Koenig walked in to Main Mission through his office, straightening his belt.
“Paul?” he said when he got to his desk.
Paul was leaning over Sandra’s console, looking at some incoming data, and jumped like a guilty schoolboy.
“Commander,” he acknowledged. “Eagle One has just lifted off again. We’re keeping the channel open, just in case.”
“OK,” Koenig said, coldly. “Alan, are you reading us?”
“Yes Commander,” said Carter, his face appearing on the monitor screen. “The only thing we have to report is – nothing to report. The asteroid has gone, like it wasn’t even there, and so has the radio interference. Gravity is normal.”
Koenig ran his fingers through his lank black hair and began to pace. “It can’t just have vanished! Kano? Anything from Computer?”
“No Commander, Computer has no explanation to offer,” the tall computer officer responded, shaking his head.
Koenig stopped and sighed. Everyone in the room was looking at him expectantly, even Alan on the screen. They depended on him increasingly as seemingly every day presented the base crew with some new challenge, or some inexplicable phenomenon. Yes, the astronauts and mission specialists had exploration at the heart of their mission and training, but so many of these people were engineers, administrators, service technicians and maintenance crews. Moonbase assignment was supposed to be just another lucrative temporary posting, especially since the discovery of artificial gravity meant that staff could be posted here for months with no ill-effects. They had literally not signed up for this. It amazed him sometimes to see how they had adapted so well. But this just added to the responsibility he faced.
The World Space Commission was a civilian authority, it was not run on a military basis and most of the personnel had no military background at all, though still a lot of the pilots had originated in the military and retained their rank. The departments still held command conferences and decisions were supposed to be arrived at through consultation rather than executive command. But even these were now relying increasingly on Koenig to come up with the answers and he had to some extent accepted and assumed that authority, only deferring to Helena and Victor…
Koenig was first and foremost an astronaut and pilot. To some extent he felt more in control at the helm of an Eagle than standing here right now. More than anything, he wanted to swap places with Alan. But he also knew that Alan would not have made a good Commander. Being a good pilot meant having the ability to make split-second decisions but that didn’t make for good command – sometimes decisions had to be made after considering all the angles, coming to conclusions that at first glance might seem to be counter-intuitive or just plan wrong. Unfortunately, on those occasions where Alan had been in the hot seat, he had shown a naive and almost juvenile impetuosity. And out here in the black, that could get people killed.
“Commander?” said Paul, “are you alright?”
“What?” said Koenig. “Yes… yes Paul.” He straightened his back and composed himself. “If Ka’Ne is… how much oxygen will he have left?”
“We were just looking at that,” said Paul, his brows furrowing. “If he didn’t take any of the spare supplies from the crashed mobile, he’s running out of air about… now.”
Koenig desperately needed advice – and though he trusted the personnel in Main Mission and was totally confident in their professionalism, he needed something else. He turned and headed back to the door. “Keep me informed of any developments,” he said, as the door slid open in front of him.
He needed Victor.
Bergman handed Ka’ne a standard rations pack, already opened. The big man immediately popped the straw from the water container and drank deeply. The water had that familiar plastic taste that all these ration packs, made on Earth before separation, had accrued over time. He welcomed the familiarity, the taste of home amongst all these unexplained events.
The old professor, now helmet-less, sat down on a chair behind a computer console and began to unseal his space suit gloves. “I expect you’ll be needing that after everything that has happened today. And, I’m sorry to say, your day isn’t quite over!”
Ka’Ne popped the sachet marked chicken curry and opened the pack of ‘crumbless’ biscuits. This just happened to be one of his favourites. “What’s going on, Professor?” he said. “Where did the asteroid go – and how did I get back to Alpha?”
“I’m afraid it’s not easy to explain,” said Bergman, running a hand over his bald pate.
“I’m not… I’m not your Professor Bergman. And we aren’t inside Alpha, yours or mine. Now… you just carry on tucking in there, and I’ll try and make this clear – it’s not very easy for me to understand either. What did they teach you in basic training about particle physics and astronomy? Did you ever touch on the idea of quantum states and multiverse theory?”
Ka’ne took another sip of water. “Not much in basic but I did study some of that at high school,” he said. “Are you saying that this is an alternate reality?” After all the things he had witnessed and experienced over the previous months, this did not shock Ka’Ne as much as the old man had expected.
“Yes, that’s what we think too. It also seems to gel with some of the theories that no doubt your astronomers were postulating. There is not enough visible mass in the universe to hold it together – so-called dark matter? We believe now that dark matter is in fact matter from other dimensions – other quantum states, bleeding into our reality, perhaps after being altered as an atomic level by some cosmic effect.” The old man stood up, ever the teacher, to better use his hands as he explained. “This, what you call an asteroid, is actually a section of my moon that has formed an interface with yours. Some things are different, some things are the same. Our spacesuits are all silver – yours are orange. There are also some more fundamental differences… which, I’m sorry to say, mean that you will never be able to return to your moon.”
Ka’Ne looked at the rations with sudden distrust and fear. He jumped to his feet.
“What have you DONE to me?”
In Main Mission, Kano tore off another strip of paper from the printer. He scanned the figurers and the computer code symbols in a way that his cybernetic implant facilitated, and at a speed that none of his colleagues could match. This was still not making any sense. Sensors were now detecting mass, extraordinarily big, and yet this mass was having do detectable effects that should be there, either gravitational or any form of radiation. And if that was the case, how could it be possibly detected. He scratched his head and had a sudden twinge of pain. The room spun and he grabbed at a pillar for support. The computer display had lit up – it was processing something new, but he hadn’t entered a new problem or programme. It was acting on its own. He reached out to one of the keyboards to run a systems check but his arm froze before he could touch the buttons.
He turned – he distinctly heard someone, as if they were right behind him, but no-one was there.
Let it be.
It was his own voice!
He had another twinge of pain in his head that made him wince. He felt sick.
“P-Paul…” he said. But Paul didn’t hear him.
Do not interfere.
Everything will be OK.
Kano stumbled forwards and fell down the steps to land on all fours. One of the female technicians gasped.
“Kano?” said Paul, turning. “What’s the matter? Sandra – medical emergency, Main Mission!”
Now entirely unnoticed, Computer continued to respond to unseen instructions.
Bergman put his hands up. “Now, just calm and let me explain. You were out of air, we had to do something. Unfortunately your body can’t process our oxygen, or our food for that matter. We had to alter your body at a quantum level in order to save your life.”
“Then change me back!” Ka’Ne demanded.
“I’m sorry, Ka’Ne, but… the process… it’s irreversible. You’ll have to join our Alpha now.”
“What about… what about your Ka’Ne?”
Bergman lowered his hands and shook his head. “I’m afraid our Ka’Ne didn’t survive Separation Day. I know that this all very hard to accept all at once. And I wish that we had the time to explain it better and help you to acclimatise. But unfortunately time is against us! We need your help, in fact, both Alphas need you. If you don’t help us, both our moons will be destroyed.”
Ka’Ne martially his shock and anger, the spacesuit momentarily tightening across his shoulders. He sat down on the gurney again. “Why me?”
“You are uniquely able to cross the interface between our quantum states. Although we have converted you, you are still in a state of quantum flux. You can go back – but you will have to wear a spacesuit even inside Moonbase, as you will simply suffocate in that atmosphere.”
“Why do you need me to go back?”
Bergman hesitated. He closed his eyes and wrung his long-fingered hands. “We need… we need your… me. He has knowledge that we need to stop the interface from spreading and reverse it, as does your computer. We only have a part of the puzzle – you have the other pieces. Our Kano managed to link with yours and we have some of the computer data – but the rest of the solution is only in one place,” he tapped his own temple with a forefinger. “Time is limited for two reasons. If the rest of our moon – or your moon depending on the perspective – crosses over, then the moons will physically collide and destroy each other. Also, as we discovered from the computer link, your Bergman is dying. Again we have the capability to save him – we have prosthetic implant technology that your medical science hasn’t yet developed. We need you to go to Alpha… and rescue me!”