|Background artwork by Tenement01. Text by Christina Moore.|
October 6, 2378
“Eagle 1 to Alpha. Generator’s in place,” said Alan Carter as he pulled the release for the winch. The forcefield generator his Eagle had been carrying now settled, he drew the winch back up and turned back toward Alpha.
“Roger that, Alan,” Paul Morrow’s voice replied over the radio. “Come on back for the next one.”
“How many more of these things are there to set?”
“That many? We’ll be at this all day!” Alan cried.
Laughter sounded over the radio then. A light, feminine chortle. “You wanted to do this the hard way, Colonel.”
Alan scoffed. “It’s not the hard way, Commander Ross, it’s the Alpha way,” he retorted.
Though it had been discussed before over the past week how the forcefield and atmospheric generators would be distributed around the Plato crater, that morning—upon the arrival of the U.S.S. Columbia with the remainder of the equipment necessary to finally begin the terraforming of the Alphans’ moon—the matter had been addressed again. Lt. Commander Catherine Ross, an evolutionary ecologist with Starfleet, had once again suggested the equipment be beamed into the alcoves dug out for them.
“It will be done in a matter of minutes, and we’ll get the forcefield up and running that much sooner,” she had stressed. “We’ll be able to begin dispersing the cultivators within a couple of hours.”
Alan, and the other Eagle pilots from Alpha, had all been adamant: they would do it themselves. It was important to them that they do as much as they could without the aid of Starfleet and all their advanced technology, even if it meant it would take longer than necessary. Ross had relented when Maya reminded her that she’d said herself that doing as much as they could themselves would help them feel more involved and in control of their future.
“Thanks for the reminder,” Ross had grumbled, but she had also been smiling, and so the Eagle pilots were all suited up and ready as the Columbia was parking in orbit.
Forty-eight forcefield generators generously provided to Alpha by the Federation were to sit equidistant from one another around the base of the Plato crater’s walls, and when activated would create a flexible electromagnetic dome over the crater to keep in an atmosphere. They had built-in gravimetric field emitters which would serve as a temporary back-up system in the case of failure of the main forcefield.
Paired with each forcefield generator was an atmospheric processor which, once the forcefield was active, would fill the dome with oxygen so that the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha could at last roam free of the base in which they had been forced to live for seven years. Afterward, they would continuously filter the oxygenated air until there was enough plant life across the crater to do it without the need for mechanical assistance. The processors would then be used only in a utility capacity for clearing up any imbalances in the oxygen content.
“Just think, Commander,” Alan continued. “You’re getting your way with the asteroid movers.”
“They require more precision in their placement,” Ross retorted.
Alan laughed at her tone, though he knew she was right. The modified shuttle engines which would rotate the moon definitely needed to be placed exactly right to do the job required of them—imprecise placement could possibly throw off the exacting calculations Commander Keel McMurty of the Messenger had made.
In spite of his observation, ten Eagles flying back and forth from Alpha around the crater base had all the generators and processors set in just a couple of hours. Technicians in space suits then switched on the power and ran diagnostic tests.
“All right Eagles, return to base for your cultivator loads,” came Paul’s voice over the radio again.
“Roger that, Alpha,” Alan replied. “Say, did Eagle 12 get the satellite up in orbit?”
“Affirmative, Eagle 1. Satellite’s online and awaiting the final signal,” reported David Kano, who was section chief of Technical. The building of the weather control satellite was mainly Professor Victor Bergman’s project, but he’d had loads of help with the mechanics of it.
As the team was heading back to base, they got the call that all diagnostics were complete. Alan was just setting down his Eagle when he saw a brief flash of light; word then came over the radio that the forcefield was now online.
“Atmospheric processors activated at 10:24 a.m. Alpha time,” came Ross’s voice. “My friends, by this time tomorrow, you’ll be able to walk around outside and breathe in some fresh air.”
Alan keyed his microphone. “Will we get a sunrise in the morning?”
“Only if the movers do their jobs,” Ross replied. “We’ve not heard back from McMurty’s team. The movers are in place, but he’s not finished with his diagnostics yet, I believe; we should hear from him very soon, though.”
It was the great hope of everyone on the base that they would get to witness a sunrise tomorrow, but Alan supposed if they had to wait, then they must. It was possible that they might, he mused, if they wanted to have the hours pass as they did on Earth. He’d just picked up his load of nanites when the small viewscreen in his console blipped on, and John Koenig came on the screen.
“Attention all sections Alpha and all Eagle pilots: Commander McMurty from Starfleet is here in Main Mission. He has informed me that all diagnostics on the moon movers have been completed, and we’re ready to turn them on.”
McMurty himself appeared on the screen. “The engines will be switched on one by one, startin’ at one-quarter impulse, and speed will increase incrementally until they are at optimum. Eagles, you’re flyin’ about inside the crater, so there’s no need ta concern yourselves with havin’ ta make a course correction. You should not notice any difference—even the shiftin’ position of the stars won’t be immediately noticeable.”
He then saw Cate Ross, who said, “Remember, the sooner you get those nanites spread, the faster they can start prepping the soil bed. One week to grass seed spread, four more to trees, bushes, and flowers.”
“I dunno ‘bout anyone else, I’m looking forward to planting some trees,” Alan replied. “Haven’t seen a decent bloody tree in a natural environment in months.”
“You’re not the only one, Alan,” said Paul. “Think we’ll get the solariums cleared in a day?”
“You bet!” he replied, grinning as comms was keyed off and he set about his work.
The Plato crater had been divided into ten sections spreading out from Alpha, which was situated near one edge. The nanite cultivators were in a container which would be opened by remote control from inside the base; once that was done, the nanites would spill out and start digging into the lunar surface. Over the next seven days, they would dig and spread deep, aerating and carbonizing the lunar soil—the latter a process normally achieved on living worlds via decaying plant and animal matter—in order to make the soil rich enough to begin planting grass, shrubs, and trees.
The work that lay ahead to make the crater livable—to make it like home—brought to mind the days of his youth, spent on his family’s cattle ranch. There had always been work to do there, what his grandfather and father had always referred to as “honest labor.” The closer they got to their goal of an Earth-like environment, the more he found himself thinking of the family farm and the possibility of having something like it here. He couldn’t wait for the transformation to begin so he could stake out his plot of land.
Mission Log, supplemental. Commander John Koenig recording…
So far, so good. The atmospheric shield is up, and the space inside is being filled with oxygen. Lt. Commander Ross tells me that the atmospheric processors we’re using act on the same basic principle as the base’s recycling system with one exception: instead of simply filtering the air and pushing it back out, these units actually convert carbon dioxide into clean oxygen in the same manner as trees and plants do. So it won’t be the same old recycled air within the dome, but a continuous feed of clean, breathable air. Eventually, I am told, we won’t have need of them except to keep the oxygen content balanced.
The asteroid movers are also doing their job. We’re all beyond relieved that Commander McMurty’s plan is actually working and that the moon has started to rotate. Optimum velocity was achieved at 1852 hours this evening and has been holding since. Ross wants to wait another day before implementing the terraforming plan for the rest of the moon, and since she is the expert in the field, I’ve chosen to let her take the lead. As to the possibility of a sunrise tomorrow, we’ve calculated that it may not happen until late morning, given when rotation finally began, so a vote was put to the crew and they unanimously agreed to reset the clocks as necessary, so we’ll likely gain a few hours’ time tomorrow. It’ll almost be like the old Daylight Savings Time back on Earth.
Choosing to reset our clocks was an easy consensus, but since learning that the weather satellite can actually do more than just prevent tornadoes and blizzards, what weather to have has proven not to be. Some of the crew want summer all year round, some want fall. Others want spring, and still others want winter—at least for a while. Then there are those that want regular seasonal changes as we would have on Earth, like the rest of the moon—when it’s fully transformed—will experience. I’ve agreed with the agriculturalists that it would certainly be an advantage to us to have a temperate climate all year round, but at the same time, cyclical change can only be good for the soil. I plan to discuss the possibility of climate zoning with Ross to see if that is a possibility.
In any case, tomorrow evening at this time, I will be able to take a chair outside and look at the stars through an open sky. I’m rather looking forward to it.
Oh, and one more thing… Dr. Russell’s suggestion that I be addressed by my military rank rather than my positional title has somehow caught on with the crew. They now address me as “General” rather than “Commander.” I must admit that it does cause less turning of the heads among the Starfleet officers of lieutenant commander rank or higher, so I suppose I shall just have to get used to being addressed by rank. It’s been so long, I’ve almost forgotten what it was like.
October 7, 2378
It wasn’t long after leaving his quarters that Alan realized he was not alone in his restlessness. He shook his head at those wandering the corridors or hovering near windows, though it was no real surprise to see anyone thus—the knowledge that in but a few more hours they would be able to walk around outside on the moon’s surface, this time without the chance of their new environment being unceremoniously snatched away from them, was great cause for excitement. It’s why he was up at half four in the morning, after all.
He wandered up to Main Mission and found that he was not alone in that idea, either. There were more bodies here than just the three night shift crew, most of them gathered up on the balcony in anticipation of the sunrise that might well not even happen for another six hours. Alan was chattering good-naturedly with the night Security officer when the other man’s attention was drawn suddenly to his board, where a light had begun to blink.
“What is it?” Alan asked.
The younger man tapped a few keys. “Someone’s trying to open an airlock in the Technical building.”
“Bring up the visual.”
Alan cast his eyes to the main screen as it flicked on to show the inner airlock door. There stood a woman with dark hair slapping her hands against it in a frantic manner.
“Get some guys down there, I’m going to see what that fool thinks she’s doing,” Alan ordered, not even considering that he was not on duty.
It was but minutes before he was striding down the corridor toward the airlock in Technical Section. Two purple-sleeved guards from Security had already arrived; one was on the floor cradling his head and the other was struggling with the woman. Now he was nearer, he noted the almost sallow tone of her skin, her slanted eyebrows—it was Dr. Grayson, of all people.
One of the calmest, most dispassionate persons he had ever met, and she was flipping the heck out. He was ashamed to admit that for a moment, he was so stunned by the sight of her fighting to get to the door that he was frozen in place.
In the next heartbeat he had drawn the weapon he’d grabbed from a locker on the way out of Main Mission and fired, hitting her in the side of her ribcage with a stun beam. Dr. Grayson stumbled, giving her opponent from security enough of an advantage that he was able to twist her arm behind her back and drive her to her knees. That she had not been knocked out cold he could only guess had something to do with her alien physiology.
“Doctor, what the devil were you thinking?!” he demanded as he stepped over to them.
“I have to get out! I have to get out—I can’t breathe!” she cried, her free hand clawing at the collar of her shirt. Her breaths were raspy and shallow, and in her eyes there was a wild, desperate expression, as though she were a frightened animal attempting to break free of a cage.
He decided to try a different tack. Lowering his voice to a tone he hoped was soothing, Alan said, “Doctor, you can’t go out there. Not yet. Cate Ross said the air wouldn’t be breathable for twenty-four hours, and we’ve a good six of that left to go.”
“It is…breathable enough…for me. Vulcans can process air…with less of an oxygen content…than Humans can. Indeed, the atmosphere of…my home planet…is quite thin.”
She looked directly at him then. “Alan, please,” she begged. “I have to get out! I can’t…can’t breathe in here.”
Alan. She’d never called him by his first name before—in fact, he could not recall her addressing anyone by their first name since she had arrived almost two weeks ago. And as he regarded her expression now, he had a sudden suspicion as to why she was so desperate to go outside.
She’s claustrophobic, he thought. As senseless as it was for a logic-driven species such as hers to be, he could think of no other explanation for her behavior. And quite possibly suffered from some form of anxiety disorder, he amended, for an episode such as this to be triggered so out of the blue. However did she manage living on starbases and starships with such conditions?
“You’re certain you’ll be able to breathe?”
“Yes! Please, Alan, let me go outside!” Grayson begged.
Waiting for someone from Medical to come with a tranquilizer might take too long, and she could have got a second wind and put more men on the floor by the time they arrived. He would risk no one else’s safety, and she seemed intent on risking only her own. Other than shooting her again, what else could he do?
He nodded at the security man. “Let her go,” he told him.
The man frowned. “Are you sure, sir?”
“I am. Let her go.”
The guard shook his head but did as he was told and released his grip on Grayson’s arm. He moved quickly to help his partner stand as she hurried to her feet and moved to the inner airlock doors. Alan wordlessly opened them with his commlock and she rushed through before they were even fully parted. When he had closed it again, he stepped up to the control panel on the wall and keyed in the sequence to equalize the pressure inside with that of the air outside, and he watched through the window of one door as the outer pair slid open and released Grayson into the darkness beyond.
She ran out several feet before dropping to her knees and sitting back on her feet, her head thrown back as she drew in deep lungfuls of air. Alan noted she seemed to have no difficulty in breathing, as she had said she would not, and he found himself now feeling just the smallest twinge of jealousy that she was out of the base and he was not. The first person to breathe the new air on the moon should have been one of their own.
Suddenly his commlock beeped. When he lifted it to look at the tiny screen, he was surprised to find Grayson’s face on it—he’d not even noticed she had the one she’d been issued with her, nor had he seen her lift it. In the moment before she spoke, he wondered why she hadn’t just used it to open the airlock instead of trying to beat the doors down, then surmised it was likely she didn’t have the security clearance.
“You should come out and join me,” she said.
Already she sounded better, more herself, and oh, he was sorely tempted. “Are you certain it’s safe?”
“Humans can breathe the air on Vulcan—there are some several thousand who live there.”
“Sir, you can’t seriously be thinking of going out there,” said the guard who’d been on the ground. “That Vulcan chick has gone mad—I’m surprised she’s even still alive!”
“She’s not mad,” Alan retorted, then looked to the two security guards. “Go on back to your posts. I think I can manage from here.”
The two shared a glance. “If you say so, sir,” said one, and the two moved away down the corridor. He then keyed the outer doors closed, re-pressurized the airlock, then opened it to step inside. Repeating the process he had done for Grayson to let her through the exit, Alan nevertheless drew a breath as the indicator light turned green and the doors began to part.
The first thing he noticed was the temperature, which was mild—neither very chilly nor really warm. Must be around 65 degrees, he thought. Next he released his breath and drew another, slowly, and noted that the air was indeed thin. It reminded him of being up near the peak of a mountain when he’d gone climbing.
His eyes drifted up to glance at the stars, and somehow it seemed different to be looking at them with his naked eye and not through a window or helmet visor. A smile graced his lips then, and he sighed in satisfaction. The others would certainly think he’d gone mad—and John was likely to give them both a piece of his mind—but he found he could not regret having followed Grayson’s example.
“Thank you for this.”
Alan looked down at the Vulcan, who still knelt on the gravely surface. “Er, no need to thank me, Doctor.”
“But there is. You took a risk in allowing me to come outside, and a greater one in coming out yourself,” she said.
He shrugged even though she was not looking at him. “You said it would be safe. And since you clearly weren’t dying…”
Her laughter surprised him, even though he had heard she did sometimes laugh. “I daresay we shall both of us be reprimanded regardless.”
“Aye, you’re probably right there,” Alan agreed. “But I can’t say I regret it. I rather like to be the first—well, the second—to step outside and breathe the new air.”
He looked down at her again. “What happened? You’re usually so cool and collected.”
Grayson sighed. “I suppose I owe you some explanation as repayment for your courtesy to me. No doubt you’ve some idea already, though I am loath to admit there is anything the matter at all—in fact, I prefer to think of it as a logical interpretation of statistical probability.”
Alan snorted. “That definitely sounds like you,” he said, then in a softer voice, “I… imagine there are none who are completely immune to having some difficulty dealing with stress or some kind of trauma. God knows I’ve my own share of issues to deal with, not the least of which is a short fuse. I’ll not ask for details, as it’s none of my business, but I hope you’ll talk to someone. That’s what they always say, isn’t it? To find someone you trust and unburden yourself to them.”
“It’s been a great while since I’ve been forced to endure one of these…episodes,” Grayson said. “I can only assume it has been building up for some time.”
“I take it you make a point of avoiding confinement?”
She nodded. “I don’t do well on starships or starbases. Any place where I can easily walk outside and breathe in fresh air is best.”
“That explains why you’re not in Starfleet,” Alan mused.
Grayson scoffed. “It’s not the only reason, but it is certainly a factor—perhaps the greatest of them. In any case, it is most undignified for a Vulcan to even acknowledge to him- or herself, let alone another, that we are less than perfectly composed. Showing emotion is one thing, showing weakness of mind is another entirely.”
He opened his mouth to make an objection, but in drawing a breath to speak he realized that he was growing rather light-headed. At the same moment his commlock beeped.
“Medical to Colonel Carter. We’re registering a significant drop in your blood-oxygen levels—are you all right, sir?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” he replied.
Grayson stood fluidly and turned to him. “We should get you inside, Colonel. You might well be able to breathe, but it is inadvisable for you to remain in this environment for long when there is not the proper oxygen content for your species.”
He quirked an eyebrow at her. “I thought you said Humans lived on your planet?”
She raised her eyebrow as well, and for the first time since encountering her species, he did not find it quite so insufferable—especially when it was accompanied by the very slight upturn of her lips.
“They do indeed, but in my experience, most of them prefer to remain indoors, where they can adjust the environmental controls to their liking. Those who intend to spend any significant time out of doors first dose themselves with a compound called tri-ox, which enables them to process the thinner air. It takes significant, long-term exposure for one not used to the Vulcan atmosphere to endure it without medical assistance.”
“And what about you? Are you going to be all right now?” Alan pressed.
Grayson drew a deep breath and released it slowly. “I shall be well. Thank you again, Colonel, for your understanding and discretion.”
They started for the airlock. “What happened to Alan?” he asked.
“I must beg your pardon there,” she said. “One should not address another by their given name without first being granted leave to do so. Such a privilege is reserved for close friends and family.”
“Well, considering that I’ve risked my very life for you tonight,” Alan joked, earning a snort from his companion, “I’d say we might at least call each other friend.”
Inside the airlock now, he keyed the doors closed and set the re-pressurization cycle into motion. He then crossed his arms as he waited for her reply.
“Your logic is flawed, as your life was not truly at risk,” Grayson replied archly. “Though as you have done me a service this evening, I do not think it would be a displeasure to further make your acquaintance.”
Alan snorted again as he followed her through the inner set of doors, which had just opened. “You know, I’m not quite sure if that was a compliment or a warning.”
John Koenig had woken next to Helena with a smile on his face. He had seen the smile on hers and felt his heart swell with joy. After a kiss and some cuddling both of them rose, eager to start the day which would be the first of lifetimes to come on Alpha.
Today was the day that there would be a breathable atmosphere on the moon. His people would be able to walk outside in the fresh air, to see a blue sky and sunlight. Briefly he wondered if the crew would be inclined to have an impromptu party as they had the last time, when the Arielites had sent their probe and atmospheric generators, but decided it was not likely. Though he knew his people to be excited for their future, the reactions now—with that memory still in their minds of losing what they had been given but a day later—were likely to be more subdued. Eating, reading, or even just sitting around outside, he could imagine. But not a beach party like before.
He stepped into his office through one of the side doors rather than going through Main Mission. It was an old habit of his that he had quickly picked up again having moved back above the surface, to spend some solitary time reading the night shift reports before getting involved in what was to happen that day. A glance out the windows as he sat at his desk told him it would likely be another couple of hours until dawn; the black of night was not so deep, but there was as yet no sign of sunlight. It appeared they would indeed have to reset the clocks, but that was a small concession to getting what they wanted.
It wasn’t until he read the security report that Koenig found anything amiss. Anger that either one could be so careless surged through him, followed by a dose of alarm as he read the overnight Medical report. Koenig pressed the call button on his desk panel and ordered Sandra to call Alan and Dr. Grayson to his office. He read through both reports again as he waited for their arrival, and when the two stepped through the door, it was clear that they both had expected his reaction.
Well, he sure wouldn’t disappoint.
“Dr. Grayson,” he began slowly, “would you mind telling me just what the hell you were thinking this morning? You assaulted two of the Security team, and that was bad enough. Then you not only put your own life at risk by stepping out into an atmosphere that was not ready for us, but you put Carter here at risk as well!”
“Sir, I made the choice to follow Dr. Grayson outside,” Alan said. “That’s on me.”
Koenig slapped his hand down on top of the reports. “At her suggestion!” he fired back. “Medical’s shift report says they recorded a twenty percent drop in your blood-oxygen level in less than five minutes!”
“The air was thin, and my head did get a bit fuzzy, but I was fine!”
“That is not the point, Alan, and you know it!” Koenig snapped, then turned his angry gaze to Grayson. “Well?”
She held his gaze unflinchingly. “General, I have been monitoring the environmental conditions outside since the activation of the atmospheric processors. I knew precisely when the air would reach minimal breathability for my species as well as yours. The risk to Colonel Carter was negligible so long as his exposure was not prolonged; the risk to myself was non-existent. The air on Vulcan is quite thin—”
Koenig pounded on the desk as he stood. “Again, you are missing the point, which is that you took unnecessary risks with your life and Alan’s.” He then leaned over the desk, bracing his weight on fisted hands. “Now tell me why.”
Alan glanced at Dr. Grayson then, his expression almost…concerned. This made him curious indeed, and with an effort Koenig forced himself to relax as he stood straight again.
Grayson drew a breath through her nose; her mouth was set in a hard line. “It is not the Vulcan way to discuss personal business with outsiders.”
Koenig frowned at the remark. “Dr. Grayson, I understand that my people are not Vulcans, but you agreed to come here to work with us, for Maya’s sake and that of her child. You’ve been here going on two weeks—I thought you were pleased to be here and settling in rather well. I know fourteen days isn’t much time, but surely we’ve proven we can be trusted by now.”
For the first time since she had entered the office, Grayson’s expression flickered. It was extremely brief—had he blinked, he would have missed it. Koenig realized then that whatever her personal issue was, it went far deeper than just being something her people did not discuss with “outsiders.”
“General, I regret that my actions placed anyone but myself in harm’s way. And it is not a matter of whether or not I trust those around me, it is that some matters are simply too personal to share.”
At this Alan frowned slightly and looked as though he wished to say something, but he held his tongue. Koenig sighed then, and crossed his arms as he said, “I’m sorry you feel that way, Doctor. We’re all practically family here on Alpha; we take care of each other, look out for each other.”
Her expression softened a fraction. “I do not doubt it, sir, but not even my father knows of it.”
Grayson drew a breath. “I believe that Dr. Russell has retained sufficient knowledge now to effectively render aid to Mrs. Verdeschi should any complications arise. I will see to the arrangement of transportation off of Alpha.”
Koenig frowned. “What are you talking about?”
The Vulcan raised her eyebrow. “I assume you wish me to leave?”
He offered a smile even as he shook his head. “I may be disappointed, Dr. Grayson, and perhaps a little angry, but I don’t believe I said anything about you leaving. In fact, I have been meaning to discuss with you the possibility of your remaining here. We have doctors aplenty, and certainly your internal medicine skills would be put to use, but what we don’t have is someone whose specialty is mental health, and certainly not gynecology or obstetrics.”
“Wait—you’re not thinking of asking her to be our shrink, are you John?” Alan said then.
Grayson frowned. “Shrink?”
Koenig cleared his throat. “It’s a twentieth century term, and not necessarily a kind one, that people used to refer to psychologists and psychiatrists. Alan, you know that we haven’t a therapist on staff since we lost Bob, and now that we’re in a position to allow expansion of the population, we’ll be needing an obstetrician, as well.”
Grayson’s eyebrow rose again. “I see,” she said, then turned to Alan. “Am I to understand you do not approve of the general’s desire that I remain?”
“I… well… It’s not really up to me, is it?” Alan stuttered. “I’m not the man in charge. All that really matters is whether you can stay, and whether you want to stay. Haven’t you got a practice back on Vulcan or something?”
“No. I was practicing on Regulus 8 when Dr. Nir’ahn contacted me,” Grayson replied. “She thought that the crew here might be more comfortable with a civilian advisor rather than someone from Starfleet or one of the other services. I don’t think she realized at the time that anyone on Alpha had a military background.”
She turned again to Koenig. “It is…generous of you to request my services permanently in light of this morning’s incident, General Koenig. If there are no objections to my remaining, I would be most pleased to be of assistance. Even Vulcans are in need of a change of environment once in a while, and frankly, the challenge of helping to establish a colony here would be a welcome one.”
“You’ll exercise more caution in the future, I expect?”
Grayson nodded. “Of course, sir. What happened this morning will not happen again.”
What seemed to be an expression of Are you sure? flittered through Alan’s eyes as the doctor glanced at him, and she gave an almost imperceptible nod. The pilot returned the gesture and turned his attention away from her, at which time she looked back to Koenig and said,
“If there is nothing else, General, I must ask to take my leave. Mrs. Verdeschi has an appointment scheduled for 0800, and I should like to go and prepare for her husband’s multitude of questions.”
Koenig could not help but smile at the remark, for he had heard already that Tony had asked more questions than Maya at the first examination. However, it appeared that she had not yet considered the fact that Tony would, by now, have read the night shift Security report and would also have questions as to what had happened that morning. “Very well, Doctor. We’ll see you later, I’m sure, at the official walking out ceremony.”
Dr. Grayson inclined her head and made her way to one of the side doors. He watched her go, noting out of the corner of his eye that Alan watched her also.
“Tell me honestly, Alan,” he said then. “Have I just made a mistake in inviting Dr. Grayson to stay on Alpha?”
The question seemed to surprise the other man. “What? Why would you ask that?”
With a sigh, Koenig dropped back into his desk chair. “She wouldn’t tell me the truth of what happened this morning. I’d like to be sure I’ve not just asked a potentially psychotic person to be a member of this crew.”
Alan laughed, though the sound was nervous. “I hardly think one unexplained incident is grounds for such a concern, John. I’m sure you’ve nothing to worry about.”
“Are you really? Do you have any idea as to the cause of her behavior?”
The pilot raised a hand and drew it over his face. “I… I can’t tell you anything, sir, it’s not my place to say. What I do know is very little, and told to me in confidence.”
Koenig sighed. “I can respect that, certainly, though I have to say I wish she would have confided in me as well.”
“Only reason she spoke to me at all is because I was there,” Alan returned. He then looked toward the door Dr. Grayson had exited out of, and it seemed he was thinking hard about something. At last he turned back to ask,
“Have you viewed the video record?”
“No, I’ve only read the night shift reports from Medical and Security. Why?”
Alan bit his lip. “Watch it. That’s as much as I can say without speaking out of turn.”
Koenig nodded, believing he wouldn’t have gone even that far if he didn’t think it was necessary—he was an honorable man who believed in keeping his word, even if he had given it to someone he did not know well.
“In any case,” he said, sitting forward again, “I hope that, in time, Dr. Grayson will not only fit in well here, but come to feel about her fellow Alphans as we all do after the last seven years—at least enough to feel comfortable confiding in those she makes friends with.”
“Let us hope it, John, of anyone who comes to Alpha,” Alan replied. “Don’t forget, it won’t be just the two hundred eighty-eight of us for long.”
“Speaking of which,” said Koenig then, as he moved a couple of reports to the side and picked up another. “We’ve just one week remaining before the first colonists other than ourselves arrive. Sandra’s allotted them all quarters in the lower levels until they have their own homes built.”
There had been a senior staff meeting in which the possibility of expanding the moon’s population had been broached. Koenig said that it had been mentioned to him by one or other of the Starfleet officers—Murphy, he believed—as being a likelihood of the near future that they would be asked. And so they had, almost as soon as the plan to terraform the moon, and the Plato crater first, had been finalized. Captain Murphy of the Messenger had delivered the request on behalf of the Federation Council, and it had been readily agreed to. So long as those coming to live on the moon could follow the rules of Alpha and the laws of the Federation, they were welcome.
There were but twelve coming on the U.S.S. Starsong, and the entire Alpha crew was both looking forward to growing their numbers and nervous at the same time. These weren’t to be disciplined Starfleet officers, as they had been used to meeting in their brief time in this universe, but civilians displaced by the recent war who were looking for a fresh start.
“Isn’t the ship that’s to bring those people also bringing some kind of pre-fab housing?” Alan asked.
The general nodded. “Yes. According to this, the Starsong’s cargo bays are filled with the pieces. All those of us who received a house by the lottery drawing—as well as the refugees who are relocating here—have to do is fit the pieces together and seal the seams to keep out moisture.”
Alan smiled. “Well, I’m glad you and Helena were among the lucky ones,” he said. “Be a great start to your married life to have a real house to live in.”
Koenig smiled warmly. “It most certainly will, Alan.” He sighed then. “I’ve done yelled at you, so I guess you can get to your regular duties now. Be ready for the walkout at a moment’s notice.”
The pilot nodded, then glanced out the windows. “What say you—about three more hours?”
Following his gaze, Alpha’s commander nodded. “That would be my guess.”
“Okay then. See you in about three hours.” Alan nodded as he spoke, then turned away and departed the office.
At the first peak of light over the far rim of the crater a shout rang out in Main Mission. John Koenig left his office in a hurry, and found every desk in the control center abandoned. All were now standing at the bank of windows that faced east, chattering excitedly among themselves. Koenig smiled, flicked his eyes to the digital clock over the viewscreen, and took himself to Paul’s desk.
Pressing the control that would put him on with the entire base, he made an announcement. “Attention all sections Alpha. If you have not already, I suggest you find a window that looks to the east. For at approximately 9:53 a.m. the first light of dawn began to show over the Plato crater. Welcome to the first day of the rest of our lives here at Moonbase Alpha.”
The crew at the window cheered and laughed, and Paul—his arm around Sandra’s shoulders—encouraged him to join them in watching the sunrise. With a grin and a laugh he did as suggested. His wish that Helena could have been beside him at that moment seemed to call her to Koenig’s side, for as the sun itself peeked over the horizon and began to slowly turn the navy sky purple and pink and orange with hints of beautiful sky blue, his fiancée suddenly appeared. Wordlessly, she stepped up on his left and slipped an arm about his waist; Koenig looked down to find her smiling up at him, and he raised his arm to wrap it around her shoulders as he looked back toward the lightening sky outside.
A few minutes later, when the navy had faded to nothing and the purple, pink, and orange were lightened to pastel shades, Helena asked, “So…Alpha’s clocks will go back what, about three hours?”
Koenig nodded. “If we want a proper day’s beginning—or at least, what would be a proper day on Earth in late spring-early summer on the East coast of the U.S.”
“That reminds me: did you ever come to a decision as to what our permanent weather will be here in the crater?”
Koenig drew a breath. “I was actually going to put out a memo today that I’ll be glad to keep the summer weather through the end of this year and most of next, with scheduled rain days per Commander Ross’s recommendation, so as to give us a better chance of a good first harvest as well as giving the trees and shrubbery and flowers and whatnot time to grow strong roots.”
“What about spring and autumn and winter, sir?” asked Paul, who, standing nearby, had turned to listen as he spoke.
“Well, with summer being the prevailing favorite of the seasons, Paul, I am more than happy to make everyone else happy by having summer weather for most of the year—but I’ve worked out a schedule with Ross for periods of transition so that those who favor the other seasons also have a share. Fall, winter, and spring will each last for six weeks, beginning next November.”
Paul appeared to think on that, likely fixing the dates in his head, then he glanced at Sandra and smiled, before looking back to Koenig and saying, “Sounds like a fine plan to me, General.”
“Speaking of Commander Ross,” said Sandra, “why is she not here? I should have thought she would be, to see the result of all her planning for us.”
“I believe she said something last night about spending the morning in the science lab with Maya monitoring the atmospheric conditions,” Helena answered.
“That she did,” came Ross’s voice.
Several of the Alphans turned toward the Starfleet officer on hearing her voice; she entered as she spoke with Maya, Tony, and a few of the science staff—Alpha’s and hers—trailing behind. The environmentalist smiled wide as she stepped up to Koenig.
“General, my last scan of the conditions outside showed that our atmosphere is at ninety-five percent of optimal,” she reported.
“And how long until it is one hundred percent?” he asked.
“About half an hour,” Ross replied, then flashed another toothy grin. “But what’s thirty minutes to making three hundred people happy? The air outside is perfectly breathable and will affect no one here adversely. What say you to an early walkout?”
The group of Alphans all began to plead with Koenig to say yes, as the sky was almost completely the familiar pale blue they had so long ago said their goodbyes to. Seeing that a delay would only upset the crowd before him, he at last laughed and nodded, then turned and walked back to Paul’s desk and made another announcement—one the entire base had been waiting to hear.
“Attention all sections Alpha: Head for your nearest airlock. It is time to open the doors.”
The crew in Main Mission cheered and started out. Koenig took Helena’s hand in his and walked along behind the group. In the corridors they encountered more of the crew, all excited and eager for the moment they would get to walk around outside the base. He heard bits and pieces of conversation as they made their way down to the nearest airlock, talk of picnics and eagerness to soon see greenery, plans for homes to be built. It made his chest swell with joy to hear his people were at last truly able to look forward to their future.
When they reached the eastern airlock of the mission tower, the crew stopped and parted for Koenig and Helena.
“You first, General,” said Paul solemnly.
“Indeed, John. You’ve earned the right to be the first to officially step out into the sunshine,” added Tony.
The subtle emphasis of ‘officially’ was not lost on Koenig, nor was it on Alan, who had joined them along the way and who now subtly cleared his throat and looked down at his feet. The general said nothing, having already spoken to the pilot his thoughts, and so stepped forward in silence to pressurize the airlock and open the doors.
Air rushed in when the doors hissed apart, causing gasps and soft cries of delight from the crew. Koenig glanced down at Helena with a smile, gave her hand a light squeeze, and slowly moved forward out of the open doorway and into the sunshine. Once their feet had hit the rocky lunar surface they stopped, and each looked up toward the sky, drawing a breath of the fresh, brand-new air.
“It is a beautiful day,” said Helena.
Koenig looked around them as the crew slowly began to file out behind them. As far as his eye could see, there was nothing but rock and dusty soil and the far-off rim of the crater rising from the ground as though a distant mountain range. It was magnificent, he thought, to see all the starkness with his naked eye beneath a clear blue sky rather than through a helmet visor or Eagle viewport. It then occurred to him that Alan had had the advantage of seeing the night sky unencumbered by those barriers they had long lived with, and he almost envied him the sight though stars had been all the Alphans had seen outside their windows for some years.
Behind and to his right, Koenig heard the soft beep he had some time ago associated with the Starfleet commbadge. It was followed by Cate Ross’s voice saying, “Ross to Messenger. Captain Murphy, I believe you can come down now.”
As the crew milled about and talked, pointing to this feature or that, Koenig’s attention was drawn to three columns of light that coalesced into the forms of Dominic Murphy—captain of the Steamrunner-runner class starship that had been in orbit of the moon since its unexpected appearance in this new universe—as well as Dr. Calista Nir’ahn and Lt. Charlaine Tucker, Messenger’s chief medical officer and senior pilot.
Murphy looked around, then up at the sky, before his gaze fell on Koenig and he started forward. “Beautiful day, General.”
“Indeed it is, Captain. The first of many, many more,” Koenig replied. He then held out his hand toward Murphy, who looked at it questioningly before he took it.
“I want to thank you, Captain,” he said as they shook.
“For what?” countered Murphy.
On releasing Helena’s hand, he gestured to their surroundings with both of his. “For all of this—for our very lives, come to think of it. Had your ship not been so near when that space warp shot us into this universe, all of us here on Alpha—and the people of Levzor 5—might not be here today.”
“General Koenig, please—you give me far more credit than I deserve,” Murphy protested.
“But John is right, Captain,” spoke up Helena. “Had it not been for your quick actions, and the timely response of your Federation and Starfleet, we might not be here.”
She then turned and reached for Lt. Commander Ross, drawing her forward. “If not for the advanced science of your society, the moon would have crashed into that planet. You saved not just our lives, but billions of others. You might have been able to evacuate Alpha, but all those innocent people would have died. And with more of your knowledge and technology, you’re giving us the chance of having a home right here on our moon, not some other planet that would be strange and foreign to us. I have no doubt I can speak for everyone here in expressing our unending gratitude.”
“Oh, indeed, Dr. Russell!” cried Sandra, who stood nearby with Paul. “I have heard that the Federation was at war only too recently, and yet they have given so much to us!” She turned to Murphy and his crew. “You have done so very much for us, I do not know how we might ever thank you enough, or even begin to repay you for all your kindness to so many strangers!”
“But that’s just it, Miss Benes,” said Dr. Nir’ahn. “You don’t have to repay the Federation for anything—your gratitude for our assistance is enough. It really is.”
Cate Ross nodded vigorously. “It’s as I’ve explained to Maya and Colonel Carter before: though the circumstances of your coming here were a great surprise on both sides, in a way your coming has been a blessing! Helping you helps us—for instance, the terraforming project is giving myself and my team years of work, not to mention other scientists from various worlds may come to study the moon’s transformation. Your needs give so many in Starfleet and the Federation something else to focus on: something positive and hopeful. Helping you achieve your dream of a home here, your vision of the future, is a reminder to the Federation that there is a future to be had.”
“Well said, Commander,” said Alan.
Lt. Tucker stepped forward and lifted a device Koenig recollected was called a PADD. The crew in Technical, and Kano in particular, were in raptures over the portable touchscreen computers. The general had been suspecting his technical chief might request being allowed a stock of them, making the use of Computer more efficient than their almost empty paper supply in sharing information.
“Though the future is what we look forward to more than anything,” Tucker began, her free hand coming to rest on her rounded belly, for she was to have a child by the end of the year, “being parked in orbit means a pilot like myself has very little to do. So, my curiosity about you all—already aroused by the differences between our two universes—led me to looking you all up, to see if I could find any of you in our past.”
This revelation brought exclamations of surprise from several of the nearby Alphans.
“Did you find anything?” asked Tony.
Tucker looked to him. “Not as much as I would have liked—I was hoping to find something on everyone from Alpha, as I thought you might all be interested in learning about your lives here, if you even existed at all. But with the Eugenics Wars at the end of the 20th century and World War III in the early 21st, many records were lost. In fact, record keeping actually fell out of practice for a couple of decades after WWIII, and really, only First Contact brought meticulous record-keeping back into fashion.”
She then lifted the PADD and consulted it. “However,” she said, “I do have some information on a number of your crew, and especially the senior staff. Would you care to hear any of it?”
Koenig looked around at his people. Those standing there seemed curious to know what Tucker had found, so he gestured for her to go ahead. The pilot smiled at him. “I did find you, General Koenig,” she said. “Our John Koenig attended MIT and joined the United States Air Force, same as you did. He also married a woman by the name of Rebecca Hathaway, and with her he had three children—two daughters and a son. And you might be interested to hear—as might you, Dr. Grayson—”
The Vulcan had been standing on the periphery of the group, appearing to listen disinterestedly. Hearing her name, however, drew her closer, and she came to stand between Alan and Helena.
“What might we be interested in, Lieutenant?”
“Well, uh, that you’re related,” Tucker replied. She looked down at the PADD in her hand. “At least in this universe you are. A granddaughter of Evan Koenig, son of John Koenig, married a man by the name of Theodore Grayson. He, in turn, is a direct ancestor of—”
“My human foremother,” said Sanai Grayson, with a glance toward Koenig, who appeared as surprised as she did curious.
“What about the rest of us?” queried Alan. “Are any of us related to any of you, or any other Starfleet officer?”
Tucker consulted her PADD again. “Dr. Russell is a distant relation of Beverly Crusher, CMO of the Enterprise, our flagship. Mr. Verdeschi and Mr. Morrow are both a relation of Captain Murphy here, as well as Mr. Morrow being a distant relation of Senior Chief Petty Officer Miles O’Brien, who teaches Engineering at Starfleet Academy.”
At this revelation, Murphy started. “Charlie, you didn’t tell me that!”
She grinned up at her captain. “I thought I would surprise you at the same time as our friends, sir.”
“I’m certainly surprised!” declared Paul.
Tony chuckled. “As am I. I admit to being a little curious as to whether we existed in this universe, but I never imagined finding any descendants.”
Tucker then placed her hands behind her back. “And you, Colonel Carter, are my own maternal grandfather some ten times over.”
“Crikey!” cried Alan with a laugh. “You and me, eh? Well, it makes sense of a kind, if you think about it, what with both of us being pilots and having a love of flying.”
“Shall I call you ‘Granddad’ now?” Tucker asked with a chuckle.
The whole group shared a laugh then, but before Alan could reply, Murphy’s commbadge chirped. “Messenger to Captain Murphy.”
Murphy tapped the badge. “Murphy here. Go ahead.”
“Captain, your party is required aboard immediately,” said the voice of the ship’s executive officer, Jaarid. “We have received an order from Starfleet Command to report to Starbase Echo at once.”
The captain frowned. “Do they realize that Alpha will be virtually defenseless if we leave orbit?”
“I did remind Captain Natale of the importance of our remaining in the system, sir, and while she did agree it was better we should keep to our present location, she also said she was only the messenger, and—I quote, Captain—‘When Command calls, we warp.’”
“Indeed, Commander. Tell the transporter room to stand by.”
“Captain, even if we maintain warp 9.5, it will take us just over ten days to reach Echo, which means it will take at least ten to get back,” said Tucker. “Can we leave Alpha unprotected that long?”
“They won’t be unprotected the whole time, Charlie,” said Dr. Nir’ahn. “The Starsong will be here next week.”
“Not to mention we’ve eleven Eagles, all of which are equipped with lasers,” Alan pointed out.
“The base is also equipped with lasers for defense,” added Tony, “and Commander Ross says the atmospheric forcefield needs only a few modifications to become a defensive shield.”
Koenig offered a smile. “I appreciate your concern for us, Captain Murphy, Lt. Tucker, but we managed seven years hurtling through space in our own universe. I’m sure we can manage a week or so without you looking after us.”
Murphy looked about to say something, then appeared to think better of it. Instead, his reply was a smile, and then, “I am sure you can, General. It’s just that it’s standard procedure to have at least one starship in system for at least half a year when a new colony is established. I guess I’d just counted on Messenger continuing to fill that role, seeing as we were the first on scene and all.”
“Don’t worry Dominic, I’m sure we’ll get to come back,” said Dr. Nir’ahn, reaching over to give his arm a soft squeeze as she did so.
He looked down at the Andorian and nodded, and the three officers moved back to the place at which they had materialized. “See you later, Granddaughter!” chided Alan, to the delight of Charlaine Tucker, who laughed as she positioned herself for transport.
Murphy tapped his badge again. “Murphy to transporter room. Three to beam up.”
Once the three had gone, those standing around Koenig drew closer. “What’ll we do about the terraforming project, John?” asked Victor, speaking up for the first time. “How will we start on the rest of the moon with Messenger gone? We were not to begin phase three tomorrow?”
“We were,” Koenig replied, and turned to Cate Ross. “Commander?”
He was a little surprised when she smiled. “Do not worry, General. Professor,” she said. “Messenger may have the torpedoes we needed, but we have the Genesis matrices for the warheads in the lab here on Alpha. As the Starsong will be here before Messenger returns, I am sure Captain Weynik will be only too glad to part with the number of torpedoes we need. We’ve only to suffer the delay of a week.”
“You’ll ask Starsong’s captain, to be sure?” Koenig asked her.
Ross grinned. “I will make it my first task once I get back inside, General.”
A look around at the crew showed most still outside enjoying the morning sun of Alpha’s first day. Koenig smiled to see his people so happy and excited, but knew there was still yet so very much to be done.
“Speaking of being back inside,” he said with a sigh, “I think I’ll go in now.”
“Planning on burying yourself in work on such a fine day, John?” teased Victor. “The sensors projected a long summer day—why not take the time to enjoy it?”
“If it is to be a long summer day, then we’re likely to have light until eight or nine o’clock, once Kano gets the clocks reset,” Koenig countered. “Plenty of time for me to come back outside and enjoy the daylight.”
“I wouldn’t reset your clocks just yet,” put in Ross. “We might have predicted almost to the minute when dawn would begin and the sun would rise, but we’ve yet to calculate how long it will take the sun to pass over the crater, General. That will be my second task once I go back in. In fact, I think I will go now, so I can get a reading based on our rotational speed and the position of the sun.”
Ross was not the only one to follow Koenig back inside the base. Helena joined him, taking him by the hand as they walked, and Victor joined Ross, the two scientists following behind and discussing what the two always talked of when together: science. Maya talked Tony into going for a walk, and to his surprise Alan suggested the same to Dr. Grayson.
“Or, if you think you can handle it, perhaps you’d care to join me in doing a flyover?” he heard Alan say even as the distance grew between them. “I’m actually rather keen to see what the base and crater look like from the air.”
“Did you not see it six years ago when you had an atmosphere for a day or so?” countered Grayson.
“Aye, but this time’s different!” said Alan. “Besides, between you and me, I want to take a look…”
Helena paused and turned back to watch the pair even as Alan’s words faded to inaudible. Koenig stopped with her, and noticed a faint smile on her lips. “What is it?”
“John, I have a sneaking suspicion that Alan is sweet on Dr. Grayson,” she replied.
Victor, who had stopped with them, snorted softly. “I doubt that very much, Doctor. Carter doesn’t like Vulcans—he thinks they’re arrogant, stick-up-their-arse snobs.”
Helena laughed. “How can he possibly think that, Victor? He’s only met maybe five of them. Not even Alan would judge an entire species by the behavior of just a few.”
“Six, as a matter of fact—at least that I know of,” Victor retorted. “Besides Dr. Grayson, there’s four on Messenger. But there was also that engineer he met on the Journey who he said got on his ‘last nerve’ by referring to our technology as primitive.”
“Not to mention,” Koenig put in, “that he didn’t even get on with Dr. Grayson when she first arrived. Although, given what happened this morning, I concede that to her, at least, his opinion may be softening. But I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say he feels any sort of romantic attachment.”
“All right, I concede that I may be jumping the shark, but really—you know as well as I do that Alan Carter has always had an eye for beautiful and exotic women, and Sanai Grayson fits both of those categories.”
Helena sighed and then made to continue into the base. “Now, John, about what happened this morning…”
Mission Log, October 13, 2378. John Koenig recording.
Alpha and the moon have been in this new universe for one month today. So much has happened in the last four weeks, not the least of which are the number of weddings that have taken place among the crew—at least half a dozen, by my count.
One of them was my own. Dr. Helena Russell and I married this morning with Professor Victor Bergman as our officiant. We were able to celebrate with a large outdoor party, which everyone at Alpha enjoyed to the fullest under the same bright blue sky we have seen every day for near on a full week.
Tomorrow, in fact, makes one full week, and the Eagles will go out again with the grass seed to spread over the crater floor. Commander Ross says her cultivator nanites have so enriched the soil that we might just see a full six inches at the end of the next week. To aid in this hopeful result, she’s set the weather satellite to stimulate rainclouds in the atmosphere tomorrow night once it is full dark outside (which has happened at around 2230 each evening the last five nights, after our clocks were reset for dawn at ten to seven each morning). It should begin raining between 2230 and 2300 and will continue until dawn.
John Koenig stood from his desk with a sigh, glad to end his shift. He’d married that morning and was eager to spend the rest of the evening and the whole of the night with his wife. He decided to avoid passing through Main Mission, where no doubt someone would stop him to talk about one thing or another, and was nearly at the side door when his commlock beeped.
“Morrow to General Koenig. You’re needed in Main Mission, sir.”
Koenig suppressed a groan as he pulled his commlock from his belt. “I’ll be right there, Paul.”
Quick steps, fueled by his desire to get what was likely a trifling matter over with as soon as possible, took him across his office and through the door into Main Mission.
“What is it, Paul?”
His XO gestured toward the viewscreen. “We’ve got five small craft on scanners, sir—all about the length of our Eagles, and twice as wide. The configuration does not match anything in our database or that of the Federation.”
Koenig looked to Sandra, who usually handled communications. “Have you attempted to contact the vessels?”
“Of course, General,” said Paul’s wife of two weeks. “Standard opening communications have been sent, but they do not reply.”
“Open a channel again,” Koenig ordered, and when she indicated the line was open, he said in a strong, clear voice, “Attention approaching vessels: This is Brigadier General John Koenig of Moonbase Alpha. Please identify yourselves and state your intentions.”
He glanced at Sandra, who shook her head. His glance then looked to Tony at the Security desk. “Any indication that they’ve armed weapons?”
Tony, all business, studied his console. “None as yet, General. But I recommend putting the base on alert and the atmospheric shield on security configuration.”
“Would that not make us seem hostile toward these newcomers?” asked Kano.
“And what about them?” Tony shot back. “We’ve been nothing but polite in our communications and they haven’t had the decency to respond!”
“But is it not possible that they cannot even hear us?” suggested Tanya from the Engineering desk. “Perhaps their communications systems are down. They could be coming to us for help.”
“What are your orders, General?” asked Paul.
Koenig studied the image on screen of the five small craft flying in a V-formation. Their continued radio silence unnerved him. The fact that no ship not recognized by Starfleet had come through the system while the Messenger had been in orbit but suddenly there were now five approaching unnerved him.
“John?” prompted Alan softly.
Better safe than sorry, as the old adage went, Koenig thought as he drew a deep breath. “Tony, set the atmospheric screen to defensive configuration, and signal standby alert across the base. Alan, get your team ready to fly, but wait for a signal from Paul.”
Alan nodded and hurried out as he continued issuing orders, to Paul to keep the ships on scanners and Sandra to keep trying their welcoming messages. The alert brought Victor and Cate Ross into Main Mission, both wanting to know what was going on. Helena also called from Medical Center.
“Paul, how far out are the ships?” he asked when he had explained the present situation to the others.
“They’ll be here in less than ten minutes now, at their present speed,” came Paul’s reply.
Ross dropped into Alan’s abandoned desk chair and studied the small monitor on his console. Briefly Koenig wondered what she thought she was about, then recalled in the same instant that in her spare time—which had certainly been limited, given the scale of the terraforming project—the Starfleet scientist had been studying the Alphans’ equipment and learning how to use it.
“Standard flight protocol would have them dropping out of warp at the edge of the system and entering on impulse,” she said. “If they follow the standard protocol, that is.”
“Do you recognize the ships at all, Commander?” Koenig asked.
“Yes and no,” she replied, tapping a few controls to focus on just one of the five vessels. “As a whole, the design of the ships is unfamiliar, but the parts that make them up aren’t. They look to be cobbled together from spare or salvaged pieces of shuttles and small cargo haulers. Such ships are common among…”
The abrupt end of her speech drew all eyes in Main Mission to her.
“Such ships are common among whom, Commander Ross?” Koenig demanded.
She studied him for a moment from her seated position, then stood and settled her hands behind her back. “General, if I may offer you my professional opinion… We’re in trouble. These people are not coming to make friends.”
“But how do you know?” asked Sandra. Koenig was not remiss to the note of apprehension in her voice. He watched Paul rise and move to stand behind her, placing his hands comfortingly on his wife’s shoulders.
Cate Ross turned to face her. “It’s a tactic I’ve seen before—the Orions have been pulling this stunt for years on colonies and starbases around the Borderlands, and it’s been happening more frequently since a somewhat destabilizing event within the Syndicate late last year.”
“What’s the ‘Syndicate’, Commander Ross?” asked Tony.
Ross turned again, to encompass the whole room as she spoke. “The Orion Syndicate is a criminal organization made up of various gangs that operate mostly out of the Borderlands, an area of space between the Federation and the Klingon Empire not claimed by either side. Because no major power has claimed those sectors, the gangs have pretty much free reign, and they’re not afraid to run incursions into claimed space to steal and kidnap, or kill anyone who gets in the way.”
She turned to Koenig. “Sir, the five ships we picked up are just the first wave. There will be more of the smaller ships, and one or more larger ships. The people of this base and the citizens of Levzor 5 are prime targets for the Orion slave market. The asteroid movers that are rotating the moon, the generators that are providing and protecting the atmosphere, they’re targets as well that would fetch a pretty price on the contraband market.”
Ross stepped closer. “Think about it, General: We are in a vulnerable position, with only small craft for protection. Do you not think it convenient that these people, whoever they might be, waited until they were sure Starfleet was gone before coming in?”
Koenig studied her for a moment, noting the alarm in her eyes, the sober expression of her face. He then looked to Tony. “Sound full alert. I want all non-essential personnel in the lower levels for safety. Paul, signal Alan to launch all Eagles and assume a defensive position.”
The crew scrambled to begin preparations for a battle he still hoped they could avoid somehow. But he knew it was a pointless hope. Ross was no tactical specialist but he knew from her own words that her father was, and she had no doubt learned a lot from him, as well as from the commanding officers she had served under throughout her career. It was unlikely the ecologist would offer such a dire warning if she did not believe—
“Contact in 3…2…1,” Paul counted down.
On the viewscreen, Koenig watched as the five alien craft engaged with the Eagles from Alpha, opening fire as soon as they were within range. The Eagle gunners gave as good as they got, and the radio chatter told them as well as the visual link that they were teaming up two to one against the invaders.
The cheer that rang out as one of the enemy vessels exploded was quickly silenced when Paul announced grimly that twice the original number had just appeared on the scanners. The Eagles, Koenig noted silently, would now be outnumbered.
As battle raged on, the incoming ten ships immediately engaging the Eagles as soon as they were in range, Koenig found himself reluctantly acknowledging that they were indeed very vulnerable. So they had survived seven years and assaults from numerous species while hurtling through their own universe—it proved little more than that they were brilliant, and cunning, and that they’d been granted a hefty dose of sheer dumb luck. They thought they were prepared to face anything, but the two Alpha craft now spinning out of control toward the moon’s surface were stark proof that nothing in their seven-year journey could possibly have prepared them for the dangers in this new universe, of which they knew very little.
A thought then occurred to him. “Commander Ross, what’s the name of that ship that’s coming to bring supplies and the first refugees?”
“The Starsong, General,” Ross replied. Her expression then brightened. “They’re due here later tonight, sir! Standard cruising speed is warp seven, but if they increase to maximum, they could be here in…”
She paused and dropped back into Alan’s desk chair, quickly pushing buttons. “They could be here in less than an hour—forty-five minutes, tops.”
A surge of hope flashed through Koenig. “Sandra, get on the horn and reach out to the Starsong. The communications buoys Murphy’s crew set out should boost the signal far enough,” he said.
“Let’s hope,” Tony muttered, wincing as another Eagle went down.
En route to Alpha
Sasha Hrelle stepped onto the Excelsior-class starship’s bridge to find her captain—and dinner partner for that evening—sitting right where she had expected him to be:
In his command chair.
“Uncle Wey-ney,” began Sasha, “Your shift ended well over an hour ago, and we were supposed to have dinner together.”
The Roylan in the center seat glanced up at her, his eyestalks twitching. “We were? How very rude of me to forget, Counselor. But you know how I get wrapped up in my work.” He lifted the PADD in his hand for emphasis.
“That is precisely the problem with you,” she replied. “You’re always forgetting to take care of yourself. Come on, let’s go get some grub. I’ll even order extra shuris burgers.”
“Your father never should have introduced me to those things,” muttered Weynik as he slipped from his chair. “I’m going to end up as fat as he is.”
Starsong’s counselor laughed, as did a few of the nearby crew, but their mirth was short-lived, as an alarm at Ops drew everyone’s attention. Weynik turned sharply back to front, barking the order, “Report!” as he moved to the command chair again.
The beta shift ops officer replied, “Sir, we’re receiving a distress call from Moonbase Alpha—they say they’re under attack.”
Sasha hurried to the communications station on the bridge’s back wall. “Confirmed,” she said a moment later. “The message says Lt. Commander Cate Ross suspects the Orion Syndicate. Three of Alpha’s Eagle craft have already been shot down.”
“Captain,” said the helmsman. “Do I increase speed to accelerate our ETA? At present speed it will be near 2230 before we arrive—but if I go to maximum, we can get there in under an hour.”
“Is there no other ship in range that can respond sooner?”
“Negative,” called out Sasha. “The next closest ship is the Ajax, and they’re half an hour behind us, even at maximum warp.”
Weynik sighed. “I suppose we couldn’t outrun the Enterprise curse forever,” he muttered. “Helm, increase speed to maximum and engage when ready.”
“Aye, sir, increasing to maximum warp.”
The beta shift Ops officer turned in her chair. “What did you mean by ‘the Enterprise curse’, Captain?”
“It’s an old saying in Starfleet, Ensign,” said Weynik. “Our illustrious flagship, no matter her incarnation, has long had a reputation for being the only ship in range of a major incident.”
“So it became something of an in-joke,” added Sasha, “to call it ‘the Enterprise curse’ when your ship is the only one close enough to respond to a cry for help.”
“Sound red alert—all hands to battle stations, all non-essential personnel to quarters,” Weynik called out. “Sash, tell that squadron of starfighters taking up valuable space in our shuttle bay to get ready to rumble—looks like they’re going to get some flight time in after all. And tell Ibanez to get his scrawny Guatemalan ass to Alpha, pronto. We’re going to turn this curse into a blessing for our friends.”
Panels around the bridge began to flash red as the alert sounded. Moments later, Sasha reported that the Wild Angels were prepping for flight ops, and the Ajax had responded that they were en route.
“By the way, Uncle,” she added casually. “I happen to like Marco’s ass.”
Weynik snorted. “I should hope so, kid. You’re the one that’s planning to marry him.”
The attacking aliens were pummeling Alpha’s atmospheric shield when the Starsong arrived in the Levzor system. Six of Alpha’s eleven Eagles continued to try and fight off their opponents, and sensors detected a much larger vessel—this one distinctly of Orion design—in low orbit of Levzor 5.
“Sensors showing transporter activity, Captain,” said Sasha. “Looks like they’re beaming up the inhabitants!”
“More meat for their slave markets, I don’t doubt,” said Weynik angrily. “Ops, alert main shuttle bay to open the bay doors so we can shit out those starfighters. Let Rhydderch and her crew handle the pissants over Alpha. We’ve got a bigger bone to chew on.”
Even as he spoke, the Orion vessel was pulling out of its orbit and pointing away from the Starsong. “Target their engines and weapons! I don’t want those conniving flesh peddlers to get away.”
“Aye, Captain,” said the tactical officer eagerly.
“But try not to blow them up, Tanner,” added Sasha. “Don’t forget, there are innocent people on that ship as well as the not-so-innocent.”
A laugh sounded even as the Starsong shook from returning fire. “Don’t worry, Counselor. I’ll just disable them.”
Phaser fire and torpedoes were exchanged time and again as the Orions were chased away from the Levzor system, but Starsong proved better armed—a quarter of an hour after their arrival, they had the enemy vessel on a tractor beam.
“Captain,” said the ensign at Ops, “sensors were showing one hundred fifty-seven life-forms on the Orion ship. The number has dropped to one hundred fifty-two since we took them in tow.”
“Death before dishonor?” suggested Tanner.
“I doubt it,” replied Sasha with alarm. “Captain, you know it’s more likely that they’re killing the hostages.”
Weynik nodded. “I have the same feeling. Tanner, get an armed away team down to the transporter room, I want you over there to stop the killing. Counselor Hrelle, open a channel to the Orion vessel, maybe I can buy us some time.”
Tanner acknowledged and quickly departed the bridge, already calling his chosen officers to the transporter room. Sasha turned back to the communications console and pressed the controls. “Channel open, Captain.”
“Attention Orion vessel, this is Captain Weynik of the Federation starship Starsong. I’d like to speak to your commander.”
Silence greeted him at first, and then the image of a ruby-skinned, thick-muscled male with a nearly bald head (what hair he had was in a ponytail over his shoulder) and a scar across both lips appeared on the screen. With a sneering expression, he said,
“I am Ah’met Tokkra of the Movald. Release us, puny Captain…or we will kill more of the sundriks in our hold.”
“Not very profitable, Ah’met, to slaughter your chattel before you put it to market,” said Weynik casually, glancing at his fingers as if examining his nails. He then lifted his oyster-shaped head and focused his eyestalks on the Orion.
“Here’s what’s going to happen: My security officers are going to board your vessel. They will rescue the hostages, and put your people under arrest. You will give yourselves up without a fight, without harming another hair on the head or body of one of those hostages, and…you will get to live.”
The Roylan then placed his hands on the arms of his chair and pushed to his feet. “However, should you choose to do other than as I have instructed, we will still rescue the hostages, and you and your men will die needlessly. Which is it going to be, Tokkra?”
Tokkra spat at the viewscreen, cursed in Orion, and then cut the link. Sasha, who had just moved to Tanner’s place at the tactical console, snorted and said, “Someone must think he’s going to be the next Zaddo Natale.”
“Tokkra’s an idiot,” returned Weynik. “His engines are inoperative and so are his weapons. The only options they have are to surrender or die.”
“And when have you ever known an Orion slave trader to do the smart thing, Uncle Wey-ney?”
Weynik harrumphed as he climbed back into the command chair. “Get me Tanner on the line—and where the hell is that scrawny-assed fiancé of yours, Hrelle?!”
The Ajax soon arrived to help Starbase Echo’s Alpha Squadron starfighters drive off the Orion scout ships, though not without having to destroy a few of them. Lt. Tanner reported that there had been some resistance to the rescue party’s efforts; one of his team had been knocked over by a falling crate and hit his head hard on the deck and received a concussion, and another lost an arm to a disruptor blast that otherwise might have killed her. Three of the prisoners were unfortunately caught in the crossfire, and of the Orions themselves, only Tokkra and his second-in-command actually died, and they by their own hand.
“Death is better than bondage, slis’jaka,” the Movald’s ah’met cried, just seconds before he and his second simultaneously slit their own throats.
Weynik was not altogether surprised when he walked into Sickbay to see Sasha Hrelle doing what she did best—trying to assure a gray-haired alien that everything would be all right.
“Counselor, your report?” he asked, having come at her urgent summons.
Sasha smiled at the man, then moved toward her captain. She turned back to face the full Sickbay as she reached his side. “Take a look at them, Uncle. Tell me what you see.”
The Roylan looked again at the people they had rescued, first wondering how in the world they would be able to re-integrate them into their society after all they had seen and experienced. He then took note of their features for the first time: slanted eyebrows made not of hair, but of knobs of cartilaginous flesh, two rows on the males and one on the females. The hairline of the whole lot—including the few frightened, crying children—came to what Humans called a “widow’s peak”. The females also had ears varying shades of brown that extended in streaks onto the face as a sort of highlight to the cheekbones.
“Wait a minute,” Weynik murmured, his eyestalks darting across the room and back again. “These people look…familiar to me. But I cannot recall where I’ve seen their like before.”
“The Alphans, Captain!” Sasha said in an excited whisper. “There’s one among them—these are Psychons!”
Memory of the information packet distributed to all ships and starbases regarding the moon from another universe, and its inhabitants, came rushing back to him. Among the 287 Humans living in the moonbase was a single alien.
Maya. A Psychon.
“Have you any idea which of these persons might be considered a leader?” Weynik asked.
Sasha gestured to the gray-haired man that she had been talking to. “His name is Rezzik. He is one of the elders of the village from which these people were taken.”
Weynik nodded, then approached the man. He offered Rezzik a nod as Sasha introduced them; the other man blanched at the sight of him.
He then shook his head. “I do not know why I am surprised. We have seen green sky people and red sky people, and those who look much like my kindred. Why should there not be short ones with no eyes?”
Smiling as much as his unique facial structure would allow, Weynik said, “I have no eyes as you know them, Mr. Rezzik, but with these stalks—” He pointed to the sensory organs in his dark sockets. “—I do see. I regret that we should meet under these circumstances, and offer my condolences on those of your people we could not save.”
“I must say, you are kinder sky folk than the red and green ones,” said Rezzik, looking around him, “though I continue to be unsure of our fate. The red and green ones we have seen before across our world. Messages have been carried across the continents by bird and by boat for more than a hundred rotations about the way some of my people would disappear, and how sometimes, the sky folk would appear out of thin air and grab them up, all of those taken never to be seen again.”
Rezzik sighed as he looked around him. “Is that still to be our fate? Will these sons and daughters never again look upon the countenances of their life-givers? Do the life-givers not get to see their children again? Will the brothers and sisters not—”
Weynik held up a hand. “You will see your families again, sir, if I have anything to say about it. However we do have questions we must ask, not to mention a request to make.”
Sasha cleared her throat. “It would be of use to our organization to know how often the sky people come to take yours. The knowledge will aide us in preventing further attacks against you.”
“I will be glad to speak of it, if doing so will give my kindred a chance for peaceful lives without the fear of being taken by the sky people,” Rezzik replied. “Does this mean you will also leave us in peace?”
Weynik and Sasha nodded in unison. “It is the guiding principle of our organization,” said Weynik, “that we do not interfere in cultures whose development has not reached a level equal to our own.”
“We would have left your people alone, never knowing even your appearance, had we not been called to aide friends who are nearby,” added Sasha.
“You have friends on another great rock in the sky? I have seen them—and the shining orbs—through my skyglass,” said Rezzik, his eyes widening in wonder. “In fact, only trentos cycles ago, I discovered another had appeared above the great rock nearest to us! It is smaller than the great rock, but I am certain by its size it could be home to many.”
“It is where our friends live, yes,” ventured Weynik carefully. “Their…great rock…was accidentally brought to this place by forces unknown to us and we had to put it above the next great rock so that it would not be a risk to others who travel between the stars.”
Rezzik looked confused. “Stars?”
“’Star’ is our word for what you call shining orbs, sir,” said Sasha.
“Elder Rezzik?” A young female with a small child balanced on her hip approached slowly. Her eyes darted warily between Weynik and Sasha. “What’s going to happen to us? I’m frightened—we’re all frightened. I want to go home. I want to see my Hanok again!”
“And you will, child,” Rezzik assured her as he gathered the now crying young woman to him. “You will.”
He looked to his interviewers. “We will go home, will we not? You said we would see our families again.”
Weynik nodded. “And you will. Even now we are returning to your world, and when we are there, you will be taken back.”
The Roylan turned as Starsong’s XO entered Sickbay; he moved toward him. “What is it, Commander?”
“I’ve just spoken with Commander Rhydderch, sir,” Hideo Namachi told him in a low voice. “Five of the Alphans’ eleven Eagles were shot down. Of those ten crew—a pilot and a gunner in each—four are dead. The rest are injured in degrees from medium to critical. Dr. Russell is requesting the assistance of our medical staff.”
“What about Ajax’s medical staff? Is Ibanez keeping his doctor locked up?”
Namachi shook his head. “His doctor is on leave at present and they have only med techs on board—who are assisting as best they can, sir.”
A ship of only 40 crew would only have one M.D. on board, Weynik recalled. “Tell the Alphans that as soon as we get these people back home, Dr. Gresh and his team will be at their disposal.”
Namachi nodded. “I’ll let them know.”
Mild chaos greeted Weynik, Dr. Gresh, and the medical staff when they transported into what passed for a lobby in Alpha’s medical center. Staff were running about carrying this and that as doctors called out orders.
“We’re losing him!” an alarmed voice shouted from behind a partition.
“No. We are not,” said another voice, this one firm. Determined. “Alan Carter, I forbid it. You will not die on me—I shall not lose my only friend here.”
Gresh marched around the partition, his staff behind him. “All right you noodle-knockers, let me have a look at the crash test dummy,” he was heard to say as a dark-haired male approached Weynik from his left.
Captain Marco Ibanez and Commander Anwen Rhydderch were with him; the former introduced the man as Brigadier General John Koenig, the base commander. The two shook hands, with Koenig saying, “Thank you for your help, Captain. Without it, we would have lost more than we did. A lot more, from what these two have told me.”
He then crossed his arms. “Were those other people really slavers?”
Weynik nodded. “Unfortunately, the answer is yes. And to answer what you haven’t yet asked, the likelihood of your people being victims is high. The scouts were sent to attack Alpha and keep your people distracted while the cargo hauler picked up a few dozen of the Psychonians first.”
Koenig’s eyes widened. “Did I just hear you correctly? Did you say Psychonians?”
Weynik nodded. “The pre-industrial civilization on Levzor 5 is the same race as your science officer. My ship’s counselor pointed it out to me, and is even now taking Mrs. Verdeschi to meet one of them.”
“Forgive me, Captain,” broke in Rhydderch, “but is that really wise? If the civilization is pre-industrial—”
He held up a hand to stop her. “Commander, these people have been attacked by slavers—or sky people, as they call them—for at least the last hundred years. Orions, Nausicaans, any of the nearby races in that trade… They’ve come every few months, except for during the war when survival was actually more important, even to them, and kidnapped dozens of men, women, and children for the slave markets. They are already very well aware there is intelligent life on other worlds. I’ve given my word they will be left alone, but the senior-most man I met today was a scholar. A thinking man. And given the circumstances, I saw no harm in allowing him to meet one of his race from another universe.”
Koenig smiled warmly. “Captain, thank you. I don’t know that you’ll truly understand what it will mean to Maya to know she’s not truly alone in this universe.”
A woman dressed in white came around the partition then, pulling a mask off her face as she did. She next pulled a lightweight cap off her head, revealing a blonde bob of hair. “We finally got Alan stabilized, thanks to Sanai and that… that other fellow. I’m afraid I didn’t catch his name.”
“Captain Weynik, this is Dr. Helena Koenig, Alpha’s senior medical officer, and my wife as of this morning,” said Koenig, introducing the newcomer.
“I wish you joy,” said Weynik, “though I regret your happy day has been marred by tragedy. And, uh, I beg you would forgive Dr. Gresh his brusqueness, Dr. Koenig.”
Ibanez grinned. “Yeah, it’s an unfortunate trait of the Tellarite species to behave in a manner many other civilized races would consider rude.”
“Politeness is overrated,” said Gresh as he came around the partition. “Tell the truth, I always say, even if it’s as ugly as the nose on your face.”
Koenig shook his head at the man’s words, then turned to his wife. “Helena, you won’t believe this—Captain Weynik’s just told me that the people on that planet we would have hit are Psychons!”
“What?!” cried the doctor. She looked to Weynik. “Are you sure?”
“I’ve seen them myself,” Weynik replied. “And I was reminded of the species’ appearance by my ship’s counselor. As I’m sure you know by now, an information packet about your moon was distributed across the fleet—including information about the lone non-Human among you.”
“Oh, this is excellent news!” said Helena Koenig. “Maya will be so very happy to know she’s not alone anymore.”
“She never was, not truly, but I do know what you mean,” Koenig replied. “I know how sad it has made her, at times, to believe she would never see another of her own people again. Captain, it is a truly marvelous gift you’ve arranged, for her to meet one of them.”
“Be cautious in your praise, Weynik’s already an over-sentimental runt,” said Gresh with a snort.
“Yeah, and your mother has a small snout,” retorted Weynik.
Gresh stared at him a moment, then guffawed and shook his head. “I love a man not afraid to trade insults.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere, Mr. Gresh. You’ve done what you can?”
Gresh nodded. “Aye, the disruptor fodder will live—that Vulcan back there will surely watch him like a hawk. And with all due respect to Dr. Koenig’s staff, I think I’ll leave a couple of my techs down here to help out.”
“Thank you, Dr. Gresh,” said Dr. Koenig. “I actually appreciate that very much. I’ve no qualms admitting that your medicines and techniques are more advanced than ours. Even just two extra bodies would be a great help, as we have more injured to manage than just our Eagle crews.”
Gresh grunted. “Who says they’re primitive?” he said to Weynik. “The woman seems perfectly intelligent to me.”
The Tellarite then huffed and said, “Captain, I’m headed back to my Sickbay. See you later, Pocket-Sized.”
“Same to you, Overstuffed.”
When Starsong’s doctor had gone, the Koenigs looked to one another and shook their heads. “A man like that would definitely take some getting used to,” said the general.
“Indeed, John. I’m going to get back to check on my patients now,” said his wife.
“I’ll see to it that someone brings dinner for you and your staff. No doubt you’ll be here a while,” Koenig said.
Dr. Koenig nodded. “I’m sorry, but I think I should be. I promise, though, that I won’t be spending the night here.”
Koenig kissed her forehead, then the doctor turned and walked away. Alpha’s commander then gestured toward the door and Weynik nodded, waiting until the other man had moved past him before he left the medical facility. Ibanez and Rhydderch followed; in the corridor, Rhydderch informed them she would be heading to one of the Eagle bays to coordinate repairs to the starfighters which had been damaged during the firefight. Weynik and Ibanez continued with Koenig in the opposite direction. On the way to the base’s main control center, Koenig filled them in on what had happened prior to the arrival of the two starships.
In the general’s office, they were led to a seating arrangement by the windows. “What’s going to happen now, do you think? As much as we want to be independent of the Federation, at least for the time being, today’s events have proven that we’re extremely vulnerable out here on our own.”
“At the very least, I believe,” began Ibanez, “one or more starships is likely to be kept in-system for protection of your colony and the people on Levzor 5.”
Weynik nodded. “Agreed. Whether it will be one of us or whether the Messenger will be allowed to return… Well, that is the question. At the very least, we will stay here until we receive orders, and when that happens, I will emphasize the fact that Federation citizens will be residing on this moon. You ought at the very least be granted protectorate status, which would guarantee Starfleet protection of the moon until such time as you are able to adequately protect yourselves.”
He turned to Koenig. “By the way, have you ever thought to give it a name? Earth’s moon of this universe was eventually formally named Luna after colonization began there.”
“I don’t know—I don’t think any of us has ever thought of such a thing,” said Koenig, rubbing his chin in thought. “We’d always believed we would eventually settle on a planet somewhere—which we would have named, of course.”
“Then name the moon!” said Ibanez with a grin. “You’ve every right to, since it will be your home. You pretty much own it.”
Koenig chuckled. “I suppose we do.” He glanced out the window for a moment, then back at the two Starfleet captains. “What about the refugees you were transporting here, Captain Weynik? Do they still wish to settle here?”
“I’ve not spoken with them yet, but I mean to soon. We also have the housing unit pieces to transport, but I thought it might be best to let things settle for a bit before we start bringing people and pre-fab down.”
“A good idea, Captain. And, if it’s all the same to you, I’ve got some things I must see to before we’re ready to receive the moon’s newest citizens.”
Weynik nodded, and he and Ibanez stood. After each said goodbye to Koenig, they tapped their badges and called their respective ships for transport.
Maya fidgeted as she sat on the stool at the workbench in the science lab. She was alone there with Cate Ross, waiting for one of the Starsong crew and a guest they wanted her to meet. Surprises were all well and good, to be sure, but given the events of the day, she felt that she really ought to be doing something more productive than answering some random crewmember’s questions.
She was about to ask Cate what was taking so long when she heard the now-familiar sound of a transporter beam materializing. Over by the lab door, two figures soon appeared, one of them a strawberry blonde female and the other a portly male with features she had thought never to see again except perhaps on hers and Tony’s children.
“It…it can’t be!” she said in a breathless whisper as she slipped off the stool in a stupor of astonishment.
Cate moved to stand beside her. “Maya, this is Sasha Hrelle, Ship’s Counselor of the Starsong,” said her friend. “Sasha, this is Maya Verdeschi, Chief of Science Section here on Alpha.”
Sasha smiled. “And this gentleman is Rezzik, an elder of the village of Schell on Psychonia.”
Maya frowned. “Psychonia? I…I don’t understand.”
Cate placed a comforting hand on her arm. “Otherwise known as Levzor 5, Maya.”
The Psychon’s head swung sharply to her. “Levzor 5? Do you mean to say that the people on the planet the moon would have hit are Psychons?”
“We are the people of Psychonia, yes,” spoke up Rezzik. “I must say, I am quite as amazed as you are, child, to meet one of my people from another great rock. I knew that there was life similar to ours out among the shining orbs, but had no idea that one of those would be a people the same as my own.”
“And I had none that there were any of my people in this universe,” said Maya as she stepped closer. “I…I am so very overjoyed! I am not alone!”
She then ran to him and threw her arms about his neck, heedless of what might be the custom of a people said to be not as advanced as hers had been. Rezzik did not seem to mind, as he returned her embrace heartily. When they stood back from each other, Maya had tears streaming down her cheeks as she looked between Cate and Sasha.
“How is this possible? I mean not that there are any of my people here, as I knew of the possibility—however slim—that my kind existed here,” she said. “But how is it we are allowed to meet? Captain Murphy’s people told us that the population of Levzor 5 was pre-industrial in their development.”
Sasha smiled softly. “In case you’re not already aware, a large information packet about the moon, including the names and descriptions of everyone here, was distributed across the fleet. I was the first to recognize the similarities between the people we rescued from the Orions and yourself, Mrs. Verdeschi, and having been orphaned at a young age myself, I know that sense of loneliness. Of feeling that you have no one. And I knew that same, or a similar, feeling of indescribable joy when the stepfather who had helped raise me in my youth was returned to me after a period of captivity.”
She paused and drew a breath. “So, knowing that you were, as far as was known, the only one of your kind here, when I saw that the people we had rescued were of the same race as yourself, I spoke to my captain about arranging a meeting between yourself and Elder Rezzik. Captain Weynik agreed that as he is a scholarly man and already familiar with the fact that there are intelligent races other than his own, it would do very little harm for the two of you to meet.”
“Oh, thank you, Counselor! Thank you ever so much!” Maya cried. “I could not begin to tell you how grateful I am for this gift.”
“Nor could I,” agreed Rezzik. “I only wish that I could show you my world, our villages. We may not be as advanced as your Federation or the other beings on other great rocks, but we are a prosperous people on Psychonia.”
Maya’s smile was wide and warm. “I do not doubt it in the least. Perhaps someday I shall be able to visit, but for now I would take advantage of every moment we are allowed together.”
And so it was that they spent the better part of two hours talking of their worlds to each other, before Captain Weynik called down to Sasha and announced it was best they return Rezzik to his people. To extend the pleasure of being in each other’s company, Starsong’s counselor proposed taking the elder back to his planet in a shuttle craft, and that Maya join them on the trip. The plan was agreed to readily on both sides
Medical Center, this late in the evening, was usually very quiet. Tonight that peaceful silence was disturbed by the beeping of multiple monitors, each keeping track of the vitals of Alpha pilots and gunners.
Though she checked them all, Sanai Grayson was particularly concerned about the last man she came to. Alan Carter had nearly died from the injuries sustained in the crash of his Eagle, and his gunner as well. Both men were now being carefully watched by cameras and monitors and nurses alike, as were the others still in residence in the hospital ward. It was by Alan’s side she sat now, staring at his bruised and lacerated face. Questioning her inexplicable attachment to the man. Yes, he had done her a service a week past and she had since called him friend, but he was forceful and short-tempered and idealistic and…
…and handsome, as far as Human males were judged so. Tall, well-built, athletic—there was nothing about his physicality that would not attract attention. He smiled readily and loved a good laugh. He was a great favorite among his fellows and the best pilot of all the Alphans.
She was aware of the moment she was no longer alone in her vigil. Appearing on the other side of Alan’s bed was Cate Ross, who looked down upon his face with an expression of concern. Sanai fought to quell the sudden and unexpected rush of the one emotion she had the least amount of experience with:
“How’s he doing?” Ross asked.
“His vitals are steady,” Sanai replied. “Each man recovers apace.”
Ross looked up at her, a corner of her mouth lifted. “Yet it is by Alan’s bedside you sit. His condition is of particular concern to you, I think.”
Sanai frowned. “I care for each of my patients, Commander Ross, with equal attention and diligence,” she said firmly.
“I don’t doubt it, Dr. Grayson,” the other woman said. “I only mean that Alan is of particular significance to you. I have heard you called him your only friend here.”
She cocked her head to the left. “Dr. Grayson—Sanai, if I may—surely you know that there are many here on Alpha who would be your friend, if only you would open yourself up to it. You know, for a Vulcan who freely explores emotion, you’re awfully closed off from other people. Are you perhaps giving up on your beliefs?”
Sanai raised an eyebrow. “Certainly not. However, just because I choose to experience emotion does not mean my own need always be on display.”
She looked down at Alan, and noticed out of the corner of her eye that Ross was reaching over to brush a lock of hair from his forehead. The jealousy surged again.
“Why do you touch him? Is he your lover?”
Ross looked up with wide eyes, then suddenly burst into laughter. “Oh, good heavens no! Colonel Carter is just a friend. We’ve gotten drunk together a couple of times, played some card games together, but that’s all. A woman can be friends with a man and not be interested in him as a potential lover.”
“I am well aware of that.”
“Besides, I don’t even like men,” Ross continued. “I prefer women—in fact, I’ve a girlfriend back on Starbase Echo. Or I had one. Haven’t heard from her in a while.”
The feeling of jealousy, irrational though it was, immediately subsided. She did not have to worry about Cate Ross as a potential rival. Not that she… Oh, what use was it to continue being obstinate? She need not admit her attachment to anyone else as yet, but what purpose did it serve to deny it to herself? She was, without a doubt, attracted to Alan Carter, and it bothered her more than she would ever admit to even consider his own attachment might be to another.
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Ross was saying then. “And if my observation of the last few weeks means anything, I daresay you don’t have to worry about anyone else, either. Alan seems as taken with you as you are with him.”
With those words, Ross offered a small smile and turned to depart. It was a long time still before Sanai left the side of her patient, much of that time spent wondering if she was right. Perhaps in the next several days, when he had recovered, she would consider speaking to Alan in order to gauge his feelings.
Then again, perhaps not. After all, had she not for all of her adult life avoided romantic entanglements by design? She did not wish to repeat the mistakes of the parents who had abandoned her to her foremother’s care in her infancy. Alan Carter was a man whose desires were hard to pinpoint. Yes, he had joked and laughed with her a number of times, but was that telling of a singular attachment to her? It was frustrating to be so inexperienced in matters of the heart that she could not be certain. If she involved herself with a man, it would be for life—she would be sure of it from the start, or she would remain alone. Heartbreak was an emotion she had thus far managed to avoid the experience of, and Sanai was determined that she would never know it.
The Vulcan turned, disturbed from her musings by the sound of her name. Dr. Russell—no, Dr. Koenig now—had come into the medical center.
“What brings you here so late, Dr. Koenig?” she asked.
Helena Koenig raised an eyebrow. “Late? It’s nearly eight o’clock in the morning.”
Sanai glanced toward one of the few windows. The Levzorian sun had indeed risen over the Plato crater’s horizon. How had she missed it?
“Why don’t you go and get some sleep?” Dr. Koenig suggested. “You’ve been here on watch all night.”
Another turn of her head brought Sanai’s gaze to Alan again. She acknowledged the rush of relief at seeing he continued to breathe steadily, and then pushed the emotion aside. She then suppressed a sigh and offered her fellow doctor a nod.
“Although as a Vulcan I can do without sleep for up to fourteen days, I believe I will do as you suggest. I am not physically weary, but I am somewhat mentally so. There is…much on my mind.”
Dr. Koenig stepped closer and offered a sympathetic smile. “Yesterday was a pretty rough day on all of us. But I can assure you that you needn’t worry—Alan will be in good hands while you sleep. I’ve been looking after him for seven years, and I’ve managed to keep him alive this long.”
Now Sanai raised her own eyebrow. What was it about the women on this base suspecting her of having feelings for Alan Carter? That she did was irrelevant—how could they possibly know? They could not, she reasoned, and must merely be guessing.
“Vulcans, madam, do not worry,” Sanai said in response, placing her hands behind her back.
“I beg to differ,” said Dr. Koenig with a chuckle, then held up her hand. “But I won’t argue with you. Please, go and get some rest. If we need you here, we’ll call you.”
“Very well, Doctor.” Sanai made to move past the other woman, who reached out suddenly as she did.
“I didn’t mean to presume to know your feelings, I just want you to know that,” she said. “It’s just that…given what you said when we almost lost him yesterday, I suspected you might…like some reassurance that Alan would be all right under someone else’s care while you look after yourself.”
Sanai recalled then what Cate Ross had said about there were those who would be her friend if she allowed it. If memory served, Helena Koenig had been nothing but friendly since her arrival, and she had kept her at arms’ length as she had done with so many over the years. It had become a habit of hers after the loss of her grandmother to keep disappointment in others at bay by simply not allowing herself to grow close to anyone.
Not even those who would be her friend.
But she was ninety-one years old, close to approaching Vulcan middle age. Perhaps it was time she tried something new.
“Thank you for your kind intentions, Helena. I am… grateful for your solicitude.”
Sanai turned away then and exited Medical Center. In doing so, she did not see the smile on Helena Koenig’s face.