|Background art by Robby-Robert. Paul Morrow, Victor Bergman, and David Kano courtesy of ITV.|
Cover composition by Christina Moore.
In orbit of Moonbase Alpha
Keel McMurty sat in the mess hall on Messenger with a PADD in one hand and a cup of straight black coffee in the other, even though it was nearly midnight. There was a pot of the beverage on the table before him—the second pot a willing cadet had procured for him. McMurty had not moved from the spot he had taken over two hours ago, at one of the sofas by the viewports, so absorbed was he in his work.
It can be done, he thought to himself for the umpteenth time. I know it can.
The task which had occupied the majority of his time the last two weeks was how in the heck could a spatial body the size of Earth’s moon be spun fast enough to maintain a natural atmosphere? He’d run through dozens of calculations and had as yet come up with nothing. McMurty knew he would have to either figure out a solution or admit defeat soon, and being half Capellan meant he could not give up. Defeat was not a concept his mother’s people believed in, and as such, he had grown up believing he could literally do anything he set his mind to.
But this was the one time in all his life that he had felt the smallest temptation to just throw in the proverbial towel. He simply could not figure out what to do that would do what the Alphans wanted.
“Hey, Commander, mind if we join you?”
Blinking, McMurty looked up to find Ensign Sharp Smile to-Catsland and Lieutenant Annika Hansen standing to his right, each with a cup in their hands. His eyes lingered not on the smoke-furred felinoid but the Human beside her, and for the first time in hours, he felt himself smile. She was what his father would call a “stunner”: she had curves in all the right places, a narrow waist, expressive blue eyes, and plump lips that practically begged to be kissed.
But there was more to her than just her appearance, and he didn’t mean the visible cybernetic implants on her face and left hand. She had an intellect that had astonished him from the moment he met her. Her ability to grasp complex equations in quantum mechanics was incredible, and she could think faster than anyone he knew. She was very often compared to Vulcans due to her precision, dedication to tasks, and matter-of-fact method of speech, but that didn’t bother McMurty one micron. Nor did her having once been a Borg drone, though he was sure there were those who would question that. To him, she was just a woman whose life had been stolen from her at a very young age that was trying her best to take that life back again. The fight to discover herself amidst hostility and prejudice and distrust, coupled with a mind-boggling intelligence—that’s what made her attractive to him.
Okay, that and those sinfully sexy lips.
Of course, Annika Hansen was not likely to allow anyone to kiss those lips anytime soon, if ever—certainly not a man nearly 15 years older than she was. Besides the fact that he was more than a decade her senior, Hansen was…different. Through no fault of her own, certainly, as no one ever asked to be assimilated by a menacing cyborg race bent on dominance of the galaxy. But having spent 18 years as a captive of the Borg had altered more than just the physical; Hansen’s very personality had been shaped by those years. She generally eschewed casual conversation of any kind and rarely socialized with anyone outside of the stellar sciences team, with whom she did appear to have developed something of a closeness. He honestly could not say he’d ever heard her laugh or seen her smile.
McMurty felt certain that a relationship would be the last thing on Hansen’s mind. He was a fool to even think about her in that way.
Still, she and Catsland had approached him, and fool that he was, he would welcome any time in her company that he could get.
“Absolutely,” he replied to Sharp Smile’s query. “I could use the distraction o’ a couple o’ pretty faces.”
The two ladies moved to sit on the sofa on the other side of the low table before him. Sharp Smile purred softly, though she retorted, “I doubt you really find me attractive, Commander. Annika, on the other hand, would be perfect for you.”
McMurty nearly spit out the mouthful of coffee he’d just taken, and Hansen turned to the Sivaoan with a raised eyebrow. “Forgive me if my observation was inappropriate,” said Sharp Smile quickly, “but I always try to be honest. And I honestly think you two have a lot in common. Isn’t that the cornerstone of any relationship, having common interests?”
“I did not know that matchmaking was one of your skills, Ensign,” said Hansen.
“It’s not, exactly. I just know what I see.”
McMurty couldn’t help asking, “And what is that, I wonder?”
For the moment he ignored the fact that Hansen’s uplifted eyebrow was now turned his way, and kept his gaze focused on the felinoid as she replied, “Well, you’re both super smart, you work very well together, and you’re both attractive. I bet you’d make beautiful kits.”
He was a little surprised when Hansen looked again to her friend and said, “Being considered attractive does not mean two people will be attracted to each other, Ensign. And while Commander McMurty and I are both exceptionally intelligent and have worked well together in the past, it does not mean that we would suit each other romantically.”
Sharp Smile grinned. “You never know until you try. Besides, the commander likes you—I’ve noticed that his scent changes whenever you’re near.”
“And that, I think, is where this conversation should stop,” McMurty said, feeling a little embarrassed. She would have to notice, he mused; her species, much like their Caitian cousins, had an exceptionally heightened sense of smell. And while biochemistry was nowhere near his specialty, even he knew that being attracted to someone caused certain pheromones to release every time you met with them.
Hansen, thankfully, said nothing in reply. She merely gestured toward his PADD and asked, “May I inquire as to what you are studying, Commander?”
“Oh, ahem, certainly,” he said, lifting the device again and glancing at the screen. “I’m still tryin’ ta figure out how ta spin that bloody moon down below us.”
“Do you want some help?” asked Sharp Smile. “Now that the whole Paulson thing is behind us, we’ve got a little free time. Not much to do while we sit here and wait for the terraforming team to arrive.”
“Oh yes, I heard ye discovered a couple o' Borg drones out there,” McMurty replied, recalling that Hansen had returned only two days ago from an away mission. “I can’t help wonderin’ if there are others like that—drones just floatin’ about from cubes that have been destroyed in battle or suffered some sort o’ catastrophic malfunction and self-destructed.”
“It is entirely plausible to assume the answer is yes,” said Hansen. “As you did request I give the matter of rotating the Alphans’ moon some thought, Commander, I will return to considering possible methods of doing so in my off hours.”
“I appreciate it, Lieutenant, because I can’t bloody figure it out,” McMurty replied with a groan.
“You were originally with the Border Patrol Service, correct?”
He looked to her with another grin. “Aye. Still am, though I now get ta work with ye lot permanently.”
Hansen raised the eyebrow again. “Please explain.”
Sharp Smile’s eyes widened. “Oh, you mean you haven’t heard? The commander is our new chief engineer!”
McMurty could not interpret the expression on Hansen’s face, though he was relieved to hear her offer of congratulations. “I am curious, though, as to why you would seek a starship post when you had the command of an entire shipyard. Is that not a more prestigious position?”
“Technically, but it isn’t what I wanted anymore,” he replied honestly. “Some might think me daft, but I found that I missed bein’ out in space. This is where all the really interestin’ things happen—out here, between the stars.”
Sharp Smile giggled. “You mean interesting like encountering a moon from another universe?”
Flashing a wide grin, McMurty replied, “Exactly, my feline friend! There is still so much we don’t know about them, about their technology… And space itself—there are still planets and people and phenomena out there we’ve not discovered yet, mysteries yet ta be solved. I won’t get ta be a part o’ any o’ that stuck back at Echo runnin’ the repair yard.”
“I have learned in the last few years that an officer performs his or her duties the best when he or she actually enjoys the work they do. Given your enthusiasm for engineering, I believe that with your experience and intelligence, you will be an asset to this crew,” Hansen observed. “However, I asked about your service with the Border Patrol for a specific reason, Commander.”
Curiosity had him sitting forward and placing his coffee cup on the table. “Oh? And what is that?”
“I recall reading that one of Patrol’s duties is tending to asteroids that may pose a hazard to navigation,” the scientist continued. “I was wondering if you had conducted any such—”
“Oh! OH!” McMurty cried, shooting to his feet with his hands in his hair as her words stirred an idea in his mind. “I’m such an idiot! Well, no, I’m actually a bloody genius, but right now I feel like a soddin’ idiot!”
Hansen stood then, as did Sharp Smile, and others gathered in the room at the late hour turned their heads at his outburst. “Commander, are you well?”
Without giving much thought to his actions, McMurty stepped around the table and up to Hansen, grabbed her face in his hands, and kissed her. “Thank you so much!” he said when he stepped back. “I think I know exactly what ta do now—I just have ta figure out how many we need!”
With that he swiped his PADD up from beside his seat and ran excitedly out of the mess hall.
Beside Hansen, Sharp Smile began purring. “I told you he likes you.”
“I am sure you are mistaken, Ensign,” Hansen replied. “Commander McMurty was merely reacting to the sudden excitement of his idea.”
“An idea you gave him, Lieutenant,” said the Sivaoan as she nudged her with her elbow. “Why did you ask about the Border Patrol, anyway? So they blow up asteroids that might get in the way, so what?”
Hansen turned to her. “I was merely wondering if, given that particular duty of the Border Patrol, he had any previous experience that might aid in creating a solution to the issue of rotating the moon on its axis. The moon is larger than most asteroids, but some have been known to be equal in size.”
Sharp Smile looked toward the exit the engineer had run out of. “Apparently, the answer is yes.”
She flounced down again, and drew her cup to her lips with a grin. “By the way, I notice you didn’t push him away or smack him.”
Hansen looked down with her eyebrow raised. “Do not assume anything more from my lack of physical violence than that I was surprised, Ensign.”
“Come on, you don’t think he’s handsome?” asked Sharp Smile as Hansen herself sat down again. “I’ve seen the way some of the female crew look at him—heck, even some of the guys. If I were into non-felinoids, I might even go for him. I love a tom who’s smart.”
“Toms are what we call our males on Sivao. Females are dams, and our young are called kits,” Sharp Smile explained, then leaned closer and added, “I really do think you and Commander McMurty would make gorgeous kits.”
“No doubt you are correct, Sharp Smile,” Hansen agreed. “Our combined genetic material would indeed create exceptionally intelligent offspring.”
Her companion laughed. “I’m not talking smarts, Annika! Though now you point it out, your kits would obviously be the smartest in the known galaxy, for sure. I’m talking looks-wise. There’s no way you’d make an ugly kit with that tom.”
“The intention of procreation is not to make attractive young, although attractiveness is an asset when one chooses to seek a mate,” Hansen pointed out.
“Yeah, I’m aware of that.”
Hansen concentrated on her drink as Sharp Smile gazed at her profile. “Wait,” said the felinoid suddenly. “You’re not attracted to women, are you? Or maybe McMurty just doesn’t do it for you?”
She was becoming uncomfortable with the conversation, and so decided it was time to put an end to it. “Ensign Catsland, I do not believe it is appropriate for you speculate as to the romantic compatibility of your superior officers.”
“Oh. Sorry, Lieutenant,” said Sharp Smile, her tone mollified. “It’s just… I’ve got no chances for romance because I’m the only felinoid on the ship. So I have to live vicariously through my friends. I’m sorry if I embarrassed you or made you uncomfortable.”
Hansen turned to her. “I appreciate your concern, Sharp Smile. And I am attracted to men; however, I am not at present interested in beginning a relationship. I believe that my time here would best be spent proving to Starfleet that I have as much to contribute as any other officer. A romantic liaison would only interfere with that mission.”
She finished her smoothie and stood. Hansen genuinely appreciated the Sivaoan’s intentions, but she and Chakotay had been separated for less than a year, and she wasn’t ready to try again. Not to mention that the talk of children had reminded her of the Borg children Voyager had rescued, over which she had been placed in charge, and three of whom they had later said goodbye to. Only Icheb had remained with them, and she had come to consider him more of a younger brother than a son. She also thought of One, who had been almost a son to her. She had not given birth to him, but her nanoprobes had created him, and she had been the one to teach the advanced drone what it was to be an individual.
For that matter, she did not even know if she could bear children naturally—her reproductive organs were intact, but the Doctor had once told her that the assimilation process had done a great deal of damage to them, and he could not guarantee that, if she should try, she would even be able to conceive, let alone carry to term.
Drawing a deep breath, Hansen squared her shoulders and, after inclining her head in Sharp Smile’s direction, made her own exit from the mess hall.
Jennara Stadi felt as though she had been asleep only an hour or so when a hand on her shoulder gently shook her awake. With a groan she rolled onto her back, mumbling sleepily, “The hell do you want, Dareth?”
The Vulcan grinned. “I do believe my XO instructed me to inform her immediately if our scans picked up anything unusual.”
Stadi hurried out of bed and over to her wardrobe, from which she yanked out a clean uniform. “What came up on sensors?”
“At the edge of our sensor range there’s a small metallic craft,” Dareth replied as she next pulled out clean undergarments and threw them on the bed with her uniform. “Unidentifiable at this distance.”
Stadi was about to strip off her sleep shirt to put on a bra, but remembered in time that she was not alone. Turning again to her friend, she said, “Go back to the bridge and keep that thing on sensors. I’ll be there as soon as I finish dressing.”
“I will see you on the bridge, Commander,” he replied smoothly, then turned and departed.
When Stadi entered the bridge, Dareth stood just behind Palmer at the helm. He looked over as she entered and acknowledged her with a nod. Stadi smiled back and crossed over to the operations console to view the data on the craft they had detected. The hull’s alloy was one she did not recognize. It was slightly longer than a runabout, though was more than four meters smaller than a Danube’s width.
“Commander Stadi,” spoke up Palmer, “sensors show that the vessel appears to be adrift. Power systems seem to be functioning, but at this distance, I cannot say if the settings are full or auxiliary.”
Stadi checked her own readings. “So life support could be functional, but no way to tell for sure at this point, or even if there’s anyone on board.”
Dareth turned to her. “Should I go inform the captain?” he asked.
She pursed her lips, considering. “I’d hate to pull her out of bed this early… Miss Palmer, how long until we reach the vehicle at our current speed?”
Palmer pressed a few controls on the helm. “More than thirteen hours at warp seven, Commander.”
“Increase to warp nine, then alter course to intercept. Let’s see what that thing is out there.”
“Yes, ma’am. Altering course—time to intercept now five hours, forty-five minutes.”
Stadi stood from the Ops console and moved toward the command chairs. “Lt. Dareth, take over Ops and keep monitoring long-range sensors, let me know if anything changes. We’ll let the captain sleep for now—she’ll be up and on the bridge before we get there.”
Dareth gave a nod of assent and moved to take the seat she had just vacated as she sat in the first officer chair, leaning her head back and closing her eyes.
“Jenn, why don’t you go back to bed and grab a few more hours’ sleep? I feel like I should have waited to wake you.”
With a sigh, Stadi lifted her head and shook it. “I’ll admit I’m still tired, but you did the right thing in waking me. I’ll be all right.”
He looked to her. “Then go and have yourself an early breakfast. That will give you some energy, at least.”
A chuckle escaped her. “Still telling me what to do, I see. I thought I was the superior officer?”
“In rank, perhaps,” Dareth rejoined. “But really, there’s nothing for you to do right now—you were supposed to be in bed another three hours, remember? If you’re not going to try and sleep, you should at least eat something.”
“I suppose I can bear to spend the next twenty minutes or so stuffing my face,” Stadi conceded as she stood again. “Perhaps I’ll also get a head start on some work waiting for my attention while I’m at it. I’m sure there are schedule changes or something of the sort desperately awaiting my authorization.”
While her friend chuckled again, the night shift pilot merely gave a minute shake of her head. Stadi smiled, sure that the girl thought the exchange a little odd, as she turned and headed for the starboard door.
I’m coming home, I’m coming home
Tell the world I’m coming home
He had spent more hours than expected in the engineering lab, but McMurty felt certain he had finally figured it out. He knew now, after two weeks of frustration and coming up empty, how they could spin the Alphans’ moon.
A smile came to his face when he remembered that he had Annika Hansen to thank for inspiring the idea—in fact, he could not understand how he had not thought of it himself, the solution was so simple.
Now, he stood by the viewscreen on the wall of Messenger’s briefing room as they waited for some of the Alphans to arrive. Though it was still fairly early, he had insisted that he present the ingenious solution to the ship’s command team as well as that of the moonbase at the same time.
The turbolift leading directly into the briefing room opened and Hansen stepped across the threshold, escorting Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell, as well as Tony and Maya Verdeschi. Captain Murphy stood when they entered and welcomed the four warmly, as did Dr. Nir’ahn. As they took the chairs offered to them, Hansen nodded to the captain and turned to depart.
“Lieutenant, a moment,” McMurty said as he stepped toward her. “I want ye ta stay and hear this—was yer idea, after all.”
She raised her eyebrow again as she clasped her hands behind her back. “I do not recall expressing any idea upon which you could expand, Commander.”
“Allow me ta rephrase then,” he countered with a grin. “My idea was inspired by ye.”
Hansen’s eyebrow remained high even as she stepped further into the room again. Pleased that she had remained, McMurty turned back and stepped over to the screen once more.
Murphy, still on his feet, clapped his hands together twice to gather everyone’s attention. “Thank you, everyone, for taking time out of your no doubt busy schedules to be here. Commander McMurty has informed me he is certain of having come up with a solution to the dilemma of rotating the moon.”
He sat down and gestured toward McMurty. “Take it away, Commander.”
The excitement began to flow through him again as McMurty turned to the wall screen and switched it on. The display showed the moon and—
“What are those things there, Commander?” asked Tony Verdeschi. “Those flashing spots on the sides of the moon…”
His companions chuckled. “Give the man a moment to explain, Tony,” Commander Koenig said.
“As ye know,” McMurty began, “yer expressed desire for a natural atmosphere—no pressure domes, no forcefields—presented quite the puzzle for me ta solve. I regret that it has taken so long ta do that solvin’, and so appreciate yer patience. But now I have, and it is thanks in large part ta Lt. Hansen.”
Several of the gathered persons turned or looked to where Hansen stood at Captain Murphy’s right shoulder, an impassive expression on her lovely face. The engineer tried not to think about what he had done right after her words had finally gotten the creaky wheels of his brain moving—he still needed to apologize for his impulsive action.
Clearing his throat, he continued with his presentation. “Last evenin’, Ms. Hansen asked me about my previous service with the Federation Border Patrol—more specifically, the Patrol’s duty o' clearin’ rogue asteroids from known spacelanes. Well, she didn’t actually get ta finish the query, as the moment she mentioned asteroids I had meself an epiphany as ta how ta get yer moon ta spin.”
McMurty indicated the screen. “The ‘flashing spots’ that Mr. Verdeschi noticed are asteroid movers—that is, they are modified Type-6 shuttlecraft engines, capable o’ achieving speeds up ta warp two. I have calculated that eight asteroid movers, placed equidistant around the moon’s equatorial line, shall be just enough ta get yer moon movin’.”
The four Alphans at the table sat forward eagerly. “You really think that you can get the moon to rotate with those engines?” Koenig asked.
With a smile and a small bow, McMurty said, “I do indeed, Commander.”
“Will eight of those asteroid movers be enough, though, Commander McMurty?” added Maya. “And how long would they have to be in operation?”
“And can you guarantee that the centrifugal force generated by the engines will not tear the moon apart or decay its orbit?” asked Tyrone Ja-Nareth, Messenger’s senior science officer.
McMurty stifled the urge to scowl. “Lt. Commander, I would not have called a meetin’ o’ this nature had I not done all the calculations necessary ta ensure neither o’ those situations occurs,” he said matter-of-factly. He then turned to Maya and said, “As for the length o’ operation, Mrs. Verdeschi, I’ve based the rotational speed o’ yer moon on that o’ the planet below. Levzor 4 rotates fully on its axis every 28.75 Federation standard hours—the same system o’ measurement ye use on the moon, in case ye were wondering, based on Earth’s old Universal Time Code—and calculated that in order ta get the moon ta achieve full rotation, the asteroid movers will have ta run at least that long.”
“Will we be able to shut them down afterward, Commander?” asked Murphy. “And what about removal?”
McMurty drew a breath. “That, sir, is the only area in which I am unsure. Ye all know that the rule o' space is that an object in motion stays in motion, but I cannot guarantee that the moon will not slow down if we shut the movers off.”
“He’s unfortunately right, Captain,” spoke up Maya. “The moon may not have stopped since leaving Earth, but rate of travel has varied on occasion depending on the different spatial environments we’ve encountered.”
“Would not the constant of being caught in the gravity well of Levzor 4 affect whether or not the moon reduces speed?” asked Hansen. “Did you run simulations, Commander?”
McMurty nodded. “Indeed I did, and all the tests I ran showed the moon maintainin’ constant rate o rotation. However, because we’re generatin’ that spin artificially, there’s simply no way ta absolutely guarantee there will not be a change. As such, I would recommend continuous operation fer at least two Levzorian days, and then begin shut-down o' the movers one by one.”
Maya stood from the table then and walked around it to stand by the monitor. “Commander, can you display the simulation here?”
“Certainly,” he replied, and keyed a few commands into the console below the screen. The display showed the asteroid movers firing up and rotating the moon, and then the moon grew smaller to show it in orbit of the planet.
“Did you factor in the time it takes the moon to orbit the planet, as well as the planet’s orbit of the star?” Maya asked after a few moments of studying the model and the lines of code that scrolled below it on the screen. “Our instruments showed that the moon would take thirty-two days to complete a circuit around the planet itself, and that Levzor 4 would revolve around the sun in three hundred sixty-seven days.”
“Yes, but you based those calculations on twenty-four hour days, darling,” Tony said then.
“Well, the moon doesn't have ta rotate at the same rate as the planet,” McMurty mused as he scratched his chin with one hand. “I can certainly calibrate the movers ta set the rotation time at twenty-four hours ta keep it on the same time clock as Earth if ya like.”
“It would be wise to factor in the rise in gravitational force on the moon’s surface caused by the increase of its axial rotation, Commander,” spoke up Hansen, “as well as the pull of the planet’s gravity, and the pace and path of the moon’s orbit.”
McMurty turned to her with an expression of feigned indignance. “Annika Hansen, ye wound me! I’m a bloody genius, remember? Even the captain has said so.” He turned back to the monitor, again scratching his chin. “I did consider those factors, but perhaps not enough. I am certain that eight asteroid movers will be sufficient ta rotate the moon on its axis, but may need ta do a tad more work ta determine whether it can maintain optimum rotational speed on its own.”
“Does it really matter if it can?” asked Tony. “I mean, sure, that would be ideal, but if those engine things are left in place, we can just fire them up again if the moon slows down, can’t we?”
McMurty turned around to observe as Koenig glanced around at his people. “While it would be ideal for the moon to maintain rotational speed on its own,” said Alpha’s commander, “I think I can safely speak for the rest of Alpha in saying we won’t mind if the engines have to stay on in order to maintain the rotation, so long as we get the natural environment we have been longing for.”
“John’s right,” agreed Dr. Russell. “It may not be a perfect solution, but if we can get our night and day, the grass and the blue skies…what does it really matter if we need a little help to keep it?”
“In any case,” spoke up Murphy, “we haven’t got eight asteroid movers on hand. And while Messenger’s industrial replicator can manufacture the parts for them, we can’t manufacture the deuterium or dilithium crystals required to power them.”
“I will immediately put in a request for the required amount of those materials, Captain,” said Jaarid. “In fact, if I am not mistaken, Starbase Echo should have a supply of asteroid movers in storage—we may not need to do any of the manufacturing ourselves at all.”
McMurty snapped his fingers. “Oh, the XO’s right! Echo would be the place for the 7th Cutter Squadron to pick up any movers what need replacin’. And in the meantime, Annika, Maya, and I can work on determinin’ if they’ll need ta run continuously or not.”
“Looks like we have a plan of action,” said Captain Murphy as he rose to his feet. “You three geniuses put your heads together. Jaarid, make that call to Echo, see how many asteroid movers they have that they can spare. If for any reason they haven’t got any, check with Border Patrol’s liaison on the station to get them from the ships of the 7th.”
Everyone else around the table stood and made ready to depart the briefing room. Murphy had taken just two strides toward the door leading to the bridge when it suddenly hissed open and Lt. Tucker, their pilot, stepped in.
“Beloved, are you well?” Jaarid asked her, his silver eyes flitting from her slightly flushed face to her protruding belly.
“I’m fine, Jaarid. The baby’s fine,” she assured her husband, then turned her gaze to Murphy. “Captain, we’ve just received a transmission from the Journey, sir. They’ve found a strange vehicle on their long-range sensors, and having heard of our friends here, would like for us to confirm or deny whether the vehicle is one of theirs before they determine if a delay in their arrival will be necessary.”
McMurty watched the four Alphans glance at one another in varying degrees of surprise. “An Eagle?” Koenig said. “But that’s impossible—none of our ships have left the moon except to transport the science teams around the surface to collect samples for the terraforming project.”
“Bridge to Tucker.”
“Go ahead,” the pilot replied.
“Lieutenant, Journey has sent us their sensor record, ma’am.”
“We’ll be right out, Cadet Kavé, thank you,” Tucker acknowledged. To the captain she said, “I asked them to send us a copy of their scan so we could determine if the vessel they detected was indeed an Eagle, since they haven’t any record of them; it took a few minutes to reach us because they’re still more than a day away.”
“Then let’s go see what their sensors picked up, Lieutenant,” Murphy replied.
With quick steps and an eagerness to solve yet another mystery, everyone filed out quickly onto the bridge. Messenger’s officers took their stations, with Koenig and his people standing on either side of the captain’s chair as they had done during Operation Orbit.
“Mr. Sullek, please bring Journey’s visual record up on the viewscreen,” Murphy ordered.
“Coming up, Captain,” the Roylan replied.
There were audible gasps of shock from the Alphans as the image of one of their Eagles, slowly rotating as though adrift, suddenly appeared on the screen. Koenig stepped forward, shaking his head as he said, “I don’t understand. How could they have found an Eagle out there?”
“Verdeschi to Alpha,” said Tony; McMurty observed that he had activated his commlock device.
“Carter here, go ahead Tony.”
“Alan, check the Eagle complement—make sure they’re all accounted for.”
“What? Why do you want me to check the Eagles?” said Carter.
“Alan, just do what he says,” Koenig called over his shoulder. “We’ll explain in a moment.”
“All right. Give me a few minutes to get back to you.”
“Captain Murphy, has the other ship determined whether or not there are any lifesigns aboard the Eagle?” asked Dr. Russell.
Murphy looked over at the Operations station. “Sully?”
Sully checked his readouts. “They’re still too far away to know for sure, but their sensors have indicated a power reading on the vessel, which means the life support system could be functional.”
“How far away from the other ship? Are we closer than they are?” Koenig asked.
“Negative on the second, Commander Koenig,” came the reply. “Journey’s much closer—their transmission said they were twenty minutes away from the shuttle.”
Koenig’s commlock beeped and he pulled it from the belt at his waist. “Alan, what have you got for me?”
“Commander, we had ten Eagles when we arrived in this universe. All ten have been accounted for,” Carter replied. “What’s going on?”
“Another Federation starship detected an Eagle on their sensors, Alan.”
“But that’s impossible! They’re all in the hangar bays right now.”
“It should be impossible, and yet I’m looking at one. I’ll get back to you soon,” Koenig said, then switched off the device and returned it to his belt.
“Commander,” said Maya, drawing Koenig’s attention. “I can’t help wondering, given our own unusual arrival here, whether or not this Eagle came from a parallel universe. It could be the same as our home universe, it could be another entirely.”
“Maya’s right—remember, we talked about the multiverse theory when you all arrived,” offered Ja-Nareth. “Or it could be they’re from your future here and have somehow traveled back in time.”
Koenig looked back at Tony, then to Maya, his eyes falling last on Helena Russell. “If we consider any of those possibilities, regardless of which universe or time the Eagle came from, the main question becomes how did it get here?”
“Journey will find out, and let us know the moment they have answers for you, Commander,” Murphy assured him, then turned once more to Ops. “Sully, tell Captain Hale to make sure her science officer does a check for chroniton particles when they reach the Eagle, and to run a quantum signature test. Send them a copy of our own records for comparison.”
“Captain Murphy,” said Koenig as he turned away from the viewscreen at last. “I know there’s nothing for me to do here, but I’d like to remain aboard until we hear back from your colleague. I just can’t leave when—”
Murphy held up a hand. “No problem, Commander, you’re welcome to stay.”
“Thank you,” Koenig replied, then said, “Tony, Helena, you get back to Alpha, tell them what little we know right now.”
The doctor stepped up to him and kissed his cheek. “You’ll let us know as soon as you learn anything more?”
Koenig nodded. “Of course.”
“Kavé,” said Murphy, “please escort Mr. Verdeschi and Dr. Russell to the transporter room.”
The Cayadoran, now a fourth-year cadet, nodded and gestured toward the turbolift, and waited until the departing Alphans had joined her before moving off.
“The ladies and I will get started right away, Captain,” McMurty said then. “We’ll be in the engineerin’ workshop.”
Murphy nodded. “Excellent! All right, people, let’s get this day started right.”
McMurty glanced at Hansen and then Maya before heading toward the turbolift. When another lift car came and they stepped inside, and he ordered it to deck seven’s engineering workshop, where he had spent most of the night just to get as far as he had figuring out how to rotate the moon in the first place.
Silence accompanied them as the car began its descent, and being in such close proximity with Hansen once again reminded him of the kiss. Though Maya would no doubt be insatiably curious, McMurty decided he’d best get the apology over with so that the time they had to spend together wasn’t awkward.
“Um, Lt. Hansen, I wanted ta apologize ta ye for what happened last night,” he began. “I should not have done what I did.”
Hansen turned her head slightly in his direction. “No apology is necessary, Commander. I am certain you merely acted on impulse, as you had just been excited by your idea.”
“Aye, ‘tis true, but it was still out of line,” he replied. “Especially in light of what our feline friend said about us.”
“What did Sharp Smile say? What happened?” Maya asked.
Hansen glanced in her direction, then said, “The event itself is irrelevant, though suffice it to say, Sharp Smile is a highly observant individual and her people value honesty.”
“There’s such a thing as too observant…and too honest,” McMurty said, thinking of the Sivaoan’s remark about his scent changing when Hansen was near. “The lass could use a few lessons in keepin’ her thoughts and observations ta herself.”
“I informed her after your departure that speculating on the romantic compatibility of her superior officers was inappropriate.”
Maya gasped softly and smiled. “I think I have it now—she thinks the two of you should get together?”
Hansen nodded. “Essentially.”
“Oh dear. I can see how that would be an awkward conversation,” the Psychon observed.
McMurty said then, “It was a good idea, what ye said, Lieutenant. I just hope Ensign Catsland takes yer words ta heart.”
The lift then came to a stop just down the corridor from the engineering workshop. McMurty gestured for the ladies to precede him out, and as he followed behind, drew a deep breath and hoped that the subject of a romance between him and Hansen would be dropped. He would prefer to pursue such a topic another time, and in private—if at all.
Given that Hansen herself had made no indication his advances would be reciprocated should he make any, he was suspected that there would be no revisiting it. Probably best he give up on the idea.
Serutian Hale stood from her seat on the bridge as Journey approached the Eagle. “Ensign Reda, sensor readings?”
“Captain, the life support is definitely functional because I am reading three Human lifesigns over there; minimal but stable. Given the power reading, however, I’d say it’s on a backup system and not the main. There’s also evidence of minor hull damage, either from a firefight or a rough ride.”
“Can you establish communications, Ensign?” asked Stadi.
“Already tried with the frequency Messenger supplied to us, Commander,” Reda replied. “No response.”
Hale turned to look at her science officer. “Mr. Praeger, what about those tests Captain Murphy asked for?”
The Trill-Argelian was busy running his fingers across his console. A moment later, he replied, “I’ve run the chroniton sweep, Captain. I’m not detecting any particulates indicating time travel, either on the Eagle or the surrounding space.”
“Doesn’t necessarily mean they haven’t traveled through time,” Dareth said. “Especially if they’re from another universe.”
Stadi had come to stand next to Hale at the edge of the command level. “He’s right. If that ship is from a parallel universe and not the future of this one, there’s a chance we wouldn’t be able to tell.”
The captain nodded, then turned back to the viewscreen as she asked, “Praeger, what about the quantum signature test?”
“The results are coming up right now…” Praeger replied. A moment after the results came up on his monitor, he turned around with wide eyes. “Captain, it’s a match! That Eagle, past or future, is from the same reality as the Alphans’ moon.”
“Well, that’s a welcome surprise,” Hale murmured, then addressed the comm. “Hale to Medbay. Dr. Anil, prepare to receive three Human patients.”
“Ensign Reda, lock on to the lifesigns onboard the Eagle and beam them directly to Medbay, then tractor it into the shuttle bay. Commander Stadi, why don’t you go down and see what you can find out, if the doctor can wake one or more of them up?” Hale said next.
Stadi nodded. “I’d say T’Rae and a couple of her engineers should have a look at the Eagle, but we don’t know anything about them,” the Betazoid said, drawing a smile from Hale.
“A good point. Guess we’ll have to hope that the crew can tell us what happened, and let the Alphans repair their shuttle themselves.”
When Stadi stepped into Journey’s small medical center a few minutes after leaving the bridge, she found that each man from the Eagle was being tended. Dr. Anil was examining a balding man, a medical technician was tending to a dark-skinned fellow, and one of their passengers—a Dr. Grayson—was taking care of a man with a mustache.
“Dr. Grayson, I didn’t expect to see you here,” she said as she stepped further into the room.
Sanai Grayson, the only civilian among the group they’d been tasked with transporting to the Alphans’ moon, did not take her eyes from her patient. “I was talking to Dr. Anil when the captain called down here, and so offered my assistance. I was glad to help, Commander, as frankly I’ve been bored.”
“I didn’t think Vulcans ever got bored,” said the nurse.
“It is an emotion most Vulcans suppress, along with every other,” Grayson replied. “However, I am not like most Vulcans.”
“Indeed,” remarked Stadi as she stepped up to the end of the biobed where Grayson worked, and reached to help her remove the man’s bulky orange spacesuit. “You’re a quarter Human, aren’t you?”
“I am, though that is not precisely to what I refer,” the doctor said as she retrieved a tricorder and began to scan the man. “My remark was in reference to my personal beliefs.”
Stadi frowned. “I don’t understand.”
Dr. Anil chuckled. “She is a practitioner of V’tosh ka’tur, Commander. Why do you think she and Dareth have gotten along so well?”
That certainly explained a few things, Stadi mused silently. Dareth was a Vulcan who couldn’t suppress emotion, and those who followed V’tosh ka’tur chose not to. It was a little-known belief system among their kind in which those who practiced it did not suppress their emotions; rather, they sought to maintain a balance between logic and emotion using a strict regimen of discipline and meditation, believing the two ought to complement one another rather than emotion being excluded by logic.
Because of his condition—and his having been sent to a boarding school on Betazed by his parents as a child—Dareth found it difficult to relate to “normal” Vulcans. Meeting one who was a little more like him would be a great relief to her friend.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a practitioner of that philosophy,” Stadi said. “If I may ask, why did you choose it over pure logic?”
Dr. Grayson set her tricorder on a nearby tray and picked up a dermal regenerator. She started closing up the cuts on the man’s face as she replied, “I was influenced by my parents.”
“Were they followers too?” Milo Haiakauna asked.
Grayson looked up at him. “No. But I had an uncle who was. Unfortunately, I never met him—he died when I was less than a year old.”
“Commander,” said Anil then. “I gather you’ve come to learn what you can about our patients?”
“Yes,” Stadi confirmed. “Can you tell me anything about them?”
Dr. Anil nodded. “This one here is the oldest, I’d say late 50s, and has an artificial heart that is incredibly fascinating—the ones our Earth had in the twentieth century were not as advanced. Those two gentlemen are in their 30s.”
“So far, most of the wounds seem fairly superficial,” added Milo. “Cuts, bruises, abrasions… No evidence so far of internal injuries or severe cranial trauma.”
Stadi was surprised by this. “Nothing more serious on any of them?”
“This fellow here,” said Dr. Grayson, indicating her patient, “has a slight burn on his cheek, but nothing else.”
“Okay, next question… Why are they unconscious?”
“That is a good question,” said Anil. “None of their injuries are severe enough to have knocked them out.”
Stadi looked at the Romulan and asked, “Do you think it could have something to do with how they got here? The quantum signature test on their vehicle showed they’re from the same alternate universe as the Alphans.”
“How did they get here, Commander?” asked Milo.
“We don’t know that,” she replied. “Our sensors didn’t pick up anything like the spatial rift that brought the moon here, but they must have come through something similar. It’s the only explanation that makes any sense at this point.”
“How incredible, though, that both the moon and this away team not only originate from the same reality, but ended up in the same place, as well,” observed Grayson. “What I am most curious about is not only why they arrived at separate times and in separate locations, but also the separate times they must come from.”
Stadi looked back at her with a frown. “What do you mean?”
Grayson glanced over. “It is only speculation on my part, Commander Stadi, but none of the reports regarding the Alphans mention their having lost a vehicle just before their trip through the rift. Thus, I think it logical to assume that this particular group was parted from Alpha at some point before they encountered it.”
“That makes an eerie amount of sense, Doctor,” Stadi said as she considered her words. “I remember reading that they started out with three hundred eleven crew, and—not counting the three children or Maya Verdeschi, all of whom came after the breakaway—lost a total of twenty-eight in the last seven years.
“To lose so few in such a span of time is itself an incredible feat,” Grayson murmured. “The mystery of these three makes me even more pleased to have accepted the offer to work with them.”
“How did that happen, Doctor, if you don’t mind my asking?” Dr. Anil queried. “I know that they’ve asked for assistance with upgrading their defenses and terraforming the moon so they’re not confined to the base anymore, but I had no idea they’d made any sort of request for medical assistance beyond a replenishment of supplies.”
“Maya Verdeschi, Alpha’s chief scientist, is pregnant,” said Grayson. “She’s also not Human. And while their doctors are familiar with her biology, they have no experience with blended DNA, and so requested a specialist in hybrid genetics.”
Anil snorted. “I’m surprised Starfleet didn’t send someone.”
Grayson was now working to dress her patient in the light top and trousers those who stayed in the medical facility overnight were given to wear; Anil and Haiakauna soon began to do the same with theirs.
“I am sure Starfleet would rather have the monopoly of working with the Alphans,” the visiting doctor replied. “No doubt someone higher up will suggest they be absorbed into Starfleet and given commissions.”
Stadi exchanged a glance with Anil and the nurse. “Forgive me if I assume too much, Doctor, but you don’t sound very fond of Starfleet.”
Grayson chuckled, though the sound was devoid of mirth. “Did your Betazoid empathy tell you that, Commander?”
“It didn’t need to,” Stadi countered. “Your tone displayed your bitterness quite well enough—though had I employed my abilities, I have little doubt I’d have felt it, as well.”
After pulling a thin blanket up to her patient’s chest, Grayson turned to her. “You’re right, I am not entirely fond of Starfleet. The organization does a great deal of good, to be sure, but it can also do a great deal of bad. Most officers and enlisted don’t see the bad.”
She drew a breath then, and turned toward Dr. Anil. “This man is stable, Doctor, and his injuries have been treated. Thank you for allowing me to assist.”
“You’re welcome, Dr. Grayson,” Anil replied. “Thank you for the help.”
Moving away from the biobed, Grayson placed her hands together behind her back and, as she passed Stadi, gave a nod before continuing on her way out.
“I wonder what that was all about,” Milo mused.
Out of the corner of her eye, Stadi noticed Anil biting her lip. She knows something, the XO thought. “Dr. Anil?”
The physician sighed. “I could not say anything for certain, but based on her behavior, I’d say that despite being ninety-one years old, Sanai still harbors some ill feeling towards her parents—and Starfleet by association—for being more dedicated to their careers than to her. They were both in the service and she was left on Vulcan to be raised by her Human grandmother.”
“Ah. That would be the bad she mentioned,” said Stadi. “It’s an unfortunate truth that military service can and does lead to familial estrangement—apparently, even among Vulcans.”
Stadi shook her head, then drew a breath. “Ensign Haiakauna, get me a picture of these three men. I’d like to be able to show the Alpha base commander who they are so that he can identify them.”
“Yes, Commander,” the young man replied, and picked up a tricorder.
“Captain,” said Sully, drawing Murphy’s attention from the PADD in his hand, which contained the morning dispatch from Command.
“What is it, Sully?” Murphy asked after turning his chair toward the Ops station.
“We’re receiving a subspace transmission from Captain Hale on the Journey, sir,” the Roylan replied. “She says she has an update for Commander Koenig.”
Murphy swiveled around to look at Koenig, who now wore an anxious expression, sitting on his right. “Onscreen, Lieutenant.”
Both men stood and stepped toward the flight well as the viewscreen flickered on and Hale’s smiling face appeared. “Good morning, Captain Murphy. Commander Koenig, it is a pleasure to finally meet you, sir. We have heard so much about you—your moon is a pervading subject of conversation these days.”
Koenig chuckled. “I don’t doubt that, given the crazy circumstances that brought us here.”
“Lt. Sullek says you have an update for us?” Murphy asked.
Hale’s expression and posture immediately became all business. “The Eagle we discovered is in our shuttle bay. It suffered some damage, but we have not made any attempts to repair it because, frankly, we’re unfamiliar with the technology. We also conducted the chroniton and quantum signature tests you requested; the first produced a negative result, but the latter was more informative. It would seem, Commander Koenig, that this Eagle is from the same parallel reality as your moon.”
Koenig took another step forward. “Was there anyone inside it? Were they alive?”
She nodded. “Yes, Commander: three men, all of whom suffered minor injuries that have been treated, and are now resting in our Medbay. They have yet to regain consciousness, however, which our doctor says is nothing to be too concerned over at present, though she will continue to monitor them throughout the day. Rest, she says, can only be beneficial.”
Hale then reached over to a point off-screen. The display changed, moving her image to one side as the pictures of three men—all of them apparently sleeping—appeared on the other.
Murphy grabbed Koenig’s arm as he staggered. “Koenig, you all right?”
“It’s impossible,” Koenig mumbled, his dazed eyes fixed on the viewscreen. “They’re all dead. They’re all supposed to be dead.”
“Commander Koenig, who are they?” Hale asked, her tone full of concern.
Koenig drew a deep breath, though Murphy didn’t release his steadying grip until the other man indicated he was all right. “The older man is Professor Victor Bergman,” Alpha’s commander said slowly. “He was our senior scientist, and a longtime friend of mine. The African man is David Kano, once our senior computer technician, and the other is Paul Morrow. He was my operations manager and second in command. We lost them all about two and a half years after Breakaway.”
“What happened?” Murphy queried.
“Victor was out on the surface of the moon conducting some tests when the helmet of his spacesuit malfunctioned. In his desperation to get to an airlock before his air ran out, he accidentally kicked himself out into space. Dave and Paul were sent to retrieve him, but the Eagle ran into some kind of spatial turbulence and we lost contact. Another Eagle was launched to look for them, but neither Victor’s body nor the first Eagle were found, and eventually I had to order the second to return to the base or we’d have lost them too.”
He paced away from the safety rail. “I just… I don’t understand this. How did they get here? How are they still alive?”
Murphy felt for the guy. As if the moon getting sucked into a “space warp” and deposited into an alternate reality weren’t enough to deal with, Koenig had just been faced with the incredible reappearance of three men presumed dead for years. It was a hell of a lot to take in.
“Captain, you said they’re doing well? No complications, alterations, or anything?”
On the viewscreen, Hale shook her head. “Nothing unusual that we could detect. Dr. Anil assured me that all three men were the picture of health, save for being unconscious. Would you like us to try and wake them, see if they can tell us anything about what happened to them?”
Koenig groaned and ran a hand down his face. “I know I should let them rest, so long as there’s no reason to be concerned, but… I need to know what happened.”
“Very well, Commander. I will speak to Dr. Anil about waking your crewmen.”
“Thank you, Captain Hale. I appreciate all you’re doing,” Koenig told her.
The image on the screen changed shifted, with the three Alphans disappearing and Hale’s face enlarging. “Journey won’t reach the Levzor system for another thirty hours, but I assure you we will get back to you before then.”
Murphy inclined his head. “We’ll keep our ears open, Captain. Messenger out.”
When the screen blinked off again, he turned to Koenig, who still looked a little green. “Are you going to be all right, Commander?”
Koenig nodded slowly. “I’ll be fine, Captain Murphy. I’m just stunned. Very, very curious as to what the hell happened to my men, but on the whole I’m just…stunned. We said goodbye to them almost five years ago—it deeply pained those of us who were particularly close to them, but we said our goodbyes. And now they’re back, just like that.”
He sighed. “If there is any alien influence at all in this, it would have to be with however they got here, and how Victor was saved, I should think. God, what am I going to tell my people? Sandra, our data analyst, I think will take this the hardest.”
“I take it she was involved with one of those men?”
A nod was the immediate answer, then Koenig lifted his hands to his hips. “Not being able to return to our families and friends was pretty tough on all of us, as I’m sure you can imagine. Sandra had a fiancé on Earth that was left behind, which took her months to get over. Eventually, she decided it was time to move on and became involved with one of our reconnaissance pilots, but he was unfortunately lost when we encountered a black sun—I think your people call it a black hole. They hadn’t been together long, but she was badly shook up by it, and it took Paul nearly a year to get her to agree to even one date. She was pretty devastated when I had to give the order to call off the search, and declared quite firmly that there would be no fourth try at love.”
Tucker turned around at the helm and faced them. “Forgive me for interrupting, Commander,” she began slowly, “but if Sandra cared deeply for Paul, don’t you think she’d be happy to have him back?”
For the first time since learning who the Eagle crew were, Koenig smiled. “I’m sure she will be, Lieutenant. But it’s going to be a great shock to her—to the whole team, really.”
He sighed again. “I suppose I’d best get back to Alpha and break the news. You’ll tell Maya where I’ve gone if she asks, and let me know as soon as Captain Hale contacts you again?”
Murphy nodded. “Absolutely. Sully, walk with the Commander to the transporter room, if you would.”
The diminutive alien jumped down from his chair and stepped around his console. “Sure thing, Dom.”
“Eventually we won’t need an escort,” mused Koenig. “My people seem to move back and forth quite a lot, at least between Alpha and Messenger.”
At that Murphy laughed. “I have no doubt of that, Commander. Pretty soon, you’ll be so used to beaming back and forth you’ll think you’ve been doing it for years.”
Let the rain wash away
All the pain of yesterday
On the way to the transporter room, John Koenig used his com-lock to contact Tony and have him gather certain personnel in his old office on the upper level. He thought it best to speak to the senior staff first, as they would likely be the ones most directly and deeply affected by the news he had to impart.
He was still reeling from the revelation. All three of the men on the Eagle that Journey had found he had been fond of, but Victor Bergman had been more than a friend. He’d been a mentor, a sounding board, and often had been the sole voice of reason when a crisis had riled up everyone else on the base. Because he was the oldest member of the staff, he had been looked up to as a father-figure by many; Koenig considered himself one of those people, having known Victor since his days at MIT. A part of him wondered if he should just be happy that Victor and Paul and Kano were back, and perhaps he would be when the shock wore off, but right now he just could not shake the feeling of having been kicked in the gut with a steel-toed boot.
He asked the transporter operator to deposit him in the office rather than the pre-arranged location they had settled on two weeks ago, that being the hall outside of Command Center. Koenig hoped that the others would take a few minutes to arrive, giving him just a little more time to gather his thoughts and figure out just what the hell he was going to say.
Tony, Helena, Sandra, Alan, and Tanya found him pacing when they entered the office through Main Mission. Their questions were immediate and rapidly fired, but Koenig settled them all by saying he would answer their questions as best he could once they had all taken a seat at the conference table. He took his seat last, between Helena and Tony, then drew a breath and released it slowly.
“As you all know,” he began, “another Federation starship discovered an Eagle early this morning. It was adrift, and had apparently suffered some damage. There were…there were three men aboard the Eagle. Injured, but not severely.”
“Who, Commander?” asked Alan. “How did they get here?”
“For that matter, where did the Eagle come from?” asked Tanya. “Alan checked like Tony asked him to, but all ten of our Eagles are in the hangars.”
Koenig held his hand up to stave off more questions. “Somehow, some way, the Eagle came from the same reality that we did—their quantum signature matched the moon’s. But it came from a different point in time.”
“Are they sure about that, John?” asked Helena.
He nodded. “It’s the only explanation that makes sense, given who they found onboard.” His eyes then drifted around the table, pausing briefly on Sandra, who watched him with a silent, intent gaze of her own.
“Who was on board, John?” Tony pressed.
“Victor, Kano, and—”
Koenig looked to Sandra again. Her eyes had widened, and her hands gripped the arms of her chair tightly. Tanya, who sat on her left, immediately reached over and put an arm about her shoulders.
He nodded in confirmation. “Yes, the third man was Paul.”
“You’re certain, John? No chance of mistake?”
Turning his gaze to Helena, he nodded again. “They showed me pictures. It’s definitely them.”
Tony shook his head. “And you said they’re alive? How is that possible? Even had Paul and Kano been able to retrieve Professor Bergman, he ought to have been a goner—”
“Tony!” Alan barked sharply.
“I don’t mean to be insensitive, I’m just stating the facts!” Tony retorted. “We all know what happened five years ago. His helmet malfunctioned and he was running out of air!”
“It is possible, isn’t it, that Dave and Paul were able to rescue the professor before his air ran out?” asked Tanya softly.
Helena nodded. “They were already in flight when Victor was cast off, which is why they were sent after him—so they must have rescued him if he was onboard the Eagle.”
Tony pushed to his feet and began to pace. “Which brings up another point—how the hell did they all survive?! That laboratory Eagle would have only maintained them but six weeks at best, once their fuel ran out. John said there was evidence of damage—do you not recall that they encountered turbulence before we lost contact? If the Eagle was damaged, it couldn’t possibly have kept them alive for very long, let alone six weeks.”
Koenig had braced his elbows on the table and leaned his forehead against his clasped hands during Tony’s rant, but now he sat back with a sigh. “Sit down, Tony. Please.”
After a moment of staring, the younger man complied and took his seat again. “Look,” said Koenig. “Victor, Paul, and Kano were still unconscious when I spoke to Journey’s captain. She said their injuries had been treated, but that the doctor onboard had recommended rest. However, I did give her the go-ahead to wake them so we might get some answers as to what happened to them.”
“What about the Eagle, Commander?” asked Alan.
“They have it in their shuttle bay, but have not attempted to repair it or examine it because they are unfamiliar with our technology.”
Sandra, who had said nothing since uttering Paul’s name, suddenly jumped to her feet and ran out. Helena and Tanya both stood and moved to follow—they could hear her running up the steps to the mezzanine around Main Mission—but Koenig stopped them by saying that he would go to her. Though certainly another woman’s comfort might be preferable, he felt compelled to be the one to speak to the girl now.
He found her staring out at the stars of an east-facing window, soft sobs shaking her shoulders. Koenig stepped up to her side, and in a move that surprised even himself—for he was not a particularly affectionate man, except with Helena—reached over and took her by the shoulders, turning her until he could draw her into an embrace. Sandra stiffened at first, then her slim arms slipped about his waist and held him tightly.
“I am sorry, Sandra. I know it was a great shock to you to hear about Paul,” Koenig said softly.
Sandra sniffled. “I…I feel as though I have just got over him, Commander,” she said weakly. “Three times I gave my heart away, and three times it was shattered into pieces. How does one deal with such an event as this? How am I supposed to feel?”
“I wish I could answer that for you, but I just don’t know,” Koenig replied. He then stood back, his hands still resting on her shoulders, and offered what he hoped was a comforting smile. “I’m not even sure how I’m supposed to feel right now. Victor was my closest friend here on Alpha; more than that, he was like a father to me in many ways. You know how much I hated to have to leave him behind—to leave them all behind—even while knowing I had so little choice. Like you, I thought I had moved on from their loss, but seeing those faces on that screen brought all the pain of that loss back to me. Along with it came a lot of confusion, mostly about what happened to them. Tony made an unfortunately good point: they shouldn’t have survived, but they did. The question is, how?”
“Not only how did they survive, Commander,” Sandra said as she lifted her hands to wipe at her face. “How did they get here? The space warp that brought us here closed down after the moon passed through it. Did not the captain of that Klingon ship say that there was no trace of it, that the space where we were ejected showed no sign of even having been disturbed?”
Koenig nodded slowly. Commander Manel had taken her ship back to the coordinates to retrieve Messenger’s probe for them, and upon her return had delivered that exact news. “Yes, she did. I agree, it can reasonably be assumed that what brought us here can’t be what brought them here. At the same time, it has to have been something similar—what else could it be?”
“It is the only thing that makes sense—they must have encountered a space warp at some point,” said Sandra with a firm nod. “But really, what are the chances that there would be two such phenomenon, at different points in time and space, that led to the same parallel reality?”
Unbidden, a memory came to Koenig of Alpha’s passage through the black sun that had killed Mike Ryan. He recalled the light all around him and Victor, and the female voice that had called herself “a friend”. Could such an entity reach across the boundaries between realities?
“Perhaps Victor was right… He once said he believed someone was looking out for us,” he said. “We’ve finally found a place to call home, haven’t we? Maybe that same cosmic intelligence was looking out for our friends as well.”
“But why take four years to reunite us?”
Koenig sighed. “I couldn’t say. I know it’s been a difficult time these last years without them, but maybe we shouldn’t care about the how and the why, and just be glad to have them back home again.”
Sandra sniffled again and nodded. “You’re right, Commander. What does it matter what really happened, so long as they are alive and well?”
Confident she was stable now, Koenig smiled. “That’s a great way to look at it. Let us all keep that in mind, and I think we'll be all right.”
Drawing a steadying breath of his own, he turned and guided Sandra back down to the others. Their expressions were at first concerned, but each soon looked relieved to see that Sandra appeared to have recovered. “Come,” said the commander. “Let’s get back below, so I can make the announcement to the rest of the base.”
He stayed back as Tony, Alan, Tanya, and Sandra all headed through Main Mission. Helena stayed back with him, and when they were alone, she wrapped her arms around him. Koenig sighed as he embraced her, taking comfort from the warmth of her arms around his waist, the softness of her body pressed to his.
“John, I’m sure this was quite a blow—I know how close you and Victor were,” she said.
“It’s taking some time to get used to it, that’s for sure.”
Helena moved back, then pressed a quick kiss to his lips. He smiled, and was not too surprised when she said, “I’ve been thinking, John… Perhaps, with it being assured we’re going to settle here, we could move operations back to the top level. I believe Messenger will be in orbit for some time, and Journey’s coming with the environmentalists who will be working on the terraforming project. I think with the defensive improvements we’ve already made and the two starships for protection, we should be perfectly safe moving back to this level. Besides, with Kano and Paul coming back…”
Koenig laughed as he glanced through the open doors to the long-abandoned desks. “Indeed, they’ll be more comfortable coming back to an environment that’s familiar to them. They’d been gone for six months or so, I believe, before I made the decision to move operations to the subterranean facilities.”
He looked down at her then, and offered another smile. “Let’s do it. I’ll tell everyone in the announcement—should give everyone not involved in the terraforming something else to focus on.”
“Not to mention,” said Helena as they started out at last, their hands clasped together, “that with our taking on another what, dozen or so people? They’re going to need a place to live, places to work, that sort of thing. I get the feeling that eventually, we might just be using both levels at the same time.”
I know my kingdom awaits
And they’ve forgiven my mistakes
The last thirty hours had produced a mix of emotions in the crew of Moonbase Alpha, shock and surprise foremost among them. Everyone was stunned by the commander’s announcement that three of their number long thought lost had mysteriously returned. Excitement slowly erased the initial feeling of being stunned senseless, and that pervaded throughout the base until another communication brought the news that none of the men could be woken, after which confusion and concern took hold.
Doctors Russell and Vincent, as well as Messenger’s CMO, Dr. Nir’ahn, consulted with Doctors Anil and Grayson over the patients’ condition. When Dr. Anil had attempted to wake them at Commander Koenig’s request, the stimulant she used did nothing. She tried a second one on each, and still no result. Confused, as their steady neural activity indicated that they should wake up, she had proposed Dr. Grayson try to reach them via mind meld. Grayson agreed, but even she was repulsed.
“It is as though their consciousness’ are locked behind a door,” she had reported afterward. “I tried to break through the barrier, but it was too difficult, and it eventually became too painful to continue the attempt. I am very sorry, Commander Koenig.”
“It’s quite all right, Dr. Grayson,” Koenig told her, though it was evident he was disappointed. “I am sure you did what you could.”
“It’s not fair!” Sandra had exclaimed when the update was announced to the crew. “Why should they be brought back to us if we are not to be able to speak to them? What was the point of their coming back at all, if they must remain in such a condition?”
Koenig had wished desperately for an answer, but he had none to give. The only consolation any of them had was that Maya and the two officers from the Messenger had finally figured out the calculations for rotating the moon. The plan was mostly as before: to run the asteroid movers at full power until optimum velocity had been achieved, remain at that velocity for a full day (24 hours had been agreed upon, as they were used to it), and then to shut off the engines one by one. As part of a contingency plan, the eight asteroid movers now on their way to Alpha onboard the Starship Columbia would remain in place for at least six months.
Also onboard Columbia were a number of forcefield generators. Journey was bringing the science team and atmospheric generators required to begin the terraforming process within the Plato Crater; the forcefield generators would create an imperceptible dome around the crater to hold the atmosphere in whilst the rest of the moon underwent a much slower transformation. A breathable atmosphere, Lt. Commander Ross had assured them, could be achieved in but a day, and grass would begin growing within the first week after the cultivators had done their work. In another month, they could begin planting crops and trees.
Moving back to the top level, from which they would all be able to watch as their crater began to show signs of life, was another consolation after the condition of their friends was learnt, but the three men from the Eagle were never far from everyone’s thoughts. Only the three children seemed immune to the effects of their imminent arrival, and were each of them easily distracted by being allowed to visit “real” environments in one of Messenger’s holodecks.
When Journey arrived in orbit, the pilot settling the smaller ship beside Messenger, Murphy contacted Koenig as planned. He, Helena, and Alan were to go up to see Victor and the others; Sandra had been asked if she wished to see Paul, but she had claimed she couldn’t bear it if she’d not be able to see him looking back at her. However, as they were just about to call for transport, the analyst ran up to them, saying she’d changed her mind.
“I have to go, Commander. Regardless of whether Paul wakes up or not, I need to see him,” she said. “He needs to know that I still care.”
Koenig nodded agreement without a word, and moments later they were all standing on the transporter dais onboard Journey. Murphy and Dr. Nir’ahn awaited them there, and with the two familiar faces were an auburn-haired Trill that Koenig recognized as Captain Hale, as well as a black-eyed woman also in command red.
“Welcome aboard Journey, Commander Koenig,” said Hale. “This is my First Officer, Commander Jennara Stadi.”
Koenig nodded to her, then introduced his people. When he had finished, Hale immediately turned and led the party out. They took a turbolift down one deck, and were soon outside the door of the medical center. Helena put an arm around Sandra’s shoulders in an offer of strength, and once inside, walked with her over to Paul’s bedside as Koenig himself went to Victor’s, and Alan went to stand by Kano. Tentatively, her hands shaking, Sandra reached over and picked up Paul’s hand and raised the back of it to her cheek, her eyes falling closed as tears slipped from them.
By his friend, Koenig put a hand on the other man’s shoulder. In the moment physical contact was made with the two men, the monitors over their beds and Kano’s began to beep, drawing the attention of the medical staff. The four Alphans, though initially alarmed, soon began to feel great joy, as the eyes of their three friends slowly began to blink.
“Paul!” Sandra cried, bending to kiss his cheek. “You’re awake! God, how I have missed you!”
“I’m…glad to hear it,” Paul replied with a weak smile. “How long…were we out? Are the others…okay?”
“I am…quite well, Paul,” Victor managed. “It’s good to see you, John.”
“It’s damn good to see you too, Victor,” Koenig replied warmly. “You really gave us quite a scare.”
“Kano, how are you feeling, mate?” Alan asked the technician.
“Strange,” Kano replied. “I feel…really disoriented. What happened?”
Alan scoffed. “We’ve been wanting to ask you the same thing!”
“Everyone, please,” spoke up one of the doctors. Koenig turned to look at her, recalling her name was Sanai Grayson—she was the geneticist who had been requested by Helena to help look after Maya’s health and that of hers and Tony’s baby.
“I am as pleased as you are that your friends are now awake,” Dr. Grayson said. “But as much as we all want to know what happened, I think it prudent to leave the explanations for another time. These men have been through a traumatic ordeal. Give them a little time before you start bombarding them with questions.”
“Dr. Grayson is right,” agreed Helena. “Let’s give them some time to recover more of their strength before we start the inquisition.”
“At least tell me…one thing,” said Victor then. “Where are we?”
“Indeed,” said Kano. “We’re obviously not…on Alpha.”
Koenig drew a breath. “You’re on a starship belonging to a very advanced society known as the United Federation of Planets,” he said slowly. “There are over a hundred fifty species in the Federation, including Humans.”
“Humans?” asked Paul, his eyes still fixed on Sandra.
She nodded. “Yes, and so many other friendly species! We’ve already met at least a dozen, and we have also met some that are not in the Federation, but are friends with them. Oh, Paul—you are going to love it here, I am sure!”
“Well, so long as you keep smiling at me like that,” said Paul, his voice now stronger, “I’m sure I will.”
“When do you think we can take them to Alpha?” Koenig asked.
His question was directed to Captain Murphy, who looked to Dr. Anil. “It’s your Medbay, Doctor. Right now they’re your patients,” he said.
Dr. Anil glanced around at the three men. “Let us give them a thorough exam, make sure their vitals are going to hold steady now they’re awake. If everything checks out, I’ll have no problem releasing them to Dr. Russell’s custody.” She turned to face Helena then. “You’re welcome to join Dr. Grayson and I in performing our tests, of course. They are your people.”
Helena smiled. “I appreciate that,” she replied, then accepted a medical tricorder—which she had learned to use in the last couple of weeks—from a medtech.
Koenig and Alan made way for the doctors to do their work, but Sandra refused to move far from Paul. Koenig couldn’t blame her, and was happy to see that the shock of his return had worn away, leaving nothing but happiness in its wake. It was clear that seeing him again had brought her affection for Paul roaring back to the surface—he didn’t want to speculate on what devastation Paul would have endured had Sandra been able to move on from him.
“Commander, when will we tell the others they’re going to be all right?” Alan asked as they stood to one side of the room.
“As soon as Dr. Anil is ready to release them, I will have Tony link me to the base comm system. I’ll tell everyone at once.”
They did not have to wait long. Victor, Kano, and Paul were each given a clean bill of health, though because they exhibited signs of weakness, were given strict instructions to rest for at least the next few days. Helena announced that beds had been prepared for them in Alpha’s Medical Center, which they rebelled against, but she assured the three that they would be released to quarters following a day of observation if they showed no signs of relapse.
Koenig took his com-lock from his belt. “Koenig to Alpha.”
“Verdeschi here. Go ahead, Commander.”
“Tony, put me on the base-wide channel.”
“One moment… You’re on base-wide, John.”
He drew a breath, and glanced briefly over at the others. “Attention all sections Alpha: The friends that mysteriously returned to us yesterday have regained consciousness. I repeat—they have regained consciousness. In just a few moments, Professor Victor Bergman, David Kano, and Paul Morrow will be coming home.”
A moment later they could hear the sound of cheering over the com-lock’s speaker. “John, you won’t believe how happy you just made every single person here.”
“I can imagine, Tony. Tell Medical to make ready, we should all be down in a few minutes. Koenig out.”
The medical team then began preparing the three patients for transport. Alan drew Koenig aside and said, “Listen, John… While you’re getting answers from Victor and the others, I’d like to take a look at the Eagle they were in. Perhaps I can get some answers from the data recorder as well.”
Koenig nodded. “That’s a good idea, Alan. I’ll arrange it with Captain Hale.”
When everything and everyone was ready, Journey’s transporter operator sent a large party down to the moonbase. Besides the patients themselves and their Alpha compatriots, save for Alan, the two officers from Messenger as well as Journey’s own captain went along. While the staff were settling the three men into their beds, Koenig had to divert the flow of people wishing to come in and visit; after the first few, he called for guards to be posted to keep others out, and made another announcement on the base-wide channel, stating that the three were under medical observation and were to be left alone until cleared by Dr. Russell.
“I understand that everyone is eager to welcome our friends back to Alpha,” he said. “And I can assure you they hear and appreciate your sentiments, but we must allow them time to regain their strength. They’ve been through quite an ordeal.”
When he had signed off again, Koenig reclaimed the chair he had been sitting in before the three beds. The Starfleet officers stood to one side, patiently waiting, and so he looked to his long-lost friends and said, “Think you’re up to telling us what happened to you?”
Victor sighed. “You may recall that the seal on my spacesuit’s helmet malfunctioned.”
Koenig nodded. “Yes. I remember thinking, ‘One damn spacesuit with a fault and Victor had to be in it.’”
“Yes, well… You also know, John, that because of my mechanical heart, I do not have the same panic response that the rest of you have,” Victor went on. “And at first, I remember being very calm as I turned and made my way toward the moon buggy so I could get to the nearest airlock. But the closer I got, the louder the hiss of escaping air became. The louder the alarm on my suit telling me that I was running out of oxygen. I remember that panic indeed began to set in, and I started to run. However, I stumbled and collided with the blasted vehicle at an odd angle, which bounced me off the surface before I could catch hold of anything.”
“And you know that while the Professor was conducting his forcefield upgrade tests, I was getting in some flight hours while Dave was running a diagnostic on the computer system of Eagle 12,” said Paul, picking up the narrative. “We got the call from you to go after him, so we did.”
Kano nodded. “Yes, I remember. We’d just spotted the Professor on our scanners when we ran into some kind of spatial turbulence,” he said. “Communications went out, but we could still fly. Paul said we would worry about comms after we had picked up the Professor—we were hoping to still have time to rescue him before he ran out of air.”
“Which we did, thank God,” Paul said with a glance at Victor. “Well, based on the medical scan once Dave had got him into the Eagle, he’d run out of air and had just lost consciousness before he was pulled in. He was initially unresponsive, but I managed to get him breathing again.”
“Absolutely incredible, Paul,” Helena observed. “With a helmet seal leak like Computer recorded, he should not only have lost oxygen, but his temperature should have dropped at an accelerated rate.”
“He was cold, Dr. Russell,” said Kano. “But not frozen. Had he been, I do not think we could have brought him back.”
“I do not believe I have thanked you both enough for your quick actions,” said Victor then. “Believe me when I say I am profoundly grateful to be alive.”
“What happened after that, Mr. Morrow?” Captain Murphy asked.
“Well, once we’d got Victor stabilized, we immediately scanned for the moon’s coordinates,” Paul answered. “As it was in continuous motion, we needed to establish how far away it had gotten and which direction it had gone. But we couldn’t find it with scanners, and determined that communications was not the only thing that had gone out because of the turbulence.”
“Is that when you were injured, do you think?” asked Dr. Grayson.
“During the initial flight through the turbulence, there was some pretty rough shaking, yes,” Paul confirmed.
Kano agreed with a nod. “We had to put out a couple of small fires, but it was very quickly done.”
“So, your communications and scanners were down,” prompted Koenig. “What happened next?”
Paul looked to Kano, then back to his commander. “We switched on the engines to begin a manual search for the moon. I remember seeing it through the forward viewports, and Dave calculated we still had time to reach it, but then damn it, we hit bloody turbulence again!”
“We got shook up even worse than the first time,” said Kano. “I must have gotten knocked out because I remember Paul shaking me awake at one point. He… He looked devastated. Told me that… that the moon and Alpha were now out of range.”
Paul looked to Sandra, who had not left his side. He gave her hand a light squeeze and a sad smile when a tear slipped from her eye. “I lost consciousness as well,” he said slowly. “I remember when I came to, I checked the Eagle’s onboard clock. It had been hours—I don’t remember how many. That’s when I woke Dave.”
“He told me to get to work on the computer systems while he checked on the Professor,” Kano added quietly.
“Victor was still unconscious, but he was stable, so I let him be,” Paul continued. “Dave and I worked together to get navigation, communication, and scanners back online, then I checked the supplies onboard; we had several weeks worth of emergency rations, so I knew we wouldn’t starve. Our hope was to either be rescued by some friendly aliens, or find a place to set down before our fuel ran out.”
Koenig looked around at the people gathered in the recovery ward of Medical Center, then back to Paul. “Well, that explains the immediate aftermath of your rescue flight, but not how you got here.”
“Where exactly is here, John?” Victor asked as he crossed his arms over his chest. “You keep talking about it like it’s something significant.”
“That’s because it is, Professor,” Sandra spoke up. “Alpha encountered a space warp that threw us not just across a great distance, but also a dimensional barrier—we’re in a parallel universe!”
“And not just a parallel universe, Victor,” Koenig added. “We are from four and a half years into your future.”
Two of the three patients glanced at one another with incredulous expressions; Paul and Kano seemed shocked by the announcement, but his mentor not so much.
The professor drew a breath and released it slowly. “I thought you all looked a little different,” he began. “When Sandra said the words ‘space warp’ just now, I knew we had to have traveled through time—it’s the only thing that explains the difference in your appearances. But across dimensional realms? That’s something else”
He adjusted himself on the bed. “We ran out of fuel after four days. Still had food, water, waste recycling… all of the necessities to survive a little while longer.” Bitterness had crept into his voice and he drew another breath. “We’d been adrift in the Eagle about a week. Hadn’t seen a planet or space ship of any kind, and our spirits were pretty low. One night—late, according to the onboard clock—Paul and Kano were asleep, but I found I couldn’t rest. I began to pace. And I found myself recalling that conversation we had, John, about a cosmic intelligence looking out for us. How we kept getting out of scrapes that damn well should have killed us.”
Koenig chuckled, his gaze drifting to Sandra. “I recalled it myself just yesterday.”
Sandra smiled. “I believe you mentioned it to me, Commander, to bring me some comfort.” She then looked to Paul. “I was in such a state of shock on hearing that you had come back. I just didn’t know what to think or to feel… How does one deal with someone coming back from the dead after years? But this morning, knowing you were right above us, I knew I had to see you. And when I did, all I could think of was how much I had missed you, and how happy I was to have you back again.”
Paul raised the hand of hers that he held and kissed the back of it, an expression of anguish about his features. “My dearest, loveliest Sandra… Could I have spared you the pain of the last four years, I’d have done. I am so sorry.”
“It is all right, Paul. You could not help it,” she assured him.
“As it were…” Victor said, drawing their attention back to himself. “I thought of that conversation, and I remember saying out loud—though I did not truly believe anyone was listening—that if there was someone out there keeping an eye on us, who had any concern at all for our predicament, then could they please reunite us with our friends. Elsewise, the three of us had absolutely no chance of survival in the long term. Then I fell asleep at last, and the next thing I knew, I was waking in that infirmary on the starship.”
“Well, whatever brought you here, Professor,” began Dr. Grayson, “be it a space warp, wormhole, or some cosmic entity that can reach across the barriers between realities… I can only assume it was thought necessary to render you unconscious for the journey.”
“And perhaps leave you so until you were reunited with the friends you so longed to see,” added Dr. Nir’ahn. “It wasn’t until they touched you that you regained consciousness, and Journey’s doctor certainly tried, as did Dr. Grayson.”
Kano, at that moment, yawned hugely. This sparked laughter from all those present, and a declaration that the patients needed their rest from the medical staff. Helena and Grayson ushered everyone out; in the corridor, Captain Hale declared she would return to her ship and see to the transport of the science team and their equipment to Alpha. This reminded Koenig that there was still a great deal to do in order to prepare for the first phase of the project to terraform the crater, and so further visiting with Victor and the others would have to wait.
I’m coming home, I’m coming home
Tell the world I’m coming home
“Coming Home -- Part II” (Skylar Grey)
Written by Holly Haffermann