“IFF identifies the craft as the Orion.” Louis Walsh, first officer to the Explorer, sat back in his chair. “Can you give us an image?” Admiral Franziska Hardwick too relaxed in her seat. Only moments earlier had the Orion nuked a potentially hostile Harpy vessel.
A few button presses later the main screen in the command centre displayed a smudge like object. “Extrapolation of sensor data and visual coming up.” Louis pressed a few more buttons on his touchscreen console.
A ship with a long cylindrical body, and the typical dish shaped back was displayed. “They are sending a transmission.”
“This is the USS Orion, calling the unidentified vessel. If your intentions are not hostile, we pose no threat. Please respond if you can understand our language.” Stunned silence filled the command centre. “Turn on IFF.” Franziska sighed, an IFF had been implemented, but wasn’t turned on after the existence of the Harpies was made known.
“This is the Explorer. We read you Orion, and assure you that we are anything but hostile.” Franziska spoke calmly after waiting a short while with the IFF on. She had been assured that the outgoing transmission had been altered sufficiently to be received by the Orion. “Are you human?”
“Indeed we are, we are surprised, to say the least, to find another ship out here.” Confused Franziska maintained a friendly tone, but looked inquistive to Louis, who shook his head. An initial search of the database had revealed nothing about the Orion, other than hypothetical work.
“We thought that we were the last ones, safe for radioactive mutants struggling for survival. Let me just say that we too are very pleased to know that we aren’t the last ones.” Radioactive Mutants? Just forming the words in silence Franziska kept her gaze at Louis. Again he shook his head, shrugging.
“The pod from the Ark1 has docked, cryogenic chambers have been secured.” Communications officer Harald Rüttli stated from the communiques reaching him. Franziska dismissd the information with a nod. “What do you make of it?” She whispered to Louis.
“The readings conclude that this thing is old. Dare I say, ancient for technological standards. If I had to guess, I’d say this thing was built back in the cold war.”
Uncertain Franziska looked around. “Could it have been out here all that time? No resupplying? Generation after Generation?”
Again her first officer shrugged. “Orion!” Franziska looked at the big screen, an extrapolation of the Orions course was displayed. “Where are you headed if I may ask?”
“I’m afraid that I’m not authorised to reveal that information.” Feeling a bit insecure whether she was talking to the ships commanding officer or just a communications officer Franziska kept staring at the displayed information. “Barnards star.” She blurted out. Silence on the radio. “As I said, I’m not authorised to reveal our destination. Although commanding the Orion, I too have superior officers. Or at least standing orders.”

The screen in the briefing room displayed a list of names.The rescued survivors from Ark1. “There are a lot more over there, but after the Harpy attacked Allister, we got out.” Sylvie closed her report. Already she had given the known details of Allisters encounter with the Harpy to the assembled. For a rare occasion the governors of the civilian rings were present in person, instead of just phoning in like usual.
Glad to be back on a ship with a functioning defense against attacks, asteroids and cosmic radiation she tried to forget the pockmarked ship she just had left behind.
“Thank you. Dismissed.” Saluting Sylvie turned and left the room. Behind her the attachés to the Governors also left the room, leaving only the Admiral, the first officer and the governors inside.

“Gentlemen, we have encountered another ship out there.” Franziska displayed the image of the Orion as she first had seen it. “It is from earth’s past. The USS Orion. Data searches, including previously top secret data, have returned only theoretical work. But this thing actually exists, we have spoken with the commanding officer.”
Her second sight on the Orion replaced the smudge, displaying the cylindrical ship. “If the Orion started its journey back when the research suggests it is ancient, we’re talking mid 20th century here.” Various sketches and early developmental drawings plastered the screen surrounding the clearer image of the Orion.
Before the meeting had started the Orion’s commander had revealed that they had, had encounters with what he called the bird aliens. Armed with nuclear warheads to spare they soon taught them to avoid the Orion. Occasionally a Harpy ship did engage them, but got nuked, or was driven off.
Sensor readings suggested that the Orion had made at least one stop, their forward dish showed signs of bombardment to decelerate.
“So they have the capacity and brain power to build more nukes, but are still stuck with old technology?” Governor Lydia Rostova broke the silence in the briefing room. “Analysis of their radio transmission hints at that, yes.”
Carefully Franziska studied the faces of the governors in the room. “I have a proposal.” With her words the screen changed, showing the calculated course of the Orion, overlayed on the further course of the Explorer. “By now this ship and its crew have become experts in landings at these speeds. Orions course intersects ours, we could send a team in a pod to upgrade some of their systems, teach them how to use it, at least to the point of calling up a manual, and then return that team to the Explorer.”
Still studying the people at the table with her, Franziska feared her idea would be rejected. In the case of Ark1, a rescue operation, or the Harpy ship, a military decision, she had reign supreme. But upgrading the Orion was not a humanitarian mission, not a military decision or rescue operation.
She needed their approval. Their cooperation.
“Based on the readings you took, what is your estimate concerning crew complement?”
Helpless Franziska looked to Louis who had been sitting idly by her side. “Hard to say,” he got up, enlarging the picture of the Orion. “somewhere between one and five hundred.” He turned to the screen, his back to the room. “It could be a few dozen though. Back in the day female members of the force were few, unless they had prepared for such an eventuality.”
Franziska knew he was now more thinking out aloud than reporting to the governors. “May I ask why that question arose?” He jerked around.
“Pure interest.” Dean Stone from alpha smiled. “You have my support.” Addressing the Admiral. Gamma ring’s Governor Lydia Rostova also gave her support, leaving just Ophelia Mbuntu from beta ring. “Alright,” she sighed driving her thin fingers through the thick, yet short curly hear on her head. A habit she picked up during her time studying, “I’m outvoted anyway.”

After the resolution had been made to help the Orion with new equipment, Ophelia stayed behind after the other governors. “Do you atill have any questions?”
“Various, but none that you could answer.” Worry in her eyes she got up, slowly wandered to the Admiral. “I’m surprised Governor Rostova didn’t voice any concerns. But then again, she is disconnected from her ancestral nationality, I however am not from my ancestral race.”
With a gesture to the door controls on her glasses, Franziska closed the door. “Where are you going with this?”
“I noticed various dates on the concepts of project Orion. Do you know the situation for black people in the US back in those days? I must say, I have doubts that the crew of that ship, that top secret ship, was very diversely mixed in race for them to truly shed racism.” Shaking her head she put her right hand on Franziska’s shoulder. “But I’m willing to suspend those doubts. I’m willing to believe in humanity. We have accomplished so much after all, as have the brave men and women on that ship.” With those words she too left the briefing room, leaving Franziska in a somewhat troubled state of mind.

Over the ship wide news feed, the report of the Orion spread in an instant. And with it came a flood of suggestions from military and civilian sources. Apparently Ophelia’s concern was shared by several others.
Only reading a few of these messages gave Franziska a headache. “Enough of this.” She turned them off, rose from her seat, back in the briefing room. Leading officers were in it instead of governors. Staring at the tablet, as his eyes had strained from reading on his glasses, Gregory Illchiev moved his lips in silence. “I see no indication of deflection, or counter measures.” Still staring at the readouts from sensors. “Their hull must have more resemblance with a sponge than a protective shielding against the harshness of space.”
Interested in the telemetry, and after the somewhat successful mission to Ark1, Jason and Daria too attended the meeting. “Upgrading their communication is the easiest part of the job, it has better performance, and is less of a power hog.” Explorer’s communications officer concurred with Darias conclusion. “Getting them to learn the new systems will be harder.”
Same conclusions were made by Jason concerning an upgrade for their computer systems. “Alright. Prepare comprehensive manuals, learning instructions and tutorials. If need be, they have to be autodidactive.” Leaning her face against one hand the Admiral wished she never had gotten the idea.
I have a feeling I won’t like the outcome of this. Swallowing his doubts and concerns, Jason turned his attention back to the information in front of his eyes.
Already he felt the thrust of the pod rocking his entire body, he was going to be assigned to the team installing the new gear on the Orion.

“Aren’t you used to this by now?” Daria sounded amused, just as a few days prior on the round trip to the Ark1 her face was invisible inside a spacesuit’s helmet. “Nope. Never will be. After we get home, there are no more pod missions for me!” Hoping his voice didn’t sound as distressed as he felt, Jason held on to the armpieces with a fierce grasp.
How did they iron out an agreement for a visit that fast? Perhaps the crew of the Orion was curious to see some new faces? As the acceleration kicked in, he had to chase the thoughts away. “Hold on tight, that was just the breakaway. There is more to come!” Sylvie van Froon had the helm, her co pilot Jorge D’Silva at her side.
More thrust pressed him into his seat once the pod had sufficient distance to Explorer, small charges detonated behind them, pushing them onward.
“We have our cruising speed, in about an hour we’ll dock with Orion.” None of the people left their seats. Unlike the pilots and two military officers, no one had, had sufficient training in zero G. Hoping to catch a fleeting glimpse at the faces of the other technicians inside their dark helmets Jason looked around.
Achmed Kurt, the guy who was assigned to install the computers with him, just sat there. As if he was frozen, or petrified. Doctor Sven Lederlappen, assigned to explain modern medical equipment to the crew of Orion, too was a petrified figure. “Why are you guys all sitting there like modern clay statues in an emperors tomb?”
Jason had to chuckle at the doctors remark. “Because the suits don’t allow for much movement? I’m looking around and see the same thing!”
Laughter from all around filled the radio. Even the six technicians Jason didn’t know by name yet, laughed. They had taken seats in another room, an ill fated one if the reports from Ericsson were to be believed.

After gliding alongside the Orion for a few minutes of deceleration the pod made contact with the docking hatch. Located on top of the pod that meant the crew had to climb up a ladder, that was obviously not constructed for use with a clunky space suit.
Sylvie had her exterior microphone on, heard a satisfyingly short hiss when the difference in pressure between the airlocks was evened out.
“Stop right there.” A female voice commanded. Slowly Sylvie turned to her, opening her helmet. The woman had dark blond hair, pale skin and wore a uniform in khaki colors. In her hand she held a shiny black revolver. “You know that thing can punch a hole in your hull and kill you along with me?”
Reluctantly the woman lowered the gun. But there was relief in her eyes. “So it is true, you’re human.” She tucked the gun away.
Behind Sylvie the others began to emerge from the airlock. “Did you expect something else?”
“The feathered midgets. Who knows what they are up to?” Jason too opened his helmet, he felt a little claustrophobic in the suit. After Ark1 he never wanted to don one again. He noticed that the woman was pleasantly surprised to see him.
Before departing, the Admiral had briefed the entire crew of the away mission on the reservations voiced by governor Mbuntu, but he saw no lingering disdain towards his skin color, but genuine pleasant surprise. He would include a message to the governor that her concerns were unwarranted.
“I am private Danielle Clarkson. Welcome aboard the USS Orion.” The blond woman saluted before Sylvie. Saluting herself Sylvie introduced herself and the other members of her team.
After the introduction Private Clarkson led the visitors to a large room, it was empty and dusty, obviously in disuse.
“My superiors will be here shortly.” As she spoke a door on the other side of the room opened and a group of six women entered. They too looked at Jason and the other men with delighted surprise. “Welcome, I’m lieutenant Fran Scherzer.” Saluting too before Sylvie.
“Thank you. We would like to begin work immediately. Our time here is limited.”
“Of course.” The lieutenant smiled. “Private Clarkson will show the communication team the way, private Lee the medical team and I shall show you the computer deck.”

Behind the door an endless hallway stretched out before Jason and Julio Fernández, the technician assisting him. It had no regular walls, but clicking and clacking top to bottom computers, occasionally a magnetic tape, one spool the size of a man’s chest. “Wow.” Fernández exhaled utter disbelief. “When we were launched, this was state of the art.” Proudly lieutenant Scherzer pointed down the hall. “I think my glasses have more computing power.” Jason had to admit, more to himself than to the astonishment of their host.
“Sounds about right.” Julio concurred.
After a few meters they realised the heat in the room. Water coolant pipes ran through the complex, but with little efficiency. “Well, where should we set up the equipment?”
With a lingering gaze the Lieutenant mustered the two men before her. “We have cleared a space back here, a faulty unit had to be removed anyways.”
After a few more intersections she turned to the right and led them down an even narrower hall.
After walking past so many orderly placed, closet sized computers the missing equipment was an obvious gaping hole, somewhat painful to see, even for Jason and Julio.

Daria and her two assisting technicians worked on the bridge, while two other technicians set up the wireless repeaters and routers for both network and communication. They would leave the existing infrastructure alone, as a sort of backup if wireless should ever happen to fail.
After leaving the airlock they had ditched the suits, left them with two of the military personnel from Explorer inside the airlock. “May I ask you a question?” Danielle cowered next to the working team. “Of course, that’s why we’re here.” Daria smiled slightly in her direction.
“It is not work related.” The Private added. Taking a look at her work, judging that she had come far eneough to take a short break, Daria sat up.
Shyly Danielle looked over to the center of the room. A chair stood there, bolted to the ground. It was empty. “There are two hundred and fifty women aboard. But only twenty five men. Our ancestors had worked out a complicated plan to avoid inbreeding, but it has turned out to be problematic. Every generation produced more girls than boys. Some have attributed it to the feathered midgets, others say it is a natural phenomenon.” Seemingly nervous Danielle shifted around.
“There is almost a fifty-fifty gender distribution aboard the Explorer.” Again smiling, out of sympathy for the nervous woman before her, Daria put her hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Perhaps we can help.”

Work on the new systems had taken up the greater part of the day, exhausted and stretching his arms to appreciate the open room outside the computer deck Jason was glad he was done for the day. He still had to tutor a few people on maintaining and working the new equipment.
But not on that day.
“Daria, honey, today was a new level of,” he stopped mid sentence. The tiny quarters he and Daria had on the pod was more crowded then he expected.
“I would like to introduce you to Danielle Clarkson, again.” The fact that both were in their underwear made him feel uncomfortable. “Uhm. Yes? Jason Charles PHD.”
Staring at Daria in an intense manner he nodded to the hallway. “Would you excuse us? Just for a moment.”
Silently the door slid close behind them. “What’s going on?”
A playful smirk appeared on Daria’s lips. “Isn’t it obvious? Me and another woman wait for you, half naked” intentionally leaving the sentence unfinished she hugged him. “Isn’t that the dream of every man?”
“It is arousing, yes, but why is she doing it? I mean, we don’t know her, she doesn’t know us.” With a sigh Daria let go of him.
“Well, she is one of two hundred fifty women, they have twenty five men. There are close to no male babies born, and that’s where you come in. Pardon the pun.”
Stunned into silence Jason stared at her. Unable to deny to himself the intriguing situation waiting behind the door, he also couldn’t help but think of the implant in his hand. Rendering his sperm inactive.
“If you’re worrying about the implant, we could hack it. Tonight is just to try and see if we,” musing for the right word she paused, “harmonise.”
“Hacking it is against regulations!” He hissed, low enough for her to hear, but no one else in the adjacent quarters. “We’ll reactivate it. No one ever needs to know.” She leaned in close to kiss him. “Come on in.” Breathing her words barely loud enough for him to hear and understand she opened the door, pulling him inside with her.

“I tell you,” Julio was running a few tests on other installed equipment linked with the newly installed computer, “these women here are hard to say no to. They just keep on hitting on you.”
“Did you?” Jason prepared the tutorials on one of the tablet computers they would leave aboard the Orion.
“I was thinking about it. I mean, it isn’t like my wife is ever going to find out. But then again, I don’t know the Lieutenant well enough.” Just shrugging the words off Jason continued with the tutorials.
After a few moments he stopped. “Is your implant active?” Grinding to a halt Julio looked over his shoulder to Jason, who sat in the middle of the narrow corridor between the old computer closets. “No, my wife and I applied for a second child and got approval. Why? Do you think they?” Nodding Jason glanced down to his tablets. “Keep that in mind once you get to know the Lieutenant.”

All the while, while explaining the new systems, Jason felt the crew of the Orion pay more attention to him, than to the subject. It felt strange, and it was creeping him out a bit, although at the same time he felt flattered.
Lunch was a difficult test of his nerves, but he learned a bit of Orion’s history from the five or so women swarming him.

In the decades after they left earth and the solar system, everything was normal, if that ever was the case on a ship like the Orion. They headed out to Barnards star. A red dwarf, the closest to the sun. To the surprise of the crew they found a tidal locked planet, that was habitable. At least in the day-night transition zone.
A colony was established, but the Harpies found them too. At first they were cautious of each other, but an all too trigger happy leader aboard the Orion shot at them. Sparking the hostilities between Humans and Harpies.
They then left the colony, to fend off another harpy ship in the system, which in it’s flight from the onslaught had inadvertently dragged them with it to some far off region in space. The Orion was on its way back since then.

Able to catch his breath Jason reclined on the bunk in the quarters. Another two days of the Orion crew, and their relentless pursuit of him, or rather his loins, were ahead of him.
There was a small nightstand built into a niche. An injector was resting there. A head filled with thought and worry he picked it up. It was the kind of injector used for the implants, perhaps Daria also had a hack for the implants to highten the wearers fertility? “Hi there.” Blushing private Danielle Clarkson stood in the now open door. “Forgive my intrusion, I’ll leave if you want, but Daria said to meet her here.”
Putting the injector back where he had found it, Jason got up. “No, no intrusion at all. Make yourself comfortable.” Danielle sat down on the end of the bunk. She still was blushing. “Relax, I can call Daria if you like?”
“No, you don’t need to, it’s just, well, a bit embarrassing. We both know why I’m here, and it is,” stammering she stared at the wall opposite the bunk. “Embarrassing?”
She nodded shyly. “Yeah, a bit.” He concurred.
“We could start, if you want to?” Her hands began fumbling with the buttons to her blouse. “I don’t think Daria would appreciate that.” He put his hands over hers.
The sound of the door caused them to look in that direction. “But I told her you could start without me.” Another playful smirk from the lips of his girlfriend excited Jason more then he cared to admit.

A knowing smile on her lips Daria looked the Lieutenant in the eyes across the lunch table. She had seen her enter Julio’s quarters, but the Lieutenant didn’t take notice at that time. “What are you smiling at?”
“Nothing.” Daria returned to the present. “How is your tutoring going?” Also returned to the present the Lieutenant displayed an expression of uncertainty. “It is going well.” She lied, in actuality she had not been paying much attention to the subject matters, more to the technician.
“Your ship’s commander is learning fast. Almost as if he wanted to get rid of me fast.” A sly smirk appeared on Fran’s lips. “Yeah, our men are like that. Imagine that ten or more men are always after you. You’d see to it that you have to spend as little time as possible with them, wouldn’t you?”
Nodding Daria had to admit the validity of that claim. “So your men are hiding from you?”
“In a certain way. They have the bridge to themselves mostly, we give them that. Their leisure time they can spend with each other. But come bedtime,” she winked.
“How is you tutoring our female staff going?”
“Good, they aren’t distracted by my gender.” She handed the Lieutenant a tablet. “I’m not really authorised to suggest this, but are you interested in a technology that would ensure a male to female birth ratio of 50-50?”
Fran looked around, no one in hearing range. “Officially, I am appalled by your offer. Off the records however,” she took the tablet, “I am very much interested in it.”

“You look exhausted. Everything alright?” His sing-sang tone gave Julio away as a fornicator, at least to Jason, who had gotten to know him over the past two and a half days. “Everything.” Jason winked.
A broad grin from Julio was the reply. “Does you girlfriend know? You share quarters” he stopped mid sentence, his grin broadening, “you dog! A threesome? Congrats!”
“You know of nothing, understood? And thanks.” Jason felt embarrassed. And morally he felt facing a dilemma.
It didn’t feel right to keep Julio’s affair with the Lieutenant a secret. It also didn’t feel right what he and Daria were doing with Danielle. Aren’t we taking advantage of her? Feeling sick he reclined in his seat.
“I need some fresh air.” Jason stormed off, he had seen the map of the Orion, had scanned it. Soon he was standing in front of a door with a keypad. Figures.
With disdain he turned away, looking to get back to the computer deck. “Hey!” A hiss came from the doors intercom. “Come on in, pal.” A male voice!
Ever since his arrival he had seen only one man of the Orion crew, and he was surrounded by women. Slowly the door opened and three men greeted him behind it.
“Davids, Foster and I’m Young. You must be one of our visitors?” “Yes, Jason Charles. Are you hiding in here?”
“Sort of.” Young waved him to follow. There was a beaten track instead of a cared for path, between fruit bearing shrubberies and trees. The canopy above was dense, and only occasionally did artificial light break through to the ground. “The women know we’re here, but they leave us pretty much alone.” Davids explained.
“Unless we fail to show up in our beds that is.” Added Foster. “You see, we don’t have a lot of freedom concerning the women here. We each have our group, and they are demanding!” Jason stopped listening. Too many thoughts were colliding in his head. “If you want, you could take some of them with you.” Laughing Young marched on. “We have a small rest area over here.” They stopped at a hut constructed out of scrap metal, some benches and a table.
The more he listened to the three the less he felt guilty for what he and Daria had indulged in. As he was being showed back to the entrance by Young, the Orion crewman thanked him. “For what? Listening to you guys pouring your hearts out?”
“No, the implant. Took a lot of pressure off my mind.” The doors opened, a woman waited there. She was out of uniform, and looking intensely at the two of them. “Neil in there?” She was talking about Davids, both men nodded. “Get him please, and be sure to go to your quarters too.” She winked. With a sigh Young waved Jason good bye, returning back to the garden.
Feigning a smile, Jason nodded a greeting to the woman, and hurried off.

Listening to the message Daria had sent him, Jason stood outside his quarters staring into his glasses like an idiot. Leaning against the wall opposite of his door he had to repeat the message a fourth time. “I will be late, but don’t worry honey. There is plenty for you to do on this, our last night aboard the Orion. Have fun.” He could hear her smirk. A dirty smirk, like when she first brought Danielle in.
Somewhat reluctant, and afraid, what he’d find on the other side of the door, he played the message a fifth time.
“Trouble Doctor Charles?” Sylvie marched through the corridor. Immediately Jason assumed a more respectful stance. “No. Not at all. What gave you that idea?”
Shaking her head Sylvie stopped. “Just a lot of noise from these parts of the ship last night. I hope none of the team have forgotten their manners. And regulations prohibiting intimate relations with the crew from Orion.” She looked at the door to her right.
Jason’s door. “But you and miss Fulton are in a relationship, and none of you is native to Orion, so I see no problems up you alley.” She smiled and continued her rounds.
Julio, you better not. Turning the glasses off, he pushed off of the wall and opened the door, once Sylvie was out of sight.
Danielle sat on the bed, immediately looking at him. Although she blushed slightly, she also seemed happy to see him. “Good evening.” Tweeting she got off the bunk. From the other bunk another woman, emerged. “Good evening.”
Gulping Jason felt the door in his back. Reassuring, cold, stable. Have fun. Daria’s words echoed inside his head.

Carefully Daria closed the lid on the brick sized object. With a purr the cooling started together with the other systems inside. “There, all set up.” She smiled to Danielle, who was in a less joyful mood, after Jason had left his quarters without a word immediately after he had met her and her friend. “Don’t worry. It will turn out alright.” Daria put her hand on Danielle’s knee as she cowered next to her. “Trust me.”
“He hasn’t talked to you either, has he?” Slowly the friendly and open smile on Daria’s lips melted away. “No. He hasn’t.”
Mere hours from departure both women had hoped to be able to talk to Jason again, but he had disappeared.

“Your systems are all working within parameters, your crew has been tutored in the new systems.” Sylvie saluted before Christian O’Hare, current commander of the Orion. It was a rare sight, the men of the Orion had gathered and saw the away team from Explorer off. Jason, already in his suit, like the others, nodded to Young, who returned the subtle greeting with a benign expression.
“We wish you a safe journey to your home, we have programmed the coordinates of RV-p296 into your computers. Our descendants might be happy to see yours join them there.” Sylvie greeted the commanding officer. If there are any, and you haven’t died off.

Ruttling the pod accelerated to match Explorer’s velocity when they rendezvoused. Jason didn’t feel the ruttling. He had his eyes closed and was glad to have switched seats with Julio. After Danielle had shown up with the other woman, and Daria’s message, he wasn’t sure whether he truly knew her.
A private message popped up on his glasses. Without looking he knew it was from her.
He ignored it.
Closing his eyes again he only listened to the chatter on the radio. “…EM signal. It reads like one in the warning list.” Suddenly called back to an alert state Jason opened his eyes, realising he had dozed off for an hour or more, the rendezvous with Explorer was already in progress. “That is the frequency of the linkers!” Rüttli in Explorer’s command centre exclaimed.
Slowly Jason turned his head to look at Daria’s seat, opening the message. “We are sorry.”