|Background artwork by Tenement01. Cover composition by Christina Moore.|
September 26, 2378
When Alan Carter walked into the shuttle hangar, he found a blonde female in a Federation uniform walking around it with one of those tricorder scanners. The pointed tops of her ears told him she was not Human, and he paused for a moment to sift through the names of all the different species they had met in the last couple of weeks.
Vulcan! Yes, that’s it, he thought, and continued toward her.
“Hullo there,” he called out, raising a hand to wave when she turned her head. “Can I ask what you’re doing?”
“I am attempting to understand this vehicle,” the woman replied.
“I thought your captain had decided not to have anyone take a look at her because our technology was unfamiliar,” Alan said.
“Captain Hale did give that order, yes. But that does not mean that I am forbidden to take a scan.”
She paused and turned to face him. “Who are you? By what authority do you enter our shuttle bay?”
Alan raised an eyebrow, found himself slightly irritated by her manner, but said only, “I’m Alan Carter of Moonbase Alpha. And I am here by the authority of your captain to inspect our spacecraft. Who are you?”
“I am Lt. Commander T’Rae, Chief Engineer of Journey. You’re an Alphan?”
“I believe I just said that,” Alan quipped as he stepped closer to the Eagle. He could tell it had seen better days—that turbulence Paul and the others had encountered appeared to have done a number on her. He ran his hand along the hull as he looked over the conical cockpit.
It’s good to see you again, old girl. Don’t worry, I’ll get you home soon.
Stepping around T’Rae, who watched him with a raised eyebrow, he moved toward the hatch, pulling his commlock off his belt as he did so. Given how long it had been since the Eagle’s systems had been accessed, he wasn’t entirely sure that he could open it, but it was worth a try.
“What is that?” T’Rae asked.
“It’s called a commlock,” he replied as he pointed it at the hatch. “We use them to communicate as well as open and shut doors.”
Pressing the ‘Open’ key, he felt relief as the hatch started to open and the steps started to slide out from beneath it. Both moved slowly, though, and he had to wait a little longer than he normally would.
As soon as the steps were set firmly down, Alan jogged up them and into the passenger pod; the lights came on automatically but slowly. There was more evidence of his friends’ rough ride in here, but overall, everything seemed to be in order. He was reaching into the equipment locker as T’Rae was coming up the steps.
“Interesting design concept,” she said as she stopped just inside the hatch. “Are these shuttles modular?”
Surprised, Alan turned to her. “As a matter of fact, they are. You’ve a good eye, Commander.”
She had moved further into the compartment and her gaze began to roam. “What is it you hope to accomplish here, Mr. Carter?”
He had pulled a diagnostic tool kit from the locker and was about to enter the cockpit, but turned back to say, “I should think it obvious, Commander. First task is to see if I can determine just what the devil happened to my mates, and then to see if the old girl is capable of flying so I can take her home.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I fail to understand the propensity for referring to any vessel with feminine pronouns. A starship has no gender; it is a thing.”
Alan frowned and shook his head. “And I will never understand why other people do not understand,” he said, and turned into the cockpit.
He dropped into the pilot’s seat and for a moment simply ran his hands over the controls, flipping this one and that to turn on the equipment. There was one panel to his left that was burned out, but at a glance it looked as though it could be replaced easily. Drawing a breath, he blew it out and hooked the connector wires from the scanner in the tool kit to the fuse panel below the yoke. It took even longer to interface with the computer than to open the hatch, but at last numerical code began to scroll across the small screen.
“What will that tell you?”
Alan looked over his shoulder at the Vulcan. “I would say it acts much like your tricorder, Commander. This will tell me the status of the Eagle’s systems: what needs repaired, what degree of damage there is, what tools and parts will be needed to affect repairs, and so on.”
When the unit beeped that it had completed its scan of the ship’s systems, he set the scanner aside and pulled a screwdriver out of the tool kit to open the panel in the dividing console, where the data recorder was located. The recorder was a light gray rectangular metal box with each end colored black and a chrome handle. One end had a port where it was connected to the onboard computer, and he reached to disconnect it; thankfully, it appeared to have suffered no damage, so he set it into the tool kit and closed the panel, screwing it back into place.
“What is that?”
Alan stifled a groan—she was like a curious child with all her questions. Children he could tolerate, as he rather liked children and hoped one day to have a family of his own, but to be pestered by a grown woman in the manner of a child was kind of annoying.
“It is the onboard data recorder, Commander,” he said tersely. “Everything the sensors recorded will be on it.”
The recorder was especially important, he mused, to their learning what the three men on the Eagle had endured during those eleven days on their own. He was particularly eager to see if there was anything at all about the turbulence that had kept them from returning to Alpha, and also how in the hell they had crossed from their home universe to this one.
“Do you believe this shuttle will be able to fly?”
Alan picked up the diagnostic scanner again and rapidly tapped a few of the keys. “According to this, the engines are functional. No fuel in the tanks, but that’s easily remedied—get her out into space, and another Eagle can come up with a refueling tank and top her off.”
“It would be far less complicated a matter for us to simply beam the shuttle down into one of your hangar bays. You need only provide the coordinates,” T’Rae told him.
“Really? That would be capital of you,” he replied, and thought perhaps he had judged her a little harshly. Naturally, anyone would be curious about a strange craft and unfamiliar tools, so it was a matter of course that a person more knowledgeable would be required to exercise patience and answer all their questions.
With a sigh, Alan acknowledged he was being unfair, and looked up at the engineer with a smile. The smile faltered when he noted her flat, unemotional expression, and he turned to switch off the instrument panels with a frown. He next tucked the scanner back into the tool kit with the data recorder, then climbed up out of the seat.
“Well, I suppose we should get to setting her down on Alpha, Commander,” he said. “There’s a fair bit to do to get her in working order again.”
T’Rae nodded. “This way,” she said, and turned to lead the way out. Out in the shuttle bay, Alan followed her over to a console where she keyed up a blueprint of Alpha in moments—making it his turn to ask questions.
“How did you do that? We were told you hadn’t any information on us, and you all just got here this afternoon. When have you had time to download our schematics?”
She looked over briefly, her eyebrow raised. “Mr. Carter, Journey is but four months out of dock and has one of the most sophisticated sensor systems in the fleet—it took me only seconds to scan your facility in order to call up this graphic depiction. The primitive nature of your own scanners could not have carried out the action anywhere near as fast had you made an attempt to scan our vessel.”
It took everything in him not to scowl or snap back. Alan merely looked at the small screen on the console and pointed out which of the hangar bays would be best for the Eagle behind them. As he climbed back aboard to be transported down with it, he fumed over the fact that the people of this universe kept referring to the Alphans as “primitive”. The superior attitude was starting to grate on his nerves.
He had purposefully chosen Eagle Bay 1, where all the parts not yet repurposed were stored. There Alan knew he could get to work repairing the Eagle without anyone making his mood worse.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Somehow, four of the Reconnaissance team had learned of the long-absent Eagle’s location and came in to chatter with him about the return of Victor, Paul, and Kano. Given he was still more than a little irritated, he put them off talking to him by ordering them to work repairing the Eagle. There was a lot that needed to be done to get her back in shape and he saw no reason to delay.
While the others got started on repairs, he took the data recorder to have it analyzed. Habit and preference made him want to go to Sandra, who was their senior and best analyst, but he knew she was not likely to leave Paul’s side unless one of Alpha’s doctors kicked her out of Medical. He couldn’t blame her for sticking by him as long as she could—the poor little thing had been terribly depressed much of the last four and a half years, Paul having been the third man she’d fallen in love with and lost. Alan couldn’t remember a single moment in all the time he’d had been gone that Sandra had smiled as brightly as she had today when Paul woke up. There could be little doubt in any mind that had witnessed their reunion that she was still very much in love with him, and had only suppressed her feelings out of a need to survive without him.
Alan paused in mid-stride, thinking he wished he could find a girl to love him like that. He’d been through a number of relationships since Breakaway, at least one girl a year—a couple years, more than one. Even he sometimes wondered if he’d ever settle down, though goodness knew he wanted to. He longed for that same deep dedication he saw in the couples that were truly in love—like John and Helena, or Tony and Maya. But damn it, while he’d had a lot of fun in the last seven years, none of the girls had seemed…right…in the end.
Shaking himself, both mentally and physically, Alan worked to get his head back on straight. He had work to do, and there was sure to be someone in the Data Analysis Lab at this time of day. He looked toward the ceiling as an announcement came over the base speakers—John telling everyone that Victor, Paul, and Kano appreciated the warm welcome, but that they needed to be left alone until Medical had cleared them. It was a wise move, he thought, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to stop by once he’d delivered the data recorder.
When he finally made it to Medical, they were just shooing everyone out. The Starfleet officers decided then was a good time to go back to their ships, and the three disappeared in columns of sparkling light. Watching this, he reflected that they weren’t all bad—Murphy’s crew, except for that Ja-Nareth guy, had been more than welcoming to the Alphans.
He didn’t see Sandra, so she was still inside with Paul. John headed toward Command Center after instructing the two guards to make sure the patients got their rest. Sure that they wouldn’t bar him from going in, Alan headed for the double doors after the commander had rounded a corner.
“We’re not supposed to let anyone in, Mr. Carter,” said the man on his left. “Commander says the guys need their rest.”
“Wayland, I know—I was there when they woke up,” Alan said lightly. “They’re going need the rest, for sure. But I need to ask just a couple of questions about Eagle 12 and what they went through as part of my investigation. I won’t stay five minutes.”
Wayland looked to his partner, who shrugged. “Couldn’t hurt; after all, Sandra’s still in there with Morrow.”
Wayland gave a silent nod and Alan thanked him, then used his commlock to open the door. With a wave at Dr. Nuñez and the nurse who were doing some paperwork up front, he headed for the recovery ward, where he found Kano fast asleep and Sandra quietly entertaining a drowsy Paul and wide-awake Professor Bergman with the story of the moon being pushed away from a populated planet before being set into orbit of another.
“A permanent orbit, do you say?” queried Victor, who looked up and smiled on his entrance. “Hello again, Alan. How fares Eagle 12?”
“She needs a lot of work, but the damage is not near as bad as I feared. I’ve got four of the Recon team working on her now, and the data recorder is in Walker’s hands,” he replied. “I will say, from what I saw of the Eagle, you all had a rough ride.”
“Two rough rides,” said Paul, who tried and failed to stifle a yawn. “Bloody spatial turbulence.”
Sandra patted the back of his hand. “I should go now and let you get some sleep,” she said.
“But I don’t want you to go,” Paul replied. “I know it’s been hardly two weeks for us, which is nothing compared to how long it has been for you, but I don’t want to wake up again without you next to me. I can’t tell you how much it hurt believing I’d never see you again.”
She smiled at him with watery eyes. “Probably about as much as it hurt me to wake up every day knowing you were gone. Believe me, Paul, I don’t want to go either, but neither do I want to impede your recovery from whatever you went through to get here. So please, go to sleep. Get your strength back. One of the doctors or a nurse can call me the moment you’re awake, and I will come right down to see you no matter what time it is.”
When he yawned again, Paul had to concede defeat and admit he was tired. Sandra stood and leaned over to give him a kiss, which he heartily returned before letting her get away from him. As she passed Alan, she paused and said, “I will go to the data lab and see how far Walker’s got on the Eagle’s recorder.”
Alan nodded, then looked to their friends. Drawing a breath, he said. “Damn, but it’s good to see you all again. It really did a number on all of us to have to leave you behind.”
“A search was initiated, I presume?” Victor asked.
“Of course, Professor,” he replied. “And it about killed John to have to give the order to call it off. But with as fast as the moon was traveling…”
Victor waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. “Do not trouble yourself, Alan. I’ll tell John the same when next we speak. I know he did what he had to do, as do Paul and David. We none of us blame anyone here for the circumstances we found ourselves in.”
“Well, you sure are a lucky bunch of dingos,” Alan said then. “Especially you.”
The professor glanced for a moment at Paul and Kano, both of whom were sleeping now. “Yes, well, I have them to thank for it. I was a goner when they reached me, having lost all my air. I’d passed out and was near to freezing, from what they told me—though the suit certainly did that part of its job, keeping the cold at bay so well as it did.”
“Paul said you had two rough rides—I remember spatial turbulence disrupted communication once… Did he mean it happened again?”
Victor nodded. “Apparently both communications and navigation were knocked out the first time, and Paul had to spot for the moon manually. But as he flew toward Alpha, we hit turbulence again. Knocked him and David out for some hours, and by the time they woke, the moon had moved out of range. I learned of our fate the next day when I finally woke up.”
“Any idea how you got here?” Alan asked. “Even I’m aware that the chances of there being two space warps, starting at different points in time but leading to the same alternate reality at near the same time, is beyond astronomical.”
“Indeed. I believe I am as hopeful as you are that the data recorder will hold some answers.”
“Which will have to wait, Professor Bergman. You’re supposed to be resting.”
Alan turned at the female voice that came from behind him. It was that Vulcan doctor he’d met up on Journey. “I thought you were Starfleet? What are you still doing here?”
She raised a slanted eyebrow. “Just because you met me on a Starfleet vessel doesn’t mean I work for Starfleet. Am I wearing a uniform?”
He studied her clothing, a pale blue blouse and tan trousers topped with a white lab coat. “No. I suppose not.”
“Perhaps you confused me with Dr. Anil, Journey’s CMO. I suppose we are very similar in appearance, but she is Romulan and I am Vulcan. Our peoples do share ancestry, however, and the mistake is commonly made.”
Alan shook his head. “No, you have a little mole on your face, she doesn’t. But, uh, the eyebrows and ears are very similar. And yeah, I figured since you were up there, you were one of them.”
“The other doctor had a more sallow skin tone as well,” said Victor. “Hers is a much deeper yellow than your own, with just a hint of green.”
A bemused expression came to the woman’s face. “That is a product of evolution, Professor. The atmosphere of the Romulan homeworld allows in certain forms of radiation that colors their skin anything from pale yellow to olive green, but is otherwise perfectly harmless. Light-skinned Vulcans, such as myself, tend more toward a pale yellow that makes us look jaundiced.”
She stepped closer. “As to why I am still here, it’s because I work here now—at least for the next few months. I’m Dr. Sanai Grayson. On the advice of Dr. Nir’ahn, Dr. Russell requested a specialist in hybrid genetics to advise her regarding the pregnancy of one of your crew, as the medical staff is inexperienced with blended biologies.”
“Oh, right. I remember now,” Alan mumbled, recalling the discussion that took place during a staff meeting before he went off with Maya and Annika Hansen on a field trip.
“Is there a problem?” Grayson asked.
He shook his head. “No, not at all. I just didn’t realize anyone would be working here longer than the next couple of weeks for the terraforming stuff.”
A fuller smile graced her lips. “I am sure I will be gone and out of your hair in but a few months. But until then, I must ask you to leave. We still don’t know precisely what they went through on their journey here, and a calm environment will serve them much better than being pestered with questions.”
Alan lifted his hands to his hips and scowled. “Hey, I wasn’t pestering anyone. And these men are my friends.”
The eyebrow lifted again, and he wondered if the annoying gesture was commonly employed by Vulcans. “I understand that they are your friends, and that you’ve thought them dead for more than four years. But right now they are my patients and they need their rest.”
“Alan, it’s all right,” said Victor as he drew breath to argue. “Paul and David are already asleep, and I am growing rather fatigued. We can talk later.”
Only the acknowledgement that he really should go made him incline his head in agreement. Alan sighed, stifling the urge to scowl again at the doctor—she was the second damn Vulcan to irritate him in less than an hour.
“Sleep well, Professor,” he said, then turned on his heel and marched out.
Victor watched as Grayson followed him with her eyes. “I beg you would forgive Mr. Carter, Dr. Grayson. He’s a good man, though perhaps a little too quick to let his feathers get ruffled.”
“Indeed. Though loyalty and friendship are to be admired, Professor, so I will credit him that.”
The professor smiled as he settled a little deeper into the bed. “Welcome to Moonbase Alpha, Dr. Grayson.”
It was unusual that a meeting of the senior staff would be called in the evening, but right before 8 p.m. Sandra signaled from the data lab to report that she and Walker had found something significant about the data recorder from Eagle 12.
That she had specifically asked to either hold the meeting in Medical or to have Victor, Paul, and Kano brought to a conference room was both baffling and intriguing. John Koenig could not ignore the almost desperate eagerness of her tone, and arranged with Helena to have the men brought up to his old office in the Main Mission tower where everyone would be more comfortable. Besides the senior staff, attending the conference was Dr. Grayson, who would help monitor the patients’ vitals, and Lt. Commander Catherine Ross of Starfleet, the officer in charge of the terraforming project. The latter had been with him discussing the plan to disperse her soil cultivator nanites across the Plato Crater when he got the call and asked if she might sit in.
On seeing Alan frown when he walked into the office, Koenig quickly took him aside and asked what was wrong. His chief pilot expressed his belief that he did not think either of the non-Alphans had a right to be there, Ross most of all. The commander sighed and explained that although her specialty was evolutionary ecology, he had agreed to her presence as the base’s senior Starfleet representative.
“After all, we are depending on their generosity a great deal, Alan,” he said. “It makes sense to repay them in any way we can, including letting them in on this little mystery of ours.”
“Forgive me, Commander,” Alan said, and John could see the younger man was making a conscious effort contain his irritation. His voice was lower when he spoke next. “It’s just… Well, I don’t particularly care for the superior attitude some of them have thrown our way. I mean, I get that we’re from a past their Earth never experienced, and that our technology is different, but that does not make us inferior!”
Koenig thought of the altercation Alan had gotten into a little over a week ago, in which one of Captain Murphy’s crew had referred to the Alphans as “primitive apes.” An apology had been issued, but that didn’t mean the pilot’s feelings were assuaged.
“You are correct, Mr. Carter,” said Dr. Grayson, who came up to them then. Alan’s frown became a scowl. “I beg your pardon, I did not mean to eavesdrop. I’m afraid that my people have a heightened sense of hearing, and being so close I could not miss your words.”
Grayson glanced around, then stepped a little closer. “Starfleet officers have an unfortunate tendency to think themselves superior to everyone, whether there is truth in that or not. They become so caught up in their careers, some of them, that they forget how to be decent, considerate people.”
She then offered a smile. “Do try to take the attitude with a grain of salt, Mr. Carter. There are some of them that are kind and personable—you just have to sift through the bad ones to find the good ones.”
Alan appeared to not know how to reply to that, so Koenig said, “Thank you, Dr. Grayson. We’ll certainly keep it in mind. But it looks as though everyone is here now, so we’d better get started.”
Sandra stood nervously next to the viewscreen on the far wall of the office. “Thank you for being here,” she began when everyone had settled. “I know it is short notice and late in the evening, but Walker and I found something very unusual on the data recorder that I thought the senior staff should be made aware of right away.”
“It’s quite all right, Sandra,” said Koenig. “Why don’t you tell us what you found?”
“Well, besides the usual things that are found on a data recorder—which of course we logged into Computer—there were thirteen other files, twelve of which are encrypted,” she began. “We did everything we could to open them, and Walker is still working on it, but so far we have got nothing from them.”
“Perhaps one of our people can take a look, if Commander Koenig doesn’t mind,” suggested Catherine Ross. “Not one of my team, I mean, but a specialist in computer technology.”
“I’m sure Kano can handle it, soon as Dr. Russell clears him,” said Alan gruffly. “No one knows computers better than he does.”
“I’m certain your crew is better suited to understanding your technology—” Ross started to say.
Alan interrupted her with “Because it’s so bloody primitive compared to yours, is that what you mean?”
“Alan,” Koenig said, his tone one of warning.
“On the contrary,” replied Ross. “I meant only because you are more familiar with it.”
“I appreciate the offer, Commander Ross,” Koenig told her, hoping to stave off any further hostility. “Perhaps if my people continue to have no luck decrypting the files, I’ll speak to one of the captains above us.”
He looked back to Sandra. “What about the thirteenth file?”
Sandra’s gaze traveled to Victor in a manner that belied confusion. “It was a video file, Commander, recorded by Professor Bergman.”
All other eyes moved to look at Victor, who frowned and lifted his shoulders. “I’ve no idea what she’s talking about. I don’t recall any of us making any sort of log or recording in those eleven days.”
Paul and Kano both shrugged and shook their heads. “I don’t either, Commander,” Paul agreed. “We just fixed what damage we could, ate the MREs when hungry…”
Sandra activated her commlock. “Benes to Walker.”
“Walker here. You ready for the video?”
“Yes. Please link to the viewscreen in Commander Koenig’s office.”
“Coming right up, Boss.”
A moment after she keyed the viewscreen on, an image of Victor appeared. He was sitting at the desk in the passenger pod of the Eagle, still wearing his spacesuit.
“If you are viewing this recording, then this vessel and its occupants have been returned to where they are meant to be. Do not ask how—our methods and abilities are beyond your understanding, and our discretion in exercising them is for your protection. As to why… All are guaranteed a place and a purpose even before the formation of their being. What is not guaranteed is the knowledge of what that purpose is. Know only that the actions taken, the decisions made, will have a profound effect on the universe for uncounted lifetimes to come. You must have faith that events will unfold as they are meant to.
“Accompanying this message are twelve data files. Your innate curiosity will lead to many attempts to access them, but you will fail. They are locked, and will open only when their contents will be most useful to you. Be well.”
The video faded to a blank screen. Once again, all eyes turned to Victor, who looked the most surprised of all of them. “I don’t remember one moment of that,” he said. “Not a single second!”
“Apparently, whatever entity or entities orchestrated your return also took over your body in order to be sure their message of benevolence was delivered,” said Dr. Grayson.
“You really think they were being benevolent?” Tony asked.
She turned to him. “You don’t? After all, Mr. Verdeschi, three of the twenty-eight people who were lost to you over the last seven years have been returned, alive and well.”
“That’s true, but why them?” said Alan. “Forgive me, but why these three over any of the others? Why not everyone?”
“And if these beings can send three men across time and space,” spoke up Tanya, “why couldn’t they have just sent us home before we lost them?”
Victor crossed his arms, then raised a hand to scratch his chin, and Koenig knew he was doing what he called “deep thinking.” He stood slowly, and walked toward the windows. “I wonder if the reason they did not is the same reason we arrived here four and a half years after you left us behind.”
“What do you mean, Victor?” Helena prompted.
He turned to back to face the room. “Think of it like this: You are a time traveler, and you have made a trip into Earth’s past—say, Nazi Germany, but before it became known by that term. You know that if you assassinate Adolph Hitler before he can become the Führer, you may just prevent World War II and save the lives of nearly eighty-five million people around the world. But you also know you can’t kill him, because his actions and those millions of deaths are a part of history. They are fixed points in the timeline and cannot be prevented, because to do so would alter the flow of time. It would affect every action from the point of his death all the way into the future you come from. Therefore, I propose that the reason these beings did not return the moon to Earth or even prevent Breakaway altogether; the reason they did not return Paul, David, and myself to you before they did is because they could not. The moon leaving Earth’s orbit in our universe, our own apparent deaths according to your history, are all fixed points that cannot—that must not—be altered.”
“When you put it like that, makes it sound like they have their own Temporal Prime Directive,” observed Ross.
“What the devil is that?” asked Tony.
She looked to him. “It’s a Starfleet regulation that basically says if you ever find yourself in the past, do not allow yourself to become involved in historical events, because any action—even a minor one—can have a potentially adverse effect on the future.” The ecologist chuckled. “Believe me, no one wants to have to deal with Temporal Investigations.”
“As to why us over anyone else…” Victor continued, “I can only assume that we have some significant part to play in the years to come. We are needed here, on Alpha.”
“I think it’s interesting,” put in Koenig, “that the beings set the data files to only open when they were needed. They did something similar to the three of you—you didn’t wake up until someone from Alpha touched you—people who needed you. Dr. Grayson tried to reach you all telepathically, but she couldn’t. She said it was as though your conscious minds were behind a locked door she couldn’t open.”
“I see now that I could not open the doors because I wasn’t meant to,” Grayson said. “I think I would like to meet one of these beings—they are remarkably philosophical.”
“I am fascinated by them as well, Dr. Grayson,” said Maya. “These people must have incredible power. And they must believe that we Alphans are meant to be here—that we have an important part to play in the future of this universe instead of our own.”
Maya’s supposition led to many curious expressions, though Koenig noticed a smirk on the face of Alan Carter. No doubt the idea of being of some importance would serve to alleviate his rancor at Starfleet, for which the commander could only be hopeful. Not so much that he believed they were important, but that there would be peace between Alpha and Starfleet. They really were heavily dependent on the Federation’s generosity at present, at least until they were self-sufficient enough to not need them.
That, Koenig decided, would be their ultimate goal. There was little doubt in his mind that, having managed to survive for as long as they had with little outside influence, his people would wish to remain independent.
“Commander, there’s something I wonder, after seeing that video,” Paul said, drawing Koenig out of his reverie.
“What’s that, Paul?”
“Well, for one thing, do we tell the others that some unknown alien beings apparently decided that the three of us were more important than the twenty-five others Alpha lost?” he said. “Do we tell them that there are twelve mysterious, encrypted files on that data recorder? That is, I’m assuming that nobody outside of this room, save for Jeremy, knows about them.”
Curious about that, Koenig looked to Sandra, who said, “Jeremy Walker and I are the only ones who have examined the data recorder, Commander. When we saw that video, I told him not to speak of it or anything else we’d discovered until I’d had a chance to show it to you.”
Koenig glanced around at his people, at the two guests. “That was a good idea, Sandra. And to be honest, I don’t think the matter of those data files or the message the beings used Victor to record should be made public knowledge. Somebody could take exception to one of the others not being returned, and I don’t want to risk creating a panic over what those data files might contain.”
He turned to Ross and Grayson, who stood next to one another. “I know I have no direct authority over either of you, but I must ask that you keep what you have learned here to yourselves. The information is so highly sensitive, I fear that spreading it about could have negative repercussions even for your own people.”
Dr. Grayson looked to Ross. “In my opinion, the information having been found on a data recorder from an Alpha vehicle makes the contents Alpha property and therefore an Alpha concern—not a Federation concern. I see no reason to speak of it.”
Ross looked to Koenig with a resolute expression. “This moon, for all intents and purposes, belongs to you—the Alphans. My purpose for being here is to prepare it for colonization, and as the senior officer in charge of the Alphans, that means I work for you until that task is finished.”
“And what about when you are finished?” Alan challenged, feet firmly planted and arms crossed.
She looked to him with an arched eyebrow. “I’m sorry, who are you?”
Her question made Koenig realize that Alan hadn’t actually been introduced to Lt. Commander Ross; he remedied that quickly, making sure that everyone in the room knew who everyone else was.
“Mr. Carter,” said Ross, “I don’t know if you ever served in the military—”
“Of course I have!” he bit back. “Only military-trained astronauts are allowed to fly Eagles. I could have been a bloody colonel by now, had we not been blasted out of Earth’s orbit!”
“Then you ought to know, Colonel Carter, that an order to classify information does not become nullified when an officer is reassigned,” Ross snapped. “At present, Commander Koenig is my de-facto commanding officer, because this moon is under his command. My return to Starbase Echo, or possible reassignment elsewhere, does not negate any order he may give me that does not conflict with my oath as a Starfleet officer.”
“So what you’re saying is that if John orders you to keep the information you learned here to yourself,” broke in Helena with a calming tone, “you would not only have to keep it secret from everyone on Alpha, but also your own people once your assignment here is over.”
“That is correct, Dr. Russell.”
Koenig regarded the woman with a measured gaze. “You would have no problem keeping the information to yourself if I made it an order?”
“No, sir,” Ross replied. “Not only am I an officer who knows how to obey the orders of my commanding officer, but my father is a vice admiral. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years about the need to keep sensitive information limited to a select few. Besides that, I’m in complete agreement that this kind of knowledge has the potential to cause a whole slew of problems. Keeping it between the twelve of us and Miss Benes’ assistant dramatically reduces the chances of the match igniting an inferno.”
“Satisfied, Alan?” asked Tony with a snort.
Alan scowled. “For now.”
“All right, it’s time to cool tempers and get back to work,” Koenig said then.
Light laughter sounded. “John, it’s after eight,” said Helena. “I think it would be better if everyone just went to quarters and settled down for the evening.”
“Oh, so we don’t have to go back to Medical?” asked Paul in a hopeful tone. “That nap did wonders, Dr. Russell. I feel great.”
“I’m sure you do, Paul, but I really would prefer the three of you return to Medical Center for overnight observation. If everything checks out in the morning, I’ll release you to quarters then.”
“You’ve just made me realize something,” spoke up Kano. “Do we even have quarters anymore? After all, we have been gone—according to your calendar—for over four years.”
“Your quarters in the Mission Tower have been locked since we lost you,” Koenig replied. “I’ll make sure the security lock is lifted, and Sandra can arrange for Maintenance to go in and clean them up for you.”
“Very much appreciated, John,” said Victor as he moved to join Paul, Kano, and the two doctors, who would be escorting them back down to Medical Center. “I do so look forward to sleeping in my own bed for the first time in two weeks.”
Tony and Maya, along with Tanya, soon followed. After he instructed her to inform Jeremy Walker that the information from the data recorder was officially classified, Sandra also left the office. Ross started to leave as well, but turned back suddenly.
“Commander Koenig, I’d like to take this opportunity to address Mr. Carter’s behavior,” she said.
Not unexpectedly, Alan snorted and turned away from her. Koenig, on the other hand, happened to agree that this sudden expression of hostility toward Starfleet needed to be addressed.
“Go ahead, Miss Ross.”
Her eyes moved to Alan’s back; though he did not look at her, she addressed her remarks to him. “It is clear to me that you have an issue with Starfleet, Mr. Carter, but what I would like to know is…why? As far as I know, we have been nothing but helpful. You need us—”
Alan whirled to face her and lifted his hand to point. “That’s it! That right there—that damn superior attitude you people keep giving off. I’m fucking sick of it! We have got more than enough shit to deal with without holier-than-thou Starfleet officers reminding us how much we need the Federation’s help, or insulting our people and technology because you and yours are so fucking superior. We may not have your level of advancement, Commander Ross, but that does not make us inferior to you! And I’m pretty damn sure our people know how much we’re dependent on the Federation’s generosity without high-and-mighty Starfleet lording it over us every chance you get!”
He scoffed heavily. “I mean, do you people get off on it or something? Coming across less advanced cultures and saying ‘Here, let us make you dependent on us by helping make your lives better with our vastly superior technology and knowledge.’ There’s not a damn thing wrong with anybody on this base, or any of our technology! We were getting by just fine without you!”
Koenig was pretty sure he could see in Ross’s eyes the same thought that occurred to him in that moment, which was that there was a good chance they’d not be on the verge of having a livable environment right there on the moon without the Federation’s assistance. Thankfully, she did not say it out loud—neither did he.
“Alan, I know you’ve had a run-in or two with officers who insulted us or otherwise got on your nerves,” Koenig began. “But the majority of the people we have met here have been nothing but kind and welcoming. Avoiding one planet and being settled into orbit of another was a necessity on both sides. And they offered to help us—we didn’t have to accept. They could have just said ‘Your moon’s in orbit of a planet now, good luck’. But they didn’t do that—they further extended the hand of friendship by offering to not only terraform the moon so we wouldn’t have to go seeking a planet to live on, but figuring out how to rotate it fast enough so that we will eventually have a natural atmosphere.”
“And it wasn’t so that we could ‘lord’ it over you, demanding future favors or repayment just because we helped you,” added Ross. “This isn’t a ‘We did this for you, now you should do that for us’ kind of situation.”
“Oh no, of course not,” retorted Alan. “Because what could a bunch of primitive apes with obsolete technology possibly offer you?”
“Friendship,” she replied with a small smile. “You could share your history with us, your knowledge of medicine and science and space. No doubt you’ve encountered creatures and intelligent species we never have. You can offer us a unique, unbiased opinion on the people we know and our own history—no doubt there are more differences in the history of Earth than that we didn’t lose our moon. A part of Starfleet’s creed, Mr. Carter, is ‘to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations…to boldly go where no one has gone before.’”
Ross sighed softly. “It’s unfortunate that you’ve had any bad experiences with Starfleet officers at all in the short time you’ve been here—and I won’t deny that there are people in Starfleet who think the way you described. But I sincerely hope you know that a few rotten apples don’t spoil the barrel.”
Of all the responses Alan could have given to the end of Ross’s speech, Koenig most definitely did not expect him to laugh. It started slowly, suddenly, with Alan first raising his hands to his hips, then lifting one to run it through his hair as the laughter bubbled out of him.
“What’s so funny?” Ross asked him.
Alan shook his head as though to shake off his mirth. “What you said about apples. My nana used to say that all the time.”
He sighed. “I guess we’re not really so different after all. I’m sorry, Commander Ross. I know I shouldn’t judge the whole of Starfleet by a few rotten apples, but… Well, my only excuse, if there is one, is that we have had a hell of a last two weeks. So much has happened, I guess I haven’t really set aside time to process it all, and things just kind of boiled up.”
Ross smiled fully. “I can totally understand why, Mr. Carter. Everything that’s happened to Alpha in the last couple weeks has been an unbelievable experience for you all, not to mention you now know that unknown, apparently extremely powerful aliens are mucking about with your lives. I think it would be enough to give anybody emotional vertigo.”
Surprising both men, she stepped over to Alan and hooked one of her arms around his. “Come with me to my quarters—we can have a couple of drinks together and forget about this nonsense for a while. I’ve got half a bottle of Andorian ale tucked away in one of my trunks. Real stuff, too, not synthehol.”
Alan glanced at Koenig with a frown, the latter asking, “What is synthehol?”
“Synthetic alcohol, Commander,” Ross replied. “All the taste, none of the effects. Though of course, there are those who’ve tasted both synthetic and genuine who claim they can tell the difference.”
“I can already tell you I’d prefer the real thing,” Alan told her. “I haven’t had a good drink in seven years.”
Koenig laughed. “None of us have, Alan. Just remember not to tell Tony you had a drink tonight. You know he’ll get jealous.”
Alan laughed, and he and Ross walked out of the office together. Koenig watched them go, relieved that his chief pilot seemed to have made his peace with Starfleet—certainly the lure of a couple real drinks had helped smooth the way—and sent a wish up to the heavens that there would be no more trouble. He then headed out himself, intending to make sure the security lock was released on the three men’s quarters before stopping to see Helena for a kiss goodnight.
Maybe even more than a kiss…
September 27, 2378
“I am curious, Commander Ross, about one thing.”
Maya looked up from the computer simulation she’d been studying to glance at the Starfleet officer. She was a pretty thing, with large, expressive eyes, chestnut hair, and a beautiful smile. A part of her thought someone as bright and eager as she would be good for Alan, but he seemed to have developed a strong dislike of Starfleet. Well, some Starfleet officers, she mused. He’d got on with Annika Hansen and the two young people from her team well enough, and he seemed to respect if not actually like Captain Murphy.
“Oh, call me Cate, please,” said the other scientist with a grin. “Only the Starfleet crew actually has to call me ‘Commander’. What are you curious about?”
“How are we to stop the crater from flooding?” Maya asked. “I assume there must be some variance of weather, such being necessary to promote the growth of plant life. But a heavy rain would no doubt cause flooding in a depression such as Alpha is in.”
“She’s right,” said Professor Bergman, who had been released to quarters that morning, but who had insisted he needed some useful employment to occupy himself. Dr. Russell agreed that so long as only his mind was engaged, he could join his fellow scientists in the little-used ecology lab that morning.
“About six years ago,” he went on, “we came upon a planet that showed great promise for settling. But its inhabitants did not wish us to come and ‘spoil’ their world, so distracted us by sending hundreds of remote atmospheric generators to the moon’s surface. We then had hope of being happily settled on the moon itself, but a crater that is but four hundred sixty-four feet from being a full mile deep presented a clear and present danger of being filled up by rain and putting the base under water. We did look for a more suitable site for a colony, of course, but it all came to naught when the generators were recalled by their creators as soon as it was too late for us to have chance of moving to their planet.”
“I see what you mean, Professor,” said Cate, “but can I assure you that the size and depth of the crater have been considered. As early as the 23rd century, Federation scientists had developed weather control technology for the purpose of preventing extreme weather from having an adverse effect on the environment. Earth, for instance, no longer suffers from tornados, hurricanes, or blizzards. There’s still rain and snow, because the planet still experiences seasonal change, but there’s nothing catastrophic to have to worry about because the network of satellites in orbit are designed to emit signals which disperse such weather patterns before they become problematic.”
“And we’ll have these satellites here?” asked Maya.
“I strongly recommend at least one, to keep severe weather from say, submerging the base as Professor Bergman mentioned,” Cate replied. “You’ll have rain, of course, and snow will be likely at some point, but a weather control satellite can keep problems from arising while the growth of flora spreads through the crater and stabilizes the soil. In fact—as the moon is not likely to establish a colony in any other crater, for the same reasons this one would be in some danger—you may only need the one, set in geostationary orbit over Plato. That way, when the population increases and other communities are set up here, the whole area will be safe.”
Maya looked to Professor Bergman and found him nodding. She smiled, then said, “I think, then, that perhaps we ought to request one of these satellites, or at least the design schematics that we may build it ourselves.”
“I think I’d prefer the latter,” said the professor. “Not only for myself to have some small part in bettering our lives here, but for the simple fact that it will make the whole of Alpha feel that much more involved in creating our new world.”
Cate nodded her agreement. “I’m no psychiatrist, but I know enough about people to say that the more involved yours can be in any aspect of the project, the better they will feel.”
“And the more we do for ourselves, the less we will feel dependent upon the Federation,” added Maya, thinking again about Alan’s outburst from the night before.
“Speaking of the Federation… Do you think you’ll join at some point? After all, except for Maya here, you’re all Human, and Humans are one of the four founding members.”
Maya shrugged. “I really couldn’t say. Professor?”
He drew a breath, released it slowly, then said, “I don’t think so, at least not for some time. I am sure that everyone here is as grateful as they should be—even Carter, deep down—for all the help your Federation has given thus far and all the help we shall receive in the future. But I have long been aware of a fiercely independent spirit among my fellow Alphans. While we’ll certainly not mind being friends—due in part to all the advantages an alliance would afford us, given we are so few—I think the majority will want to prove that we can make it on our own here. Besides which, as our Eagles cannot really go far, we’re not likely to explore beyond this solar system for some years yet, unless someone gets curious about the many other worlds beyond our own.”
“I see what you mean. But I think your commander should be made aware, if he’s not already, that the question is likely to be asked at some point by someone who is more than just curious,” said Cate. “Adding nearly three hundred people may not seem like much, given the Federation’s reach, but when one considers we lost hundreds of millions during the Dominion War…
“The truth is, I’m sure the Federation Council would love to have you. There may have been some debate as to what to do about you when the moon first arrived, but now you’ve given them a perfectly legitimate excuse to focus on something positive besides rebuilding the fleet. This terraforming project, while it will serve your immediate purpose, will ultimately serve the Federation’s as well in the long run. This moon will give dozens of scientists years of work, if you’ll allow them to come here and study the evolutionary process. People wanting a simpler life away from the core worlds will see this place as a perfect opportunity to start over. Within the next few months or years, you’re probably going to receive a countless number of requests from people wanting to resettle. There’s also the fact that the location of this system is kind of in the middle of a region surrounded by species that aren’t always as nice as we are.”
“Which is a nice of way saying that we’re probably going to need your help looking after ourselves,” said the professor.
“I’m not saying you’re not capable of defending yourselves, of course,” Cate hurried to say. “But to put it bluntly, our weapons and defensive systems are more advanced. If we weren’t here and say, the Nausicaans decided to do a raid, I’m afraid the chances of your survival would be pretty slim. Not just because they have better guns, but because you don’t know them like we do. When so motivated, they are brutal and they are ruthless. And they almost never leave survivors.”
Maya, whose people had also known war, turned to her new friend when a sudden thought occurred to her. “Do you think the Federation will see our being here not only as an opportunity to put officers such as yourself to work, but also as an advantage to them? After all, with our being somewhat vulnerable, they could use this opportunity to install themselves out here and none of their adversaries would have reason to question it.”
Cate grinned. “You’re very astute, Maya—and quite possibly also very correct. Whether Commander Koenig decides you all should join the Federation or remain independent, Starfleet Command and the Federation Council will no doubt seek to take advantage of having an increased presence in this area. The Levzor system is already in Federation space, but we don’t claim it because of the fact that the people on Levzor 5 are pre-industrial in their state of development. Alpha, on the other hand, is considered an advanced civilization. You give them more reason to be in the area and keeping an eye on those who would otherwise take advantage of Starfleet not being here at all.”
Professor Bergman chuckled. “Seems like Alpha is already serving a purpose,” he said.
September 30, 2378
Reports had been written. Celebrations had been thrown. And slowly but surely, Victor Bergman found himself, Paul, and Kano reintegrating into an Alpha crew that had not seen them in four and a half years. That it had been less than a fortnight for the three men made some of their interactions awkward, but they could none of them on either side change what had been done.
The alien Maya was a fascinating young woman, brilliant and beautiful—and after one particularly long discussion with her, Victor understood perfectly why John had given her his place as senior scientist over one of the others on the crew. He longed to see her transformation process, to watch as she became other alien creatures or animals or even plants as he had heard she could do, but accepted with grace that she had been restricted due to her pregnancy. He and the others had offered hearty congratulations to her and Tony on their marriage and the upcoming birth of their child, which would be the first born on Alpha in their new universe. Her exotic looks and saucy personality left him with no wonder as to why Tony had fallen for her.
The “Lost Sons of Alpha”—as they had been called by someone—had missed the births of the two youngest Alphans, but they were all three of them delighted to see that new life had not entirely been denied.
When the matter their place among the crew was discussed, Victor said he was quite happy to leave Maya in charge of Science Section. Though he agreed to take on more of the duties as her pregnancy progressed, he assured both her and John that he was content to be the assistant lead of the department, as it would leave him more time to learn of the new reality in which they had found themselves and to indulge in his hobby of conducting experiments.
Tony surprised everyone by happily ceding Mission Controller back to Paul. It was too much, he said, to be the second in command as well as head of Security Section. By giving up one of his responsibilities—indeed, the greater of the two—he would have more time to spend with his wife, and their child when it came. Sandra (and few could blame her) seemed determined to be at Paul’s side as often as she could, as though she feared he might disappear again. He, in turn, was content to have her with him more than ever, that he might assure her he wouldn’t be going anywhere. This morning, rumor began to circulate that he planned to propose.
Kano was reinstated as section chief of Technical. He was relieved that Computer had not suffered for his absence, and praised both Sandra and Morika Yasko for “taking care of my girl.” He spent a great deal of the first two days after being released from Medical acquainting himself with the upgrades that had been necessary to install, and was relieved that the system was not so unfamiliar to him as he had feared.
All of Alpha was happy with Koenig’s decision to return daily operations and living quarters to the surface levels. Many said that the underground facilities had their uses, but even with only stars and lunar surface to look at, one liked to be able to glance out of a window now and then. That they would be able to witness the development of their environment was an added incentive to being mostly out of the underground facility, and there was not a monitor unoccupied when Catherine Ross played a recording of the simulation for creating an atmosphere inside the Plato Crater.
Afterward, he spoke to the young scientist, once again praising her ingenuity. She smiled widely, though demurred by saying, “The science is not entirely my own—I have other brilliant minds to thank for the inspiration to use nanites as cultivators. Drs. Carol and David Marcus, for instance, as well as Professor Gideon Seyetik, are all of them pioneers in the field of terraforming. Their techniques have allowed for the transformation of a moon or planet to be accelerated.”
“Oh, indeed, Commander,” replied Victor. “Since learning that the moon’s surface would be terraformed, I have been reading all I can about the processes the Federation uses. I say, do you intend to alter our moon with the Genesis Device? I know there were complications with the first, and as a method of terraforming it was almost shelved entirely.”
Ross looked at him with some appreciation in her gaze. “My, my, Professor Bergman, you are well-read. I must admit I am amazed you know so much already.”
He laughed. “My dear girl, I am sure you know that when one’s activities are restricted, there is little else one can do but read. And as a scientist yourself, you know our curiosity is never satisfied; when first John told me about the plan—that once the forcefield generators, atmospheric generators, and graviton field emitters were in place your nanites would be unleashed—I knew right away that I must acquaint myself with the method of what they would all do together. That is why I sought out you and Maya from the start, if you’ll recall.”
“The Genesis Project was indeed shelved for some years, or so the Federation claimed,” said Ross. “In truth, it was secretly continued by Dr. Carol Marcus, in honor of her son David—I’m sure you read about that. She eventually came to realize that trying to combine millions of years of ecological evolution into but a few days or weeks was foolhardy. So they fixed on a method of having it take only a few decades, at least on a planetary scale.”
“Indeed, and it was Professor Seyetik who took up the mantle of reducing the timetable even further,” Victor added. “His method can now transform an Earth-sized planet in but thirty years, and larger planets between forty and sixty. May seem like a long time to some, but really, to have a hospitable planet from nothing in less than a century is astounding.”
Ross smiled. “And your moon, as you know, will be ready for expansion beyond the Plato Crater in only fifteen years.”
“Yes, and the crater’s transformation will take but a month total, until we can begin planting. Absolutely incredible, Commander Ross.”
“That is my contribution to history, Professor—scaling the process down even further: confining it to a limited area allows for a colony to be established almost immediately,” Ross replied. “That is where the nanites come in, my cultivators. They can be programmed to roam only so far and remain within the boundaries of the forcefield.”
“So they are microscopic versions of the Genesis Device?”
The two of them turned at the question posed by Dr. Grayson; neither had heard her approach. “Indeed, Doctor,” said Ross. “The smaller size of the soil cultivators and not having them do everything at once makes the entire process easier to control.”
The Vulcan physician raised an eyebrow. “How very interesting. I think I shall have to familiarize myself with your work, Commander Ross. After all, I have a very intimate connection with the original.”
Grayson did not expand on the enigmatic statement, and merely passed by them to speak with Maya and Tony.
“I only wish we didn’t have to wait to get started,” Ross went on. “Unfortunately, Columbia won’t be here with the rest of the equipment we need until next week.”
Victor chuckled at the frown on her face. “My dear Commander Ross—”
“Oh, call me Cate, please. You’re not in Starfleet, so there’s no need to be formal all the time.”
“Indeed—and you may call me Victor, if you like,” he said with a nod. “But I was about to say that although I am as eager as you are to get started on this incredible project, I for one am not altogether displeased by the delay. After all, I’ve only been cleared by Medical to move about for two days. Had you been able to get started right away, I would have missed all the excitement of that first day of fresh air. As I told you before, I may be a physicist, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the processes involved in transforming an inhospitable environment into a livable one. I want to be right here with you all.”
Ross—or Cate, as she’d told him to call her—grinned. “Well, I’ll certainly be glad to have you as part of the team. Besides, it’s your moon—you should be a part of it. And you’re heading up the building of the weather satellite, so you should absolutely get to be there when we throw the switch on the forcefield and atmospheric generators, and then fly about in the Eagles first spreading the cultivators, then soil and grass seed.”
John and Helena stepped up to the two of them then. “What has the two of you so engrossed, Victor?” asked the doctor.
“Science, my dear Helena—what else?” Victor replied with a smile.
Helena smiled. “You know, I have missed hearing you call me that,” she said. “I know it’s been almost a week since you came back, but I have found myself blinking my eyes just to be sure I’m not seeing things when I look at you or Paul or Dave.”
“To be honest, I have been noticing quite a lot of that,” Victor confessed. “Everyone knows we are here, and alive, but the fact that for you it has been nearly five years since you saw us last…”
He shrugged. Helena reached out and touched his arm. “We just have to allow that part of our brain that distinguishes fantasy from reality to catch up to the fact that you and Kano and Paul really are here—at least, that’s what Dr. Grayson said to me this morning when I mentioned something about it.”
Victor glanced over to where the alien doctor stood, still conversing with Tony and Maya. “An insightful young woman, this Dr. Grayson.”
John chuckled. “Insightful she may be, but young she is not—Dr. Grayson is ninety-one, Victor. We now have someone on staff who’s older than you.”
“Ninety-one?” he queried. “She doesn’t look a day over thirty-five.”
“Oh yes,” said Helena. “Dr. Grayson is Vulcan, Victor. Surely you’ve noticed the ears and the eyebrows? They’re a fairly long-lived species, up to two hundred years or more—though she is a quarter Human, which might lessen her lifespan by a decade or so, from what I understand.”
“To be truthful,” said John, “After the conversations she and I have had the last few days, I’m considering asking her to stay with us. She’s got degrees in multiple medical fields: hybrid genetics, obstetrics, psychology, biochemistry, internal medicine…”
“Planning to replace me, John?” Helena asked.
“Of course not,” the commander replied. “But you know we haven’t had a trained psychologist since we lost Bob, though I know you and Ben, Ed, and Raul have done what you can.”
“I know, I was teasing,” Helena replied with a smile. “And you’re right, we definitely need a trained mental health practitioner on staff.”
“Do you not like Dr. Grayson?” Victor asked.
Helena’s eyes widened. “On the contrary, I already like her a great deal. She’s very efficient, very logical and precise.”
“And unlike forty-nine out of fifty Vulcans, she’s not afraid to smile or crack a joke,” Cate remarked. “You’ve gotten a very different specimen of the species than you’re like to find just about anywhere else. In case you’ve not already been made aware, Vulcans learned thousands of years ago how to suppress all emotion in pursuit of pure logic. This was done because their people had become extremely savage and were at risk of annihilating themselves.”
John turned his head to glance at the woman they were talking about. “What makes Dr. Grayson different?” he asked.
“She has chosen to allow herself to feel and even express emotion,” Cate replied. “Sanai said her upbringing was primarily Vulcan, but her father’s mother was Human, and she said she was influenced by her as well.”
Victor looked over again. “A species that refuses to employ their emotions… How fascinating.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Sanai is, as Dr. Russell pointed out, very logical,” said Cate. “She can make you forget she allows herself to feel emotion. But I have seen her smile, and laugh, and even be mischievous.”
Victor regarded his fellow scientist with some curiosity. “And what about anger?”
Cate now looked over at Grayson, who had moved away from Maya and Tony to talk to Sandra and Paul. “I’ve never seen her angry, but I know one person who has. He said you know you’ve crossed a line with Sanai when she goes ‘full Vulcan’—said there’s a coldness in her eyes that is almost frightening when she’s angry.”
“Well then, let us hope we never have to experience it,” Victor said then. “Now, my young friend, let us talk some more about the plan for terraforming this crater we’re in.”
October 1, 2378
Helena Russell, finding herself unable to sleep, contemplated going to John’s quarters, but even as she rose from her bed, decided against it. He, more than anyone, needed his rest. So much responsibility was on his shoulders, so many concerns… Though they had received assurances that by the tenth of the month they would all be able to walk the grounds outside the base without the encumbrance of a space suit, all the preparations for getting to that point were weighing on Alpha’s commander. If he was asleep, he most definitely needed to be left alone.
She dressed in a blouse and trousers, clipped her commlock to her waist, and headed out of her quarters, thinking a short stroll would settle her. Helena breathed deeply as she walked, as happy as anyone to be back in the upper levels of the Main Mission tower. It just felt…right…that they should all be there as the new phase of their lives on Alpha began. This thought occurred to her again as she found herself strolling into Main Mission, where three crew from Mission Control, Services, and Security kept watch; it beget a feeling of coming home again to see them situated around the desks set in a u-shape as in the early days of their journey.
“Good evening, Dr. Russell,” said the security officer. “You’re up awfully late. What brings you by?”
She offered a smile. “Restlessness, I suppose. Just couldn’t sleep, so I decided to take a walk. It’s so wonderful to see Main Mission operational again.”
“Feels good to be back in Main Mission, you ask me. Feels right,” said the girl with the yellow sleeve of Services.
“The commander’s up on the balcony, if you happen to be looking for him,” said the security officer with a nod of his head in that direction.
“Thanks,” Helena said, and headed for the stairs. In truth, she’d hoped he was sound asleep, but it did not much surprise her to find that he had turned out to be as restless as she.
He glanced up as she stepped onto the balcony. “Helena, what are you doing here? It’s late.”
She smiled as she walked over and sat in his lap and wrapped her arms around him. “I could ask you the same thing,” she said.
John sighed. “I couldn’t sleep. There’s so much on my mind right now—the encrypted files from the data recorder, operations moving back to the upper levels… I’ve even been thinking of granting promotions to all our military trained personnel, not that it will be official or mean much in this universe.”
Helena recalled the staff meeting the other night in which Alan had declared he could have been a colonel had they not left Earth’s orbit. “I don’t know about that,” she said. “The promotions may not come from the military commands of our Earth, but they’ll come from the commanding officer of this base, to whom everyone here feels unswerving devotion and loyalty. I have no doubt it will mean something to them that you’re choosing to recognize their years of service.”
She looked to him then. “What about you—will you accept your own promotion? After all, you joined the Air Force what, about thirty years ago now? What rank would you be?”
John scoffed. “I’d have made brigadier general in the next few years.”
“Well, there you go! Perhaps you should do it for yourself as well—in fact, if everyone starts calling you ‘Brigadier’ or ‘General’ rather than ‘Commander’, it might make things a little less confusing with all the commanders and lieutenant commanders from Starfleet running around.”
She felt the chuckle he loosed rumbling through his chest and smiled. “There’s also the terraforming project, of course,” he said then. “What to do to get it started, everything that has to be done after to prepare for planting—if we even do any of that this late in the year.”
“Well, even if we don’t plant crops for food until spring, there’s still plenty of planting work to be done: the planning of crop fields, of orchards for fruit trees and shrubs, flower gardens to design…” Helena observed. “And with the option of living outside of Alpha soon being a reality, the few parents among us—as well as those couples who’ve been looking forward to starting families—may want to look into building homes for their children to grow up in.”
John chuckled softly. “Given what Tony said about a child deserving a real home when he found out Maya was pregnant, I do not doubt you’re right.”
He tipped his head back to look at her. “What about you? Do you think you’d want a home outside of Alpha?”
Helena glanced toward the window, out of which she could see a few stars. “I don’t know. Perhaps not right away—after all, I don’t have a family to be concerned for.”
“Do you want one?”
She looked down to find John staring intently at her. “John…”
“I know. We’re both of us hardly of an age to be thinking of children, but I’d be willing to try if you are,” John said softly. “And I would want us to be married first, of course. That is, if you’re not averse to getting married now that we’re about settled.”
He then laughed. “This is not at all how I imagined asking you to marry me. Not in the least bit romantic. But then, romance never was my strong suit.”
“Indeed. If you had planned a big, romantic gesture with flowers and candlelight, I’d have wondered if something was wrong with you,” Helena told him. She then tipped her head back to study him in the same manner he’d done a moment ago.
“Is it really what you want, John? Marriage and a family?”
He nodded. “Having grown up an orphan, I have wanted a family for as long as I can remember. You know I had a wife once, who I was very happy with. But then suddenly Rebecca was gone, and I thought I’d lost all chance of being a father when she died. But occasionally, since meeting you—and especially since learning my feelings were returned, in spite of my perpetual boorishness—”
Helena laughed softly. “Stop it. You are not boorish.”
“Not all the time, anyway. But as I was saying, since meeting you and learning that you cared for me as well, I have occasionally thought about trying again.”
With a sigh, Helena rested her head against his. “I confess I have dreamed of being a wife again, and a mother. First with Lee, and then… Well, let’s just say that I haven’t given up on the dream entirely. I just figured that, since we are getting older, that children were not likely to be a part of it.”
“Dr. Grayson’s a geneticist. She could tell us if it’s possible, right?”
Helena nodded. “I believe so.”
“Well, if you don’t mind the complete absence of romance in this proposal…”
She drew back and looked at him, found John looking at her with more tenderness and adoration than she could ever recall seeing. “I would like to marry you, Helena. I would like to share the rest of my life with you—and if we are very lucky, to raise a family with you.”
Helena smiled, and leaned in for a kiss. “I’d like that too, John.”
They kissed again, both sighed softly, and together they turned their heads to look out at the stars. For a time there was silence, and Helena had just begun to wonder if John had drifted off when he said,
“I’ve also been wondering about Alpha’s purpose. Victor and the others not only returning, but coming here… The message spoke of purpose.”
“I believe it also mentioned having faith that everything would happen as it should, or something to that effect,” Helena pointed out.
“But that’s what I can’t wrap my head around—the ‘as it should’ part,” John replied. “That those three men were brought back to us here, instead of in our own universe sometime in the last four and a half years, would seem to imply that we were meant to come here, to this universe. It implies that either we or our descendants will have some great impact in the years to come.”
He turned his head to look at her then. “But what about our universe, Helena? Where we were born, where Earth is without a moon, where Luke and Anna were left behind all alone on Arkadia? Why weren’t we meant to stay there? What about the impact we could have had in that universe?”
At first, she had no answer to give. Then Helena recalled an incident from about eight months into their journey, where they had encountered another moon and another group of Alphans.
“Maybe we’re still there,” she said finally. “After all we have been through, all we have experienced, isn’t it possible that that last space warp may have had some kind of divergence field?”
John frowned. “You mean like we were duplicated? Again?”
Helena nodded. “Why not? Just because we’re meant to be here doesn’t mean we’re no longer needed there. Maybe, because the history of Earth is different in this universe, because there was no Alpha built on the moon and we weren’t blasted into space with it, these beings brought us here to correct that.”
“What, like it was a mistake that never happened here?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Not so much that it was a mistake it never happened, but that the things we would have done—the good that we would have done out in the universe because of it—never happened.”
Slipping off his lap then, she held her hand out to him. “Come on, John. Let’s leave the wondering about Alpha’s purpose for another time. How about, instead, you and I celebrate getting engaged?”
John’s eyebrows rose. “So that’s a yes? You’ll marry me?”
Helena laughed as he took her hand and got to his feet. “I do believe, Brigadier General Koenig, that I already said I would.”
He laughed as well. “But you didn’t say ‘yes’.”
“That’s probably because you didn’t actually ask,” she replied.
John stepped back then. “Then allow me to correct that error, and do it properly.”
Helena shook her head, even as he lowered himself to one knee. “Oh, John, this isn’t necessary—I was teasing.”
His expression was serious as he took her hand and said, “Helena Susan Russell, will you do me the extraordinary honor of becoming my wife?”
Tears suddenly stung her eyes and slipped down her cheeks. Even in the dreams she’d spoken of, John had never been very romantic. She didn’t mind, as they were both of them very practical people. But even just getting down on one knee to ask her to marry him was the most romantic, most beautiful thing he had ever done.
“Oh, John, of course I will!” she said, and bent to give him a kiss.
Cheers and applause and a loud whistle issued from the three crewmen below, and the two of them laughed as John stood again. “Now it’ll be all over the base before breakfast,” he told her.
Helena laughed again as she slipped her arm about his waist and they started for the stairs. “Do you mind?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Not one bit.”