June 20, 2196
‘He moved through the water like a cetacean. Skimming over the shallow bottom, his chest inches up off the sandy sediment, he maneuvered around anemones and sea fans like an Olympic gymnast acrobat in a stunt driving obstacle course. As he neared a coral outcropping, a sandstone overhang rose up only yards in front of him. With practiced ease, he arched his body and sailed up and over the rounded mound of dome-like structures, his knees and elbows mere millimeters away from grazing against the razor-sharp branches, like claw-fingered talons stretching up and outward toward him. He passed safely by the outcropping, swimming much nearer to the water’s surface, heedless and oblivious to the waves breaking over the sandstone ledge below him, sweeping over just above his head. He flipped his body around to turn, facing the clear water’s surface and gazing up at the bright summer noontime sunlight, almost blindingly brilliant even filtered through the crystalline waters. He closed his eyes as he stretched out his body as though to soak up as much of what glimmers of sunlight filtered through the water as possible.
When he opened his eyes, however, suddenly the sunlight was no longer filtered. The water around him was gone. His upturned face was bathed in the brilliance and warmth of the Southern California sun. Performing another barrel roll he looked down to see gently rolling hills, the foothills of the neighboring Sierra Nevada Mountains to the East, covered in towering green evergreen trees. Lifting his head as his extended body continued its forward motion, up ahead of him he could make out the towering downtown skyscrapers of the city of Los Angeles. He felt no unease, and indeed no great surprise, to be hovering a couple of hundred meters above the ground. To him this seemed nothing out of the ordinary.
He was so thoroughly enjoying himself weaving in sweeping arcs in and out between the glass windows of the city towers that it took him that much longer a delay to come to the realization that nothing he was seeing existed. He felt at peace with what he was experiencing to the extent that the only thing that jarred him out of his comfort was an unbidden recollection from his North American history classes at the Academy: All of what had been the Southern half of the state of California, South of the Academy Headquarters in San Francisco and West of the Sierra Nevadas, had been submerged beneath a couple hundred meters of the Pacific Ocean by an earthquake along the San Andreas fault. This had occurred a couple of decades before he was even born, and the cognition that the city and green-forested hills he was seeing were a thing of the past was what began the gradual process of dragging him back to Earth and out of his fantasy.’
William Cox awoke from his dream he had been having at the feeling of a familiar touch on his mind, an instant before the sunlight filtering through his closed eyelids was blocked out by a shadow falling over him.
The first thing he saw upon opening his eyes would have easily convinced most other men that they either were, in fact, still dreaming or had died and woken up in heaven. Backlit by the brilliant sunlight and swirled around in the ocean breeze, the woman’s golden hair gave the appearance of a halo as it seemed to absorb the sun’s light before reflecting it back even brighter than before. The face framed by the halo of golden hair was angelic, particularly now with the good-humoredly bemused smile that spread her lips to unveil pearlescent white teeth.
“Hello again, Will.” The woman greeted him.
Most men would have choked on the lump in their throats, but Cox merely returned her smile with his best attempt at a dashingly roguish half-grin.
“Hello, Sarah.” He greeted her smoothly, in the highborn English accent he had inherited from his paternal great-grandfather Jeremy. “And to what do I owe the pleasure of your company on this gorgeous day?” As he spoke, in spite of his best efforts to maintain eye contact with her, he found that he could not help his gaze being drawn downward to discover that that she was appropriately dressed in a form-fitting one-piece swimsuit that hugged lovingly to what most human women would regard as an enviably curvaceous figure, leaving daringly few of its curves to the viewer’s imagination to fill in.
“My mother sent me;” Cox rolled his eyes; knowing all too well what it meant if Sarah’s mother, his godmother, was involved; “On an errand from your parents.” In spite of her face being cast in shadow by the sun behind her, Cox saw her eyes light up and glow visibly as she spoke.
“This can only mean good news!” He quipped laconically, propping himself up on his elbows.
“Actually;” She said, her smile broadening as she dropped down to lay on the sand beside him; “In this case, it is.”
Cox considered this for a moment. He decided it made a certain amount of sense: Both his godmother Hera and his mother Cimarra preferred to deliver bad tidings in person. Sarah being here instead should have been his first clue that there was nothing to fear. “Did my final grades from the Command Course at the Academy come in yet?” He guessed.
Sarah nodded. “They did, actually. But that’s only part of why I am here.”
Knowing all too well from his childhood growing up how dearly both Sarah and her mother reveled in guessing games of all kinds, Cox decided to quit while he was ahead by putting an end to the questioning. “Why exactly are you here?”
“I suppose;” Sarah sighed as she turned onto her side, the side of her head on one hand; “You could say that, on this particular day, I’m in the business of delivering a summons of sorts.”
“To where?” Cox asked, perhaps a bit more curtly than he had intended, not being able to recall having been summoned by his parents since he entered the Academy years ago.
“Paris.” Sarah answered, turning her face away from him and closing her eyes as she absorbed the sunlight.
Cox’s interest was peaked, not having been to the Federation’s capitol city since he was a child. “For what?”
Sarah must have noted the change in his tone, because her eyes darted sideways to look at him, her smile reappearing. “A ceremony, hosted by the President himself, himself, in your honor.”
Cox lay back, thinking that it must be quite the celebration in order to warrant an appearance form the President, his uncle on his father’s side. “I can’t imagine anything I’ve done recently that anyone might want to honor me for…” He trailed off as his compatriot turned to him and smiled enigmatically, the glow in her eyes revealing even less.
Sarah Wells observed William Cox carefully as they left the Oceanside beach, on what had once been the border between the states of California and Nevada, and climbed into the private car she had taken there for the ride back East. It was so rare to see the prodigy since childhood even surprised by any news, much less for him to be stunned into sustained wide-eyed speechlessness by it as he was now. She could not help but smile to herself as they took turns changing out of their swimsuits and into the tricolored tunics that were the formal dress uniforms amongst the Federation’s star fleet in the rear cabin of the car.
The very first thing she had noticed when she saw Cox on the beach was the fact that he appeared to be floating, hovering several inches above the beach towel spread out beneath him. However, the even rising and falling of his chest had indicated to her that he was dreaming, and was therefore most likely unaware that he was no longer lying on the beach.
Her assignment, given to her by her mother, since she was very young had been to help him by keeping the superhuman abilities he had inherited from his alien mother, and his use thereof, in check. As such, she had sought to intervene in the dream that he was having in as subtle a way as she could manage, entering his thoughts with her mind only just long enough to remind him that whatever it was he was experiencing was not real. Her mental nudge had succeeded in bringing him back down to Earth, both literally and figuratively, and what prompted her to smile now was remembering how her had rubbed his back, evidently somewhat bruised by its abrupt impact with the sand, as they had gotten up from the beach.
It had been clear almost from the time he was born that it would be a nearly impossible herculean feat to prevent the boy from discovering at least some of what distinguished him from his human peers as he grew up.
‘But;’ She thought, buttoning her tunic; “Though he had inevitably discovered many of the extraordinary abilities that his mind possessed, others, such as the telekinesis he had subconsciously displayed on the beach, both her mother and her agreed, it would be best for everyone if he was kept from discovering for as long as possible.’
Their car arrived at the Groom Lake airfield, only several dozen miles from what had once been the thriving metropolis of Las Vegas, and a tall regal-looking woman greeted them. Like her daughter Sarah, Hera Day had long golden hair, ethereal features and a similarly lithe and slender form. She greeted her daughter and embraced her godson. Unlike both, Hera was not an officer in the star fleet, and so did not a bifurcated-patterned tunic like her daughter’s. Instead, cox saw, she was already dressed for the formal ceremony at the capitol in a long flowing gown of shimmering gold that matched and blended, nearly to the point of perfection, with the color of her long hair.
Already seated on the shuttle waiting for them when they boarded was a muscularly well-built older man who shared Cox’s dark brown hair and blue-green eyes, and was dressed in a similarly colored tunic. Jarek Brooks-Janney rose from his seat to warmly embrace his son before they all strapped in for the flight to Paris.
At a pleading look from her daughter, Hera relented to allowing Sarah to pilot the shuttle personally, and the younger woman wasted no time in taking over the mostly-disused cockpit.
Cox did not finish processing all of the various implications of the news that Sarah had shared with him, and visibly recover from his stunned state, until he was jolted awake by her voice blaring over the passenger compartment’s intercommunications loudspeakers that they had arrived in Paris, France. He opened his eyes and leaned forward in his seat to gaze out the cabin portal window, watching as the shuttle was already rounding, in a wide sweeping circle, the towering framework structure that was by far the tallest in the city.
The colossal pyramidal spire had been erected nearly a century and a half by his paternal great-grandmother Katherine, founder and first President of the Federation, to commemorate the one billion human lives that had been lost in the ecological calamity a century before Cox had been born that had forced the nations of the planet to form the very first iteration of the Federation. It was composed primarily of an amalgamation of a number of different structures from the mid twenty-first century world as it had been before the great storms: the steel scaffolding of Paris’ own Eiffel Tower, which had preceded it on the very same spot, now built around the megalithic sandstone and granite obelisk that had stood in North America’s capitol city of Washington, itself a monument to the same man who had founded the city named after him.
The transport shuttle swept in low over the River Seine, its propulsion engines parting the river to either side behind it in its wake as it passed. Cox barley glimpsed their destination, the former royal imperial palace and art museum known as the Louvre, before the world outside his window was enveloped in blue as the sleek craft plunged under the waters of the river, making another sweeping turn to enter the underwater docking bay of the palace where the ceremony was to take place. Sarah did a typically impressive job touching the shuttle down feather-light, and the four of them were ushered discreetly into the subterranean foyer that served as the famous museum’s main entrance, away from the crowds between the two glass pyramids that stood like silent postmodern abstract sentinels that dominated the courtyard above.
Hovering above the pyramidal capstone that jutted from the parquet floor and formed the centerpiece of the underground foyer was a three-dimensional holographic display upon which they could watch the proceedings above as they awaited their respective entrance cues.
“Ladies and gentlemen of Unified Confederated Star Systems;” A noticeably pre-recorded voice that Cox was only moderately surprised to recognize as being that of his godmother beside him boomed from speakers placed along the encircling walls of the palatial building, its refined upper-class British accent all but lost as it echoed across the waters of the neighboring river; “Please give a warm welcome to the mother and father of our guest of honor for tonight.” Cox’s ears perked up as he listened intently to hear his parents’ names announced to the assembled crowd. “Presenting Admiral Jarek Brooks-Janney the Second, former commanding officer of the Federation’s flagship, the USS Enterprise; and her Royal Highness, Cimarra Cox, Queen of Valogra Prime.” On the display William watched his father appear onstage to loving embrace his regal-looking alien wife, who had aged just as gracefully as Hera, with a kiss as she swept into the palace courtyard decked out in all the finery of her home world’s royal aristocracy. The eruption of thunderous applause gradually died down as the two both took their seats directly in front of the stage in the front row.
“Citizens of the Federation;” The voice repeated; “Please rise to stand in welcoming the President of the Unified Confederated Star Systems, Jeremy Brooks-Janney the Second, escorted by Fleet Admiral Annika Hansen, Commander In Chief of the Star Fleet.” The square erupted in cheers as Cox’s uncle Jeremy, a tall older man with black hair several shades darker than his older brother’s or his nephew’s, appeared on the stage on the arm of a lithe, slender woman with her otherwise shoulder-length yellow blonde hair done up in a tightly-woven curl at the crown of her head. The woman released the President’s arm and marched rigidly down from the stage to her seat as he took the podium.
“My fellow citizens of Earth;” The President took over the announcing from the recording of Hera’s voice; “And invited dignitaries from the other founding charter worlds;” He made a show of acknowledging the Valogran Queen in particular; “Today is yet another extraordinarily proud and momentous day in the long and storied legacy of the family that founded this Federation more than a century ago.” Cox could not tell whether his uncle was speaking impromptu or reading verbatim off of pre-prepared and memorized remarks. “In the spirit of all of those other joyous occasions;” The Federation President continued; “I have summoned these people before us here today in order for them to witness what is truly a momentous occasion. Without any further delay, I hope you will join us all in welcoming the guest of honor for tonight’s festivities. A recent graduate of the Star Fleet’s Academy in San Francisco; and a young man who I am, and always will be, incredibly pleased and proud to call my favorite nephew;” The pride evident in his voice was visibly reflected in the faces of William’s parents; “Commander William Jefferson Cox, escorted by Colonel Sarah Wells.”
That was his cue, and Cox held out his elbow, and Sarah slid her arm through it as they ascended the spiraling staircase from the underground foyer to emerge from underneath the glass pyramid. Though not having been officially introduced, Hera followed behind them, splitting off as they reached ground level to take her seat beside Cox’s Valogran mother, who rose from her seat to take her son’s face in her hands to plant kisses on both of his cheeks and his forehead amidst a torrential wave of deafening thunderous applause and cheers from the assembled crowd that, he now saw, stretched all of the way to the colossal memorial in the distance. Sarah turned to take a seat next to her mother as Cox received a restrained congratulatory handshake from Slaavik Khan, a Valogran like his mother and the Queen’s military advisor. Cimarra held onto her son’s hand until Cox turned to ascend the steps to the stage, before hugging her husband as they boy sat back down.
Cox knew from the contortions twisting the Valogran Queen’s face that, were she human, tears of happiness and joy would be welling up in her eyes. He stood straight at attention as he reached the podium and saluted the Federation President.
His uncle returned the salute. “Commander William Cox;” He said, still facing his nephew but loud enough to be picked up by the microphone on the podium; “I know from my own personal experience that you are not one to stand for much formality in ceremony.” He winked at the younger man, referring to Cox’s well-renown iconoclastic contrarian tendencies at the Academy. “You have set a record for record-breaking academic achievements that is unlikely to be broken anytime in the foreseeable future;” The eruption of applause that began was interrupted as the President good-naturedly turned to the crowd; “The fact that many of the records you were braking were your own notwithstanding.” There was a rumble of laughter from the front of the crowd, and Cox turned to see both his parents and godmother beaming proudly. “You are precisely the sort of officer that Doctor Jeremy Brooks, my grandfather, had in mind when he founded the Star Fleet’s Academy nearly three quarters of a century ago.” Cox could see, out of the corner of his periphery, his father Jarek, also Jeremy Brooks’ grandson like his brother, nodding his head in agreement. “It is therefore my honor, as President of the Unified Confederated Star Systems;” He held out his hand and Mara Kirkland, his Chief of Staff, who, Cox had not been able to help himself but notice, had been gazing at the new Captain like a teenager with high school crush; handed him a crystal container from which he withdrew polished golden buttons; “To grant to you a full commission of the rank of Captain;” He reached up to affix the buttons to the breast pocket of Cox’s uniform as he spoke; “With all of the responsibilities and privileges thereof, including something that you have repeatedly, time and again, demonstrated both to me personally, and to the worlds of the Federation, is something for which you have an uncanny ability and proficiency.” He let the moment of suspense and tensions hang in the air, his voice still echoing out of the loud speakers along the Seine. “The command of your very own starship.” He said finally, after what seemed to be a small but interminable eternity. An audible gasp rippled forward from the back of the crowd, followed almost immediately by an eruption of applause.
Cox could see that his uncle was displaying similar restraint as his mother’s Valogran advisor as Jeremy reached out to clasp William’s hand in his and shake it firmly with a tightly forced smile. “Grandma Kate would be so very proud of you.” His uncle told him. Cox nodded in acknowledgement of the fact that, unlike himself, his uncle had actually known the last President of the United States of America before she had finally passed away from natural causes of old age only a few years after Cox had been born, shortly following the first centennial anniversary of the Founding of the Federation, and what was commonly referred to as First Contact, with a Valogran starship landing on the very same courtyard in which they stood.
The President finished attaching medallions from the crystal case to Cox’s tunic, handing the empty box back to his Chief of Staff, before reaching out to clasp William’s hand in his and shaking it firmly. “Congratulations Commander, or should I say, Captain Cox.” He announced, emphasizing Will’s new title.
Then, giving in somewhat to emotion, he pulled his nephew in by their clasped hands for a familial embrace, an uncharacteristically un-Presidential gesture that was greeted by even more thunderous applause.
‘Apparently;’ Cox thought as he hugged Jeremy in return, and they were joined onstage by his mother and father; ‘People quite enjoyed seeing this all-too human side of their President: His love for his family.’
This was confirmed as the applause continued unabated, with some audience members even standing, when the President released Cox and turned around to similarly embrace his brother. Having no children of his own, Cox knew, Jeremy had always followed his career from a very early age through the Academy with a great deal of intense interest, like a second father at a distance. Cox himself had often wondered growing up how both the particular course that his life had taken and the lifestyle he chose to live might be different had he been born to Jeremy as his father instead of his older brother Jarek.
As they lifted off, Cox noted that the ornately-appointed passenger compartment of the Federation President’s private Executive transport shuttle he was now seated in made the shuttles that he had done his flight piloting training in at the Academy seem for all the worlds like rickety old barges by comparison. The gravitational forces they felt, even as Cox watched out the window the sky outside turn from the blue of sky to the blazing white of the ionosphere and ozone, were practically zero, the craft outfitted with the latest and best inertial dampeners credits could buy. Likewise, the inertia felt by the passengers as the blue of sky outside faded into the blackness of space and they passed into the weightless zero-gravity environment of low Earth orbit was imperceptible enough to allow some among them to remain standing throughout their entire ascent, a testament to the miniaturization technology that had permitted artificial gravity deck plating to be built into even craft as small as a shuttle just within the past couple of decades.
The President himself sat in the front with his brother and sister-in-law, while his nephew and their son had taken a seat in the rear of the shuttle. Minutes after exiting Earth’s ionosphere, they were approaching the orbital shipyard’s outer space dry-docks when all those, including Cox, looking out the windows of the shuttle were momentarily blinded as by a sudden sunrise as they rounded the curvature of the planet Earth below them.
“There she is.”
As he peered out the portal, at first all he could see was the binding unfiltered light rays from the sun cresting the curvature of the planet. Then, as their eyes adjusted, caught in the glow of the brilliant star, something glinting in the sunlight caught his eye, and drew his gaze to their destination, the sleek and streamlined form that they were approaching.
Cox smiled as he heard even the typically stoic Admiral Hansen give a gasp of surprise, followed by a startled exclamation his ears couldn’t quite make out. His ears also picked up his mother and her advisor Slaavik chattering excitedly back and forth to one another as he recognized as the native language of their Valogran home world of Valogra Prime. The rapidity of the particular dialect they were employing combined with their hushed tones made it difficult for Cox’s mind to translate what they were saying to one another at a distance, but he picked up on words he knew, such as “sleek”, “graceful”, “aerodynamic” and most of all “beautiful”.
The star ship he was looking at certainly was that. It resembled an oblong metal potato being threaded through a glowing ring. The central oblong shape did not so much narrow to a rounded tip at the front as much as it did sweep in gently curving lines outward from front to back. Though it was at its widest at the point that it appeared to intersect the ring, the sides of the horizontally elliptical oval still flared out to either side, forming what Cox surmised to be the vessel’s nacelles. As the potato shape was nearly completely flat on top, backward-swept blades, giving the appearance of either an airplane’s tail or the spoiler of a sports car, attached the upper curve of the ring to it.
His mother was the first to find her voice. “She’s beautiful.”
“She’s the only one of her kind.” Her husband told her. “The first.”
“Could someone please explain just what, exactly, it is that we’re looking at here?” He heard the President comment.
Sarah stood and introduced herself. “Doctor Sarah Wells, head of the Enterprise Starship Program.” Cox nodded, familiar with the space exploration administration started by his great-grandfather Jeremy Brooks shortly after the founding of the Federation which had constructed Earth’s first interstellar vessel, commanded by his father. The President nodded for her to answer his question. “This;” She gestured out the window; “Is the Unified Confederated Star Systems Time Ship U.S.S. Equinox.” She continued before anyone could think to raise his or her hand with a question. “She represents all of the very latest in technological advances from the most brilliant scientific minds of all four founding charter worlds.” She nodded to the two leaders of their respective worlds that were represented: Earth’s President Jeremy and Valogra Prime’s Queen Cimarra; who both beamed proudly. “The Equinox is the very first ship of her kind;” Wells continued; “And, for the moment and the foreseeable future, the only one.”
Just as she finished, the pilot announced that all passengers had to be seated for their touchdown inside the starship’s shuttle bay.
The shuttle landed on the deck, and they stood again after the pilots announced that the air pressure in the shuttle bay had been re-pressurized to one atmosphere; also referred to, especially by those from other worlds, as “Earth normal”: the air pressure experienced at sea level on the planet below them. Then the transport’s doors hiss open with the rush of exchanged air between the two vessels as their respective internal atmospheres mixed, and the boarding and departure ramp folded out to the deck of the hangar bay. Again the light differential between the relatively dark cabin in which they had ridden and the even dimly-lit shuttle bay prompted many among them to raise their hands in front of their faces in order to shield their eyesight from the glare.
However, even within the glow outside the shuttle’s doors Cox could make out a figure standing on the deck at the foot of the ramp awaiting their debarkation, and do so clearly enough to discern that the form in question was undoubtedly feminine. His first clue to her nature, if not her identity, should have in retrospect been the mere fact that she stood unaffected in a hangar that moments earlier had been left depressurized and wide open to the freezing airless vacuum of empty space. The second came as they descended the ramp and he noted from above that the top of her skull appeared to be translucent enough to reveal a constantly-shifting and blinking pattern of brightly-glowing blue and white inside. Her “skin”; which in reality only covered her face, torso and hands; was a thick, rubbery leather, as white as an unpainted canvas.
“You honor me with your presence, Mister President.” The android greeted the small group as they descended the ramp to the deck. She bent her knee joints in the convincing facsimile of a courtly curtsy; looking less so, Cox thought, given her lack of the appropriately feminine clothing, or indeed of any at all for that matter. Cox watched her face form into a genuine-appearing human-like smile; and startled to hear a clearly feminine, melodious woman’s voice, but also one with what he immediately recognized as a Scottish-Irish brogue to it.
Sarah was already in the process of making introductions. “Among Doctor Brooks’ first dreams upon founding the Enterprise Starship Program a hundred and thirty years ago;” She explained; “Was that one day each and every vessel of any kind within the Star Fleet would have on board her what he called, in his writings on the matter, a ship’s “avatar”.”
Cox recognized the ancient Hindi word meaning the humanoid-like embodiment of a deity incarnate, both human and divine, a concept that would later be adopted by the Jews in the Roman-occupied Mediterranean in crafting their myth of what they called in Hebrew the “messiah”, immortal yet capable of self-sacrifice: a god made flesh; or, in this case, a ship.
“He described this as an android or cyborg entity separate and distinct from the artificial intelligence of a ship’s computer.” Sarah was saying. “The purpose of this being creating a…representative for the ship itself that could communicate person-to-person with its captain and crew, yet would also have the capability, unlike the computer’s AI, of leaving the ship altogether if needed elsewhere.” Seeing nods of understanding from all present, she turned to the white-skinned female figure standing beside her on the deck. “This;” She gestured; “Is Meagierthiea, the very first prototype of a ship’s avatar.”
“I prefer Meg.” The android said.
“The Equinox;” Wells concluded; “Is the very first Star Fleet vessel ever to live up to Doctor Brooks’ century-old dream, with both the most sophisticated artificial intelligence computer system in the Federation and…Meg;” She corrected herself, nodding in acknowledgement to the android; “The very latest and best humanoid-like android technology has to offer.”
Meg extended her hand to Cox. “It’s my pleasure to finally meet you, Captain;” She said; “And to be the first to welcome you aboard your very first-ever command.”
Cox turned to his uncle, having been told only that he would be commanding a vessel of some sort. His mouth dropped open, but then no words came. ‘This is the ship they decided to give me command of?’ He thought.
The android, meanwhile, had already moved on. “Welcome aboard the Star Ship U.S.S. Equinox, Mister President.”
“It’s a pleasure to finally see it for myself.”
“It is an honor to host your royal visit, your Majesty.” Meg bowed to Cimarra.
With the introductions complete, the President had a question for the android. “What is the name given to the AI aboard the Equinox?”
Meg needed only a moment. “The computer system of the U.S.S. Equinox is the JonArch 2200, named in honor of its inventor, Star Fleet computer and technology scientist Jonathan Archer.” Cox knew that the computer in question was named years after Archer died when it was discovered he had been the one to build it, since throughout his career the eccentric genius inventor and engineer had operated anonymously under the pseudonym “Orion”. Meg smiled fondly, as though she and the computer were the oldest of friends. “But you may address him as “Archie”.”
It passed as soon as it appeared, but for a split fraction of an instant it was there and Cox caught it: The look of surprised recognition, bordering on shock, that registered of Sarah’s face at the mention of the artificial intelligence’s nickname. Cox decided he would have to ask her what the significance of it to her was at some later date and time, as Meg guided them out of the shuttle hangar and along a corridor to the nearest lift that would take them to the Equinox’s bridge.
They were deposited onto a raised semicircular platform that ran along the rear wall of the bridge. The first thing that caught Cox’s eye was the throne-like captain’s chair situated on an elevated dais in the center of the bowl outlined by the platform on which they stood.
The second was a small group of three people standing in front of the display screen that dominated the front wall of the bridge: a woman and two girls, and it was immediately both abundantly apparent and impossible to believe to Cox that, even in spite of their dramatic contrasts in appearance, the two younger women were sisters. The older, taller one of the two was a lean, slender and lithe woman in her late twenties with her yellow-blonde hair tightly backswept and done up in an ornately woven bun atop the crown of her head, with a ponytail that flowed down the back of her neck to her shoulders. The youngest, smallest of the pair could not have been more than twelve years old, with jet-black hair that flowed over her shoulders. The older sister was in the process of using the view screen to give her younger sister what appeared to Cox to be quite an advanced lesson in nebular and stellar spectroscopy for a girl her age, or even one a decade older. The oldest woman, standing behind her hands on the shoulders of the young girl, clearly overseeing the other two, was a woman a few years older than Cox’s age and had a thickly-curling shoulder-length mane of reddish-auburn hair.
So engrossed was he in his character study of the older sister’s graceful movements that he startled, nearly jumping, when the star fleet’s Commander in Chief cleared her throat loudly right beside him with a polite cough. The oldest woman was the first turn around to face the newcomers, and she immediately gestured for the pair of sisters to do the same.
Admiral Hansen had already begun descending one of the ramps on either side of the platform leading down to the floor below, and had just reached the bottom when the raven-haired twelve-year-old turned around and immediately emitted a squeal of girlish delight.
“Mommy!” She took two speedy steps before launching herself into the Admiral’s open arms.
Cox heard Hansen grunt audibly with the impact as she hefted her pre-adolescent daughter’s weight, and suspected with a smile that it would not be very much longer before she would not longer be strong enough to do so anymore.
The girl’s older sister was more subdued, striding gracefully over as the auburn-haired elder greeted the admiral with a salute.
“Welcome aboard, mother.” She said in a feminine singsong voice.
Sarah smiled to herself, with a sidelong glance at Hera beside her, at hearing how similarly the relationship between Admiral Hansen and her eldest daughter mirrored that between herself and her own mother.
Cox had been so focused on the stark contrast between the older sister’s blonde hair and the younger’s jet-black that it took until she turned around for him to note that the blonde wore a highly stylized variation of the relatively loose-fitting Federated Systems’ Star Fleet standard issue uniform tunic and pants, combined into a tailored fitted one-piece body suit. Every color; from the broad field of engineering turquoise to the sleeves, shoulders and collar that matched her metallic-silver eyes, to even the black of the pants; was also made to shimmer as it caught the light with ever movement by being interwoven with sparkling sequins.
He was jerked from his observations by another cough from the Commander in Chief.
“I am pleased to introduce to you my youngest daughter, Cassandra.” Hansen was saying, hoisting the raven-haired twelve-year-old in her arms onto her shoulder. “But you prefer to be called Casey, am I right?” She asked the child. Cassandra nodded. “As well as to announce officially that my beautiful daughter Jennifer, the Equinox Project’s Operations Officer;” She gestured to the suited blonde; “Will be serving aboard the Equinox as her Chief of Engineering on her maiden voyage.”
Cox did his best to hide his restless shift from one foot to the other as he felt a lump in his throat and swallowed it at hearing the news that the curvaceous blonde beauty would be serving under his command as a member of his Senior Staff, or Joint Chiefs.
“Jenny;” Annika was telling her daughter; “This is Captain William Cox, your new Commanding Officer.”
“An honor to meet you, sir.” Jennifer shook his hand.
“The pleasure will be all mine, I’m sure;” He bravely risked a glance down from her face to the breast of her suit; “Lieutenant Hansen.” Cox brought her hand to his lips and kissed it, as he had been taught to do to visiting female dignitaries from a very early age by his royal mother.
In this setting, however, it caused Jennifer to blush a bright red as she shot a nervous glance over at her mother. The Admiral was glaring at the new captain through narrowed eyes like daggers, obviously having read far more into Cox’s greeting and his kissing of her daughter’s hand than the Captain had intended them to mean. What Cox noticed, however, was that the admiral was not alone. The raven-haired preteen was similarly glaring at Cox, and Cox could feel the protectiveness that the sisters felt toward one another radiating from the girl as though it were a tangible field of heat.
“I’m Kathryn Krueloe, Admiral Hansen’s Chief of Staff.” The sisters’ guardian stepped forward to shake Cox’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to greet you, Captain Cox.”
As the Equinox’s new Chief Engineer, Jennifer followed closely behind Meg as the android guided the group along the corridors of the ship to the main engineering section. The thick, dense steel double doors hissed open as the group approached, and as they stepped one by one single file through the doorway each member of the group narrowly avoided colliding with the back of the person in front of them as one at a time each of them froze in their tracks and stared up at the sight before them. Cox was the first through the doors as they parted, but he slowed as his eyes traveled up the column in the center of the chamber before them. A single massive towering cylinder of glass dominated the center of the otherwise mostly circular engineering compartment. The column emitted a blue glow that bathed all in its surroundings bright enough to illuminate the faces of even those still standing in the open doorway to the corridor outside. The brilliant neon blue light, however, was not constant, as whatever inside the cylinder was glowing pulsated with a buzzing thrumming. Periodically, writhing and arcing patterns of neon-white lightning-like electricity that coursed up and down along the glass tube’s surface would produce blinding flashes.
“What in all the worlds, if I may ask, are we looking at here?” His uncle Jeremy echoed his words from the shuttle, speaking the thought shared by everyone in the group to no one in particular as he gazed as though mesmerized by the hypnotically flashing waves of energy. His chief of Staff started to answer, but an alto female voice jumped in with the answer.
“You, sir, Mister President;” Said a slender figure that stood at the railing of the engineering compartment’s second level across the blue cylinder from them; “Are the first official from the government of the Federated Systems to see the galaxy’s first known Temporal Quantum Drive Core constructed by any civilization known to the Federation.”
The pride of accomplishment in her tone was unmistakable. With that she turned and stepped onto a small lift platform that lowered her to ground floor. As she stepped from the platform, the blue light cast into stark contrast with her fair skin an intricate pattern of mottled deep brown spots that ran across her tightly backswept hairline down the sides of her neck until they disappeared under the collar lapel of her high-collared uniform tunic. It took Cox until then to recognize the woman, but when he did he hurried forward, not running, to embrace her like the oldest and dearest of friends.
“Good to see you again too, Will;” Lessia returned his hug before pulling away for a comradely handshake; “And congratulations.” Lessia Odanox appeared in her late thirties with long ebony hair pulled smoothly back. “Mister President.” She addressed Jeremy directly, though her gaze, for the moment at least, did not leave the new Captain. “I bring you official greetings from the Ruling Council of Trillaxia Prime. They offer their personal and most sincere congratulations to you upon the completion of the Equinox Project.”
“What are you doing here, Lessia?” Cox blurted, almost before his uncle had finished thanking the Trillaxian delegate.
“I am here to offer my services as Science Officer for the Star Ship U.S.S. Equinox.”
“I am sure that won’t be necessary.” Jeremy was stopped in mid-thought by a warning flash in the Trillaxian woman’s emerald green eyes.
“With all due respect, Mister President, I was not addressing you.” Lessia said with deference. “If I am not very much mistaken, I do believe that the final decision rests with Captain Cox.”
“Her reasoning is accurate, sir.” Slaavik said, giving the Trillaxian a sidelong half-smile.
“Welcome aboard, Lessia.” Cox shook her hand, stepping forward to the forefront of the group.
“Lieutenant Commander Odanox, as one of the Federation’s foremost theoretical astrophysicists;” Meg offered helpfully, prompting Wells to smile knowingly; “Has been the leading scientist on the Equinox Project.”
“What’s the Equinox Project?” Admiral Hansen asked, and almost everyone turned to her, surprised that she of all people should know.
“Project Equinox was the Federation’s decades-long concerted effort to successfully construct a functioning quantum temporal slipstream drive.” Lessia answered.
“And what, exactly, is quantum temporal slipstream?” Cox wondered, mostly to him, and indeed not even fully conscious of the fact that he had spoken aloud.
“It was discovered by the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid in the fifth century BCE;” Wells began; “That space is composed of three dimensions: Length, width and depth. In the fourth century BCE, Pythagoras envisioned the shape of the physical universe in which we and everything we know exists as what is known as a tesseract, a sort of three-dimensional cube.” She lifted her hands to mime a cubical box shape.
“In the late 1890’s and the early twentieth century, with his theory of General Relativity, a German-American physicist named Albert Einstein proposed the existence of time as a fourth dimension;” Lessia continued for her, holding her hand in a fist at arm’s length from the implied cube; “And proposed that the three dimensions of space and the fourth dimension of time form a kind of fabric which later physicists labeled the “time-space continuum”.” She mimed smoothing her hands over a fabric.
“This was how he resolved the more than two-hundred year-old flaw in Sir Isaac Newton’s seventeenth-century theory of Universal Gravitation;” Wells added; “By proving that gravity was caused by the mass of objects distorting the fabric of space and time.” Her mother nodded.
“A hundred years later, a late-twentieth-century English theoretical astrophysicist who occupied Newton’s Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge named Stephen Hawking, in his book entitled “The Universe in a Nutshell”, proposed that the shape of this space-time was not merely the fabric that Einstein envisioned but was curved into three-dimensional shapes such as those of donuts and pears.”
“More than two hundred years before First Contact with the Valograns;” Wells nodded toward the Valogran Queen; “The human physicists of Earth had already theorized of something strikingly similar to a Valogran slipstream conduit, which they called an “Einstein-Rosen Bridge”.” This peaked the interest of not only Cox himself but a number of other members of the group, as it was not widely-known fact.
“How so?” Cimarra was the first to ask.
“Valogran slipstream technology works by warping space;” Wells explained, twisting the palms of her hands against one another; “In order to generate the stable artificial event horizon of a wormhole, a tunnel from one point in space to another;” She drew her hands apart, her fingers forming a circular aperture; “What Earth scientists referred to as an “Einstein-Rosen Bridge”.”
“Upon First Contact with the Valograns;” Lessia continued; “One of the Federation’s most prominent and prolific experts on quantum mechanics, by the name of Professor Xavier Syrius, named the twenty-second century’s answer to Albert Einstein;” Cox saw Hera’s eyebrow arch, as though that struck a chord with something familiar to her; “Became fascinated by the Valograns’ use of slipstream technology to create artificial wormholes through subspace, and became obsessed with proving his theory.”
“What theory was that?” Cassandra asked and everyone turned to her, almost having forgotten that anyone so young was there.
“General Syrius was a top officer in the Enterprise Starship Program, and the federation’s earliest and most…eccentric experts on temporal engineering.”
“Meaning what, exactly?”
“Syrius theorized that, just as slipstream corridors create tunnels from one point in space to another;” Wells answered the girl, miming with her hands; “By reverse-engineering this technology;” She winked at Jennifer, the ship’s Chief Engineer; “Similar technology might one day be used to generate similar portals from one point in the dimension of time to another as well.” Cox was unsurprised to see nearly everyone in the group wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the implications of time travel.
“When Syrius demonstrated his technology before the heads of the Federation council, including your mother;” Hera said, turning to Cox; “And your great-grandmother, he vanished.”
“And what became of these theories of his?” Admiral Hansen asked.
“You’re looking at it.” Lessia answered, gesturing to the core. “The temporal quantum slipstream drive.”
“Is what you’re telling us;” Cox’s father asked, slowly; “Is that this ship;” He gestured around him, indicating the Equinox; “Is capable of traveling through time?”
“If all goes well when we first power up the core, then in theory, hypothetically;” Lessia stopped hedging upon meeting Sarah’s eyes, and so simply answered; “Yes, Mister President.”
“Are you not concerned about paradoxes?” Slaavik said after several long minutes of silent thought.
“Paradoxes?” Lessia shook her head with a shrug. “What sort of paradoxes?”
Slaavik did an impressive job mimicking a very humanlike melodramatic sigh. “What would be the primary purpose for traveling back in time?” Slaavik posed.
“To observe the past.” Wells answered.
“One of the principles of physics is that the act of observing any phenomena changes the phenomenon being observed.” Slaavik explained.
“Are you saying that we could alter the course of history just by traveling into the past?” Admiral Hansen sounded incredulous, but Slaavik nodded.
“If I interpret your words correctly;” This from Hera, who had been listening in on the discussion intently; “Any risk of altering the present could be eliminated simply by traveling into the future instead of into the past.”
It took Slaavik not even a moment before she nodded.
“Well that settles it!” The President announced. “The future it is, then!”
Leaving Lessia, Jennifer and Sarah in engineering, the rest returned to the bridge. With a nod from the Federation President, the main view screen in front of them lit up with a mosaic of live video images from cities around the globe, including Paris, San Francisco, and Washington. In the squares and parks of the cities, tens of thousands of people had gathered to watch the live video feed from the Equinox as the first-ever quantum temporal drive was initialized for the very first time.
Cox happened to glance over at his mother, to see the Valogran Queen’s gaze locked on the video from Paris. ‘Probably;’ He thought; ‘The sight of the crowds filling the streets between the memorial and the Louvre reminded Cimarra of the day more than a third of a century before when the first Valogran star ship had landed on Earth, touching down in the very same courtyard had been standing in earlier, the first known extraterrestrials to set foot on Earth in recorded history.’
At a nod from his uncle, Cox tapped the badge on the breast pocket of his tunic with his fingers before speaking aloud.
“This is Captain William Cox of the Unified Confederated Star Systems Time Ship U.S.S. Equinox.” His voice reverberated, as it was translated though public address speakers not only throughout the ship but also in cities across every inhabited continent of the planet below them. “Main Engineering, status report.” He could not help but smile as he heard the reply.
“This is Lieutenant Jennifer Hansen, Chief Engineer.” The blonde’s feminine voice lost none of its melodiousness as it was broadcast throughout the world. “Quantum Temporal Slipstream drive is ready at your command, Captain.”
Cox looked at his father and uncle, who were grinning like schoolboys on Christmas morning. He tried his best to ignore the expression that creased his godmother’s features, which left no question that Hera still harbored concerns about time travel and its effects. “You have a go, Lieutenant.” Cox told Hansen. “Commence core power-up sequence.”
“Initializing temporal core now.” Hansen announced, and everyone onboard felt more than heard a brand new hum begin in the walls and floors around them. “Quantum core drive power at five percent.” Hansen narrated for those watching from the Earth below. Hansen’s melodious voice lent the repetitive play-by-play narration a quality that nevertheless drew the listener into wanting to continue listening even more closely. “Quantum core power at ten percent.” By twenty percent the thrumming had grown steadily until it became not only tangible as a vibration to those standing on the ship, but also audible to those listening from the planet. Had he not known better, Cox might have been concerned that the vibrations in the deck and walls were doing damage to the ship’s hull. The twelve-year-old girl Cassandra kept looking up at her mother, who held her by the shoulders in front of her as they faced the view screen.
‘Probably;’ Cox guessed from the girl’s expression; ‘The intensity of the vibrations in the decks of the ship made her worried for her older sister down in the Engineering section, even closer to the core itself, the source for the tremors.’
“Power now fifty percent.” Cox looked down to see his mother reach out to clasp his father’s hand in hers, whether out of nervousness or anticipation or both he couldn’t tell.
“Quantum temporal core now at one hundred percent.” Hansen’s voice announced finally.
To Cox’s surprise, the instant that the core reached full power, the vibrations in the decks of the Equinox all but ceased, save for an only barely-audible hum. The abrupt silence fell like a thunderclap.
The Federation President addressed his sister-in-law. “None of this would have ever been possible had it not been for the benevolent philanthropy from the people of your home world toward us throughout the past thirty years since First Contact. Please.” He gestured to a prominent control console on the opposite end of the chamber from the doorway through which the group had entered. “The honors are yours.”
Cimarra beamed proudly at her son as she traversed the chamber to the console, arm in arm with Cox’s father. The Valogran Queen took her place behind the console, her hand poised over the ignition. His mother punched her fingers onto the console.
“The temporal quantum core is active and operational.” Lessia announced.
The silence was shattered by eruptions of cheers from the crowds assembled in the city squares and parks shown on the view screen. The Presidio in San Francisco and the National Mall in Washington appeared as roiling seas of wildly jubilant celebration. No sooner had Slaavik switched off the view screen, the ceremony officially concluded, than the continued silence amongst those on the bridge was broken by the blaring of high-pitched alerts from the computer consoles that surrounded them on all sides, accompanied by brightly-flashing lights.
“What’s wrong?” Cox shouted over the noise. “What’s the matter?”
“We have a problem, Captain.” He heard Sarah’s voice say over the intercom.
It was so rare for her to call him anything except “Will” or “William” that Cox knew at that instant whatever crisis they were dealing with was something potentially calamitous indeed. The group on the bridge breathed an audible collective sigh of relief as Admiral Hansen, her fingers flying in a blur over multiple keypads, finally managed to turn the alarm down to a volume at which they no longer needed to shout over it in order to be heard.
“What the hell is that?” Cox asked.
“Sirs;” This from Lessia, addressing the new Captain, his father and the Federation President; “If this instrumentation is functioning properly;” They could hear her fingers typing furiously; “And I am positively certain that it must be…”
“What is it?” Cox asked her.
“I’m not sure. There exists no record of any similar phenomenon like it in the recorded histories of any known world.”
“Describe it, Colonel.” Jarek ordered, addressing Sarah.
“I’m detecting what appears to be a displacement wave.” Sarah began.
“Like a ripple generated by throwing a rock into a lake.” Jennifer elaborated, and Cox smiled at realizing that the explanation was directed primarily at the engineer’s younger sister, who nodded understandingly.
“It resembles a ribbon comprised entirely of pure energy.” Lessia continued.
“What kind of energy?”
“Unidentifiable. It is a variety of energy no one has ever seen before, of a wavelength that does not appear anywhere on the known electromagnetic spectrum.”
“Size? How big is it?”
“Unprecedented. It’s massive, sir.”
“Do we have it within visual range?” Jarek asked and Cox was reminded that, before meeting his mother, his father had been in command of the first manned interstellar spacecraft ever launched from Earth.
“Yes, Sir.” Hansen confirmed a moment later.
“Put it up on the main view screen.” This Jarek directed at Slaavik, who nodded.
An instant later, the view screen alit to display what looked like precisely what Lessia had described: A ribbon in space. Its blinding glow fluctuated in luminosity as it rippled and undulated across the void.
“What’s its rate of speed? How fast is it moving?” Cox asked, the first question that popped into his head being why the wave had not yet impacted the ship.
“Sub-sonic speeds, Sir.” Sarah answered.
“What is its source?” The President inquired.
“We don’t know.” Hansen admitted.
“Reverse-calculating its current course and trajectory suggests that it may have come from the sun.” Cox could visualize Sarah shrugging her shoulders. “But it could have just as easily originated at the center of the galaxy, for all we know.”
“What do we know, commander?” Admiral Hansen directed her question at Lessia.
“All we really know about it is that we first detected it far on the opposite side of the planet from us, and that we’ve never seen anything like this before.
“What is its ETA?” Jarek asked Sarah, knowing the former Air Force pilot would understand the acronym for Estimated Time of Arrival.
“We calculate that it will impact the far side of the planet Earth in less than five minutes.” Sarah answered, and Cox sensed her unease radiating to him all the way from the Engineering section. “It should be past us within the hour.”
“Anything more precise than that?” Admiral Hansen asked.
“Sorry, ma’am.” Her oldest daughter answered. “We’re almost as much in the dark as you all are.”
“Shouldn’t we warn the people on the planet?” Cassandra asked, the first time any of the others had heard her speak, her unsure voice sounding like the cooing of a mourning dove.
“We still have no idea what the energy might do to the planet when it hits, if anything at all.” Her older sister admitted.
“But they sure as hell can see it.” Sarah, apparently, had been watching the live video feeds from the cities and noticed the crowds of people streaming in surges away from the squares back inside their vehicles and houses.
“The wave will make planet-fall in ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five…”
Cox stopped listening to Jennifer’s countdown as he and everyone else on the bridge watched in awe through the view screen in front of them as what had previously appeared as a razor-thin ribbon of light surged in all directions in the void of outer space like a cresting wave, before crashing with a blinding flash down onto the planet’s ionosphere.
Instead of merely passing through one side of the planet and out the other, the wave of energy appeared to envelop the Earth as though swallowing it whole. The surface of the wave as it passed over the Earth’s atmosphere swirled and twisted in never-ending patterns of luminescence that Cox recognized as auroras, comparable to the Northern lights, except in the most dazzling array of colors he had ever seen. Then, as if blown from the Earth by a sudden gust of wind, the storm had passed. The wave sloughed off of the Earth’s atmosphere as though the planet were shedding a cloak, resuming its previous shape of a rippling ribbon.
“Contact the capitol immediately!” Cox ordered. “Find out if anyone was harmed!”
Slaavik nodded and sat down at the communications terminal.
“Hera;” He turned to his godmother; “You take the admiral and her daughter to Engineering immediately. Then I want you and Sarah to get Cassandra and Jennifer to the shuttle bay, in case we need to make a hasty retreat. “Mister President;” His uncle looked at the new Captain; “Go with her and go directly to the shuttle to get it ready. Mother, father; you stay here with us.” He instructed his parents, “Commander, you’re with me.” He gestured to Slaavik.
When Hera, Admiral Hansen and the President had left with Cassandra, Cox stood over Slaavik at the tactical station.
“Raise shields at full strength;” He instructed; “And reroute all power not allocated for life support to increase the polarization of the outer hull plating to maximum.”
Slaavik nodded when she had finished, and Cox gestured for her to shift over to the neighboring navigation and propulsion console.
“Increase the artificial gravity deck plating to Valogran Prime normal.” His father looked at him; concerned this might prove a burden for the humans onboard. Cox winked at the old ship Captain, assuring his father that he knew precisely what it was that he was doing, asserting a confidence level that he did not truly feel. His mother clearly sensed his unease, but kept quiet.
Slaavik must have as well, and she turned around to him with concern, he nodded to the console in front of her, reminding her to remain focused on the task at hand as they had limited time.
“Max out the inertial dampeners.” He ordered.
“Captain;” Lessia’s voice blared over his intercom, crackling with static interference; “It’s here.”
Cox needn’t have glanced over at his parents, standing staring dumbstruck at the view screen, to know that Trillaxian scientist was referring to. Cox reflexively reached for the nearest console station, slamming his hand onto the button for the intercommunication system. “Calling all personnel aboard the U.S.S. Equinox; this is Captain William Cox, your new commanding officer. The activation of the Temporal Core has resulted in a massive wave of unidentified energy approaching our location from the far side of the Earth. It will reach our position in twenty seconds.” He looked meaningfully at his parents. “To all hands, brace for impact!”
Even as he finished his announcement, he could hear Hansen counting.
“Five four, three, two, one…”
Slaavik had her feet planted firmly on the floor under the chair and Cox leaned over her, gripping tight to the back of the chair and spreading his feet wide apart in an effort to lower and more evenly distribute his center of mass.
Nevertheless, after a blindingly brilliant wall of light that forced them to squeeze their eyes tightly shut in pain swept across the chamber, overtaking Cox’s parents at the control console, both found themselves splayed out spread-eagled on the floor, having been thrown bodily from the chair as the bridge tilted and canted wildly first to one side then the other.
Cox felt his tailbone bruise as he was bounced up and down off of the thinly carpeted deck plating by the tremors that coursed through the ship, like sitting bareback on a horse galloping over hilly terrain.
All four of them were on the ground now, his parents giving Cox a fair approximation of what he himself must look like: bouncing off the deck like pinballs in a popcorn maker. The back of his head must have struck a bulkhead when he tumbled to the floor, because he could barely hear the once more full-volume blaring of the alarms over the ringing in his ears. The brightly flashing warning lights were gradually crowded out as blackness crept into the sides of his field of view. The last thing he remembered seeing was his mother and father clinging desperately to one another as they tumbled together off the edge of the raised platform on which he lay prone.
He could feel himself trying to get his throat and tongue to work properly so that he could call out to them, but was preempted when the strangely welcoming pitch-blackness void finally enveloped his vision, the flashing lights and blaring alarms fading gently, easily and lightly into silence and darkness as he lost consciousness.