“To Explore Strange New Worlds” Chapter 4: Prodigy Son

•November 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

When Cox arrived on the bridge, a familiar sight greeted him on the main view screen. The planet Valogra Prime was a dark maroon-brown where there was land, a glowing red-orange where there were rivers, lakes and oceans.

“It’s a magnified image.” Lessia explained from the Science Officer station.

“How far out are we?”

“One hundred and fifty million kilometers.” Sarah reported.

“Bring us to within a hundred million kilometers;” Cox ordered; “And open a channel.”

“Distance: eighty million kilometers.” Archimedes reported a moment later.

“Channel open on all frequencies.” Sara reported. “Universal translation matrix available.”

“This is Captain William Jefferson Cox of the Unified Federated Star Systems.” Cox said, hearing his own voice transmitted ship-wide as well as to the planet below them. “I am the first-born, eldest and only son of Queen Cimarra of the Valogran Hierarchy.” He paused for moment.

“Sir!” Slaavik announced. “I’m reading multiple weapons locks from orbit around the planet.”

Cox nodded. “I am speaking to you from the bridge of the Federation starship U.S.S. Endeavor, formerly the flagship of the Imperial Fleet under the command of Imperial Commander William Brooks, who is presently imprisoned in my ship’s brig.” He looked over at Hera, who stood beside her daughter. “I have the preserved body of Queen Cimarra of Valogra Prime lying in state in the cargo bay of my ship.”

“It worked, Captain.” Slaavik said with a pleased smile. “All weapons systems on the planet’s surface have ceased targeting us.”
“Move us into high orbit.” Cox sat down in the Captain’s chair.

“A large fleet of imperial warships is assembling on the far side of the planet.” Sarah reported.

‘Out of our weapons’ range.’ Cox thought and Sarah nodded. ‘Very clever.’

“To my fellow Valograns;” Cox announced over the intercom; “I can promise you this, on my mother’s life.” He looked over at Slaavik, locking eyes with her as he spoke. “The Federation wishes you no harm.”

Slaavik nodded.

“To the soldiers of the Empire;” His tone changed from amicable to ominous; “I leave you with a choice.” He rose from his chair to pace in front of it, his fingers steepled in front of him. “Option one;” He smiled coldly; “Is to vacate the Valogran system immediately.” He stopped pacing, facing forward and delivering his ultimatum in an emotionless tone that matched the frostiness of his eyes. “Those who do not can either join Commander Brooks in the Endeavor’s brig, or be fired upon.” He sat back down in the Captain’s chair, leaning back in it with his fingers still steepled. “The choice is yours, of course.” He stated calmly. “But as soldiers of the Empire, I can only presume that you are aware of the capabilities of this vessel.” He glanced over at Meg standing at attention beside his chair. “Capabilities that, I can assure you, are now under my complete control.” He caught Sarah’s eye. “You have three hours.” He gestured to her and Sarah severed the communications link.

“The Imperial fleet has changed course.” Slaavik reported.

“New heading?” Cox asked her.

“Out of the Valogran system.” Slaavik confirmed; sounding pleased.

“You could make a fortune as a professional gambler.” Lauri complimented from the railing behind him, having heard his whole speech.

Cox stood and turned around to look back at her. “I’m a starship Captain.” He winked at her with a half-grin. “Is there a difference?”

An hour and a half later, Cox was strolling along the beach on the holodeck, admiring the fiery sunset, when Archimedes materialized to fall into stride beside him, in the process striding as though by magic atop the water.

“Incoming transmission for you.”
“Source?”
“Imrathor, capitol city of Valogra Prime.”
“Video?” Cox turned to her with interest.

Archie shook her head. “Audio only.”
“Put it through.” Cox nodded.

“This is a message for the Commander of the Starship Endeavor.” A voice said. “My name is Alexander, Magistrate and Administrator of Valogra.”
“Go ahead.”

“Captain Cox.” The Magistrate sounded audibly relieved. “You’ll be pleased to hear that the last remaining Imperial troops have departed from the Capitol.”

“Pleasant news indeed, Magistrate.” Cox agreed.
“We would like very much to hear more of this Federation of yours, Captain.”

“Of course.” Cox nodded, even though no one was watching. “The Valogran star system is more than welcome to join the Federation.”

“We will consider your generous offer, Captain;” The Magistrate said; “On one condition.”

“You have but to name it.” Cox smiled. “If it is within my capacity to give, then you shall have it.”

“In that case;” The Magistrate seemed emboldened; “We formally request that you personally deliver the body of Queen Cimarra to me at the Capitol, as immediately as is your convenience.”

“My away team and I will be landing on the surface in approximately one half hour.” Cox confirmed.

“We will make ready to receive you, Captain.” The Magistrate closed the channel.

Cox slapped his badge. “Cox to Commander Kahn.”

“Slaavik here.” The Valogran replied.

“Meet me in the shuttle bay.” Cox told her. “Cox to Colonel Wells.”
“Go ahead, Will.” Sarah responded.

“Will you and your mother meet us in the shuttle bay, please?” Cox requested.

“Anything else?” Sarah said, evidently sensed that he wasn’t yet finished.

“Bring Lauri with you.” Cox smiled. “Would you please?”

“As you wish.” The smile was evident in Sarah’s voice as well.

“Cox to Lieutenant Odanox.”
“Lessia here.”
“You have the bridge, Lieutenant.”

Sarah deftly piloted the Federation Presidential shuttle down onto the landing pad outside the gates of Valogra’s capitol city.

Cox stepped from the back hatch and knew immediately that he had chosen wisely in his selection of the away team as they saw a delegation of Valograns streaming out of the gates toward them.

At their head was a towering, dark-skinned man with pronounced forehead ridges that extended from his high hairline down his brow onto the bridge of his nose. From his rigid posture and bearing as well as the badge-adorned metal sash slung from his shoulder across his chest, it was evident to Cox that this must be the Magistrate he had spoken with over the communications link.

Cox had assumed, however, that the gravelly low tone of the Magistrate’s voice had been merely a byproduct of a bad communication channel; an illusion that evaporated when the large dark man spoke.

“Captain Cox, I presume.” The Magistrate was making no effort to hide his eyes evidently sizing up the starship Captain before him. His eyes seemed to particularly fixate on Cox’s forehead, as if judging the ridges he saw there for their authenticity.

“Magistrate Alexander.” Cox nodded in return. “This is the late Queen’s Chief Advisor, and the Endeavor’s Second in Command, Commander Slaavik Khan.” He gestured Slaavik forward to greet the Magistrate. “This is my godmother, a close friend of the late Queen, Doctor Hera Day;” Hera came up to stand beside her godson; “And her daughter, the Endeavor’s pilot and helmsman, Colonel Sarah Wells.” Sarah greeted the Magistrate enthusiastically from Cox’s other shoulder. “And last but certainly not least, we have the Endeavor Crew Moral Officer and Ship’s Counselor, Lieutenant Lauriaina.” Lauri greeted the towering Magistrate timidly. “As requested;” He nodded to Sarah, who returned to the shuttle’s hatch; “The sarcophagus of Queen Cimarra of Valogra Prime;” Sarah returned carrying the crystalline sarcophagus aloft in her arms as thought it were a five-pound bag; “My mother.” Cox added, holding out the palm of his hand to one of the Magistrate’s aides, who pricked his skin with a device.

The aide examined the display on the device, and then murmured in the Magistrate’s ear.

“I apologize for doubting the veracity of your claims, Captain.” The Magistrate bowed low. “Or I should call you;” Cox startled as the towering Magistrate unexpectedly dropped to one knee and bowed his head, gesturing for the rest of his entourage to follow suit, which they did; “You Majesty.”

Cox was visibly uncomfortable at having so many people bowing down to him. He waved stiffly, glancing back at Sarah on one side and Lauri on his other. “Rise, Magistrate.” The towering dark man stood slowly and the rest of his delegation did likewise. “Your name isn’t actually Alexander, is it?” Cox queried with a grin.

The magistrate shook his head. “Amdanros of Imrathor, at your service, your Majesty.” He bowed at the waist. Then he shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.

“Is there anything that I can do for you?” Cox prompted, seeing his hesitancy.

“If it is not too much to ask of you, your Majesty;” Amdanros hedged; “I’ve never been on board an Imperial starship before.”

Cox smiled at Slaavik. “I’m certain that we’d be more than happy to conduct you on a tour of the Endeavor.”

Slaavik nodded in agreement and gestured for the Magistrate to board the shuttle, which he did accompanied by the aide with the DNA scanning device whom, Cox noted, kept a watchful eye on both Hera and Sarah.

Amdanros and his aide appeared as startled as Cox had been, if not more so, to see Meg waiting to greet them when the shuttle’s hatch opened.

“Magistrate Amdanros of Valogra Prime;” Cox made the requisite introductions; “This is Meagierthiea, android avatar of the Federation flagship Endeavor.”

“It is my pleasure, Magistrate, to welcome you on board.” Meg greeted him.

“Captain on the bridge!” Lessia announced as they stepped off the lift.

Both Amdanros and his aide slowed visibly as they stepped onto the bridge, looking around them with gaping mouths and wide eyes like country farmers seeing the downtown of a major urban metropolis for the very first time. The Magistrate, however, soon brought his gaze to bear on Lessia herself.

He approached her slowly, step by step as though at any moment she might blow away on a sudden breeze. “You’re a Trillaxian, aren’t you?” He said, his eyes tracing the pattern of spots that ran down the sides of her neck. He reached a finger out and looked about to touch them as though to reassure himself that she was not merely a mirage, but stopped himself as Lessia nodded, her gaze meeting his expressionlessly. Amdanros turned to Cox. “A pet of yours, Captain?”

Cox hurried forward to join them as he saw Lessia’s jaw clench and her hands at her sides ball into tight fists, her eyes narrowing sharply. “No!” He said, a bit too loudly, wanting to stop the Trillaxian woman from breaking the Valogran Magistrate’s nose. “Not at all!” He placed a hand on both of their shoulders, ready to hold them apart by force. “This is the Endeavor’s Science Officer, Lieutenant Lessia Odanox.”

To both of their surprise, the Magistrate responded by first smiling broadly, then breaking out with a laugh.

“Well now!” He exclaimed, chuckling. “This is a day to remember, isn’t it?” He turned to Cox. “First, a previously unknown child of Queen Cimarra materializes from out of nowhere and drives the Empire from our planet without firing a shot!” He slapped the Captain on the shoulder in his excitement, his hand landing like a sledgehammer blow, which he seemed to immediately regret. “Then, we find a surviving member of the Ruling Family of Trillaxia alive and well!” His eyes scanned over Lessia’s supple figure in her tailor-fitted uniform tunic appraisingly. Amdanros left Lessia to wander the bridge, Cox following closely behind. “What in the worlds powers all of this?” He turned to the ship’s Captain.

Cox grinned. “I’ll show you.”

Amdanros requested that Lessia accompany them down to Engineering, seeming infatuated with the Trillaxian.

The doors opened and Amdanros’s dark-skinned face was bathed in the blue light from the slipstream core. The towering Valogran Magistrate took a single stride inside the Engineering compartment before he stopped dead in his tracks as a teenage girl darted across the chamber only feet in front of him, The girl skidded to a halt in front of the man, craning her neck up to look at his forehead ridges.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

Amdanros had turned to Cox. “You allow children to roam your ship’s most sensitive areas unattended?” It was more an accusation than it was a question, but one for which the Captain was prepared.

“Not at all, Magistrate.” He said, stepping up beside him. “This is Cassandra Harper;” His eyes searched the chamber before spotting the uniformed figure hurrying down from the upper level toward them; “And that;” He pointed in her direction; “Is her older sister, Lieutenant Jennifer Hansen, the Endeavor’s Chief Engineer.”

Amdanros’s eyes widened visibly as Jennifer approached closer, the strobing flashes of blinding neon light from the sparks inside the core dancing in glittering patters of bright blue across the sequins of her figure-hugging suit.

As Jennifer came up to them and corralled her younger sister with restraining hands on Cassandra’s shoulders, Cox made the requisite introductions. “Jenny, this is Magistrate Amdanros of Valogra Prime.”
“I apologize for Casey.” Jenny said as she shook the man’s hand.

Amdanros turned to Cox. “Is this a ship of the Valkyries, Captain?” He asked and it took a beat for Cox to catch his meaning. “Where are all of your men?”

Lessia and Jenny appeared ready to launch into an account of their journey from the parallel universe, but Cox shook his head subtlely at the,

“All in good time, Magistrate.” He assured his guest. “It’s a long story.”

“Does this mean you plan on staying and ruling those you have liberated, your Majesty?” Amdanros asked and cox saw both Jenny and her sister look to Cox with raised eyebrows, neither one of them ever having thought of their Captain as royalty.

Cox shrugged in response. “There is another option.” He said noncommittally.

“And that?” Amdanros looked to his aide, who shrugged.

“You could come with us instead.” Cox said.

Amdanros’s eyebrow lifted, obviously never having considered that a possibility before.

Cox saw his eyes go to the slipstream core towering above them. “You told me you had never served on a starship before.” Cox waved, indicating not only the Engineering section around them but also the ship beyond. “Now would be your chance.”

“If you’re concerned about the Captain being outnumbered on this ship;” Casey added with a sly smile and Cox was glad to see that the girl could find the humor in what could have just as easily been construed as a sexist comment from the Valogran man; “Your staying aboard with him would help to even out the odds a bit.”

“Unfortunately;” Cox continued; “We don’t have the resources to support your entire delegation.” He nodded to Amdanros’s aide and the Magistrate nodded, understanding that the Captain’s invitation had been extended only to him and to him alone.

“What would I be doing?” Amdanros asked, then amended: “What could you need me to do?”

Cox thought for a long minute before answering. “I’ve made Commander Slaavik my First Officer, so I’m sure she might welcome your help as Chief of Security.”

“If I may, Captain?” All of them startled to varying degrees at not having seen or heard Meg come in behind them.

“Go ahead, Meg.” Cox was the first to recover his composure.

“I was going to mention, Captain;” Meg nodded gratefully; “That we still don’t entirely know precisely what in the wide worlds most of this equipment is for.” She gestured around Engineering and Jennifer nodded. “One capacity in which the Magistrate may very well be of use to us;” She appraised Amdanros’s imposingly muscle-bound physique admiringly; “Is with the interrogation of the Endeavor’s former Imperial crew.”

Cox nodded. “If you are going to stay;” He said, seeing Amdanros leaning favorably toward agreeing; “There is one further condition I would request.”

The Magistrate turned to him.

“You are no longer to refer to me as “Your Majesty”.” Cox told him. “I’m not a dictator on this ship, and I am most definitely not a king.”

Amdanros opened his mouth to object; perhaps that Cox was denying who he really was by eschewing the throne of Valogra, his birthright; but nodded instead. “Very well, Captain.” He said. “Consider me a loyal member of your crew.”

“And what of Imrathor?” His aide asked. “What of your mother’s throne?”

Cox heaved a deep breath, which blew out in a long sigh. “You are to return to the planet’s surface.” He told the aide. “And when you do, you may tell the people of Valogra that I do hope to someday return in more peaceful… quieter times and reclaim my rightful place as their leader.” He looked at Cassandra and her sister, then back at Lessia before continuing. “But for the time being, I feel I am needed elsewhere more than I am here.”

“Who will lead us in the interim?” The aide asked.

“I wouldn’t be much of a liberator if I merely drove out you former overlords in order to set myself up in their place.” Cox chuckled. “Until such time as I may return, therefore;” He continued, looking from Amdanros to his aide; “I leave the governance of the Valogran system to the people of Valogra Prime to decide for them.”

The aide nodded and, with a bow to the Magistrate, left the Engineering section. As they were walking back toward the lift to the bridge, Amdanros turned to Cox.

“Your Valogran friend Sarah;” He said and Cox turned to look at him, knowing he was referring to Sarah Wells; “She’s very beautiful, even for one of our kind.” Cox stopped himself from nodding in agreement, saying nothing. “She cares about you very much.” Cox nodded slowly, looking at Amdanros expectantly, waiting for him to get to his point. “Sarah Wells is not a Valogran name.” Amdanros paused in his stride.
Therefore I would like you to call me by my human-given name.”

“You want to be Alexander?” Cox was surprised that the Magistrate would choose the name given to him by Valogra’s Imperial conquerors.

The Valogran nodded. “And I would like to be assigned a rank aboard your ship.”
Cox nodded.
As they stepped onto the bridge, the Captain cleared his throat.

“Attention, everyone.” He announced and everyone present stood and turned. “I am hereby promoting Slaavik;” The Valogran woman stood at attention; “From Chief of Security to Tactical Officer for the Federation starship Endeavor.”

Slaavik looked surprised at the announcement, but nodded. “Thank you, Captain.”

“I would also;” Cox continued; “Like to introduce you all to the newest member of our crew, and my new Chief of Security;” He turned to the man standing beside him. “Lieutenant Commander Alexander Amdanros.”

Alexander was surprised that Cox used both of his names but then nodded understandingly with a shrug, knowing that like every other officer on board he too would need a last name as well. He noticed too that Lessia Odanox, the Trillaxian Science Officer, looked as surprised as he was that this newcomer outranked her.

Captain Cox, however, was smiling broadly as he extended his hand. “Congratulations, Commander.”

It too the disoriented Alexander a long minute before he located his voice to speak.

“Thank you, Captain.” He said, shaking Cox’s hand with one hand while saluting his new Commanding Officer with the other. “You won’t regret this.”

“Archie.” He commanded.

“What can I do for you, Captain?” The hologram materialized beside him.

“Please conduct a scan of the body measurements for Alexander Amdanros.”

The hologram nodded. “Please try to stand as still as possible.” She told Alexander and a moment later, an oscillating grid of blinding green light began working its way up his body. “Measurements complete, Captain.” Archie announced an instant after the beam of light had faded.

“Access the database records for the Unified Federated Star Systems Star Fleet.” Cox ordered.

“Records available.” The hologram beside him confirmed.

“Please replicate a Federation Star Fleet Security Officer’s uniform with the measurements you just took and the rank of Lieutenant Commander.”

There was a long pause.

“Uniform available in nearest replicator, Captain.” Archie’s hologram announced finally.

“You may change in my ready room, Commander.” Cox waved Alexander to the doors leading off the bridge to their right. “Meg will show you to your new quarters.” Cox waved the android forward.

“Let’s get you washed up first, Commander.” Meg amended, leading Alexander to the Captain’s ready room.

Cox watched them go until the doors to his ready room closed behind them, his expression unreadable and his faraway distant gaze los deep in contemplation. “If anyone needs me for anything;” He announced with a deep breath and a resigned sigh; “I will be in the holodeck.” He turned to his recently promoted Tactical Officer. “Commander;” Slaavik saluted; “You have the bridge.”

Sarah and Jennifer looked at one another with shared expressions of mutual concern as the Captain disappeared from the bridge, the lift doors sliding closed resoundingly behind him.

Machiavellian Machinations

•November 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In Section 1 Chapter 3, of his 1513 political treatise “The Prince”, entitled: “On Mixed Principalities”, Italian Florentine political philosopher, diplomat, historian, politician, humanist, and political theorist Niccolo Di Bernardo Dei Machiavelli adds to his overarching theme that a skillful prince must seize upon opportunities when they present themselves to say that one should have regard not only for present problem but also for future ones. Preparing for trouble that might come in the future is the easiest way to deal with problems: “It is necessary not only to pay attention to immediate crises, but to foresee those that will come, and to make every effort to prevent them. For if you see them coming well in advance, then you can easily take the appropriate action to remedy them, but if you wait until they are right on top of you, then the prescription will take longer to take effect, because the disease is too far advanced.” In comparing political disorders to a sickness he uses medicine to symbolize a prince’s preparedness for unforeseen troubles, as he should sense problems before they become too large and become impossible to deal with, and should always act to solve problems before problems fully manifest themselves. He explains that if the prince identifies them and takes the medicine early, he will be able to defeat the disease when it comes: “In the beginning of the malady it is easy to cure, but difficult to diagnose; but in the course of time, if it has not been either diagnosed or treated in the beginning, it becomes easy to diagnose but difficult to cure.” If he waits until they are allowed to develop fully, once the sickness shows itself, it will be too late to do anything about them, as he will not have enough time to be cured: “If you foresee problems while they are far off which only a prudent man is able to do they can easily be dealt with; but when, because you have failed to see them coming, you allow them to grow to the point that anyone can recognize them, then it is too late to do anything.”

In Section 2 Chapter 7, “Concerning New Principalities That Are Acquired With Conquest By Fortune, Meaning By Someone Else’s Virtue, And With Other People’s Armed Forces”, Machiavelli explains that though states won either by lucky circumstances or outside assistance are easy to conquer and a prince who reaches their position due to the sway of fortune or the goodwill of others has an easier time becoming lord of his subjects, his power cannot last long. Fortune is ultimately a capricious and unstable thing and fortunate princes who rely upon fortune completely are not guaranteed to have the talent necessary to know how to deal with problems and maintain their position in the face of opposition and will lose their power when fortune changes: “Governments that spring up overnight, like everything in nature whose growth is forced, cannot have their roots deep in the soil. So they shrivel up in the first drought, blow over in the first storm.”

Machiavelli likens the Roman Empire’s strategy of appeasing the majority of natives, indulging the less powerful, and breaking the more powerful, keeping down any potential challengers and not allowing any foreigners to gain a stronghold to the medicine to prevent the sickness of rebellion. “The Romans always looked ahead and, foreseeing troubles, took action to remedy problems at once before they developed. They never postponed action, even to avoid a war, and would not let them come to a head, for they understood that you cannot escape wars, and when you put them off only your opponents benefit.” People will willingly trade one recently arrived ruler for another, and the expectation that a new ruler will be better than the present one will induce people to take up arms against any relatively unestablished prince because he cannot fulfill all of their hopes that their situation will improve. When the people realize that their revolt is ineffective, a prince can more harshly punish the rebels and decimate his opposition than he would be able to normally. A prince should injure people only if he knows there is no threat of revenge: “Never do any enemy a small injury for they are like a snake which is half beaten and it will strike back the first chance it gets…Men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore if an injury has to be done to a man it ought to be so severe that one does not stand in fear his vengeance.” Machiavelli argues war can be avoided by suppressing disorder. However, war is never entirely avoidable: One can never escape war. War can only be postponed to the enemy’s advantage. The longer one waits the worse the war will be because the opposition only grows stronger with time: “One should never allow a problem to develop out of hand in order to avoid a war. For you end up not avoiding such a war, but deferring it to a time that is less favorable, to your own disadvantage.” One should therefore fight it sooner rather than later.

Machiavelli writes that eliminating rival leaders and winning the favor of their followers lays a strong foundation for future rule, saying of Italian nobleman, politician and cardinal Cesar Borgia, King Louis XII’s Duke of the Principality of Monaco and son of Pope Alexander VII Roderic Llancoi I De Borja: “If you are a prince who deems it necessary that the policy to follow when in possession of a newly acquired state is to secure yourself in your new principality, to guard against your enemies, to secure some allies, to overcome wars whether by force or by fraud, to make oneself both beloved and feared by your subjects, to be revered and obeyed by your soldiers, to annihilate those who have power or reason to attack you, to innovate, reforming and modernizing old institutions with new practices, to be both severe yet gracious, magnanimous and open-handed, to disband a disloyal soldiery and to create new armies, to maintain the alliances with other powers in such a way that kings and princes must either win your favor graciously with zeal or think twice before opposing you cautiously—then for such purposes anyone who thinks in these terms cannot hope to find, in the recent past, more lively examples to imitate than the actions of this man.”

Machiavelli likens this process to that of an architect, in that a private citizen who receives the blessings of powerful figures within the regime does not command the loyalty of the armies and officials that maintain his authority and will have difficulty building a foundation quickly enough to prevent power from slipping out of their hands, writing: “For as I said above, he who does not prepare the foundations first can in principle, if he is immensely skillful, make up for it later, although the architect will find catching up a painful process, and there is a real danger the building will collapse.”

Categorical Kant

•November 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Accompanied by the English Thomas Hobbes with the “State of Nature” from his 1651 “Leviathan”, Prussian Immanuel Kant ranks among those select few philosophers articulate enough to themselves coin the names we still use today for their theories; in Chapter 11 of his 1797 “Introduction To The Metaphysics Of Morals”: “There is only a single categorical imperative and it is this: “Act only according to that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.”

Kant’s “categorical imperative”, however, is first and best articulated in Section 2, “Transition From Popular Moral Philosophy To A Metaphysics Of Morals”, of his preceding 1785 “Foundations Of The Metaphysics Of Morals”: “Do not feel forced to act, as you’re only willing to act according to your own universal laws. And that’s good. For only willful acts are universal. And that’s your maxim.” “Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law”, however, is only the first tenet of Kant’s categorical imperative; the other being: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” It is with this maxim that Kant differs from Hobbes, who writes in Part 1 Chapter 15, “Of Other Laws Of Nature”, of his “Leviathan”: “A rule, by which the laws of nature may be easily examined and though this may seem too subtle a deduction of the laws of nature, to be taken notice of by all men; where of the most part are too busy getting food, and the rest too negligent to understand; yet to leave all men inexcusable, they have been contracted into one easy sum, intelligible even to the merest capacity; and that is, “Do not that to another , which thou wouldest not have done to thyself”; which sheweth him, that he has no more to do in learning the laws of nature , but, when weighing the actions of other men with his own, they seem too heavy, to put them into the other part of the balance, and his own into their place, that his own passions, and self-love, may add nothing to the weight; and then there is none of these laws of nature that will not appear unto him very reasonable.”

In Section 2, Kant explains what he means by categorical imperative: “The categorical imperative would be that which represented an action as necessary of itself without reference to another end, as objectively necessary.”

This he contrasts with hypothetical imperatives: “If now the action is good only as a means to something else, then the imperative is hypothetical; if it is conceived as good in itself and consequently as being necessarily the principle of a will which of itself conforms to reason, then it is categorical.”

Kant describes what it means for an imperative to be hypothetical: “The hypothetical imperative only says that the action is good for some purpose, possible or actual.”

It is into this category of a hypothetical imperative, the “Silver Rule”, the negative form of the “Golden Rule” as described by Hobbes, falls. By way of explaining, Kant writes: “The imperative which refers to the choice of means to one’s own happiness, the precept of prudence, is still always hypothetical; the action is not commanded absolutely, but only as means to another purpose.”

However, he hints at the overlap between the “golden rule” and the “categorical imperative”: “The question how the imperative of morality is possible, is undoubtedly one demanding a solution, as this is not at all hypothetical, and the objective necessity it presents cannot rest on any hypothesis, as is the case with the hypothetical imperatives…We must never leave out the consideration that we cannot make out by any example, in other words empirically, whether there is such an imperative at all, but it is rather to be feared that all those which seem categorical may yet be at bottom hypothetical.”

Here once more we need look no further than Hobbes’ “Leviathan” for illustration. Hobbes describes his “state of nature” as a condition of war of “all against all”. Within such a state, the “golden rule”, or ethic of reciprocity, would serve one poorly in a condition wherein, as Hobbes describes in “Leviathan”, everyone has the right to everything and the resulting conflict leads to an absolute and inalienable right to self-defense and self-preservation at all costs and by whatever means necessary. Were one to, as the Silver Rule dictates, avoid doing anything to anyone else that one would not wish done to oneself, one would not only find oneself unsuccessful in completion with others, but would make of oneself an easy target for being taken advantage of. As Hobbes himself describes in articulating the progression out of the state of nature, the solution to resolving such universal mutual warfare is to follow, as best one is able to do so unilaterally, Kant’s categorical imperative. Hobbes describes the beginning of his “social contract” as one willingly relinquishing one’s own right to everything and defense at all means, doing so under the presupposition that others will follow suit. This would be adherence to the first tenet of the categorical imperative, as it is not so much acting towards others as one would have them act towards oneself, but rather acting in such a way as it is one’s will that all should act. Kant himself hints at the “law of nature” that Hobbes cites in articulating his silver rule, when he describes how behavior under his categorical imperative differs from that under a hypothetical, such as the rule of reciprocity: “When I conceive a hypothetical imperative, in general I do not know beforehand what it will contain until I am given the condition. But when I conceive a categorical imperative, I know at once what it contains. For as the imperative contains besides the law only the necessity that the maxims shall conform to this law, while the law contains no conditions restricting it, there remains nothing but the general statement that the maxim of the action should conform to a universal law, and it is this conformity alone that the imperative properly represents as necessary.”

However, just as Kant makes mention of overlap between his categorical imperative and the ethic of reciprocity in questioning whether all categorical imperatives might not indeed be hypothetical, the inverse is just as true, in that the reason why the two are so often confused is that in nearly every sense the “Golden” and “Silver” rules of reciprocity are examples of a categorical imperative. It is only their subjectivity that saves them for the category of the hypothetical instead. That said; it is in its universality’s attempt at presupposing an objective morality that we ultimately find the weakness in Kant’s categorical imperative. In many ways, especially after one factors in the Hobbesian view of human nature, it is Kant’s hypothetical, rather than his categorical imperatives that bear starker resemblances to practical conceptualizations of morality. Ultimately morality’s realism can be effectively reduced to the relative pragmatism of its applicability.

Who are the real Marxists?

•November 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In Volume 1, Chapter 10 of his September 14, 1867 “Capital: A Critique Of Political Economy”, German political philosopher, political economist, sociologist, social theorist, revolutionary socialist, journalist and historian Karl Marx defines capitalism by saying: “As capitalist, he is only capital personified. His soul is the soul of capital.” Previously, in Chapter 4, he defines capital: “Capital is money: Capital is commodities.” In Chapter 10 Section 1, he elaborates by saying that: “Capital is dead labor, that vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.”

He continues this theme of capitalism’s draining of labor in the last sentence of Chapter 13: “The directing motive, the end aim of capitalist production, is to extract the greatest possible amount of surplus value, and consequently to exploit labor power to the greatest possible extent.” And again in the last sentence of Chapter 15: “Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the laborer.”

He hints, in Chapter 4 of the 1885 Volume 2, that this might play a factor in its ultimate downfall: “Capitalism is abolished root and branch by the bare assumption that it is personal consumption and not enrichment that works as the compelling motive.”

In Chapter 19, Marx writes of labor itself that: “The labor power is a commodity, not capital, in the hands of the laborer, and it constitutes for him a revenue so long as he can continuously repeat its sale; it functions as capital after its sale, in the hands of the capitalist, during the process of production itself.” Marx had elaborated previously in Chapter 10: “To the extent that labor power circulates in the market, it is not capital, no form of commodity capital. It is not capital at all; the laborer is not a capitalist, although he brings a commodity to market, namely his own skin.” And, by way of explanation, in Chapter 15: “The capitalist cannot store labor power in warehouses after he has bought it, as he may do with the raw material.”

This he then contrasts with capital in Chapter 20 in that: “As the variable capital always stays in the hands of the capitalist in some form or other, it cannot be claimed in any way that it converts itself into revenue for anyone.”

It is here that Marx first formulates his theory of capitalism as a singular monolithic whole: “The aggregate capital appears the capital stock of all individual capitalists combined…Every individual capital forms, however, but an individualized fraction, a fraction endowed with individual life, as it were, of the aggregate social capital, just as every individual capitalist is but an individual element of the capitalist class.”

Marx’s famous factoring of a class system, although much more widespread in his and fellow German political philosopher, social scientist, political theorist and author Friedrich Engels’ February 21, 1848 “Manifesto of the Communist Party”, is topically mentioned first in Volume 1 Chapter 17 Section 4 of “Capital”: “In capitalist society spare time is acquired for one class by converting the whole lifetime of the masses into labor time.” And then more substantively in Chapter 20 of Volume 2: “Capitalist production comprises conditions independent of good or bad will, conditions which permit the working class to enjoy that relative prosperity only momentarily, and at that always only as the harbinger of a coming crisis.”

As Marx writes in Chapter 32 of Volume 1, capitalism itself contains within it the seeds of its own downfall: “Capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of nature, it’s own negation.”

Ironically, according to Marx in Volume 2 Chapter 17, the product that will ultimately lead to capitalism’s undoing, that of credit, was parallel to it: “Simultaneously with the development of capitalist production the credit system also develops.”

Marx articulates credit’s role in the ultimate downfall of capitalism in Volume 1 Chapter 25 Section 2: “In its beginnings, the credit system sneaks in as a modest helper of accumulation and draws by invisible threads the money resources scattered all over the surface of society into the hands of individual or associated capitalists. But soon it becomes a new and formidable weapon in the competitive struggle, and finally it transforms itself into an immense social mechanism of the centralization of capitals.”

Here Marx describes this centralization: “Capital grows in one place to a huge mass in a single hand, because it has in another place been lost by many.” And envisions it as the demise of capitalism in Chapter 32: “The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with it, and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. The knell of capitalist private property sounds.”

This, as is stated in Section 2: “Proletarians And Communists”, Paragraph 13, of Marx and Engels’ 1848 “The Communist Manifesto”, is the definition of communism: “The theory of the communists may summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”

As he and Engels hint in Paragraph 1 Line 1 of their “Communist Manifesto” with their reference to “the specter of communism”, Marx asserts, in Volume 2 Chapter 16 of “Capital”, that failures of capitalism are inevitable: “In capitalist society however where social reason always asserts itself only post festum great disturbances may and must constantly occur.”

The Importance of Being…Well…Human.

•October 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

It’s sad to see people kill something more intelligent than they are.

What’s wrong with killing for fun? Did you seriously just ask that? What’s wrong with enjoying killing? Well…EVERYTHING! There’s really nothing about that that ISN’T wrong.

I don’t condemn you for killing animals. I condemn you for ENJOYING it!

I will repeat again, since you clearly either would not or could not understand me the first four times that I said this. I have absolutely NO problem at all whatsoever with hunting. My problem with you is that you kill for fun. I have a problem with ANYONE who enjoys killing. You can hunt. That’s fine. Just so long as you don’t ENJOY it. I don’t want people to stop hunting. As I said, I eat meat. I just want people to stop hunting for FUN! And I want people like YOU, who are sociopathic enough to actually ENJOY killing, to stop. Leave the hunting to those who are actually, by any reasonable sense of the word, “HUMAN”.

If we define what is “human” by people who have a conscience, then you’ve never actually been human to begin with in the first place. So it would not be possible for anyone “dehumanize” you any more than the zero humanity that you started out with from the get go. Zero divided by anything is still just zero.

You stated that you feel no remorse at the act of taking someone else’s life. That indicates nothing if not a complete, total and utter lack of anything even remotely resembling a “conscience” of any kind. Most people define a conscience as being what identifies someone as being human, as it is what separates our species from other animals. Your statement that you lack such a conscience means that you are not, according to the most commonly accepted sense of the word, “human” anymore [if you ever were to begin with]. So your statement that I was “dehumanizing” you would thereby be a nonsensical non sequitur, as it is not, by definition, possible to “dehumanize” someone who is not strictly speaking human in the first place.

Feeling bad about a taking someone else’s life is called being “human”. That’s what separates human from other animals: A CONSCIENCE! The complete, total, and utter lack thereof that is required in order to actually EJOY the act of killing [as you have stated that you do] is called being a sadistic SOCIOPATH! And a very potentially dangerous one at that!

A sociopath is defined as someone lacking a conscience. You have stated that you feel no remorse upon taking another’s life. This indicates that you do not, in fact, have a conscience, and are therefore, by definition, a sociopath. You have also stated that you derive ENJOYMENT from the act of killing. Taking pleasure at the suffering of another is what the Germans termed “Schadenfruede”. But we named it after the French Marquis De Sad. Its’ called being a “sadist”. Hence my previous statements that you are not only a sociopath, but also a sadistic sociopath at that.

What is especially sad is that you have stated that you hunt and kill wolves and coyotes. Humans are animals too. We use the term “someone” to refer to an individual. We define an individual by their personality. Are you saying that no other animals except humans have personalities? I have lived with dogs my whole life, and so especially when it comes to the coyotes and wolves, I could not possibly disagree more. Canines have been scientifically proven to have a GREATER “Emotional Intelligence” [or “Empathy”] than humans. So you are, in a very real sense, hunting and killing animals that are more human than you are.

Because animals ARE people. And vice versa.

You DO know what a GAME is, don’t you? It’s something that people do for FUN. In your case, the “game” that you are referring to is called “cold-blooded murder”. It’s not really even a fair game, now is it? Sort of awfully one sided, isn’t it now? I mean, sure its fun for YOU…. but what about the OTHER side? Is it fun for THEM too?

Not every subject has two sides: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dgBCjmiDrw Sometimes there’s only one side. For example, here, there isn’t a “killing is bad” side and a “killing is fun” side. Killing SHOULDN’T be fun.

The fact that hunters need to dress in bright colors demonstrates everything that is wrong with hunting.

People ARE animals!

If you enjoy the hunting down and killing of animals, I here Florida is nice this time of year. Apparently it’s legal to just that down there:http://piersmorgan.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/28/trayvon-martins-mom-on-george-zimmerman-he-hunted-my-son-like-an-animal/ You have stated that you enjoy killing animals. Why stop at some but not others? What’s stopping you? A conscience? You’ve already demonstrated that you don’t have one. So there’s nothing standing in your way. The pull of a trigger that it takes to kill a wolf or a coyote is the exact same pull of a trigger that it takes to kill a person. It’s the exact same motion of your finger. It’s not any harder when it’s a human. Not if you’re not burned with a conscience [which you are not]. It’s not any easier when it’s a wolf or a coyote [even thought they are far more human than you are]. So really…what’s stopping you?

That’s why I think that guns should be banned from use in hunting. If you’re not competent enough to at least learn how to use a bow and arrow, become a vegetarian. Personally, I think that guns should be banned form the civilian population altogether, but that’s a separate issue altogether [although, since we were on the subject of murder, not so entirely separate after all]

If you enjoy killing some animals, which you have stated that you do, why wouldn’t it be just as fun killing others? One would think it would actually be MORE fun, since it would be more of a challenge [unlike the defenseless animals you’re used to killing, humans would fight back].

NOW can you see why I’m concerned?

I, for one, have stated repeatedly that I have no problem whatsoever with hunting. My problem is with the people who do it for FUN. For “the thrill of the kill”. This is not the trait of a human being with a conscience. It is the trait of a psychopathic serial killer. I, for myself, have always had a problem with sociopaths. The most jarring thing for me about threads such as this one is encountering people like you who DON’T. Again, my problem is not with the fact that you kill animals. I eat meat too. My problem is that you have stated, without any seeming awareness of the psychotic nature of such a statement, that you derive PLEASURE, HAPPINESS and ENJOYMENT from the act of cold-blooded murder. This is a problem for me, as I think it should be for any sane person in their right mind. Because it means that you are, by definition, a sociopath. And even living in the same WORLD as someone like you is not something I am comfortable with. That is what worries me. Because I am, after all, just as much an animal as the ones that you have stated that you so enjoy murdering.

Since we have established that bears, wolves and coyotes pose no threat to you or your family, let us turn then to the animals that do: Your human neighbors. Particularly the one who are, like you, heavily armed and who, like you, enjoy murdering for fun. I know that if I were one of your neighbors, knowing that you possess deadly weapons and that cold-blooded murder is among your hobbies, I would most certainly fear for my own life and those of my loved ones. And rightly so. Because anyone who can live next door to a bloodthirsty sadistic sociopath like you and not be afraid needs to have their own head examined as ell as their neighbor’s.

Serial killers are usually defined by the “thrill” that they get from the act of killing, and how they treat it as if it were a “game”. These are both things that you have stated that you do too. Hence my statement that you display the textbook symptomatic traits of being a serial killer.

So you have problems with domestication? I would take that up with the Ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia if I were you. They’re the ones who started that damned Neolithic Revolution! Damn them for farming wheat and feeding the world! Damn them all to hell! Am I right?
Domestication is evil! Down with agriculture! To hell with the 3/4ths of the world’s population that subsists almost entirely on grains! We need to stop farming right now! Back to hunting and gathering!
Down with cities and civilizations!

Who needs those things anyway! Am I right? Who needs a sedentary lifestyle? Who needs permanent housing structures? Who needs an economy? Who needs trade? Who needs government? Who needs leaders? Who needs laws? Who needs roads?
Back to the land!

I just find it hilarious whenever I hear a human being refer to any other species as a “menace”. Pot…Meet Kettle. This from the species that invented thermonuclear warheads! Pot, this is Kettle. Kettle, this is Pot. There are many words that I would use to describe the average human being. “Civilized” is not one among them.

And who, pray tell, decides what is and is not “legal”? Politicians? The same politicians who have deemed it “legal” for high school dropouts to wander the streets armed to teeth with military-issue-style high-powered automatic assault weapons and hundred-round ammunition drums full of armor-piercing high-caliber bullets? YEAH…Perhaps they’re not exactly the best source to determine what is and is not right to do?

I think you may be fallaciously conflating the term “self defense” with the phrase “cold-blooded murder”.

You don’t actually know what a coyote is, do you? If you did, you would know that it would be way more frightened of you than you have any rational reason to be of it. And as far as when it comes to wolves the fact is that more people are killed each and every year getting change out of vending machines than have ever died from wolf attacks. Wolves and coyotes are like dogs. They don’t attack people unless you provoke them. And bears only attack people when defending their young. So a bear, coyote or wolf comes into your yard, you just wait until they walk away.
Not every situation needs to end with someone or something dying. And did anyone die? No?
Hm. I wonder why that is? Maybe because wolves aren’t dangerous? Meaning, maybe…just perhaps… you SHOULDN’T murder them on sight? What, exactly, are you defending yourself AGAINST? That’s like saying that you’re “defending” your family against squirrels. Except squirrels are actually much more likely to attack you than a Coyote is. And they’re also much more dangerous, since they carry more diseases. I know of no person who has ever died from a coyote attack.

So you’re saying that you wouldn’t relocate them, but also that you wouldn’t kill them… And the alternative to relocation, if not killing, is … WHAT, exactly again? You’re not making any sense.

I thought you said you didn’t take trophies? But yet you’re PROUD of killing someone…I really don’t see anything about that isn’t psychopathic. Why didn’t I change your words to make you sound psychotic? Because I didn’t have to! You did that all on your own. All I had to do to make you sound like a bloodthirsty, conscienceless, homicidal, inhuman, murderous, pitiless, psychotic, remorseless, sadistic sociopath was to repost the same words that you posted. The simple reality that you ARE, in fact, a bloodthirsty, conscienceless, inhuman, murderous, sadistic sociopath took care of the rest for me.

Unfortunately, that tends to happen when you’re dealing with people who are dogmatically stuck in their ways. It’s too bad too.
You always start out thinking that you can help these sorts of people. But it rarely, if ever, ends up that way in the end. You never want to give up on anyone. But sometimes all you can do is walk away [or in this case back away slowly with no sudden movements and your hands in the air] and hope for the best.

As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous: “The First Step toward Solving a Problem is Recognizing that the is One.” You have recognized that the fact that you enjoy the act of cold-blooded murder is symptomatic of a deep-seated psychosis. Congratulations! You are well on your way to recovery!

“To Explore Strange New Worlds” Chapter 3: “Quo Vadimus?” September 3, 2014

•October 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Sarah Wells turned at the sound of the doors to the hangar bay opening and closing, and nodded in silent acknowledgement as her mother stepped inside to stand beside her.

“How is he?” Hera asked her daughter quietly, nodding to the man kneeling beside the crystal sarcophagus in one corner of the hangar.

“He hasn’t moved in hours.” Sarah reported, and her mother heard the emotion threatening to overtake her voice. Sarah, she knew, cared about the captain as far more than her professional colleague. Having grown up together, William Cox had become accustomed to thinking of the blonde alien as a much, much, much older sister.

Hera had often wondered in the recent years, however, noting the way in which Sarah interacted with the Captain, whether Sarah’s feelings toward him, at least, had not evolved into something more and different than the familial love she felt toward him. Knowing how attracted Cox, like all men, was to her daughter, he had never ceased to impress Hera with his stoicism toward the blonde. “You should go to him.” Hera encouraged her daughter, gesturing toward the Captain. From the way that Sarah did not even hesitate, Hera suspected that she had just been waiting being given permission to approach the Captain.

Cox could not tear his face away from the intimately familiar face inside the crystalline glass, even as they burned with the salty tears that streamed down his face and dripped onto the top of the crystal sarcophagus. The woman’s lips were frozen in a beatifically serene smile, her eyes lightly closed. Cox struggled against the reflexively denialistic recess of his mind that tried to convince him that she was just sleeping. He startled, nearly leaping to his feet, as he felt a soft hand on his shoulder.

“Are you okay, Will?”

He wasn’t sure if Sarah’s voice had been out loud or in his head, but her question triggered an unbidden rush of resentment as he sensed her mother standing in the doorway watching. “How do you think I’m doing?” He snapped, his voice a throaty growl. He immediately felt guilt-ridden for the burst of undeserved hostility toward her, as she sank to her haunches beside him. “I’m sorry, Sarah.” He apologized.

The blonde woman said nothing, but merely reached out to wrap her long arm around his shoulders.

He offered no resistance as she pulled him toward her, first laying the side of his head on her shoulder and then burying his face in the crook of her neck.

Sarah’s voice was soft as she felt his tears soaking the collar of her jumpsuit. “I’m so sorry, Will.” She murmured, laying the side of her cheek against the matted hair at the crown of his head. She too felt the warring emotions raging inside her threatening to bring tears to her eyes as she gazed down at the serenely peaceful face of Queen Cimarra of Valogra Prime, the woman they both knew in their universe as Cox’s mother.

The last thing she wanted to do was upset him or make him angry with her, but she also felt it important for him to leave his mother’s side here in this blasted-out corner of the hangar bay and return to his assumed duties as Commander of their new ship. Therefore she spoke slowly, choosing her words with care, but nevertheless sparing no honesty.

“We already knew she was dead.” She reminded him, lifting his face from her shoulder to look him in the eyes. “Albeit we didn’t expect to ever see her again.” She shrugged, as he nodded.

It was Cox’s turn to startle Sarah as he suddenly rose from his knees and stood.

“Well.” He said, clearing his throat as she rose too, reaching out to wipe the tears from his eyes. “At least we now have our destination. Don’t we?”

Hera had come up to them as they stood , and now both mother and daughter stared at their captain quizzically.

Cox looked from one to the other. “Well we can’t very well leave her lying here among this debris! Can we now?” He asked, as though the answer should be obvious.

“So where are we going?” Hera asked him as he started striding purposefully toward the doors of the bay.

“To put her to rest properly, of course!” He answered over his shoulder as the doors closed behind him.

They caught up to him as he stepped into the lift. As they stepped together onto the bridge, they saw the rest of their team waiting for them there.

“Jenny!” Cox called to Hansen as he resumed his stride down to the Captain’s chair, patting her on the shoulder. “Get down to main Engineering and get the engines back online.” Hansen spun to look at him. “You’re my—the ship’s Chief Engineer, remember?” He corrected himself, looking her directly in the eyes. “Call me when you’re done.”. He patted her on the shoulder again before he continued on. “Sarah, you’re the pilot.” He called over his shoulder, gesturing to the front of the bridge. “You have the helm.” He sat down in the Captain’s chair as though it had always belonged to him. “Set course for Valogra Prime.”

Sarah smiled at her mother, both of them now understanding his words from the hangar. “Aye, Captain.” She sat at the front console, her fingers flying over the controls.

“Lieutenant Odanox.” Cox called, and Lessia hurried down to stand in front of him.

“Yes, Captain?”

“I hereby officially accept your credentials as Science Officer.” He told her.

The Trillaxian heiress beamed at this callback to their meeting on the bridge of the Equinox. “Thank you, Captain.” She nodded.

Cox returned the nod. “To you station, Lieutenant.” He gestured behind him.

Lessia saluted and moved to sit at the bridge’s science station.

“Commander Slaavik, you’re my new Chief of Security.” Cox told the Valogran woman. “You’re also my Second in Command.” He stood and turned toward the doors to the Captain’s ready room. “Therefore, you have the bridge, Commander.”

When he was gone, all present on the bridge looked at one another for a long several minutes, shocked by the sudden transformation of the man in the prison jumpsuit who only minutes earlier had been weeping uncontrollably by his dead mother’s casket into the authoritative Commanding Officer of a starship. Then all of them set to work at their assigned duties.

When Cox entered his ready room, he was startled to see that it was already occupied. A woman stood in front of the full-length mirror in the neighboring quarters, fixing her dark brown hair, streaked with highlights of red, up into a bob. Cox recognized her face in the reflection, but at the same time almost didn’t recognize her at all given the differences in her appearance from the last time that he had seen her.

Seeing him approach behind her, Meagierthiea finished fixing her hair and instead ran her hands down to straighten the sleeveless burgundy V-neck leather-like top that she wore. The top had low cutout square neckline that displayed her deeply tanned décolletage, and a miniskirt like the coat tails of a under which she wore skintight tan-colored legging pants.

She turned around and bent her knees in a curtsy as she bowed her head. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Captain.” She said.

Before he could think to censor himself, Cox blurted out the thought on his mind as he appraised her attire. “I’m glad to see you with your clothes on.”

Meg averted her eyes, a very humanlike flush reddening the skin of her face. “I feel like I must apologize for my conduct toward you earlier, Sir.”

Cox cocked his head to one side, interested to hear that the android retained he memories in spite of the otherwise evidently successful overwrite of her programming. “You weren’t yourself.” He reassured her, but his words came out slowly as he wondered secretly to himself whether she had retained any of Maggie’s personality traits as well.

“Is there anything you wish me to do to help you, Sir?” She asked, and Cox definitely heard echoes of the pleasure robot in her voice.

He smiled. “Now that you’re dressed;” He said; “I think it’s high time you met my crew.”

“Captain on the bridge!” Slaavik announced as Cox reemerged, and everyone stood from his or her stations. Their eyes, however, were not on him, as the stared unabashedly at the leather-clad brunette that followed in his wake.

Cox cleared his throat, drawing their attention. “Ladies;” He announced; “It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Meagierthiea.” Sarah in particular looked surprised, having seen her before in the shuttle hangar. “Meg;” Cox said; “Allow me to introduce the Chief of Security and Second in Command of the starship Endeavor, Commander Slaavik Khan.” Slaavik smiled uncharacteristically as she shook the android’s hand. “This is my Science Officer, Lieutenant Lessia Odanox.” Meg grinned as the greeted the Trillaxian. “And of course you remember the Endeavor’s helmsman, Sarah Wells.”

“Of course.” Meg said, greeting Sarah with a hug. “It’s good to see you again, Doctor.”

Engineering to Captain Cox.” Jenny’s voice came over the intercom.

“And that would be my Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Jennifer Hansen.” Cox told Meg, who nodded. “Cox here.” He replied.

“Subspace slipstream FTL drive is online, Captain.” Hansen reported.

Cox turned to the helm.

“Course for Valogra Prime laid in, Captain.” Sarah confirmed.

“Let’s go, then.” Cox nodded to her.

Sarah punched the button on her console and the deck underneath them lurched as the ship made the jump into slipstream.

ETA to destination: Two hundred and forty minutes.” Archie reported in Sarah’s voice.

“That’s Archimedes, the ships’ computer.” Cox explained to Meg. Then he looked over at her, a question having occurred to him that he hadn’t thought to ask before. “Where di you get those clothes?”

Meg looked around at their expectant faces, every one of them dressed in the monochromatic prisoner jumpsuits of the Empire. “The replicators, of course!” Her tone made it sound as though it was, or should have been, the most obvious thing.

“What’s a replicator?” Jennifer asked, still on the line from Engineering.

“They’re devices;” Meg explained; “That rearrange the different elements of the matter in the air, or in this case the ship’s atmosphere, at the molecular level.”

“And they can make clothes?” Jenny asked.

Meg nodded.

I found one of them.” It was the voice of Cathryn Krueloe.

“Archie;” Cox called; “Do you have the specifications for Federation Starfleet uniforms in you database?”

Affirmative.” Sarah’s voice replied.

“Access visual records from the launching of the starship Equinox.”

Surveillance footage available.” Archie confirmed.

“Replicate the uniforms worn on said date by Captain William Cox, Lieutenant Jennifer Hansen, Doctor Sarah Wells, Lieutenant Lessia Odanox and Commander Slaavik Khan.”

It was noted that he omitted Cassandra’s name, even though she had been present at the time, knowing that the then-twelve-year-Old’s clothes would not fit her eighteen-year-old self as she was now.

Cox turned back into his ready room and walked into the neighboring quarters. He opened the closet to find his bifurcated tricolored Starfleet uniform hanging neatly folded inside. He hurried out of his ill-fitting prison jumpsuit. He did not eve realize that he was no alone until he happened to look behind him to see Meg standing in the doorway. He resisted the urge to reflexively cover himself, but instead coolly turned to the android. “I guess you finally got me undressed.” He quipped with a roguish grin.

Meg flushed again with the reminder of her words from before, her eyes darting to the nearby tub, now emptied.

“Actually;” Cox said, running his fingers through his disheveled and matted hair; “That’s not such a bad idea, after all.”

Meg recognized he was referring to the bath. “Shall I?”

“If you would, please.” Cox discretely covered himself with a towel while Meg filled the tub with hot water.

Then she curtsied and left, closing and locking the door behind her. As he climbed into the water, Cox experienced a momentary regret for not having joined the beautiful android when she had invited him to.

He found that, even with her now fully dressed, he was not yet able to look at her without seeing the flawless vision that had stood amidst the steam in this very tub. He smiled to himself as he washed at the thought that the android would doubtless have done a far more thorough job of scrubbing every inch of his skin than he ever could manage.

Climbing from the tub, he excitedly donned his familiar Federation uniform. He shaved smooth the two-day growth on his face and combed his unruly hair. When he emerged again into his ready room, Meg was waiting for him. “How do I look?” He asked her.

“Like our Captain, Sir.” She answered with a smile.

“Lessia to Captain Cox.” The Trillaxian’s voce sounded from the badge on his breast pocket.

Cox tapped the badge with his fingers. “Where are you, Lieutenant?” He wondered.

“Deck twelve.” Lessia answered. “I’ve found something I think you should see.” After a pause, she gave him some clue as to what it was that she had found when she added. “I’ve called Lieutenant Hansen as well.”

Cox met Lessia outside a pair of heavy metal doors on deck twelve.

Lessia too had changed into the uniform of a Federation Science Officer, with a Lieutenant’s insignia on her collar. Like Cox, Lessia had combed her hair into a smoothly pulled back bun at the crown of her head, unveiling in full the intricate pattern of mottled deep brown spots running from her hairline down the sides of her neck.

They were soon joined by Jenny, dressed as she had been on the Equinox in a figure-hugging sequin bodysuit much like the one worn by her mother’s mirror in this universe. Unlike on the Equinox, when she had worn her blonde hair in a tightly-pulled-back ponytail, however, Cox noted that she had combed it straight down the back of her neck and over her shoulders.

Sarah was the next to join them and together they stepped through the doors. The three newcomers stopped in their tracks as the doors closed behind them and they found themselves standing in a grassy forest clearing on a bright summer midday. “What in the worlds?” Sarah breathed.

“I call it a “holodeck”!” Lessia gestured sweepingly.

“Holograms?” Jennifer dropped to one knee on the grass and reached out to pick a flower between her fingers.

“But solid.” Lessia nodded as she leaned against a tree.

Cox had wandered over to a stream that meandered its way through the clearing. He jumped back as a woman with below-th-shoulder-length black hair materialized half-submerged in the water.

“Hello again, Captain.” She said, in Sarah’s voice.

“Do we know you?” Jennifer asked.

“I apologize.” The woman said, stepping out of the stream. “This was the image that was already in the Endeavor’s computer.”

Cox only then recognized the voice. “Archimedes?” The woman nodded. Cox noticed that the hologram wore a maroon V-neck leather-like jumpsuit of the same style and fashion as the sleeveless burgundy top he had seen earlier on Meg. ‘Now he knew where she had gotten the idea for the look from.’ He thought. “So this is what Andromeda looked like?” He asked. Archie nodded.

Lessia moved over to the control panel beside the doors, and suddenly the forest dematerialized to be replaced with the crashing surf of an ocean beach.

Cox and Sarah jumped back as the places where they stood ended up underwater.

Lessia pressed a few controls and the seawater drenching their clothes dried instantaneously.

Incoming message from Commander Slaavik, Captain.” Archie announced.

Cox nodded and tapped his badge. “Go ahead, Commander.”

“You’re needed on deck ten of the Forward section.” Slaavik said.

“We’ll be right there.” Cox acknowledged, gesturing to Jenny, Lesslia and Sarah.

“I’d like to stay, if it’s all the same.” Jenny deferred, running the sand of the beach through her fingers. “This is fascinating technology.” She looked up at Archie’s hologram as she spoke, indicating she meant more than just the holodeck itself.

They met Slaavik in what looked like a combination bar and lounge on deck ten of the Forward section.

Slaavik held up an arm to stop them, but Sarah stepped one step too far and was met with the sound of girlish shriek and a spray of seltzer water from the bar top.

Who is that?” Cox asked Slaavik, careful not to do so out loud.

A dancer at this club, apparently.” Slaavik’s voice in his head told him. “A young Valogran woman.”

Cox nodded and stepped forward. He saw the figure of a woman rise from her hiding place behind the bar with the nozzle of the seltzer hose outstretched toward him in both hands as though it were a pistol. “My name is Captain William Cox of the Unified Federated Star Systems.” He said aloud, while simultaneously communicating the same with his mind.

The woman lowered the hose. “L-Lauriaina.” She managed, clearly close to teetering on the verge of hyperventilating in her panicked state.

Can we call you Lauri?” He asked nonverbally. She nodded. “Lauri, this is Sarah.” He gestured to the blonde pilot, who smiled. “And that’s Slaavik.” He pointed to his chief of Security.

“Y-You’re Valograns!” Lauri stepped forward out of the shadows, revealing the ridges on the bridge of her nose.

“We are.” Cox confirmed, and Slaavik nodded. Sarah, he noted, did not and said nothing.

Lauri came around the bar slowly. As she stepped into one of the many colored lights the illuminated the stage, they saw that she di indeed have the lithe and graceful body of a dancer. She was certainly dressed in a way that matched what had once been known in twentieth-century America as a “gentlemen’s club”, more often referred to as “strip clubs”. Lauri wore a bright pink mesh bikini bra with spaghetti straps and a simple wraparound polka dot silk dress seemingly made from a razor-thin translucent bed sheet.

“We mean you no harm, Lauri.” Cox communicated to her in the language of the Valogran home world.

“I saw what you did to the crew!” Lauri hissed. “You had them locked away!” Cox chanced a glance at Sarah. “Have you come to take me as well?”

“Why would you think that?” Sarah asked.

“You want the ship for yourself!” Lauri reminded them that she could read their thoughts. Then she stopped and walked toward them slowly, sashaying with a dancer’s practiced swinging of her hips like a fashion supermodel on a runway. “And yet I sense no desire to see any of them harmed…” She stopped and turned to Cox. “Except in you, Captain.” She noted curiously. “But even that hatred is only toward one of them.” Sarah needed no telepathy to know to whom the dancer was referring. “You’re not from the Empire.” She concluded. They all shook their heads. “Where are you taking this ship?” Lauri asked, gesturing out the nearby windows to the stars streaking past.

“Home.” Slaavik answered in the Valogran tongue.

“But you’re traitors!” Lauri’s eyes grew wide. “The Imperial garrison on Valogra will kill you all on sight the moment you set foot on the surface!”

Sarah could not help but grin as Cox outlined their plane.

“You forget, young lady;” He told her; “That we are not just any traitors.” She looked at him oddly. “We are traitors who are in complete control of the most powerful warship in the Imperial fleet.”

“So you intend to slaughter them?” It was more an accusation than a question.

“Of course not, my dear sweet child!” Cox almost chuckled. “That would make us no better than them!” He winked at her with a mischievous smile. “But they don’t know that, do they now?”

“I hope you’re a fine poker player, Captain.” Lauri warned, gesturing to he casino tables around them. “And we;” She gestured to her fellow Valograns; “And our people will have to hope for their sake that they do not dare call your bluff!”

Sarah had been watching the dancer appraisingly as she spoke, and Cox heard her voice in his head. “This stripper is far more than meets the eye.”

Cox nodded. “I agree.” He said aloud, replying to both women at once. “Follow me, if you would please.”

Minutes later, they were again standing with Jenny, Meg and Archie on the beach in the holodeck. After making the requisite introductions, Cox turned to Lauri.

“As of this hour;” He began; “I, Captain William Cox of the Unified Federated Star Systems starship U.S.S. Endeavor, in my capacity as Captain of this vessel, do hereby formally appoint you, miss Lauriaina, to be the official ship’s Counselor and unofficial Morale Officer;” He grinned at Jenny and Lessia; “And so grant you the field commission of the rank of Lieutenant effective immediately.”

Cox was still smiling as he walked with Slaavik toward the forward section.

Both of them startled in their tracks as Archimedes materialized in front of them.

“Captain;” The hologram said; “We will be arriving in the Valogran system in t-minus five minutes.”

“Thank you, Archie.” Cox said. “Tell Sarah to take us out of slipstream. I’ll be right there.”
The hologram nodded and vanished.

“To Explore Strange New Worlds” Chapter 2: “Turn and Face The Strange” [Draft #2: September 3, 2014]

•September 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As on the beach, when William cox came to, he was once more convinced that what he was experiencing must be some sort of dream.

If it was;’ He decided; ‘Then it was a very twisted nightmare indeed.’

            The face staring down at him as he opened his eyes he immediately recognized from the mirror as being his own. There was something off, though, about this particular mirror image. It was not only its lack of the forehead ridges and brow wrinkles he had inherited from his Valogran mother. It was in the eyes. They were the same blue-green as Cox’s own, but not the deep pools he saw in the bathroom mirror each morning. These were as hard and as cold as sharp chips of stone. The coldness of those eyes became all the more nightmarish as Cox’s dark mirror reflection smiled at seeing that he was awake his mouth creased into a snide half-grin on a face that was at once intimately familiar and entirely alien.

“Your little scheme to instill terror in our population has failed.” The man spat, his face mere centimeters from Cox’s own.

Cox was very thoroughly lost, thinking that the man who shared his face was ranting incoherently. “What are you talking about?” Cox rasped; his voice hoarse from what he guessed could only have been hours of disuse while he was unconscious. “Who are you?” They asked together, Cox’s voice drowned out by his doppelgänger’s barking demand. The man smiled, sitting back to indicate that he was awaiting an answer before he would give one. Cox hesitated before retrieving his identification card from his breast pocket. “My name is Captain William Cox;” Cox, attempting to hand his doppelgänger his card, which was intercepted by an armed bodyguard, was still struggling to get used to looking himself in the eye. “Captain of the Unified Confederated Star Systems—” But the moment he uttered the word “captain” several of the soldiers, men dressed in jet-black military uniforms and armored bodysuits, broke into grating laughter. Even the man across from him smirked.

“A Valogran Captain?” He huffed derisively. “I see now why your scheme to infiltrate the Imperial Fleet has failed, Valogran. Poor background research on the rebellion’s part.” He looked Cox up and down. “A sloppy attempt at impersonating an Imperial Commander.”

Cox was feeling stronger. He sat up, forcefully shrugging off the restraining hands of two of the soldiers. “You never answered my question.”

“I am commander William Brooks, son of Emperor Jeremy Brooks of the United Earth Empire.” At the mention of the Emperor’s name, Cox jumped as the soldiers surrounding him simultaneously stood rigidly at attention, crossed their arms over their chests, pounding their clenched fists into the armored breastplates of their vests, before extending their arms up into the air in front of and above their heads with a chorus of the exclamation: “Terra Prime!”

            Cox’s still-sluggish mind translated the Latin phrase as meaning, “Earth first”.

“You, “Captain” William Cox;” Brooks continued, uninterrupted, as though he had not heard them, his voice taking on the sneer that Cox saw on his face at the mention of his title; “If that is indeed your real name; He paused and turned his head to glance back over his shoulder; “Which I doubt;” He shrugged his shoulders in resignation with an overly melodramatized sigh; “I am hereby placing you under arrest for the crime of impersonating an officer of the United Earth Empire.” He was interrupted by more of his soldiers appearing on the bridge.

“We caught another one!” One of them announced. As Brooks turned, Cox saw that the Imperial soldiers half-dragged, half-carried between them a still-fighting Slaavik.

            Cox could not hide a smile as he saw a couple of other soldiers trailing some distance behind the group: One limping and cradling the limp elbow and wrist of a dislocated arm, the other holding other holding the cloth of his sleeve to his still-bleeding nose and lips, his eyes already turning black and blue and swelling shut. The Valogran military officer had not gone quietly without a fight.

“Another Valogran.” Brooks grinned greedily like a spoiled child on Christmas morning.

“We caught her trying to get this ship’s weapons systems back online.” The soldier reported. “She already managed to raise the shields.” Brooks’ glance flashed back to the two injured soldiers, and the officer’s eyes followed. “We did manage to subdue her.” He reported, his words coming out in a rush as his body jerked with a pull by Slaavik at her handcuffs that gave lie to his words. “But during the struggle;” He looked sympathetically at his two injured soldiers; “She somehow managed to disable the propulsion systems.”

            Cox smiled to himself: Slaavik had been busy while he was unconscious.

            Brooks laughed, gesturing for the soldiers to shove Slaavik over to where Cox stood. “So when your attempt at sabotaging the Empire fails;” He leered at the Valogran woman; “You try to sabotage you own ship?”

            “Captain?” Slaavik leaned in close to Cox’s ear. “Do you have any idea what might be going on here?”

Cox tried to hide a sly smirk as he realized that the Valogran’s lips, centimeters from the side of his face, had not actually moved. “Evidently, Commander;” He replied the same way; “We are under arrest.”

What for?” Slaavik asked inside his head.

            Cox shook his head, indicating that it would be best for her not to ask that question aloud.

            Slaavik turned to glare around at the soldiers encircling them, many of whom were nervously keeping as much distance away from her as they could, after seeing the damage that she had inflicted on two of their teammates without, apparently, suffering even so much as a scrape, scratch or bruise herself. “Very well, Commander Brooks.” She announced aloud, seeing the other’s brow crease, as he couldn’t remember having told her his name; “We will cooperate.”

Brooks shook off his confusion. “What is the name of this vessel?” The mirror Commander asked.

“The Unified Confederated Star Systems Time Ship U.S.S. Equinox.” Cox answered calmly, meeting his duplicate’s eyes with his own unwaveringly.

“Time Ship?” Brooks laughed. “Do you mean to claim that this ship of yours;” He gestured to the bridge around them, indicating the Equinox; “Is capable of traveling through time?” He laughed, once more leaning in close to Cox’s face.

            Cox found that he could not hold the man’s icy glare and so his eyes dropped, glancing around at the wreckage all around them. “It was supposed to.” He said, the tremor in his voice conveying a sense of embarrassment or shame that his eyes, when they turned back to the man’s face, did not reflect. “But I don’t think it did after all.”

            The other man must have heard the earnestness in Cox’s tone, because he looked at him for a long time, before shaking his head as he stood.

“This man is obviously still hallucinating.” He announced to the soldiers who surrounded him. “I’m not going to get anything out of him. You.” His eyes shifted over Cox’s shoulder to Slaavik. “You are a Valogran.”

“I am.”

“What might your name be?” He asked her.

“Commander Slaavik Khan of the Valogra Prime Military Ministry.”

“A soldier?” Brooks’ eyebrows raised. “I’m glad to have you here, Slaavik.” Cox noted that he deliberately refused to refer to her by her rank. “Your compatriot;” He nodded to Cox; “Has been telling us tall tales.” He looked around at his men. Perhaps you could corroborate. This man;” He gestured to Cox; “Claims to be the Captain of this ship, part of some sort of Confederacy.” Cox bristled inwardly at his mangling of the Federation’s full title. “Is he then your master?”

“He is my captain.” The expression on Slaavik’s face told him she sensed his question was still yet to come.

“But by your own words;” Brooks turned back to Slaavik; “You do not serve under his command. So where does your loyalty to him come from, then?”

            Slaavik did not hesitate. “He is the son of the Queen of my home world.”

            Brooks’ response to this was not she might have anticipated it would be. “A half-Valogran hybrid?” He uttered the words with utter disdain, every syllable that left his lips and tongue dripping with disgust that bordered on revulsion. He burst out laughing. “Please!” He chuckled. “That is even more preposterous than his tale of this ship traveling through time!” Slaavik glanced at Cox for an explanation. Cox shrugged. “Everyone knows that every member of the Valogran Royal Family has been dead for years!” Cox stiffened with shock, his mind reeling and his insides wrenching painfully. Even more sickening, Brooks smiled as he looked around at his soldiers. “I killed their Queen myself!”

            Slaavik turned to Cox with concern, as he had to squeeze his eyes shut, feeling nauseous.

Mother!’ He thought, sure that Slaavik could sense his emotions as well.

            Slaavik, too, felt her heart constrict around her lungs as her initial hopes that the Imperial Commander was lying were dashed by nods from his men, making it obvious they remembered the events he was referring to as well. She reached out to steady the Captain as Cox’s legs became distinctly unsteady and he staggered as though having received a physical blow to his gut. “If I may ask a question.” Slaavik said to the Imperial Commander. Cox’s doppelgänger nodded, obviously used to Valograns requesting permission to speak. “What are even being charged with?” Slaavik spat, her ordinarily rigid composure disintegrating in that moment.

“High treason against the Empire.” The commander barked before she had even finished speaking, showing how unaccustomed he was to being addressed with such hostility. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, and his voice was calmer when he added: “And sedition against the Emperor.” He looked at Cox with a sadistic smile. “My father.” Cox startled as every soldier present pounded his chest with a baled fist with shouts of “Terra Prime!”

            Noting that Cox did not join in the chorus, his doppelgänger wheeled on him, stomping up to stand nose to nose with him. “You tell me, “captain”;” He huffed, his breath washing over Cox’s face; “If, as you claim, you are not a member of the Rebellion, then why is it you refuse to pledge your fidelity to the Empire?”

“We have never heard of you “Terran Empire!” Slaavik protested. “What make you think that we are part of this…what did you call it? …Rebellion? We are not traitors, nor spies.”

            “Please!” The stranger snorted at the question. “Look at this from my point of view, Captain.” Brooks said to Cox. He counted off his evidence on his fingers. “First Earth experiences a plant-wide surge of electromagnetic radiation, shutting down Earth’s electronic devices, including our defensive weapons systems. Then there is what our geologists tell us are unprecedented tectonic activity across the Earth’s crust. Finally, in a blinding flash of light, this ship;” He gestured around at the bridge; “Your ship, appears from out of nothing in low near-Earth orbit above the planet.” He turned back to Cox. “It will take us a number of weeks for us to get our surface-to-space weapons back online. But your plot to collapse our economy failed.”

“What is to happen to us now?”

“With shields raised” Brooks was saying; “Even if nothing can get in, we can still get out. You’ll be held in a subterranean detention facility until such time as you can be brought before the Supreme Court.” He glanced at Cox with an arrogant white-toothed grin. “The Emperor himself will personally preside over your trial, during which you will be given an opportunity to present your story;” He sighed as if bored already with the thought; “And your sentence will be decided upon.”

“Sentence? Won’t we even have to be proved guilty? Your evidence is circumstantial at best!”

“Not that any of it matters now.” The stranger said, to no one in particular. “In any case, as much as I have enjoyed this idle chitchat we do have pressing business with which we must press on.” He nodded to the soldiers training their weapons on Cox, and his bodyguards handcuffed Cox. “I am hereby confiscating this vessel in the name of the Empire.” He gestured for them to follow behind him, and then Cox and Slaavik were being manhandled roughly into the nearest lift and marched down the corridor to the shuttle bay.

            Already in handcuffs inside the sleek jet-black shuttle were Jennifer Hansen and Sarah Wells. The latter brightened visible at seeing Cox and brushed off her guards to stand and dash forward, throwing her arms, still cuffed at the wrists, around his neck. “Will!” She backed away to inspect his face closely. “Are you all right? What happened?”

            The soldiers eventually forced them apart and re-cuffed Sarah’s hands behind her like Slaavik’s were as they seated her next to Cox inside the shuttle, across from Slaavik and Lessia. The guards closed the door of the shuttle, locking the four detainees inside of a chain link cage, As they felt the shuttle lifting off the deck of the bay, Sarah looked around.

“Where is Cimarra?” She asked Slaavik. “Wasn’t she with you?”

“She’s gone.” Cox answered, his voice a monotone, as though in a trance.

            It took Sarah only the briefest of glances at Slaavik, who hung her head, to realize what Cox meant.

“Oh my goddess!” She breathed, her mind racing with the implications as she turned to Cox beside her. “I am so sorry, Will.”

            Had her wrists been free, she would have laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. Realizing that Cox was in no condition to offer anything but monosyllabic responses, Sarah turned again to Slaavik. “How did it happen? Do you know?”

            However once more it was Cox who answered, looking through the barbed wires of the fence at his doppelgänger with a chillingly ice-cold fire burning in his eyes that could have melted lead.

“He did it. He growled, his voice equal parts hiss and snarl.

            Sarah was silent for several long minutes as they coasted through the emptiness and silence of space.

            Then she tilted her neck to lay the side of her head onto his shoulder with a sigh.

“We’ll get him, Will.” She assured him in a soft murmur, all the while hoping fervently that he could not easily tell from her voice that it conveyed a level of confidence in the truth of her words that she was not even close to feeling. “I promise.”

 

            The Equinox had been stationed on geosynchronous high Earth orbit several dozen miles above the city of San Francisco in North America, and as the shuttle descended they moved eastward with the direction of the rotation of the planet below them.

            Cox stared unseeingly straight ahead of him. Sarah recognized the expression on her Captain’s face, having seen the same in the eyes of his great grandmother so many times. Cox had withdrawn into himself, and was descending into a shock that resembled a catatonic state. As they had left the docking back, she and Slaavik had switched places. No she watched as Slaavik pillowed Cox’s head on her lap. Hansen leaned forward from beside Sarah to wrap Cox’s outstretched hands gently in hers, gazing at the captain she had met for the first time only hours before with an expression of concerned compassion that Sarah had little choice but to admire.

            Her gaze was drawn away from the three as something she had seen out the window finally fully registered with her mind. She turned back to look again just to be certain. As a former Space Plane pilot before being made the leader of the Enterprise Starship Program, she had probably seen the surface of the Earth from outer space more than anyone else in the cabin with her. She wondered how it was she had not noticed it earlier, but there was no mistake. The West coast of North America, as Far East as the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the South, was nowhere to be seen. She saw only the blue of the Pacific Ocean and then the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. As they flew East over North America, something else about what she was looking at struck Sarah as being somehow off, but she was unable to place her finger on precisely what it was.

            Slaavik reached down to lift Cox’s head off of her lap and onto her shoulder instead as Sarah beckoned for her to lean over closer to her window. After so many long minutes spend in silence, Slaavik’s voice when she spoke, though it came out as something barely above a nearly-breathless gasp, reverberated inside the soundproof cage as though she had shouted the words at the top of her lungs. “Where in the world did the glaciers go?”

            With that, it clicked for Sarah as well. The vast ice sheets, a kilometer to a mile deep, that had covered the overwhelmingly vast majority of the landmasses in the planet Earth’s Northern hemisphere as far South as the city of Dallas in North America, for nearly a century and a half had apparently vanished without a trace. With that realization came the recognition of what it was that had struck her as strange about the Rocky mountain range. None of its peaks were snow-capped. There was indeed from orbit no ice visible anywhere except the South polar continent of Antarctica itself. As they flew East, Sarah noted other dissimilarities with the Earth she knew.
“Comet to that.” She heard Slaavik say. “Where’s Florida?”

On the East coast of North America, the Florida peninsula was also nowhere to be found. Even Delaware Peninsula and the Provincial Capitol of North America, the District of Columbia on the banks of the Potomac River off of Chesapeake Bay, appeared to have returned to the state of swampy marshland upon which it had been built centuries earlier. Then they were out over the Atlantic.

            As much of an expert in cosmology and astrophysics as she was, Sarah found herself staring at Jennifer as her mind raced, wondering what the activation of the Equinox’s slipstream drive core had done to the Earth. To her surprise; her mind, though it was ordinarily a slave to considering each and every possible alternative to everything, skipped over entirely any question of whether or not the Equinox was indeed even responsible for what she was seeing. The coincidence made the correlation starkly self-evident. Her brain was also, she recognized, an engine of differences in probabilities. The fact that they had launched from one version of the Earth but were landing on a seemingly entirely different one rendered any other explanation impossible.

She’d add it to the list.’ She thought, a smirk curving her lips in spite of their obviously dire predicament, as she recalled a line that an old friend of hers had once written in a book of his: Something about holding half a dozen implausible ideologies in one’s mind before teatime, or something like that.

            Slaavik had been bent over the catatonic Captain’s head pillowed in her lap, but straightened in her seat as they all felt the shuttle slowing. It was obvious that they were coming into a landing at their destination which, Sarah was surprised to note looking out the window, was precisely the same city from which they launched earlier that same day. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Hansen blink and rub her eyes, doing a genuine classic double take, and looking out at the city Sarah could understand the reason why.

Towering above the rooftops was a conical structure composed of rusty-colored steel girders in scaffold-like cross-hatching. Sarah knew Hansen would recognize it from images of Earth’s history, as did she. The Eiffel Tower had dominated the Paris skyline for centuries before being demolished by the super-storm that ravaged the city, its pieces used to construct a monument on the site where it had once stood commemorating all those who had died in the storms. Seeing it standing again, fully intact, was like travelling not just to another world but back in time as well. The illusion that they were landing in twentieth century France, however, was shattered by the fact that theirs was far from the only shuttle filling the skies of Paris all around the iconic steel tower.

Whereas their launch from the Equinox’s hangar had been a jolt that had nearly bounced them from their seats, only Slaavik and Sarah even felt their landing, an even then only just barely.

They all squinted, lifting their hands in front of their faces as the shuttle doors were opened and their cage was unlocked. They did as they were ordered and stood, and were ushered to step from the shuttle.

Sarah was surprised to find herself within the encircling wings of the Louvre for the second time that day. It was immediately clear, however, that the old royal palace served as anything but a museum for fine works of art. The iconic twin glass pyramids had vanished without a trace, but the entrance to the underground foyer nevertheless remained right where it had been. Sarah spotted the Commander who had arrested her walking ahead of them.

“Where is it we are being taken now, mister Brooks?” She shouted, hoping that he would be offended enough at not being called by his rank not to remember that he had never told her his name. she was right. However, though his complexion darkened visibly as his face flushed, a sadistic smile bared his teeth.

“Processing.” The monosyllabic reply more closely resembled a feral animalistic growl than human speech.

            As they descended the staircase into the same subterranean atrium in which Cox had stood earlier that day, they saw a very different sight awaiting them. What filled the underground anteroom were obviously a combination metal detector and x-ray scanner, but one obviously intended to handle massive numbers. Sarah knew now what Brooks had meant by “processing”.

Manning the machinery was a woman with her pale bleach blonde hair pulled tightly back and dressed in a figure-hugging dark blue pinstripe sequin bodysuit. The woman’s eyes, when she looked up at the newcomers, were an unmistakable turquoise, but with an icy coldness in them that sent very real chills and shivers through Sarah, as though the temperature in the room had suddenly plummeted like walking into a freezer.

Their escort, however, matched her expression with what Sarah had come to regard as an equally chilling smile as he waved them forward.

“They’re all yours, Mistress Harper.” He bowed his head in an uncharacteristic gesture of deference.

            Harper’s eyes, however, had already left him as they were fixed solidly on Jennifer, who in turn was staring in disbelief at the nametag on the breast of the woman’s sequin suit. Sarah need only have looked at the aghast expression on her face to know what it said, but found herself reading it anyway: “Annika”. In spite of the difference in their last names, it was obvious that Jennifer recognized the woman who that morning had been Fleet Admiral Annika Hansen, her mother. Harper must have likewise noticed something familiar about Jennifer, as her eyes scrutinized every inch of Hansen’s appearance.

“What’s the charge?” She asked Brooks, her eyes not leaving Jennifer, watching curiously as Hansen startled at hearing her mother’s familiar voice leave the creased lips of this strange woman.

“Impersonating an officer of the Imperial Fleet.” Brooks answered and for the first time Harper’s gaze shifted to Cox. She looked back and forth from Cox to Brooks and back again for a long several minutes before shrugging.

“Until tonight, then?” Harper said in a tone that broached no disagreement.

“As you wish, Mistress.” Brooks bowed low, and Sarah smiled at knowing who wore the pants, literally and figuratively, in the relationship between these two.

Slaavik, however, could not restrain herself. “Admiral?”

Harper scoffed as she relieved Cox of his phase disruptor. “If wishes were horses.”

 

            William Brooks smiled as he saw how uncomfortable his prisoners were in their ill-fitting monochromatic jumpsuits. Jennifer and Sarah were walking awkwardly, clearly uncomfortable. Harper, he saw, had been very thorough.

Brooks was evidently perturbed, however, that Cox remained in his stunned catatonic state, as the prisoners were loaded into windowless bulletproof armored trucks.

“Where are we off to now?” Sarah saw Jennifer wince as she bent her leg joints to climb into the back of the truck, but impressed Brooks with the forcefulness behind her voice.

“To your sentencing.”

“Sentencing?” Sarah burst out. “Your evidence is circumstantial at best! Do we not even get a hearing first?”

            The look Brooks gave her was as though she had either grown a second head or lost her mind or both. “No”. He said, and slammed the cage door shut behind her.

 

            Sarah was relieved to see that the sight that greeted them when the windowless doors of the truck were opened again was the thing that finally snapped Cox out of state of shock. She had been able to calculate, based on the speed at which they had been traveling and the length of time they had been travelling for, the distance they had traveled but she had been unable to determine in which direction. When she saw where they had ended up, she understood why the sight jarred Cox back to reality.

            Towering in front of them was a French Chateau that had been built in the late eighteenth century and directly modeled after the royal palace of King Louis XVI at Versailles. Sarah knew its name, as she knew Cox did as well: Chateau Villette, ancestral residence of the ancient Parisian Saint-Chlaire family, Cox, Sarah knew, had spent much of his early childhood at the Chateau outside of Paris, which had belonged to his late twentieth century paternal ancestor Roseline Saint-Chlaire, the paternal grandmother of the first President of the Federation, Katherine Janney.

            As they were escorted inside the towering double doors under the close supervision of Brooks, their group was met by another detachment of Imperial troops that came bursting through the opposite door, this one escorting a tall blonde woman and one with maroon red hair. Jennifer Hansen’s face brightened at seeing her mother’s Chief of Staff, Cathryn Krueloe, alive and well.

“Commander!” The leader of the troops hailed Brooks with a clenched fist to his chest, the salute they had seen from the soldiers on board the Equinox.

Brooks appeared annoyed by the disruption of his triumph. “What is it, Lieutenant?”  

“Sir, We caught these trying to enter the palace.” The lieutenant tugged on the chain cuffing the two together. “I wouldn’t bother you with it except they give the same cover story as your detainees.”

“Interesting.” Cox saw Brooks straighten his uniform, sweeping imaginary dust off of his sleeves and adjusting his cuffs. “Who might they be?”
“Valograns, sir. Another one.” The leader reported to Brooks, and the tall woman lifted her head.

“Mother!” Sarah’s exclamation startled the soldiers, and the two embraced before either group could stop them.

            Hera turned to Cox. “I’m glad to see you haven’t been harmed, Will.” Her voice said, her lips not moving.

“I have never been happier to see anyone else in my life.” Cox actually laughed out loud.

“That makes four Valograns and two humans.” Brooks shook the lieutenant’s hand as the two groups merged. “Well done. Thank you.” The man saluted again. “It’s obvious they’re involved together. I’ll take them from here.”

            It made Cox feel inexplicably better, even in this foreign and alien place, to be surrounded by friends he trusted.

            The doors to the main hall opened and as one of the imperial soldiers nudged Cox forward, he noticed that the guard’s clothes fit far more loosely than the others’. He turned subtly halfway around, enough to see the helmeted and masked soldier wink at him. Then they stepped into the Chateau’s great hall, its ceiling rising out of sight high above, and were marched toward the it’s far end. As they approached, he could see now that the bench at the head of the hall consisted of nine desks on a raised tier overseen by an elevated pedestal rising behind them. As the doors closed behind them, a voice boomed throughout the chamber.

“This special session of the Supreme Court of the Confederated Earth Empire is hereby called to order.”

            All eyes were drawn to the figures, serious-faced no-nonsense men ranging in age from twice Cox’s own age to not much older than he, entering to taker their seats behind the podiums at the front of the hall, barely discernible at such a distance.

“His Royal Majesty, Emperor Jarek Brooks is presiding.” The voice said, and Cox skidded to a halt as he recognized the figure taking the pedestal as being Jarek Brooks-Janney II.

“Dad.” He muttered under his breath, his voice barely above a whisper, staring into the intimately familiar eyes of the man he knew as his father. He remembered what his doppelgänger had told them about being the son of the Emperor. ‘Jarek was the Emperor?’ He thought in disbelief, feeling a whole different sense of dread fill him.

            Fortunately, the others had already stopped behind him.

“The Court recognizes Commander William Brooks, son of his Majesty the Emperor.” One of Jarek’s fellow Justices proclaimed and Cox felt rather than saw Hara startle at his back, not until this moment having recognized the officer escorting them for what he was: Cox’s mirror doppelgänger.

“Welcome, father.” Brooks stepped in front of Cox, shooting him a reprimanding look, before dropping momentarily to one knee, mimicking the salute Cox had seen earlier.

“Greetings, my son.” The Emperor replied formally, nodding. “I understand you have something special for us this afternoon.”

Brooks beamed proudly. “Indeed I have, your highness. Justices of the Court and distinguished officials of the Empire;” He rose and gestured to Cox behind him; “My charges against this Valogran, obviously made over in attempt to impersonate an officer of the Imperial fleet, namely myself, in particular should be obvious to all.” There were nods all around the hall. “The Rebellion has been reduced to stooping so low as an attempt;” He glared at Cox in disgust; “However sloppy it may have been, to imitate me.”

Cox saw the Emperor nod. “Bring him forward.” He heard his father’s familiar voice boom. The loosely uniformed guard behind Cox, the one who had winked at him, nudged him forward to stand beside his doppelgänger.

“State your rank, name, and occupation before the Court.” One of the Justices ordered.

“My name is—” Cox was cut off as the guard behind him pushed on his shoulders with cold hands, using the butt of their weapon to prod at the back of his knees.

“Kneel when you address his Imperial Majesty!” Brooks spat as Cox compliantly dropped to his knees.

            He nevertheless looked up at Jarek with palpable defiance. “I am Captain William Cox of the Unified Federated Star Systems, Commanding Officer of the Federation quantum slipstream vessel “U.S.S. Equinox”.” He opted to omit the word “temporal” intentionally, remembering Brooks’ reaction to his mention of time travel and having no desire to engage this many Imperial officials in a similar conversation.

There was a chattering of derisive laughter. “A Valogran Captain?” Sneered one of the nine men overseeing the proceedings, banging a gavel. “Indeed.”

“Your majesty, honorable Justices of the Court;” Brooks strode toward the bench. “It is my assertion, as Commander of the Empire, that the electromagnetic pulse that shut down Earth’s electronic devices was caused, somehow, by their vessel.”

“What vessel?” The Emperor asked.

            Brooks gestured, and a three-dimensional holographic image of the Equinox appeared in the air between the Emperor and his son. “Is this your ship?” Brooks asked.

            Cox nodded, saying nothing. He found he could channel all of his fury, hatred and rage into an icy, stony façade that, ironically, effectively disguised his rage and frustration.

            The Emperor reached out and rotated the projection of the equinox with his fingers. “This is a very impressive-looking vessel.” The Emperor said as he studied the image. “Have you ever seen this style of starship before?”

            Brooks shook his head. “It is not of any Imperial design.”

            The Justices appeared skeptical. “Are you trying to suggest to us that the Rebellion has somehow acquired the technological capability to begin manufacturing its own vessels?”

“Such sophisticated technological advancement is far beyond any known capabilities the Rebellion has.” One of the other Imperial Justices added.

“Who was responsible for this vessel’s technology?” The Emperor asked.

“I was.” Sarah said, stepping forward.

“And you are?” Brooks appeared instantly transfixed by the poise and regality the young-looking blonde exhibited in spite of her prisoner jumpsuit.

“Sarah Wells of the Unified Federated Star Systems’ Enterprise Starship Program.”

“And you’re an officer in this Federation too, miss Wells?” The Emperor asked.

“Doctor Wells. And I prefer to be addressed as “Professor”, if you don’t mind.” Sarah corrected, growing bolder, with a dip in a courtly curtsy. “I’m a theoretical astrophysicist.”

            There was a rumble of muted laughter that echoed through the chamber. “You cannot possibly be a scientist!” Brooks scoffed, leaning in close to Sarah’s face to give his sneering words more impact. “You’re a Valogran!”

            Cox did his best to hide his anger at the look of disgust that crossed the Emperor’s face. In the world he had come from, his own father had fallen in love with and married a Valogran woman, his mother.

            Sarah said nothing, deliberately neither confirming nor denying the accusation. She infuriated Brooks by looking unblinkingly straight through him, keeping her gaze fixed on the Emperor.

            The Emperor’s gaze, in turn, had shifted from Sarah to her mother. He was eyeing Hara scrupulously, as if trying to maneuver the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into place with his mind. Like her daughter, Hera too was glaring hard at the Emperor, returning his study unflinchingly, and appearing as at ease as though she was strolling along the banks of the Seine. Her deep blue eyes had frozen over into dagger-sharp icicles that seemed to chill the blood of anyone upon who her gaze fell, sending a visible shiver down the spine of the most powerful human in the galaxy as though he were stranded on a desolate wasteland in the depths of space. The Emperor appeared to physically whither underneath her heated gaze.

            Without even looking back at her, Cox could almost swear he felt the temperature in the hall drop palpably.

Brooks must have sensed the same, as his troops shifted uncomfortably. Unlike his father, however, Brooks was not too transfixed so as not to notice the flash of mottled skin beneath the helmet of the soldier at Cox’s back. All eyes were drawn to him, including those of the Emperor, as he roughly shoved Cox aside and seized the guard’s helmet. Even as he jerked the helmet off the soldier’s head, an audible gasp went up from the hall as waves of raven hair tumbled out of it. Brooks looked around at his audience as he tossed the discarded helmet away, knowing that the shock of a woman soldier in the Imperial Palace paled in comparison to what he was about to reveal next. Seizing the still-masked guard’s weapon from her fingers, he used its tip to sweep her long hair aside, revealing to all the pattern of deep brown spots running down along the side of her neck. “Not just an imposter! A rarity, and a first before this august body.” The nine judges leaned forward as her spots were revealed. “A Trillaxian female, no less!”

“Fascinating.” The Emperor recovered from his shock first. “For as long back as I can remember, I have never before seen a Trillaxian female.”

“Alive.” Brooks amended with a sickening smile. “Even their men make poor labor servants.” His fingers ran from Lessia’s hairline to her collar. “But their women, however, do make the most excellent wives.” The Emperor was forced to pound his own gavel as Lessia jerked her head away from Brooks’ hand. “What is your part in this?”

“I am the Science Officer of the Unified Federated Star Systems starship U.S.S. Equinox.” The Trillaxian stated, unfazed by the dramatic reveal of her identity.

            The chuckles from his men were silenced by a glare from their Commander. “Another alien scientist!” Brooks laughed out loud. “That makes two! Both of them not only aliens, but women!” Cox could see Lessia bristle, but she maintained her stoicism. “Now I have seen everything.” Cox saw Sarah’s eyes narrow as the crowd joined his doppelgänger in his misogynistic merriment.

            The Emperor, however, was not among them, remaining stoic. “State your rank and name for the Court.” He repeated the earlier request from Cox. “Lieutenant Lessia Odanox;” The murmurs magnified in volume; “The official representative to the Federation High Council from the ruling family of Trillaxia Prime.”

“You are one of the Odanox.” Brooks nodded, as though that was the answer to a mystery. “Of course you are. You must be. That makes sense to me.”

“Why do you say that?” Sarah asked.

“The Odanox were the hardest to kill.” He grinned sadistically at seeing Lessia’s limb muscles tense with barely-suppressed anger, and her lips crease. Cox became concerned when he saw her hands ball into fists, her jaw line set as she gritted her clenched teeth, both trembling with barely-contained rage. Had his wrists been free, Cox would have reached out to lay a soothing hand on her shoulder, but knowing that his doppelgänger was not finished he was helpless to prevent what he had the worst feeling was coming. “And they were the last to fall.” Brooks’ smile bared his teeth like a predator, but vanished just as suddenly as the soldiers restraining the Trillaxian wrapped their arms more tightly around her as Lessia launched herself, lunging toward her leering captor her fingers clawing for his throat and face.

            This time it was Slaavik who saved the day. Having somehow gotten free of her own shackles, she reached out to grab Lessia’s upper arms in vice-like grips. To Cox’s surprise, Slaavik’s touch calmed Lessia enough for Slaavik to hold her wrists behind her back in order for Brooks’ soldiers to cuff them.

“Enough!” The Emperor banged his gavel and the commotion in the hall was silenced. “By our laws;” One of Justices piped up; “Anyone who refuses to pledge their allegiance to the empire is shown to be negligent in their loyalty to it and is to be found guilty of the crime of high sedition against the Emperor himself. ”

The Emperor nodded as he banged his gavel. “William Cox, Sarah Wells, Lessia Odanox, and company;” He had never asked for any of the others’ names, and deliberately omitted any mention of their titles or ranks; “it is the ruling of this Court that you are hereby found guilty as charged on all counts of the charges of the crimes of treason and sedition against the Empire and against his Excellency the Emperor Jarek Brooks Janney the Second;” Cox huffed at the Emperor referring to himself in the third person; made against you by this Grand Jury of the Supreme Court of the Confederated Earth Empire;” Cox felt his façade cracking, knowing that the jury were merely spectators and had played no part in their conviction; “On this day, the first of April of the year two thousand on hundred and ninety five of the Common Era.”

This caused both Hera and Sarah to perk up to attention. The year they had left had been 2198.

The Emperor stood and the Justices dutifully followed suit. “As your sentence, you are to be transported along with your vessel aboard the warship Endeavor, flagship of the Imperial Starfleet, escorted under the supervision of Commander William Brooks;” Cox tried to ignore his doppelgänger’s sneer in his direction; to the Imperial colony on the moon of Jadzri.”

Cox needed not have even seen Lessia’s face to know the mention of the name struck a chord with her. Jadzri, a moon of Trillaxia Prime, had been the private estate of the Odanox family and was the birthplace of Lessia and all of her maternal mothers and grandmothers going back dozens of generations. To hear that it was now a death camp must have dealt a crippling blow to the Trillaxian heiress’s paradigm.

“It is by the order of this Supreme Court of the Empire;” Jarek continued; “That Lieutenant Odanox and Professor Wells will work to reverse engineer the technologies of the Rebellion starship Equinox for use by the Imperial Fleet. Commander Brooks will then return to Earth with your vessel so that its technology can be replicated by the Empire for its purposes, leaving you imprisoned along with the others on the prison moon to labor excavating and manufacturing the materials needed by the Imperial military for the rest of your natural lives, as long as the last of you might live.” The Emperor banged his gavel again, signaling the conclusion to the hearing. “This Grand Jury of the Supreme Court hereby stands adjourned.” The spectator filed out and he waved to his son. “The detainees are dismissed under custody.”

As they were being led out of the Chateau, Sarah reached out and clasped Cox’s hands in hers behind him and it was only then that Cox noticed that she had at some point managed to get her bound wrists from behind her to in front of her. “It’s good to have you back, Will.” He heard her voice in his head. He turned around to smile back at her, knowing she was referring to him finally coming out of his state of shock.

Cox and his team were piled back into the transport, which long minutes later deposited them at what he immediately recognized as the roundabout at the center of which stood the world-famous Arc de Triumph. Without thinking he turned around and looked North to the site where his great-grandmother had erected the towering monument memorializing the more than one billion victims of the global ecological cataclysm that had, nearly a century before he was born, been the impetus behind her founding of the Federation. Instead in its place stood what he identified as one of the destroyed structures out of the ruins of which the memorial had been constructed, the Eiffel Tower. With this reminder that they no longer lived in the world he knew Cox hung his head and rejoined his crew as they were marched south along the course of the Seine River away from the Tower.

It was Hera and Sarah who spotted their destination first. They found the very same jet-black shuttle that had brought them down from their Equinox waiting for them.

Cox was seated with Sarah on one side of him and Hera on the other, and Lessia was seated beside Sarah. Jennifer was seated across from Cox with Krueloe and Slaavik to either side of her. Jennifer was smiling at him, also evidently relieved to see him come back to them.

Cox’s concerned gaze, however, was on Lessia. As a member of the Trillaxian ruling Odanox family, being shackled inside a locked cage with her wrists bound behind her must have been disorienting enough experience for her even without the added paradigm shift of learning that her birthplace was to be her prison.

 

His thoughts of the beauties he had seen on his visits with his mother the Valogran Queen to Trillaxia Prime were interrupted as he felt Sarah tapping his shoulder. He shifted his eyes to her, to see her gesturing with her head out the window behind them, Cox looked out where she was pointing and felt his bottom jaw drop to his chest.

Suspended in the beams of blinding sunlight that were reflected by the Earth below them was one of the largest vessels he had ever seen. In its length, width and height it very nearly approached the scale of a Valogran battle cruiser. Cox knew as well as any that such vessels, such as the one bearing his mother with whom his father aboard the first-ever Federation starship Enterprise had made first contact with the Valograns before he was born, were for all practical intents and purposes flying cities in space.

Like the Equinox, the vessel he was looking at had a streamlined forward or “saucer” section, a rounded tubular aft “engineering” section and external nacelles. While the forward section of the Equinox resembled a streamlined metallic potato, the saucer of the ship that now filled the window was in the shape of an arrowhead. The aft section was positioned not only behind the arrow-like saucer but also beneath it. Whereas the Equinox’s nacelles wrapped around the ship like a diagonally tilted ring, the aft section of this shift was adorned with a crescent-shaped half circle that arched above it and held aloft two torpedo-shaped nacelles. Backswept metal arms extending downward from the sides of the engineering section held two larger nacelles in the shape of switchblades that stabbed forward and thrust underneath the arrow-like forward section. In spite of its massive size, the vessel had the streamlined aerodynamic look of a racing speedboat.

However, Cox realized that the ship itself had not been what Sarah had been pointing out to him, as he saw the Equinox being towed inside one of the aft section’s maw-like shuttle bay. Their shuttle headed for a different one.

 

As the boarding ramp lowered onto the deck of the hangar, Cox got a sense of déjà vu as a woman waiting at the bottom of the ramp met them. Again as when they had first boarded the Equinox, the woman was obviously an android, having stood in the vacuum of the depressurized deck waiting for them. Unlike the android that had met them upon boarding the Equinox however, this woman was, Cox thought, very beautiful with long reddish-blonde hair. This made it all the more shocking to him and his crew when she spoke with the same familiar Scottish-Irish brogue: “Welcome aboard, Commander.”

Sarah, who had introduced him to the android this morning, was particularly mystified by her transformation. “Meg?” The android turned, responding to the name. “Is that really you?”

Meg blinked, clearly not recognizing the blonde alien addressing her, before shaking her head and turning back to her Commanding Officer. “Is there anything I can do for you, Commander?” She asked Brooks. Then she surprised the prisoners even more by continuing: “Shall I draw up a hot bath for you in your quarters, Master Brooks?”

The Commander nodded with a licentious smirk. “I could do with one of your special massages, Maggie.”

Meagierthiea curtsied low, bowing her head. “As you wish, Master.” She said subserviently, leaving all of the Equinox personnel agape with bewilderment. “I will meet you in your ready room.” With that, Meg turned and walked out of the bay.

Brooks turned his attention from the android to his prisoners. “Welcome aboard the Imperial warship Endeavor.” He said proudly, locking eyes with Cox in particular. “My ship.” The implication behind his snide sneer was an obvious side-by-side comparison with Cox’s own Equinox, which as they had seen upon approach was dwarfed by the Endeavor.

Brooks led them down in to the lower decks, which Cox saw was prison itself. The cages in the ship’s brig, however, were unlike prison cells in that they were entered into through opening in the deck. Seeing no reason to separate them, Brooks dropped Cox and his crew one by one into a single windowless, dank and chilled prison cell, which soon became claustrophobic, cramped and crowded.

Cox struck his head against something cold and metal and was still dazed as, upon the press of a complicated combination of buttons on the wall above the opening in the deck, it was quickly filled with an intersecting latticework of energy beams. Sarah knelt by his side and helped him sit up. As his vision cleared, with one final sneer down at his prisoners, Brooks’ face disappeared from view and they heard his footsteps receding down the deck’s hallway. Cox saw that what he had hit was the headboard of a small cot.

Some of them sat while others stood, silent for a long while. Slaavik sat on the cot deep in thought, the expression in her eyes distant, as they heard the engines rev to life and the vessel begin to move. Shortly after, as Sarah inspected the wound on the back of his head, they felt the jolt of launch into the ship’s faster-than-light subspace drive.

Slaavik finally broke the silence as she spoke. “I believe;” She said slowly, her voice thoughtful and contemplative; “That we now have enough evidence for me to propose a possible hypothesis.” As they were the first words any of them could remember having heard her speak in hours, every eye in the room turned their full and undivided attention in the direction of the Valogran woman, all of them eager for anything to explain the events that had transpired that day.

“As you are no doubt aware, the advent of quantum mechanics in the mid-twentieth century;” Slaavik began, easing their eagerness by indicating that she intended to begin with a brief background history lesson; “And the quests by physicists such as Albert Einstein to discover a grand theory to unify all four forces of physics;” She ticked them off on her fingers as she listed them; “Universal Gravitation, Electromagnetism, then Strong Nuclear Force and the Weak Molecular Force, led to the invention in the early twenty-first century of something known in physics as “String Theory”.” Sarah nodded. “The theory, however, was widely rejected by most physicists because its explanation for the quantum states of matter and energy required the existence of an infinite number of parallel dimensions.”
“You’re talking about the multiverse.” Cox confirmed.

Slaavik nodded. “A theory of quantum physics popularized in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries held that each decision that is made and action taken at various different places and times cause multiple new realities to spring into existence, one for each possible outcome, in which all but certain things were the same but where events occurred in a distinctly different way. These universes would be very nearly indistinguishable from one another except for that one difference at that one point in space and time, and whatever the consequences thereof might be.”

“And your proposition would be that the activation of the Equinox’s quantum core resulted in the formation of an alternate reality from our own;” Lessia concluded; “And that we;” She gestured indicating her companions; “have been somehow thrown into one of these parallel universe from our own.” Slaavik nodded.

On any other day and coming from anyone else’s lips Cox, being the scientist that he was, would have dismissed the concept as delusional imaginings. But given what all of them had experienced in the past hours and his knowledge of the Valogran as someone not prone to hyperbole, Cox was intrigued as he could see the rest of his crew were as well.

“We have already encountered mirror duplicates of you, Captain;” She gestured to Cox; “And your father and your mother; “She pointed to Jennifer; “Admiral Hansen.”

“If your hypothesis turns out to be correct;” Hera added; “I harbor no doubts that there exist such duplicates of countless others from our universe that we have yet to meet.”

“And some we never will.” Cox said solemnly and everyone present sobered, knowing he was referring to his mother.

“However, from his lack of your facial features, I can conclude that this William has no Valogran ancestry.” Cox knew Slaavik was referring to his forehead and brow ridges, an inheritance from his mother’s side of the family. “Hence why his officers address him as Commander Brooks. Your Valogran mother adopted your last name when she married your father, which is why he doesn’t share it. He instead inherited one of the two last names that you father was born with prior to meeting your mother.” Cox nodded, knowing his illustrious family’s history but understanding that explanation was more for the benefit of his crew than his own.

“I have been able to ascertain that in this world the Federation we knew has either been replaced with this Empire of else never existed to begin with.” All present hung their heads, struck with the great loss, but Slaavik locked eyes with Lessia. “However;” She said meaningfully; “It is also clear to me that while the people on this Earth do appear to be familiar with the other species of the Federation, this Empire is ruled over by humans who perceive our kind as both inherently inferior and subservient.” Cox understood why she was looking at Lessia as she said this. As she anticipated she saw the Trillaxian’s spots darken as she bristled angrily and could feel the outrage radiating from Cox as well.

“Two objects cannot occupy the same point in space at the same point in time. If what you say is true, our interaction with their universe would result in the mutual annihilation of both realities.” Sarah thought for a long moment, choosing her next words with extreme care. “As a theoretical astrophysicist, I can think of only one probability, which is this.” She felt everyone in the room leaning in to hear he quiet voice. “That, with the exception of those of us who were present around the core at the moment of its activation;” She indicated her companions; “Their universe has, for all practical intents and purposes, replaced our own.” Even Slaavik appeared taken aback by the implications of this. “In other words their reality has effectively overwritten ours, like a sheet of metal welded onto the top of a motor. Realizing belatedly that she had lost her crew with the analogy, she elaborated: “The outline of the shape of the reality we knew; in this case the planet Earth, its continents, countries and cities; remains intact but the appearance and… texture—of their world; namely the people, institutions and history; is dramatically different.”

“This is all just speculation.” Jennifer cautioned.

“But it sure would explain quite a lot.” They all turned at hearing another voice, that Cathryn Krueloe. Krueloe was huddled in the corner, curled into a fetal position and rocking back and forth.

            Cox reached up to tap Slaavik on the knee. The Valogran lifted her head and looked at him. Cox nodded his head to the side in the direction of the woman huddled in the corner.

Slaavik nodded in acknowledgement, sighing as she shrugged her shoulders, momentarily assuming the responsibility as de facto counselor. “What do you mean, Miss Krueloe?” Slaavik asked calmly. Cox was amazed at the transformation effected from her customary cold tone. “Is there something wrong?”

“Everything’s wrong.” Krueloe replied. Cox nodded. It did seem as though they had stepped into some alien world. “Ever since I woke;” Krueloe continued; “I can’t remember anything.”

Cox sat up, causing his head to pound, “What?”

“All my memories are gone.” Krueloe explained.

“What aren’t you remembering?” Jennifer asked; her curiosity piqued.

“I tried remembering my childhood, growing up.” Krueloe choked up. The tears streamed down her cheeks. “My mother.”

“You have no memories of any of them?” Cox asked.

“That’s just it;” Krueloe unfurled her legs, rising to her knees before sitting back against the wall; I’ve been remembering things.” She looked around at their confused expressions and sighed. “Things I never learned.”

“Such as? Lessia prompted. “What are you remembering?”

“I have memories of a whole life;” Krueloe answered; “A house, a family, a childhood, an adolescence and an adult life.” She looked at their thoroughly confused expressions, shaking her head as if trying to clear water from her inner ears. “Except they’re not mine.” She closed her eyes and buried her face in her hands. “Faces.” She rubbed her eyes. “People I can’t put a name to.”

“Explain.” Slaavik again played counselor.

“I can put a name to each face, each place;” Krueloe shook her head. “But I don’t recognize them, not one, because I’ve never met them.” Tears formed in her eyes. “It’s almost as if…”

“… Like you’re remembering somebody else’s life.” Lessia finished for her before she could, nodding understandingly. “You think it belongs to your mirror?”

            Krueloe shrugged. “That makes about as much sense as any explanation I came up with.”

            Cox looked around. “Is anyone else dealing with what she’s describing?”

            Lessia paused but averted her gaze, shook her head and said nothing.

“Well none of this is going to do any of us any good at all if we don’t get a way out of this place.” Jennifer said, looking around at the four walls and the barred ceiling above. She must have noticed the far away expression in Cox’s eyes, as though he somehow saw beyond these barriers, and so turned to him. “Do you happen to have a plan for that, captain?” She asked.

“I had the beginnings of one.” Cox nodded, then shrugged resignedly. “I was thinking there may be some way to override the Endeavor’s computer system with the Artificial Intelligence from the Equinox, but…” He trailed off.

            Sarah breathed a heavy sigh, casting a glance at her mother, who nodded. “All right.” She sighed. “It was classified need-to-know, but since we might all die where we’re headed, you might as well know.”

“What was classified?” Krueloe asked. Being the Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Federation’s Star Fleet, there were very few secrets she was not cleared for.

“When I told you that the Equinox’s AI was created by Orion;” Sarah addressed her answer directly to Cox, who nodded; “I am afraid I have to admit that was not entirely accurate.” She caught her mother’s eye, and so stopped hedging. “Archie is mine.” She said with a sigh.

“What do you mean he’s yours?” Cox asked.

“Archie isn’t short for the JonArch 2000.” Sarah explained. “It’s short for Archimedes.”

            Jennifer nodded, knowing the age-old tradition in the Federation since its inception of giving Artificial Intelligences Greek and Roman names.

“Archie was a computer system in Eureka.” Only Cox startled at this, being the only one who had ever visited the subterranean town buried a mile beneath Groom Lake. “He belonged to mother before me.” Sarah nodded to Hera.

“When was this?” Krueloe asked.

“Before First Contact.” Hera answered for her daughter. “In the first days of the founding of the Federation by your great-grandmother.” She was looking at Cox as she spoke.

“So how does this help us?” Cox asked, not wanting the discussion to linger overlong on twenty-first century North American history.

“I have a way to contact Archie.” Sarah confessed.

“Even here in the brig?” Cox wondered. Sarah nodded.

            Revealing that she had freed her hands from their bonds, she reached out to roll the sleeve of her jumpsuit back to her elbow. Cox’s jaw dropped when he saw that her forearm was coated in a sleeve of black material. At the touch of her fingers a flexible keypad illuminated on the black surface. Sarah’s fingers flew over the controls, and a device appeared out of the material around her wrist.

            Sarah lifted it to her lips and spoke into it. “Archimedes, this is Doctor Sarah Wells of Eureka.”

“Voice and fingerprint recognition confirmed.” The device said in a male voice. “Hello, Doctor Wells. What can I do for you today?”

Cox looked up at his godmother. “Orion”.” Hera’s voice in his head explained. ‘So this is what Jonathan Archer sounded like.” Cox thought, and Hera and her daughter both nodded.

            Sarah held out her wrist to Cox, gesturing for him to speak.

“Archie;” Cox cleared his throat; “This is Captain William Brooks-Janney of the Unified Federated States of Earth.” Unsure if he had made the right call in referring to the old Federation pre-First Contact and his father’s birth name prior to meeting his mother, Cox glanced up at Sarah, who nodded, giving him the thumbs-up sign. Doing as Sarah had, Cox placed his hand lightly on her wrist, recoiling as he felt a pin prick his fingertip. “Don’t blink.” He heard Sarah’s voice tell him, and a moment later a beam of light lanced out from the device on her wrist and oscillated over his wide-open eyes.

“Fingerprint, DNA and retinal scan matches confirm a blood relative of Katherine Alexandra Janney, President of the Unified Federated States of Earth.” The device concluded in Sarah’s own voice. “Please proceed, Mister Brooks.”

It took Cox a moment to find his voice after getting over the reminder of his long-deceased great-grandmother. “Archie;” He said, his voice steadying. “You are currently aboard the federation starship U.S.S. Equinox. Can you confirm?”

There was a pause. “Location confirmed.” Sarah’s voice said.

“I need you to use the Equinox’s sensor array to scan for any other computer systems located nearby.”

“Distance to target?” Sarah’s voice requested.

Cox ran some quick calculations in his head, using the known size of the Equinox to calculate the size of the Endeavor. “Three kilometers.”

Another pause. “Affirmative.” Sarah’s voice announced at last. “One unknown Artificial Intelligence system located. AI designation: Andromeda.”

“That must be the Endeavor’s computer.” Sarah whispered.

            Cox nodded. “Can you override it?”

            The silence stretched interminably this time. “Affirmative. Computer override in progress.”

 

“Commander!” The helmsman exclaimed, his fingers flying over the controls. “We’re slowing and returning to normal space!”

“FTL?” Brooks barked at his chief engineer.

“Subspace is inoperable, Commander!” Engineering reported sounding flustered.

“Contact Earth!” Brooks ordered.

The communications officer slapped his palms down on his console as it went dark. “We’ve lost all control of primary systems!”

“Is life support still functioning?” Brooks was containing his growing panic with aplomb.

“All systems are functioning at 100 percent peak parameters, Commander.” His engineer explained. “We just can’t access any of them.”

 

“Override of Endeavor AI complete.” Orion’s voice announced.

Sarah’s fingers flew over the keypad again. “Deactivate all energy shields in the detention level.”

The bars of energy above their head blinked out with a fizzle. “Let’s get out of here!” Krueloe exclaimed.

Sarah assisted each member of the crew up through the hatch. Then, standing in the now-empty cell, she gathered her feet under her and leaped vertically straight up, landing in a crouch on the deck.

 

“We’ve stopped, commander.” The Endeavor’s pilot announced.

“Propulsion is offline.” The helmsman added.

“Commander;” The voice of the chief engineer reported; “We’ve begun losing power on the lower decks!”

            Brooks’ eyes went wide momentarily, and then narrowed suspiciously. “Which decks, exactly?” He asked.

“36 through 42.” Engineering answered.

“The detention level.” Brooks growled.

“Affirmative.” His security officer reported. “Brig shields are down. We’re getting reports of weapons fire and physical confrontations on deck 35, deck 33…” A moment later, he added: “Deck 30. Deck 28, deck 24, deck 22, deck 20.”

“Who’s the assailant?” Brooks wondered as the security officer continued reading off the list.

“Unknown, Commander. Cameras must be malfunctioning.”
“Why?” Even as he asked that question, a surveillance image was projected on the forward view screen in front of them. It was a still capture showing a dark blur moving down a hallway. “Is this the best they can do?” Brooks asked, wondering if there was smudge of some kind on the camera.

“Negative, Commander.” The security officer replied. “Every image is identical.” Images flashed on the screen, video this time. They showed men dressed in the uniforms of Imperial security standing in the middle of a corridor, aiming their weapons at a closed door. The doors read “Deck 12”. The doors opened and closed, and the officers lay crumpled in heaps against the bulkheads.

“What happened?” Brooks demanded. “Did the recording skip somehow?”

“No sir.” The officer responded, rewinding the recording and pausing it just as the doors opened and the guards crumpled.

            Brooks blinked at the screen, which showed a dark blur moving between the soldiers, who were lifted bodily off their feet. “What…was…that?” He murmured, mostly to himself.

“Whatever it is, it’s reached the forward section: Deck 10.”

“You’re with me!” Brooks called to his security officer, looking again at the image. “Let’s go!” He had just noticed something about the blur in the video that he hadn’t before with the still image: The unmistakable glint of the corridor lighting off of long waves of golden hair.

 

            Cox moved with Slaavik and Lessia down the hallway as Jennifer and Krueloe trailed behind, dragging each of the unconscious soldiers they encountered to the lift for transportation back down to the brig. They relieved each soldier of his weapon, lest any of them regain consciousness unexpectedly.

“Your friend Sarah sure made short work of these guards!” Lessia grunted to Cox as they deposited another. “Are you sure she’s really a scientist?”

            Cox said nothing. He had begun to wonder the same thing himself.

            They exited the lift onto deck ten, only to see a man standing in the middle of the hallway, flanked by two unconscious guards.

            Cox tensed as he recognized Commander Brooks.

Brooks appeared to be in no condition to fight, however, as he stood in the corridor in only his socks, shirt and undershorts. He did manage to snarl as Cox approached him casually. “You!” He growled. “You did this to me!”

Cox held up a finger, wagging it back and forth in the air. “You have done that yourself, Sir.” He tisked, sounding like an old British Lord in spite of his prisoner jumpsuit. He stepped up to stand toe to toe to toe with his mirror doppelgänger, their faces so close their noses nearly touched one another.

Brooks’ eyes widened as he for the first time saw the seething rage burning in Cox’s eyes.

“You killed my mother.” Cox said in a low baritone monotone voice. Were it not for the crisp biting edge to his every syllable, Brooks might have suspected Cox was bored. But then the Federation Captain smiled toothlessly, the grin that spread his lips making the coldness of his gaze infinitely more chilling, and there was the glint of a sparkle at the edges of his blue-green eyes. “I’ve been waiting for fourteen hours to do this.” His tone was almost chipper, shocking Brooks so much that he never even saw the tightly-clenched fist that slammed with all of a Valogran’s superhuman strength into the side of his cheek, knocking him instantly unconscious and sending his limp body flying back a full five yards to slide down into a heap against the lift doors at the far end of the corridor. “That was satisfying.” Cox breathed to no one in particular through clenched teeth, shaking his hand in the air.

“Remind me to never piss you off.” Jennifer quipped, patting him on the shoulder before taking Cox’s throbbing hand in both of hers.

“Be sure and give him his own cell.” Cox called as Slaavik carried the unconscious Imperial Commander back to the brig. He caught Lessia looking at him oddly. “Definitely solitary confinement for that one.” He growled, and Slaavik nodded in agreement.

            Leaving Slaavik and Krueloe to taker care of the deck in between; Cox, Lessia and Jennifer took the lift directly up to the Endeavor’s bridge. The bridge of the Endeavor closely resembled that of the Equinox. What Cox guessed had been the bridge crew, stripped to their socks and underwear, were stacked in piles near the lift as they exited.

Sarah was waiting for them with her mother beside her. Just before leaving the detention level, Sarah had shed her prisoner jumpsuit, revealing that the mysterious black material that had coated her wrist was actually part of a similarly skin-hugging suit that covered her whole body.

“The ship is ours, captain!” Hera announced, Sarah, Jennifer and Lessia all applauded, sounding like a crowd of many more people, as Cox descended the steps from the lift to the deck.

            Painfully conscientious of the penetrating gaze of his godmother upon him, and therefore taking deliberate care as to where his fingers brushed, Cox wrapped Sarah in his arms in a familial embrace. “Thanks.” He smiled close into her ear. “I needed that.”

            Sarah returned his hug, pulling him close compassionately. “I thought you might.” Her voice in his head replied. She nodded, locking eyes with him as they parted, indicating that she had deliberately left Brooks for Cox to cathartically take care of.

Sarah gestured with a flourish to the captain’s chair in the center of the bridge. “The chair is yours, Will.” She said aloud. It was not until he sat in the center chair on the Endeavor’s bridge that Cox realized that he had never actually gotten the chance to sit in one on the bridge of the Equinox.

“Computer.” Sarah called. “Progress report.”
“I am now in complete control of all ship’s systems.” Archie reported in Orion’s voice.

Sarah nodded with a pleased smile. “Transfer all command to Captain William Cox of the Unified Federated Star Systems.”
“Transaction requires double authorization.” Orion’s voice prompted.

“This is Doctor Sarah Wells.” Sarah said. “Authorization: Connor Nine-seven-two-zero-two.”

“This is Doctor Hera Day, authorization: twelve Juno three six five.”

“Voice prints acknowledged.” Orion’s voice said. “Codes accepted.” A moment later, Sarah’s voice returned: “Starship designation changed to Unified Federated Star Systems flagship U.S.S. Endeavor. You are in command now, Captain Cox.”

“So where are we off to first, Captain?” Jennifer asked from behind him.

            Cox had an irresistible urge to quote the line from the early twentieth century Scottish baronet: “Second star to the right and straight on until morning.” However, even as he opened hos mouth to reply, the world seemed to tilt at an angle, and he was thrown from the chair, colliding with Sarah, who had been standing in front of him, and landing atop her on the floor of the deck. “What in the worlds was that?” He asked as he scrambled off of her and to his feet, a feat made all that more challenging by the fact that the deck continued tilting at crazy angles.”
“Multiple massive electromagnetic energy discharges, deck twenty.” In the confusion, Cox could not be certain if it had been the computer system or Sarah who had spoken, nor did it concern him.

His internal gyroscope acclimating to the tilting deck around him, he spun to Jennifer. “Deck twenty?” He demanded. “What’s there?”

“Nothing. Just…” He saw he eyes go wide with panic as she looked straight through him to the ship schematic displayed on the monitor behind him. “Oh goddesses!” She was already moving toward the lift even before she had fully turned herself around. “It’s the shuttle bay!”

“Cox to Slaavik!” He shouted as he ran to join her in the lift, followed by Lessia and Sarah.

“Here, Captain.” Slaavik’s voice echoed in the lift.

“Meet us on deck twenty, in the corridor outside the shuttle bay.”

“Acknowledged.” Slaavik confirmed.

            The lift stopped at deck twenty but the doors did not open. Sarah stepped forward and pried them open just enough for them to pass through single file one at a time. Hansen whistled softly, and Cox felt his jaw go slack at the sight before them. The bulkheads that lined either side of the corridor had been bent outward like the sides of an aluminum can pried apart by the hands of a claustrophobic giant.

“Whatever did this it moved this way.” Sarah noted, pointing, and Cox nodded, also having noticed the definite directionality to the twisted metal.

            They arrived at one end of the corridor on which the docking hangar was located and saw Slaavik appear at the other end. Whatever it was they were chasing was coming along the corridor between them. Both ducked away as the ceiling of the hallway was brought down as the walls were blasted outward.

            Cox lowered his hand from his face in time to see, to his astonishment, the figure of a girl of no more than twenty years old step into the corridor.

The balls of neon blue light that surrounded her gloved fists, held to either side of her, emanated bubbles of rippling air that blew her long flowing jet-black hair around her head like a whirlwind. The lights in the corridor blinked out, but the flashes from the sparks emanating from the girl’s hands illuminated her mother-of-pearl eyes as she turned toward Cox.

Cox saw her eyes widen as she lowered her hands, the balls of light fading and the overhead lights flickering back to life. No sooner had the whirlwind died and her hair dropped over her shoulders than the girl came hurtling at Cox’s group, her hair flying behind her as she ran. It was immediately made clear, however, that he was not her target.

“Jenny!” The girl squealed in delight, and Cox recognized something familiar about her voice. The girl impacted Jennifer and wrapped her arms around her neck. “Thank the goddesses!” The girl’s voice choked with sobs of joy.

            Jennifer very carefully reached up to disentangle herself from the girl’s arms. “I don’t know you.” She said slowly, looking the girl in the eyes. “Should I?”

            The girl’s shoulders slumped and her expression was crestfallen. “Jenny!” She searched Hansen’s face for a hint of recognition that wasn’t there. “It’s me, Sis. It’s Casey.”

            This time it was Jennifer’s turn to go wide-eyed and slack-jawed, as she and Cox both recognized the girl’s face and voice in the same instant. “Cassandra?” Jennifer’s voice was an incredulous whisper.

The girl nodded, smiling through her tears, as she swallowed a sob like a lump in her throat.

“Last time I saw you;” Cox said, as much to himself as to the girl as his mind still raced to catch up with his eyes and ears; “You were a twelve-year-old girl.”

Casey nodded, averting her eyes to not meet his. “Last thing I remember, I was.”

“How old are you now?” Jennifer asked reflexively, her gaze fixed on the sight of her younger sister’s breasts.

            Casey, too, looked down at her own body as she shrugged. “Eighteen, at least;” She shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, her fingers fidgeting behind her back as she again averted her eyes; “I hope.” She added under her breath.

            Jennifer seemed to know what her sister meant by this, and her eyes darted between Cassandra’s legs.

When he saw this, Cox too understood the meaning of the girl’s worlds and felt his heart sink, empathetically mourning the loss of innocence the sweet little child he had met that morning had suffered in the time since they had been apart. He understood also now why Jennifer’s gaze had initially been so focused on her sister’s breasts. They were as clear an indicator as any that her baby sister had grown up and come of age, a process her older sibling was only now coming to grips with the knowledge she would never get to witness.

Cassandra’s gaze, however, was on Sarah, her eyes wide. “Nice outfit.”

Sarah was looking at Cassandra, in turn, appraisingly. “Yours isn’t shabby, yourself.”

Cassandra ran her hands over the closely form-fitting jumpsuit with its low scoop neckline. “You really like it?”

“As a matter of fact I do!” Sarah said admiringly with a wide-eyed smile.

“What happened to you?” Jennifer asked.

            Casey shrugged. “Last thing I remembered, Kassey was taking Jenny and I to the shuttle.”

Jennifer nodded, indicating she remembered the same thing the same way. “Then everything went white.” The two sisters said in chorus, nodding.

“The next thing I knew, a man was cuffing my hands behind my back.” She looked at Cox. “I thought it was you, Captain.” Cox nodded, knowing that the man she was referring to must have been his mirror doppelgänger. “That’s how I discovered that I all of a sudden had these.” Both Cox and Sarah tried their very hardest not to grin as the girl reached up to cup her breasts in her hands as though weighing them.

“And the…” Jennifer trailed off, her voice still hoarse, as she gestured to her sister’s figure hugging suit. Casey shrugged her shoulders again. “I was wearing it when I woke up.”

            Cox, however, had a different question. “The man;” He persisted; “The one who cuffed you.” Casey nodded. “Did you see his face?” Casey’s eyes were drawn to his Valogran brow ridges, indicating she knew why he asked this, but she shook her head. “Not at first. No.” “Then how did you figure out it wasn’t me?” Jennifer was glaring at him, as though he had insulted her sister’s intelligence.

            Cassandra again averted her eyes, this time demurely, as though the answer embarrassed her, and Cox was reminded that in spite of her very grown-up appearance, he was dealing with a twelve-year-old girl. “I know that I hardly know you;” Casey began; “And that we’ve only met once.” She surprised him by straightening; her hands clasped behind her, and looked him directly in the eye. “Nevertheless, Captain, whether because of the responsibilities of the command entrusted to you or because of your illustrious family’s storied heritage, I believe you to be an honest and honorable man, Sir.” Even Jennifer was at a loss for words, slack-jawed at suddenly hearing the twelve-year-old baby sister she knew speak as though she had stepped directly from the pages of William Shakespeare’s King Henry the Fifth. Just as quickly, Cassandra turned away, closing her eyes. “The way he looked at me.” She shuddered at the memory, reaching up again to run her fingers over her breasts. “The way he touched me.”

            Jennifer’s voice caught in her throat as though she had to force the words out reluctantly. “He didn’t…” As though afraid to gesture to her sister, she indicated the region between her own legs. “Did he?”

            Casey shook her head. “He didn’t yet. He never got the chance. I know he wanted to, though. I’m sure it was on his to-do list, if not at the top.”

            All of the women present looked appalled, but something Cassandra had said caught the Captain’s interest.

“When you said that you knew what he was planning.” He clarified. “What did you mean by that?”

            Cassandra looked from face to face, each now asking her the same question. “Did I not tell you?” Everyone present shook his or her heads. Casey shrugged. “Ever since I woke up in the shuttle, I’ve been able to hear other people’s thoughts.”

            Cox felt himself blush at learning that the girl had overheard what she was thinking when he had first seen her outfit, which he knew had not been thoughts fit for one so young. However, he noted that Cassandra was gazing intently at Sarah as she spoke, as though whatever was inside the blonde alien’s mind was captivating her interest far more than any of the rest of them. He also saw that Sarah had the same retrospectively self-conscientious expression on her face as he did. On an impulse, he too tried to hear what she was thinking, and was jarred when Cassandra’s gaze immediately shifted to him. ‘It made sense;’ He thought; ‘That a telepath could sense the presence of other telepaths.’

“You all know something I don’t.” She said, her eyes narrowing. “What happened to me?”

            Cox gestured to Slaavik, and Casey turned. They listened together as Slaavik explained to the child, in the simplest possible terms, her working hypothesis concerning the different universes. Cassandra remained silent throughout the presentation. When Slaavik had finished, the girl thought for only a moment before speaking.

“So who am I in this universe, then?” She asked.

            Cox nodded. It was a perfectly valid question, and certainly one that a twelve-year-old would be liable to ask.

“Let’s go find out, shall we?” Sarah invited, and Casey nodded enthusiastically. She held her sister’s hand as they made their way back toward the lift. On the way back to the bridge, Sarah explained to the girl about Archie and their takeover of the Endeavor. Casey seemed pleased that their coup had been relatively nonviolent and bloodless. To everyone’s surprise that had witnessed her actions, Sarah deferred all credit for engineering and executing the plan to Cox.

            Only minutes after setting foot on the bridge, Casey got straight to the point. “Computer;” She called; “Display all database references to me on the main view screen.” She froze as an oscillating beam scanned up and down her body.

“Requested files are restricted as a matter of Imperial security.” Sarah’s voice warned. Cox and Sarah looked at each other, wondering anew who the teenager was.

“Archimedes.” Sarah said. “This is Special Agent Sarah Wells of the National Security Department Intelligence Agency, codename: Walker, clearance level six. Declassify all Imperial database files on my authorization.”

“Special Agent Walker recognized.” Archie said in Orion’s voice. “Displaying all files for Cassandra Harper.” Jennifer startle at the last name, recognizing it as being the same as that of the woman who had processed them in Paris.

They were all even more startled when the very first page to be displayed was what looked like a modern digital version of an old-fashioned “Wanted” poster. The text below the smiling picture of an eighteen year old with mother-of-pearl eyes and jet-black hair detailed Harper’s status as being near the top of the Empire’s list of most wanted criminals. The precise data concerning her height and measurements left little or no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was the same girl they had encountered in the corridor. The next several documents scrolled past, listing the numerous and various crimes that Harper was suspected of. While some, such as the robbing of a number of banks and museums, were certainly plausible, others were clearly trumped up by the Imperials.

Cox nearly jumped in the air as Jennifer beside him suddenly emitted an ear-piercing shriek of outrage.

Before he could stop her, she reached down and wrenched off one of her steel-toed boots and was preparing to throw it at the screen when Sarah reached out, pinching the side of Jennifer’s clavicle where her shoulder joined the side of her neck between her thumb and pointer finger. As Jennifer fell unconscious to the floor, Cox looked up and saw the screen frozen on the last charge on the list.

He understood immediately why the sight of it had prompted such a reaction from the girl’s overprotective older sibling. The headline on the document read one word; one of the oldest words in civilization and still one of the most inflammatory: “Prostitution”.

 

Cox entered the room to one side of the bridge to find a finely appointed stateroom. ‘The Captain’s ready-room.’ He guessed. He was just running those words over in his mind, trying to remember where he had heard them before when a melodious feminine voice sounded from behind him.

“What took you so long, Master?”

            Cox spun around to see that the doors to the neighboring room had opened, revealing what he immediately assessed to be the Captain’s personal quarters.

Oddly, the centerpiece of the room appeared to be a large tub, now filled with steaming and bubbling water like a combination bubble bath and Jacuzzi. The voice had come from a redheaded woman who gazed out at him through the steam. Though she was submerged up to her waist, soapy suds covering her upper torso, Cox harbored no doubts that she was naked.

He recognized her immediately from the landing bay. “Meg!” Just as quickly as a look of puzzlement began to form on her face, he remembered what his mirror had called her. “I mean, Maggie!”

“You’re missing your bath, Master.” Meagierthiea said, standing, the bubbles dripping from her anatomy, and Cox found it required great focus and concentration on his part to keep his eyes on her face.

She really is very beautiful.’ He thought to himself, chancing a momentary glance further down. He found himself wondering in that moment whether she was some sort of special model or whether all androids in this Empire were engineered to be so flawless. Finding these thoughts drawing him toward being tempted into joining her in the tub, he recalcitrantly quashed them. However, he did find himself moving step by step closer to the tub and the nude woman in it.

“You’re still much too dressed.” Maggie smiled playfully as she mercifully sank back into the water.

In an effort to distract him from what he had seen of her body, Cox instead marveled that even now, mostly submerged in the steaming soapy water, the android still showed no signs of either short-circuiting or rusting. As he approached closer, Maggie startled him by reaching out and pulling him toward her, wrapping her arms around him and mashing her mouth against his.

She was, unsurprisingly, an expert kisser, and just as Cox felt his knees beginning to weaken, he was saved by the sound of Slaavik’s voice over the communications system. “Slaavik to Captain Cox.”

Cox tried to push his hands against the side of the tub, but his palms slipped on the wet material and so he ended up with his hands pressed against the android’s chest. His touch had the desired effect, however, and Maggie released his mouth from her kiss. Cox cleared his throat before speaking. “Cox here.” He said, his hoarse voice clearing as Maggie withdrew her arms from around him to place his hands over his atop her breasts. “What’s come up?”

“It’d be easier for you to see for yourself, Will.” It was Hera’s voice.

            With that, Cox jerked his hands out from under Maggie’s, pulling them back as though the androids breasts were a scalding stovetop. “Acknowledged.” He said in rush before severing the communications link. An idea had just occurred to him. “Archie, this is Captain William cox of the Federation Starship Endeavor.” He called.

“This is Archie, Captain.” Sarah’s voice replied.

            Maggie reached down to cup his behind in her wet, soap-covered hands. “Who is that?” She asked, leaning close into his ear. “Another woman?”

Cox jerked his head away to stare at her, wondering at the marvel that an android could so convincingly mimic the very human emotion of jealousy. “Archie, do you have a record of an android by the name of Meagierthiea having served aboard the starship Equinox?”

“Affirmative, Captain.” Sarah’s voice confirmed. “The name was registered to the android avatar of my computer system on board the Equinox.”

Excellent.’ Cox thought. “Do you by chance have the last known positronic programming for the Meagierthiea android avatar in you database?”

            There was a pause, during which Maggie overpowered Cox’s restraining hands to begin kissing the sides of his neck, murmuring obscenely risqué suggestions into his ears.

“Affirmative.” Sarah’s voice confirmed again. “Positronic backup last occurred on the day of the scheduled launch of the U.S.S. Equinox.”

The very same day that he himself had first met Meg.’ Cox thought, fighting through the flood of erotic images the android’s sultry murmur invoked in his mind. “Archie;” He said, pushing Maggie away again, this time with his hands safely on her shoulders; “There is an android in the private quarters off of the Captain’s ready room on the bridge deck of the starship Endeavor. Can you confirm?”

This was done in part to reassure himself that the very lifelike flesh upon which his fingers now rested did indeed belong to a machine.

“Presence of female android in Captain’s private quarters confirmed. Identity: Personal pleasure robot of Commander William Brooks of the Imperial Fleet.”

That explained a lot.’ Cox thought, having wondered why Maggie was being so outrageously assertive in her blatant attempt to seduce him. “Archie, you previously overrode the Endeavor’s computer system, identity: Andromeda.” He said, remembering their exchange in the brig cell.

“Affirmative, Captain.” Sarah’s voice acknowledged.

“Are you able to overwrite Commander Brooks’ personal pleasure robot with the most recent backup of the programming of the android avatar Meagierthiea?”

“Affirmative. Procedure is possible with Command authorization.”

            Cox looked at Maggie. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He promised her, doing his best to sound as sincere as he could.

“Hurry back.” Maggie leaned back in the tub, her breasts floating on the surface buoyantly.

“In the meantime;” Cox kept his eyes averted by moving around behind her; “You just close your eyes and relax.” He placed his hands on her shoulders, helping her lay back.

“Mmm.” The android moaned. “You know just how to press all the right buttons to turn me on.”

            Cox grinned at hearing a machine talk about the pressing of buttons. “Just let your mind go blank.” He said to her soothingly. “Archie;” He called as he turned away from her; “Begin overwrite of Meagierthiea android avatar now. Authorization: Captain William Cox of the Federation starship U.S.S. Endeavor.”

“Positronic override in progress.” Archie said as Cox exited the ready room.

“Computer;” He said as he stepped onto the bridge and into the lift; “Locate Doctor Hera Day.”

“Director Day is on deck twenty, hangar bay.”

 

“What do we have here?” Cox asked as he entered the hangar, looking up at the vessel that towered in its center.

            Smaller than the Equinox, its front was curved upward sharply just like the prow of an old-fashioned cruise liner. Even its bridge section rose above its otherwise flat top like the upper decks of a tanker.

“That;” Jennifer said, coming toward him from around the ship’s towering prow; “Is the Voyager.” Cox looked at her curiously, and she elaborated. “Commander Brooks’ personal luxury yacht.”

A luxury yacht, and a pleasure robot to go with it.’ Cox was growing to thoroughly dislike the kind of person his mirror was in this universe.

“That’s not what we wanted to show you.” Sarah said from beside Jennifer, beckoning him over to one of the walls of the hangar that Cassandra had blasted open.

He saw Slaavik and Hera gathered around a two-meter-long cylindrical object that rested atop the upturned fallen hangar bay light panels on the floor of the deck. His first assumption was that he was looking at a torpedo, but then the two women parted as he approached, and Cox’s eyes went wide, his breath catching in his throat at what they revealed.

The cylinder was composed entirely out of solid crystalline glass. With the light form the upturned panels shining through it, there was no mistaking that the solid object embedded inside the crystal was a humanoid body. As if that was not enough to make his heart skip a beat, as he stepped up to stand between Slaavik and Hera beside the crystal casket, he raised his gaze to the face of the woman inside, and his godmother caught him as he suddenly felt faint and his knees went weak.

 

 
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