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.”
“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.