactly why I became a scientist.”
Tucker swiveled around at the helm. “I thought you were a biochemist, Captain?”
He nodded. “I am, primarily, but it’s the mystery that I love; the journey of discovery. This thing just popped up on our sensors out of the blue, it’s growing at an extraordinary rate, and we have no idea how or why it’s here. We don’t know what caused it, if it will halt in its growth or keep growing until it becomes a danger to the surrounding systems—there’s so much we don’t know, and at the same time, so much we can learn.”
Murphy stepped down into the flight well to stand beside her. “That thing out there, Lieutenant, is what Starfleet is all about: getting to know the unknown.”
An alarm sounded behind him; he turned toward Sully as the Roylan reported, “Captain, the gravimetric shear around the rift is increasing rapidly.”
“Are we in trouble?” Murphy countered.
Sully tapped his controls. “At present, no. But I think we’re going to start to feel it soon.”
Even as he spoke, the Steamrunner-class starship began to noticeably vibrate. Murphy turned to the engineering station on the starboard side of the bridge. “Adjust inertial dampeners to compensate,” he called out to the ensign manning the console.
She acknowledged the order softly, after which Murphy noticed the shaking ebbed. He moved out of the flight well and over to the science station. “Status of the rift?”
Ensign Catsland purred. “Diameter of the rift has increased to three thousand, six hundred ninety kilometers.”
Ja-Nareth added, “We’re getting an inestimable amount of data, Captain. Sensors are picking up traces of ionized gases, titanium dioxide, silica, lime, and an insane amount of quantum fluctuations.”
“Sully, launch a multispatial probe at the tear,” Murphy told his Ops officer. “I want a closer look.”
Moments later, the viewscreen showed the probe moving toward the gaping maw in front of the ship. It continued on across the event horizon of the anomaly until it could no longer be seen.
“Telemetry coming in, Dom,” said Ja-Nareth. “Lot of the same stuff as ship’s sensors, as well as…”
“As well as what?” Murphy asked.
The Efrosian looked up at him. “There’s an object inside the tear—and it’s coming right at us.”
Murphy glanced at the viewscreen. “What kind of object—is it a ship? An asteroid?”
“Way too big to be an asteroid, sir,” called out Hollen from Tactical. “According to these readings, whatever’s in there is registering at three thousand four hundred seventy-four point five-seven-four kilometers in diameter.”
The captain’s eyes met those of his science officer. “Is it as strange to you as it is to me that just a few minutes ago you said the tear was near the size of Earth’s moon, and now sensors are showing an object that is the size of the moon coming through that rift?” Ja-Nareth queried.
“I’ve definitely got a case of the heebie-jeebies going on, Ty,” replied Murphy as he moved back toward the command seat and dropped into it. “Tucker, back us off another hundred. I want a buffer zone for when that thing emerges.”
“Aye, Captain,” the pilot acknowledged.
“Mr. Sullek,” piped up Jaarid from his console behind the captain. “What is the estimated time of arrival of the object?”
“We’ve got minutes, Commander,” Sully reported.
Murphy’s attention was drawn once more toward the science station when a string of words in Old Tongue, what her people called their ancient language, erupted from Sharp Smile. “What is it?”
“Captain!” the ensign said excitedly. “The probe is picking up a structure on the surface of the object!”
“A structure? Like a building?”
Messenger began to shake again, this time more than a tremor. Murphy turned his attention to the viewscreen at the same moment that the mysterious object became visible in the center of the rift. The further it came out, the more he began to get a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. “S’Lene, are you still adjusting inertial dampeners?”
“I’ve been compensating with each shift in the gravitational forces, Captain, but they’re reaching maximum output,” replied the engineer.
“Captain, that thing is definitely no asteroid,” said Ja-Nareth. “In fact, the moon analogy is eminently more fitting the more data I see. Composition and mass of the object even matches Luna!”
“It certainly looks like the moon,” muttered Tucker.
She was right, Murphy thought, as he studied the image on the screen. The craters and peaks, areas of light and dark, were all eerily familiar.
“Where’s our probe?” he asked.
“Still inside the tear, Captain,” Ja-Nareth reported. “Telemetry now shows the rift is beginning to close on the other end. I suspect that once the moon is fully emerged, the whole thing will eventually collapse.”
“Call the probe back, I don’t want to lose it,” Murphy ordered. “Tucker, keep an eye on the object’s trajectory, ‘cause something tells me it isn’t going to stop once it gets here. And Sully, what about that structure Catsland was talking about?”
The diminutive alien’s fingers swiftly worked his console. “Captain, there is definitely a structure—more of a complex, according to these readings—located in a crater near the northern axial pole of the object.”
There was a pause, and then, “Yes, Captain! Sensors are showing a total of two hundred eighty-six Human lifesigns, and one unknown alien life form.”
Sully’s report was tinged with shock and wonder. Murphy stood again and turned to him. “You’re certain of that, Lieutenant?” he asked.
The Roylan nodded, his eyestalks twitching excitedly. “I ran the scan twice, Captain—there are Humans on that moon.”
“We’ll have the probe back in just a few more minutes, Captain,” reported Ja-Nareth.
“Program the probe to remain on our side of the rift and continue running scans; we can come back for it or get another ship to pick it up,” said Murphy. “I want to follow this moon and find out who those people are.”
“Not to mention how their moon came to be here,” observed Jaarid. “Clearly this phenomenon was some kind of dimensional rift between our universe and another.”
“Clearly, Commander,” replied Murphy in a droll tone. “Charlie, move the Mess into position over that complex. Sully, bring it up onscreen.”
The image changed to show him a sprawling, semi-circular complex with numerous tubular arms branching off from the main structures—there was no part of it that was not connected to another. It appeared to be constructed of a mixture of indigenous stone and steel and had been painted to blend in with the surrounding gray lunar dust. Well, all except for the great big red plus-signs on top of what looked to be some kind of launch pads.
“Lt. Sullek, scan for communications signals—use carrier waves we wouldn’t normally monitor as well as the usual channels,” Murphy said then. “I want to be able to talk to whoever’s down there.”
“Aye, Captain. Scanning for comms signals.”
Only a minute or two passed before Sully announced he had located what appeared to be a radio tower emitting a low-frequency radio wave he believed was the proper bandwidth. Murphy clapped his hands together. “All right, then. Open a channel.”
“Channel open, sir.”
“Attention lunar facility. This is Captain Dominic Murphy of the Federation Starship Messenger. We would be most pleased to speak with you.”
He waited, taking two tense breaths before Sully said, “Captain, we’re receiving a transmission from the base—audio and visual.”
Murphy stepped closer to the flight well and set a hand on the safety rail. “Fantastic, Sully. Onscreen.”
The forward screen flicked from an aerial view of the facility to focus on an interior room in a state of disarray (their ride through the spatial tear had obviously not been a smooth one), with eight desk units and at least a dozen people; they all wore mixed expressions, each appearing both excited and completely stunned. The group wore cream-colored uniforms with long sleeves, the left sleeves in various colors possibly denoting the individual’s area of discipline in a similar system to Starfleet’s own color-coding. Of the six females visible, four wore skirts that came to mid-thigh. Three of the individuals—a dark brown-haired man, a black-haired man, and a blonde woman—wore jackets with a number of patches on the breast and sleeves.
The brown-haired man stepped toward the center of the room. “I’m Commander John Koenig of Moonbase Alpha,” he said. “We are more than pleased to return your greeting.”
Murphy smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Commander. Would you mind terribly telling me a little about your base?”
“I’d be happy to, but first I must ask you—are you from Earth? You’re Human?” Koenig queried.
“I’m only half Human, actually,” Murphy replied, “though I was raised on Earth.”
Koenig glanced toward the black-haired man, who stood behind a desk on his left side. “I…I almost can’t believe it. It’s been so long since we’ve met anyone who was Human,” he said when his attention returned to the screen.
“Your moon, Commander—it was in orbit of the Earth?” asked Murphy.
Koenig nodded. “It was, Captain, until an accident at our nuclear storage facility threw us out of Earth’s orbit. That was two thousand, five hundred fifty-four days ago.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Murphy noted Ja-Nareth stepping closer. “Commander, may I ask what year it was when you left your Earth?” the science officer asked.
“It was 1999—September the 13th. I’ll never forget that date,” Koenig replied. “But what do you mean by ‘your Earth’?”
Murphy spared a glance at Jaarid, who’d come down to stand on his right; his first officer merely raised an eyebrow. Earth had been nowhere near so advanced as to have a base of any kind on the moon back then. To Koenig, the captain said, “Commander Koenig, I don’t know how to say this except to say it, but… The fact of the matter is that you and your people are from an alternate reality. Here in this one, the moon is still very much in orbit of Earth.”
“The space warp, Commander,” said an auburn-haired woman on Koenig’s right. “Did I not tell you this one was different than the last one we encountered? It’s not only transported us across a vast difference, but across realms!”
“So it would seem, Maya,” Koenig said with a nod.
“John,” spoke up the blonde female wearing a jacket. “What are we going to tell everyone?”
Koenig turned to her. “What can we tell them, except the truth?”
“No kidding,” broke in a blond male as he stepped up next to the woman called Maya. “But a whole different universe, Commander? How is that even possible?”
“The how I’m afraid I can’t tell you,” said Ja-Nareth, “though I’ll certainly try to figure it out. What I can tell you that there is no doubt of the fact that it’s what has happened to you. Other starship crews have been involved in events relating to parallel universes, alternate realities—whatever you want to call them. Each time scanners have recorded something called a quantum signature variance.”
“I think I know what you mean,” said Maya. “Each parallel universe has its own unique quantum signature—and ours differs from yours. The possibility of a multiverse was something my father once studied. But how can you know that?”
“Telemetry from our probe that was sent into the rift and our own ship’s sensors have recorded fluctuations in the quantum field, from inside the rift as well as emanating from the moon,” Ja-Nareth replied.
“Astrometrics to Bridge.”
Murphy stifled a snort—he’d been wondering when he would be hearing from Lt. Hansen. “Go ahead, Lieutenant,” he said.
“I have been monitoring the rift from here, as well as calculating the trajectory of the lunar object,” said Hansen. “It is imperative that I speak with you and Commanders Jaarid and Ja-Nareth at once.”
The captain fought not to show his surprise. On his own recommendation, Annika Hansen had developed a routine of avoidance when it came to Ja-Nareth. He disapproved of Hansen’s addition to the crew due to her having once been a Borg drone; though Ja-Nareth knew she was not directly responsible for the loss of his father, whom he believed had been assimilated by the Borg, it was difficult for the Efrosian to be around her. So she gave him all the space she could and only spoke to her department supervisor when absolutely necessary.
“Captain,” said Koenig on the screen. “Please, if it has anything to do with us, I would like to know what’s going on.”
“I don’t doubt that it does, Commander,” acknowledged Murphy. “Give me some time to hear my officer’s report, and then I will transport to your base and bring you up to speed in about ten minutes. Is that acceptable?”
Koenig nodded. “We’ll start setting everything back to rights and await your next transmission, Captain Murphy.”
As soon as the viewscreen blinked back to the aerial view of the facility—Moonbase Alpha, Koenig had called it—Murphy turned to Jaarid and Ja-Nareth. “Lt. Hansen, we’re on our way.”
“Hollen, you have the bridge,” Murphy said as he passed the Trill on the way to the turbolift.
“Aye, Captain,” replied Hollen, immediately moving from behind the tactical console.
Murphy and the other two men rode the lift down to deck four and were walking through the door of the Astrometrics lab within three minutes of Hansen’s call. The lieutenant spared only a quick backward glance before her eyes focused once more on the enormous viewscreen on the far wall of the room.
“What have you got for us?” Murphy asked as he stepped up on her left.
“On the left is our current position and that of the alternate moon,” began the woman formerly known as Seven of Nine. “On the right is the nearest planetary system, Levzor. And this…”
She tapped a control on the console before her, and on the screen a line began to blink. “This is the flight path of the moon.”
Ja-Nareth’s eyes switched from the viewscreen, to the console, and then lifted to his captain. “They’re headed straight for a planet—well, not straight, but the moon’s flight path will take them into the orbital path of Levzor V.”
“Is the planet inhabited?” asked Jaarid.
Hansen nodded. “Sensors indicate that the planet is inhabited by a pre-industrial civilization of approximately three hundred fifteen million.”
“Shit,” Murphy muttered. “Means we can’t slow the moon down to orbit the planet—too great a chance of adversely affecting the environment, not to mention the psychology of the population to suddenly find a huge rock in the sky.”
“Not that particular planet, Captain,” said Hansen, who worked the console to enlarge the planetary system on the viewscreen. “But the Levzor system has five. If we can alter the trajectory of the moon, we may be able to settle it in orbit of one of the others. Levzor IV is Class-P—we need not concern ourselves with the effect settling a satellite into its orbit will have on the planet’s environment.”
“She’s right,” said Ja-Nareth; Murphy could tell it had taken a lot for him to admit that. Perhaps there’s hope they’ll get along yet, he thought, as the Efrosian continued with, “I’d say whatever effect the moon may have on the planet will be relatively minimal, and worth it despite the possible loss of indigenous flora and fauna. As I’m sure you know, Class-P worlds are eighty percent or more glacial with little vegetation or animal life—rarely do they have any form of humanoid life.”
“Andoria being one of the few exceptions,” Murphy said. “Okay, so we have a general plan of action—that’s something I can take to Koenig to hopefully distract him and his people from the fact that they’re on a collision course with a planet.”
“Messenger cannot complete the mission on her own,” Jaarid pointed out. “I do not believe the ship to be large enough to generate the force necessary to alter the moon’s trajectory.”
Murphy nodded. “Unfortunate but true. Lt. Hansen, did your calculations give you a time frame for the collision?”
Hansen checked her board. “From this moment, approximately eighty-one hours.”
A sigh of relief escaped the captain. “Thank God we’ve got a little time—that’s just under three and a half days—to figure out just how many ships it’s going to take to pull this off. Ja-Nareth, Hansen, get with McMurty and figure it out. Commander Jaarid, I want you to contact Admiral Savari’s office and apprise her of our situation, tell her we’re working out a plan. At minimum, we have to try and prevent the moon from colliding with Lezor V so we can save Koenig’s crew as well as the planet’s inhabitants. If we can’t get the moon into orbit of Levzor IV, we need an evac plan for the moonbase crew.”
Murphy drew a breath. “As for me, I’m going to the moon.”
John Koenig found that he could not in good conscience keep from his crew the fact that the space warp they’d been caught in had deposited them in some kind of parallel universe. Though naturally confused by this news, they were each of them comforted by the knowledge that they had already made contact with a ship full of fellow Humans.
Well, some of them were Human, he mused, as he made his way back to the command center. The ship’s captain had claimed to be only half Human, and he remembered another man he’d seen had gray skin and silver eyes. Not that any of that mattered—he didn’t care if most of Murphy’s crew were aliens, so long as they could help his people.
He stepped through the door into Alpha’s underground command center just as four columns of sparkling light coalesced into the bodies of two males and two females. One of the four was Murphy, one a brunette female with spots trailing down the sides of her face, one another man that looked Human, and a female with white hair, blue skin, and twitching antennae sticking out the back of her head. All four wore a uniform consisting of black boots, black pants, a black jacket with gray shoulders, and shirts of various colors; Murphy was in red, the blue-skinned woman in teal, and the other two in a mustard-toned yellow. The cuffs of their jackets had a matching color stripe, and each had some sort of badge on the left breast, with circular pins likely denoting rank on the right side of their shirt collars. The yellow-shirted two had a device at their hips that he suspected were weapons, but they had not drawn them.
Several of his people had drawn weapons, but they were quickly returned to their holsters as Koenig stepped further into the room and greeted the captain. “Captain Murphy, welcome to Moonbase Alpha.”
Murphy smiled and offered his hand. They shook as he replied, “Thank you, Commander. It’s…an impressive looking place.”
“We can safely boast of having the most advanced technology Earth had to offer—at least when we were still in orbit,” Koenig said. “We certainly don’t have space ships like yours or technology that transports us automatically from one place to another.”
“It took hundreds of years to achieve the level of advancement Earth has now,” Murphy replied. “You might be interested in hearing that while it may be 2006 for you, the year is 2378 for us.”
“Looks like it’s 2378 for us as well, now,” said Tony with a snort.
Koenig turned to him. “My second-in-command and chief of security, Anthony Verdeschi. This is Dr. Helena Russell, our senior medical officer; Alan Carter, Alpha’s chief Eagle pilot and head of Reconnaissance; and Maya, our top scientist.”
“Eagle pilot?” queried the sandy-haired man in yellow.
Alan grinned. “Eagles are our spacecraft,” he said. “We use them to survey alien planets, carry supplies, and defend the base.”
Murphy introduced his people then. The blue-skinned female, Dr. Calista Nir’ahn, was Messenger’s chief medical officer. Lt. Yvala Hollen, the spotted woman, was their chief of security, and the other man was another security officer, Ensign Zachary Hillstrand.
“If I may be so bold,” spoke up Dr. Nir’ahn, “our scans said all life here was Human but one—and you’re not Human, are you Maya?”
Maya smiled. “No, I am a Psychon, Doctor. What species are you, if I may ask?”
“My people are called Andorians,” Nir’ahn replied.
“And mine are called Trill,” piped up Hollen.
“Captain Murphy, you said earlier you were only half Human?” asked Helena.
He nodded. “My biological father is from a race called Klingons, but I took after my mother in nearly every respect,” he said. “Now, I know you all have a lot of questions—frankly so do we—but I’m afraid our mutual curiosity about each other will have to wait. We’ve a much more pressing matter to discuss.”
Koenig snapped his fingers. “Right—one of your people had something important to tell you, and you said it might have something to do with Alpha.”
Murphy nodded, then drew a breath. “Our sensors show that the moon is presently on a collision course with a populated planet,” he said slowly.
A sharp feeling of alarm flashed through Koenig; he felt Helena take his hand. A number of the others gasped in surprise.
“John, we have to do something,” said Tony.
“I know. We’re going to have to evacuate Alpha,” said Koenig. He looked at Murphy. “Can your ship support another two hundred eighty-seven people?”
“Commander, what about the people on the planet?” asked Maya.
Murphy held up his hand. “An evacuation may not be necessary,” he told them. “My people are already working on a solution to the crisis, and we may be able to alter the moon’s trajectory in order to avoid the planet.”
“John, we’ve done that before!” cried Alan. “Remember, we had to blow out one of the nuclear tanks to avoid that planet we called Tora.”
Koenig scoffed at the memories of that day, which included his own near death. “I could hardly forget.”
“Well, you won’t have to do anything that dangerous,” said Murphy. “We’ve got technology that should enable us to not only nudge the moon away from Levzor V, but also settle it into orbit around one of the other planets in the system.”
“Are you sure about that, Captain?” asked Maya.
“I’ll be honest—I can guarantee nothing yet,” Murphy replied. “But we do have the technology to do it, and I believe we have every chance of being successful. Given the size of Messenger, however, it’s likely we’re going to need more ships to pull it off.”
“Can more of your people get to us in time?” pressed Tony. “How long until we reach this planet?”
“Just under three and a half days.”
Helena’s hand squeezed his, but Koenig actually felt himself relax, if only marginally. “That gives us some time, at least. Tony, Alan, I want the two of you to set Operation Exodus into motion, just in case the plan to alter the moon’s course fails.”
“Exodus will save those of us on Alpha, but what about the people on the planet, John?”
Koenig sighed as he turned a sorrowful expression toward the woman he loved. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do for them.”
“Commander Koenig is right, I’m afraid,” agreed Murphy. “Even if the Federation’s Prime Directive could be waived and the pre-industrial status of the population ignored, three and a half days just isn’t enough time to evacuate over three hundred million people.”
“Quick question, before we get to work,” began Alan. “You mentioned the Federation before—what is it, exactly?”
Murphy glanced at his own people, then turned back with a grin. “The United Federation of Planets is an interstellar alliance consisting of over one hundred fifty member species and spanning roughly eight thousand light years. Starfleet, the service we’re from, is the main exploratory division. The two others are the Border Patrol, whose name is pretty self explanatory, and the Marine Corps, who tend to serve more of a ground forces role.”
“Although Starfleet Security is perfectly capable in that regard,” quipped Lt. Hollen with a smirk.
“Now I have a quick question,” said Dr. Nir’ahn. “Operation Exodus—that’s some kind of evacuation plan?”
Helena nodded. “One of our primary goals after accepting we couldn’t return to Earth has been to find a suitable Earth-like planet to settle on, because we know that Alpha cannot sustain us indefinitely. Unfortunately, as you can see we’ve not had much luck.”
“Well, your luck is about to change,” Murphy said with a smile. “Traveling through a quantum rift and ending up on a whole other dimensional plane may not be ideal circumstances for you, and our Earth may not be your Earth, but we will do everything we can to help you.”
Maya took a step closer. “Captain, may I return to your ship with you? I have experience in quantum physics—I may be able to help your scientists come up with a solution to our problem.”
Murphy nodded. “You’re more than welcome, and it’s only fair—since it’s your moon we’re talking about knocking around—that you have some say in the plan.”
“I’d like to visit your ship as well,” Koenig put in. “I think we should discuss what’s going to happen to my people whether this plan succeeds or fails.”
The starship captain inclined his head again. “Of course, Commander. I’ve some ideas what is likely to happen, and I’m sure some of my superiors may wish to speak with you on the matter.”
Koenig turned to Helena, gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “Work with Alan and Tony to get everyone ready. I don’t imagine we’ll be gone long.”
Helena smiled. “All right. Oh, John, it’s finally happening—this wild journey of ours is coming to an end.”
He allowed himself to smile with her. “Big changes ahead, Helena. For all of us.”
After a moment of holding her gaze, Koenig released her hand and moved to stand next to Maya with Murphy’s crew. The captain tapped the badge on his chest. “Murphy to Messenger: six to transport.”
A curtain of light began to surround the group. The last thing John Koenig saw of Alpha was a wave and a smile from Helena, and then suddenly he was standing on a circular platform in a room with muted lighting and gray walls. Across from the platform was a uniformed person standing behind a control console.
Maya, who had materialized in front of him, stumbled as she made to follow the blue-skinned doctor off the platform. The other woman caught her arm as he moved up on her other side to help steady the Psychon.
“Are you all right?” Koenig asked.
“Quite all right, I’m sure, Commander,” Maya replied. “I just felt a little dizzy.”
“Forgive me,” said Murphy, who now wore a chagrined expression. “I should have warned you that our transporter can affect you like this until you’re used to it.”
“We’ve had experience with similar technology, Captain,” Koenig told him.
Nir’ahn was rubbing Maya’s arm, and in her eyes was a look of assessment. “How about we go to Medbay and get you checked out?”
Maya waved off her concern. “Oh no, I’m sure it’s nothing. I’ll be fine.”
Koenig captured her gaze with his own and held it. “Let Dr. Nir’ahn have a look at you, Maya—for my sake, and Tony’s. You and I both know you’ve been experiencing episodes of dizziness and nausea for a few days now.”
She frowned. “I told Tony not to say anything.”
Nir’ahn smiled. “I’m sure your friend was just concerned for you. Come, just a quick scan and maybe a suppressant to counter the dizziness and nausea, so you can work without being distracted.”
“Very well, so long as we can be quick about it,” Maya agreed at last. Koenig felt relief wash through him; Maya had been insisting she was fine, but Tony had confessed he was on the verge of forcing her to go to Medical so Helena could conduct an examination, if he had to throw her over his shoulder to do it.
“Bridge to Murphy.”
Murphy gestured toward the door as he responded to the voice emanating from some hidden overhead speakers. “Murphy here, Commander. Go ahead.”
“Captain, Admiral Savari is requesting to speak with you at your earliest convenience.”
“I expected as much. Commander Koenig and I are on our way to the bridge now.”
“Acknowledged, Captain. Bridge out.”
Murphy turned to Maya and Nir’ahn. “Dr. Nir’ahn can show you to the lab where my people are working once she’s checked you out.”
“Of course, Captain,” replied Maya, who stood perfectly straight and seemingly unaffected now. “Thank you.”
The group came to an intersecting corridor where Dr. Nir’ahn walked with Maya off to the left. Murphy gestured to the right and Koenig gave a nod, following along behind the taller man as he led them to a door marked “Turbolift”. He wondered if the turbolifts were anything like the travel tubes on Alpha. Moments after stepping into it, the captain called out their destination, and he found out they were basically elevators, but which also moved sideways, as well as smoother and faster. The ride was, in truth, much like being in one of Alpha’s travel tube cars, except there were no seats. He found himself already quite impressed with this ship of Murphy’s, though he had seen little of it so far, and began to wonder if all starships were like it.
Although she would rather have kept her struggle with the dizziness and nausea to herself a while longer, Maya was secretly pleased to have a reason to speak with Messenger’s doctor alone. There was a rather delicate and very personal matter that had been plaguing her for some time, one which Dr. Russell was unfortunately ill-equipped to help her with.
Dr. Nir’ahn asked her questions about the Psychon race as they took two more turns before arriving at their destination. Maya answered her with enthusiasm, happy to be speaking of her people to someone who simply desired knowledge. Nir’ahn stated that although Medbay was the main treatment facility, the medical lab across the hall could be put into service as a secondary ward anytime the ship was engaged in combat.
A short person wearing the same teal-colored shirt as Nir’ahn stepped out of what looked to be an office. The creature had a large, bulbous head, exceptionally large ears, and appeared to be female.
“Quene, this is our new friend Maya, from the planet Psychon—and from a parallel universe. Maya, this is my senior medical technician, Quene. She’s from a planet called Ferenginar,” Nir’ahn introduced them.
Quene grinned. “I’ve been wondering if I’d get to meet any of the new arrivals—the rest are Human, right?”
Maya returned her smile. “Yes, that is true. But I don’t let it bother me, for I have made many friends among the Alphans.”
“Did you get the inventory finished?” Nir’ahn asked then.
The short officer nodded. “Yes, Doctor. Just finished and downloaded to your terminal. Is it cool if I cut out a little early for lunch, or do you need me?”
Nir’ahn shook her head. “No, you go on ahead. If I need anything, I can activate Dr. Lewis.”
“Thanks. Nice to meet you, Maya. See you around, maybe.”
Maya waved to the smaller woman as she left, then turned to Dr. Nir’ahn. The doctor walked over to an equipment cart and picked up an instrument. “Hop up on one of these biobeds, Maya.”
“Doctor, I really don’t think there’s any need for an examination,” the Psychon protested. “I feel fine now.”
“Humor me,” Nir’ahn said with a smile. “Besides, your commanding officer expects it and so does mine.”
Maya laughed. “Very well,” she replied, then climbed up on the bed and lay down. Behind her head she noticed a panel light up and begin to beep softly. Nir’ahn informed her that biobeds automatically monitored vital signs such as pulse, blood pressure, blood oxygen level, and respiration.
The instrument the Andorian had taken off the cart she now opened; standing by her head, she began to draw it along her body. Maya watched her face as Nir’ahn’s eyes studiously remained on the scanner, and she knew the moment the doctor had detected something particular.
“Maya, your cells… all the way down to the molecular level their structure is in a state of flux. Could be why you felt ill—I’ll run some tests…”
“It is a trait of my species, Doctor,” Maya interrupted. “Psychons possess the ability to—with sufficient training, that is—metamorphose into any living organism for an hour.”
Nir’ahn looked to her, her expression suddenly unreadable. “And your natural form?”
“Is what you see before you.” She sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. “What is it, Doctor?”
Nir’ahn sighed. “Please try not to take this personally, but if I were you, I would keep your ability to yourself for a while. At least until the people in this universe get to know you. The Federation was at war only three years ago with a shapeshifting species called Changelings, whose natural form was a gelatinous liquid. The war lasted for two years and we lost millions. It’s still a very sensitive subject.”
“I am terribly sorry for your ordeal, Doctor,” Maya said with sympathy. “My people were at war once, for a very long time, with a race called the Dorcons. They hunted us for our brain stems, because they believed they gave them immortality. As far as I know, I am the last of my kind.”
Nir’ahn touched a hand to her shoulder, then returned to her examination. Maya drew a breath, and forged ahead to try and get a certain curiosity satisfied.
“Dr. Nir’ahn, since I am already here, there is a matter that I should like to pick your brain about, if I may.”
“Your captain… He said he was only half Human,” Maya began slowly. “Are Humans able to procreate with all species they meet?”
Nir’ahn shook her head even as a white eyebrow rose; the scanner had just beeped, and Maya wondered what it meant.
“Humans are compatible with several species,” said Nir’ahn as she stepped away toward a free-standing console. “But not all—not by a long shot. Nor are those other species necessarily compatible with one another. Now, there are some who can cross-breed with medical assistance, be it a little or a lot; however, one has to accept that not all species can have children together.”
Maya felt the disappointment flood through her, though she tried not to feel it. After all, Dr. Nir’ahn had said that Humans were compatible with several species…
“I think I can guess why you want to know,” the doctor said as she began to work at the console. “There’s someone on the Alpha crew that you’re involved with, or you want to be—I suspect that Tony fellow, from the way you and Commander Koenig talked about him—and you’d like to know if you and he could have children together.”
Maya blushed as she hopped down from the biobed finally and stood—hopefully Dr. Nir’ahn didn’t notice she wavered with dizziness again. She cleared her throat. “Yes, I would like to know. Dr. Russell conducted a number of tests when Tony and I first got together, in the event we would find a planet to settle on and the couples among the crew could begin having children. The results were unfortunately inconclusive regarding whether or not it would happen for Tony and me, but when Captain Murphy said he was half-blood, I could not help but hope the doctors here might be able to do something for us.”
Dr. Nir’ahn looked up at her with a smile. “I don’t think that will be necessary. Come and take a look at this.”
Confused, Maya walked over to stand beside her. A screen on the console showed the results of her scan, which included the one thing she’d never even considered as a possible cause for her dizzy spells. A hand rose to cover her lips as tears filled her eyes.
“Seems to me you don’t need any help,” Nir’ahn said softly. “You and Tony are going to have yourselves a little one in about seven months, unless Psychons’ gestation is different than that of Humans.”
Maya shook her head, still in awe at the ultrasound recording showing a small shape nestled within what looked to be a bubble. “Psychon females carry the same as Humans,” she said absently as she studied the image. A flickering within the shape caught her eye then and she gasped. “Is that…is that the heartbeat?”
Nir’ahn smiled again. “It is indeed. According to the readings I took, the fetus is healthy and measures exactly as a fetus would at eight weeks’ gestation.”
“Tony and I have talked of children, as there are but three on Alpha,” Maya said. “The eldest was born to a woman who was already pregnant when the moon left Earth’s orbit; the other two, frankly, were accidents.”
“I suppose Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell instituted a policy of birth control?”
Unable to tear her eyes from the small screen, Maya nodded. “They did. Not because they didn’t wish for the crew’s happiness, of course, but because Alpha simply doesn’t have the capacity or facilities to sustain an expanding population. It’s why finding a suitable planet has been such a priority—not only is it necessary for the crew’s survival, but their mental well being.”
She felt a huge grin split her face as she at last lifted her head to look at the blue-skinned woman standing next to her. “I almost can’t believe it, though the proof is right here. The base’s supply of condoms ran out long before I arrived, so the medical team was forced by necessity to develop a chemical method of birth control for the men as well as the women. Tony took on the responsibility for us even though we weren’t sure I could get pregnant, and because we couldn’t be sure that the birth control the women were using would work for me even if I could. He elected to get the implant rather than have to take a pill every day because he often forgets such things.”
“Well, it’s obvious that not even the implant your medical staff developed is foolproof; either that or it just wore out,” Nir’ahn replied. “And I am glad to see you so happy about it—as well as my being able to relieve your concern as to whether or not it could happen.”
“And there’s nothing wrong with the baby? No complications caused by our blended DNA?”
Nir’ahn shook her head. “Not that I can tell at this stage. There are no indications of any congenital defects, though now you know you’re pregnant, you’ll want to get regular scans and blood work. And with all due respect to your Dr. Russell, it’s probably best you be tended by a physician who is trained in multi-species obstetrics, at least until she can learn about it herself.”
“Oh, I can hardly wait to tell Tony!” Maya exclaimed. “He’ll be so stunned. And excited, I am sure! I wish I could tell him now.”
“We could contact him—”
Maya shook her head again. “No. Thank you, but something this important, this personal, should be shared face to face. No, it’ll just have to wait a few hours, or however long it takes for your scientists and I to come up with a plan for diverting the moon. Tony and I have waited this long, he’ll just have to wait a little longer.”
Nir’ahn then stepped over to another cart and inserted a tubule into another instrument, which she then pressed to Maya’s neck; it emitted a soft hiss.
“This will take care of the nausea and also help with the dizziness. I recommend you eat several small meals a day rather than just the usual three, and keep a dry snack such as crackers or plain bread nearby at all times, as they aid in subduing nausea. Oh, and eliminate alcohol if you’re a drinker. For centuries it’s been believed a small amount is harmless, but there’s also never been a definitive determination as to how much is too much.”
Maya laughed. “I’ll not have to worry about that, as we haven’t any alcohol on Alpha—thought not for lack of trying on Tony’s part. He’s been attempting, without success, to brew a palatable beer for seven years!”
Nir’ahn laughed with her. “He sounds like an amusing fellow, your Tony.”
“Indeed. Tony Verdeschi is perhaps the most charming man I have had the privilege to know.”
After shutting down the console, Nir’ahn surprised Maya by calling out, “Computer, activate Dr. Lewis.”
“Activate?” was all the Psychon got out before a half-bald man who looked Human, wearing the same style uniform as the rest of the Starfleet crew, suddenly appeared before them. He turned toward the two women and offered a smile.
“Hello, Dr. Nir’ahn—and hello to you as well, madam. How may I be of service today?”
“I need you to keep an eye on Medbay, at least until Quene comes back,” Nir’ahn replied. “And access the ship’s database to update yourself on our current mission. If things don’t go as planned, you may be needed.”
The man—Dr. Lewis, she had called him—inclined his head. “I will, Doctor.”
“Thanks, Mark. If you stay online, we can talk later about what’s going on. I need to get Maya to Astrometrics before our COs begin to wonder where she is.” Nir’ahn gestured toward the door and Maya moved toward it ahead of her.
Out in the corridor, she turned to the Andorian and asked, “Did you just leave your medical center in the care of a hologram?”
Nir’ahn nodded. “Indeed I did. Dr. Lewis is more than capable—in fact, it’s what he was designed for. One of Starfleet’s top holo-programmers created a hologram specifically to be utilized as a medical officer in case of emergency or other disaster, with access to the experience and techniques of more than a hundred different medical professionals. Unfortunately, the Mark I EMH, or Emergency Medical Hologram, wasn’t well received by starship crews because he lacked bedside manner and social coping skills. The program has been revised and updated a number of times since the original was decommissioned; I believe they’re on the Mark IV now.”
“If that particular program was decommissioned, why do you still have it?”
“Oh, that’s because Messenger’s first CMO decided to combat the program’s deficiencies rather than just replace it,” Nir’ahn replied. “She came up with the idea to adjust the program’s personality subroutines so it could learn how to be less brusque and abrupt, and she also gave him a name: Mark Lewis. His first name is taken from the program name, his surname from the man who designed him and whose image he bears, Dr. Lewis Zimmerman. When we moved from an Intrepid-class starship to this one, which is a Steamrunner-class, we were thankfully able to bring him with us. I’ve worked with that hologram long enough to value his skills and see him as a person, not just a program.”
“That really is fascinating, Doctor. I am sure Dr. Russell would love the chance to meet with him—and speak at length with you, of course.”
“And I will certainly be happy to speak with her. I’m quite sure that there will be many questions to ask on both sides for quite some time.”
“Of that I have no doubt either,” said Maya with a smile.
A hand went unconsciously to her belly and her smile grew as the two of them arrived at a door marked Astrometrics and Astrophysics. A baby—Tony’s baby. Oh, how she could not wait to tell him!
Murphy, Koenig, and the others stepped inside the lift; Murphy ordered it to the bridge.
“What do you think your superiors will have to say?” Koenig asked.
The other man drew a breath. “I honestly don’t know,” he replied. “This situation is so unusual. There’s no telling what orders the brass will hand down.”
When they arrived on the bridge, the captain exited first and stepped aside, allowing Koenig a moment to get a good look around. The Alpha commander expressed his appreciation for the simplicity of the layout of their command center, and asked what each of the stations were dedicated to. Murphy was happy to answer, and noted that Koenig seemed fascinated both to learn about the ship as well as the people who crewed her—especially the non-humans. In fact, he seemed a bit awe-struck as he said, mostly to himself, “Only thing missing is a white rabbit.”
Murphy leaned over. “Welcome to Wonderland, Alice.”
Koenig laughed lightly as Sully announced, “Captain, I have Admiral Savari waiting.”
“Right—better not keep her waiting any longer. Transfer the signal to the briefing room, Sully. We’ll talk to her in there,” Murphy said. “Commander Koenig, if you’ll join me?”
Koenig nodded. “Of course, Captain.”
The two walked across the back of the bridge and into the conference room. Murphy keyed on the monitor on the wall, revealing the black-eyed visage of Admiral Aderyn Savari.
“Captain Murphy,” she greeted him; it appeared she was still in her office at Starbase Echo. “Your discovery has caused quite the debate.”
“A debate? Over what, exactly?” he replied, with a glance toward Koenig.
“Someone, I’ll not say who, suggested applying the Prime Directive to the situation,” Savari said. “It is his belief that we should not interfere.”
Murphy snorted derisively as he raised his hands to his hips. “Not interfere? Tell me you’re joking, Admiral. There are more than a quarter billion lives at stake! The moon that Commander Koenig and his people are on is not native to this universe—our sensors have proven that—so how can anyone be advocating non-interference?”
“Forgive my interruption, but can you explain your Prime Directive to me?” Koenig asked.
Savari glanced toward him. “Commander Koenig, is it?”
He nodded. “Commander John Koenig, of Moonbase Alpha.”
“Commander, the Prime Directive is what we call General Order One of the Federation Charter,” Savari began. “It states that no starship crew shall interfere in the natural development of a planet’s indigenous species. Though little else is known about them, we do know that the population of Levzor 5 is a pre-industrial civilization. It means we cannot do anything that may alter the evolution of their society—we cannot even make contact with those people because they’re nowhere near becoming a space-faring species.”
“You mean that your Prime Directive won’t even let you save over three hundred million lives? That makes no sense!” Koenig cried.
“Koenig’s right, Admiral,” Murphy said. “If the moon were from our own universe, I could see the logic in not interfering, though I certainly wouldn’t agree with it. However, this moon is not from our universe. Though Messenger’s instruments have shown the phenomenon that brought them here may well have been a natural occurrence, that’s no reason to judge—”
“Captain Murphy,” Savari said, holding up her hand to stop him. “I said it was suggested we apply the Prime Directive, not that the Federation Council agreed. I daresay they wouldn’t even agree if the moon were an object from our own universe—even the Council is not so heartless as to dismiss over three hundred million lives so casually.”
Murphy glanced at Koenig again with a relieved sigh. He dropped his arms as he said, “So we can go ahead with our plan, once we have one finalized?”
Savari nodded. “Affirmative, Captain. Do whatever you can to save the people of Levzor 5, as well as settling that moon into orbit around another planet, as your first officer reported you were going to attempt to do. Better to put it at rest somewhere rather than leave it to continue hurtling through space, where it could become a navigational hazard or worse.”
“What about my people, Admiral?” Koenig asked then. “Does your Prime Directive apply to us as well? I mean, will you be able to offer us assistance once the moon is settled into its orbit?”
Savari folded her hands on her desk. “I’ll be honest, your group was also mentioned in the discussion. The question was posed as to whether or not General Order One applied to you, seeing as your Earth’s history vastly differs from our own. However, the argument in favor of assistance hinged on the fact that not only are you Humans from Earth, but that you’ve already achieved some level of space travel, even if it doesn’t match ours. You’ve certainly come quite a distance, even if it wasn’t under your own power.”
“That we have. It will be nice to bring that to an end,” Koenig told her.
Murphy turned to him. “Do you think your people will want to stay on the moon or go to Earth? Even if it isn’t the same Earth, it’s still home. Or you could choose to settle on another planet entirely—there are literally hundreds of them to choose from.”
The moonbase commander laughed. “That’s good to know,” he said, then drew a breath. “I cannot speak for everyone, but for me… Just the thought of simply abandoning Alpha seems wrong—it feels wrong. Always has, though I knew we’d have to do it eventually. That base and our moon have been my home for almost seven years. I’ve nearly died defending her, and my people.”
Koenig shifted his gaze from Murphy to Savari on the wall screen, and back again. “I’ll go to Earth someday, of that I have no doubt. I might even visit a few of those hundreds of worlds. But for now, I’m going to stay in the one place I know I belong.”
“I believe it’s best there’s a presence maintained on Alpha,” said Savari, drawing the attention of the two men. “Think about it, gentlemen: It’s a functioning facility in a region of space that is largely unclaimed and/or unprotected, and Captain—you and I both know there are far too many factions out there that would take advantage of that base.”
Murphy scoffed. “No kidding. It’s definitely too close to the Orions and the Naussicaans for my taste—either one of them would be more than happy to use a facility like Alpha to operate their illegal business from. Not to mention the Klingons and the Romulans are right around the corner.”
“Indeed, Captain Murphy. Commander Koenig, as you said you’ve been living on your moon for the last seven years, I imagine that your supplies must be getting low,” Savari went on. “I’m sure the Messenger crew will be only too happy to provide you with anything you need, and if they don’t have it, you can coordinate with Starbase Echo to get more brought to you.”
Koenig inclined his head. “Thank you for that, Admiral. Our medical supplies are definitely strained, as well as replenishable foodstuffs.”
“We’ve got you, Koenig,” said Murphy. “And like she said, what we don’t have, one of the others is sure to.”
“Captain, I want regular updates on your situation,” Savari said then. “Contact Starbase Echo if you think you’ll need more ships.”
Murphy snorted. “Admiral, surely you know there’s no way the Mess can do this on her own—of course we’re going to need help!”
“Then you’d best hope your crew can devise a plan of action quickly so that help gets to you in time. Savari out.”
The wall screen blinked, replacing Savari’s image with that of the UFP symbol. Koenig turned to him. “Can we contact my people? They could compile a list of the things we need most.”
The captain nodded. “Of course,” he said. “Murphy to Sully.”
“Sully here, Captain.”
“I need a channel to Moonbase Alpha. Route it in here.”
“I’ll have it for you in a jiffy, Dom.”
Again, it was but moments before a face appeared on the wall screen; this time it was Alpha’s Dr. Russell.
“John! How’s it going over there?”
“Well, I think. Captain Murphy’s superiors have authorized their plan of altering the moon’s trajectory and settling us in orbit of another planet,” Koenig told her. “They’ve also approved our receiving some medical and food supplies, so work with the others to put together a list of everything we’re out of.”
“If there’s anything you need that Messenger does not have or can’t manufacture, we’ll get it for you from another ship,” added Murphy. “Maybe even our nearest starbase, if needed.”
Dr. Russell smiled. “That’s a relief—there’s so much we’re out of in the way of medicines. What about the plan to alter the moon’s trajectory?”
“My officers and Maya should be working on that right now,” Murphy replied. “I’ve every reason to believe they’ll come up with something soon. Thankfully we still have a little more than three days to figure it out, though the sooner the better, or none of the help we’re likely to need will reach us in time.”
“How’s it going with Operation Exodus?” Koenig asked then.
“Smoothly,” said Russell with a snort. “We’ve done this so many times over the last seven years, it’s almost routine. In fact, I think some of the equipment is still packed from the last time we thought we’d be abandoning Alpha.”
Koenig drew a breath. “Speaking of that, I want to talk to everyone soon about what’s going to happen next. And I want to do it in person instead of over the comm, so let everyone know there will be a meeting in Eagle Bay 1 in an hour or so.”
On the screen, Murphy watched Dr. Russell nod. “I’ll pass the word, John.”
“Thanks, Helena. I’m sure Maya and I will be along soon enough. I’ll let you know when we’ll be returning, and that’ll be the signal to get everyone together.”
“I look forward to your return,” Russell mused.
Koenig smiled. “I’ll see you soon, Helena.”
“See you soon, John. Alpha out.”
When the screen once more showed the UFP symbol, Murphy reached over to the keypad and thumbed it off. He looked to Koenig then, and the suspicion that had played in the back of his mind since his visit to the base propelled him to ask, “It may be none of my business, Commander, but are you and Dr. Russell an item?”
Koenig looked to him with a smile. “If you mean are we a couple, the answer is yes. I’m afraid the lady is spoken for.”
Murphy laughed. “Oh, no worries that I’m interested—she’s a lovely woman, but my own heart lies elsewhere. I just wondered based on the level of familiarity I’d noticed. And with such a small group of people as you’ve got, being stuck in such close quarters as you’ve been for the past seven years, it was inevitable you’d start pairing off.”
“Very true,” Koenig agreed. “Though there are more men than women, and some prefer their own gender, so not everyone is in a relationship. I think a few of my people have just been holding onto a hope we’d meet a welcoming, compatible species, maybe even some more Humans, to give them more of a choice.”
“Well, there’s tons of variety in our universe, Commander. Some of your people might even find a mate from a whole other species—many are compatible with Humans,” Murphy said.
He moved over toward the replicator. “Care for a drink?”
Koenig frowned, but nodded his assent. “Coffee—two creams, one sugar.”
Murphy addressed the unit and ordered two coffees, though his own was without cream and had four sugars. He carried the steaming mugs that appeared a moment later to the table and handed the commander his before he took his usual seat at the head.
“Make yourself comfortable, Commander,” he said, before taking a sip from his mug.
“Make yourself comfortable, Commander,” he said, before taking a sip from his mug.
Koenig glanced between the coffee on the table and the replicator before he lowered himself into the chair before him. “That is a fascinating piece of technology.”
Murphy waited for him to take a sip of coffee before he replied. “Replicators are one of our better inventions,” he said. “There are large tanks below decks containing organic and non-organic matter. Those are used to create both the food we eat and drink as well as the plates and utensils we use, and when finished we recycle any uneaten food and the dishes—though I do have a ceramic mug that used to belong to my great-grandfather, made from good old, home-grown Irish clay. It’s in my office.”
Koenig had taken another drink of the coffee before he asked, “I’m going to assume, for now, that our efforts to save the planet and the moon will be successful. What can you tell me about what will happen to my people afterward?”
“The Federation will offer you as little or as much assistance as you desire,” Murphy replied. “We can help you acclimate to this new universe by sharing our technology, possibly even replacing what you have in the way of computers and equipment, or… we can leave you the hell alone. If you and your people decide you want us to walk away and leave you to your own devices once we get the moon settled into orbit, we can do that too.”
Koenig contemplated his words as he drank more coffee. “The one thing that I think will ultimately decide whether we leave Alpha or stay is the fact that my people long for a planet, a home to call their own. It’s been very hard on everyone, especially those wanting to start families, to not be able to walk outside the facility and into a fresh, open-air environment.”
“We could help you with that as well.”
“Terraform the moon.”
Both of Koenig’s eyebrows rose toward his hairline. “You mean transform it so it’s more Earth-like?”
Murphy nodded. “It will take anywhere from fifteen to thirty years to convert the entire surface, depending on which method and technology is used, but it can be done.”
Alpha’s commander sighed. “I don’t know if my people will want to wait that long.”
“They won’t have to,” Murphy said. “I’ve seen where your base is situated; choosing to build it in the middle of the Plato crater was a sound idea to begin with, but it also gives us something of an advantage. I think it may be possible to surround the crater with either a forcefield or a pressure dome, which would allow us to terraform the surface area within at an accelerated rate.”
Something that he could only describe as hope sparked in Koenig’s eyes. “Do you really think that’s possible? How long would such a process take?”
Murphy inclined his head again. “I do think it’s possible, but as for how long it’ll take I can’t say right now. A team of scientists would have to conduct some tests, run simulations, that sort of thing.”
Koenig shook his head, though he smiled. “If it takes less time than the rest of the moon, I think that would make everyone very happy. Our crater has roughly the square mileage of Rhode Island, and there are less than three hundred of us. We’ve got plenty of room to expand while the rest of the moon undergoes its transformation.”
Murphy chuckled. “Well, if you choose to accept the help that will no doubt be offered to you, there won’t be less than three hundred of you for very long. I’d say at least two science ships will be assigned for several months, if not a year, to act in a supporting role to get the terraforming projects underway.”
“Is Messenger a science ship?” Koenig asked.
“We are, though this class of vessel was originally designated as a carrier escort.” He finished off his coffee, burning his throat a little, then stood. “Let’s go check on the progress of our Squints.”
Koenig’s eyebrows rose. “’Squints’?”
Murphy laughed again. “A nickname my old captain used to call his science officers, of which I was one, once upon a time. I started using it to keep his memory alive.”
“So he no longer lives?”
“No. He and far too many others were lost during a recent war that ended not quite three years ago,” the captain replied.
“I’m sorry to hear that. He must have been a good friend to you, as well as a good commander, for you to speak of him so fondly.”
“He was,” Murphy replied, then drew a breath. “Let’s go—the smart people are waiting.”
They entered the Astrometrics lab on deck four and stopped short. Before them, around the main control console, stood Maya, three of his officers, a cadet, and a Border Patrol engineer…and they were arguing, the raised voices echoing loudly in the cavernous room. Maya and Hansen faced Ja-Nareth with Sharp Smile between them—their hands clasped firmly on her arms to keep her from attacking, as her claws were out and her teeth bared. Cadet Sulu and Keel McMurty, the yardmaster having joined them to monitor Messenger’s power systems for the duration of the nebula survey, were trying—and failing miserably—to settle the combatants.
Murphy clapped his hands to get their attention. “Kids, please, go ahead and keep fighting, because God knows I hate peace.”
He could feel Koenig’s eyes on him even as the six froze and looked their way. “Ensign Catsland, take a walk.”
Sharp Smile growled. “But Captain, he—”
“Take a walk, Ensign. That’s an order,” Murphy pressed firmly. “We’ll talk about this later.”
Another growl sounded before she nodded her assent, then shook herself free of the other ladies’ grasp. Sharp Smile looked to Ja-Nareth and fired off a litany of words in what the captain assumed was her native tongue, which he knew was not in the universal translator’s database. Clearly, so did Sharp Smile. Upon finishing her rant, she spun on the pads of her unshod feet and stormed off toward the door that led to the lounge, her nails clicking loudly on the floor.
When she had gone, Murphy approached the remaining group; Koenig followed. “Commander McMurty, you are the senior officer present. Would you mind telling me what is going on here?”
McMurty cleared his throat. “Sir, we figured out how ta pull the moon out o’ Levzor 5’s orbital path as well as settin’ her in orbit o’ Levzor 4, and were attemptin’ ta work out how ta make it so the Alphans experience day as well as night.”
“Looked to me like you were screaming at each other and that Ensign Catsland was about to commit murder,” Murphy countered. “Somebody want to tell me why?”
Hansen drew a breath as she turned to face him. “Captain, Cadet Sulu and I believe we have ascertained how to complete our mission. Lt. Commander Ja-Nareth does not agree with us.”
“Because it won’t work!” snapped Ja-Nareth. “I’m telling you that the moon will need to be sync-locked to maintain a stable orbit!”
“I believe you are incorrect, Mr. Ja-Nareth,” Hansen retorted. “You have seen the calculations done by Cadet Sulu and myself, calculations which have been viewed by both Commander McMurty and Maya. The only voice of dissent is your own.”
Murphy, who had crossed his arms, held one hand out to halt further argument. “Hold on, first things first: Can we successfully alter the moon’s trajectory to keep it from flying into Levzor 5’s orbital path in three days, yes or no?”
“Yes, Captain,” McMurty replied. “We determined, based on mass versus gravitational pull combined with force, that the first phase of the operation will require five or six starships ta create a low-level warp field around the moon. This will reduce its gravitational constant and—temporarily, at least—make it lighter and easier to manipulate.”
“With the ships stationed equidistant from each other,” spoke up Sulu softly, “dragging the moon out of the planet’s orbital path will be relatively simple. It’ll just take time—the estimate is three hours to get it to minimum safe distance, so it would be best if we initiate Phase One before reaching the Levzor system.”
“The transition won’t be a smooth one,” added Maya. “Alpha will experience a great deal of shaking, possibly resulting in further damage.”
Koenig drew a breath. “Damage we can deal with when all is said and done,” he said. “I have been assured that the Federation will offer us as little or as much aid as we want to accept.”
“What about settling the moon into orbit around Levzor 4?” Murphy asked.
Hansen glanced sideways at Ja-Nareth, then turned her attention back to him. “The ships will tow the moon into Levzor 4’s gravity well, keeping to a distance from the planet equal to that of the moon’s orbit of Earth. We will then pull it along in an elliptical trajectory whilst generating the proper tangential velocity necessary to maintain orbit.”
“To do that, we’ll need to increase the moon’s overall mass, won’t we?”
Maya nodded. “That is correct, Captain Murphy. Once we achieve orbit of the fourth planet, the moon will be returned to its natural mass by gradually reducing the warp field created to move it to zero.”
Ja-Nareth snorted and shook his head. “I’m telling you, we need to generate synchronous rotation with Levzor 4, or we’ll never be able to keep the moon in a stable orbit!” He now turned to face Murphy. “Captain, trust me when I tell you this is the only way. If the moon were already a natural satellite of the planet, that would be one thing. But we’re talking about introducing a foreign object into the planet’s gravity well.”
The scientist in him wanted to study the data for himself. Murphy knew he would eventually, but knowing time was of the essence, it was vital to settle the argument between those he had assigned the task.
As he drew a breath to speak, Murphy was pre-empted by the sound of Jaarid’s voice over the intercom. “Bridge to Captain Murphy.”
“Murphy here, go ahead Commander.”
“Sir, a Klingon D-12 Bird-of-Prey has just de-cloaked off our starboard bow. Their commander is requesting to speak with you.”
Murphy frowned. “The commander asked for me specifically?”
“That is correct, sir.”
Here was an unexpected development, he mused as he moved toward one of the workstations on the starboard wall. And an unwelcome one—he could think of only one Klingon starship commander that might ask to speak with him by name. “Route the channel to station five in Astrometrics; I’ll take it down here.”
“Acknowledged. Bridge out.”
Keying the console to accept the comm link, Murphy blinked in surprise to see not H’Gaar on the screen, but Manel…his sister.
“Manel. What are you doing here?” he demanded.
“Have you no manners, brother? Can you not greet your sister properly?” she countered.
Murphy resisted the urge to groan. “Fine. Hello, Manel. Now tell me what you’re doing here.”
She flashed a toothy grin. “You are more like Father than you care to admit—always ignoring the pleasantries.”
“My ignorance of the pleasantries has nothing to do with my sperm donor and everything to do with the fact that you just showed up out of the blue next to my ship,” he countered. “I’ll only ask one more time: what are you doing here?”
His words led to a frown on Manel’s face. “The NejSov is a science vessel—”
“Bullshit. Klingons don’t have science vessels.”
“How would you know? You who continues to deny you are Klingon!” Manel snapped. “You know so little about your own people that the only thing Klingon about you is one half of your DNA.”
“Much to my dismay, Commander,” Murphy retorted. “Now if you won’t tell me what the hell it is you want, you leave me no choice but to assume your intentions are hostile.”
Manel growled. “I am here because of the moon, you fool! Why else would I be here?”
Murphy lifted a hand to his chest. “Aww, and here I was wondering if you just dropped by to say hello to your dear brother. I’m so disappointed,” he said in a mocking tone.
He watched as a muscle began to twitch in her tightly clamped jaw. “Our sensors detected a spatial rift near to us; upon closer inspection, as well as telemetry copied from your own probe, we determined that an object of extreme mass had emerged from it. We also detected your vessel’s ion trail, so we followed it. I thought to offer the assistance of my crew in solving the dilemma of what to do about the moon, but if you don’t want our help—”
It was a natural instinct born of his ingrained hatred of H’Gaar to tell her no. The hate he had lived with since childhood, when he had learned the truth of his lineage, made him want nothing to do with anyone even remotely associated with his biological father—especially the children who had received his love and attention because they were fortunate enough to be born with dormant Augment genes.
He turned his head to look back at the others. Koenig had spoken, and now stepped closer to him. “Begging your pardon, as I clearly have no knowledge of what has led to the animosity between the two of you, but perhaps it would be a good idea to have the commander’s people look at our team’s data. They may be able to settle the disagreement about how to get the moon into orbit around the fourth planet.”
Damn, Murphy thought. He had a valid point. An objective look at the calculations might just be the only way to move forward with a plan. He’d have to swallow his pride on this one, and reminded himself once again that time was of the essence. Besides, the fact that Manel herself had done him no wrong spoke to his own sense of honor; deep down, he knew that turning away a helping hand just because of who her father happened to be was foolish.
Though God knew it turned his gut to accept help from one of the few people in the galaxy he’d rather forget existed.
“Fine,” he snapped as he looked back to Manel. “Prepare two of your best scientists for transport. We’ll beam them over.”
Manel’s expression relaxed a fraction. “Understood,” she said with a nod. “NejSov out.”
When the screen blinked off, Murphy addressed the intercom. “Astrometrics to Bridge—Commander Jaarid, report to Transporter Room 1 to receive our guests.”
With a heavy sigh, he turned around. Murphy started toward the console, saying, “Show me your calculations, Lt. Hansen. I want to know what the hell I’m talking about when the Klingons get here.”
Koenig came up to his side. “That was a Klingon?”
Murphy snorted. “Yes.”
“And the one you spoke to—she is really your sister?”
“Half-sister, but yes. Why?”
Koenig shrugged. “Nothing, except I understand now what you meant when you said you take after your mother.”
To this the captain made no reply, and concentrated on studying both the sensor data they had gathered as well as Hansen’s calculations until the Astrometrics doors hissed open. A glance over his shoulder showed him that Manel had accompanied one of her officers.
“Only one scientist on your science ship?” he asked.
Both Klingons snorted. “Aside from the bridge crew, the others are…gifted scientists,” said the male to her left.
Manel smirked. “But J’Tohl and I are the best. That is what you asked for, brother.”
“Can I ask ye somethin’, Commander?” said McMurty.
She turned her attention to him. “You can ask me anything. Whether or not I answer depends on what you ask.”
“Yer ship is a Bird o’ Prey, is it not? How is it then a science ship?”
“It is a science ship, Commander, because it has been renovated to serve in that capacity,” Manel replied succinctly, then grinned. “We just happen to be capable of defending ourselves.”
Murphy scoffed. “With a 30-year-old BoP? I doubt it.”
“That 30-year-old ship is still around, is it not? Unlike the last ship you were in command of,” she taunted him.
“You know what? This was a mistake. Commander, escort these two back to the transporter room.”
“Wait!” cried Manel, throwing her hands up. She drew a deep breath as she lowered them. “I did not come here to bicker with you, Dominic. I came because the moon below us poses, at the very least, a navigational hazard.”
Murphy studied her face as she spoke, her posture, and listened to her tone of voice. He was forced to concede that she appeared to be telling the truth. “There are more than three hundred million lives at stake,” he said at last. “If you can be of help, it would certainly make our task a lot easier.”
The subtle shift of her eyes said See? Now that wasn’t so hard; thankfully, however, her voice said, “We will do what we can. Now, let J’Tohl and I see your data.”
He turned and gestured toward the main console, where his people and Maya made way for them. Hansen, Maya, and McMurty, with the occasional piece of input from Sulu, explained their plan and answered any questions they posed. Ja-Nareth stood to the side, his arms crossed and an angry scowl on his face, watching them in broody silence for the first few minutes before he, too, began offering his thoughts and answering questions.
Murphy turned to Jaarid. “I need to go and have a talk with Ensign Catsland. Why don’t you take Commander Koenig on a tour of the ship while we wait?”
Jaarid nodded his head and gestured for Koenig to join him. Murphy watched the two walk out before turning for the ramp that led up to not only the projector stage, but the door that led to the lounge between the two spatial science labs. He tapped his commbadge and called for both Sharp Smile and Counselor Roijiana to meet him there. After clearing the room of others upon both women’s arrival, the captain sat to one side of a table with Roijiana on his right and the ensign seated across from them.
“Ensign Catsland, do you know why I have asked you here?”
Sharp Smile drew a breath. “Because of what happened earlier, sir.”
Murphy nodded. “And what, precisely, was that?”
“I lost my temper and threatened a senior officer with bodily harm, sir.”
“Why did you react in that manner?” asked Roijiana.
“Because Commander Ja-Nareth wasn’t being fair!” the Sivaoan blurted, all sense of the formality she had adopted upon entering the room suddenly gone. “He’s all the time either ignoring Lt. Hansen or dismissing her ideas or being downright rude! He was doing it again when we were talking about the moon and I got sick of it—Captain, you have to do something about it!”
“I am afraid there is nothing I can do unless Lt. Hansen herself files a complaint,” Murphy said, adding silently that he would still make a point of speaking to Ja-Nareth about the matter.
“Ensign, do you consider yourself a friend to Lt. Hansen?” Roijiana queried.
“Yes, ma’am. She’s good people—I’m a cat, and we felinoids are very selective about our friends. We can tell in just a few minutes whether we’re going to like somebody,” Sharp Smile said proudly.
“And you don’t like Commander Ja-Nareth?”
“I wanted to, but they way he treats Annika—‘scuse me, Lt. Hansen—ain’t right. She hasn’t done anything wrong, and it’s not like she chose to be a Borg. She was just a little kid—they forced her to join the Collective.”
“I don’t think anyone has ever chosen to join the Collective, Ensign,” said Murphy. “Now, it’s commendable that you wanted to defend your friend, but you cannot go about losing your temper like that whenever you don’t like something someone does—not the way your friends are treated, not when you get treated that way. If you think someone, no matter who it is, is crossing a line, you need to take it up the chain of command.”
“Considering that in this instance it was your department head with whom you took exception, the wisest course of action would have been to call in either Commander Jaarid or Captain Murphy,” added Roijiana.
Sharp Smile sighed. “I know. I promise you, Captain, Counselor, that I know that. I’m sorry I lost my temper, sir.”
Murphy studied her smoke gray-furred features and at last gave a nod. “I won’t put a reprimand in your file this time,” he said, “but I am going to order some sessions with Counselor Roijiana to help you get a better grip on your temper, so we don’t have another incident like what happened today. Your academy record shows you had a few similar outbursts which almost got you kicked out the airlock, and given your academic credentials, Ensign, I’d really hate to see you dismissed from the service.”
What he assumed was relief passed through her eyes, and she pulled back her lips in a manner that he believed was an attempt at a smile. He understood then where she got her name.
“I understand, sir. And thank you, Captain.”
Murphy sat forward with his hands together on the table. “Listen, I know what it’s like to have to learn to control a temper that can get the better of you—”
Sharp Smile’s eyes grew wide. “So the rumor is true, Captain?”
He glanced at the counselor, who lifted her shoulder in a shrug. “What rumor?”
“That you’re half Klingon, sir,” the young science officer replied. “But you can’t be—cranial ridges are present even in those who are a quarter Klingon.”
Though he wondered how it had gotten around to her given she’d been dismissed before he’d even spoken to Manel, Murphy merely shook his head and smiled. The long-serving crew already knew he was half-Klingon, the new arrivals were bound to learn it eventually.
“Actually, Ensign, I am. But I take after my mother in every respect except one—my temper,” he said. “A volatile temper is hard enough to control no matter one’s origin, but when you come from a race bred for war, like my biological father, or from a race such as your own where it is still common practice to whack someone upside the head for being rude… Living among a more civilized society can be a challenge. To have a successful career in Starfleet, you have to learn to control your more instinctive impulses.”
“Your record shows that you received some counseling as regards your temper, Ensign,” spoke up Roijiana, “though there were fewer sessions onboard the Ellesmere as you seemed to settle in well there. Captain Jaxik R’ven being Caitian, and the other Caitians onboard, likely helped you to not feel so isolated.”
“I’ve been around non-Sivaoans before, Counselor,” returned Sharp Smile. “I know the general rules of behavior—really, I do—it’s just that some people really try my patience. The hardest times to control myself are when I feel someone is being treated unfairly.”
“That you have a well developed sense of justice and seek to defend those you call friend is commendable—even noble, Ensign Catsland,” Murphy told her. “But going off like you did, requiring others to restrain you, is behavior that cannot be condoned. So, it’s sessions with the counselor here until such time as she believes them unnecessary, understood?”
Sharp Smile drew herself to attention again. “Understood, sir.”
Murphy dismissed the two and they all stood. At the same moment, Lt. Hansen lead Maya, Manel, McMurty, Sulu, and J’Tohl into the lounge. Ja-Nareth was conspicuously absent.
“What have you got for me?” asked Murphy.
“The general plan to alter the moon’s course and settle it in orbit of Levzor 4 is sound,” began J’Tohl, “But, with all due respect to Commander Ja-Nareth, I do not believe it will be necessary to synchronize rotation of the moon to Levzor 4 to maintain a stable orbit.”
“Nor, in fact, is it recommended,” added Manel.
“Why not?” Murphy asked.
“Assuming that both phase one and phase two of your plan are successful, you will need to initiate a third phase.”
Murphy’s brows drew together in consternation. “A third phase?”
Manel nodded and Hansen handed him the PADD she had carried in with her, then his sister continued. “I assume that the Federation will give assistance to these…Alphans, Maya said they called themselves…and that one of the major projects you will take on will be terraforming of the moon’s surface.”
Murphy glanced up from the PADD’s screen. “That’s the general idea, yeah. Nothing will be implemented until we’re sure the moon can maintain orbit.”
“Well, grav-locking the moon would defeat the purpose before you can even begin.”
Sharp Smile cleared her throat. “It’s like we were trying to explain to Commander Ja-Nareth, sir, but he just wouldn’t listen. Maya told us that her people were hoping for a natural environment—which our Luna does not entirely have, as each half of the moon naturally experiences two weeks of daytime and two weeks of nighttime. Orbital mirror platforms are required to reflect or deflect light so that both sides’ days pass equal to that on Earth. Time on the moon is partly artificially generated.”
Hansen drew a breath. “In order for this moon to maintain gravity and atmosphere on its own, as well as give the Alphans a natural day/night shift, it will have to have a greater rotation speed than when it was in orbit of the Earth. Otherwise, whatever atmosphere that we artificially generate will eventually dissipate and return the moon to its original low-gravity, zero atmosphere state.”
Murphy cursed under his breath. “And just how in the hell are we going to get the moon to spin on its axis as fast as a planet does?”
“It will have to be done artificially, at first,” said Sharp Smile.
“Once whatever momentum generation we use achieves optimum rotational speed,” spoke up Cadet Sulu, “we would simply wean the generators off by reducing power in increments, until they are shut off completely and the moon is spinning on its own. It’ll take time, Captain, but we believe it can be done.”
“We have to at least try, Captain,” added Maya. “My people have been stuck living inside our base for seven years. We’ve visited a few dozen planets with atmosphere, but they were all unsuitable for colonization for one reason or another. We want to be able to walk outside in the sunlight, with grass under our feet, on our own world. We want to see the sun rise and set as if we had settled somewhere.”
“Commander McMurty, you said six ships were all we need to do this?” Murphy asked.
The engineer nodded. “For phase one and two, aye—and preferably large capital vessels, as they have the stronger engines. I’ll need ta do more work ta figure out a method o’ getting the moon ta spin faster.”
“Murphy to Jaarid. I need you to contact Starbase Echo—tell them we need the closest capital vessels to converge on our coordinates as soon as possible,” said Murphy as he moved toward the exit. “If we can’t get five big ships, tell them to send as many smaller vessels as can be spared that can get here in time.”
“Acknowledged, Captain,” the R’naari said. “Shall I return with Commander Koenig to Astrometrics?”
“Negative, Commander. If our guests are ready to return to their base, guide Commander Koenig to the transporter room. I’ll have someone else join you there with Maya.”
“Understood. Jaarid out.”
“Dominic, we will aid you as well,” Manel said then. “The NejSov may not be a large ship, but surely adding another vessel to the equation can only increase the chances of success.”
“Fine. Work it out with McMurty, he’s the expert engineer,” Murphy said with a wave of his hand. “I’ll be in my quarters.”
It had been a long day—the boredom of the Paulson survey on top of the adrenaline high of the rift and the appearance of the Alphans’ moon and the appearance of his sister had left Murphy feeling suddenly drained of tolerance for being in the company of others, and so had departed their company as soon as could politely be done. He took the lift up two decks and was removing his uniform jacket as he entered his quarters. The jacket he dropped over the back of a chair as he yanked the zipper of his shirt down and stopped to stare out the window, hoping to calm himself before he had to see or speak to anyone else.
Damn Klingon temper, he mused bitterly.
Some minutes had gone by when he heard the door open behind him. Though he knew only one other person on board had direct access to his quarters, Murphy still looked over his shoulder to check that it was Calista who approached him.
“I shared a turbolift with Jaarid on the way here,” she said as she stepped up to his right side. “Is it true that the commander of the Klingon ship is your sister?”
“Half-sister,” he specified. “One of three, all younger. I’ve got a half-brother as well—all of them the apple of Daddy’s warrior eye because their mothers are Klingons, so what Augment genes he passed to them remained dormant.”
“When did you meet them? How come you never told me?”
Murphy glanced sidelong at her. “Three and a half years ago, not a month after I took command of the original Messenger. You know how the R’naari government won’t distribute the pheromone suppressant their men take outside their borders?” She nodded. “Well, my first mission as a captain was to take my new first officer to get a supply of his required medication. We encountered a Vor’cha-class battleship under attack by four Jem’Hadar raiders near Tarkalia, offered our assistance.”
He snorted as he looked out the window again. “Had I known who the commander of that ship was, I might well have let the Jem’Hadar finish the job they started.”
Calista gasped softly. “Oh, Dominic… Tell me you don’t actually mean that.”
“I do. Or I did at the time. Sometimes I still regret saving his sorry ass.”
“How did you learn it was your father?”
“When the last of the raiders was finished off, we received a hail. General H’Gaar of the IKS K’Thal wished to know the name of the ‘brave fool’ who’d decided to jump in the middle of an unfair fight. I told him he’d given up the right to know my name the day he betrayed his vow to a dying woman and abandoned her newborn son, then cut him off and ordered Tucker to turn the ship around and head directly for R’naari space.”
Releasing an aggravated sigh, Murphy turned around and dropped heavily onto the sofa. “Following our rendezvous with the R’naari medical ship, we reported to Starbase Hope to pick up a cargo hold full of emergency shelters bound for Inferna, and it was there that I ran into Manel. She introduced herself to me at the Replimat, told me our father wanted make amends. That I should know I had a brother and sisters.”
Calista, who had sat beside him and wrapped her arm about his shoulders, asked softly, “And what did you say?”
“I told her I wasn’t interested. That she should remind her father he was forty-two years too late. He had the frelling nerve to send me a message on my 43rd a few months later, which I ignored. Hasn’t stopped him sending me a message on the same day every year since, or her from sending me messages about her twin brother and younger sisters; she and Makor have a different mother than the younger two, Etarra and Khalese. Only one of the four I’ve met is Manel, and then only twice—then and today.”
“I can only imagine how hard it must have been for you to accept Manel’s help today,” Calista said.
He scoffed. “I wanted to tell her to get lost, but unfortunately Koenig was right—we needed an objective opinion about the plan for the moon. Ja-Nareth thought a tide-lock would be necessary for a stable orbit, Hansen and the others disagreed. They were so heated when Koenig and I walked into Astrometrics that Ensign Catsland was literally about to tear Ja-Nareth’s throat out. I had to have a talk with her about her temper.”
A moment of silence passed, and then, “Was he right? Ja-Nareth, I mean.”
“No. Stable orbit can be achieved without grav-locking the moon to Levzor 4, and both Manel and J’Tohl agreed that generating centrifugal force and spinning the moon was the only way to maintain the environment once the moon has one.”
She glanced at him then. “You think Ja-Nareth was arguing the plan because of Lt. Hansen, don’t you?”
He nodded. “The thought did cross my mind.”
Murphy frowned at the sound of his door chime. He was not in the mood to deal with anyone else. “Come in,” he said reluctantly as he pushed to his feet.
It was no real surprise to see Manel entering his quarters. Her eyebrows lifted toward her ridges briefly at the sight of Calista next to him, but then she squared her shoulders and clasped her hands behind her back.
“I would speak with you in private, brother,” she said.
“No,” he replied immediately. “Anything you have to say to me, you can say in front of Calista.”
Manel drew a breath. “Very well. Dominic, Father wants to see you.”
“Not gonna happen.”
Her hands raised to her hips. “How can you still deny your own father? Your own flesh and blood? We are your family, Dominic!”
Murphy snorted derisively. “Family? You’re seriously going to try playing the family card with me? That’s really frelling funny, Manel. Family doesn’t ignore your very existence. A father does not abandon his hours-old son to be raised by another man. A man of honor does not betray his vow to the dying wife he professed to love and cherish. Or did your daddy not tell you how he all but threw me into the arms of his wife’s brother because he was so ashamed of his own blood?”
The expression on her face told him she had known, though for how long he couldn’t have guessed. Certainly for the last three and a half years, if not the whole of her life.
Her hands fell to her sides. “Father deeply regrets the choice he made then. He regrets—”
“I doubt that very much.”
“Makor is dead.”
That declaration brought him up short. “Your brother is dead?”
“Our brother, Dominic,” Manel pressed.
“How did he die?” asked Calista, who had also risen to stand.
Manel’s eyes flicked to her. “The Hegh’bat, Lt. Commander. My twin took his own life in ritual suicide, because he could no longer call himself a warrior.”
She returned her gaze to Murphy’s, and he felt the first twinge of sympathy to see raw pain in her countenance. “The war with the Dominion took more than millions of lives, brother. Not even Klingons are immune to the deleterious effect it can have on the mind—this was Makor’s fate. He signed himself into a treatment facility soon after the war’s end, but the treatment failed, and over the last three years his faculties further deteriorated. Not wishing to be a burden or to bring shame on our house, he declared his intention to commit Hegh’bat. Because he had no son of his own, our father had to assist him. He had to watch him plunge that dagger into his heart because Makor could not vanquish the demons that existed only in his mind.”
Manel drew a breath, and a tear escaped her eye that she brushed away angrily. “Makor loved our father. He was endlessly devoted to him—and Father still lost him. The only son he has left is the son who hates him, and that grieves his heart more than you will ever know or probably even believe. It is his hope that there will be peace between you before the time comes that he must take his own journey to Sto-Vo-Kor.”
Several heartbeats passed before Murphy managed to speak, so taken aback was he by her revelation. “I am sorry about Makor, I really am. I know what it’s like to be tortured by that damn war. But I have to say, I don’t see what the point of peace between H’Gaar and I would be. I can’t replace your—our—brother. He can’t possibly want that.”
“He does not wish for you to replace Makor, Dominic. Father knows the dishonor he has done to you, to your honored mother—to himself, even—by denying you over something you had no control over. He is ashamed of denying his own blood, of the years that have already been wasted because of his foolish pride. Father just…” Manel paused, her hands at her hips again as she appeared to search her thoughts for the right words. “It is his hope that you will be willing to meet with him. To meet our sisters. Father does not expect you to ever love him—he knows it is too late for that. He just wants you not to hate him anymore. To acknowledge that you are Klingon.”
He could not help the snort that escaped him. “Is he going to acknowledge me as Klingon? Will he proudly declare in council chambers, to every warrior that serves aboard his ship and to all whom he encounters that this pale-skinned, smooth-headed petaQ is his firstborn son? Because I gotta tell you, Manel, that if he can’t or won’t do that, then you’re just wasting your time acting as his emissary. More than forty years of being ignored is a helluva lot to forgive.”
Manel’s expression was a mixture of sadness and hope. “You are the only son he has left. I think, at this point, Father will do whatever you ask of him just to have a relationship with you.”
She turned then and headed for the door, pausing on the threshold to turn back and say, “Believe it or not, I understand why you feel the way you do, brother. I just ask that you consider it.”
With that she turned and walked out. For the first few moments after her departure, Murphy stood staring at the closed door, then suddenly Calista took his head in her hands and brought it down to brush her lips against his.
At that he smiled. “What was that for?”
She lifted a shoulder. “You looked like you needed it. Now come,” she said, taking him by the hand and pulling him toward the dining table. “It’s getting late, and knowing you, you haven’t eaten since lunch.”
He tried to resist. “Thanks for the thought, Angel, but I’m not really hungry.”
“Which means it’s even more important that you eat. Sit,” she demanded, pointing to a chair. “That’s an order, Mr. Murphy.”
He fought a smile as he crossed his arms over his chest and thought of how much he liked her bossy side. “An order? On whose authority?”
Calista lifted one of her white eyebrows as she mimicked his pose. “Chief medical officer or chief romantic partner, take your pick. Now sit down before I make you sit down.”
Oh, he really liked this bossy side. Murphy gave up his fight against smiling and the corners of his lips lifted as he held up his hands in surrender and moved to take the chair she had indicated. “I like that second title better. My chief romantic partner can tell me what to do anytime she wants.”
Calista snorted softly as she moved around the table to the replicator. “So can your doctor,” she said. “Keep in mind, pal, that I am one of the only two people on this ship who can take you out of the captain’s chair.”
Moments later, a heaping, steaming plate of pot roast was before him. He waited until she had joined him with a plate of her own, both of them with a Tarkalean tea to accompany the meal, before he began to eat. Throughout the dinner they talked of the Alphans and their moon and what was likely to happen to these Humans from another universe once some of Starfleet’s finest had settled them into orbit of Levzor 4. Commander Jaarid’s call halfway through to inform him that the Ireland, San Francisco, Thunderheart, Columbia, and Rhonda Cornum had all been dispatched to aid the operation they had planned. Three of the ships—Ireland, San Francisco, and Rhonda Cornum, would join up with them by the end of the next day, while the Thunderheart and Columbia would arrive early the following morning, leaving them with just under a day to move the moon out of Levzor 5’s orbital path.
After their dishes had been recycled, they sat together on the couch, soft music playing over the speakers, and held each other. Thankfully, Calista seemed to understand that he needed to think, though in the hour or so she remained with him, he could not say he had come to any decision.
When she sighed and made to stand, stating she had best get back to her quarters and get “a few things done” before going to bed, Murphy stood with her and brought her to his chest for a lingering kiss. She returned it eagerly, and with obvious reluctance pulled away and headed for the door.
“Dominic,” she said, turning back to him. “Whatever you decide to do about your family situation, I will support you—I hope you know that. But I have to say, my gut tells me Manel was right about one thing: that you should at least consider making peace with H’Gaar. I wouldn’t want you to end up regretting not taking the opportunity to speak to him, to really speak to him, even one time about what his abandonment has done to you. How deeply it has wounded you, and continues to hurt you even after all these years. You don’t have to love him—you don’t even have to like him—but he is your father. Manel, Etarra, and Khalese should not have to suffer not knowing their brother because of his mistakes.”
Murphy stared at the closed door long after she had gone, contemplating her words. They haunted him long into the night.
Tony Verdeschi knew something was up with Maya the moment she and John returned from the Messenger. Her smile as she greeted him was somehow brighter, her embrace somehow tighter. The “I’ve got something I need to tell you later” that she whispered in his ear only confirmed it. He shook his head with a laugh, and walked hand in hand with her down to the closest Eagle parking bay, where all the salvaged parts they had yet to make use of were stored, for the meeting.
He wasn’t worried, per se, as she seemed to be excited. But he was darn curious, and almost too distracted to listen to the first few words the commander spoke about the plan to not only move the moon out of the orbital path of the fifth planet ahead of them, but settle it into orbit of the fourth. He also spoke about what he and Captain Murphy had discussed regarding what would happen once the moon had settled into its new, permanent orbit—how the Federation Murphy had spoken of would offer them as much aid and protection as they were willing to accept. How if they wanted to be left alone, the Federation council would see to it they were.
What intrigued him the most, and appeared to be of great interest to many of the others, was the possibility of cultivating the moon’s surface, creating a breathable atmosphere—one that would not be taken away from them two days later as the Arielites had done six years ago. It would take years, John reported, to convert the entire surface of the moon to planetary conditions according to what Murphy had told him, but it was also the captain’s belief that the crater in which Alpha rested could be covered with a protective energy shield or transparent dome and the terraforming procedure accelerated.
To say that the base crew was excited about the possibility of really being able to live on the moon as though it were Earth would have been an understatement. There had been talk of abandoning Alpha and going to the Earth of this universe to settle while Maya and John were away, or to one of the many worlds of the Federation, but the undertone of that discussion had been reluctant. Alpha, this moon, was their home. No one had really wanted to leave unless they had absolutely no choice.
Though Tony hardly considered himself superstitious, he’d begun to wonder some time ago if the fact that every planet they had thought might be suitable over the last seven years had proved not to be for a reason. Maybe they were meant to stay here.
He shook the thought off as sentimental nonsense and plastered a smile on his face as Maya and John stepped down from the makeshift platform they’d stood on. God, how he loved her—she was beautiful, funny, brilliant, brave to a fault, and completely crazy about him. Never in his life had he thought to fall in love with a woman who was not Human, but not for one moment had he regretted giving his heart to her. Not long before they’d declared their feelings for one another, he’d realized he could no longer imagine his life without Maya in it, and that’s when he’d realized she was the one.
She embraced him again as the crew milled around talking about the upcoming days. When he held her away from him, he looked into eyes that were shining. “What is it?” he asked. “You said you had something to tell me.”
“Let’s go to your quarters, or mine,” Maya said, taking his hand.
For the first time he frowned. “Is there something wrong? You’re not sick, are you?”
Tony thought about the dizzy spells she’d been experiencing over the last few days. The nausea, the moments of fatigue. He’d been encouraging her to go to Medical to have Dr. Russell run some tests, but she’d refused. Had insisted she was fine and that it would pass. He’d threatened to throw her over his shoulder and carry her there if she didn’t do something about it that very morning, but his concern for her had unfortunately taken a back seat to the well-being of the entire base when the space warp had appeared on their scanners and it had been determined there was simply no way to avoid it.
“Maya, talk to me. Tell me what’s going on,” Tony said.
She stopped and turned to look at him; her eyes searched his face, and after a moment she drew a breath as she appeared to come to a decision.
“I had thought to tell you this in private, but maybe now is just as good a time as any—with all of our friends around us to celebrate,” Maya began.
Tony lifted an eyebrow. “Celebrate what?”
She stepped closer. “I know why I’ve been unwell the last few days, Tony. I got dizzy again as we were stepping down from the transporter on the Messenger. Commander Koenig and Dr. Nir’ahn insisted that she take a look at me—you should be happy I’ve finally seen a doctor, by the way. Anyway, she was able to determine the cause of the spells.”
“Well what is it? What’s wrong with you? Can she cure you with some medicine they have that we don’t?”
Maya grinned. “Oh, I shall be just fine on my own, my dear…in about seven months.”
“Seven months?!” Tony cried, drawing attention from the others. “What the devil could take seven bloody months to cure?”
She lifted a hand to his face as she laughed. “Oh, Tony, I do so love how naïve you are sometimes. I’m pregnant, my love. We’re going to have a baby.”
Tony felt his whole body freeze in an instant, save for the rapid blinking of his eyes, the suddenly maddening pace of his heart. Surely he had not heard her right. He had an implant, she couldn’t possibly be…
“Pregnant?” he repeated. Maya nodded. “We’re really going to have a baby?”
She nodded again. “We really are.”
“But how is this even possible? I…I have the implant…”
“Dr. Nir’ahn said that it’s likely the implant failed, or that it’s simply worn out,” Maya told him. “Even I know that such devices must be maintained, and really, Tony, there’s no method that is foolproof except for abstinence—even you must know that.”
“A baby… I’m going to be a father…”
He grabbed her arms and drew her to his chest, claiming her mouth for a deep kiss and not caring one jot that they were still standing in the middle of a crowd.
“Oi, get a room, mate!” crowed Alan.
Tony broke the kiss and looked for a moment into Maya’s shining eyes, then turned to his friend and said, “We’re gonna have a baby.”
He looked around the room as Alan’s eyes grew round. “We’re going to have a baby!” he shouted.
There were many exclamations of surprise and the pair were suddenly surrounded by those offering congratulations. Helena and John made their way to the fore of the group, the doctor looking to Maya and asking, “Are you certain, Maya?”
She inclined her head as she brushed tears from her eyes. “It’s true. I had a dizzy spell on the ship and their doctor examined me. Tony and I will be parents in about seven months.”
Helena’s eyes turned to him and Tony raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“Nothing,” the doctor replied. “I’m just thinking that there appears to be a shelf life for the implant—you’ve had yours nearly four years.”
She then looked back to Maya with a wide smile. “Well, at least we don’t have to worry anymore about whether you two can have a family together. I’m so happy for you.”
“Indeed,” said John. “Congratulations to both of you.”
“Looks like that space warp bringing us to this alternate universe couldn’t have happened at a better time,” Alan observed. “Now we’ve a real chance at having a real home, where people can get married and have the families they’ve been longing for.”
“Yeah, everybody but you, Carter,” Tony quipped as he slid his arm around Maya’s waist. “You haven’t stayed in a relationship long enough to even come close to getting married, let alone starting a family.”
“Hey, I love all the ladies here,” Alan protested. “I just haven’t found the right one.”
John looked to him. “In seven years, Alan?”
The Australian pilot laughed. “Well, maybe my match isn’t one of our own—maybe she’s here, in this new universe. In fact, that blue-skinned doctor with the antennae was quite the looker.”
Several of the nearby crew laughed. Tony then looked down at Maya and said, “Speaking of marriage, let’s do it.”
“Tony!” cried Dr. Russell. “That’s no way to propose to a lady!”
Maya seemed not to hear her, her attention being focused on Tony. “Are you sure you want to get married? You’re not suggesting it just because we’re to have a baby together?”
“Maya, I’ve been sure I want to marry you from the moment you told me you loved me,” Tony said.
“Then why did you wait so long?”
“Because I wanted to provide a home for you,” he told her.
“Oh, Tony… Don’t you know by now that my home is wherever you are?”
He placed his right hand gently over her lower belly. “You, and our baby, you both deserve a real home. Not the same old recycled air. A kid deserves to grow up running around with grass under their feet and blue skies over their head. Now we’ve a real chance at giving our child, and the other children here, a real future.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed John slipping his arm around Helena. “Tony’s right,” the commander said. “I believe these people can really help us—that we can have a real home, right here on the moon. It might take some time, and we might not get to enjoy it as long as we’d like, but our children will. And their children after them.”
“So what do you say, Maya? Marry me. Make me the happiest man in two universes and say yes, please,” Tony pleaded.
Maya grabbed his head and kissed him. “Of course I’ll marry you.”
Loud applause and whistles and cheers followed her decree, and in moments it was decided that the wedding would be held in Main Mission on the upper level of Alpha—which had not been used in years, the commander having decided the underground facility was better suited to preserving their safety—as soon as the moon was settled into orbit.
Dinner in the community hall was a lively affair that evening, and instead of everyone dispersing afterward to their own pursuits as normally they did, the majority of the crew remained to disseminate the possibilities that now lay before them. Tony and Maya missed most of it. Once they had both eaten their fill, he had taken her by the hand and the two had quietly and quickly slipped away for a more private celebration in his quarters.
As they lay together afterward, both happily sated, Maya asked him, “Tony, are you happy about the baby?”
“What? How can you ask me that? Of course I’m happy about it!” he declared.
She lifted her head to look at him. “Well, it’s so unexpected. An accident really, because your implant stopped working.”
“Maya, that doesn’t matter. Maybe it happened sooner than either of us expected, but now that it has, I’m excited! I can hardly wait to be a father,” Tony assured her. “Are you not happy about it? Did you not want to have children?”
“Tony, I am happier about this baby than I can even describe,” Maya said. “I know you got the implant as a ‘just in case’ measure, but in truth I’ve been very worried I wouldn’t be able to give you children at all. And I know how much you’ve been looking forward to being a father one day.”
He gave her shoulders a light squeeze. “Darling, if it turned out we couldn’t have children together, I wouldn’t have loved you any less, I hope you know that. Instead of being Mom and Dad, we’d get to be every kid’s favorite aunt and uncle—spoiling them rotten and then sending them home to their parents to deal with.”
Maya giggled. “I can just imagine you loading some sweet little boy full of sugar before handing him over to his mother and father and saying ‘Have a good night!’”
“I might still do that, you know. Sounds like fun.”
She playfully swatted his bare chest and he caught her wrist in his hand. His energy suddenly renewed, Tony rolled so that Maya was beneath him, and brought his mouth down over hers.
Murphy sat in his ready room reading—he still had some data to study regarding McMurty’s arrangement for the ships that were going to move the moon. Ja-Nareth, Hansen, Maya, Sharp Smile, and Sulu had worked out the science, it was McMurty’s job as acting chief engineer to work out the logistics. As the captain sat at his desk going over the equations, he found himself wondering why McMurty had taken the yardmaster job at Starbase Echo. Sure, it was a promotion in terms of position—he was a captain in all but official rank—and he was efficient at getting ships in and out of his docks in a timely manner.
But Keel McMurty was not a structural engineer. He was a power systems man—had even designed a more efficient distributor unit a couple years back. He knew how to keep a ship working when all seemed lost, a feat accomplished so many times over his 20-year career that he was the only engineer known to have been awarded two Montgomery Scott Medals (which no doubt stuck in the craw of every member of the Corps of Engineers, given McMurty had spent his entire career in the Border Patrol).
According to his plan of action, the ships would combine their warp fields and extend them around the moon to temporarily reduce its mass. Once they had achieved orbit of Levzor 4, the moon would be dragged along the chosen orbital path and the warp field reduced in increments, with each ship eventually pulling away and leaving the moon to move around the planet on its own. If necessary, the larger vessels would remain in place for as long as it took to ensure the moon would maintain its position.
Each vessel set to aid in the endeavor had received a transmission containing a copy of the plan, and all agreed. The only thing left to do was wait until each ship had arrived in order to implement it—which wouldn’t be for another 10 hours. The Ireland, San Francisco, and Rhonda Cornum had each taken up position around the moon earlier that evning; they waited only for the arrival of the Thunderheart and Columbia in the morning. All the crews, especially the people on Alpha, were a jumble of nerves and excitement. As an effort to distract everyone from what lay ahead, tours of each ship and of the moonbase were being given, their technology and histories compared to each other.
Even Manel had agreed to give the Alphans a look at her ship, though the parties were by necessity small given the size of the B’rel Class.
She had said no more to him after the meeting with the other captains about their father. Murphy was grateful she didn’t bring it up again, because he was frankly no closer to making a decision than he had been the night before. Eventually, he knew, he would have to give her an answer. But he couldn’t yet. He couldn’t even really think about making peace with H’Gaar or meeting his other sisters when there was so much at stake with his present mission. What if they failed to pull or push the moon out of Levzor 5’s flight path? What if they could not achieve orbit of Levzor 4? There was so much that could go wrong, and though he was not the highest-ranked captain, because he had been the one to make first contact with the Alphans, he had been left in charge of the operation.
He felt such a weight of responsibility upon his shoulders to ensure that the outcome was a success that he needed all his energy to focus on getting the job done. He had nothing left to spend on family drama.
“Bridge to Captain Murphy.”
“Go ahead, Sully.”
“We’re receiving a transmission for you, sir, from the U.S.S. Surefoot.”
“Put it through, Lieutenant.”
Murphy set aside the PADD he’d been reading to switch on his computer. Moments later, the sable-furred face of Esek Hrelle replaced the UFP sigil.
“Captain Hrelle, what can I do for you?”
“Nothing really, I just wanted see how it was going out there,” the Caitian replied. “Seriously incredible you guys stumbled on an exact replica of Earth’s moon.”
Murphy chuckled. “Yeah, it’s been quite the experience—surreal, almost. I mean, they’re human beings, but they’re so different from us in their history. No Eugenics Wars in the late 20th century, for instance. And their technology is primitive by our standards, but state of the art by theirs.”
“Would have to be if they had the ability to put a base on the moon,” Hrelle observed. “Though I bet it’s tons more challenging an assignment than the Paulson survey.”
At this Murphy laughed. “Without question.”
“On another note, how’s the new ride workin’ out for you?”
“Like a dream. And not entirely new, really—a lot of our free-standing consoles were repurposed from the first Messenger, so we were able to bring a little more of her with us besides the crew,” Murphy replied. “In truth, it happened so fast, I don’t think anyone’s really had much time to think about the loss. Probably a good thing.”
“Do you think about it?” Hrelle asked.
“I did when we were stuck at the nebula, but with the crisis of the moon going on, I haven’t had the luxury of indulging in pointless, morose brooding,” said Murphy.
Hrelle inclined his head. “Sounds a lot like what I went through when I lost the first Surefoot. Keeping busy really helped a lot with not dwelling on what couldn’t be changed.”
“Listen, I know I said it once already, but I want to thank you again for what you did that night,” Murphy said then. “I was in a shit mood and it probably showed, but you still took the opportunity to speak with me and even encourage me. Not a lot of people would have done that.”
“They’re probably too afraid of your Klingon half… Don’t look so surprised, I could smell it in your pheromones.”
Murphy scoffed. “Or you could have looked it up.”
“Nope, definitely smelled it. We Caitians have an exceptional sense of smell,” Hrelle boasted. “Like all bipedal species, Klingons and Humans each have a distinct natural scent in their pheromones that the body naturally secretes through the sweat glands. I smelled both from you before I even sat down next to you.”
“You know, it’s funny you should put it that way. I once said something very similar about being able to smell fear, or at least the rise in anxiety, because of my Klingon genetics. I have an exceptional sense of smell too, though not likely as good as yours, or my new astronomer.”
Hrelle grinned and rubbed his hands together. “Ooh, a distant cousin—all felinoids are related in one way or another, we have to be. Though it may surprise you I’ve never actually met a Sivaoan or an Eeiauoan.”
“I’ll make a point of introducing you the next time we’re both at Echo. In fact, maybe I could tap that feline wisdom of yours yet again.”
“Go for it, brother. I’ll help however I can.”
Murphy shared his thoughts about Sharp Smile’s behavior, how her record showed that she had acted out less when there were other felinoids around her. He recounted what Roijiana had said to him after her first full session with the ensign that morning, that she suspected having at least one other felinoid onboard would be beneficial in curbing Sharp Smile’s outbursts of temper before they became a problem. Sivaoans typically resided in family groups; even if the young adults lived in their own dwelling, there was always another Sivaoan nearby.
It was Hrelle’s turn to scoff. “Yeah, contrary to popular belief, cats aren’t true solitary creatures. We do okay on our own, but we do prefer to have the company of our kin around us. It brings a sense of familiarity and peace to us. I think you and your counselor have it nailed down, Captain—your girl is young and missing being around others like her. You need another cat to keep the one you have company.”
“Thanks. Guess I’ll be looking into it when this business with the moon is over,” Murphy said.
“I can do a check for you, see if anyone I know is looking for another position.”
“I would appreciate it—the moon business seems to be taking up every moment of my day, from coordinating meetings with the other captains to answering the Alphans’ questions, and then some. So much is riding on pulling this plan off.”
“Surely you can do it if you’re gonna have help,” Hrelle said.
“Phase One, yes. I have no doubts we’ll be able to pull or push the moon away from Levzor 5’s orbital plane,” Murphy said. “Phase Two is what really concerns me—introducing a foreign body to the gravity well of a planet and expecting it to stay there rather than crashing into said planet. The squints say it can be done but…”
“But it doesn’t stop you from worrying that it won’t work. I get it. Only thing I can tell you is to think positive. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
“You know, that’s what my Angel has been telling me.”
Hrelle’s brows rose. “Your angel?”
Murphy grinned. “Our chief medical officer, who also happens to be my girl. Andorian. She literally saved my life during the war when she served on a hospital ship. First time I laid eyes on her, I called her a blue angel.”
His Caitian counterpart laughed. “I’ve got my girl on my ship too, and two young cubs. She was the counselor who saved my sanity. I call Kami ‘Sugartail’ all the time.”
The ready room door chime sounded then. “Looks like duty’s calling. Thanks for the talk, Hrelle. I appreciate you looking in on me.”
“Anything for a friend. Later, Murph.”
The screen blinked back to the UFP symbol as the door chime rang again. Murph? he thought absently as he looked up and bid his visitor enter.
When Calista walked over the threshold, he could not help his grin and said, “Angel, your antennae must be itching. I was just talking about you.”
She smiled. “All good things, I hope,” she said as she moved around the desk.
Murphy grabbed her and pulled her into his lap. Calista squealed but did not resist the kiss he gave her. “So, what brings you by?”
“Have you looked at the time lately? We were supposed to meet for dinner twenty minutes ago.”
Murphy sighed. “Sorry. I just can’t help going over these damn calculations again and again.”
“Dom, what did I tell you? Stop worrying so much!” Calista said, giving his shoulders a little shake. “We can do this. We’ll save the people on Levzor 5, we’ll get this moon to orbit Levzor 4. The Alphans are sure to at the very least accept Federation protection, not to mention you’ve got them talking about terraforming the moon. Koenig and his people are excited about the future for the first time in a long time because their journey is coming to an end and they actually have a chance at a real future. And it’s all because our crew came up with the most brilliant plan imaginable.”
He gave in to the urge to grin. “We do have some ridiculously smart people on our ship, don’t we?”
She wrapped her arms about his shoulders and leaned close. “Not to mention a ridiculously smart captain,” she said before placing a quick kiss on his nose. Calista then bounced up and grabbed his hand. “Come on, let’s go get food, I am starving.”
Murphy laughed and allowed her to pull him to his feet. He could really get used to this bossy side of hers.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 55700.6…
The starships Columbia and Thunderheart have arrived and are in position around the Alphans’ moon. Commander Koenig and his command crew, save for Alan Carter, are here on the Messenger to observe the progress of the operation; Carter and the other pilots, as well as the rest of the Alpha crew, are loaded into their spacecraft following at a distance that will keep them just outside the warp field. Everyone is hopeful that the mission to put this moon into orbit of Levzor 4 will be a success. By 0430 tomorrow morning, we will know for sure.
Murphy saved his log and stood. Drawing a breath, he made his way out to the bridge, hoping he projected the necessary air of confidence required to put the others at ease. As confident as he was in his people, in the crews of the other Federation starships, he simply had not been able to shake the sense of nervousness that had plagued him since McMurty and the others had come up with their plan. Deep down, he knew, only the end of the affair would put him at ease.
When everything and everyone was safe and secure once more.
“Mr. Sullek,” he said as he approached his command chair. “Put me on with the taskforce. Make sure all ships can hear us.”
“Aye, Captain,” said the Roylan. “Channel open.”
“Attention all vessels, this is Captain Murphy. In a moment, Commander McMurty will take the lead in this operation, but I want you all to know that we appreciate you for being here with us—none of what we’re about to do could be achieved without the assistance of our fellow Starfleet crews. Thank you.”
Koenig stepped up to him. “Captain, can the Eagles hear us?”
Murphy nodded. “Everyone, Commander. Did you want to say a few words?”
When he nodded, Murphy gestured for him to go ahead. “This is Commander John Koenig… On behalf of myself and my crew, I just want to say thank you—again—to the Starfleet officers and the Federation, and to their Klingon allies. I think it safe to say that none of us from Alpha can truly express how deep is our gratitude for everything you have done for us, for what you are about to do, and for what you will do in the future to help us.
“To the crew of Moonbase Alpha…” Helena Russell stepped up to him and took his hand. Koenig paused and turned a smile to her.
He drew a breath to continue. “I think, perhaps, it is fate that today is September the 13th. Seven years ago we were forced, by accident, to leave our home behind. Along the way we made some friends, maybe even made a few enemies. But we survived, proving the resilience of the Human spirit, and now we have a chance to establish a new home here in this universe. This is it—the end of our wayward journey, one way or another.”
Koenig looked to Murphy and nodded his head. Murphy turned his attention to starboard, where Keel McMurty sat at the Engineering station, and gave a nod of his own.
“All right then, lads and ladies, let’s get this party started, shall we?” McMurty said with a clap of his hands. “Begin increase of warp power and expansion of warp fields.”
On the viewscreen there was a display of the moon and the ships positioned around it. Murphy watched as a bubble began to form around the moon, lines representing the warp power of each ship moving toward each other until they connected.
“Fantastic, we have our warp bubble established,” McMurty observed. “Continue increase of speed in quarter increments, we need ta get the mass ta lighten more than this if we want to move her.”
Several minutes went by as the ships increased their warp power output, the warp bubble they’d established pressing in on the moon to temporarily lighten its overall mass. McMurty announced that they’d achieved optimal load capacity and gave the okay to begin actually moving. Though their speed was given by Tucker as warp three, it felt almost as if they were crawling along at one-quarter impulse. When Murphy asked the engineer about that, he said it was to be expected that they’d feel like they were moving slower than they actually were, due to the weight of the moon.
“Rhonda Cornum, I’m readin’ a fluctuation in yer warp field, can ye stabilize?”
“Working on it now, Commander,” came the reply.
There was a subtle shift in the image on the viewscreen, but to Murphy it just did not seem like it was enough. “Doesn’t feel like we’re making a whole lot of progress, Commander,” he said to McMurty as he at last settled into his command chair.
The engineer pressed a series of buttons on his console. “It’s because we’re not really,” he replied, then called out, “McMurty ta Lt. Hansen, can ye come up ta the bridge, lass?”
“On my way, Commander.”
“McMurty, what do you need her for?” asked Ja-Nareth from across the bridge. “I’m the senior science officer on this—”
“It’s nae about the science anymore, Mr. Ja-Nareth,” interrupted McMurty even as his hands continued to dance across his console. “’Tis about the engineerin’, a matter for which ye are nae as qualified as is Lt. Hansen. That, and she’s a fair sight prettier than ye are.”
“Commander McMurty, can I be of help at all?” asked Maya.
McMurty glanced briefly in her direction. “Perhaps. ‘Twas ye and Hansen what helped me figure out the equations for the warp field.”
Murphy watched Maya give Tony, who was apparently her boyfriend, a quick squeeze of the hand before she walked from his left side where they stood (Koenig and Russell were on his right) over to the engineering station. Out of the corner of his eye, he noted Ja-Nareth bristling, and pushing buttons on his own panel a little more forcefully than necessary. A moment later, Hansen arrived and joined the hushed conversation McMurty and Maya were having.
He gave them a minute or two before saying, “Would you mind sharing with the rest of the class, kids?”
“Eh, looks like a few of us are gonna have ta go out and push, sir. Figuratively speaking,” McMurty replied.
“Messenger to task force,” said Hansen. “Commander McMurty will be sending new positioning coordinates to your helm. Please move into position as quickly as possible.”
Each of the ships acknowledged. Murphy watched as the graphic on the screen changed, showing the ships all moving to one side of the moon.
Except for the NejSov—they were still on the far side.
“We have not received any new coordinates, Messenger,” came Manel’s voice “Why do we not move?”
“It is necessary for you to remain in your present position in order for the warp field to have a focal point, that we may maintain a spherical field, Captain,” Hansen answered her. “If we were to move every ship to the other side, the field may collapse.”
Murphy caught on to their reasoning. “That, and you don’t have the same type of deflector as our ships do—ours can be configured to emit a focused energy beam, while yours does not have the capability.”
Hansen nodded her head. “Precisely, Captain.”
“All ships on the far side, activate deflector beams,” said McMurty then. “Full power.”
Once more Murphy’s eyes flew to the viewscreen, where each ship in the hexagonal formation now had a faintly pulsating line connecting it to the moon. In seconds he felt the difference in momentum.
“We’re definitely moving a little faster,” Tucker observed. “Helm doesn’t feel so sluggish.”
“Distance to Levzor 5 still decreasing,” reported Sully, “but I do see that our flight path has altered by point-oh-nine degrees.”
“Damn, we need a full twenty-five if we’re goin’ ta clear the back edge of the planet,” McMurty muttered. “All right, task force: Let’s begin increasing warp speed in quarter increments, on my mark. And…go.”
Steadily the speed increased, steadily the moon moved further and further away from Levzor 5. The point of phase one was to not only prevent the moon from flying into the planet’s orbital pathway, thereby preventing collision, but to also move it past Levzor 5 and further into the system, so it could be dragged (or pushed, as the case seemed to be) into orbit of Levzor 4.
“Hold present speed,” McMurty called out after what seemed an interminable amount of minutes. “We don’t want to go too fast.”
“Aye, sir, holding at warp seven,” said Tucker from the helm as the other ships were acknowledging the same.
“Yes, please do not crush my ship with your moon-sized bowling ball,” said Manel’s voice.
Murphy couldn’t help a snort. “How do you even know what a bowling ball is?”
His sister chuckled over the comm channel. “What I know about Human culture might surprise you, Dominic.”
“Uh, Captain,” spoke up Sully before Murphy could think of an appropriately snarky reply.
“What is it?”
“How much time would you say has passed since we began Operation Orbit?”
Murphy turned his chair—he really loved being able to do that on this new ship—to look up at his Ops officer. “It’s been roughly an hour and a half, give or take ten minutes.”
“That sounds about right,” added Tony Verdeschi. “Why do you ask, Lieutenant?”
“Because I just checked the chronometer to verify how much time has passed, and it’s showing only a fifteen minute time change,” the Roylan replied.
“Only fifteen minutes?” Koenig said, clearly surprised. “How is that possible?”
“Time dilation!” said Hansen, Ja-Nareth, and Maya all at once.
Murphy spun his chair again to encompass them all in his gaze, then settled on his senior science officer. “Commander, care to explain that?”
“Captain, we are manipulating mass and gravity on an enormous scale,” Ja-Nareth replied, gesturing with his hands. “That combined with the massive warp field necessary to enable us to actually move an object the size of the moon… It’s also why a near-relative speed such as warp seven feels like warp one.”
“Murphy to task force,” said the captain as he looked back toward the viewscreen. “Check your chronometers for possible time discrepancies.”
Across the six ships pushing, there were various times ranging from 15 to 20 minutes. Only the NejSov showed a larger amount of time passage, their chronometer showing 45 minutes.
“No, I have to agree with Captain Murphy and Tony,” said Helena Russell with a shake of her head. “It definitely feels as though it’s been at least ninety minutes.”
“In all likelihood it has, Doctor,” said Hansen, “but the effects of time dilation as described by Commander Ja-Nareth are such that the magnetic field our ships are generating has had an adverse effect on our equipment.”
“But how come the Klingons’ clocks are showing more time has passed than your Starfleet ships?” asked Tony.
“It’s because they are at the leading edge of the field, and the rest of us are at the back, basically soaking up all the excess energy,” Maya said.
He raised an eyebrow. “Our clocks are slower because we’re getting all the backwash?”
Several voices around the bridge sounded laughter. Maya walked up to him and took his hand with a smile. “Think of it more as backdraft from a fire.”
“In any case, I think it best we attempt ta re-sync our energy output,” said McMurty. “Mechanical equipment can be reset, but we cannae. We do nae want this time dilation business ta begin affectin’ the biological components o’ this operation.”
“Helena, do you think the time differential could affect us?” Koenig asked his doctor.
She lifted a shoulder. “I don’t know for sure, John. We’ve encountered a number of different spatial phenomena that have made us varying degrees of ill, but our people have never really been presented with an artificially generated effect like this.”
“Does anybody feel sick at all?” asked Murphy. “Sully, check with the task force, make sure nobody’s suffering any kind of side effects.”
“It’s a relatively minor difference, Dom,” said Ja-Nareth. “Shouldn’t have any adverse effects on us since we have felt the time pass.”
“That may well be, but just to be safe, let’s all keep on our toes.”
“Aye sir,” the Efrosian replied, and turned back to his station.
Captain’s log, supplemental…
It is 0437 hours on stardate 55701.8. The Alphans’ moon was settled into orbit just before midnight; our primary objective was achieved after pushing the moon for seven hours to get it in position and another hour of pulling to begin the orbital pathway, and has held steady without any sign of orbital decay. The task force has been ordered to remain for another twenty-four hours in order to ensure that doesn’t change. Commander McMurty continues to work on figuring out how to increase the rotation rate of the moon so that they will be able to maintain their atmosphere once they have one.
On another note, I’m about to perform my first wedding ceremony. Two of the Alphans are celebrating the end of their long journey by getting married: the scientist Maya—who was a significant part of Operation Orbit—and Tony Verdeschi, their chief of security. I have been asked to officiate so that Commander Koenig can play the part of “father of the bride”…
The wedding went off without a hitch.
Maya had been nervous beforehand, for which she felt incredibly silly. After all, she was marrying the man that she loved. The father of her unborn child. Whatever was there to be nervous about?
It all went away—every nervous twitch, every twittery thought—the moment she and Commander Koenig had walked into the lounge on Messenger and she had seen the expression of love and awe on Tony’s face. Looking into his eyes as they slowly approached where he stood with Alan at his side, Captain Murphy in the center with Helena and Sandra to the right, she knew there was no reason to be nervous. There never had been. After all, they loved each other deeply and were committed to building a life together. This ceremony simply made it “official.”
The original plan had been to have the wedding on Alpha, where she and Tony had met, but Dr. Nir’ahn had suggested the use of Messenger’s Mess Hall because it was a large enough space and already had many tables for folk to sit down and eat. New-found friends from all the ships that had helped with Operation Orbit were to attend or stop by, and frankly, it had felt fitting to begin this new chapter in their lives looking down at their moon from above.
Now they were dancing, just her and Tony, for the fourth or fifth time. She’d already shared a dance with Commander Koenig, Alan, and even Captain Murphy, but no other partners would be had tonight. The rest of her proverbial dance card was marked with her husband’s name.
Her husband. Oh, if only her mother and father could be here to see how happy she was.
“Penny for your thoughts, Mrs. Verdeschi.”
Maya grinned. “You know, I wasn’t sure about assuming a surname as Psychons don’t have them, but I find that I really like the sound of that. Mrs. Maya Verdeschi has quite a nice ring to it.”
Tony smiled hugely. “It does indeed. Now tell me, Mrs. Verdeschi, what were you thinking just now?”
She sighed. “Oh nothing, really. Just a tiny wish that my parents could have been here to share in our joy.”
His expression sobered. “Yeah. I wish my family could have been here too. But we’re not so very alone when we have our Alpha family and new friends around us, are we?”
Maya smiled and gave a shake of her head. “Not at all.”
Tony kissed her then, and the melancholy melted away, and she lay her head on his chest and they danced in silence for a time, until his soft chuckling drew her attention.
“What is it?” she asked as she lifted her head.
“Look over there,” he directed with a nod. Maya turned her head to the right just in time to see Captain Murphy breaking up Alan’s dance with Dr. Nir’ahn.
“Poor Alan looks so disappointed,” Tony murmured.
“He’ll have to find himself another exotic beauty to flirt with,” said Maya. “Calista and the captain are as together as the commander and Helena.”
Even as she spoke, Alan turned to walk away, then his face lit up at someone he saw and he soon approached the Messenger’s chief of security. Tony laughed again, saying, “He’s gone from blue skin to spots. I wonder what will catch his eye next?”
“Who knows? But at least now there are a great many more choices than he had before.”
Maya turned her head then and looked out the massive windows of the mess hall. She took Tony’s hand and led him over to one, and together they gazed down at their moon. “We’ve all got many more choices than we had before,” she said. “Many more opportunities to grow, and to learn.”
Tony moved behind her and wrapped his arms around her. “And to live, my lovely wife… More importantly, we’ve all got more choices to live.”
“So, Dominic,” said Calista. “What do you think about what’s happened the last few weeks?”
“I think I’m so tired I’ll sleep until the end of the week,” Murphy replied.
“Come on, you know what I mean.”
He drew a breath. “Yeah, I know. It’s been a helluva ride, I’ll say that much.”
“Indeed,” his dance partner said, her gaze roaming around them. “We’ve got a new life on our new ship, we’ve encountered a new civilization in the Alphans…”
“Who in turn have a whole new future laid out before them, being in a whole new universe and set in orbit of a new planet.”
“Do you think we’ll be here for a while, helping them out?” Calista asked. “We are a science ship, after all. Would that bother you as much as the Paulson survey?”
Murphy scoffed. “Angel, there’s no way helping these people basically establish a colony on the moon is going to be as mind-numbing as the Paulson survey. Hell, I’m hoping Starfleet Command doesn’t give the job to someone else.”
“They’re at least going to send another science ship, I don’t doubt,” Calista mused. “And an environmental specialist—I’m betting on Cate Ross, since she’s closer than anyone else.”
“Oh, I love Cate Ross.”
She slapped at his arm and he laughed. “Not like that, obviously,” he assured her with a grin. “It’s just that I know her—we worked together on a project once about ten years ago, when she was on a temporary assignment to the Sherwood. I’ll admit I found her attractive, but she was too focused on her career to make time for any man. What I love about her more than anything is just how brilliant she is.”
“That much I can agree with, having gotten to know her over the last year and a half,” Calista agreed. “She’s the kind of smart that makes other smart people feel stupid.”
Murphy gave a theatrical shudder. “Don’t I know it.”
About an hour later, as Tony and Maya’s wedding party began at last to wind down, Murphy escorted a tired Calista to her quarters. He was more tempted than he wanted to admit to remain with her, but in the back of his mind he knew that she still wasn’t ready for that level of intimacy, and so he forced himself to leave her and head for his own cabin on deck two.
The turbolift he called for opened to reveal Keel McMurty, whom Murphy now recalled he had seen only briefly at the wedding party. “Hey, Commander, where’d you run off to?” he asked as the engineer stepped off the lift and he moved to step into it.
“I wanted ta get back ta work on the equations for getting’ the Alphans’ moon ta spin faster,” McMurty said. “The puzzle of it’s occupied me thoughts ever since we realized it were necessary.”
“Well, we missed you at the party,” Murphy told him.
The other man’s expression had the captain instinctively stepping off the lift again. “Commander, is there something else on your mind?”
McMurty looked to him and gave a heavy sigh, then nodded his head. “Aye, Captain. I’ve been thinkin’… that I want to remain aboard the ship.”