Director Malcolm McDonnell ran one hand through his short, black hair and watched the stars from within the dimmed interior of the observation gallery. He sipped a cold beer as he considered just how different this starscape was from the one he’d grown up with on Earth.
The Pleiades Cluster was home to over a thousand stars within no more than thirty or fifty lightyears, and the old Republic-class light cruiser named Normandy was in the very center of all those stars. They filled the sky in a way he’d never seen before with his own eyes.
And there was that other little thing they’d come all this way to see.
“It’s a beautiful sight,” a voice said from behind him.
He turned as the redhead walked up and plopped down in the seat next to him with a firm movement. Today was a black leather jacket and jeans day. Those were always good days in Malcolm’s considered opinion. Not that he could remember a bad day involving her.
Dawn smiled and turned twinkling green eyes toward him. Then she picked a beer out of his cooler and popped the top with practiced ease. She tinked it against his before leaning back in her chair to take a long drink. Not that she needed it. Her robotic avatar couldn’t get drunk if she tried.
But there was camaraderie in drinking with a friend that Malcolm found comforting; especially on the days he was feeling lonely.
Dawn smacked her lips in appreciation of Callahan Brewery’s very best stock.
“Yes, it is,” Malcolm said with a smile.
Dawn raised a single eyebrow at him.
“A beautiful sight,” he clarified and waved his free hand toward the shimmering field of rainbow light hovering in front of their ship.
He swung his bottle out to tink hers with a smile and took another, long sip.
Malcolm didn’t know how many favors Charles had called in to find cybernetic intelligences willing to join something like the Wolfenheim Project, but he knew one thing for certain.
He’d come out ahead on whatever deal his old friend had made.
Dawn gave him a mirthful look before tipping her head back and taking another sip of Alpha Centauri’s best beer.
He watched her swallow out of the corner of one eye while considering their current position.
The massive twin bright giants dominated the exact center of the Alcyone Quintuple Star System with a blinding blue-white light. The smart wall built into the observation gallery’s forward bulkhead dampened that down to merely bright light, but it displayed the system perfectly. Including the softly glowing spherical field of rainbow light the size of a planet hanging in front of them.
The Gateway between Peloran and Terran space.
A holoform flickered into existence beyond Dawn, and Malcolm nodded as Captain Olivia Wyatt’s long, brunette hair popped into focus around her. Brown eyes returned his gaze, and if she looked a day over twenty-five in her white navy surplus uniform he would eat his shirt. He’d never been stupid enough to ask her real age, but she’d served the United States Navy for decades before she joined the Wolfenheim Project, and they used some of America’s best anti-aging drugs and treatments.
She’d commanded the only American warship to come home after the disastrous Battle of Epsilon Reticuli, and the powers that be in the American Navy rewarded her by taking her ship, her career, and her reputation. They declared her a coward, a disgrace, and unworthy of her rank. They cashiered her and kicked her to the curb.
Malcolm knew that defeat had not been her fault. He’d seen the real reports of that battle. Her leadership was the only reason any ships had survived Epsilon Reticuli. The fact that only Los Angeles made it home was a testament to her moral courage to make the hard decisions that had to be made. The real reports about Serenity and Alpha Centauri proved that beyond any doubt. So he knew one other thing.
He’d come out ahead on this deal as well.
“Gateway Command has given us permission to transit, Director,” Olivia said from her position on Normandy’s bridge.
Malcolm nodded in understanding.
They’d spent the last five months crawling across the four hundred lightyears between Alpha Centauri and the Pleiades Cluster for one reason. The Gateway. What the Peloran used to travel to Earth’s region of the galaxy. What the Wolfenheim Project was going to use to travel to their region of the galaxy.
“This is your show, Captain,” Malcolm said with a smile. “I certainly don’t need to micromanage you.”
“As you wish, Director,” Olivia said with a smile of her own. “Proceeding to transit, now.”
The escorts moved through The Gateway one at a time, each disappearing in a rainbow flash of light as they penetrated the glowing sphere. The massive colony ship disappeared next to last, leaving Normandy alone in the near darkness.
Malcolm double checked his seatbelt, nodded in approval, and waited as Normandy approached The Gateway. His eyes opened wide when the rainbow road opened before them and sucked them into hyperspace.
The tunnel surrounded them with a spectrum of colors crossing the entire range the human eye could see, and more only machines could detect. And beyond that tunnel was a blackness darker than any black he’d seen in his life. They were running deeper into hyperspace than any ship could dive. The titanic gravitic energies of over a thousand stars held the tunnel in firm hands as they left the Pleiades star cluster behind.
Malcolm wondered how fast they were moving. He wondered if they were moving at all. Their destination lay twenty-four hundred lightyears down the length of the Orion Arm of the galaxy. Did they travel through the space in between? Or were they taking a shortcut though a hole in the universe? Malcolm didn’t know. And despite all the big words scientists could spout on the subject, he doubted they did either.
Humanity was new to this kind of travel. An ancient author once said that any technology sufficiently advanced would seem like magic. Malcolm gazed at the rainbow road spread before him and knew without a doubt that he beheld magic in all its glory.
Then the tunnel opened wide like a blooming flower and sprayed colors in every direction. Malcolm held tight to the chair arms as gravity pulled him everywhere at once.
Up was down.
Right was left.
His inner ear rebelled as it told him the utter impossibility that down flowed in every direction. Even up. Especially up. He knew it was impossible, but his body told him he was falling forever and ever and ever all while he rose higher and higher at the same time.
“Well,” Dawn said from his right. “That’s something you don’t see every day.”
Malcolm turned to look at her, feeling his entire world shift to the side as he did so.
Dawn aimed an amazingly calm smile at him and then her lips opened to reveal perfect, gleaming teeth. “Focus on me, Malcolm. Only on me.”
Malcolm blinked and looked deep into her green eyes. She became the focus of his universe in that instant, the one true thing in all the worlds that mattered.
And then everything came to a stop. His stomach stopped trying to eject everything he’d eaten in the last week. His eyes stopped trying to jump out of his head like a Saturday morning cartoon. And his toes stopped trying to curl up into his forehead.
Dawn relaxed back into her seat and gave him a pleased look. “That’s better. You were turning green there for a bit.”
Malcolm looked around at the utterly normal observation gallery, gravity set to a perfect one Earth gee, and dim, comfortable lights. He swallowed once. Twice. He licked his lips.
“That was…interesting,” he intoned very thoughtfully.
“Sorry about that. But there must have been a grav eddy at the last moment,” Dawn said in a matter of fact tone. “Gateway transits aren’t usually that rough.”
“Don’t worry,” Dawn said and clapped a hand on his knee. “A few more times, and you’ll be an expert.”
She smiled and took another chug of her beer.
Director Malcolm McDonnell placed his beer on the deck and concentrated very carefully on keeping everything he’d eaten in the last day where it belonged.
Then he looked out through the observation gallery’s smart wall to see a new set of alien stars around them.
That was the moment everything changed for Director Malcolm McDonnell, scion of one of Earth’s greatest families.
He was in alien space.
The words of an ancient astronaut flew through his mind and fell out of dry lips.
“One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”